Abbotstone Wood, Unplugged Camping and our experience

Thunderstorms, marshmallows and tents were all part of our recent camping trip to Abbotstone Wood Unplugged Camping in Hampshire.

10th July 2016

Thunderstorms, marshmallows and tents were all part of our recent camping trip to Abbotstone Wood camping ground in Hampshire. While we always hope every trip will be great this was very much an experimental camping trip on a number of levels.

Camping as a holiday option fo the Travelbetter Family

We are not avid campers and never have been. It is not that we haven’t enjoyed past camping experiences but it was just never high on our lists when we were choosing holidays and breaks. But after having children and undertaking a weekends camping last year we realised that kids love it. They love the open space, the fresh air and the ready supply of nature on the doorstep (or crawling inside sometimes). Plus, we are slowly coming to the realisation that since Poppet started school the cost of air travel has sky rocketed impacting on our choices for a family holiday. Now while we continue to work on ways to fly cheap with Children, we had to recognise that camping was fast becoming one of our holiday choices, Therefore, we planned to use this weekend as a testing ground for a longer camping holiday. More precisely we went on this trip with three specific goals/tests.

  1. Enjoyment – could we as a family enjoy a camping holiday and if we didn’t what would improve it.
  2. Equipment – We wanted to understand what was essential and what is useful to ensure we packed smart due to the limited space in the tent and to help with goal number 3.
  3. One car – could we get all our camping equipment in one car and therefore keep any holiday cost down.

So on Friday afternoon I began the familiar game of car Tetris with the goal of getting all our camping gear into one car and still being able to take the kids. Surprisingly, I got everything in with minimal items squeezed between the front and back seats (under the kids feet). I felt quite proud of myself as we headed off to Abbostone Wood. Unfortunately, the next morning when I pulled out the bacon and frying pan I realised I’d left the cooker, utensils and bbq bricks behind. I dashed home (we were only camping 20 minutes away) and got these but as I was frying up the bacon I knew I had possibly just tipped the edge on the packing and getting it all into one car. Still that was a problem for Sunday.

Camping Unplugged at Abbotstone Wood

Abbotstone Wood is an unplugged campsite that markets itself on getting back to basics with limited services but the ability for campers to have a real fire and get close to nature. They even offer bush craft lessons on the Saturday to really help you learn how to survive.

The campsite had two options for camping, in the wood or in the field. We opted for the field as we felt the shadows and noises of the wood might scare the kids (and us). The field was a great open clearing in the wood and provided plenty of space to put up the tent and for the kids to play. It was almost fully booked over the weekend but they aimed to make sure everyone had space and to help achieve this Sid the site manager made the effort to help every camper select a pitch.

The flip side of unplugged camping was that there was only limited hot water every day for the shower block and washing up, and the site was just a field. No road or paths for people to walk on so as the rain came down everything started to get very muddy on the well-trodden and driven routes.

As a result we and the kids were getting muddy quite quickly but then had limited washing options at night (unless we wanted an ice cold shower) and so went to bed feeling quite dirty and yucky. Yes I did say yucky but this is the best word to describe it.

Play time at Abbotstone Wood

During the weekend the weather switched every thirty minutes between bright sunshine and thunderstorms adding to our muddy woes but meaning play time continually moved between the outside and inside of the tent. When stuck in the tent we were worried about the kids getting bored and starting to fight but found that generally they could entertain themselves very well with the limited toys and drawing items we had taken. This included making up their own games such as how high Champ could build a tower of pens.

When the sun did shine it was great to get outside and run around, play football or throw the frisbee. We found that generally we had got the balance right on the toys for this weekend but on a longer break would either need a couple more or make sure we had plenty of days out planned.

Sleeping at Abbotstone Wood

To help with our equipment trial we ditched the usual airbeds this weekend and instead opted for self-inflating camping mats in an attempt to take up less space in the car and improve our set up times as you just unwrap the mat and let them self-inflate and you are done. Somewhat to my surprise they were fine to sleep on and in fact better than an airbed as they didn’t make the same amount of noise as an airbed when you move around.

We also purchased new POD sleeping bags that allowed for a lot more room than a traditional sleeping bag so you weren’t forced to try and sleep in one position all night. These were great and again added to our comfort but as a result of being bigger than your average sleeping bag took up more room in the car and probably balanced out the savings made from the camping mat.

The downside of camping is that you have no way to shut out the light so at 4am as the sun was coming up we found ourselves in a well-lit tent which woke me and Charlie up and turned deep sleep into dozing at best. Additionally, along with the light came the birds and the dawn chorus which was very, very, loud inside the tent. Usually the sound of birds chatting away in whoops and whistles to each other would sound great, but not at 4am.

The kids slept better than we did and were able to stay sleeping to the more usual time of six am. However, this had some drawbacks as we were letting the kids stay up later as we were away so in reality they were getting less sleep than usual and this started to show at times during the day manifesting itself in the usual tired moans.

Packing up and going home

By Sunday morning Charlie and were feeling very tired and very yucky (that word again) and keen to get back home. We ended up taking our time packing up making sure to note down what we thought was a useful item and I had to rearrange the car many times to try to get all the stuff back inside. Not easy as we had gained an extra box. After much shuffling and stuffing of items (including wellies under the driver’s seat) I had everything back in the car and we headed home. Once back the car was unloaded and we all took hot showers to remove the yucky factor from us. Charlie and I also enjoyed some strong coffee to keep us going for the day ahead.

Abbotstone Wood overall and our three camping challenges

Overall we had fun at Abbotstone Wood and it was great to be able to have a campfire and make s'mores. Abbotstone is an unplugged campsite and this was well advertised so was not a surprise to us. It was run by friendly staff and had plenty of space. For us it was probably too unplugged but I must stress this is us and not something the campsite did wrong we just realised over the weekend that we fall more into the bracket of comfy campers.

Back to our challenges

  1. Enjoyment – there were moments of great enjoyment but for now we don’t think camping is much more than a weekend option for us and to make it more enjoyable we need it to be comfortable with hot water, paths to avoid (or reduce) the mud factor and take along plenty of nice food and drink.
  2. Equipment – We came away with a good list of what is our essential camping list and I will include a link at the bottom of the page to this as a PDF but please keep in mind we discovered we are comfy campers and this list reflects that, you may be able to get away with less.
  3. One car – we did manage to pack all our equipment into one car but it was very rammed and we only had enough clothes for a weekend away so while in theory we could do it I think it would make for a very uncomfortable trip.

Comfy camping equpment list

Here is a check list of our camping essentials. Please remember this is based on what we, as comfy campers, need for our trip. You may need less or even more but this should be a good starting point.

Comfy Campers Equipment List

Our trip

We stayed at Abbotstone Wood near Alresford in Hampshire. Abbotstone Wood is part of a chain of Camping Unplugged sites across the country. It cost approximately £75 for the weekend plus £10 for a bag of fire wood. It can reached by car and isn't far from the M3 and A34.

Some essential items to get you started on your camping adventures

10L Folding Water Container.

See Price

A nice big family tent with plenty of room inside for play on raining days

See Price

Camping Mats

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Camping Stove

See Price

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