A glamping break … but where's the tent?

Soaring demand for camping and the need for accommodation providers to make up for loss of income have led to a new summer trend: the pop-up campsite. Across the land tipis and bell tents that would usually be touring the festival circuit are being repurposed to create temporary glamping sites – some with just a single tent, others more like mini festivals. Among those getting in on the pop-up action is Camphill Estate in North Yorkshire, which has added 15 bell tents to its existing collection and has already extended availability to the end of October after being inundated with bookings. In the New Forest, Harry’s Meadow is a sister site to permanent Harry’s Field, with an extra 100 pitches for six weeks until August; and for two weeks in August you can get your festival vibes at Wild Canvas in Somerset.

Last week, glamping specialist Canopy & Stars launched its own summer campout offering, each a single tent in the grounds of properties on sister website Sawday’s. More sites were unveiled this week and in total it will run more than 20 between now and the end of September.

Canopy & Stars founder Tom Dixon kicked off the pop-up idea on his own property “as an antidote to lockdown” – which was how I found myself lying in a handmade bed on a Dartmoor hillside with nothing between me and the night sky but some light cotton netting. The felling of a large eucalyptus in the grounds of the house that he shares with wife and children was the inspiration for the alfresco bed: several boughs cut from the tree now form the frame of the four-poster sitting on five acres of wildflower meadows.

A breezy 280 metres above sea level, their home, Southcombe Barn, is just outside Widecombe-in-the-Moor in the south-east of Dartmoor national park, and for this summer only the Midsummer Meadow Bed is open to guests keen to dispense with canvas and doze off in the open air.

open air bed and emergency bell tent nearby

There’s an emergency bell tent nearby for wet weather

But as I settled down under the duvet, I was determined not to sleep through the entire night. Nocturnal wildlife would be active all around me, and I didn’t want to miss it. My sleep was first broken by the calls of a barn owl. It sounded so close that I slid out into the mild night air to look for it, but was instantly distracted by an inky black firmament ablaze with stars. Not long after sunrise, goldfinches came to serenade me, accompanied by the occasional light thump as a wild cherry fell onto the canopy. My final wake-up call came just before breakfast: a family of woodpeckers beating a tattoo directly above. Though somewhat woolly-headed – I’d had about five hours’ sleep – I felt I’d experienced nocturnal Dartmoor, albeit while remaining very snug.

“Good morning! How was your night?” Tom enquired cheerily as he delivered my breakfast. Propped against the pillows, I worked my way through granola, toast, homemade jam, and berries and currants fresh from the garden. The sun was shining and the surrounding woods were alive with birdsong, from wood pigeons to song thrushes.

Southcombe Barn’s colourful wildflower garden.

Southcombe Barn’s colourful wildflower garden

A nearby bell tent contained a (back-up) double bed, sofa and bottle of wine (and provided a useful space to dump my things). The bathroom – a converted woodworking shop – was a minute’s walk away, as was a somewhat less expected feature: my own private art gallery, in a section of the former barn. This was lined with colourful works by abstract landscape artist Anthony Garratt (and also has teas, coffee and a kettle).

It was all in beautiful surroundings. It had taken the previous owners 20 years to create the bright array of cranesbills, ox-eye daisies, campions and a host of other flowering plants in grounds that became a popular National Garden Scheme ( destination.

From the garden it was just a five-minute climb from to the top of Dunstone Down, and another 10 along the Two Moors Way to Hutholes, the evocative ruins of a medieval hamlet. From there I carried on for three miles along the top of Hamel Down to Grimspound, a mighty bronze age settlement, enjoying heart-thumping views the whole way – as well as a herd of friendly Dartmoor ponies.

I suspect some people may not even leave the barn’s idyllic grounds. Tom’s wife Vashti runs a social enterprise offering creative wellbeing breaks, so the experience is designed to be immersive and soothing.. When I arrived I was greeted by cut flowers, the smell of incense, and logs already burning in the firepit. That evening, after a dinner of homemade curry, there was music round the campfire.

When it was time to leave I felt both calm and energised. I cycled downhill to the railway station at Newton Abbot – an exhilarating ride that provided one last chance to get some good moorland air into my lungs before the descent to the everyday world.

Accommodation was provided by Canopy & Stars. The Midsummer Meadow Bed is available until 31 August and costs £145 a night B&B, dinner £10pp, maximum stay 2 nights


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