Glamping in Wye Valley

Credit: Mad Dogs & Vintage Vans, Wye Valley

‘Do the caravans have flatscreens,” a family member asks, hopefully, as we unload the car for a glamping break that coincides with England’s first World Cup match. Fortunately, one of my nephews spies the tennis court and I soon hear the thwack and thud of a game under way, the first of the weekend’s many matches.

We’re staying at Mad Dogs & Vintage Vans, a boutique glamping site that opened last year near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire. Our group of seven adults and four teenagers have the run of the site. Accommodation includes a second-world-war-style Brockhouse military wagon (Monty) and three classic caravans (Elsie, Gertie and Darcy) dating from the 1930s and 50s, dotted around a meadow in the grounds of a listed rectory. Sleeping from two to six, all have been restored with original fixtures but comfy mattresses and duvets, and essentials such as tea bags and marshmallows. Each vehicle has its own seating area and barbecue facilities, so it would suit couples wanting more privacy, as well as groups, and you can pitch a tent for a small fee too, if you need extra space.

The absence of mains electricity is quickly forgotten in the excitement of cooking over an open fire. A communal mess tent, with rustic table and fairy lights, provides a sociable space to prepare meals. My nieces turn into Masterchef finalists, as they marinade and assemble kebabs to be cooked over the campfire’s griddle. I’ve also bought locally made sausages from Mad Dogs’ small on-site deli. Owners Sacha and Jo will shop for your groceries prior to arrival if, unlike me, you are organised enough to send a list in advance. And if open-fire cooking doesn’t appeal every evening, glampers can order home-cooked meals on offer too.

The next day we set out to explore. The nearby Forest of Dean provides activities for all energy levels. Mountain bikers in our party set off on trails starting from Cannop Cycle Centre while the rest of us walk a sculpture trail featuring outdoor works inspired by the ancient woodland.

A short drive from here is the viewpoint at Symonds Yat rock. The location was used in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but peregrine falcons nesting in the rocks offer aerobatics superior to quidditch, as they fend off buzzards venturing too close. The on-hand RSPB volunteer explains that when hunting, birds reach speeds of 200mph, hurtling through the air to stun their victims on impact.

The birds’ mesmerising performance means we almost forget to admire the view over the Wye valley, with lush forest-lined hills and kayakers paddling along the river below. Back at the glampsite, the bikers boast of new downhill times and look as if they deliberately rolled in the mud to take advantage of the site’s showershack.

Every January, the region’s cider producers traditionally wassail the orchards to encourage a bountiful harvest, with friends and families gathering for a feast and dance. Our Saturday evening isn’t too different: we tuck into Thai chicken curry cooked by Jo and drink cider from nearby Broome Farm. Mad Dogs’ first batch of artisan cider, pressed from handpicked apples, is still maturing in its oak barrels during our stay, so we dance round the campfire in an effort to speed up the fermentation process.

Next morning I’m woken by sunshine filtering through Elsie’s lantern roof and the cooing of a woodpigeon overhead. Having sampled the local cider, we’re keen to find out about its 350-year history, so head to Westons Cider Mill (tours £8 adults, £4 kids, £20 family ticket) where we learn about all stages of production.

While staying in rare vintage caravans is an obvious attraction, the real joy here is unwinding and connecting with nature – even the local bees get their own glamping hive in the apple orchards. As we enjoy a cream tea served with homemade jam (complementary on arrival), we spot plenty of wildlife amid the tall cow parsley. For anyone wanting a more hands-on experience with nature, foraging weekends with expert Raoul Van Den Broucke – “a sort of Carluccio of the Wye valley”, according to Guardian travel writer Sally Shalam – are on offer.

Driving home, the unanswered emails seem, for now at least, a little less important. And as we learn of England’s dismal performance in Brazil, I can almost hear the football fans in our party thinking that another month without electricity might be a welcome prospect.

This article was first published in The Guardian, 6 Sept 2014. Thanks to Sacha and Jo from Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans