Fire-side camping in a forest setting, just a tube ride from London
If you go down to Essex today you’re in for a big surprise. Famous for chavs and WAGs, it’s also home to Epping Forest, 6000 acres of magnificent ancient trees, flower-carpeted meadows, mirrored ponds and an abundance of wildlife, all on the outskirts of the capital. Backing directly onto the forest is Debden House’s 50-acre campsite, which despite its expanse, pulls off a unique conjuring trick: balancing size with privacy. Towering trees carve the land into seven fields, separating you from the rest of the campsite’s sprawl. Field 1 opens out from the former farmhouse onto a large expanse dotted mainly with camper vans and a kids’ play area. Walk on to Field 2 to uncover a surprisingly not-too often- colonised, secluded patch. A gap in the hedgerow merely hints at its existence. You can sandwich yourself on a narrow strip enclosed by the forest on either side whilst energetic bunnies speed around your tent, here it feels more like back-of-beyond camping than pitching up on a campsite. Large groups (20-plus) are given their own stretches of land, keeping the noise down for everyone else. Adding to the rustic camping feel are the two Fire fields. In all, 58 pits are available and the logs are free, courtesy of the Forestry Commission. However, those after a more authentic camping experience can go hunter-gathering to collect their own wood in the forest. Ancient forest by-laws permit commoners ‘one faggots worth of dead or downed wood each day’ – that’s a bundle to you and me. But, the secret is out, so if you lust for fire-side camping, book at least a week in advance as spaces can be thin on the ground come the weekend. Epping Forest encircles the whole site here – it’s a joy to be this close to London, and yet be amongst all this woodland, with the flurry of birdsong to wake you each morning. Footpaths lead off from the camp’s edges taking you deep into the heart of the forest, and link up with various other walking paths. Within the forest itself you’ll find a menagerie of English wildlife, including deer, rabbits, adders, hawks, kites, foxes and buzzards; many of which roam around or circle above the campsite. Thankfully the deer are protected now, and the kids can get a Bambi fix at the forest’s deer sanctuary, a 10-minute stroll from the campsite through the woods; the camp office will gladly put a map in your hand and point you in the right direction. Whether you seek a country escape from city madness or an alternative rural base to go exploring the capital, this site is ideal: Theydon Bois tube station is just a mile away, whisking you in and out of London’s heart along the Central Line within the hour. Debden House really can give you the best of both worlds.