If there were an annual award for ‘English campsite with the greatest diversity of accommodation’, the owners of Alde Garden would be permanently practising their acceptance speeches and making mental notes not to blub on discovering that they’ve triumphed over Angelina Jolie again.
Guests to this peaceful pub garden, on the edge of the little village of Sweffling, can choose between a stay in a bell tent, a yurt, a gypsy caravan, and a ‘wooden tent on stilts’ (inspired by a trip to New Zealand). Alternatively, they can bring along their own tent and camp in the time-honoured fashion. Indeed, youthful owners Marie and Mark encourage non-campers who have booked into the more glampy accommodation to bring along a tent to give traditional camping a try. Battle-hardened tentophiles, meanwhile, can spend their final night in the yurt or gypsy caravan, say, as a bit of a naughty treat (there’s even a cute self-catering cottage for those who need to bait the hook for less enthusiastic campers).
However you decide to stay here, the vibe remains the same. A garden kept deliberately wild (and with its own friendly hedgehog) combined with facilities artfully constructed from reclaimed and recycled materials engender a laid-back atmosphere, where the sixties and the tenties collide to rather pleasing effect.
Take the brilliant jungle shower, for example – made from wood Mark and Marie have picked up. Showerers can hitch up one of the site’s bags of solar-heated water to enjoy an (entirely modest) outdoor shower, with the added bonus of a view of next door’s free-range pigs. There are also two spotless conventional showers for those for whom cleanliness is next to indoorsiness.
The pathways around the 0.89-acre (they’ve measured it) site weave a web of discovery with different glamping structures and homemade wares at every end. There’s also a converted wooden barn communal kitchen area complete with straw bale seats – a particular hit with kids – plus a well-stocked bookcase in the yurt. They’ve all been lovingly crafted by hand with materials that would otherwise have gone to waste. A friend of the couple has even created the wood-burners from discarded gas bottles. And if you’re more into cycling than recycling, you can borrow one from the cluster of bikes, including a tandem, kept on site.
After dark, myriad colourful solar-powered lights and sun jars give the place a magical dingly dell feel, an illusion enhanced by the soft glow from the brick pizza oven (bring your own ingredients and become Italian for the night), and the rosy blush of the communal fire.
Like chicken and egg, though, it’s difficult to decide which was the afterthought here, the campsite or the pub. The White Horse – whose garden forms the site – is open four nights a week and has been awarded East Anglian CAMRA pub of the year. It would be easy, from its cosy interior – with regular live music, roaring woodburners and real ales straight from the cask – to think the campsite was merely tacked on for a little extra cash. Yet pitched in your quiet spot in the garden it would be equally valid to decide the pub was the real ‘added-extra’, something that simply couldn’t compete with the inspiring campsite outside. Either way. Who’s complaining?
Visitors should note that there’s one space at the very top of the garden that’s not open to guests – where there’s a teeny tiny tent. ‘That’s ours’, laughs Mark. ‘We hated the idea of not being able to camp here ourselves so we’ve got our own tent up for whenever we want to treat ourselves.’ A campsite so good the owners camp there themselves? You won’t get a better recommendation than that.
There’s a communal campfire near the bottom of the field and 5 small bring-your-own-tent pitches scattered around the side of the field in cosy nooks and crannies beneath or behind trees. The loos, in buildings attached to the house, are very clean (2W, 1M, plus a compost loo), and you can choose between a conventional shower (1W, 1M) and the jungle shower under the trees (definitely worth a go – it’s surprising how warm the sun can make the water). Kids love the numerous chickens and ducks that wander about the site, while a diablo and a poi are available for any minors who live in hope of running away to join the circus some day. A room is given over to a freezer, a fridge, a washing machine, and microwave. There’s also a covered kitchen/dining area with gas cookers, straw-bale seats, cutlery, crockery, pots, pans, tea, and coffee. A mobile shop stops at the campsite on Fridays from noon to 2pm, but there’s no shop in Sweffling itself. There is some occasional traffic noise from the road that runs past the site.
Tents – yes. Campervans, caravans, dogs, groups – no.
Framlingham Castle (01728 724189; see English Heritage) is an astonishingly fine yet little known 12th-century fortress with frequent child-friendly events. The coastal gems of Dunwich, Southwold, and Aldeburgh are within striking distance, as is the world-famous bird reserve at Minsmere (see RSPB) with nature trails, hides, and visitor centre. More birdwatching, as well as walks along the Alde Estuary and boat trips are all to be had at Snape Maltings (01728 688303), whose concert hall is the home of the Aldeburgh Festival (01728 687110) co-founded by Benjamin Britten and held every June.
Food & Drink
Alde Garden’s on-site pub, the White Horse (White Horse), is open 4 nights (Fri, Sat, Sun & Mon) plus Sunday lunchtimes, so you’re never more than stumbling distance away from a refreshing drink. They have an excellent (and ever-changing) selection of real ales and a small collection of organic fairtrade wines and carefully chosen speciality spirits. Otherwise, there’s a pleasant 8-and-a-bit-minute walk through a meadow to another White Horse (01728 663497) at Rendham – there’s a third White Horse close by too, nobody knows quite why – where you can get a decent bite to eat and sup some locally brewed Earl Soham ale. The extensive Friday Street Farm Shop (01728 602783) at Farnham sells its own home-grown fruit and vegetables and doubles as a café.
Opening TimesEarly May–end Sept
The Owner Says
PUB: The pub onsite is open 4 nights a week - Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, 7-11pm. A traditional real ale pub serving locally made ales straight from the cask as well as a selection of local bottled ales, spirits, fairtrade organic wines and a few other speciality spirits. Soft drinks and seasonal drinks also available. Also serving a selection of very tasty locally made pies or snacks. Another pub, just half a mile (10 mins walk across a meadow) away serves full evening meals.
AWARDS: We won two awards at the 2011 Suffolk Tourism Awards: Sustainable Tourism & Best Campsite. At the 2011 Greenest County Awards we were awarded Best Pub, Club or Hotel, and in the 2013 awards we were given the award for Water Management. We were also finalists in the EADT 2013 Busienss Awards in their Environment & Sustainability category.
BUSHCRAFT FIRELIGHTING at ALDE GARDEN Various dates throughout the summer – Learn how to light a fire without matches! Primitive firelighting is one of the most satisfying and inspirational bushcraft skills to learn. This training session, taking you back as far as primitive bow drill technique (rubbing two sticks together), brings you closer to nature and our ancestral past.The session leader will demonstrate various methods of firelighting without the use of matches or a lighter, including firesteel, flint & finishing with the use of a bow drill. You’ll also be taught how to find the best natural kindling & there will be plenty of opportunity for audience participation. Cost: donations in the hat!
Accommodation2 yurts, 1 gypsy caravan, 1 bell tent, 1 hideout (stilted tent), 5 small tent pitches (or 2 large & 1 small) and a year-round holiday cottage.
No availability showing at Alde Garden.
Be ye warned – SatNav will take you on a rather circuitous route through Sweffling. Rather you should aim for the small town of Saxmundham on the A12. From there, take the B1119 west. Pass the White Horse in Rendham, round a sharp left- then right-hand bend, and immediately after another sharp left-hand bend, turn right at a crossroads and you’re at Alde Garden.
If you can get yourself to Saxmundham station , there is a local taxi firm, Swift Car (01728 602986), which will pick you up from the station and take you to the site for around £7.50. Or there's a bus service with a stop directly opposite the pub.
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