An old Victorian residence on the fringes of an even older market town, Ivy Bank is a house that has stood the tests of time. Just 10 minutes walk to Auckland Castle and a few less to the main market place, camping in the gardens of this welcoming home provides a town like location you would normally expect from a hotel. Yet, as the view from your tent will reflect, Ivy Bank still has an assuredly countryside feel, with the best of Durham’s rolling landscapes close at hand. Those who settle beneath the trees will find a ‘best of both worlds’ destination; a prime site for walkers and active campers but with history, culture and a variety of eateries right on the doorstep.
Ok, so there is a certain point one shouldn’t breeze past. Camping at Ivy Bank is essentially a night in someone’s garden. But that is exactly the charm of this kooky little site where just two tent pitches and a couple of converted garden sheds make for a thoroughly private experience. The garden itself is also a pleasant mix of wild and maintained: potted shrubs and marked out footpaths are interwoven with tall pine trees, overgrown bushes and a pair of trickling streams that babble over rocks to the River Wear in the distance. In the centre of the wooded one-acre space a clearing houses the two cabins, the first with a single bed, the second with a twin bunk. While the larger cabin has a dining space and gas burner inside for the arrival of any bad weather, sitting out by the fire-pit and making use of a potbelly stove certainly feels a more authentic way to enjoy the setting.
Just beyond the cabins in a second, grassier clearing, two tent pitches allow room for a couple of four-man sized tents. The size restriction is not so much due to a lack of space but more down to the positioning of the trees, which would make it awkward to pitch anything larger. Again, campers will find a fire pit, some wood and a gas camping stove, should they want it, and those who don’t wish to stay in a cabin but have no equipment of their own can also hire a tent, bedding, utensils and everything else required – so if you like you can arrive with nothing at all! Showers and laundry facilities can be found by wandering into the main house itself, while each pitch and cabin also has its own chemical toilet.
Once settled in, campers can begin to direct their holiday. Follow the view north to the Wear Valley along the excellent riverside footpaths, or head west to Hamsterley Forest, Upper Teesdale Nature Reserve and the edge of the Pennines – all excellent for outdoor activities. Those looking for something less active should drive the 20 minutes to Durham, its Norman centre still retaining a quaint charm despite the more modern outskirts and bustling student population. Durham Cathedral and the pleasant cobbled roads that lead up to it make the city an excellent day trip destination, though spending a little time in the local town of Bishop Auckland also reaps rewards. Cafes, restaurants and pubs are dotted around, while the iconic castle, still the official home of the Bishop of Durham, has an interesting history and an 800 acre deer park in its grounds.
Tent pitches are restricted to 4 man tents only. The first of the 2 cabins has a single bed only and the second has a 2 person bunk bed only. There is no electricity on the site. All tent pitches and cabins have there own personal chemical toilet, firepit and gas camping stove. The single man cabin has a firepit and outside potbelly stove, a starter kit of fuel is included per person (fire logs, charcoal, gas cannister) and additional fuel can be purchased. Bedding and towels are supplied in the cabins and tents can be provided, as can all equipment, so anyone wanting the wild camping experience only needs to turn up. There are shower facilities in the main house along with drying facilities and a laundry service. Camping areas are lit with candle lanterns and solar lanterns. Torches are also available.
Adults only. Tents, up to 4-man in size, and cabin guests welcome. No camper vans, caravans or motorhomes and no pets.
Located in Bishop Auckland, it is a 10 minute walk from Ivy Bank to the old market place, at the foot of Auckland Castle (01388 743750). The castle is more of a stately home than a military fortress, originally built as the bishop's hunting lodge before being converted to a more fortified base. The town hall is also worth a visit, hosting changing art exhibitions and the local tourist office. Binchester Roman Fort (01388 663089), a mile out of town, boasts one of the best preserved examples of a Roman military bath house in the country. To the south west, Raby Castle (01833 660202) and Barnard Castle (01833 638212) are equally spectacular. A further 20 minutes away, along the River Wear, lies the city of Durham, with its beautiful centre and hill top cathedral (01913 864266). During university term time there is a thriving student population, with quieter points during holiday periods. Those not tired out by the the hilly city streets, should head west to Hamsterley Forest and Upper Teesdale Nature Reserve abundant in wildlife and excellent for walking and cycling trails. The Pennines (01388 528801) are around 50 minutes away while, and The Yorkshire Dales National Park is just under a 45 minute drive.
Food & Drink
When booking you can pre-order a custom-made hamper, created yourself from their menu. This can be used for cooking on the fire pits and stoves provided. There are plenty of pubs, cafes and bars in town, a short walk away. The Pollards Inn (01388 603539) is particularly good – a traditional bolt hole with real ales and proper pub fare. Out of town, in nearby Escomb, The Saxon Inn (01388 662256) is also worth a visit.
May - October.
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