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August 31, 2011

15

Glamping at Ash Park Farm, Co. Derry

by Julianne Mooney

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I lived in a tent for three months on a beach in Western Australia. The memories of that time are some of the best I have. Waking every morning to sunshine, pulling on my bikini and walking a few paces to the water’s edge for my morning swim. Cooking breakfast over the gas stove, lazing on the beach, enjoying the simplicity of life.

This weekend as we sped over the Sperrin Mountains towards Ash Park Farm, rain lashing furiously against the window screen, Western Australia seemed a long, long way away. I began regretting the fact I’d forgotten my wellies. And a coat. Glamorous camping may be more glamorous than pitching your own tent and braving the elements outside your tent around a flailing fire, but it is still camping.

Ash Park is part of the company Feather Down Farms, an English company with the wonderful philosophy that camping can be a bit glam, but still retain the essential qualities of camping; getting back to nature, slowing down and switching off. The farms are working farms and Ash Park has been in the Stevenson family since the 17th century. As with most people these days, the Stevenson’s decided to diversify and became a part of the Feather Down Farms last summer, sharing their little haven with visitors.

From the moment I arrived at Ash Park, I felt like a kid again. Equipped with two iced hot water bottles (for our fridge), kindling and fire lighters for the stove and bed sheets, we threw our belongings into wheel barrows and ran up the hill to where our tent awaited us.

Five safari style tents are pitched in a prime location overlooking the Sperrin Mountains. It’s not a tent like you may imagine it. In fact, surround it by wooden walls and it’s a cabin. There’s a wooden floor, big wooden table and six chairs, two deck chairs, a treasure chest (aka fridge) and at the heart of the house, a kitchen area with a fire stove. The bedrooms are sectioned off, one with bunk beds, another with a double bed and in the corner of the living area, a cupboard opens up to reveal a small double bed, which children will fight over to sleep in and so we quickly named it the snuggle box. There’s even a little room with a flushing toilet so no night trips through the field are necessary.

Our first task was to light the fire to heat up the tent and make a cup of tea. As the man of the house lit matches, burnt kindling and blew furiously into the stove, I sat on the steps admiring the view across to the Sperrins. The rain had eased and the clouds served as a dramatic backdrop to the moody mountains and while it was no Western Australia, it was incredibly beautiful and untouched.

Our hosts for the weekend, Fiona and James Stevenson work hard to ensure guests enjoy the experience. In the mornings you are encouraged to help yourself to eggs from the hen coup for breakfast, the larder has suggestions for local attractions in the area and the wood-fire oven is fired up at the weekend when Fiona and James cook pizzas and build a bon-fire, inviting guests to gather for an evening of food and chats, while children can race about the field enjoying the freedom.

We weren’t the luckiest with the weather, but with a pair of wellies on loan from Fiona, an oversized rain mac and a cosy tent, we were happy as peas in a pod. A roaring fire, hot chocolate warming on the stove, candles lighting and lanterns flickering in the bedroom make for a very romantic and rustic experience

Mornings were slow and luxurious, with the ritual of lighting the fire, a walk to the hen coup for eggs, warm coffee, scrambled eggs and fried bacon. Nothing can be done quickly and this is the joy of Ash Park. You quickly sink into the slow pace of life, relishing simple moments like when the water boils and you know you will have tea, the sound of a crackling fire, candle-light and hot water bottles heating your bed. As for the children? I would imagine holidays like this are one they will remember into adulthood and for us adults, well, it brings us back to what life should be. Uncomplicated.

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