I honestly can’t claim to have had all that many “put the tent up yourself” type of camping experiences in life, apart from a handful of festivals in the misspent part of my youth (where to be honest someone else usually HAD to put the tent up for us anyway!).
There was also a camping trip to the South of France with one of my (still) closest friends for my 18th birthday. We often laugh about the fight we had “dans les Supermarche” about whether the bread we were deliberating over was actually brioche or not. It was. If you have ever had to force down the odd combination of marmite smothered brioche out of pure stubbornness, you have my sympathies.
Anyway, camping might not be my forte, but thanks to a love of the great outdoors and a general love of a more comfortable style of accommodation, I do happen to know quite a bit about glamping. Granted we might have experienced extreme weather conditions each time we have been glamping – hot as hell at Nattererersee – one of my favourite glampsites in Austria whilst heavily pregnant with the now 3.5 year old (sans air conditioning, full waddle mode engaged!). Then there was our Hilserhof farm glamping experience in the middle of the Black Forest, where we arrived on a positively balmy 21 degree C April day, only to wake up to generous snowfall during the night. You might then not be all that surprised to hear that our most recent glamping experience at the wonderful Tom’s Eco Lodge also featured an interesting chunk of weather…
A little like the brioche with marmite thing (but about 1000x more pleasant) there’s always a first time for everything in life, and I am slightly ashamed to say that our trip to Tom’s Eco Lodge was actually my first visit to the Isle of Wight. Yes, we may have been to one or two lesser travelled places dotted about the globe, but I personally had yet to make it to an Island that was relatively close by, and at times sounded almost mythical according to many of my school friends that had been there during the school holidays of my past. It’s literally less than an hour and a half from Winchester (if you get up early enough, and Red Funnel Ferries let you on the next departing boat as they did with us! What a fabulous service by the way, so friendly and not all that overly expensive given that this is actually the most expensive stretch of water in the world – and I am not making that up).
After an essential visit to Dino Isle at the insistence of the youngest member of our family (which is small but perfectly formed – review coming up!) we arrived at our ultimate destination slightly early on the most beautiful sunny Yarmouth day, which gave us time to have a proper nose around (and is when many of my pictures were taken by the way!)..
Tom’s Eco Lodge started life as a dairy farm. A bit like me it’s had its raucous festival experiences (as the original home to the Isle of Wight Festival! We loved the photographs upstairs in The Cow restaurant of everyone piling off the ferry back in the day. I couldn’t find my Dad, I wondered if he might be the one with the paper bag on his head!), and has evolved into the brilliant glamping site it is today, complete with adjacent farm park to keep small people happy (you only pay for entry once for this, and then as “residents” you can visit as many times as you like!).
There’s a vast array of accommodation choices to suit various sizes of party by the way, from the Pods that sleep two that also come with their own wood-fired hot tubs, to the wonderful dome tents (which we had), safari tents and cabins to cottages on site, and the piece de resistance – the vast manor house that can sleep up to 22 (and which I have my eye on for a special birthday that’s coming up in the not too distant future)…
Tom’s Eco Lodge has won so many awards over the years, and it’s really not that hard to understand why. It didn’t take me long there to realise that they really have thought of all the little extras that make a stay special, from important things such as allocated shower blocks and loos (which are modern and pristine!) for the accommodation that doesn’t have its own bathrooms, and outdoor kitchens that have everything you might have forgotten utensil wise (should you stay in accommodation without a kitchen of course!)
The honesty shop is a good mix of practical and sinful (although it doesn’t contain any wine, you have been warned – you could buy a bottle to take out at The Cow however!), and things like firewood and briquettes are complimentary. Happily for us, there were also plenty of things to keep food-obsessed husbands and small people happy too – wood fired pizza ovens for example, and hens to collect eggs from.
The views are calming and peaceful, and most importantly for me – you honestly don’t feel like you are on top of anyone else. The site feels exclusive and not overrun with people.
Our mission for two nights was to review one of the brand new Dome Tents in Dome Meadow. Number two (of five) was to become our temporary home, and I left it sadly with a wish for at least three more nights on top of that. It’s not hard to see why.
Don’t be fooled, the exterior might look quite “bijou”, but these dome tents are Tardis like. Again Tom’s Eco Lodge has gone above and beyond with little touches such as cookies, milk in the fridge and flowers that gave it a homely touch, and as for the four-poster looking out on to rolling hills…
As we were a party of four not five for our visit (the 12-year-old was off on a homemade exchange trip to Bayern, we currently have his friend staying on his return visit!), the remainder of my offspring happily shared a bunkbed cleverly positioned to the side of the little kitchenette. Each kitchenette comes fully equipped with a kettle, a microwave, a toaster, a fridge and all the cups, glasses, cutlery, etc you could wish for. For the nights that might prove a touch chilly, there’s also a beautiful Scandinavian log burner to one side of the dome, and for warmer nights, complimentary fire pits outside each dome so you can sit and watch the sunset and burn your fingers making smores as we did (well for one night at least!).
As the sun set that first evening after a decent meal at the Cow and a few good few hours after the Toddler had asked to go to bed (the joys of fresh air), we retired to our exquisite bed only for both of us to say at the same time “that wind’s picking up out there”. There’s something comforting and cosy to feel warm and safe camping wise in the midst of a vast storm, and without the worry of anything (including us) blowing away. The Dome Tents also come with wooden flooring which helps make them feel sturdy and then some.
We slept soundly although the storm raged all night, and the following morning too, and instead of rushing to explore further, we were all happy to relax, read, and play at T-Rex’s smashing into trucks repeatedly, with the fire crackling as background “music”, and with the odd hefty whack of wind against the dome tent to remind us how lucky we were that we weren’t in any kind of tent that we had put up ourselves. We did venture out later for lunch, and to explore Tapnell Farm Park next door, but I will admit this was quite reluctantly on my part (even though both are great), as I was just happy to stay put.
I like to think that being completely happy in a glamping environment in extreme weather conditions is an indication of how good a site is anyway, and thanks to our great stay, I would say Tom’s Eco Lodge is now up there with my continental favourites. Its team of dedicated staff all go out of their way to make a stay with them an excellent one and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a stay here whatever the time of year – come “hail” or high water (!) you are definitely going to be sad to say goodbye…
* with thanks to Tom’s Eco Lodge who hosted us accommodation wise for two nights (we paid for everything else), and also a big thank you to campsites.co.uk for helping to arrange the visit.