The Secret Campsite isn’t your average campsite. Here the selling point is true simplicity, escapism and the chance to experience nature and wildlife in its purest form. When I caught up with owner, Tim Bullen in the run up to our stay he emphasised his desire to create a place that offers guests the opportunity to engage with wildlife and disconnect from the stresses of everyday life. A place where children are encouraged to get muddy and explore nature’s playgrounds. A place where the pace of life is slower allowing your breathing to calm and thoughts to clear. A place where evenings are spent around the fire: cooking, chatting and watching stars. This is the Secret Campsite…and I’ve got to tell you…it’s pretty special!
We arrive at the Secret Campsite on a balmy Monday evening in the August school holidays. The site is tucked away down a country lane just outside of Barcombe near Lewes in East Sussex. It’s a beautiful location and as we arrive we’re greeted warmly by Tim’s daughter Talullah who gives us the lowdown on our stay. The vibe is laid back and friendly with a buzz of activity from fellow guests loading their belongings into wheelbarrows to transport to their accommodation.
The Tree Tent
We’re thrilled to be staying in the site’s only Tree Tent for the night. The Tree Tent is an incredible spherical structure designed and created by Jason Thawley whose thriving business is also based at the Secret Campsite. The tent supports Tim’s ethos of existing harmoniously along-side the trees and wildlife by being suspended in the branches of a mighty oak without any long term intrusion.
The Tree Tent is hidden from view as we approach our pitch. Discrete and low-key as with many of the best aspects of the campsite. Sleeping up to 2 adults and 1 child our party for tonight is made up of myself and Daisy (9) and Logan (3). They’re excited to be sleeping in such a special location with any concerns I had about them struggling with the stairs being swiftly put to bed as they both dart up and down preparing their beds for the night.
In the pod itself there are three leaf shaped seats which fold out into sleeping spaces. Two windows look right out into the surrounding tree canopy with an additional light source through a circular sky light. Cooking takes place over a gas cooker which is provided by the site along with a range of utensils. There’s also a campfire area with wooden seating. Additional campers are able to camp below the tree tent so larger families can also be accommodated.
The experience of sleeping in the pod was different to other camping or glamping experiences I’ve had. The elevated position gives a different perspective to sleeping on the ground. We fell asleep to the sounds of the leaves blowing in the breeze, I awoke in the night to hear an owl nearby and was woken again in the morning to the sound of a wood pigeon. We’ve stayed in a few special places but this is definitely one that we’ll remember!
There are 15 further camping pitches at the Secret Campsite. Each pitch is spacious, private and surrounded in beautiful wildflowers. The tall grasses create a maze-like effect through the pitches adding to the ‘Secret’ element of the site.
There’s also an alternative Glamping option if sleeping in a tree isn’t your cup of tea. The Gridshell is another of Jason Thawley’s creations using locally sourced ash clad in heavy duty waterproof sail canvas to create a unique and futuristic looking pod.
Wildlife & Environment
One of the main appeals of the Secret Campsite is the opportunity to get close to and explore the surrounding natural environment. Tim has even written his very own ‘Escapee’s Handbook’ full of ideas of how to make the most of your experience here. The guidebook encourages activities such as going on bug hunts, using your senses and building a good campfire. There’s even a page guiding guests on finding a good sitting spot where they can embrace the art of not doing much. With most of us living busy, tech-filled everyday lives it’s certainly refreshing.
We tried out the ‘Great Colour Hunt’ which proved a huge hit with both our 3 and 9 year old. It’s rare to find activities which engage both age groups but this led to a fun evening walk with plenty of discussion about flower names and the ways in which plants help us.
The book also provides a really useful guide to the local wildlife. Grass snakes, glow-worms, stoats, bats and adders are all regularly spotted on site with the handbook advising on when and where you’ll be most likely to find them.
There’s so much I love about the ethos around the Secret Campsite. I find it really refreshing that Tim embraces the concept of not doing much and promoting his site as somewhere where not much happens. As simple as it may be these things are what many of us are desperately striving to indulge in more to balance our chaotic lives, especially alongside our families. With the support of bodies such as the Sussex Wildlife Trust Tim has created a place where the utmost priority is given to the protection of plants and wildlife. The result is an inspiring, unique place where you’ll see elements of nature that you’d struggle to see elsewhere. I left the Secret Campsite having thoroughly enjoyed a night away from all other distractions with my family. But more than that. I left feeling uplifted by this place and the people who work here. If only we could all inject a bit of the Secret ethos into our lives the world would be a better place. I for one will be making the art of doing nothing much a valuable part of our family routine..so excuse me whilst I find the perfect sitting spot to just enjoy the moment.