Camping holidays: Best ‘hidden gems’ promise less crowding but may ‘not be on your list’

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Camping and caravan holidays saw a boom in popularity in 2020 which is set to continue well into the summer of 2021. Amid ongoing international travel restrictions, many Britons are opting to enjoy a staycation this year.

Whether it’s heading off with a camper van in tow or pitching a tent for the first time, Britons keen for a change of scenery are already booking their staycation for as soon as the Government confirms they can go ahead.

However, experts predict some destinations will receive far more foot traffic than others – which may be something of a turn off for those looking for peace and tranquillity.

According to booking platform CoolCamping’s “UK Camping Trends Report” for 2021 the Lake District, Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk, and the New Forest are all set to be busy this year thanks to their stunning natural surroundings.

Luckily, there are some ways holidaymakers can still enjoy beautiful camping locations, but with much less of a crowd.

James Warner Smith an expert from CoolCamping spoke with to share some of his favourite “hidden gems” which might not necessarily be on people’s “list” of hotspots.

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“I think people don’t need to be too disheartened by places being full,” he said.

“I think if people accept that if they go where there’s available space it might not always be the area of the UK that springs to mind, but actually it’s a really good opportunity to see new places.”

For Mr Warner Smith, the key to avoiding overcrowding is giving popular locations, such as national parks, a miss and instead doing a bit of research on the UK’s Areas of Natural Beauty.

“I think one of the best alternatives to the national parks, are the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” he explained.

“People know the national parks, but I think a lot of the time people don’t really necessarily know the designated Areas of Natural Beauty.”

Some of the expert’s favourite examples include the Shropshire Hills, North Pennines and the Forest of Bowland.

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“They’re all just as well looked after as some of the better known national parks, but they’re just so much quieter when you get there in terms of tourism,” he said.

“When it’s busy like it will be this year, and like it was last year, they’re all the better for it because it is much quieter,” he said.

“The Shropshire Hills is definitely one that kind of springs to mind, and the Welsh border area, including Herefordshire and the Forest of Dean.”

According to Mr Warner Smith, despite having less foot traffic, many of these areas still have plenty of fun tourist activities to offer.

Herefordshire, for example, shows off its local agriculture with a cider tour which can be done by bike, or – for those who need some extra storage space to carry bottles home – by car.

Meanwhile, Mr Warner Smith says the Forest of Bowland, which mostly spans north-east Lancashire, offers a lot of the same experiences as some of the big Yorkshire National Parks but is likely to be far quieter this summer.

“I think swerving the big national parks in favour of the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a solid top tip for finding somewhere where you’ve still got mountains to walk in and footpaths and things like that but it’s that bit quieter,” he said.

It’s an experience he has encountered himself, having made last-minute plans in the summer of 2020.

He recounted discovering some “really nice campsites” in Warwickshire, the Wye Valley and Cambridgeshire, during this time.

“There can be ways to find new areas that you might not necessarily have on your list in the first place,” he said.

“You might find a really nice campsite, that has got the right setup. You can really discover somewhere that’s new and different with much quieter local park allowing you to actually explore parts of the UK that maybe weren’t even on your radar in the first place.”

For those who are eyeing a camping or caravan stay in the coming months, he had one final nugget of advice to offer.

“The main thing is not to expect to be able to get in a caravan and drive around thinking you’ll be able to just find a campsite which has space,” he concluded.

“This year is definitely going to be about advance bookings.”

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