This season went by in a flash and now we are deep into November. A particular highlight is the new sheep coming to graze off the camping meadow. They arrive and tread warily out of the trailer. Then hesitate but upon hearing the rattle of a bucket, will charge straight into their new home for the next month or so. Sometimes the new sheep headbutt our 2 sheep. I do find this painful to watch, but once the pecking order is established it becomes more harmonious!
The meadow is currently the source of sloes and rosehips. Our friends at Generation Distillers, located in nearby Chailey, have created a wonderful sloe gin using The Secret Campsite sloes. Check it out next season. Perfect for enjoying around the camp fire. In the interim we can assure you that it is delicious. And we will endeavour to not drink it all!
Our forager in residence, Jane Hedgewitch, has been harvesting the rosehips in the meadow too. Jane has a long history of rootling in the hedgerows and makes fantastic cordials, extracts and preserves that she sells here and often at Lewes Friday Food Market too. This summer we enjoyed (and stocked) her delicious Wild Cherry Blossom Cordial. You can read a bit more about Jane in a feature by Muddy Stilettoes Sussex here.
We are currently working on lots of exciting new projects at the Secret Campsite and hope to reveal more in our next newsletter. You can sign up for it here
Sussex is a wonderful place to visit and there’s plenty to do, eat and see whilst you are here. Here’s a list of places that our campers seem to enjoy. Please check the company website for current times and all opening details.
For us at The Secret Campsite, real camping starts and finishes with nature, peace and space.
It’s the inky sky at night. The chance to see the stars and learn the constellations. It’s the dropping off to sleep hearing the night time wildlife sounds. The hoot of an owl, the amorous croaks of the marsh frogs, the unexplained noises that are magnified in the dark.
It’s the crackle of the camp fire. The hiss of the sausages cooking in their fat. The careful build up of the fire, perhaps chopping your own kindling. It’s blowing on the flames and getting ash back in your eyes and not caring. It’s sitting and chatting around the fire with your companions.
It’s wandering around and seeing nature. Unfamiliar wild flowers, prickly grasses, berries and nuts. It’s watching trees explode with a rainbow of leaf colours and blossom. It’s 50 Shades of nature’s green. Last week I noticed lime green, sage green, dark seaweed green, moss green and an array in between.
It’s watching the local wildlife flourish. Spotting the many varieties of butterflies in the meadow and along the old railway track. Sussex has many rare ones including the Dingy Skipper. It’s the excitement of seeing a slow worm. Or perhaps an adder? It’s the twilight glow worm hunt. It’s craning your neck to see the Red Kite up high (always too high for a picture), spotting the deer in neighbouring woodland. It’s hearing the dawn chorus and trying to identify who is there.
It’s about space. Large spacious pitches. Seeing but not overhearing your fellow campers. Perhaps relaxing with a book or just pootle around and daydream. Maybe taking your kids on a long country walk and coming back with colourful treasures of leaves and grasses.
Peace. Nothing Much
It’s about doing nothing much. Peaceful camping. Escaping from the frenetic everyday maelstrom of noise, chatter and deadlines. Reconnecting with each other. Putting down the technology and removing all those pinging notifications.
At the Secret Campsite, we like doing Nothing Much and we want you to have this opportunity too. Expect nature, peace and space. This means no groups, no cars in the meadow, no dogs and a quiet time after 10 pm. Read more about becoming a Secret Campsite Escapee here
Experiencing nature is essential for our well being and never, ever gets boring! Our quiet campsite, which is so very quiet now we are in Lockdown, provides a great opportunity for slowing down, switching off and ‘doing nothing’ as we say.
When we choose to ‘do nothing’ we give ourselves the time to pay close attention to our natural surroundings, which are calming, invigorating and so beautiful here in the meadow and within the neighbouring woodland.
To make the most of nature, we like to use all of our senses; touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.
Here are our favourite ways to engage with the natural world at The Secret Campsite:
It’s easy to find beauty when you observe nature visually, but if you look more closely you might spot something you don’t often notice. Sneak a peek under the reptile mats on site and see if you can spot any slow worms, common lizards basking on top or grass snakes warming up underneath. Look for the colours of flowers in bloom. Notice the reflections on ponds, fluttering butterflies through the long grasses. The way that the breeze catches cobwebs and the rhythm of the wings of different species of bird as they fly overhead. Be curious and study the things you see that you might usually dismiss.
Make yourself at home at your camping pitch. Take your shoes off and feel the cool grass beneath your feet and between your toes. When you’re ready to pop your shoes back on, head out for a walk in the surrounding woodland! With your bare hands touch the different textures of leaves –are they smooth, spiky, furry, waxy?
What about the bark on different trees? The deeply textured bark of old oak trees, the smooth bark of beech or the, papery bark of birch. Have any critters decided to hitch a lift with you? What do they feel like as they scurry across your skin? Slow and deliberate caterpillars, hurried ants and truly unpredictable springy crickets!
When we ‘tune in’ to nature the first thing we hear are usually birds. Waking to the dawn chorus is really special and we love settling down to the sound of owls calling at dusk.
Through the day we often hear woodpeckers laughing (at least that’s what we think their call sounds like) and the spine-tingling call of buzzards circling in the thermals overhead the campsite. Sussex is regarded as one of the best counties to hear Nightingales and we love hearing them on the old railway track.
Look past the dominating vocalisations of birds and think about what else you can hear. Can you hear the insects buzzing and the low hum of passing bumble bees? Can you hear the trickling stream in the woods? Listen further. Hear the long grasses and the leaves of the trees rustle as they are disturbed by a gentle breeze. Natures orchestra never stops playing.
We know that rain isn’t something you might ask for while camping. But don’t you love the pleasant, earthy, sweet smell that comes after rain has fallen on dry ground? This smell is uncommonly called petrichor. Or, maybe the rich scent of pine trees in the evening after they have been baked in the hot sun of a summer day. We love wandering down the old railway track, enjoying honey scented meadow sweet and clouds of gorse fragrance which smell like vanilla and coconut!
We definitely don’t recommend doing a taste test on every plant you see, so stick to the ones you know! There are lots of tasty treats around the campsite at different times of year including blackberries (it’s easy to spot the children that have been feasting on them in late Summer!), apples, bullace, medlar and quince to name a few! Alternatively, head over to the tea garden to try some lemon verbena. We recommend foraging yourself just enough to make a cup of tea back at your pitch.
We love to hear the ways our visitors experience nature and become wilder people while staying at The Secret Campsite. A mentality that we hope you carry home with you!
To ensure that we deliver this we spend lots of time enhancing parts of the campsite so that more of our native flora and fauna move in. This year I set myself the task of planting 150 new tress and shrubs.
My favourite part of the planting process is chosing the plants that will do a great job for us. So, selecting indigenous species is critical, then matching them to our underlying soil conditions. We’re in Sussex so The Secret Campsite unsurprisingly sits on clay. Bone dry in the summer and soaking wet throughthe winter.
When we first set up the campsite we had a grant from the Woodland Trust and we sourced the plants from Ashridge Nurseries in Somerset. I have used them quite a few times since then as their plants have normally been great.
What we planted
This year we ordered 2 packs, one focused on bird friendly plants and the other focused on edible plants that campers can enjoy foraging with at different time during the season.
The bird friendly pack included the following species: Hawthorm, Wild privet, Crabapple, blackthorn, Guelder rose, Hazel, Common Pear, Purple barberry and Scotch rose. These plants have been dotted around the Bank part of the campsite in clumps and as screening for some of the pitches.
The edible pack included: Cherry plum, Crabapple, Blackberry, Blackthorn, Hazel, Autumn olives, Elder, and Sweet briar rose. As they mature they will provide a rich mix of berries, nuts and fruits to compliment our eclectic orchard.
Finally, I put in a large Common Walnut, positioned to screen the Okra (more on this beautiful struture later). I also planted a Wild Service Tree which, in time, produces succulent fruits.
Its nearly the end of planting time so we were in a rush to get the last plants in.
Have a look at our video we really got our skates on.
Summer seems to have quickly turned into deep Autumn. Worse still, Winter feels very much as though it’s looming just around the corner. As the days get cooler its easy to yearn for the warmer and brighter days of the Summer months. But, we’re doing our best to revel in the darkness of this time of year and all of the magic it brings!
Harvesting nature and the garden
We are celebrating the end of harvest season and the tremendous abundance that the hot Summer and October rains have brought. We’ve been gifted a bag full of fat chestnuts, we’ve dried masses of mushrooms and frozen bucket loads of hedgerow berries. We have stacked the firewood and bought the pumpkins and squash in, just before the frost, dotting them around the house for decoration. They look mystical.
We have a local expert Jane, who turns this produce into fantastic pesto, sauces and pickles as well as cordial and oils and next year we hope to be stocking some of her bounty.
During November we pick the last of the apples while dodging those that spontaneously fall from the tree. Eventually we all lose our battle against gravity! We will be using our gathered foods to make all sorts of delicious concoctions to enjoy through Winter. Rosehip syrup, apple crumble, pumpkin soup, blackberry cheesecake, penny bun risotto, elderberry syrup are all on the list.
But, of course, a few boozy treats such as cider, sloe gin and pine vodka too!
Who is moving around?
The harvest season may be nearly over as the first frosts arrive but, there is still plenty to see whilst we are out and about.
Keep your eyes peeled for the last of the active creatures who will soon hibernate for the Winter – or ‘brumate’ if they’re reptiles.
The hardiest butterfly and moth species are still active, including Peacock, Red Admiral, and Small Tortoiseshells. Not forgetting the aptly named November Moth. If you don’t spot any of those, there are always the beautifully coloured Autumn leaves to enjoy.
The other treat at this time of year are the numerous bonfire nights taking place, especially here in Sussex. Make sure you chse out any hibernating hedgehogs before lighting the fire. Its also that time to light a log fire in the evening and read a good book. Try Wonderland by Stephen Moss and Brett Westwood it will inspire you to get out and encounter nature.
The first signs of spring in Sussex have been appearing around the campsite recently. This makes it a good time to go looking for snakes.
The snakes hibernate over winter and then start to emerge from their burrows to bask in the early spring sunshine so that they can go hunting for prey to re build their bodies ready for summer.
Having a look around the campsite I uncovered a small mouse nest that has been built rather precariously under one of the snake boards in the camping meadow. These mice are running the gauntlet as this is a favoured spot during the summer for adders and grass snakes, both of which would be very pleased to see the young…. and the parents.
I also found the wild garlic leaves that have appeared. These are a delicious addition to salads and give off a strong garlicky smell which you can often enjoy as you walk or drive through woodlands where they grow.
Before it gets to late in the spring we needed to finish planting our hazel coppice which we have located on the Bank as a way of screening the barn. This hazel coppice will in time be a good habitat for the Dormouse who really like scrubby habitats and particularly hazel which can grow quickly after woodland clearance if the trees have been coppiced.
Irrespective of whether the dormouse arrives hazels a great plant for cutting small stems from which can be used for roasting marshmallows over a campfire so at least some of the local residents will be happy.
Alongside the new hazel planting we have put in a lot of wild and bird cherries which will add colour and a great food source for insect. They are also screening the large barn and it was great to see the leaves emerging on these young trees.
Hopefully we will get a good show of blossom in a few weeks time so come in april to see what happens
This time of year is fantastic around the campsite as all of the plants that we planted start to show their produce.
We landscaped the Secret campsite with wildlife and edible plants in mind and over time, as the plants have established, they are starting to become productive.
This has meant we can now walk around the camping meadow and surrounding woods to pick nuts, fruits and berries from the trees and shrubs happily growing there.
This year has been good for some crops and hopeless for others.
This special hawthorn tree that i bought from Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust produces delicious little fruits. They are a bit tricky to eat but have a fantastic flavour so are worth filtering through the seeds within to enjoy the flavour.
Feel free to pick what you can reach whilst you are here.
One plant you my be less tempted to pick is the tomato plant that is growing out of the old compost toilet waste container near the barn. Although i’m sure the tomatoes would taste great they have self seeded in the organic waste from the compost toilet…urrrgh.
Fortunately they haven’t ripened yet so i doubt i will have any rivals until the campsite has closed in 3 weeks time.
Therri the resident Sussex herbalist at the Secret Campsite has just been clearing and weeding our tea bed. This will make it easier for campers to pick leaves and flowers from the bed that she planted a few years ago. The plants in the bed can all be used to provide relaxing tisanes for people looking for a very green alternative to packaged teas.
Whilst I was clearing up some of the plants and stems she had weeded out I came across a giant of a caterpillar happily munching through the mullein plant. Look at the link to see how you should make a herbal tea from the plant and what its uses are.
He had a few of his mates with him but had outgrown everyone else munching away on the leaves.
I’ve finished clearing the beds now, but thought I should share a few pictures of this monster.
Its a blazing hot summers day and you have been on a long walk in dusty fields, or perhaps,
you get back to the campsite after wild swimming in the river at Barcombe Mills and want to slake your thirst or:
your feet are hot and aching and the perfect solution is to soak them in cool water as you sit down by the campfire for a cup of mint tea or,
you want to steam some spinach so that you can enjoy it with the steak you are cooking over the campfire or,
you want to brew a calming herbal tea from the freshly picked plants in our tea garden
How far do I need to walk to get some clean drinking water to take to my camping pitch?
Well the answer is not far.
When we were landscaping the Secret Campsite we made sure that every pitch was no more than 30 seconds walk from a water point. Once there, you can get as much drinking water as you need.
The aim of the campsite ifs to make real camping straightforward simple and enjoyable, with great showers and washing facilities, whilst allowing campers the space and peace to enjoy the wildlife we have encouraged into our site. Now is the time that it is all starting to come to life. So far this season we have had slow worms, weasels, a nightingale, the green woodpecker, wild garlic and lots of rain, but no snakes yet.