Free drinks at the campsite

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

The dilemma…

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.

Real camping Feast

This all stemmed from a simple question I had on Friday from the first campers who checked in this year.

They asked where they could get some great food for their supper on a bank holiday. Good Friday was a beautiful day but everyone knew that the weather was set to change over the weekend, which added a twist of urgency into the campfire cookery. I recommended that they popped down to Holmansbridge farm shop for meat, eggs, cheese and bread. They also stock beer, cider and some great local sparkling wine there, which makes it a one stop shop for a real camping feast.

The shop is only a 10 minute walk from the campsite along the disused railway track and was surprisingly still open late in the afternoon.

Cooking during a camping trip is best kept pretty simple. This allows you to savor the real flavours of the ingredients that you use. We wrote about cooking a steak sandwich in the escapees handbook and this is what we reckon is the best way to eat a steak on a camping trip.

After the meal why not finish off with a cup of freshly picked mint tea. We grow quite a range of different herbs that can be added to hot water, and Therri the local herbalist has signs explaining what each plant is useful for. Read more about this in the handbook link above.

My one tip. Don’t do what one of the campers did here last summer. In their attempt to get back to basic camp cuisine, they cooked a can of baked beans in the can over the fire. This all sounded like a great and washing uo saving idea, BUT their mistake was not to take the lid off the can and the ensuing explosion sent scorching hot baked beans over a wide area of their substantial camping pitch.

Apple harvest and pressing

This weekend we picked a large batch of apples from around the campsite and then fought off the wasps to press them into apple juice which the girls sold through the Secret Teapot cafe at reception.

The weather was fantastic all weekend which meant that the picking, chopping and pressing were all fun to do. We seemed to draw quite  a crowd of inquisitive and thirsty campers before i managed to get stung by a rather excited wasp.

We made one batch of juice into 25litres of cider which is currently bubbling away in the kitchen back at our house next door to the campsite. Sussex has a great reputation for growing good apples and the campsites trees have done really well this summer, although campers quite often eat their way through the apples before we get to harvest them.

We have a Perry Pear tree in the garden at home and this crop was added to the ciders as there weren’t enough on the tree to make their own batch. It could be a long winter

Come to Octoberfeast and stay at our Campsite near Lewes

We are really lucky that our campsite near Lewes in sunny East Sussex is so close to all of the exciting and interesting things that go on there.

This autumn is the annual Octoberfeast event when the town and local people showcase their brilliant cooking and eating skills with a fortnight of scoffing and indulgence. It runs from the 18th September until 4th October and is packed with events such as Pop up Suppers, community apple pressing, a soup festival,  expert talks, workshops and masterclasses, and a brilliant street food feast, wow.

To get the best out of the event you might want to book a night or two camping and stay over at our campsite near Lewes, the Secret Campsite. You could even stay at the luxury bed and breakfast next door at whitelodge . We are just 4.5 miles from Lewes and you can easily get a taxi home, or if you haven’t eaten too much and become rather portly you could walk. It only takes a couple of hours and is virtually all off road. You start out along the river Ouse and then across my mates sweetcorn farm and finally criss cross some footpaths past the pub and back down the railway track to the campsite. It’s a breeze and very jolly. No one is likely to hitch, as this seems to be a dying pastime, which is a shame.

Sunflowers and weird fruits

The campsites unusual edible orchard has just been undersown with a crop of sunflowers and Phacelia. Phacelia is a beautiful mauve flower that attracts the bees in their droves, all sorts come along bumble bees, mason bees, honeybees. The problem with sowing sunflowers is that it is like offering a free dinner at the The Ivy  restaurant to the local crow and rook population who then flock over the site eating every last one of the seeds. Not wanting to have wasted three days worth of soil preparation, sowing and the raking in the sunflower seeds I have covered the whole plot with shade netting. This shade netting was left over from the old Chubbs nursery, famous across Sussex,  that was here before we opened the Secret Campsite in 2012. This makes the seedbed rather ugly in the short term but, I think it will pay dividends in a few months time when the whole plot bursts into flower.

The sunflower heads will then rotate east to west as the sun tracks across the sky.

The other advantage to this crop is that it provides a mass of seedheads that most of the birds of sussex are going to bear down on in the autumn.

Seeds sown and farmers market in sussex

Yesterday I spent the morning sowing seeds in the polytunnel that we can pot up later in the summer. We always concentrate on sowing perennials and biennial plants around the campsite as they are great for lazy gardening. But it is good to have a few flavoursome additions for salads and stews cooked over the campfire.

We also grow some pots with plants that can go into our tea bed.

This year I have put in lots of flat leaved parsley and coriander that will get established under cover and can then go into some pots in a few weeks time. These pots will be around reception where campers can have a handful of leaves to flavour the salads they are creating in the camping meadow ready for a fireside supper.

The monthly farmers market in Lewes was on yesterday. This bimonthly event attracts growers from across Sussex and is a great place to find all sorts of interesting produce. The Lewes farmers market is held twice a month and the dates are listed on the link.

Herbal Tea bed ready to drink

Since planting the tea bed last summer we have been avoiding over picking any of the plants to allow them to establish. Following a year of unbroken sunshine at the campsite, the plants roots have burrowed deep into the soil and the leaves have filled out the spaces in between plants and hence suppress the weeds. We have now decided that it is time to start picking. Therri the resident herbalist here at The Secret Campsite who practises throughout Sussex has written up the labels on each plant so that campers looking for a relaxing or restorative brew can now pick and make their own cups of tea as they amble over for a morning shower.

Currently the Tea bed has the following plants which are available for all campers staying here: Bronze fennel, Sage, Yarrow, Feverfew, Mountain Mint, Sweet Cicely, Lavender, Mullion, Oregano, Angelica, Parsley, Catmint, Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena, Garden Mint, Korean Mint, Valerian, Vervain, Borage, Red Clover, Hyssop, Thyme, Marshmallow, Lovage and a Cardoon for luck.


Caucasian Pears planted

My friend Paul Barney stayed with us, next door to The Secret Campsite when he was down in Lewes and Brighton a couple of weeks ago for the annual Seedy Sunday event that takes place in both of these interesting Sussex towns. Paul who runs the brilliant Edulis nursery near Ashampstead in Berkshire, collects unusual and edible plants from around the world which he sells to visitors to his website or at the many rare plant shows that he attends around the South of England. Paul very kindly gave me 5 Caucasian pear trees that I have planted around the disorganised orchard on this side of the old railway track that bisects the Secret Campsite down here in Sussex.

These beautiful trees will provide wonderful fruit snacks for campers staying with us and also provide beautiful flowers in the spring, although we won’t get fruit for a few years yet.

The picture is of our Tree Tent which has shrugged off the stormy weather in anticipation of the arrival of the woodburner which we will be installing in the next month ready for the 2014 season which starts at the end of March.

Wild garlic planted

My love of freshly picked food sparked an order of wild garlic bulbs last week which I planted out this weekend around the campsite. I sourced the bulbs from Stonecat rural enterprises based in Denbigh.

Scott who runs the business runs a not for profit organisation distributing native garlic and bluebell bulbs as well as saplings for a number of native tree species. Wild Garlic  Allium ursinum is a brilliant seasonal addition to any shady area as it provides a delicious addition to spring salads and can make a great pesto for pasta dishes. Planting the bulbs in the green at this time of year will ensure that we have a small crop this spring. They will soon spread from the 5 or 6 small areas that we planted and provide a fantastic opportunity for foraging during the hungry months of March and April. Sussex is one of the most densely wooded counties in England and The Secret Campsite is surrounded by ancient woodland where wild garlic is particularly at home. Our plants will provide small additions to salads for any early season campers staying here in March and April. We are planting lots more edible plants around the Secret Campsite for campers to enjoy when they stay with us. Some of these can be used in teas as additions to seafood dishes cooked over the campfire or just as a beautiful addition to salads.

Lewes October Feast

Lewes OctoberFeast is a vibrant festival of local food and drink, started in 2010 by a group of food-loving Lewesians. Our aim is to encourage people from Lewes, and people outside Lewes, to enjoy the wonderful variety of high-quality locally sourced produce available in the county town’s shops, restaurants, pubs and markets.

Lewes is a market town and we want to celebrate the fact by bringing people from all over its catchment area (and beyond) to sample the edible and visual delights on offer. A party nobody will forget in a hurry – and all in the best possible taste.

Lewes is 4 miles from The Secret Campsite in East Sussex