Food news for summer 2020!

Meat and produce

We are now stocking locally produced meat boxes from Carole and Kevin at Townings Farm, which is located 5 miles away on Chailey Common. Each box contains 4 burgers, 6 sausages, 4 Lamb koftas (flavoured with rosemary and garlic) and 8 Rashers of bacon. These boxes can be booked via the website but it must be at least one week prior to arrival, you can then pick up your haul from reception. Meat boxes have over 3 month shelf life in the freezer and can defrost after you arrive.

Alternatively, feel free to call us and place an order before you arrive.

On our doorstep we are also brilliantly well served by Holmansbridge Farm Shop. They are located 5 minutes down the road on foot or via the old railway track. The farm shop stocks a wide range of meats, deli food stuffs, fruit, veg and a wicked selection of cheeses including Sussex based High Weald Dairy and Bookham and Harrison ranges.

Drinks and lollies

Taste test for Lickalix flavours at The Secret Campsite
we undertook a taste test for the lolly flavours!

We have also started selling Lickalix ice lollies (Lickalix are the world’s first ice lolly with plastic free, compostable packaging) so they fit our criteria of local forward looking products. Finally, we have sourced a range of cold soft drinks from Sussex based Folkingtons. 

Swedish Fika at the Hubbery Cafe

Pop up Swedish Hubbery Cafe

Fika is a Swedish word for stopping what you are doing. Having a break and enjoying a drink and homemade treat with your family, friends or colleagues. Fika is a hugely important part of Swedish culture and we love it.

During July and August The Hubbery Take Away Cafe will be open for drinks and Swedish cakes. They will be serving light lunch options, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm. It’s a 25 minute stroll away through the beautiful, neighbouring Knowlands Woods. We will be creating a wildlife rich route map that gets you there through the woods and back, without encountering the bears 

Knowlands Wood by The Secret Campsite

Hopefully this will get you through your summer stay at The Secret Campsite, but if not, September is a great time for foraging throughout Sussex. We will write some more nearer the time and do have a read of an old blog we posted.

See you soon

Rockpooling at Seaford Beach

Seaford Head Sussex

Seaford Beach is about 25 minutes drive from The Secret Campsite. A quiet spot. Seaford’s charms are its simplicity, peace and space. Plus free parking. It’s very different from its raucous sibling Brighton, further up the coast.

From the seafront you can access a wonderful clifftop walk to Seaford Head. This takes you up high, with stunning views across the coastline. The cliff top ragged edges are part roped off as they are very dry and dangerously crumbly. Wild flowers are sprinkled around and the seagulls are out in force.

Wild flowers over Seaford Head East Sussex
Wild flowers at Seaford Head

At the top of the cliffs Seaford Nature Reserve. This is home to many beautiful butterflies including the Dingy Skipper, Chalkhill Blue and Silver Spotted Skipper. Visiting and resident birds may include kittiwakes and peregrines falcons.

The first glimpse of the Seven Sisters is stunning because seven distinct hills tower from the sea. All of these are slightly different in shape with raw cliff edges. Having walked this route, I can vouch for their wild beauty and different inclines!

There’s a couple of options here for you to choose. Rock pooling at Hope Valley or carry on walking round to access the pebbly Cuckmere Haven beaches.

Rockpooling at Seaford Sussex
Rockpooling wonders

Or head on over to Brighton Pier if you want the complete opposite. Brighton offers the traditional English seaside pier and some pretty wild action. Located about 20 minutes by car from the Secret Campsite, it really is the antidote to peaceful camping! Regular trains run straight from Lewes Station and infrequent ones from Cooksbridge station (change at Lewes).

We skipped straight back at The Secret Campsite feeling revitalised after our beach trip. Raring and ready to light the campfire!

Up with the Skylarks, Swallows and Scarlet Pimpernel

Windmill on The South Downs Wa

Friday morning saw us leave The Secret Campsite at 4:45 AM to walk on The South Downs Way. Walking along the roads to join the South Downs Way at Offham, we saw the early morning sun rise and the world start to awake.

The South Downs Way near Lewes

We joined the South Downs Way passing the old racecourse near Lewes, its surrounded by fields filled with springy new born lambs. Poppies and red campion peppered the path along with scarlet pimpernels.

Wild flowers on the path closeby to Lewes old Racecourse

Downlands views are huge. Massive skies with rolling green hills. Fields of wheat, barley and grazed land all form a verdant palette of green. Skylarks were a total treat to see and watch. Little birds who nest on the ground and who suddenly just pop up. Most skylarks sing whilst in flight. They are predominantly pale brown with dark streaks in subtle patterns. Sadly they move to quickly to capture a decent photo. Swallows proved to be camera shy too. Their forked tails help to identify them more quickly.

The South Downs Way near Brighton

We made it over to Castle Hill Nature Reserve. This is a designated National Nature Reserve, with rich chalk downland. Castle Hill offers beautiful views from higher up the slopes towards Brighton and by the late Bronze age iron enclosure too.

Names of places along the South Downs Way are intriguing. Scabby Brow was definitely the best and Heathy Brow came a close second.

On the South Downs Way walking back to The Secret Campsite

Walking along the South Downs Way is great. We completed it as a family a few years ago. Admittedly it took us a few half term trips (and piggybacks) to finish. It’s a truly beautiful path spanning 100 miles between Winchester to Eastbourne in East Sussex. The Secret Campsite is a great base to start exploring this ancient path and surrounding area.

Beavers come to Sussex

Beavers released in the UK

Beavers are a keystone species. So named as they are a species without which, whole eco-systems collapse. Sadly they were hunted to extinction in the seventeenth century. Beavers were once prized for their fur and their castoreum. This was used to make perfume and medicine. 

However very excitingly, beavers have recently been reintroduced in 2 sites here in Sussex.

The Sussex Beaver Trial is a new partnership between Knepp Estate and the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The Trial have released a pair of beavers at Knepp who will have over 250 hectares of enclosed land to roam.

The National Trust have introduced a UK breeding pair within a secure enclosure on the small streams at Valewood. This is located at the Black Down Estate on the edge of the South Downs.

Keystone Species

Keystone species means that a species manages the landscape around them. For instance Beavers build dams, create pools in rivers and streams that store water. This acts to slow the flow of water downstream. Beavers really do perform an extraordinary role! Isabella Tree, co-owner of the Knepp Estate has written a wonderful blog here.

Beavers will hopefully create a thriving habitat and increase the range of species and wildlife numbers. These may include water voles, wildfowl, crane flies, water beetles and dragonflies. This will support the landscape’s efforts towards climate change by storing water in dry times. This should reduce the increasing risk of flooding. 

Tim recently attended Landscape Innovation Conference in Sussex. At the conference Alistair Driver of Rewilding Britain, explained the organisations vision to restore “wild nature”. As a result wildlife would be enabled to return, habitats expanded and communities enabled to flourish. Rewilding Britain works closely with the Knepp Estate in Sussex and other UK based projects.

Described as being “extraordinary hydrological engineers” beavers are an amazing addition to our Sussex wildlife. We look forward to hearing more about their adventures in Sussex.  

Who knows when we’ll see some close to The Secret Campsite?

Photo used by kind permission of David Plummer / Sussex Wildlife Trust

Birdsong and bluebells

bluebells at the campsite

We are always lucky with the bird song here. This year with no aeroplanes flying overhead and with empty roads, we are treated to the full vocal thrust of the birds.

Last week we woke and crept down over to the camping meadow at 5 am. The moon was still full and creamy and within 30 minutes the dawn was breaking. We were treated to a wondrous orchestra of birdsong and this included blackbirds, pheasants, thrushes and a tawny owl. We recorded the birdsong and posted it on our daily “Postcards “series on Instagram. Do go and listen!

Dawn at The Secret Campsite
Dawn breaking

The Cuckoo

At the end of last week the cuckoo arrived. He’s sounding a bit hoarse and his emphasis is on the “Cuck” and followed with a deflated “oo”. We are trying to catch him on video but he’s getting wise and so keeps eluding us. I have never seen one in real life so it’s fun trying to track him down. A picture may follow at some point…

The Nightingales

Nightingales have now followed the Cuckoo to the campsite. Sussex is one of the best counties in the UK to hear them. Only the males sing and with a repertoire of over 200 songs they crack through these at a fair pace. All the time whilst defending their territory and attempting to woo a mate! Nightingales sing all through the night, not just at dusk and dawn. They love the old railway track by the campsite as the brambly and thick vegetation there provides great cover. They are drab looking birds so blend in perfectly. We heard them last night and scrambled around in the dark trying to get a recording. However we failed miserably.

Someone doing a much better job than us is Sam Lee. He frequents the woods near the campsite and records the Nightingales singing. Make a diary note to listen to him on April 29 between 10 pm and 12 am on youtube. Details here

Bluebells

April is a most beautiful month here at The Secret Campsite. Carpets of bluebells, clusters of pale wood anemones and individual early purple spotted orchids are all tucked away in the neighbouring Knowlands Woods or dotted around the campsite. I could post 100’s of bluebell pictures here but restrained myself to just 1. Can you spot Tim’s elbow in the left hand corner?

Bluebells, anenomes and orchids.

We look forward to seeing you when we are open!

2020 Camping season almost here

aerial view of the secret campsite near lewes

In just 18 days time on the 27th March we throw the gates open to a new camping season at The Secret Campsite. Whoopeee.

Its been a dreadful winter, with so much rain and wind, but we’re super upbeat going into the new camping season. Whatever else is going on around us, it can be happily left at home for a few days, whilst we escape.

Real camping

Real camping is a perfect way to leave behind everyday troubles. It’s a chance for us to reconnect with the natural world. Our everyday lives are filled with all sorts of interruptions. So its blissful to escape to somewhere quiet and hidden. Once here we can spend time with the people who are really important in our lives.

quiet camping at the secret campsite

Campfires

The campfire is a perfect accompniment to your escape, so i’ve ordered in lots of firewood. Its really important that those long evening conversations are accompanied by the glow, hiss and warmth that a campfire provides. Its a perfect place to watch the night sky and see which constellations you can identify. We’re very lucky in Sussex, to be surrounded by so much woodland. This woodland screens us from the nearby towns of Brighton and Lewes and ensures that we get an ink black backdrop.

marshmallows at the secret campsite zoe holland

Wildlife

Our little campsite, set in a woodland meadow in sussex, is really fortunate to be surrounded by amzing habitat for wildlife. We have managed the site with this in mind for the last 15 years.

This attention to detail means we have a huge range of species sharing the site with us. Some of them are pretty rare, like the nightingales, adders, Purple Emperors, Great Crested Newts. We even have some dormice living nearby.

privet hawk moth at the secrrt wildlife festival
Privet hawk moth

By managing the site for wildlife, we create opportunities for our campers to connect. Its not just the peace and tranquility we create that enables this but its the other campers we meet. Campers who have found us also value these characteristics of the site and the surrounding area. So much so that they keep coming back, some since we opened in 2012.

Every year we host an event with Sussex Wildlife Trust at the campsite. The Secret Wildlife Festival is a fantastic weekend. Families get to see, touch and hear about the creatures and plants we share the campsite and te rest of Sussex with. You can read more about the festival here

The Area

We’re based just a couple of miles from England’s newest National Park. The South Downs National Park is just north of the fiercely independent town of Lewes and 10 miles from the vibrant city of Brighton. We’re 6 miles from the beautiful heaths of the Ashdown Forest where Pooh Bear was created and Nightjars can be heard on a summers evening. Or if you like asimple trip tothe beach rather than braving the frenetic activity of Brighton, Seaford is your place. Better still you can enjoy superb fish and chips from Trawlers in the town centre.

But, if like me, you just want to walk and enjoy not using a vehicle you can wander over to the Anchor Inn for some boating, or walk along the river to Lewes. You can catch the bus back to Barcombe if you wear yourself out. For the swimmers amongst you, there’s the Pells Pool and for the brave, wild swimming at Barcombe Mills.

rowing in the ouse near the anchor inn.

At the campsite

Many people come and stay with us and do nothing much at all. We even wrote a book about this approach to camping and it got mentioned in the Sunday Times when it first came out. Why not have a read and start to dream about your trips over the spring summer and autumn.

We look forward to meeting you

The Sunday Telegraph’s “20 best campsites near a pub”

Sunday Telegraph , campsites with great pubs

I only found out on Monday morning when Katherine in the office asked me about Giant Crested Newts. She’d read it in The Sunday Telegraphs “20 best campsites near a pub” feature. But best of all, The Secret Campsite had been picked as one of them. Better still, we were the first one listed…..hooray

We had been visited a few weeks before by deputy editor Olivia Walmsley. Olivia was researching an article for the Sunday Telegraph about great campistes near pubs. She wanted to write about the camping and then pay a visit to a couple of local pubs for some food and refreshment.

Sunday Telegraphs pubs and camping article

The camping part

The Gridshell was free for Olivia and Jonny’s first night. But, being full up, we then had to move them onto a camping pitch on the bank for Saturday night. This worked really well and it sounds like they enjoyed cooking over the campfire and an amazing dawn chorus. What a great way to start a Sunday morning, despite a drop of rain.

Glamping in Sussex

Local Pubs

We’re really lucky with the pubs near to the campsite as they offer a diverse range of prices, locations and food.

The Royal Oak played host to Olivia and Jonny’s Saturday lunch. After this they headed off for some wild swimming at Barcombe Mills, before heading back to the campsite for another campfire by their Bell tent.

Village pub near the campsite in Sussex

On Sunday, after a downpour they enjoyed a hearty Sunday lunch at the Five Bells in Chailey.

You can read the whole article here

Some other great local pubs

We really enjoy these 2 local pubs and lots of campers sing the praises of them both. But there are even more places within a short walk or a 10 minute drive. Here are a few more that are also worth trying out.

The Half Moon at Plumpton is at the foot of the South Downs and make a great base to start a walk up onto the beautiful open chalk downland and the South Downs way

The Rainbow is a mile and half away and has a carvery, so its a safe pub for a meal on a Sunday evening. Many local pubs kitchens are closed after lunch on Sundays so campers could go hungry!

The Griffing Inn is super expensive but provides an amazing dining experience, so if you’re feeling flush its worth the extra few miles drive, but best book a taxi home and increase the mortgage in advance.

Finally if you’re feeling energetic why not get some rowing in and retire for a long luch afterwards at the Anchor Inn at Barcombe Mills

It’s great when independent writers and the public recognise what we are doing and the space we are trying to create, and when its combined with a great pub serving good honest food it’s a winning combination.

Why we are different to most campsites

We set the Secret Campsite up in 2012 to provide an uncompromised space where wildlife could flourish. It also had to be a space where campers could escape their busy technology filled lives. But, we also needed to earn an income.

So far it’s proved to be very rewarding and successful on both fronts. We’ll never be rich but, we have an amazing space here. Something, surprises me almost every day. This morning it was seeing the hornets that have moved into the sparrow hotels now that the chicks have fledged. Glad they chose their bedrooms.

Olivia’s article is one of a number of features we’ve had written about us. We’ve even won a few awards as well. In 2016 we were awarded a community hero award for our work with animals. In 2013 we were voted one of the Guardians top 10 campsites in the UK.

So we think we’re doing something right. The reviews we get on Cool Camping and Trip advisor seem to back this up…. most of the time.

By the way, Giant Crested Newts was a typo. We’ve got Great Crested Newts here and we are really proud of them. They are increasingly rare.

Woods filled with Bluebells

At this time of year we are really lucky to get the chance to see woodlands overflowing with carpets of beautiful fresh Bluebells. Few can be more eyecatching than Knowlands Wood in Barcombe, which is on the doorstep of the Secret Campsite and alive with all sorts of wildlife including the demure carpet of wood anemones.

Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta turn our often lifeless woodland floor, still recovering from the heavy autumn leaf fall, into a vivid blue haze of colour. This mesmerising azure hue is not disimilar to a soft mediterranean sky on a July morning.

photo Marie-Sophie Willis

This amazing annual transformation of the forest floor takes place beneath the emerging verdant canopy, just before the leaves on the trees shut out out all of the sunlight destined for the ground. The bluebells have to act fast to get the nourishment they need from the sun in order to complete their life cycle before the light is blocked out completely.

Its a race against time and we get all the benefits of this tussel between leaves and flowers. It’s one of our greatest forest plant spectacles and it probably explains why the bluebell is such a much loved English country flower

photo Marie-Sophie Willis

How can I enjoy blubells on my campig trip to The Secret Campsite?

Being located in East Sussex, the second most wooded county in England, The Secret Campsite has the huge benefit of numerous local woodlands. Some of these woods are filled with bluebells whlst others are home to the carpet of white wood anemones. Either way you can wile away hours at this time of year trapsing through the light, open woods, surrounded by a calming sea of blue.

Our favourite woods, on the doorstep of the campsite:

Knowlands Wood – a beautiful private nature reserve bordering the southern edge of the secret campsite as you head towards Barcombe. These woods have a beautiful tract of bluebells and large areas with whote wood anemones. If no bluebells are around they are great for killing time. Move about quietly and you’re very likely to see some of the deer, then head off to the Anchor Inn for some rowing and a great sunday lunch

Granthams Wood – a peaceful tract of ancient woodland 50 yards north of the campsite between Town Littleworth and Chailey. There is a beaitiful woodland edge path looking south towards the south downs national park. As yu g further into the woods the bluebells start to appear. but thats only if you make it past the fantatsic mushroom foraging. At certain times of the year the woodland edges are full of Ceps. This walk is a great preamble prior to a sunday lunch at The Five Bells in Chailey where the food is delicious.

Of course the other advantage to a bluebell walk is the opportunity to pick lots of wild garlic for a salad or a pesto.

wild garlic in flower in sussex

Ill talk about that in another post.

Weekend trip to Rye Harbour

On Sundy I set off early from the secret campsite with my friend Cliff and his son Freddy to visit Rye Harbour.

We wanted to see the Marsh Harriers that have been making a bit of a comeback in the area. We also wanted to pay a visit to Sussex Wildlife Trusts new visitor centre on the river front. Rye is only 40 miles from The Secret Campsite Lewes and you pick your way through the beautiful sussex countryside. The landscape is filled with woods and views of the sea. Its a beautiful way to spend 60 minutes and very relaxing

Once at Pett we walked out from the seafront to the nature reserve. Almost immediately we were treated to an aerial display by these beautiful birds. They soared and circled the marshland below as the scanned the reedbeds for prey and carrion.

As we headed back to the van we think we saw a Spoonbill glide along the bottom of the valley. Its destination seemed to be the neighbouring field to us which was filled with Brent Geese.

Pett Reserve has a wonderful reservoir which is tucked into the valley bottom, before it meets the sea. This noisy body of water was filled with a wide range of birds including Black Headed Gulls, Eider Ducks, Lapwings.

Rye Harbour Visitor Centre

After elevenses, we headed back to the van and drove down to the Harbour at Rye where we cast our eye over the new visitor centre being built by Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The new building will be a fantastic destination once its built. Its right next to the river Rother and it looks out over a huge expanse of marshland. This piece of land where Sussex meets the English channel is filled with the raucous sounds of birds. You can listen to some of these noises on the RSPB’s website. Pick a bird and then scroll down to hear what they sound like.

The Sandwich Tern is very jolly but, the Eider duck is a favourite.

At the entrance to the reserve is a Holiday Park which slightly dwarfs the lovely Martell Tower thats been there for a bit longer

Our visit to the Brighton i360

If you’re camping near Brighton (or just a visitor to the seaside city) and looking for something exciting to occupy a few hours. As long as you aren’t scared of cities, you could do a lot worse than visit the Brighton i360.

We wanted to experience this new Brighton landmark and provide you with an honest appraisal.

So we made out like tourists and last weekend, we nipped into Brighton to have a look and try a short trip on the i360.

The tower

The Brighton i360 is an enormous tower with a doughnut shaped capsule that slides up and down every half an hour. This clear capsule is beautifully designed and inside there is seating all around the perimeter. On the inner wall is a simple bar where you can buy hot drinks cold drinks and light refreshments as well as ice creams.

One person on our flight was sipping champagne and seemed to be celebrating something not very significant with her family.

Being slightly nervous of heights, the clear panels at floor level around the perimeter of the doughnut are a touch unsettling. But, I composed myself and held on to the handrail. This had a very calming affect.

The pod was busy, but not at all crowded, so you could take in the breathtaking views out to sea, over to the wind farm, built 10 miles off the shore. Very impressive.

Looking North, we couldn’t quite see the Secret Campsite which is only 12 miles from Brighton. Its hidden by the South Downs. Gazing East, you are drawn to the amazing and very beautiful Seven Sisters . Finally, turning West, Bognor or Selsey seem to be the furthest place visible.

But, if you chose to ditch the camping and head into Brighton for the views, you are likely to be disappointed. These are likely to stop at the Brighton promenade and Hove lawns.

Nice though they both are you can see them from one of the hotel cafes or bars instead. This approach will save you a few pounds and provide some sustenance to boot.

The Brighton i360 is sponsored by BA so everything including baggage checks have an airport feel. I quite liked that part of the trip, and its great for reducing your air miles.

Brightons West Pier

The i360 is located on the seafront where the West Pier would have struck land. Sadly, all that remains of the West Pier is part of its skeleton. It burnt down some years ago after falling into disrepair. Now its just a whopping great roost for a starling colony, a murmuration to the expert.

Its a great form of upcycling, albeit a rather expensive way of getting a bird roost.

I wouldn’t be tempted to go again, but it was a fun way of spending a bright autumnal sunday morning.