A crisp, sunny autumn morning, the smell of wood smoke in the air and 3,000 acres of woodland to play in, what a wonderful start to the day. Behind me my friend bent industriously over the bio fuel stove and boiled coffee while outside a couple of children phoned each other excitedly on proper, old-fashioned army field telephones linked between toilet, camp HQ and the outdoor hot tub.
We were staying in the first English Countryhouse Hideout tents and we were enjoying every minute. The brains behind Centerparcs and Featherdown Farms has done it again and I think he has excelled himself. The basic concept is very similar to Featherdown, the large, luxurious safari tent comes ready made from Holland and will be set up in a variety of large country house estates throughout Britain. It is Featherdown with knobs on though and pretty eccentric knobs they are too. The theme is supposed to be that of the era of Edwardian explorers, the tents are supposed to be like those that gentlemen would take with them on their expeditions across Africa. They have filled the tents with essential explorer type equipment – a telescope for viewing the star-filled country sky, binoculars for spying on unusual birds or on your friends as they stalk up on you – field telephones, with a central exchange in the tent so you can keep in constant contact with your field agents (or servants!) wherever you might be – in the outdoor, grass-covered toilet or in the open air hot tub – a wind up gramophone with plenty of stirring martial music for relaxing to with a cup of cocoa and various other wonderful toys to keep little and big boys and girls very happy indeed.
All of this Edwardian fun comes wrapped up in some innovative and frankly quite bonkers, eco ideas. It’s a carbon neutral holiday. If you feel you might need a small lamp for the evening hours then get on the bicycles outside and recharge the mobile battery by pedalling. Feeling a little chilly, hook up the biofuel stove and put the heavy old kettle on. You might need some fire-making skills if you are not going to go hungry; the outdoor, portable cooking hut needs a fire as does the hot-tub which has some Professor Brainstawm type of contraption to bring fire-heated water into a pierced bucket shower to enjoy au naturel (or not). Sitting in this huge, luxurious wooden tub watching the trees sway overhead while warmed by the water that I had heated myself, was a rare pleasure and of course not a lasting one as I was swarmed by a horde of muddy young boys who found the hot tub probably the most exciting thing they had ever seen.
I’m finding it hard to fault this next generation of Featherdown Farms. It was wonderful. I enjoyed the care and attention they had given to every aspect of the tents and surrounding equipment, it was supremely comfortable, yet you were right deep in unspoilt woods; the children had an absolute ball, doing healthy, outdoorsy, educational things. I loved the thick line of eccentricity running through it and yet also the sense of it all. Bravo, is all I can basically say and that I will be booking another holiday as soon as I possibly can.