The South West of England is one of the UK’s most popular camping destinations. There are all kinds of campsites available, from glamping sites in Cornwall to coastal sites in Devon and Dorset. But of course there’s plenty more to a visit to the South West than simply pitching your tent and watching the world go by. There are World Heritage Sites, quirky islands, popular attractions, wild escapes and peaceful days out. And the best thing of all? It’s easy to walk, cycle, marvel, learn and have an awful lot of fun in this most camping-friendly of regions.
Here’s our best of the best of things to see and do in South West England. Enjoy!
1. The Eden Project
Eden is another world: a paradise, a haven, an education centre, a great day out for anyone interested in nature, wildlife, the earth and having fun. That’s just about everyone! Set in a disused China clay quarry near St Austell in Cornwall, The Eden Project delivers a wow from the moment you set eyes on its biomes until the moment you leave and take one last look at the vastness of its magnificence. Are we over egging it? Not one bit. Eden is amazing. Admire the plants, zip on England’s longest wire, explore the tropical zone and eat fantastic home grown food. What’s not to love? In 2015 they also added a new camping field. So now it’s got absolutely everything.
2. Walk the South West Coast Path.
OK, so this might take a lifetime to complete, but at least it’ll bring you back time and time again to the South West of England. The South West Coast Path stretches from Poole Harbour on the south coast to Minehead in Somerset in the north and, at 630 miles, is the longest National Trail in England. The path has been used by fishermen, coastguards and customs men for many years, who patrolled it to keep an eye on the seas, shipping, fish and smugglers. So it’s got plenty of tales to tell. You can start at either end or just pick a spot that sounds good. We guarantee that you’ll find spectacular coastal scenery at wherever you decide to pitch for the night.
3. Off road cycling on the Tarka and Camel Trails.
If you seek silence and solace, bring your bike to the South West. Here you’ll find miles and miles of off-road cycle routes leading you to some of the region’s favourite places. However, our recommendation goes to the Tarka Trail in North Devon and The Camel Trail in North Cornwall. Both were created from disused railway tracks so the cycling is family friendly, off the beaten track and spectacular. In fact, you don’t even need a bike as there are hire companies all along both trails. The Tarka Trail will take you from Braunton to Meeth via Bideford and the beautiful Taw and Torridge Estuary while the Camel Trail leads you from Bodmin to Padstow. And there’s plenty of great camping along the way.
4. Step back in time at…the other Stonehenge
Everyone knows about Stonehenge. But not many take the time to visit Avebury, another world class prehistoric site in Wiltshire. Yet here, encircling an entire village, you’ll find a huge circular bank and ditch with three stone circles and an avenue of paired stones. While it might not have stones as big as those at Stonehenge, Avebury is no less spectacular and makes a fantastic day out and walk, while being much less commercialised. Avebury Manor, also in the village, was recreated in a restoration project recently in collaboration with the BBC while the Alexander Keiller Museum, named after the archaeologist who first excavated the site in the 1930s, traces the village’s history. Fascinating!
5. Go fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast
England’s South Coast between Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in Dorset and Orcombe Point in East Devon is a World Heritage Site, and was England’s first to be designated. It covers 95 miles of coastline and includes 185 millions of years of the Earth’s history. All along its length you can see evidence of past lives, but Charmouth and Kimmeridge Bay are two of the best places to find belemnites and ammonites and – if you are very lucky – something altogether bigger and more dinosaur-like. Guided walks are available but anyone can take a wander along the beach and find their own. You might be lucky. Best after storms and on the low tide. Just be careful under the cliffs and follow the fossil hunter’s code.
There’s more info at jurassiccoast.org
6. Watch (or surf) the Severn Bore, Avon.
There aren’t many places in the UK where you can watch a raging wall of water rush up a river. Actually, there aren’t many places in the world where you can do it! So, when you are camping in the South West, The mighty Severn Bore, which rushes up the River Severn between Newnham and Gloucester, is one thing to look out for. It’s a magical natural phenomenon that’s good enough on its own. But add a load of surfers trying to ride it into the mix and you have something that’s well worth a watch. Of course you can’t just turn up and expect to see it, because it only happens on certain days and with big tides. However, the good news is that it can be predicted and there are a number of perfect viewing spots. And if you surf you might even want to have a go…
7. Learn to Surf in Cornwall
OK Dudes!!! Surfing and camping in Cornwall is essential on your camping UK trip! It’s part of the rules that everyone who comes to the South West has to try surfing at least once. Why? Because Cornwall has some of the UK’s best beaches, some of the country’s most experienced (and safest) surf schools, some of the UK’s best campsites and is one of the few places in the UK where you can experience ‘Surf Culture’ English style. For your first taste, head to Polzeath, St Ives, Bude or Cornwall’s ‘Surf Capital’, Newquay. What’s not to love about a day in the cool, clear Atlantic Ocean learning how to ride the waves? There really is nothing like it. And the best thing? Anyone from 8 to 80 will love it. For a list of approved surf schools visit surfinggb.com
8. Follow Banksy on an art trail with a difference
Bristol is the home of legendary street artist Banksy. It’s also the scene of the crime as far as a lot of his thought provoking work goes. Today there is still a lot of it to be seen in the city, and anyone can see it if they know where to look. You can follow your own tour or go with an organised group. And what better way to see the world’s best street art than in the streets in which it was painted! You won’t get an experience like this in a gallery!
For organised tours, see banksytours.co.uk
9. Letterboxing on Lundy
Lundy is an island off the North Devon coast that’s just three miles long and half a mile wide. You can visit for the day by taking a trip from Bideford aboard the MS Oldenburgh or you can pack up your tent and stay at the island’s tiny campsite. Once there you can wander lonely as a cloud or turn your walks into an adventure. Lundy has 27 Letterboxes hidden around the island. Each contains a rubber stamp. The idea, of course, is to collect them all and find the elusive Lundy Bunny, that moves around from box to box. It’s a fantastic way to see the island and will bring you to plenty of other great things along the way, such as 5 new life size sculptures by Anthony Gormley, creator of the Angel of the North.
10. See – and help - the fishes at the National Marine Aquarium
Plymouth’s National Marine Aquarium is situated in a great part of Plymouth, which means once you’re done marvelling at the sharks and have enjoyed a one-to-one encounter with the rays, you can eat, drink, shop and be merry on Plymouth’s historic quayside. It’s a full day out all in one! The marine Aquarium is a king among aquariums (and is the UK’s biggest) with four huge zoned tanks holding millions of gallons of water, two types of sharks, stingrays, barracuda and just about everything in between. A visit is as much an education as it is fun and most people leave vowing to do one or two things to help the oceans, such is the power of this wonderful attraction.
Decisions, decisions!!! Where to first? Once you’ve found your must-sees, why not take a look at our selection of sites in Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. Once you’ve got the gear packed, site booked and the things to do sorted you’ll be well on your way to a fantastic camping trip to the South West of England. Have a great trip!
Check out our blog on great camping ideas for families visiting the South West of England.