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If there were an annual award for ‘English campsite with the greatest diversity of accommodation’, the owners of Alde Garden would be permanently practising their acceptance speeches and making mental notes not to blub on discovering that they’ve triumphed over Angelina Jolie again.
Guests to this peaceful pub garden, on the edge of the little village of Sweffling, can choose between a stay in a bell tent, a yurt, a gypsy caravan, and a ‘wooden tent on stilts’ (inspired by a trip to New Zealand). Alternatively, they can bring along their own tent and camp in the time-honoured fashion. Indeed, youthful owners Marie and Mark encourage non-campers who have booked into the more glampy accommodation to bring along a tent to give traditional camping a try. Battle-hardened tentophiles, meanwhile, can spend their final night in the yurt or gypsy caravan, say, as a bit of a naughty treat (there’s even a cute self-catering cottage for those who need to bait the hook for less enthusiastic campers).
However you decide to stay here, the vibe remains the same. A garden kept deliberately wild (and with its own friendly hedgehog) combined with facilities artfully constructed from reclaimed and recycled materials engender a laid-back atmosphere, where the sixties and the tenties collide to rather pleasing effect.
Take the brilliant jungle shower, for example – made from wood Mark and Marie have picked up. Showerers can hitch up one of the site’s bags of solar-heated water to enjoy an (entirely modest) outdoor shower, with the added bonus of a view of next door’s free-range pigs. There are also two spotless conventional showers for those for whom cleanliness is next to indoorsiness.
The pathways around the 0.89-acre (they’ve measured it) site weave a web of discovery with different glamping structures and homemade wares at every end. There’s also a converted wooden barn communal kitchen area complete with straw bale seats – a particular hit with kids – plus a well-stocked bookcase in the yurt. They’ve all been lovingly crafted by hand with materials that would otherwise have gone to waste. A friend of the couple has even created the wood-burners from discarded gas bottles. And if you’re more into cycling than recycling, you can borrow one from the cluster of bikes, including a tandem, kept on site.
After dark, myriad colourful solar-powered lights and sun jars give the place a magical dingly dell feel, an illusion enhanced by the soft glow from the brick pizza oven (bring your own ingredients and become Italian for the night), and the rosy blush of the communal fire.
Like chicken and egg, though, it’s difficult to decide which was the afterthought here, the campsite or the pub. The White Horse – whose garden forms the site – is open four nights a week and has been awarded East Anglian CAMRA pub of the year. It would be easy, from its cosy interior – with regular live music, roaring woodburners and real ales straight from the cask – to think the campsite was merely tacked on for a little extra cash. Yet pitched in your quiet spot in the garden it would be equally valid to decide the pub was the real ‘added-extra’, something that simply couldn’t compete with the inspiring campsite outside. Either way. Who’s complaining?
Visitors should note that there’s one space at the very top of the garden that’s not open to guests – where there’s a teeny tiny tent. ‘That’s ours’, laughs Mark. ‘We hated the idea of not being able to camp here ourselves so we’ve got our own tent up for whenever we want to treat ourselves.’ A campsite so good the owners camp there themselves? You won’t get a better recommendation than that.
There’s a communal campfire near the bottom of the field and 5 small bring-your-own-tent pitches scattered around the side of the field in cosy nooks and crannies beneath or behind trees. The loos, in buildings attached to the house, are very clean (2W, 1M, plus a compost loo), and you can choose between a conventional shower (1W, 1M) and the jungle shower under the trees (definitely worth a go – it’s surprising how warm the sun can make the water). Kids love the numerous chickens and ducks that wander about the site, while a diablo and a poi are available for any minors who live in hope of running away to join the circus some day. A room is given over to a freezer, a fridge, a washing machine, and microwave. There’s also a covered kitchen/dining area with gas cookers, straw-bale seats, cutlery, crockery, pots, pans, tea, and coffee. A mobile shop stops at the campsite on Fridays from noon to 2pm, but there’s no shop in Sweffling itself. There is some occasional traffic noise from the road that runs past the site.
Tents – yes. Campervans, caravans, dogs, groups – no.
Framlingham Castle (01728 724189; see English Heritage) is an astonishingly fine yet little known 12th-century fortress with frequent child-friendly events. The coastal gems of Dunwich, Southwold, and Aldeburgh are within striking distance, as is the world-famous bird reserve at Minsmere (see RSPB) with nature trails, hides, and visitor centre. More birdwatching, as well as walks along the Alde Estuary and boat trips are all to be had at Snape Maltings (01728 688303), whose concert hall is the home of the Aldeburgh Festival (01728 687110) co-founded by Benjamin Britten and held every June.
Food & Drink
Alde Garden’s on-site pub, the White Horse (White Horse), is open 4 nights (Fri, Sat, Sun & Mon) plus Sunday lunchtimes, so you’re never more than stumbling distance away from a refreshing drink. They have an excellent (and ever-changing) selection of real ales and a small collection of organic fairtrade wines and carefully chosen speciality spirits. Otherwise, there’s a pleasant 8-and-a-bit-minute walk through a meadow to another White Horse (01728 663497) at Rendham – there’s a third White Horse close by too, nobody knows quite why – where you can get a decent bite to eat and sup some locally brewed Earl Soham ale. The extensive Friday Street Farm Shop (01728 602783) at Farnham sells its own home-grown fruit and vegetables and doubles as a café.
OpenEarly May–end Sept
Tents from £15 per night; The Hideout (sleeping 2) £85 for 2 nights; bell tent £135 for 2 nights; gypsy caravan £185 for 2 nights; yurt £190 for 2 nights. Prices reduce the longer your stay.
Be ye warned – SatNav will take you on a rather circuitous route through Sweffling. Rather you should aim for the small town of Saxmundham on the A12. From there, take the B1119 west. Pass the White Horse in Rendham, round a sharp left- then right-hand bend, and immediately after another sharp left-hand bend, turn right at a crossroads and you’re at Alde Garden.
If you can get yourself to Saxmundham station , there is a local taxi firm, Swift Car (01728 602986), which will pick you up from the station and take you to the site for around £7.50. Or there's a bus service with a stop directly opposite the pub.
ReviewsAdd Your Review
Rated ★★★★★ over 16 reviews
Stunning Place that I keep going back to
I absolutely love Alde Garden and have been going at least once a year since 2012, (up to 5 times in one season). I've travelled to the site by car, public transport and even cycled the 60 miles a few times - sustainability is positively encouraged throughout the site with wood burning stoves, sunshine powered showers and even the eggs provided by the on-site hens.
A little gem
A Magical Campsite
Perfect cottage and welcoming hosts
A gorgeous little cottage
Brilliant site for kids and nature
We stayed here one weekend late Summer 2013, our first camping trip with our 8mth and 3yr old. A lot of care has been taken with the site and on arriving you have a real sense of entering a different world. We all loved the various chickens, ducks and other animals roaming the place, the wild gardens, and the relaxing atmosphere. We pitched our own tent in a secluded spot by the pond : 'Pond Pitch'. The site is based around a fully equipped open communal kitchen area; the kids loved the hay bale seats and quickly made friends. The pizza oven was fired up one evening, and we had a lot of fun making our tea whilst eating it around the campfire with some of the other guests. Having access to a proper pint from the pub next door helped too...
A brilliant site and we'll definitely be going back.
My wife and I stayed at Alde Garden last Saturday night, having had an arduous 10 minute drive to get there. We are regulars at the attached pub, and had been given a "Yurt voucher" as a present, hence our little local excursion.
It is difficult to write a review about this wonderful place without getting overly poetic but bear with me. The spread of camping options covers all the bases you need, ranging from small tent pitches, through to a bell tent, a tipi, a gypsy caravan, two yurts and the very latest creation of a "hideout" shelter roofed with old vinyl records!
All this is secreted in various nooks and crannies created in the garden and tucked into/behind enough trees and bushes such that nobody is staring into their neighbour's window as it were. This is typical of the theme running through the place and is an example of the attention to detail in all aspects of it both large and small.
Marie was on "hen feeding" duty as we arrived; not only do Marie and Mark run the campsite and the pub (The Sweffling White Horse if you're passing), they also have assorted ducks, chickens and geese to care for too. If you stay here in the summer then expect to meet some or all of them at some point; they are entertaining creatures if a little noisy in the morning.
We were staying in Barn Owl yurt, which is a gem of a place. Being a typical bloke I was drawn to the woodburner heater which I was shown how to light and set up properly and safely. All my incendiary desires were provided for with a good supply of newspaper, kindling, firewood and big heatproof gloves. Chaps, if you don't have the luxury of an open fire at home (like me) then stay here when it's cool enough to use the stove; you know it makes sense.
The rest of the yurt is furnished and equipped with all the other essentials, including a wash stand, calor gas stove, table, books, solar lighting and loafing rugs in case the lure of the woodburner is too much to leave. In all it is a charming space; the panel in the top of the roof is aligned to catch the rising and setting sun, but in our case it was more about being rainproof but more of that later.
The campsite facilities in general are again so thoughtfully provided that you don't have to do much in the way of "what domestic stuff to bring" thinking; it is already there. Kettles, pots, pans, utensils and other kitchenalia is all kept for general use in the large open fronted communal use shelter, again containing a couple of gas rings and running drinking water. If you fancy yourself as an outdoor cook then you have the choice of the wood fired pizza oven or the communal camp fire; it is another example of the variety of choices you have.
We arrived at the site just before 6.00pm and by 6.30 we were sitting by the camp fire with a glass of cheeky red, ordered in advance by me to help us settle in so far from home. In essence, the rest of the evening followed that pattern, and due to an unfortunate "ships in the night" moment we missed chatting to the couple in the other yurt so had the fire to ourselves all evening. It can't be stressed enough that the simple pleasure of us just sitting by a wood fire listening to the increasingly vocal owls as it got dark was sublime; soul food indeed.
We retired to bed and by midnight were listening to an epic rainstorm trying to drill its way into the yurt, contrasted with the soft red glow through the stove air vent. Cosy? You bet.
If you want to come somewhere truly special, run by special people then you know what to do.
I had a lovely stay here recently in the Bell Tent which was very roomy but also snug. Great little place, lots of ducks, geese & hens running about and it has a magical feel at night when the fairy and solar lights come on. Haven't camped in years so was a bit of a culture shock especially on the cool moist September mornings but I loved it. Solar showers were far better than I had anticipated & I was sorry not to get to try the jungle shower but we just didn't have enought sun sadly. Nice cycling from the door (I cycled to Badingham on the lane to Pound Farm and only met one car) and easy enough walks to Framlingham and Saxmundham. Local Aspalls cyder is lush and the White Horse pub attached to Alde Garden is amazing, just as I imagine village pubs used to be years ago. (Shame my camping companion was a miserable git who wouldn't make the most of a lovely few days, needless to say we will not be camping together again!). The yurts look beautiful as well and would be perfect for a romantic break, the gypsy caravan also looked stunning. Marie and Mark are great people and the green ethos of Alde Garden makes you really think about how you treat the environment a\nd how you can reduce your own carbon footprint. Inspiring.
There are so many people doing the green thing really badly it's refreshing to find people doing it so amazingly well. I'd been looking for a venue for residential reiki weekends and was turned down by a few campsites. Not only is Alde Garden perfect for a healing weekend Marie has bent over backwards to help. Fiona from Star Tarot.
We stayed here in June 2011 and have been hankering to go back ever since. It is a lovely place, calm and relaxed, where little things like a mother duck leading her ducklings to the tiny pond become the highlight of your morning. We stayed in the gypsy caravan, where sleeping in a "cupboard" under our bunk made our 5-year-old son wild with joy. The caravan itself is very attractive with a great view from the steps, and you have the added benefit of a "donkey hut" nearby for storage and cooking. The communal fridge is a good size and there is a microwave which comes in handy if you don't feel like cooking over a fire. The bathroom and tree bog were brand new and spotless.
We absolutely did not want to leave, and hope that we can both return AND find other sites as good as this!
We have just returned from a four night stay at Alde Garden (should have been six but torrential rain and strong winds ruined the fun).
Alde Garden is a truly unique site. As well as the regular tent pitches it also has a variety of 'glamping' options including a tipi, a yurt and a gypsy caravan. We stayed in our own tent and it was great to be right in the centre of things with chickens, ducks and geese doing their thing around us.
The owners are keen to promote a communal vibe and have set up a kitchen which can be used by everyone - whether staying in a tent or one of the other options. Don't worry about forgetting any equipment as they have everything from corkscrews to hot water bottles. There is also a fridge, microwave and washing machine.
For me, one of the joys of camping is cooking on an open fire, and at Alde Garden you only have the option of doing this on the communal fire. It is a personal preference that I would rather have had my own fire to do this on. Many of the people staying their viewed the communal fire as a really good thing, and it was certainly nice to sit around the fire talking to new friends.
The facilities are excellent, clean flushing toilets as well as the delightful treebogs, which are the nicest composting toilets I have ever found! There is only one shower for ladies (I assume the same for gents) but this wasn't a problem when we were there.
The site is well placed to visit many Suffolk delights including Southwold, Dunwich and Aldeburgh. The food around the site is excellent, look out for the roadside tables buckling under the weight of home grown produce.