Big Hat Bushcamp
In these dizzyingly technological times, one can't help but feel we've all become... well... a little soft. Show a kid an iPad, they'll be yougoogling and myfacing before you can say 'angry-moshi-monster-birds'. But ask them to trap a squirrel with little more than a toothpick and pair of old stockings... (exasperated sigh). We jest of course. But so reliant on gadgets and gizmos have our littl'uns become, we feel it's about time we got them reacquainted with making dens and getting muddy. So if, like us, the only tweets you want to hear are strictly those of the avian kind, we think we've found the perfect spot.
Calling all budding bushmen and tiny Tarzans – Big Hat Bushcamp invites you to 'go native' and learn traditional survival skills, less than an hour from the capital. The brainchild of former British Army captain and all-round action man, Ian Brember, Big Hat Bushcamp offers family-orientated woodland bushcraft courses on a secluded woodland spot in north Surrey.
With an array of bespoke courses (ranging from three hours to full weekends) on offer, Big Hat Bushcamp is both a fun and educational way to learn bushcraft from leading all-terrain experts. Campers of all ages are invited to invoke their inner Ray Mears, trying their hand at archery, orienteering, foraging, wilderness first-aid and much more. It’s all done in a family-friendly, approachable way – ideal for children who want to be explorers but parents who want to stay comfortable and not end the day eating live worms or drinking water out of old socks.
For an authentic castaway experience, one of the real highlights is always building your own shelter among the trees. Constructed by your own two hands, it’s the perfect spot to relax in the evening while tucking into your very own baked bread and yummy campfire food, cooked on the 'matchless' fire you've lit yourself. Grrr!!! You don’t have to sleep in the shelter (though one or two visitors have), instead you can bring your own tent, borrow one of the family tents on site, or use the camp’s tarps and hammocks to build a weather-proof ‘basha’ for the night. Larger groups can also sleep in the main, wood-fire heated safari tent at the centre of the site.
The setting, too, lends itself to the sort of activities on offer. The thick ferny woods feel like a rather British jungle, belying the fact that you’re less than a mile from the M25. A convenient outcome is that, when the outside world beckons, there’s still historic Runnymede and Windsor just down the road and no shortage of places off site to visit. Yet, when you want to stay hidden you can simply kick back among the trees and enjoy your newfound skillset. And when you're toasting your umpteenth marshmallow over the flickering flames and toying with your handmade commemorative survival bracelets, you'll be glad you heeded the call of the wild.
Everything is 'jungle style' – a wooden outhouse houses the toilets and improvised showers – unlimited pitches in extensive woodland. Bushcraft courses, including matchless fire lighting, campfire cooking, archery, shelter and camp building, wood carving, night stealth games and much more.
Tents, dogs – yes. Caravans – no. Groups are positively encouraged – for groups of 8+ the cost effective option is an exclusive booking of the whole bushcamp.
Historic Runnymede (01784 432891), location of the signing of the Magna Carta, is a great location for a picnic on its sunny willow-fringed riverbank. The hauntingly beautiful Air Force Memorial is also well worth a visit, not least for the expansive views over the capital. The Great Cockcrow Railway (01932 565474) is a cute miniature railway which has been in existence since 1946. For something more high-octane, Thorpe Park (0843 557 3627) and Legoland (0871 222 2001) are both within easy reach.
Food & Drink
It's all about the campfire cooking here. Ingredients and instruction are included in the course price. Try your hand at dutch oven mac and cheese, griddle pancakes, stick bread, or campfire pizza. For quality local produce, the Hardwick Lane Farm Shop (01932 564930) is just across the road, while The Kingfisher (01932 579811) in Chertsey serves up pub grub favourites
Sleeping in a tent – pah! That's just for wimps! Tarpaulins and hammocks are the order of the day at this woodland hideaway just outside of London. Cook on open fires, build your own basha and learn all the essential bushcraft tricks. Just remember to bring your Swiss Army knife.
Private party rate: £30–£40 per person per day, £15–£25 per night, £6 per person per hour for half day courses. Individual rate: £50 per person per day, £25 per person per night. Multi-child discount available. All cooking ingredients, equipment use and instruction included in cost.
The Owner Says
At Big Hat Bushcamp we believe that family camping is more about stringing up your hammocks between some trees and cooking your dinner over an open fire, than parking up in the corner of a field and heating beans over a gas stove.
We teach bushcraft and wilderness camping skills to kids and parents, such as shelter building, matchless fire lighting and campfire cooking, to start out kids early on a life spent outdoors - but outdoors does not have to be synonymous with roughing it. There's nothing rough about a toasty warm fire, with freshly baked bread and a hearty campfire meal. We believe in the philosophy "give a family a tent and they'll be happy for a weekend - teach them to camp and they'll be happy every weekend - and very well fed - and just generally cooler and better at stuff".
However, there is one thing more important to us than getting kids outdoors and that's using nature and bushcraft to develop essential life skills, such as self confidence, team work, leadership and problem solving. The best way to show kids what they can achieve is to actually let them achieve it, so we give all our visitors to the bushcamp challenges that seem hard from the outset, but deliver great reward and an immense sense of accomplishment (and some of the most delicious food that will ever pass your lips).
Family Bushcraft Weekends, open to all parent and child groups, take place on the last weekend of every month.
Private family camping and day parties run most weekends, throughout the year and our kids' club runs Monday to Friday throughout all school holidays.
Five minutes from Junction 11 of the M25 (between the M3 and the A3). Five minutes from Cherstey, Hardwick Lane runs north from St Peter's Hospital.
Five minutes from Chertsey Railway Station.
ReviewsAdd Your Review
Rated ★★★★★ over 4 reviews
Excellent 30th Birthday Weekend
We stayed at Big Hat Bush Camp Friday night through to Sunday morning. All of the activities were excellent - archery, water sourcing and purification, shelter building to name just a few.
I would recommend Big Hat Bush Camp and Ian's tuition for all ranges and outdoor abilities - we had a great time and it was a really special way to celebrate my 30th.
A great camp for kids and adults alike whether you’re serious about learning bushcraft or just looking to have some fun camping and pick up some skills along the way. As mentioned by a previous poster, Ian is a great host and instructor and has a good list of activities for you to choose from.
Our kids are usually hooked to their iPads and PCs and usually moan about playing in the outdoors so we were curious to see how they would take to learning teamwork and “roughing it out” with a hole in the ground as a toilet and cooking on a spit over a fire they built themselves. To our surprise the kids were asking when the next camp would be before we even left Big Hat Bushcamp. All we heard for the next few months every time we saw the kids was “when is the next camp?”. We’ve now been a second time, the first time we were a group of 14 with 6 kids and this time we grew to a group of 22 with 13 kids.
If you’ve never been camping before and are wary of choosing the wrong place, or even if you’ve been camping before but are looking for a different experience, I would definitely recommend Big Hat Bushcamp. It is also one of the few places out there I have seen which allows open camp fires and has an archery range (both of which include instruction from Ian). Don’t forget to ask Ian to include his very own stealth games which the kids will absolutely love.
Best camping experience so far
We are relatively new to the world of camping, but we are keen to introduce our two daughters to the simple pleasures of being outside and having fun away from the glare of the electric babysitter. Over the last 2 years we have found some great sites, with open fires an absolute must. When we met the guys from Big Hat at the Cowpie show earlier this summer we were intrigued, subsequently calling them up and booking the whole family in. I can honestly say that the weekend we spent with them was by some way our best camping experience so far. A real fire is always great fun and makes you feel like you are really camping, but having lit that fire without even a hint of a lighter or a fire starter, and then clambered into the hammock to relax after a day of archery and shelter building, wow, that is a campfire that we will remember. What we liked most was how different it was to our other experiences: having a taste of squirrel; walking through the woods in the dark; washing in a jungle shower. The most ringing endorsement was the fact the badgering about going back started before we got the car packed. Thanks.
Great camping experience
Perfect way to introduce camping to children (and to adults), and Ian is just the right person to do it. At Big Hat Bushcamp, you can do as much or as little as you would like. Ian has a long list of activities to choose from, and children are bound to be fascinated by them all. I would highly recommend it to all families who enjoy outdoors but need a bit of guidance around camping.
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