If you’re trying to find a family-friendly campsite with wild swimming and no stress, then you’ve come to the right place. Wild Canvas is a pop-up camping experience which runs throughout August every year, and its style of camping is on the more relaxed, low-key end of the spectrum, with minimal rules and fuss.
Arriving at Wild Canvas
From the moment you arrive at Wild Canvas, which is held in the Turvey House estate on the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire borders, you know you’re in the right place – mainly because there’s a sign saying: ‘You’re in the right place.’ Cars are parked by the entrance and you can borrow a trolley (or bring your own) or hire a buggy to take you and your stuff onto the site itself which is heralded by another sign: ‘Welcome to the Wild.’
Wild Canvas is spread across three vast fields, with portaloos in the corner of each one, while on-site there is also a bar, more loos, hot showers and a couple of stalls selling, at various points throughout the day, coffee, breakfast baps, cocktails and meals such as hog roasts. So far, so civilised, but what two things sets Wild Canvas apart from the usual camping experience: its riverside location, and secondly, the various activities available throughout your stay.
Wild-swimming, kayaking and paddle-boarding on the Great Ouse
Firstly, the river, which transformed our stay last weekend from a typical camping trip to a proper adventure holiday for the children in our group. The Great Ouse river flows along one side of the campsite and is a perfect location for children and adults alike to try wild swimming, kayaking or paddle-boarding for the first time. We were a group of two families – four adults and three children – and spent almost all of our break messing about by the river, which was an unexpected delight.
There’s barely a current, it’s a good mixture of deep water for experienced swimmers and shallow waters for young children and those less confident around water, and watching the kids happily play in or next to the water all afternoon was a joy – not least for the grown-ups who could watch them from the riverbank while enjoying some much-needed calm.
We’d brought an inflatable kayak on the spur of the moment but it turned out to be a hit, with children and adults taking it in turns to glide off down the river. Other people had bought paddle boards to try out, and the more adventurous swimmers among us even swam all the way to the bar, which was at the other end of the site to our tents. The children loved paddling about by the shore, catching minnows and checking that our bag of beer cans, cooling in the water, hadn’t floated away, and going to sleep listening to the river was extremely soothing.
A summer festival vibe
Secondly, while Wild Canvas isn’t a festival, it does have a festival feeling to it – you could tell some people were hardcore festival attendees – and there’s a range of activities, free and fee-charging, running every day. There’s a charge (£30) for stand-up paddle-boarding classes, while dance classes including capoeira and swing, were free. There are also free children’s activities such as painting, nature club and a superhero kid’s disco (attended, when we were there, by many notable figures including a tiny Superman, Supergirl and Spiderman and several short-but-scary Dementors), and you can book or just turn up when you fancy it – there’s a daily schedule board by the bar to check each day.
Everyone is very friendly onsite – our 10-year old asked if he could join someone’s cricket game and was instantly welcomed onto the team – and there was a popular DJ set in the bar on the Saturday night which prompted a lot of dancing. If you just want to do your own thing though, that’s perfectly fine, with fire pits and raised BBQs welcome, and several shops including a large Sainsbury’s just a few miles away in the nearby bustling market town of Olney. We ate huge hog roast rolls on the first night and cooked steak and pork chops on the BBQ on the second, toasting marshmallows over the flames. Once the children were asleep, the adults could relax over a nightcap and, with clear skies and no light pollution, were treated to some spectacular star-gazing and several shooting stars.
Tents and Tipis at Wild Canvas
There are several accommodation options, ranging from bringing your own tents, to hiring a traditional tipi which sleeps four people, or a tri-lodge tipi tent which sleeps two. There are spaces for camper vans too, but not caravans or motor homes, and day tickets are also available. We camped the first night and then were lucky to try out one of the tipis for the second, which made for a different camping experience (and a more expensive one).
Beds and bedding were provided – a double bed and two singles – and there were little lanterns to light the tipi up at night. Whether you’re camping or glamping, Wild Canvas isn’t the cheapest option under canvas, but the atmosphere and setting made for a memorable staycation for all of us. Just two nights away felt like a proper break, and best of all, there were no ferry or flight delays at the end of our trip, just a short drive home.
Wild Canvas information
Wild Canvas is located at Coppey Moor Cottage in the grounds of Turvey House, Bedfordshire MK43 8EQ.
2022 dates: Opening weekend 29 July – 1 August. Main summer camp 5-30 August.
Cost of camping
Adults: £26 per night
Children 3-15 years £8 per night
No charge for under-3s
Adults: £30 per night
Children 3-15 years: £10 per night
No charge for under-3s
£10 surcharge per night for camper vans.
Day entry ticket £10. No dogs allowed due to local wildlife. Two night minimum for camping.
Cost of a Tri-Lodge
Mon – Fri
£120 per night
Fri – Mon
£140 per night
Prices are for 2 people. (A third bed can be added upon request and charged at £80)
Minimum Tri-Lodge booking 3 nights.
Cost of a Tipi
Mon – Fri
£160 per night (sleeps 4 people)
Fri – Mon
£180 per night (sleeps 4 people)
Minimum tipi booking three nights
Local attractions include Woburn Safari Park, Whipsnade Zoo and Dunstable Downs within the Chilterns (AONB), the highest point in Bedfordshire.
– Harold Odell Country Park: 10 minutes’ drive
– Castle Ashby and Gardens: 15 mins
– Gullivers Dinosaur and Farm Park: 25 mins
– Salcey Forest: 25 mins
– Milton Keynes (for indoor karting, climbing and Snozone snow activities): 25 mins
– Stanwick Lakes (for walks and kids’ activities): half an hour
– Ride Leisure (inflatable water park): half an hour
– Bletchley Park: half an hour
For more information about Wild Canvas visit https://wildcanvas.uk/faqs/
For more UK staycation ideas, why not check out these great reviews: A surprise Shepherd’s Hut stay at The Merry Harriers pub, Surrey; A grand, traditional stay at The Grand hotel, Eastbourne; Center Parcs Woburn: a holiday in the forest;