Finally, after all of that camDown FREE and I feel your father would agree.
“The easiest weekend of my parenting life” boasts the lead review on the official Cloud Nine Glamping website. “This place is terrible! It’s so bad! Don’t come!” screamed a (more recent) review from a paying guest on the company’s Facebook page. So who is right?
Launched last year in Dorset, Cloud Nine Glamping is billed as a high-end family festival that runs for six weeks throughout the summer holidays. This year they’ve expanded to sites in Norfolk and the Cotswolds with short-breaks starting from £132 per family per night and rising to anything upward of £2,500 depending on which tent and dates you pick (there are safari tents with blow-up hot tubs and rumours of premiership footballers having stayed on site).
The fancy looking website speaks of “the perfect balance of outdoor family adventures and proper, spoil-yourself relaxation” amid declarations of carefully thought-out activities curated “by parents, for parents”.
The Facebook reviews, however, are less gushing. “Left after one day – the site is completely disorganised and a massive let down” wrote one disgruntled parent in Norfolk, “a living hell” concluded another. “Overpromised and underdelivered” posted a third.
Adverse weather conditions
So it was with some degree of trepidation that we set off for our visit to the Cotswolds site on the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester Park last weekend.
As the rain lashed down on the M5 and we heard news of a power outage at the on-site restaurant, I was close to panicking – with an active four-year-old to entertain, I didn’t think 72 hours of card games in a leaky tent was going to suffice.
Yet here we learned our first lesson: never judge a holiday by its Facebook reviews – or more specifically, never judge a holiday in the Cotswolds by the Facebook reviews of the Norfolk site.
By the time we arrived the rain had stopped – check-in was easy as they provided free sweets and cans of iced Costa coffee. Just the sugar-hit we all needed after a long journey.
The staff were friendly, reassuring and honest – the weather had caused some issues but the power was working and a view would be taken about activities the following day.
As one of the on-site managers, David Scobie, said: “We can’t have kids on a climbing wall if there are gale-force winds”.
Yes there was a queue for the buggies that transport your bags to your tent and yes we had to wait. Was it annoying? Yes. Did it spoil our holiday? No.
Once on the camp site we scrambled into the biggest tent I have ever seen – or to be more specific, the biggest Luxury Bell Tent I have ever seen. With a proper double bed, power points, eye masks, ear plugs, torch and a private Portaloo (yes, you read that right – every tent has its own toilet) it’s a cut above your average canvas. Outside was a fire pit (with logs and charcoal provided), a picnic bench and four little wooden stools arranged around the fire.
Food and drink
Heading onto the Village Green area we found food vans selling gourmet burgers, fancy chicken and chips, wood-fired pizzas and Venezuelan arepas. The prices were high (around £6.50 for a kid’s meal and anything from £10-15 for adults) but roughly in line with what I would expect to pay at a food festival or farmers’ market-type event with a captive audience.
And everything we tried was delicious. What was unforgivable though were the bar prices at the Campfire Arms. At £6.50 per pint, it was my first and last beer of the weekend.
Good job then that, as we knew we were coming camping, we’d packed heavy in the food and booze department – there are no restrictions around where you can consume your own food and drink and a grill and barbecue equipment are provided alongside the fire pits. We successfully cooked burgers, sausages and even croissants and toast during our stay.
In terms of activities, there were more than a few glitches – the free wake-up, shake up class on the Saturday morning didn’t seem to exist, the Saturday night gin-tasting was cancelled, the circus skills workshop (£7pp) was both a let-down and in a different location to advertised and the pony-trekking (£20) was sold out all weekend.
My Saturday morning gel manicure (£40) was also underwhelming (and had chipped by Tuesday). But the laser tag (£15pp, age 8+) was brilliant – well run and executed in a fun, safe and exhilarating manner, the on-site crèche (£15 per hour) was run by professional and (more importantly) kind nannies, the paint your own pottery options were extensive and fairly priced (starting from just £1) and our daughter absolutely loved the children’s zip wire (£5).
In terms of free fun, our daughter also loved the playground, giant trampolines, crazy golf, live music and the bingo (which we won, bagging ourselves a couple of free pizzas in the process). We also had a nice little woodland walk and a mess about with some of the soft play toys in the fairground. We missed the silent disco and the Sunday night quiz but heard good reviews from other glampers.
The site is laid out in such a way that the play areas and trampolines are visible from most vantage points meaning you can actually sit and eat your burger without having to jump up every six seconds to check where your child is and the scores of youngsters visiting meant friendships were being formed all over the site.
From impromptu kick-abouts on the campsites to an epic game of hide and seek at the Rolling Meadows restaurant, it was a truly sociable weekend for the kids, all of whom seemed to be loving life in the great outdoors.
If you’re looking to treat yourselves, The Rolling Meadows restaurant is worth a visit – prices are top end (around £10 for a starter and £20+ for a main) but the food is restaurant quality and the views (of yes, you guessed it, rolling meadows) are unrivalled.
By day three the public Portaloos dotted around the site were getting pretty gross but every shower we used was hot and clean. We never had to queue to do our washing up at the communal sinks and I found water points easy enough to locate for refills and more thorough hand washing.
Addressing the issues
Maybe we were just lucky – my daughter would have happily spent three days in the playground alone and the rain (mostly) held off. Or maybe my expectations were low (perhaps, due in part, to those reviews) but we had a great time. And the bed was more comfy than my own at home.
In the wake of the negative publicity, Cloud Nine Glamping director Suzanne Bayliss has released a statement apologising to “everyone who has been disappointed”.
She goes on to say that the team has been “working hard to address the issues” and a number of changes have already been put in place at all three sites. Cloud Nine say they will be contacting everyone who has stayed during the opening weeks for feedback.
So when they call me to ask for mine I will tell it to them straight. Yes there is room for improvement, yes some of the prices are too high but yes, we had an awesome time and I would book again. But I’ll bring my own beer next time.
Cloud Nine Glamping runs until 30 August 2021, cloudnineglamping.com
Firstly as we jump in, I'd like to say that camDown FREE is your security solution to protect you and your business from peeping toms.