Richard Hammond and family indulge in ‘luxury camping’ at East Shilvinghampton Featherdown Farm, Dorset
I see myself as a traditional camper, perhaps not the bivvy-bag-in-winter type, but certainly the kind who likes to pitch a tent, brew tea on an open stove, and is content to end the day tucked up in a sleeping bag listening to the sound of rain tip-toing on the canvas. So I anticipated staying at a place billed as “luxury camping” complete with double bed, duvets and running water might be a tad over the top. But with a young family (two boys under 4) and the weather looking somewhat unpredictable in early May, my wife and I decided that camping en famille in a bit of comfort would frankly be more enjoyable for all of us. We chose Featherdown’s East Shilvinghampton Farm in Dorset.
Our quick 9-second film showing the layout of the tents in the landscape:
East Shilvinghampton is five miles from Weymouth in the stunning Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just inland from the World Heritage Jurassic Coast between Weymouth and Abbotsbury. The farm has been in the family for over 65 years – Martin and Joby Bartlett (who still work with Martin’s parents Tom and Sheila) run a beef suckler herd and grow a variety of crops. On the farm, there are also chickens, goats, lambs, ducks and ponies (who belong to their two daughters Georgina and Annabel). The tents are well-spaced and you feel as though you have your own patch of countryside with wonderful views of the South Dorset Ridgeway.
The Farm: Martin met us on arrival and gave a 20-minute tour of the site, showing us first the range of facilities up at the farmhouse (including hot showers, freezers and a well-stocked honesty shop with lots of local goodies), woodpile (guests are given a palette of wood, including kindling wood for each day of their stay), and the pizza oven. There’s no electricity in the tents (nor wifi), but there is a plug up at the honesty shop for phone charging.
The Tents: We stayed in the standard ‘Canvas Lodge’ tent. Heating is provided by a cosy wood-burning stove (Martin provides a quick lesson in how to use it when you first arrive), which you can also cook on. The tent’s kitchen is well stocked with pots and pans, crockery, cutlery and linen, plus there’s cold running water and sink. There’s also an ample living area (a whopping 45 square metres) with a large wooden table and chairs, cold storage box and wooden sofa… and plenty of head room. Tea tree lights are provided plus there are two oil lamps.The Canvas ‘Frills Lodge’ have a shower and veranda.
There are three separate sleeping areas large enough to fit six people, each with bed linen. One main double bed room, two bunk beds, and a small box room. As the name ‘Featherdown’ implies, the down duvets are supremely cosy. The smaller ‘box’ room could realistically just about fit two adults, though more suitable for one or two children (our boys loved climbing in and out of this during the day).
The honesty shop has a range of local goodies, including meat from the farm, milk and cream produced at Osmington, ice cream from Purbeck, Moores biscuits made in Morecombelake, as well as Dorset Red cheese and Dorset craft beers. You can pre-order pizza toppings from the farm that you can then cook yourself in the pizza oven. You can also order a breakfast hamper as well as pre-cooked food (ready for your arrival and delivered to your tent), such as cottage pie, beef stew, lamb tagine, lasagne (we had the delicious cottage pie on the first night, which was a blessing after a long journey) or just the ingredients for a casserole, which you can cook over an open fire.
Kids can roam free among the fields, our neighbour’s children had bikes and played rounders outside their tents, and there are also organized times to feed the goats and lambs. Martin also leads a fairly extensive (hour-long) tour of the farm during which our kids climbed a tractor and fed goats while we listened to the ins and outs of what it’s like to run a modern farm. If you can tear yourself away from the rural idyll, there are plenty of things to do nearby: Abbotsbury is a pretty village (just 4 miles from the site) and the Jurassic Coast is on your doorstep, including Chesil Beach (18 miles of pebble beach) and Weymouth has a long crescent shaped sandy beach that’s great for kids and has a historic harbour, marina and nature reserve.
The tents are off-grid – so there’s no electricity and lighting is by candle and oil lamp (three ‘’frills’ tents have hot showers powered by two external gas cylinders). Heating and cooking is done on a wood-burning stove. Much of the produce in the honesty shops is local sourced, either from the farm or other nearby suppliers within a 20-mile radius.
How to get there by public transport
The nearest train station is Weymouth, 5 miles away. Plan your journey by train >>
Pre-order one of their home-cooked meals (e.g. a hot cottage pie) so that’s it’s ready when you arrive. Especially if you’re new to the Featherdown experience, it can take a while to get familiar with all the facilities, so for that first night, we found it was really convenient to unpack and sit round the table eating a hot meal before putting the boys to bed.
I’d also recommend taking a gas stove. While the wood stove does a great job once it gets going, it does take a while to heat up, so a calor-gas stove can help you make that quick brew first thing in the morning or when you get back after a day at the beach.
Loved it! If you’re used to the traditional put-up-your-own-tent camping (like me), you’ll find Featherdown Farms an indulgence. It really is ‘luxury camping’ thanks to the comfy bed, duvet, running water and other well-thought out facilities. Though don’t forget you’re still under canvas and evenings by the fire can still be cool… it may be ‘luxury’ but you’re not staying in a hotel! If you’re looking for camping in comfort (especially welcome if it rains), these tents are marvellous. Our boys loved the farm and facilities (especially the wheelbarrows required to transport luggage and wood) and the food was excellent.
>> See our full listing for East Shilvinghampton Featherdown Farm, Dorset
>> See our guide to All the Featherdown Farms in the UK
Disclosure: Richard Hammond was hosted by Featherdown Farms. He has full editorial control of the review, which is written in his own words based on his experience of visiting the farm. All opinions are the author’s own.