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Riversidelakes, Slough Lane, Horton, Wimborne, Dorset
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Riversidelakes, Slough Lane, Horton, Wimborne, DorsetRiversidelakes is, in a word, magical.

Checking out campsites has got to be one of the best jobs in the world. Never more so than when we find one that surpasses all expectations. And Riversidelakes is an utter gem. A jewel. A gold mine...You get the picture.

Owners Maggie and Chris are instinctive hosts. Born and bred in Dorset, Chris lured Maggie, a former nurse, out of the Home Counties; they married, bought a farm, built a golf course, then fell into the business of property development and renovation.

Maggie's dream to run a campsite was next on the checklist. Riversidelakes was already a much-loved secret among locals when the couple first arrived for a recce. But it was winter and the site looked barren. Two years later the property was still on the market, and on a second visit in the spring they fell hook, line, and sinker in love. On the eve of summer 2010, the couple and their two sons took possession of 26 acres, five Chinese geese, one duck, one swan, a cat, 20 chickens, and the season's entire campsite bookings.

Riversidelakes, Slough Lane, Horton, Wimborne, Dorset

The West Country's Horton is so near the M27 that you could be driving through Kent or Hampshire, not among the old, stone towns you find in deeper, rural Dorset. Despite the easy access, Riversidelakes has hitherto retained an aura of secrecy, whether intentional or not. Low-key signposting (if you hit Drusilla's Inn you've gone too far) does little to hint at the magic that lies ahead. But once you're in, park up and head for reception, where you'll probably meet the very affable Maggie.
Pile your gear on to a quad-bike trailer that will be driven to your pitch. Or, if you've booked one of the lofty tree-edged spots, there's a path you can drive along to your grassy door, where you can unload all your gear. It couldn't be any smoother.

The camping area comprises 12 acres of dreamy natural meadow and woodland, with three lakes enclosed by circumferential paths and thick shrubbery. Mown pathways lead to clusters of pitches separated by long, wild grasses that offer great privacy; all that sedentary campers can see of their neighbours are the wafts of smoke rising from their braziers. At dusk the overall vista resembles the basecamp of an intrepid expedition into the wild unknown.There's a stillness in the air...Total enchantment.

Groups really do love it here, and often book out entire pitch clusters. Each cluster bears its own helpful name. So you can choose your spot according to your requirements - great lake views, proximity to the facilities, sheltered woodland, treelined or ridgeway pitches, and isolated individual hideaways that provide additional privacy - you choose.

The middle lake and its old, battered boat are popular with swimmers. The pond-brown water, muddy floor, or the thought of brushing against carp may put some off, but a lot of visitors just embrace their inner wild-swimmers and hop in.

Many campers bring bicycles along to Riversidelakes so that their charges can tear along the grassy paths. If they're not doing that the kids are climbing trees, playing on rope swings, or watching their dads fish in the lakes. As for everyone else, they're just kicking back and enjoying the magic.

Riversidelakes, Slough Lane, Horton, Wimborne, Dorset

COOL FACTOR Spacious, relaxing, comfortable, and easily accessible. Regulars already know they have to book in advance, so newbies will need to be quick off the mark.

WHO'S IN? Tents, campervans, caravans, dogs, groups - yes.

ON SITE Campfires in borrowed braziers only, which come with BBQ grills. Logs are £4 a bundle. There are 55 tent spots in the variously named pitches, and room for 5 campervans or caravans with hook-ups (£4 per night) in the 'Main' area, near the entrance at the bottom of the site. Tent pitches: Viewpoint allows parents to keep an eye on toddlers as they run up and down the meadow. Isolation spots suit single bookings and are nearest to the showers. Chill Out is furthest from the owners' bungalow, which might appeal to chatterboxes. Centre Point attracts the fewest passers-by. Three Woodland pitches offer protection from the elements among the trees; while Overview looks out across the middle lake and suits small tents, and the topTreeline and Ridgeway clusters have views of the site and also share an eco-loo. A new shower block will have 8 solar-powered showers, loos, a family bath, disabled toilet, and baby-changing facilities. New Soul Pad bell tents - 7 - come with camp kitchens, beds, and a table. A communal area with a fridge, 2 washing-up sinks, and an electric power point faces a huge fire pit that groups can use. Recycling bins include a swap shop, where you leave/pick up anything that campers might use. Experienced anglers only can acquire an Environment Agency rod licence to fish in the lakes (from the post office, £8 per day). Two tyre swings; ice packs are available.

OFF SITE Of course, you might want to do more than just kick back by the lakes. The historic market town of Wimborne Minster has a farmers' market on Fridays and flea market on Saturdays. Moors Valley Country Park (01425 470721; www.moors-valley.co.uk) is down the road. Pay to park (2 hours: £4.50) to make use of its picnic areas and cycling tracks for free; pay extra for golf, croquet, and high-wire tree-climbing (£20-£30). Bournemouth beach is a 20-minute drive away, as is the town's bustling shopping centre.

Riversidelakes, Slough Lane, Horton, Wimborne, Dorset

FOOD AND DRINK Pretty Drusilla's Inn (01258 840297; www.drusitlasinn.co.uk) is right out of the campsite and sells a whole range of pub grub including Sunday roasts, cider-roasted hams, and kids' meals. Friday morning is farmers' market day (7am-2pm) at Wimborne Minster, with organic and locally produced cheeses and meats.

GETTING THERE Take the M27 west and then the A31. At the A338 at Ringwood turn towards Bournemouth then follow signs to the Moors Valley Park/Three Legged Cross, and the site is 3 miles after the park on the right, after 2 mini roundabouts.

Bournemouth train station is a 20-minute taxi ride away (£28). National Express run coaches to Ringwood, and a taxi from here is about £16.

OPEN May-September.

THE DAMAGE Adult £10 high season/£7 in low season per night; child £7/£5, under-5s free. Soul Pad bell tent £38-£90 per night.

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