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Debden House, Debden Green, Loughton, Essex
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Debden House, Debden Green, Loughton, EssexIf campsites had their own Zodiac signs, then Debden House's would be Libra. It manages to pull off a unique balancing act between size (this place is huge, taking up 60 acres of prime Essex countryside) and privacy. Backing directly on to vast Epping Forest, with its magnificent ancient trees, flower-carpeted meadows, mirrored ponds, and abundance of wildlife, the campsite is divided into seven fields. Two of these are given over to large groups so that campers after a quieter stay can enjoy peace elsewhere. Our favourite is Field 2, for its back-of-beyond feel within a narrow strip of green enclosed by the forest; but then there's the Fire Field, where you can have a campfire in any of the designated spots.

It's a joy to be so close to London, and yet be surrounded by all this woodland. Footpaths lead off from the camp's edges, taking you deep into the heart of the forest — many linking up with other walking paths. You can enjoy a weekend Communing with nature and then hop on the tube to be in the heart of the capital within the hour. The best of both worlds indeed.

COOL FACTOR Fireside camping in a forest setting.

WHO'S IN? Tents, campervans, caravans, large groups, dogs (on leads) - yes. Caravans over 5.5 metres - no.

Debden House, Debden Green, Loughton, Essex

ON SITE Campfires in designated pits in the Fire Field (pre-book; photo ID required on arrival). Pitches over 7 fields. Bit of a walk to the toilet and shower (6, hot water) block at the site's entrance, but there's another too block in the middle, with a washing-up area. Two children's play areas; electric hook-ups on Fields 1 and 4; laundry with token-operated machines; shop and cafe in the house. Busy at peak times; motorway traffic and planes audible. Book weekends.

OFF SITE Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge (020 8529 6681) in Chingford is worth a visit. And you're only an hour from all the sights and sounds of the capital.

FOOD AND DRINK It's well worth stocking up at the local farmers' market on the first Sunday of the month.

GETTING THERE Take theA1168 towards Loughton.Turn right on to Pyrles Lane, right into Englands Road, and follow the brown campsite signs, turning left into Debden Road.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT From Theydon Bois tube station catch bus no. 167/20 onwards.

OPEN May-September.

THE DAMAGE Adult £7; child £3.50. Hook-up £3.50.

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