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Whitwell Hall Country Centre, Whitwell, Reepham, Norfolk
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Whitwell Hall Country Centre, Whitwell, Reepham, NorfolkIf you get the urge to disappear off the face of the earth for a weekend but don't want to step on to a plane, then Whitwell Hall Country Centre is the place to go - although you'U have to take a few friends along with you. Because here you don't just get an individual pitch, but a whole woodland-enclosed meadow to call your own, along with a private, sheltered canipfire area.

Although it's only 20 minutes from Norwich, the site feels very deep in the Norfolk countryside - especially if your route takes you along Nowhere Lane. Getting close to, and living in harmony with, nature is the aim: simple camping, cooking over an open fire, lying under the stars, and removing yourself from the trappings of modern life.

Treading lightly is also important - solar heating, rainwater harvesting, and wildlife conservation programmes are all part of the very green ethos here. Kevin Hart, who runs the site, has a wealth of wilderness camping experience and uses it to inspire the youngsters who stay here with their schools. He's camped in the Canadian backwoods, 'bivied' his way across New Zealand, and even searched for polar bears in the Arctic Circle. He is the ultimate example of how far you can get with a tent in your backpack and very little else.

Whitwell Hall aims to teach children about self-reliance in a bid to raise their confidence. It also instills a lifelong love of camping. Many of those who first came here as 10-year-olds remember that initial experience and continue to be drawn back year after year... now with their own 10-year-olds.

COOL FACTOR Back-to-nature campsite - all to yourself.

WHO'S IN? Tents, campervans (in the Paddock), dogs (by prior arrangement), groups - yes. Caravans, lone campers - no.

ON SITE Campfires allowed. Croups of campers can choose from 3 meadows: the Paddock for 4-10 tents; Kestrel for 6-13 tents; or Yew Tree for 8-50 tents. Each has an open fire 'pad' under shelter - perfect for fireside gatherings. Firewood is included. You can rent 4-person patrol tents and cooking sets. All 3 campsites have their own toilet and shower block providing simple but adequate facilities. No amplified music - it might disturb the abundant wildlife. Bats, badgers, and foxes all live here, and the centre is part of the national Red Squirrel Breeding Programme.

OFF SITE There are steam trains at Whitwell and Reepham Railway (01603 871694; www.whitwellstation.com) - almost next door to the site, and the 21-mile Marriott's Way footpath, between Norwich and Aylesham, passes nearby. The path makes its way along former railway lines so is also good for cycling. A little further afield but worth a visit is Pensthorpe Nature Reserve and Gardens (www.pensthorpe.com), near Fakenham, host to the BBC's Springwatch.

FOOD AND DRINK Whitwell rail station makes its own Whitwell Wobbler ale, and Reepham is endowed with 3 good pubs, including the Kings Arms (01603 870345), [/b]which has real ales, food, and jazz in the courtyard on summer Sundays.

GETTING THERE From the A140 take the A1067 towards Fakenham. Continue through Lenwade and then turn right on to Nowhere Lane. Take the third left (opposite Whitwell Common), turn right at the crossroads (signposted Reepham), and Whitwell Hall is the first entrance on the right.

OPEN All school holidays and Bank Holidays.

THE DAMAGE £17.30 per tent, per night.



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