Family camping trip to the Isle of Wight

Julie Peasgood takes her family away to the Isle of Wight and stays in one of Experience Freedom's impressive safari tents! Read all about her trip and the fun they had during their stay.


It’s the night before we go to the Isle of Wight...why, oh why do I always leave packing until the last minute? And it’s not just clothes and cosmetics this time - I’m looking at the lovely photos of our very sophisticated Safari tent and wondering if there will be tea bags? (Crucial - it can get ugly if I don’t have my morning cuppa). 

I pack a substantial supply of Earl Grey just in case, as we’re going glamping and I’m not really sure what to expect. But there is definitely a full set of utensils and crockery alongside a little hob, microwave, fridge and sink, which all seems very promising. And the stylish tent, our home for four days, looks so appealing I can’t wait to see it for real... 


There are four of us in the car as we drive to the Portsmouth ferry, and three of us have never been camping, let alone glamping before. Daughter Kate became a dab hand at putting up a tent at Glastonbury, and my granddaughters, five-year-old Saha and two-year-old Anjelica (Jellie) can be forgiven for not having experienced that rite of passage. 

I have no excuses however, other than never having really fancied the idea of camping. But this cosy, comfortable, glamorous getaway looks much more fun. The term ‘glamping’ officially entered the Oxford dictionary back in 2016, with the definition: ‘Noun: A form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping’. 

Understatement! The Safari tent (which is more like a gorgeous log cabin on stilts with canvas sides) is spectacular, and we all fall in love with it at first sight. Plus there are teabags! There’s actually a very welcoming selection of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk and biscuits in a huge tin, and after fighting over who gets the coveted top bunk (Saha) with me underneath and Kate and Jellie in the double bed next door, we settle in, unpack, and explore our leafy surroundings in the IOW’s Southland site near Sandown. There’s even a heater for chilly nights, and we’ve opted for the luxury towel bale (an additional charge but with an already overstuffed car it’s well worth it).



A popular and superbly equipped camping, glamping and caravanning site, this has to be one of the best value family holidays ever. ‘Experience Freedom’ - part of the CAMC - has a variety of exciting locations all over the UK, offering everything from upmarket glamping pods to stylish Yurts. We plumped for the IOW because it has great beaches, there’s so much to do and it’s truly family friendly.

The shower and loo block at Southland is spotlessly clean and queue-free; there is a state-of-the-art playground (ideally suited to older kids as it’s quite adventurous) and the staff on site are upbeat and very helpful; the reception area also has milk, bread, ice creams and other essentials for sale. 

Inside the Safari tent we are permanently surrounded by the sweet smell of wood, and an expansive deck outside is festooned with fairy lights and furnished with a sofa and chair, with an individual picnic table, parasol and chairs on the grass to enjoy a barbeque (disposable kit provided in the special BBQ station - watch this space). 

Tonight though, it’s fish and chips, served up by a van that visits three times a week between 5 and 8pm. We troop along full of anticipation and it doesn’t disappoint - then it’s time to chill out with yet another memory game for Saha (we’ve brought three in all, so we should be Mensa level by the time we leave).

There are some very trendy lights in the sitting area of the tent, but they are on the dimmer side, so another time I’d probably bring a tiny lamp with me – worth noting if you’re a fan, as I am, of ‘Put Big Light on, Mam’ (long live Peter Kay). Bedside lights (the tent sleeps five) are excellent though, and on little stalks so they can be directed where you need them. 

A day on the beach has exhausted us all, so we retire early to enjoy deep and peaceful slumbers in the extremely comfortable beds - in fact I sleep like the proverbial log and don’t get up in the night once (which is bordering on a miracle). I could get used to this...

Mud kitchen


We’re at the Zoo! Well, it’s now the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary set inside the former Sandown Fort, and the welcoming and well-informed Marketing Manager Matthew Riches is proudly showing us around. There are lions, tigers, meerkats, spider monkeys, lemurs, lynx, wallabies and more – a diverse and happy range of animals, many of which are rescued.

We enjoy a talk about the family of meerkats from one of the knowledgeable animal carers, but it’s getting up close and personal with the largest lion that thrills Saha the most (especially when he turns round and pees in her direction). Jellie, on the other hand, is captivated by the mud kitchen - an inspired idea for toddlers - and we’re duly presented with an enticing mud soup.

Our real lunch is at The Fighting Cocks in Arreton, a large pub that’s not only close to the campsite but has no less than three bouncy castles, an inflatable go-kart track and a children’s menu. It’s understandably popular, especially as there is also a gated toddlers' area and although the food isn’t the finest, it’s good enough - and the staff are friendly and patient. Plus it has a separate ice cream booth (always a winner!) 

Back at camp I’m the lucky recipient of a mini-makeover: Kate puts Dutch-braids in my hair (still not quite sure what they are but it looks great) Saha paints my nails (and a portion of my fingers too) and Jellie acquaints me with her Peppa Pig videos on the Ipad. 

Then after a delicious barbecue (halloumi, corn on the cob and asparagus – thank you Kate!) Saha shows me her favourite film on the Ipad and I feel thoroughly spoilt. It’s the magical Studio Ghibli Japanese animation ‘Spirited Away’ and I love the fact that we are three generations sharing a tiny screen, and sharing a cosy intimacy that I know I’ll always treasure. 


Our four days have sped by and I can’t quite believe we’re packing to go home – we all want to stay longer! We brought far too many clothes and as storage is clever but not extensive, I think I’d pack far less another time - though an extra tea towel and a tracksuit might be useful additions. In any case, any overspill or valuables can always be kept in the car, which can be parked right by the tent.

On our way back to the ferry we visit the celebrated Garlic Farm in the Arreton Valley, sampling chocolate ice cream with garlic and buying all kinds of garlic mayonnaise and mustard in their large, airy shop. We don’t have time to try their highly rated restaurant on this occasion, but that’s definitely on the wish list for next time (booking is a good idea as it’s extremely popular). 

We do manage to squeeze in a visit to Butterfly World however, and I’m so glad as it’s completely enchanting. Open 7 days a week and one of the island’s leading attractions, there are hundreds of huge and iridescent butterflies flying around in a tropical environment (and as it’s all under cover, it’s great even if the weather isn’t!) We marvel at the butterflies, participate in feeding giant koi carp with baby’s bottles in the Japanese garden and buy souvenirs in the Hungry Caterpillar gift shop. It’s less than ten minutes from the Fishbourne ferry terminal and an absolute must-see.

On the ferry I think back over the last week, which has been an unequivocal success. I never got used to calling our accommodation a tent – it was so much more than that, and it exceeded all expectations. We have had the opportunity to relax in beautiful, laid-back surroundings and to focus on chatting, playing games and having fun in new and inventive ways. For family holidays I’d opt for glamping over a hotel any day, so I reckon you could say I’m a convert – we all are!


Safari tent