Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I'll tell you a secret

These islands are the best in the world to go camping.

It’s not a ‘Da Vinci Code’, Dan Brown-style revelation. But it does involve multiples of the number three. Britain and Ireland are an archipelago of 6,000 islands divided and surrounded by six seas, 600 rivers and canals and 30,000 lakes.

They are home to more campsites-by-water per square mile than anywhere else on earth. Only no one realized, or if they did, they’ve kept it quiet.  Why? I’ve no idea, because these regions also enjoy the mildest seasons found anywhere (neither hot nor cold – posh people call it temperate). So mild in fact, that the three largest camping organisations in the world are based here, with a total membership of almost six million.

Those who should know better still stop me and ask what’s so special about a pitch by the water. They might describe a wonderful campsite in the Yorkshire Dales, the New Forest or Snowdonia, several miles from a river or lake, but stunningly beautiful. ‘Well, yeah,’ I whisper. ‘Maybe when the sun’s out. What about when it rains every day for a week?’

Monday, September 7, 2015

Demystifying myths about camping and caravanning in a damp corner of the northern hemisphere is a challenge

It’s not all good, I’ll grant you. Pitched up at the foot of the Dales in a three-day downpour surrounded by grazing Fresians, puddles and damp ditches can be depressing. 

But the combination of lake, wetsuit, boats, fishing rods and campsite amounts to fun in any weather. Canoeing, sailing, surfing, swimming and snorkelling don’t rely on sunshine – they rely on access to a beach or riverbank. And that’s what the campsites in this book have. 

They get you out there. Until now, most have been kept secret and treasured by the people ‘in the know’. And for good reason. No one wants to discover a waterside gem only to see it become over-run with hundreds of tents, campervans, windbreaks, people and 24-hour noise. So, I spent five years looking. Looking for those secret hideaways. I did it by trawling around coasts, rivers and lakes.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

It all started from the armchair

Looking at OS Maps and staying up into the early hours on Google Earth, using a computer screen to fly over canals and lakes, looking for anything that resembled a tent or caravan. Once a dozen sites had been saved in my favourites, I’d head off for a long weekend of camping, sometimes driving all night to explore the area by day.

Within four years I’d discovered a few thousand campsites and I finally realised that there were so many that I didn’t need to worry about keeping them secret any longer. From the Gold Coast of County Waterford to the dunes of North Devon, from the Norfolk Broads to the turquoise waters of the Outer Hebrides and the Pembrokeshire path – Britain and Ireland are teeming with great spots to camp by water.

And the best news of all is that the list just keeps growing and getting better. Every time I get the map out, more campsites have appeared.

Friday, September 4, 2015

And then there's the water quality

Water pollution has decreased dramatically in the last decade.

Rivers and canals once ruined by the legacy of the industrial revolution have become the cleanest waterways in Europe. Beaches that suffered from sewage outflows have returned to safe bathing levels, largely thanks to superb campaigns by the likes of Surfers Against Sewage. For the first time in more than 150 years, it’s relatively safe to go swimming in Britain.

Modern camping is not just about getting back to nature either – there’s a whole lot of new ‘stuff’ to embrace, too. Aside from wi-fi and sat-nav-enabled phones, improvements in fabric technology are the most important developments for the 21st-century camper.

This is the dawn of an outdoor revolution. Gortex, eVent and battery-heated wetsuits make it easy to take on the coldest waters all-year round – even in sub-zero temperatures. Not that it gets too icy here.

For every cloud hanging over these isles, there’s the silver lining of waterways, lakes, coast, canvas and caravans. Oh, and we get some sunshine sometimes!

This book is based on the web directory Campsites on Water, which I've maintained for free since 2009.

The site generated more than 100,000 views a month, but was hacked in 2015. It was closed down by the web host under terms and conditions, with all data and maps lost; so I moved host. A working archive of the site is here, but will likely vanish some time in the future.

A new directory is being rebuilt.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book reviews on Camping by the Waterside

“This guide by award-winning journalist Stephen Neale... will inspire even die-hard non-campers and is perfect for families.” – *Book of the Week*, Daily Mail

“Stephen has taken the hard work out of locating your own pitch in paradise. And when I say paradise I don't mean just a hop, skip and a jump away - I mean right there. Once the waves or the fish or the rays have been caught, you can pop the kettle on, cook up your catch or just take it easy, right there at the very edge, where the sea meets the land, where it matters. These are the places that make you go 'wow'!” Martin Dorey, presenter of One Man and his Campervan

“Tip boxes, plotted maps, enticing photography and succinct summaries of the best water-based activities around you pitch - featuring sailing, kayaking and wild swimming - will have you packing your poles just a few pages in.” – Coast Magazine

“The best campsites are by the water. The best place to find them is in this book. This is an indispensable guide for lovers of camping and watersports.” – John Kelly, Song of the Paddle

“Camping by the Waterside helps to plan the perfect trip, to locations that tick all the boxes. It's already shown me a few places I'd like to explore.” – Elton Murphy, anglersnet.co.uk

“Flick through this book, grab your board and your tent, and go explore our spectacular coastlines.” – Campaigns Director, Surfers Against Sewage, Andy Cummins

“There's something very calming about pitching by water, so we were pleased to come across a new book that will help you to find the best spots to do just that.” – Practical Caravan

“With glorious introductions to each section covering popular watersports and common-sense camping advice, it's a book to return to. In fact, I'll be using it to plan my next camping adventure!” – Lifeboat

“An appealing guide aimed at families and those who love the outdoors.” – Scotland Outdoors

“This stylish book includes everything you'll need to make the most of Britain's many wonderful waterside camping locations.” – Camping

“Not only a guide to campsites around Britain and Ireland, this book is also a 5-year labour of love on everything camping that's near water.” – The lifeboat

“It provides everything you need to know, from explaining the sport and equipment you'll need to the best sites for fishing, kayaking, sailing, wild swimming and many other activities.” – Practical Caravan

“This is a book that will attract paddlers to some of the best campsites” – Canoeist