Are British kids ready for US-style summer camps? Samantha Laurie looks at the best residential kids camps in Blighty.
A beautiful lakeside setting, teenage romance, s’mores round the bonfire: every child knows a summer camp from films. And yet, unlike everything else American, camp culture has never caught on in the UK. Unpredictable weather, shorter school holidays and more generous parental leave all contribute to the indifference, augmented perhaps by a certain flinty cynicism about outsourcing holiday fun.
Still, as an alternative to kids lolling around on their phones all summer, a week of outdoorsy – or even indoorsy – fun has plenty going for it. As the domestic market stirs into action, the best camps fill up quickly. So, in no particular order, we've put together a list of some of the very best summer camps in the UK...
If you want to find out more about individual UK summer camps from an independent organisation, you can get in touch with Camp Experts UK. The company offer a free advisory service for choosing a summer camp at home or abroad. It represents over 1000 programmes (100 in the UK), such as academic, sport and language-based camps. An advisor learns your child’s interests, needs and abilities and makes a no-obligation recommendation. campexperts.co.uk
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Best for: eco warriors
It doesn’t get more back-to-nature than Britain’s only off-grid summer camp. With no mains electricity or water, the camp harnesses solar and biomass energy to give kids a taste of living sustainably. Sleeping in bell tents, yurts and teepees, they learn how to track animals and forage for food on the 280 acres of Cornish woodland and streams.
Activities are remarkably diverse, from technical rope climbing to kayaking, orienteering, bat walks, paddleboarding and archery. There’s even a chance to try out traditional crafts – green woodworking and forging with a local blacksmith.
Campers can be collected from London, although many parents drop them off and then head for an eco camp of their own: the luxury, adult only Scarlet Hotel on the Atlantic coast.
Suitable for 7-14 years; 3-day (£260) or 6-day camps (£495); 5% sibling discount applied to second child's place; max 12 per week; campkernow.org.uk
Best for: multi-activity
PGL – or ‘Parents Get Lost’, as it’s colloquially known – is the big daddy of summer camps. Most popular is the classic seven-day multi-activity camp, a heady mix of dance, photography, abseiling, quadbiking and more. The 12 UK centres include Marchants Hill in Surrey – ideal for those keen to keep their kids close by. It has three-, four- and seven-night camps, including a first-timer week where all the campers will be newbies.
Suitable for 7-17 years; 7 nights from £469; pgl.co.uk
Best for: wild adventure
The locations for these adventure holidays will leave you green with envy as a parent. Some of the most gorgeous scenery in Britain serves as the backdrop to the wild outdoor adventures this camp offers. As well as the normal activity weeks you'd expect from a summer camp, they also offer some hardcore 19 day treks, through some of the most stunning natural scenery in the UK. Your little Ray Mears in the making will spend every day camping out underneath the stars, on a once in a life time journey through either Wales, Scotland or the Lake districts.
If the intensity of a 19 day camping trip doesn't sound too appealing for your young un, they do also offer some more relaxed water and rock climbing holidays, as well as a skills for life award in similarly beautiful settings.
Suitable 11-19 years (varies for each course, the more intense treks are 15-19 years);
Prices range from one week £549 courses to 19 day adventures at £1699
Best for: bushcraft
Fire lighting, shelter building, bushtucker bbqs, wild swimming, scavenger hunts, cricket: it’s all part of the fun on these two, three or five-day adventures based in safari-style tented camps. Unleash your childs inner Bear Grylls! They also have a number of other locations in Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Kent
Suitable for 7-15 years; 2 days £120; 3 days £237; 5 days £395; campwilderness.co.uk
Best for: drama
For over thirty years, this Irish drama group has been hosting budding thespians in the stunning surroundings of the Glens of Antrim. The lovely old Kilmore House is the base for a week of musical theatre, choral poetry, mime, filmmaking, improv, singing and dance.
All teachers are showbiz pros and the camp prides itself on its anarchic family-like atmosphere with a focus on eating together and good manners. Rehearsals for the final Saturday show often continue until 10.30pm - just as well since it’s miles from the nearest village with no TV, patchy wifi and mobiles restricted.
The school will collect children from Belfast airport, with a tour of the Game of Thrones landscape on the way to base.
Suitable for 8-18, £495 a week (£395 for bookings before the end of May); max 30 a week; summerdrama.co.uk
Best for: horse riding
Is your child mad about horses? Well then Wellington Riding School would be the perfect summer escape. Each child is given their own horse to care for and ride over the 5 day summer courses. At the end of the week there is a competition for all the children involved in a host of different areas including: tack & turnout, a musical ride or dressage, show-jumping, cross country (weather dependent) or gymkhana games.
Whilst the school does have horses to suit all shapes and sizes, it is important to note that children need to have reached a minimum level where they are off the lead rein in walk & trot and starting to learn to canter, before they can join one of the schools holiday courses.
In the evening activities include trips to the cinema, swimming, karaoke and board games. Accommodation is included in ticket price.
Suitable for 7-16 years; £850 (7-12 years) £895 (13-16 years); options for extra days and weekend stop overs available on request; a 10% discount offered to younger siblings wellington-riding.co.uk
Best for: beach fun
These tent-based camps near the beach are the stuff of childhood dreams: pony riding, crabbing, boogie boarding, sandcastle building, sailing and more. All meals outdoors and – aside from toasted marshmallows and choc-covered bananas round the beach bonfire – sweets are banned, as are gadgets and fizzy drinks.
Divided into groups of 12, according to age and friends, each week holds 30-50 campers. Sailing and pony camps also available.
Suitable for 6-13 years; £525 for 4 nights (Mon-Fri); wickedlywonderful.com
Best for: performing arts
The Cambridge School for Visual and Performing Arts (CSVPA) is famous worldwide for its courses and diplomas in every different medium of the arts. They offer expert educational summer camps in everything from art, film making and fashion to drama, directing and music.
The summer drama course is particularly popular. There's musical or physical theatre courses depending on there child's preferred artistic calling. The courses include 35+ hours of contact time with professional artists, as well as optional evening excursions and activities.
For those interested in different artistic fields there are also summer camps on offer in the areas of fashion, film making as well as art and design.
Suitable for 15-18 years; prices start at £1,175 (one week) csvpa.com
Best for: thrills
After 20 years, XUK now sees over 170 teenagers a week at its multi-activity centre at New Eccles Hall School in Norfolk. Activities include scuba diving and quad biking, with options for theme park trips, West End shows and driving.
Popular with international students, this year XUK launches a specialist camp in Wales with performing arts, sport, water/forest adventure and photography/film.
Multi-activity camp for 6-17 years, £570; specialist camp (8-17), £700; xkeys.co.uk
Best for: flexibility
The Learn and Experience summer camp offers a huge variety of activities to happy campers. Each morning and afternoon, kids can decide whether they would rather do a sports, creative or adventure option. Expect plenty of water fight championships, camp fire nights, murder mysteries and theme nights all with the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside as backdrop. L&E also often has a good contingent of International kids at their camps so there is always the chance a little bit of that European culture might accidentally rub off on your children.
Suitable for 8-14 years; £795 per week; learnexperience.co.uk
Best for: techies
With 25 hours of tuition, tech-loving kids can get under the hood with courses on web development, Python coding and computer games design. Courses around the country including a day camp venue at St John’s School in Leatherhead.
Suitable for 12-17 years; from £550-£1300 firetechcamp.com
Best for: sport
Uppingham School offer a number of summer courses ranging from music to creative arts and drama. However it is the sports week the school offers that has become the flagship summer course for little tykes looking to start their future England careers. Exciting and competitive games and activities are used to capture the imagination and encourage skill acquisition and decision-making. The programme will involve a wide range of sports including hockey, rugby, football, netball, athletics and many more.
Suitable for 6-8 years; £435 for the week (residential) £230 (non-residential); uppinghamsummerschool.co.uk
Best for: life skills
Here, the focus is on team building and problem solving with children encouraged to cooperate with each other to solve problems like raft building or logic puzzles. You can choose from a minimum stay of a week to 3 or 4 week stays.
Suitable for 8-15 years; £584 a week; millonthebrue.co.uk
Best for: film making
Met specialise in film making and production for the younger generation. The programme operates out of Rugby School, and campers will have access to the schools state of the art multimedia centre to try their hands at everything from directing to editing and everything in between. Scene writing, camera operation, video editing and actor direction are just a few of the skills taught at this camp under the expert tutelage of professional film makers
Along with the more technical side of the programme there are many social activities for your budding Speilberg, including movie nights and creativity workshops.
Suitable for 14-17 years; £2500 for 2 week course; metfilmschool.ac.uk
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