Sometimes you need to get away from it all, not just a hotel mini break, but a proper retreat from real life. Well, wow, have I found the perfect place. Crafty Camping, nestled in a 7 acre woodland in West Dorset, is extraordinary, as if you've fallen down a rabbit hole and woken up in Narnia.
Finding this eco-retreat is hard enough, Sat Nav takes you to the wrong place and it's only after navigating a network of dangerously thin, winding lanes that we spy the sign Woodland Workshop (hand carved naturally). A hand-crafted boardwalk takes you downhill into the wooded valley and by the time you've arrived, you know you won't want to leave. Crafty Camping was designed and built by Guy Mallinson, a cabinet maker who originally set up his green wood carving courses here (featured on the BBC's Mastercrafts series) . After endless requests from people wanting to stay he decided to build a luxury campsite for adults. At Crafty Camping there are 7 separate residences - a tipi, yurts, bell tents and a shepherd's hut - all of them hand built and customised by Guy and his team. There's also a communal kitchen with a huge shared table, a range oven and woodfired pizza oven and a yurt games library stocked with Jenga, Perudo and Scrabble. We were staying in Hoppus the tipi (all tents are named after wood carving references) which is set on its own in a clearing at the back of the woods. Step inside and you'll swear off boutique hotels for life. There's a hand-carved four poster bed, a woodburner, reindeer skins on the floor, bedside lamps, a dressing table and mirror. Best of all, though, it's utterly private and silent too, apart from the occasional tooting owl.
The boardwalks across the site are lit by sensor lamps, walk outside and you immediately have a floodlit path to your barbecue area, tree shower, flushing loo and basin. A word about that shower. The fact that it rained fairly incessantly on our first day was a plus - showering in piping hot water while the rain pours in through the open air roof will be an enduring memory. So was lighting the log burner, collapsing onto the bed and opening up a new novel - so much for the woodland hike. The rain meant the romantic barbecue for 2 was out and we must brave the communal kitchen yurt. Sure enough there were two other couples (for insurance reasons Crafty Camping is adults only) cooking their Friday night feasts and sipping glasses of wine. It reminded me of travelling, those 5 minute friendships you strike up - 'Good morning Melanie,' "Hi Steve" with people whom you probably couldn't pick out of a line up a year later. But the vibe here is friendly and relaxed and soon we're all chatting against a background noise of rain lashing canvas. That night with our tent cosily warm from the log burner (electric blanket too if we'd wanted it) and a bed that felt like being wrapped up in cotton wool I had the best night's sleep I can remember in years. The next morning we had signed up for a two hour spatula making session in the Woodland Workshop. This is a beautiful space, with a huge open fire in the middle of it and a rather scary looking array of tools. Possibly not for the faint hearted.
Over the next two hours our tutor Adam demonstrates each stage from splicing the trunk to shaping the final piece. It's labour intensive but very satisfying and at the end of it we've somehow turned a tree trunk into two fairly respectable looking spatulas. With zero practical skills I found it pretty challenging but my other half was completely transported, planing and shaving and sawing like a 1950s boy scout. It made me think a Crafty Camping woodworking course would be an ideal male birthday present - they get to wood whittle, you get to hang out in the yurt sauna or read a book by the logburner. If you can drag yourself away from the woodland oasis, this is a brilliant area for exploring. We walked up Pilsdon Pen, a nearby Iron Age fort with incredible views over Dorset. Lyme Regis with its famous cobb, beach and, of course, Mark Hix's seafood restaurant is a 10 minute drive or there's River Cottage just down the road. In summer you can hire electric bikes from Marshwood Trails and tour the Jurassic coast. Mostly though we just wanted to stay at Crafty Camping where time goes blissfully slowly. Making your own pizza (there's home-made dough in the freezer) would kill quite a few hours or, for the true Bear Gryls experience, you can fish for trout in the lake, gut it and cook over your barbecue. Everything on the site is scrupulously green down to the tea tree shampoo and soap in the showers. Guy designed it so that no imprint should be left on the woodland when he decides to leave and the attention to detail is phenomenal. Our bedposts had pegs carved into them for hanging clothes, the benches in the kitchen are covered in sheepskin rugs, each tent has been built from scratch and is entirely unique but with every comfort considered. It feels ridiculously indulgent and yet very wholesome at the same time. This winter Guy and his team are building a tree house with a hot tub on its deck. Can you imagine? The great thing about Crafty Camping is that it works just as well in winter as summer. Soaking in a hot tub while the trees are covered in snow would be high on my bucket list of experiences. One week on and if I'm honest, I'm still a little homesick for Hoppus, our tipi. I can't wait to get back there.