Driving along a winding country lane in Suffolk late on a Friday night with no phone signal or map for direction, I began to think my glamping idea might have been a bad one. Fortunately, around the next bend we spied the Sweffling White Horse, run by Marie and Mark, owners of Alde Garden and its eco-friendly tipi village. Pushing open the door we were met with a wave of heat from the wood burning stove and the throng of bodies packed into the popular village pub. Unable to find the bar, we were saved by Marie who showed us to the traditional tap room where locally brewed real ales are served straight from the barrel.
Suitably fortified and armed with torches, we set off to the garden to get to grips with our tipi. Pushing open the wooden gate, an acre of grass with solar powered lamps lighting paths between the eclectic mixture of tents and tipis emerged from the darkness. Most striking of all was the blazing bonfire in the centre, around which people were warming themselves and toasting marshmallows. We were shown to the bell tent, which looked stunning once the solar powered fairy lights were turned on and tea lights were lit. It’s quite wide and very high so there’s no crawling around. Soft rugs decked the floor, while three futon beds - one double and two singles – were made up with inviting piles of duvets.
But Alde Garden isn’t just about luxury tents; it’s an eco concern, so planet-friendly initiatives take priority. Take the showers. There are two types: solar powered, with an electric top-up for use on cold days, and the Jungle Shower. Built by Marie, the homemade Jungle Shower consists of a shower bag, filled with water and left in the sun during the day, attached to a hook in a basic wooden cubicle. According to Marie, it provides ‘a wonderful view of next door’s piglets and goats’ but with the chilly climate of April in mind, we decided it would be best left until summer. There are also two types of toilet. In addition to a standard flush, Marie and Mark’s DIY endeavours have stretched to a compost loo, although typically, it comes with a twist. The ‘Treebog’ makes use of surrounding willow trees as a means of waste removal, with the trees taking up the moisture and leaving the solids to break down. Not surprisingly, they’re in rude health. Elsewhere, a converted barn serves as a communal space for cooking, washing up, lazing on hay bales and eating treats from the pizza oven. While there is no electricity in the garden itself, there is a supply near the house where the fridge, washing machine and microwave are situated. All rubbish is separated and put in recycling bins and there is a compost bucket for waste food, which gets turned into fertiliser for the garden’s plants and herbs.
The tent was beautiful with the twinkling fairy lights and flickering tea lights but was a bit cold. I ended up sleeping fully clothed inside an Arctic sleeping bag and beneath a duvet and blankets, as the air inside the tent didn’t seem to warm at all during the night. I’d recommend waiting until May before taking the plunge and going back. Frosty temperatures aside, Alde Garden is the real deal when it comes to eco-friendly glamping. It has received numerous green awards including a Gold from the Suffolk Carbon Charter. Around the site are signs made from recycled wood that give gentle reminders to be greener and less wasteful. One shows that the annual carbon footprint of the garden and buildings combined – 19.4 tonnes – is equal to that of the average single American.
After a chilly night in the Bell Tent, we switched to a tipi. Rolling up the flap we found a spacious room with a soft double futon bed, cowskin rugs, cushions, beanbags and, much to our joy, a wood burning stove in the centre. Like the Bell Tent, light is provided by solar-powered fairy lights. We fired up the burner, moving the wooden poles in line with the wind direction to stop the room from becoming smoky. It didn’t quite work; we managed to get the fire crackling, but the tipi didn’t quite turn into the snug sauna imagined and it became very smoky inside due to our poor pole management.
For a hesitant camper, Alde Garden is perfect. It offers peace, calm and the chance to get close to nature without foregoing a proper bed. The light from the sun and the quiet sounds of the wandering ducks and hens gently stir you from sleep in the morning, and the view of the stars, absence of urban sounds and owl hoots lull you to sleep. If the surrounding countryside doesn’t provide enough inspiration, there are lovely towns nearby to visit. Whether you’re after a family break or a weekend away, Alde Garden has plenty to offer, not least emerald green eco credentials. Just check the weather before you book.
Prices start at £45 per night for the Bell Tent and £75 for the yurt. For more information and to book, see www.aldegarden.co.uk
Saxmundham is the closest station and Alde Garden is happy to pick up guests from the station free of charge. See the National Rail website for more information.
In the area
Alde Garden is on the outskirts of the small village of Sweffling, which is within spitting distance of Framlingham and Saxmundham. We drove down to Orford, stopping off at a farm shop full of local produce en route. A busy sea port during the Middle Ages and famous for being the port from which Eleanor of Aquitaine departed to ransom her son Richard the Lionheart, Orford is now a pretty, sleepy village on the Suffolk Heritage Coast. The central keep of a 12th century castle built by Henry II still stands and the turrets provide stunning views of the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve – the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe. Head to Brinkley’s Shed for lunch and tuck in to some of its freshly caught fish and shellfish sourced from local trawlers. Alternatively, try Richardson’s Smokehouse for local cheese, sausages, pâté and fish.
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