Last week, the glamping specialist Canopy & Stars launched their own summer camping offering, each a single tent in the property owned on the sister website Sawday of. More sites have been unveiled this week and in total more than 20 will be run between now and the end of September.
Canopy & Stars founder Tom Dixon kicked off the pop-up idea on his property “like an antidote to the blockade” – and that’s how I found myself lying in a handmade bed on a Dartmoor hill with nothing between me and the night sky, but some light cotton net. The felling of a large eucalyptus in the park of the house he shares with his wife and children was the inspiration for the outdoor bed: several branches cut from the tree now form the frame of the canopy sitting on five acres of wildflower meadows .
At 280 meters above sea level, their home, Southcombe Barn, is located just outside Widecombe-in-the-Moor, in the southeast of Dartmoor national park, and for this summer only the Midsummer Meadow Bed is open to guests eager to give up on canvas and doze in the open air.
But as I settled under the duvet, I was determined not to sleep through the night. The nocturnal wildlife would have been active around me and I didn’t want to lose it. My sleep was interrupted for the first time by the calls of a barn owl. It seemed so close that I slipped into the mild night air to look for it, but I was immediately distracted by a starry ink-black firmament. Not long after dawn, the goldfinches came to serenade me, accompanied by a slight occasional thud as a wild cherry fell on the canopy. My last wake up call came just before breakfast: a family of spikes beating a tattoo directly above it. Although a little woolly – I had slept for about five hours – I felt I had experienced Dartmoor at night, although I was still very welcoming.
“Good morning! How did your night go?” Tom cheerfully asked as he handed me breakfast. Leaning on the cushions, I made my way between granola, toast, homemade jam and berries and currants fresh from the garden. The sun shone and the surrounding woods were alive with birdsong, from wood pigeons to song thrushes.
A nearby bell tent contained a double bed (spare), a sofa and a bottle of wine (and provided a useful space for unloading my things). The bathroom, a converted carpentry shop, was a minute’s walk away, as was a slightly less expected feature: my private art gallery, in a section of the former barn. This was flanked by the artist’s colorful works of abstract landscapes Anthony Garratt (and also has tea, coffee and a kettle).
It was all in a beautiful setting. Previous owners had taken 20 years to create the bright range of crane cranes, ox-eye daisies, specimens and a host of other flowering plants in soils that have become a popular national garden scheme (ngs.org.uk) destination.
From the garden it was only a five-minute climb from the top of Dunstone Down, and another 10 along the Two Moors Way to Hutholes, the suggestive ruins of a medieval village. From there I continued for three miles along the top of Hamel Down to Grimspound, an imposing Bronze Age settlement, enjoying thrilling panoramas all the way – as well as a herd of friendly Dartmoor ponies.
I suspect that some people may not even leave the idyllic grounds of the barn. Tom’s wife, Vashti, runs a social enterprise that offers creative wellness breaks, so the experience is designed to be engaging and relaxing. When I arrived, I was greeted by cut flowers, the smell of incense and logs that were already burning in the firepit. After a homemade curry dinner that evening, there was music around the fire.
When it was time to leave I felt both calm and full of energy. I cycled downhill to Newton Abbot train station, an exhilarating ride that gave me one last chance to get some moor air in my lungs before descending into the everyday world.
• Accommodation was provided by Canopy and stars. The midsummer lawn bed is available until August 31 and costs £ 145 per night B&B, dinner £ 10 per person, maximum stay 2 nights