On the outskirts of Northiam in East Sussex just beyond the River Rother and the railway line for the Kent and East Sussex heritage steam train service sits Rother Valley campsite. The entrance to the site is via the car park for The Station House pub and could be a little tight to manouvre for large motorhomes but was fine for our Bongo. Though not officially “on site”, having a pub so close might earn the campsite bonus points except that it had closed down when we visited. The campsite reception is housed in a small green caravan nestled among trees and flowers alongside the entrance. The full Happy Campervanning team with our two vans were in attendance for this mid-August weekend break.
The main camping area is one large field with markers around the perimeter to indicate the pitches (all grass). There are no other pitches in the middle of the field so it doesn’t feel cramped and there’s plenty of space in the middle for children to play. Both campervanners and tentists all mix together, which as we’ve said before, is how we like it. The entrance to the camping field from the reception caravan takes you down a short track past the ameneties block before passing between two areas reserved for static caravans. We thought the statics had a raw deal as they appear to have been crammed in to an area resembling a car park, and although quite private, they are surrounded by trees so don’t benefit from the views of the surrounding countryside. Once in the camping field the road ends and although there were several signs warning of uneven ground caused by burrowing rabbits, we didn’t have any problems. Electric hookup points are located beside every second or third pitch which means you might need a long hook-up cable: when we booked there was only one pitch available – a large corner pitch easily big enough for our two campervans – and we were told that a splitter could be provided so that we could both hook up to the same socket. Unfortunately only one of us had a cable long enough to reach as the hookup point was two pitches away. Our corner pitch meant we could position our vans and awnings at an angle and create a nice private alcove to sit with a beer in the evenings. The field is on a slight incline so levelling blocks might be a good idea, although we managed to park at an angle so that the slope wasn’t an issue.
At the far end of the main field is an opening in the hedgerow that leads into a clearing that has been created in the small woodland to provide another ten or so extra pitches. These pitches have a nice secluded feel albeit with a longer walk to the toilets and showers, although the owners have thoughtfully put a portaloo in an outhouse tent between the two camping areas to save you the long walk should nature call in the middle of the night! The main shower block, recently refurbished according to the website, is still quite basic, with the electric showers struggling to keep a constant pressure and temperature but the facilities were clean and well stocked. The showers are metered and require 20pence for a few minutes use. Strangely, the meter is outside the cubicle, and your time starts as soon as you load the coin so you end up having to lean out of the cubicle just before you step into the shower to feed the meter whilst using a towel to protect your modesty! At the back of the ameneties block are 3 sinks for washing up, but we were unable to get any hot water from the taps and had to fill our washing up bowl from the sinks in the toilet block. Also, as the washing up area is next to the chemical toilet disposal point, the smells weren’t always very pleasant while we were stood there washing up.
Only a couple of hundred metres down the road from the campsite is Northiam railway station – one of three stops on the 10.5 mile route that is serviced by the Kent & East Sussex Railway that operate a steam service between Tenterden and Bodiam. The line runs alongside the boundary of the campsite but as there are only 5 trains each day at peak season, it’s not going to keep you awake at night. If you prefer boats to trains, there’s also the Bodiam Ferry which sails along the River Rother and picks up just next to the railway station. Both boat and train service take passengers back and forth to the National Trust’s Bodiam Castle.
After a good night’s sleep and the essential camping breakfast of bacon sandwiches, we decided on cross country walk in the drizzle from the campsite to the castle (about 6 miles), stopping for lunch en route at The White Dog Inn – a great little pub we stumbled across in the pretty village of Ewhurst which has been featured in this year’s Good Pub Guide. You can see the route we walked below:
View Northiam-Bodiam in a larger map
Bodiam Castle described by the National Trust as “One of the most famous and evocative castles in Britain” is an impressive fortress surrounded by a moat that’s now home to some of the biggest fish I’ve ever seen! There’s plenty to do within the grounds of the castle for the young (or just young at heart) – Paul and I had a go at archery (which he might, possibly, have slightly beaten me at), and there were also fancy dress costumes so children could dress up as knights in armour. There’s also the National Trust staples of tea room and gift shop of course. By late afternoon the weather had brightened and we were able to get some great views across Sussex from the top of the castle, before hopping onto the last steam train of the day back to Northiam.
In the evening we took a walk up Main Street toward the centre of Northiam and had a fantastic Fish & Chip dinner from a popular local chip shop. They even made us cups of tea to wash it all down – even though hot drinks aren’t on their menu!
We all agreed that we would go back to this area again as we found plenty to do during the day and had a really enjoyable weekend. Would we stay at this site again? Probably. The problem is that there are so many campsites to choose from that a site has to be exceptional to warrant a repeat visit rather that trying out a different site in the area. The facilities aren’t the best that we’ve experienced but the site was well run by friendly people and there was plenty of space even though it was fully occupied. The few criticisms that we had would be simple to rectify. Hopefully next time, the pub might have reopened!