When we got our campervan, I bought a couple of Cool Camping books to give us a bit of an idea of where to go. We visited a few sites in the books last year but this year I was really keen to try Wowo.
Under its full name of Wapsbourne Manor, this family-friendly campsite in Easy Sussex is rated number one by the CC guys and on paper, it looked amazing and had two major draws - 1. campfires were allowed and 2. it runs lots of on-site courses for children including astronomy, bushcraft and circus skills. We were hooked and booked to go down in the first week of the summer holidays.
First things first - if you have a Cool Camping book in which Wowo appears, don’t believe a word of the ‘40 pitches’. There must have been over 150 across the whole site, which divides across several large fields, each distinct in character but each bordered by a stream and edged by rope swings, secret dens and hanging vines. However, although Wowo is way bigger than we expected, it IS beautiful and is a great deal of fun.
We initially camped in the field known as Lower Brook, which was described as being 'quieter’ and 'ideal for families’. This was essentially true and we had a great pitch - campervan and bell tent either side of a brilliant fire pit edged by wooden benches. But after a couple of nights, the site got much busier and Wowo’s policy of 'no marked pitches - camp where you like’ came into full force. We woke one morning to find a sea of cars and tents squeezed in all over the previously sedately organised field. One family had very uncharitably errected a windbreak across the entrance to the brook and rope swings, preventing all the other children in the field from getting to it.
Preferring our camping holidays to be less reminiscent of the Circle Line on a Monday morning, we decided to up sticks and moved our camp to Upper Moat, an almost-deserted field where we kicked back, relaxed, soaked in the sun and tended our campfire for the most part of every day whilst the boys ran wild, swung across the brook and waded in mud, only returning to camp when they were hungry.
We booked them into several courses - Louis did a 9-11pm astronomy course where he camped out in the field with a telescope and a load of similarly keen kids, both boys tried their hand at circus skills, Louis learned all about knife skills and they spent a morning learning to stalk and light fires on a bushcraft course At the end of our week, they spent a blissful afternoon running around on a wild games course whilst we packed up our camp and then sat reading in the sunshine waiting for them. Never a more peaceful pack-down will you find.
So was Wowo ace? Well yes it was, but with a few VERY BIG CAVEATS.
It is primarily a campsite for large groups and I can see it really comes into its own if you go with a big group of friends. The field we settled in is actually the big group field so on our last day we were invaded by several groups of 30 or so tents and lots and lots of people holding their own mini festivals. Everyone was lovely, but the knock-on effect on the woefully inadequate toilet and shower facilities was quite apparent!
The facilities really were terrible. If you prefer your campsites with a chance of hot water at some point during the week and are a little squeamish about permanently blocked or filthy compost toilets, then Wowo probably isn’t for you. For such a massive site, Wowo is painfully poor at providing enough toilets and showers. It really was like a festival experience without the live music.
Although there was some live music - on a couple of nights a week, musicians staying on site get a free night’s accommodation in return for a spin on the main stage. Everyone gathers round the 'village’ main stage and homemade soup is served to the crowd. The music was fun, on some nights better than others, but always entertaining and with a really good festival feel to it.
So would I recommend Wowo? Well, yes. It’s great for kids and the location is beautiful. But I’d limit your stay to a long weekend and go with a group of mates so you can pitch your mini-gathering in Upper Moat. Then all you need to do is open a bottle of wine and sink back in your camp chair around a crackling fire, safe in the knowledge that from 5pm on Friday night until 3pm on Sunday afternoon, your kids will be having the time of their lives.
Because happy kids = happy parents. And we can all manage without a shower and a flushing loo for two nights, right?