A trip to Downshay Farm is a little like embarking on a journey back in time. An ancient steam locomotive services the nearest train station to the campsite, huffing and puffing the six miles between Swanage and Norden. It’s a fitting way to arrive, aboard a relic from the bygone era of romantic and memorable travel, a time when a large part of the thrill of the trip was the journey itself.
From Harman’s Cross station, it’s a short uphill walk through narrow country lanes where you may not even see a car nor any other sign of modern life, except in peak summer. Turning right into the farm and on past the old stone farmhouse, you’ll find the camping field through a rusty, rickety gate.
Campsites with sprawling views, wide-open spaces and big skies don’t come much better than Downshay Farm. The hospitable owners – who live in the large Victorian farmhouse – have struck gold with their location, near to the historically rich Jurassic coastline in one direction and stunning Corfe Castle in the other. This is a campsite with stately views, in fact; the castle perches on the Purbeck Hills in sight of campers and looks eerily spectacular shrouded in early morning mist.
But it isn't all about the campers here. The newest addition to Downshay Farm is a pair of gorgeous glamping abodes. The creation of the lovely Andrea Pike (daughter-in-law of Downshay's owners), Andrea's Farm Breaks sees a charming shepherds hut and bell tent plotted in a peaceful pocket of the farm for those campers who like things decidedly hassle-free. A basically-furnished but well-equipped bell tent sleeps a family of four on one double and two single raised beds. Essentials like fairylights, lanterns, and trunk for storage are supplied and extras like bedding and a gas stove can be hired too, while that all important firebowl and BBQ outside are included alongside a picnic table. The Keeper's Hut is a cosy self-contained cabin, sleeping up to two on a comfy double bed and boasting a cute kitchenette with Belfast sink and a few basic appliances (kettle, toaster, coffee machine, cutlery, crockery, glasses, cool bag and icepacks and tea and coffee) for making breakfast. There's a BBQ and firepit included outside from which to enjoy lazy al fresco lunches (complimentary fire-starter kit provided). And, perched atop a dry-stone wall framed patio, the views from the shepherds hut out to the sea and iconic Corfe Castle are cracking.
The facilities, a mixture of modern pre-fab and older-style wooden blocks, are fantastically clean (guests must mop up after their own shower and it works, the cubicles are spotless) and the pitches are sheltered and un-numbered, bordered by tall trees. It’s positively sloping in places, so finding a good pitch is key, as is pitching in a direction to ensure a good night’s sleep on these challenging gradients. But sloping campsites are often on higher ground and higher ground often means views, and so we’ve arrived at the crux of our journey. The views from Downshay Farm stretch out across the Dorset countryside like an age-old landscape painting.
Walks across the Vale of Purbeck also run right by the campsite, including an unmissable – if energetic – day-trek to Studland Bay and Lulworth Cove. Sadly the site is only open for camping during the school holidays, and you have to be quick or lucky to grab a decent pitch at this wildly popular Dorset haven.
(Please note, for 2020, Downshay Farm are only accepting bookings made in advance. Customers who have not pre-booked will be turned away. This is to help keep customers and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bell Tent accommodation will not be available during 2020).
On sunny days head to Swanage, Studland or Shell Bay beaches or take the ferry to Sandbanks. Plus there is the evocative ruin of Corfe Castle (01929 481294). Take a steam train ride on Swanage Railway (01929 425800) to Corfe Castle. Trains depart regularly from Harmans Cross station, 5 minutes walk from the campsite.
Corfe Castle’s ice-cream shop – Box of Delights – sells Purbeck specialities and Dorset cream teas (01929 481060). The real ales and ciders at The Square & Compass (01929 439229) in Worth Matravers are well worth seeking out, as are more castle views from the pleasant garden at The Scott Arms (01929 480270) in Kingston. Both are a 10-minute drive from the site.