Thistledown is quite simply magical. More than just a beautiful campsite nestled among 70 acres of organic meadow and woodland, it is inspirational too. A dream realised by Richard Kelly, who has years of experience in environmental design and construction, Thistledown has been nurtured since 1993, when Richard began creating habitats for the wide range of local plants and wildlife. For years he then ran the site as an environmental learning centre with his son Ryan, before branching out into additional events and opening the campsite’s well received café that sources ingredients from the local area.
It’s easy to locate Thistledown: just head towards a majestic wind turbine located 300 metres from the entrance. The turbine was one of the first to be erected by the increasingly popular Ecotricity, the UK’s first provider of mainstream renewable electricity, and is a sign of the campsite eco-friendly ethos. It’s a part of the genuine green vibe in this neck of the Gloucestershire woods, so if you’ve ever fancied living the sustainable Good Life, then this is probably the place in which to settle.
In the meantime you can camp in three main areas at Thistledown, with up to 75 pitches available in total. But don’t for a minute think that you will be crowded out. The whopping 70 acres available take in trees, undulating pasture, glades of wild flowers, and space – everywhere. Even if there’s a big group of noisy kids larking about in one of the pastures, with all the tree cover it’s unlikely you’ll even be aware of it.
The top site allows cars and offers camping on pitches individually mown into a pretty elderflower orchard, while the bottom two pastures are car free. Perfection. You can stretch out knowing nothing (save the odd startled deer) will drive into you. And for those with children, real freedom is a reality here. The pastures are flanked by woodland offering numerous opportunities for lengthy walks, nature watching or just some good old-fashioned hooning around.
Most pitches have their own firepits and in the evening Richard whizzes by selling wood by the bagful. You can take your own bags when he’s not around, but are asked not to collect branches from the woods as it provides shelter for the snakes and slow worms. Picnic tables are dotted around for campers – a perfect place to plonk yourself while you enjoy the tranquil environment, stunning views and the nature trails on offer. Streams gurgle in the background (rope swings near them offer extra excitement) running down from the top of the site towards and old pond at the bottom.
It’s in the upper area that the new café is located, home to not only some of the best coffee in Gloucestershire, but also a wood-fired, clay oven, built by Richard and Ryan themselves. Homemade cakes, cream teas and patisseries are on offer, alongside fresh pizzas and slow cooked meats that they cook in the oven over night. The pair have applied their same gusto for the campsite to creating the café – special events are run with guest chefs, new poly-tunnels are being built to grow more herbs and salads and the menu is frequently changing – so it’s no surprise the place has already become hugely popular. Really it’s an echo of everything that has gone before. A respect for the local area, a little innovation and a bit of hard work to create somewhere that every visitor wants to return to.
A walk through the woods from Thistledown will take you to the fascinating Woodchester Mansion and Park (01453 861541). The house is an unfinished Gothic manor, so you can open doors that go nowhere and get an idea of the building process. Don’t visit after dark though; it’s haunted… The area surrounding Thistledown is also known for its burial mounds. The Neolithic Nympsfield Long Barrow has spectacular views over the Severn Valley, as well as internal burial chambers for viewing. Just along the ridge is the Uley Long Barrow (aka Hetty Pegler’s Tump) – take a torch if you want to see inside. On the other side of Stroud is the beautiful Slad Valley.