Star gazing and astronomy at the Secret Campsite Lewes

The Secret Campsite is fortunate to be located in a dark sky reserve in the South Downs, and has little light pollution. We encourage all our campers to use head torches and not festoon their tents with fairy lights. This makes the Secret Campsites star gazing opportunities much richer and more accessible for everyone on site.

Astronomical Society visit

We have recently met with The Seven Sisters Astronomical Society, headed up by Derrick Elliott. Derrick and his team have visited the Secret Campsite with their professional telescopes at some recent key star gazing and astronomical dates this summer.

Perseid meteor shower

Derrick and other members, Alex and Paul, visited The Secret Campsite on the 12 August.

This visit was timed to watch the Perseid meteor shower that arrives every August, and is a major part of the astronomical calendar. The Perseids are among the best and most visible of the year’s meteor showers. This is due to their high hourly rate and bright meteors. It’s caused by the Earth moving through the trail that’s left behind, by the comet Swift-Tuttle, in July and August each year.

Derrick arrived at 8.30 pm to lovely clear skies, and assembled his 10 inch Skywatcher Dobsonian Telescope and Alex set his 70mm Meade Telescope.

night time at the Secret Campsite Lewes
Night skies and stars by the barn area.

By 9.00pm it was still light and we were all viewing a beautiful crescent Moon, that was slowly setting in the West. We had a steady stream of campers viewing the Moon until it disappeared behind the trees. At about 10.15pm Saturn was visible, closely followed by Jupiter and it’s four Moons.

The rings of Saturn were visible through both Telescopes as were the four Moons of Jupiter. We then started seeing the Perseids meteor shower zipping across the now dark skies. Albireo was visible, the double star, which is also one of the brightest in the system.

By 11.00pm most of the campers had retired to their tents, which was a pity because the stars were really coming out in our local galaxy the Milky Way and it looked fantastic.

Albireo at the Secret Campsite Lewes
Albireo, the double star. The brightest star in the constellation! Photo Derrick Elliott

This was the Seven Sisters Astronomical Society first public event in nearly a year and a half, and it was great that they were able to share their knowledge of the nights skies.

Awesome

The Seven Sisters Astronomical Society returned again last weekend, the August Bank Holiday.

This time, the campers were lucky enough to view Jupiter and its four moons, Saturn, a Ring Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and even a bright meteor going right through the summer triangle.

In the words of chairman Derrick Elliott “Awesome”!

We hope to run more stargazing and astronomy viewings here at the Secret Campsite, so keep your eyes peeled for future announcements via our Facebook page.

Starburst at the Secret Campsite – photo Paul Foster

Butterflies, glow worms and dragonflies at the Secret Campsite

Peacock butterfly at the secret campsite

Butterfly Counting

white Admiral at the Secret Campsite James Pearson
White Admiral by James Pearson

We are huge supporters of nature here at the Secret Campsite. This year we are participating with the Big Butterfly Count at the Secret Campsite. Run by the Butterfly Conservation this national citizen science project enables us to see the health of our environment simply by counting the number and types of butterflies.

Butterflies are vital parts of the eco system, as both pollinators and components of the food chain. Butterfly declines is seen as an early warning system for other wildlife losses, as they react very quickly to changes in the environment.

Launched in 2010, this is the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. In 2020 over 115,000 citizens participated with 142,249 counts of butterflies and day flying moths across the country.

So how are we doing here?

We have had so many adults and children keen to engage with the survey. We are busy handing out the Butterfly Counting sheets at campsite reception. Our most frequently spotted butterflies here, are the Marbled White, Brimstone and Skipper. We will send our completed sheets to the Big Butterfly Count once the survey finishes on the 8th August.

Glow worm spotting

At this time of year, the cry goes up, “I have spotted a glow worm” and then you see about 10! The best places to spot them at the Secret Campsite, is the orchard, top of the camping meadow and the old railway track.

Glow worms aren’t actually worms, instead they are actually small beetles, of about 1.5- 2 cm length. The males look like small beetles but the female has no wings and so looks similar to larvae. The female emits a distinctive bright green nightly glow, as she looks to attract a mate in the darkness of her grassland habitat.

Countryfile has some great facts about Glow worms including the fact that both male and females lack a mouth! The clock ticks as soon as they emerge from their pupa, as they have only one task to complete, which is reproduction. Once they have mated, the female turns out her light, and commits her remaining energy to laying her eggs and then dies.

Glow worms!

Dragonfly watching

Our lovely onsite ecologists, Bakerwell, take the best dragonfly pictures. We always seem to miss them. This year Kathryn Killner, took this beautiful picture of a broad bodied chaser dragonfly. If you are interested in reading more, then The Sussex Wildlife Trust have a great article here

Broad bodied chaser dragonfly by Kathryn Killner

Please keep us updated on all the nature that you see when you are camping at the Secret Campsite! Plus email any photos that you are happy to share with us.

The Okra at the Secret Campsite

the OKRA at the Secret Campsite Lewes

Quirky and comfortable are the hallmarks of the Okra. It has a bold five-sided shape, with precision wooden cladding and a simple interior. The Okra accommodates up to 3 people, which includes a maximum of 2 adults.

CHECK DATES & BOOK

top bunk OKRA The Secret Campsite

The Okra sits in the orchard area of the campsite and is the latest understated design by Jason Thawley from Tree Tents.

Inside you’ll find 2 double sized bunk style beds, with one accessed via a short ladder. There is a small day sofa, perfect to sit on whilst playing cards and board games. It has low level lighting.

interior of the OKRA at the Secret Campsite

The large “porthole” shaped window ensures guests sleeping in the top or bottom bunk can enjoy beautiful, natural light.

The front doors open onto a small decked area, perfect for your morning coffee. Below this is the firepit with a bench and logs for evening campfire conversations, perhaps even some cooking. 

How many can stay?

The Okra sleeps 3 people with a maximum of 2 adults and one child. We provide 2 double beds with mattresses, in a bunk bed style.

What we provide

The Okra has its own fire pit with a bench and logs, where you can relax in front of the campfire and discuss the days adventures. There is a small decking area in front of the entrance doors, perfect for sipping a morning coffee. We provide basic cooking equipment including a camping stove, a kettle, mugs, saucepan, frying pan, plates and cutlery for your trip. There are free solar powered hot showers and flushing toilets at the campsite. The Okra has low level lights inside.

OKRA firepit at the Secret Campsite

What you need to bring

Required: Duvet or sleeping bags, Pillows and pillowcases, Bed sheets, Towels, Tea Towels, Food, Drink, Rubbish Bag, Torches and Lanterns, Warm / Dry / Suitable Clothing. Wellies if the weather isn’t being kind.

Recommended: Torch, marshmallows, ingredients for your cooking and a sense of adventure.

Please note that you cannot cook inside the Okra. So please bring your own gazebo if you wish to ensure your cooking remains dry.

round window in the OKRA at the Secret Campsite

Don’t forget

We don’t allow any cars or pets in the camping areas, nor do we have large groups of campers or any music onsite. The Secret Campsite is focussed on providing a great habitat for wildlife and we strive to minimise our impact on it. In turn, this creates an amazing space to relax with your family, or a few friends.

To accommodate these worthwhile idiosyncrasies, we have a small fleet of  wheelbarrows and trollies. You are very welcome to make use of them to transport your belongings to the Okra.

The Okra at the Secret Campsite

The price

£125 per night for 2 people and a minimum of 2 nights, (3 nights over Bank Holidays). Extra guests pay our normal camping rates. Click on the button below to make a booking.

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100 trees planted at The Secret Campsite

Planting trees at the Secret Campsite
Wheelbarrow with spade at the Secret Campsite

The spade is out, the plant order has arrived. It’s time for the next batch of trees to be planted at The Secret Campsite.

If you have been phoning today and not yet spoken yet to Tim, it’s because he is out of earshot. Doing one of his favourite things. Planting trees and digging holes.

What trees are being planted?

100 trees. The list includes 25 Cherry Plum, 10 Hazel, 5 Crab apple, 5 Pear, 5 Blackberry. Bird friendly hedge mix. 10 Hawthorn, 5 Privet. 5 Rose. Edible Hedging Mix. All of varying sizes plus 50 Bamboo Canes and spiral guards for each batch.

Where are they being planted?

We are planting them all over the campsite. Some are going into our new Wildlife Area. Located by the old (and now dismantled polytunnel) this area will provide a new home for the wildlife. We already know there’s adders and slow worms here. Once the trees are all planted we may rig up our trail camera and see which animals live here.

We are also planting more trees around the camping pitches to increase their screening.

Tree planting at the Secret Campsite

Why are we doing it?

In short our wildlife is really important. Planting trees provides shelter and protects bio-diversity. Trees clean our air and absorb carbon and regulate the climate. For a longer list read this from One Tree Planted.

At the Secret Campsite we strive to provide our campers with nature, peace and space. We call it real camping with nature. Screening the pitches off, is a great way to see lots of native trees and have privacy. Plus you get to meet the neighbours. The bird neighbours. Birds use the trees both as a source of food and a place to nest. There’s something wonderfully connected about watching the wildlife go about their business. We get lots of different birds here at The Secret Campsite and have participated with the Big Garden Birdwatch on a number of occasions. Read what we saw here.

Postscript to blog… Tim planted 80 trees today, and has one big splinter. More planting coming up tomorrow.

The Secret Campsite is featured in The Guardian 13 February 2021

Secret Campsite Sussex photo credit NIgel French
Secret Campsite featured in Guardian newspaper
The Guardian Saturday 13 February 2021

Thankyou very much to The Guardian. We featured in their “30 UK campsites with availability for summer 2021” written by Rachel Dixon and Jane Dunford. They used a great photo, taken here by local photographer Nigel French

Guardian article featuring The Secret Campsite Lewes
Secret Campsite features in The Guardian article Saturday 13 February 2021

What they wrote

It was a great little piece describing our large, well screened pitches, 2 Secret Shelters (The Gridshell and Tree Tent) and our forward looking approach. This includes the provision of solar powered showers, electric car charge points and recycling facilities onsite, to minimise our environmental impact.

The Secret Teapot, our little takeaway cafe, created by our 3 children in 2013 was mentioned. They are now older teenagers and frequently found working at campsite reception. The article also mentioned our local village of Barcombe ( good local pub here), and the local town of Lewes

Connecting

Features like this are great. They raise the profile of our campsite which is brilliant for business. And help connect us with other interested organisations who share both our love of wildlife and the importance of connecting with nature. We are working towards creating a space which will really utilise green energy alternatives. This also helps support our local council, Lewes, to meet their commitment to zero carbon by 2030.

Our aims

At the Secret Campsite, we aim to give every visitor, irrespective of age, a great time here. And a little bit more. There’s a great Swedish word for it, Lagom.

We want you to go away having loved your little escape here. You may remember the glow worms at 10 pm on a warm August evening. Perhaps the owls hooting in the meadow at night. Or just the chance to catch up with friends over a local beer or cider around a campfire whilst your kids pootle around. We have even had a few marriage proposals take place here too. No wedding invites yet though.

Relax and reconnect

So whatever you take away with you when you leave, we want you to go feeling relaxed and reconnected to the natural world. We believe that being responsible with our environmental footprint and ensuring that we treat our wildlife neighbours considerately, is really important.

So stay tuned for news about our increased capacity of electric chargers, the new solar panels on the barn and our new wildlife area.

Fun activities with children near The Secret Campsite

Tree fun at Branching Out Adventures near to the Secret Campsite

The Secret Campsite is perfectly nestled between the small villages of Chailey and Barcombe. And within easy striking distance of the bigger towns including Lewes and Brighton.

South Downs Way near Lewes

There’s lots of great activities and days-out for families of all ages. The activities suggested offer entertainment for all kinds of weather (yes it can sometimes rain at the Secret Campsite). Plus they are reasonably well priced too. Some are even free. Choose a brisk walk across the South Downs, perhaps at Firle Beacon, or a sunny day spent exploring rock pools in Seaford. A good rainy day option might be a farm day with animals. There’s lots of fun days to be had exploring East Sussex!

Swimming

A popular summer day out is The Pells Pool in Lewes. This is a seasonal outdoor Lido, and also the oldest documented freshwater pool in the UK. It’s beautiful and very popular. It offers great value swimming throughout the summer months until November. There’s also a baby pool, a snack kiosk plus bike racks available to use. Do check the website or their Facebook page before you visit as things sometimes change.

Beach huts at Seaford Beach East Sussex

Beach activities

Seaford beach also offers a fantastic aquatic adventure with its unique selection of rock pools along the beach, perfectly placed under the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters. When the tide is out, the sea reveals wonderful rock pools which offer hours of fun catching crabs, prawns or shrimps!
Afterwards pop along to Frankies , a small kiosk serving hot drinks and delicious homemade cakes. Or there’s also a great fish and chip shop, Trawlers, about 5 minutes walk away too.

Middle Farm

Middle Farm is located close by beautiful Firle village (do check out the Ram Inn too if you can). The Farm has lots of animals to see including llamas, pigs and sheep. Plus a play barn, picnic area, tea room and farm shop.

Historic Newhaven Fort

Newhaven Fort is a fantastic day out for any weather and any ages. We have been a few times and really rate it. There are lots of exhibitions including artefacts from the war, the home front and information about local history. The exhibitions are based within the fort ruins overlooking the sea, and there is a play area and a tearoom there too.

Ride the steam trains

Sussex is lucky to be home to two steam railway lines both offering an opportunity to travel on the steam trains!

The Lavender Line is based in Isfield, approximately 15 minutes drive from The Secret Campsite. It offers a 2 mile round trip, with idyllic views of the local countryside and is a great adventure. You can also see the coal office which has a model railway with parts of the railway that they used to use!

The Bluebell Railway is located next to Sheffield Park Gardens and Tea Rooms and offers a train ride on the trains too! There is also a museum where you can see the model of the original bluebell train, a chance to operate the signalling box and see the locomotives.

Hang upside down

For those wanting to clamber and hang upside down in trees, we thoroughly recommend the independently run Branching Out Adventures. Located approximately 15 minutes from the campsite, at Halland. It’s a great place to wear out energetic kids whilst offering exciting opportunities for younger members too. They might even go to bed early, allowing you a peaceful evening around your campfire! Booking ahead is essential as it’s very popular.

Sussex is very rich in history and there are plenty of new places to explore! Please do ask at Reception if you have any questions or queries. All the sights we recommend are family-friendly and are not too far away from the campsite. Enjoy!

The Secret Campsite welcomes the Okra

Inside the Okra at the Secret Campsite

We have mentioned the Okra before. It’s got a bold 5 sided shape with precision cladding and a simple interior. It was built here last summer, by Jason Thawley, of Tree Tents who also designed both our Tree Tent and our Gridshell.

The Okra will be available to book from May 17th.

The Okra accommodates up to 3 people. Either 2 adults plus 1 child, or 1 adult plus 2 children or 2 adults. There is a maximum of 2 adults.

Inside the Okra you will find 2 double sized bunk style beds, with one accessed via a short ladder. There’s also a small day sofa, perfect to sit on whilst playing a board game or cards, plus low level lighting.

round window in the OKRA at the Secret Campsite

The large “porthole” shaped window ensures guests occupying either the top bunk or bottom bunk can enjoy the natural light. The Okra sits in the Orchard area at the campsite and has its own firepit with simple seating.

OKRA firepit at the Secret Campsite

There is a small decking area at the front of the Okra where you can sit and relax with a local cider or two, after a days walking around Lewes or the South Downs. Or perhaps just a day spent onsite doing Nothing Much.

However you choose to spend your time here, we can bank on one thing…

One of you will shout “Shotgun” the top Bunk!

top bunk OKRA The Secret Campsite

Big garden birdwatch at the Secret Campsite

Song thrush recorded for RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

11.30 am. The cats were shut away, the dog moved to another room and we sat down with a stopwatch and notepad. The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch was underway.

The first arrivals

First up the Great Tit, followed by 3 Blue Tits. They kept pecking at the feeder and then darting back off to the nearby bushes. The Robin appeared. Despite their jolly friendly PR , they are aggressive and territorial. They kept the other birds away for a while whilst they had their fill. Once departed the Thrush flew in. Some dispute as to which thrush, but after consideration we decided it was the song thrush. A flurry of house sparrows appeared and kept us entertained as they pecked at the fat ball and the seeds.

Nearly an ambush

At this point the neighbours cat appeared and interrupted our flow. Once he was evicted we settled down again. All the while hoping for my personal favourite, the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. They are frequent visitors around the Secret Campsite, but were proving slow off the mark to get counted….

Thick and fast

12:15 saw more arrivals. In no particular order…a dunnock, a blackbird, 2 magpies, a rook and a crow. The wood pigeon was spotted in the veg patch, does that count? We thought it did. So we added him to the list. Tim’s favourite little Nuthatch, appeared and popped back and forth a few times. Followed by a Goldfinch. A male pheasant appeared, to the distraction of our spaniel, who quivered with excitement behind the glass. The pheasant remained oblivious.

Finale time

Finally at 12:28 we were greeted with 2 Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. They have a beautiful bright scarlet plumage and tend to hang out at the top of the walnut tree. As a pair they are spectacular. Sadly my camera didn’t do them justice so no great snaps. Instead I will leave that job to the Sussex Wildlife Trust They do a more superior job with photography than I managed on a Sunday morning.

We love carrying out the survey. It’s an opportunity to stop, sit down and watch the wildlife that otherwise often passes unnoticed. We have submitted the results of our spots and next year aim to get better photos!

New Year walks close to the Secret Campsite

Swimmers at Seaford Beach

Lockdown #3 is enabling us to really appreciate the countryside that surrounds the Secret Campsite. Lewes is still open for business of sorts. Do check out the latest info outlining Home Deliveries and Takeaways. Plus the local shops that can offer delivery here.

Seaford Beach Sussex

Beaches

We have been striding out over to the beaches, particularly at Seaford. Here we were treated to the sight of swimmers in late December who after swimming then sat and chatted in the water. Note it was freezing cold! The little takeaway cafe was open when we visited and treated ourselves to wonderfully scalding hot coffee. Many of our campers love the rockpooling that’s available at Seaford, so do check this out next time you pay us a visit.

Cows grazing on the South Downs near Plumpton

The South Downs

The South Downs however require a thermos flask if you want a drink. We saw in New Years Day up on Firle Beacon. Thick fog so no view but we did manage to spot a neighbour en route. A bracing 4 km walk over the top and back was a fantastic start to the New Year.

Despite having lived here almost 20 years I had never been to nearby Telscombe. Its a beautiful spot, close by to award winning Breaky Bottom Vineyard. We had a wonderful 2 hour walk over the top of the Downs and saw a Kestrel, and a few fellow walkers too. You can read about some of the other South Downs Way walks here.

View over the South Downs at Plumpton

Chailey Woods

Closer by to the Secret Campsite, we have been walking through Chailey Woods and Knowlands Woods most days. These Woods are famed locally for their bluebells and mushrooms too. Neither are prevalent right now but they are wonderfully peaceful.

Morning sun near Knowlands Woods

Wishing you all a very happy new year until we reopen for camping on 26 March 2021. Bookings can be made here .

Secret Campsite pitches for Lewes District Councils carbon target

Councillor Adrian Ross visits the Secret Campsite Lewes

We are thrilled to share this news from Lewes District Council, about how the campsite is trying to help the Council achieve zero carbon by 2030. Their press release is in full below;

The Chair of Lewes District Council made a socially distanced visit to The Secret Campsite in Lewes recently to see how the countryside venue is working to become a standard bearer for nature friendly living.  

When Councillor Adrian Ross was elected Chair, he immediately confirmed his theme of office would be ‘a green recovery, environmental action and a fair society’, allied to supporting the council’s target of carbon neutrality by 2030.

Launched by Tim and Lisa Bullen in 2012 on a rundown and redundant garden centre, The Secret Campsite is billed as ‘real camping with nature’ and has attracted plenty of attention in the national media for connecting campers with wildlife and the natural world more broadly.

Councillor Adrian Ross said:

“It was lovely to visit The Secret Campsite.  It’s in a beautiful location and Tim and Lisa have made a great effort to protect and enhance the local biodiversity.  Local tourism is central to the green recovery of the district post-Covid  and the campsite also brings in much-needed custom for the nearby shops, pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions. 

“And I’m particularly excited by the way they have embraced the council’s sustainability goals, adapting their business to help us achieve our climate and biodiversity objectives.”

Tim has been part of the council’s Climate Action Forum that is feeding into the work to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and is constantly making changes and adaptations at the campsite to completely harmonise its relationship with the environment.

Tim Bullen said:

“We are really keen to help Lewes District Council achieve or even surpass their target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and we have plans to demonstrate the actions we are taking to help hit its targets.

“Plans at the site include specific wildlife features such as bunds for reptiles and ground nesting bees, electric car charging points and the use of renewable energy to provide heat and hot water for the site.”

Councillor Matthew Bird, Cabinet Member for Climate Change, said:

“It’s not just that Tim and Lisa’s sustainability ethos is clear in everything they do at The Secret Campsite, it is also their willingness to share their approach. Tim has been really generous in contributing his experience and values to the council’s sustainability expert panels and the Community Climate Forum.

We are thrilled that our environmental approach will help support the valuable work of Lewes District Council to achieve its target of zero carbon by 2030.