A special needs family holiday can be an extremely stressful time for everyone involved. It gives me great pleasure to review our recent stay at Leafy Fields Glamping, an autism friendly site in Devon.
We usually go camping and we go to the same site each year as it’s familiar for our son. Its a site in Devon, just outside Combe Martin and we all love it. However, it’s not always as relaxing as it could be. Trying to pitch the tent and then sort out all of our equipment, whilst keeping an eye on the kids, is somewhat stressful! Not to mention the amount of things that we need to take with us to help our son keep his anxiety under control. So, this year, we decided to do something slightly different. We went glamping!!!
What is Glamping?
Glamping is when mod cons meet nature. It’s a form of camping that involves accommodation and better facilities than traditional camping and is often suited to people that want to experience nature but don’t want to rough it!
Leafy Fields Glamping
Leafy Fields Glamping is an autism friendly site, run by a special needs family. This post is both a review of the site and our experience on our special needs family holiday.
I can’t even remember how we heard about Leafy Fields but, we are very glad that we did.
Having studied the website, it sounded absolutely ideal and just what we were looking for. After the last couple of years, both my husband and I needed a more relaxing holiday, one where the needs of our family were understood and not judged.
Booking was simple and the owners were so helpful with the questions that we had.
We decided to book a safari lodge due to it having toilet and bathroom facilities within, a huge plus for us. I will go into more detail a little later in this review. It also afforded us and the kids more privacy, something that we feel is important due to their age.
Special Needs Family Holiday Build up
On the run up to the holiday we had a great deal of excitement. On site are 4 miniature horses which, as far as my son is concerned, is heaven. We made sure that he had looked at the website and was familiar with the site. We talked to him about the sleeping arrangements and the places that we were planning to visit. He couldn’t wait for the departure date. However, the reality of the situation was a little different.
The night before he had the most incredible meltdown. Our son does not travel light and suffers with severe anxiety. This means that every single one of his cuddly toys must come with us. He must have at least 100 by now, all of varying sizes ranging from very small to HUGE. This year, he also wanted to bring a couple of breakable horse ornaments which he recently acquired.
The suggestion that it might be safer to leave breakable ornaments at home did not go down too well. At this point it was touch and go as to whether we would be able to go. He was becoming completely overwhelmed and refusing to leave the house. In the end we had to bite the bullet and find some bubble wrap!!! It was not a battle that we wanted to fight as we all desperately needed a break.
Never rains but it pours!
As if that wasn’t enough, our daughter decided to have a prawn sandwich the night before and make herself sick! Not only was she sick before we left, delaying our departure, but she managed to be sick again shortly after we’d left! This really did not help the anxiety that our son was feeling. Thank goodness for my parents as we stopped there to pick up a bucket and a towel. This really didn’t bode well but, we managed to make it with no more than the usual amount of stops due to our thorough pre-planning. If you would like to read about my tips for travelling with kids with special needs please click here.
Upon arrival, a quick call to reception and Dannie arrived to open the gate for us. The gates are kept locked for the safety of both vulnerable children and adults. Both Dannie and Andrew were on hand to greet us and made the check in procedure extremely simple and fun. After a quick tour of the site facilities we were shown to our safari lodge. We were extremely pleased with Badger, our home for the next 8 nights and were looking forward to settling in.
Badger is situated at the top of the site and has a ramp up to the front entrance. There is a fence around the veranda with a gate that latches on the outside to keep children safe.
It was like a home from home, under canvas, but without us having to pitch it!
As you go through the entrance you are straight into the main living area which consisted of a table that seats 6, a small functional kitchen which consisted of an induction hob, a small fridge, kettle, storage and a sink. There was a 3 seater recliner sofa which suited our son. He quickly identified “his spot” which gave him an element of control and allowed him to feel slightly more secure. The kitchen was well equipped with plates, bowls and cups together with cutlery and kitchen utensils and pots and pans.
As you walk through, you come to a beautifully done bathroom with sink, toilet and a lovely luxury shower. It was surprisingly large with lots of hanging space for towels etc and plenty of storage under the sink for all your toiletries.
The first bed is a double cabin bed with a pair of little doors making it a very cosy and private space. Underneath is a little cubby hole decked out with a play mat, fairy lights, cushions and blankets. It’s a great little space for children to retreat to when they need space to be alone.
Off of the short corridor, at the far end on the right, is a little bedroom with bunk beds. There is a curtain over the door way to afford some privacy as, at the end of the tent, to the left, is a large king size bed in an open plan area. The attention to detail is quite beautiful. Wrapped around the head of the bed are a string of flowers, there’s a hairdryer and far more sockets than we expected! On the beds were towels for everyone, lots of extra blankets and lovely soft rugs for your feet. The look was completed with some beautiful badger cushions.
Down at reception, in a converted stable block, there is a sensory room for the kids should they need it, a family room should you need more space and the weather isn’t conducive to being outside and a small laundry room which includes washing up facilities. Within the converted stable block are allocated toilet and shower rooms for each of the Bell Tents affording families as much privacy as they need.
There is a small playground for the kids as well as a sensory garden. By prior arrangement there are miniature ponies that can come out for cuddles and grooming sessions.
There are another set of double gates between the accommodation field and the rest of the site affording much needed security should a family have a child prone to running or wandering. This is a great touch and gives extra piece of mind.
On our pitch is a fire pit which is a lovely touch and great to toast marshmallows over in the evening. Wood is provided by the site at a small charge and there are strict rules about not burning anything else on the fire.
There are currently 2 safari lodges: Badger, the one that we were in and is pet free and Fox in which dogs are allowed by prior arrangement. There are stipulations on what dogs are allowed and strict rules in place. Safety is paramount and the rules are all clearly laid out.
There are 5 bell tents which accommodate 2 adults and 2 children. Shower and toilet facilities are found in the stable block next to reception. Each tent has their own facilities to allow for privacy. Cooking facilities are in outdoor storage boxes on the pitch. I can’t comment on these as we didn’t use them but, if everything else is any indication, these would be more than adequate.
Andrew & Dannie
I think what makes this site so special is the great understanding that both Andrew and Danny have of special needs. They are very open about the fact that they, themselves, are a special needs family. You are given the impression that nothing is too much trouble and that their goal is for you to have the best special needs family holiday possible.
At one point, our children were grooming the ponies. A couple of other children came to take part as well. You could see that this had been well thought out. Andrew only allowed 2 children per pony and they were on opposite sides. This was to try and prevent personal space issues. Parental supervision was necessary at all times and either Andrew or Dannie were always present for safety.
Unfortunately we had some issues with my son when one of the girls decided to swap sides and tried to speak to him. I was slow to see the signs and he became very upset. Having said this, I was extremely impressed with the way that my son dealt with the situation as he called me to one side and, as soon as I saw his face, I realised the problem. I then made our excuses and we withdrew to our tent to have some breathing space.
I spoke to Andrew about it the next day and he was very understanding of the situation and quickly offered a solution. He arranged for our kids to have a personal session with the ponies which was amazing. They go out of their way to ensure that you have everything that you need and that you are happy.
As I’m sure that you can imagine, our holiday was not without incident. Whilst we ensured that our son had everything with him to reduce anxiety, we were staying somewhere completely new. To him, this was to begin with, just too much to deal with, especially at night time. The first couple of evenings he was almost hysterical in his desire and need to go home. Night times are particularly difficult for him as he finds it to be the time of least control for him and therefore very anxiety invoking.
We had to decide what our one over riding need was and then do whatever was necessary to facilitate it. For us this was the ability to enjoy our holiday. As I have mentioned and alluded to in many of my other posts this, to the casual observer, will look like we are just doing what our son wants but, nothing could be further from the truth. What we are actually doing is offering him choices. Choices that we are in control of but which mean that his anxiety is reduced due to him being able to retain some control over his environment.
After the initial couple of sleepless nights, we started to grasp what it was that he needed to feel secure and then things started to become much easier. We then had 5 amazing days, days that have given us such fantastic memories and that I hope to share with you in another post.
Would I recommend Leafy Fields Glamping?
Absolutely and without hesitation! In fact, we are very much hoping to return next year for our summer holiday as well as maybe having long weekends during the rest of the year.
This site has the National Autistic Society seal of approval with good reason. If you like the idea of glamping on a site that can cater to your special needs family, then this is most definitely the place for you! Andrew and Dannie are very open and keen to hear about things that can help you during your stay. They are constantly thinking through different situations and how they can be avoided as safety is their over riding concern. Without safety, its impossible to relax when you have kids with special needs.
I hope that you’ve found this post useful. If so, please let me know. If you do try the site, let Andrew and Danny knowthat you heard about it from me and that I say Hi.
Until next time,
PS, please share this post as Leafy Fields Glamping can help so many people!