Here’s what it is really like to stay in a yurt.
This summer, we committed the ultimate act of child cruelty. We spent a week staying in a yurt – with no electricity or wifi in the tent.
Actually, we didn’t travel too far, only over near Clare in Suffolk (website for Suffolk Retreats). But after all the months of lockdown, with our family of four stuck at home, I was keen to seize a last chance to stay somewhere else before the children returned to school, and explore some places we don’t normally visit.
Staying in a yurt was less expensive than booking a self-catering cottage, but distinctly more comfortable than camping in our normal tent. I have developed a deep hatred of air mattresses, so camping with real beds appealed.
It was an opportunity to spend more time together, more time outside, and get back back in touch with nature rather than being stuck in front of screens.
Here’s how we got on during our staycation in a yurt!
What on earth is a yurt?
Think circular tent, with relatively low walls, but a high, steeply pitched ceiling. Watch out for the low doors if you’re anything other than super short!
I believe the trad Mongolian yurt features a central hole open to the air, to let smoke from an open fire escape.
Luckily, the British version we tried had clear plastic covering the central hole, and a separate chimney to whisk away smoke from the wood burning stove. I was genuinely surprised how much light came in during the day, from the circle in the ceiling, plus opening shutters on the door and side window.
The ceiling is held up with wooden spokes radiating out from the central circle, while the walls are criss crossed poles, supporting double thickness canvas lined with insulation.
We pretty much tested it to destruction, as Storm Francis hit while we were away, but although it was a noisy night with the rain and wind hitting the canvas, and the walls flexed, that yurt wasn’t going anywhere. I’m not sure I could have said the same if we’d pitched our Vango tent.
Inside the yurt
Obviously, this will depend on the individual campsite.
In our case, we booked a big yurt advertised as sleeping up to six people, rather than a compact version for a couple.
Inside, there was one big double bed, a single ‘day bed’ with a separate mattress that could swing out from underneath to convert it into a double, plus another single bed that fitted along the end of the main double.
We had a table with four chairs, a nest of tables, a small wood burning stove and log basket, one bamboo chest of drawers for clothes, and a storage unit containing all the crockery, cutlery, glasses, mugs, cooking and cleaning equipment.
Also, just to remind you it was actually camping, our hosts provided a cool box, water carrier, couple of big battery-operated LED lanterns and an assortment of lanterns lit by tealights.
Outside, we had another table with four chairs and a gas-powered barbecue.
Facilities on the site
OK so I wasn’t actually brave enough to book us on a wild camping site with no bathroom or electricity at all.
Instead, thanks to Covid, we got what was normally the ladies loo reserved solely for our family, with a couple of loos, a couple of sinks and a shower. Being able to leave washbags and towels there was a big bonus.
We also shared a sitting room with the other family in a yurt, complete with sofas, a TV and (crucially) plug sockets for recharging devices.
The other big attraction was a shared games room, which had a kitchenette with sink for washing up, big fridge freezer, microwave and kettle, plus a ping pong table, air hockey, darts, pool table, fruit machine (pay to play), big jenga and assorted board games. The air hockey in particular was a massive hit with our kids.
Camping with access to a fridge and an indoor sink was a major attraction, compared to some of the basic camping I’ve done in the past.
Staying in the yurt
The first evening, we nipped over after my husband finished work, and ended up cooking burgers on the gas barbecue while the wind did its best to blow out the flames and blow the burger buns off the table. So that was fun.
The yurt itself was reasonably warm anyway, and warmed up quickly when we shoved a few logs in the wood burner. It looked lovely in flickering lantern light and – as with any camping – we probably went to bed earlier than we normally would, once it got dark. It felt surprisingly cosy when we were all tucked up under our covers.
We ended up waking up earlier than normal, when the light poured in. With no TV and all of us in one space, we chatted more than we normally would, and the kids were actually up for playing stuff like Uno, Guess Who and Connect 4.
Breakfast outside was pretty bracing, but good to be sitting the sunshine. I did have a go at boiling water and making toast on the woodburning stove – but it to get anything boiling, we ended up pretty overheated ourselves. I had to ditch plans to cook rice and pasta, and we ended up with a bunch of bread based meals (burgers, hot dogs, roast chicken with Tesco with baguette and salad).
On the day when we got back later the normal, I was really glad we brought back fish and chips rather than wrestling with the gas barbecue during a storm.
My 10-year-old enjoyed playing with other children staying on the same site, whether rearranging the giant chess and draughts set or playing cricket on the green spaces.
We’d chosen a location surrounded by various places we don’t normally visit, and tried to take advantage of stuff that was still open despite COVID-19.
We loved visiting Clare Castle Country Park, complete with picturesque ruins and nature walks, and essential ice cream and playground appreciated by the kids. It also had a handy Co-op for food.
I spent an arm and a leg on tickets for a Tudor renactment day at Kentwell Hall, to inflict something vaguely educational on the kids. We visited Ely to admire the cathedral, visit the shops and stock up on school shoes.
Another day we booked tickets to the racing museum in Newmarket, with discount pizzas afterwards thanks to Rishi Sunak’s tenner a head ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme. We were actually so near home we dashed back for one day, when we badly needed decent internet access for a Facetime meeting, and got to see our dog again and check in on the chickens.
What to take when staying in a yurt
Staying in the yurt may have been more comfortable than normal camping, with loads of stuff provided, but it was still camping.
Here are the extras I’m really glad we took:
- Torch, for heading out late night/early morning
- Slip on shoes, for those treks to the bathroom
- Thermos, for transporting and storing hot water for tea and coffee
- Cool bag or box with ice blocks, so we weren’t schlepping to the fridge all the time
- Hot water bottles, for cosy nights
- Board games and cards
- Eco fire lighters, mace of wax and wood shavings, so you get the smell of woodsmoke without reeking of chemicals
- Fire proof gauntlets to use with the wood burning stove (we have some for our woodturner at home)
- I really did take along a patchwork quilt and bunting to liven up the inside of the tent (yo Instragram) #noregrets
Pros and cons of staying in a yurt
Loads of things I loved about our staycation in a yurt. Others? Not so much. Here’s a quick run down of the pros and cons.
- I loved the luxury of camping with comfortable beds: the same ability to get back to nature and listen to wind and weather, but with a decent night’s sleep.
- A circular tent with a low door feels just like a hobbit home.
- We chatted more as a family, spent less time on screens and played more games together than when we retreat to different rooms at home.
- So glad we chose a site with a decent shower for our own use, access to a shared fridge freezer and an indoor sink for washing up.
- The door was pretty low, so beware bashing your head on the wooden lintel
- Fair to say the tent was not black out style! Light floods in when the sun rises, so don’t expect your kids to sleep late.
- Lighting the wood burning stove made the yurt really cosy, but increasing the heat to boil water or cook using the side oven meant the tent was just too hot.
- My 12-year-old complained about the lack of privacy, with us all sleeping in one space, and trudged off to the loos every time she wanted to get changed.
- It may be a more comfortable version, but it’s still camping, complete with heading out over a damp field to go to the loo first thing, limited cooking facilities and schlepping backwards and forwards with bowls of washing up.
- No dogs, so Otto had to stay with grandma
Overall, I actually really enjoyed our staycation in a yurt. I enjoyed being all together in one small space. I reckon camping helped reset the kids into earlier bedtimes, and getting up earlier, before they headed back to school. Back at home, I miss the smell of woodsmoke and the simplicity of being having so little stuff.
Still glad to have a proper cooker though. And we did miss Otto terribly.
Now – over to you. Ever stayed in a yurt? Would you consider it? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear.