Accidental Publicans – The Sweffling White Horse

Nearly 10 years ago, I gave up my job to buy a campsite and accidentally bought a pub instead.

You see my partner and I are both big fans of camping, but our experience of campsites had often been a disappointing one. Straight lines, picket fences, open characterless fields — none of these seemed to evoke the charm which camping should bring. So our dream was to create an enchanted wildlife garden with the feeling of wild camping in clearings and secluded spots in an otherwise dense and lush landscape.

One day it was just one of those days, you know the sort where you have a tough day in the office followed by some light relief in a pub with a tasty ale. You complain about your job and wish you could do something more rewarding and wholesome for a living but you can’t… or can you? And once you realise you can – there’s no going back.

So we sold our flats and gave up our jobs. After a lot of searching for the perfect site, we found the Suffolk ‘former pub’ and its overgrown beer garden in an auction. It seemed so perfect we had to pinch ourselves – wonders do happen – so we came to view the site one rainy Tuesday. Upon inspection, it turned out the ‘ex-pub’ was still a pub – albeit a very derelict one. And so it happened that on that very day we added a pub to our dream and thus a week later we found ourselves in the car park of an auction house with the deeds to a pub in our hands & stupid big grins on our faces.

Our passion for camping, pubs and real ale drove us onwards, and after two years of utter hard work, we opened ‘Alde Garden Campsite’ in that beer garden. The campsite immediately got the attention of Cool Camping (who put us in their book & listed us as one of their top 10 favourites) and the press. It was amazing to have our rustic charm and eclectic array of accommodation recognised – we’d bought a copy of Cool Camping a while back, never imagining one day we’d be in it.

Once the money started trickling in from the campsite business we turned our attention to renovating the pub – which had suffered pretty badly with neglect during the 5 years it had stood boarded-up and unoccupied. We re-opened the pub at the end of 2011 and just 3 years later it was voted the local CAMRA branch’s overall Pub of the Year. It went on to be voted one of the top 16 pubs in the entire country in 2015 and has been the local CAMRA branch’s favourite pub for 3 years in a row. All this without a bar!

Instead, beers are served straight from the cask via a taproom door. The pub décor gives nothing away of its 1970s makeover which was evident when we purchased it. Now it looks as if it hasn’t changed in 100 years. The campsite is a lush wildlife garden with pathways leading to secluded clearings where each type of accommodation nestles. There are 2 yurts, a traditional gypsy caravan, a bell tent, a hut on stilts hiding in the trees and some spaces for guests to bring their own tents too. We are currently building a beautiful hobbit-style roundhouse from straw bales, cob and cordwood with a reciprocal roof covered in sedum and moss. We’re hoping this will be available to book sometime this year.

Written by Marie Smith