Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bucks County camping

I’ve been meaning to get out camping for a while and this weekend, we finally made it happen. We made reservation at the Beaver Valley Family campground in Ottsville, Pennsylvania.

This is a convenience campground, rather than a wilderness spot. We had neighbors within a few feet of us on either side. It’s also primarily an RV spot, with a high RV to tent ratio.

Even as one of few campers without a lot of fancy amenities, I really enjoyed my stay. It’s in the midst of a dense forest of maple, walnut and ash trees, tall, brilliantly green, and providing abundant shade in hot weather. Deer came within a few feet of our site and I saw a toad and heard many birds.

The needed amenities are here – clean restrooms and showers with hot water, washing machines, a shop with the needed essentials that is open until 10 p.m. The owners are friendly and willing to provide advice on what to see and do. And the place is busy. Almost every spot was filled and I was told that people make reservations weeks in advance. It attracts a lot of families and retired people and the visitors seemed to be pretty well behaved.

It’s also a nice spot for children. There is a playground with equipment appropriate for both toddlers and older children as well as a swimming pool and a wading pool. A stream nearby is far enough away that a young child couldn’t wander off there. But it’s close enough for an enjoyable walk and once there, you suddenly feel far removed from all the RVs Weekend events are frequently organized, such as 50 cent hayrides or BBQ potlucks (which we would have liked to have gone to, but I had no idea how I was supposed to prepare a BBQ meat dish to serve 5-6, plus a dessert, over a campfire. So we skipped it).

A couple spots are on ledges that overlook forest views and those are especially nice.

As for what we discovered to do in the area:

First we took a bike ride, to Lake Nockamixon state park. The beautiful lake is a great place for a picnic or to feed the ducks. If you want to rent a canoe or kayak, it looks like a beautiful place to paddle.

We found an amazing ice cream shop – Owowcow. The ice cream is made on premises, in small batches, using local ingredients when possible. I tried three kinds, including tiramisu and they were all amazing. Definitely a special find.

In the tiny town of Ottsville, just three miles from the campsite, is a pleasant little coffeeshop, Brig O’Doon, with both indoor and outdoor seating. They have a good selection of quality beverages, as well as fresh bagels and gluten-free treats. Attached is the Kimberton whole foods store, which has an excellent selection of organic and natural food, especially for a small town, as well as a lot of cool toys and gifts. I tend to associate camping with junk food. But here, you can pick up all-natural chicken, grass-fed ground beef, local cheeses and quality pork chops. Don’t forget to bring something to grill with on the fire pit, unless you are using sticks. Unfortunately, the camp sites don’t come with grills to place over the flames.

Biking here allows for the discovery of some great local places, and many of the roads are narrow, green ad lightly trafficked. However, there are some very significant hills. Unless you are a very strong biker, you’ll probably spend some timing pushing your bike uphill.

This is an area where people have businesses making chapels and weatherwaves, repairing screens, operating a law firm next to a personal effects storage facility. It’s a place where the post office worker drives a car with a US MAIL sign atop and drives from the passenger side so as not to have to get out of the car to put the mail in the mailbox. There are a lot of trucks, horses, and recreational vehicles, and the flea market around the diner draws a large crowd on the weekend. But scattered amidst this fairly rural atmosphere are some specialty shops, like Owowcow and Brig O’Doons coffee, that bring a taste of sophistication. The people are friendly and unpretentious. It’s the kind of place that gives one a good feeling, and makes me glad to spend time here.

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