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Frances experiences an old school safari at Beagle Expeditions

The current trend for new camps in Africa seems to be to focus on ‘luxury’, with each camp claiming their brass taps to be shinier, their private plunge pools to be deeper, their wine selection to be the best in the country. It was therefore oh so refreshing to arrive at the wonderful Beagle Expeditions and truly experience an old school safari.

There is nothing more memorable than falling asleep in a simple little tent in a truly wild destination with the sounds of the bush all around you. I had been in Botswana for around five nights before I got to Beagle, and I really welcomed the feeling of finally being close to nature.

We landed at the camp by helicopter (there is no airstrip so this is the only way to arrive) which adds an extra level of excitement. There are other mobile camps in Botswana, and they will offer a similarly brilliant experience in terms of the camp. But what makes Beagle stand out is the total exclusivity. It operates on a private concession and so there is literally just you in 30,000 hectares of pristine stunning wilderness. It feels truly wild. On our first afternoon drive, we approached a pride of 14 lion with lots of youngsters, and they took great interest in us. We stopped nearby and they all padded past the vehicle, curiously looking in. This was quite a different experience to watching the lazy lions of the Masai Mara or the Kruger who are so accustomed to vehicles that they don’t bat an eyelid when they see you. The next day we drove up to a couple of different waterholes with herds of elephant and, more than once, they made a bit of a fuss – they weren’t used to sharing a waterhole with a vehicle. It felt like a privilege and an honour to get to explore this untouched wilderness.

Whilst Beagle Expeditions is not going to suit those looking for Wi-Fi and air-con and four poster beds, it does offer a really wonderful level of comfort and hosting. The food was some of the best I have eaten on safari. The chef was so attentive to our dietary requirements. Our beds were comfortable. We had a decent bucket shower – certainly enough to wash off the dust from the day’s activities. Our guide, Ace, and camp manager Jacob are superb hosts and made sure we were very well looked after: offering us drinks at any moment, fitting our backpacks to us before we headed out into the bush on walking safari, making sure we had gaitors, giving us electrolytes at the end of the day’s walking – no detail was overlooked.

After our first afternoon drive (which included the 14 lions and watching a pack of wild dog tear apart an impala not more than 50 metres away from camp – a gruesome but exhilarating hour), we came back to camp and sat around the campfire, next to the waterhole. The whole time we were there, elephants were drinking loudly. At one point the wild dogs decided to join, which resulted in a lot of noise and bother on the elephants’ behalf. It took some nerve to stay sitting by the campfire, but Ace’s cool demeanour and Jacob’s confident manner meant we maintained our positions and enjoyed the ultimate pre-dinner drink setting!

The next morning, the sun was rising in front of camp, and we were sat in our tent looking through our binoculars at some movement in the distance. We quickly realised the lion from the previous night were chasing a buffalo, right in front of the main area. The magic of being in such a small intimate camp meant we slipped out of our tents in our pyjamas and morning bed hair, and stood with Ace, Jacob and the rest of the camp crew who had all come to watch the show.

A highlight of staying at Beagle is the true mobile nature of the camp. After two nights in your first camp, everything gets packed up. The crew go ahead and set up the next camp site, while Ace leads you through the bush to complete the journey on foot (and/or by mokoro if the flood water levels allow). Arriving into camp on foot, covered in dust and your senses alive from having spent a day focusing intently on your surroundings, is somehow incredibly satisfying. After a lovely hot shower, you can settle around the campfire and enjoy pre-dinner drinks with a sense of achievement and believing you really earned those sundowner snacks!