Secret of a South Downs campsite that shocked its new owners ...

One of the best things about camping holidays is that there is no need to dress to impress.

Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 3:51 pm

But one camp site at the foot of the South Downs off the A24 goes one better ... there is no need to dress at all.

In fact birthday suits are positively welcomed at Max’s Garden - a naturist retreat in a specialist area of Washington Caravan and Camping Park between Horsham and Worthing.

Owners Karen and Mark Cleaver inherited the campsite from Mark’s great uncle five years ago.

Fiona Discombe, manager of Max's Garden within Washington Caravan Park. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-211209-124219008

“It was quite a shock as we were unaware the naturist club existed for some 30 years,” said Karen. “Mark didn’t know that his great uncle was a naturist.

“He kept it very quiet from the family.”

It’s very different now with Karen and Mark’s children - aged 12 and 14 - wholeheartedly embracing the naturist activity,

“They think nothing of seeing people naked,” said Karen, who admits she and Mark - a former civil servant - are “not true naturists who walk around at home naked and go on naked events but we both enjoy the freedom of swimming and sunbathing naked.”

Michael Discombe enjoys catching a few rays at Max's Garden, Washington. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-211209-124157008

And they are by far from a minority. A growing number of people are turning to naturism and Max’s Garden is hailed by those in the know as an ideal venue for those wanting to dip their toes into naturism for the first time.

“We are a friendly club that supports people wanting to try naturism. We don’t mind if someone brings a partner that wants to keep their clothes on,” said Karen, a former director at American Express.

“Being a small site centred around our ‘Bubble’ - housing the pool, jacuzzi, sauna and lounge area - means you really feel the social aspect and making new friends feels extremely organic.”

But men are still braver than women in getting their kit off “but we are hoping in time that will change as society continues to embrace body confidence issues,” says Karen.

Fiona Discombe, left, and Vicky Mayenjoy a break at Max's Garden, Washington. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-211209-124146008

People of all ages and from all walks of life enjoy staying at Max’s Garden. “We have guests who are pall bearers, fire fighters, a barrister, record producer ... Some are super confident and others more modest in their approach,” said Karen.

“We also see people with skin conditions or scarring and it is a great leveller.”

Fiona Discombe and her husband Michael have managed Max’s Garden since 2019.

“I feel so lucky that my role allows me to enjoy a naturist lifestyle - it’s a dream come true,” said Fiona.

Enjoying the pool at Max's Garden within Washington Caravan Park. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-211209-124251008

“I wasn’t always this confident about my body, but everything changed 20 years ago on holiday in Greece.

“Michael and I had planned to spend the day at the beach but it was so crowded we walked up the coastline searching for a quieter spot.

”When we stumbled across a nudist beach we were both taken aback but we agreed to give it a go.

“I felt nervous as I peeled off my swimming costume but I quickly realised nobody was paying any attention to me.

“Now naturism has become an important part of my life.”