Following on from a comment on this blog, that I found the Lotus Belle Tents, 'a bit ugly', it started some correspondence with Hari from Lotus Belles.
After a few emails back and forth, Hari offered to lend a Lotus Belle so I could try it 'in the flesh'. So a quick dash to Bristol, I had visions of meeting Hari, with the exotic name, and an image of a Somalian Eastern exotic women sitting in zen gardens and meditating.
I rolled up to Hari's (which I later found out was short for Harriet), amidst total chaos, as 10 lotus belles had just been returned and dumped on her, after being hired out at Glastonbury. An hour of locating all the bits (and the dog, the phone charger, the phone, the handbag..) and we almost had a full set....
So a quick detour home via Hari's warehouse and I had a 5m Lotus Belle. I think. So the tape measure came out, and in my neuroticness, I measured every part, rather than pitch up with a jumble of maybe matches. It was all fine, see I knew Hari knew what she was doing really... (Hari is lovely, I want to adopt her)
As this was a rental tent, the poles were already threaded into the wall panels, and the guys were already tied. The wall section was stored in a separate banana bag, so it didn't have to be threaded together each time you used it. In the other bag I had the groundsheet, 3m wooden pole, 30 marquee type heavy duty pegs, the cream canvas roof. Plus an octopus. And a toadstool head.
|Banana Bag for the wall|
Arrived at the campsite with some pretty strong winds, so was fairly dubious having never pitched the lotus before. Thankfully, it's pretty sturdy even during pitching, so it holds itself in shape as you go along. It's also remarkably easier than it appears, to both put up and take down. An absolute must for me is that it can be done by a solo person as well.
|Spacing the pegs|
Once pegged, you simply go round each section of the wall and clip the 10 poles to the groundsheet - the guys then hold each section as you go along.
At this stage the tent is remarkably sturdy, and held up well despite the winds. Next you locate the 'Lotus Belle' Logo on the roof 'tenatacles', guy out the first two by the door, then just move around the tent and guy the rest of his 'legs'. There is a velcro strip that then joins the roof panels to the top of the wall. A layer of mesh either side of the velcro gives the tent flexibility in the wind
|Ready to add the centre pole|
Once the roof is sitting happily, it was a good time to go in and lay the carpet down (the carpet was mine, but hopefully Hari will get something on the market in the future). Final part is to just slide in the 3m pole, placing it in the centre on the wooden cup. This part is actually a lot easier than a standard bell, as you don't have the huge canvas resistance pushing it up.
|Centre pole in|
Total pitching was about 45-60 mins as this was the first time I had ever attempted it - It also involved me moving the pegs out as I had misjudged them, and re-tying quite a few of the guy ropes. I'm pretty confident I could cut this down to 30 minutes solo, in future.
With solo camping the hardest bit is lugging the bags around - but everything can be split down, even the wall (but i would prefer to keep this intact with the poles). Total weight on the 5m is around 66kg, the 4m is about 55kg
The only remaining job was to 'pimp' up the inside. So armed with my dragon, a tree, and a few flowers, I got to work creating my temporary home for 10 days.
|Ready to move in|
By day 3 there was heavy rain forecast, so it seemed an ideal time to try out the 'octopus'. This was a poly hat that sits on top of the canvas roof. Exactly the same shape, you simply drop the centre pole, throw his suckery legs over the top and peg it on the existing pegs. The bonus of the poly top is that there is no leakage at all, and it also keeps the canvas dry - invaluable on a wet take down. The green octopus also gives a nice pattern to the ceiling
|Pack size of the poly hat is small. Shown here alongside Sid the Squid|
|The Pattern is diffused through the canvas roof|
The tent had no issues at all with waterfastness (the upright walls prevent any leakage through the sides). And although the groundsheet is a PIG (peg in) it is bath tub shaped at the bottom, so there is a 2 inch curve upwards, so no water puddled in. Hari did mention that the tents had been professionally cleaned, but wasn't 100% happy about whether the waterproofing had been affected, so it made sense to try the poly cover (obviously a new tent will have no issues, regardless of whether you use an additional poly cover).
Day 7, the octopus was set free, and the red toadstool roof had a play
|The red hat gives off more of a warm orange tint|
It is a crowd stopper - After having bell tents for over 5 years now, I no longer have queues of people waiting for a guided tour, as they are on every campsite you visit. So it was quite nice to have something a bit more unique, that had the visitors peering around the doors again.
It seems to have converted a lot of 'on the fence' people, who initially weren't sure about the tent (including me). It also impressed the campsite owner, who is contemplating getting a couple to set up permanently onsite.
Overall there isn't much I can say about any faults. The weather threw everything at us, torrential rain, 40mph gusts, and blazing sun - the belle flicked it all off as nonentities. It was rock solid, with no billowing of the canvas in winds, and secure and watertight throughout.
I was planning to say the groundsheet is a PIG so would put some people off, but now there is a velcro version....and mesh doors would be useful.....but there is this option...so just to find something picky, and not give it 11/10 I will say its heavy....(but no more so than my 6m canvas and cast bell....)
Also there is now a porch available for the entrance, which would enhance the space even more
Obviously the costs are a lot higher than a standard bell, but the quality and extras do justify it. It is a one off purchase, and will last for years. My Canvas and Cast 6m bell cost just short of £1k - this is from the same manufacturer, so quality is excellent, on both fittings and canvas. It is very much you get what you pay for.
So, having had the trial, will I purchase a Lotus Belle?.....I think I need to have some serious talks with Hari.... :)
Thick guy ropes and wooden sliders
Marquee heavy duty pegs
Thick breathable canvas (the suppliers are the same manufacturers as Canvas and Cast tents)
There are two large windows which puts the tent ahead of a standard bell. These windows also have the option of the clear plastic, or unzip to allow the breeze to go through
Half moon window, with access to a pre-fitted flue hole. Nicely positioned, and suitable for a side wall entry wood stove