It wasn’t long ago that for many of us, holidays involved hopping on a plane and heading off to warmer climes. Every summer, Brits flocked to the Spanish Costas armed with bronzing lotion and speedos, ready to turn themselves into the bronzed Adonis. We would bemoan the fact that our European neighbours had secured a poolside lounger several hours before we lifted our sangria soaked heads off our pillows and we’d become cross when the shops closed in the afternoon. While enjoying the Spanish sun, we would go out of our way to find a decent cup of tea or fry up and speak loudly and slowly to the locals in our own native tongue. We would become frustrated at the fact that things weren’t quite like they are in Great Yarmouth, where tea tastes like PG Tips, everyone speaks the same language and the Germans were very much uninterested in our deckchairs.
Simply speaking, we were looking for Britain, only abroad.
Times have changed, however. For an ever increasing number of British holiday makers, the answers lie in simplicity – finding those gems which were sat quietly and modestly on our very own doorstep. The growing awareness of the beauty and variety of our very own island home has led to a boom in holidaying in the UK and, in particular, renting, or owning a campervan.
The image of the campervan summons thoughts of lazy, hazy summer days; campfires and cosy nights. It conjures the romance, and there is some, of camping and living a more simple life.
As a proud owner of a VW Campervan, I can count myself among the number of holiday makers who have been swept along by the tide of camper van enthusiasts. For me, driving with my family into the furthest corners or well hidden nooks of the UK in the van is to escape the grind, to leave the stresses and strains in doors and be somewhere else – anywhere but home. However, we have learnt some hard lessons in the past four years – holidays in the camper are fraught with do’s, don’ts and think-it-through-before-you-do-its. It isn’t always plain sailing and organisation is a big deal.
The unfathomable lows have been many – there have been frozen gas bottles and cooking disasters, there have been breakdowns, over heatings and malfunctions. There have even been battles with destructive gale force winds, broken awnings and children who have decided it is time to get up at 4am. On the flip side, though, are priceless moments of joy – seeing a meteor shower over Dorset, slowly cooking bacon while looking across the Derby Dales, dining on the banks of Loch Lomond beneath a breath-taking, dramatic, ruby-red sunset.
My little family has got the camper bug and we are most certainly not alone.
So, what is behind this glorious rediscovery of home from the steering wheel of the VW Camper? I caught up with Martin Dorey – writer, TV presenter, surfing addict, VW owner and guru of the Campervan lifestyle, to find out about this brave new world of camper vanning.
MD: I think a lot of it has to do with people looking for something different, with another way of life. They see the camper as giving them that opportunity to get away from the mortgage and the 9-5 and all that rubbish and take off without a care in the world. It’s the image that does it and that gets perpetuated by the media and advertising and more people get into the idea and so on and so forth. I don’t get why people bemoan it – it’s a fantastic thing to happen. Look at all the buses that will get rescued and brought back to life because of it!
ND: How has the scene evolved or changed – is the cooking getting any better? Are there more herbs and less Beanfeasts?
MD: There’s more money I guess. More families, more people looking for that lifestyle.
As for the cooking I have no idea!! I’d like to think so. I get lots of tweets from people showing me their camping food. A lot of it is very impressive.
ND: I have to admit to having tweeted you during a Beanfeast and rice crisis! Our night was saved by a good bottle of red and a stunning view of Dorset!
ND: What would be your advice for newbies, wishing to get started in owning and using a camper?
MD: Think long and hard about it. Have you got the cash? Will you be able to maintain your bus properly? Have you got a decent mechanic to look after it or will you do it yourself? Have you hired one for the weekend to see what it’s really like? Have you got your eyes open?
Basically, take someone with you when you buy so you don’t buy a wreck and be 100% committed. It’s not just for life… it’s for Christmas as well. And that can be very cold!
ND: For me, the point about thinking it through is the key. We naively purchased an old van without really considering the costs involved in keeping it running and we soon found ourselves with mounting bills and falling mileage. The idea of owning the classic vehicle over took our usual level headed approach to buying things. We tried several mechanics but struggled to find one who was reliable and, let’s face it, honest. Eventually, we sold a non-runner as we could no longer afford repairs and eventually invested in a modern van.
I can vouch for the cold, having spent a few nights on the banks of Loch Lomond when the temperature plummeted to -6 degrees celcius over night!
So there we have it – VW Campers are not just for those sunny get aways, but also for those year round escapes. This is a scene which is always growing and shows no signs of stopping. There is no better way of unlocking the true majesty of our little gem of an island than to do it at your own pace in the cosy confines of a camper with your nearest and dearest.
Martin Dorey has written two books relating to the world of campervans – The Campervan Cookbook and The Campervan Coast. These provide reference points both for beginners and more accomplished campers. He also presented his own BBC TV show ‘One Man and His Campervan. You can find out more about Martin Dorey at his website: http://www.martindorey.com