My obsession begins…
Pre-pandemic our family holidays would often involve a long-haul flight and an Airbnb with a pool. If you mentioned camping, I’d likely break out in a cold sweat as I flashed back to sodden and midge-bitten childhood camping holidays.
But like many people over the past year, the desire to get away means I’ve begun to think outside my comfort zone about what a family holiday looks like.
It started with grand visions of travelling the UK: we’d stop off at various landmarks to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the countryside, charmed by the magic of our surroundings and the great outdoors there wouldn’t be a smartphone or tablet in sight. (I love a good fantasy, and the less than perfect reality of our experiences doesn’t deter me from a good daydream).
Last year we rented a motorhome and it was really good fun. This year, spurred on by my interest in four wheeled camping, we decided to look for something that would fit down a country road without everybody holding their breath. I wanted a camper van.
Obstacles to Overcome
Despite my optimistic daydreams, I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous about fitting all four of us and a bouncy dog into such a small space. My husband didn’t help matters with comments like,
‘You do realise how small they are?’
But having watched all of Nomadland and still not being put off (sorry Dad, but your cunning plan to weaken my camper van enthusiasm failed), I decided to rent one.
The next hurdle to overcome was my son, who was adamant he couldn’t possibly spend a holiday in anything smaller than a motorhome (spoiled much?)
I ignored him and we rented a VW California camper van for a week from Abergavenny Motorhome Hire.
I needn’t have worried…
When the big day came and the camper arrived, our excitement allayed any fears we had.
On the outside the van was super stylish. The interior was complete with colour changing LED lights and a Marvel dining table that looked like it was made for us (we’re huge marvel fans).
We all felt right at home, even my son – once we’d dragged him out from his hiding place and convinced him to at least give the van a look before he decided to run away forever. (I thought these kinds of protestations were reserved for teenager-dom, not nine year olds!)
His enthusiasm was hilarious next to his previous refusal to go, as he informed me he didn’t realise a small camper van would be this big on the inside, and how if only I’d told him this, he wouldn’t have got so upset in the first place. I knew it would be my fault.
Life in a Van
The best thing about this kind of travel is that all of your stuff is with you all of the time, so there’s no getting to your day trip destination and realising you’ve left your wallet behind, or the sun cream, or a small child.
Our fears it would be too small were unfounded. With lots of clever storage spaces there was plenty of room for us, the luggage and the dog (she didn’t have a seat of her own, but she wouldn’t let that stop her).
Parking was easy and we didn’t encounter a country road that could stop us.
Past experience has taught us our children can’t sleep together if we want both of them to keep all their teeth (I wish I was joking), so I slept in the pop top with my son and my husband slept downstairs with our daughter and the dog.
I was worried about waking up in the night needing a wee or not sleeping properly, but all the fresh air and day trips had me sleeping through the night like a log. The pop top was lots of fun and the view in the morning from the zip down top was pretty special.
The Camp Sites
Our first site was Sun Haven in Cornwall, a medium sized site with maybe 80 pitches, some holiday homes, a shop, a bakery, pop up food tents and a playground for the kids.
My husband likes to be within walking distance of places to eat so we can chill out, and my son likes places where there are lots of other children to play with, so I chose this site with them in mind.
It was walking distance down a beautiful tree lined path to a lovely beach. We spent our days by the sea and our evenings chilling out at the camp site. My son made about ten friends before the sun went down on our first day.
We spent four lovely nights here before packing up (which took about ten minutes, I knew there was a reason I preferred four-wheeled camping to a tent) and moving on.
The second site was at Pencuke Farm, near the small town of Crackington Haven. It had 10 pitches, some farm animals, a communal camp fire (but unfortunately no kumbaya), and a football net. This one was more the speed of me and my daughter: peace, quiet and views over the hills for miles.
My son spent two hours complaining about the unfairness of such enforced seclusion, demanding that we return to the previous site at once, until he made a friend and all was forgiven.
The Day Trips
I used to plan our holidays with military precision, but these days I’m trying to focus more on being together and less on what we do, so I quelled my heart palpitations with some breathing exercises and we winged most of it (look at me Mum, I’m winging it!)
I did pre-book tickets to the Eden Project which was a great day out, but other than that we went with the flow and visited some lovely Cornish towns: Mawgan Porth, Tintagel, Boscastle and Bude.
My lack of planning meant we didn’t visit Tintagel Castle, associated with the legendry King Arthur, as the tickets had sold out, but that gives us something to put on the list for our next visit (do you like my easy-going attitude here? Once upon a time I would have berated myself for my lack of forward planning, but with no expectations and a go with the flow attitude there was nothing to get disappointed about).
We were lucky with the weather, sunshine for a whole week, almost unheard of for a British staycation.
We ate our weight in ice cream, but somehow managed to spend an entire week in Cornwall without consuming a pasty or a cream tea, something else to look forward to next time.
Probably my favourite trip out was an impromptu evening visit to Boscastle in search of food. After eating at a local pub, we went for a walk up the cliffs to watch the sun going down. The walking trail, which would have been jam packed during the day, was really quiet and the scenery and exertion sparked a love of climbing in my children which was a joy to see (though nerve-wrackingly so in my son, who the next day bounded up a cliffside in Tintagel, neglecting the path for a harder route whilst proudly informing me not to worry, that he was a pro mountain climber now!)
The Pro Campers
At the first campsite we’d been on the lookout for camping ideas from people who’d obviously been doing it for years and knew exactly what to bring and how they liked their set up.
There were Minecraft style blazing torch sconces to keep the bugs away, flags, fairy lights, inflatable sofas and cafetiere’s for those who liked their coffee fresh.
We thought we’d seen it all until the second camp site, when the family on the pitch next to ours returned from a day trip and we made some new friends.
They had a son and daughter the same age as our children and we all hit it off straight away.
Not only did this lovely family have a camper van with a pop top roof, but they also had a bell tent which attached to their van, complete with double blow-up bed, carpet and the piece de resistance: a wood-burning stove.
Do you remember the tent Harry Potter stayed in at the Quidditch World Cup in the Goblet of Fire? Yeah, in my memory it looks like that.
We were in awe. This was pro camping.
- Check the kids backpacks: I’d banned the children from taking technology in a bid to create the family ambience of my dreams. My son (a tech addict and normally the rogue element), dutifully complied and didn’t ask to use a device all week, but my daughter ‘accidentally’ packed her laptop and her phone. In fairness, the laptop was great for some family movie nights in the van and she spent a lot of time outside taking nature pictures with her phone, so I can’t really complain, though next time I’ll be checking the backpacks before departure!
- I need feeding every four hours or I get hangry. I’m no fun when I’m hangry. I knew this one already, but not having been on many day trips over the past year I’d somehow forgotten that I need to carry healthy snacks at all times. I don’t think my husband will ever forget again.
- Apply sun cream even when it’s cloudy: after thirty-six years on this earth you would think I would know this by now, but my Rudolph style nose is testament that I still need reminding.
- I don’t have the hair for it: in a bid to pack light and live a carefree and chilled out week I didn’t pack any make up or hair straighteners. This was great in theory, but in reality I spent the entire week looking more local vagrant than free spirit: my fluffy, fly away locks really aren’t suited to life without taming, and I realised it wouldn’t have hurt to pack a bit of lippy and some hair straighteners.
Seeing the pro campers set up and what could be for the four-wheeled camping lifestyle pretty much sealed the deal for the whole family: camper van holidays are the way forward for us.
But first thing’s first, we need to find ourselves a camper van of our very own…watch this space.
The van of our dreams