Alastair ClementsSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Me and my caravan’ written by Alastair Clements
Completely natural to those who are part of it, the world of the caravanner holds a curious fascination to ‘outsiders’. The choice of tourers seems bewildering, while the regular caravanner seems to speak another language thanks to the plethora of unfamiliar phrases and bespoke kit, from Aquarolls to Elsan points, hook-up leads to steadies. (See John Wickersham's caravan jargon-busting sessions on our TV show The Caravan Channel.)
To Bristol-based portrait photographer Gareth Iwan Jones, however, it was a “fascinating subculture” that he wanted to investigate and share with the wider community. So Gareth set off on a 2029-mile mission across the UK, from Somerset to Loch Ness, staying in some 27 different campsites and taking in eight national parks along the way.
People and places
The result is Caravan: A Great British Love Story, a richly reproduced photo diary of Gareth’s adventures aboard his Elddis Sunseeker 130 three-berth motorhome. As well as serving as a documentary, the book showcases portraits of the various characters that he met along the way, complete with short quotes giving an insight into their caravanning lives and philosophies.
Alan Cobb, who owns an Eriba Pan Familia, has been caravanning for 78 years. Photographed at Foyers, Loch Ness, he says, “I always bring plenty of whisky, and a good attitude. You have to embrace the weather: when I got snowed-in at Cowden last year, robins flew into the caravan to say hello.”
The Davies family, who enjoy cycling on holidays in their Bailey Pageant Champagne, have been caravanning for nine years. Photographed at Glencoe, Argyll, they say, “Seven years ago, in a hurricane, we had to run out in the middle of the night with no clothes on and hold down the awning. We learn as we go – now we have storm straps.”
Lisa and Isobel Edwards, who own a Constructam Comet, have been caravanning for three years. Photographed at Beadnell Bay, Northumberland, they say, “We bought this van on eBay from a Glastonbury hippie. We call her Connie the Comet.”
Elaine and Drew Sneddon, who have a Swift Jura caravan, have been caravanning for 40 years. Photographed at Glencoe, Argyll, they say, “I remember looking out over the water to the hills of Malvern. The sun was shining, and the weather was glorious.”
Ray and Jenny Ringe, proud owners of a Sterling Eccles Quartz, have been caravanning for 22 years. Photographed at Keswick, in the Lake District, Jenny says, “If I’m at home, I can only sit down for five minutes before I think of something I need to do. Here, I just relax.”
Neil Williams, who goes touring in his Freedom Bijoux, has been caravanning for 40 years. Photographed at Braithwaite Fold, in The Lake District, he says, “Over the years, caravanning has become part of my life. It gives me the freedom to do what I want, when I want.”
Refreshingly, this is a caravan book by a non-caravanner that doesn’t sneer, but presents its evocative images of families, couples and solo tourers – plus plenty of pets and caravanning paraphernalia – with affection and gentle humour. As writer Jonathan Meades suggests in his foreword, Gareth truly brings out the ‘relaxed happiness’ of caravanners in their element.
Meet the author – Gareth Iwan Jones
“I have fond memories of childhood caravanning holidays in Suffolk, but the idea of capturing the caravanning community came from my fascination with how people spend their leisure time. Most of my work focuses on things people do for enjoyment – I’ve photographed ferret enthusiasts, child gymnasts, full-contact medieval fighters, hula-hoopers and equestrianism. I’ve always thought of caravanning as a wonderfully eccentric, colourful world of characters and interesting regalia that would make a great photography project. It didn’t disappoint.
“Bar a handful of trips as a child, I didn’t have any experience of caravanning but I certainly learned the appeal. It’s a great way to get out into the wilderness with a few creature comforts. I also learned that parts of the UK are as breathtakingly beautiful as anywhere I’ve been in the world. Dark clouds breaking into thunderous downpours were a reasonably frequent occurrence during the trip, yet for me the most endearing moments came with the worst weather – this is when your fellow campers brave the elements to help you find your guy ropes and hammer in your pegs. It seems terribly clichéd and British, but there’s a genuine ‘all for one and one for all’ attitude that unites the caravanning community. I witnessed and was part of this a few times and the camaraderie was unforgettable, sincere and charming.
Caravan ninja caught on camera
“I also met and photographed some amazing people along the way. One of my favourite memories was when I was shooting portraits at Beddgelert in the otherworldly forests of Snowdonia. I bumped into a family with a young boy called Danny, who was darting around the woodlands, pretending that the stick he was holding was a Samurai sword.
I photographed him and afterwards asked what his favourite thing about caravanning was. With that sincere innocence kids have, he replied: “It gives me time to train as a ninja. I’ve been training since I was seven and a half.” Naturally, I asked how old he was now: “Almost eight,” he shrugged. It made me chuckle for the rest of the trip, and that portrait is one of my favourites in the book.
“I fell in love with a few sites, but if I was pushed I would probably say that my favourite was the Glencoe Camping & Caravanning Club Site. It’s gloriously located, nestled in the mountains of the Scottish Highlands, and surrounded by plenty of beautiful walks. As for the best caravan, I loved Lisa and Isobel Edwards’ vintage Constructam Comet from the late ’60s, which had been lovingly restored and decorated. They both clearly adored it.”
Caravan: A Great British Love Story, by Gareth Iwan Jones, is published by Frances Lincoln and costs £12.99; ISBN 978-0-7112-3677-6.