Paul Regan

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We need little excuse to hitch up and head off, the delights of which Paul Regan recently discovered when he went to visit Kent on a special canine mission

It’s all very well being blessed with plenty of parks in London, but my neighbour’s Labradoodle managed 18 months of life without ever visiting the seaside. This will never do. So it fell to my brother and me to take Barkley for a boys’ weekend in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent – using the Practical Caravan Bailey Unicorn Cadiz as a super-luxurious beach hut.

As with all last-minute escapes, preparations were minimal (of course, that is part of the charm of having a caravan ready to go at a moment’s notice), so we loaded a couple of overnight bags and our pooch into the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer, hitched up the Bailey and hit the road. Barkley's a good traveller, he has a little lead that plugs into the rear seatbelt socket and was charmed enough by the Insignia's leather trim to settle into his blanket for a snooze.

First stop was the oh-so-glamorous motorway services at Cobham in Surrey, where we filled the caravan's ample fridge with supplies and stowed a couple of disposable barbecues beneath the seats (we had the good sense to plug in the van overnight before departure to charge the leisure battery and also pre-chill the fridge). On arrival at Quex Caravan Park (a few minutes drive from beautiful Minnis Bay), we had the steadies down and the electricity hooked up in record time, ready for the beach. Those cold beers, unfortunately, had to wait.

The Vauxhall braced itself for a deluge of coastal dirt as Barkley danced across the sand – tiptoeing as if putting paw to snow for the first time – and chasing tennis balls into the sea. Our auto-opening bootlid allowed hands-free loading of dirty mutt and beach toys, while we did our best not to soil the car mats up front. 

Back at Quex in early evening it was time to unfold the chairs, light the barbecue and rid Barkley of salt, sand and seaweed in the Unicorn’s voluminous shower. It worked a treat – besides a nail-biting shimmy between the twin berths before he attempted to flick soapy water over our beds. A near-total loss of burgers due to a floor-height barbecue and a curious canine led us to the Bailey’s grill for bacon sandwiches in the morning, but not before Barkley spent his first night in a tin tent.

The Bailey's two human occupants took the rearward single beds while, with a couple of blankets at the 'lounge' end just in case, Barkley was instructed to settle between our van's two sofas. One worry was the early wake-up call for breakfast, but we decided that was probably preferable to our auto-dog feeder popping open at 6am and filling the cabin with the sharp aroma of tinned tripe.

After breakfast, we went for one last run in the sea before rejoining the M2 back to London. We were home with the Bailey stowed safely away by lunchtime, which left us wondering why we don’t make more Saturday-morning decisions to take weekends away. As long as there's a little sand involved, I’m sure that Barkley feels the same way too.

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