I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I pulled out of the Glastonbury Festival site a couple of years ago, our trusty van in tow. After a great weekend’s music, we’d dragged the kids out of bed at first light to escape early and avoid the inevitable traffic jams. Motoring through the nearby village of Pilton in the dappled early morning sunlight, we seemed to have avoided the worst of the anticipated congestion.
Within minutes, my smug smile had turned to abject horror as the road rose gently before us. I could only stare dumbfounded in the rear-view mirror as the caravan unhitched itself with a clunk and trundled away down the hill. As we pulled over, it bounced off the road into a ravine, sliding down a bank and missing trees on either side with inches to spare. In my haste to get away, I hadn’t properly hitched our caravan, a secondhand Bailey Pageant Auvergne we’d bought for £5000, to the tow car.
I can only apologise to anyone who was there in 2011 and, like us, left early to get away, only to be caught in a snarl-up – that was probably our miraculously undamaged caravan being recovered by a big tow truck. We’re fortunate that not all our adventures have ended so dramatically, or with so many red faces. They do say, what doesn’t kill you…
I’ve always loved camping. When I was growing up in Warrington, Cheshire, my family was always going on holidays under canvas. And my wife Kirsty’s parents owned a static caravan on Blue Anchor Bay near Dunster in north Somerset. They loved it and were there for 20 years. Thus were the seeds sown for the special times we’ve shared on the road since.
Seven years ago for a birthday surprise, I bought my wife a classic VW campervan for about £6000 (not cheap given it was at least 35 years old) and wrapped it in a big bow. It was red, we called it Wanda and had wonderful adventures with it. We took her to festivals, camped all over South West England and fell in love with travelling light and locally. There is something wonderfully evocative about the smell of an old campervan that you can only appreciate if you’ve experienced it.
Unfortunately, Wanda was stunningly unreliable and kept breaking down. That was fine until our kids Scott (now seven) and Megan (five) arrived. The first time we went out together, the VW broke down at the side of a very busy road. We bid an emotional and inevitable goodbye to Wanda.
The £5000 or so we got for Wanda bought us a proper caravan – a lovely four-berth Bailey Pageant Auvergne – from friends. Suddenly we had loads of space; the new van was 6.1m long and had an awning, and we discovered the joys of family holidays together. We were truly bitten by the bug and went everywhere with the van.
Living outside Bath, we’re not far from the south coast, which lets us visit Charmouth near Lyme Regis often (Scott loves dinosaurs, so we go fossil hunting). Or we stay at lovely sites in Wareham Forest near Swanage, Looe in Cornwall, Hillhead near Brixham, Devon, Start Bay near Dartmouth – the list goes on and on.
We also live close to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, so we’re always going there for short trips. The caravan site is right next to the park and you can hear the lions roaring at night. It’s surreal, and you’d only get that in a caravan.
A few years ago, because of my heavy filming commitments for Homes under the Hammer, we spent four or five consecutive long weekends over the summer in the caravan. It couldn’t have been nicer – despite the less than ideal weather.
Campsites are safe and modern, the kids can play outside safely and make friends. What’s more, the facilities these days are just amazing: hot showers, indoor pools and games rooms. We’ve only been to one bad site and, in fairness, it wasn’t really bad – just a bit too commercial and busy for our tastes.
Some people think caravans are claustrophobic, but I disagree. At home we’re all in our own spaces. A caravan forces you to share an intimate holiday, eating, playing board games and watching DVDs together.
Our golden retrievers Bagel and Mylo love caravanning, too. We’ve got an awning and they sleep under it – though they are always trying to sneak into the van. I love the intimacy, but with two children, two dogs and two adults, it can become too cosy.
The Bailey didn’t survive our travels, even though it got through the Glastonbury incident in one piece. I’m a confident tow car driver, but I misjudged a set of gateposts at a friend’s house and did a bit of unfortunate restyling, ripping the edge and back, and putting out a few windows. The caravan was a write-off.
The silver lining to the cloud was that we found another tourer quickly. Thus we wound up with an even nicer, but still affordable, secondhand Lunar Lexon EB. It has a fixed double bed, but I feel I’ve really made it in caravan terms because it enjoys the ultimate luxury: an electric mover, with – tahh… dahh… dahhhh… – remote control! It must be the ultimate boy’s toy. Manhandling the caravan into place was always one of the hardest bits, though I’ve loved it when people appear from nowhere to help. Camaraderie is one of the great joys of caravanning. But having a remote-control mover is like having electronic gates or a ride-on lawnmower. You’ve made it in caravanning circles.
I love all the storage spaces and cubbyholes in our Lunar – they’re so well designed. Everything pops out and unfolds like some magic, three-dimensional jigsaw. When I’m looking at smaller properties for Homes under the Hammer, I take inspiration from the creative storage ideas you find in caravans.
Our next adventure would be to take the caravan across the Channel; touring around Italy would be a dream. But when you’ve got so many lovely places nearby to explore, there isn’t the pressure. Plus we’re constrained by the kids’ travelling boredom threshold – about two-and-a-half hours is their current maximum.
Still, nothing beats the excitement of setting out on your latest adventure with your family and the home-from-home loaded with provisions (we never leave without Kellogg’s variety packs of cereal – they remind me of my own holidays as a child).
I hope our kids have inherited our love of caravanning and carry on what is now a family tradition.
Visit Martin’s website for information about him, his books and his property training weekends, and follow his adventures on Twitter.
Camaraderie is one of the great joys of caravanning