At his age, many young people have to make do with a tent. Not Matthew James Watson.
“A while ago I took a 25-year-old Volvo I owned at the time to a classic car meet, and as it involved just one night away from home I thought I would leave my caravan behind and take the tent instead. Bad move – I didn’t sleep all night, and was full of aches and pains in the morning. I felt at least twice my age, so that was easily the worst trip away,” he says.
Caravanning with his parents since the age of two, Matthew now owns a 1990 Elddis Force 2 (Wisp 350 Special Edition) caravan, that he bought from a local dealer. He knows its vital statistics by heart. It's a two-berth, with a shipping length of 4.72m, a MiRO of 670kg and an MTPLM of 850kg. When it was new, two-and-a-half decades ago, its original list price was £4911.
It needed some work but he wasn’t fazed by this.
“There was damp in the rear corner,” he said, “so I stripped the kitchen out and all the bad boarding and battens back to good wood and repaired it to a professional standard myself. To be honest I taught myself a lot!”
His passion for caravanning used to divide opinion among his peers but they can see the appeal of hitching up and going whenever you want. For Matthew, it’s about “freedom and exploring new places”, and as a talented photographer he can capture his memories perfectly.
“I take my camera out and about with me and tend to take shots of wildlife and flowers on site, as many campsites I have stayed on seem to have a brilliant array of songbirds and wildflowers. Caravanning opens up the opportunity for amazing landscape photography, too! The two activities fit together very well.”
So what’s been his best trip?
“The best was my first summer with the van. We went on a tour of the Scottish Highlands, leaving home in Durham and heading straight to a site in Blairgowrie. We explored the area and moved up the east coast to the Caravan Club site at Brora. From there I explored many areas, including a day trip all the way up to John O’Groats and Dunnet Head, and along to Smoo Cave on the north coast. I then moved across to the west coast, staying at Arisaig with its gorgeous silver sands. This is my favourite area to tour – it’s breathtaking.”
Matthew then treated himself to a new tow car, a 2013 Kia Rio 3 1.4CRDi which was a good match for his Elddis.
Describing himself as a ‘caravan encyclopedia’ he admits: “I can quite often tell what a caravan is from tiny features, such as grabhandles, from quite a distance. I know the dimensions and weights of caravans dating back 20 years, as well as other things, such as the layout of caravans just from looking at the placement of windows, which I guess takes many people by surprise.”
Meeting like-minded caravanners his own age hasn’t been easy, but he joined a caravan owners' forum at the age of 13 and has since been on a rally with other members.
“Caravanning is a really sociable hobby,” says Matthew. “What’s not to love about it?”