Bryony SymesSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Me and my caravan’ written by Bryony Symes
Blood, sweat and tears went into the renovation of this rare Castleton Rowena, thought to be one of only 14 ever built.
As for when it was made, its owners, the Wickens family, aren’t entirely sure: it was advertised as being a 1959 model, but early Castletons are notoriously difficult to date and they have since been told that it may well be a 1967 caravan!
Either way, this vintage caravan has some unusual features.
An unconventional layout
You soon notice that the Castleton Rowena has not one but two entrance doors. There is one to the rear on the UK nearside, and another to the front on the offside.
Inside, by the back door, there’s a washroom – whose renovation was in progress when we saw the van – with the small kitchen alongside.
That kitchen has a simple gas burner/grill that is hidden beneath the worktop when not in use, along with the sink.
At night, the sofa converts into a double bed along the side of the van, and the front lounge can be made up into another double.
The stylish mid-century cabinet has a hook-on table for dining.
A vintage survivor
We met Jody, Fiona, sons Thomas and Benjamin, and Murphy the dog, at a Retro Caravan Club Rally last summer, where the stylish van showed no sign of the 30 years it had previously spent in a field.
“We used to use my brother-in-law’s motorhome to holiday with our boys, but found the need to pack up before we could go anywhere a bit impractical, so we looked at getting a caravan,” says Fiona.
“We didn’t like modern vans and, because we love all things yesteryear, we decided to go for a classic. We knew we wanted four berths, something that needed restoration, and as much originality as possible.
“We found our first potential purchase at a nearby vintage fairground museum, but we were sadly outbid. We were outbid on another just a few weeks later, so when the Rowena came up on eBay we were determined to get her!
“We had to drive all the way from Cornwall to North Yorkshire and we prayed she would survive the journey home, but we needn’t have worried because the previous owner had repaired the A-frame and replaced the jockey wheel, so she was a dream to tow.”
When this vintage caravan emerged from being stored in a field it was painted a dark army green, but the previous owner had already stripped the body and repainted it a more subdued hue.
The Wickens picked up the restoration baton, and living on a farm meant that they had enough space to do all of the work themselves, as and when they could.
“We’ve done about 90% of the restoration, but work is still ongoing,” says Fiona.
“She suffered damp inside, but her interior was completely original.”
Ditching the damp
To rectify those damp problems, the Wickens family had to refurbish the walls, stripping them right back to the frame, and fix leaks in the kitchen before they could get to the fun of decorating.
“Originally, the van had glassfibre insulation in the walls, which we replaced. We also refurbished the windows, with new seals.
“The rewiring had already been done by the previous owner, who even sourced Bakelite sockets and switches so that the caravan could have a few modern comforts, but still look period.”
The factory gas lamps were broken, so they were replaced with 1950s electric lights. There would have been a gas heater beneath the wardrobe originally, but that was long gone and the cupboard alongside has been filled with a refrigerator.
“There were quite a few original details that we hadn’t expected,” says Fiona. “The kitchen has the original sink, and it still had its plug – often the first thing to be lost.
“The van has its original carpet and upholstery, too, though we have put on some temporary covers so they don’t get damaged further.”
A cool operator
The underslung cold box is an unusual feature: essentially a metal box that is lowered when you are on site, so that the shade underneath the caravan keeps food and drinks at a constant, cool temperature.
“We use it all the time – we just have to remember to lift it out when we move!”
Another useful detail of this rare vintage caravan is the dividing curtain, which allows an element of privacy.
“We painted the interior in a ’50s colour and redid the whole ceiling in proper caravan wallpaper,” says Fiona.
“I like to decorate it with 1950s ornaments – even down to period magazines and the Castleton flower vase.
“We also have a vintage toilet tent, which is a great match to the lining of the curtains, and a retro bicycle that we use to travel around on site.”
Bringing back memories
The RCC meeting was only the Wickens’ third proper trip with the Castleton, but it already feels like part of the family.
“Our boys, aged nine and 12, love going on holiday in her and it gives them such a sense of freedom from modern technology.
“We have also received some wonderful feedback from people at shows, with many reminiscing about their childhood tours.
“We’ve had no major repairs to do so far, but as with all classic vehicles, you have to be aware that they will need a certain level of maintenance, such as regular attention to the sealing of the joints to help prevent leaks.”
A classic outfit
“We’re returning to Launceston Steam Rally this year with a new addition – a classic Rover P6 with a 3.5-litre engine to finish the retro look.
“This will be their first rally together!”