In June 1885, Queen Victoria was on the throne, Lord Robert Cecil succeeded Gladstone as prime minister, and the world’s first purpose-built touring caravan set off on its inaugural journey.
Called The Wanderer, the caravan was owned by the popular Victorian author, Dr William Gordon Stables. He set off from Twyford in Berkshire 130 years ago this month, going on to cover more than 1300 miles over the summer.
German inventor Karl Benz was still a year away from building the first motor car, so Gordon Stables relied on horse power of a different kind. Two stout horses pulled his caravan from Berkshire all the way to Inverness, where The Wanderer was put on a train down to London. Gordon Stables then continued his journey along the south coast, reaching Lymington in the New Forest.
Today, The Wanderer is on permanent display at The Caravan Club’s Broadway site in Worcestershire, having been bequeathed to the club by Gordon Stables’ daughter in the 1960s.
To commemorate this important anniversary, The Caravan Club is staging a virtual recreation of the journey through Twitter. Followers of The Caravan Club Collection will read highlights of The Wanderer’s travels, with accompanying blog posts for those who’d like to learn more. Details of Dr Gordon Stables’ tour will be taken from his book The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer. I’ve had a quick search online and you can still buy a copy.
As well as tweeting about the journey, The Caravan Club is inviting caravanners to share their own pictures of the towns, villages and landmarks which The Wanderer passed through on its epic journey using the hashtag #Wanderer130.
“William Gordon Stables was a true adventurer, with a pioneering spirit and a genuine appreciation of the great outdoors and the benefits the natural world brings to mind and body,” says Nick Lomas, Director General of The Caravan Club. “For many Club members this is still the essence of touring caravanning and the freedom that goes with it, so we are delighted to mark this anniversary and inspire others with that same spirit of adventure.”
I think it’s a great idea to mark this important anniversary, and I’m looking forward to following The Wanderer’s progress, 130 years on.
It must have been a very different way to enjoy caravanning. Most modern caravan holidays begin with a long drive, more often than not in heavy traffic. Then we arrive at our destination and generally stay put for a week or two, before hitching up and driving home again.
Compare this to Gordon Stables’ nomadic journey, never staying in one spot for long, travelling along peaceful lanes where nothing ever moved faster than the pace of a rider on horseback. It must have been a great adventure.
Modern cars and caravans only travel at that sort of pace when caught in a snarl up, driver and passengers cut off from their surroundings by a tonne and a half of metal and plastic. As often as not, towing is something to get out of the way before the real holiday can begin.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Breaking up a long journey, taking the scenic route, and moving from site to site can recreate that pioneering spirit. The story of The Wanderer is a reminder to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
It is a reminder to enjoy the journey as well as the destination