Journalist Kim Willis has discovered a new love: a motor home. On June 4 2015, Caravan: A Great British Love Story, a photobook by Kim’s husband, Gareth Iwan Jones, will be released documenting the couple’s journey in their temporary home. To celebrate, Kim shares her love of caravanning in the UK with Feet on the Ground.
After years gallivanting around the world without a second thought for my environmental impact, I have discovered something I almost don’t want to admit, lest there’s an unruly queue for the next campsite I hope to visit: the Great British Isles are paradise.
I know, I should probably have figured that out sooner, after 32 years living here. (That’s my entire life, fyi.) But somehow, the holiday destination on my doorstep was always overlooked for something further afield. Until last summer, when my husband and I decided to hire a motor home, aptly named Sunseeker. And seeking sunshine – here, in Britain – was a mission we accomplished.
Caravans and motor homes come with outdated connotations of rained-off holidays and beans from the tin. But things have changed since the ‘80s. Yes, it might still rain. But that’s what makes it all the more fun. You don’t need a fancy hotel (you have one on wheels). You just need wellies and waterproofs, a gung-ho attitude and a cupboard stacked full of your favourite food.
You can pimp your ride, too – caravaning can be as glamorous as you make it. We met people with the kind of motor homes Beyonce would trip over her gown to be seen in. But even in the humblest of motor homes, there’s something pretty luxurious about having your bed, loo, shower, sink, fridge, oven, hob, sitting room and means of transportation all under one roof, ready to take you on a very well equipped adventure.
For non-flyers, a life on Britain’s roads is perfect. It’s dog friendly (90% of the people we met had dogs). It’s child-friendly (a big draw for fellow campers was the freedom and safety for kids on the campsites). It’s stress-free (roll onto a campsite, go exploring, roll off and go wherever the wind takes you).
Sunseeker was our home for 2,392 miles as we made our way up, across and back down the UK. We stayed in 32 caravanning sites, visited eight national parks, two lakes and six lochs. We began near Cheddar, then set off for the Brecon Beacons. We moseyed our way up the west side of the country, beholding sights of splendor in the stunning Lake District. I’m talking stop the van, I need to take this in, beautiful.
We climbed Helvellyn mountain, because when you’re in a motor home and you drive past a hill, you can spontaneously pull over and get your climb on. Nothing beats scaling a mountain on a whim, then returning to your motor home, popping the kettle on and having a cuppa before hitting the road again.
Keswick was magnificent. Our fellow happy campers were so obliging and friendly. Most amused by our novice questions about camping, but endearingly helpful and enthusiastic about what we needed to know and where we needed to visit. One group of campers were so troubled by the fact we had no idea how we’d get to the nearest pub for dinner and no food in the van (we later learned to think ahead when it came to meals) that they offered us their bikes so we could cycle to the pub. We politely refused – it was too generous an offer. Later, they came knocking on our door and insisted we ate their leftover tagine.
Scotland took our breath away. Robert Burns, he of Burns Night fame, wrote a poem called My Heart is in the Highlands and we still quote it when we want to reminisce about how extraordinary Scotland was. Loch Lomond, Glencoe, the Cairngorms, Loch Morlich…take me back. The stillness of Loch Linnhe reflected in the mountains beyond, a moment of perfection broken only by the playful skimming of stones.
Then we re-entered England, travelling from Northumberland, via St Neots, looping under London towards the New Forest where horses, donkeys and cows roamed free.
As we handed Sunseeker back to the hire company, I felt blessed to live in a United Kingdom so resplendent with so many different beautiful scenes. This summer, we’re holidaying on the West Highland Way, Scotland. Because who really needs a passport, when your homeland is this splendid.
How to go on a motor home holiday without flying
There are hundreds of caravan sites around the UK. Visit Caravan Sitefinder for more info.
Kim stayed with The Camping and Caravaning Club, which has have over 100 sites. Booking ahead is advisable but not always necessary.