The Low Down on Caravanning in Britain

We just spent three weeks in Cornwall, England over the summer and I swear we got stuck behind every caravan and camper van under British ownership along Cornwall’s beautiful but narrow, hedge lined, bendy rural roads. Roads, by the way, which were built more with horse and carriages in mind than the cars and holidaying paraphernalia of modern Britain.

It’s bad enough crawling at a snail’s pace behind a monster caravan pulled by a huge four by four but it gets worse. Much worse. Meeting an overstretched mobile holiday home on a sharp bend on a road not much wider than a car is hair-raising.

beach in cornwall

A beach in Cornwall

During this year’s summer holiday it struck me that I had spent years living in the Netherlands pointing out the volume of Dutch caravans on European roads to my Dutch husband and had somehow missed that my own countrymen are also partial to a caravan or motor home themselves.

In fact there are more caravans in Britain than in any other European country. Only the USA gets more excited about motor homes than Britain.

To be more precise, according to the national industry statistics, there are currently 1.5 million people in Britain who regularly take caravan or motor home holidays. One fifth of nights spent away from home in the UK are spent in a mobile leisure vehicle.

In short, it’s a popular lifestyle choice. But one reserved, understandably, for the warmer months of the year with by far the majority of caravanning trips taking place between April and October.

a caravan park in britain

A caravan park in Britain /credit John Gulliver on Flickr.

So if you choose to holiday in Britain in anything but winter you are forewarned. The chances of getting stuck behind a caravan on Britain’s road during the summer months are huge.

In fact, it is inevitable that you will find yourself creeping along a scenic road at a pace that actually allows you to appreciate the full beauty of Britain’s countryside (as long as no hedge blocks your view of course), whether that was your intention or not.

So maybe it helps to understand a little more about Britain’s love affair with the caravan whilst you are edging your way along country roads, cursing under your breath, behind an enormous leisure vehicle.

an old caravan

Britons have had a long love affair with the caravan. /credit nonixon on Flickr .

Caravans have been popular for a hundred years in Britain so it’s no new fad but caravanning was once only for the rich. These days it’s something for everyone. I asked a friend why she has a caravan and here’s what she told me,

“The freedom. Spending days outside, going back to your own bed. Especially with kids, it’s great.”

All well and good, but I have my own theory about why caravans are immensely popular in Britain. The reason is twofold: tea and nature.

It’s a fact that we Brits love nature; pure, unadulterated, good old fashioned British nature. Everyone knows that Britain has its fair share of beautiful places.

There are miles of lush green rolling hills, shimmering crisp blue lakes, a whole country of coastline, immense stretches of national parks and well-loved historical treasures dotting Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

on the road

On the road

Now imagine sleeping every night with a different breathtaking view: Stonehenge on the horizon, Lake Windermere sparkling in the distance, the Pennines stretching as far as the eye can see from your caravan window, the smell and sounds of the sea as your head hits the pillow. It’s a romantic ideal. Agreed? Bear with me here.

Us Brits also love a nice cup of tea. How can you combine those two loves I hear you ask? Simple – with a caravan. If you own a caravan there is always a kettle within hand’s reach and you never have to be parted from your favourite mug or preferred brand of tea bag.

Simply put, the British love caravanning because they can have a cuppa with a view.

I hope next time you are participating in the British summertime crawl, it makes you a little more tolerant to think about all those happy Brits in their caravans in front of you, excited to park up, get a brew on and start sipping with a majestic view before them.

Amanda van Mulligen is a Brit who is slowly learning how to be Dutch. She has lived in the Netherlands since 2000 and finds that raising three little Dutch boys with her Dutch husband results in daily cultural conundrums and linguistic lapses – but she wouldn’t change a thing. You can find out more about her adventures parenting abroad at Expat Life With a Double Buggy. (http://lifewithadoublebuggy.blogspot.nl)

Comments

  1. says

    Amanda, this is a great post! Several years ago, my husband and I took a trip through Britain and choose to travel with a caravan. It was wonderful. I may say that we had the feeling to be part of this country and to enjoy it the British way. Now I know why ;-)

  2. Sandra Mettler says

    Years ago we were driving to the Lake District in beautiful September, and had the same experience with the caravans (or as we called them, campers). And the roads are narrow and the traffic was bumper to bumper. I remember trying to get to Chatsworth with thousands of English vacationers. Is this a part of what makes rural England so quaint? (No! LOL!)

    • says

      Sandra, when it comes to country roads and camper vans in rural England the word quaint probably doesn’t cover it….. but I can imagine the tourist board trying!

  3. says

    As a Dutchie, I know about the Dutch love of caravans, although I have never used one in Europe. We had a “camper” in the US when our 3 kids were younger, and enjoyed much of the experience, but, to be honest, for me it was often a lot more “houseworky” than being at home with more room and better conveniences.

    Just this last July we were in France for a yearly reunion with old expat friends, and one Dutch couple came with their caravan. Problem was our reunion was held in an ancient mountain village and they got seriously stuck somewhere on the narrow road. Had to back down. Nerve-racking! In the end they found a campground nearby and parked it there, then came to the village with their car. One lesson learned: Don’t take your caravan/camper into tiny French villages ;)

    • says

      I’m thinking there are lots of places in Britain where they would have the same problem with a caravan and very small roads. Some of the roads around Cornwall are hair-raising to have to reverse down in a car – I cannot imagine having to do it in a caravan!! That would take years off my life…..

  4. says

    I think it’s fair to say that caravans are not popular with most British drivers. Certainly, the prevalent single-lane roads are ill suited to slow-moving snails, and the fact that the caravanners are more often than not retired ‘seniors’ with all the time in the world to get where they’re going and make that cup of tea doesn’t help.

  5. says

    Love the blog, thank you for leading me here Amanda.Tea and caravans. Tea is my passion. Didnt think caravans ever would be until i spent this Summer on the Norfolk coast in a caravan, me and the monkeys, we had a great time and the cups of tea were endless and even better than ever in a caravan!

  6. william clark says

    I BEEN CARAVANING NOW SINCE I WAS OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER AND IVE ALWAYS ENJOYED IT.ITS DOING SOME THING DIFFERENT FROM THE NORM.WE TAKE FOSTERED CHILDREN WITH US AND THEY JUST LOVE IT NO MATTER HOW OLD THEY ARE JUST GOT TO GET THE RIGHT LOCATIONS FOR THE AGE GROUPS,AND KEEP THERE MINDS OCCUPIED WITH THINGS TO SEE AND DO IT DOESNT NEED TO COST THE EARTH EITHER,JUST A LITTLE FORWARD PLANNING.

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