Motorhomes and Campers: the Summer of Campervan Love. Or is it?
Martin Dorey, author of The Camper Van Cookbook and presenter of a forthcoming BBC2 series, The Camper Van Cook, on his love of camping but why he’ll always choose a VW camper van over canvas.
It’s been a camper van summer for me. A summer of camper van love. I drove 2,500 miles around the UK for The Camper Van Cook (due for transmission on BBC2 in January 2011) in my 1979 VW Camper Van. Despite long filming days and rain, I’ve never been happier. I am a camper van fan you see.
My parents did their best to put me off camping by taking me on wet trips to Wales when I was little. Then the Sea Scouts had their go. I got that grubby end of weekend feeling down pat during summer camps. But nothing could deter me from seeking out canvas, big skies and flour and water on sticks as I hit my teens. And when I discovered surfing my fate was sealed.
I didn’t live by the coast so the only thing to do was pack up and ship out. Camping was the way to go. I loved every moment. Even the night our tent was flattened in a gale or the day the money ran out and my last meal – a boiled egg – fell in the sand. I remained undeterred.
I couldn’t get enough of the freedom and the excitement, the waking up next to the beach, the surfing all day and partying around the camp fire all night. But then the winter came around – and with it the best waves of the year – so I had to seek proper shelter. The front seat of a Ford Fiesta with a leaky sunroof wasn’t good enough. The solution was a camper van – a VW camper van more to the point.
There’s good reason that generations of surfers have chosen the VW as their transport of choice. Not only can you go anywhere but you can pack up and move on at a moment’s notice. No guy ropes to pull, no wet tent to fold up in a gale. So you get all the benefits of the great out doors, but without the hassle.
The camper van will also extend the camping season far beyond the summer and the acceptable comfort levels of normal people. This is because no wind or rain or snow can put you off. When the wind howls and the tents start flapping you can just shut the door, pull out the bed, put on the heating (some campers even have gas powered heating with thermostats) and take a nap until it’s all over. Or you could set up the dining table and have a game of cards. In your vest and undies. With the light on. I know! You show me someone who played strip poker in a tent in a winter thunder storm without showing a few goosebumps and I’ll hike up the Cairngorms in just my smalls. I rest my case.
Then there’s bedtime. Ok so you’ll have to do a bit of a dance to get the bed out, but once you’re horizontal you’ll feel the benefits straight away. You're off the ground and the penetrating cold of the earth can’t get to your kidneys in the night. You might even need to open a window to keep cool. And you’ve got six inches of foam between you and the nearest hard object. Come the morning’s early light you’ll still be able to peer outside and stretch and scratch along with the best of them – because you’re right there, sharing the moment - but with the benefit of a good night’s sleep.
When it comes to cooking you can’t beat a camper. You’re basically working with the same gas powered cooker as the well tooled-up canvas camper but with the benefit of seating, worktops, a sink, fridge and, if you’re lucky, running water. Why wouldn’t you want that? When I was writing the Camper Van Cookbook I managed to cook up a chilli for 8 on a slope in a force nine gale at a very wet and muddy festival. It wasn’t easy as the pot kept slipping off the flame, but I did it, whilst everyone else was knee deep in mud queuing up at the falafel stall.
Some people might say that camper vanning isn’t proper camping. So what is it? It’s not glamping. Maybe it should be mobile glamping? I guess you could call it that. It also explains why I’d choose it over glamping any day. My friends at Berridon Farm in North Devon have a fantastic set up with amazing tents, brilliant facilities and lovely, lovely views (I recommend in case you hadn’t noticed) with cute animals and a little shop. If you want glamping, this is it. But you can’t move if the weather turns or you fancy stepping out somewhere different every morning. In a camper van you can.
Then there’s the driving. People stop and wave. People smile when you go past. There’s a sense of community. VW campers wave at each other on the road. You’d never get that in your late saloon with a top box full of wet tent would you? Camper vans make the whole experience fun. And if you break down you don’t have to sit it out in the rain. You can pop the kettle on and enjoy a roadside brew. Even a holiday disaster turns into an adventure in a camper. You get to live the life from the moment you leave until the minute you get home again.
And that’s why I’d risk the breakdowns and the maintenance costs over putting up a tent every time. Ok so you can’t hike in and hike out like you can with a one man tent and you can’t light a wood burner like you can in a glamping situation, but you can do pretty much everything else – but better.
I love my camper. And I’m not alone. This summer I’ve seen more camper vans on the road than ever before. Everyone, it seems, is getting the camper van vibe. More and more camper van hire companies are springing up every week and – from what I can gather – they are all busy busy busy. Long may it remain. So maybe I’m right. Maybe it really is the summer of camper van love.