The Daily Telegraph

Our (accidental) summer holiday

With plans in disarray, many are going on trips they would never have considered before. Tanith Carey gives family campervann­ing a go... for the first, and maybe last, time

- Words: Helen Chandler-wilde

My “Right, that’s it. I’m going home” moment came at exactly 4.58am on the Thursday morning of our week-long campervann­ing trip. After retiring to the upper bunk the night before, with just a few inches of headroom for manoeuvre, I had just performed a very contorted limbo over my husband Anthony’s sleeping body to try to get to the loo.

But the ladder had shifted. So as I made my way down, it slipped on to my 18-year-old daughter Lily on the bunk below, who was sleeping next to her 15-year-old sister Clio. Cue shouts of: “Ow, that hurt!” from Lily, “What’s going on?” from Anthony, and, “That’s it, I’ve had enough,” from me.

This was now the fifth day of feeling cramped and trekking to the shower block and it was all getting too real. So, after another disturbed night, the next morning we had a frank chat and agreed it wasn’t the holiday we thought it would be. We’d spend one day all together on the beach at Camber Sands, then the girls could catch the train back to London and sleep in their own beds. While the popularity of post-lockdown campervann­ing holidays has surged by 150 per cent, we conceded that, if you are going to take the children, they need to be less than half your size. Anthony and I would spend the last two nights alone.

Coronaviru­s has changed our lives in more ways than we can count, including how we go on holiday. Last year, I nonchalant­ly took summer breaks in the South of France and Venice, never imagining that anything but time and money would hold me back from holidaying wherever I wanted. Caravannin­g – an activity I had previously associated with retirees and hippies in search of the meaning of life – would never have crossed my mind in a million years.

But this year, it had seemed like the perfect solution.

It ticked every box. No air bridges or risk of cancellati­ons. The complete freedom to explore corners of the UK I’d previously ignored in favour of Greek islands and European city breaks, all in a self-contained social bubble. It was no surprise at all to discover that requests for quotes to buy Volkswagen’s Grand California campervans, which cost more than £68,000 each, have shot up by 250 per cent in recent months.

I have always hated camping, knowing how damp and miserable it can be in the rain. But there’s no such worry with campervans, which come watertight with built-in beds, as well pocket-sized on-board shower/ lavatories. Peter Vaughan, the editor of What Motorhome magazine, says the renewed interest is down to “the combinatio­n of people not wanting to holiday abroad, get on a plane or a cruise and looking for a safe and enjoyable holiday at home”.

As this is also the last summer before Lily leaves home for music college, I figured this could make for some memorable moments for what could be our last family holiday as the four of us. So, after lots of reminders about the importance of keeping a sense of humour and having reasonable expectatio­ns, we were out of the blocks the first weekend that campsites reopened.

Our vehicle was a smart Fiat truck from Lovely Campervans, cleverly fitted out to fit everything in. That included a fridge, cooker and oven, as well as a dining table with an overhead TV, tiny shower room with a chemical loo and two-tier bunks at the back.

And though it was dawning on us that we were packed like sardines on wheels, we drove off feeling convinced we had cracked the coronaviru­s holiday challenge. Teenagers, however, are at a tricky age. They are past the point of being enthralled by on-board gadgets – and not quite hardy enough to put up with discomfort or confined spaces.

And rather than getting away from it all, it wasn’t long before the van was a snake-pit of iphone wires. The comments from the back were less about the passing landmarks, and more about whose turn it was to charge their phone next.

Being first out of the blocks was also not as brilliant an idea as I’d first hoped. A lot of the places we wanted to see – including Elgar’s birthplace (as the girls are violinists), as well as lots of cafés and restaurant­s – were still firmly shut.

True, the Malvern Hills were still there. But as we got closer, the full house of sun symbols on the longrange weather forecast were quickly morphing into pictures of rainy clouds – and soon it started bucketing down.

However, the beauty of campervann­ing is that you can abruptly change direction and we decided to chase some sunshine by heading down to the Sussex coast. Wondering where to pitch up next, we put out a social media appeal to friends for ideas, and were advised to go further up the coast to Rye.

With the sun finally coming out, this was just what we were looking for: quaint country pubs, an animal sanctuary the girls wanted to visit and the stunning spaciousne­ss of Camber Sands.

Part of the thrill of the trip was that every day we set off in search of a new campsite, all costing around the £30 a night mark. We got better at it, too. Our first campsite was a soulless clinical complex with rows of white caravans laid out in grid, like a housing estate on wheels, but within a few days we had found a “woodland” site, where we could park in little bays cut out into the forest.

And while we quickly learned to check all drawers and cupboards were locked shut before we got on the move again, because it took only the slightest turn for even the smallest object to go flying, there were plenty of memorable moments, too: our cockapoo Honey helping to field the ball in our campsite rounders matches, her usefulness doubling as a hot water bottle when the temperatur­e in the van dropped at night; and looking at the stars through the skylight over the top bunk. The best bit was knowing that wherever we went, our little temporary home – with all our belongings and food – was close by.

So would I do it again? Undoubtedl­y. But next time with just the two of us – the girls joining us for just a night or two if they fancy it. I was sorry to say goodbye to them on the train back to St Pancras, but as it happened we had to join them the next day anyway when our kitten at home fell seriously ill, and so we needed to rush home to arrange an emergency operation.

We never did quite reach the campervan nirvana you see in the adverts – opening the back doors from our bunk bed on to the perfect sunrise, or empty sand dunes. And I now know why people said “good luck” with an amused glint in their eyes when we told them our holiday plans.

But with more experience, and the weather on our side, I believe we could manage to make our next mystery tour magical. And in the meantime, at least the dog enjoyed herself.

Now I know why people said ‘good luck’ when I told them of our vacation plans

School has broken up for the summer, but with foreign holidays disrupted or cancelled, filling the next six weeks might be tricky. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best British activities to do if you’re not going away.

Warwick Castle, Warwick warwick-castle. com Children can romp around in the 64-acre grounds, meet the peacocks and tour the state rooms in the castle. Outside, there are daily shows from falconers and archers. On weekends, book a tour of the dungeons, where actors tell the grimmer sides of history with exhibits you can smell. Face masks are required for the dungeon, with actors wearing “historical­ly themed” face coverings. Open from: now Tickets: Adults £26, children £22, with additional charge for the dungeon. Pre-booking essential. nationaltr­ust.­cy

One of the first National Trust houses to reopen, with visitors following a one-way route to see the lavish interiors and art, with works by Van Dyck, Titian and Rubens. The grounds are open too, so bring bikes to cycle the flat woodland trail, explore the huge Japanese garden and have a picnic on the lawns. Open from: now Tickets: Adults £10, children £5, free for members. Tickets must be pre-booked.

St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff stfagans/ This open-air museum includes several historic Welsh buildings which have been moved brick-by-brick to a 100-acre park, including a farm, school, chapel and shops. The insides of buildings are closed, but families can see them from the outside and visit the farm animals. Open from: August 4 Tickets: free – book in advance, including for the car park.

Almond Valley, West Lothian almondvall­ey. Horses, chickens, sheep and goats are all to be found at this outdoor farm park. A one-way system is in operation around the site and if animals aren’t your child’s thing, there are outdoor play areas and a café.

Open from: now Tickets: Adults £9.50, children £7.50 – pre-booking timed slot essential.

Natural History Museum, London www.nhm. Huge skeletons, moving dinosaurs and creepy crawlies: there is plenty to keep children entertaine­d. Most galleries will be reopened, including the main hall, which features the famous 25-metre blue whale skeleton. Open from: August 5 Tickets: free – must be booked in advance, and everyone over the age of 11 must wear a face mask.

Sutton Hoo walking trails, Suffolk nationaltr­ust.

This National Trust site is home to a famed haul of Anglosaxon treasure. Although the indoor galleries are still closed, the café and grounds are open. There are good family walks that take you over ancient burial mounds. Maps and routes are available to download on the Trust’s website. Open from: now Tickets: Adults £5, children £2.50, free for members. Pre-booking essential.

 ??  ?? Girl’s best friend: Clio and Honey the dog, who fielded during rounders matches
Beach life: the family spent their last day together on the spacious Camber Sands
Bunk mates: teenage sisters Clio and Lily had to get used to living in very confined quarters
Magical mystery tour: Tanith and Anthony would hire a campervan again – but on their own
Girl’s best friend: Clio and Honey the dog, who fielded during rounders matches Beach life: the family spent their last day together on the spacious Camber Sands Bunk mates: teenage sisters Clio and Lily had to get used to living in very confined quarters Magical mystery tour: Tanith and Anthony would hire a campervan again – but on their own
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