Camper vans are one of life’s great leisure pleasures.
I love camper vans and the lure of the road… the sense of freedom, independence and a home-from-home.
This week our old but perfectly-formed camper van celebrates its 4th anniversary (see Tony van Diesel’s guest post).
Over the last four years it’s been as far as Prague and Provence, Berlin and Bruges as well as wilderness locations and scenic attractions closer to home.
But some of our favourite trips have been the least expected… places off-the-beaten-track and scenic sites in unexpected locations.
The sound and smells of a place can sometimes best be experienced from a camper van… from thousands of Scandinavian geese whooping in the Solway Firth to turkeys cackling in Yorkshire and the deafening mating calls of rutting toads in the English Lake District.
Being at one with nature can be a surprising experience.
We’ve found ourselves surrounded by bison, lambs and sheep dog puppies… and even a circus elephant leaned over a camp site hedge on a memorable trip to Kendal.
Our Hymer van originally belonged to an elderly German man who had looked after it lovingly for 15 years… we used to call it Camper Van Beethoven.
In its early years the truck spent many happy days canoodling around the back lanes of the Black Forest and the hills of Bavaria.
Although it’s a little aged, we love our RV and the freedom it gives us to hit the open road at a moment’s notice, sometimes not knowing the destination until we decide en route.
Here’s my selection of some of the van’s most memorable trips over the last four years.
1. North Berwick’s wild beaches
A wild and windy trip to North Berwick was our first journey in the van in October 2008. Tammy spent most of the day indoors on account of the lashing rain, hail stones and high winds whistling through the camp site. A walk on the beach was bracing as the sands spun into the air like a dust storm.
Top tips: The Yellowcraig caravan site near North Berwick is large but well-laid out with great access to the beach and coastline walks.
Don’t miss the Scottish Seabird Centre in nearby North Berwick Harbour where nature lovers can watch gannets (Britain’s largest sea bird) flying past as they head to Bass Island.
2. Holy Island’s rocky shores
Another of our earliest trips was to Holy Island on England’s Northumberland coast. This has always been one of my favourite destinations especially when the island is cut off from the mainland when water covers its causeway.
Top tips: Sadly, there are no camper vans allowed overnight on the island but there is a small RV site at nearby Beal close to the island’s causeway.
Don’t miss a walk around the island taking in the National Nature Reserve (look out for seals on the mud flats), Lindisfarne Castle, the Lindisfarne Priory ruins, and the Snook (dunes with unusual flora and fauna).
3. On the edge – Spurn Point
Spurn Point is one of the most intriguing places on Britain’s coastline with its narrow coastal spit protruding into the North Sea. The drive along the road which runs down the spine of the Point is truly remarkable with the sea on both sides of the narrow track.
We enjoyed a brilliant sunny day strolling along the beach and looking out for birds and wildlife near the lighthouse and Spurn Bird Observatory.
Top tip: There are several small camper van sites located in Kilnsea very close to the access road to Spurn Point… plus a good waterfront pub serving food.
4. Back to college in Cambridge
A family birthday party at Jesus College saw the van enjoying an academic sojourn in the grounds of Cambridge University. The cool combination of camper van and collegiate makes an unexpected and humorous culture clash.
Top tip: Cambridge has numerous historic attractions including the colleges, Fitzwilliam Museum and the fabulous Kettle’s Yard. A hidden gem is the Kettle’s Yard House with its astonishing interior and priceless works of modern art. Don’t miss punting on the River Cam on a sunny summer’s day.
5. Design at the Bauhaus
One of our favourite European trips was an excursion to Germany taking in Berlin, Dresden and Dessau. The van showed its impeccable taste on a visit to the Bauhaus when we parked the truck outside this iconic architectural building.
Top tip: The Bauhaus is located on the edge of Dessau (a slightly industrial town) – you can wander freely around the art school and there are free-flow visits to the Masters’ Houses nearby. A must for lovers of architecture, art and design.
6. Culture shock in Prague
Driving to Prague from Dresden in Germany seemed like a good idea at the time. The two cities looked so close on the map – but the drive along busy, lorry-packed roads took nearly four hours. It didn’t help that we got lost and ended up driving around the narrow streets of historic Prague city centre in our large motorhome!
Despite it all, it was a memorable trip with many cultural highlights including the Old Town, St Vitus Cathedral and the excellent Prague National Modern and Contemporary Art Museum.
Top tip: We didn’t find the Czech Republic the most camper-van friendly place and many sites were overcrowded. Do your homework first to find the best sites and expect road conditions to be much worse than in neighbouring Germany.
7. Tour de France
It’s obvious but camper cans are simply the best transport when it comes to watching the Tour de France, the world’s premier cycling event. We’ve enjoyed three trips to the Tour including a stage at Issoduon in mid France where we were rewarded by a win from the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish.
Top tips: The Tour de France is a must for cycling fans or those who just want to soak up the party atmosphere during the race.
Pick up the Tour at the start or finish of a stage or perhaps go wild on a mountain stage featuring a tough climb through the Alps or Pyrennes.
8. Bulb fields in Holland
Bikes and bulbs made a great combination on our trip to Holland. We visited Keukenhof, the Dutch tulip centre, a couple of years back and were rewarded with a blaze of stunning colours as we cycled from place to place.
Seven million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are planted every year to make this one of the world’s ultimate floral extravaganzas.
Top tip: The flat landscape of Holland is ideal for cycling and there are plenty of camping sites in this RV-friendly country. Spring is the best time to see the Keukenhof bulb displays.
9. Portmeirion’s model village
The village was the brainchild of architect Clough Williams-Ellis who designed an Italian-style piazza with stylish gardens and colourful houses in a seaside setting in Wales. Portmeirion is a remarkable one-off, like no other village I’ve ever seen.
This iconic place is best known for its starring role in the cult TV series The Prisoner about a secret agent taken to a secluded village from which nobody can escape.
Large white balloons chase and hunt down anyone who tries to get away. Even today the beach where many of these scenes were filmed remains an enigmatic place with echoes of the Kafaesque TV series.
Top tip: There’s many rural camp sites within range of this stunning location in Wales.
10. Scotland’s dolphin haven
Watching dolphins leaping through the air is one of nature’s thrilling spectacles at Chanonry Point near Inverness. This Scottish seaside location on the Black Isle has the perfect geography and tidal conditions to attract dolphins after low tide where they come to feed on rich pickings.
Top tip: The caravan and camp site makes the perfect location for wildlife watching… alternatively, walk or drive down to nearby Fort George for a close-up view of dolphins about 12-20 feet away from land.