Campervan Britain

New van, old country – campervanning along Dorset's Jurassic Coast

Campervan Britain Campervan parked up at Putsborough Beach, Devon - © iStockimages.com/Niels van Gijn
By James Beveridge

Camper vanners in Britain tend to fall in to two categories. The first are the vintage-loving VW surfer dude-types, who spend their summers puttering up and down Devon's choked A-roads, boards and cute dogs/kids strapped in the back, waving at similarly smug aficionados of slow-moving but lovely-to-look-at mobile motor homes.

The second category contains the rest of us, the mortals with less cool vans – and probably less cute kids – who don't really care about the chrome-wheel configuration of our four-wheeled tin cans but do very much care about the comfort offered by a car masquerading as a mobile guest house.

Campervanning in Dorset

Taking to the road with Nancy

Eighteen months ago we borrowed a beautiful old purple VW van for a weekend, and though it's hard not to fall under the spell of these painted beauties – ours was called Nancy, for God's sake – the realities of driving at 58mph in the slow lane of the M4 (that's foot all the way down), eyes peering out through condensation-soaked windows, bodies wrapped in sleeping bags to guard against the biting cold, soon puts those romantic road-movie notions in perspective.

Putting in a call to the same van supplier, we discovered he'd invested in a bunch of super-modern VW T5s. We didn't have to think about it, and come a sunny Friday, off we went in a spanking new silver VW California for a long weekend in Dorset.
 
After a drop-off/pick-up at Mark's rural Hampshire HQ (you can leave your own car in a secure garage), and a swift half-hour tour of the California's German working parts, we pointed ourselves west, heading across the New Forest to the Isle of Purbeck and the jagged Jurassic Coast (opt for the route that takes in the lovely little ferry from Sandbanks on the southern tip of Poole). There were no ego-battering inside-lane shenanigans to deal with this time round. The six-gear California positively purred along the motorway, caressing each long curve – that'd be the power steering and 2.5l turbo diesel engine, then – and the easily inserted extra seat we pre-ordered meant accommodating three kids in the back was a doddle. The stereo, rigged up to an iPod jack fitted in all the vans, passed our 2 Tone test with aplomb, pumping out a perfect early summer head-bobbing ska groove which got us all in the mood fora few days sleeping under the stars.

Top-popping and top-loading

On arrival at Tom's Field, a green-minded, cosy campsite in the village of Langton Matravers, the children and I wasted no time in testing out the van's gizmos. The pop-top was electrically operated, opening out into a generous sleeping space - the little blighters get the most comfortable mattress up there, as well. Throughout the van, we were impressed by the quiet versatility of the design: tables clicked out of hidden panels, heating and cooling were but a whirr away, front-facing seats became table-hugging chairs with a flick of a switch, there was a dinky top-loading fridge. And in place of the vintage VW's classic cheesecloth curtains were light-banishing clippable blinds. Everything had a place. It was nigh-on perfect.

After a good and, more importantly, warm, night's sleep, we breakfasted on bacon butties, coffee and Coco Pops. And then it was off to the glorious beach at Studland, our four-wheeled B&B taking mere minutes to transform itself back into a hungry, Tarmac-eating road warrior.

Exploring the local scene

Stunning geology (Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door are recommended stop-offs), rolling countryside and long sandy stretches had to fight for attention with sensational cider; the incomparable Square and Compass in Worth Matravers demands at least one visit, not to mention a designated driver. Then there was an Anglo-Saxon fort at Corfe Castle, as well as pretty seaside towns (Swanage, Poole et al), combining to make this stretch of south-east Dorset an ideal destination for weekending, with or without kids. We strolled over grassy fields to find remarkable coves and natural swimming pools blasted from the ancient rocks (Dancing Ledge, a gentle one-mile walk from Tom's Field), drove past some of the UK's most bizarre road signs – 'Tanks Crossing: Sudden Gunfire' (signalling the presence of a huge MOD zone, some of it impassable on weekdays) – and generally had a ball, whooshing about in our van, stopping when the mood took us, or else just hanging out at the campsite playing cricket and sipping beer.

Apart from having a brilliant break, we swore never again to fall for cool over comfort. In fact, we discovered that these supercharged behemoths tick both boxes – swoon-worthy and seriously sought after – and that's according to the south coast's VW hipsters.

Rent a campervan

Kamperhire offer vans from £60 a day Nov-Mar, £120 a day June-Aug, including VAT and unlimited mileage in the UK. Discounts are available for longer periods of hire (0845 226 7869/www.kamperhire.co.uk).

Based in the surf mecca of Devon, O'Connors Campers (01837 659599, www.oconnorscampers.co.uk) specialises in renovating authentic VWs, fitting them with new engines and interiors while retaining their classic boho look. There are 12 available for hire, from the 1960s splitscreen to '70s bay window models.

'A VW represents freedom and escape,' says O'Connors' Sam Money. 'They're not very big, so you can get them into a beach car park, but they've got everything you need inside. You can come straight out of the water, lean your surfboard up against the front and have a cup of tea – and if the waves aren't big enough, you just hop in and drive up the coast.

'Up in Oxfordshire, VW Camper Company (01295 812266, www.vwcamperco.com) has an eight-strong fleet of '70s Devon Moonraker conversions for hire - fitted with elevating roofs to accommodate full-size double beds.

Last but not least, Snail Trail in Bedfordshire (01767 600440, www.snailtrail.co.uk) ships in brand-new copies of original models from Brazil – so each of its fleet promises a smooth ride and gleaming good looks. Take your pick from the lovingly named Betty, Pearl, Flo, Elsie, Matilda, Nell, Pru, Dot, Sylvie and Ruby.

More camping ideas

Read our feature on 'Alternative camping in Britain', including hiring an Airstream and a Romany caravan.

More information

Discover more great things to do with Time Out's '1000 things to do in Britain' book, available from www.timeout.com/shop at the discounted price of £8.44.

Share your thoughts

  • or log in into My Time Out
  • *
  • *
* Mandatory fields for leaving a comment

Comments

By Nathalie - Jul 16 2011

Don;t forget about ButtercupBus, the south London VW Camper wedding and holiday hire company offering vintage campers from the 70s! You are always welcome to pop by for a cuppa and to meet our four wheeled friends! Perfect if you are looking to escape the City for a weekend break! www.buttercupbus.com

Report
By Carty's Campers - May 29 2011

There's no better feeling of freedom than hitting the open road in an classic 70's Vw camper and taking a trip through Scotland www.cartyscampers.com

Report
By Zorba - May 4 2011

Great article! Nothing like a good British roadtrip, but the campervan hire here is a little out of my price range. I found one thats much cheaper for budget travel: http://www.rentaromahome.co.uk/ Very comfy.

Report
By CAMPERBUG - Dec 25 2010

COOL CAMPERVAN HIRE

Camperbug is a free service connecting owners of VW campervanshire with members of the public that wish to hire them.

Report
By Camperbug - Dec 25 2010

Camperbug has a number of vans available for hire on the website.
Http://www.camperbug.co.uk

Report
By Ceri Abberley - Dec 19 2010

VW CAMPER VAN HIRE FROM COMFY CAMPERS

Classic VW Campervan hire from the South West (Gloucestershire) to anywhere in the UK. HIre a VW Campervan for holidays, music festivals, weddings, proms, parties, special occasions and corporate events. What ever the occasion we have four lovingly restored right hand drive VW campervans for hire: 3 classic VW Type 2 bay window Campervans and 1 VW Type 25 camper van.

Report
By Tanja - Aug 12 2010

VW Wedding Hire in Yorkshire - Check out

www.oldschoolweddinghire.co.uk

Report
By ginny gray gallery - Jun 22 2010

For VW fans we have great original camper van paintings on slate. Visit www.ginnygray.com and click though to our Facebook page to see an image

Report
By Shaun from Canada - Jun 7 2010

My Wife and I will be coming to GB in the fall and want to rent a newer Westfalia Camper, tour GB and Ireland and then purchase the vehicle and import it back to Canada. Can anyone assist us? Please email me

Report
By VW Camper Hire - Cornwall - Apr 19 2010

<a href="http://www.campersforhire.co.uk/"target="_blank">It's more fun to take the bus!</a>

Report
By Rob - Apr 9 2010

Check out Old School Camper Jire in Leeds, Yorkshire.

<link>www.oldschoolcamperhire.co.uk</link>

Report
By Cornish Camper - Feb 27 2010

<a href="http://www.cornishcampers.co.uk">VW Camper Hire in Cornwall</a>

Report
By Cornish Campers - Feb 27 2010

Explore Devon and Cornwall in a beautiful classic VW camper and have your very own great escape! All our vans are right hand drive and have reconditioned engines. Experience the stunning South West coastline in a real classic VW.. your home is where you park it!

http://www.cornishcampers.co.uk

Report
By Campers For Hire - Dec 31 2009

For details, check out: www.campersforhire.co.uk

Report
By Campers For Hire - Dec 31 2009

www.campersfohrie.co.uk

Report
By Campers For Hire - Dec 31 2009

Campers For Hire offer newly restored, classic VW camper vans for hire from their base in Cornwall - a stones throw away from the UK's surf capital, Newquay. For all those people who love camping but don't want to compromise in the style stakes

Report