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The great British caravan holiday: is this the year for summer?


The Great British Caravan holiday is almost a part of the national makeup; one of those traditional activities that marks us out as Brits, like eating pig’s blood as part of a casual, Sunday morning breakfast, or the way we’ll form orderly queues in the most manic, riotous of situations. Caravans are as much a facet of the landscape and the culture of the English countryside as the gently rolling hills, with their tweed-clad farmers and gently slumbering sheep, themselves.

But why is it that we have taken such a liking to caravan holidays? It certainly seems like a slice of inexplicable madness, particularly when we think of what a typical caravanning holiday entails…

We set off, with bags packed as though headed off for a blissful break in the Bahamas, to squeeze down impossible country lanes and complete three point turns of the like that would make Clarkson and the boys beam with pride, to arrive at a field. In wet, windy England. With a pen of murderous cows, who look on menacingly as we fumble with the keys and drop them in the mud, as next door neighbours.

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We then cram ourselves inside a small, metal box barely large enough for the average grown man, let alone a family of five playing Twister in a space so tight internal organs get crushed against the refrigerator in the kitchen-cum-dining-cum-living room as we attempt a left hand yellow, right foot red.

As the wind whistles outside and the first game subsides, the original euphoria of being on holiday passes and we realise the inevitable – there is no escape. This isn’t home, where we can slink off to separate rooms and access broadband Wi-Fi, Netflix and endless food in the cupboards. It’s a Saturday evening on a sodden, cold campsite in a place where the nearest shop opens from approximately 3pm ‘til 3.15 daily, and where, no matter what time we show up, they have always run out of milk.

It’s just the family and the cows for fun.

Even when we’ve gone the extra mile and splurged a little on a luxurious 5* lodge, nestled amongst tall firs that make us feel as though we’ve struck upon the Alaskan wilderness, all is not quite what it seems.

It’s not just the guy in the next caravan who insists on pumping out Radio One from morning ‘til evening, either, that reminds us that we’re not in such a glamourous location after all. That ‘kidney-shaped, glistening blue swimming pool’ from the magazine turns out to have a 3” layer of pond scum floating ceremoniously on the surface. The ‘kids’ play area’ is riddled with health and safety hazards of the likes found in a typical 18+ movie; a see-saw set upon an oil-ridden tyre, a sand pit adorned with a few carelessly strewn cans… As for the ‘evening entertainment’, the site landlord coming down unshaven and in 30-years-out-of-date leather trousers to perform his best Queen impersonation leaves a lot to be desired.

It is a holiday that we take not in the midst of summer, when the potential for sunshine is slim but still a hope we’ll steadfastly cling to, but Easter. The kids will whine, the cold of an unfinished winter will settle on bones, and shoes will remain permanently damp as we step on to carpets of freshly wet grass every morning just to go for a pee.

This, however, is the beauty of the British caravan holiday.

For if we wanted sunshine and golden sands, we would have booked a villa on the south coast of Spain. It’s supposed to be dreary. It’s supposed to be ridden with family dramatics. And more importantly, it’s supposed to come with a nest of cobwebs in the oven that mean we only eat Rice Krispies for two days solid. The cacophony of imperfection is what makes holidays away in a caravan so special.

There’s a certain sense of camaraderie as we give each other that knowing look outside the shower block to confirm yes, the showers are dribblers, we’re better off queuing for the one in the caravan. Or the moment when we realise the only onsite entertainment is an Abba tribute band tribute band, and put our heads together to come up with something fun to do at 7pm on a wet, Sunday evening.

For when there’s nothing else to do in the world, we must talk, and spend time together, making memories in a way that is sometimes impossible to do at home. The caravan holiday gives us a sense of ‘getting’ away without all the hustle and bustle of the airport and the stress of foreign climes, and is a spirit which inspires us to do things differently; to play card games, tell ghost stories and make up new ones, in a way that we’d never do otherwise.

Not to mention those sights, smells and sounds of a caravan holiday that can never be found elsewhere – the smell of gas in the morning, the noise of everyone slowly waking up, the wet grass on your feet, the sight of endless fields in the early morning, the fear of the cows going on a rampage always at the back of your mind… And above all, the dark, humorous edge that means when everything fails, or the weather is miserable, we can have a good laugh about it as a holiday to remember.

Hollie Mantle is a blogger working in association with Salop Leisure.

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