Motorhomes are all the rage right now, or so it seems. With staycations more popular than ever, the market appears to be particularly buoyant as folk who might naturally have headed for Majorca, decide instead to explore the delights of Bridlington, Worthing or even Skegness. If you don’t believe me, just check out the roads – especially those near seaside resorts. They’re chocka-block. From battered old VWs to swish A-Team style conversions (not to mention celeb road trips) the UK is going campervan crazy.
As a motorhome owner of many years, I have to confess to feeling rather smug. Yes, yes, yes we know all about the delights of motor-homing, the freedom, the adventure. We’ve been there and bought the T-shirt. As such we know all about the downsides too.
Downsides? What possible downsides could there be?
Let me explain: the more vans on the roads, the more first-timers and the more first-timers the more issues arise not least in terms of availability of places to park. That’s because we’ve always been wild campers, sleeping out on the road, in car parks, waste ground – anywhere in fact where we can safely park for a good night’s kip. But with so many campervans doing likewise, it’s becoming more difficult to be discrete.
For wild campers, discretion is paramount. If you wish to park up on the public highway, better not to draw attention to oneself. People – residents – don’t take too kindly to fleets of 3 tonne motorhomes, invariably white motorhomes, rocking up outside their front gardens or slipping into their favourite parking spot in the promenade. Best not to rattle any cages.
And yet . . . plenty of campervanners – especially newbies – don’t seem to give a fig about what disturbance they might cause to the local community.
Last year we spent a few nights in the village of Arnside, gateway to the Lake District and with its superb sunsets over Morecambe Bay, a favourite spot of ours for several years. Sandwiched between two other campervans on the village’s promenade, we looked forward to a relaxing few days. Reading, walking and a few pints in Ye Fighting Cocks pub. Bliss. One evening upon returning ‘home’ we noticed smoke bellowing from ‘next door.’ Our neighbours, it transpired, had decided to have a barbecue on the promenade!
‘They’re having a barbecue,’ said I, ever the master of stating the bleedin’ obvious. As charcoal-infused smoke enveloped us, my wife and I cast a look at the houses behind us. We knew exactly what this might mean for wild camping in Arnside. When we noticed the chap in the Romahome on the other side had a dog cage out taking up an entire parking space, our hearts sank.
‘Damn it!’ said I peeping out of our motorhome’s side window, ‘the bloody fools are going to spoil it for everybody.’ ‘Stop staring,’ frowned my wife. But I couldn’t help it. Caught between the Blitz on one side and Crufts on the other, I was not a happy bunny.
Fast forward 12 months.
It’s a beautiful July afternoon. We’re sitting on the expansive sands near the village of Storth, where Morecambe Bay begins. Some kids are dive bombing into a pool of sea water on the sandy beach. After a picnicking we drive round the corner to Arnside, right to the end of its pretty little promenade with its craft shops and ice cream parlours.
Shock! Horror! There’s something different. Most oddly, there are no campervans parked up. And then we see it, a large sign on the railings, official and unmissable: ‘No overnight sleeping . . .’ Grrrrr! Ever since last year’s circus, we’d been fearing as much. Should have throttled them while I had the chance I tell myself, thinking of last years’ Hi-Viz neighbours.
It's not as if Arnside is an isolated incident. Not so long ago campervanners could happily rock up along New Brighton’s endless promenade, enjoy limitless nights while watching the sun dip into the Irish sea. However, May Bank holiday of 2018 saw dozens of vans roll up at the far end of the promenade. There must have been about 30 vans, a middle-aged invasion force of the semi-retired eating salads, watching satellite TV and strolling up to the town’s shopping centre to inject the local economy with some welcome sterling.
It had to be stopped. After all, folk might get the wrong idea: they might think they live in a country where one is free to come and go as one chooses. Sure enough, the signs went up and New Brighton seafront is once more a ghostly place, which is presumably just what the local council prefers. Although to be fair, watching one camper pull up outside a public toilet, remove his (full) cassette toilet from his motorhome and proceed to lug said potty into the convenience (in broad daylight), could not have helped the campervanners’ cause . . . folk tend to notice such things.
Anyway, we ended up in nearby Morecambe. For £3.50 campervanners get 24 hours in the car park of the town’s Festival Market. What a relief to be actually welcome for a change. And what a location! The wonderful Rita’s Café (Large milky coffee £1.50!!|) The Heritage market, Station Tavern, seafront and Morecambe town centre all within easy range, what’s not to like?
One sunny afternoon we had a visitor to the van. When I say visitor, I mean a softly spoken chap with an Irish lilt thrust his head round our ever-open van door (33 degrees inside . . .)
“Excuse me, would you like to sell the van?” he enquired catching us somewhat off guard. I stopped munching my cheese and tomato sandwich.
“How much did you pay for it?” I had to give him credit – this cheery chap certainly believed in cutting to the chase.
‘I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” replied I finally recovering the power of speech as a tomato slid down my gullet. What I should have said was “clear orf” or words to that effect. But heck, I’m a gentleman.
“If you tell me what you paid for it, I’ll buy it for that price. Can’t say fairer than that.”
“OK,” returned I wishing he would just leave me and my sandwich in peace. “I paid twenty-eight thousand for it.”
“I’ll give you twenty-one . . .”
One day we decided to find Eric Morecambe’s childhood home. It wasn’t easy. The staff at the tourist office had to resort to checking the address on the Internet. After one heck of a walk out towards the southern edge of the town, we finally arrived at Christie Avenue, a rather bleak council estate that had probably seen better days. A plaque placed by the Eric and Ernie society marks the spot where the Bartholomew family lived. Young Eric lived in this modest terrace from 1927 to 1952, just a couple of years before his first television programme aired. I walked away disbelieving: twenty-five years in the same house!
Opposite the Heritage car park stands the art deco inspired Midland Hotel. One night there was a wedding party over there and we could hear the live band playing ‘Bring Me Sunshine.’ And when summoned the sunshine did come; it made for rather sultry nights in the motorhome and we slept atop of our sleeping bags, tossing and turning till daybreak.
That’s the great thing about life on the road: you go to sleep when it gets dark and rise with the dawn, the rhythm of the road and life itself.
Morecambe has somewhat audaciously branded itself as ‘The Eden of the North.’ Okay, the sunsets over the bay are splendid, but there’s a distinctive ambience of old paint flaking, a feeling that the town has seen much, much better days. Surveying the town's streets and observing a definite problem with obesity, it felt more like Edam than Eden. I jest, but one can’t help but feel that here is a place that has been starved of resources, forgotten about, left to wither. Fine rhetoric, but the spin felt disingenuous.
As for us, we loved the place. Morecambe is unashamedly northern and working class. This is my type of town, my type of people. ‘I think I’m in here,’ excitedly imparted one young buck to someone on the other end of his mobile phone – his mum perhaps – as he came swaggering out of the town’s Royal pub as we walked past, infusing the evening air with Lynx Africa. “I’ve bought her three halves'” Let’s hope his investment paid dividends.
Oh yes, this is our type of place alright. And I haven’t even mentioned the pretty village of Heysham at the other end of the prom or the equally quaint village of Bolton-Le-Sands (its upper part) located at t’other end of it.
So, it’s goodbye Arnside, hello (again) Morecambe. What it is to actually feel welcome. Six nights after arriving, the glorious sunshine vanished and it even became possible to grab a spot on the terrace of Rita’s famous café. It could only mean one thing: time to go home. We’ll be back very soon.