|Roadford Lake campsite: a great spot that's just yards from the waterside.|
Who makes the grade and why would I prefer one campsite to another? What makes a campsite camper van friendly for me? There are a number of things, but mostly it's about the location.... and the mode of transport... and everything else...
Why a campervan and not a tent?
When I first got into campers it was for purely practical reasons: I surfed throughout the year and didn't live near the beach so needed somewhere to sleep that wasn't expensive or impractical or freezing cold. I slept in tents, in cars and in other people's vans until I was able to afford a camper of my own (before then I had slept in my old Citroen 2CV and in a self converted Renault 5 van). We'd sleep wild, in car parks and on cliff tops because we wanted to be where the waves were in the morning. If you were up early you could catch the best of it. We saved a lot of money that way too. Not developing a taste for the comfort of a hotel room has saved me a lot of money over the years.
After you've slept under a leaking sunroof or had a tent blown down in the night you soon realise that being in a tin box is preferable to not being in a tin box. And if it's car sized it can go anywhere. You can pitch up, pull out the bed and be right there in the morning. That's the important bit and that's the bit that guides me in my choice of campsites. I want to be there. And if the surf changes it's easy to pack up and ship out to the next beach. Life is simple.
When it gets complicated
Move forwards a little bit to having kids. While I once travelled with a surfboard, books, camera, wetsuit, food and clothes, I now travel with three other human beings and sometimes a dog. It gets busy in our little camper van. We have four of everything - bikes, wetsuits, boards... you name it. Organising ourselves is like a dance sometimes as we pack away tables, pull down the bed, pop the top, put boards underneath and stash everything else upstairs. Ok, dance might be optimistic. It's total chaos. In our last T25 you couldn't open the cutlery drawer if the buddy seat was down. That meant we would all have to get out and pack away the buddy seat if we'd forgotten to get enough forks out for tea. It was either that or take turns to eat.
The point is that packing up takes forever nowadays - even though it's still a lot quicker than a tent. And not everyone likes getting up at the crack of sparrow's to check the surf like I do. So it's either wake up with everyone else and miss my favourite part of the day or sneak out at first light and get on my bike to check the surf (or to do whatever it is that I like doing). So it's important to be there, where it's happening. Even if it's walking, sight seeing, cycling, whatever, packing away our camper can be so painful - even though we are very good at it - that we'd rather spend time finding a good site than compromise and stay somewhere that is nice but in the wrong place. Location is everything. Even if it's being near enough to walk in to town and restaurants, having a good walk on the doorstep or just being close to a cycle route. You'll notice that's the thread that binds all the sites I post on my campsite list - proximity. Unless of course the site has all we need - like the site at Roadford Lake pictured above.
A benchmark that is long gone
When I used to surf in North Wales we stayed on a cliff edge right by the beach. You could throw a stone into the water at high tide from your tent. The farmer charged us a few quid and let us use a ramshackle outhouse and water tap. It was basic, no frills camping with nothing to spoil the view. Sadly you can't stay there any more. That site has been my benchmark ever since. I don't really care about luxuries if they aren't there, which is why I enjoyed camping on some aires in France and Spain. I like being self sufficient.
However, with family comes responsibility and different needs. The kids need to be safe, warm, well fed and with something to do and that guides us now. So sites need a few more facilities than I might be content with. We need showers, space, rivers, trees to climb. And they need to be clean. If I am going to shower then I don't want to feel dirtier when I come out than when I went in. That's basic. But some sites don't seem to be able to manage this.
When a motorhome starts to look good
I'll get slated for this by the campervan purists but there is a lot to be said for having the space that a motorhome can give you. Just because I think like that doesn't mean I want to park up, plug in and watch satellite TV all day. No. Sometimes I'd like to be able to get stuff done without dancing (fighting) with the other occupants! In many motorhomes and some larger coach built van based campers you can sit around the table without having to all get out to fetch another fork. You can also sit around the table while someone has a shower, another one has a kip in the back and another one cooks lunch. If it's legal, a Britstop or an aire you don't even need to check in to a campsite. If it's in the right place you have everything there. And you can drive off without having to pack up the rock and roll bed, fish out the seat belts and do all that other tedious packing up stuff that you have to do when you have four of everything and a dog.
Yes. I don't like sleeping, cooking, sitting or playing Muppets Top Trumps on a slope. Yes I have chocks but they can only level my van up so far. So a campsite needs to be, you know, almost level. Then there are rules and signs. I know campsite owners have a tough time with people misbehaving and taking the mickey but it gets my back up when I see signs everywhere instructing me NOT to do things. Don't leave light on. Rucksacks off before entering. No ball games. You can make rules and still be friendly. It's about attitude I suppose, which is why I am rarely a fan of a big corporate campsite that lacks soul. I like good customer service and have no time for surly people. Mind you, some sites get it right and still manage to be huge.
Finally, I don't like extras. £1 for a shower. Bring your own loo roll. Ice box £1.This sort of thing just makes me feel like I am being constantly fleeced. You know the feeling? In 2012 we stayed at a campsite in France that cost us €65 per night and we still had to pay to cool our ice packs and bring our own loo roll. Sorry but at that price I'd actually like my own personal hygiene assistant to wait outside the thunderbox with the loo roll. And it must be quilted.
Ok. I have issues. But let's finish on a positive. I am lucky to have visited a lot of great sites. I have also been to a few duff ones. So when I find a site that's friendly, fun, relatively flat, good value, free from petty notes and rules, and in a fantastic location I want to share it. And those are the rules.
Go HERE to check out my campervan friendly campsites.