The joy of having your own motorhome is having the freedom to holiday as you please. You have the freedom to go where you want, when you want, as spend as much time as you want in one place before moving on to the next. When you start to travel around and experience different styles of campsite, you’ll soon realise that all are slightly different. Most campsites can be split into one of the main categories below.
Caravan Club Sites
Despite the name, Caravan Club sites are open to motorhomes too, and many often have space for tents too. There are over 100 club sites across the UK and being part of the Caravan Club means that site owners have to meet some basic standards. Although independently run, the sites are part of the larger network of over 2000 UK campsites which can be booked through the Camping and Caravan Club’s website – useful for those who like to plan ahead. You don’t have to be a member of the Camping and Caravan club to use one of their sites, but members get a reduction on pitch fees so it’s something worth considering if you’re using your motorhome regularly for weekends and holidays throughout the year. Being a member might also give you additional discounts on caravan and motorhome related products, and also put you in touch with a wide network of likeminded people who can pass on tips about hidden motorhome site gems which you might like to visit.
Most of the Camping and Caravan Club websites have all the modern facilities you’d expect such as hardstanding, electric hook-ups, shower blocks and an onsite launderette. All will offer taps with clean running water and most will have electricity points you can hook your motorhome up to. Soe will even offer wi-fi internet access to guests. If you’re looking for a site with a particular amenity, it’s easy to refine your search through the website and filter out those sites which don’t you’re your requirements..
Caravan Club Exclusive Certificated Sites
Although many Camping and Caravan Club sites are open to anyone, the organisation also manages a group of smaller sites which can only be booked by club members. These sites are the “boutique hotels” of the camping market, and can only accommodate up to five caravans or motorhomes at any time. Certificated sites generally offer far fewer facilities due to their small size, with many just providing a drinking water tap, dustbins and somewhere to empty chemical loos. What you lose in facilities you gain in privacy and peace and quiet though, so if your ideal holiday is about total rest and relaxation away from the crowds, then this could be the perfect type of campsite for you.
There’s a lot of confusion about the legality of wild camping and there’s no simple answer to whether it’s allowed or not. Wild camping means parking wherever you like, whether on a farmer’s field, in a park, forest, beside a lake or halfway up a mountain. Wild camping offers a back to nature experience but the downside is that you can’t expect facilities like toilet blocks or launderettes. \An extended wild camping holiday often raises issues of where you’re going to shower or wash your clothes, but mixing a few nights of wild camping in with stays on a site with more comprehensive facilities to experience the countryside in a variety of different ways.
In England. Wales and Northern Ireland, wild camping is against the law unless you have spoken to the landowner first and got permission. If a farmer allows you to park your motorhome in his field or area of woodland, that’s not illegal. Parking up in any other location, or trying to overnight on a road or carpark however is illegal. You’re unlikely to be fined or prosecuted for it, but who wants to be woken in the middle of the night by a police officer asking you to move on? Always try to get permission from whoever owns the land before parking up; offering them a small sum of money in return for allowing you to stay might be very well received. The one exception to the wild camping rule is on Dartmoor, but even that doesn’t really apply to motorhome owners. On Dartmoor, you’re allowed to camp for up to two nights in a spot which is at least 100 metres from a public road, almost impossible if you’re looking for somewhere to park a motorhome up for the night.
In Scotland, the wild camping rules are more relaxed. Under the Land Reform Act of 2003, wild camping is allowed on unenclosed land. Wild camping is therefore allowed on hillsides, moorland or seashore, but not in school grounds, golf courses or farmers’ fields. Use your common sense when parking up for the night, and respect any signs asking you not to camp. There are in addition some local by-laws which forbid wild camping; areas in which wild camping isn’t allowed include Tiree and the shores of Loch Lomond. A bit of research online will tell you whether the areas you’re thinking about going to have any local laws you’ll need to know about.
The Forestry Commission manages vast areas of woodland in the UK, and since 2006 has been working with the Camping and Caravanning Club to develop campsites in the middle of the forest. There are now 15 forest campsites, all designed to allow motorhome owners and campers to enjoy the feeling of being in the woodland, while still protecting the forest environment. Most of the campsites will offer either hardstanding or grass pitches, with electric hook-ups. You also have the option of reserving your pitch permanently from March to October; perfect if you find a spot you really like and want to return to every weekend. This style of camping is becoming increasingly popular, and reservations far in advance may be needed, especially in peak holiday periods.
Temporary Holiday Sites
A temporary holiday site is the pop-up shop of the camping world, and are also run by the Camping and Caravan Club. Their members offer camping or motorhome parking facilities on their own land, typically a field or other open area and usually in holiday resorts or close to locations for large festivals. These types of sites are only open to members of the Camping and Caravanning Club, and money which is paid for pitches goes back into Club funds to improve facilities. As temporary holiday sites are by nature very basic, you can only expect the most basic of amenities such as running drinking water and somewhere to put rubbish, although some sites do also offer showers or toilet facilities. Search online to find details of temporary holiday sites in areas you are considering visiting.
There are thousands of campsites across the country which aren’t operated by the Caravan club, but which offer similar services. Some are huge commercial operations with hundreds of static caravans, pitches for travelling motorhomes, onsite supermarket and swimming pool, others are tiny places offering very basic facilities. There’s no right or wrong here; every motorhome owner is going to want something different from their holiday and will choose their site accordingly. Narrow down the search by first thinking about where in the country you want to go, and then looking at the facilities which you want from your site.
Many campsites are graded by tourist boards or other organisations and will be ranked from two to five stars, or roses. The gradings can be a useful tool for narrowing your search but can be misleading too. Tourist boards award their star ratings on the basis of the facilities they offer rather than as any judgement about how nice the site is or how good their customer service is. A site which is superb in all regards may never be able to achieve a fifth star if they can’t offer a swimming pool, for example. Star ratings aren’t an assessment of cleanliness, or how nice the area is in general. Star ratings can be useful to discount sites which don’t have the facilities you’re not prepared to compromise on, but reviews from previous customers are usually a better indicator of quality and the type of customer experience you can expect on the site. Google maps is also very useful for taking a virtual tour around any area you’re thinking about visiting and checking out the local campsites.
Camping in the Republic of Ireland
If you are taking a ferry from the British mainland over to Ireland with your motorhome, start by taking a look at the website Camping Ireland, listing all tourist board approved sites in Ireland. It’s easy to search by location and facility, and you’ll find that standards on sites are just the same as they are in the UK. The Camping Ireland website details facilities on each site, with a star rating to help you compare different sites. Sites are independently run, and you’ll have to contact each site separately to enquire about availability or make a reservation. Ireland has a relaxed attitude to wild camping with your motorhome; it’s not strictly legal, but its tolerated as there is a general lack of touring campsites accommodating motorhomes. Be as respectful as possible of the natural environment when deciding where to park, arriving late and leaving as early as you can. Take all your rubbish away with you, and don’t light fires. If you’re asked to move on by a farmer, landowner or police officer then politely do so as soon as you can.
Heading overseas, things can get even more complicated when it comes to evaluating campsites, and working out what to expect. Many of the larger campsites in western Europe have their own websites, allowing you to browse through pictures of the site and get an idea of what facilities to expect before booking. If you are heading to parts of Europe which are very popular with holidaymakers, such as the Costa Brava, Dordorgne or French Riviera, bear in mind that all grades of campsite will be extremely popular at peak times. If you haven’t done your homework and booked your space before leaving home, you may find yourself with nowhere to stay. Every country in Europe will have different rules and regulations about where you can camp and whether or not parking up overnight in a public car park or on the road is allowed. Don’t assume that the rules will be the same as in the UK, or that the local police will be as sympathetic if you’re caught parked somewhere you shouldn’t be. There’s lots of information online, and if you struggle to find specific rules about the area you’re visiting, ask on a motorhome or camping forum and someone will probably be able to help.
Camping at Festivals
Perhaps the place where your motorhome comes into its own is at one of the large music festivals. All will have space in their camping fields for people to park motorhomes, and having a motorhome to retreat to in comfort after a long day in the fields watching bands play is far more attractive than sleeping in a tent, especially when the weather is wet or cold. Large events such as Glastonbury operate both onsite and offsite caravan and motorhome parks, with many festival goers choosing to park their motorhomes offsite at the Royal Bath and West showground in Shepton Mallet, and use the free shuttle bus to the festival site. Demand for caravan and motorhome pitches at festivals is high, and as pitches are not transferable once bought, getting hold of a pitch can be tricky. Every festival also has its own rules about what you’re allowed to bring, whether you’re allowed to barbecue or light fires, and how many people you’re allowed to squeeze into one motorhome, so check the terms and conditions before hitting the buy button.