Caravanning often gets a bad press – TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson has revelled in condemning and ridiculing the humble caravan, describing it as a menace which is “clogging up the British countryside”.
And yet the popularity of the traditional British caravan holiday is far from waning.
In fact, other countries seem to be catching on with countries like China and Germany getting in on the act – last month, caravan manufacturer Swift Leisure announced it had seen its export sales rocket by a third to £12 million, with growing interest from Asia.
So with more people turning to touring caravans to get away from it all, I decided to find out what all the fuss was about.
The one thing which struck me straight away was how far caravans have come since my youth.
The Swift Challenger touring caravan we stayed in managed to fit all mod cons into a limited space – I’d imagined caravanning with three small children might seem claustrophobic, but the kids quickly embraced the experience with a spirit of adventure.
The six-year-old and three-year-old were delighted with their fixed bunk beds, which came complete with curtains so they could create their own two tier den.
And our 10-month-old was happy to crawl and cruise her way around the caravan with almost complete freedom as the clever clips and catches which keep the cupboards from flying open halfway down the M1 mean the caravan comes ready baby-proofed. With tasteful décor and a surprisingly spacious living space, our caravan was the very opposite to slumming it.
Of course, it is still compact, but with a range of ingenious storage spaces, it manages to feel cosy without being cramped.
I’d imagined a caravan holiday would involve traipsing across fields to dirty shower blocks or trying to cook a feast on a tiny camping stove – but I was happy to be proved wrong with a fully-equipped kitchen and a well-appointed washroom with shower cubicle.
Our caravan was supplied by Robinsons Caravans, of Chesterfield and Worksop.
The family firm, which began in 1963, has seen for itself how the British have maintained their love for caravanning over the decades.
Jarrod Clay, general manager, says: “For a lot of people, package holidays are just too expensive. Others love the freedom caravanning gives them. You can go for weekends away and don’t have to travel far. It appeals to a wide spectrum of people for different reasons.”
For our maiden voyage, we went to The Star, a Camping and Caravanning Club in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
The campsite is clean, safe and welcoming with a lovely children’s play area – and close to Alton Towers, making it a great budget option for families wanting a short break at the resort.
At The Star, we discovered one of the real benefits caravanning has over other types of family holidays. The kids were able to really get out and enjoy the great outdoors, whatever the weather.
The simplicity of heading into the countryside whenever you want to and just letting the children play is probably one of the most appealing factors for parents.
I can see why many families think caravanning is the way to go.
Robinsons Caravans: Gateford Road, Worksop, Notts S81 7AT - www.robinsonscaravans.co.uk
The Star Caravan & Camping Park: Star Bank, near Alton Towers, Stoke-on-Trent ST10 3DW – www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk