For those of us scarred by childhood memories of cramped Formica-coated living quarters and chemical lavatories, there has never been much to recommend caravan holidays. But that’s all changing. Just as yurts and tepees have transformed the image of camping (we’re all ‘glampers’ now), that other bastion of the British self-catering holiday is undergoing a makeover
More boutique than back-to-basics, retro caravanning is the new, socially acceptable face of the motorhome vacation. Thanks largely to a band of design geeks and classic car enthusiasts, painstakingly renovated vintage trailers are popping up
everywhere, from La Rosa campsite on the Yorkshire Moors (larosa.co.uk), to Vintage Vacations’ fleet of revamped Airstreams on the Isle of Wight (vintagevacations.co.uk) Some are even being adapted into distinctive home offices and guest rooms – considerably cheaper than digging out your basement.
Not that mainstream caravanning has had its day. Last summer the National Caravan Council reported a 20 per cent rise in bookings over the peak summer months. Retro-caravanning – from the sleek curves down to the candy-coloured quilts – merely offers a more stylish alternative, an escape from the relentless pace and bad taste of the modern world.
So as you settle back in your 1958 Carefree Commander to ponder the depressing inevitability of British summer weather, you’ll need a good book to wile away the hours as the rain lashes against the aluminium roof. My Cool Caravan is a celebration of some of Britain’s most beautifully restored vintage caravans, and the mad, sentimental obsessives who own them. So lovely are they, it would almost be a pleasure to be stuck behind one on a long stretch of narrow, winding B-road.
‘My Cool Caravan’ by Jane Field-Lewis and Chris Haddon (Pavilion) is published on February 15 and is available from Telegraph Books for £12.99 plus £1.25 p&p (0844-871 1515; books.telegraph.co.uk)
‘Due to my noisy children, an office in the garden seemed the ideal solution,’ says Chris, the co-author of My Cool Caravan. ‘I wanted something different from the norm and found this 1963 Airstream Globetrotter for sale in Connecticut, USA. It took a while to convince the owners I was serious. Now my journey to work consists of opening the back door and walking a few yards.’
A craftsman, SMV-10 owner Edward restores vintage Citroëns. Like many classic car owners, a caravan was next on his wish list. ‘The shape is what attracted me,’ he says. He removed the interior and refurbished it to a high standard. ‘It’s a real creative release owning a caravan. Collecting all the accessories is a big part of the experience.’
A love of classic cars inspired Stephen to find his own cool caravan. ‘We spent years attending classic car shows and sleeping in a tent, so it seemed time to buy a caravan. We bought our 1954 Cardinal Travel Trailer, or “Canned Ham” as it is known due to its shape, via an internet auction in 2006. We take it to car shows, towing it behind our 1940s Dodge Pick-up.’
Peter was looking for a caravan as a winter project, but it would have to complement “Lindy”, his beloved 1950 Series One Land Rover. After several months of searching, he found a Willerby near his home that needed immediate restoration work. ‘Luckily a friend of mine is an ex-Army mechanic, so we set about getting this unique caravan back on the road,’ he says.
Shasta made mobile homes and trailers for more than 60 years. It started out making trailer homes for the US armed forces in 1941 and by the mid-1950s the boom in mobile homes and travel trailers in the States was in full swing. The Shasta brand was good value and renowned for its stylish interiors and exteriors, with its distinctive wings and bold-coloured stripes.
Lydia, the owner of this rare Cheltenham caravan, explains, ‘We were looking for the perfect retreat, and at first we purchased a beach hut. Although it was lovely, it wasn’t mobile, so we tried narrowboating. That was too restrictive so we bought a Cheltenham Fawn. We were hooked.’ After a while they upgraded to the Springbok, one of only a few left in existence.
‘Original Teardrop caravans, in good condition, are rarer than hen’s teeth,’ caravan owner Paul explains. ‘After years of searching, I decided that making one myself was the only option.’ It took three summers to complete this hand-built replica of an American 1940s Teardrop caravan. ‘We use it as sleeping quarters at music festivals. I’m a drummer and I put the kit in it en-route.’