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Vw Blogs and Stories

Monday, 13 June 2011

Camping wild. The choices we make.

I love wild camping. Iíve done it regularly ever since I learnt to surf way back in the eighties. It was a necessity back then. I was a skint student and didnít live near the coast. The only way to do it was to hitch a lift with friends who owned campervans and kip down with them wherever the surf took us. We slept in boatyards, on quaysides, among dunes and in pub car parks just so we could go for an early surf the next day. And it was brilliant fun. I still do it now and recently spent 10 days in Wales and Ireland in my camper van without paying a penny for accommodation. We had no hassle. At home in Devon I have a few of my own wild camping spots that are near great surfing beaches. From time to time we camp to make the most of the sunset or just to get away from home. We are lucky. But the fact remains that wild camping is illegal in England and Wales.
As ever, the choice to drive a campervan is something that I do for all the right reasons. I do it because I donít want to have to pitch my tent on over crowded and expensive campsites and I want to have a little more luxury than a few wet nights under canvas (donít get me wrong, Iíve been there. I know the feeling.). The campervan is all about freedom, about choosing your own path and seeing where the road takes you. Oh yes.... until you realise that you are committing an offence just by parking up and kipping the night.
The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 makes it a civil offence to pitch your tent or park your camper without permission on someone elseís land or to operate a caravan site or camp site without a licence. There are exceptions (for clubs and societies and for licensed gatherings) but on the whole the act means that you are causing an offence by camping on unlicensed sites without permission. Landowners too, are restricted by the amount of time that they can allow anyone to camp on their land, even with permission. However, it is a civil offence, which means that it is a matter for the courts, not the police. You make your own choices there but it is as well to remember that parking up on the hard shoulder or in a layby (that is a part of the public highway) means that the police do have the power to move you on. Although in my experience a policeman in a good mood would rather see you snatch a few hours kip than drive tired. Just donít have a glass of wine with dinner.
So, on to more about choices. The law also offers choices to landowners, particularly local councils, when it comes to allowing campervans on to their land for overnight parking. Some (enlightened) councils have designated spaces on their car parks where campervans can park up overnight and make use of washing or toilet facilities for a small fee. It is similar to the Aire system you find in France. Find out more about them here. I think itís a great idea. How many times have you found a beautiful parking spot only to find you can't stay for the night because of the Ďno overnight parkingí signs? Itís infuriating. Here, where I live in Torridge in North Devon, there are a few beachside or quayside car parks with great toilet facilities that could be earning the council money after everyone else has gone home for the night. With a little careful management they could attract people to their towns and villages who want to wake up in beautiful locations and who arenít going to trash the place. They might even spend some cash in the local pubs and restaurants. Start with the owners of the 170,328 motorhomes that are registered in the UK (figure from DVLA) and then start thinking about the thousands upon thousands of campervan owners who might like a little bit of that too. Councillors do you hear me? But no, they are paranoid about gypsies and travellers and riff raff. And more than likely own a campsite themselves and canít face a little bit of competition. For goodnessí sake.
However, there is a part of me that can understand the worries. At Easky in Ireland the local council set up a fantastic shower and toilet block for travelling surfers. It encouraged people to come to the village and surf the great waves there. People came and spent money and stayed for weeks on end. It was a good place with a good vibe. Then, one day, someone made the choice to abuse the facility. And then someone else decided they couldnít care less and didnít clean up. And so on. Today everyone has all but given up on the place. The building remains but it is full of peopleís camping trash: old tents, beer cans, clothes, broken cookers, bits of campervan. Shit even. It is truly disgusting. I stayed there on my trip last month but sadly the vibe has gone.
Then you have to look at Scotland. The land reform act makes wild camping legal on public access land. It is a great and truly liberating thing that means Scotland is viewed as the holy grail of wild camping by wannabe wild campers all over the UK. Iím heading up there soon with my family and canít wait. But it isnít without its problems. When I camped at Lunan Bay in Angus during the making of One Man and His Campervan the local landowners told me that they have had problems with wild campers leaving rubbish, toilet mess and even discarding tents on their land. Itís not pretty.
In the Trossachs I also saw appalling rubbish at the most beautiful spots. It wasnít as if someone had been fly tipping, rather a general level of dirtiness between the pine trees around the loch I fished at. Again, not nice. On certain areas of Loch Lomond there are areas where wild camping is now illegal. These measures came into force on June 1 2011 and, as I understand it, are as a direct result of people making the choice not to respect the environment and not to camp responsibly. Bad choice for the rest of us wouldnít you say?
The reality is that local councils will always look to the few to make their decisions. So if those few make a mess then weíll all get marked with the same brush and the Ďno overnight parkingí signs will stay in place.
Of course, where wild camping is tolerated itís up to us to take charge and make sure that no one has any reason to complain. Ever. Yes, it is our responsibility to take our litter home but Iíd like to propose that it is also our responsibility to protect our hard earned rights and the places we love by doing more than that. So it becomes our duty to have a word with those who cause litter or even clear up after them.
As a surfer I am at war with beach plastic. I pick up other peopleís plastic bottles because I donít want them to get into the marine environment. As a camper I should be doing the same (and I do). So should we all. The old hippy notion of Ďleaving nothing but footprints, taking nothing but photographsí needs to be updated. Itís not enough anymore. It should now be Ďleave it better than it was when you arrived. No exceptions.í Admittedly it hasnít got that romantic ring to it but who cares? When what we love is at stake itís not important how the tag line sounds. Itís the environment and our ability to slip under the radar that matters. Iíll fight for it.
So go safe, camp happy. And if you camp wild, please remember to leave it better than it was when you arrived.
No exceptions.

This blog first appeared on Camperstar.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Why do we do it? Because life's too short.

Yesterday (15th May) was a very special day. It was my youngest daughter's 7th birthday. We celebrated with a visit to Eden and, once again, thanked our lucky stars for the life we have been given. It would have been special anyway, even if it wasn't for the promise that Joanne and I made to ourselves at around the time Charlie was born.

Charlie popped out in Bristol. It was just as her big sister Maggie was finishing treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia. I won't go into that side of things too much other than to say it was a genuinely terrifying time for all of us. Jo left in an ambulance threee months pregnant and didn't make it home until Charlie was a month old.

I carried on working in Devon, commuting most evenings to do my share of the hospital night shift whilst Jo moved in to CLIC House in Cotham to get some rest. As the time got nearer to Charlie's due date we all moved in to the home from home provided for us by CLIC. Eventually, thanks to the miracles that the team at Bristol Children's Hospital were able to perform on Maggie, we all came home. All four of us.

And what of the promise that Jo and I made to ourselves? Thankfully it came true. We promised ourselves that if Maggie got better we would buy another camper (we hadn't had one for a few years as we were living by the sea) and take time out to enjoy the life we had missed out on. We'd get ourselves a T25 and go to see our friends in France. We'd spend time in ireland. We'd be free. We'd celebrate life.

Just a few months later we set off for Ireland on an adventure in our new van to see Joanne's family and tour the West Coast. Charlie slept on the front seat in a moses basket whilst Maggie slept upstairs. Funnily enough it was the only time we ever gave up. The weather was so bad that we checked into a hotel for a couple of nights in Dingle. I didn't mind at all and I know Jo was grateful for a proper bed. We were grateful just to be there in the first place. Wet and windy it may have been, but it was a wonderful time for us as a family.

So there you have it. That's why we do it. Because life is too short, even though we made it through. We're lucky. Not everyone on Maggie's ward did.

Whenever people ask me about how I got into camper vans I say that it's all about the surf. It isn't wrong. I first started travelling and hanging out in campers when I was in my late teens. But the real reason I love them so much is that the promise of camper van adventures offered us hope when we really needed it.

So it's a very happy birthday to Charlie. And a very happy seven years in remission for Maggie. And a big thank you to all our camper vans.

And that's why we do it.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Another great big camper van adventure

Whilst there might not be any more TV to film at the moment it doesn't mean that the adventures have to stop. There's work (ahem) to be done. And that work has taken me around a few hairpin bends and coast roads recently. The purpose of the latest trip was to experience and photograph a few things I think we should all have a go at before it's too late. It's all for a new book, The Camper Van at The Coast (working title), which will come out next year. As a follow up to The CamperVan Cookbook, this book will contain almost 100 delicious recipes from the camper van kitchen, a few ideas for campervan living throughout the year, my guide to the very best stuff at the coast and a bunch of really amazing campsites that are 'within a decent cast's distance from the sea'. It's not a bad way to judge a campsite is it? And it's one good reason to get in the van and go see for yourself. The one we photographed was, as expected, unbelievable.
In 10 days the van and I (in the company of Nico Chapman an up and coming photographer)covered 1600 miles around Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland to visit a few beaches, lighthouses, RNLI stations and to drive some of the best coast roads. I drove from home in Devon to the most north westerly corner of Europe and back again. And it was absolutely brilliant. I paid nothing for accommodation and wild camped everywhere at some incredibly beautiful spots. No hassle. One night in Ireland a guy came by with a bag of home cut turf for our fire. How about that?

No matter how hard we pushed it, the van never failed to start, never complained and even made it round the horror that is the scenic drive around Farr Head on the Causeway Coast (it said no caravans or coaches but not campervans). If you have the clutch for it, go. The only problem we had was a broken hinge on the roof but it needed replacing anyway.

The best thing about the trip was that I had a chance to see and do some of the things I'd wanted to do for a long long time. It was mostly simple things, like jumping off stupidly high walls into clear blue pools, driving roads that make you gasp in breathless excitement that you made it there at all or cooking the world's best ever sausage sarnie overlooking a delightful beach. That's the kind of stuff I like. And it's all made possible by the humble camper. You drive, eat, sleep, play.

There's an awful lot more to the UK and Ireland than you might think. Did you know, for example, that the UK has one of the world's best driving roads? Or that there is only one lighthouse in the UK that's licenced for weddings? How about one of the world's most beautiful beaches? It's true, although I have a better one for you, with clearer water, better wildlife and a great pub. And it's not that far away.

Along the way we went to Ireland's newest VW festival where we met with the Eireball crew. They drive their campers around Ireland every summer to raise money for charity. They have raised over fifty thousand Euros so far. And they have fun along the way. One of them told me she was so intrigued by the convoy one year that she got in her car and followed it. The next year she bought a van and joined up. She said she had found her family. I love that. I can understand it.

So I'm a lucky man all over again. To set off in search of good things and call it work is a very nice position to be in. And it's all been made possible by my friend the humble camper van.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Good news, bad news. And the adventure goes on.

I heard from BBC2 today. Sadly they are not going to commission a second series of 'One Man and His Campervan'. It is upsetting as I was really hoping that the show would take off and that I'd get to head off on another adventure. I have been contacted by so many people asking about series 2, and had such a positive reaction to the show that I'd thought it was a strong possibility. Still, the show didn't do too badly, with 1.95 million viewers for the final episode. That's more than Frank Skinner's Opinionated (1.75) this week. Anyway, it's disappointing but that's the way it goes. And who knows what else might be around the corner for me and my van.

Of course the experience of doing the show in the first place was unbelievable so I'm not complaining. It was a wonderful thing to do and it's taught me that there's so much more to the UK than quite good surfing beaches (and not so good surfing beaches).

So that's the bad news. Now for the good. I am working on a second book at the moment which has been keeping me busy. With more easy two ring recipes and more lifestyle stuff it's my guide to the UK coast. So I'm heading off in the van to see if I can find out which is the best ice cream, where the best lighthouses are, where you can see great coastal art and how to keep warm in your camper in the winter. So it's more camping, more food, more adventure.

I'm off to Wales and Ireland next week to meet up with forager and a lady who cooks with seaweed, to take a dip in the famous seaweed baths in Sligo and to take a swim in one of Kate Rew's favourite swimming holes (from her book Wild Swim). Then I'm going to drive what is supposed to be one of the world's best driving routes, along the causeway coast.

Along the way I'll be cooking recipes from the new book and photographing them. I am also hoping to perfect the exhaust pipe oven, which sounds scary but isn't. So far all I've managed to do is warm a sausage so there's a way to go with that one.

I'll be blogging as I go so keep an eye out for videos and shots from the trip here or at

In the meantime, here's a shot I took this week to go with a piece in the new book about summer stargazing.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Harry Hill and the Campervan Man

Firstly, apologies for neglecting this blog. I've been tweeting madly and have been getting lots of lovely feedback from everyone, but somehow I've been unable to string sentences any more than 140 chracters together. Still, it's quite astounding how well recieved One Man and his Campervan has been. It's really quite touching. I've been recognised all over the place and everyone has been so positive about the show. "Hey, you're the Campervanman." That's nice. So thanks.

As it is, the show did well. The last night, which saw the Gordy the campervan experience a little cluctch trouble, was watched by about 1.8 million people. That's amazing! So we must have been doing something right! As it is I think that camping and campervanning are subjects that touch everyone in Britain. We love our country, we love the countryside within it and we can't wait to get out there and enjoy it. You and me both.

So what's been up since the show finished? Well, Harry Hill had me on his show. That was watched by about 5 million people so I shouldn't be surprised that people say: "Hey, you're the campervan man. Love the show! Loved Harry Hill more though!" Brilliant! Magic scone anyone?

I've also been writing. After all it's how I make a living and I'm not about to give up the day job anytime soon. I've been writing the first few chapters of a new campervanning lifestyle and food book. Today I was looking at the shipping forecast and making sense of the code they use to describe - very precisely - exactly what the weather is doing. I've also been cooking. This evening Joanne and I were mucking about with a colcannon recipe for St Patrick's day.

I am really looking forward to learning SUP surfing and maybe even tow surfing over the coming months (for the book of course) and I'm booked in to learn to sail in April in Poole Harbour. This weekend, with the big tides that come with the vernal equinox, I am heading upcountry to photograph some friends surfing the Severn bore. Now that is exciting.

We're also waiting to find out if a second series of One Man and his Campervan is on the cards. I hope so because I had such a great time making the first series. You'll be the first to know.

Magic scone anyone?

Monday, 31 January 2011

Countdown to a camper van adventure

On Monday 7th February at 6.30pm my TV show, One Man and His Campervan hits BBC2. It's going to be a wierd and wonderful night. It will be the first time that I've appeared in anything like this (apart from being a little blue man in an Erasure video back in 1991) so I haven't a clue what to expect. Will anyone watch? Will anyone like it? Will anyone even notice it was on? I hope so.
I also have higher hopes for the TV series: that anyone who watches it will be inspired to fire up the old van/car/bus/bicycle and take a look at Great Britain for themselves. I always knew that there was more to it than just a few great surfing beaches. It's a very cool place. With very cool people. And a lot of very delicious food. You don't even have to be a Michelin starred genius to enjoy it. All you have to do is want something more than beans on toast.

Ambitious? Maybe but not really. Although it can sometimes take a little effort to get off the sofa, go to new places and eat new food it's always worth it. It's not that hard to cook something fresh and delicious in a camper van.

So why not? Set your digital thingumybox for 7th February at 6.30 and take a trip with me on my food-foraging, campfire-cooking, two-ringed, four-wheeled adventure.

It's Devon first for a spot of fishing, then the New Forest to seek out a forager's supper. After that I get muddy in Norfolk in the search for samphire and head for Yorkshire to eat a very strange bird's egg. After driving to a Northumberland island to catch a snappy chappy I head north to Angus to scoff the best tasting fish I've ever eaten. Then it's a short hop to the Trossachs for some huntin' and fishin' and a wet few days in the Lakes. Never mind! I'm on a bilberry hunt. Next I cheat at polishing in preparation for the Show and Shine at Wales' friendliest VW show. Finally it's on to Pembrokeshire for a foraging outing and an unexpected end to the adventure.

But of course it doesn't end there, because it'll be your turn next. And that's the point. Anyone can do it.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Rude trees make beautiful swimmers

Once you've spotted your first rude tree you'll never take a walk in the woods in the same way again. Or is it just me? But never mind. It might be a little silly to search for naughtiness in nature but nature put it there in the first place. And it's not like you haven't noticed that kind of stuff before is it?
However, I have found a new perspective. Turn the rude trees of the deep and dark woods upside down. Now look again. What do you see? I see elegant, long-limbed swimmers treading water under a leafy surface. I see mermaids. I see mermen. I see skinny dipping synchronised swimmers.

Beautiful huh? I think so.

About Me

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Hello. I am a writer, surfer, keen shrimper and a TV presenter. My book 'The Camper Van Cookbook' is available on Saltyard Books. My TV show 'One Man and His Campervan' is available on itunes. I am 43, married with two kids, a dog and a camper van. I like tea with milk but no sugar. There's more on

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