SW England In A Van

SW England In A Van

The Fiat Tribute Campervan is a traveller not a tourist. She doesn’t believe in ticking boxes or visiting sites that are simply ‘the thing to do’. She prefers taking chances, going off grid, uncovering hidden gems and bathing in enchanted forests.

Offering the complete freedom to choose, along with 5 holidays for the price of 1, Lovely Campervan’s* luxurious lodging on wheels (complete with sofa bed, central heating, hob, oven and wet room) seamlessly blends into any natural beauty, or city setting. *not sponsored

Far from being confined to the domain of festivals and hippie living, Campervan escapes represent much of what COVID-19 has accelerated across the board – a shift to remote living, a slower pace, local focus, and an appreciation of the journey, not just the destination, with its welcome chance encounters along the way.

Our first taste of life behind the wheel compelled us to cover as much ground as we could – a common complaint according to Richard of Lovely Campervans, the caveat being that you may initially return home with the feeling of needing a holiday from your holiday. To the contrary, we came full circle acknowledging the need, no longer just desire, for an even bigger and better encore – next stop, Europe…

 

Day 1: Chelsea (London) – Petworth (Sussex) – Worth Matravers (Dorset)

Our Gaboony purchase awaited us in Petworth, Sussex. A Fiat Tribute 669, chosen for its price, modern high spec fittings and suitability to the average Driving Licence (larger models require an extra certification), it was deceptively roomy and kitted out with everything a demanding urbanite could need.

Having booked just in time to beat the rush, Richard was also kind enough to accommodate a custom set of dates that managed to squeeze in a memorable 29th birthday on the open road. Exchanging our city carriage for its exciting new country cousin, and leaving it safely parked on Richard’s Sussex farm, we were ready for our first encounter with the razor-sharp roof of a Sainsbury’s shopping trolley shelter. If you’ve never driven a van before – always remember to give it a wide birth.

Starting as we meant to go on – forgetting and forgiving the mistakes of the past, remaining open minded, and more than ready to push back whatever needed to be faced upon our return – we took an otherwise brand new ‘Dick Van Dyke’ on its very first adventure. The first stop along our relatively rough route was the fluorescent blue, clay waters of the Furzebrook Pool.

‘The Blue Pool’ in Dorset is an aquamarine jewel in the Isle of Purbeck. As the perfect stop for a spot of lunch, or non-psychoactive Hemp Brownie snacking, the waters are famous for their ever-changing colours. The colloidal clay crystals suspended in its still spray, refract light differently depending on the sun, producing a dynamic spectrum of green, turquoise blues.

Surrounded by 25 acres of heath, woodland and gorse interlaced by sandy paths littered with carvings of pixie chambers and red speckled mushrooms, it’s an otherworldly patch for both consumption and contemplation alike. The only snag is that such an inviting sight is strictly for viewing purposes, to rightly protect its natural beauty. In a past life, much of the Purbeck ball clay was dug up and used for making ceramics, such as smoking pipes and crockery.

Moving on a little further, we settled in the village of Worth Matravers for the night. A picturesque collection of limestone cottages set against tumbling cliffs, charming farmhouses and an iconic village green. The Square and Compass was a clear winner when it came to stumbling across firm local favourites, for an evening of pale ale, pasties and pie.

Keen to avoid another car park collision, we opted for on-street parking and equally steered clear of the local campsites, which personally didn’t feel all that convincing. In general, I would highly recommend consistently opting for patches of privacy, where you can find them. The reward was that we eventually found a bewitching stretch of path with gladiator-worthy fields of Barley. And a couple of warm showers later, we walked a pair of contented bellies down to the valley, for sunset by the shore.

 

Day 2: Worth Matravers (Dorset) – Weymouth (Dorset) – Lyme Regis (Dorset) – Dartmoor (Devon)

Waking up, one year riper and none the wiser, to the sight of infinite stretches of summer ocean was a view I was determined to savour – a van with backdoors that open from the bed, had been a prerequisite. Although what we had identified as a more removed trail of road the night before, turned out to be a rather popular dog walking path, we welcomed the hilariously awkward British greetings of ‘good morning’ and ‘enjoy your breakfast in bed’.

Walking back up the road to the Square and Compass Pub for our morning coffee, we were warned that there would be ‘nothing fancy’ (such as lattés – something only out of towners would be stupid enough to request), and took a few home-grown Mimosas over to the cliff edge, by the local watch tower.

Scrambling down early enough provides the perfect chance for relatively solitary sun bathing, skinny dipping, shaking off spidery seaweed, and almost braving cave exploring. The waters are Wim Hof worthy, even in July, but equally rewarding, refreshing and topically healing.

Driving along the celebrated Jurassic Coast presents many opportune moments to stop, and Weymouth, where it transpired that we were a day late for the seasonal seafood festival, would probably not be one of them. It was as touristic as Durdle Door, from which we also moved swiftly onwards, but is worth a visit if you need a pit-stop for deals on forgettables such as flip-flops, sun hats, and copycat stacks of hareem pants and incense. I had been equally keen to spend a few hours in the company of chimps at Monkey World near Wool, but it was unfortunately closed and only open to donors.

Continuing the theme of road tripping from one food stop to the next, we parked up in Lyme Regis for fish and chips on the beach. A side of sedatives was acquired from the local brewery and eating with our hands (sans cutlery, bar the ketchup packet spoons we created for scooping up mushy peas) was either a local quirk, or yet another undoubtedly highly effective, precautionary COVID measure.

In the good company of Frankie Boyle (on the radio), we made our way over to Dartmoor for the night. The only obstacle that remained between us and the perfect hilltop sunset, was a flock of pregnant cows and their calves. As a native hiker confirmed with us the next morning, there’s no standing still in such situations unless you want to play stuck in the mud forever – the only way is through (slowly, and gently, with a few herding honks).

Dartmoor was easily one of my favourite spots, and you pretty much have free reign when it comes to picking and parking. Looking up at the stars gives you that mystifying feeling of falling through the cosmos and being engulfed by nature – before getting in the van, and turning up the heating….

 

Day 3: Dartmoor (Devon) – Portscatho (Cornwall)

Sunset and sunrise are possibly my two favourite times of day, and the modern explorers i-phone compass ensured that we were always well placed for both.

Whilst the Van did come with a lavatory / shower wet room, the mere fact that your partner in crime will be emptying it dependent on use, is enough to put you off needing it, unless truly necessary. After a morning stroll amongst the company of a couple of wild ponies, some birds of prey, and a dead cow that fellow wanderers recommended we carve up and eat, we set off for Cornwall in the typically temperamental British rain.

Day 3’s lunch pick was The Hidden Hut, tucked away along the Cornish coast on Porthcurnick Beach. Followed by cream tea at the Nare Hotel, and a soggy strawberry Baileys on the beach, as encouragement for seaside swimming in the rain – luckily without any of the jelly fish we had been forewarned about. Parking around the area was a little more difficult, and we decided to chance an empty car park promising daybreak views, overnight.

 

Day 4: Portscatho (Cornwall) – Mousehole (Cornwall) – Lands End (Cornwall) – Bodmin Moor (Cornwall)

Having previously snubbed the Campervan Campsites, we quickly realised that we would be reliant on them for replenishing our water tank, and that they mostly refused to share with those that hadn’t booked in (even when offering to pay a fee for use). The exception was Tom’s Field, with over 50 years of experience under their belt and a fresh supply of local eggs and seafood from their on-site mobile fish monger.

Mousehole is an endearing little fishing village near Penzance, and a great port of call for picking up homemade honeys, jams and other trinkets from trust-box street stalls. A stark contrast to the heavily commercialised plot at Land’s End, where the most Westerly point of England seems to have a charge for simply eyeballing the coast.

The Beast of Bodmin soon beckoned and whilst the area was decidedly harder for finding parking than the public plains of Dartmoor, we eventually found our perfect lakeside spot for a dinner of Coq au vin, a la Van. Whilst sunshine was always more than welcome, there was something sweetly ‘hygge’ about the odd evening spent in our four wheeled home, with tea and a good book, surrounded by dusk-strewn moor, as it drizzled outside.

 

Day 5: Golitha Falls (& the astral planes, Cornwall) – Tintagel (Cornwall)

Mornings on the moor called for earthing and rain dancing, before making our way down to Bodmin’s Golitha Falls, which it transpires is the most perfect location for a breakfast of ceremonial Cacao and Mushrooms. Venturing off the beaten path and clambering up and down the hilly streams, opens up quiet areas of solitude where you can melt into mounds, be engulfed by spidery branches to the sounds of distant drumming, and bathe amidst striking saphire blue dragonflies, as they dance above the water in pairs.

The journey home was flag poled by a couple of ‘Pioneers’ (Honey BBQ soaked Bacon & Egg sarnies) from Inkie’s back at the entrance, washed down with some shamelessly hearty shakes; Before replacing the call of the Beast of Bodmin with the mystical allure of King Arthur, and the magical pull of Merlin at Tintagel.

The King Arthur’s Arms were happy to accommodate ‘Dick Van Dykes’ everlasting thirst, in exchange for a few drinks and some dinner (fish and chips again, because when in Rome). And we found the perfect twilight resting spot by the sea, parked just outside an abandoned YHA.

 

Day 6: Tintagel (Cornwall) – Dartmouth (Devon) – Seatown (Dorset)

First light heralded the hunt for a coastal Cornish Coffee – which it turns out, is actually just normal coffee, from Cornwall (not even a dollop of clotted cream), preparatory to exploring Merlin’s cave beneath Tintagel Castle. If you’re keen on visiting any of the ticketed attractions, be sure to book a week in advance, as places are limited, and only available online during COVID.

Dartmouth in the sun feels like the English Riviera, and is a handsome spot for mussels, by the banks of the river Dart. The town is a patchwork of medieval and Elizabethan streetscapes, complete with narrow lanes, stone stairways and granite columns.

Having traversed through time, at lightening speed, our final port of call was the coastal hamlet of Seatown in Dorset, for a rocky stroll along the beach, and one last sunset curry, in Gollum-chic.

 

Day 7: Seatown (Dorset) – Petworth (Sussex)

After our morning sea-bath, it was finally time to have to face the reality of cleaning up Dick Van Dyke, before dropping him back home. A piece of advice to any future renters – start with the admin and housekeeping early. Not many stations still seem to house LPG and if you need to refill it near Sussex the nearest stop is Silvester Engineering in Billingshurst, about 40 minutes out, there and back.

Richard was beyond kind with regards to the scars we’d left behind (luckily just body work), and although I never imagined I’d be referring to a motorhome – it was easily one of the most memorable and prodigious, holidays and birthdays in my 29 years of life, amongst some tough competition.

 

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