I’ve always had a bit of a thing for old-fashioned caravans. Not the modern ones that are basically like tiny houses, (although I do like those too), but the little ones, where you have to clear away the dinner things before you can turn the table into a bed, and a night time wee involves getting dressed and walking across a field.
I’ve always felt that a retro caravan held a promise of adventure, and an air of mystery. I can remember being quite small and going to play with a friend one weekend. I can’t remember who the friend was, or what the context of the visit might have been, but I do remember that said friend had an old caravan at the bottom of their garden. You could only get to it by what, at the time, felt like a trek through miles of undergrowth, but I suspect that in reality was just having to push a few branches out of the way and then, as if by magic, there it was.
The caravan wasn’t used anymore for holidays, and instead had become a sort of secret play room.* You could sit down around the wobbly formica table top to plan adventures, Secret Seven style, and all of a sudden I wanted, more than anything, to have an abandoned caravan of my very own. I would decorate it exactly how I wanted, and fill it with spy equipment. Nobody would be allowed in unless they knew the top secret password, and from my caravan of mystery I would solve crimes that had kept the police baffled for decades.
It’s no wonder then that I loved our weekend at Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans, in the beautiful Wye Valley.
The idea behind the glampsite** is simple.
No, literally, that’s it. Retro glamping is about simplifying your life for a little while and getting back to basics – heating water on a gas stove, toasting marshmallows on an open fire, pooing onto a pile of wood shavings, and that sort of thing.
And it’s bliss.
The accommodation is comprised of a selection of beautifully restored vintage caravans, each named of course, and each hiding their own collection of treasures. I loved the way that the vintage caravans seemed to peep out from behind the trees, nestling amongst the undergrowth, just like the imaginary caravan of my childhood.
(Note – I used to berate myself for overusing the word ‘nestling’ when I wrote a column for a caravan magazine, but if there was any time when the word felt really justified, it would be here.)
We stayed in Sybil, a gorgeous green van built by hand in the 1940s by a dad for his family. (Caravan fact – did you know you can date a vintage caravan by the shape of the wheel arches? Nope, me neither, so there you go.)
When we arrived Sybil already had one double bed made up for us, with a big pile of vintage print sheets and eiderdowns ready for us to turn the dining area into another double bed for Belle at bedtime. The wood burner was set, ready for a fire, and the table was laid up with mismatched floral crockery, in anticipation of a home-made cream tea.
I wasted no time in getting the kettle on/admiring the tea cosy.
In the main area of the site, just a minute or so from Sybil, is everything you need to keep things ticking over, including a kitchen area for washing up, a funky sink for teeth cleaning and handwashing, a shower and two toilets. There is a compost toilet that’s incredibly easy to use, and really not scary at all, and also a regular flushing toilet.
There’s also a ‘mess tent’ – a big communal tent with a huge wooden table, shabby chic sofa and large wood burner. We didn’t make a lot of use of this as there was only three of us, but I can imagine it would be fantastic if you were staying as part of a group. Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans is really popular, for example, with glamping hen parties looking for an alternative to the whole tacky Chippendale experience, and also plays hosts to a lot of extended family gatherings and annual breaks for groups. There’s a tennis court if you fancy taking your racquets, and a proper tyre swing, hanging from the branch of a huge tree.
While we were glamping, we took the opportunity to have a peep into Gertie, another one of the vintage caravans on site. I loved Gertie’s traditional wooden interior, and the views from her windows were stunning. I can imagine sitting outside Gertie on a warm summer evening, a bottle of beer in my hand, while Belle toasted me a marshmallow. She loved being in charge of the fire, and putting all of her Camp Wilderness skills into practice.
One of the things I loved most about Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans was the attention to detail. The whole business is clearly a labour of love, and the owners have gone to huge lengths to create an environment that’s welcoming, glam, and restful, yet practical too. For instance, they don’t want chemicals in the water system, so they provide a range of eco-friendly toiletries in the shower, and Ecover washing up liquid at the sink. It’s the simple things like that that make the difference.
All over the glampsite there are also little pretty touches that add a little something special, like vases of fresh flowers. These are the things that really lift the spirits.
Overall, we’d heartily recommend a retro glamping visit to Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans if you’re looking to unplug yourself from the real world for a little while and reconnect with that feeling of being alive.
*The more I write, the more I wonder if I might actually have dreamt this whole thing – it sounds ace though doesn’t it? I’m going to go with it.
**Is this a word? Just make a note please that you heard it here first, if not.
We were guests of Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are my own.