The Fourth of July was a date to celebrate in some old colony or other, but a few days earlier, the First of July was a much bigger event in the UKAirstreamers household. You might have missed it (like we did), but it was a bit of a milestone for us (if we'd remembered) - it was exactly two and a half years ago that we set off on our one year trip.
I’m going to mark the occasion by sharing some of our better photos (out of the 25,000 or so we've taken) and by offering our own Semiquinquennial Campsite Awards.
It’s possibly worth pointing out that these awards have no value, no physical mantelpiece-filling aspect and, most importantly, no alcohol-fuelled, star-studded ceremony. They are just the rambling thoughts of a lightly seasoned traveller. I don’t intend to please or offend – it’s an entirely subjective meander through the highs and lows of our travels. If you don’t agree with any of my comments, please drop me an email at email@example.com. I won’t get back to you.
Firstly, I’ll start with “Best Campsite”. I was going to keep this one secret (we don’t want everyone to know!), but since it isn’t really a campsite and since you’re not allowed to wild-camp there any more anyway, here it is…
We spent four nights next to the airport on the isle of Barra in the Hebrides. You might think that being next to an airport isn’t the best place to spend your hols, but since the runway is a beautiful, white beach and the three planes a day can only land when the tide is out, it’s actually a wonderful place to be. Add the bonuses of (a) joining a fellow Airstreamer, (b) a friend flying in from London for a couple of nights, and (c) long, hot summer days and you have a perfect spot.
Sadly, coastal erosion has forced the local council to close the officially unofficial wild camping spot there. It will be missed by many.
There are a couple of places which “won” mutliple awards. Firstly, there’s a little CL or CS (I can’t seem to find it in either book now!) near Cromer in North Norfolk. It gets the “Cheapest Site” award for charging us a meagre £5.50 a night including hook-up! It also gets the “Slowest Tap” award. You could take the Aquaroll up to the tap and set it running, then go to the shops, have a couple of pints in the pub, read a short novel, catch up on your soaps and still be back to the tap before it began to even dream of overflowing. But with sunsets like this, who’s in a hurry?
On the other hand, “Fastest Tap” goes to a triple award winner! There’s a campsite up on Orkney where the water seems to be fed from several hundred feet above the highest point on the island. It was one of those modern plastic taps, which goes from off to torrential in a quarter turn - the 40 litre Aquaroll filled in just under 12 seconds, providing you didn’t mind wearing most of the last two-seconds worth as it rocketed out of the top. The same place wins the “Best Address” award. You can reach it at… Pickaquoy Campsite, Peerie Sea Loan (you couldn’t make it up), Kirkwall. This place must be special because it also wins the “Most Ridiculous Booking System” award. The campsite is attached to a sports-and-leisure centre and all bookings are made on the same computer system as the theatre seats. Which means that you are allocated a pitch when you book, rather than, for instance, when you arrive. The consequence of this is that you may have to move several times if you want to stay a while during busy weeks because someone has booked your pitch. Ludicrous. On the other hand, it’s very handy for Kirkwall, which is a smashing little town. Another added bonus came when we went out for the day and came back to find another airstream parked right next to us! What are the chances?
“Best Welcome” goes, without a doubt, to the Crofton Hall CL near Carlisle. We were the second people to stay there just after it first opened last Autumn and were greeted by the owner with a bottle of wine! The manager is one of the friendliest people I have ever met and his whole family were thrilled to see an Airstream. It’s worth mentioning that the grass pitches are huge and each has its own electricity and water supply. If you’re ever in the area, stay there.
“Worst Welcome” goes to the wardens on one of the Club sites (they’re probably not there any more, but I won’t name and shame). Having booked online, we arrived to a haughty “Well I don’t know where we’re going to put you?” We then endured ten minutes of huffing and puffing at reception and were “escorted” to the pitch, whereupon the warden asks Tracey “Can he reverse?” Some wardens are completely wonderful, some are complete arses. We won’t be going back there. Shit site anyway.
Having stayed in so many imaginatively equipped CL’s and CS’s, I find it impossible to pinpoint a “Worst Toilet Tank Emptying Point” winner; there are so many candidates. There is, however, one clear winner of the “Best Toilet Tank Emptying Point” award. Witches Craig Caravan Site near Stirling is a well laid out, pretty, beautifully equipped site. It could have been a contender for “Best Site,” were it not for an adjacent, busy road. I wish I could remember the toilet tank emptying point more clearly, but I was so blissed out at the facilities that I’m afraid it’s a bit of a blur. All I remember is that it was undercover but well ventilated; at a sensible height so that you didn’t have to break your back to either lift the tank or hold it steady; a light came on automatically when you entered and went off when you left; the “target” was a large, stainless steel funnel with a stainless steel surround and when you flushed, the whole lot (funnel and surround) rinsed itself down. And there was a hand-washing point too. I’m sure there was more, but my poor, addled mind can’t quite remember that far back. In short, a site owner actually thought about what a caravanner needs (rather than just what he can be arsed to provide) and managed to tick all the boxes.
“Best View” is a tricky one with many candidates. The big problem is that it’s so hard to find a spot where you don’t have to look at somebody else’s white plastic caravan. There have been a couple of times where movers might have been useful to get us into a prettier spot, but the winner is probably the view from our pitch at the Caravan Club Tintagel site. Straight out to sea. Smashing.
“Worst View” goes to a site in Pitlochry. From our pitch (I’m not sure that three inches of gravel floating on a layer of mud counts as a “hard standing”), we could see nothing of the beautiful surroundings, only a row of static caravans lined up like huts on a gulag. It did, however, have free, blisteringly fast WiFi and rather good (if dated – they even had a mangle!) laundry facilities.
Of course, no awards ceremony would be complete without a few "thank-you's." When we set off, we though we might only be on the road for a year. So I'd like to thank our families and friends for their support and for storing all our "stuff" while our year-long journey expands. We couldn't have done it without Airstream Europe - they have been encouraging and supportive since long before day one. We have met a lot of Airstream owners along the way, and even done our best to create an Airstream community in the UK - I'd like to thank all of them for allowing us to join in their journeys. And I'd like to thank you, dear reader, for your words of encouragement and for following us along the way. I hope you've enjoyed the ride a fraction as much as we have.
That’s about it for now. There have been other campsites. Many others. Some are good, some are utterly forgettable. Hopefully, the recent upsurge in caravanning holidays (and the corresponding increase in competition) will encourage site owners to up their game. The internet is playing a big part too - it's now very, very easy to find a campsite and even read reviews from other campers.
So, after two and a half years, what next? Well, we're planning to carry on for as long as we can. Come back in another two and a half years and see what we've found.. (actually, don't wait that long - we'll still be posting here regularly!)
In the meantime, here's a bunch of our best. Most of these (and a whole host of others!) are available to buy here if you fancy a postcard or even a poster. Your purchases help support our journey. These are all low-res versions (you can click on a pic for a better look), but the ones in the shop are all tip-top quality. Enjoy.