Royal Palace works Penny and Nat get back to basics ... and love it!
Last summer, myself and my colleague Natasha left the iconic buildings of Historic Royal Palaces, where we both work, for a holiday with another type of icon – a VW Camper! This was our first trip in a VW and something I had wanted to do for ages. We made for a farm in Smallield, Sussex to rendezvous with Darren Firth of Drive My Camper [www.drivemycamper.co.uk tel: 01737 224168]. We hired Dharma, a 1971 Bay, our home for the next week and Darren revealed that when Dharma was made, Penny was a teenager and I wasn’t even born! Since then, Dharma has been fully restored with new interior, new engine, rock ’n’ roll bed, pop-top with two hammocks , three-ring gas hob, fridge, sink, table, all the kitchen equipment we’d need plus an electric hook-up.
After our initiation, we are ready to hit the road. At 5’ 2” I could only just get the clutch to the floor. I engage first and we’re off. It’s a completely different driving experience, but I quickly adapt to anticipating braking well in advance, putting the clutch to the floor and then changing gear, judging the sound of the engine for when to change gear, and remembering to go to a low gear for any incline. Steering takes a bit of getting used to, with slow, deliberate manoeuvres being the order of the day, but I love the big steering wheel, being higher up, the wide windscreen and good sight lines.Nice and Easy
It’s a very hot day, with clear blue skies. The Sussex country lanes have all hues of fresh green, there are views across the Downs and we notice the traditional half-tiled houses, trees, flowers and brilliant yellow fields of oilseed rape – all in all, a quintessentially English scene. After the hectic pace of life, with hours commuting every day, the joy of taking things easy and pottering slowly along is great. Many passers-by smile and wave enthusiastically from their up-to-date vehicles, and there’s even more excitement when another VW Camper goes by.
After driving through Wisborough Green and Petworth, a bit of sustenance is called for. Natasha has an essential item – The Good Pub Guide – and before we know it, we’re in The Keepers Arms in Trotton, a delightful spot with lovely views and pretty gardens. In the car park, Dharma is much admired, and after a delicious lunch we’re off again, heading for Dorset on the A272 via Petersield and Winchester.
Once on the A31 we’re heading for our first destination, Durdle Door Holiday Park at Lulworth. It’s an excellent location, just up from the cliffs near the sea, on a site sheltered by trees. We get happily ensconced in the VW: Cold beers and a delicious supper of vegetable chilli and couscous cooked on our hob. The camp site has good facilities too, with a shop, restaurant, tourist brochures and walks leaflets.
We had a great couple days relaxing with the Camper, sunbathing, reading, listening to music, cooking, eating, drinking, and taking lovely walks along the coast to Lulworth Cove.
After our stop in Lulworth we meandered on delightful Dorset lanes through Thomas Hardy country to the county town of Dorchester. This was Dharma’s first trip with us to a busy centre and a large supermarket, where again she was much admired by fellow shoppers.
Driving on, it was interesting to see Poundbury, the Prince of Wales’ eco-friendly ‘model’ village. We had a picnic lunch at Maiden Castle and an enjoyable visit to the oldest Iron Age fort in Europe.
Our next stop was the little stone circle, The Nine Stones, before we embarked on the last lap of our journey to Sea Barn Farm Campsite at Fleet.Hungry for more
This was a fabulous spot, with spectacular views across fields to the sea, Fleet Lagoon, Chesil Beach and the Isle of Portland in the distance. We found a good pitch and there were first-class facilities including a brand new, very smart block with loos, showers, laundry, bathrooms, a washing-up area and a small shop. It was a chilly evening, but we were very cosy in Dharma with the curtains drawn, the heater on, a good hot meal, red wine, ginger sponge and custard followed by games of Scrabble. We were pleased to see several more VWs on the site, in particular one ‘settlement’ of three together, complete with a VW flag fluttering in the wind. We enjoyed the camaraderie of talking to VW owners, hearing about their plans to visit VW gatherings over the summer. This is the life!
We woke to another beautiful sunny day, slid the side door open and had breakfast outside. The site is so well positioned we could walk to the coastal footpath. We headed for Abbotsbury, a picture-postcard village with stone and thatched houses, a high street with interesting shops, antiques, galleries, the Abbotsbury Abbey ruins, a tithe barn, swannery and St Catherine’s Chapel overlooking the village. After the six-mile walk we tucked into delicious fish and chips at The Illchester Arms and later we just had to have another stop for Dorset cream teas near the church.
Back ‘home’ to our Camper, it felt so good to enjoy outdoor living with the convenience of everything you need close at hand and travelling with you. Being able to stop and brew up a cuppa whenever you wish... Bliss!
We had a super week and loved the Camper experience. The freedom and spontaneity, the joy of motoring, easy living at a gentler pace, simple pleasures – we thoroughly recommend it. To anyone thinking of hiring a Van for the first time or buying one, we say go for it! It’s great fun.