Caravaning: One for the road?

Margaret Beckett isn't alone in liking a caravan holiday. Sales are up, says Mark MacKenzie
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The Independent Travel

Despite the best efforts of Jeremy Clarkson to persuade us otherwise, the British obsession with caravan holidays has never been healthier. Research published by the National Caravan Council (NCC), a trade body for the UK caravan industry, suggests that this year, the number of Britons taking holidays in mobile homes is set to pass the two million mark for the first time.

The NCC represents around five hundred companies and measures the well-being of Britain's caravan community by the number of units sold. The sector has witnessed record growth every year for the past decade, from 21,000 caravans in 1995 to 30,000 last year.

And the revenue generated by the sector is nothing short of extraordinary. "There's a lot more money involved than most people realise," says NCC spokesperson Louise Wood. "Sales of caravans in the UK amount to more than £1bn annually. If you add to that figure the money spent on the holidays themselves, we're talking about a figure in excess of £3bn. The idea that caravanning is a poor man's holiday is rather out of date."

Entry into the mobile-home market can be had for as little as £500 but, warns Ms Wood, "for that you'll get £500 worth. A more realistic price for a fully functioning unit is between £8,000 and £10,000, and most of the sought-after models hold their value very well."

Caravanners, like car owners, tend to divide into those that keep one model for a decade or more, and those that upgrade every two years. Of the latter category, says Ms Wood, some are sufficiently status-driven to splash out as much as £25,000 for a towing caravan, while a top-of-the-range motorhome - a Hollywood-style trailer that Ms Wood refers to as "the Robbie Williams" - will set you back a cool £250,000.

So it's hardly surprising that every year around 3,000 caravans and motorhomes go missing from Britain's caravan parks. Recent manufacturer modifications include wheel locks, immobilisers and satellite tracking devices, and Ms Wood also advises buyers to have their potential purchases checked by a process known as HPI to ensure they haven't been previously written off or stolen.

But what stops most people taking to the open road in a caravan has nothing to do with the threat from thieves. "Caravanners do need broad shoulders," says Ms Wood, "and snobbery is a problem." Closely followed, presumably, by a desire not to be the cause of a three-mile tailback. "Modern caravanners tend to be much maligned when it comes to speed," insists Ms Wood. "We do suggest that caravan drivers pull over if they see a great line of cars behind them, but well-matched units should have no problem reaching the speed limit under most road conditions. Tailbacks of frustrated motorists tend to be caused by those who want to go above the speed limit."

To ensure your car is up to the job of towing a caravan, Ms Wood suggests checking with a dealer, who will be able to calculate the maximum load (roughly 85 per cent of the weight of the towing vehicle) using a computerised matching system known as Towsafe.

Making sure cars and caravans are compatible also reduces the risk of "snaking", the dreaded wobble that can catch out an inexperienced driver and cause a caravan to overturn. In the event of a wobble, the NCC warns drivers to reduce speed gradually, advice based on extensive research conducted at the University of Bath. "Caravan buyers tend to be fairly mature," says Ms Wood, "and as most are bought by people aged 45 to 55, they tend to be fairly responsible and will take themselves off on a towing course if they're beginners."

Ms Wood points to a new trend of caravans being bought by adventure sports enthusiasts. "If you're a surfer or a rock climber, a mobile home is a great base for your sport; you've got your accommodation covered and a means to transport equipment," she says. "And in terms of carbon emissions, they're far greener than flying to Barbados."

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