Happy campers: A four-wheeled weekend break

As the Volkswagen camper van celebrates 60 years of production, Emily Jenkinson goes on a very British road trip in one of their vintage vehicles

It takes just an hour by train from London’s Liverpool Street to get to Marks Tey in Essex, where Deb, co-founder of Nomad Living, is waiting in Colonel Mustard, a 1970s bright yellow Swedish camper van that I and my boyfriend Ollie have hired for the weekend. The Colonel cuts a dash in a car park filled with Golfs, Volvos, Mazdas and other such dullards, and we catch people sneaking looks at us as Deb drives back to Aldham village, the Nomad Living base, where a couple of other retro-looking camper vans are parked.

The sun is shining and we’re grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats as Deb's business partner Penny shows us where everything is and recommends Ollie (designated driver for the weekend) takes a couple of turns about the field before setting off. After a bit of trouble closing the door, he settles into the left-hand driving seat, with me in the passenger side, for his practice run. A couple of stalls and some problems reversing (the gear stick is quite vintage to say the least) and we’re off, trundling down the Essex county lanes to Manningtree, where we’re staying with family for the night.

The next morning, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. Nonetheless, after stocking up on supplies from Manningtree market, we set off once again. Ollie has great difficulty manoevering Colonel Mustard out of the tight driveway where we’ve parked him and heaves the wheel round with arms evidently weakened by the luxuries of power steering. Back on the road again, we head for Brick Kiln Farm in Campsea Ashe in Suffolk. It’s raining but Colonel Mustard is like a little ray of sunshine beating down the motorway, with bright plastic sunflowers, tied nattily to the roof rack, that flap in the wind.

Brick Kiln Cottage is a bed and breakfast run by the welcoming Tina Morford. In an exclusive offer to Nomad Living customers, she is allowing use of her field for £5 a night. We are the first to take her up on this since she launched the offer earlier this year and, while the location isn’t as rustic as it sounds, it is very private and not a motor home in sight.

After a cup of tea in Tina’s kitchen, we head out to the rainy field and drive to Snape Maltings, a Victorian barley mill on the Suffolk Heritage Coast, which has been revived over the last 40 years to include a world-class concert hall and a selection of locally made arts and crafts. The imposing red brick building sits on the River Alde and visitors can enjoy river walks, bird watching and boat trips, weather permitting. Unfortunately the weather was not permitting, so, after a half-hearted walk in the rain and pint in the Snape Maltings bar, we headed home to Tina’s field.

After attaching the awning to the side of the van, we start investigating the boxes of cooking utensils. The Colonel has been very well-equipped, we discover, with a table and two chairs, an excellent cooker, washing-up equipment, a vat of water, real plates, mugs, glasses, cutlery and even a garlic press. It might be raining, but this is definitely ‘glamping’ we decide – a notion cemented when we cook up the filet steaks purchased at Manningtree market and wash them down with a couple of bottles of red. By the time we tumble into bed – a good sized double mattress, with a proper duvet, sheet and pillows – it is long dark outside, so we switch on the fairy lights and fall sound asleep as they twinkle romantically and the rain lashes the awning.

The next morning, we have free use of Tina’s shower, before she cooks us up an enormous breakfast - Dorset Cereal Muesli, a full fry-up and toast with honey from the local farm (£7 each) – before being swept into a huge goodbye hug by Tina. Feeling full, we haul ourselves into the van and drive an hour to back to Essex and West Mersea, a pretty sea-side town on Mersey Island, where visitors can go sailing, windsurfing or try their hand at crabbing.

Despite arriving at around 11.30am, we put our name on the list for lunch at The Company Shed, a local fresh fish haunt that is famously busy but which refuses to take bookings. There’s some wait, so we take a walk along the harbour, watching children dangle baited lines of string into the sea and pull out crabs, which they then dump, unceremoniously, into plastic buckets that line the pier. By 1.30pm our table is ready, and armed with bread, mayonnaise, lemons and a bottle of wine, we settle down at the Formica tables to take our pick from the delicious selection of daily catches, which are laid out, fishmonger-style, on ice.

Another much-needed walk after lunch is followed by some lounging in the sun on Mersey Island, where there’s a food festival, before we’re back in Colonel Mustard, rumbling down the A12 to Debden Campsite, in the middle of Epping Forest.

We’re totally in the swing of this now and peep our horn, wave or make the peace sign back to other the camper vanners that greet us enthusiastically when we pass them. We’re a bit dubious about our campsite for the evening – Debden seems a bit close to London – but it’s lovely once we get there: clean and a really very pretty setting. It’s £7 each for a night in the non-firepit area and, though it’s not as private as at Tina’s, the other campers mind their own business, and we settle down to a light dinner of seasonal asparagus and cheese followed by one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.

We’re woken the next morning by more rain and gusts of wind threatening to blow our awning away. It’s British camping at its best, so we settle down to cup of tea before driving back up the A12 to the award-winning Compasses pub in the small village of Pattiswick, which we’ve chosen for its proximity to the Nomad Living drop-off.

Following a tasty lunch of moules mariniere, it’s crunch time. Our final journey in Colonel Mustard takes just 15 minutes before we’re back in Aldham at Nomad Living. It’s 60s Season on Radio 2 with Tony Blackburn and as we pull up to a waving Deb, The Beatles are singing “I want to hold your hand”. It’s all very sad, but with the on-going ash cloud threats and BA strikes threatening any holidays abroad, perhaps another English camping trip with Colonel Mustard isn’t too far away.

Travel facts

Nomad Living: VW camper vans cost from £495 for long weekend hire in peak season. Mileage is 75 miles a day with a 25p/ mile charge thereafter. Tel: 07982 525 888; www.nomadliving.co.uk

Getting there

Trains run from London Liverpool Street to Marks Tey. Nomad Living can arrange pick up and drop off at station.

Where to stay

Brick Kiln Farm, Campsea Ashe, Suffolk. £5 per person per night for use of the field. £7 each for home cooked breakfast. Use of showers and toilet inside. Contact Tina 01728 747281. www.brickkilnfarmsuffolk.co.uk

Debden House, Debden Green, Loughton, Essex. £7 per person per night for non-firepit field. Choice of seven different fields. Use of toilets and showers. Contact 0208 508 3008. www.debdenhouse.com

Deb or Penny from Nomad Living will send a full list of recommended campsites in the Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk area once you have booked your camper van.

Where to eat

The Company Shed, 129 Coast Road, West Mersea, Colchester, Essex. A meal for two, excluding drinks and service, costs approximately £20. Bring your own bread, wine, butter, mayonnaise. No booking in advance. Contact 01206 382700.

The Compasses, Essex. Gastro pub offering a three-course lunch for around £30 per person. Tel: 01376 561322; http://www.thejclarkgroup.co.uk/thecompasses/

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable