The mustard.co.uk guide to camping in the UK
With the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing, it looks as though international holidays and travel are to be postponed for many families. No need to panic, though – it’s still possible to have an enjoyable ‘staycation’ while remaining right here in the UK.
Camping is a really enjoyable way to holiday. It’s cost-effective and easy, with large degree of freedom in where you go and what activities you do. It’s a great way to connect with your family, too. Here are our top tips on camping in the UK.
Essential equipment you’ll need
Camping holidays range from no-luxury-spared glamping, where you generally don’t need to provide any of your own gear, to wild backpacking and camping where you carry the bare minimum.
For most families the sweet spot is somewhere in between, camping on a managed site with at least basic facilities, including a shower and toilet block.
To do that, you’ll need:
- A tent – ensure it’s double-skinned, vital for rainy weather, and has enough space for you and your family. Outdoor retailers often have tents already pitched for you to try out. Remember to bring pegs and a mallet for pitching!
- Sleeping gear – heavy-duty, blow-up airbeds are ideal for this, but you can get more solid fold-up camp beds too. Kids are often fine in sleeping bags, but if you’ve got space in the car, bringing proper bed linen adds a luxurious touch.
- Cooking gear – it’s surprising how much of a gourmet meal you can rustle up on a two-burner camp stove with just a few basic pots and pans. A BBQ is always great to include for outdoor cooking, just don’t forget the cutlery and crockery!
- Chairs and a table – always useful.
- Electrical hook-up lead – most campsites provide power for an extra cost. We’re not suggesting you bring along the TV and Playstation, but a power brick is very useful for lighting as well as charging up phones, tablets and laptops.
- Storage – you’ll want bags or boxes in which to keep your clothes, toys and games, as well as food. A fridge box is a must for keeping cold drinks and fresh food. Remember water storage if you don’t fancy traipsing over to the site tap every time you need to fill the kettle.
It can be tempting to opt for cheap camping gear and accessories but if you spend a little extra and buy quality gear, you’ll be able to use it again and again for years to come. If you really want to push the boat out, camping stores have all manner of accessories to choose from – everything from a gas oven to a portable toilet.
Of course, if you prefer caravanning, you don’t need to concern yourself with most of these, as your home-away-from-home will have plenty of these features built-in.
Where to camp
If you’re in Scotland, you can take advantage of the ‘right-to-roam’ law. This means as long as you’re respectful, you can camp more or less anywhere.
For the rest of the UK you’ll need permission from the landowner so for most people, staying on a managed campsite is the best course of action.
You can find campsites all over the UK and Europe easily online – the Camping and Caravanning Club as well as sites such as Pitchup offer easy ways to find exactly the place you’re looking for. Sites range from simple, family-run pitches to full-on holiday parks with endless activities to choose from.
Check reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor before you go and select your pitch carefully. The ideal spot is away from high-traffic areas, but close enough to toilet and shower blocks that you don’t have a long walk for a midnight visit.
How to keep kids entertained
The site you choose depends on the kind of activities you like doing. If you intend to spend plenty of time on site, you’ll want somewhere with lots of facilities – like a pool, park, or games room.
On the other hand, if you plan on going out to local towns, attractions or beaches most days, you can save money by opting for a more basic campsite.
Visit information centres or local shops to find out what’s going on in the area, but be aware that attractions or events may be closed due to Covid-19. If you’re holidaying by the sea, be sure to pack fun kit like kites, buckets and spades, and footballs to keep everybody entertained, and don’t forget the swimming trunks!
Of course, British weather is unpredictable, so you’ll need to make preparations for a rainy day. Save plenty of space to pack books, board games and other activities to keep everybody occupied if they have to stay indoors. Load a tablet up with games and movies – especially useful for long car trips – and ensure games consoles are charged up and ready to go.
What’s the best car for a camping trip?
While there isn’t necessarily a right answer to this question there are several factors you need to consider: if you’re taking a caravan then you need a car that can comfortably tow it, and if you plan to pack a tent then you need a boot with a lot of space.
You also need to consider the type of camping you’re going to do. If you only plan on visiting upmarket sites with perfectly manicured access roads, then a normal two-wheel drive car will suffice, for more exploratory trips an all-wheel drive model will be a better fit.
Here’s a run-down of some of our favourite car types for camping.
With plenty of interior space and a raised ride height to avoid smashing your exhaust off on a rock, an SUV is the kneejerk choice for the adventurous camper.
A big boot and roof rails means carrying a tent either inside the car or on top will be no bother, plus the additional weight of the vehicle and its sturdy chassis means maximum towing capacities are usually quite high.
If that’s a consideration then look towards something like a Land Rover Discovery or VW Touareg, both of which can haul more weight than you’ll realistically need and are available with loads of clever tech like a rear view camera pointed at the towbar or a system that steers the trailer into a parking space for you.
The downsides? Well, big and heavy SUVs can be hard to manoeuvre and expensive to run, plus carry a price premium over smaller models to begin with.
For those of you less interested in going full Bear Grylls or if you’re tenting rather than caravanning, a space-efficient estate is likely to be all the car you need.
Models like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate or Skoda Octavia Estate boast a huge luggage capacity for a relatively compact footprint. Plus, with standard roof rails, you can put a box on top for additional practicality.
Best of all, you can pick an all-wheel drive model that will offer extra traction when the going gets rough. It won’t perform quite as well as a taller SUV but it’ll certainly make traversing a grassy campsite all the easier.
There aren’t many negative aspects of estate ownership other than the fact that the towing capacity available might not be enough for a larger caravan, and bear in mind it can be tricky to find items you’ve packed at the bottom of a full-up boot.
The ultimate camping all-rounder surely has to be a pick-up truck – almost always all-wheel drive, with massive underbody clearance plus a luggage and towing capacity that would shame all but the stoutest of cars, it’s hard to think of anything more fit for purpose.
We think models like the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger manage to throw off that slight scent of agriculture that a pick-up truck used to put out, managing to look and feel towards a large SUV to drive than a commercial vehicle.
It’s worth weighing up the high cost of purchase and ownership though when considering such a vehicle – and whether you’re going to even scratch the surface of the capability that this highly- specialised machine offers. This might be a bit extreme if all you want to do it pitch a tent somewhere on the Dorset coast.
Taking bikes with you?
The best transport option when you’ve arrived at the campsite is often to leave your car parked up and set off on a two-wheeled adventure.
There are a huge number of accessories to help transport bikes, such as a towbar mounted system – great if you’re taking a tent but not helpful if there’s already a caravan attached to it.
In that case, you could consider a carrier attached to the roof rack. Just bear in mind the height of your car and the weight of your bike, and whether you’re able to lift it up far enough.
Otherwise, the pick-up truck, offers a simpler solution: throw the bikes over the tailgate (with an appropriately-sized protective pad attached, of course) for the ultimate in convenience. This will take up most of the loadbed, however.
How to make your car better off-road
If your car has not been designed with journeys away from the tarmac in mind then it’s probably better to leave it that way. However, the weak link in any off-road vehicle is the type of tyre fitted – this is your only contact with the surface after all.
If you want your car to perform better in the wilderness, then some grippier rubber is a simple solution. To take things a step further, consider buying a spare set of steel wheels to fit off-road tyres to – then you won’t be worried about damaging your alloys in the process.
Remember that you need to notify your insurer of any permanent modifications made to your vehicle otherwise you risk your insurance becoming invalid. Make sure you’ve got the right cover for whatever the journey by comparing car insurance today.