Broken sleep, big wheels and beautiful vistas – why a family road trip makes for a great escape
“This is sick!” exclaims a very excited 10-year-old Poppy as we’re being shown how to move the electric beds up and down in our super fancy campervan.
We’re in Poole to pick up our home on wheels for the weekend, and are heading to the Jurassic coast in Dorset. Rosie, 13, can’t wait to unpack and fill all the cubby holes and compartments, and we’re all looking forward to a bit of a road trip.
With the stress of airports, Covid and flight cancellations, we’re happy to holiday at home, but hiring something like this takes the staycation to a whole new level.
We’re renting it from Camplify – which is to motor homes what Airbnb is to houses. Our camper is a deluxe Roller Team T-Line 700. Brand new in April (it’s done less than 3,000 miles), the front seats swivel round to the table and back seats, where the girls are sitting as we nervously drive away.
I won’t be doing any of the driving. It’s scary enough being a passenger as my husband James wangs this enormous beast through the town centre and I attempt to work out how to keep the sat nav on, while catching flying water bottles and stopping things making clanking noises. But once we’re out of town and James gets into the groove of driving a 23ft vehicle, it starts to feel more relaxing.
We’re staying at Pilsdon View – a friendly campsite, run by Terry and April, who do the rounds every night, delivering fire drums and wood, so we can gather round, keep warm and toast marshmallows for our s’mores.
With rave reviews online, it’s a great set-up, with showers better than lots of us have at home, flushing toilets, hot water and a decent washing-up area. There’s no electric hook up here, and noise is discouraged late at night, meaning it’s popular with families. The small play park, bouncy hoppers and unicycles keep kids busy, and there’s an on-site van selling hot breakfasts in the morning, and burgers and hot dogs by night.
As we drive in, our names are all on a welcome board, and as we leave one day, April comes running after the camper, telling us our skylights are open (this isn’t allowed when you’re driving… we’re such novices).
But we’re here to explore, and Dorset is full of sublime sandy beaches, lush countryside and endless skies, whatever the weather. To really take in the views, we head to West Bay and climb aboard a Dash of Lyme RIB Lyme Bay Charter (£19pp; lymebayribcharter.co.uk). Uncontrollable shrieks and giggles fall out of our mouths, as skipper Milo reads the crowd, providing the perfect balance of thrills to chills as we skid and bump over the waves. Speeding through the ocean, the stunning surroundings form one of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen. Sheer cliff faces overlook sandy shores, until we reach the highest point of the south coast, Golden Cap.
The adrenaline making us hungry, we nip over the road to Baboo Gelato (baboogelato.com) – an ice cream kiosk with a backstory so captivating, you might never buy a Mr Whippy again.
“We don’t think ice cream is done well in Britain,” director Sam Henbury tells me, whose wife Annie set up the business in 2015. After studying at the Gelato University (yes, really) in Bologna, Italy, Annie set about making ice cream ‘properly’, using more milk than cream, so it’s lower in fat and with a fuller flavour, because there’s less air in gelato – all the more reason to have a second scoop.
They wanted to sell it from kiosks manned by people who care, like Ruby, who hands me an enormous cone spilling over with award-winning maple and pecan gelato (£4.50 for two scoops). She lives in Leeds, but heads down to Dorset every summer to work at Baboo.
“It’s an emotional product,” Sam continues. “When you eat ice cream, you create family memories you’ll remember forever. Life can be very joyless – we want to bring the joy; ice cream is an affordable luxury.” I completely concur, as we sit on picnic benches by the river, eating ice creams almost the size of our heads.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, the Watch House Cafe (watchhousecafe.co.uk) sits right on the beach at West Bay, offering a great brunch menu, pizzas, seafood, and even DJs on a Thursday night (mains around £15). Its beach chic vibes ooze out of the wooden slatted shack, with plants and giant glass bulbs hanging from the ceiling and whirring windmills at the window. The four-hour bottomless brunch (daily, 11am) is an absolute bargain at £26.50, and especially popular at the weekends.
Back in the van, we weave our way through beautifully quaint villages as we meander round Dorset: the bustling market town of Bridport, pretty Abbotsbury, the undulating coastal roads taking us past Ringstead and Martinstown.
Stomping over stones at Chesil Beach, kitesurfers zip through the sea while paddleboarders attempt not to wobble off, as tiny boats sail by. We head over the road to Chesil And Fleet Nature Reserve and discover Ferrybridge sand flats, an area that’s vital for bird and marine life. Sea gulls bathe in pools of water, while a watchful heron waddles alongside them.
Sea spurge sprouts up from the ground, reaching up to baby blue skies framed with candy floss clouds. The water zigzags through the ground next to a sea of pebbles. The girls charge to the top, jumping in the fresh air and taking smiley selfies, as they stare into the Atlantic on the other side. The breeze blows the cobwebs away as nature ignites our souls.
Another day, we walk from The Smugglers Inn at Osmington, down the pathway to the coast where we scramble over rocks and into the sea. There are only three other people on this part of this beach. I sit on a craggy boulder watching the light dance across the water like a glitter ball, while Poppy’s shape-shifting shadow dances in the warm, evening sun.
We drive the van over to Weymouth – a busy seaside town with plenty of rides, sandcastles and sticks of rock. But grown-ups might prefer the vista in Rockfish, Mitch Tonks’ fish restaurant (www.mitchtonks.co.uk/rockfish), which sits opposite the seafront.
Decorated in sea shades of turquoise and white with maps of the world adorning the walls, their own-brand Rockfish Sea Cider (£4.95, made by Salcombe brewery) is super quaffable and slides down beautifully with some sourdough and salty seaweed butter.
We tuck into a feast of salt and pepper halloumi (£7.95), freshly-caught haddock (£18.95) and sea bass (£26.96), chargrilled calamari (£17.95) and mountains of chips. Delightfully intriguing curried mushy peas (£2.95) are an absolute must, too.
On our final morning, we’re woken to the sound of summer raindrops on a tin roof. It seems a fitting end to our first van escape. Our bodies are tired from late-night campfires and early starts, but we all agree Poppy was right, van life is pretty ‘sick’.
How to plan your trip
Camplify (camplify.co.uk) is one of the largest campervan and motorhome sharing communities globally. The Super Lux 6 Berth Motorhome is available to hire from £149 per day, sleeping up to six people.
Pilsdon View Camping can be booked via pitchup.com and costs from £18.50 a night for a non-electric grass tent or motorhome pitch for two people. The site also has bell tents and yurts from £40 for two people.
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