A classic VW camper may drive like the motoring equivalent of a barge, but it proves the perfect companion on a trip linking two popular Boundless events
Motoring journalist and Car of the Year juror Vicky Parrott takes on a cross-country road trip from the Sussex Summer Spree to the Seaside Rally in Whitby.
Amelia has no clock. In the order of observations about her – she’s our 1971 VW campervan – this is a small one. After all, she’s a bright orange T2 ‘bay window’ camper with beautiful details to spare, from the wood-rimmed steering wheel to the tartan-detailed upholstery. She’s also the perfect vehicle for our three-day epic trip between two of the most popular annual Boundless member events.
Starting at the Sussex Summer Spree, organised by the Classic Vehicle Group, the iconic camper has no problem fitting in, having the vintage style and appeal of a true classic. And, of course, it also encapsulates the freedom and wanderlust that draws so many people to campervan life – and to caravanning rallies like the Seaside Rally in Whitby, which is where we’ll finish.
In the process of notching up 400 miles with the distinctive, air-cooled put-put-putting of the refurbished 1.6-litre, four-cylinder boxer engine (complete with twin carburettors, and a thing of beauty in its own right), it dawns on me that the classic VW Camper is essentially the canal barge of modern motoring. It sucks you into cheery holiday mode the instant you clap eyes on it, such is its sepia-toned nostalgia. More than that – just as in a barge – you may travel for many hours in your camper, only to realise that you could have done the same distance in a ‘normal’ vehicle in half the time.
This is precisely the joy of it, of course. Even with a sprightly, freshly refurbished engine like Amelia’s, you have to take things slowly. Before you know it, you’ve given up on hours, minutes and ticks on the to-do list, and are measuring progress in landscapes viewed, places visited and experiences had.
That’s certainly what I find myself doing after the first night of camping in Amelia, who has been hired, fully equipped with everything from gas cooker to wine glasses, courtesy of the excellent Hiraeth Campers in Surrey.
If all this makes you wonder whether hiring a camper is a stretch too far, how about a day out encompassing all of life’s greatest hits: good company, classic cars of all eras, pub food, scenic roads, cake, tea, a good chat, grand old architecture, a museum, more cake and more chat? This is exactly what we found at the Sussex Summer Spree, which is the starting point for our coast-to-coast campervan epic.
The Boundless Sussex Summer Spree
We join the Spree at The Plough at Plumpton (theploughatplumpton.co.uk), the designated lunch spot, where we meet up with Dave Rosher, one of the chief organisers of the Spree and a long-time Boundless member of more than 40 years. He’s brought along his lovely Peugeot 205 XS, which rests up alongside other esteemed classics and moderns, ranging from a pre-war Austin Seven and Singer Nine Sports to an Audi R8, via a Jaguar XK150 S, an Austin Healey 3000, a Ford Escort XR3i Cabrio and all manner of other cars in between to make up the 35-strong group of participating vehicles.
“Anyone can take part in any car,” explains Dave. “There’s no competitiveness or judgement on what you drive, it’s just a nice day out to meet up with friends and enjoy the cars.”
We potter along from the lunch stop to the Spree’s finishing location at Filching Manor, near Polegate – a happy couple of hours enjoying scenery that includes views of the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington chalk figure, and more.
Filching Manor Motor Museum is a hidden gem. From the delightfully crooked Tudor house, complete with creepy armour and beautiful stained-glass windows, to the vintage car museum that focuses on the Campbell family’s various world speed records, it’s great for a family day out. It’s also good without the kids – leave them at home and you can spend even more time investigating the fascinating old motorbikes, cars, boats, curios and memorabilia.
While the Spree-goers do just that, we fire Amelia up as there are miles to be covered if we’re to get to Yorkshire for the next day. With the Sussex surf behind us, we head for the Seaside Rally at Whitby. This 10-day camping or caravanning break is a family- and dog-friendly event that’s open to members and their guests, with social gatherings and even a gig to finish the holiday off.
Driving a vintage VW camper on the motorway
We cruise north in a blur of motorway mundanity, getting miles covered so we can take a more leisurely wander up to the North Yorkshire Moors and coastline the following day.
Let’s not be under any illusions, here: a classic VW camper like our lovely Amelia isn’t anyone’s first choice for a long, unbroken motorway journey. Great for roving adventures with regular stops, absolutely. But a classic T2 camper such as this is to long distance touring what a bread knife is to tree surgery; it’ll (probably) get you there eventually, but there are far better tools for the job.
Needs must for this trip, though, and the fresh engined Amelia does a brilliant job, serving up comfortable motorway speeds of 60–65mph – usefully better than most equivalent classic campervans (many of whom we pass on this summer weekend with a cheerful wave and beep).
Reactions from other drivers, in campers or otherwise, surpass mere goodwill and tread well into fandom when you’re in an old VW camper. It’s one of the brilliant things you can count on if you do choose to hire, buy or borrow your way into the classic ‘Vee-dub’ adventure.
Boundless Seaside Rally in Whitby
After making it to Cambridge on Saturday night, we head for Skegness on Sunday. Why take the easy motorway route when there’s candyfloss and arcade games to be enjoyed? And let’s face it, in those rare moments when the next deadline is a distant one, it’s always worth taking the slow and scenic route.
Cue a pretty couple of hours through the Lincolnshire flatlands followed by a stop at Skeggie. With seaside, arcade games and bingo to spare, it’s a colourful, sugar-rush of a place for a late breakfast before Amelia and I wend onwards through the Wolds, over the Humber bridge and on towards the Yorkshire moors.
Yorkshire is a favourite holiday destination of mine, and it’s always a joy to be back. Abundant wilderness, plenty of excellent pubs and eateries, not to mention lots of family-friendly destinations, from York itself to countless pretty coastal towns – it’s got the lot. If you want colourful, quirky street scenes, independent shops, world-class fish and chips, breezy coastal walks and abbey ruins eerie enough to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Whitby is your place.
I couldn’t resist heading into town for fish and chips, which tasted all the better for being eaten in the sunshine by the cutesy comfort of our camper. Then, on to the pretty Caedmon College grounds above the town, where the Boundless Seaside Rally ably provides our rest stop and social event for the evening. With some 30 pitches on site, the Sheffield Group’s event was busy enough to be fun and welcoming, yet calm enough for those wanting peace and quiet for their holiday. There are optional games and social gatherings each evening, so kids and adults are well catered for, and at the end of the week there’s even the final flourish of a performance – this year from The New Jersey Tones.
Organised by Dave
Cawthorne, another long-time Boundless member – he’s notched up 50 years since joining – the Seaside Rally is a friendly, conveniently located base from which to meet people and to go out and see all that Yorkshire has to offer. Not only that, but at less than £20 per night to pitch a caravan, tent or motorhome it’s a really affordable way to get out and enjoy a change of scenery.
Then, of course, there’s Amelia. Parked up amid the cheerful, bunting-strewn ’vans and tents at the Seaside Rally, she’s a bright orange bridge between two pillars of the Boundless landscape: classic vehicles and the world of camping and caravanning.
She’s been a delight for all three nights of camp departure from modern life. An instant reset and detox from the daily rush.
Clearly, the classic campervan is a hobby and a lifestyle – it’s a mindset more than transport, really. But with the curtains up and lights on for our final stay overnight, Amelia is the vehicular embodiment of the inviting, warm glow that characterised our Boundless events. Young or ‘vintage’, novice or expert, the classic VW campervan and the Boundless events alike are pure fun for the taking, wherever and whoever you may be.
Do more with Boundless
Discounted cover from Caravan Guard
Members receive a 5% discount* on specialist cover for touring caravans up to 25 years old, plus motorhomes or campervans up to 30 years old. Call 01422 396741 or visit boundless.co.uk/caravanguard.
Why not join a Boundless group?
The Classic Car and Camping & Caravanning groups mentioned here are just two of many friendly groups that are always keen to greet new members. Find out more at boundless.co.uk/community.