Outdoor holidays are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. According to VisitBritain, there were over 16.9 million domestic camping and caravanning trips in 2011, which represents a four per cent increase on the previous year. But not everyone wants to spend their outdoor break shivering under canvas, and as a result, glamping is more popular than ever. And the most popular form of glamping around is the gypsy caravan. Not that we’re talking bog-standard caravans here. The real gypsy caravan experience involves getting to grips with traditional wooden caravans – many of which have been given an eco-luxe twist.
So popular are gypsy caravans proving, luxury eco glamping company Under the Thatch’s Spot Scott says they need more caravans to keep up with the demand. Like any form of camping, staying in a static wagon allows you to embrace the great outdoors while leaving a much reduced carbon footprint. 'Experiencing camping is not just about getting closer to nature and wildlife,’ comments VisitEngland’s Sustainable Tourism Manager, Jason Freezer, ‘it also has the potential for lower energy use and reduced water consumption in comparison to many built accommodation providers. But like any visitor, campers can have a great experience sustainably by ensuring they make the most of the local area, sampling local produce and getting to know what makes the place special and unique.’ And don’t be put off by the lavish dresses and wild celebrations portrayed in hit Channel 4 series, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding; gypsy caravans offer a more traditional insight into the travellers' world as well as a wonderful weekend break.
Wriggles Brook Gypsy B&B, Hoarwithy, Herefordshire
Nestled in the heart of the Wye Valley, Wriggles Brook [pictured left] is the ideal getaway for those in need of some rural tranquillity. The traditional wagons are set in an acre of gardens between farmland and wild hillside. Choose between the Gypsy Bow-top Caravan and the newly located Showman's Wagon. Keep cosy inside by the antique cast iron stove or laze by an open fire in the double hammock with Fairtrade quilts. The site is powered by solar energy and everything is made from recycled materials. In the area, you’ll find stunning views accessible by foot, bike or horseback. If you're feeling adventurous, try a spot of canoeing on the Wye and experience one of only two wild rivers in England. The unspoiled village of Hoarwithy is a quarter of a mile down the lane, and well worth a visit with its wonderful Italianate church and quaint country pubs.
First Great Western (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk) operates services from London and the South, while Arriva (www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk) has routes from the North to Hereford station. From there, you can you hop on the Hereford to Ross-on-Wye bus (number 37) which stops at the New Harp Inn in Hoarwithy.
Wriggles Brook caravans sleep up to four, with hire starting at £90 for the weekend. For more information, see www.wrigglesbrook.co.uk
Badger Gypsy Caravan, Upper Wye Valley, Welsh Lake District
The pretty retreat is located on an organic farm and includes a gypsy caravan and a shepherd's hut. The duo is moved between a secluded meadow (May to October) and a sheltered garden courtyard. The caravan has a cosy double bed while the shepherd's hut has a fully equipped kitchen, indoor dining area and an underfloor-heated shower room. Solar PV provides much of the electricity and sustainable wood from the farm is used in the fireplace. As the name suggests, from the nearby tree house, guests have the privilege of watching wild badgers eating their nightly meal. Borrow a bike to explore the surrounding mountains and moors, or wander down to the secluded river frontage - a great spot for fly-fishing or wild swimming. The Hawksdrift Falconry and Red Kite feeding centre are within cycling distance while Hay-on-Wye is 15 miles away.
National Express (www.nationalexpress.com) has a direct daily service from London Victoria to Llangurgig (Aberyswyth coach). Get off at the Black Lion Hotel and go easy on the luggage, as from here you'll have a five-mile hike to enjoy.
The caravan sleeps two, with hire starting at £152 for two nights. For more information, go to www.underthethatch.co.uk
Opera in the Orchard, Wickham Bishops, Essex
Tucked away behind a screen of apple branches is Bouncers Farm [pictured top], which is home to two restored Bowtop caravans - a 1950s Buccaneer gypsy trailer and an open lot wagon. Electricity is generated by the sun and all hot water is heated either by solar panels or by a wood fired boiler. Guests can meet the resident Kunekune pigs, rare breed sheep and free range chickens. The coast, with its many secluded coves, is four miles away and boasts a network of public footpaths. For a day out, visit the Maeldune Heritage Centre or see what's on at the RHS Garden Hyde Hall.
Escape from the city in just half an hour - Greater Anglia (www.greateranglia.co.uk) operates a regular service from London Liverpool Street to Witham, where the owners will be happy to collect you in their horse and carriage.
Opera in the Orchard caravans sleep between two and eight people, with hire starting at £50 per night. For more information, see www.operaintheorchard.co.uk
Roulotte Retreat, Melrose, Scottish Borders
Roulottes are hand crafted French Romany caravans made from sustainable oak, ash, wild cherry, chestnut and pine – and Roulotte Retreat's [pictured right] are the only Roulottes of their kind in the UK. Each wagon comes complete with its own individual character and colour scheme, and is equipped with energy efficient appliances, furnished using recycled materials, heated with locally sourced logs and lit by solar power. Guests can join guided wildlife and foraging walks or take part in local workshops – organic gardening, yoga or 'en plein air' (sketching in the open air). The legendary Eildon Hills and the River Tweed are nearby areas to explore.
Virgin Rail (www.virgintrains.co.uk) and East Coast (www.eastcoast.co.uk) operate regular services from London to Edinburgh. You can get the Munros of Jedburgh bus (51/52 route) from Edinburgh, Newcastle or Carlisle to St. Boswells or Galashiels, where the owners can meet you.
The Roulottes sleep between two and four people, with hire starting at £90 per night. For more information, see www.roulotteretreat.com
Rosie at The Old Forge, Compton Abbas, Dorset
Rosie is an enchanting showman's wagon, originally built for the itinerant fairground workers at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, her Romany roots are evident in the décor. Rosie has a snug double bed, original iron stove, private bathroom and a vintage music box. Nestled in an idyllic smallholding, you'll be able to meet the resident Arabian horses, and appreciate the Old Forge’s local history and charm. There are walks directly from the caravan to the Fontmell and Melbury Downs, an area of outstanding natural beauty, known for its wild flowers, grasses and Iron Age cross-dykes.
South West Trains (www.southwesttrains.co.uk) has services from London Waterloo, while Crosscountry Trains (www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk) operates routes from the North to Gillingham. Take the Poole bus from there (route 30), which stops in Compton Abbas.
Rosie sleeps two, with hire starting at £85 per night. For more information, see www.theoldforgedorset.co.uk
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