Looking to get your fill of fresh coastal air before reaching your step count on cobbled streets? Florence Reeves-White finds that a campervan holiday is the perfect way to reconnect with nature. Here, Florence shares her experience with Camptoo Campervan Hire…
Wide open roads are narrowing before our eyes. Tall, gangly trees suddenly seem stumpy and overgrown. The words ‘hill’ and ‘start’ feel like grains of sand as they grind, unwelcome, against our teeth while we tilt towards the sky. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew, that’s for sure. It’s nothing major. We’re just driving a seven-metre-long motorhome.
Surprisingly spacious while you’re manoeuvring them from place to place, but comparatively tiny once parked, campervans never much appealed to me. ‘But they’re so versatile, so freeing!’ the Caravan Club members squeal. ‘You can pack up your troubles and travel wherever the road will take you!’ But what if I want to venture somewhere a bit balmier? Or even, as is the true crux of the matter, what if I can’t really be bothered to drive?
Fortunately, the thought of a staycation has become a lot sexier since 2022 entered its all-flights-cancelled-every-day-for-months era. And the grinding desire to go off-grid grates even the most vocal of campervan naysayers down eventually. Indeed, Mintel research shows that one-in-five adults have been camping or caravanning since the start of the pandemic. So, reservations in tow, I thought it about time I trundled along to an airy field with a five-cubicle shower block to work out what all the fuss was about.
Hiring a campervan
Finding the right campervan was the easy part. We’d heard about a site called Camptoo, the Airbnb of the camping world. You just pop in your trip details – how long you’re going for, where you’re driving to, where you’ll collect from – and Camptoo does the rest. There were three couples coming on our minibreak, so we were in the market for a big six berth-er.
In no time we found our girl, lovingly named Christine Alice (motorhometrails.co.uk), she was a full-bodied beast with all the mod cons. Then came location. The site we chose sits atop Folkstone’s chalky white cliffs in Kent, a mere hike away from their better-known Dover counterparts.
Complete with brooding ocean vistas and a refreshing sea breeze, Folkestone Camping & Caravanning Club Site saw us coining a new shade of sky we came to name ‘wholesome grey’. Craftily located in between all the best walking trails and the vibrant town centre, both hiking and hospitality are high on the menu here.
Hike, bike, dip, climb
If an uphill stroll up a well-trodden path is your scene, a walk to The Warren Country Park will fit the bill. Access is on foot only, although there’s a small car park and another campsite there, too. A lovely little clifftop café, Little Switzerland, swings open its doors in summer months, but it’s worth packing a post-hike picnic if you’re visiting during the autumn/winter season. From here, you can pick up the North Downs Way route to Dover if you want to push your legs that bit further.
The next day, we cycled, and the sea views didn’t disappoint. Whether fastening a bike-on-the-back system securely to your caravan (a walk in the park for our Christine Alice) or stuffing a BMX in the boot, be sure to bring your ride along if you’re into off-roading. For the more ‘extra jalapeños please’ among us, Folkestone’s F51 skate-park-meets-climbing-club is sure to scratch a fitness itch. As the world’s first purpose-built multilevel skate park, it’s not one for the adventure averse. Kitted out with the tallest climbing wall in the South East, if our arms had been slacking while hiking, they were making up for lost time here.
We couldn’t visit the coast without dipping our toe into the benefits of cold-water therapy. On this stretch of shore, you’ll find most sea swimmers at Folkestone’s Mermaid Beach. We weren’t short of places to make a splash, though, as there were paths leading to the ocean just a short walk from where we were camped.
Warm up and wind down
Once we’d exhausted ourselves with exercise, we thought it time to stomp around some cutesy streets. Our quest led us to the Creative Quarter, an Old High Street full of indie shops selling local art, crafts and gifts. Oh, and don’t forget to visit Folkestone’s Banksy by the Folklore bar.
Next, The Pullman. Warm service and cosy corners are the cornerstone of this pub’s offerings. You can eat in the restaurant for table service or, if accompanied by a dog, dine from the same menu in the bar area. This was an enviable place to thaw ourselves out and enjoy a perfectly crispy-yet-fluffy pastry pie after our cliff-top climbs.
After stuffing ourselves silly on hearty pub grub, the streets had a surprising secret to share. Behind The Potting Shed interiors shop, there’s a tiny but gorgeous prohibition-inspired speakeasy. You have to book and receive a password, then ring on the shop doorbell and say the password to be let in and led through to the bar. This adds to the allure of making you feel outrageously special.
On the final day we wandered down to the Little Rock restaurant, a tasseled and tropical beachside container restaurant serving fresh fish and seafood, with a side order of celeb spotting. After lunch, wander over to the Goods Yard right by the harbour station for a peruse of posh keepsakes.
As we made our final turn into the campervan car park that we’d picked Miss Alice up from, swinging out her rear end too wide one final time, we turned to each other with a curious look of relief and regret. For all her clattering baking trays along the motorway and clambering over each other to make coffee, there was something special about this trip that a simple country cottage couldn’t match.
We’d felt like explorers, fighting our way through the bracken of mundanity, orienteering around inconvenient obstacles and squeezing along narrow tracks, but feeling a greater sense of accomplishment all the while. We’d chosen the scenic route – and, boy, were we smug that we’d soaked up the view!
Campervans can be booked through Camptoo from around £36 per night. An overnight stay at Folkestone Camping & Caravanning Club Site starts at £9.25.
Words: Florence Reeves-White | Images: Shutterstock & Florence Reeves-White