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Camping In Cornwall In A British Made Retro Campervan

camping in cornwall

I could tell the tears were imminent from the tone they were taking with each other. It was time to leave the house to alleviate the pressure. It was time for a spot of camping in Cornwall, and at that point I had no idea we were only an hour away from paradise!

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It was the school holidays and we were running out of ideas so I decided to plan a little trip to our favourite Camping destination. Leaping over the mental hurdles of it being August bank holiday and us not having a hope of finding a campsite with space, needing to catch up on work that simply won’t get done, and the fact that we couldn’t really afford it, I still continued with my plan.

The draw of the Lizard Peninsular, the most southerly point in England, was enough to help me get started but it wasn’t long before I was interrupted by the phone. It was the couple who were supposed to be hiring our vintage campervan: a British Dormobile Camper called ‘Teapot’. They were calling to cancel the booking due to illness, which was a double edged sword as it meant we now had Teapot available for our camping trip, but we also had a queue of people ready to leap at the chance of booking her instead.

The temptation proved too much once we saw that a heatwave had been forecast for the weekend, so I got straight on the phone to try booking a campsite. This proved harder than expected as everyone else in the country seemed to be thinking of the same thing.

After being turned down by the seventh camp site, that I didn’t even want to stay at, I decided to think outside the box. I knew a couple who ran a kayaking school on the Lizard and was aware they stayed on a campsite there during the summer months. I found their website and made contact to see if they knew anywhere that could help us out. Bingo! They stayed on a new campsite owned by the National Trust which had space due to it only being their second year open! Perfect! Now fully excited at the chance of trying out a bit kayaking as well, we made our plans.

Setting off in Teapot is always exciting. She’s so original you can’t help but admire her as she represents true British camping with vintage style, and always has many admirers.  

Now onto the task of packing. If it was up to me it would be easy… surfboards, barbecue, cool box and sleeping bags… done! However, packing is my wife’s responsibility, so although it’s never straight forward or easy, we always have just what we need. So with the campsite booked, Teapot sparkling and everything packed, we set off on another Campervan adventure.

Just under an hour later we pulled into Teneriffe Campsite between Mullion village and the Harbour on the Lizard Peninsular. I have to admit the name had put me off a little but once we arrived my fears evaporated and the kids jumped out to explore the play area while we checked in.

The first thing I noticed was the pitches being set out around the edge of the field leaving a big space in the middle for fun and games and running around. Our Children, Matilda and Delilah (4 and 6 respectively) made friends before we were even out of the office and were busy showing their new best friends around the camper. “That’s where I sleep” said Tilly pointing to the roof bunks proudly.

Once we had set up camp I went to look for our friends hoping we could join in on a kayaking session the following day. Instead they offered us something even better – the use of some kayaks they had over on the east of the peninsular. This spot is a National Trust beach, and Lizard Adventure have teamed up with them to try to get more people involved and using National Trust facilities. We were happy to oblige because as far as we were concerned, this was our idea of paradise. A secret little beach, down a lane so narrow we all had to breathe in, where the kayaks were all ready to go!

When we got onto the beach my first word was “wow”. It’s a bolder beach with a little sand and the water that was calm and inviting. Someone had made hundreds of little boulder piles, all impossibly balanced 4 or 5 high and it all looked magical. Once the kayaks or ‘kanaks’ as our girls called them were in the water we set off making sure we had all the correct safety gear.

camping in cornwall

I had taken along some mackerel line I found in the ‘kanak’ shack in the hope that we might catch our supper and when the surface of the water ahead started to break and boil I knew our chances were good. Then we saw what the cause of the disturbed was… a cute seal on her back, head above the water inspecting us from a safe distance.

We didn’t go far with the kids but could have easily paddled around to Cadgwith Cove (of recent TV fame) if we had the inclination. Instead we paddled around, splashing and being in awe of the fact that we could look down and see the bottom in this crystal clear water. Then we headed out a little so we were deep enough to throw down some mackerel lines.

I let the line out and the weight hit the bottom. I handed the line to Delilah to show her the arm action and we had 3 mackerel on the line before I could finish my tutorial. Half an hour later and the smile on D’s face was from ear to ear, 11 fish was enough for a healthy BBQ and some. Emma had been in the other ‘kanak’ with Tilly, and by this time had gone back to the beach to keep themselves busy balancing boulders. When we got back to present our spoil, D and I were both feeling more than a little bit pleased with ourselves.

I couldn’t leave without trying my hand at the boulder balancing and found it to be a wholly therapeutic pastime. Then looking around I started to notice more of them. They were up on the cliffs, by the stream next to the bench… everywhere. I wondered who had started it off and if everyone that happened by felt the need to make one. I figured you could probably tell a lot about a person by knowing if they were a boulder builder or not.

Back at the campsite I started to prepare the fish while Emma lit the barbecue and got some spuds on. Once the fish was sorted I offered a few fat ones to our friends in payment for our ‘kanaking’ adventure and took the rest back to cook up. Satiated with fresh fish and pink fizz we sat back in Teapot to talk about the day and to plan the next one.

It had dawned on us that we would have to be up and out the next day as we had to go home on Sunday. Our friend from the kayak school popped over to suggest we joined them in Mullion Harbour in the morning for a more organised outing on the water and suggested the camp site wouldn’t mind if we just packed up a little later. I could not believe how cool the site was about this considering it was peak season, and felt really amazed at how relaxed things were on the Lizard. Even the village car park is free, with an optional donation box tucked away in the corner, which we only found because we were incredulous at the lack of a pay and display machine. I certainly didn’t mind giving a donation if it was free!

The next morning we woke up and got the espresso pot on the hob. The sound of the blipp, blapping and the aromas that filled up the van were enough to get even the laziest lazy head out of bed and excited about the day. We were late but still managed a quick bacon butty refuel before heading the 5 minute trip down to Mullion harbour.

It was my first time at Mullion Harbour and it was looking postcard pretty with only us there to enjoy it. D wanted to stay and play on the harbour beach so Emma and Tilly went out with the others while we stayed ashore. We played and swam in the safe ultramarine blue waters and felt as if we were further from home than we really were. When the tide retreats here a beach appears around the corner from the harbour. The coastline is full of these low tide sandy treasures so kayaking is the perfect way to discover them.

Emma returned full of adventurous spirit and grinning from ear to ear. “We saw a Sun Fish” she exclaimed like a little girl, “and it came right up to me”. Sun Fish are harmless and normally tropical giants weighing up to a ton on average. This alone would make any trip on the water awesome but there was more, such as kayaking between rocky arches and pulling up on secret beaches to make the first footprints.

This was the kind of stuff dreams were made of… this was paradise!

Back at the campsite we started a slow packing up process. All the time there was a noise distracting me from my packing for a moment and then disappearing again. ‘There it is again’ said emma and I stopped what I was doing to take a looked around. Nothing, then I looked up and saw an aeroplane way up in the sky with a wire going from it right down to the ground. This looked wrong in so many ways and I was struck by how dangerous it seemed. Then the wire and plane disconnected and a parachute opened at the end of the wire to assist its decent back to the ground.

It turned out that the plane was a glider and the wire was towing the plane up into the sky. No sooner had the cable landed than there was another glider going up… and then another… and another… with an increasing whooshing sound being made each time. I had never seen this before and it looked amazing. Back to packing up, now with the familiar sound of Gliders being launched above us into the still blue sky.

The kids friends were back and had some grown-ups with them this time. It always makes people smile when they come over to have a peak at Teapot, and they are always so pleased to know she’s a British made retro campervan.

Britain had a massive campervan industry with companies like Martin Walters and their famous ‘Dormobile’ brand, just one of many. These companies would convert standard vans from Ford, Bedford, Austin, and Rootes into campers and then sell them to order, just like Westfallia did with Volkswagen vans. In fact you could easily argue that at the time Britain had a much more diverse and interesting campervan history than just about any other country. It’s just been lost in a cloud of smoke coming from behind the Volkswagen mania that’s been sweeping the nation in recent years.

camping in cornwall

Maybe you should try out a British made vintage campervan. Who knows what discoveries you might make and adventures you might have, especially if you decide to join us for a spot of camping in Cornwall. What do you think?

By Robert Banks

Owner of St Ives Bay Campers who are striving to make British campers cool again by offering an alternative to the ubiquitous VW’s, so adventurous campers can be original with their vacation time and do it in retro British style.

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