20/10/2010
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Eight great places to stay in camping coaches

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Glamping on a train? Sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? The stresses and strains of the daily rail commute are about as far removed from a relaxing holiday as it’s possible to get. But camping coaches are a different matter.

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History

Camping coaches advert

(Photo courtesy of )

These hark back to the golden era of railways – a time when travelling by train was an adventure rather than an ordeal. A stay in one of these vintage carriages takes you back to a more relaxed way of life and a chance to enjoy a nostalgic getaway, with all the modern-day comforts.

Camping coaches were first introduced in Britain in the early 1930s and provided affordable holiday accommodation for working class families. Equipped with a functioning kitchen, a dining area and two, or more, bedrooms, these converted former passenger cars were once a popular holiday choice, the perfect way to escape the city. London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) were the pioneers of the idea, positioning their camping coaches along station sidings and out of the way branch lines.

Paying guests, or residents, were obliged to travel on a return ticket by rail to their chosen destination, they could even receive postal correspondence during their stay c/o the Station Manager at said destination. Luggage could be sent on ahead, which meant that on the day of travel, families were unburdened by suitcases and carpet-bags. Demand for camping coaches often outstripped supply and other companies swiftly followed suit so that by the end of the decade, they were widespread throughout the UK.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, popularity declined as people were generally otherwise occupied, and many of the camping coaches were pressed into use in support of the war effort. The late 1940s and 1950s, however, witnessed a revival of this popular accommodation, and by 1958, a decade following nationalization, British Railways were able to offer ‘delightful inexpensive holidays’ in over 130 locations throughout the UK. The actual number of camping coaches far exceeded the number of locations, as there were often multiple coaches in each place. Camping coaches were predominantly situated in coastal locations, but many inland sites were also popular. In the majority of cases, lighting, cooking and heating were all fueled either by paraffin or calor gas (not included in the price of rental, but available from the ‘friendly’ station master for a moderate charge!). The luxury of electricity in 1958 was afforded at just two locations, Robin Hood’s Bay and Scalby. Residents were encouraged to ‘make a friend of the Station Master’, who would be willing to offer advice on outings, such as golfing and fishing trips, as well as offer fuel and other supplies at reasonable prices.


Beeching

The network of interlinked cycle paths and greenways spreading slowly across the British countryside is an unintended legacy of what must now, in the light of our congested motorway and road network, be seen as a short-sighted attempt to save money. Following a series of reports and recommendations compiled for the government at the time by Dr Richard Beeching, more than 5,000 miles of railway lines, together with over 2,000 stations, were closed and dismantled. The ‘Beeching Axe’ fell during the mid 1960s in a bid to streamline and improve Britain’s transport network. The nationalisation of the railways in 1948 put strain on the public purse, and the object of the day was to save money by closing non-profitable branch lines. Some half a century later, what remains of the rail network is sadly increasingly expensive and inaccessible to many.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The on-going work of organisations like SUSTRANS, has meant that hundreds of miles of disused railways are once again open and accessible to families and individuals who enjoy the great outdoors. Less well known perhaps, is the recent increase in popularity of the camping coach.


Coaches' return

The branch line closures following the Beeching report, together with cheaper foreign travel opening up in the early 1970s, did much to scupper the future of camping coaches, but thankfully a few remain, and that number appears to be on the increase. Those that do are now mainly in the hands of private owners, or are run by heritage railway organisations. Situated in quiet out of the way places, a stay in a camping coach makes for a perfect glamping break. Now scattered like a series of incongruous erratics left few and far between following the retreat of a shrinking glacier, this legacy of the shrunken rail network is once again becoming a popular attraction, not just for rail enthusiasts, but for those who seek to get way from it all in luxury and comfort. Thankfully, the inconvenience and odour of paraffin heating and lighting vanished along with much of the track that was pulled up during the ‘60s. Those coaches that remain all offer comfort, light and warmth befitting the 21st Century and are just perfect for a getaway to yesteryear.


The North Yorkshire Moors Historical Railway Trust

The North Yorkshire Moors Historical Railway Trust is the largest fully operational preserved railway in the UK. It offers numerous attractions, including fine dining in a Pullman carriage, nostalgic ‘war time on the railways’ weekends, regular steam travel between Grosmont and Pickering, and more recently was host to a passenger service pulled by the Flying Scotsman, which attracted sell-out crowds. With over 18 miles of rail running through some of the most spectacular scenery in the North York Moors National Park, the two camping coaches situated at Levisham and at Goathland along this route are highly popular and are often booked up well in advance during the summer season.

Both locations provide easy access to nearby coastal attractions, Whitby, Staithes, Runswick Bay are all within half an hour’s drive. The stations at which the coaches rest are preserved in their original appearance, and provide a truly historic setting for a short break. Well-informed Muggles may also be aware that the station at Goathland once served as the final stop for the Hogwarts express as it pulled in to Hogsmeade, allowing its cargo of junior witches and wizards to disembark. The coach at Goathland sleeps up to four people, in one double and one twin room with heating and nostalgic luxury throughout. As the last train leaves the station at 6.30, residents are transported all the way back to 1922, and practically have the whole place to themselves during the evening, just magic!

Further down the line at Levisham, which appears to be stuck in the year 1912, the camping coach there has three bedrooms, accommodating up to five people again in heated luxury with modern conveniences. Both coaches are available year round, but bookings between April and November (the period in which the railway is fully operational) must be in Saturday to Saturday week long blocks. A three night minimum stay is required at other times.

North Yorkshire Moors Historical Railway Trust
01751 472508

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The Old station

Once part of the Kings Lynn to Hunstanton railway line, which closed in 1969, the Old Station at Heacham in Norfolk now offers camping coach accommodation with accommodation for up to four people. The converted carriage was built in Swindon in 1962, but found its way to Heacham in 2008. Lovingly renovated and converted by owners Judith and Terry Clay, this ex Inter-City First Class passenger carriage is available to hire year round from £556 per week. Short break periods are also available with a two-night stay starting at £255. With Norfolk’s famed ‘sunset coast’ just a few minutes stroll away, and plenty of pubs and restaurants in the village, Heacham is the ideal spot from which to explore the north Norfolk coast.

97 Station Road,
Heacham,
Kings Lynn,
Norfolk
PE31 7AW
01485 570712

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Caledonian Camping Coach Company

The Caledonian Camping Coach Company offers accommodation for up to five people with a double bedroom and a second bedroom containing a single bed plus bunk beds, located at the edge of Loch Awe. Prices start from £540 per week and bookings can be made between April and November via the website.

Pier Sidings,
Loch Awe Station,
Dalmally,
Argyll PA33 1AQ

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Cromdale Station

Accommodation for up to four people is available at Cromdale Station in Speyside. A beautifully converted camping coach, dating from 1916 offers a double bedroom and a bunk-room together with all mod cons.

Grantown On Spey,
PH26 3LQ
01479 873488

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Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

A pair of restored Pullman coaches, each with the capacity for up to six persons, can be found at Ravenglass Station in the Lake District. The ‘Maid of Kent’ and ‘Elmira’ are a pair of original Pullman camping coaches, converted by British Rail and positioned at Ravenglass in the early 1960s. Prices start from £475 for a weeks stay.

Ravenglass,
Cumbria,
CA18 1SW
01229 717171

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The Station House

Further camping coach accommodation can be found in North Yorkshire at The Station House. Prices for three nights accommodation in Oscar, a converted Mark 1 railway carriage with room for up to four people, start from £280

Station Lane,
Cloughton,
Scarborough,
North Yorkshire
YO13 OAD
01723 870896

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High Cross Camping Coach

High Cross Camping Coach in Dorset evokes a more opulent era. Once part of a coach built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, this Victorian carriage has been converted to accommodate two people in a fold out double bed. An antique wood burning stove and modern kitchenette offer a taste of luxury just five miles from Dorset’s ‘Jurassic Coast’. Prices start at £200 for a minimum of a two night stay.

Whitecross,
Netherbury,
Bridport,
Dorset
DT6 5NH
01308 488701

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Railholiday

Railholiday picked up the Visit England Gold Award for Sustainable Tourism in 2016. Based in St Germans, Cornwall, this family-run company has ‘rescued’ four old railway coaches and have lovingly converted them to camping coaches. Two are sited in St Germans and two are to be found in Hayle, near St Ives in North West Cornwall.

Haparanda Station,
St Germans,
Saltash,
Cornwall
PL12 5LU
01503 230783
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