Caravanning with kids in tow
Words by Nathan Pittam
It’s hard to know what I want to write about on any given month. I'm new to this, you see, and I'm absolutely convinced that even under-seasoned caravanners among you will know far more that I do, and possibly ever will do – although I have watched a fair amount of the content of The Trudgians on YouTube – and the videos and books of the late great John Wickersham which must give me some brownie points within the community.
In previous articles, I have gone through caravan purchasing and towing, so it seems logical that this month should be about the sites that we have chosen in our first year of caravanning. I don’t know about you but we are already planning for 2021 even though I’m writing this at the end of August 2020.
By the time you read this in October, there is a good chance that our caravan will be hibernating along with the fifth member of our family, Norm the tortoise, and we will have a relatively full itinerary for 2021.
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I’ve mentioned in previous columns that the sites that we choose for weekends and weeks away ideally need to be within a two-hour radius of our storage site which, for us, encompasses pretty much all of East Anglia and the very edge of the East Midlands.
I think we often beat ourselves up about the need to go far and go adventurous but we neglect the fact that to a toddler, a caravan site five miles up the road is often enough.
Believe it or not we have actually done this – our first trip post lockdown was to the Camping and Caravanning Club site at Polstead Heath in Suffolk, which was about three minutes away from an office that I worked at for nearly a decade and about 25 minutes from home.
It was a great little trip away and for the kids it could have been the other side of the country – bottom line is, don’t beat yourself up about not taking that long overland trip to Slovenia or Spain that is oft touted in these magazines, although obviously they do look amazing.
It goes without saying that we look for good, clean facilities especially in these times of Covid-19 but we want a route to site that is not overly taxing to tow. One key bit of advice that I would like to give in a Mr Miyagi voice is “caravanner should not to rely on a sat-nav to get you to your destination”.
I’ve spent many an hour checking our in-car sat-nav to make sure we aren’t being pushed onto a single-track road with grass down the middle where you are likely to meet one of John Deere’s beasts – perhaps this is an East Anglian thing?
Everything else is largely chosen for the children. We are not (yet) looking for facilities like outdoor swimming pools and evening entertainment as it's largely ‘lights out’ in the Pittam caravan by about 8pm when the bunks go up and the hopelessly optimistic privacy curtain is drawn.
Whoever dreamt up the privacy curtain could never have had children, met children, or met anyone that had ever met children. We are looking for open spaces for kite flying and general tearing about. We found that having some farm animals nearby has always held a fascination for the children, even if it’s a small collection of chickens cooped up nearby – a horse is always a bonus.
Play equipment has not been a major consideration for 2020 caravanning given that most has been taped up and was off limits but normally we would also be looking for a great playground, although I would be wary about being pitched immediately opposite the play area unless you like your wake-up call to be the 6am need for a go on a swing or slide.
To put it simply we are looking for small, well-maintained campsites and to be honest we are exceptionally lucky having some great Club and independent sites within our striking distance.
We have learnt that you should never underestimate a child’s passion for even the smallest adventure, so we have found that campsites on the edge of woodlands are great for small expeditions into the unknown and bug collection. Even the most mundane-looking woodland gave rise to stories about wild animals, woodland folk and hide and seek.
Margot can actively role play in these settings for hours on end with the three of us in tow. Ben is increasingly keen to get involved in such games and you can see his imagination sparking away, too, and as soon as he is up on his feet, I am sure that he will get stuck in.
For children that are growing up in a digital age I think this kind of exposure is not only desirable but essential. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t Amish – we have a TV in the caravan, an impressive transportable DVD collection including all the CBeebies greats and a Kindle Fire for rainy days but I never underestimate the power of turning off and heading out.
You need to channel your inner Enid Blyton on the days when the sun shines.
I suppose what I am saying is that, after 12 months we have come to see our caravan as the place to have adventures and allow freedom.
So much so that we have traded in our 14-year-old Abbey and have upgraded to a much newer Bailey Pursuit. This is no longer a trial; we are in it for the long haul.
I am one of you (only without the knowledge, tools, general capability, or practical skills).
Follow the Pittams’ adventures on Instagram at @shed_pulling_with_kids