Cool camping

One weekend in the life of Brian

Two new words in our vocabulary have changed the look of camping and caravanning in Britain in recent years.

‘Staycation’ describes the more affordable trend for holidaying closer to home rather than abroad; while ‘glamping’, or glamorous camping, represents the growing number of boutique camping alternatives that offer luxury and style in spades, for those too posh to pitch a tent.


In his quest to experience everything ‘cool’ about 21st-century camping, AA Caravan & Camping Guide editor, David Hancock, spent a weekend staycation glamping it up in style with Brian, a beautifully restored classic VW camper, in the New Forest.

Vanilla Splits – cool campers

Located near Chichester in West Sussex, Vanilla Splits was my choice for hiring a spruced-up ‘Splittie’. Vanilla Splits have skilfully and lovingly restored a number of 1960s split-screen and 1970s bay window campers, maintaining their original integrity and adding some funky interiors with
21st-century features and comforts to enhance the whole VW experience.

Every bus is unique and personally styled, and is named after a character in the 1960s children’s television series The Magic Roundabout. The campers are equipped with colourful fabrics and cushions, a radio with iPod connector, and a drop-down DVD player, plus a fridge, gaspowered two-ring cooker, sink, soft spotlighting, essential cooking equipment, and a proper set of crockery, cutlery and glasses.

I was proudly introduced to Brian, a gorgeous 1967 splitscreen painted in a cool two-tone light green and white, who was already prepped and ready to go.

The cool campers on offer at Vanilla Splits

The cool campers on offer at Vanilla Splits

On the road with Brian

We were eager to head west, but before I could be let loose at the wheel on the M27 in the Friday rush hour, I had to be shown Brian’s controls in the cockpit, which are totally original – the 21st-century luxuries are well and truly confined to the living quarters.

Having conquered the idiosyncrasies of how to drive Brian, by going back to the basics of driving and divorcing myself from the way I drive a modern-day car, I found the whole experience exciting and great fun. You may be slower than most on the road, but the sight of an iconic camper always brings a smile to people’s faces and gains huge respect.

The camping experience

The distinctive sound and gorgeous retro look of Brian certainly turned a few heads as we pulled into Hill Farm Caravan Park. Setting up on the pitch was a breeze compared to erecting even the smallest of tents.

It may be compact but the interior has been brilliantly designed. Working out how the bed slots together takes time, then you have to retrieve the duvet and pillows from the deep compartment beside the sink before pulling all the doll’s house curtains for privacy. With bags stowed away at the back or front, the result is a very cosy, small double bed.

The cosy interior

The cosy interior

A good night’s sleep was followed by a relaxed start and a decent fry-up breakfast before setting off to Salisbury in heavy rain, with Brian’s tiny motorised window wipers just about coping with the downpour.

Sunday saw Brian pootling through sun-drenched New Forest lanes, before the M27 beckoned in the late afternoon for the journey to Ellscott Park.

That evening, following a slap-up pasta meal, we made the bed up early and settled down cosy and warm to watch a DVD with a glass of wine, while wind and rain from Hurricane Katia raged outside. It was the perfect way to end our all-too-brief love affair with Brian, and we look forward to being reunited with him for a longer, more adventurous trip in the future.

(24 October 2013)