The Big Challenge: Did Sheena become a caravan convert?

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If you thought caravanning wasn’t for you, perhaps you should think again. It’s come a long way in the last few decades, as Sheena Grant discovered during a trip to the East Anglian coast.

It was a bank holiday weekend in the UK. And we all know what that means. This one, sadly, was no exception. “Rather you than me,” a friend said, when I told her later in the week how we’d spent the chilly, windy and – on the Monday at least – rain-soaked break. “It wasn’t really the weather for caravanning, was it?”

That’s exactly what I would have said too, before that blustery bank holiday. But, I have to report, if you haven’t had a lot to do with caravans lately, they’ve come a long way from the basic, chilly, perhaps even a little damp, boxes on wheels of a few decades past.

Swift Challenger 635 ExteriorThe Swift Challenger 635 we stayed in at Homestead Lake Park in Weeley was equipped with more mod-cons and comforts than many houses. There was efficient thermostatically-controlled central heating, a large fridge, impressive cooker and bathroom complete with shower, wash basin, and toilet, beyond which there was a bedroom with double bed and well-designed storage. In the cosy living area, meanwhile, as well as the kitchen there was a comfortable seating area that quickly converted into another double bed.

This was a weekend for busting pre-conceived ideas in other ways too.

Let’s be honest, Weeley might not be top of the list in any conversation about great UK holiday destinations and clearly the delights of the Tendring district as a whole have passed many people by, judging by the queues of traffic heading north on the A12 into Suffolk and stuck in growing tailbacks at the Copdock interchange as we moved south from Suffolk along clear roads. But, as we discovered, Tendring has a lot to offer.

At Homestead Caravans and Outdoor Leisure, a one-stop shop for all things caravan-related, we were greeted by Dawn and Dave, who towed the Challenger around to the adjacent touring site for us and set it up on a pitch overlooking the beautiful tree-lined fishing lake. The 50 pitches at Homestead all have electric hook-up and are fully serviced, which meant a hose could be run direct from a nearby tap to the caravan, in effect giving us a constant supply of running water.

Dawn’s father used to farm chickens and cows on the land before putting a couple of caravans in the garden many decades ago and finding they proved popular. He later dug out the lake and gave up farming altogether. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dog at Homestead Lake Touring ParkAs well as the 50 touring pitches, there’s also a shower block, cafe and, across the lake, a development of privately-owned holiday lodges.

The touring park was full for the holiday weekend and many people, our ‘neighbours’, Julie and John, informed us, find the site so relaxing they don’t feel the need to venture beyond its gates for their entire break. They only took up caravanning themselves last year, after ‘acquiring’ a dog and finding it wasn’t so easy to holiday with a pet. Now though, they are devotees, heading out as often as they can and taking the dog with them. This site is one of their favourites because of the facilities and friendliness of staff and guests.

“I used to curse when we got stuck behind a caravan on the road,” laughed Julie. “Not any more. Now we’re the ones no doubt being cursed by others. We just love the freedom of the caravan. It’s such a great way to get away from it all and relax. And it’s a real community. You’ll find caravanners will do anything to help each other, particularly if they know you’re still learning the ropes.”

We discovered the truth of her words on the rainy Monday, when our 11-year-old set out to do some fishing, only to discover he’d forgotten his fishing line. A neighbouring angler and caravan dweller came to our rescue with a donated line that allowed my son to catch eight fish and made his weekend.

Unlike many, however, we did We enjoyed fish and chips at the Golden Fillet in nearby Holland on Sea and went into Walton on the Naze, where we had lunch at the excellent Essex Wildlife Trust visitor centre by the Naze Tower, an octagonal landmark built in 1720 to aid ships’ navigation along the Essex coast.

Afterwards, we walked along the beach towards the pier, which is the second longest in the country, passing the Princes Esplanade, opened by Prince George in 1930, along the way. I couldn’t help smiling when I thought of what those hordes heading north were missing as they headed for more fashionable resorts up the coast.

Walton on the Naze Beach FrontThe cliffs and beach below the Naze Tower (open from April until the end of October as an art gallery, museum and café), for instance, are among the best spots in the UK for fossil hunting, as evidenced by the locally-found mammoth bone and sharks’ teeth fossils on display at the Essex Wildlife Trust visitor centre.

At low tide – and you need to be careful not to get cut off as the tide turns – we headed onto the beach to look for our own prehistoric finds, deposited by London Clay from the Naze’s fast-eroding cliffs. We found no sharks’ teeth or ammonites but did bag some ancient pyritised (mineralised) wood, that served as adequate consolation.

Then, I have to admit, the lure of the caravan got us. Lazy hours spent reading, drinking tea, exploring the woods on-site, playing Swingball, cooking pizza and generally unwinding were too good to miss. This is, after all, surely the stuff of all the best holidays.

The Big Challenge: Did Sheena become a caravan convert?

By Sheena GrantThis 'Life&Style' editorial publication was written by Sheena Grant for the East Anglian Daily Times and appeared in Monday, May 29th, 2017 edition.

This article appeared in 6 different newspapers, with a total readership of around 400,000 based (mostly) in the County of Suffolk, although the EADT is widely distributed throughout North Essex.

Click the 'Download PDF' button to read a copy of the original article.

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