EXTENDING VISITOR SEASONS
Neil Campbell reports on his recent autumnal holiday stay...
With modern motorhomes and caravans now built to withstand cold weather, equipped with proper insulation and efficient heating, more and more sites are extending their bookings to include autumn and winter stays. My wife and I recently decided to give out-of-season touring a go and hired a motorhome for a long weekend at the St Neots campsite run by the Camping and Caravanning Club (CCC), situated next to the River Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire.
The Hardwick Road campsite is open until the end of October — long enough to embrace the autumn half- term holidays and Halloween. We had checked in online as the CCC encourages you to do, and this made arrival a seamless process. We were met at the gate as we arrived with a friendly welcome, which makes all the difference. We didn’t even have to get out of the motorhome and were led by one of the managers to our pitch – and in fact we were given a choice of three.
A speedy reception and check-in makes all the difference and makes for a more relaxed start to your holiday, with online check in a massive advantage. It is a real help if there is plentiful local information, with brochures for local cafes, takeaways and taxi firms, and several maps showing the local area. Hooking-up could not have been simpler, with the electricity point directly behind the pitch.
There was a waterpoint about 10 metres away if we needed it, although we had a full tank. There was also a well-equipped motorhome service point where you could drain grey water and fill up with fresh water, and two chemical toilet disposal points. We were on a hardstanding pitch of about 8 metres by 4 metres, with an electric hook-up.
There was just about room for our pop-up gazebo, although we didn’t put it up in the end as the weather was good. There would have been ample space for a motorhome awning, and as the CCC has a policy of six metres between pitches, the whole site felt well spread out. The grounds had very well-kept grass and mature trees across the site, so that it retained a feeling of being in the country even though it was on the edge of a town, about 10 minutes’ walk away.
We paid just under £100 for three nights for two adults. A grass tent pitch with electric would have been about £95, or a tent pitch without electric just under £80. We paid a 25% deposit, with the balance being collected on our day of arrival. It would also have been straightforward to change the dates of our booking online. There was also a lot of site information available on the CCC website, so we knew what would be there.
Check-in time was from 1pm, and contactless, which is a real advantage for arriving campers, particularly when the days are getting shorter, and checkout was mid-day, allowing for a leisurely start to the day without any need to rush. Facilities were excellent – spotlessly clean and spread across two blocks, so when one was shut for cleaning for 45 minutes, the other one was open. There were plenty of showers, although no shower curtains although there were locking doors of course.
The washing-up areas were under cover and there was plenty of hot water, and the laundry looked well-equipped with plenty of machines. Disabled access to the facilities looked to be excellent. There was a parent and baby room. I was also very impressed that there was a defibrillator machine, in my opinion every campsite should have one – it could save someone’s life. The bins were located at one location near the entrance, presumably so that the dustbin lorries only had one place to pick up from.
There were no separate recycling bins, so everything went in one rubbish bag. We were told that they were sorted out by the refuse collection teams. The campsite wifi was also very effective, and with an easily remembered password. There were lots of dogs and it seemed a very pet-friendly site. There was a code to get through the barrier onto the site, and an automatic barrier when you left. There was also a code for one of the loo blocks, as I think passing walkers had been using the facilities for free!
There was no shop on site although LPG gas was available from reception, as was the ability to freeze ice packs crucial if you are tent-camping. You could also get fishing licences for the nearby River Great Ouse. I think in an ideal world motorhome or caravan hardstanding areas would have individual water supplies and drainage points for grey water.
A small shop stocking essentials would be very useful – canned goods, bread, basics such as pasta, milk and perhaps eggs. If there is a shop, the essentials of camping gas, charcoal, firewood and batteries for torches should be freely available. Highly desirable food items would include marshmallows, hot chocolate, cake and anything that can be toasted on a fire — crumpets and teacakes chief among them.
Providing local information is also vital some sites offer the wonderful service of a visiting pizza or fish and chip van, but if not then leaflets for local takeaways, and directories for other services, can make a huge difference. Games, books or DVD’s to borrow or buy offer added value. The CCC lists 18 of its campsites as being open all year round, with the most northerly being Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland and the most southerly being Tavistock in Devon.
Touring sites will of course need to balance the potential to attract visitors during the off season against the cost of doing so. From the campers’ point of view, a full range of facilities need to be available if a campsite is open — hot showers and a laundry being probably top of the wish list. Our experience of holidaying in autumn has only served to make us want more — we are already planning a winter trip and wondering if we are hardy enough to try it in a tent!