Many of you reading this blog will know that Julia is President of the Camping and Caravanning Club – and their first female president. One of her roles is to inspire people who may be new to the idea of camping or caravanning to give it a go. With this is mind, she took up the challenge of convincing Essex boy Sam Thompson, star of Made in Chelsea, that he could and would enjoy camping. Sam joined Julia at National Camping and Caravanning Week in the Peak District and this video shows how they got on!
Before I became a wheelchair user I loved walking and camping and generally all things outdoors. As a youngster I loved Orienteering and travelled all over competing in different competitions.
It was my teacher, Mr Fletcher, who really started my love of the outdoors. He taught me how to read a map and he organised school camping trips in the UK and abroad.
As a child, my family holidays were in a touring caravan – I have been on many ‘Sprite Rallies’ and have had my share of portaloos and draughty shower blocks.
After my illness I had to resign myself to the life of a wheelchair user and never imagined it would be possible to go camping again. I thought my freedom had gone. I had so many ‘what ifs’ and concentrated on what could go wrong, so much so that I talked myself out of it.
But after watching the film of Julia’s camping antics with Sam I thought if he can do it… so can I! So the first camping adventure was when we were filming our walks along the stunning Jurassic coastline of Dorset and we stayed at the Camping and Caravanning Club site at Corfe Castle. And what a treat that was!
What I did love was the pace of life…
Sitting outdoors at night, enjoying a glass of wine was just wonderful. We had been busy during the day filming accessible walks and it was so relaxing to come back to our camp and to simply down tools for the evening. And the chips from the mobile chip-shop which came to the site was an added bonus. In fact, I had some of the best night sleeps that I have had for a long time whilst I was under canvas. In the morning we were blessed to be visited by a local herd of roe deer. They are such beautiful animals and had no fear of us humans.
During the winter months when it got a bit too cold for camping, Marquis Leisure loaned me a Fairford campervan for our travels around the UK. Holly picked this up from the very helpful and friendly team at the Ipswich centre.
I looked at many different motorhomes and the various interior layouts available to find what suited my own personal needs.
I was surprising how many different layouts are available for a campervan. I chose
the Fairford model which has the dining area behind the front seats, with a galley kitchen along the side and the bed at the back. With a few adaptions, for example a few grab rails in the bathroom and a lift at the door, this van was made perfect for my needs.
Here is a video of my trip to the Lakes in the Fairford where we stayed at the lovely Keswick Camping and Caravanning Club Site.
Unfortunately, not all campsites are accessible for everyone. Although the Disability Discrimination Act does say that ‘reasonable adjustments’ need to be made to support people with disabilities, there isn’t legislation saying what specific facilities need to be in place. This means it is very much down to the individual site owner to interpret what constitutes a ‘reasonable adjustment’.
A designated camping/caravan/campervan plot for the disabled visitor on a site would be ideal, with extra space for ramps and lifts and located close to facilities. A shower block too with accessible toilets that have grab rails, a shower stool and an adjustable shower would be great.
I urge any campsite owner/manager who is considering upgrading facilities to think about incorporating a ‘changing place’ facility on their site. It is a frightening fact that many adults and children with disabilities are having to lay on toilet floors whilst their carers change sanitary clothing. Really? Isn’t this a sad case for dignity and human rights? Some of the public toilets that I have been in whilst travelling around the UK – well, there is no way that I would sit on the floor.
And whilst toilet facilities are the most important thing to get right, there are also other things to consider. Gravel is a nightmare, a hardstanding surface would be amazing! Us wheelies, despite what you have heard, do also like to lend a hand with the washing up. But we have to be able to reach the sink first before we ‘muck in.’ Many of the washing stations on campsites have regular high (and deep) sinks and are made inaccessible by steps. A few adaptions to one of the sinks would be so much appreciated.
Of course not all disabilities are the same and the vast range of disabilities statements on campsite websites such as ‘fully accessible’ and ‘disabled friendly’ are not as helpful as one might think. What would be valuable would be a detailed access statement for each of the sites so that people can make an informed decision as to the suitability for their own needs. Of course the facilities available at campsites may often be dictated by the physical landscape and making it wheelchair accessible simply not an option.
This is what makes having a campervan even sweeter for me as I know that I have an accessible toilet and shower on board and I’m not having to worry about whether there will be accessible facilities at the campsite. I’m guaranteed too of being able to have a perfect cup of tea on demand!
I did choose a motorhome… one word: freedom.
Freedom to go places I want to go – I don’t have to stick to a timetable. I can travel as far as I want on a journey. I can set off when I want to set off and arrive when I want to arrive. I can pull over, park up and prepare a meal. I can stop and have a nap. I see something en-route and I can embrace it in a moment. I can embrace nature. I can embrace to night skies and the early morning. I can go for long holidays or short weekend stays. And I have my things around me.
At times, being on the road filming with The Outdoor Guide can often feel that I am living my life from a suitcase. But since having the campervan I don’t have the hassle of unpacking at each destination or worrying about whether we can find somewhere open for food… I have my supplies with me.
It’s worth noting that 12 billion pounds is spent on tourism by people with some form of disability – we are a section of the community that should not be forgotten about! We have money to spend too.
Camping isn’t for everyone with a disability. Some of the UK’s 3,000 sites are accessible, but it can be hit and miss. However, given the chance to break out of one’s comfort zone with the necessary support, it offers escapism that is hard to beat.
So with that in mind, here are just a few more of my camping highlights….