VW campervans: take a hippy trip

Something about this vehicle still instills a sense of freedom. It’s got that ‘drop life and drive’ factor

July 5, 2013 | By:

Fancy packing up and travelling light, going with the flow, a vacation on wheels? Feel the vintage vibe in a Veedub; it's the only way to go, says Oliver Bennett

VW campervan and palm trees_by Caroline Gutman on Unsplash_620

Feel the Veedub love: for hippies old, young and young-at-heart

It was once the counter-culture’s favourite vehicle: think the Furry Freak Brothers, Arlo Guthrie in 1967 movie Alice’s Restaurant. But the Volkswagen Type Two campervan has found a comfy new life in Britain’s glamping and bunting sector.

Indeed, a bright pink ‘Dubber’ or ‘Veedub’ even looks like a travelling cupcake, and fits into the cheerful vintage aesthetic of our times. Something about this vehicle still instills a sense of freedom. It’s got that ‘drop life and drive’ factor.

There is a boom of VW vans for hire in the UK, with a preponderance in the south-west and outposts elsewhere. Getting the vibe right is important and, in my own search for one, I realised the first rule of campervans is this: they must have a name and their marketing must be in cheerful colours.

Where to hire a VW campervan

Camper4hire, in the Midlands, has vans called Van Morrison, Van Halen and Van Gogh (festivals a speciality).

Devon Happy Campers offers a complimentary cream tea before you set out to Croyde Beach in Lola or Matilda.

SW Camper Hire, also in Devon, offers four VW campers: Dylan, Hendrix, Santana and yes, Morrison.

I went to Cornwall to pick up my campervan. At certain carparks in Padstow, you can hardly move for Veedubs; it’s the vehicle of choice for Boden-and-wetsuits families chugging betwixt beach and campsite.

At Cornwall Campers, set up ten years ago, the charming owners introduced me to a van called Ella, a pea-green German Westfalia-type VW van with cheese-shaped roof awning.

“People get very excited,” said the nice lady who handed me the keys. “They often say, ‘I’ve wanted to go in a campervan since I was a child’.”

Then came an induction: fully half an hour of bunkbeds, Calor gas, fridge, sink and how to manage with left-hand drive. Finally, I was handed a hamper of Cornish delicacies and I set off to Newquay in Ella.

The old bird took a bit of getting used to. With a steering wheel that was coach-driver flat, Ella had to be wrenched around corners like a tugboat. In typical West Country lanes I could for once look over the hedgerows, and went in search of a proper campsite.

Where to go in your Veedub

That was more difficult than it seemed. The first three were X-Factor hell. But soon I was bedded down in the Trethiggy tourist park, struggling with the raised roof and, finally, necking the hamper’s Cornish Yarg cheese and Camel Valley wine.

The next day I headed up the north coast towards Tintagel, stopping in small villages and noting that in Cornwall, every stop demands a stiff parking fee. If you’re going to Veedub, bring a bag-full of nuggets.

In Padstow I began to appreciate the Veedub goodwill. Other Dubbers were all thumbs-up and chatty and I could see why people loved these vans. Even the horn sounded friendly. That night I rested at Tintagel’s Bossiney Farm caravan park overlooking a misty valley.

Day three and the weather was wet, the traffic bad. Veedub or no Veedub, this was just like being in any jam in the rain. Cornwall Campers’ chatty website had mentioned the Cornish microclimates: “If it’s a bit drizzly on the north coast head south and vice versa.” So I drove towards the Roseland peninsula, picking up my partner Helen and son Bruno at Bodmin Parkway station.

Off we sped to a campsite near St Mawes called the Trethem Mill touring park, but still the rain fell. Another early night.

Morning came, and across the valley the sun split the clouds. We put out the chairs and table and cooked a breakfast of coffee and boiled free-range eggs. We drove to the Lizard peninsula for a pub lunch, took a cold walk at Kynance Cove and pottered about in the area for two days, living off pasties, Coca-Cola and chips and swimming in the sea every day.

I returned Ella with mixed feelings. She was a responsibility, for sure, but fun too. If this vehicle were a woman, she’d be a charming old aunt who had once been a hippy.