Ilam, therefore I am

Ilam Caravan site, Derbyshire.

The best place to destress. The pictures do the talking. Finally we have ‘camper smugness’ about finding the perfect pitch. These aren’t my pics, but I promise will make a point of taking more from now on. The site is a really small and quiet site tucked into the most amazing National Trust site at Ilam. Just for caravans and motorhomes as it has no toilet or showers. A real escape with no mobile signal for miles. I spent every spare moment staring out the window – finally our first caravan trip with a proper view. Okay so it rained a bit and wasn’t quite as lush as this, but it was still amazing.

We loved the beautiful views of Dovedale, gorgeous food at the NT cafe, the NT shop and gardens. We wondered if the kids would miss not having a playarea. But Ilam was one big playground – how many campsites have on the doorstep a tent like tree you can climb inside, a pooh sticks bridge, banks of giant rhubarb to hide in, a castle, steep hills you can roll down, sheep to watch over breakfast, the tiniest church and the best hide and seek territory.

The resident volunteer wardens were really helpful and guided us expertly onto our first sloping pitch. We definitely needed the help. (Although Mr A – I am very proud of you -I would have needed several double G and Ts after all that manouvering). I think we will and avoid slopes if possible, as it was a long way down from the door to the floor for the kids and G fell out, but it was worth it for THE VIEW! You can also buy eggs and get a paper delivered.

Under a mile away is the start of the short walk to Dovedale’s stepping stones. We had a fairly whingefree ‘family walk’ thanks to bribing the little ones with the best ice cream at one end and the stepping stones at the other – what better carrots for small walkers? And again I was just mesmerised by how beautiful it all was and just unbelievably unspoilt. A picture postcard scene everywhere you looked.

We will definitely be returning to this site. I hear the National Trust are expanding their camping facilities – brilliant idea! And thanks to the NT site for the pictures.

01335 350310 (Mar – Oct) or
01335 350503 (Nov – Feb)

>Camp as… well Brighton

>This is me on Saltdean beach drinking pink Pinot Grigio in honour of our good friend A’s birthday and our first caravan holiday. Happy Days!
Our first adventure in the caravan, if you forget the night spent ten minutes down the road testing things out, was to Brighton. We played it safe, knowing there would be expert wardens on hand if we got stuck, and camped at a Caravan Club site. Sheepcote Valley Caravan club site also has lovely tent fields, accepts campervans and motorhomes and is brilliantly placed to explore Brighton. At the same time it is sheltered from the city and has lovely views of rolling hills.

Sure enough the wardens were fab, they provided us with wooden blocks and suggested we used a measuring jug in place of our forgotten spirit level to level the ‘van. In the end we resorted to a baby bottle as a spirit level. I discovered in a fit of giggles and tears that I just could not get my brain to translate the water level in the bottle into logical directions to help Mr A to level the caravan. It seems everything about caravan manouvering is counter, counter intuitive. I am doomed! Fortunately this stuff seems to come naturally to Mr A, so all is not lost. (Mr A just read this and told me it is actually counter, counter, counter intuitive – I’ve got no chance then).

The kids loved the really imaginative playgrounds along the sea front which have sand, shade, sprinklers and paddling pools. They lobbed stones in the sea, wolfed pasta on the terrace at Alfresco Italian restaurant, gawped at the sharks, rays and turtles in the sea life centre and fed the penny slot machines the pier. They had their first taste of candy floss and my daughter discovered dummy shaped lollies. My son even had his picture taken by a German tourist who felt his messy ice cream eating epitomised her Brighton experience.

We even managed to watch Denise Robertson and Alison Hammond being filmed for This Morning live from the seafront. The only downsides were the seagulls, nettles and rabbit holes. When we lived in Brighton I loved the sound of gulls, but for some reason there was an almighty racket above our caravan, every morning at around 4am. I quizzed my dad on this, as the family bird expert, and he reckons it was because their offspring were still very young and so they were waking up ravenous. I can relate to that, nightfeeds with our little ones not being such distant memories. There were, to be fair, signs all over camp saying beware of rabbit holes. However, in hot pursuit of our one year old, who was heading for a wall of nettles, I forgot and managed to sprain my ankle pretty badly. This wasn’t the end of our holiday, as I discovered it is much easier to limp round a caravan and get stuff done, than in a house.

So we learnt that its worth checking out your pitch for pitfalls as soon as you arrive, especially with little ones. Everything else can wait, help them and you, get bearings first. We could easily have asked for a pitch away from the nettles but by the time we had clocked it we had most of the caravan unpacked and a sprained ankle.

We had some lovely visits to the caravan from old friends, Guy, John and Caroline. Our camp cooking skills still need some work, although I am loving veggie sausage,veg kebabs in wraps with hummus and spicy relish. Still we were really proud of ourselves by the end of the week, and a lot calmer than on our previous tent and campervan family outings.

>Introducing Winnie the campervan

> This is Winnie. Our VW T25 camper. Sadly we need to sell her. I think we just realised our campervan dream to late, or too soon. It would have been fab before we had kids, and with slightly older kids probably an adventure too. It was fun before our second child got mobile. But with a one and a three year old it was beginning to be a bit cramped and chaotic.

Our three year old piped up with ‘I love the red campervan, can’t we take it too?’ as we pulled off in the car ready to join the caravan at the site we are storing it at in the Peak District. I felt a tug of nostalgia. I love her too. She’s called Win after my Grandma whose inheritence money I used to fund part of her. But I think Grandma would approve of the caravan too, in fact anything that give us quality family time in the fresh air. Incidentally the concrete and fence backdrop in this pic shows you why we feel the need to escape so much.

So, although it pains me to say it, if you know anyone who is looking to give a very cool camper a home, please get in touch.