A Cotswolds camping holiday in the snow? It was worth the wait

I don’t really like camping, so it was clearly a lockdown fatigue-induced moment of madness that led to me sleeping with my mother and two dogs inside a beautiful VW campervan called Bluebell earlier this week.

With reports that self-catering properties were getting booked up fast and horror stories of families paying over the odds for a week in a tiny cottage in Kent, I took to Camptoo – a peer-to-peer campervan rental website – and sought out a more affordable option for our first holiday of the year. April 12 was our first day of real freedom, and what better way to do it than in a classic campervan?  

For less than £400 I’d booked a home on wheels for three nights in the Cotswolds. It sounded romantic – to have our lives packed up in a van and hit the open road. Reality dawned, however, when I woke up to two inches of snow and a weather report that predicted overnight temperatures as low as -6C. Did I mention I don’t like camping?

The Great British caravan community was not to be deterred, though. A passionately itinerant group of travellers, they descended on the Burford Caravan and Motorhome Club Site like it was a heatwave in July, and by the time I arrived with Bluebell, well over half the pitches were full. “We should have been booked up,” site manager Ann told me. “But people were put off when the government said we couldn’t open the facilities.”

Until just a few days before the Great Unlocking, the Covid rule-makers had decided the toilets and showers at campsites shouldn’t reopen when the pitches do because it would be too unsafe – despite the fact that we could all use the loos in pubs and restaurants. Fortunately for me and Bluebell, who had just a simple porta-potty behind the passenger seat, the decision was overturned just in the nick of time.

Ann said she’d been waiting for this day for ages. “Last year was awful when we went into lockdown. I had to go round knocking on all the caravans telling people Boris was sending them home. Today’s been manic, but it’s good to see everyone coming back.”

Having spent much of my childhood on miserably wet caravan trips in Wales, I’ve since looked down my nose a bit at the holidaymaker that packs up the kitchen sink and parks up in a field for ‘fun’. I usually lament getting stuck behind a caravan when I’m driving – especially in the Cotswolds where the twists and turns of the roads mean it’s almost impossible to overtake. But this week I was relieved to see it all playing out before me. This pandemic hasn’t changed us too much, I thought to myself as I tailed a behemoth motorhome all the way along the A424. Come rain or shine (or snow or Covid), we’re still travelling.





The picturesque golden stone of the Cotswolds was a welcoming familiar site for returning visitors

In fact, it felt like the whole region was breathing a sigh of relief on April 12. At the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, staff smiled with their eyes and the rhinos seemed to have a spring in their step. Driving up to Broadway for lunch, there were big signs displayed outside pubs, cafes and farm shops – ‘open for business’ and ‘big beer garden out back’ were the shouts of joy from each little venue.

I wanted to stop in every single one and congratulate the owners on weathering through. Every single member of staff at the Lygon Arms was overjoyed to watch their courtyard tables filling up, and staff in the spa – which is now finally allowed to open again even though the hotel rooms can’t – declared they were more excited to be back at work than their clients were to have their long overdue massages and treatments.





The nation’s dogs are also now free to enjoy beer gardens again

What became clear throughout the day was that while we’ve all been sitting at home, waiting to return to the pub or our favourite bar, hundreds of tourism and hospitality businesses have actually been incredibly busy and exciting new things are afoot. At the Lygon, they’ve taken time to refine their dog-friendly offering for those thousands of us who got puppies during lockdown (our two snoozed happily in the outdoor dog beds made by their partner Le Chameau). And at the Swan Inn at Ascott-under-Wychwood, they’ve invested in an outdoor kitchen and pizza oven that’ll see crowds flock to their beautiful beer garden throughout summer. 

I stuffed my face with their famously rich toad-in-the-hole while the family on the next table told me of their delight in returning to their local. All the excitement and jubilation was utterly infectious, but the thing that really sparked joy in me wasn’t the beautiful bucolic scenery of the Cotswolds or the picturesque golden stone that almost every house and hotel is built from. Instead, it was the simple knowledge that as the waiting staff took away our plates, it wasn’t me who would be doing the washing up for once.