In the heart of the New Forest in a VW Camper
PUBLISHED: 12:02 19 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:02 19 August 2014
The vehicle of choice for '60s hippies and '70s surfers is cool once more, thanks to staycation and glamping trends combining with a revival for everything retro.
With the last ever VW van ceasing production only last year (ending 63 years of continuous production) the Type 2 Transporter (as it is officially known), could soon become an ever rarer sight on the UK’s roads – but not if Lymington-based businessman Chris Beach has anything to say about it. After buying his first VW as a bet five years ago (which he did up and sold), he fell in love with their simple charm, and has since bought and restored five of them (with a sixth on its way), for the sole purpose of hiring them out so others can experience them too.
“Every time I drove out in my original camper van people would stop and ask if it could be hired,” says Chris. “That became the inspiration for starting New Forest VW Hire.” Three years on, he says he doesn’t hire vehicles, he hires characters – with each one (ranging in age from 37 to 51 years) having its own personality. They’re all named after Flintstones characters (Pebbles, Barney, Wilma etc.), and my wife and I were lucky enough to sample the delights of Betty.
It’s immediately obvious this is not like anything you’ve have driven before. It’s essential you succumb to its foibles, like turning some door handles the opposite way you expect; or having to lock all the doors by hand. And then there’s learning how you open and close the roof, build the upper level (to sleep on), disassemble the floor area for another sleeping area, use the appliances, and take note of all the cubby-holes. But you needn’t fear. Chris walks you around the spotless VW carefully explaining each part, and in half and hour you’re on your way.
Lymington – where you pick up your ride – is exactly where you want to be; it’s a stone’s throw from Sway, New Milton, Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst, in the heart of the New Forest. Climb into the cabin – for that’s how it feels – and suddenly you can pretend you’re Cliff Richard helming a Routemaster bus, because with its giant steering wheel on your lap, and no bonnet in front of you, there’s literally a plane of glass between you and the open road.
Betty springs into life and with your foot planted firmly on the gas, instantly you’re off along tiny, winding roads. She may only have four gears, and it can take a while to get up to speed, but you just need to sit back and enjoy the ride. This is all about going back to a time when the journey was just as important as the destination.
According to Chris, VW Camper enthusiasts can be split into two types – those who just “get it” and those who have always wanted to give it a go. If you’re the latter, by the time you have to hand her back, there’s a good chance you’ll have been converted to the former.
For those who like their mod-cons, Betty ably mixes nostalgia with the new. There’s a stereo and CD player complete with iPod connectivity and speakers for great travel tunes; all you need to do is throw in your bedding, and you’re set up for the journey.
Inside, Betty has everything you need – fridge, stove, utensils, ceiling lights, a fold-down table, and even a heater should you need it. After a day’s sight-seeing (Burley Horse stables was a particular highlight), our campsite was Red Shoot (near Ringwood), and it was here that Betty transforms from loveable vehicle, to hotel and kitchen in one.
Put up the roof, and you’ve ample room to whip up a bite to eat on the stove, then slide open her doors and you can watch the sun go down over the edge of the forest - we very quickly learnt to appreciate the simple things, and wondered why we’ve never done this before.
Chris says his fleet are a hit with everyone from families with young children to couples of all ages; and it’s easy to see why. To those who ‘don’t do camping,’ a VW experience is something of a halfway house. Betty is comfortable and – although there was a chill in the air for the night we had it – it’s easy to imagine being snug and warm in the summer.
Betty represents what holidaying used to be and I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a try.
When: New Forest VW Hire is busiest during the April-September summer months, but the VWs are available all year round. Each autumn/winter half of the fleet at any one time are being completely serviced, so that each spring summer they are all as good as new.
How: Visit forestvwhire.com to book
Prices: Start from £398 for three nights and £475 for 7 nights (incl VAT).
Contact: 01590 675555