The joy of the road trip is in the journey, and that journey is so much more fun in a campervan. With all the extra space, endless flexibility and epic scenery along the way comes the freedom to tailor your road trip to your exact specifications, and whether you like to map out your every move or make it up as you go along, the best road trips have multiple coordinates rather than one final destination. So take to the tarmac with our guide to hiring a campervan for the first time and get behind the wheel with our recommended routes around the UK below.
The Atlantic Highway (and beyond)
The Atlantic Highway is the romantic name given to a 77-mile stretch of the A39, which connects Bath to Falmouth. Start out in Porlock on the edge of Exmoor National Park (pull in at the car park at the top of Porlock Hill, one of the most stunning picnic spots with ocean views of the Bristol Channel), and head towards Land’s End – only the bit between Barnstaple and Newquay is technically the ‘Highway’ but the rest is just as deserving of its own catchy moniker as it winds through little villages and rolling English countryside. There are narrow bits and sharp bends, so your speedometer won’t creep above 50mph in most places, but it’s worth taking a go-slow approach to the south-west peninsula. Pull into postcard-pretty villages such as Tintagel and Appledore, which has its own literary festival every September; swim and stretch at Cornwall’s sandy beaches (we like Porth Beach in Newquay, where The Mermaid Inn flips the best veggie burgers and has live music); and stock up on local produce at Strawberry Fields farm shop in Lifton or gorge on seafood at Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac.
Carbis Bay is a hotspot for campervan pitches, such as Lower Penderleath Farm – it’s surrounded by peaceful countryside, so light pollution is minimal and on a clear night the Milky Way comes out to play. With St Ives just a few miles away, it’s the perfect place to release your surfboard from the roof rack and get down to the water before the crowds descend – a locally roasted Yallah coffee from the kiosk on the waterfront will keep your energy up. Towards the end of your trip, stop off at Sennen Cove and finish your route on foot by walking the South West Coast Path to Land’s End. Bringing the canvas along, too? Book in at Wild Camping Cornwall, which has three exclusive pitches on Penwith’s Heritage Coast.
The Cambrian Way
Trace the contours of Wales’ dramatic landscape from the south to the north on this mountainous 300-mile route between Cardiff and Conwy, which snakes through Snowdonia National Park and the Brecon Beacons via the A470. The roads can be intense with hairpin bends and narrow sections that will have you holding your breath – we don’t recommend it for first-time campervanners – but with plenty of wide-open spaces and wilderness as well, taking your foot off the gas isn’t a hardship. Leaving the Welsh capital and driving through villages in the Rhondda Valley, keep an eye out for the area’s ‘Bracchi’ cafés, such as Servini’s in Aberdare or Ricci’s in Bargoed – founded by Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they still serve up the best ice-cream sundaes in Wales and offer a unique insight into local history.
If you’re saving your energy for Snowdonia, explore the Brecons by horseback at Cantref Riding Centre, or go up by the narrow-gauge railway. In summer, the lavender fields near Builth Wells make for a fragrant and photogenic picnic pitstop, and Dyfi Distillery sells award-winning gin in tiny batches year-round (stash bottles for souvenirs, don’t Dyfi and drive). Pitch up in Betws-y-Coed, the best base for Snowdonia (not least for its abundance of shops selling outdoor gear), with plenty of campervan sites such as Riverside Touring Park, which is about an hour’s walk to the stunning Swallow Falls.
North Coast 500
At 516 miles, the NC500 is one of the longest routes in the UK and requires at least a week to take it all in, but divide it up if you’re short on time. Looping from Inverness, around the Highlands and back, there’s everything from fairytale castles to rugged flagstone cliff faces along the way, plus birdwatching, whale spotting, hiking, hawking, walking, whisky tasting and wild swimming to break up the journey. The Historic Scotland Explorer Pass allows access to more than 70 castles, cathedrals and heritage sites, and visiting between May and October ups your chances for good weather and attractions being open (book campsites well in advance for summer). If you’re in a larger campervan, avoid Bealach na Bà, the longest continuous ascent mountain pass in the UK. Not only is the single track incredibly steep with sharp bends, but it is often closed during winter too – take the slip road up at the A896 instead.
For an exhilarating, back-to-nature experience, the most northern section of the route is particularly magical. Catch the Northern Lights at Caithness, one of the best spots in Scotland (particularly in winter); travel east to the flagstone Whaligoe Steps, which – when they’re not swallowed by sea haar (fog) – pave the way down to a stunning harbour for picnics and cool dips; and near Culkein visit the Old Man of Stoer, an incredible sea stack of Torridonian sandstone. Ceannabeinne Beach is a beautiful spot for wild camping, while there are plenty of campsites in Durness if you need facilities, such as Sango Sands, an ideal base for visiting Smoo Cave with its gaping giant’s-mouth entrance and 80-foot underground waterfall.
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