Pub car parks are now camping’s best kept secret

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

Ask any RV owner what draws them to it, and the word “freedom” is likely to come up. Freedom to roam, to hop in the van at the drop of a hat, and to park in all kinds of places for a night before moving on to the next place. However, when it comes to where you park your van for the night, everyone has different preferences. Some people like a campsite with a dedicated site. Others prefer to find a secluded place to sleep for the night – without having to pay, or answer to, anyone.

But there’s also what some might see as a middle ground, one that I’ve embraced in recent years – the pub car park. Take a quick look at any RV forum or social media group and you’ll easily find a host of sprites who welcome RVers with open arms.

The format varies, as do the facilities, with some charging a price to stay the night and others just wanting you to buy dinner or a couple of drinks in exchange for a spot in their car park. Some have a toilet that you have access to throughout the night, and even an electrical connection. Others are more akin to wild camping, and expect you to be self-sufficient while there.

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

Either way, they’ve helped me make great memories: the Hogmanay celebrations in a pub on the shores of Loch Lomond, where I staggered back to the van after a night of seeing in the New Year; the time I awoke to glorious views across a valley at the Swinside Inn near Keswick in the Lake District.

After a freezing day up in the Cairngorms I found refuge at The Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore, delighted to discover I could stay in the car park. Another favorite was the Royal Oak at Hurdlow in the Peak District, where their offering is a pub-stop-camping hybrid, with facilities and several grassy pitches providing a great base for walking or cycling down the nearby Tissington or High Peak the paths.

Then it was overnight at the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub. There you can enjoy the pub’s food, drink and entertainment, but also be treated to a tapestry of stars – undisturbed by light pollution – before ascending to the vast expanse of the Yorkshire Dales the next morning.

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022 - Hasselblad H4D

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022 – Hasselblad H4D

I am far from the only convert. Solo traveler Jo Hodson (38), who lives and works from her self-built home on wheels, is another. “I tend to choose pubs when I need easy stopovers for a night at a time in different places,” she said. “Or when I first arrive in a new area and haven’t filled my van with food for main meals. I prefer pub stops to the commitment of a campsite in these scenarios simply because it is more efficient and allows for more spontaneity.”

A quick shout out to a pub stop Facebook group yields a flurry of responses. Regular user Claire Lawton describes them as “win-win situations for everyone”, saying: “Using a pub stop allows us to stay closer to the route we’re travelling. They’re also generally easier to book.”

For some, the beauty of pub stops is being able to live closer to towns and cities or certain landmarks. Sandy Knight, who tries to use a couple of pub stops on every trip, said: “We find the pubs so friendly, and often in places we probably wouldn’t see. It’s really nice to relax, have a meal – and both of us can have a drink without worrying about driving.”

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022 - Getty

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022 – Getty

For Ian Gill, the key is to remember that pub stops are not campsites. “I see so many people moaning about the lack of facilities but they are doing you a favor by letting you park in their car park. Why do they need to upgrade their facilities for one or two vans every now and then?”

Steve Turner also sees the benefit for owners and landlords as well as those using pub stops. “My family has members who have worked in the pub business and I have seen first hand the damage that has been done not just recently but over the last 30 years,” he said. “Pub stops are a great way for public servants to rebuild their trade. It’s also a great way for me to get full and hydrated without having to worry about driving and it’s a great way to meet like-minded people .”

The best UK pubs for motorhomes in 2022

The Fountain Inn, West Sussex

This place in Ashurst, West Sussex, allows people to camp in its large car park for free, just asking that they enjoy food and drink in the 16th-century pub, which was once Laurence Olivier’s venue and was also used as the location for the music video for Sir Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time. (01403 710219; fountainashurst.pub).

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

Tan Hill Inn, Yorkshire Dales

Britain’s tallest pub made global headlines when staff and customers, including motorhome owners staying in the car park, were snowed in for several days in November 2021. “We love motorhomes,” said co-owner Andrew Hields. “What’s not to love about them? People park and have a great time at our place listening to live bands, eating and drinking. We charge a nominal £10 to look after the cleaning of toilets and other areas – the rest we give to charity.” (01833 533007; tanhillinn.com).

The Red Lion, Warwickshire

This Hunningham, Warwickshire boozer recently started offering pub stops so people can wake up on the riverside next to the River Leam and enjoy a meal and a few drinks. Owner Richard Merand said: “People had been asking for it so I decided to give it a go. It brings people from all over the world and puts us on the map.” (01926 632715; redlionhunningham.co.uk).

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

camping uk pub car park holidays travel tours free stay motorhomes uk 2022

The Ladybower Inn, Peak District

Located in the picturesque Peak District, this is a popular choice with motorhome and campervan owners. “We really love sharing our amazing nature and our hospitality with the RV community,” said landlord Shaun White. “They benefit from free parking and the opportunity to enjoy our fine beers and home-cooked food while staying in one of the most beautiful places in the country.” (01433 651 241; ladybowerinn.co.uk).

This article is kept up to date with the latest information.

Which pub car parks do you think are good campsites? Tell us in the comments section below

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