Britstops & Motorhomes: the Joy of British Carparks

“Up to much this weekend?”

“Yep, I’m off up to Derbyshire to sleep in a couple of car parks”

“Eh?”

Yep, we love sleeping in car parks. We’ve slept in some of your finest,  shiniest, five-star car parks in Europe and North Africa. Tarmac ones, gravel ones, grassy ones, sandy ones, one surrounded by flowers, the lot. Ones facing out over the ocean, mountain ranges, broad lakes, ancient sites and majestic rivers. Enormous ones big enough for the local kids to drag-race tinny two stoke motorbikes until the wee hours, and ones small enough they were effectively only big enough for us and maybe someone willing to sleep upright next to our van. OK, that last one was technically a campsite in Tunisia, but the Camping and Caravanning club would not, I think, approve its membership.

Car parks, it turns out, are all we need when we’re ensconced in the pampered luxury of our self-contained adventure wagon. Cooking, sleeping, showering, entertaining, reading, watching TV, dressing, visiting the little boy’s room and storing fresh food. Even the vaguest idea of a ‘modern’ motorhome these days provides the lot, in abundance. Hot and cold running water. Private toilet and showering facilities. Blown air heating. Double bed, prepped with our own preferred fluffiness of pillow. Cool beer and your choice of cold meat cuts at your fingertips. Pure luxury. But you knew that. I wonder if anyone’s told Derbyshire Dales District Council though? Their website has this to say about parking a motorhome in the Matlock area, the area we were travelling in:

“All of our bays are marked out to the standard car park bay dimensions of 2.4m X 4.8m, which will allow motorhomes constructed on small commercial vehicle chassis to park.”

Hooray!!! OK, they’re a bit short for us but if we can find one where we can overhang we’ll fit, fabulous. We’ll pay the standard parking rate and jobsa guddun. Oh, wait, what’s this next bit?

“Your motorhome may be left overnight, but only if unattended. Sleeping within the vehicle is not allowed. Cooking anywhere within the vehicle or car park grounds is also not allowed.”

WHHHHAAATTTTT???? So we can eat in there, as long as the food is raw? We can sleep in there, but not after the sun has gone down? What is this witchcraft!?

Yeah OK, there are a bunch of cultural reasons for Britain not wanting the itinerant to just roll up to someone’s fine town and start snoring in said local’s favourite car parking spot. The cheek of it. Croatia agrees, as does Holland: no motorhome parking outside campsites or a sharp-hatted fellow will descend on you, wide eyed and gleeful. He’ll grab your lughole and drag you off to the local cash machine, demanding payment of a fine to swell the state’s coffers.

Never mind, there are other options to campsites here in the UK:

  1. Britstops. The reason this blog post was written, and outrageously only mentioned after all the above ranting and rambling on! I’ll try and make up for it by getting back on subject below.
  2. Wild camp. We’ve not done much of this in the UK so can’t comment much either. Have a look at www.wildcamping.co.uk if you fancy this option.
  3. Point your wagon’s nose at a ferry/tunnel and hot foot it to France. Grab a copy of All the Aires and/or Camperstop before you go, and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of official, dedicated, free or low cost motorhome parking spots across Europe.

Option 3 is my preference, but I suspect folks from mainland Europe wanting to visit the UK might not like that option as much as me. Also, our own circumstances mean floating off to foreign parts isn’t currently possible (work of all things, boo, hiss). Wild camping in the UK doesn’t much appeal, so we’ve headed over to Britstops.com, got their book for £30ish and driven off to a couple of these stopovers over the weekend. Result: fun.

Britstops is the British equivalent of France Passion, only with more real ale and pub grub and less confit de canard and vin en vrac. The fab folks who’ve set the scheme up have taken the time to explain all of the above to business owners across Britain. In return they have agreed to play host to a few motorhomes each for a night at a time, in the hope you’ll buy some of their stuff. Win-win situation.

Our first ever Britstops experience! Just off the A6 in Derbyshire
Our first ever Britstops experience! Just off the A6 in Derbyshire
A bit of relief showing there at having arrived in one piece and being back in car park heaven!
A bit of relief showing there at having arrived in one piece and being back in car park heaven!

What it isn’t is cheap. If you’re after the kind of low cost kipping you can get in France (you could easily never spend anything for a night’s sleep over there, ever) then it’s not for you. We visited two pubs and spent £14 in the first one and £25 in the second. A quick scan of CL campsites in the same Derbyshire area we stayed in on www.ukcampsite.co.uk comes up with costs around £13 to £18 a night. There’s a campsite at Carsington water which charges £6 a night. Calculator out: we could stay on a small site, cook our own grub and quaff Lidl ale and we’d be financially better off, just.

But we didn’t cook for ourselves or drink our own stuff, the host provided it for us, and with a smile too. In the case of the second pub, they threw in some fabulous views too. We could have stayed at home and saved another tenner a night. The idea behind Britstops is that you get out and about, enjoy the facilities of your wagon and enjoy the facilities offered by the host. Winner.

We did a bit of cooking for ourselves. Nothing like rocking up your own bacon sarnie in a car park!
We did a bit of cooking for ourselves. Nothing like rocking up your own bacon sarnie in a car park!

Our experience was a good one, and we’ll be using more of these stops until we opt to slingshot south over the channel for the late Autumn. One pub’s car park sloped more than I dared ride up on our chocks, but the guide warned about this. The other one was perfectly flat, gravelled next to a grassy area and facing out over the Peak District. Neither offered any facilities, which was fine. The first did only snacks, but that gourmet pork pie with apple and black pudding was a killer! The second dished up ‘cooked from frozen’ fare but the atmosphere was pleasant and the parking spot was great.

Second Britstops stop with great views out of the Peak District
Second Britstops stop with great views out over the Peak District

Sleep came easily in both spots, as we spent the days ambling about the hills and dragging Charlie away from the scraps spilling from market stalls at a food fair. Zagan’s facilities all performed flawlessly, although we have to admit to a schoolboy error of not filling the water tank, so the old habit of not showering every day immediately resurfaced! The tank is now half full ready for next weekend. Five days, and counting.

Baklava from the food fair in Matlock. A delicious reminder of Greece
Baklava from the food fair in Matlock. A delicious reminder of Greece
Ju up on Thorpe Cloud on a British summer's day
Ju up on Thorpe Cloud on a British summer’s day
Motorhome parking at the bottom of Thorpe Cloud
Motorhome friendly parking at the bottom of Thorpe Cloud. £2 a day, but no chance of kipping. They close the field at 7:30pm and you’re ushered off to the camping field at the bottom. We headed for the Britstop pub instead

Cheers! Jay

10 Comments

  1. Looks awesome guys, we’re stuck in really cold (for us) winter here in Melbourne, Australia.

    When we were in the UK we almost exclusively used camping spots from wildcamping.co.uk. We found them excellent value after the first free night stay paid for the yearly fee you need to spend in order to get access to their POI (points of interest) list of sites.

    They have some truly awesome spots listed in there and never once had any issue (well apart from one spot near Nottingham which turned out to be a dogging site :o

    De’ana wouldn’t open the door to the incessant tapping of young, ever hopeful men. They’d though they had found the jackpot with a dogger who bought a motorhome to the party! They got the hint soon enough.

    Cheers,
    Mark

    • Awesome!!! There’s a weird thing about wild/free camping in your own country. It always seems more dodgy than other countries! Might have to give it a go or simply point Zagan towards the motorhoming idyll that is La France. Cheers, stay warm folks (summer here is, I suspect, colder than winter there :-)), Jay

  2. We like car parks too :-)
    It must be great to be back on 4 wheels again after all that time in a house and its just as nice for us to be reading of it.
    We agree with you about ‘wilding’ in the UK, when will local councils realise that this particular type of Nomad has money to spend! We are not at all interested in stealing your anything for scrap & we don’t sell pegs from door to door. Build us some aires, car parks even, just for MoHo’s & the local economy will benefit. What possible difference does it make to the local council if the car park has people sleeping in their van or its empty? North Norfolk Council is just the same as Derbyshire, £5-10 for the night, but THOU SHALT NOT SLEEP!
    May be we could sit up all night playing scrabble?

    • Hah! :-) We met a fair few folks who’d immediately crack open a beer or cheeky bottle/box of wine upon parking up (we’d never do such a thing, ahem) so the police couldn’t shift them on! All a balancing act we know, plenty of places motorhomes have overrun a place, and plenty others where we’re not allowed to park for no apparent reason. Britstops is a good system for the UK though, IMHO, until a possible distant future when councils provide dedicated parking as they do in other European countries.

      Cheers! Jay

  3. Hi guys. Good to see you getting out and about in the new van.

    Surprised seasoned travellers like yourselves are bothered by a few notices. You know most of them are illegal and unenforceable don’t you? Like others, we make good use of the wildcamping suggestions and find most of them great spots. Once you’re in a suitable area, there’s usually several more options that you can find for yourself. Most walker’s / dog walker’s carparks out in the sticks do it for us.

    Back on the rules / regulations / legislation / law business; No sign without the local bylaw number and the amount of fine displayed is enforceable. ‘No Camping’ doesn’t apply to motorhomes, even if that was their attention. I don’t know about you, but we are ‘parking’ not ‘camping’. ‘No sleeping’ is unprovable, since when someone knock’s on your door to complain, you will be awake when and if you open it! I could go on… Generally we find we don’t have to contravene signs anyway, but if somebody ever does make a serious fuss, I plan on asking for an official eviction notice (which requires 28 days to enforce). Obviously I will have probably moved on in the morning anyway. Ho Hum, the joys of the UK lol.

    Keep up the posts. Looking forward to your next adventure.
    Peter and Elaine

    • Hi guys!

      You know what, you’re dead right, we should be much more cavalier! We noticed this as we moved about Europe. We’d find ourselves hunting round for a sign telling us we **couldn’t** stay, rather than just having a quick look at getting on with it!

      Give us a bit of time and we’ll get back into the swing of things, that said, we’re booked into that £6 campsite at Carsington water this weekend! Our excuse? We need to put the awning up and photograph it so we can eBay it! With any luck the double skillet will have arrived though and we can have a go at knocking up a jacket spud and roast chicken!

      Cheers, Jay

  4. Hi have enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to following you in your new adventure.
    But I need to ask where your getting your double skillet from ?
    Thought you couldn’t get them anymore :(

    • Hi Tosan. You’re dead right – you can’t get them brand new any more. They are still available from time to time on eBay second hand, and cost roughly 2 to 3 times what they did when you could buy them brand new. Ju found one which had only been used once, and paid about £70 for it. We tried searching around for an equivalent, but couldn’t find anything which came close in the UK, although this product from the US came close (costs about £45 including postage, but no lids included and I have no idea about the quality). Cheers, Jason

  5. Hi Jason we love ours and also trying to get another one !
    I’m sure the one you’ve managed to get will be ok
    Good luck in your new adventure will be following your adventures
    Sandra

  6. Hi both,
    Love your posts – certainly helped quell our nerves about taking to the road – so thanks. We have now bought our first motorhome! I have a specific question: why are you selling the awning? We paid quite a lot to have one fitted. I thought they would offer shade from the sun ( given the right direction) and a sheltered place to put wet stuff when it rained.
    Best,
    Robina

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