When you want your relaxing weekend break or your fully active family holiday to be just so, it can be a daunting business selecting the perfect spot to pitch up. Most people wish for plenty of space around them, but otherwise one man’s heaven is another man’s idea of packing up and going home. Do a little homework and you’ll find yourself on the kind of site that best suits your needs and enjoyment.
The size of campsites
To over-simplify the categorising of campsites, you can pigeon-hole them into three types purely by physical size and the number of pitches available. A campsite’s size will often determine the facilities that are offered to campers and, in many cases, the ambience, although of course this is not always the true picture.
Large holiday parks
I deem large sites to have more than 100 touring pitches (in Europe campsites can have more than 1,000 pitches). There will often be lots of facilities and may have on-site entertainment, particularly at weekends during peak season.
You would expect to find several amenity blocks with showers and toilets that are regularly serviced, laundry facilities, at least one restaurant or bar and possibly takeaway food facilities, food shopping, and, most likely, a swimming pool and play area for children. The largest sites are likely to have indoor public areas that offer further entertainment facilities and possibly organised activities for adults and children alike.
These types of sites can be described as a ‘holiday centre’ or a ‘holiday park’ and may include a mixture of static holiday homes, ready-pitched tents, glamping facilities, touring areas for caravans and motorhomes as well as tent pitching areas. They can be very busy during the day and evening but you’ll always find plenty going on to keep families amused, some with sufficient facilities that you don’t need to head off site in a fortnight.
Between 30 and 100 pitches, facilities can still be extensive, including entertainment or the provisions to make your own entertainment such as tennis courts, games rooms or a swimming pool. These are often described as a ‘touring park’ offering pitches for caravans, motorhomes and tents. Some mobile homes or glamping facilities may be on site, too.
Small campsites with up to 30 pitches (tiny sites only five or six) are likely to have facilities limited to personal health and hygiene and possibly a small laundry room. It’s unlikely that there will be any on-site entertainment provided although you might find an outdoor swimming pool available during the summer months and the surroundings will provide the activities – a river or lake for fishing, a large field for ball games, possibly a small play area.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. You may occasionally find a small campsite with an exceptional quantity of amenities open to campers, or a large campsite with limited amenities, relying on other factors such as its surroundings to draw in customers.
Planning laws in the UK (The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960) dictate that planning permission and a site licence issued by the local authority is required to operate a campsite. There are exceptions however.
Small campsites with a maximum of five units (caravan or motorhome) on site at any one time are permitted without planning permission provided that they are organised through an ‘exempt organisation’ as designated by the Act. Of most use to tent campers are Certificated Sites, which are operated by The Camping and Caravanning Club and accept tents and trailer tents.
In order to use Certificated Sites lawfully, you must be a member of the Club.
The Caravan Club also operates Certificated Locations in a similar way, although these are only open to caravans and motorhomes, again as members of the designated club.
Many of these sites are farmer’s fields, small paddocks, pub car parks or even gardens.
Facilities will be very minimal – usually just a cold water tap, a rubbish bin and somewhere to empty cassette toilets plus electric hook-up points.
Occasionally you will find a CL or CS with additional facilities such as a shower, toilets, the sale of farm produce or even the use of a privately owned swimming pool.
What they lack in facilities though, they usually make up for in location and a low-key, peaceful atmosphere.
You may come across a seasonal site that is open for just 28 days a year. Consequently they usually operate during peak times only, for example, in July and August, and can often be found in areas where there is a high volume of tourists such as Devon or Cornwall, as an unlimited number of tents are allowed on the site during those 28 days.
These can be large or small sites in terms of the number of pitches. As these are, quite legally, unlicensed sites (usually a farmer’s field), there is unlikely to be any infrastructure or facilities, which can provide a liberating feeling. But you do therefore need to take everything with you – including a toilet (unless portable amenities are set up) and fresh water. Existing, licensed, campsites may also use additional fields as seasonal sites during peak periods, where facilities will be available.
Britstops are one-night stopovers specifically for motorhomes. Having purchased an annual guide, you can stay free-of-charge at country pubs, farm shops, vineyards, craft centres etc, with the idea that you might choose to buy an evening meal, purchase a jar of honey or a bottle of wine (although there is no obligation). You must have your own facilities on board, as your hosts do not provide these. There are similar schemes overseas, too.