Britstops – an authentic taste of Britain
WINTER certainly has its drawback for the campervan owner, especially those who would rather use the facilities of an official campsite rather than spend an overnight overtly tucked away in a stealth camp.
Very few official campsites in Scotland remain open during the winter months and that drastically reduces the options of those who don’t have the confidence to park up for the night in some remote layby.
Even in the height of summer you may well find yourself in a part of Scotland where campsites are few and far between. As more and more campsites sacrifice touring spaces for the more economically lucrative static caravans or ‘glamping’ huts campervans and motorhome users are often forced to camp wild.
The truth of the matter is simple. Here in the UK we lack the infrastructure that exists just across the channel.
With a growing number of campervan and motorhome users visiting Scotland each year there is a massive opportunity, some might say an urgent need, for local councils to develop an ‘aire de camping car’ system as found on the European continent, but despite the burgeoning need for such facilities that is unlikely to happen in the near future, particularly with the economic pressures created by the Westminster Government’s austerity measures.
However, there is a very fine system already in place that allows campervans and motorhomes to park for the night in hundreds of spots throughout the UK. It’s legal, it’s becoming increasingly popular and it’s largely free.
A number of years ago a couple of motorhome enthusiasts called Steve and Mandy Clark decided to start a clever, but simple scheme they called Britstops. As the name suggests, Britstops is a network of "pit stops" around Britain where motorhome tourists can park for the night and travel on the next morning having bought and enjoyed some local produce. The idea was based on the hugely successful France Passion scheme.
The idea wasn’t merely about finding free parking spots – the Clark’s vision was infinitely greater than that - and they came up with a arrangement that has four very distinct strands to it.
The couple wanted to promote direct contact and a positive relationship between motorhome owners and local producers who provide or process regional products or provide services to the community.
The Britstops scheme promotes the diversity and richness of different British regions to a broader public.
Similarly, Britstops improves recognition and understanding of our regional products and culinary traditions, both at home and abroad and so the Clarks wanted to encourage sustainable tourism through links with local communities.
So how does the system operate?
It’s brilliantly simple. Britstops is a membership scheme that provides a directory of free motorhome stopovers in the UK and Ireland to its members. The directory is now in its eighth year and is almost 500 pages in length with over 750 ‘host’ locations.
These locations range from country pubs, farm shops and craft shops to breweries and garden centres and one memorable stopover I’ve personally used – the car park of the Tomintoul bowling club. There are currently over 50 hosts in Scotland.
These various hosts allow you to stay overnight in their car park in the hope that you will patronise their business, ie you might buy a pint or two and a bar meal in the pub, a cuppa and a cake in their tea-room or whatever. Who can resist an hour or so browsing a farm shop or enjoying a beer in a nice country pub?
The foundation of the Britstops scheme is the directory. This is not only your guide to all the stopovers but is also your membership card. The book costs £27.50 and is republished, and updated annually.
In addition, every member gets a regular update via e-mail throughout the year listing new entries and any changes to hosts’ details and information. For example, the authors Steve and Mandy are constantly finding new hosts and stopovers and from time to time hosts may leave the scheme, usually because of retirement or the business is closing down.
All you have to do is turn up with your directory-cum-membership card, and ask if you can park for the night. Some hosts like you to telephone in advance but that is generally to ensure that they have space. Some places only have space for a couple of vehicles, while others can accommodate a dozen or so.
The directory itself is a mine of information, listing all the current hosts, how much space is available, what other facilities there are, maps, whether dogs are allowed or not, WiFi information and relevant phone numbers and contact details.
Each stopover is also described in a little write-up from the owner describing their business This really helps us to decide if we are going to cook dinner in the camper or dine out, or spend the evening in a cosy country pub. I’ve literally spent hours browsing the directory, working out potential exploratory trips to all parts of the UK.
Members undertake to abide by a common-sense code of conduct, such as checking with the hosts when you arrive and not dumping grey water etc and although you are not obliged to buy anything from your host there is an agreed understanding of mutual benefit, that we are all there to help each other.
As I suggested earlier it’s wonderfully, simple, pragmatic and beneficial to hosts and members alike.
Last spring my wife Gina and I toured South-West Ireland and we used Britstops a lot. We stayed in a hotel car park in the ferry port of Holyhead on Anglesey and enjoyed an excellent meal in the restaurant, and what could be better than spending the night in the car park of an Irish pub? And in a tiny little village in County Kerry with the wonderful name of Sneem we spent an idyllic night parked close to a river in delightfully rural surroundings.
Our very first Britstop experience was at Peel Farm, near Kirriemuir in Angus. This is a wonderful spot in the Angus Glens and is a farm shop with an excellent tea-room with about 30 different vendors offering antiques, quality gifts and crafts and even a children’s nature trail. We were allowed to use the toilets and the host even showed us to a tap where we could fill-up with fresh water.
After a coffee and a lovely fruit scone we thought we would explore the area and ‘discovered’ the wonderful Reekie Linn, an astonishing series of gorges and waterfalls only minutes from the farm shop. I was so impressed by the spectacle I came back later in the year with a BBC film crew and recorded a sequence for one of my campervan shows on BBC Scotland, Roads Less Travelled.
I can’t wait to get my 2018 Britstops directory: just to see what fantastic new locations the Clarks have managed to find for this year.
For more information visit www.britstops.com