Sitting in our Wicked campervan atop a night-shrouded hill somewhere in Derbyshire, England, it is hard to believe we have seen so much in the first two days of road trip.
Within minutes of being handed the keys to our Wicked campervan, ‘Kamikaze Panda’, (a.k.a. Panda) in London’s Waterloo, Dave and I were thumbing through ‘Motorist’s Britain’ with excitement. Kitted up with a bed and maps, food and camping gear, the UK was ours to explore in any which haphazard way we chose.
I had been designated Chief Navigator Extraordinaire first up, so naturally, within the first 500 metres we had taken a wrong turn and were doing the city block. Then it was a simple matter of driving across the Thames, past Big Ben, along Regent Street, through an hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic, and we were finally on our way.
With its manicured English gardens, collar-wearing townsfolk and book-centric High Street, Oxford suits its reputation of being a conservative, academic little city. Grand buildings, that have watched the likes of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, stand like guardians over the calm, orderly streets. College quads sit neat and hushed, students zip along with books on bicycles and lawns lay green and lush, tempting you to ignore the ‘stay off grass’ signs.
With just an afternoon in Oxford, we left Panda at a Park and Ride (P&R) and took a five minute double-decker trip through narrow streets, past vegetable plots, into the city centre. Down St Aldate’s we found the largest of Oxford’s 39 colleges, Christ Church College, where C.S. Lewis is said have met the real life Alice who inspired Alice in Wonderland.
We enjoyed a stroll through the college lawns, where sunny daffodils had recently sprung and students were racing relays, kicking footballs and soaking in the natural splendour. Lovely!
After our rare dose of winter outsidey-ness, we wandered through Oxford’s city centre, with Dave restraining me at times when the many bookstores (with large sections dedicated to grammar) proved overwhelming.
Then, to add the proverbial cherry, we came across The Bodleian Library, where ancient and medieval texts are kept for access under the University of Oxford. Oh the joys of books everywhere… at the Medieval Romance exhibition there were beautifully illustrated editions of Chaucer’s tales. It was all just too much!
Tips for seeing Oxford with a campervan:
- Park and Rides (P&Rs) are your friend. They provide cheap long-term parking, fairly clean toilets. surveillance and regular buses into Oxford. Most importantly though, they allow you to ditch your van so that you can avoid the one-way streets and hunt for parking spaces in the city.
- If the first P&R you come across is full, no worries, just follow the ring-road until you get to the next one. There are five dotted around the city.
- Suss it out when you get there, but some of the P&Rs may be a viable free camping option as they allow overnight parking and have toilets.
- If you’re into bookish things, it may pay to get online before you arrive and see what free lectures are on at The Bodleian and other university sites. I was aghast to realise I’d only just (by 2 hours) missed a critical analysis of Jane Austen’s works…
Known all too well as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, this pretty little place has a very touristy character masking its attraction as a nature-centric, health-conscious, artsy town.
We arrived in darkness and found a carpark in Swan Nest, near a cosy pub and the Avon. There we downed a pint on empty bellies and promptly put ourselves to bed for the first night in our campervan / home for the next month.
We awoke to the twilling of birds from somewhere within the heavy fog over the peaceful Avon and canal system. The wet air dampened all noise, keeping the town sleepy until about 10am when it lifted to reveal a vibrant, buzzing town.
After a quick walk by of Shakespeare’s birthplace, and the lovely Holy Trinity Church, we headed back to the Avon and found a surprising picturesque walk past a mossy graveyard, a ringing-bell church back over to the ‘rec’ with the swans and Shakespearean soft serves.
After Stratford-upon-Avon it was back on the sun-blessed road through the Cottswald (where I was too impressed by the thatch-roof houses to take any pictures), through many a county road and quaint shire town and up to Buxton Traveller’s rest for night two of our Wicked campervan adventure.
Tips for Stratford-upon-Avon in a campervan:
- Swan Nest carpark is just three pounds for overnight parking and there is a Leisure Centre a couple of blocks away (across the main road) that lets you shower for one pound.
- The P&R does not allow overnight parking, despite what many a website may say. It’s big gates forbid any kind of night-time entry.
- Gluten-free eaters can rejoice in Stratford, with most menus I saw offering up the goods; a rare thing in England!
A big shout out to the lovely folk at Wicked Campers UK, who have made this adventure possible.