My parents have always loved to insist that it’s actually very comforting to be trapped in a caravan in torrential rain. For the last few years, I’ve given them grief over this theory – after all, they’re not the ones having to spend their nights in the awning bedrooms, practically outside – but I know, at heart, it’s the truth. Hard as it may be for non-caravanners to understand, it’s that cosy little ‘own world’ feeling that you can’t quite conjure up anywhere else. The brilliant thing about caravans is that you can bottle that feeling, stick it on wheels, and take it anywhere you like. For me, it belongs in a field behind a farmhouse, a mile and a half off the beaten track, in Cornwall.
Every summer holiday of mine has been spent on exactly the same pitch outside Penzance. Though I have been lucky enough to travel to Europe, America and Asia as well, the farmhouse is still my favourite place to stay. On the map, it may be overshadowed by tourist hot-spots like Land’s End, or St Michael’s Mount, but in my eyes it is a co-ordinate even more significant – a hub for my most treasured childhood memories.
My brother, Chris, and I grew up in parallel to the children from the farmhouse; William, Constance and Henry. Every summer, the five of us would re-group that little bit older but, within minutes, it was like we’d never been away. On wet days, we played Monopoly and Blind Man’s Bluff at the farmhouse, getting told off for disturbing the Bed and Breakfast guests if we were too loud. At the first sign of dry weather, we were outside where we belonged – barns, hay bales and parked-up tractors were our playground and we loved every minute of it. We always had a swingball set up outside the trailer tent. Chris and I would play all evening, pausing only for dinner and to change into our pyjamas – after which we’d slip back into our wellies and play until it was too dark to see.
Walking around the grounds now is like a tour of our childhood adventures; from the patch of gravel path next to the neighbour’s house, where Chris went over the handlebars of his bike one year, to the doorway of the derelict stone shed in which Connie once hid ornaments from the house for a make-shift treasure hunt. Opposite the spot where our Pastiche now parks up every August, there’s the hedge which sheltered our old ‘shower’ from view. In the days of our much-loved Trigano trailer tent, and before the luxuries of an en-suite, it was all part of the fun to have to wash outside with just a jug and a bowl of soapy warm water.
In the field adjacent to ours – we call it ‘ours’ without thinking – there’s another field; empty to the naked eye but overflowing with relevance to me. It begins with a picture I have of me as just an infant, being pushed in my pram through the open gateway by my older brother after a wander around. Flash forward 20 years and the same field has seen me through every summer since; from the moment when, aged 10, I crashed a quad bike into the hedge in a particularly competitive race against the boys, to the afternoons I spent as a teenager flying the power-kite there with my Dad. When I first brought my best friend, Shem, to Cornwall, in the summer after our GCSE’s, the field was where Henry taught us to horse ride, and where, the following year, we learned to drive the dirt-bike. A couple of summers later, in that same field I’d stared excitedly into as a toddler, Shem and I wandered for hours, searching for phone signal, to call the boyfriends we were missing at the time.
Our list of Cornwall traditions keeps on growing, with the oldest including driving 30-minutes out of town, to Hayle, just to get our hands on the very best pasties from Hampson’s Butchers, which Shem and I insist be followed by a trip to nearby Paul for two scoops of Jelbert’s heavenly clotted cream ice-cream. At least a day at Sennon Cove is non-negotiable; whatever the weather, we’ll show up the wet-suited boys by braving the sea in just our bikinis. We love a trip to the Meadery, and if we can’t make it to the Minack with a flask of hot chocolate, we’ll settle for seal-spotting and a sunset over Godrevy’s lighthouse instead.
By night, Shem and I chat to each-other from our bedrooms at either end of the awning. We get the short straw in sleeping arrangements; whoever’s on the East side will wake up boiling in her sleeping bag with the heat of the sun rising, whilst the other will stir at 6am with cows being herded along a gravel path only six feet from where she sleeps.
It’s no more glamorous than it sounds, but it all makes up my own little world that I couldn’t be without, even when faced with the bleakest of British weather. If nothing else, my 21 years have taught me this – to appreciate the comfort of a caravan in a downpour, with the field behind the farmhouse as my perpetual silver lining to the most ominous of unseasonal clouds.