Have you ever dreamed of trundling along the lanes of the Lake District in your own gypsy caravan, stopping off at makeshift riverside campsites where you can paddle in cool waters before cooking up dinner on an open fire and then maybe staring up at the stars for a while before climbing into your cosy bunk for the Mother of All Sleeps?
Well, with more than a decade's experience making, restoring and travelling in traditional horse-drawn gypsy caravans, our friend Barny can make your dream come true. His Cumbria-based Wanderlusts outfit – run by him and and his musician partner Katus – can offer everything from full-on guided gypsy caravan holidays in the Lakes to wild camping by pack-pony, horsedrawn carriages for weddings and music for all sorts of events; and if that doesn't appeal they also have two two stationary bowtop gypsy caravans permanently situated at the National Trust's Low Wray campsite on the shores of Lake Windermere.
Their main offering is unique – the chance to be transported slowly and gently through beautiful countryside, visiting specially chosen campsites in wildflower meadows fringed by fast-running streams. It's a magical way to spend your holiday, great for couples and families alike: the caravans are wooden, well insulated affairs andvery cosy, covered with canvas and adorned with carved wooden panels that serve a dual purpose, both aesthetic and practical, because they reduce the weight of the wagons dramatically and thus make it easier for the horses. Inside there's a double bed (with bedding) and sleeping mats for children (for which you need to provide sleeping bags). There's a gas hob, all the kitchen utensils that you need, and a water container; towels are not provided. Light is provided by a wind-up torch, candles and some small 12v lights; hot water by heating water on the fire; and a compost or outside loo is never far away.
Yes, it's not for everyone, but a few days of living like this make it a holiday that is hard to forget – and the kids love it. Not only that, they take you on lovely routes, following the quiet lanes of the Lyvennet Valley, between Penrith and Appleby-in-Westmorland, home of the Appleby Horse Fair – the biggest horse fair in the world. And if all that feels just like a bit too much effort, you can always enjoy the gypsy caravan experience without actually going anywhere – at Low Wray campsite, where their two permanently placed wagons, on of which is pet-friendly, are accompanied by a traditional 'cottage tent' kitted out with comfy seating, a gas cooker and enough kitchen stuff to satisfy even the most demanding gourmet cook – plus a wood-burning stove inside. Pure rural bliss, we reckon – whichever option you go for.
Our favourite spot
Glampers, kids and couples - yes. Tents, campervans, (your own) caravan and dogs - no.
The local area
For those on the move, the itinerary is somewhat set in stone so that you and the horse can get to certain points at specific times for rest and relaxation, plus arrive at each camping spot in time to explore and enjoy splashing the stream, visiting the watermill, drinking in the pub or swimming in the lake – depending on which spot you are stopping at! For those staying in the static gypsy wagons at Low Wray, though, there's a wealth in the local area. A lakeshore path leads to Wray Castle, great for families with a range of activities, including the new Peter Rabbit Warren, and boats go from there to the Lakes Visitor Centre at Brockhole (01539 446601), and the terrific Treetop Trek (01539 447186).
Best local places to eat and drink
There are pubs en-route, but it's worth bringing some supplies and planning a few meals that you can cook over the campfire for maximum enjoyment. On the road, there may be the possibility to buy seasonal produce, from eggs to cakes and home made jams – though this depends entirely on availability. At one camping stop off, the neighbouring watermill, where toilets are also found, has an excellent tea room and facilities. You can often buy fresh goats milk or a freshly baked loaf warm from the oven here too! Another of the camps (by Ravenbridge Mill) is accompanied by two excellent pubs a short walk down the road in the near by village of Kirkoswald: The Crown Inn (01768 870410) and The Featherstone Arms (01768 898284). For all the best info, though, the easiest thing to do is chat with Barny as you journey along!
Why stay with us?
The Gypsy Caravan is mostly made of wood, lined on the inside with a warm and regal fabric and covered in traditional canvas, the woodwork has quite a lot of carving (not only for beauty, but also to reduce the weight for the horses). There is a double bed (with bedding) plus sleeping mats for children (or adults) for which extra sleeping bags/bedding is needed. The double bed in the caravan measures: 6.6ft x 4ft and the 2 sleeping mats: 6ft x 18in, 6ft x 2ft and campers will need your own sleeping bags for these. There's a gas hob, kettle, frying pan, pots, cups, plates, cutlery, wash bowl, water container and cupboards for storage. Towels are not provided. For lighting there is a wind up torch, candles and 12v lights and for washing up and bathing you will have to heat water over the campfire. Barny can help if you need. All camping spots will have either a compost or outside loo close at hand.
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