The pitch-dark horror-comedy “Sightseers” is a new twist on a much-loved British tradition: touring the countryside in a motor home.
In the movie (which had a limited theater release on May 10 and is available on demand from IFC Films), oddballs Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) travel by RV, or “caravan,” to some of Britain’s most obscure tourist attractions.
As the film’s official description says, “Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina's meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris's dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him the wrong way, over a very jagged edge.”
"I must admit it’s quite a cynical exercise, this film," director Ben Wheatley (“Kill List,” Down Terrace”) said with a smile during a question-and-answer session after a “Sightseers” screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Focus groups had indicated they wanted a movie featuring an innocuous list of items including “caravans, dogs and ’80s music,” Wheatley said. All of those are in “Sightseers,” just not as you’ve seen them before.
Behind the film’s sometimes grisly humor is a much happier truth: One of the best ways to explore the British countryside is by motor home.
Park it here
The country is dotted with caravan parks (sometimes called holiday parks) that are similar to the ones you find in the U.S. If you wonder how you’re supposed to do this without your own RV, don’t worry. Many Brits don’t have their own, either, but tourists can hire one from a rental agency. Some parks offer their own “static” rentals for those who want the convenient motor-home experience without having to drive on the wrong side of the road all over Britain.
The Caravan Club website has information about touring the UK, including ratings of various parks. If you’re going to be touring the country for a while, it might make sense to join (about $65).
Prices to rent an in-park caravan tend to be lower than what you would pay at a hotel or rental house: they’re about $60 to $300 a night, depending on size, location and amenities. Hookup fees for those bringing their own are similar to those in the U.S., about $25 and up.
Amenities are also much like those in the U.S., with many parks offering pools, fitness rooms, game rooms and even pubs.
The parks are often run by local families who can give you advice on what to see in the area. And as with RV parks everywhere, part of the fun is meeting up with other travelers.
Rent your own
Get started by checking out sites such as UKParks.com (especially if you’re looking for a static rental) or Just Go (if you want to drive from park to park). If you do want to rent, it’s easiest to choose the region you want to explore and take a train there rather than attempt renting (and therefore driving!) in London.
If you want a specific type of caravan but don’t want to do the driving, some companies, such as touringcaravanrentals.com, will tow it to a site and set it up for you, then come take it when you’re ready to move on.
For a simpler vehicle that’s just a step up from camping, consider a campervan rental. Easier to drive and more fuel-efficient than a motor home, they have beds and stoves (and most parks have bathrooms with showers).
At the Quiet Waters Caravan Park in Cambridgeshire, for example, you can rent an in-place RV on the banks of the Great Ouse river. It’s a base for venturing into the small town of St. Ives or neighboring historic towns including Cambridge.
Be sure to check a park’s website or call ahead to make reservations and find out about restrictions (you may have to bring your own sheets and towels for a static caravan rental, for example).
One of the best things about hitting the open road in a motor home is the ability to stop in at some of the country’s smaller towns, rural villages and offbeat tourist attractions.
The places Chris and Tina visit on their tour of northern England seem too quirky to be true, but they’re real – and you can visit many of them, too. Their stops are a representative sample of some of the country’s quirkier attractions.
For starters, there’s the Crich Tramway Village, something of a living museum devoted to, well, trams, or streetcars. You can ride trams through the town, looking at informational displays and stopping for tea or ice cream when you need a break.
The Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick, which figures prominently in “Sightseers,” bills itself as “Home of the first pencil!” Situated in the scenic Lake District, the museum invites you to “Be amazed at the world’s longest colour pencil, marvel at the James Bond style World War II pencil, follow the history of pencil making in words, pictures and lovingly restored machinery, find out exactly how we get a lead into a pencil today and let the kids imaginations run free in the Kids Art Studio.”
The formidable Ribblehead Viaduct, set amid the rolling hills of rural North Yorkshire, is the site of one pivotal scene. Although it appears remote and rather scary in the film, in reality, it’s an easy place to visit — especially since trains still cross this tall, multi-arched section of the scenic Settle-Carlisle Railway.
Photos: A couple relaxes at the Meathop Fell Caravan Site in England’s Lake District. (Photo by Rod Edwards/Visit Britain)
Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) tour northern England by caravan in the movie 'Sightseers.'
A caravan site ready for lunch on top of a cliff overlooking Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsula in Wales. (Photo by Rod Edwards/Visit Britain)
A restored tram passes period buildings at Crich Tramway Village, one of the attractions in ‘Sightseers.’ (Photo by Keith Edkins via Wikimedia Commons)
The Ribblehead Viaduct plays a prominent role in ‘Sightseers.’ (Photo by OLU via Wikimedia Commons)