Pub car parks are now camping’s best-kept secret

·6 min read
camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022
camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022

Ask any campervan owner what attracts them to it and the word “freedom” will likely crop up. Freedom to roam, to hop in the van at the drop of a hat, and to park up in all sorts of places for a night before moving on to the next place. When it comes to where you station your van for the night, however, everyone has a different preference. Some like a campsite with a dedicated pitch. Others prefer finding a secluded spot to bunk down for the night – not having to pay, or answer to, anyone.

But there’s also what some might see as a middle ground, one which I’ve embraced in recent years – the pub car park. Take a quick look at any campervan forum or social media group and you’ll easily find a flurry of boozers welcoming campervanners with open arms.

The format differs, as do the facilities, with some charging a rate to stay overnight, and others just wanting you to buy dinner or a couple of drinks in exchange for a space in their car park. Some provide a toilet you can access all night, and even an electric hook-up. Others are more akin to wild camping, expecting you to be self-contained while you’re there.

camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022
camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022

Either way, they’ve helped me create great memories: the Hogmanay celebration at a pub on the shore of Loch Lomond, where I wobbled back to the van after an evening seeing in the New Year; the time I woke up to glorious views across a valley at the Swinside Inn near Keswick in the Lake District.

After a frozen day up in the Cairngorms I found refuge at The Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore, delighted to discover that I could stay over in the car park. Another favourite was the Royal Oak at Hurdlow in the Peak District, where their offering is a pub stop-campsite hybrid, with facilities and several grassy pitches providing a great base for walking or cycling down the nearby Tissington or High Peak Trails.

Then there was an overnight stay at the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub. There you can enjoy the pub’s food, drink and entertainment, but also get the treat of a tapestry of stars – undisturbed by any light pollution – before rising to the vast expanse of the Yorkshire Dales the next morning.

camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022 - Hasselblad H4D
camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022 - Hasselblad H4D

I’m far from the only convert. Solo traveller Jo Hodson, 38, who lives and works from her self-built home on wheels, is another. “I tend to opt for pubs when I need simple stopovers for one night at a time in different places,” she said. “Or when I am first arriving in a new area and haven’t stocked up my van with food for main meals. I prefer pub stops to the commitment of a campsite in these scenarios simply because it’s more efficient and allows for more spontaneity.”

A quick shout-out on a pub stopover Facebook group yields a flurry of responses. Regular user Claire Lawton describes them as “win-win situations for everyone”, saying: “Using a pub stopover gives us the ability to stay closer to the route on which we are travelling. They are also generally easier to book.”

For some, the beauty of pub stopovers is being able to stay closer to towns and cities or certain landmarks. Sandy Knight, who tries to use a couple of pub stops on each trip, said: “We find the pubs so friendly, and often in places we probably wouldn’t see. It’s really nice to relax, have a meal – and both of us can have a drink without worrying about driving.”

camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022 - Getty
camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022 - Getty

For Ian Gill, the key is to remember that pub stopovers are not campsites. “I see so many people moaning about their lack of facilities but they are doing you a favour by letting you stop in their car park. Why do they need to upgrade their facilities for one or two occasional vans?”

Steve Turner also sees the benefit to owners and landlords as well as those who use pub stops. “My family has members who have worked in the pub trade and I've seen first hand the damage that has been done not just recently but over the last 30 years,” he said. “Pub stops are a great way for publicans to build up their trade again. It's also a great way for me to get fed and watered without having to be concerned about driving and it's a great way to meet like-minded people.”

The best British pubs that are welcoming campervanners

The Fountain Inn, West Sussex

This spot in Ashurst, West Sussex, lets people camp in its large car park for free, just asking that they enjoy food and drink at the 16th-century country pub, which was once Laurence Olivier’s local and was also used as the location for the music video for Sir Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time. (01403 710219; fountainashurst.pub).

camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022
camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022

The Tan Hill Inn, Yorkshire Dales

Britain’s highest pub hit global headlines when its staff and customers, including campervan owners staying in the car park, were snowed in for several days in November 2021. “We love campervans”, said co-owner Andrew Hields. “What’s not to love about them? People park up and have a great time in our place listening to live bands, eating and drinking. We charge a nominal £10 to look after the cleaning of the toilets and other areas – we give the rest to charity.” (01833 533007; tanhillinn.com).

The Red Lion, Warwickshire

This boozer in Hunningham, Warwickshire, recently started offering pub stops so people can wake up at its riverside location next to the River Leam as well as enjoy a meal and a few drinks. Owner Richard Merand said: “People had asked for it so I decided to give it a go. It’s bringing people from all over and putting us on the map.” (01926 632715; redlionhunningham.co.uk).

camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022
camping uk pub car park holidays travel trips free stays campervans uk 2022

The Ladybower Inn, Peak District

Found in the picturesque Peak District, this is a popular choice with campervan and motorhome owners. “We really love sharing our superb scenery and our hospitality with the campervan community,” said the landlord Shaun White. “They benefit from free parking and the opportunity to enjoy our fine ales and homemade food whilst staying in one of the most beautiful spots in the country.” (01433 651 241; ladybowerinn.co.uk).

This article is kept updated with the latest information.

Which pub car parks do you think make a good camping spot? Tell us in the comments section below