Happy when it rains: On the road with Britain's caravan crowd

Barry Neild, CNNUpdated 21st May 2015
(CNN) — Squeezing a large family into a tiny box on wheels and dragging them to a remote rain-swept field doesn't sound like much fun.
But for a die-hard -- some might say, slightly peculiar -- section of British society, it's the perfect vacation.
These people are known as caravanners -- some 1.5 million vacationers who spend weekends and summer breaks camping out in the small trailer homes they tow to all corners of the UK or Europe.
Often they're the butt of jokes, usually told by motorists frustrated by being stuck behind them as they make their way slowly along narrow country lanes.
For photographer Gareth Iwan Jones, they're a fascination.
He spent a month on their trail across the UK last year, joining them in locations such as Loch Ness and coastal beauty spots to capture the true caravanning experience.
Photographer Gareth Iwan Jones
Photographer Gareth Iwan Jones
Gareth Iwan Jones
Jones, 33, traces an interest in caravans to fondly recalled vacations of his youth, but he said he approached the subject as an outsider interested in documenting UK leisure experiences.
"Caravanning intrigues me," he said. "It's a unique subculture that has lots of quirky elements to it.
"There's an element of nostalgia, a romantic side to it -- the sitting in the rain, the working together in the bad weather conditions."
Jones' photographs, collected in a newly published book, show a world familiar to many British "staycationers": damp fields viewed through rain-spattered windows, fluttering Union Jack flags, mugs of tea, and fleeting moments of utterly glorious sunshine.
He said he gained some insight into the attractions of caravanning.
“It goes back to a simpler way of living, and that seems to be the appeal for a lot of people.”
Photographer Gareth Iwan Jones
"There are certain elements of it that lend itself quite nicely to family time," he said. "There's definitely a lot of family bonding that goes on in caravans. Big family groups that go out together, two or three generations doing it at once.
"It strips everything back a little bit. It goes back to a simpler way of living, and that seems to be the appeal for a lot of people."
While it would've been easy to poke fun at such a quirky corner of society, his images are an affectionate portrayal of Britons at play.
"There's a lot that's quite humorous about caravanning, and I always look for unintentional humor. But I didn't set out to make a mocking documentary book on caravanning," Jones said. "I wanted to show it for what it is and be quite honest.
"It really surprised me, having done similar things in the past when people aren't all that keen on having their photos taken, that everyone was very interested in the project. They were very friendly, very happy to be photographed and thought it was a great idea."
In the month he spent on the road visiting 27 separate campsites, Jones experienced the highs and lows of caravan life.
The high, he says, was being nestled in the remote Scottish Highlands.
The low?
"I'm pretty sure any caravanner would tell you a similar thing: emptying the toilets on caravan is never fun," he said. "I had to get used to it pretty quickly, because my wife would have nothing to do with it."
By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies, Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. More information about cookies