A dog friendly motorhome weekend away in the South Downs

A dog friendly motorhome weekend away in the South Downs (with Camptoo)

Motorhome and camper vans breaks are on the increase. With all the Brexit woes and the pound sliding against foreign currencies, unsurprisingly the UK became our number one travel destination in 2018. There’s always been something very idealistic and romantic about the freedom and spontaneity of hitting the open road without a care in the world and there’s also plenty of places to choose from – there are some fantastic dog-friendly destinations in the UK. And of course and with kids (and adults) constantly glued to screens camping or motorhoming, is the ultimate digital detox, forcing you to become connected with nature whether you like it or not.

It’s not always an option to actually own a motorhome or a camper van so the website Camptoo, the Airbnb for campervans and motorhomes, is filling a much-needed gap in the market. The site is already growing in popularity and is doing a great job of connecting the owners and renters of campervans, motorhomes, and touring caravans and at present, there are 2,000 vehicles available across Europe and more than 200 across Australia for road trips. As you’re cutting out the middleman you pay much less than you would for rental companies and you also have a much wider choice. It’s great for any campervan need, from summer festivals with your friends to European road trips away with the kids.

A week ago I was asked by Camptoo to try out their service and after searching around for Surrey-based vans that would allow dogs, I eventually settled on Dora, a Hymer C544K motorhome with gadgets and accessories galore and plenty of cosy living space including a small kitchenette with a hob and a fridge, a dining area and even a bathroom with a shower. I could instantly see why motor homing is so popular. Dora’s owner gave me a rundown of how everything worked and with my dog Rosa safely harnessed in the back I took to the open road.

Setting off felt like an adventure and although I must admit the handling took quite a bit of getting used to (I would definitely recommend picking a van to suit your driving abilities) and after a few hairy moments down narrow winding roads where hedgerows brushed the van on both sides, the Graffham campsite – which was buried deep in the heart of the South Down National Park – eventually loomed into view.

The campsite felt thoroughly rural and well hidden and was surrounded by some of the UK’s finest pastoral landscapes, where curious cows peer over brown gates and lambs bleat and bounce across verdant meadows – a place to immerse yourself in serious English countryside. A shaded woodland surrounded the campsite clearing and there was plenty of helpful staff on hand, as well as some friendly fellow campers and a good handful of amenities such as toilets and washing facilities so you don’t feel too off grid.

I settled Dora down in her space and Rosa quickly jumped out to explore. The camp was surrounded by rolling meadows studded with dewy wildflowers, random piles of freshly chopped wood and miles of endless marked footpaths perfect for the many hours of dog walking to come.

A little further afield but still within the protected boundaries of the national park dappled, tree-lined lanes snaked through acres of meadows cornered by characterful flint barns and the odd traditional English pub. The village shop aside, (which handily sold everything from steaming hot coffee to an ample supply of gas canisters) also nearby were the Cricketers, a 16th-century coaching inn complete with sprawling beer garden, the warm and welcoming and recently refurbished Foresters Arms and the refined gastropub the White Horse which had a beautiful location overlooking the Downs.

Also nearby were the picturesque towns of Petworth and Chiddingfold which are so quintessentially middle English they look like they come straight out of central casting for Miss Marple or Midsummer Murders – a place where tile-covered cottages come complete with porches draped in roses, and wisteria hugs the walls of antique dealers, wine merchants, traditional bookstores and elegant teashops. 

One of the best things about camping is waking up to nothing but birdsong – and maybe just a few bleary-eyed campers. With the lack of noise, light or air pollution – the affiliation of many a London borough – I also slept brilliantly. After a few happy days and nights and with lungfuls of fresh air and a mind thankful for the time spent away from a laptop screen, it was time to pack up and take Dora back to her original owner…

Hiring a Motorhome or Camper Van with Camptoo

Inspired by the sharing economy and by the #VanLife movement Camptoo was founded in the Netherlands in 2014 by Martijn Peeters, and makes hiring a campervan or motorhome more affordable and accessible than ever before. Here’s how it works…

For travellers:

  1. Using the online portal find your perfect vehicle by applying filters such as pick-up location, product type and the number of berths
  2. Review adverts and request a reservation
  3. Once the owner has approved your hire, make a down payment of 50% of the total price
  4. A few days before you go pay a deposit, which will be refunded on the day of your return
  5. Meet the owner, pick up your caravan or motorhome for the segment of your trip you wish and set off on your adventure!

For owners:

  1. Check you have suitable insurance cover
  2. Sign up easily on the Camptoo website
  3. Create your own advert by setting the pricing, availability, specific house rules and uploading a photo of the vehicle
  4. Wait for the rental requests to roll in!

The company currently operates across Europe and Australia. In just three years since it launched, users have booked over 100,000 nights in mobile vehicles via the site.

For more information visit www.camptoo.co.uk

I stayed two nights with The Camping and Caravanning Club which has 106 Club Sites across the UK www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk

Club membership starts from £39 a year and includes discounts of up to 30% on pitch fees, plus access to more than 1,400 smaller member-only campsites.

Born in England, with a few family roots from Bavaria, and a special fondness for Scandinavia I've always been a bit of a restless soul. My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I've lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up visits to over 40 countries. I'm a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian - from cloudberry liquors to Nordic noirs. When not wandering the world, you'll find me walking my rescue dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Laines on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about returning to my favourite places; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Thailand and the frozen landscapes of a wintry Iceland.


  • Catriona

    16 April, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    Wow, it looks like you had an amazing holiday! Sadly my experience with Camptoo was very disappointing.

    We booked a week long holiday that is due to begin tomorrow. Due to coronavirus and the lockdown we feel unable to go forth with the booking. The person who owns the camper agrees that the booking needs to be cancelled due to the lockdown. However the company whilst they “are encouraging people to cancel, are not enforcing it”. Therefore they will not provide a refund. Essentially they are either facilitating unnecessary travel, or profiteering off people who feel morally obliged to cancel. It is a disgrace. I wouldn’t trust this company – we have lost a lot of money.


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