Where can I park my Motorhome? Van Life Vendetta!

Motorhome parking spaces Southwold
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Parking a motorhome is becoming increasingly difficult. Height barriers, unwelcoming parking attendants, withdrawal of roadside permissions and a general air of antipathy towards motorhomes is making van life more of a struggle.

Will full-time van life soon be a thing of the past in England?

Will it soon be impossible to use a motorhome anywhere in the U.K. other than campsites?

Is there a van life vendetta?

We are not talking about wild camping – a contentious enough issue. This is about legally parking our motorhome in a town whilst we enjoy, and pay for, local facilities.

Why are motorhomes suddenly unwelcome in so many places?

Van Life Vendetta

It is with a sense of unease that we Hobos approach many towns in our motorhome these days. Will we be able to park?

How many times have you followed the friendly blue P for parking signs just to find yourself faced by a height barrier?

Motorhome Parking Bawdsey Suffolk height barrier
Public car park for visitors to Bawdsey Quay – but not motorhome visitors!

Have you parked and paid for your ticket, only then to be told that your vehicle is too long?

The latter happened to people visiting Felixstowe, Suffolk. They contacted us afterwards.

“It’s on the website” the attendant told them!

Who looks up a parking website before travelling?

We have looked up the website now; East Suffolk Council have banned vehicles over 5.5 meters long from all but 12 of their car parks. Actually, they banned larger vehicles from ALL of their car parks but there was a hue and cry from the van life community. The council then made concessions.

Vehicles 8 m and over are still barred from all East Suffolk car parks. We now read the small print on car park signs. Sad isn’t it!

Most motorhomes are over 5.5 meters… 18 feet in our language! Ours is 21 feet.

The following was heralded as “Good News”! It actually disguised the BAD news that we are only allowed in these twelve!

https://www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/news/larger-campervans-to-be-allowed-in-12-car-parks/

Harassment of Motorhomers

Motorhomes are still harassed though. We were legally parked in Clifflands car park, Felixstowe. It is a huge space with cliff top frontage for the lucky few.

Motorhome parking, Felixstowe Clifflands Car Park
Our VW T4, quietly minding our own business before the parking attendant arrived

An attendant tapped on the habitation door.

“Can I ask why you paid for an all-day ticket at eight minutes past four?”

Despite his slightly challenging tone, I smiled and replied that I had paid for two hours. But their system had granted us the extension to 8am as charges finish at 6pm.

The attendant checked his electronic device and accepted my “explanation”.

“I’m not picking on you, BUT…”

“I’m not picking on you, but you’re not camping are you? The houses opposite will tell me you know.”

Good grief!! Did he want an argument? No, we were not camping. We were enjoying the seascape whilst reading and chatting. Like every other car park user there. Except we were in a motorhome.

I assured him that we are not silly enough to try to wild camp in a car park opposite houses.

“Not in OUR car parks you won’t!”

Oh my…!

Whatever is going on?

Is tourism finished for motorhomes?

This is our local area. Using our motorhome for day trips can be frustrating due to the lack or loss of parking facilities in towns or places of interest. Suffolk seems to be discouraging tourists.

https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/east-suffolk-tall-motorhomes-not-allowed-car-parks-7845320

This situation will have a knock-on effect on tourism all over England.

“Motorhomes should be on camp sites!” will be the cry. But there is a flaw – we will still wish to visit the towns and resorts. Which opens the parking question again!

So, there will be campsites full of motorhomes whose users cannot visit county amenities. How does that aid tourism businesses?

Another motorhome couple we spoke to had to walk from Clifflands into Felixstowe town centre for provisions. It was too far for them to travel on foot; they had to get a taxi back. Felixstowe did not impress them.

Local people object to motorhome parking

It is not just the councils either. We have noticed a rise in people objecting to motorhomes being parked.

Bawdsey was a favourite place to visit, but most of the roadside parking is now blocked with bollards. Even cars cannot park. There is a car park of course – with a height barrier!

No Motorhome Parking Bawdsey bank of the River Deben Van Life vendetta
Bollards and tree trunks at Bawdsey Quay now stop all vehicles parking by the river – not just motorhomes

What exactly has fuelled this van life vendetta?

We think it was lockdown.

Bawdsey Quay householders were understandably annoyed at vans parking during most of 2020. One van owner was involved in a heated argument with a homeowner, we heard. The homeowner then “parked” a boat opposite her house. That prevented anyone from parking, not just the person she quarrelled with.

It is a shame the van owner did not compromise and move along a bit.

That argument was most likely the final straw for Bawdsey villagers.

The antagonism continued along to Shingle Street where local people went to the lengths of digging trenches to deter campervans and motorhomes.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9950361/Fed-locals-dig-trenches-deter-campervans-tourists-parking-Suffolk-beauty-spot.html

A different version of the story appeared in a rival paper – that one was less antagonistic to motorhomes and spoke of cars also blocking the road. But that doesn’t have such an exciting ring about it! Newspapers like to have someone to pick on.

Of course, it is not just Suffolk where this is happening. Being our local area, we have noticed changes. But it is countrywide.

Why do people hate motorhomes?

Lockdown seems to have been the breaking point for many popular tourist areas. With campsites closed, people who lived in their vehicles had to sleep somewhere so they went to places which previously hosted wild camping without causing too much of an issue to local inhabitants.

But having the vans there week after week, possibly with no nearby facilities, led to anger and frustration. Then there were horrible tales of blocked roads, toilet waste and refuse being strewn all over previously pristinely clean beaches.

There have been disturbing stories of vandalism and even attacks on motorhomes and their occupants.

But lockdown finished. The van-lifers moved on. Many with the good wishes of local communities.

Some were not sent on their way with a cheerful wave. There were a few who left a mess or bad-feeling. This is something the motorhome and van life community must address. It affects us all when the rotten apples show their disrespect to where they choose to stay.

Motorhome mayhem in the media

Stories are fabricated to justify actions detrimental to the van life community.

False stories of toilet waste and litter have been publicised. One couple had passed a purportedly ruined piece of countryside the very day that it was alleged there was rubbish and human waste strewn around. They saw nothing! Seriously, they said there was no litter at all.

There are incidents where respect from vanlifers and motorhomers is not as it should be. Most motorhomes have onboard facilities so there should be no need for anyone with an onboard toilet to dump waste in the dunes.

We would love to claim that it never happens but there are a few irresponsible van owners unfortunately.

It’s because of a mindless few that ALL motorhomes and campervans are now tarred with the same toilet brush.

True stories are exaggerated and falsely reported. And repeated.

The truth can be different. For example, one resident in Suffolk told us that…

The worst of the problems occurred last year during the country’s first national lockdown. It’s not actually been too bad down here this summer.

That quote indicates that once lockdown finished, the problem with fulltime motorhomers parking up and blocking roads disappeared in some places. The issue will significantly reduce further once people can travel overseas.

But the bad feeling and the knee jerk reactions by councils and vigilante groups have not disappeared.

Parking has always been a bit of a problem for us motorhomers, but things are definitely getting worse.

Motorhome parking problems all over the UK

Scotland seemed to suffer after lockdown as people holidayed in Britain. The NC500 became the 2021 Grand Tour. The “free for all” overnight parking is highly attractive but over-use naturally irritated local people. Goodwill and permissive parking ended in places.

Stories emerged of vans being pelted with mud. And worse. There were arguments and attacks.

But photographs of abandoned tents and barbeques, broken fences burned for fires, beer cans and litter were all blamed on motorhome users! Even news articles about the litter which did not actually mention motorhomes showed a retreating RV in the distance. Guilty by insinuation!

We sadly accept that at times it was true that a motorhome occupant had caused the mess and destruction. It is also obvious that often the problem was caused by walkers and car drivers.

It has been mainly us motorhome users who have suffered the consequences though.

Motorhome parking in Wales

A brief break for us in Wales in September almost ended the day it began as we found it horribly difficult to park in some places. This was not for overnight sleeping; this was to stop and see the history of the country.

We love Wales and its ancient roots, but it appears that parts of Wales do not love us. Well, the motorhome anyway.

Holywell was our first port of call. We wanted to visit St Winefride’s Well and Basingwerk Abbey but every car park we found had a height barrier! We actually left, disappointed and discouraged. However, after a few miles, we turned back and this time found a lay-by. Free! We’d have happily paid for a parking space!!

We also wished to see the Gop-y-Goleuni, a Neolithic cairn. It is the second largest ancient man-made mound in Britain after Silbury Hill which we visited in the summer. The village of Trelawnyd is beneath it, so we followed the P sign with anticipation. There was a height barrier!

We appreciate that the ancients did not build adjacent to parking spaces and wide roads. They cannot be included in our cries of “Van Life Vendetta!” but provision for motorhome parking could be made now!

Driving a motorhome along Welsh lanes is difficult enough, finding safe on-road parking in a village proved to be impossible. So we gave up and left, disappointed.

RELATED CONTENT: See the stories of our best road trips, including 4 trips in Wales

Local people are also affected by parking restrictions

We recounted the story to the lovely lady running that night’s campsite. She said that many of her customers had found the same thing. There were campsites for sleeping but it was getting increasingly difficult for motorhomers to visit towns, attractions and historical places as there was nowhere to park. She feared that it may impact her business.

This van life vendetta is countrywide.

But it’s us motorhome users who need to change people’s minds.

We accept that motorhomes can take up more than one space in a car park. (We will buy two tickets if necessary). Naturally, however, that irritates car drivers if the car park is otherwise full.

So why are there not a few motorhome-sized spaces in the larger car parks and space provided a little further out of town? (But please within reasonable walking distance!)

Southwold Motorhome Parking 2018 No Van Life Vendetta here!
Our VW T4 happily parked in an allocated parking space in Southwold, Suffolk

After all, we bring custom to local amenities and will pay to park.

We are a resource to be tapped into!

Some forward-thinking resorts, towns and cities have dedicated motorhome spaces. Let’s encourage their efforts by using them! Tell whichever business you use that you are in a motorhome.

Gwynedd Council gives us hope! It was wonderful to read that a Welsh council are considering ways that they can keep motorhome occupants within the town walls. It is sad when we, as a group, are considered a problem to be solved.

Motorhomers just want somewhere to park

No-one seems to want to look at this from our point of view! We are not always the bad guys.

Most of us understand the frustrations highlighted by the press in their van life vendetta. Motorhome users do not want to antagonise and inconvenience other people. We want somewhere to park, that is all.

We are simply enjoying a life of gentle tourism.

Full time or not, people who use motorhomes and campervans tend to be happy travellers. Motorhomes may use a lay-by overnight, but are gone the following morning. We leave little trace of our having been there.

Often the layby is cleaner. We pick up other people’s rubbish rather than carry the blame ourselves.

As a group, most of us take pride in that.

The rules of the road

Speak to any Motorhome Forum or Campervan Club; there are rules of the road. The vast majority are decent people who want to get out and enjoy what this country has to offer without messing it up.

Yes, our vehicles are not the most environmentally friendly or fuel efficient, but we’ll fill up at a local garage, supporting the local economy. We also stock up on food from local stores. Many of us use restaurants and facilities. But not if we cannot park anywhere near them!

By not providing parking, towns and resorts are forcing motorhomes to park in places where they DO cause a blockage or nuisance. There comes a time when we simply must stop somewhere!

A suggestion: Maybe the blue ‘Parking’ signs pointing to public car parks could have an indication that there is a height barrier? A line over the P or something similar. It would save motorhomes going along small streets only to have to turn round or reverse.

There are calls for Continental style aires where motorhomes can service their vehicles. These would ease several of the issues. However, we need legal parking near places of interest too. A few spaces would make all the difference. The motorhome community must ensure that such spaces are respected and that any restrictions are obeyed.

We must continue to campaign for real aires. But the gradual withdrawal of parking permissions – especially in towns and popular tourist resorts – cannot go unnoticed. We must end the van life vendetta!

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Other Hobo news…

What else did we do in October, other than upset parking attendants in Felixstowe?

The motorhome has a leak from the water tank which needs investigation. We do not use the water system during the cold months so this can wait if necessary.

We enjoyed a cosy night’s camp on a daughter’s driveway. In the morning, her children come tapping on the hab door so that the “Mystery Machine” can make them toast! Precious memories.

Until next blog post…may your roads be free and the parking without height barriers!

Trudi and Gav, Motorhome Hobos


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