We’ve got beautiful countryside and fabulous food – but Britain hasn’t quite been in the same league as France when it comes to facilities for motorhomes and camping. We met the couple behind Brit Stops – a clever idea that gives motorhomers a real taste of Britain with free overnight stays.
Imagine being able to stay overnight for free in your motorhome at a farmshop, country pub, vineyard or brewery? Members of the Brit Stops scheme, who pay £27.50 (plus £3.50 p&p) a year for the privilege, can do just that. The scheme – pit stops for motorhomes – brings tourists closer to local produce and services and is a great hit with visitors from mainland Europe, and homegrown visitors too.
Brit Stops is based around a guidebook that lists hundreds 0f hosts around Britain. There are directions and information on the venues themselves and clear symbols showing whether dogs are welcome, for example, or whether you need to call in advance (there’s no booking as such; it’s just to check there’s not a major function on that day).
These venues aren’t campsites, so often won’t have shower blocks or even toilet facilities, but the book describes what to expect at each stopover. At some sites, for example, you can fill up with fresh water or drain waste; many have free wifi, and many are open even in the winter when other sites are shut.
Is Brit Stops for me?
First of all, they’re definitely not suitable for tents or caravans. Some pubs may have a campsite as well, but the book listings are purely for motorhomes and campervans. If you have a campervan with a rising roof and you sleep upstairs, you might also need to choose with care.
We’ve just stayed in our first Brit Stops location – a country pub car park in Hampshire. We ate in the pub (most hosts will expect you to spend a bit of money with them out of fairness). It wouldn’t have been one we’d have chosen to eat in had it not been for the free camping, so you may need to weigh up your priorities – free stopover or the best menu.
Going to bed before the pub closed meant we heard every car and tipsy party leave, the school bus pick-up early in the morning and the arrival of the bin lorry. None of that would be a problem in a more enclosed motorhome or high-top campervan, and definitely not a problem in many of the farmshop or leisure locations.
So, our verdict: a great system and perfect for quick stopovers. At a pub stop, you can stroll a few metres back to your bed after a meal and a drink or two. For rising roof campervans – think about noise and how exposed you’ll feel. A fantastic addition to camping options!
Brit Stops started life back in 2011 after the publishers and owners, Steve and Mandy Clark, spent a summer touring France staying at vineyards and farms, using the very popular France Passion. Back home, it was clear that a similar scheme would be welcomed by motorhomers.
“It’s based firmly on the ‘formule invitations’ format of France Passion,” explains Steve, “and aims to suit both host and guest. Although there’s no obligation to buy from the hosts, we all have to eat and drink on our travels, and who wouldn’t be tempted by the fresh produce in a farm shop or the home-cooked meals on offer in the pubs?
“One member said he didn’t see it as much as saving money, but spending it more enjoyably – especially as the scheme now includes a cider maker, ice cream farms, a loch-side seafood café, a pub with a menu of more than 70 different pies, and a couple of Thai and Indian restaurants.”
Steve says it’s impossible to pick a favourite.
“About 60 per cent are country pubs and the rest are mainly farm shops, with half a dozen vineyards, a few cafés and restaurants, a couple of breweries and a whole raft of ‘one-offs’ like a deer park, circus skills emporium, a pottery, an airfield, motorhome accessories store and a llama park. We’ve got beachside stopovers, mountain activity centres, canal-side and riverside locations, stopovers with stunning views, and all with a warm welcome from the hosts.”