‘Constantly stunning and invigorating’ – Paul Merton and Suki Webster on campervan touring

The married comedians on the great views, friendly folk – and friendlier sheep – encountered on their tour of England and Wales for a new TV series

With more British people holidaying at home and accommodation at a premium, demand for motorhoming holidays has soared. Curious to find out what “vanlife” is like, earlier this summer comedians Suki Webster and Paul Merton, who have been married since 2009, took to the road for a new Channel 5 TV series, Motorhoming with Merton and Webster. Over six episodes, it follows their trips through England and Wales in a 7.3-metre RollerTeam Pegaso 740 motorhome, and also offers vanlife hacks, kit testing and a peek inside some of Britain’s best vans.

Suki Webster: Motorhoming isn’t a “lie on the beach and just put your feet up” holiday, but you get used to it quite quickly. If you’re renting, there are quite a few things to work out in the first couple of days – the first being how to drive and not hit hedges or other cars. Within a few hours you get used to that. And then you’ve got to work out how to use the kitchen, how to make the shower work, how to change the gas and all of that. Once you adapt to it, it’s like a self-catering holiday but with the advantage that you wake up with a different view.

Paul Merton: Just to clarify, when Suki says “wake up to a different view”, she doesn’t mean that you haven’t put the handbrake on overnight and you wake up in the morning somewhere else. Sometimes when you arrive at a campsite and it’s getting dark you don’t take much in. The next morning when you get up it’s always a very pleasant surprise – particularly if you can see distant mountains or lakes or whatever. So it is constantly renewing your holiday experience.

the couple in the Lake District.
‘We climbed a very big hill, or a very small mountain’… the couple in the Lake District Photograph: Curve Media

In our childhoods we both had holidays in static caravans, but of course you’re in one place. With this, you move from place to place. And because we were travelling outside school holidays, campsites weren’t particularly busy. The nearest motorhome would be maybe 15 metres away so you felt as if there was a certain amount of isolation, but weren’t completely on your own.

SW: One of the things we loved about it, as well as the freedom of the road, was the community. Everyone spoke to each other and everyone was friendly, and everyone wanted to see, you know, “what kind of hobs have you got?”. It was really lovely.

PM: The community of motorhomers have insider knowledge. So they say to each other “I was up at this campsite here” or “oh, that’s a very quiet place”. You find out these little tips when people say “that’s a good one to go to”, like one at Weston-super-Mare called Uphill Wharf campsite that was overlooking a lake and the sea was not far away and there were hills behind us.

SW: We both loved the Lake District and we both loved Wales. Having said that, everywhere was stunning – we went to Kent, Somerset, the Peak District and Norfolk and it was great to see so many different parts of the country. Although we tour together every year, when you’re touring you turn up, go into the theatre, soundcheck, have a sandwich, do the show, then drive home in the dark. Whereas with motorhoming we were really seeing places. I don’t think either of us realised how much variety there is more or less on our doorstep. We’d never explored our own country to that degree.

Atlantic grey seals on Horsey Beach, Norfolk.
Atlantic grey seals on Horsey Beach, Norfolk. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

We went seal-watching on Horsey Beach in Norfolk, which was really special because I love wildlife. And on the Broads we got to sail a special wherry boat. Paul loved Bakewell so much on our Peak District trip that he made a bakewell pudding in the motorhome.

PM: I’d always wanted to go to the Lake District, but I’d never made any effort to do so. We went kayaking on Derwentwater and wild swimming in Coniston, which was a first. We also climbed a very big hill, or a very small mountain – it was one or the other – near Grasmere, where Wordsworth used to go walking, and the landscape sort of unfolds beneath you. We hiked up just over 300 metres and every 30 metres another part of the landscape emerged. It was constantly stunning and invigorating. And one thing that surprised me was that we found another lake at the top, which was completely hidden and which you could only see if you had climbed up.A very different experience was in Somerset, when we went to a quarry where a very skilled driver drove us round individually in a kind of souped-up go-kart thing that could do 0 to 60mph in two seconds. One of us loved it and wanted to go around twice and the other one was screaming “stop!” right from the beginning. I won’t say which was which, except that Suki was absolutely having the time of her life.

SW: In the Brecon Beacons in Wales, we did the Jacob Sheep Experience – this is a breed that are friendlier than most. You can put a harness on the sheep and take it for a walk around an organic farm. They’re like dogs – if you’re not petting them, they keep nuzzling you, pushing their head into your legs to go “come on, give me a bit more attention”. They were just the most beautiful creatures ever.

A Jacob ram in Brecon.
A Jacob ram in Brecon. Photograph: Chris Fairweather/Rex

PM: The motorhome was 7.3 metres long but I could never remember what the height was. At one point we were not sure whether we could fit under a bridge or not so I had to get out and just check to make sure. You get used to the size relatively quickly, but it does take more concentration. You have to remember to take corners wide and that sort of thing. Once we’d got the hang of it, one of our favourite driving days was going up Snake Pass in the Peak District. The scenery was stunning and you can see for miles and miles. The motorhome is a confined space, but when you’re sleeping you don’t feel the claustrophobia of it, and when you’re driving one of you is concentrating on the driving and the other’s navigating. When you park, providing it’s not pouring down with rain – which most of the time it wasn’t, thank goodness – you’re outside. So although it is a small place, you’re not usually in it.

The A57 rising to Snake Pass in the Peak District.
The A57 rising to Snake Pass in the Peak District. Photograph: Radharc Images/Alamy

SW: One of the challenges of motorhoming is being organised. Before you drive, you’ve got to make sure everything is properly packed away and strapped down. We brought lots of kitchen towels and tea towels and every morning we’d wrap and unwrap. At one point I said to Paul, it’s like Christmas every day – you’re just constantly unwrapping everything.

If you are planning a motorhoming trip, check exactly where your campsite is and how many activities and amenities are close by. We really loved it and want to do it again, but we would definitely get electric bikes next time so that you don’t have to take your motorhome off site if you just want a pint of milk.

• Motorhoming with Merton and Webster starts at 8pm on 6 August on Channel 5

Lorna Parkes

The GuardianTramp

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