Living the stream: glamping in an American Airstream trailer … in Somerset

We check out a lovingly restored classic caravan on a quiet farm – but they can also be taken out on the road or to a festival

“They changed my life,” says Nick Mongston, surveying his restored Airstream trailers proudly.

There’s no doubt the vintage caravans look superb in the Somerset landscape, with barbecue, loungers and fire pits, and some horses grazing nearby. But Nick isn’t just having a pleasant glamping experience – he really has turned his life upside down for these shiny trailers.

Five years ago Nick was an IT manager in London who had spent several decades working in software. Then he went to a festival and fell in love.

View from one of the Airstreams in a field in Somerset, UK.
View from one of the Airstreams Photograph: PR

“I got to the age when I didn’t want to be on the ground any more when I was camping – I needed to elevate myself and have a few creature comforts,” he says. “But I didn’t want some crappy plastic-trim caravan with flimsy floorboards. Then I saw one of these at a festival and had an epiphany. An Airstream was exactly what I wanted – sleek and beautiful design, aluminium chassis and that 50s Americana cool.”

The trouble was that a new Airstream comes in at a not-so-cool $100,000-plus. So Nick went searching in Florida for old ones that he could ship over and restore instead.

Nick Mongston
Nick Mongston. Photograph: Hugh Thomson

“It was easy for me because my dad, Ken, has been living there for years, near Fort Lauderdale, which is where they used to make Airstreams. So I went over to visit him and borrowed his vintage green convertible Jaguar to go on a tour of the boondocks to see if there were any old Airstreams for sale. The Florida sun is very good at conserving them – although I did buy one that had bullet holes in it.”

It wasn’t always easy to get negotiations started, though: “I felt a bit embarrassed driving up to some old boy on a porch in a green Jag and with my English accent – ‘Goddamn you talk funny, boy’ – so it took a while to put them at ease.”

Nick, a burly and jovial giant himself, clearly managed to work his charm and ended up with a fleet of Airstreams, which he shipped back to England. “They were too big for a container so I had to pay for ‘roll on/roll off’ to Southampton – but at least, because they don’t have an engine, there was very little import duty.”

Old Airstream, as found by Nick, in Florida.
Old Airstream, as found by Nick, in Florida. Photograph: Courtesy of Hugh Thomson

Then he rolled up his sleeves and got to work restoring them. “I left my IT job and started renting out the Airstreams for festivals.” Because of their aerodynamic shape and lightweight aluminium body, they are particularly good for towing.

When the pandemic hit, however, the bottom dropped out of the festivals market. Nick decided to move to Somerset and install two Airstreams more permanently at Brookover Farm near Frome as a glamping experience – calling it, inevitably, GlamStreams.

Airstreams in situ, in Somerset, UK.
Airstreams in situ. Photograph: Hugh Thomson

I’m in a nine-metre blue one called Beth, after the woman in Florida Nick bought it from when he saw it sitting abandoned in her field. The feel of the riveted blue aluminium reminds me of a small plane. Inside, the Airstream immediately seems more spacious than your average caravan, with a great deal more headroom. With the oval shape, it avoids that boxy feeling I remember from my experiences of a British caravan in Suffolk – along with those laminated plastic strips that always came unstuck from the inside walls.

Nick has installed solar panels and low-voltage electricity and followed rigorous ecological principles. His aim has been to produce vans that can be off-grid to minimise their impact. All the Airstreams have water-free composting toilets so that you can take them to remote places (or, for that matter, festivals).

When restoring them, he used only recycled original parts from other Airstreams – such as the instantly recognisable aluminium panels – rather than new parts. Any wood products, such as worktops, have come from FSC-certified suppliers, and he has paid for appliances that are built to last on the grounds that “in-built obsolescence is immoral”. Even the frying pans have plant-based coatings and are recyclable. The furniture is all secondhand, with a 50s and 60s vibe.

Airstream interior.
Airstream interior. Photograph: Hugh Thomson

Nick also set up workshops to restore and maintain the trailers, choosing to use derelict farm buildings that did not need any new building. Every few years the Airstreams need polishing, like silverware, to restore their patina.

It makes for a quite delightful camping experience – I certainly don’t feel like trailer trash, more trailer royalty. There’s the small River Mells nearby, with pleasant walks and swimming spots, while Orchardleigh estate and lake are close, along with the Macmillan Way, Bath, Glastonbury and Wells.

But while there is plenty to do during the day, nothing beats coming back in the evening to a field of Airstreams glistening beside the nightlights, as if a little bit of Texas had suddenly come to Somerset. Nick has thoughtfully provided the trailers with cocktail shakers and a Bluetooth system, so you can mix a dry martini and toast both the sunset and Wally Byam, the man who designed these “land yachts and travel trailers” in the 30s (as the brass plaque beside the door tells you). Perhaps with Elvis crooning I Just Can’t Help Believing over the stereo.

The trip was provided by GlamStreams; breaks from £550 for three days in vans sleeping four or five. Nick Mongston’s Airstreams can also be seen at Give festival, an innovative event based on the principle of giving back to each other, which runs from 23-27 September at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire


Hugh Thomson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Comfortable up there? Tripod glamping in north Cornwall
Sleeping options at this new retreat in a former Cornish quarry range from tree tents to pods on legs. It’s perfect for surfers, coastal walkers and anyone who loves ‘roughing it’

Lesley Gillilan

02, Sep, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Born for fun: Hampshire’s Springsteen-inspired glamping site
No need to head to Dorset or Devon for quaint villages, walks and pubs – this west Hants site, now with revamped narrowboat, offers rural bliss without the crowds

Liz Boulter

15, Apr, 2021 @5:30 AM

Article image
A glamping break ... but where's the tent?
In pop-up sites across the UK, tipis and bell tents are being used to meet extra summer demand. But the one we try takes sleeping under the stars to extremes

Dixe Wills

15, Jul, 2020 @10:00 AM

Article image
Fields of light: an arty Somerset glampsite with glowing gardens and a space pod
Marston Park glampsite is a canvas for budding artists, offering tents with a ‘light garden’, easels, guitars, and live music sets

Rachel Dixon

19, Aug, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Glamping in the Wye valley: readers’ travel writing competition
Emma Halliday, who won the UK category, gets back to nature on a stylish caravan holiday in Herefordshire

Emma Halliday

06, Sep, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
Down to the woods … a family break in a forest cabin
How can Kirsty Pope persuade her mud-averse husband to go on a forest activity break in winter? By staying in a luxury Forestry Commission cabin where you can observe the nature from your sofa

Kirsty Pope

26, Nov, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Field of dreams: camping in West Sussex
With all the comforts of glamping but not the high prices, a new off-grid campsite on a farm in the South Downs makes for a heavenly stay

Jane Dunford

03, Aug, 2018 @5:30 AM

Article image
Just camp in my garden: new websites offer private pitches
Wild camping is off the agenda in England and Wales, but new sites are helping to meet growing demand by offering spots in private gardens, meadows and woods

Gemma Bowes

21, Jul, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Beautiful places, safe spaces: the best UK holidays this summer
Hotels, campsites – and campervan rentals – are planning to reopen on 4 July. Here’s our pick of scenic staycations away from the crowds

Rachel Dixon and Antonia Wilson

13, Jun, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
One goes mad in Dorset: camping on Scout island
The colourful history of Brownsea Island in Poole harbour takes in Henry VIII, Lord Baden-Powell and the Famous Five. Now the public can camp among its flora and fauna

Jane Dunford

20, Jul, 2019 @9:00 AM