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The Caravan Philosophers

Quotes from early advocates of the recreational vehicle lifestyle

Dr. Gordon Stables, J. Harris Stone and Bertram Smith

The first recreational caravanners faced numerous hurdles in getting their new hobby accepted. Leaving a comfortable home to face wind, rain and hail in a cold, rickety wagon parked in the middle of a potentially dangerous nowhere was initially considered by society to be rather silly. Doing so for extended periods was the height of madness.


To combat such opinions, a few early caravan pioneers in the UK preached the virtues of the hobby as well as practising it. The three men above all wrote about the hobby in such as way as to convince many others to follow them – Dr. Gordon Stables (writer and owner of The Wanderer of 1885), J. Harris Stone (first Secretary of The Caravan Club from 1907) and Bertram Smith (writer and caravan builder between 1907 and 1918).


Below are some quotes from each, divided into topics that may still be relevant today.


Why Go Caravanning?


Regeneration

“No life separates a man more from his former self, or gives him a better chance of regeneration of the most complete kind, than that of the gentleman gipsy.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


Happiness

“There are a thousand reasons why one should live in a caravan. It is the happiest possible combination of three of the prime necessities of life. It is a residence, a means of locomotion, a conveyance for luggage.”

Bertram Smith, The Whole Art of Caravanning (1907)


Uncertainty

"There is to my way of thinking a delicious uncertainty in starting on a long caravan tour, without being aware in the least what you are going to do or see, or even what route you are going to take."

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


Good Health

"In these hustling days caravanning naturally appeals with increasing force to the contemplative and seeker after rest. Our doctors are also finding that patients with a consumptive tendency, or afflicted with certain brain troubles, or forms of paralysis, derive much benefit from a life on the road."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


"I have frequently heard it remarked by experienced caravanners that they never catch colds, nor do their children till they once more take up house-life. That is my experience too."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Creativity

"Artists, anglers, photographers and entomologists too are numerous in the ranks of the modern Gypsy; while not a few writers, like the late Dr. Gordon-Stables, find they do their best work on the road in a van."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Rejuvenation

"Take up caravanning therefore and renew your youth!"

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Alertness

"The fascination of the highway is great. The caravannner may leave the brook-side, or avoid villages and the busy haunts of men, and may wander far afield, but the road is always with him, and if he has the right spirit of the nomad that is sufficient company. From its subtle windings and changes of level, its varying hedge delineations and distant views, there arises a keen, stimulating and continuous interest ever keeping the attention alert and the mind cheerful."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Change of Scene

"The enjoyment of a caravan tour cannot be adequately described. The continued change of scene, and the fact of being out entirely in the pure, fresh air, and carrying with you, without fatigue, your usual essential home-comforts, are factors making for real pleasure of an intensity that the town-dweller, in his sanest intervals, does not even imagine."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Democratic

"Class distinctions, accidents of aristocratic or plebeian birth, go straight into the melting pot, and the individual that emerges is all that Nature cares about. Caravanning is a democratic pastime."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Feeling Alive

"(The waking caravanner) draws the curtain from his open window, and gazes out on Nature at the brightest and freshest period of her daily life. If it has rained in the night, the racy homeliness of the scent of damp earth assails his senses and stirs his soul with an irrepressible feeling of how good life can be. The awakening of birds and their twitter around the van, combined with the strange signs of early morning, can never be realised by a dweller in a house."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Better Sleep

“An hour’s sleep in a caravan is worth an hour and a half at home.”

Bertram Smith, The Whole Art of Caravanning (1907)


Meeting People

“There is nothing when the tour is over and one’s gains are added up that counts for half as much as the people one has met upon the way.”

Bertram Smith, Caravan Days (1914)


Satisfying 'Horizon Hunger'

“But the root cause of our discontent (with living at home) is of course that we are not moving on, that we have lost our daily panorama. We are suffering simply from “horizon hunger".”

Bertram Smith, Caravan Days (1914)


Elevating the Mundane

“Caravanning contains no more delightful feature than its power of elevating and ennobling sordid domestic jobs.”

Bertram Smith, Caravan Days (1914)


What's It Like Living in a Caravan?


Like Living in a Mill

“The first fortnight of life in a great caravan like the Wanderer is just a little upsetting; even my coachman felt this. The constant hum of the wagon-wheels, and the jolting – for with the best of springs a two-ton wagon will jolt – shakes the system. It is like living in a mill; but after this you harden up to it, and would not change your modus vivendi for life in a royal palace.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


You will get Hungry

“The first result of your new mode of life—and this you will not be twenty-four hours out before you feel —will be hunger. It does not matter that you had a substantial breakfast at eight o'clock, you will find your way to the cupboard at eleven, and probably for the first time in your life you will find out what a delicious titbit a morsel of bread-and-cheese is. Yes,

and I would even forgive you if you washed it down with one tiny glass of mild ale, albeit beer is not the best thing on the road."

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


Closer to Nature

“There will come to (the caravanner)… a new broad sympathy for all breathing things, while the voices of the stream, the rustling branches of the trees will speak to him in a language that he had not understood before.”

Bertram Smith, The Whole Art of Caravanning (1907)


No Cards

“You have no books, no newspapers! Do you play cards?”

“Cards? In a caravan? My dear madam!”

“Do you play chess, or fish, or shoot, or golf?”

“Indeed no. It is from these things that we have escaped.”

“What do you do?”

“Have I not told you that we live?”

Bertram Smith, The Whole Art of Caravanning (1907)


What Advice would you give to a Caravanner?


Keep a Regular Schedule

“As to regularity, this is one of the things one learns to perfection on a gipsy tour extending over months. There can be no comfort without it. Everything in its place must be your motto, and this is a habit which once learned is of the greatest service to one in more civilised life. For the want of regularity causes much worry, and worry is one of the primary causes of illness.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


Keep Tidy

"Every article in a caravan must have a place provided for it, even down to the smallest and most insignificant. In designing the interior arrangements that fundamental fact of caravan comfort must be borne in mind. When travelling, each article after use should automatically be put back at once in its allotted position in cupboard, drawer, peg or rack; for unless there is a place for everything, and everything is kept in its proper place, chaos will soon reign, and confusion and discomfort result. Caravanning is the great inculcator of tidiness."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


"It should be the caravanner’s ambition to leave a pitch absolutely tidy – not a vestige of paper, potato peelings, cabbage stalks or any other refuse should be visible."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Get a Bicycle

“But the main pleasure in possessing a cycle lies in the opportunities you have of seeing lovely bits of scenery, and quaint queer old villages, and quaint queer old people, quite out of the beaten track of your grand tour.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


Don't Buy a Used Van...

“I would as soon buy an old feather-bed in the east end of London as an old caravan.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


...But if You Do

"It is also at the joints that rot sets in, and it is advisable to carry a little bradawl or knife and to have a good dig into any suspicious places, preferably choosing a moment when the owner is at the other side, or has his attention otherwise occupied."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


"It is worthwhile to pay a small sum for the services of an expert, always providing that he is in no way interested in the sale of the wagon."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Hire before you Buy

"Do not go straight away and order a van to be built until you have previously hired a van, taken at least one trip, and learned, by some experience, the sort of vehicle and the nature of the fittings and domestic internal economy that are likely to suit your requirements."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


On Buying a Horse

"Remember, that in buying a horse mere puff is not warranty. “The best horse in the world: I never knew a better horse,” and so on, are mere puff phrases and do not affect a contract of sale."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


The Van should Look Good

“A caravannist is constantly being gazed at, and people will assuredly judge of your interior fittings by the taste and appearance displayed outside.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


“I would not have a pin out of place in my caravan, I would not have a crumb upon my couch or carpet, a withered flower in my vases, or blind or curtain one inch awry. Be gentle and firm with your valet, and he will soon come to see things as you do, and act in accordance with all your wishes.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


The Van should be Light and Items Small

“The Wanderer, with my books and furniture (all light) on board, weighs well-nigh two tons.

Even for a pair of good-hearted horses, such as I possess, this is rather much, so that I should advise that a single horse caravan be not much over fifteen hundredweight.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


"The axiomatic rule, equally applicable to horse caravans as to motor-driven caravans, is that the larger and heavier the van the nearer it must keep to the busy haunts of man."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


“Everything must be of smallest possible dimensions.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


“One should aim at the greatest possible space, with the least possible weight.”

Bertram Smith, The Whole Art of Caravanning (1907)


"A small, compact, light caravan that can easily penetrate into secluded districts, along narrow lanes shady with overhanging trees, enables the traveller to see and enjoy more real country that he who owns a more sumptuous and heavier vehicle."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Start Early

“AN EARLY START DESIRABLE. Make an early start and all will go well. On the

other hand, if you laze and dawdle in the morning the day will be spoiled, luncheon will be hurried, and dinner too late.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


“Never if possible get BELATED. If you do, you are liable to accidents of all kinds. I have been run into more than once at night by recklessly-driving tipsy folks. Certainly it only

slightly shook my great caravan, but capsized the dog-cart.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


Be Sociable

“A caravannist must not be above talking to all kinds and conditions of men. If he has pride he must keep it in a bucket under the caravan.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


"To enjoy caravanning don’t be taciturn. Be affable and agreeable, wear a smile on your face and talk freely to those who are similarly disposed, and you will never find the road dull."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


"It is one of the advantages of caravanning that you never need continue a conversation unless you like – you can always move on. Even if you are pitched where unpleasant people obtrude themselves, you need not endure them for long, as next morning at latest you can always change both your society and your scenery."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


"Civility is rightly said to cost nothing, and nowhere is it more useful – nay, valuable – than on a caravan tour in the rural districts."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


“Those who are of a morose or solitary habit would do well to try some other way of life, for the caravanner falls in with all sorts and conditions of men and he has everything in his favour to put him on good terms with them.”

Bertram Smith, The Whole Art of Caravanning (1907)


Think More and Talk Less

"There is one wholesome lesson everyone learns when caravanning – to think more, to talk less."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Observe

"Now, when you come to think of it, the art of learning consists mainly of the art of observing, and nowhere is that art acquired more easily or thoroughly than in caravan or camp life."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Go Slow

“The caravanner should do nothing in a hurry.”

Bertram Smith, The Whole Art of Caravanning (1907)


Share Your Ideas and Your Van

"A caravanner is never so happy as when showing and explaining to another some natty contrivance or some improvement on existing methods. The knowledge thus gained by comparison of vans, and the diffusion of ideas, wrinkles and dodges connected with the pastime, is gradually leading to better vans being made – lighter, more comfortable and homelier, yet, withal, artistic."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


"I often find on the road that the best way to break down the barriers of reserve, and also perhaps to remove any lingering suspicion among the country folk that you are not robbers of hen-roosts, is frankly to invite the curious inside and let them fully satisfy their curiosity."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Carpe Diem

"Carpe diem is a good caravanning motto, for you never know what the morrow may bring forth, and the gods may give you on one day the chance of getting crisp, fresh lettuces, which, if not seized, may not be repeated for many a long day. As I have said, the elevated position of the driver’s seat often enables a view to be had of gardens, over low hedges, palings or walls, and frequently reveals suggestive growths of cabbages, onions and other useful vegetables as well."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


Other Tips

"Brown, or even newspaper, wrapped round the body makes a splendid protection against the rain."


‘When travelling in a sandy country, of course nothing is so good to “wash” dirty knives, forks, plates and dishes with as fine sand."


"Dish-cloths are the supplies that seem to first run short in an average road outfit – so always carry plenty with you – the common swab, as well as the more refined species of the genus."


"The more one knows of such subjects as botany, entomology, natural history and archaeology, the more interesting does van-life become."

J. Harris Stone, Caravanning and Camping Out (1914)


What are the risks involved in caravanning?


None (if you have a revolver and a dog)

“DANGERS OF THE ROAD. These are nominal, and need hardly be mentioned. I carry a revolver which I seldom load ; I have shutters that I seldom put up ; and I often sleep with an open door. But I have a faithful dog.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


You may be Mistaken for Someone Else

“Although the Wanderer is nearly always taken for what she is—a private carriage on a large scale—still it is amusing sometimes to note what I am mistaken for, to wit :


1.”General” in the Salvation Army.

2. Surgeon-attendant on a nervous old lady who is supposed to be inside.

3. A travelling artist.

4. A photographer.

5. A menagerie.

6. A Cheap Jack.

7. A Bible carriage.

8. A madman.

9. An eccentric baronet.

10. A political agent.

11. Lord E_____ .

12. Some other "nob."

13. And last, but not least, King of the Gipsies.”

Dr. Gordon Stables, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer (1886)


Andrew Woodmansey

November 2022




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