A COLD and wet camping trip in the Yorkshire Dales has put a couple on the road to a new life.
Tracey and John Richardson endured a miserable break in the Yorkshire Dales in 2006 with rain battering their tent. “We were with a group of friends and it was freezing cold and uncomfortable,” Tracey recalled. “Then the dad of a friend of ours arrived in his RV – it looked very warm and cozy.”
This experience led them to decide to buy a motorhome “with a nice, warm bed”.
In 2007, they became the proud owners of Dylan, a 1963 German-made split-screen motorhome. “Dylan was working in a market in northern Italy, ferrying customers,” Tracey explains. “We have a bus ticket that we found while John was working on him.”
That same year, John was fired from his job at the local Volkswagen garage, where he had worked as a VW technician.
“We realized how lucky we were to not only own an amazing motorhome, but to be able to maintain one,” Tracey says. “Owning it is one thing, but keeping it reliable is another. Dylan has always run smoothly thanks to John’s care and attention.
After much research – through which they discovered there were no companies in Yorkshire that rented out campers for holidays or weddings – the couple made the decision to purchase another campervan to hire.
Their business, Liberty Campers, grew rapidly. Dougal, a 2009 camper, was quickly followed by Daisy and three other bay window character campers. “We couldn’t hire Dylan, he’s part of the family,” adds Tracey.
The couple wanted others to experience, as they had, the unique fun and excitement that comes with vacationing in a VW campervan.
“When we drive Dylan around, people wave at us and come over to chat,” Tracey explains. “They talk about their youth and either had one in the family or their grandparents had one. They talk about their happy memories. With Dylan, you’re never alone on a campsite or in town – he commands attention wherever he goes.
Tracey and John took Dylan to France. “We went all the way on the inside lane and for two weeks we didn’t overshoot anything,” Tracey recalls. “It was quite intimidating on the Paris ring road with all these fast cars and trucks. We were even passed by push bikes.
The couple now rent a range of campers from their base in Ilkley and, with the boom in staycations due to the pandemic, they have never been busier.
“When it comes to isolation, camping is one of the safest vacations and based on last year, we estimate we’ll be fully booked again for this season,” Tracey says.
The company leases a range of vehicles. “For a self-drive camping holiday, we offer the modern style T6 motorhomes,” says Tracey. “We have just added a very exciting member to our VW family – a 2021 VW California, which is the Rolls Royce of campers.”
Each camper can accommodate four people: two adults and two children who sleep in a retractable roof. There is a gas cooker, running water with a sink, fridge and a small freezer compartment.
A new addition to the fold is Winnie, a 1974-built VW Jurgens Auto Villa, manufactured under license from VW by the Jurgens family in South Africa. She is named after Winnie Mandela.
“She’s 1970s brunette everywhere, the seats in the closets,” Tracey explains. “There are some nice quirky features – her sink is in a cupboard that you open and comes out. There is a bathroom with an “engaged” lock on the outside of the door when in use.
“I believe they have made around 1,200 Jurgens Type 2 VW camper vans, and there are around 300 left and around 40 left in the UK.”
Tracey and John also hire campers for weddings – a quirky and fun way for newlyweds to get to their reception or head out into the sunset.
“The campers are so photogenic – a gorgeous pastel green that complements all the colors without overpowering the bride,” Tracey explains.
All campers have names. Dylan is named after Bob Dylan, Dolly, the couple’s chauffeured wedding camper, is almost identical to Dylan and is therefore named after Dolly, the famous cloned sheep.
“We imported Dolly in a very poor condition, refurbished it and had Dylan’s paint scanned so they were a matching pair – I don’t know of any other matching pair in this color in the UK”, Tracey explains. “We have Poppy a 1970 Westfailia bay window, in very good condition.”
Tracey and John take good care of their guests, some of whom have never camped before. “We receive single mothers or fathers who take their children on vacation. This gives them the certainty that they can call us 24 hours a day for help. Some are looking for that wilderness camp experience, and others for a relaxing getaway. We can also advise you on where to go, as this is their first camping trip.”
The couple are reluctant to name a favorite camper. “Oh my god, if you say other people will be upset, they have feelings, you know,” Tracey laughs. “I guess it must be Dylan our very first, and maybe Winnie our Jurgens because she’s so unusual.”
John’s mechanical knowledge and expertise is invaluable. “We couldn’t provide this service without John’s skills and knowledge of campers,” Tracey explains. “He is affectionately known as Doctor Dub.”
Many couples proposed in the RVs and others went from hiring a vacation camper to a chauffeured ride for their wedding, and came back to hire again with their families.
“It’s nice to see this full circle,” Tracey says. “I’m Facebook friends with many of the couples whose weddings I’ve conducted, we were invited to a couple’s wedding after becoming friends when they hired Dylan for a vacation.”
The furthest they have traveled for a wedding is the Isle of Man. “We took Dylan on the ferry with all of our camping gear, set up camp, and drove the newlyweds with a driver the next day.”
The couple take their campers to local events including the Ilkley Carnival and the Burley Classic Car Show in Wharfedale. “A lot of people come to see us and talk. We like to show off our campers, they get a lot of attention.
“Once we were on a promotion in Leeds and so many people who had hired Dylan for their wedding came up and said ‘It’s Dylan’ – people recognize him everywhere – he sparks amazing memories.”