Matched against giants such as the Yorkshire Dales, the Cotswolds and the Southwest in the tourist world, many a commuter might consider South East England a region to escape from rather than visit for a motorhome tour. But the Southeast has much to offer for either a touring holiday or an extended weekend break.
Take Surrey, for example. Hike to Leith Hill, South East England’s highest point, and you’ll soon realise just how wooded the county is. Indeed, it’s actually the most wooded county in Great Britain with more than 22% covered by mature woodland. That means some fabulous rambles, great off-road cycling and plenty of places to walk the dog.
Sussex (East and West), too, has an enviable outlook of gently rolling hills interspersed with adorably attractive market towns such as Rye, Lewes and Chichester, and wonderful brick architecture that defines the county.
Kent’s rural position is that of provider, supplying the country with fabulous fruit, nuts, hops and vegetables, not to mention Romney Marsh lamb and tantalisingly fresh seafood. For food lovers, it’s a superb county to explore in a motorhome.
Meanwhile, Hampshire boasts not just one national park but two. The New Forest (not so ‘new’ – it was the playground for William the Conqueror) is a firm favourite with campers, providing great opportunities to get up close to the 4,000 wild ponies, deer and cattle that roam free, and a pleasurable freedom for motorhomes without height barrier restrictions in place.
The South Downs National Park, which really is ‘new’ by comparison – the last National Park to be introduced to the UK, in 2009 – provides a spectacular backdrop to the south coast in both Hampshire and Sussex. Here you’ll find a virtually unbroken line of golden sand from Hayling Island to Brighton.
But then, if it’s a really attractive sandy beach that you’re after, the Isle of Wight is just the ticket. Purchase yours for the ferry, and within minutes you’ll find yourself sunbathing in Sandown Bay or building castles in Ryde.
By contrast, have you ever thought of a visit to London by motorhome? With several campsites inside the M25 and plenty on the fringes of the area offering public transport links, it’s perfectly possible. While the visitor attractions of central London may be widely known, you might prefer to see the Capital from a different perspective, such as canoeing the River Thames, exploring the city’s sewers, or from the free-to-visit Garden at 120 roof garden.
Things to do
1.For an attention-grabbing all day attraction, visit Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, where you’ll see the first warship of the Navy, Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, alongside other great warships – Nelson’s HMS Victory from the Battle of Trafalgar and HMS Warrior 1860, the world’s first iron and steam warship.
2.Whether of any religious persuasion or none, a visit to Canterbury Cathedral is a must just to see this architectural masterpiece. It’s one of the most famous centres of pilgrimage, owing to the 11th century murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
3.Surrey, Kent and Sussex are home to some of Britain’s most prolific wine producers. Why not visit a couple, have a tasting and select yourself a decent bottle to enjoy when back at the campsite? Denbies, in Surrey, is one of the most well known. Or you could visit Hush Heath Estate or the Chapel Down Winery, both in Kent. All three have a visitor centre, guided tours of the vineyard plus restaurants and tearooms.
4.A must-do attraction of the New Forest is the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. In addition to more than 285 vehicles, showcase collections and famous cars such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, there’s the Caravan and Motorhome Club Collection, where you can view a wealth of exhibits and see how motorhome, camping and caravan holidays have changed between 1885 and the present day.
5.Try a walking holiday on the Isle of Wight. There’s plenty of spectacular coastal scenery – you could even circumnavigate the island with the round-island walking route. And if you fancy catching up with others while you walk, head over to the island during May and October when the walking festivals take place.
When to visit
Some of England’s most prestigious and world famous sporting and arts events take place in South East England.
Horseracing is a winner and you’ll find Surrey’s Epsom Derby, classed as the ‘world’s greatest flat race’, in June, while Hampshire’s Goodwood mixes the racing of horses with cars during a summer season of events – first the Festival of Speed in June, then ‘Glorious Goodwood’ for a festival of horseracing in August, rounded off with the Goodwood Revival celebrating all things vintage in September.
Sussex is noted for the arts, with the Festival of Chichester, showcasing major West End productions and fringe performances from April to September while nearby Glyndebourne‘s opera season runs from May to August. Plus, Sussex Day is celebrated annually on the 16 June, putting the county’s rich heritage on the map.
It’s the Isle of Wight though that captures the traditional camping scene and top music acts with the Isle of Wight Festival in June. For a feel-good, family-friendly festival, your kids will love Elderflower Fields, held in East Sussex every May.
The south east of England is one of the most accessible areas to get to in the UK, although with that, roads can be notoriously congested, particularly at peak times of travel such as weekday rush hours plus Friday and Sunday evenings.
The M25 around London, one of those notoriously congested roads, is the natural feeder along with its arteries to access, in particular, Kent and Sussex. Most of Kent is accessible from the M20 and the M2, including Folkestone and Dover for cross Channel services. Occasionally, when there are delays to these services, ‘Operation Stack’ is put into place on the M20, with cars and motorhomes having to use the A20 instead.
There is a toll (though no weight restriction affecting motorhomes) on the Dartford Crossing, between Kent and Essex to the east of London, during the hours of 6am to 10pm daily. Payment must be made online, via phone or at Payzone retail outlets. You must pay the toll by midnight on the day after you cross.
The M23/A23 artery off the M25 takes you to Sussex. A direct route from London to Brighton, this road can become heavily congested at weekends, and at the start of major holidays as it also serves Gatwick Airport.
Access to the Isle of Wight is via Lymington and Portsmouth using Wightlink, or via Southampton using Red Funnel Ferries when taking a motorhome. Both companies often provide ‘ferry and campsite’ special offers. For those pitched on the mainland wishing to take a day trip to the island, high speed foot passenger services operate from Southampton, Portsmouth and Southsea.
You’ll have little problem if you’re staying on main A- and B-roads. Anticipate some narrow country lanes with high hedges in the more rural parts of Kent and West/East Sussex.
Be aware that many roads throughout the New Forest have a 40mph speed limit and remain vigilant for ponies and livestock that roam free throughout the area.
Roads on the Isle of Wight are generally narrower than those on the mainland but are fine for motorhomes. For those with large coachbuilts and A-class vehicles, watch out though for a particularly narrow and twisty section of A-road between Ventnor and Shanklin, on the southeast coast.
If you’re planning a trip overseas and heading to the Port of Dover (or visiting Dover as a tourist destination), motorhome parking is possible in Dover at Maison Dieu Car Park; ‘vans may occupy (and pay for) two bays. Overnight parking from 6pm to 9am is also allowed on Marine Parade, for a fee of £10.
Cheap overnight stops
You’ll find a selection of cheap places to stay in the southeast under the Practical Motorhome Nightstops Scheme. For example, The Flying Bull Inn at Rake, Surrey, offers all year round facilities for £5 per night, while you can stay at The Three Horseshoes in Alton, Hampshire, free of charge when you eat in the pub. We’re adding new sites all the time so keep checking back for updates.
For a selection of great campsites and touring parks, be sure to check our Top 100 Sites. This annual guide is based upon the awards of the same name, as voted for by you. And some of the best sites in South East England have also become the overall winner of the award.
Local transport links
South East England is one of the most well served regions for public transport with easy access to all major towns and cities. That said, many of the train services are direct to London so provincial routes may well involve two journeys and a possible jaunt across the Capital from one train station to another.
You’ll also find very frequent coach services into London from major towns and cities such as Oxford, Portsmouth and Brighton. A useful service along the south coast is the Coastliner 700 between Brighton and Portsmouth/Southsea, including stops at Worthing, Bognor Regis, Chichester and Havant.
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If it's a really attractive sandy beach that you're after, the Isle of Wight is just the ticket