‘Van life’ – the lifestyle trend hitting the roads of Yorkshire and beyond
Last updated Apr 10, 2024

(Image: Denson Automotive)

“Having a camper van means that if people want to pop to Scarborough for fish and chips they can, or if they want to travel up to Scotland for three months, they can do that too.”

That’s the kind of freedom that owning a camper van represents to Linden Kitson, the managing director of Wetherby-based business Denson Automotive. And it seems that the public are in agreement; according to a report by Statista in 2022 the number of new motorhome registrations reached approximately 11,600.

Spurred on in part by the Covid-19 pandemic, people increasingly turned to the kind of nomadic, road-tripping lifestyle that vans can offer – a movement further fuelled by aspirational social media content.

In 2023 the #vanlife hashtag had been viewed more than 12 billion times on TikTok, and there was upwards of 15 million posts using the phrase on Instagram. Travel influencers have made profitable careers out of showing life on the road, including ‘tours’ of their camper van conversions.

So as a region, is Yorkshire reflective of the national trend?

Selling a lifestyle

The interior of one of the vans (Image: Denson Automotive)

When Linden established his business in January 2020, intentional or not, it was auspicious timing to capitalise on the van life phenomenon.

Indeed, Linden believes that Denson Automotive is fundamentally a ‘lifestyle company selling a concept’. When customers arrive at the workshop in Thorp Arch they’re taken to the ‘Dream Room’ to discuss the vision for their new home on wheels.

If they’re going completely custom-made, from counter colours to exterior wrap, every aspect is decided on before the team source the van and start to outfit it. While Denson does accept vans that people bring to be transformed, Linden explained that it’s very rare that people have found one beforehand, choosing instead to trust the team to pick something.

He said:

“It can be hard for the average customer to see the potential in a van, but we know what to look for. We take what people might think are rough and ready builders’ vans and make them into someone’s dream.

“There’s a massive market for budget-friendly camper vans; we feel like we’re really in that sweet spot.”

Linden and his team convert 10 vans a month and while many are straightforward jobs, there’s been a few surprising – and specific – requests.

“One of our jobs was turning a van into a replica of Nigel Mansell’s 1980 racing car. Another lady was really into astronomy and had a wolf and stars across the exterior.”

Before and after (Image: Denson Automotive)

Living the dream

Hand in hand with the idea of van life is the concept of digital nomads – another term for remote workers who can take their job on the road.

More than 72 per cent UK employees said they were planning on working remotely in a different country, so they can both earn money and travel freely, according to research from the Post Office.

Nine in ten respondents said they imagine digital nomadism becoming a key part of the future of work, with 50 per cent citing the reason as wanting to increase their work-life balance and it give them the opportunity to see the world whilst staying employed.

Camper vans can offer a chance at living this type of lifestyle – and according to Linden, his customer base is wide-ranging; from retired couples looking to take weekend breaks, to young people taking the plunge and hitting the road.

Camper vans can offer a chance at a digital nomad lifestyle (Image: Denson Automotive)

He added:

“We’re helping people to achieve a dream van and a life that they might not even know about beforehand.”

Not only is North Yorkshire is blessed with some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, but there’s a plethora of campsites – as well as legal, on-road parking spots – scattered amongst the national parks.

Popular spots around the Harrogate area include sites at Rudding Park, Knaresborough and Ripley but there’s a whole host of other locations across the North York Moors, the Dales and the Wolds – as well as the enduringly popular seaside spots.

In fact, many of the most well-known sites are often booked months in advance, especially during the summer and school holidays. So perhaps this year you’ll join the thousands of Brits hitting the roads of Yorkshire and beyond for a camper van holiday – and maybe you’ll even take the next step and join the van life movement for good.

Ferret fun facts

  • The concept for the famous VW camper van was initially sketched out by Dutch importer Ben Pon in April 1947, with the first model being released in 1949 at the Geneva Motor Home show.
  • It is estimated that there are anywhere between 150 – 545 camp and caravan sites across North Yorkshire.
  • The largest motorhome allowed on the road in the UK can’t exceed 12 metres length and 2.55 metres width.

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