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A caravan makeover in Pembrokeshire

The writer visits a caravan site near Tenby in West Wales, where one operator is setting high standards for green holidaymaking

Did the artist Renoir take secret holidays in Tenby? You might think so, if you saw his The Beach At Pornic, hanging above the solid wood fireplace in the sitting room of my Gold Olympic Holiday Home. How suspiciously like the curve of sand and the rocky headland of Lydstep Haven I could see out of the picture window.
The early morning sun picked out a stripe of golden gorse above a sheer cliff. Fulmars wheeled around the Stargate rock, where daft, brave climbers cling by their fingertips - except right now, because the birds are nesting.
It lacked only the French master’s trademark fuzzy trees and sunbathing ladies in crinolines to complete the match.
I last stepped inside a caravan an age ago, when I was about eight. So I did not anticipate doing things such as admiring Impressionist art while I waited for my microwave to ping, and I debated which of the two showers I would use after my swim.
Caravans, or mobile homes, are half way to changing their image. Many are now three-star hotels on wheels, without room service. But it is when you see them from the outside, and in the plural, that they wouldn’t make an oil painting.
Conservationist David Bellamy raged against the tedious ranks of mobile homes in clashing colours, marring our most beautiful coastline. Then, ‘ping!’ he changed his mind, and I’m here at Lydstep, just up the coast from Tenby in the Pembrokeshire National Park, to find out why.
Prof Bellamy visited a sister site at Haggerston Castle in Northumberland and was surprised to find it, in addition to caravans, full of wildlife and good intent.
He took it as his model. Why not encourage other sites to become mini conservation centres, where they could plant trees and erect nesting boxes? Children and their parents could learn about ecology on their holidays, and carry on practising conservation when they went home.
Prof Bellamy launched his own award scheme for caravan sites, working as a consultant with British Holidays. Lydstep is one of this year’s 17 gold medal winners. The shape of caravan sites to come? The busy eco-prophet certainly thinks so.
Mobile homes are fine places for the early start. At 5am I stepped out into the velvety West Wales air. The site was still asleep. I had a choice of walks. Below me was the sea, with the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coastal Path running just around high tide mark. But instead I headed to the wood on the slope above.
Later on the park rangers would be leading caravanners on guided walks up here. The really lucky get to see badgers gambolling at dusk, the smell of humans, no doubt, neutralised by carpets of heady, blooming wild garlic.
Gold medal caravan sites have ticks in the boxes alongside a wide range of virtues, from leaving grass areas uncut for wildlife to using long-life lights, switching to eco-friendly cleaning products and changing to down-lighting around the park so you can see the stars at night.
Some even plan to break up the straight lines of caravans and draw them into circles, just like covered wagon trains waiting for the cavalry.
They score, too, by encouraging you to use public transport. I had decided to polish my green credentials and take the lazy branch line to Tenby.
Prepare for the Bisto Kids reaction when you mention this town. ‘Ah, Tenby,’people say (no offence to many fine places, but did you ever hear anyone say ‘Ah, Cleethorpes’?). One Tenby devotee I know went 18 years in succession.
You have to warm to a place that uses its main piece of history, the 14th Century town walls, by tucking restaurants into them like culinary Polyfilla.
And it’s a sensible place. There are two beaches pointing in different directions. So if the wind changes on one beach, I suppose they all trek across to the other, but I doubt if many fathers make it past the tantalising profusion of pubs.
I searched pub windows for authentic local fare; I could have patriotically dined out on chicken tikka masala for a fortnight and not eaten at the same place twice, but I wanted something distinct. There it was: ‘Tenby mackerel meunier’and ‘fresh rod-caught trout’.
Landladies in the prim B&Bs above the dinky little film-set harbour could easily holler down for an extra trout or two from the men with rods lined up on the jetty - it is that close. Though I imagine they do it by mobile phone these days.
The decorum of Tenby is balanced by the raw struggle against the waves just up the coast at Freshwater, scene of the Welsh Surfing Championships.
I resisted the call of the wild breakers and returned to Lydstep, where the tide was now out. It’s the impossible confusion of pools and rocks that make the British seaside so compelling. Time to sally forth with the park ranger for some serious study of fishes.
Prof Bellamy would have approved.
Travel facts British Holidays has 19 UK sites. Holiday homes sleep 2-8. Call 0870 242 5678 or www.british-holidays.co.uk.

www.british-holidays.co.uk

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