“A CAMPING COACH. Another recent form of holiday-making by rail is in the camping coach. These coaches stand in some remote, rural siding and come under the care of the local station-master.” (From Railway Wonders of the World, April 1935)
Can you imagine how exciting it must have been for children to have their very own railway carriage to live in? In the summer of 1963 we had just that, and had one of the best family holidays ever! A converted railway carriage that sat on a siding beside the station at Plockton. Perfect accommodation set in a stunning location on the north-west coast of Scotland.
The carriage was fitted out with a kitchen, living and dining area and three ‘bedrooms’. The only thing lacking was a toilet, but we were free to use the station toilet, with ‘potties’ to hand for young children in the night!
In those days Plockton, a Highland village on the shores of Loch Carron, had yet to acquire fame as the fictional home of PC Hamish Macbeth (and who can forget Robert Carlyle in the role?). But it was definitely well-known as a wonderful place to spend the summer. Close to sea, loch, hill and glen.
As children growing up with books like Swallows and Amazons, the Famous Five and Sheila Stuart’s Alison books, there couldn’t have been a more perfect a place for a holiday. We were ready to swim, row, fish, cycle, explore caves, find treasure, climb trees, scale cliffs, foil dastardly crooks: in short, we were ready for adventure! And while the Famous Five might have had their own island and lighthouse, we felt we were doing just as well spending the long summer holidays in a railway carriage!
Why camping coaches? The first coaches made their appearance in the 1930s at a time when cycling, hiking and camping were becoming increasingly popular among Britain’s urban population. Very many people still lived crammed into the grimy, heavily-industrialised cities, where pollution, in particular smog, was a problem.
We might think that smog was only a problem in late Victorian times; a useful cover for criminals in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, or the infamous and creepy pea-soupers of old black and white films watched on wet Sunday afternoons. But in reality smog was deadly problem long after that. In fact, as late as 1952 the Great Smog in London is believed to have caused up to 12,000 deaths and ultimately prompted the 1956 Clean Air Act.
As holidays became more common, and for longer periods, people sought the fresh, clean air of the countryside. For families with children camping coaches held a greater appeal than spending your holiday under canvas. In the railway coach you had a proper roof over your head and more space, but were still away from home. They were also usually set beside beautiful remote rural and coastal areas of Britain. Cheaper too than a guest house. Private cars were not common, so being able to take the train right to your holiday doorstep was an additional bonus.
World War II saw the coaches taken out of service, but for two decades after the war they flourished again, better equipped and more luxurious than before. Till along came Richard Beeching with his axe: lines were closed, stations closed and many of the most popular camping coach sites disappeared. Cheap flights and holidays in the sun also played their part in ending this unique type of holiday.
The camping coach at Plockton may be long gone, but today the station building itself is available for holidays. And in a few places the camping coach is making a come-back. So if you have fond memories from your childhood, or have children who revel in Thomas the Tank Engine, then one of today’s new camping coaches might just be the place for you! It certainly was a brilliant ‘Camping Coach of Adventure’ for us !