In the days when we first went a-gipsying, the non-professional van - that is to say, vans other than those of real gipsies - were seldom met with upon the road. Per-haps in a tour of five or six hundred miles along the south coast and up the Thames Valley we saw three or four caravan parties - not more. At the present time (1911) a similar route would probably, in July and August, be sprinkled o'er with fellow voyagers in caravans.
With the advance into favour of a caravan holiday, many vans have been built, and can be hired or purchased at a comparatively reasonable figure. Of course, this will vary very considerably, according to the time of year for which the van is required, the type of van, and the accommodation needed. A more delightful form of holiday-making, and one at the same time more restful, invigorating, and health-giving, it is difficult to imagine. The pleasures of the road are real pleasures, and the remoter one can get from civilisation the keener the joys undoubtedly of the countryside, the deeper the interest of the day's journey, and the more pure the air one breathes. Leafy lanes, undulating country, breezy moorlands, open, gorse-scented commons, and the sylvan glories of the forests are all open to the caravanner, who neither, be it mentioned, spoils the countryside with the odour of petrol nor with the clouds of choking dust which are the legacies left behind by the high-speed motorists.
Byways were always pleasanter to us than highways, but nowadays the latter should be avoided as truly as the plague if one be caravanning. It is only in the winding roads of secondary importance that one can be safe from the risks of collisions, or of being smothered in dust, a state of things brought about not merely by the rise of the ubiquitous motor, but more especially by the reckless and inconsiderate driving of those who use this speedier method of conveyance.
There are, of course, several types of van that can be hired. Where the party consists of only two or four the real gipsy type - somewhat high on the springs, but light and easily drawn by one strong horse - forms a quite convenient and comfortable home on wheels. Generally these vans have two good sleeping berths in the back part of them, occupying about two-fifths of the whole space; while the remaining portion is given up to the living-room, with its cooking-stove, locker, seats, pantry, and glass cupboard. Such a van as this can frequently be had for 30s. to £2 2s. a week, except perhaps in August, when another I0s. a week will probably be asked.
For four friends who do not mind roughing it a little there is perhaps no better form of van. It is more easily driven and managed than the bigger type of caravan, and provides very easy riding.
The second type of van is that shown in our pictures. This, too, can usually be hired from one or other of the coach-building firms who make a speciality of caravans, full particulars of which may be obtained of the Secretary of the Caravan Club, 358, Strand, London, who is always anxious and willing to assist would-be gipsies, who should certainly join that excellent institution.
As a general rule, these vans are from seventeen to twenty feet in length, are built of teak or mahogany, and, though considerably heavier than the gipsy type already referred to, and necessitating the employment of two horses, have additional comforts which many would-be gipsies fully appreciate. Usually they are divided into two compartments, the first or front one constituting the saloon, which, in the best constructed vans, is planned very much on the lines of a yacht's cabin, and the hinder apartment, occupying about one-third to two-fifths of the space, contains the two berths ar-ranged trans-versely one above the other, yacht fashion, this allowing for a lavatory basin on one side of the door and a small wardrobe on the other.
On either side of the saloon are generally placed broad, low-seated lockers, occupying about two-thirds of the length, and capable of being turned into very comfortable sleeping berths at night. Above these are shelves and racks for books, hats, and other light articles, and in the lockers themselves can be stored provisions, clothing, etc. At the foot of each locker, near the entrance door of the van on either side, is a good-sized window, prettily curtained, in front of which is a writing slope, the space beneath fitted with shelves for boots, and pegs on which to hang small articles, such as a hammer, screwdriver, boot-brushes, clothes-brush, etc. Next to this is a convenient if small wardrobe, in the top part of which may be hung coats and jackets, and in the lower portion, which is fitted with drawers, other articles of clothing can be stored. Directly opposite is the cooking-range, a double oil-stove with ovens, and a top on which to place saucepans;and close to that a china and glass cupboard, and a drawer for knives and forks and the table-linen in daily use.
On the other side of the van, at the back of the seats on either side of the doorway, are other cupboards, one containing a filter, and fitted to hold stores of meat and vegetables, and the other useful for any odds and ends, and stores.
Such a van as the one we have just described (provided with a good hood over the driving seats to protect one from showers) when loaded up weighs about two to two and a quarter tons, and necessitates the employment of two good horses.