When I was a child, my favorite book was “Danny, the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl. Danny and his father live in a gypsy caravan in the English countryside in the 1950s and run a small gas station. Adventure ensues when Danny finds out his father is secretly poaching pheasants on a wealthy neighbor’s land. I loved the story, but loved the idea of living in a colorful gypsy caravan even more.
Dahl had a caravan in his garden that was the inspiration for Danny’s home. The typical gypsy caravan has been around for over 100 years and they still evoke a feeling of romance and adventure and can be a tiny, beautiful, ornate house on wheels.
Caravans or wagons built to live in were developed in France around 1810. Gypsies have only been using caravans as their main living and working space since 1850. The gypsy name for a caravan was vardo, from the Iranian word vurdon or cart. Newly married couples would commission a coach builder to create their colorful home on wheels. They took between 6 to 12 months to build and were made of oak, ash, elm, walnut and pine. They were then ornately painted carved and decorated with gold leaf.
There are six main types of caravans: the Brush or “fen waggon” which lacks the ornate wooden carvings, the Reading with sloping walls, the Ledge with a narrower floor and more elbow room, the Bowtop and the Openlot, which use a stretched canvas top over a wooden frame, and the Burton which was for more wealthy travellers. Most caravans were, and still are, pulled by draft horses, but you can design and build a caravan to be pulled by a car.
Though few people would choose to travel in one today, you can experience a fully functional caravan on your own property as a romantic getaway or guest accommodations, a creative studio, a personal meditation or healing space, or just an exquisite conversation piece. If you are traveling in Europe, you can rent a gypsy caravan (including the horses) and travel between campgrounds. Some hotels even have gypsy caravan “rooms” that you can stay in overnight.
If you are looking to build a gypsy caravan or have one built for you, there are several builders and plans available. Again, most of these builders are in Europe.
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