I’ve been a motorhomer or 20 years. I love the freedom, flexibility and sheer joy of being on the road. I wouldn’t swap van trips for package holidays, and I reckon it all started when I was sat on the back seat of my dad’s black Ford Anglia. Here’s how.
We were following our brand new Connaught Cruiser caravan which was being towed from the dealer’s in Ilford to a campsite near the Essex coast. It was 1950, I was 5 years old and completely innocent – I had no idea that the “freedom” bug would bite me hard as soon as we started taking holidays in that caravan. A magical exploration of seaside and countryside opened up. There were sand pies, Punch and Judy shows, dens to be made in undergrowth, and a stream to be paddled and fished in. Then there were the birds, butterflies and wild flowers to spot and tick off in “I-Spy” books, and long grasses to lie in watching bugs and insects of all kinds at close quarters.
The freedom bug that bit me continued to nibble away contently. In my 20’s, as a young mum, we took our 6 month old son on his first camping holiday in France. This was the 1970’s and there was a horrified reaction from family and friends to taking a baby abroad, let alone go camping with him. “You can’t do that!” they said. Fortunately, I’d married someone who was quite happy to go along with my passion for the freedom, fresh air and flexibility that camping offers. He’d never had holidays like it and he’s probably just a tad more enthusiastic about the freedom and flexibility thing than I am, having not grown up with it and coming to it later in life, so to speak.
We graduated from holidays in hired tents to owning our own but for years there had been a background yearning, a constant inner gnawing at us by the freedom bug, to have our own motorcaravan. In the 1980’s we nurtured a pipe dream of taking the children to the United States, hiring an RV and having the holiday of a lifetime; the dream dissipated when we did the sums. Practically, this wasn’t going to work as we simply couldn’t afford it. But the open road still beckoned along with the attraction of having a home on wheels.
Fast forward now to the 1990’s. On my way home from work every day I passed the showroom of a local motorcaravan dealer. Lured by the line up of second hand vehicles on the forecourt, I sometimes stopped and had look around. Finding a small, used, modestly priced van unlocked I went inside and was transported back to childhood memories of holidays in our old caravan. The owner had left a neatly written notice giving details of the vehicle’s height and width, and where various switches were located. It reminded me of my dad’s handwritten instructions in our caravan, one of them being “Please extend leg before lowering bed” (teenage friends I was allowed to take on holiday in the caravan found this hilarious).
I got excited. We could afford this van. But was it the van for us? I went home full of enthusiasm, told my husband about it and began campaigning in earnest. We were going to have a motorhome. He will claim that I made noises like a seagull every time we passed a motorhome on the road, or drove past the forecourt of our local dealer. I claim it was more like the sound of a small puppy making excited, whimpering noises of joy. And I’m always right.
Our search for the right van began in earnest. We both liked the AutoSleeper Duetto, but it was too long for our drive. So we chose a short wheel-based option, the AutoSleeper Harmony. The time being right, we could also afford a new one. We did consider smaller vans, but Harmony, a van conversion, had a washroom and it was mighty appealing to have an on-board shower and loo. Our daughter, having survived the tent holidays, urged us to get a van with a loo. “And don’t even think about a portapotty, you’re getting older(!)” she said, “ and you deserve a few luxuries”. She’s always right too.
We took proud possession of our Harmony in 1999. Kitting it out I was again transported back to those childhood caravan holidays, where my mum ensured everything was tidy, organised and fitted easily into small spaces. I was able to put to good use what I’d seen and remembered as a child. This helped, but we were still novices and we learned a lot on our maiden voyage to France. We visited the Loire, Provence, the Alps and came back via Chartres. We named the van Francine (France seen) and I revelled in the butterflies, birds and other wildlife I saw, including a huge toad and a praying mantis. The only thing I’d forgotten to pack was the “I-Spy” books.
We had 5 years in Francine, taking her to Scotland, Spain, Luxembourg, Switzerland and often back to France. Our son, who survived his early camping holiday, got engaged to a French woman (was it anything to do with that trip?) and we visited her family for the first time on our way home from holiday in France. Parking Francine in a quiet layby we changed out of our shorts into something more respectable in which to meet the parents, grandparents and other members of the family, just like we would have done at home. Who’d be without a home on wheels?
We wanted more living space so bade Francine a fond farewell and moved on to a new two berth coachbuilt AutoSleeper Nuevo which served us well for 8 years. Starting out this time we felt we knew the ropes. No longer complete novices, we actually felt like seasoned motor caravanners. But we managed to get stuck twice with this van – once in mud in Shropshire and once on very wet grass in the Highlands. We struggled with gripper tracks for a while but were rescued by a Dutchman who towed us to dry ground, “Because our fathers fought together in the war, I help you” he said. We loved this van too, relishing the freedom of holidays on the Western Isles, camping wild in fantastic scenery. Using the van as a base enabled me to do some volunteering for the RSPB taking husband and dog with me. I spent a week at the Mull of Galloway reserve while they stayed at a nearby campsite. Coming back to the van at the end of the day was like coming home every evening, with the added bonus of sitting outside watching hares playing in the next field.
I wrote the original version of this article several years ago, when we were in transition. Our much-loved Nuevo was sold and we’d ordered a new van. We knew exactly what we wanted this time around, having had enough van experience on the road and on sites under our belts. As we awaited delivery of our brand new 2 berth Murvi Morello – a van conversion – tentative plans were already afoot for trips to places not yet visited.
Audrey, our Morello, has served us very well for almost 7 years and we’ve visited many of the places we planned to see. But the journeys and the yearnings to be back on the road to new destinations, revisiting old favourites and unexpectedly happening upon previously undiscovered gems continues.
Who’d be without a home on wheels?
This is an edited version of an article I wrote which was published in MMM Magazine in 2013