My First Touring Holiday
I had my first touring holiday in my in-law’s caravan last year. My wife and I borrowed it because we were unsure whether caravanning would suit us. For that reason, we’d decided to tour the UK for this first trip. We travelled to Wales to Snowdon View Park for a few days, then progressed up the country to a popular caravan park in Northumberland, ending our holiday at Cashel Campsite in Scotland.
The park in Snowdon was very beautiful and the atmosphere was relaxing. We particularly enjoyed our visit to Lindisfarne north of the park in Northumberland. We got our exercise walking to the south of that campsite to Newton Haven and Embleton Bay. We got a wonderful view of Dunstanburgh Castle. That was my favourite part, history buff that I am.
We finished by seeing some of the wilds of Scotland, at a tranquil campsite near Loch Lomond and found many scenic walks near the site, one of which was in Rowardennan Forest. We were also glad we had our car, as we drove two hours to see Ben Lomond.
We both enjoyed it so much that we’ve got ambitions to take a caravan a bit further afield, to France perhaps. So we decided to buy our own. To that end, we went to a caravan and camping exhibition in the Midlands to see what was on offer. They showcased a wide range of caravans priced from just shy of ten grand right up to just off thirty grand. We were aiming to get one for around £20,000.
We had a look at the caravan voted best of the year, the Adria Adora Sava. It looked to be the crème de la crème of caravans, with its great use of space, comfortable furnishings and the big beds to name just a few of its admirable features. We’d have loved to buy that one but it was just out of our price range at almost £24,000.
Next, we investigated the Elddis Xplore 586 which was on sale for £17,594 something more within our reach. Both of us were impressed with the spacious, light and airy interior decorated with a cheerful colour scheme. After seeing the size of it though, we rejected it as being too big for us with its five berths.
We also considered whether to buy a motorhome or campervan instead. A campervan would be considerably more expensive of course, at around forty grand. However, more experienced tourers at the exhibition told me it’s easy as pie to set up a campervan when you’re on-site, something the experts at the exhibition agreed with. On their advice, we looked at a Sun Living V60 SP, which they described as an entry-level motorhome. They said that if I had any reservations about towing I should really think about buying one. After I told them I wanted to take my car with me to drive in France, they stopped talking up that advantage and enumerated some of the others.
You can just drive onto a site in a campervan and you’re ready to go, after you’ve filled up with water so it’s easier to set up on a pitch. If you’re in a caravan you have to detach it from your tow car, level it, and put the steadies down in addition to getting the water. It was pointed out to me that if you’re touring in winter in a campervan the cabin will already be quite warm, whereas if you were to get into a caravan in winter at the end of a journey it’s going to be cold. A campervan would also be cheaper on ferry crossings because you’re not paying for a caravan in tow, so you could do a lot of island hopping and it would be cheaper to get the ferry over to the continent. I was advised that if I wanted to use toll roads in Europe it would be cheaper if I was driving a campervan. I discovered campervans tend to have bigger payloads too so that you can pack more or less what you want into them. With a caravan, we would have to be more careful about what we loaded into it, but you can, of course, put things in the car too. Campervans, I was informed, were also far better for wild camping and are easier to park outside your own home. You have to think about where you’re going to store a caravan when you’re not using it. Others at the exhibition told me that when you drive a motorhome it’s all about the journey and you don’t have to think about the logistics of having a caravan with you as you’ve got all you’re facilities and utilities with you in your camper.
After listening to this enthusiastic advertisement for campervans, I insisted on hearing more about the benefits of having a caravan. In a caravan you can relax after a whole day’s driving, there’s some delineation between the two; you have two separate areas. A car offers a more comfortable driving experience than you can get in a van too. Caravans tend to be more spacious and generally boast better insulation so they cost less to heat. This was also highlighted as an advantage of coach built motorhomes, but motorhomes are considerably more expensive than caravans. They did point out that you have the option when you buy a caravan to change either the car or the caravan as you like. Purchasing a caravan, then, is thought to be a more flexible way to approach things.
What swung the deal for us though, was that if you buy a caravan you have the convenience of a car to drive around in when the caravan is set up on-site. There’s no need to pack everything up to take with you every time you go out in the car. This makes it easier to do day trips and visit places. Also, our caravan is less expensive to maintain, and the cost of everything was a major factor for us. Any remaining doubts about which to buy were put to rest when security was mentioned. You can leave all your valuables in your caravan when you take your car out so you don’t have to worry about leaving valuable property in a public car park.
We visited a local dealership in the Midlands specialising in leisure vehicles which showcased touring caravans, both used and new, motorhomes, campervans, static caravans and off-site static caravans. In addition, they offered deals on luxury lodges and caravan awnings. The range of caravans in the showroom at the small family owned dealers we visited was limited, so we also went to a caravan dealership in Swindon. I’m glad we did too as we got offered a great deal there.
Eventually, we settled on buying an Adria Altea Trent for around £16,000, after viewing an Elddis Avante which was at the cheaper end of the price scale. We got a great deal with more than £1,000 off the starting price of just over £17,000. We were both thrilled by the discount we got. Our chosen caravan has an ingenious layout and boasts stylish simplicity with lots of modern touches. What’s more, it is lightweight which makes it suitable for lots of different cars. There were also some very pleasing design touches, including the floating locker lighting.
The sales guy we spoke to in Swindon happened to be a caravanning enthusiast himself. He gave us a lot of tips on campsites to visit when he found out we were going to France. I told him we didn’t want to go too far on our first trip. When it came up somewhere in the conversation that I loved history he got really excited.
“I can recommend some great places in Normandy. Riva Bella’s particularly good if you want to visit the site of the D-Day landings just a short drive away. Though if you prefer looking around the museums and churches La Forêt is probably a better bet for you. It’s seventeen miles from Rouen.”
He also told us that it was situated in picturesque woodland which would suit us if we liked walking. He said that since I was a self-professed history buff camping in the peaceful grounds of the Château de Martragny would be perfect for us since we could go and see the D-day beaches and the Bayeux tapestry, both of which are an easy drive away. He said that if we wanted to see the Mont-St-Michel we absolutely must go to a site called camping Saint-Michel which is located nearby.
I’m sure that all his excellent advice went a long way towards our decision to buy an Altea from that particular dealer and I’m more than happy we did. The salesman also gave us some more general tips about driving in France about what you need to do to prepare for the trip and the little extras you need to take. He even went so far as to recommend where to go to get great European travel insurance and single trip breakdown cover. He impressed upon us how important it is to have the right kit with you when you plan to drive across France.
In consequence, I’m now all set with my travel kit for France, including a Breathalyzer Twin pack, a magnetic GB plate, a high-vis vest, some headlight beam converters and a warning triangle. If nothing else, we’re sure not to get in trouble with the law in France. Needless to say, we’re also armed with a fantastic itinerary influenced in no small part by a jovial salesman from Swindon.