With sales increasing, Stefan Reynolds borrows a motorhome for a weekend to check it out
Meet ‘Henry’. He is an Autotrail Imala 715 2-4 berth motorhome which I borrowed for a long weekend just before Easter, when I headed up to the Cotswolds for a couple of nights to check out the popularity of these moveable homes.
I have always had an affinity for campervans, as they used to be called. My second vehicle at the age of 19 was a Toyota HiAce. It was pretty slow, guzzled petrol but slept four people, had a cooker, sink, fridge and was an ideal vehicle for holidays, weekends and house parties, where my friends and I could just sleep off our beers and then drive home in the morning.
Motorhomes have moved on from campers and can now come with every conceivable ‘luxury’. Henry comes with a proper bathroom, a fixed double bed (no ladders involved!), a 4-ring hob with oven and separate grill, microwave, and a television/DVD player, making it very much your home-from-home.
They are also getting more and more popular. Sales of motorhomes rose by 14% in 2017, with more than 13,000 vehicles registered. Commenting on the figures, John Lally from the UK trade body for the motorhome industry said: “Holiday behaviour is changing; ‘staycationing’ is retaining – even increasing – its appeal. We are going on more frequent, shorter holidays. Motorhomes are perfect for this”.
It is not hard to see the appeal. Some good family friends, Jan and Rob, have had a motorhome for a few years following retirement and think nothing of spending a couple of months in France every summer in theirs, while another friend simply jumps into his with the dog for impromptu weekends in different parts of the UK.
Of course, motorhomes and campers do not come cheap. Henry comes in at just over £50,000 and even a new VW California campervan with no bathroom is more than £43,000. There is a good second-hand market and while these vehicles do retain their values, you can get older models for slightly more sensible money.
There is another way to enjoy the motorhome experience and that is to hire one for a long weekend or more. The locally based Motorhome Heaven was set up by Maureen and Allen Ruddock to fill a gap in the market, and they now offer three different models – Henry, Emilie and Bella. Each one is differently configured to suit a family of up to six or just a couple.
I picked up Henry on a Thursday afternoon and was shown round by Allen. It is a big vehicle at about 7 metres in length and 2 metres wide but this allows for a very comfortable interior with space for a couple and a couple of small children. The cooker, heater and hot water work on both electric and LPG gas while the solar powered leisure battery will keep the fridge and other electrical appliances working for a couple of days if you are without an electrical hook-up. The water tank contains 135 litres for the sink and bathroom, which has a proper shower, sink and toilet.
In addition to the fitted ‘French’ bed, there is a double bed over the cab, a couple of fixed seats and front seats which swivel to allow for five people to eat around the (moveable and extendable) table. As with most motorhomes, there is a lot of storage with many overhead cupboards and a good-sized wardrobe for clothing. A neat touch is the television/DVD player, which swings down from the middle of the cab when needed but takes no space when not used.
I was pleased by how easy it was to drive. You need to get used to the size and the overhang at the back but the 130bhp 2.3 litre diesel engine offers plenty of torque to keep up with the traffic and cruise comfortably on the motorway at 70mph. The steering is light and easy. Because there is no rear window, the ‘rear view mirror’ is actually a camera which is useful for reversing but not for driving, so you need to make good use of the side mirrors.
My destination was the fabulous Cotswolds, and a tree-lined Caravan and Motorhome Club site just outside Moreton-in-Marsh. The cost for a pitch and full use of the facilities is just £7.40 per person per night, £7.70 for the pitch per night and a £12 per night surcharge as a non-member. The facilities were good and included excellent showers, toilet block, play area for children, field for dogs, washing up stations and a small shop. You also get electricity hook-up for the van as well as areas for getting fresh water and disposing of your waste water and the toilet cartridge.
Despite being the weekend before Easter, the site was almost full, with an even mix of motorhomes and caravans. The age range was mainly retired people but there were a few families and younger couples. Everyone I met was happy and friendly, and the site very peaceful. An early evening dog walk showed most people happily ensconced in their van, preparing food and watching Eggheads, before closing their black-out blinds, pouring a glass of wine and enjoying their evening. Just like being at home.
And that I think is the point and the great attraction. A home on wheels, wherever you want to go. Borrow one for a long weekend and give it a try!
Motorhome Heaven have three vans available for hire. Prices start at £350 for 3-nights with Henry and rise to £990 for a week in summer. Please note that peak periods get booked up well in advance. For more information, visit www.motorhomeheaven.co.uk or call 01483 387060.