I have been thinking about buying a camper van for two years. I was watching Coast on TV with my mother and saw a film about The Wash. “I have never been to The Wash,” I said. “I had no idea it was so beautiful.” “Well you jolly well should have done,” she said, “Uncle Sidney had a potato farm close to there and as children we always went for Christmas.” She was talking about the 1930s. It made me realise quite how much of the British coast I haven't seen..
Forward now to October 2013. I met my friend Sylvia at the Devil's Punchbowl in Hindhead to walk. I was telling her about this idea to travel round the UK, and that I would like do it in a camper van. I didn't want to hire one, I wanted to buy one and make it lovely.
We walked through the car park and a van drew in with a middle-aged man at the wheel, smiling. “That would do,” I said, as we went in to the cafe. Sylvia is very pro anything to do with camping and camper vans. I was preaching to the converted.
When we came out, the smiling man had got his side door open and had a brew on – he was repairing his grand-daughter's bike. “Yes,” he said, “come and have a look round.” He and his wife sometimes went on little trips, but mostly he went from one of his children to the other, mending bikes, doing a few jobs. He'd just been helping his son-in-law put up a conservatory and was on his way home. He'd sold his car, just used the van.
His van was, I must say, rather more workshop than Toast catalogue, more oily rag than patchwork quilt. But the bed was there when he needed it – his elderly terrier was having a siesta – and he had everything he needed … he was as happy as a pig in muck.
We drove straight to Freeborn Motorhomes in Godalming and inspected three or four, not I must say with any great discernment, squealing with delight as we stretched out on the beds and opened all the cupboards and the ovens. Most, I soon realised, were too big for my purposes. The best prospect was a T-reg Swift Mondial which had nice blue striped upholstery (not the usual swirling plush), but that's not why it was good. I liked the size of it, and the side-opening door and the sitting area being behind the front seats – i.e. nice to sit at the table with the side door open.
I went home and wrote a list of essentials: power steering; I must be able to stand up; a loo; two separate berths; it couldn't be too old with engine etc problems as I am no mechanic; it didn't need to be fast, but it must be reasonably comfortable to drive.
Coming soon: The Search for a Camper Van, part II….