Will Williams

See other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Will Williams
Spontaneity is one of the joys of touring with a 'van, as Will Williams, a novice motorcaravanner and photographer on our sister title What Car?, found out

With a much needed week long holiday booked, I was lucky enough to borrow sister title Practical Motorhome’s 2014 Swift Lifestyle 664 'van, a Marquis Motorhomes dealer special edition. Even before anyone else had seen it, I was negotiating my way out of the car park in a pretty much box-fresh motorhome showing just 600 miles, but by the end of the week I was fairly sure that the mileage would have crept up after I had completed my planned road trip to the west coast of Scotland.

Like all good road trips I had a very rough plan in my head, mainly concocted from the comfort and, errr, 'inspiration' of my local pub, of where I wanted to aim for. The plan was to head up to Applecross and the Isle of Skye and try a spot of wild camping once I was in Scotland. The idea of pitching near a remote beach, opening the doors, erecting the awning, lighting the barbecue and enjoying an ice cold cider whilst taking in the incredible views was about as far as my so-called plan had gone – but then that's the joy of motorcaravanning.

After loading the 'van with all manner of foldable chairs, maps, waterproofs, camera kit and enough provisions to keep me going for several weeks, most of which fitted easily in the large locker under the fixed rear double bed, I was ready to thread the Swift down the narrow country lanes near my home in rural south Wiltshire. I headed across the Marlborough Downs and north via the M5 to the M6, passing Cirencester and Gloucester along the way.

I had considered attempting the near 700-mile journey in one hit but decided that, for a change, I was in no particular hurry, and having not been to the Lake District for years, to stop there overnight and continue the next day. I pitched at a great campsite, Waterfoot Park, near Pooley Bridge, only minutes from the M6.

Despite me pretending that I knew what I was doing when putting the canopy up and connecting the gas for the first time, my newbie status wasn’t fooling the regulars, who were happy to show me a few shortcuts in awning erecting techniques. Alex and Chris, who welcomed me to the park, were great, throughout both nights I stayed there. The shop on site also sold fresh bread, as well as very good sausages and bacon from a great local butcher.

My first night spent in the Swift was far better than I had expected, the memory foam mattress was very comfortable and I slept brilliantly, except for the occasional noise from nuts that the red squirrels were dropping on to the roof disturbing my sleep. If you're above average height, however, you might struggle a little. I’m 5ft 10in on a good day and my feet were rubbing against the cupboard, but I soon learnt to sleep on the other side, closer to the centre of the ‘van.

With an earlier start on day two, having got in to the swing of things easily, I headed up the road and soon I was enjoying ever more stunning scenery as I passed across the border. The Swift was proving to be pretty comfortable, the large mirrors providing a great view rearward and making overtaking easy – a good job as there wasn’t a rear view camera to help when parking.

A small criticism was aimed at the adjusters for the seat height. You have to use your weight to shift the base, the angle and height adjusts both for the front and rear of the base independently. Unfortunately, after those sausages it often meant that when all I wanted was a small adjustment I would end up with the seat plunging to the floor. It seems a pretty poor design which means the seats are all but impossible to adjust whilst on the move.

The miles passed quickly and barring a little bit of traffic skirting Glasgow I was soon heading for the more scenic roads towards Loch Lomond. I had only been there before on work trips shooting on car launches, so I was keen to explore and have a look around, especially as the weather was fantastic, with clear blue skies and warm temperatures making the mirror smooth Loch Lomond look very inviting. With plenty of time still to head north I was being swayed by the already incredible views towards the towering Munroes.

The beauty of this trip was always going to be that I could make the most of the freedom I had with the ‘van, and unlike work where I need to cover vast distances quickly, this week was the polar opposite and I was pretty seduced by this place and fancied staying a night or two. Applecross and Skye could always wait for the next trip…

The second site on the loch that I pulled in to had room (the trip wasn’t planned to the last detail so I hadn’t booked any campsites in Scotland), so within minutes the Swift was parked, the barbecue was lit and a cold glass of wine was being enjoyed.

The Loch Lomond Holiday Park was fantastic, with stunning views of the loch and Ben Lomond right from the ‘van. The site was right on the shores of the loch and with lovely temperatures it seemed like the perfect idea to relax with a book, legs dangling in the water whilst enjoying a glass of single malt watching the sun set.

After another great night's sleep, opening the Swift’s door and breathing in that fresh Scottish morning air had me wanting to go and explore the loch more. The friendly campsite staff had recommended the Cruise Loch Lomond boat tours leaving from the nearby village of Tarbet. The temperature was pretty hot, there was barely even a breeze so the views were breathtaking. We headed past Rob Roy MacGregor’s prison, up to Cailness, where an intriguing guy called John Groome lived in an isolated cottage on the West Highland Way. As I look up an osprey, with an enormous salmon in its talons, soars overhead, leaving me wishing that I hadn’t packed so light and brought my 200mm lens….

From here we sailed up to Inversnaid and the Arklet Falls, stopping to pick up tired walkers then across to Inveruglas for more of the same before heading south again back to Tarbet, and getting a great view of the site on the way.

The next day I wanted to head over to the coast so with the weather still fine I took the 'van to Oban, via the A82 and A85 on the awe-inspiring Pass of Brander, heading north west via Crianlarich. With the obligatory tour of the fine Oban Distillery, and a rather large lunch taken care of, I headed back to the Swift and was pretty keen to take a look at some more of the west coast.

I’d heard that there were some absolutely stunning spots heading south on the A816, and as I eased away from Oban the tourist traffic thinned and the landscape improved yet again. Before long I managed to find the perfect location I’d been searching for. Looking out over the Sound of Jura towards the island itself, and the smaller islands of Luing, Shuna and Scarba, I found a quiet car park right above the beach itself with amazing views.

By now I was pretty at ease with how everything worked on board the Swift Lifestyle 664. All the controls were easy to use. The fridge and cooker were simple to master too, the fridge being a surprisingly decent size to stash those sausages. The washroom was a good size, especially given the relatively compact dimensions of the motorhome. The washroom also has dual drain holes so levelling the 'van perfectly isn’t too critical when wild camping. However, the fresh water and grey waste tanks were smaller than ideal and seemed to both empty and fill (although refilling was easy) more quickly than I’d have liked, especially if you aim to go wild camping.

When I stayed on site the only small hassle was that the battery/mains locker was pretty stiff to open; maybe with more use or a little oil it will free up. Also, wherever I was, radio reception was pretty awful. The stereo will let you connect your smartphone, via USB, but I couldn’t fathom, even after a week, how to select any tunes.

Other than that, wild camping was easy to adjust to and over both nights I slept very well, the only sounds being either the waves or wildlife, the perfect antidote to the daily grind of commuting and traffic jams found back home in the south.

After enjoying my first taste of wild camping, and with supplies of both food and water dwindling, I returned to Loch Lomond Holiday Park for a final night before beginning the journey home. On the way there I managed to watch the sun set at Inveraray, on the shore of Loch Fyne, with the famous bridges shining a bright amber gold colour – I made a mental note to allow more time to have a longer look around Inveraray next time I’m here.

Other than one night in an Auto-Sleeper Kemerton XL this was my first proper motorhome tour. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy life with a motorhome is to adapt to for a complete beginner – and how welcoming and helpful everyone I met during the trip was.

The only thing I now need to do is book some more holiday and find another excuse, or, errrr valid editorial reason, to ask to borrow one of Practical Motorhome's 'vans again!

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