Let’s get the introductions out the way first. I'm James Knight and my companion for this adventure is Tim Schofield, and we both work at the Bonhams Collectors’ Motor Car department. Neither of us have experienced driving and living in a motorhome before. So why now? Well, we're both ‘MAMILS’ or Middle Aged Men In Lyrca and we, like many other men of a certain age who should really know better, have contributed to the recent explosion of interest in cycling.
So when it was announced that the first two stages of the Tour de France 2014 would be in Yorkshire, both Tim and I wanted to see it first hand. Our accommodation for this tour was an Auto-Sleeper Kemerton XL, based on a Peugeot chassis, painted a fetching blue.
We met at the Bonhams Oxford salesroom and were pleased to find that both bikes slotted into the aisle very well. By the time we set off, Tim had about 70 miles under his belt and was driving the Kemerton with aplomb. The overall dimensions are similar to that of the larger Transit/Sprinter vans, of which we do have a fair bit of experience, and the motorhome was just as easy to drive. So we hit the road, Yorkshire bound.
My initial impression of this 'van was how much thought went into the design and ergonomics of such a vehicle. For example, I never thought to consider privacy and the front screen and driver/passenger doors with their curtains made a lot of sense. Everything seemed very well thought out and considered, although I wasn't keen on the upholstery. But this is definitely a vehicle that is comfortable and sure-footed. Both Tim and I felt it would enable any driver to cover great distances during the course of a day. So far, these first time motorcaravanners were feeling very much at home.
Typically, we arrived at the majestic Harewood House at about 3.30pm, just as the rain begins. We were shown to our pitch and Tim positioned the Kemerton XL with no problem – again, so far, so good.
The motorhome's electrics plugged in with ease and the awning rolled out without drama once we’d worked out how those legs disengage from the leading edge. The adjustable legs worked well, and we placed the pegs into the feet of the legs to make it secure. We notice other motorhomes have tensioning straps to fully anchor the awning and we think that’s a bit of overkill – then a gust of wind collapses the awning. Well, we are first timers! We look for the straps but can’t find them. Anyway, the wind
It's then off to get our wristbands and sign in to the various rides we've entered, before returning to the Kemerton for a brew – the gas hob is very easy to operate and so is the oven. And it may be raining, but it makes a comforting pitter-patter sound on the awning.
The next day couldn't have been more different. While Friday was wet, windy and miserable, Saturday was warm and sunny – wonderful for welcoming the Tour de Yorkshire peloton. We hook up for the ride out to a vantage point, about 18 miles away.
There are so many cyclists on the road and a mildly challenging route. The vantage point is great, about six miles north of the finish in Harrogate. Sometime later, the caravan – an hour of sponsors/media/security/administrators/official merchandising – comes by. We’re all totally caught up in the atmosphere of the world’s greatest cycling event. Why else would we laugh, wave, cheer and marvel at sponsors’ vehicles with giant packs of oven chips on them?!
We grab our bikes and ride the official course into Harrogate. The closer we get to the finish line the more congestion there is, so we detour around the centre to head back to our 'van at Harewood House. Once back, we catch the early evening sun, enjoy a few beers and chat to our neighbours. Absolute bliss. We're rather getting into this motorcaravanning malarky...
My overriding impression was one of community. Everyone was there. Old and young, families and groups of friends, all united by a love of cycling – and camping.
Our Yorkshire adventure to take in the opening legs of the 2014 Tour de France was a trip we'll never forget, made more memorable by the Auto-Sleeper motorhome we called home for those unforgettable few days. We covered 580 miles, took 12 hours and 20 minutes to do it, averaged 46mph and consumed diesel at a rate of 29mpg.
All in all, we had a great time. My horizons were broadened and I’d definitely recommend motorcaravanning to any doubting Thomas, such as my wife! Congratulations, Practical Motorhome, you've two new converts.
And if you want to read how two long time motorcaravanners got on when they went to Yorkshire to follow the Tour de France, just click here.