We had set aside the morning to get to know our new home-on-wheels. We’d only been its proud owners for a week and needed to figure out what all the knobs and buttons do, as well as deciding where to store everything – I keep finding little nooks and spaces waiting to be filled. But the sun was out, there was the undiscovered town of Cirencester to explore, and to top it off, it was market day. The knobs and buttons would have to wait – we were off for a walk!

Testing times

We were staying at Cirencester Park Caravan & Motorhome Club Site, 90 minutes from home – far enough for a decent test driving a vehicle rather longer than our previous ‘baby’ Hymer and putting it through its paces, but not too far, ‘just in case’ (of what? I don’t know, but I’m always channelling my inner girl guide!). Who says you need to travel far to find the best motorhome site for your requirements?

The excitement of visiting Cirencester and its surroundings was a touch overshadowed by that of testing the new ’van, as well as a little trepidation – did we make the right decision, adding the extra length, and would we get on with the new motorhome layout? Happily, the answer to both of those questions was a resounding yes.

We loved our old Hymer dearly, but after 17 years of touring, it had become tired and we had become less adept at climbing the ladder to the overcab bed. Still preferring a motorhome with a fixed bed (I don’t want the faff of making a bed every night and unmaking it every morning on my holidays, thank you very much), but not wanting to add to the ’van’s size more than necessary, so we could negotiate those twisty roads, we opted for a drop-down bed layout. This gives us the convenience of a ready-made bed, but also a reasonable amount of daytime living space.

Pitched up at Cirencester
Ro and Willow relax in the sun outside the new ’van

The Chausson Welcome also provides plenty of storage at the back of the luxurious (to us) washroom, including a sizeable shower.

The facilities in our previous vehicle didn’t offer much turning space, so another of our criteria when searching for this newer model was a shower that we would use.

The final piece of luxury (and another search criterion) is the large rear garage. No longer will we spend ages trying to pack chairs, barbecue equipment, you name it, into the washroom, onto the bed, anywhere there was a spare nook – especially now that we have Willow the dog to accommodate as well (check out our guide to touring with a pet).

Here I have a tip for other first-time garage owners – don’t do what we did and gleefully throw everything in! There’s a weight limit to adhere to, of course, and it’s a proper faff to have to go searching for that citronella candle hidden under the tools, the boules set, the little table… husband Ro is now on a mission to put in some shelving and hanging space, to make garage life even easier. If you’re after more packing advice, check out our guide to how to load a motorhome.

Capital Cirencester

But I digress – back to Cirencester and that sunny morning. Leaving the garage and the great candle hunt for later in the day, we set off through the Grade I listed parkland which forms part of the Bathurst Estate, within which the campsite lies.

In the 18th century, this was one of the greatest privately owned park and forestry areas in the country and today, is ideal for a stroll, a picnic or a walk with the dog. The park is bordered by the tallest yew hedge in the world – my mind boggles at the thought of trimming it! On the other side of this is Cirencester, a 10-minute walk from the site (unless you have a dog that loves to stop and sniff everything en route). Just be aware that the park gates close at 5pm, so if you return later, you’ll need to walk back along the roads.

In town, the monthly craft market was in full swing, and we were soon in possession of a fine handcrafted elmwood tray (making it so much easier to take cutlery and sauces outdoors), a bottle of local gin, and a pottery salad bowl. A new vehicle is a great excuse for new kit!

Craft market
Cirencester hosts a lively craft market once a month

Away from all the crafts, Cirencester, known as the capital of the Cotswolds, is a lovely market town with a long, mainly Roman, history. The Corinium Museum gave us a fascinating insight into this and the Roman Amphitheatre (today a large, grassed area) helped put it into context.

Of course, we had to make a stop to sample a local pub, and The Bear Inn fitted the bill very well – a refreshing pint of Butcombe IPA and a delicious feta flatbread in the sunshine to keep us going until dinner, along with an ice cream in the park on the walk back to the campsite.

Bear Inn
Sue and Willow enjoy refreshments at The Bear Inn!

Back at our pitch in Cirencester Park, we easily retrieved the chairs from the garage for a spot of relaxation in the sun – after finding a good home ‘indoors’ for the shiny new tray, of course.

Cooking with gas

Next came the first try-out of the kitchen – how would I fare cooking? Most satisfactorily was the verdict. The kitchen is nicely separated from the sitting/dining area, so there’s no need to squeeze gingerly past each other and mind out for hot splashes while you wait.

Mind you, it did take me a little while to find the pepperpot and other accoutrements! Another tip if you trade up your ’van – nothing will be in the same place, you will forget where you put things so conveniently at home, but perhaps less so when using the vehicle (in my case, stretching across the lit hob to retrieve a saucepan wasn’t my most sensible decision), and you will probably change things several times before everything finds its natural home. Be patient.

Chicken fajitas consumed, it was time for the washing-up. We had managed to fill the water tank without issue, but neglected to switch on the hot water. What did the sales rep tell us at the handover? Tip number three – listen, and more importantly remember, what you’re told during the handover!

Otherwise, do as we did and track down a good handover video on the internet – these can be invaluable. Don’t assume that because you have had a ‘van before, you will automatically know how everything works – not only do the different motorhome manufacturers do things differently, but technology also moves on in the intervening years.

After a good night’s sleep, the next day dawned even sunnier, so the sorting out was delayed again. This time, we took the ’van out (so much easier to stow everything away) in search of the source of the Thames. A couple of local villages lay claim to this, but the actual spot beginning the river’s 215-mile journey to the Thames Barrier in south-east London is Thames Head, near Kemble. This turned out to be just a 10-minute drive away from the campsite.

We stopped in a small parking area at the bridge and took the well-worn footpath through field and meadow, following the watercourse as it became a stream and then a trickle, to the monument and stone circle (which was dry when we visited, but I am assured does flow after rainfall) that marks the spot.

Thames near Kemble
The mighty Thames becomes a stream near Kemble

The route does mean crossing a road, so you’ll need to keep dogs on leads at this point.

Returning along the same footpath (there are other walks in this area), we decided to lunch at the appealing Thames Head Inn, just a minute or two up the road. A couple of prawn cocktails and ham, egg & chips, and we were quite glad the drive back to the site was so short!

As it was still only mid-afternoon, we decided to visit The Old Kennels, next to the campsite entrance and the parkland. This includes a kitchen garden, a gallery, even a dog-wash (something akin to a car wash, where you pay your money and take your choice of service), a microbrewery – wait, stop, that’ll do nicely!

Old Kennels
The Old Kennels offers something for everyone, on two legs or four!

With ales and ciders served straight from the barrel and outdoor tables with umbrellas for some welcome shade on a sunny day, this was, unsurprisingly, a popular spot for fellow campers, and we had a friendly chat with our ‘neighbours’ while sampling the wares.

That evening, we were content with a salad supper, taken from the conveniently large fridge and brought out on our new tray, of course. I had wondered if we would need so much fridge space or if it would be a waste when space is at such a premium in any motorhome, but it turns out that salad ingredients sit nicely next to plenty of cold beers. Lots of room for stocking up at farm shops en route as well, so yes, the size is a boon.

Lighten the load

Day number three, and finally, we took the time to overhaul the contents of the Chausson’s garage. Another tip – changing ’vans is a great opportunity to lighten up!

Again, don’t do what we did and just swap everything over from one vehicle to the other, and don’t keep stuff just because you have space. If it hasn’t been used for the past 12 months, do you really need to carry it around with you?

While Ro sorted out the garage, yours truly moved the pepperpot and saucepans yet again – and found some room inside where we could store those citronella candles closer to hand.

Once all of the sorting and moving (and the decision-making about what could be got rid of) was done, and we’d pressed every button and turned every knob we could find to see what it did, we were ready for more exploring – and besides, we needed to see if anything rattled after the move around!

We were armed with a plethora of tea towels and cushions ready to stuff around, in front of, and over anything that made a noise, or was likely to be damaged, as we travelled.

The charming village of Tetbury, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (and famously, home to Charles and Camilla) is about 20 minutes from Cirencester and it was here that we found ourselves for an hour or so, having a pleasant wander while doing a spot of window-shopping amid cobbled streets and limestone buildings.

Tetbury is home to handsome limestone buildings, cobbled streets (and Charles and Camilla)

Back on site later that evening, despite the ease of cooking on board, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner in Cirencester. Chipotle chicken burritos and bottles of Corona enjoyed in the sunshine, and I couldn’t have felt more on holiday.

One final tip – remember what your new ’van looks like. I almost walked past several times on the way back from the shower block, forgetting that shiny bronze Chausson was really mine!

And so a very enjoyable, and informative, weekend came to a close. The new ’van worked really well, fulfilling all we asked of it and then some, and we can’t wait to take it out on the road to pastures new (and old).

I have a mission, too – to walk the Thames Path, although definitely not in one go. It is 185 miles long! Those hiking days are behind me now, along with the will to climb steps to a bunk-style bed – thank goodness I no longer have to.

If you’d like some ideas for where to head on your next tour, take a look at our guide to the best motorhome sites in Cornwall.

Cirencester touring essentials

Way to go

From home it was an easy journey along the M4 motorway and the A419 to Cirencester.

Where we stayed

Cirencester Park CAMC Site

Stroud Road, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 1UT

  • Tel: 01285 651 546
  • what3words: belonging.discussed.lump
  • Open: Until 3 January 2024, then 1 March 2024 to 4 January 2025
  • Pitches: 211
  • Price: From £20.50

A fairly large Club site which is also open to non-members. Dog friendly (it even has a dog-wash area, as well as the usual dog-walking field) and just a short stroll from Cirencester town centre.

Food and drink

  • The Bear Inn
  • The Thames Head Inn
  • Burrito Mama

Find out more

All images: Sue Taylor

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