It was about 7pm on a Thursday evening and I was just finishing some work in my study at home. As I happened to look out of the window, a motorhome pulled up on our street and a couple with a small terrier got out.
My wife, Liz, and I had a trip planned to drive to the Scottish Highlands – we had recently bought a new Mercedes AMG C63 car, and we thought it would be a great way to take in the sights.
Initially, I didn’t think that much about the motorhome being parked outside; but as the couple wandered off down the road, it suddenly dawned on me – we should really be going to Scotland in a motorhome!
I have always loved anything to do with four wheels. As a kid, I well remember Dad borrowing a friend’s American Dodge Delta motorhome for our summer holiday in Cornwall.
I was about 10 years old at the time and had recently broken my wrist mountain-biking, so had a cast up to my shoulder.
I took a friend along on the trip, as did my older sister, and together with Dad and stepmum Pip, we all set off for a week in the sunshine, for what turned out to be quite an adventure. The Delta was left-hand drive and more than 8ft wide, and I remember Pip, sitting in the front passenger seat, wincing every time we passed a car on the narrow Devon and Cornwall lanes.
The awning came loose at one point and swing out in the road at times. People were waving at us – but we thought they just liked the motorhome! Thankfully, we stopped safely and reattached it, but it goes to show the importance of making sure your awning is properly attached…
Affection for adventure
I don’t remember much about the Dodge itself, but I do recall Dad saying he reckoned it did about seven miles to the gallon, with its V8 engine, and it was definitely too big for the lanes near Bude!
Despite my broken wrist and that wavering awning, this early experience gave me a real affection for the freedom and sense of adventure that you get with a motorhome holiday. I’d always planned to do it again as an adult.
Fast-forward 25 years, and the couple who parked their Mk1 Fiat Ducato outside our house reignited that spark. I immediately set about some intensive internet research, to see if I could find us a motorhome to hire for our trip to Scotland – we were leaving in just two days.
Talking it over with Liz, she immediately said, “Let’s do it!” I gathered together some telephone numbers and spent the following morning ringing just about every motorhome rental and sales firm in the West Country, Midlands and South Wales, to see if they had anything for hire.
We weren’t that bothered what it was, as long as it was fairly new, but there din’t seem to be much available at such short notice.
I was determined to find one, however, so kept searching until I came across Day’s rental. I range their South Wales number and spoke to a very helpful;l person, who said I should call their Exeter outlet, which I did immediately.
They told me the branch had only just started doing motorhome hire (having provided vans and commercials for years), but they had a four-berth Bailey Autograph 745, which had just arrived. It hadn’t yet been branded with their logo, but they would speak to the manager to see if they could hire it out straight away.
About an hour later, they called to say we could have it the following day, so we agreed a price for a two-week hire and we were ready for our first motorhome trip! We loaded up the car the next morning and set off from Bristol to Exeter, which is (usually) about an hour’s drive down the M5. Unfortunately, there was a two-hour hold-up getting off the motorway into Exeter, owing to emergency water works.
Knowing that the hire place closed at noon on a Saturday, we had left home around 9.30am to make sure we had plenty of time to get there and for the handover and so on. We were now cutting it pretty fine, but when we range Day’s, they were very helpful and said they’d hang on for us.
Picking up the motorhome
They were very helpful and explained how the water and electric hook-up systems worked, and how to use the internal electrics panel so we could operate the heating, lighting and gas. It all seemed reasonably straightforward, so we signed the paperwork, left our car in their secure compound and off we went – much later in the day than planned!
We had decided not to pre-book campsites because we wanted to see how far we went each day, without restriction; which was just as well, because by the time we got on our way on the first day, it was late afternoon.
We stopped at Exeter Services to have a coffee and familiarise ourselves with the motorhome. Driving into the caravan area of the services for the first time was fun and put a rather different perspective on things. We had brought quite a lot of essentials with us, so we popped the kettle on and sat back with a welcome coffee, pausing to take it all in. We decided that first night to find a campsite reasonably close by, and then the following day, drive to the Lake District and spend a night there.
Liz found a site near Exeter, so she rang them and they said they had space. Once we’d finished our coffee, it was only about half an hour before we were pulling up at their reception. They gave us our pitch number and directions, we paid for the night and made our way over to set up.
Our first night was great – we got the electric connected easily and, while there was no water supply on the pitch itself, we had a trial run of connecting the water to the motorhome, so we would know how to do it the next morning, when we refilled at the water station on the way out.
It all took a bit of getting used to because we’d never done it before, but it was quite straightforward and we found plenty of helpful neighbours to offer advice.
A cosy night in the ‘van
With its comfortable, roomy, fixed rear bed and very well-designed layout, we found the Bailey a joy to spend our first night in.
For dinner, we made a stir-fry (we brought the wok from home, although the hire firm provided plenty of other pans, cups, utensils and plates), opened a bottle of wine and relaxed. With the blinds pulled down, the blown-air heating on and a nice glass of wine, it was very cosy!
Waking up to a dewy morning, I used the shower in the motorhome for the first time, which was excellent, and surprisingly spacious. I’m over 6ft tall but still had lots of headroom and space to manoeuvre, which really was a pleasant surprise.
In the entire two-week trip and a total of more than 2000 miles, I only every used the shower in the motorhome, despite visiting some campsites with excellent facilities.
We were both particularly impressed with the amenities at Loch Ness Shores, which I think was our favourite in terms of facilities. Added to that, its setting on the loch is truly amazing. The site is very well laid out in two tiers, so almost regardless of where you pitch, you will have a great view of the loch.
Setting off for the first long leg of the trip the 340-mile drive from Exeter to Keswick, was great fun. We filled up with diesel and headed up the M5. The slight wavering you get from driving a motorhome such as the one we hired, which had a fairly large overhand, takes a bit of getting used to, of course. I found 60-65mph a comfortable cursing speed, and the Bailey settled really well on the motorway averaging around 26mpg overall.
Muffling the cutlery
Seasoned motorhome owners will be well aware of this, but we soon realised that wrapping the grill and other items, such as cutlery, in some kitchen roll or tea towels will stop the rattling that could otherwise drive you mad!
Arriving in the Lake District, we headed fo Keswick Camping and Caravanning Club Site, where we were greeted by the friendly staff. We decided to join the C&CC and immediately got a 25% discount. The membership fee of £47 paid for itself within a few nights, so we felt that it represented good value.
After enjoying a bite to eat in Keswick and then a very comfortable night’s sleep, next morning we woke to the stunning views of Derwentwater from this lovely campsite.
Then it was onwards to Scotland, where we paused on the journey at Falkirk. We wanted to see the famous Falkirk Wheel rotating boat lift, which connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.
Although we didn’t stay long at the Wheel, there are places to stop overnight right next to it, and a great visitor centre and café, too.
We drove on to Edinburgh where navigating the busy, narrow, cobbled streets was challenging at times, but fortunately the Bailey’s reversing camera made it easy enough.
Our next visit was to Stirling Castle, where we found there is plenty of designated motorhome parking. This was a real highlight – I have a soft spot for castles and this is a fantastic example. While there, we took the informative guided tour, which was well worth it.
Each day, we worked out roughly where we thought we’d be by about 6pm and used our Camping and Caravanning Club guide, which lists all of their campsites, to find one with space for that night. A few times, we just spotted signs for other sites and turned up there – often these were based at farms, and in lovely locations.
We drove through the Cairngorms National Park, which has to be one of the most beautiful places in the UK. We were really lucky with the perfect September weather – about 23°C, with clear blue skies and very little cloud. We could see for miles as we sat with the ‘van doors and windows open, enjoying lunch and the scenery.
We hadn’t planned to go to the Isle of Skye, but having read about it, we were intrigued, so went there via the road bridge from the mainland. We had a great three-night stay on the island, at the Skye Camping and Caravanning Club Site.
While there, we came across Dunvegan Castle, another highlight. We went on a boat trip around Dunvegan Loch and watched seals basking on the rocks. It was an amazing experience.
Dunvegan Castle is the seat of the Chief of Clan MacLeod, built in the 13th century and remaining a family home today. Having been remodelled in the 19th century in a mock-medieval style, it is fascinating to explore with beautiful gardens and waterfalls, overlooking the loch.
Leaving a very windswept Isle of Skye, we then decided to make our way down the western side of Scotland, heading for my Mum’s home city, Glasgow. Generally, we found the Bailey quite easy to park while we were in the city. We quickly got used to taking up two linear parking spaces and paying for two tickets, which was acceptable where we decided to stop.
Throughout the whole trip, we found the ability to stop almost whenever you like in your ‘van and make lunch or a cup of tea was one of the greatest joys of touring. We loved the freedom and ease.
Continuing on our journey south, we returned to the Lake District, stopping at a campsite on Lake Windermere, before the long drive back to Exeter and our final night in a site close to the hire centre, ready for the handover next day.
A flexible way to travel
We really enjoyed our first experience of hiring a motorhome, despite a few small teething problems – which you’d expect on any first trip – and we would recommend it ti anyone who is looking for a bit of adventure and appreciates the great flexibility of touring.
We found that many hire companies also allow dog-owners to rent a vehicle, usually with a small additional deposit, and we saw lots of dogs on almost every campsite that we visited.
On this trip, we decided to keep on the move and, other than Skye, we stayed only one or two nights in any given location before heading off.
We found this to be a great way to see a huge area of the country, but for some, of course, it wouldn’t be as relaxing as driving to one or two places and spending longer at each.
This is what we help to don on our next trip, to France, which we were organising just as the pandemic worsened. We still plan to visit Europe as soon as we can, and we’re looking forward to taking to the open road again.
We hired our four-berth Bailey Autograph 745 from the Exereter branch of Day’s Rental.
WHERE WE STAYED
Loch Ness Shores Camping and Caravanning Club Site
- Monument Park, Inverness, IV2 6YH
- Web campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk
- Tel 01456 486 333
- Open 26 April – 31 December
- Charges from £9.25
Keswick Camping and Caravanning Club Site
- Crow Park Road, Cumbria, CA12 5EP
- Web campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk
- Open 26 April – 31 December
- Charges from £8.75
Skye Camping and Caravanning Club Site
- Loch Greshornish, Edinbane, IV51 9PS
- Web campingandcaravnningclub.co.uk
- Open 26 April – 9 October
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