Our motorhoming history starts in 1994 when we thought we were rich enough to spend £8k on an X-Reg VW T2 Autohomes Kamper. This rear-engine, raising roof van was bought when Bex and Jen were v small. We got it from Essex Motorcaravans and it lasted just a few months. Its first major outing was a 4-week post Northern Ireland trip to the south of France. All started well (actually we had an early fuel leak just outside Paris) but ended in disappointment when the engine blew near Montpellier. A pretty rubbish French garage exacerbated the problem and she was shipped home. Thankfully our AA 5-star insurance hired us a substitute van (a Chausson something or other), which was bigger and much more useful, to finish our hols.
But we didn’t learn our lesson (in terms of size). The van was fixed, but quickly sold on. We bought and used a caravan for a year and a bit (which I don’t like to admit to) and in 1999 bought a J-Reg Autosleeper Trident hightop (T3) deisel. We got his from Barry Motorhomes and paid £13k for it. Other than being a bit small for four of us, she was brilliant. The 1.9 diesel engine was tough and frugal, the Autosleeper coachwork was first class and the kids loved sleeping in the roof. It did us proud around and about southern UK and a couple of trips abroad.
Next, in 2002 we bought an M-Reg Autosleeper Symphony from Lowdhan Leisureworld (£18.5k). This was another fine van from Autosleeper, although its 2.5 non-turbo deisel engine was gruff and thirsty. However we did have some really good holidays in her. Unfortunately I ended her life in Austria when I drove into an oncoming BMW whilst on a ski holiday. Whilst we came off better, the van had only scrap value.
On leaving the Army and now a poor teacher we had a long 6-week holiday in a trailer tent, which, with our 17 year-old daughter, was never to be repeated. I knew things weren’t right when after 90 minutes of setting up the tent on a site in Austria, an incoming motorhomer parked up and was drinking beer sat in his sun chair after just five minutes. So the trailer tent was sold……
…..and we bought our third Autosleeper, another Symbol (we bought it
privately for £22k). This slightly newer and plusher version saw us through 4 years of teacher-long holidays. It was fabulous and served us brilliantly travelling as far east as Budapest and as far south as Gibraltar. However once ensconced in our 50s and after a very uncomfortable two weeks over an October half-term where both C and I were desperately unwell, we decided that we needed something a bit bigger.
On a trip to our favourite camper shop Highbridge Motorcaravans one Sunday we decided to have a good gander at all of the bigger vans. We looked at Doris (a 08 Dethleffs Van II Summer Edition) but C discounted it as it was too small. We spent some time sat an a behemoth of an Autotrail, clocking in at over 7 metres and with enough room to breed, train and then swing some cats. Thankfully a bright chap called Colin took us back to Doris and on closer inspection she won our hearts. Without boring you too much she has:
- Permanent huge rear bed over….(a must)
- ….a garage which locks and keeps safe our new electric bikes (a must).
- Sizeable washroom with swinging wall to give reasonably big shower.
- Dinette with permanent table (a must)
- The top-of-the-range Ford Transit engine with cruise control (yippee), hill start (yippee) and aircon (yippee).
- Solar panel (yippee).
- Outside gas point for BBQ (yippee).
- Gaslow cylinders, which allow fill-up from LPG pumps (much cheaper gas – yippee).
- Satellite TV (sort of yippee).
But the thing is Doris was the first of a new range of vans designed to be small. She’s narrower than normal coachbuilts, just over 6m long and weighs considerably less than 3.5t. The latter point is crucial, as most European countries charge for vehicles over 3.5t and Doris is so light we can carry pretty much what we want.
Additions have been few. We put 240v in the boot to help charge the bike batteries, bought a memory topper for the bed, put a couple of shelves in and laid some makeshift carpet. I have already broken her twice (she’s small, but not that small), but she has seen us proud down as far south as Slovenia and two memorable trips to Scotland.
As always these vans are compromises. The small(ish) size restricts the sitting area and we hardly ‘lounge’, but we are comfortable. But we have taken her most places we would have taken any of our previous vans. So for us, at our age, with our knees and with our ambition Doris is probably the best fit. But only time will tell……..
And it is fair to say that after 18 months travelling round Europe and with a clear view that we would stay in the UK off and on for a while, we needed a new van. Something bigger. With a separate shower, the same large garage and a bigger, more luxurious lounge. Enter, in February 2016, Doris Too. A Hymer 694. 4.2 tonnes and 7.5 metres of monster. She’s brilliant. But it’s early days yet. But so far so good.