A few years ago, I interviewed a caravan and motorhome specialist dealer about the appeal of each. He explained, in simple terms, how caravan owners tended to belong to a club, and pitched and unhitched for a week in one place, enjoying sightseeing unencumbered by their accommodation; while campervan owners enjoyed the variety of a night here, a night there, and the freedom of moving on whenever the mood took them. I was pretty sure which category I fell into, and had long dreamed of giving campervanning a go. When I was offered the chance to put a van through its paces, how could I resist?
The invitation came from Quirky Campers, a Bristol-based company run by Lindsay and David. Owners of a campervan conversion themselves, they connect customers with a growing number of classy campers around the South West (and London). “Most owners have their vans parked up for 49 weeks of the year,” says Lindsay. “We got so many compliments whenever we took ours out, we decided to have a go at sharing her. Not only is it a cheaper way for customers to enjoy a campervan holiday, but it also makes ownership more affordable.”
New to the Quirky Campers stable is Constance, a converted Mercedes Sprinter owned by Steph and Tom of Illogan, near Redruth. A former pharmaceutical delivery van, from the outside she looks every inch your standard long wheelbase “white van”. Slide the door open, however, and prepare to be surprised.
The spacious interior has been beautifully clad with timber, with the help of tree surgeon friend Chris Kite. A seating area and table convert into a king size bed. All soft furnishings – some with an appropriate atlas theme – have been lovingly sewn by Steph. There’s a sink and dresser laden with classy camping crockery, a gas stove and even – believe it or not – a wood burner whose chimney pokes out of the roof. For children, there’s a super-strong hammock which hangs in the driver’s cab. And there are some interesting games to play, stashed in the useful overhead shelves.
Steph and Tom hired from Quirky Campers last year, and were subsequently inspired to invest in their own van. They’ve since travelled extensively in Constance, including a trip to Ireland and the Scottish Highlands which provided an opportunity to try out the woodburner. “It was extremely warm,” laughs Steph, who has already received an inquiry about hiring the van long-term over the winter months.
Quirky Campers holds fast to ethical principles, donating 10 per cent of profits to the charity Practical Action; customers are also invited to make a contribution to the climate change prevention, adaptation and mitigation work that Practical Action is doing with vulnerable communities, as an optional extra on the booking form. Eco cleaning products such as washing up liquid are provided with the van.
You can take Constance pretty much anywhere – festivals and pets are permitted, as long as the van is returned in the state you found her. Bedding and camping furniture are provided for a fee, as is delivery of Constance, which could be useful if, for example, you are travelling down to Cornwall by train for the trip.
As we were in Truro, it was easy enough for us to pick Constance up from her home, then take her back to ours and strip our own beds – that was my job, while His Nibs took great pride in showing our curious neighbours her impressive interior. We were heading up the A39, to Bude (where we passed a multitude of appealing sites) and beyond, to Ilfracombe and Minehead. For four nights, we revelled in Constance’s company and cosiness at a variety of sites. The first, Stowford, was big and organised, with a swimming pool, restaurants and on-site family entertainment. It was a gentle introduction to campervanning – the washrooms were immaculate, and we knew we had everything we needed close by – but it’s not the place to go if you’re looking for a child-free wilderness.
In Minehead, we enjoyed the Red Arrows a few hours before they were due to appear at Falmouth Week, and brewed a smug cup of tea (complete with old-style whistling kettle) in the festival car park. Our next site was a glorified layby – clean and comfortable, but basic. Our friends were staying up the road on lush Exmoor, so in the morning we decided to up sticks and join them, tasting in the process that freedom and spontaneity we’d hoped for from our campervanning experience.
Constance is a big girl, and needs care when driving – a wider turning circle and height restrictions apply (avoid multi-story car parks). The main bed was bigger than our own at home, and the hammock was a huge hit with our five-year-old daughter – while a faff to put up, it was worth it for a good night’s sleep.
Electric hook-up is due next year, and will be a bonus for charging up gadgets. The interior lights and water pump work off an auxiliary battery which recharges when driving.
After four days, we were quite besotted. It would seem most people are: “We’ve had a lot of repeat bookings, to the extent that we need to get our own holidays booked or we’ll miss out,” laughs Steph. We’re checking our own diaries too, as we’ve been well and truly converted – just like Constance herself.
For more information, see www.quirkycampers.co.uk