With more people choosing to holiday at home during the credit crunch, wheelworldreviews editor DAVID HOOPER takes a caravan on tour.
THE thought of getting away from it all is one that appeals to all of us, and modern caravans can and are used all year round.
This year though, people are feeling the pinch thanks to the credit crunch and a poor exchange rate against the Euro, with many Brits abandoning their foreign package deals and choosing to holiday at home instead.
We decided to embark on only our second attempt at caravanning and planned something of a tour of the South of England, an area to which we seldom venture.
The Explorer Group provided one of its latest four-berth caravans to test, an Elddis Odyssey 550, which measures in at around 21ft in length and costs £14,995.
Being a relatively inexperienced caravanner, I decided to go heavy with the car, knowing that the safest way to tow is with as big a car as possible. They don’t come much bigger than Audi’s enormous Q7.
A big car was a prerequisite for the trip, as we had to collect the caravan from our nearest Elddis dealer, Torksey Caravans, at Torksey, which meant packing everything we would need for two weeks away into the car – no mean feat when, as well as the clothes, you need just about everything but the kitchen sink – a caravan has one of those. Pots, pans, cutlery, clothes, duvets, pillows, some food, a spotty teenager and an old dog were all crammed inside the seven-seat Q7, although all but one of the rear seats were folded down to maximise the load space, with every inch being filled.
At Torksey, general manager Andy Carrington, armed with a brolly to fend off the weather, made sure the caravan was securely attached to the car, and off we went, tentatively at first until I got the hang of it.
A car with a 4.2-litre V8 diesel engine may not be “trendy” in these times of high fuel prices, but the powerful Q7 proved to be the perfect tow car. With the air suspension in “Tow Mode” a special programme which the car automatically selects when its electronics recognise a trailer is hooked up, I hardly knew the caravan was attached.
I know caravanners get a lot of stick for slowing down traffic – and I’m usually dishing some of it out, but I can promise you that my caravan, attached to the muscular 326PS quattro Q7, which can do 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds and has a top speed of 146mph, didn’t get in anybody’s way. In fact, for me, one of the highlights of the trip was overtaking a hybrid Toyota Prius doing 40mph on an A road – with the caravan on the back! The Q7’s only drawback was it’s fuel consumption – it averaged just 19.2mpg over the two weeks.
The caravan itself was 7ft 6in wide and built on a Swing V-Tec chassis and was simplicity itself to tow. The jockey wheel now comes with a built-in nose weight indicator so you know if you’ve loaded it properly.
The only real changes I had to make when towing the caravan were to take a slightly wider line on a left-hand bend or roundabout, or position the car further to the left on a right-hand bend to keep the trailer on the right side of the white lines. Car parks and manoeuvring in confined spaces, as I discovered, are best avoided.
Our first stop was the Four Oaks Caravan Club site at Henley-on-Thames for a couple of nights. The site was busy and packed with caravans, but the helpful warden managed to get me on a pitch I could drive onto. Then began the setting up process. Putting the legs down, connecting the electric, filling the water barrel and attaching the pump, connecting the waste pipes and turning on the gas – except we couldn’t turn on the gas because no pipe was fitted, which made cooking tea interesting. Fortunately, the caravan had an in-built microwave, but because the site was busy, it was raining and the power supply was being heavily used, it kept tripping out the electrics. We also had to make up the beds and find a home for everything in the car. We were worn out before we started.
Our caravan, featured a fixed island bed, a new addition for the Elddis range, with a proper mattress and a narrow walkway down either side. It was great not having to make up the bed every night, but the snag is that it takes up almost half of the caravan, although there is plenty of storage space under the bed, which lifts up like a car bonnet.
That night heavy rain woke us up regularly – it was like sleeping in a tin can! At least the bed was comfortable – although we thought one of the other interior layouts in the range would provide more space and suit us better were we to take up caravanning as a regular past-time.
The next day a trip to a caravan dealer solved the gas pipe problem which I fitted in a few minutes with a borrowed spanner and then things began to settle down. We were cooking on gas!
Caravanning is a different type of a holiday. There always seems to be something to do, whether it’s filling up the water, doing the washing up, emptying the chemical loo which is a delightful job, or brushing grass off the floor.
The interior lighting features main lights, small spotlights and wall lamps, so there were plenty of ways in which to create a cosy atmosphere to watch our fuzzy telly by when it wasn’t fit to sit outside.
The Elddis range looks smart, with its dark-tinted privacy glass windows. A modern caravan is well equipped too, with a decent size fridge, cooker and even a shower, although the water needs to be used very sparingly.
Our next stop was at Tanner Farm Park in Kent, which was a nice spacious site where children were allowed to play ball games and fly kites. We also visited Caravan and Camping Club sites at Verwood in the New Forest, and Cambridge on the way home, which seemed to offer more space than the Caravan Club sites, even if the shower block facilities weren’t quite up to the same standards. At all the sites we visited, the wardens were friendly and helpful.
Is caravanning for us? Would we do it again? Did we enjoy our holiday? Maybe, but not for a while. Yes, and yes – even if we weren’t quite as chilled out as we usually are after a fortnight in a hotel in the sun.
It’s such a shame the British weather just cannot be relied upon.