After a few years of living in a motorcaravan in the UK, I wrote this article for Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly, (July 1990). Here it is in full, just as relevant today as it was then. Hopefully, it'll give you some ideas of your own!
Steve Litchfield, a young engineer, grew heartily tired of digs and chose...
A Room With A View
(Motorcaravanning for real in England)
Motorcaravans are quite wonderful creatures, as any regular MMM reader will readily attest, and mine was no exception. It had its faults, the odd breakdown, the odd leak, and so on, but it was home for me for two and a half years. It was also, at various times, holiday-villa-by-the-sea, minibus, touring camper and general workhorse. Alas, the onset of romantic attachments led to relegation of FFX 660V to second place in my life, and it was part-exchanged for a much smaller Danbury, keeping alive the motorcaravanning bug, but somehow an era had passed.
As a young single engineer, who was heartily tired of living in digs, and who didn't want a mortgage millstone around my neck, I happened to chance upon a copy of Which Motorcaravan in a newsagents, and I realised just how far caravan engineering had come since I last looked at a camper. My flatmate and I were due to move out of our current dwellings shortly and gradually an inspired plan took shape in my mind.
Motorcaravans are designed to live in, so why not literally LIVE in one. I wouldn't have room to keep my beloved bicycle, but the van would suffice for transport. Two months of MMM later, I knew roughly what I was looking for, and the moving out date on my digs was almost upon me. I needed to be completely self sufficient, with toilet, waste water tank, hot water, heater and all the other items which go to make year-round camping feasible. I also had to store all my worldly goods in the van, yet it mustn't be too large for a standard car parking space. With unlimited cash I would have probably followed John Hunt's previous example and bought an Autohomes Camelot, but back in the real world my life savings amounted to £4000. The solution was provided in the form of a seven-year-old Bedford CF250 Canterbury Sunhome, which was seen in that month's MMM. About the same length and width as a Camelot, the Sunhome had the extraordinary roof moulding, extending over the van sides and front, giving an internal over-cab bed and cupboards and shelves over the side windows. Equipment also featured fridge, Paloma gas heater and Eberspacher petrol heater. All in all, a splendid package for £4000!
My first problem was that I couldn't drive! A crash (not literally) course in a friends Fiesta and two months later I had my certificate, though the short time surprised me. I always feared that I would find driving very difficult, but as it turned out I took to it like a duck to water. The second problem was that the van needed about two weeks of effort to get it ready for full-time occupation, and my annual leave from work had already been accounted for. Here the Almighty intervened, and I found myself blessed(!) with chicken-pox, which immediately disqualified me from work. Despite the pox spots I felt fine and was able to work unhindered until all was ready. A practice night spent outside my digs and the great adventure had started...
Now the first thing everyone asks is always "Where do you park?" Well, my views on wild-camping are very strict. You must never leave any litter or other indication of your presence. You must not do anything that would damage the environment. You must not annoy anyone by parking in an inconvenient or obtrusive place. In summary, you must not get anyone's back up. Within these constraints I managed to live quite happily for over two years. Never did I get moved on or harassed.
"Yes," you say, "but where did you park?" Well, Bracknell, where I was working at the time, is a new town, and features plenty of industrial parks, together with lorry night-parks. Hardly a scenic place to stop each night, but with the curtains closed, the heating and the TV on, it didn't really matter. The lorry drivers seemed to let me share their nomadic existence and provided welcome security and peace-of-mind. They also provide a ready alarm clock as they start their engines for the day at 6am! Other parking places included the main car park at work (unfortunately not counted as over-time!) and various camp-sites round the country, as I toured England in my time off. I particularly remember some of the scenery as I crossed the country from Lancaster to York, with some quite spectacular hillscapes. Truly, my home became a 'Room with a View' at such times.
Living in my motorcaravan, everyday situations took on new twists. For example, meeting Fiona, now my wife, towards the end of my snail-days, proved novel! She found herself at the wrong end of somebody else's lunch invitation and boldly asked if she could come round to my place for the meal, knowing me from a previous gathering. Amazingly she was undeterred by the discovery that I lived in the white object I was steering her towards in the car-park, and that lunch was the first of many we shared at lookout points, camp sites and car-parks around the country.
Every motorcaravan seems to acquire a nick-name in the way that cars rarely do, and FFX 660V was early on deemed 'Chunky', which became a favourite with any children I came into contact with. I would be greeted with a chorus of "Where's Chunky?!" whenever I arrived. More often than not I would take friends, with small children, to the sea-side, and can testify that a motorcaravan makes THE perfect sea-side base, being able to arrive early, become a chalet for the day, and stay late, with all facilities close at hand.
Water was obtained twice-weekly from the local garage, when I stopped for petrol. At first it was stored in an under-floor tank, but cold weather forced a rethink and I installed an inboard 2-gallon portable container, switching the pipes so that the old fresh tank under the floor became a grey water tank of cavernous capacity! The original shower compartment in the Sunhorne was to my mind badly designed, with a folding basin that splashed everywhere and a rim at the bottom that made manoeuvring the Porta-Potti hazardous. It was also showing signs of mould and rot. WR Conversions in Poole were called upon to completely remake the toilet compartment to my own specification, with fixed domestic-size basin and proper Porta-Potti storage, together with extra cupboard space. The finished result looked spectacular, a wash-room I have not seen the equal of in a current van conversion.
It took a few abortive attempts at providing second-battery power before I found the simplest and easiest to use. The main battery (60Ah) on the Sunhome was inboard behind the passenger seat and it was an afternoon's work to install a second battery (also 60Ah) wired in parallel with the primary. I put a master switch between the two but found that I rarely needed to bother cutting one of them out of the circuit, as the combined 120Ah capacity took some using up, especially with my daily motoring to top the system up. Even running my Eberspacher heater all evening would cause no problems.
I found that motoring even a few miles in the morning were enough on the coldest winter's day to provide heat to the underfloor gas locker, mounted close to the exhaust run, and consequently I never had problems using butane. The only real concession to the ravages of winter was that I would drain most of the water out of the water-heating system at night by simply cutting power to the pump, opening all the taps and waiting while gravity did the rest.
I could wax lyrical about the advantages I found in living in my van, but I'll be brief. A visit to relatives? No problem, no need to pack (everything's bound to be onboard somewhere!), and if it's a long way and fatigue sets in, then what could be simpler than to pull in to a convenient point and sleep with (literally) all the comforts of home. A trip north to a friend's wedding proved easy. Park in the church car park (with permission, of course) and wake in the morning with all of 30 yards to travel. And of course, no need to drive after the reception. With a little ingenuity any daily routine becomes fun and not a little different. The weekly laundry run was sheer hardship. Park outside the launderette, put the clothes on to wash/dry, relax outside (at home), and pop in an hour later to collect the result. A visit to my parents? Easy, drive through the night, arrive at 2am, sleep in the drive and awake to breakfast expertly served a few feet away!
I know this sort of living is not to everyone's taste and seems to fly in the face of everything the world seems to think is essential to a happy life in terms of a fixed roof over one's head and appreciating assets, but for a few years living in a motorcaravan was exciting, challenging, different and most of all helped me realise just what is essential and what is junk. Even now at home, with my wife in a rented house, we regularly sort out our belongings just on the chance that we may one day have to fit them all into a motorhome. Our lease period on our house is about to expire. I wonder...
(First printed in Motorcaravan &
Motorhome Monthly, July 1990)