Why your next holiday should be in a motorhome

“Contrary to my fears, in some ways it was the easiest Christmas dinner I have ever prepared,” says Fiona Duncan

“Contrary to my fears, in some ways it was the easiest Christmas dinner I have ever prepared,” says Fiona Duncan

Like many people, I come from a family where Christmas is a sacred routine. In our case: stockings in bed; church; to introduce; turkey and Christmas pudding; the monarch’s televised message; lie in front of the TV. Any departure from the True Path was considered heresy, especially by my mother. Christmas in a campervan? Mom would be thrilled.

How satisfying anarchically I felt spending last month’s festivities at the Caravan and Motorhome Club campsite in Longleat, Wiltshire (although the fear of it all ending in disaster was never far away).

Before we left, a friend sent me an excerpt from this great 1990s sitcom. Father Ted. Unlucky priests, Father Dougal and Father Ted, try to spend their vacation in a rickety caravan. Trapped inside by pouring rain with nothing to do, they are forced to play hide and seek, taking turns counting to 100 while the other sits in a window seat and covers his head with a curtain. “Oh, I found you,” Ted says to Dougal, and vice versa, over and over again.

I laughed, of course, but there was a knot in my stomach too. Was this our destiny? It has been raining for the whole week already. What have I done to my nearest and dearest by throwing them out of their nice warm home into a caravan, and will they hate me forever?

Let me explain.

It was our year off this Christmas. Anyone with married offspring knows this form: one year they come to us, our beloved grandchildren brighten the day, the next it’s the in-laws’ turn.

The Wiltshire countryside was a worthy backdrop for Fiona's Christmas trip - iStockphoto

The Wiltshire countryside was a worthy backdrop for Fiona’s Christmas trip – iStockphoto

I don’t like free years. So when I received an invitation from the Caravan and Motorhome Club to explore the joys of motorized camping, I jumped at the offer.

“Can we do this on Christmas Day?”

“Absolutely,” came the reply.

Mixed reactions

Our Christmas fate has been sealed. My son Alexander, who has autism and lives with us, was optimistic, but my husband, Andrew, was appalled (“Please God, no”).

“Here’s the plan,” I told him, brushing off his feelings harshly. “We’ll be walking and cycling in the Wiltshire countryside, going to a carol service at Wells Cathedral” – which we’ve long wanted to visit – “and cooking a good Christmas dinner in the van. Oh, and Caroline will come too.

Poor guy – though the news that his beloved sister-in-law had decided to join did manage to gently push his threats of mutiny into a clenched resignation. “It’s because of the nights,” he muttered, “I can’t face the nights.”

Did I say campervan? RV is the right word for the four-seater Bailey Adamo 69-4 that has become our holiday home: an ingeniously designed compact box with plenty of storage, including for bicycles; excellent heating; small shower and toilet; a spacious fridge and – oh, joyfully – an oven big enough to hold my turkey crown.

For me it was love at first sight. Within an hour, Bertha, as I dubbed her, was fitted out, stocked up and decorated with Christmas decorations. I was already planning to go around the world in a motorhome; Alexander was also willing; only Andrew remained the Christmas Grinch.

Declaring spirits

The Grinch led, hesitantly at first but soon confidently. Upon arrival in Longleat, we camped near a waterfall and were greeted by the barking of sea lions.

I can’t lie. In my enthusiasm, I conveniently forgot that we’re a completely dysfunctional family, and there were some very bad moments, especially – sorry, Grinch – at night. While it was very exciting to lower the top double berth at the push of a button, it was less exciting to climb the ladder in the dark. If the rain kept us awake, the snoring did (no one was an exception), and every time someone moved, Bertha shivered. I felt most sorry for my sister – what a friend she was.

We walked and biked as best we could in the pouring rain (Sustrans cycle routes 24 and 25 meet at Longleat), explored Bath and the lovely Mells with its excellent inn and fascinating church, played cards and tried to get out of the way, Alexander again vacuumed Bertha’s carpet. But as the night of caroling approached, the festive mood faded – only one person was to blame.

And then a little miracle happened. The combination of the stunning beauty of Wells Cathedral and the ethereal beauty of the choir had an impact on our small group. We came home high, in a bubble of renewed good humor and affection. Even the Grinch has become Andrew again. Everything was better. We were in the moment, feeling festive, ready to play, laugh and enjoy a new experience.

Berth;  Fiona Duncan's Bailey Adamo 69-4 RV

Berth; Fiona Duncan’s Bailey Adamo 69-4 RV

And indeed, I object to anyone not to enjoy Bertha’s pleasures at any family celebration, once he has mastered her various functions; yes we were cramped but she made a warm and comfortable mini house where everything worked as it should.

By Christmas Eve, about 40 caravans, RVs and RVs had crashed, most of which were decked out with Christmas trees, lighted reindeer and wobbly snowmen. One family we spoke to revealed that they spend every Christmas in a different part of the country so their children learn about the UK.

The next morning, Caroline and I shooed the men out of the van and set to work juggling pots and pans in the small space. The potatoes, which I had previously baked and frozen, browned beautifully in the oven, and most of the rest – bread sauce, gravy, red cabbage – had been prepared earlier and only needed to be reheated. Contrary to my fears, in some ways it was the easiest Christmas dinner I’ve ever prepared. Turkey and all the trimmings were followed not by Christmas pudding but by our own figs preserved in brandy as another nod to our anarchic Christmas.

After we packed up and left for home last week, Andrew asked me what kind of torment I envisioned for the next “gap year.”

“Funny you should mention that,” I replied with twinkling eyes.

“Have you seen those canal boats in Bath?” “Please God, no.”

Fiona Duncan was a guest Caravan and motorhome club and his campsite at Longleat in Wiltshire.

Electric pitch prices start at around £60 a night for four adults (£45 for clubbers). Caravan and Motorhome Club membership costs from £59 a year. A four-berth Bailey Adamo motorhome can be rented from £952 a week McRent

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