Our Motorhome Newbie has been busy getting out and about in their new van. This month we follow them on their outings to Salisbury Castleton and into Wiltshire.

So far a motorhome has been a perfect way of getting away during ‘Covid times’, but as I write we are grounded in England, hoping that we can get going again with ‘non-essential travel’ in December.

Our last two trips seem like an age ago now! We did get to Lyme Regis in September, to Hook Farm. This lovely site, in Uplyme, is laid out in terraces with great views over the rolling hills nearby. The walk into Lyme is beautiful, along the East Devon Way, and takes around 20 minutes. It takes longer on the way back as it’s quite a steep climb, but perfect for us as it meant we didn’t need to move the van. Lyme, like many seaside places, is tight and congested and not ideal for a largish vehicle.

Terracing at Hook Farm allowed splendid views over surrounding countryside

After that we tried something a bit different and used the van to stay with a relative. They live on the west coast of the Lake District, but to save them trouble and to avoid too much close mixing, we camped on their driveway for a couple of nights. It worked really well and we can thoroughly recommend using your van in this way – it’s much easier to impose yourself on people when you don’t need a bedroom and all the preparation and cleaning that goes with it! The first night was very wet and stormy, with winds of over 40mph, but despite this we were warm and comfortable. We left the heating on low, and I noticed it kicked in around 5am and warmed the van up nicely before we got up–perfect.

Since the Lakes trip we have been planning future trips, but it looks anything but certain we will be able to travel far. However, the second lockdown has been a good time to make small improvements and modifications to the motorhome. We have joined a Facebook group for our particular type of van conversion, and this is full of ideas for improvement projects and also advice about technical matters. Through this group I was prompted to register our van with CRIS (Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme) and also register the Fiat warranty through a local agent, neither of which was done by the dealer when we bought it.

I’d noticed that the van battery slowly ran down whilst the van sat on the driveway. After about 8 or 9 days it was down to 12.2v, though it still started easily. After some research I bought a mains charger, which I can plug into the mains sockets in the van (we hook up to mains while on the driveway). The van battery is under the passenger footwell, so I fitted a charging wire to the positive terminal, and to an earth point nearby, and brought a push connecter out and into the space under the passenger seat. A really neat solution and very easy to pull the flap down and attach the mains charger when needed. No more worries about the van starting after a couple of weeks.

The next mod is to improve the solar panel controller. Ours is fitted with a cheap PWM controller and, from what I understand, a MPPT (maximum power point tracking) controller is likely to be much more effective, particularly in low or variable light conditions. I plan to fit it myself, which should be straightforward as the wiring to the panel, and leisure battery, is already there. Another benefit is that it links, via Bluetooth, to a phone app so I can easily see the battery state and how much charge is coming from the solar panel.

We’re really pleased with our motorhome. Our trips have been fun, with a greater sense of excitement and adventure than I expected. It’s an absorbing hobby too, because there is so much to learn. I guess it is possible to motorhome without learning how the van and its equipment works, but I prefer to understand it all so I can tackle the many and varied challenges that will inevitably arise as we are touring. The motorhome community is an incredibly friendly one, and there is always someone willing to help and advise, whether on site or online.

I’ve read that it takes, on average, three motorhomes before one finds the perfect van with the perfect layout. Thinking about our early experiences, we are sure it was right to go for a 6m van conversion – easier to manoeuvre and park but also easy to get onto our drive. I’d rather have it close by than away in storage. The fixed, or semi fixed, bed suits us just fine, and it will definitely work well when we get to Europe and warmer climes next year as we will spend less time inside the van. A larger table would be good at times, but isn’t crucial, and a separate shower, rather than a wet room, would be nice too. A raised bed across the back would allow storage underneath, but we definitely wouldn’t like the restricted headroom and inability to sit up in bed that would go with it.

Future modifications?

Maybe, when we have more experience, we will feel the need for a second leisure battery, but first we need to try camping off grid. This might be ‘wild’ or maybe just without electric hook up to see how we manage on battery and gas alone. Something to look forward to in 2021 if, as I very much hope, the Covid situation improves and travel to France and beyond becomes possible.   Mollie, our border collie, has just had her rabies jab so she’ll be ready by early spring if we find, Brexit and Covid permitting, that we can get in the van and go!