Swishing along a sunny Californian coastal road, exploring backwater Atlantic Canada and leafy New England in a Winnebago; they’re all dream road trips we’ve tackled with our kids since they were tiny.
But a motorhome holiday in the soggy UK with two adult-sized teens? Could it work? We put it to the test, and the outcome might make you rethink that looming half-term break.
Compared with the 35ft monsters we rented in America, the swish Elddis Majestic, borrowed from the Durham centre of nationwide specialist dealer Marquis Motorhomes, was a titch. And yet at 24 feet it still dwarfed the largest people-carrier, squeezing in sleeping for six plus most of the creature comforts of its transatlantic cousins, including a highly serviceable kitchen, decent shower-room/toilet, dinner table for four, “proper” three-pin sockets, a generous “lounge”, posh fitted carpets, wind-out awning under which to sit on hot days, better central heating than my house and a kitchen sink.
It was a delight to drive, too. Motorhome technology has improved massively in recent years, and excellent powered steering, a nicely soundproofed 150bhp Peugeot engine with plenty of torque, a gearbox as light as any car’s plus great brakes, high build quality — and lofty window seats offering views over traffic — made touring fun. For keen motorists it’s the perfect holiday combo.
We headed for the jaw-droppingly beautiful Northumberland coast and, as we settled into our first campsite, the Railway Inn, Acklington, found that UK facilities have moved on, too. Pitches were nicely spaced and screened, and the landlady had impressive plans for revamped washrooms on this new site. Having a quiet pub on-site didn’t hurt either.
The disadvantage of motorhomes compared with caravans is that when you drive anywhere the entire vehicle goes as well. With the Majestic, however, ample storage space meant packing away was relatively painless.
Even parking presented few problems; in Northumberland there’s plenty of space to spare. But it always pays to have a passenger guide you into tight spots — just in case.
Our route took us up the stunning, sandy coast past brooding Alnwick and imperious Bamburgh Castles to a campsite almost within swimming distance of Lindisfarne.
Bright and early, we traversed the dramatic seaweed-strewn causeway to Holy Island, keeping a wary eye on tides, to explore the cosy converted fort and ruined priory.
The joy of touring Northumberland is that no one else is there. At least it seems that way to a Londoner and if you think the stunning tourist attractions are quiet, try the roads. You feel you’ve slipped unawares past a “road closed” sign as you’re the only one there. It’s motoring nirvana.
So was a sensational climbing lesson — it was a family road-trip after all — on proper rocks, with proper ropes, helmets, harnesses and proper climber Ollie Jay, at active4seasons.co.uk. We had an entire valley, complete with big vertigo-inducing climbs to ourselves.
Our route carried us high inland, with far-reaching, spectacular mountain views to rugged Northumberland National Park, home to serene Kielder Water and the inviting Boe Rigg campsite. They even encourage campfires.
The final treat was touring cross-country to Matfen, seemingly deep in the middle of nowhere but still, curiously, only 35 minutes’ drive from Newcastle, for teen-friendly Go Ape high-rise fun.
We were the envy of all when — after three hours in the treetops — we strolled to our wagon, put the kettle on, pulled out the picnic chairs, sat under our awning and reflected on a road trip with a difference.
British motoring holidays don’t get much better than this.
GET AWAY AT THE DROP OF A HAT
Buying your own motorhome means you can escape at the drop of a hat. The posh Elddis Majestic (£46,495) from Marquis (marquisleisure.co.uk) is ideal for big families and longer trips, although if you’re driving in London, choose something smaller from their vast range.
Ideally, try renting first to see which van style you prefer. Outlets specialising include justgo.co.uk; motorhomesuk.co.uk; motorhomegroup.com; winnebagohire.co.uk; nomadliving.co.uk (classic VW camper vans).
Renting a motorhome is much more costly than camping with a tent, but generally cheaper than staying in a hotel, at least off-peak when prices start at around £50 a day for a small two-berth vehicle. During summer, prices rise to over £100 depending on size. Budget for fuel, too. Campsite fees vary depending on facilities, from around £10 to £25 a night.
Visitor information at http://visitnorthumberland.com
Follow David Williams, Motoring Correspondent, Evening Standard, on Twitter at @djrwilliams