Happy Campers: Ewan and ‘Lydia’

A tent camper for many years, Ewan and family researched various camper van options before finally taking the plunge and buying a VW California in late 2010.  His Cali serves as his daily vehicle as well as the basis for spontaneous and planned trips around Scotland and beyond.

Happy Campers’ is a series of posts featuring camper vans and their owners.  It’s designed to offer advice and inspiration to new and existing camper van owners – featuring members of the WildaboutScotland community. To take part, please send an e-mail to me answering the standard question format below together with a good photo or two.

 Cali at Glencoe

1.  Introducing myself and my camper van 

I’m Ewan and the guy behind this blog.  The four of us – two adults and two children aged 13 and 9 – live in Stirlingshire in Central Scotland.  We have a late 2010 VW California (180 manual in sand beige) which we’ve had from new – and she’s called Lydia (an elegant, sophisticated name for a modern, sophisticated camper van).

As I’ve described elsewhere on this blog, my wife and I have been tent campers for years.  In fact, my loft is still full of various tents of different sizes and shapes and I’m a keen walker and backpacker.  I guess camper vans have been in our blood since we were younger too: in my wife’s case she was brought up with a white Bay (sleeping on a hammock over the front two seats), and my parents bought a van (a Peugeot Talbot) so they could go off travelling once I finally left school and moved away from home.

Buying our own camper van wasn’t exactly a spontaneous purchase.  It took years of envious spying on neighbours’ vans on campsites, letting the idea seep into our consciousness for a while before hiring a poorly-maintained Bay and realising that without any mechanical ‘nous’ between us, it would have to be a brand new van.  Eventually, after doing some research into VW conversions we finally put down a deposit on a new California.

2.  How do I use my camper van ? 

Lydia is my daily drive – for going to work; the occasional cup of tea in between meetings; taking my youngest to/from school; family days out; holidays and weekends away;  walking, cycling and kayaking trips; and so on.

3.  Best thing I love about my van ?

Apart from the spontaneous feeling that I could just take off with the van already packed at a moment’s notice, I think it would have to be the well thought-out design of the Cali.  I never tire of showing people the neatly stowed tables inside and the picnic chairs hidden in the rear tailgate.  But it’s also the thin, lightweight aluminium used for the kitchen and wardrobe, the pull-down blinds and the neat shelves and internal lighting that often go unnoticed.

4.  Pet gripes ?

While the Cali is a great vehicle it’s not without its design flaws.  For example, it should be easier to rotate the driver’s seat without risking scratching the side pillar or having to take the handbrake off.  An electronic handbrake would be the obvious solution to the latter issue.  Another design flaw is that it’s very difficult to access the two left hand cupboards when the rear bench is moved forwards (eg when on holiday and you want to maximise boot space).  Yes, there are one or two design flaws and after nine years of production some weaker aspects of the Cali’s build quality are coming to light but all in all, the California still knocks the socks off any camper van competition.

5.  Favourite accessories ?

Our Duvalays are the best accessory we’ve bought for the van (sadly no, I’m not on commission).  While four of them do take up the rear parcel shelf space their bulk is more than offset by the comfort, practicality and sheer luxury of not having to spend ages faffing about with sheets, duvets or sleeping bags.

The roof bungee is another ‘must have’ after-market accessory, a little insurance policy against the Cali’s pop-top roof canvas getting caught in the metal scissor mechanism when it’s being lowered.

And of course, no camper should be without a whistling kettle.

Copy (1) of DSC_0102

6.  Best tip for new owners ?

Tempting as it might be to buy every shiny new accessory under the sun (of which there are lots), give your bank balance a rest and just live with your van for a while so you know how you’re going to use it.  Everyone uses their campers in different ways, so just buy those accessories you think will suit your lifestyle.

7.   Best trip in my van ?

A difficult question since we’ve had some great trips away …  We had a great holiday in Holland a couple of years ago and somehow Lydia provided the perfect way to enjoy the relaxed and laid-back style of camping there.  We stayed at a couple of sites which were car-free, which meant that once the van was parked up it had to stay until we left.  Hot, sunny weather also helped so we made the most of the wind-out awning (also using the mat we bought to go under the awning), living outside much of the time and hiring bikes to get around.  I’d highly recommend the island of Terschelling as a superb holiday island with it’s car-free cycle paths to get between the campsites, sandy beaches and small town.

8.  Dream trip ?

I suspect these will have to wait a few years until the kids have left home but there are three on our mental itinerary at the moment.  One is a trip up to Nordkapp (the northernmost part of Scandinavia) in mid-summer to experience almost round-the-clock daylight and visit some wonderful locations such as the Lofoten Islands en route.  Having travelled in Norway, Finland and Sweden at various times over the years we’d love to return with some time on our hands.  Another is an extended pan-European tour to Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and many other places besides.  And a third is to hire a camper and tour from Vancouver east to the Rockies, head south along the mountains then back west via Yellowstone National Park, and winding back up to Vancouver through the Pacific North West states.

Wild camp near Arisaig

9.  Favourite campsite ?

For me, a great campsite has to be in a superb location with a variety of things to do.  It has to be well-run, an ambassador for local sustainable tourism and have an appeal that draws you back time after time.  Both Rothiemurcus (near Aviemore), set in ancient pine woods in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, and Camusdarach (near Arisaig), right next to the white sands of Morar on the west coast, tick these boxes for me.

Read my tips on the Top 10 best campsites, best beach campsites and best campsites that allow campfires in Scotland.

10.  When I’m not camping I’m …

… spending time with the family, backpacking, cycling and planning my next trips away.  And working.  Oh, and blogging of course.