Can you have all the fun and enjoyment of owning a VW Camper Van at a fraction of the cost?
As VW Camper Van Owners / Enthusiasts I am sure that, like me, you have all been told by people outside of the scene (we shall call them ‘normies’) that you are mad for putting in all the time and effort (and not to mention the money) into, what they deem to be, an ‘old banger’. They simply cannot grasp the fun and enjoyment that can be gained from owning an old VW Bus. Similarly, I am sure you have all been told by these ‘normies’ that you could save a lot of money by hiring an old VW Van a couple of times a year. That way you can have all the fun and enjoyment without the bills that seem to destroy your bank balance in a few seconds flat!
Well someone recently imparted this wisdom to me and, as we are still currently without a van, I thought this might not be a bad idea. After all, this would give us a great chance to ‘try before we buy’ which would hopefully help us with our decision on which van to base our next VW project on. Likewise, we could also see if the rumours were true, is it possible to have all the fun and enjoyment of VW Camper Van Ownership without any of the hassle or balance breaking bills
So, a couple of weeks ago, we contacted O’Connors Campers, a VW Camper Van Hire Company in Okehampton to arrange our summer camping trip. O’Connors Campers have 15 Vintage VW Camper Vans available to hire for weekend, mid-week and week long holidays in Devon and Cornwall. We certainly had our pick of the best VW Camper Vans from Classic Bay Window Vans through to lowered Split Screens. Looking through the range of stunning VW’s available we opted for Uma, a 1972 Westfalia which was rescued from being used as a log store in 2005. The van had come out of the workshop in May 2010 with a brand spanking new spray job and a Westy style layout that we were thinking of incorporating in to our next Bay Window project… the perfect trial!
So the van was booked, we had uploaded all our info and requirements to the easy to use website and we were both raring to go! We loaded up the Mini with clothes, food and bedding (although bedding can be purchased from O’Connors to save you this hassle) and set the sat nav for Okehampton. Upon arriving at O’Connors headquarters we were met by Zoe and Sam who were both extremely helpful and explained everything we need to know. We were then shown around our home for the next four nights by Pete who clearly has not only a passion for retro Volkswagen Vans, but also a wealth of knowledge and experience in restoring them.
We were given as much time as we needed to transfer our gear from the car to the van and then a bike rack (which is inclusive of the price, as is a drive away awning and extra camping beds if required) was attached the rear. We threw our bikes on and we were ready to go! The camper was extremely well equipped, everything from a cafatiere to a tin opener! And that’s not mentioning the welcome pack including locally produced lemonade, flapjacks and satsumas. There couldn’t have been a better start to our trip.
Okehampton is such a great starting point for any Devon / Cornwall Holiday. With only a 45 minute drive to North Devon and being only 15 minutes from the Cornwall border, you really can get wherever you need to go with ease.
It had been a number of years since I had driven a Bay Window van so it took a lot of getting used to. I had always wondered why people spoke so highly of the way T25’s drove but after having spent the last 5 years in one and then going back to a Bay Window Van, I can totally see what they were talking about! In my T25, I could cruise quite happily at 70 - 75mph, but in the Bay the fillings started falling out of my teeth at 60mph! Then there was the gear box! Pete had laughingly explained to me that the diagram on the dash board showed where the gears were located 40 years ago. He then explained that they certainly were not located there now! However, an hour and a half in and I had gotten to grips with driving the van and we were approaching our first Stop for the night, Mother Ivey’s Bay near Padstow.
A friend had recommended this camp site and I must say, we were very impressed. By the time we got there the Reception had closed but a note on the door told us what electric pitches were still free with instructions to pitch up and pay in the morning. There was also a shop where we bought some home made pasties for dinner. We pitched up and then tried to connect the electric. Unfortunately, we had not realised that the electric box was a few pitches up and as such, the cable provided with the van would not reach. Never fear! After chatting to a nice older couple who had also just pulled up in their coach built motor home, they kindly offered to switch cables with us for the night as theirs was longer. Problem solved!
We then went for a wonder around the site and had a walk along the private beach which was stunning. Following this, a much deserved beer was opened as we sat outside the van (on the camping chairs provided by O’Connors) and discussed our thoughts on the van. We both agreed that it looked amazing, you really can not beat a recently re-sprayed VW van with shiny new paint. However, we had both been surprised at how accustomed to our T25 we had become. It really was a shock to the system and I could not believe that I had forgotten how different they were to drive.
After dinner and a few more beers we settled in for the night. The rock and roll bed was easy to make up and, thanks to the rechargeable lantern included (told you O’connors had though of everything!) we did not have to worry about draining the battery with the on board lights.
The next morning we headed into Padstow. The reason we had brought the bikes along was due to us wanting to ride the Camel Trail, a disused railway line that links Padstow to Bodmin (and further on the Wenfordbridge). Not wanting to tackle to amount of tourist traffic that seemed to be heading in to town, we parked up on the outskirts and rode the bikes in. From Padstow we took the very level Camel Trail (which starts at Padstow Cycle Hire) and rode the scenic route for 5 miles until we hit Wadebridge where we stopped for lunch and a look around some of the shops. We then headed back toward Padstow and had a wonder around the Harbour.
After a very steep climb back to the van, we buckled up and headed for St Ives. Over the last few years, we have visited St Ives Bay Holiday Park a number of times. We both love the location (only about 8 miles in to St Ives) and the setting. The park is situated in sand dunes with a long beach at the front which is excellent for surfing. The dunes are amazing and great to watch the sunset from.
We pitched up and cooked a simple pasta dinner on the hob and then headed down to the Sands Bar right on the sea front for a few drinks.
The next day we drove in to St Ives and visited the Tate Gallery following by Lunch on the Harbour. St Ives is a great little fishing town which has received a great deal of improvement over recent years. There are now plenty of nice bars and places to eat on the harbour front along with two great beaches (porthmeor and porthminster). I really would recommend it to anyone visiting Cornwall.
Back at the park we once again hooked up the electric and raised the pop-top roof before cycling around the park. After dinner we once again headed for the bar for a few drinks and more discussion on what van to get next before bed.
The park was fairly empty the following day so we asked at reception if we could leave the van on the pitch whilst we walked up and back the 3 mile beach. We then hopped in the van, filled up the tank and headed towards Tavistock. O’Connors suggest staying fairly close to Okehampton for the last night. This means not only do you not have to race the vans back on the last day but you also do not hold up the next persons holiday by bringing the vans back late. In the information pack which lives in the van there are some recommendations on good camp sites to stay at during your last night. We opted for Harford Bridge Holiday Park as it had some great pitches by the river and a discount for all O’Connors vans that pull up there. It’s therefore not hard to see why we spotted 3 other O’Connors Vans (one bay and two split screens) pitched up when we arrived.
The park itself has a great camping field down by the river with some excellent pitches dotted around the very green and peaceful surroundings. Sharing the field with us was also two T25’s and another Bay Window van. The camp facilities were also very well looked after with excellent toilet and shower facilities.
So we spent our last night in the van and then in the morning headed for the Garage to fill the tank up before taking Uma home. It seemed like a bit of a race between all us O’Connors vans that had stayed at Harford Bridge and we even met one again at the petrol station!
Returning the van was as equally painless as picking it up. We were told to bring the van inside the main building (where our Mini had been stored inside securely for the duration of our trip) and were then given ample time to transfer our gear back in to the car and put the bikes on the back. The VW bug had obviously struck with a lot of the other campers who were all queuing up to speak to Pete about the vans and what sort of things they should look out for when buying their own. O’Connors have a team of professional cleaners who then get the vans back in to shape ready for their next trip.
As all the team were very busy we said our thank you’s and headed for home (with a quick diversion to the Granite Cycle trail in Okehampton).
We had a great time camping in Uma, and would thoroughly recommend hiring a VW Camper Van from O’Connors Campers if your are either in between vans like us or thinking of getting in to the VW Van and Bus scene. It really will give you first hand experience of what it is like to own a vintage VW at a fraction of the costs. It is a true test to see if you are up to the costly hobby of owning a Volkswagen Van.
However, to answer my earlier question, I don’t think hiring a van will ever replace owning one for yourself. There is something about making a VW van your own, customising it’s look and layout to suit your needs and turning up to a VW event to show off all your hard work. I think if you are really in to Volkswagen Vans then you will always want one for yourself, but hiring one first is a very wise move!
Posted by Steve