When you holiday in Scotland you may not want to stay in the same place all the time. But renting a car and stopping in a different hotel or B&B every night is expensive and involves tedious and time-wasting packing and unpacking. What you need is a accommodation you can take with you!
A caravan might be best if you intend on driving to a destination campsite and making lots of little trips from the one spot. However, if you intend on touring the country from place to place, then you should consider a motorhome or campervan. There’s a wide range of holiday-homes-on-wheels available for hire, so here’s our beginners’ guide to what to expect when renting a motorhome.
Campervan or motorhome?
The first thing to ask is what type of vehicle you need. The biggest deciding factor is the size of your party: if there are six of you, a campervan will be a bit of a squeeze. The classic VW bus only sleeps two comfortably, unless the others are very small. Taking a tent might solve the problem but it’s not much fun if the weather is inclement. Most motorhomes sleep six people comfortably and provide plenty of daytime living space if the outside world is uninviting.
All campervans and motorhomes have cooking facilities. These tend to increase in range with the size of the van: a small camper will usually have two gas rings, while a large motorhome may have four rings, a grill and even an oven. There’s usually a fridge that can be switched to run on either gas or the battery; the battery is topped up by the engine while you’re driving or by the campsite electric hook-up.
Most smaller ‘vans use Calor gas cylinders which have to be replaced at certified dealers; larger ones may have cylinders but many of them, including ours, have bottles which can be filled from the LPG pumps at petrol stations.
Not all campervans, even modern ones, provide washing facilities, and while there’s usually a portable toilet, there’s no privacy to use it in the van. That’s fine if you’re going to be using campsites with full facilities, but if you’re planning on wild camping (which is widely accepted in Scotland, though not legal in England or Wales) it’s less comfortable. Motorhomes usually have full bathroom facilities, so you can use them anywhere, in any weather.
So your choice of campervan or motorhome really comes down to the size of your party and how civilised you want the facilities to be. If there are two of you and you want to explore mountain tracks, a campervan will probably suit you best. If you’re a family of six and you like your creature comforts, choose a motorhome.
What are motorhomes like to drive?
Some people worry that driving a big campervan will be hard work or difficult but modern motorhomes make it easy, with powerful engines, six-speed gearboxes, power steering, excellent brakes and rear-view cameras for safe reversing. Campervans, being smaller, are easier to drive on narrow winding roads or in town but even big motorhomes can go wherever a truck can, so don’t be put off. Once you get used to their size they are no harder to drive than a car. Having said that, it’s a good idea to take it easy and make your first journey short if you’re not accustomed to driving anything so big.
Anyone with a full UK licence can drive a motorhome up to 3.5 tonnes; if you passed your test before 1997 and are under 70, you can drive any ‘van up to 7.5 tonnes under the C1 category of your licence. If you do not hold a UK driving licence, check how large a vehicle you may drive before booking. If you want more than one person to be able to drive, you both have to be qualified and also mentioned on the insurance document.
It’s sensible to find out whether any speed restrictions apply to the size of vehicle you’re hiring, as you may have to go more slowly than the normal speed limit for cars. If that’s the case it’s good practice, on single-carriageways, to pull over to the side wherever it’s safe and let other cars pass you.
Other motorhome hire tips you might not have thought of
Many campervans and motorhomes come with an awning to protect you from the weather when you’re sitting outside. Some awnings wind out, some need to be fed through a channel around the side of the ‘van and others are free-standing. The ones on our motorhomes wind out, so they are quick and easy to erect and put away, and there’s exterior lighting so you won’t have to eat in the dark.
Scottish midges (biting insects) can be a real pain at certain times of day in the warmer months, so make sure your hired van has good screens on the doors and windows, otherwise you’ll have to live with everything closed. Blinds are a good idea, too, to give you privacy on campsites; at mid-summer, when the sun goes down at 11 pm and rises at 2 am, you’ll probably also need them to get a good night’s sleep. (Yes, our vans have both screens and blinds!)
Scotland’s weather can be unpredictable, and you may find you want heating even in summer. All our motorhomes are equipped with dual-fuel central heating to keep you cosy, and there’s a TV and DVD player to help keep the kids amused if the weather’s bad. There’s also a radio in the cab with both ipod and USB connection ports, so you can have music wherever you go.
Motorhomes are quite high off the ground, so if you’re travelling with small children make sure they can get in and out by themselves. Some campervans have a separate step, but it’s easy to forget when you move off in the morning. Our motorhomes have an automatic electric step to make life easier both for little legs and for the person doing the packing up.
Scraped knees and cut fingers can happen even on holiday, so make sure there’s a first-aid kit on board. It’s also sensible to check there’s a fire extinguisher and a gas alarm when you have gas appliances. We include all that in our rental motorhomes, plus extra fluid for the toilet, cleaning materials, and a water hose and electricity hook-up cable, both 25 metres long, for use in campsites.
Hopefully this guide to motorhome hire has answered your questions about what sort of vehicle you need and what facilities to look out for, to help you plan your next holiday in Scotland. Part 2 will cover life on the road with your motorhome. If you have any queries we haven’t considered here, just phone or email us and we’ll be delighted to answer them for you.