Paul Regan

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A sunny summer weekend meant our recently-arrived Mondeo was booked for its first tour, as Paul Regan hitched up our Swift Lifestyle 4 and headed south

Let’s get one thing straight from the off: I love my in-laws. Really, I do. And I’ve no objection to accepting their kind hospitality for an overnight stay each time we chew up the length of the M3 and M27 heading for Dorset.

Last weekend, though, we thought twice about the spare room. It had much to do with the bright sunshine dominating the three-day forecast – and once you turn off the motorway the remaining road separating us from the family pile is inside the cattle grids of the New Forest National Park.

It’s daft, really, but we never make the effort to stop in this crown jewel among England’s gardens, instead favouring to swear at it because the ‘holiday’ traffic it breeds every Sunday night makes London seem farther away than Melbourne. So to fix that we put in a phone call to Holmsley Campsite, in the south of the park and just a few miles from the Hampshire/Dorset border, to see if there was room for our Swift Lifestyle 4 Marquis dealer special. 

Our pitch afforded electric hook-up and positioned us perfectly in the morning shade of a line of trees. Holmsley makes use of a former WW2 airfield but is sprinkled with woodland, which means many a secluded spot – useful as Holmsley is a family site and some areas are alive with the chorus of children playing in the fresh air. Facilities are good, too, with a small site shop filled with cheery and helpful staff, and very well maintained washrooms and services.

Wildlife almost outnumbers the kids here. The horses ‘shading’ at the entrance to the park make for a mildly nervy drive past with the full rig hooked up, but it does remind you why the New Forest is so at-one-with-nature special. I was nibbling particularly hard on my nails because our Ford Mondeo tow car was brand new to the Practical Caravan fleet, and until our departure on Friday hadn’t so much as a mark on its tow ball and very few miles under its tyres.

Those straight motorways and the compact size of our Swift hardly conspired to make our trip a challenging test for the Ford (in fact I had to remind myself I was still towing at times) but early impressions were good. And an automatic retractable tow bar and well-positioned rear camera make light work of the hitching chores.

With feet down at Holmsley we were reminded why we decided the Swift might be about the best couple’s caravan we’ve tried – the sleeping area at the rear, with its fixed bed, little dressing area and bathroom, needs no setting up when you arrive on site, while the lounge space is perfect for a relaxing evening in. Storage is good too, the wardrobe big enough for a weekend’s clothing supplies on its own. We enjoyed our time in it at Glastonbury, but last weekend underlined what a super van it is.

And with our little home-from-home set up in the forest, we could make our short commute to get in some quality family time, but still enjoy long walks in the countryside, short panic-filled pursuits by ponies and open-air cooking in the warm New Forest evening light. Like I said, nothing against staying at the in-laws at all, but with a caravan it feels like a holiday – and that, at least, made some sense of the 35-minute queue we faced trying to get back to the M3...

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