The Walker family had much to celebrate last month when they picked up their shiny and new Vision 580 from Coachman's factory. The Walkers – Gary, Claire, Libby and Matthew – entered our fabulous competition last year, in which a top-spec Coachman VIP 460 worth £24,000 was up for grabs.
Now an end-washroom two-berth may not have been super-useful for a family of five (the Walker's other son, James, was unable to attend the collection due to having a prior engagement) but Coachman's managing director, Elliot Hibbs, was very understanding. He invited the family to choose another van, and the five-berth Vision 580 received the family's seal of approval.
This 7.4m-long tourer has a pair of fixed bunks in the nearside rear corner, opposite a spacious washroom. The third child's bed makes up from the offside midships dinette, which overlooks the kitchen. Up front, the parallel lounge converts into a double bed measuring 6ft 7in x 4ft 6in. The Vision 580's MTPLM is 1512kg, and its user payload of 164kg will definitely meet the needs of the Walker family on the road.
Dad Gary only entered the competition because their previous van had been rear-ended and written off. They were happy with its replacement, but winning a brand-new Coachman must have marked a remarkable change in fortune after the accident.
"After we had the smash in our van last summer, I saw the competition while flicking through Practical Caravan and decided to enter it," he recalls. "I don't normally bother with competitions, so when I got the phone call to say I'd won, I thought it was a hoax. It was a bit unbelievable, and it still is!"
"It all feels a bit surreal," agrees Claire, adding that the family has caravanned for four years, taking a mixture of short and long breaks both on their home island of Orkney, and further afield. The Vision 580 will be the Walker's third van, and as former tent campers, they're big fans of the caravanning experience.
"Caravans are great for family holidays," says Claire. "You can just pack up and go, park up next to the beach with the children and the dog. Our Golden Retriever loves the caravan. She knows when we're packing up – she's in and out of the caravan with us as we're loading it."
The Walkers are still considering future destinations to visit in their new van, but they enjoy touring in mid-Scotland, around Stirling and Ayrshire, and have also struck out further south, to England's Lake District and France.
"We're hoping to go abroad again in 2019, as last year was the first time we'd taken the children abroad. They really loved it, so we're hoping to do that again, next year. It'll be lovely, in our new caravan."
The children are raring to go, too. "They do get a bit excited on the first couple of nights wherever we are, and they don't really want to go to bed and sleep," says Claire. "It's all James' fault," says Libby, who likes to take the top bunk, and Matthew the bottom one, while James sleeps in the side dinette's single bed.
After a thorough handover from Coachman's technical staff, to familiarise themselves with the van's floorplan, systems and services, and a congratulatory handshake from Elliot Hibbs, the Walker family was ready for the long haul north to Orkney. Stage one: from Coachman's factory in Hull to the ferry at Thurso – some 532 miles. It should be a breeze in their new tow car, though.
"Yes, we've changed our car to a Ford Kuga," says Gary. "We did have a Vauxhall Zafira, but had to upgrade it for this caravan. We've got to send out the right impression!"
As experienced caravanners, the Walkers have already got quite a lot of kit, but they're hoping the awning from their last van fits their shiny new one. "I think it's the right size," grins Gary.
So did they know much about the caravan brand they're now proud owners of?
"I didn't, actually, it was a new name to me," Gary says. "My parents know more about Coachman than I did. I was politely told that they are the elite, the caravan of caravans – I don't think we'll have any problems!