The ever-popular Eccles marks its centenary this year and the 2019 range has been expanded and revamped to celebrate. We take a look at the 4-berth 580.
This year marks the 100th birthday of the Eccles caravan, and to celebrate the centenary, Swift, the current owners of the brand, have expanded and redesigned the range for 2019.
The result is probably a far cry from the caravan that served as the backdrop for thousands of family holidays through the 1950s and 1960s, a tourer that was endorsed by celebrities at the time.
But in this issue, where we are also celebrating all things British, we thought it was only appropriate to look at how Eccles presents one of today's most popular layouts - with a transverse island bed and end-washroom - in its 580 model.
The van was kindly loaned to us by Tamar Towing & Caravans, in Plymouth, and we naturally took it for a spin through one of England's most popular holiday destinations, Cornwall.
Swift has indicated this season's Eccles models are something special - in an understated way. There is a silver roundel on the front nearside corner, marking the centenary of production.
Apart from that addition, on the outside, the Eccles looks very much like any other Swift caravan. Similar to Challenger and Elegance, it now has a black front panel stretching below the three front windows, and two chrome-effect grab handles with LED marker lights.
The sides are decorated with dark, understated decals. You only notice the pattern is clearly inspired by the trim on a sports car when you get up close.
You do get a window on the door, and a proper door handle. The sunroof is a new design this season, but the side profile is definitely old-style Swift - not too curved, like the Sprites, but not too box-like, either.
Two more chrome-effect grab handles grace the back, along with fittings for a Thule bike rack. You also get alloy wheels, but really, Swift has saved most of the innovative design this season for the interior.
The Eccles 580 is fitted with a standard galvanised Al-Ko chassis, with a Euro Axle. It also has shock absorbers and an AKS 3004 stabiliser. But unlike some caravans at this price level, it doesn't come with Al-Ko's ATC trailer control system.
That said, it was a fairly easy tow and certainly looks the part, with its sweeping black front panel and alloy wheels.
A little problem we had, when our sat nav sent us along one of those narrow Cornish roads that prove to be impossible, made us thankful that this van and its contents had not been presented to us on a twin axle.
We had to unhitch and turn the caravan around, a relatively simple job for four of us, with a grab handle each. But on a twin-axle van, this would have been, well - nigh impossible.
Pitching and setting up
The hook-up point is usefully located towards the centre of the caravan, and the toilet is in the offside far corner. So you don't have to worry about any nasty smells from the access hatch permeating your awning. That said, this caravan has an awning rail on both sides, so you can still choose which side you put yours up on.
Our model included the £625 Lux Pack, with external access hatches to the front underseat locker and the area below the island bed.
Sadly, both are partially obstructed - by the frame of the settee in the front and the spare wheel in the rear. So you might not be able to put large items of outdoor furniture in here. At least it is useful to have a spare wheel in the first place.
There is no waterproofing on the base of the front nearside locker, either, so it wouldn't really work as a wet locker.
With the Lux Pack, you also get an external barbecue point and mains socket.
The wood finish is darker than before, and this rather dramatic contrast with the beige of the upholstery and the light coming in through the windows, sunroof and roof light is enhanced, first by a darker strip of geometric patterns across the bottom of the backrests, then by the black-and-gold scatter cushions.
Together with the black diamond pattern splash back in the kitchen (which you get if you go for the Lux Pack), the effect is certainly different. We liked it, but it might not be everyone's taste.
The effect is still maintained at night-time by four spotlights, two LED lights in the housing between the roof light and the sunroof, and ambient lighting behind the lockers, which this season, can even be dimmed using Swift's new control panel over the door.
As for the settees themselves, they are comfortable, and the scatter cushions are nicely firm. But the seats aren't particularly long, and if you have to use the kitchen extension, you would probably not have more than five people squeezed in here.
It's also unlikely you'd get many more than that around the fold-away table, which is stored in one of the two wardrobes.
In the lounge, the central chest, with its single-drawer and drawer-within-a-drawer, can be removed, however, and wraparound seating is a dealer-fit option, to make everything a little more spacious.
Behind that chest, on the small sill, you will also find the row of sockets that now seems to be a Swift staple. On this 'van, you get one mains socket and two USBs - the rest are ghost sockets you could fill in later.
A radio module is included in one of the overhead lockers that links to the speakers.
The sideboard unit by the door has a very useful tipped cupboard inside.
There is a large mirror above this, along with light switches and all of the necessary sockets for a TV, should you wish to position one here.
This is actually the first of two TV connection points in the Eccles - the second is over the dresser in the bedroom.
The kitchen is well lit, not just by the window and the illuminated splash back around it, but also by a strip light in front of the overhead lockers and LED lights in front of them.
The lockers sit either side of a microwave, and are a useful size, even if one is taken up with crockery and mug racks.
There is a medium-sized pan locker under the separate oven and grill (the new Thetford K1520 with the cooling fan and safety cut-out feature for the dual-fuel four-burner hob). But apart from that, there is only a slim cutlery drawer between the worktop and the half-height 110-litre fridge, and two small baskets and a drawer for larger utensils between the oven and the fridge.
For dry food storage, you might also need to make use of space in the sideboard.
This also has two shelved cupboards, with plenty of room for any less sightly, but equally essential, cleaning equipment you might take with you.
The toilet on the offside, which you pass as you come in, is furnished with a toilet roll holder, and you also get a handy towel ring by the shower.
The shower cubicle itself, however, might be a little bit too compact for some, especially when you consider that this is an end-washroom layout. It is lit by a large LED light, and has some space for shampoos and so on. But there is no roof vent. In fact, the only roof vent in the whole of this washroom is next to the window by the door.
This should not be a problem if you are intending to use the caravan as a seasonal or near-seasonal tourer, into which you only invite the occasional guest. Many people who choose this layout are going for that option.
You get a generously sized wardrobe on the nearer side of the bed. This includes the housing for the TV aerial and the table, but also has a useful set of shelves for underwear and smaller items of clothing.
This is further complemented by two drawers that slide out from inside the small cupboard underneath the wardrobe.
On the far side of the bed, there is a narrower wardrobe above a smaller cupboard that is also shelved.
Alongside the TV sockets already mentioned, the dresser unit in the nearside front corner has a mirrored cupboard up top and a standard larger cupboard underneath, both with shelves.
The whole room is well lit, in the day-time by the roof light and large window, and at night by two spotlights and plenty of ambient light.
However, we still think this kind of layout benefits from having a large mirror on the otherwise blank rear partition wall, to enhance the sense of space inside. And the Eccles does not have that.
As with many transverse beds, this one can be rolled back to become a daybed. You might want to do this quite early in the day, because when it is fully extended, there really isn't a great deal of space to get to the washroom on the other side.
We suspect small children trying to sneak past sleeping parents during the night to use the toilet would almost certainly wake them up.
The front settees turn into beds that are only 5ft 1in long, so would only be for children. They do convert easily into a double, with slats that you pull out from under the central chest. The knee roll isn't too prominent, so if you really can't face turning over the base cushions, you probably don't have to.
Two large, unshelved overhead lockers and two corner lockers grace the top of the front lounge. We like the new single drawer with another drawer inside that Swift is now including on all of its front chests. This is easier to open and less likely to jam.
The sideboard area is useful, and includes a handy space near the door for keys and fobs.
We have already mentioned the obstructions to the external access to the otherwise clear areas under the island bed and the nearside settee. Much of the space below the offside settee is taken up with the electric controls. But you can at least lift up the slats easily.
The rear transverse island bed plus end-washroom is a very popular layout. Almost every UK manufacturer seems to do a version of it. At this length, there seems to be a significant choice, too, between whether you go for the added expense of Alde heating or stick with the blown-air system.
Alde heating as an option in the Eccles range seems to be quite fairly priced.
Many other models, including those that only have Truma, have ATC fitted as standard, which the Eccles lacks. But they don't all have two TV points, or a spare wheel.
The lighting inside the Eccles, combined with that exuberant décor, also make it a more exciting interior than most. Whatever way you look at it, though, the Eccles is going to be something of a Marmite caravan.
If you like that very dramatic interior, you will find yourself in possession of a really stylish vehicle. If you don't, you might think it simply too dark inside.
Visuals aside, we found that the Eccles 580 provided really comfortable living quarters, with a very effective lighting scheme and plenty of living space for everyone.
However, we would have liked slightly more room for kit and supplies in the kitchen, and for some of the larger storage areas to be a bit less obstructed.
- Light-filled interior thanks to large windows all round
- Power points that are ideally placed for kitchen gadgets
- Optional external access to storage areas
- No Al-Ko ATC trailer control system
- Partially obstructed locker space
- Limited preparation space in the kitchen