Swift decision which made me an overnight convert
Henry Wild, director of Skelwith Fold Caravan Park in Ambleside, Cumbria, discovers the world of luxury motorhome living in a Swift Kon-tiki – and says he now knows just how his customers feel…
The obvious choice would have been the Discovery. We had a whole stack of miles in front of us, from tiny upland roads in the Lake District to twisting leafy lanes in Dorset. And in between, the endless mind-numbing tarmac of the M6 and M5. The Discovery is always up for these type of challenges, and I knew it would keep us both sane, comfortable and stress-free throughout.
The grown-ups on the journey were to be me and my wife Hannah, accompanied by baby William. The mission was to proudly present our first-born to some of Hannah’s West Country relations, pausing to visit some of my colleagues’ holiday parks en-route.
But with the departure for our seven-day odyssey just days away, I was suddenly struck with an idea which bordered on the brilliant. You see, a few months earlier at Skelwith Fold our vehicle fleet had been joined by a new motorhome – and it was a real stunner. And that wasn’t just my opinion: it had proved a crowd-puller from the moment it arrived on the park.
This head-turner was a spanking new 2014 Swift Kon-tiki, plucked from the top of the range and known as the “Black Edition”. Hardly any guests passed it by without taking a few admiring turns around its striking exterior, and our staff had become quite accustomed to holidaymakers wondering if they could take a quick peek inside. And they always left with a big, big smile on their faces.
Well, I decided, the park would just have to say goodbye to one of its star attractions for a week. This beauty was coming with me, Hannah, and William on our Southern sojourn, and I was suddenly getting rather more excited about the trip than I’d imagined possible.
Let me explain why. Fact is, there are not many modes of transport left for me to experience. My HGV licence has seen me behind the wheels of some of the biggest brutes to set foot on our roads; I’ve piloted helicopters all around the country; I’ve taken the wheel of power boats, towed caravans big and small, and operated a lot of often quite scary plant.
But I had never seriously driven a motorhome. So as we set out that fine August morning, I was looking forward to finally being able to engage on the subject with Skelwith Fold’s guests. I would at last be able to look them in the eye, and say “Ah, yes – you can’t help feeling sorry for those who haven’t yet discovered the joys of mororhome life, can you?”
In fact, the first joy came after just five minutes. Here we were, bowling along an itsy-bitsy single track Lakeland road, climbing, dropping, bending, and enjoying the elevated views from our cab, when I was suddenly struck with the realisation that I’d completely forgotten what I was driving.
Yes, I was in command of five tonnes of solid motorhome which measured 28 feet from prow to stern, and which – with its gorgeous black cab and sleek lines – might be mistaken for an oligarch’s super-yacht cruising through Cumbria. Yet it was handling like a frisky little Italian job (well, the base is courtesy of Fiat), and was as eager to please as, dare I say it, a Discovery.
I was enjoying this. A lot. And just then, a Volvo came hurtling round the corner, and we stopped almost bumper-to-bumper. I looked as pleadingly as I could, but there was no way that she was going to back down, and so into reverse I went.
That’s when the second joy of the day announced itself. Backward navigation simply isn’t a problem with the Kon-tiki’s superb rear vision, and the single-axle chassis allows for surprisingly tight manoeuvring. Add to these pleasures a steering wheel you can spin with a finger, and it became obvious that this motorhome was having no truck with reversing or parking issues.
But now it was all forward motion as we joined the M6 and headed south for what I knew would be, for me, one of the Kon-tiki’s biggest tests. Could this beast really pull it off by keeping my adrenalin levels as low as the Discovery does? Would it have the power to overtake when I wanted it to, or would I be stuck mostly in the first lane with Eddie Stobart’s finest?
Just as crucially, would I be constantly shifting around to find a comfortable driving position? And would I be talking to Hannah in a normal voice, or going red in the face trying to make myself heard above the tyre and engine noise?
Believe me, these things make all the difference between arriving at the other end as sprightly as a young pup, or falling from the cab spitting blood and vowing vengeance on the world.
I needn’t have worried. The Kon-tiki’s 3-litre engine is a very lively performer, and often just dropping down a gear provides all the grunt you need to quickly put the upcoming Argos delivery truck in the rear view mirror. Noise levels? Well, I don’t know how Swift have done it, but the Kon-tiki just purrs along even at speed, leaving you feeling blissfully insulated from everything outside.
As for the comfort of the seating and the driving position, I was seriously impressed. There’s plenty of adjustment to allow you to angle all your body bits just so, and the ergonomically shaped seat achieved the perfect combination of support and armchair-style cossetting.
It was only after a few hours when we stopped to re-fuel with Costa that I realised how easy – I might even say enjoyable – this journey was turning out to be. And while the Discovery could offer only passenger seats and crisp packets in the rear, my Kon-tiki was doing it all in style with a kitchen, bedroom, shower, dining area and toilet in its hind quarters.
My conviction that this motorhome really was a class act was reinforced as we left the motorway, and began the tour proper. Through picture-postcard West Country villages, along the Dorset and Devon coast, and via B-roads the width of our holiday park’s brochure, the Kon-tiki just kept gobbling up the miles with no effort required from either of us.
Swift’s determination to make motorhome living as easy as possible was also evident each evening when we reached our holiday park destination. As soon as we drove onto our pitch, the Kon-tike turned from a means of transport to a luxury apartment, and within minutes we’d be sitting back in the plush seating with a mug of tea in our hands.
It’s only at times like this when you look around and appreciate just how spacious the Kon-tiki is, despite having all the essential components and conveniences of a full-size holiday home. Swift has always been lauded for its inspired and imaginative approach to design, and here that expertise is in full evidence throughout.
There’s not a wasted square centimetre of space, with everything fitted stylishly together to create a highly sophisticated living environment geared to the comfort and convenience of its occupiers.
The Kon-tiki also ensures that, almost regardless of how much paraphernalia you bring, you’ll not be living amongst your own clutter. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to fill all the storage areas provided; they managed to swallow not just our normal luggage, but also the vast amount of feeding, sleeping, clothing and poo-ing equipment that babies seem to generate.
And even with William’s travel cot erected, Hannah and I could ebb and flow around the Kon-tiki without feeling we were negotiating an obstacle course.
As a park owner, I know that our touring guests are a very sociable lot. Quite often I’ll stroll around the grounds and see families, who hadn’t met each other until five minutes ago, chatting away like old chums – and most likely agreeing to share a cuppa, or something stronger, after they’ve got settled in.
I always wondered if I’d be gregarious enough to start a conversation in that situation, but as I quickly discovered, there’s actually no need if you happen to have a Kon-tiki with you. On every park we visited, I could almost guarantee to see a fellow-traveller stroll across – usually wearing a big grin – as soon as I stepped down from the cab.
The visitors generally fell into two camps. The first were touring caravan and motorhome owners who clearly recognised that something rather special had just drawn up, and wanted to satisfy their curiosity. I was delighted to indulge them with a look inside, and to swing open doors, cupboards and hatches to reveal all the motorhome’s inner secrets.
The other camp were touring guests who apparently read their motorhome magazines very carefully, and were pleased to be able to chalk up a sighting of a marque much admired by reviewers. “Ah, now… is that the 625 model with the fixed island bed and Euro Five-plus turbo engine?” was the type of greeting I had got well used to by the end of the tour.
Yup: the Kon-tiki is certainly a conversation starter. And to honest, I actually learned a lot from many of these civilian experts. Who would have guessed, for example, that the mega-comfortable mattress on our bed was first seen on Dragon’s Den and is now backed by Hilary Devey? I could even give you a lecture about its lightweight hypoallergenic memory fibre technology.
But what I did find out for myself is that this motorhome really is a lesson in luxury, convenience, and effortless living from start to finish. Whether you’re cooking, showering, re-charging the water supply, emptying the tanks, replacing gas bottles, or just getting ready for bed, the Kon-tiki makes it all so easy thanks to a superbly engineered design concept.
And it’s this faff-free approach to leisure living that makes the Kon-tiki such a wonderful travelling companion. Fancy a barbecue? It just plugs in to an exterior gas point. Sun a bit too bright? The full-length recessed awning can be unwound in seconds. Nice long hot shower before bed? The system cleverly injects air into the water stream providing a powerful jet which uses less water.
As we settled down for our final night in the Kon-tiki, Hannah and I agreed that Swift had made the motorhome lifestyle not just practical, but also enormous fun. In addition, the experience had shown me how it’s possible to enjoy that great feeling of independence which a motorhome brings, without having to sacrifice a single scintilla of comfort.
The Kon-tiki has now resumed its pride of place in the Skelwith Fold fleet, and continues to attract visitors like a magnet. But there’s just one difference. Because now, if a customer asks a member of staff if they can take a look inside, they are usually told: “Hold it for a second, and I’ll just check if Henry is in. He’ll be happy to tell you all about it!”
* For more information about the Kon-tiki and other motorhome models from Swift, see their website at www.swiftgroup.co.uk. To learn more about Skelwith Fold caravan park and its touring facilities, visit www.skelwith.com