Hired an Autosleeper Duetto
Our last camping trip to Balloch O ‘Dee had been the catalyst which helped us decide that a campervan would be our future. We just had the small matter of working out which one would be best for us.
A few years back, we had hired a VW camper from Rockin Vans and spent an overnight in Galloway Forrest, Dumfries and Galloway. We loved the experience of wild camping under a Sky that is designated by the International Dark-Sky Association as only the fourth Dark Sky Park in the world. Driving around until we found that perfect spot and knowing that we didn’t have to set up a tent, as everything we needed was in the van, helped make our overnight a chilled experience. The problem was, we didn’t like our van. It was too restrictive, it felt cramped and the bed was too small. So, it was back to camping and over the years we fine-tuned our tent expertise and continued to increasingly love camping. Gradually, our thoughts once again turned to a campervan and then in September 2018, after a freezing cold night, we decided to do some research.
What follows is a summary of our research and personal observations.
From our perspective, there are 4 sizes of van that can be categorized:–
Size 1 – The VW camper type with or without a raised roof. Other vans in this size category include a Mazda Bongo Friendee/Ford Freda, Vauxhall Vivaro/Renault Trafic or a Toyota Alphard.
Each has some differences but there is also a common theme. The interior is usually a side conversion, meaning a small bed created from slider seating (rock and roll) and squeezed between the ‘kitchen’ units and one side of the van. There is no toilet, although some do have a portable toilet that can be accessed with clever privacy screening and some have a shower that is used when set up for external use. All very clever but, in our opinion, limited.
Size 2 – Would include a converted Ford transit with a high roof, more internal space but still small enough to park in a supermarket parking space. Vans in this category include an Autosleeper Duetto, Symbol or Ducato, not forgetting the Trigano Tribute. All are under 5.5m long but the extra space gives you an internal shower and toilet. Large bed. Plenty of headroom. More storage space, Large fridge, Large cooker/oven and a good-sized sink. Freshwater, flushing toilet and all within a vehicle that can be driven like a small van.
Size 3 – We are now in a size category that can create internal layouts in a variety of ways. Typically, over 5.5m – 6.5m long, these vans are starting to resemble their larger motorhome cousins but can still look similar to those in Size 2. More thought is required for parking, going on ferry’s or taking side roads but to be honest these differences are negligible. The cost of buying one can be much higher than a Size 2 van. Vans in this category include a Sprinter Campervan, Autotrail Cheyenne or Warwick XL. Some have fixed beds, space set aside for bikes, more cupboard space and opportunities to reconfigure seating and eating layouts.
Size 4 – Upwards of 7.5m long and bigger. The configuration of these vans is only limited by budget and imagination. Their size dictates where they can go, or even which country is best suited. We are now firmly in the Motorhome category.
Each of the sizes above has owners with individual preferences, needs and budgets. As time goes by, these owners may opt for a bigger or smaller vehicle. Their circumstances or preferences may have changed but their love of mobile adventures will still be as strong.
So, what was our choice?
Well as soon as we returned from Balloch O ‘Dee, we were straight into our research. This took on a few stages –
Self-analysis –What type of camper best fits our personalities? Why do we need a large bed? What was wrong with the VW Camper all those years ago?
Van size – Which is practical? What can we fit in our drive? What can we afford?
It became clear that a Size 2 camper was right for us and in particular an Autosleeper Duetto or Symbol.
Then, as luck would have it, in late October 2018, Aileen discovered a Campervan company that hired Autosleeper Duetto’s. The company was called Cookie Camperz and was based in Dunoon, Scotland. (Please note this company no longer hire campervans but now concentrate on conversions and renovations but were still hiring when we contacted them.) So, not too far away from our home town of Glasgow. We arranged to pick up Kaz the Duetto and spend a couple of days travelling around this beautiful part of Scotland. Hopefully, this trip would help us to decide if a Duetto or even a campervan was right for us.
Cookie Camperz is owned and run by a couple who clearly love campervans. Their fledgeling company already had a portfolio of several campervans and motorhomes but their soft spot was Kaz, an old Autosleeper Duetto. Kas still had plenty of life in her and had been well maintained. We listened intently to all the instructions and advice, presented in a friendly and helpful manner. They had also included an information pack, which was very detailed and created in a style that helped our first trip in a Duetto feel less daunting. This friendly support allowed us to drive off feeling relaxed and excited about our road trip in Kaz.
We decided to try two different approaches to campervanning. The first was basically no planning. Let’s just see where we end up. The second was a pre-booked stay at a campsite, allowing us to empty all the waste before heading back to drop Kaz off.
So off we set. Leaving Dunoon, we decided to stay within the Cowal peninsula for the first night. A beautiful and sparsely populated part of Scotland, flanked by Loch Fyne to the west and the Firth of Clyde to the east. With forests and hills in between, this part of the world looked perfect for a spot of wild camping and this might be the case but as the day was young and we wanted to explore further afield, we continued to drive. We were soon following single track B roads which helped to create an adventurous atmosphere as we trundled along in our campervan. We both had smiles on our faces and knew that we had to get our own campervan. Subject to all going well on this trip!
Our carefree meandering took us westerly across the Cowal peninsula and we eventually reached the shore of Loch Fyne via the B8000. Time was now getting on and the decision was made to find that perfect Lochside spot with the stunning views. To find this spot, we decided to let fate take its course and just keep driving. We would know the spot when we found it. This felt exciting and panicky at the same time.
Kaz wasn’t the quickest campervan and she hated hills but this had helped us slow down and enjoy the journey. Now, though, our journey had become more focused on the deadline of trying to find that perfect spot before darkness. It was late October, cold and forecast to be freezing overnight. The balance between excitement and panicky was starting to tip towards panicky.
The B800 became as narrow as a single-track road could be but with regular passing places. There were also quite a few tight uphill corners, which Kaz would gamely take on but these corners were taking us away from the Loch, passing smallholdings and forest gates but no Lochside views to stop at. Time was getting on and our anxiety started to change our expectations. ‘What about here?’ was becoming more frequent but stubbornness and our default optimistic setting pushed us on.
Soon, we were Lochside again and just as we were about to give up hope of finding anything, the B8000 rounded a right-hand corner then a slight left and we were a met with a sight that will forever stay with us. Perfectly situated on a jutted out small peninsula from the shoreline was the stunning ruins of a castle, which we later discovered was Old Castle Lachlan, Old Castle Lachlan, also known as Castle Lachlan, is a ruined 15th-century castle on the shore of Loch Fyne, within the Cowal Peninsula, in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It was probably built by Clan Maclachlan on lands first recorded in 1314 as “Castlelachlan”. Nothing remains of this fourteenth-century castle. Wikipedia . All we could hope for was a spot to park up.
As luck would have it there was a good-sized parking space on the left-hand side, which turned out to be owned by the nearby Inver Restaurant & Rooms. We drove in and found a nice spot to park up, with a view of the castle. We decided to grab a coffee in the restaurant and ask if we could park up for the night. Unfortunately, we were informed that we could only stay if we had a meal in the restaurant, which wasn’t in our plans as we were looking forward to getting the full campervan experience of cooking our own meal.
We had no choice but to move on to who knows where and to who knows what rubbish final stop. Back in the van and back on the B8000. At least for another 50 metres before our glum faces changed to smiles of delight as tucked away just off the road to our left and Lochside was a small car park. It was empty and secluded enough to give us that special place with an amazing view of Old Castle Lachlan. It soon became apparent that this was the visitor car park for the castle and there was a sign which stated no overnight parking but it was late, it was October and a freezing night was on the way. We were going no further.
Over the next couple of days, we tried to learn as much as possible about Kaz and found the information pack to be invaluable. As already stated, we were thinking about buying a Duetto so had some questions we needed to be answered to see if it was still for us.
Was the bed big enough, how comfortable is it and is it easy to set up? – The bed is as wide as the van and just over 6-foot-long, so comparable with a king size. Yes, it is big enough. It was very comfortable and flat. Setting up took some time but that was just due to inexperience and isn’t difficult.
How is the head height? We are both about 5’ 10 / 11 depending on what shoes you have on and there is plenty of room above us.
How does it drive? Kaz was an old van and not the quickest but she was so easy to drive. It didn’t feel like you were driving a large vehicle and parking wasn’t an issue either.
What about the quality of the interior? Duetto’s are built by Autosleeper. A company with a long history of campervan conversions and renowned for quality. Considering how old Kas was, the interior was still in good shape and everything was still working.
Did it feel better or just the same as the VW camper we had tried before? For us, it was much better. Less crammed, a better bed and a clever layout.
Kaz’s charms had worked. We were now sure that we wanted a campervan and it had to be a Duetto.
Here are some highlights of our trip: –
- Old Castle Lachlan. As mention above, this turned out to be a great stop. The route from the car park, where we stayed overnight, has been upgraded with boardwalks. Making the journey across some marshland a lot easier. Yes, the castle is a ruin but it is a majestic ruin with a stunning Lochside backdrop.
- We rejoined the B8000 for a short stretch before merging with the A886, which continues to hug the edge of Loch Fyne. We continued along the East shore until we reached the A83, which loops around the top of Loch Fyne and then follows the West shore. We finally reached Inveraray, Aileen favourite spot to stop for a coffee. We avoid the tourist expensive coffee and head for the Co-op. Lots of free parking and a Costa! Inveraray has a lot to see for such a small place. We would recommend a visit to Inveraray Jail – a 19th-century prison and courthouse. In use as a prison from 1820 to 1889, the building is now a living museum. Inveraray Bell Tower and climb the 176 steps to the top for amazing views. Don’t miss Inveraray Castle, you can spot it as you cross the bridge over the River Aray. It is one of the earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. It has been the seat of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell, since the 18th century. Wikipedia
- Kaz never missed a beat as we continued our road trip. Leaving Inveraray, via the A83, we followed Loch Fyne’s west shore until we reached the A816. Our next overnight was pre-booked. So, no need to worry about finding that perfect spot, we just hoped that our pre-booked campsite would be ok.
- Leachive Caravan Park and campsite is situated in the small fishing village of Tayvallich. The village is built around a picturesque natural harbour on the shore of Loch Sween. Tayvallich is blessed with spectacular scenery and a vibrant community. We were lucky to find a campsite that was still open, this late in the season and that had been our initial reason for heading to Leachive campsite. As it turned out, it was a good decision. The campsite was empty but the facilities were all open and the owner was a friendly gentleman who went out his way to help us. When we had informed him that Kaz’s heating wasn’t great, he took it upon himself to go and find a heater for us, as the temperature was meant to drop again that night. The heater was a long cylindrical type that looked more like a fluorescent lamp than a heater. Oh well, we might be waking up in the morning with a nice tan!
- The tranquillity of Tayvallich is something that you look for on road trips and as this was our first road trip in a Duetto, our potential future mode of transport, it made it all the more special.
Our journey from camping to campervan was nearing an end. We were now determined to find that perfect Duetto and start a new chapter – we just had to find her first and that turned out to be a journey in itself.