Sean O'Grady: Camper vans - All the home comforts, not too bad to drive

I never knew you could plug a camper van into the mains. Did you? The revelation came to me in the Carlyon Bay Caravan and Camping Park, Cornwall. All I had done on taking delivery of our test vehicle, a new Volkswagen California camper van, was hop in it and drive down there, slightly dreading the idea of living in the thing.

One assumption was that the only way to keep warm when resting in a vehicle is to leave the engine running and turn the heater on. Given the unacceptable cost and waste of fuel involved, as well as due deference to the planet, I was prepared for a chilly few nights as I enjoyed the fag end of "summer". But no such privations were endured.

Campsites these days – apologies to those of you who are weatherbeaten regulars – have these little posts in the ground and you plug your camper into one. Then, using a continental to UK mains adaptor, I found I could plug in a portable DVD player, and watch the original Saw movie in the middle of a field. Not good for the nerves.

The second revelation was that this beautifully crafted VW has an auxiliary heater system that just uses a little diesel to keep the van warm – and leaves the engine off. It is effective. While it is keeping the van warm, a similar secondary motor is keeping the mini-fridge cool. The kitchen, such as it is, consists of the fridge lid (worktop), a twin gas hob plus a little sink, with the water pumped up from an on-board tank.

Your California also has two double beds, one constructed from the rear bench seat plus a sort of ledge in the boot and the other in the pop-up tent in the roof. This, I hasten to add, is electrically driven, so no mucking about with spanners in the middle of the night.

The third revelation was less of a shock. The VW California isn't too bad to drive. An awful lot better than Jamie Oliver's classic 1961 VW "Samba" camper I had a go in a few months back, at any rate. I kind of suspected it because I knew the California was based on the VW Transporter, which, like most vans, is designed to help its driver to spend lots of time in its cabin. Thus, the seats were excellent.

However, it is still a van. That means that you will not get, even for your £38,000 outlay, steering wheel controls for the stereo, or decent handling, and it is a bit too big to park easily. Obviously, it's able to keep up, but unless you use the slightly incongruous "S" setting on the auto gearbox, you are going to be holding up the rest of the traffic, in true Emmet style.

Emmet, in case you didn't know, is the derogatory Cornish term for an idiot tourist – like me. Maybe, but at least I didn't fall for that bogus website promoting Porthemmet, "a palm-fringed Cornish beach where topless sunbathing is encouraged". Carlyon Bay and St Ives were scarcely less lovely than that elegiac-sounding hoax. Dha weles!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?