On The Road: A truly knockout experience in a retro campervan on the Isle of Wight

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The Independent Travel

The kids are excited. Very excited. They've been trying to cajole me into buying an original VW campervan for months, so this seems like the perfect compromise. Let's hire one for a week and see if we like it. Correction: see if I like it.

And so we collect our 1970s Type II Westfalia with pop-up roof from the charming and laid-back Steve and Elaine, both wearing beatific smiles.

"Huck" looks the part. Steve gives me a quick tour of the vehicle, issues some vague advice about having to "search about a bit" for reverse gear, and then we're off.

Twenty minutes later I'm having to "search about" for reverse gear. To describe it as elusive would be something of an understatement. At the very least a compass and OS map would be required; maybe even a GPS and team of trained sniffer dogs, with enough emergency flares to alert a search party. From the back of the van comes a really helpful and well-timed suggestion: "Daddy, why don't you let Mummy drive?" A further 20 minutes and phone call to Steve later I've found it, and I don't want to lose it. Maybe we can drive backwards round the island, I suggest.

Recalcitrant gearbox aside, our main problem is the cramped living space. There's barely enough room to squeeze an anorexic kitten into the back of the van never mind swing the damned thing. My wife almost loses a kneecap on a wayward table support and I inadvertently drop the roof on my head. I vow never to lust after a 1970s Samba again. There's nothing cool or retro about lying in hospital with a fractured skull.

Two days later we're camped by the beach. The kids are playing by the water's edge and we're brewing up a cuppa as we sit on the sea wall. A passer-by throws Huck an admiring glance and looks at us enviously.

"I could get used to this," I say. My wife fires me a warning look: "Don't even think about it!"

Footprint's 'Britain with Kids' is available now (£14.99).