Glamping with wheels... it's the ultimate in luxury
The Airstream International 684 is so sumptuous that it promises to coax ardent urbanites into the great outdoors.
Camping and caravan holidays are still a favourite choice for many and for families who love the great outdoors they have been providing cheap and accessible accommodation for decades. But the attraction is lost on me. It's probably fair to say I hate camping; my idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel without room service.
I go on holidays to get away from the world, not to use communal toilet blocks, cook on a stove or be tormented by a colony of biting or stinging insects.
Many years ago, a week spent on a sweltering Greek camp site cured me of any desire to sleep out under the stars and these days I regularly enjoy the splendour of the natural world in much more cosseted surroundings.
So when an invitation popped into my inbox to try out a new 'camper van' in the Lake District, my first reaction was one of horror.
But that was before I saw the Airstream 664 international, all resplendent in luxury with those silver curves and sumptuous interior, undermining those resolutions made all those years ago to never voluntarily rough it again.
Who knew camping could be this cool? It was news to me that Airstream has been making lavish campers with iconic styling for decades.
My two young sons were captivated by the thoughts of living in the great outdoors and their pester power crumbled any residual resistance. I just had to convince my other half, who was still traumatised by the Greece experience.
Some weeks and much persuasion later, in mid-autumn we were zipping up the M6 toward Penrith in the new Range Rover Sport to our campsite overlooking Lake Ullswater.
On first sight, against the backdrop of a rugged Cumbrian sun-set, the Airstream was a truly breathtaking object of beauty, its shimmering exterior and curved structure evoking a dream of the open road where you could be at one with nature but enjoy all the comforts in an elegant, if expensive, package.
Inside, it is beautiful and the very epitome of laid-back chic with two TV screens and satellite TV, a full-size double bed and a conventional oven. As well as a spacious fridge freezer, the Airstream is also equipped with a kitchen sink with corian worktops, a leather upholstered seating area and more than enough storage.
Our chemical toilet was tucked away inside a tiny but perfectly formed bathroom with a powerful shower, but even more importantly for a cool autumn night, the effective central heating was enhanced by excellent thermal insulation.
It is designed to sleep four, so my two boys had a wonderful night's sleep on the double bed. We, however, pulled the short straw and had to make up the sofa bed. Overall, it was adequate but by the third night the level of discomfort experienced did chip away at the glamping illusion.
We spent a wonderful couple of days driving through the heart of the Lake District, the Range Rover Sport proving the ideal choice of car on the windy climbs past Windermere and then west towards the infamous Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, to Muncaster Castle, the ancient seat of the Pennington Family since 1282. There we met the engaging Lord Pennington, who runs a large rare-bird sanctuary. My seven-year-old, Paul, was particular enamoured with a Grey Owl called 'Ashe' but it was a pair of vultures that the staff were keen to promote as greatly misunderstood creatures that won the heart of my youngest, Jamie.
Our Range Rover Sport was put to the test on more than one occasion over the few days but no more so than on the Hardknot to Wrynose Pass. The route, described as the most challenging road in the UK, is a very narrow and twisting road and at some points has a severe gradient of 30pc, but it is worth driving if only to see the what remains of the Roman walls and the fort built by Emperor Hadrian to defend against the Scots.
The Airstream is an amazing vehicle; in gleaming aluminium, it is a dazzling object of iconic beauty with great charm, character and luxury. Equally dazzling is its price tag, starting at €85,000.
While I thoroughly enjoyed our Lake District adventure, I still remain convinced that the definition of the "ideal break" is a soothing bath, room to stretch out and a comfortable bed.
For further information on an Airstream: Contact Adventure Leisure Vehicles at http://www.adventurelv.com
We drove a Range Rover Sport Autobio graphy Dynamic kindly provided by Land Rover UK.
The Quiet Site (www.thequietsite.co.uk) in the Lake District.
Things you may not know about the Iconic American Airstream
• In 1955, the United States military used an Airstream in atomic bomb testing in the Nevada desert.
• President John F. Kennedy had a mobile Airstream office which he used during a visit to White Sands, New Mexico, where the Army demonstrated its latest weaponry for the president and his staff.
• In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson's daughter Lynda Bird toured America in a convoy of Airstreams to help publicise the nation's beauty in the "See America First" campaign. Both National Geographic and McCall's magazine covered the tour.
• In 1969, Neil Armstrong and members of the Apollo 11 were quarantined for three weeks in a specially built Airstream after returning from the first voyage to the moon, until it could be determined that there was little likelihood that they were carriers of "lunar pathogens". President Richard Nixon visited them while they were quarantined.
• Several specially built Airstream trailers are commonly used to transport American officials around the world. The trailers are strapped down inside a military cargo plane, usually a C-17 Globemaster III. Vice-presidents, First Ladies, generals and admirals are among the more frequent travellers.
• When flying across Afghanistan in 2008 to visit the troops, First Lady Laura Bush was cocooned in her own private Airstream trailer, which had been towed on board The Spirit of Strom Thurmond. Vice-presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden have also occupied it.
• For decades, NASA has used a fleet of Airstreams to transport astronauts to launch pads.
• Ralph Lauren created the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation to benefit medically underserved persons. In 2002, he and his creative team transformed and auctioned off four vintage Airstreams in to benefit the foundation. Airstreams that Ralph Lauren decorated include: Adirondack Caravel, Western Bambi and the Utility/Surplus Airstream.
• A 1960 Airstream Bambi travel trailer is part of the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) for excellence in style and design.
• Architect Paul Welschmeyer bought a 1958 "Traveller" and completely revamped the inside in hopes of creating a dual-purpose mobile office and family vacation home.
With the help of his wife and two sons, Paul received the Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for his design (beating out lavish $8m homes) and is the proud owner of a truly unique work of art.
• In 2009, the world's only penthouse trailer park was built atop the luxurious Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa.