Best made plans and all that!… – I planned to release part 2 of my Swift Review Of 2016 on New Years Day but due to an unexpected back malfunction whilst chopping wood today is the earliest I felt able to write anything. So apologies for the delay.
I always knew that when Swift Group set my challenges for 2015 the second challenge was the one that would test me mentally rather than physically and that makes it a whole lot more difficult than any physical challenge. Why…. well I’m physically fit for 47 as I am a sportsman who has trained in the gym 5 days a week for 15 years now. So physical tests are just another day at the office, but when Swift sent us around Europe to visit 4 famous (or infamous) locations related to World War II it was obvious we would embark on a roller coaster of emotions.
Once again the team was myself, my wife Sara, and her twin sister Sallie – which seemed fitting considering what the Nazi’s did to twins in the infamous camps we were to visit. Our schedule was to visit 4 of the most recognised locations of WW2. First we were to head to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Then we would head back to Germany and visit Colditz, the German high security prison and the setting for many of the most daring British prison escapes of the war. Then we head to the Eder Dam, another almost romantic location famous for ‘The Dambusters’ mission. Lastly we were to go to Belsen in North Germany to visit the infamous concentration camp.
We set off from Norfolk in high spirits and ready to test the Swift Bessecarr 696 loaned to us by Swift Group for the 6 day tour of Europe. The smooth lines of the Bessecarr always attracted attention and at Dover we had a steady stream of inquisitive people wanting to know what the stickers on our motorhome were about and asking for a peek in the Bessecarr’s luxury habitation area. After the non eventful Channel Crossing we settled into the 896 mile journey through France, Belgum, Germany and into Poland. Plenty of time for us to assess just how good or bad the Fiat Multijet 2.3jTd engine handles its 22ft motorhome conversion. It actually pulls along at great pace and with a firmness and confidence in handling I’ve never felt before in a motorhome. The miles rolled by with myself driving 330 miles the first day. The upgraded comfort seats in the Fiat Ducato cab are excellent. In fact so good Sara drove a massive 452 miles day 2 leaving 114 miles for me to drive to our first location Auschwitz. We settled into the Bessecarr 696 for the night watching the BBC thanks to the Maxview Precision satelite dish and some knowledgable local German boys we met.
A 7.00AM start meant ETA was 9.30am at Auschwitz ready for our tour starting at 10.30am. The first thing thats apparent is that there are no signs directing your to the camp and we found ourselves suddenly driving alongside the infamous electric perimeter fence at Birkenau camp. The tour is simply stunning…… stunningly frightening, stunningly grotesque, but yet stunningly brilliant. This really is a ‘Bucket List must’ for anyone interested in WW2 history, but more importantly a reminder of how humans can become animals given the chance.
So next the 223 mile sprint to Eastern Germany and Colditz – The prison famed in films like ‘Escape From Colditz’ and ‘The Birdman’. Sallie undertook this drive having never driven a motorhome apart from the Swift Rio we used in June. We camped up just outside Colditz (the town) ready for an early start the next day. I have to say 3 persons living in the Bessecarr 696 is easy. The layout, finish and equipment levels are excellent and there is a inert awareness in the design features of what you really need when free camping in this low profile 6 berth motorhome. Once again the key feature is the .
/25/” target=”_blank”>electric double bed that stores in the sweeping hump on the Bessecarr’s back enabling the old style overcab bed setup to be dropped from the design. This in turn effects fuel consumption…… upwards I’m glad to report.
Colditz was a bit of a damp squibb as it has fallen into an identity crisis over the years. Its part Hostel, part Museum but its feels as ifs its slowly fading out of the publics minds and hearts. I fear it will be derelict in 15 years time.
Our third location was the Eder Dam 103 miles North of Colditz and only 3 hours away. As we became surrounded by hills and valleys our anticipation grew for that breathtaking view we would get when the Eder Dam broke cover. Could we still see the repair to the dam after our Bomber Command famously blew a hole in it with a Bouncing Bomb in 1943. Well, you kind of stumble across the dam as the valley is so narrow. It is an awesome sight though and I grabbed the chance to paddleboard in front of that most haunting of dams – One of my life dreams fulfilled…..tick!
So to the last location Bergan North Germany 246 miles away but the roads would be much slower. We camped up in a layby as we saw another caravan (albeit an old one) parked up rather permanently. the next morning we rose and topped up and emptied all our tanks ready for the off. I noticed a young lady go to the old caravan but lost the thought…. well until after noticing lots of old caravans and motorhomes rather permanently sited in various lay-by’s the penny dropped. “Errr…. Neil “Sallie said. ” I’ve just seen a young lady rather scantily dressed sitting in the front of that old motorhome in the lay-by”. We looked across at each other ” Thank God we didn’t get a knock on our door then!!”.
Belsen was eerily quiet – I guess because theres very little to see there but the museum there excellently portrays just how badly the prisoners were starved to death at the hands of the Nazi’s and how the British soldiers were hailed hero’s when they liberated the camp.
Our remaining 324 miles sailed past without incident and with us all reflecting on just how the Bessecarr 696 performed over nearly 2000 miles in 5 days. In summary, the 6 berth is practical. Not just for ‘on-site’ usage but for free camping too. The 2 KW generator supplied 240v power the duration and all the systems worked in perfect harmony. My favourite feature – the heating system which can heat the rear of the motorhome whilst you drive. It means you are always warm enough even if you sit in the back area. Just brilliant and typically Swift.
So what for my 2016 – well I announce my 2016 challenges at the Manchester Caravan and Motorhome Show in January. They will be bigger and wilder than 2015 but with more emphasis on adventures to new locations and how you can embark on these adventures too. So come and see me on the expert stand at the show and have a chat, follow me on my new twitter account ‘Challenge Neil Greentree’ or visit the Swift social media page at www.swiftgroup.co.uk