How does the Bailey Approach Compact 540 cope with a music festival?
In the 45 years since Woodstock laid down the template for the modern music festival, the must-have motorhome for a festival has always been the VW campervan.
Inextricably linked to the hippie movement, the VW camper was the iconic festival motorhome, right up until 2012 when the Germans finally pulled the plug on the tired old girl, who couldn't keep up with the demand for better fuel efficiency.
The logical successor would seem to be the larger VW T5 model, but we at CaravanTimes have opted for an intriguing newcomer.
Bailey of Bristol has only been making motorhomes for the past three years, but the company is by no means a flash in the pan, with 65 years of couchbuilding experience under its belt in the touring caravan market.
Its latest range, the Bailey Approach Compact, seems much better-suited to taking on the rigours of a music festival than a VW T5, since you get a shower, electric-flush toilet, a fridge-freezer, an oven, and a whole lot more interior space, not to mention the central heating that we prayed we wouldn’t need.
At £43,000, the entry-level Bailey Approach Compact 530 is £10,000 more than the entry-level VW T5, and the Compact 540 model that we tested costs a further £1,000 more, but you get what you pay for, and then some.
We pitched up at 2,000 Trees festival, a small but friendly affair that has been running in the Cotswolds just outside Cheltenham for the past seven years.
Despite the organisers' welcoming policy on motorhomes and caravans, the festival site does not provide anything in the way of amenities.
EHU, toilet cassette disposal and waterpoints were very much out. Unpaved tracks leading to our sloping hilltop pitch were in. This was as close to wild camping as you can get in a van as comfortable and well-appointed as this.
Despite two heavy-duty Thule levelling chocks, we still struggled to get the van perfectly level, despite help from our friendly neighbours, one a Tai-Chi practicing poet (who says the hippie movement is dead?!).
Once inside, the real party piece of the Compact 540 is its electrically-lowering double bed, which descends from the ceiling as if by magic (but actually at the touch of a button).
This, combined with the 6'10" headroom, gives the Bailey a definite wow-factor and earned us the on-site nickname 'the ones in the fancy van’.
The other benefit of the retractable bed is that, when stowed away, you’re left with a spacious lounge area for entertaining during the evenings.
With the driver and main passenger seats swivelled around, we managed to fit seven around the drop-in table for drinks and cards.
The swivel seats were without a doubt the comfiest place to sit inside, but they could have done with a second latch to hold them into position when facing the lounge, as our sloping pitch left the main chairs drifting back towards the driving position.
A word of caution: the table is necessarily heavy and should probably be set up before you’ve had a few drinks, unless you want to quickly turn into something of a laughing stock.
On the second morning the Bailey was really starting to come into its own, with piping hot tea and freshly baked bacon rolls served up from the Thetford combi oven and grill, below a three-burner gas hob.
Anyone who's ever been to a music festival will tell you that the three things they miss the most are: a proper toilet, a warm shower and a decent armchair to relax in after performing your morning ablutions.
The Compact 540 boasts all three and this dream team went a long way towards making us feel human again the morning after.
As we were blessed with fine weather, those stifling in tents quickly grew envious of our breezy van, with the twin roof vents and wide front sunroof.
It’s not often that British motorhomers are left in need of air conditioning, and it’s easy to see why – even as the temperatures reached the high 20s, the Bailey remained well insulated, with the Alu-Tech body and reflective blinds working a treat.
However, the only major gripe was with the Dometic fridge-freezer, which refused to run off gas, despite our best efforts and a call to genial folks at the Bailey Customer Support Centre.
Fully stocked fridge
It wasn't until day three that we started to notice the limits of what this model could do when out in the wild, and it was then that the BCA control panel came into its own, helping us to ration the remaining water.
Having a 100-litre water tank is ample in a model of this size if you are staying on a proper Caravan Club site, but in the wilds of Cheltenham we were limited to three showers, leaving enough left for toilet flushes, teeth cleaning and tea making.
A considerate bleep when we reached 10% water level was particularly helpful, as it spared my other half the indignity of ending her shower with shampoo still in situ.
The touchscreen-controlled Alde water heater was intuitive to use and only took half an hour to get up to shower temperature, although we were relieved to not need the central heating, as the mini heatwave stretched into its third day.
It was at about this time that the Thetford cassette toilet notified us that it was nearly full, although the combination of perfumed chemicals meant that it was the fill-light and not the smell that we noticed first.
One facility that didn’t even come close to running out was the 12v electricity. Bailey builds in enough room for a second Banner 110ah leisure battery and with this fitted we had more than enough juice to last without worrying about rationing power.
Likewise, storage was always in plentiful provision, and while there were only two of us staying overnight in the van, we could have accommodated a third and their belongings without any hassle.
The gas-powered struts gave effortless access to the under-bench storage space, while the stylish overhead lockers didn’t once bump open on the bone-shaking ride up from the main entrance.
As the festival fatigue set in on the final night, it was a real blessing to be able to climb into a decent sized bed, particularly given the comfy Frulli springs beneath the mattress, and rest up for the drive ahead.
As a rainy dawn broke on slippery grass at the start of day four, we knew there was no need to panic. The gearbox and suspension had coped with the numerous hillstarts and endless queues to get into the site, so the downhill cruise back to the main road should be no problem, and so it proved.
The Sunday afternoon traffic in Cheltenham gave rise to a few nerves, but the huge wing mirrors gave plenty of visibility, while the compact bodyshell allowed us to creep down a car-lined street after a road closure-enforced detour.
The raised driving position of the Bailey makes you feel like you are in a much larger vehicle than you actually are and promotes suitably cautious driving.
However, the rear view mirror felt a little redundant, especially when a relocation of the rear window and a bathroom door latch would free up some (albeit limited) backwards vision.
The relief upon pulling into Cheltenham Racecourse Caravan Club site was audible. Never before have 240v EHU, waste tank facilities and a level concrete pitch been so welcome.
The extremely helpful wardens even directed the pizza delivery man to our pitch as we charged our phones and brewed up a victory cuppa.
Staying in a motorhome at a music festival is a bit of a luxury, but if you already own one then it's a great way to get more use out of it, or a great excuse to revisit festivals without the discomfort.
Six-berthers can be rented for the weekend from around £600, which is less than the per-head price of the much vaunted glamping yurts that are now cropping up left, right and centre at the more trendy festivals.
And at the rate Bailey are making and selling these highly desirable Approach models, it won’t be long before buying a used model becomes a more viable option.
In another 45 years’ time, music festivals will look a very different, but it’s a fairly safe bet that motorhomes will still have some part to play.