Choosing A New Tow Vehicle Pt3…

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If you haven’t already done so, it might be worth reading Pt1 and Pt2 first.

635931307096487040.jpgWe hadn’t originally set off to visit Manchester Van Centre VW originally, but had gone to Costco to pick up some supplies. However we were early, the queues to check out non-existent and we found ourselves back in the Freelander quicker than expected. It’s not so often that both our time off coincides so neatly so it was a bit of an opportunity to go and have a look at an Amarok. We parked up and walked towards the showroom entrance, Sue said “I like that colour” as we walked past a new Amarok Atacama parked outside. Sue, by now was a dab hand at spotting Amaroks from a wide range of distances!

The choice of vehicle colour is a funny thing, we have had black vehicles for years and I wanted a change. The original Amarok I had seen was all white, with chrome, and I’d got it in the back of my mind as down to either white or silver. But Sue was right, it was a rather nice blue, a colour I’d never even considered. In fact I don’t think we have ever owned a blue vehicle.

Once inside the receptionist introduced us to Jessica, the sales person. Now at this point I have to admit… I am the customer from hell. I know I am. I don’t like sales people in general. You just have this feeling that one half of their brain is working out if they have or will make their sales target and the other half is calculating their commission if they sell you something. What’s left is dealing with you. I asked Jessica a few basic questions and went with both barrels into towing electrics.. and rather than looking like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights, calmly said “I don’t know I’ll go and ask someone” not the usual sales technique of waffling round the subject… a bit like a politician does.

I think I mentioned it in a previous post that a number of people had said that they are unsure about commercial dealers, mainly because they don’t have any experience of them I guess, but my experience in all the dealings we have had with Manchester Van Centre is that they are really friendly and they do know their product range. If you are in the market for a VW Camper, they happen to have a really neat white van set up in the showroom and these things are in big demand. Apparently a couple of the staff also have them and are active campervanners.

Although they didn’t have an Amarok demonstrator available – it was already out and booked up for quite a while, Jessica arranged a test drive in one of the managers cars, so we went off for a drive round in a blue Atacama… big mistake…. I had originally worked everything out on a Trendline, not the special edition Atacama. I now wanted the Atacama, damn, I fell for the classic sales trick!

The test drive was successful, so figures were exchanged…. several times and a couple of days later we placed our order for a shiny blue – the blue Sue said she liked, Amarok Atacama BiTurbo Blue Motion.

The Tow Bar Tango

 The next thing was to sort out the tow bar. I wanted a fixed bar… no problem as VW do one, ad 13 pin electrics. Again no problem VW can do this but the fridge and leisure battery charging circuits are not included and VW don’t have a kit for doing this. Ok, not a problem as Jessica said she could arrange for this to be done before we pick up the vehicle. A day or so later in a chance phone conversation with Jessica I asked what type of relay would be fitted, knowing that it needed to be linked into the vehicle electrics and fully integrated with the auto stop start and energy recovery system on the alternator and not a voltage sensitive type. Jessica suggested that I talk directly to the company that would be doing the final bit of the wiring.

After two hours of trying to get through to speak to the right person on the phone I eventually spoke to someone who was supposed to be the contact given to me. The conversation did not inspire me with confidence. I asked about the relay and was told it was a voltage sensitive type. When I asked about integrating with the stop start and energy recovery, the person didn’t have a clue and said they had been fitting these for years without problems. I also asked about the size of the cable and was told the always use 2.5mm. Long story short… I emailed Jessica and said don’t let this company anywhere near the vehicle. Fit the VW side of it and I’d arrange for the remaining two services to be completed after I’d taken delivery.

This got me thinking, there must be a OEM kit for the vehicle. A quick email to my contact in Germany soon elicited a result. Westfaillia do an approved kit. A quick search on the Westfailia website for my nearest supplier came back with North West Towbar Centre in Stockport. Now there was a name I had heard of. They had been given a big thumbs up by a few of the Caravan Chronicle subscribers and I’d also recommended them to a couple of people who had experienced issues and they reported back had their problems resolved successfully. A quick phone call to them confirmed they did have the correct Westfallia kit and they could do the job and it was a switching relay, not voltage sensing.

As it was now late, I fired an email back to Jessica to tell her to cancel the VW tow bar and electrics, I’d get the North West Towbar Centre to do the job after I’d taken delivery. The following morning Jessica rang me. She had been in touch with the guys at North West Towbar Centre and arranged for Manchester Van Centre VW to take our  vehicle down on Monday to get it all fitted out ready for us to collect it on Thursday and If I paid them directly, it would be cheaper. Now how’s that for a bit of top dealer service.

The Insurance Waltz

I’d just finished a twelve hour night stint at the airport and arrived home about eight on the Monday morning. Time to arrange the insurance. I’d already arranged to cancel the Mini Cooper insurance arranged through the Caravan Club the previous week and received a shock as I’d expected to just transfer it over to the Amarok. Unfortunately the Caravan Club insurance doesn’t insure pick-up’s. For the life of me I can’t understand why…. or couldn’t at the time.

I started with the well know comparison web sites and immediately got re-directed to their commercial vehicle sections… Pick-up’s are designated as commercial, even if they are privately owned. I filled in the various sections and eventually got some quotes back.

Now you might want to brew up and get yourself comfortable.

As our vehicle was having one of our old registrations transferred on to it, it hadn’t rattled through the DVLA system at this point, so I could not enter the registration, but had to find the exact vehicle description, which I did on all the sites. To actually arrange the insurance I had to ring the various companies. So I started with a quote that seemed reasonable, it had no claims protection, legal cover, a minimum excess, all the usual bits and seemed like good value. I rang the company giving the quote reference number on the screen.

The person on the other end of the phone ran through the details of the information with me. Everything was OK and they could use the registration number I gave them even though it was not on the DVLA system yet. So far, so good. He then asked would I be using the vehicle to commute to a fixed place of work… well yes. Ahh, you only have social and domestic cover ticked, not Social, domestic and commuting. I didn’t see a box to tick for that I said, just social and domestic and I assumed that as it was private use only… a box which I had ticked, would include cover for travelling to work. No, that’s not covered. OK, I need that, so how much does that add… £100. I nearly fell off my chair. So that covers me and my wife for travelling to work then? No… just you. I snorted coffee (which I needed having been awake by now for over 24 hours) over my keyboard. What! If you want your wife adding we can do that…. it will be another £50. This was getting expensive very quickly.

Right, so I’m covered for social, domestic and travelling to a fixed place of work for both myself and my wife then and towing our caravan. Err…. not towing a caravan… that will be extra and we only do third-party fire and theft on that… for another £120. What use is TPF&T on a caravan when I’m towing it… I want fully comprehensive. We don’t do it. I thanked the person and hung up. I was imagining what else would be an extra… Ahh you didn’t mention you wanted to breath in the vehicle… that will be another £50. It’s a bit like the scenes from Carry on Camping… everything was £10 extra.

Right, I’ll ring someone else… and the conversation went in a similar vein. However this person suggested I try ticking the “Carry Own Goods” box instead of “Private Use” box as it might come back with better quotes. I went back to the comparison websites and edited my original information. On checking the “Carry Own Goods” box it then started asking for a trading name… I entered Caravan Chronicles…. although this could lead me into a whole new dark place.. never mind, I continued. ‘Please state the radius of delivery for your own goods’…. well Caravan Chronicles is read in Australia so I guess 20,000 miles would cover it…. it didn’t like that and suggested I try again. I tried  various distances and…. well it was crap to say the least. I had now been awake for about 26 hours.

I tried ringing a third company…. this time they person understood my plight and said they would have a word with the underwriters and see if there was anything they could do. They would call me back.

While I was ingesting the last of the caffeine I hadn’t snorted all over the place, I  started to flick through a copy of Land Rover Owner magazine that I’d received a few days earlier through the post and as luck would have it I flicked on to a full-page advert for Adrian Flux…. now there was a name that I knew. They specialise in covering all sorts of 4 x 4 and specialist and modified vehicles. Kettle on, fresh coffee in my mug, I sat down for the long haul and gave them a call. I spoke to a very nice gentleman in Norfolk and he understood my situation, took some details and within 15 minutes we were fully insured, with all the bits I wanted and by the time I had finished on the telephone to him, my email inbox had dinged and there were my policy documents and insurance certificate.

The insurance company that said they would call me back….. well I’m still waiting.

So after 4 hours of being on the phone, I now had a sweaty ear from the telephoneium  and had been on the go for 28 hours. All I had to do now was hi-tail it over to see Jessica to sign the paperwork and let her have a copy of my driving licence.

'The Wolf' at North West Towbar Centre all ready to go in for its tabor and electrics tone fitted.

‘The Wolf’ at North West Towbar Centre waiting to go in for its towbar and electrics to be fitted.

On the way back, I decided to drop into the North West Towbar Centre in Stockport. The Amarok had been taken over to them that morning to have the tow bar fitted. It was the first time I had been there and it was great to actually see a shop – quite a big one too – stuffed full of actual products that you can touch, pickup and feel the heft of their construction rather than one of these dinky show shops full of nothing and posters.

I introduced myself and spent half an hour or so chatting to one of the guys there. They do know their stuff when it comes to electrics and we talked about some of the problems with modern vehicles and fitting aftermarket equipment to them.

Time to head home…. I had one last task to do, and that was to order the Roll N Lock rear cover, but that’s going to be for another day.

Next time: Picking up the Amarok and starting to fit some kit.

Choosing A New Tow Vehicle Pt 2…

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If you haven’t read “Choosing A New Tow Vehicle Pt 1…” you might want to start there first.

So what happened to scupper all my spreadsheet deliberations in the early hours of the morning while driving to work?

I was on the M60 heading towards the airport thinking about what aircraft were due out… as you do, when a large pickup passed me. Not with one of these truck tops on the rear but a hard cover over the pickup bed and 4 bikes mounted on a rack above the bed. I hadn’t a clue as to what make it was as I wasn’t into pickup’s really but it did look really neat and by the time my brain got into gear to see if I could identify the make, it was gone.

All that morning I was thinking about pickup’s…. maybe I was missing a trick here and a SUV type vehicle wasn’t the way forward, but a pickup was. They seem to be one of the vehicles of choice in the USA for people towing travel trailers, but that’s a whole different market. There are a lot of caravaners in the UK using them too. What was I missing?

A couple of days later I saw what I thought was the same vehicle again on the M60, this time with no bikes on the back. It had a VW badge on the tailgate. I thought VW didn’t make pickup’s. But this got me thinking again, was a pickup the way to go… lots of people use 4 x 4 pickups to tow with, they seem to have plenty of room, be practical, have seating for five and are generally built tough as they are usually designed for commercial use.

A chance conversation about caravans at work with someone who had recently changed his Discovery for a pickup… a VW pickup.

A few days later I started searching on the internet for information about pickups… there is more out there than I thought. My original spreadsheet got a bit of a re-write over the course of a weekend.

A day or so later we were staying down at Plough Lane Caravan Site and we saw another Amarok on the road which was the first time Sue had seen one and it renewed our interest again, and as luck would have it we were near to a VW Commercial Dealership (have a read here https://caravanchronicles.com/2015/09/20/wiltshire-wanderings/) so we dropped in. It was ticking all the boxes, but more research was still required about 4 x 4 pickup’s. My spreadsheet grew.

Now, I’m not going to give you a long list of the ones we looked at and the reasons for dismissing them in our particular case, some people might have chosen them and for them, they tick all the boxes which is great. The others didn’t tick enough of our (well my) boxes and the Amarok did. So “Project Wolf” was born.

“Project Wolf”

I did not know what to call this series of blog posts when I was making my notes, I read that an amarok, or amaroq, is a gigantic gray wolf in Inuit mythology, said to stalk and devour any person foolish enough to hunt alone at night. Unlike real wolves who hunt in packs, amaroks hunt alone. This kind of stuck in my brain and I started scribbling “Project Wolf” at the top of the pages I had in my note-book where I’d written about stuff for the Amarok.

After my first conversation with the dealer in Swindon, I needed lots of questions answering and fired off an email to VW UK. And got a quick reply telling me nothing of what I really wanted to know. So I tried again, this time to VW in Germany. Not telling me much more… but in lots of detail of course. Thankfully the Australians came to the rescue, although the specs are a little different, it helped fill in the blanks.

Screen Grab

The start of my growing spread sheet about pick-up’s-v-SUV’s

Searching on the internet it seems that the Amarok is going down a storm down under in Australia and there are lots of videos and information on Australian 4 x 4 forums about the Amarok… as well as quite a bit of stuff from southern Africa and south America. I spent the next couple of months gathering information and adding even more columns to my spread sheet, then going back visiting other manufacturers web sites filling in blank bits for their particular 4 x 4 pickup’s to keep things on a level playing field.

overview-amarok

Image (c) VW GMBH

OK… So why choose a pickup?

Glad you asked. Well these are OUR reasons and thoughts. They may not coincide with your particular circumstances, but here’s why… for us.

rearThe loading and storage capacity are huge when compared to most SUV 4 x 4’s. The weight capacity is around 1000 Kg’s and most can take a standard Euro-pallet footprint. That’s a lot of caravanning extras. A lot of pickups can be fitted with a van style top that will allow wet dogs, bikes and other stuff that you wouldn’t put inside a vehicle. Although we don’t particularly want a cab style top but would prefer a flat lid with a bike rack on top. And we don’t have a wet dog. We may have a wet awning though. The tailgate can apparently support 250 Kgs… handy for tailgate BBQ’s! It also makes it easy for me to throw in a big snap-on tool chest and use it as a work bench when tinkering with aircraft electrics.

A lot of pickups are still built on a ladder chassis (like the old Land Rovers) for strength and generally have a longer wheelbase which for towing increases stability. The hitch nose weight limit is generally higher – 150 Kg upwards and generally they are heavier so a lower towing weight ratio can be achieved.

Comparing our Freelander to the Amarok I got:-

Freelander Mass In Service=1723 Kgs, Caravan MTPLM=1490 Kgs, giving a towing ratio of 86.5%

Amarok Mass In Service=2093 Kgs, Caravan MTPLM=1490 Kgs, giving a towing ratio of 71.1%

The Amarok 85% figure is a caravan with a MTPLM of 1779 Kgs and 90% comes in at 1884 Kg’s. The maximum rated towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3200 Kgs.

The other factor for me is the build. Most pick-up’s are built for commercial use and things tend to be a bit beefier. The seats are a bit tougher, the springs, brakes, switches…. everything is designed and made with heavy use in mind. OK this can make them a bit more utilitarian in their design and look inside, but I wanted something that would still look good after 100,000 miles.

The mechanics too tend to be a bit more industrial. The vehicles are not built to a minimum weight just to get good MPG or performance. They are designed for a working life with minimal down time and servicing costs. With all this In mind and much more we (well I) settled on the VW Amarok as the main contender.

OK… so what’s hot about the Amarok?

Here’s a few things I like… mainly taken from the VW literature and I guess is similar to other offerings.

ABS and EBD – Anti-lock Brakes and Electronic Brake Distribution. ABS is pretty standard now but the Amarok ABS also has Off Road ABS as well and is linked to  something called EBD which essentially helps prevent lockup of the rear wheels when under less load (i.e. lightly loaded in the back) or when the vehicle’s weight is transferred to the front wheels when braking. Handy for those wet grass campsites.

Hill Hold Assist – handy for hill starts when towing and Hill Descent Control – Available on a lot of 4 x 4’s but the big one for me was unlike the Land Rover version (which is great by the way!) it operates in off-road mode at any speed below 18 MPH when the vehicles ABS is being used. It controls the braking automatically to prevent unintentional acceleration going down hill even in slippery conditions.

Brake Assist – senses how fast you apply the brakes and if it senses you are doing an emergency stop automatically applies the maximum braking effort available.

The 2.0 Litre BiTDI Engine produces 180 PS (132Kw) or 180 Hp in old money which is similar to some larger engines in other makes. The two turbos help the engine give a huge 420 Nm of torque when mated to the 8 speed automatic gearbox, which has first gear optimised for off-road and pulling away when towing heavy trailers. 8th gear is designed as an overdrive to reduce revs and maximise fuel efficiency.

Here’s one from the F1 world…. regenerative braking. When you brake the energy recuperation system uses momentum to turn the alternator and charge the battery, making the most of the energy when you brake.

Permanent “4 motion” four-wheel drive. All wheel drive is permanent on the automatic no matter if you are in on or off-road mode. The Torsen differential splits the power 40:60 between front and rear wheels, but when off-road the system automatically distributes power to the wheels with most grip… and works with hill start and hill descent control.

There were a few other things that I liked… for example you can put a 32Gb SD card in the radio with all your music from your iPod on and the hands free system seemed quite easy to use too. There were more 12 volt power points than you could shake a stick at, including one in the pickup bed, handy for your cool box!

It has all the usual stuff too, leather interior, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, cup holders  everywhere, storage draws under the front seats, inbuilt sat-nav.

It’s not small – 5254 mm long (excluding tow bar) and 2228 wide at the mirrors. With our caravan hitched it will be a total length of around 12.54 metres or about 41′ 2″ in real money.

The MPG figures were OK too…. but that with VW has to be seen in perspective of course.

So with all my geeky and techie boxes ticked…. all we had to do was go and prod one in real life and take it for a wiz round the block!

Now I think VW have missed a trick here, VW Car Dealerships don’t sell Amarok’s, you have to go to a VW Commercial Dealer, and after talking to a few people, this seems to be a bit daunting as a lot have people have never stepped into a commercial dealership before. Our nearest VW Commercial Dealership is Manchester Van Centre VW in Trafford Park where we met the lovely Jessica… but more about that in Part 3.

Here is a sneaky preview of an Amarok from Down Under….

Choosing A New Tow Vehicle Pt 1…

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Stopping at Rivington Pike services for a coffee. All 38 foot 6 inches of outfit fitted lengthwise.....

Stopping at Rivington Pike services for a coffee. All 38 foot 6 inches of outfit.

Our Freelander is now becoming a grand old lady of 10 years vintage, we have owned her from new and she’s just passed the 90,000 miles mark so we thought it might be time to retire her from towing duty. However we intend keeping her and started to look round for a suitable replacement to take on the task of towing the caravan. As at some point in the future we hope to move up to a twin axle, twin bed caravan I started looking for a vehicle that would be capable of towing what we hope to move towards in the future.

Now, this is my (our) thoughts and the rational for our eventual choice. It may not be perfect for you or even close to perfect, but this is what we considered in our choices and hopefully going through the process will help you now or in the future when you come to start thinking about a new tow vehicle.

There are lots of options and styles and we needed to narrow down the list quite a bit before getting into the detail. I did read all the reviews from the last “Tow Car of The Year Awards” to see what was being considered by the industry as the top performers, but in some respects the awards are slightly tilted in my opinion as they only review vehicles that have been put forward by the various manufacturers…. which I guess is a marketing tool for them. So there are some vehicles that are not in the awards that should be considered.

Types

We have always had 4 x 4’s as our main vehicle, with an eclectic mix of second vehicles, sports cars, saloon cars etc. Personally we don’t think a saloon or estate type vehicle, even a 4 x 4 version would be right for us. This narrowed it down to SUV type 4 x 4’s and 4 x 4 pickups.

We have nearly always had a Land Rover in the family, I passed my test in one back in 1978 and was quite used to them. Sue had been driving one for longer than she will admit to… both Discovery’s and Freelander’s. The only thing neither of us had any experience of owning was a pickup style vehicle.

4 x 4’s – Choosing a body type

So we are now down to SUV’s and Pickup’s. We very seriously looked at what we needed or thought we might need.

Currently we have a roll out Fiamma Awning, but this might change so we thought about what we would do with a wet awning when packing up… not wanting to put it in the caravan. We also thought about our bikes, we don’t take them with us on every trip, but on some occasions that we hadn’t we wished we had. The ability to take them easily on every trip was a requirement. We didn’t want to carry them on the roof though, so a rear mount on the vehicle was a must. Currently they hang off the back of the Freelander’s spare wheel and it didn’t interfere with towing the caravan and was fairly easy to load and unload. The idea of lifting them on and off a roof mount didn’t appeal to me.

We have a few things that live in the caravan – levelling blocks, corner steady blocks etc that I’d like to carry in the vehicle, and the Cadac, sometimes we don’t take it due to lack of space in our current vehicle (I hate carrying things on the back seat).

Ease of loading – it’s an art loading up any tow vehicle packing everything in so it doesn’t rattle or move about and is safe, so a rear load area that is bigger than our Freelander was a must. We actually think we are pretty slick when it comes to loading as everything is in stackable “Really Useful Box Company’ boxes.

We naturally started looking at 4 x 4 SUV type vehicles – it’s what we know most about and again being big users and fans of the Green Oval, started looking at Landy’s. Now here’s the thing, at the Land Rover dealers…. as we got out of the Freelander… my wallet went off on its own ordered a coffee and a Panini, sat down and said “no way dude”. The wallet was right. The cost of purchasing, yearly servicing and maintenance of one of the Green Oval products was giving my wallet cardiac arrhythmia. Although it may have topped the tow awards for years, it wasn’t an option for us cost wise.

OK, so what else was there similar to a Land Rover? I listed on a spreadsheet all the alternatives and proceeded to wade through them over the next couple of months.

What you have to be aware of is we started this process over 12 months ago, so I’m compressing the time scale down quite a bit.

From the spreadsheet I whittled it down to engine size, towing capacity, Gross Train Weight, Hitch weight limits, braked trailer limits, serving costs, purchase price, wheel base and rear axle to tow ball length, width, height, cost of tower and electrics…. you name it, it was included on the spread sheet. Eventually I came out with the top three contenders… well on paper at least.

Automatic or Manual Transmission

The final choice was whether to go manual or automatic for the transmission. As much as I like manual transmission for 4 x 4 off road capabilities, we weren’t going to be doing a lot of green lane off roading and automatic was the obvious sensible choice.

So with my spreadsheet stuffed full of info, boxes ticked, lists of suppliers for racks and odds and ends then next task was to visit dealers to push, pull, prod, open, shut, question and test drive my (our) top choices.

Job done.

A few days later, while driving to work at silly o’clock in the morning (about 4:45 am actually, I do remember it well ) my careful cogitations unravelled in spectacular fashion.

Glastonbury 2016…

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A bit late but here’s a round up of our last trip down to Glastonbury…

Monday 20th June

As we’d been able to pre-load the caravan we had chance to get an early start on the 215 mile run south down to The Old Oaks just outside Glastonbury. Generally we have been lucky with the traffic on all our trips and this today was no exception. The M6 was smooth flowing and after leaving the caravan storage facility at 7:45 we pulled into Stafford Services around 9:30 to collect a couple of take-out coffee’s from Costa and have a leg stretch. By 10:00 we were back on the M6 and the easy traffic meant we could fairly breeze along at 55 all the way down to Birmingham, only slowing down for the four lane high level sectioned roadworks just after the start of the M5. It had been on and off light rain all the way until we passed over the high level bridge at Avonmouth when blue cracks started to appear in the overcast. Having been down to Glastonbury when the festival was on several times before we noticed that the signs for festival traffic had changed slightly and there were more of them. Winding our way around the outskirts of Glastonbury, which was now in bright sunlight was almost second nature… to the point Sue was commenting on things that had grown in peoples gardens since we were last here. I finally pulled the handbrake on out side reception at 13:20…. a total time of just over 5 hours if you take off the 30 minutes stop at Stafford  Services.

The usual post setup photo

The usual post setup photo

Tuesday 21st June

Tuesday started out cloudy but bright and we decided to walk into Glastonbury. From the site there are a few paths you can choose. A good idea is to pick up an OS Explorer Map (Number 141) as it shows not only the paths into Glastonbury, but if you want to walk the 1.6Km across to the festival you can do so using public footpaths across the fields.

OS Explorer Map No 141 (c)Ordnance Survey

OS Explorer Map No 141 (c)Ordnance Survey

IMG_0593Leaving the site via the footpath that runs up to the two old oaks, at the gate turn left and follow the path to Stone Down Lane, At the next gate turn right up Stone Down lane for the steep pull up Stone Down Hill heading directly towards the Tor.

Once you reach the top, and have regained the strength to carry on, bare right at the junction and continue to follow Stone Down Lane past the base of the Tor (photo). Follow this road for a few hundred metres and at the next junction bare right following this as it climbs up slightly for a couple of hundred metres. At the next junction you are at the top of Bove Town where it joins Paradise Lane (you can follow Paradise Lane back to the campsite). Turn left and head down hill, down Bove Town and it brings you out on Wells Road, just at the top of the High Street. I think it took us around 50 minutes to do the walk. All the walking meant it must be time for some form of snack… brunch maybe…. and we wandered down the High Street towards our favoured Heapy’s Cafe. Sitting outside enjoying brunch we could keep an eye on the local market and all the comings and goings of the very popular (and cheap) veg stall….. and a few of the craft stalls too!

IMG_0595 IMG_0596IMG_0598After doing our usual saunter round the shops and sights we decided to head back following the Main Road and up Wicks Lane. This is not a route I’d recommend if you are nervous about walking along the side of a busy narrow road. It is however a much flatter route if a bit longer.

Wednesday 22nd June

As it was arrivals day for the festival, it’s always prudent to either stay local or go somewhere miles away. We opted for the stay local and headed off to the Clarkes Outlet Village in Street. Setting off early…. just in case!

Turning right out of the site into Wick Lane didn’t hint at the chaos unfolding on the roads. However at the end of Wick Lane…. it was stationary traffic heading towards Pilton on the A361. Thankfully we were heading in the opposite direction and it was clear. We continued to pass standing traffic… that by now had festival revellers wandering about… in one camper van they were cooking bacon… I could smell it as we drove slowly past and in another it looked like the bar was open and a group were all sitting down in the road between the vehicles. The traffic was still stationary as we went round the roundabout on Magdalene Street and still standing traffic. By the time we reached the roundabout at the A361 – A39 junction it was just a mahoosive car park. Following the A39 past “Burn’s The Bread’ bakery and over the river it was still stationary and looked like it had been for a while. As we got to the big roundabout where the bit of dual carriageway is… still a car park and at that point we turned into a very quiet Clarkes Outlet Village.

Arriving early the shops weren’t open yet…. but the local Frankie’s & Bennies was and they were serving breakfast.. it would be rude not to wouldn’t it!

Several hours (and shopping bags) later it was time to head back… the A39 car park  from earlier was still a car park. Ok… plan of action. Having the OS Explorer map in the car was handy and after a bit of finger tracing…. Cue the music…. we set off like we were in The Italian Job navigating round Milan. 25 minutes later we were back at The Old Oaks having crossed standing traffic on the A39/A361 three times. Navigating like a local….. DONE!

Thursday 23rd

Having never been to Cheddar Gorge… well Sue had when she was about 12 or 13…. it was time to correct that. Thursday started out well…

IMG_0608

Lets say we had 110% humidity and 10% of that was falling… it never rains on holidays. The local weather report following the morning news was upbeat and the rain was expected to clear, which it did almost as soon as the forecaster said it, it stopped.

Firing up the Freelander we punched the destination into the Sat-Nave and trundled off hoping the previous days traffic had now cleared, which it had.

Arriving in the village we parked at the first car park at the bottom of the gorge, donating a large slice of my wallet to do so to the young woman in the small office. Never having been here and to be honest not doing any research beforehand we did not know what to expect. Following the signs we wandered in the general upwards direction towards the entrance. On arriving we were a bit stunned to see the admission price… OK we wanted to visit but hell I didn’t want to invest enough for a 10% equity stake in the place. Deciding we needed more info before committing…. and caffeine to overcome the financial news forecast on the state of my wallet, we wandered in search of coffee. Passing the cheese factory shop and always on the hunt for nice cheeses we hopped in and out again. Now that was just taking the… £6.50 for something that was more wrapping than content. (Note… go to Wells market on a Saturday and you can get huge blocks of local hand-made cheese for half the price). We spied a tea shop – The Wishing Well Tea Rooms, that had a raised vantage point and a free table….

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… and ordered coffee and scrambled eggs on toast while we contemplated our next move… which it turned out was a leisurely round-about drive back heading up the gorge and going cross country.

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Our route back took us past a couple of the entrances to the Festival, which by now were full of very soggy revellers….

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That evening it was Cadac time…. unfortunately One Harry Caravanner forgot his apron of disguise… so I had to step up to the plate and came up with a Tex-Mex…

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So… Cadac all set up….IMG_0621

Yes… it’s all under control dear…. yes I have stirred it…. no its not burning….

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… doing nicely…..

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… add the sauce and more spices….

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… and serve on a wrap….

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…`waddya mean… where’s the salad?

Friday 24th June

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Clouds on the horizon greeted us when we got up, but sun was forecast for most of the day with a shower or two later. Deciding we needed some exercise we decided to do a circular walk round the site and so headed off along one of the many footpaths that are around the site, heading off first to visit “the girls” (the chickens) and to see how the pond work had being going over the closed season.

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A lot of effort had gone into tidying up and clearing weeds from the pond… not that it really needed tidying up in the first place mind you…

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We set off past the two old oaks and along the track that looked down on to the site, which is actually quite hidden from the surrounding areas…

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… and you do get a view across the valley of the festival site… yep it’s just over there…

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Turning back onto Wick Lane the sky started to darken and we picked up the pace as we could see the rain slowly moving towards us from the hills to the east. By the time we turned into the site spots were falling and we just made it as far as the little hut with the elsan point… unfortunately this picture doesn’t show the torrential downpour that had us trapped there for about 10 minutes…

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The rest of the evening was damp to say the least!

Saturday 25th June

Saturday is Wells market, and definetly worth a visit. There are some excellent little craft stalls and some really good local food stalls with everything from fresh local veg to French and Italian olives, locally cured meats, a rather delicious smelling bread stall and one of those stalls that when you want one you can never find one…. a great stall selling every type of shoe and boot lace you could possibly imagine. Enjoying the scrambled egg on toast a couple of days earlier, we found a suitable place to sit overlooking the market and ordered the same again, complete with two large coffees. We just about managed to finish or brunch and coffee when the rain came down again briefly.

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As we were due to head home in the morning, the afternoon was spent tidying up, generally pottering about and watching this guy…

IMG_0645It’s always a welcome break coming down to The Old Oaks and it always seems no sooner than we arrive than we are packing to leave. Better start planning the next trip then, which might have a few changes in the setup… lets call it “Project Wolf”. Stay tuned for more!

Southport bound…

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Managing to get three days off recently, and not wanting to spend too long getting there, we headed off for a short break at the seaside…

Monday 23rd May

As it was going to be a quick break, we hadn’t pre-loaded the caravan as usual. So Monday morning saw us packing up the Freelander with everything ready for our mini break. We have wanted to visit Southport for a while. It was one of those destinations that although being so close to home (Manchester), for some reason we had only ever been for the flower show, and that was a fair few years ago. The only other time I’ve been to Southport was for my spin and stall training many years ago when I was learning to fly, and to be honest I wasn’t taking much notice from 3000 feet back then.

The Caravan Club Southport reception

The Caravan Club Southport reception

Every time we kept looking on the Caravan Club web site it was fully booked for the dates we wanted. However the site has expanded with a new section and facilities block and a quick check showed they had the three days we wanted on a super pitch.  We hitched up around 11:15 and headed out for the 53 mile 1 hour 30 min drive. The traffic Gods were being kind and all the motorways were flowing freely… well at least in our direction.

Checking in was the usual Caravan Club efficient process and we were given the usual site plan with our pitch marked up.

IMG_0522We had decided to take the bikes with us and after setting up, I off loaded the two bikes from the back of the Freelander and we geared up. One of the great things about the site is the easy fairly traffic free access to the seafront, handy if you have younger members of the family and you want to go cycling. In the information centre there are also a number of leaflets with themed cycle routes that are all suitable for beginners and range from a 3 mile to a 7 mile ride. The Caravan Club also on it’s website has an easy route that you can download.

IMG_0508We joined the seafront near the site and cycled north along the beach. The cycle way is separate from the path used by pedestrians, unlike Blackpool where you always seem to be avoiding the small dog on the extendable lead thirty feet away from it’s owner.

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Cycle lanes on the left, pedestrians on the right

 We rode north, past the amusement park… which was closed, and on under the pier. We reached the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve and rather than turning inland we headed back south looking for somewhere to have a late lunch.

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As we got back to the pier we spotted this place “The Guelder Rose” which had tables outside so we could wheel the bikes up to the table and lean them on the wall. They did have a bike shelter in the car park but it didn’t look too secure. While I sat outside Sue went in and got a couple of menus.

IMG_0511The view from the table was OK, and the antics of drivers on the roundabout kept us entertained. Unusually it was warm enough to be out cycling in short sleeves but sat on the corner outside, the wind still had that late spring chill about it. Suitably refreshed Sue went in and paid the bill and we walked the bikes over the road and continued south under the pier and back towards the site.

IMG_0519When you reach the shoal of fish, you know you are nearly back. We crossed over the road and headed towards Southport Eco Centre (which never seemed to have the wind turbine operating) which is on the quiet road that leads back to the site.

Tuesday 24th May

Lord Street in Southport is famous for it’s shopping and the last time I can remember being there was as a child in the late 60’s being dragged up and down by my parents. I suspect a lot has changed since then. It’s about a 6 or 7 minute walk from the site past Morrisons. Lord Street is about a mile long, with a roundabout marking each end. It was mainly built in the 19th Century and a lot of the shops still retain the glazed canopies that protected the early shoppers from the vagaries of the weather.

IMG_0527Walking north along Lord Street one of the first buildings you pass is Southport Lord Street Railway Station which opened in 1884 and served the Southport and Cheshire Lines. The station closed in 1952 and is now a hotel. On the opposite side to the shops Lord Street has a mixture of residential and business property and the street is flanked by lines of trees. In 1846 the future Napoleon III lived in lodgings just off Lord Street and it’s said that the covered walkways and tree lined street was the model for the boulevards of Paris when he ordered the reconstruction of the French capital in the late 1850’s through to the mid 1870’s. However… it was morning coffee time.

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Sat outside one of the numerous establishments that served morning coffee, it was hard to imagine you’re sat in a tree lined boulevard in Paris… despite the blue skies and sun. Sue’s phone was dinging away with text messages from the hospital. Whenever she’s away it always seems like there is some pending meltdown and the department is going to grind to a halt. Suitably stocked up on caffeine we set off again window shopping and exploring some of the little side malls.

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IMG_0533One mall caught my attention. It is the grade II listed building now known as Wayfarers Arcade.

The Arcade first opened in 1898 and the design of the building is typically Victorian, with a domed glass roof, supported by decorative iron work, with some stained glass windows and mahogany shop fronts that have been virtually unaltered since the day the arcade opened. The 13m span, barrel vaulted glazed roof is one of the largest in the UK.

IMG_0532Having ‘done’ Lord Street and the 60’s architecture influenced parallel Chapel Street we walked back towards the seafront thorough King’s Gardens and towards the Pier.

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Kings gardens was constructed on land reclaimed along the former sea front as the sea receded almost three miles over the course of several decades and is now popular for all sorts of activities, including sailing. As Sue had never been along the pier we continued throughout the gardens.

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The pier is a grade II listed building and at 1112 meters is the second longest pier in the UK (The longest is Southend). In June 2015, the Southport Pier tram service was scrapped due to rising maintenance costs and council cost-cutting measures, but you can still see the old tram lines. It has since been replaced by one of those small land trains that you can see running round the streets of various resorts.

At the end of the pier is the new pavilion opened in 2002 which houses a collection of old penny arcade machines and a cafe… that serves beer. Result!

Sue watching the tide come in... well we think it was coming in it was so far away!

Sue watching the tide come in… well we think it was coming in, it was so far away!

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Looking from the end of the pier towards  the Ribble Estuary and my former workplace BAE Warton.

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…and just to prove we did walk the 1112 metres to the end, oh yes… the tide was coming in!

It was time to head off to find somewhere for a late lunch again and eventually wander back to the caravan. It had been a great two days beside the sea in Southport. The weather was better than we hoped for and we managed to get some cycling in too.

The Caravan Club Site

It’s a busy site… busy in terms of getting a booking as it’s so popular and we can see why. Its hidden away even though its not far from the centre. We could not hear any road noise and sitting outside in the evening was really peaceful. If you want to book the site for some of Southport’s big events like the flower show, air show or jazz festival, (there is lots more, check out what’s on and when here) I guess you have to be quick off the mark at the start of the season. The new section of the site felt open and a little less claustrophobic that the original site and the new facilities block was easily up to standard. The staff were friendly and welcoming. Would we visit again… we only touched the surface of things to do and see in and around Southport, so yes, as soon as we can find a free couple of days when they have spare pitches we will be back.

Pressure Relief…

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A lot of new caravans now have the ability on a ‘super pitch’ to be able to attach a mains water feed directly to the caravan without having to have an Aquarol as a water reservoir, and this seems like a good idea. I started looking at the options available and was surprised at the cost of the only suitable system for our caravan. I also wasn’t keen on the plastic regulator. This got me thinking, maybe it was time for a little Caravan Chronicles DIY project.

I wanted to come up with some sort of contrivance that was assembled from stock components that were easily available anywhere. After a brief search on Amazon I came up with my shopping list and ordered everything (see links below).

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The result was a simple to use commercial pressure regulator that I could use our existing blue water hose that originally connected to the Aquarol and standard hose fittings that allow me all the options for connecting up.

IMG_0526As a temporary mount I used a couple of the small plastic hangars that Fiamma sell that slide into awning rails allowing you to hang things from. In this case a couple of cable ties held it in position. I’m currently in the bat cave folding a small aluminium plate to mount the regulator on that slides into the rail and has a foam padded back to protect the caravan. I opted to use brass fittings for the hose connections rather than plastic just for durability.

So how did it work out?

Well on a recent trip to Southport Caravan Club site (where the photos were taken) it worked extremely well. The initial set up was easy and to start with I reduced the pressure using the small screw on top of the unit to about 0.5 bar (7 PSI) to ensure I didn’t over-pressure the caravan plumbing. I increased this to about 1.5 bar and this gave an excellent flow rate with the added feature of not having to run the internal water pump.

Something that was in the back of my mind however was what if the regulator failed and full mains pressure was allowed through to the caravan’s internal plumbing? As I’d used a commercial unit, hopefully the chances of this would be very slim to non-existent as these units are designed to be permanently installed in commercial and domestic plumbing installations however I also added another little handy gadget at the tap end…

IMG_0547This ‘Y’ fitting has two small ball valves, one of each outlet. So when we go out, I simply turn off the appropriate ball valve. Having a ‘Y’ adaptor also allowed us to fill up our Brita filter jug or draw water off without having to turn the tap off and disconnect the caravan hose. All in all everything worked out perfect. (note I have since changed the blue hose adaptors shown for brass ones for durability).

One last thing…

If you are at all worried about water quality in your caravan, connecting up this way will allow you to thoroughly flush out your caravans water system and give you clean water from your caravan’s taps, (especially In summer too, when the sun has been warming up the water in your Aquarol all day) all you need to do is just run the tap for a minute or so to get cold fresh mains water.

Caravan Chronicles Shopping...

I am often asked where to buy some of the products we use. Here are the links to the products. If you click on the links and purchase any of the items, a few pennies will go to helping the cost of running CaravanChronicles.com

Caravan Ultraflow Inlet Hose Assembly (I bought one of these so I could keep my existing one intact. You will need the correct model for your caravan water inlet).
15mm Adjustable Pressure Reducing Valve Including Gauge 1-6 Bar Reliance Water Controls The pressure regulator comes complete with a pressure gauge.
Brass Bush 1/2“ BSP Female x 3/4″ Male Reducing Bush “Converter (these were used to adapt the size of the fitting on the pressure regulator so I could fit the female quick release adaptors.
Garden Mile® Solid Brass 2-Way Double Outside Garden Tap Adaptor & Hose Connectors 3/4″ With 2 Quick Release Female Adaptors. An option, but very handy.
Silverline 598438 Tap Connector Brass I bought two of these for the regulator.

Getting Ready for the Season…

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It’s that time of year again… the mornings are getting lighter, the evenings longer and planning for the first trip of the year is well under way. But, what about your caravan or motorhome? It’s time for the de-winterising and annual deep clean. The easiest way  we find to do it is to first create a list of the jobs to be done and make sure you have all the bits and pieces you need for the tasks. Our “go-to” shop for cleaning supplies is  OLPRO, it’s easy to order everything for the season for both cleaning stuff and loo stuff. We have been using them for at least a couple of years now and haven’t come across any problems and have genuinely been satisfied with their products.

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Arriving at the storage site with a trailer full of water and cleaning supplies!

OK, so where to start…

Continue reading

Once In A While…

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Once in a while something comes along and makes you think…. ‘what a good idea’. I was contacted by James Clark and asked If I’d like to take a sneak peek at something he and his friend, Lucy Bartlett have been working on.

bed Continue reading

Caravan Chronicles Shopping…

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I receive a lot of emails asking where people can buy some of the tools – especially some of the crimp tools and terminations I use in my posts and articles. In the past I have just emailed people back with the details and maybe links. However my last post about cable termination brought on a rather large amount of requests. So I have decided that I will include links to the products on Amazon. So from now on you will see a section at the bottom of any posts called….

Caravan Chronicles Shopping...

Any specific items used will be listed, and by clicking on the link to the item you will be taken to the Amazon store page. If you do decide to purchase anything, it will be from Amazon (or their associates) and delivered by them. It’s just like buying from Amazon directly.

The price you pay is exactly the same as it would be by going directly to Amazon. All I receive is a few pennies from each sale that will help towards keeping the wheels of Caravan Chronicles turning.

I have also created a shopping page that lists the products under a link to the original article. There aren’t any photos, just descriptions to keep the page neat and quick to load. If you want to go back to the article, just click on its title.

I hope you don’t mind me doing this, but it will save you having to email me asking where to get things from and save me a bit of time in replying to everyone.

Cheers

Simon

PS… I will be going back to some of the older posts adding links over the next few weeks.

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