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A bit of a belated post about our trip down to the NEC show and looking round at the possibilities of a new caravan and a catch up on the damp situation (thanks to everyone that emailed me about it!)

This year was our first time taking the caravan down to the show, and after some initial over thinking about actually staying on a car park, it turned out really quite a fun experience.

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I actually spotted someone taking a photo of the Amarok!

Due to both our work commitments we couldn’t leave for the show until Thursday after I’d finished a 12 hour night shift. So after a few hours sleep we left home to collect the caravan around lunchtime. The drive down even in mid-week traffic wasn’t too bad, and towing on a busy motorway with the Amarok is a breeze letting the cruse control pace us with the HGV’s. The instructions for getting to site sent to us by the Caravan Club were easy to follow and got us into the reception area smoothly without any wrong turns.

Surprisingly the N11 car park is fairly level where we were and setup was quick. The Caravan Club had done a sterling job of making sure water and electrics were all sorted and it didn’t take us long to set up. As it was fairly late, we put off going over to the show until the morning.

Friday

Up fairly early, quick shower (loving the Eco Camel shower head!), coffee and we walked the twenty or so feet to the bus stop for the 5 minute bus ride to the NEC. First stop was to the press office to pick up our badges and a quick text to Andrew Ditton who I’d arranged to meet up with again.

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After being told about the damp in the caravan and the cracked end cap, we had it in mind to look round for a new caravan. Our initial tick list was simple – twin axle, centre  bathroom. Other than that, we would start a list of likes and dislikes as we saw each van based on what we saw.

One thing became clear pretty quickly, we weren’t keen on transverse beds as it meant one or the other of us would have to do some nifty squeezing to get to the bathroom at night.

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“Hmmm why is this table here exactly?”

Hair Drying…

Sue finds the setup for her in our present caravan works really well for hair drying. There is a light, mirror, shelf and 240 volt power socket conveniently placed so she can sit on the edge of the bed and dry her hair. This was one of the things we were scoring on. We were surprised that in some of the vans this was not possible. Sit on the edge of the bed and watch TV… but no mirror. Or a mirror, shelf and light but nowhere to plug-in a hair dryer or straighteners. While on the subject of TV’s… why do manufacturers insist on installing a TV mount in the bedroom…. but not always in the living area. By choice we would not have a mount fitted in the bedroom but would want one in the living area.

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… Like the fridge and microwave locations… no cooker hood though.

The other thing that we noticed was Swift are now installing a TV mount in a locker on the outside of the caravan…. methinks someone has been watching too many American RV shows with 40 inch TV’s installed on the outside. Personally I think this is a bad idea. TV’s in awnings have been the source of noise complaints in the past. I do hope this is not going to be a new trend.

Tables…

In our current van, the table is stored under the bed, and to be honest it’s a pain to get out and put away. So we checked out the table locations. Some were great, right in the living area… others were not so good, you had to carry them from the back of the van through to the front. I know it’s only a minor thing but its a thing never the less.

Outside Lockers…

Right, who said “We don’t need outside lockers” then? It seems more and more are dropping the number of outside lockers. The ones that do remain, just how useful are they? A number of the caravans we looked over you would be hard pushed to get a couple of outside chairs in the lockers as the space inside had been sub divided or was a wet locker. Currently we can store our chairs, waste hog and Cadac that are stored under the bed from the outside via a reasonably sized locker hatch only having to carry the Aquaroll inside the caravan to store it under the bed. When you start looking at the practicality of some of the lockers and what you can or can’t fit in through the opening do you realise the limitations.

Sinks we like…

Sinks… not really exciting but getting it right is important. Currently we have a rind sink, which is OK, until you want to use it. we have to find a place to put the sink cover… get out the draining board, make some space on the counter top, drop on the draining board and we are good to go. Afterwards, dry off the draining board, put it away, get out the sink cover and fit it back over the sink. Not too onerous really, but not exactly convenient. Now we both spotted this sink…. (photo below)

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Now that sink we do like and a solid door between the kitchen are and bathroom.

and both of us commented on what an improvement it was. The lid acted as an additional splash back the draining board was integrated into the sink so water draining off the washed dishes would not go everywhere… except back in the sink and it was a more usable shape. The tap too was handy, it would swing over the hob to allow filling of a pan rather than hiding a pan partly in the sink with one hand while trying to operate the tap with the other. We liked the general layout of this kitchen, the powered roof extractor right above the hob, but the down side was the hight and location of the microwave.

While on the subject of roof fans… why can’t caravan manufacturers install a sensible extracting cooker hood that vents to the outside?

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… A cooker hood! sadly only a circulation type not a proper extractor and twin beds… only the bathroom is to the rear. Close but no cigar!

After looking round all the manufacturers twin axle offerings we were very tempted… to the point of sitting down with the sales rep from Glossop Caravans and getting a value on our van for a trade in with the Sterling Celebration 635 – a dealer special. It ticked a lot of the boxes but sat in our caravan that evening we went through where we would put what… and it seemed like we were always making compromises about what could go where. and the list of what we would have to change or adapt seemed to get longer and longer. The layout was good… and we did like the fact the transverse bed was on the opposite side… I don’t know why that should make a difference really. But it came down to silly things… like that outside TV locker. That was a complete waste for us, and why didn’t they offer the rear view camera? It was fitted on other spec Swift caravans?

Our Ideal Layout…

We popped in to see the Vanmaster caravan… hand-built luxury, they only build about 12 per year apparently. This was a bit of an eye-opener layout wise for us though. The interior design was not to our taste, but these guys had our perfect layout. Centre bathroom and twin beds to the rear. Solid doors to shut of the bathroom both from the bedroom and the kitchen area.

So here it is, our ‘ideal’ (for the moment!) layout and options…

  • A Centre bathroom with twin beds to the rear. Under each bed, a storage space accessible from the outside, with perhaps on the off side a slightly larger door so that an Aquaroll can be passed through (store the Aquaroll and wastehog on the side it’s going to be used… along with perhaps the mains cable and hose pipe).
  • A solid door between the bedroom and bathroom, and another solid door between the living area and bathroom. The bathroom to have a powered roof fan vent.
  • A service light on the off-side above the EHU plug-in point & water point and a light mounted on the “A” frame to light the front gas locker.
  • Rear view camera.
  • Proper cooker hood.
  • Sensible place to sit and dry hair.
  • No “hunk of iron” screwed to the wall in the bedroom for a TV that we would never fit.
  • Internal water tank.
  • Suitable area for me to work at a laptop.
  • Ability to install a second leisure battery.
  • 100 watts minimum solar panel
  • At least 800mm width of wardrobe hanging space (2 x 400 would be fine)
  • Lounge table stored in the lounge area.
  • A useful ‘user’ load capacity of 200Kg
  • Lockers… lots of lockers that you can actually put stuff in. Also locker doors that open downwards not lift up so you have to get on your hands and knees to peer inside under the open door.

Decisions Decisions….

So what did we decide in the end? Well our caravan went back to Glossop Caravans to have new caps installed and the damp sorted, and while it was there we decided to have the roof light in the bedroom and the one in the bathroom replaced with the new clear tilt lift ones that are now fitted as standard in a number of vans. The old ones were virtually impossible to clean and both were showing cracks in the edges of the outer perspex layer.

I have designed and built a new section for the chest of draws in the lounge that fits between the draws and the front window that will give us two 12 volt sockets, three 240 volt sockets and 6 USB sockets. Once that’s installed and with the new roof lights fitted…. we decided to keep the caravan for another year.

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Staying at the NEC for the show…

If you haven’t done it… DO IT! For us it was well worth it. It’s not cheap, but being able to wander in and out of the show, planning what to see and going back to check out things in detail was really worth it.

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That’s us in the distance on the corner…. in front of the tent!…

“In A Tent… In A Car Park…. Next To The NEC….”

We were pitched on the corner right in front of the tent and on the first night the music kicked off… and it was… it wasn’t all that bad, in fact it was pretty good. The next nights music was pretty good also. So not wanting to be missing anything we ventured in and it was packed out…

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It was a great atmosphere and everyone was enjoying it. It was a different group playing each night. The beer was cold and not too pricy, the food seemed to be going down well too.

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If you haven’t stayed at the NEC for one of the big shows, it’s well worth it in our opinion, especially if you are looking to buy a new caravan or motor home. It gives you plenty of time to look round, make lists and go back to find exactly what you want.

Oh and by the way…. the catch phrase of the week from the evenings MC…. “In A Tent… In A Car Park…. Next To The NEC

I’d like to take a second to thank all the Caravan Club staff that make staying at the NEC possible. It looks easy, but I’m sure an awful lot of work has to go into the organisation of it all and hard work by members staffing the site. Remember, if we don’t book and use it, we could lose it!

What’s Next?…

I’ve just taken delivery of a dash-cam for the Amarok. It’s a twin camera unit so I’ll be installing that in the next few days. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing a write-up on the actual installation… unless you would like to read about it. Let me know.

UPDATE… (even before the post is posted!)

It’s taken me a few days to write this article and this morning (5th Nov) we went up to Glossop Caravans to collect our caravan after having the remedial work done for the damp and the two new roof lights installed. The work on the damp seems fine, I guess time will tell with that. The roof lights have been installed and they are exactly what we wanted. However our initial checks didn’t show up an issue. It wasn’t until we got the caravan back to our storage facility that on closer inspection one of the roof lights had a crack in the main body.

The bathroom roof light, perfect, no issues.

The bathroom roof light, perfect, no issues.

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However on the roof light above the bed there is a crack on the inner frame…

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At first we thought is was a dirty mark, but on closer inspection it is a fully developed crack…

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… possibly starting from this over tightened screw maybe?

So, as I was on a night shift last night and asleep most of the day as I’m on nights again tonight (no bonfire for me) I’ll have to drop them an email tonight with a follow-up call on Monday.

Sometimes you really want to just go “AAAAAGHHHHHHHHHH”