Accessories, Durham, holidays, Jorvik, National Railway Museum, Touring, travel, York
Wow… it’s been quite a while since our last posting, and many thanks to all those of you who have emailed asking if we are OK. We are both fine, thanks.
Back in October we were due to go to the Caravan & Motorhome show and we had booked in to the campsite at the NEC for 4 days. However, the day before, we actually wondered why we were going. Plenty of other bloggers and video bloggers would be going and posting on YouTube. I guess the plethora of video bloggers filming each other meeting other video bloggers wasn’t what we were about…. so we went to the C & M Club site at Southport instead.
The weather played ball and we had a great few days in the October sunshine getting some cycling and walking in. This was also a bit of a try out for the bike rack on the Amarok and a change in how we pack. Although I’d done a couple of check-runs to make sure everything was stable with the bikes, this was the first real run with the caravan in tow and I’m pleased to report that the rack was stable and didn’t affect the towing in any way.
The bikes were fairly easy to load and unload thanks to the drop down step I’d previously fitted to the rear of the Amarok and all things considered, I think we will now be taking the bikes on more trips. The other change was to how we pack. We now have ‘pre-loaded’ more of the items we take away with us and this makes things a lot easier having a stacking system with boxes for specific things. We are lucky that I have a “bat cave” at home. It’s a workshop really that allows us to store our packing boxes (check out the Really Useful Storage Box Company ) and get them stocked up ready for the next trip over a period of time. It now takes about 10 minutes to load the Amarok and all thats left is to load the clothes.
The other bit of kit that we are long-term testing is the Sterling Power Wildside unit. I’ve written a couple of things in the past about this unit and so far the only thing I can really add is that it has exceeded my expectations of its performance. After not using the caravan for a couple of months and having a parasitic current draw from the alarm (the small charging circuit and 12 volt battery in the alarm has failed yet again!) by the time we had towed from Manchester to Southport our battery was fully charged and the fridge was cold as expected.
Many of you will know in December we like to kick off the festive season with a Christmas Market or two. For the past couple of years we had gone down to Birmingham but this year we fancied trying something different. We booked a couple of sites to give us the chance to try somewhere different.
The first was Durham Grange C & M Club site just off the A1M. This would put us very close to Beamish Museum and Durham. Although Durham Grange is really close to the A1M Junction 62 you can’t really hear the traffic and is a great little site. The general site and facilities were up to standard and the wardens very helpful.
We were on a fully serviced pitch and my standard ‘kit’ of parts allowed connection to the grey water drain without any head scratching.
Again we were lucky with the weather, mainly dry but turning much colder. Beamish is only about a 20 minute drive away and it meant that we could have a full day at the museum without having a silly o’clock morning start. If you have never visited Beamish, I would recommend you put it on your “must do” list, especially if you have children/grand children. One thing you must do while there… go and see the dentist and have a chat and then visit the fish and chip shop with the coal-fired frying range. Standing outside smelling fish and chips frying mixed with the smell of coal fires really takes me back to my early childhood.
Durham Grange is also a great base for a trip into Durham. The Cathedral and Castle are worth a visit and there are plenty of shops to explore in the tiny streets in the city centre. Getting into the centre from the caravan site is easy. On the other side of the A1M to the site is a park and ride that takes you right into the city centre. However a word of caution….. if you walk you have to cross two-three lane slip roads to the A1M and it’s busy even out of peak periods. Trying to walk back to the site in rush hour has to be avoided. We got the park and ride bus in but decided that it would be safer getting a taxi back. In summer however, if you ask the wardens they have a map with the details of a riverside walk into the town centre.
Three days at Durham Grange really didn’t give us chance to explore further, it has been added to the long list of “must go back so we can see….” collection.
Next stop…. York
York has to be on everyone’s list of favourite cities. We had chosen a Tranquil Touring site – York Caravan Park for the second part of our festive tour. Despite the weather forecast of strong winds for the next 24 hours and an increasing chance of light snow the further south we got, the drive down from Durham was an easy tow and the sat nav directed us round Yorks outer ring roads. The only real traffic we saw was around the ring road. As York is a bit of a no go for visiting by car the ring road and feeder roads to the various park and ride points can be a bit congested, but a bit of patience and we were only around 15 minutes late based on what our sat-nav had predicted when setting off. The temperature by now was also dropping and hadn’t risen above four degrees for the whole journey.
York Caravan park is only a couple of miles outside York and right outside is a convenient bus stop with a bus that will whisk you right into the centre in about ten minutes. It had been several years since we had both been to York and one of the stops Sue wanted to do was Jorvik viking centre. The bus dropped us off and we headed in the general direction of Jorvik through all the Christmas Market stalls. At one end of the market was a large teepee that had a log fire burning in the centre and a bar serving all manner of festive spirits. While Sue opted for Mulled Wine, I decided on a mug of hot chocolate with Baileys… well it was only three degrees with a bit of a wind chill.
We really enjoyed Jorvik and it seemed bigger than we remembered it… which I don’t think it was unless they dug a bit more up. Unusually I didn’t see a restriction on taking photos… so I managed to sneak a few… without flash of course (just in case… and I hope I’m not in breach of copyright!).
While mooching round the shops we came across The Cat Gallery (45 Low Petergate) and couldn’t resist a visit…. emerging with a rather fitting mug for Sue “…everything tastes better with cat hair in it”. We headed back towards the station to catch the bus back to the site. As it was Sue’s birthday today, a bit of a tradition to mark the start of our Christmas is the annual viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Nothing better than sitting in a toasty caravan with frost forming outside, a satisfied fullness from an enjoyable meal and a couple of drinks watching a favourite movie.
National Railway Museum…
A visit to York cannot be called complete without a visit to the NRM. The cold weather had now really arrived and far to our west in the Pennine hills snow was forecast. We however had a cloudy but bright frosty morning.
We caught the bus again and this time stayed on all the way to the railway station. You can cut through the station over the foot bridge to the railway museum.. which if it’s raining can be handy. Over the past few years we have done quite a few railway trips on heritage lines and visited a few of the museums but the last time we were here was 32 years ago. A lot of the exhibits had changed of course and the site has expanded.
By mid morning we were part way round it was time of a coffee and we stopped by The Dining Car Restaurant and Sue tried out one of their speciality teas with a sausage sandwich and I can say their coffee was up-to-standard and so was their bacon sandwich. A huge improvement on the old BR offerings!
One of the things that I personally think is a “must see” at the museum if you have any interest in railways is hidden round the back of the Flying Scotsman in the store-room. The museum has opened up its stores so you can wander the shelves and see some of their collection that they haven’t got room to put on display and in here you will find the layout used to train signalmen. Each day (check timings) a number of retired signalmen put on a live demonstration on the layout of how signaling works and that is followed up by what can only be described as a re-enactment of a rail disaster. The one we watched saw 7 signalmen going through the sequence of events and demonstrating on the layout with running trains what happened. Very thought-provoking. It’s a must see but please check the timings so you don’t miss it.
It seems that these breaks are over all too soon. The temperature was hovering around one degree and the water hose had frozen overnight as we started to pack up. Snow was forecast later that day and the Pennines had already had an inch or two of snow and it was falling over the M62 west of the Pennines for the run back to Manchester. Thankfully towing our caravan with the Amarok is quite easy and we have a towing ratio of about 65% which really makes things easy and stress free in difficult weather conditions.
The snow wasn’t too bad and not as much as was forecast and we arrived back at the storage facility at the time the sat nav predicted when setting off. Last trip of 2017 done and planning for 2018 can commence.
Some other bits…
As I write this Caravan Chronicles this year has had over 7.8 million page hits – around 14.5 million since I started the blog (I’m still amazed!). This year has basically doubled the number of the previous years total. A lot of this is due in part to links from other blogs and forums, to some of the technical pages. I did look at some of the links into the site and saw that how to connect batteries for example were linked to off grid housing forums, boating, canal boat, sailing, RV, eco and everything in-between. I now find that I receive emails containing questions from all over the world about all sorts of subjects. How many emails?…. well this year it’s been over a thousand that I’ve answered. As a consequence it now takes me a bit longer to respond.
I have found out though that folks that follow links to Caravan Chronicles from some forum or other that they don’t really know about Caravan Chronicles and simply assume that there is a highly paid team in the background answering questions and have a specialised knowledge of their particular field of enquiry and get quite upset when I tell them I haven’t a clue about the house batteries on a Fairhaven 32 foot motor launch and how they are connected (totally made up question of course).
I remember the late (and great) John Wickersham once telling me “Once you have answered a question in print that will be your life”.
The other question that pops up now and again are about ‘merch’ as the Americans refer to it. Do I have a shop with stickers, mugs branded paraphernalia etc. Nope, nada. So far I have resisted the temptation to commercialise, product place or have adverts on the blog. I don’t really want to go that route.
I do however do the occasional review of products that manufacturers send me and try to attempt to be as honest as I can with what I write. I do also work with a couple of manufacturers on products that they are developing or ideas that they have but these don’t get written about.
What’s happening in Caravan Chronicles in 2018…
Well there will be some trips of course and we will be visiting our “local” caravan show at Event City in January.
We are in two minds whether to get a new caravan… we would like a twin axle, twin bed, mid bathroom layout, but we keep thinking there is nothing wrong with the one we have… decision decisions!
There are a few things that are going to be changing on the blog. I have been procrastinating on starting a searchable Q & A page. I’m not sure if this is possible in a WordPress blog and it might mean having to change how the site is hosted. I also want to link up to an interactive travel map. I’m still researching this one though. I’ve also been thinking about the blog’s style and look…. it’s over five years old now and does it need an update?
OK, so now I have a question for you….. I’m a bit undecided about getting a towing cover. They seem to be gaining popularity and after our trip, the front of the caravan could have done with some protection from all the road salt and grime thrown up. As we have never had a cover of any sorts, I’m looking for a bit of feedback on features to look out for and things to avoid. I’d be grateful for any pointers.
Sue and I hope you have a very Happy New Year and safe travels in 2018.
PS… as I sometimes do, a few arty photos…. (proper engineering in monochrome!)
About 12 months ago I ditched using Adobe Photoshop which had been my go-to photo editor for over 10 years in favour of the free Polarr Photo Editor… which I do like for it’s speed and ease of use. I’ve been playing about trying to reproduce the varoius classic postcard looks from the turn of the 19th centtury and mid 20th century…
Raymond Bonello said:
You brought back a lot of memories. Regards
Philip Parkes said:
Simon good to catch up with you again. Would endorse your comments on York Caravan Park which we used for 4 night stopover on return journey from Northumberland. Great location need to go back as we still did not see all that was on the wish list. Towing covers, would not be without our Specialised Cover, model specific to Elegance 565. Keeps front clean in worst of conditions and protection for windows, includes clear “windows” for towing lights. Easy to put on single handed. Not cheap but consider excellent value. Like you I am considering a replacement van-twin axle, fixed twin beds, L shaped lounge. Alaria TS would seem to be a contender but not sold on decor and finish. Maybe put this on hold and save a considerable sum of money.
All the best for 2018 and keep up the good work
Ralph Wilson said:
We have a Pro-Tec towing cover. Again it requires an awning rail on both sides. Once it’s been put on the first time, everything is roughly in the right place and it can be put up by one person. We have the non-tailored one, the only thing that is possibly daunting is cutting holes in the cover and installing clear tape (supplied) to allow the front driving lights of the caravan to show through – apparently that’s a legal requirement. I believe the model-specific tailored covers have the holes for the lights ready made.
I love the towing cover, especially if you tow down muddy lanes.
Simon Barlow said:
I never realised that on some you had to make your own holes for the road lights. I just thought that was done for you. Although logically unless it was tailored for a particular caravan it would make sense.
I’m sure I have seen one cover with lights mounted on it… might be imagining it though.
Thanks for the feedback.
NICHOLAS D'ARCY said:
Simon – nice to hear that you are all good! I’m pleased with your approach to your blog and that commercial gain has not influenced you. It’s frustrating with some of the others. With regard to the question of the front towing cover, I have a “Specialised covers” one which has two parts which zip together, it’s thick and can be fitted single handed. They are not cheap but could save a fortune in repairs. You need an awning rail on both sides though. Great to hear from you again. Keep up the good work!
Simon Barlow said:
I’ll take another look at Specialised Covers, thanks. I’ve not seen any reviews on towing covers ( I might have missed them though) so I’ve only been able to base my thoughts on what manufactures have published in their adverts not real world usage by customers.