OK a bit of a rhetorical question really. Caravan Chronicles now has a bit of a shop. Well I call it a shop, it’s really just one page of links to stuff I have bought and used throughout the blog from Amazon.
I started a while ago adding a few links here and there at the end of my posts for bit’s and bob’s I’d used in any particular post. I got a few emails asking where I’d got so and so from and it seemed the best place would be a single page to list everything. So here it is… Caravan Chronicles Shop.
It’s not a real shop, I’m an “Amazon Associate” (fancy title!) but all that really means is I get a small… and I mean small percentage if you buy anything via Amazon by clicking on the link. So far this year I think it has paid for a couple of Grande Latte with Extra Shot from Costa.
Fear not, don’t think I’m going to load it up with “Merch” (I think that’s the term) it’s only going to be stuff we have bought and used so no teddy bears wearing tee shirts with the Caravan Chronicles logo emblazoned across their furry chests.
That’s it for now. Off in a few days to meet up with Travelling K (yep all the way from NZ!) for a super secret event… Schhhh.
As usual Henry and Oscar would like to thank you for following along. Here they are checking out their new cat shelf I made from some of the 12mm tube and bending tool left over from the “Mirror Mirror” project. (Links to both can be found in the shop!)
Following on from my last post – Never Admit to Being a Caravan Designer (Well Not to Caravaners!) I was floored by the number of emails I received on the subject of design. So after our trip out to the Manchester Caravan & Motorhome show at Event City a few days ago, I thought I’d sit down and pen a few more thoughts on the subject.
I believe that if you store something where you use it, it will make your life easier. One of the big items that almost every caravan wrestles with is the Aquarol. its bulky, fairly lightweight when empty, often wet from the liquid sunshine we enjoy in the UK and sometimes muddy. Where do you put it when travelling? OK, so you buy a bag to sort out the wet and muddy bit and maybe just put it in the doorway… or in the shower tray. That seems like a good place. Just carry it through your nice clean van and put it in the shower tray. Sorted…. unless you have a mid bathroom shower that has the shower ‘conveniently” located over a wheel so the floor has a step in it. The designers sell it as a feature… “You can rest your feet on it when showering” they say. However don’t stick your Aquarol in there if you have bi fold doors!
A fellow caravan enthusiast who shall be nameless – I’ll call him George… decided that this would be perfect for storing the Aquarol. He put it in the shower of his previous rear bathroom outfit for years without incident so no need to change anything. Upon arrival at site in with the first outing of the shiny new caravan all was going well until Mrs George popped her head out of the door and exclaimed to George that she could not get the Aquarol out. “It’s in the shower dear” exclaimed George. Irritatedly “I know that I can see it but I can get it out” came the rather louder reply. On examination of the problem George discovered that the carefully placed Aquarol had somehow shifted and was now preventing the bi-fold door from opening therefore stopping it’s extraction and subsequent deployment and use for brewing that much-needed cup of tea.
What’s the moral of this story? Well if you store something where you use it it will make your life easier. So as nearly all caravan users possess possibly one of the best inventions ever for transporting the splashy stuff about with ease why haven’t caravan designers thought about this? I was thinking of George when I was pondering the uses of this cupboard…..
There is a matching one on the other side funnily enough… but what did the designer have in mind for these cupboards… shoes (who would want to put wet shoes away in there?) Handbags…. maybe but I prefer to hang mine on a hook. It looks great… on a computer mock-up but as for use, well maybe I have a better idea. As they are right at the back of the caravan you really would not want to store your collection of beach pebbles in them.
Instead of a cupboard, just block it off and instead create a wet locker across the back of the caravan and stick a door like this in it……
… it may need a bit of adjusting size wise but imagine a wet locker accessed from the side that you use the Aquarol and wastehog on that you can simply throw these two bulky but relatively light items in… and there would be room for your wet and muddy mains cable too! All right where you need them.
Now here is an idea…. put the water inlet in there along with the mains inlet and a small hatch in the floor…. save on cutting holes in the side of the caravan and it means we all might just get away with using shorter mains cables!
Caution Vehicle Reversing
In a galaxy far far away… oops wrong blog…. I recently watched a chap valiantly trying to manoeuvre his caravan onto an awkward pitch using his motor mover. Stone walled raised bed one side, overhanging branches, awkward access angle all on a short pitch with a stone wall at the back of the pitch. Normally I’d postulate that the chap in question would have been able to perform this manoeuvre on a sunny afternoon with remote control in one hand, a mug of tea in the other while carrying on a conversation with the couple two pitches down. However at eight o’clock on a winters eve in near wartime blackout conditions required the use of a head torch (flashlight for my US readers) and a lantern held aloft by his partner and much wandering side to side and swivelling of the head to direct the head torch in the desired direction.
We don’t have a motor mover… for some reason Sue seems to take enjoyment from me sweating like a traction engine driver at a summer steam rally when reversing on to a pitch… but if we did, the question I’d have to ask is why don’t they have a 13 pin socket wired in so that you could simply plug-in the caravan’s road lights and turn on the reversing lights, hazard lights… heck even get the marker lights and brake lights to work. I’m sure there are people out there that have to detach their caravans on the road and reverse them into their drive and having simple flashing hazard lights and operational marker lights would be a good safety feature.
I have a small cunning device waiting to be fitted…. it consists of a remote key fob and a couple of solid state relays to be mounted in the caravan. On selecting reverse while seated in the vehicle I can simply push a button on the key fob and it will turn on the awning lights and can be made to turn on under floor LED flood lights to light up either side of the caravan. It stays on for a pre-determined time that can be adjusted so if you have to pull forward for a second attempt (highly likely) the lights stay on. Just waiting for a suitable time to mosey off down to the caravan storage site to do a test fit.
The Perfect Caravan
For those go you that have been following the blog for a while will know we have been flip-flopping like a stroppy teenager over getting a new caravan. Well we were…. then we weren’t than we were, then we changed our minds about what we wanted. Then we couldn’t find one and we changed our minds again… anyhoo we managed to tick more boxes off our list with one of these than any other…..
So the question is….. will we or won’t we? Will there be a deal at the NEC in February to tempt us…. or will we wait until the August price slashing begins?
By the way if you wanted to know how George managed to retrieve the Aquarol…. it required a wire coat hanger and a length of paracord…. and about four hours of fishing to raise the Aquarol up above the step in the shower tray.
It’s that time of year again, a few days before the opening of the North’s biggest caravan and motorhome show and the first of the New Year at Manchester’s Event City and again we are sat thinking about changing the van this year. Mind you we were convinced last year… and the year before we were going to change the caravan.
In 2017 we went to the shows, round dealers and almost did the deal. However a few things just kept us from signing on the dotted line. We also came close last year, but again there were design elements that just didn’t sit right with me.. or t least would make me compromise more than I wanted to.
So here is my guide to any caravan designers out there working on the 2020 design that they hope is going to be the next winner.
Looks and sounds good…
A locker containing a TV swing out arm…. OK stop watching American RV shows right now. What were you thinking guys… We don’t sit round campfires watching TV in the middle of the Mohave… honestly we don’t. If people want to watch TV in their awning I’m pretty sure they will have come up with a way by now that suits them. It’s not even like you designed the thing so that you could leave a 24 inch TV permanently mounted and closed away securely in the locker.
While we are on the subject of TV’s…. stop putting the radio in a cupboard in the front of the caravan… put it near where you provide a TV mount. A lot of thin screen TV’s have poor speakers and a great solution that many caravaners opt for is connecting the TV sound to the radio AUX input… but a lot don’t because it becomes a major challenge routing a pair of screened wires round and through all the cabinets. Make it easy, put the radio near the TV, install a AUX jack and sell it as a feature!
Right, which designer is going to own up to designing a storage space in the wardrobe in the rear bathroom of a van to store the table. Did you design the van and at some point while you were stood at the coffee machine someone say to you “Dude I didn’t see where you stored the table in your design” and you immediately rush back to your workstation and in a panic put in the wardrobe in the rear washroom.
Have you ever had to get a table out, and set it up with a caravan full of people balancing drinks when some one is shooting “PLEASE SET THE TABLE UP NOW… DINNERS READY”
It’s on the other side…. or end!
Right I want all designers to go and stand on empty pitches at five caravan sites and look round. What do you see? Bollards…. you read that right Bollards… at the rear of the pitch. Why there you may ask? Well designing a site or upgrading a site if you can avoid digging across a pitch to install services it tends to be cheaper and easier to reinstate the ground afterwards, so most are laid out that way for cost and convenience. Is been like that for quite a few years. So why do you insist in keep designing the power, water connections at the front of the caravan… and some of you just for good measure put one on each side. If you take the common size pitch and park your caravan in the middle throw up a mahoosive flappy tent thing on one side and connect up your Aquarol (other water containers are available) then try to squeeze your tow car down the other side – that is if you have the room with an 8 foot wide van – avoiding parking so that vehicle door can actually open without bashing the water container or the passenger can actually squeeze past.
Here’s an idea….
Here’s an idea…. put the water inlet and power inlet on the rear off side corner and while you are at it check out how American RV’s have a locker with all the connections inside and a convenient opening in the floor to pass the connections through. That would save cutting holes and installing expensive fittings. While you are at it moving the water about, here’s an idea, install a simple Hozelock fitting with a check valve and pressure regulator so when on a device pitch, rather than expecting customers to buy expensive adaptor fittings, they can just buy a cheap food grade hose to hook up. Could this be the next USP I wonder?
To off grid or not to off grid?.. that is the question.
I applaud the designer that moved the leisure battery from a side locker to under floor mounting and moved the gas bottle from the front to the side. Heavy items, get them low and in the centre I say.
However, next year go one step further… make the battery locker bigger to accommodate two batteries and ready for Lithium… which may mean insulating them. Nearly all caravans are sold now with solar panels, but it would be nice to be able to choose to install an additional battery to take advantage of the solar without having to start installing aftermarket sealed and externally vented battery boxes.
It’s behind you…
…. well it might be but I can’t see it. It’s time to offer a rear view camera option on all caravans now I think for safety’s sake. A lot of motorhomes are offering it as an option or a standard fit. While it is fairly easy on a motorhome as the display choice is dictated by the designer. For a caravan it’s slightly more complicated as some vehicles have rear view systems built-in, some have nothing so how do you decide what to install? Simple really.. most systems use composite 1 volt peat to peak video and there are dozens of components out there on the internet that allow this to be digitised, scrambled, flipped and sent vis radio, bluetooth, over power feeds and via IR so it can’t be that difficult or expensive to install a system with a remote screen at a sensible price point. The biggest hurdle for anyone contemplating installing a rear view camera system is actually mounting the camera on the caravan body and running all the cables.
Unless you have towed a trailer with electronic brakes you will never know how horse and cart our current over-run hitch brake system is. In the land of the… that lot over the pond, have been using electrical braking systems for a while and in the land down under (Straylia… YESSSS….. for John Cadogan fans) ALKO have been offering a system for a number of years that is really just an extension of their caravan chassis ‘kit of components’ and could easily be adopted for European component chassis.
Now a lot of you know from my past volumes of scribblings I kind of enjoy delving into caravan dynamics and I really want a caravan with electronic brakes. OK before the comments come stating that under current regulations you are required to have over-run braking system etc etc…. yep I know. However from my poking around this subject for over 18 months now, it seems that you can fit electronic brakes as long as the existing over-run setup is retained.
If you are still reading this go and check this out from seven years ago about a system that was going to be produced….. if I was setting this cones out I think I’d be going changing my undergarments…. www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIB7Rmhll9s\
Right, I wanted to keep this down to a short 1000 words, and I failed as it’s over 1300 now. I hope you have all had a great Christmas and may 2019 bring you new touring adventures and memories. We’ll see you on Thursday 17th at:
Ok, not one of my usual blog posts. I get a lot of email asking about various electrical items related to caravans and motorhomes and a few things seem to keep cropping up on a regular basis. One is to do with 12 volt relays… what types are there and what are the pin connections.
Another is to do with cable size relating to load and its relation to the length of cable…. “I have a 40 Amp load and its 3 metres from the battery… what size cable do I need?” type questions.
In the past I’ve emailed back with answers, but one caravan engineer asked me if I know of any information sheets that had this type of info that he could put above his workbench.
So I’ve produced a couple of A3 size PDF information sheets (they will print A4) that can be downloaded printed out and pinned up, shoved in your notebook, glued to the lid of your tool box or used to wrap that must have tool present for your beloved caravan or motorhome DIY enthusiast in your life (seasonal eh!)
(I have been told that Office World can print and laminate A3 PDF’s cheaply…. I never knew that!)
I have stylised them as technical drawings and I’ve had to watermark them and some of the icons as I found a lot of my drawings were ending up “as is” or edited on various sites and forums without any credit or link back to Caravan Chronicles. You are free to print out and use them for your own personal use, but if you wish to use them (or any of my drawings) for commercial use, inclusion in blog posts or forums please include a credit line back to CaravanChronicles.com and drop me a line to let me know.
We are just back from Chester Fairoaks after doing the Chester Christmas market and a bit of shopping at Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet Village and will be adding off to York for a bit more Christmas Market action.
I have a couple of more information ‘posters’ in development but if you have any ideas for future offerings, drop a line in the comments below. Of course my legal advisor – Henry has asked me to point out E & OE
(Everything on the internet is improved by a cat apparently… so here’s Henry)
When you are starting to look for a replacement… or even your first caravan, you collect ideas. You see something and think “that’s a good idea” and from that point you start judging all other caravans against that ‘thing’ you have in your mind that you think is a good idea. After a while you start to build up a collection of “that’s a good idea” and ‘thing’s’. What your mind builds is a perfect caravan for you and that is what you are endlessly searching for.. your perfect caravan.
Well here is a “that’s a good idea” that is one of a collection for my perfect caravan. If you have ever watched any of the American RV walk rounds one thing that is common to them all is they all have slide outs… heck even some slide outs have slide outs of their own. (I’m waiting for the next super king cab dually pickup truck to have a slide out..!) Nope it’s not a slide out I’m thinking of though.
You know when you start watching things on YouTube you sometimes end up somewhere completely off topic and you can’t resist…. well a while ago starting with watching Andrew Ditton… I ended up watching some videos from a site called Anton’s Camping.
Now my Danish is not good I have to admit, It is in fact abysmal. I have mastered “OK” and I think “Hello”… or “Hallo” (that might be Dutch?) but that is about it. Back to Anton…. he does do a good walk round of caravans we don’t generally see in the UK and one thing caught my attention on one of his walk rounds is the electrical and water connections to caravans. A Knaus in particular.
One of the things on our list for a new caravan an internal fresh water tank. However, this Knaus takes it to the next level.
Next to the water tank are the water drain valves and water inlet connection…..
…. and 230 volt electrical connection with a hole in the floor to pass the electrical cable and water connection through.
Now for me this is a big improvement on having a locker that contains the battery and 16 amp connector, in which you always have to slightly force the hinge a bit when trying to shut the cover while your mains cable is dangling out of an under sized groove cut in the hatch door developing a permanent kink. Additionally the hassle of cleaning off the water connection under the plastic flap on the side of the caravan after you have just driven two hours down a rain-soaked motorway with all the road spray running down the side of the caravan and under the flap… then once connected, remembering you forgot to close the drain tap just as the call from inside the caravan goes out…… “Have you turned the water on yet?”… and you feet get wet again as the pump kicks in and a river of water cascades from underneath the caravan.
This is on my “that’s a good idea” list and any caravan that does not have this setup is just not going to be MY perfect caravan.
One thing that looking for a new caravan brought home is how they are all the same. Different manufacturer seems only to mean different cushions, everything else is nearly identical. I guess if all the manufacturers all use Alko chassis, same layout, cooker, loo, shower… all the windows and roof vents come from one supplier and internal fittings from another supplier then we are limited to what they can actually do. So it is down to the “that’s a good idea” things that are going to make the difference.
Now… Where was I going back at the start with the American RV stuff…. what you see on every American RV is a locker that houses all the water connections drain taps flush valves for their grey and black tanks… heck most have lights and heaters installed for winter use.
Maybe looking across the pond or down under to ‘Straliah’ to see if there is anything that can be used to move our caravans (and motorhomes) forward design wise. This is not always a good thing however. It was obvious that someone from Swift had been watching too many RV videos where manufacturers had installed a mahoosive TV on the outside of a motorhome and rushed into the next design meeting slightly red-eyed with all the late night YouTube viewing doing an impression of Michael Caine… “Hang on lads… I’ve got an idea…..” which resulted in, in my personal opinion, that useless ‘pull out swing arm tv mount in a locker’ waste of space on the side of their caravans.
Bailey seem to be the only manufacturer thinking outside the box on design… getting without the front locker and putting the gas bottle in a side locker close to the axle. Even dropping the battery into the floor (spare wheel in a recess in the floor would be great too!) Maybe they might want to look at reducing the clutter and having one locker just for the water and electrical connections… and maybe towards the rear so we can use shorter cables and water hoses on serviced pitches.
Anyhoo, if you want to watch some of Anton’s Camping videos you can do at the link above, or for the video of the Knaus I’ve taken the still shots from is below. Keep a look out for the natty umbrella holder (although it might be a baguette holder!) and possible the best door bin replacement idea yet!
Although it might seem quiet here at the Caravan Chronicles pitch there have been a few things going on behind the scenes so I thought it was time for a catchup and a chat.
A lot of people have been asking why I haven’t done any YouTube videos? Well the simple fact is they are flippin’ hard work…. plus I don’t particularly like being on video. I’m not a ‘presenter’ by any means… (mind you I’m not a writer either but enough people seem to read this blog). I really don’t know how Andrew Ditton, Dan Trudgian and all the others have time to produce the amount of good quality content that they do. Hats off to you guys!
I also missed a milestone some time ago. I was watching the stats counter tick away waiting for the blogs 20 millionth page hit/view what ever you want to call it and for some reason I stopped watching. It was a few days ago that I thought to check and blow me it had ticked past the 21 million! I started to look at how I’d hit this figure and it seems that a lot of my technical stuff has been linked to in various leisure (and boating) blogs and forums around the world so a lot of hits are derived from people searching on these. I also seem to be developing a wider audience ‘down under’ in “Straliah…… Yessssss” – I really should stop watching John Cadogan videos on YouTube!
While I’m mentioning Australia, My friend, well-known author Collyn Rivers has launched his new website RVBooks.com.au
Collyn has been writing books about Caravans and Motorhomes in Australia and New Zealand for a number of years and now all his books are available as eBooks from the website.
Collyn is also an engineer with quite a pedigree and his technical articles are superb in their detail and explanation. Although tailored to the Australian and NZ markets, Collyn has started to introduce information relating to European manufactured caravans and motorhomes as imports are starting to do surprisingly well down under.
In a recent email from Collyn he explained….
“Caravan rollovers have sadly reached serious proportions here as more and more newcomers do not understand that it is not possible to get away with towing 3.5-tonnes at 100 km/h (62 mph) behind a 4WD that weighs only 2.5 tonnes and increasingly with a tow ball mass of little over 5%! This year so far over 200 have overturned almost overturning the 4WD as well. Sadly most owners seem to be in denial”
Have a read through some of the technical articles he has written, the explanation and answer is quite clear.
Is it me or are available pitches getting harder to find? OK I know I have been trying to get into the C & MC’s Bristol site for the last three… maybe four years without much success but sometimes it’s almost as difficult to get into other sites too. I know both clubs are undertaking rolling refurbishment and upgrades to a lot of sites and sometime this includes adding additional pitches. But I wonder if more thought should be going into looking at developing new sites? I know the figures put forward by the leisure industry at large all show ‘staycations’ hitting new levels with year on year increases not seen before and the NCC announced record levels of caravan and motorhome ownership which puts pressure on existing sites.
Trying to find suitable space to develop a new caravan site must be a nightmare… let alone gaining planning permission, but a thought did cross my mind. Thinking about the Bristol site, maybe it’s overwhelming popularity is because it is right in the centre of Bristol and ideal for a city visit. I wonder if there are opportunities being missed looking at brownfield sites that could be developed within cities. Just my thoughts!
As you know from some of my previous ramblings, probably for the last 12 months or so we have been thinking about a new caravan and kind of narrowed it down to a twin axle, centre bathroom layout and ideally a twin bed, but that was about it. Despite going to view a few, nothing jumped out at us and it has been interesting to watch Dan Trudgian and family go through a similar process. So what did we choose…. well lets say we’ll start looking again at some point in the future…. maybe.
I guess this really is the update to an update (Getting All Charged Up – Update…). We have been living with the Sterling Wildside unit now for about 6 months and a LOT of people have been emailing me asking how we are getting on with it and is it worth it?
Well I have done quite a bit of testing with my leisure battery in various states of discharge. With it at about 50% I have recorded a charging current of 15.9 Amps which is far greater than I could manage before and due to the fact that the Wildside unit uses the correct charging profile for my battery I’m not concerned that I will be reducing or damaging my leisure batteries life expectancy.
Earlier this month I had an email from David Dent who had successfully installed a Wildside unit in his Bailey Unicorn 3 Cadiz and he seemed pleased with the results so far. Although installing it in a Bailey was a bit more of a challenge. I’m looking forward to checking back with David to see how he is getting on with his unit.
A couple of other people have also emailed me reporting that after installing a Wildside unit that it had solved their problem of having enough stored energy to operate their motor movers. I still wonder if people who have been experiencing problems with their motor movers caused by supposedly bad batteries and have had to replace them is possibly down to the fact their battery was never really receiving a correct or full charge before causing its early demise.
One of the things I want to get to add to my ‘tool box’ in the near future is one of the computerised digital battery testers. At the moment I’m basing a lot of my work on the voltage of the battery and chemistry type. I’d like to be able to improve on this.
Watch This Space…
The other thing I’d also like to be able to do is get a voltage and charge current reading for the leisure battery while we are actually driving. I have been looking at a few – mainly American options for bluetooth remote voltage and current sensors that you can connect up to with your phone. There are a couple of devices that offer a separate display to fit in your vehicle.
However, there is a rather exciting unit that will shortly be coming on the market in this area that might be a bit of a game changer. If you want to know what it is well go and see Andy Harris or one of the guys on the Road Pro stand at the NEC in a couple of weeks time as they, along with the manufacturer will be launching and demonstrating a new product that might just be bringing caravan technology bang up-to-date. I hope to be bringing you a bit more about this soon and maybe an install too!
Is the Wildside unit worth it? Before I answer this let me just say I am not being paid by anyone for any endorsements of this unit. I was supplied one of the first (pre production?) units as a test and to provide feedback to Sterling Power on how easy it was to install and it’s performance in the real world, which I did. As a result a couple of things were ‘tweaked’ hence mine had to be returned, reprogrammed and reinstalled.
Well I’d say if you have a Euro 6 or even a 5 engine and you want to make sure your battery is looked after then yes. If you want to upgrade to a more advanced battery chemistry, again yes. If I had to return mine would I go out and buy one? Yes I would.
Is there anything I’d like to see changed? Well if they ever did a Wildside 2.0 I’d like to be able to move the caravan’s own charging system so it was routed through the Wildside unit when on mains hook up to take advantage of the Wildside’s smart charging facility and to allow you to move to more advanced battery chemistry. I guess also adding a solar panel input with built-in MPPT would be a big hit too.
In The Future…
I’m starting to wonder if the way we charge and power caravans needs to take a leap forward. I have had an idea that you could basically split an inverter. One half in the vehicle and the other in the caravan. Imagine a small unit that takes the 12 volt DC from the vehicle and inverts it to 48 volts AC. You then have a lead that connects this across to the caravan and there it is converted back into 12 volts DC.
So whats the difference… all you are doing is what’s already happening? Well using a 2.5 mm cable rated for 25 amps at 48 volts gives you 1200 watts of power. To transfer that much power at 12 volts you would need 100 Amps. Keeping it at 48 volts will mean the system is still in the ELV range for safety. (Use 4mm cable and this could be 1680 watts of power which would be equivalent to 140 Amps at 12 volts)
Being able to transfer that sort of energy would allow you to forget LPG cylinders and put 1000 Ah of lithium cells in the caravan with a 240 volt inverter and power everything. Just a thought that I’m throwing out there.
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…
Number One. We were supposed to go to York a few days ago for a five-day break. However that got scuppered at the last-minute by one of our Siamese cats. Polo who is 14 years old suddenly decided he was not very well and it looked like it could have been touch and go and would have warranted that sad last trip to the vet. Something we absolutely could not ask our long-term cat sitter (and house minder) to make. However as it was the sunniest week we have had so far (just our luck) he decided rally round and he’s now fine.. or as fine as a 14-year-old Siamese can be.
Number Two. Last night while clearing up after our evening meal, I was finishing the washing up and Sue took out the kitchen rubbish to the bin. I watched her pass the kitchen window en-route to the bins which are the far side of the vehicles and out of view. After about five minutes or so She hadn’t returned and I guessed She might have been giving our next door neighbours cat a bit of a polish as it does drop in to our garden from time to time to say hello. I sat down in the lounge and thought Sue was being a particularly long time and went out to check. Continue reading →