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.
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….
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.
As it’s now the ‘off season’ for a lot of caravaners and thoughts turn to sorting out those problems that we put up with on the last couple off trips, I thought I’d look at cable terminations. One of the problems that I’m asked about revolves around cable termination in trailer sockets and plugs. Like most things there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it and there is also the compromise.
So what’s the problem?
Well the problem is terminating a cable to a solid metal part. You will most likely see cables that are striped down to the copper conductors and the individual strands twisted together then inserted in a hole with a screw tightened down to hold the conductors. So whats the problem with this? When you tighten the screw it’s turning obviously and the end of the screw twists down on to the strands of cable, often breaking a few off and pushing quite a few out-of-the-way, usually in an average termination about a quarter of the strands are not held under the screw tip. The 2.5mm square cable you thought would reduce volt drop for the battery charging circuit is now reduced to something less and its current carrying capacity is reduced. Is there a solution?
The obvious one would be to solder the ends of the cable to stop this happening and it’s a great solution, but is does have drawbacks. When you solder the end of a flexible cable the point where the solder stops becomes a weak point and is susceptible to vibration and flexing stress and the thin copper strands transition from being flexible to a solid mass. This is why in aviation, marine and military applications soldering is not usually permitted.
The correct way that flexible conductors should be terminated is by crimping on a “boot lace ferrule”. These are simple brass tubes, sometimes nickel-plated that are slid over the untwisted strands of the conductor and crimped tightly. Some ferrules are just small tubes or ‘U’ shaped section machine crimped and some have a plastic insulator to help isolate the conductor when several are installed in close proximity.
Here’s a simple step by step guide to crimping and terminating a 13 pin trailer socket. It could equally apply to a trailer plug.
For the photos I used a spare socket and short length of standard multi core cable. I have links to all the items, including tools used in the article in “Caravan Chronicles Shopping” at the end.
The tools required are a sharp knife, cable strippers, screw driver, ferrule crimps and the ferrules. (tip: make sure your screw driver is a ‘terminal driver’ with flat parallel faces and if fits snugly into the screw head. As the screws are brass, it’s easy to damage the head using the wrong screwdriver)
The first step is to trip back the outer cover for the cable. Strip back enough so that the individual cables are long enough to trim to length:
The next thing to check is have you got the right end of the cable? The cable manufacturers lay the individual conductors in a specific pattern so that when stripped, the pattern of colours is in the right order for the end you are terminating. If you have the incorrect end of the cable you will have to cross all the colours over each other to install them correctly in the plug (or socket) As you can see, this is the wrong end for a socket:
Ok, I’ve stripped the other end and you can see the colours are in the right ‘order’ for terminating a socket:
Next we need to measure the difference in termination length between the four centre line and the 9 outer pins… here it’s about 8 mm:
Measuring the back waterproofing cover I know the outer jacket needs to be a maximum of 45 mm from the 9 outer pins and the 4 inner pins need to be trimmed back to 37mm:
Now the cable is cut to the right length so there should be no short or long cables causing problems when assembling the socket:
Strip back the individual cables so the exposed conductors are the same length as the ferrules:
Slide the correct diameter ferrule on to the exposed conductors:
Crimp into place:
The crimp tool is set so that it will only apply the correct pressure to compress the exposed conductors the required amount. Squeeze the handles and the four jaws close on the ferrule and compress it, continue squeezing and once the jaws have attained the right pressure the ratchet mechanism in the handle releases.
If you look at the picture below you will also see that the crimp tool also presses several ridges into the tube, this is to increase the mechanical grip on the conductors and help stop the tube distorting under the pressure of the terminal screw tip:
Continue until you have all the cables completed:
One last check… look for stray strands and anything that doesn’t look as though its crimped correctly… give them the ‘tug’ test if in doubt.
I always like to back off the screws so the ends are just visible in the holes:
The next thing you might need to do is correct the length of the ferrule. I have used standard length ferrules and as the holes in the socket terminals are not as deep, I had to trim off the excess. The ridges pressed into the ferrule body help gauge how much to trim off. In this case I only had to snip off to the first indent:
Once trimmed to length, it’s a simple matter of following the colour coding and inserting each cable and tightening the screw. I always start with the four pins in the middle:
Once all the cables are terminated, have a good look to see if all the screws are tight, and of course check the colours are in the right place!
Because the cable was trimmed to the right length before we started there are no loops, so the cover can slide on neatly:
There we go, a finished socket all ready to mount onto the bracket:
To terminate the socket from start to finish and while Sue (thanks `Sue) took all the photos took no more than 25 minutes. Ok it was on a bench and doing outside at the back of a vehicle will take a bit longer, but it’s not that difficult to get a professional result.
Right back at the start I said there was a compromise – soldering. It’s not difficult to do and achieve and end up with a professional result.
Practice makes perfect and its worth having a go on a scrap length of cable first.
Here’s a few of my tips for successful soldering:
Don’t apply too much heat to cause the insulation to melt (turning down the temperature of the soldering iron or reducing the contact time between the soldering iron and cable helps)
Don’t try to melt solder onto the tip of the iron and run it in to the cable you will burn off the flux too fast… instead touch the solder onto the hot strands of the conductor. Capillary action will pull solder into the strand bundle.
Don’t allow too much solder to be drawn in. You are looking for just enough to still be able to make the outlines of the strands of cable, not a big ‘blob’ of solder on the end.
The solder should look shiny not dull. If it’s dull, the solder cooled too soon as the conductors were not hot enough, this is commonly known as a ‘dry joint’ the solder sits on the surface of the copper.
Avoid breathing in the fumes given off from the flux and the solder. Solder is an alloy of tin and lead… and the flux is pretty nasty too. ( I have an old computer cooling fan that I use to blow the fumes away if I’m doing a lot of soldering).
If you have made the soldered cables too long, you can always trim them back to the correct length. Soldering all the conductors in a caravan cable like this usually takes me no more than five minutes from start to finish.
A few practice runs will soon get you producing good results.
Finally to finish off, I usually give the finished connections a spray of ‘liquid plastic’. It comes in an aerosol can and when sprayed on form a thin plastic coating over everything. You can usually find it in motorbike and automotive shops for waterproofing electrics and HT leads.
It easy to get a good professional result, and I still can’t understand why some tow bar fitting companies don’t either crimp or solder their connections. They usually do when it comes to connecting the other end of the cable to the vehicle. The cynic in me wonders if they are hoping for repeat custom when sockets or plugs start to have problems in the future.
I have been asked where you can purchase some of the products featured above. Here are the links to the products in the Amazon store. If you click on the links and purchase the items, a few pennies will go to helping the cost of running CaravanChronicles.com
13 Pin Milenco Socket : MILENCO 13 Pin Socket Black Caravan / Motorhome / Trailer
13 Pin Milenco Plug : Milenco 13 Pin Plug
13 Core Cable (8 x 1.5mm + 5 x 2.5mm) ISO Approved : 13 Core Caravan Cable Sold per metre
Just finding time to catch up on a few things that I haven’t had time to write about over the past few months.
One of the things we bought a while ago – sometime last year I think, was a cheap de-humidifier from ALDI. I was a little sceptical about the performance of such a small and low priced device initially but it seems to work as advertised. We haven’t been leaving it plugged 24 hours a day but just using it when we are out for the day and in the evening. Usually we just plug it in when we get up are and leave it running stood on in the bedroom area on a low shelf near the bathroom door and in the evening move it into the bathroom and put it on the floor. We don’t leave it running overnight.
Each day it averages just over two cups of water. Now that doesn’t seem much, but that water was in the air and it has to go somewhere, usually in the form of condensation. One thing we have noticed is that in the morning when we open the blinds, even when it’s down to a few degrees above freezing outside there isn’t any condensation on the lower edge of the windows or window frame. In the colder months usually we put the towels used from showering over the heated towel rail in the bathroom to dry and I’ve always worried about condensation forming in the caravan, but I think this little unit might have eased my concerns somewhat. I don’t think a de-humidifier is worth running 24 x 7 in a caravan as there are so many vents, but taking the moisture out of the ‘van from day to day living can’t be a bad thing!
Now being classed as ‘semi-retired’ i.e a part-time job means that I’m limited as to when I can get away. This coupled with Sue’s on-call commitments and theatre schedule at the hospital means that our trips are a bit last-minute. Regular readers will know that since buying our caravan we have always tried to fit in a Christmas Market trip, just to get into the festive spirit. This year looked like it was not going to happen. However, having to use up the last of my holidays before year-end and coupled with the fact the cardiac unit at the hospital was quiet meant we could just about fit in a cheeky little break before Christmas. We had originally set the time aside for a possible trip down to the Isle of Wight to see some friends as one of them was due to undergo surgery a couple of weeks earlier. However surgery was delayed and it would have been too soon after the op. So the next problem was where to go?
Over the past few years we have done a few Christmas markets and a quick check of the ChristmasMarkets.com web site soon gave us the dates for all the markets and Birmingham seemed like a good candidate. Next was to find a site within walking or bus distance – who wants to drive to a christmas market when there is lots of wine being mulled !. The Caravan Club came up trumps with Chapel Lane Caravan Site about 8 miles south of all the Christmas action. A quick check of the Caravan Club website showed the site had spaces and four nights were booked.
Thursday 17th December
We were both off the day before and so we could take the clothes and bedding down to the caravan, which made it easier as all we had to do was load up the comestibles boxes and fridge stuff into the back of the Freelander on day of departure.
Setting off from the storage unit at 10:20 soon had us on the M60 and eventually navigating the road works on the A56 cut through to the M6. Although quite busy the traffic was flowing. We made a brief stop to pick up coffee at Sandbach Services (yep we had forgotten to make a flask of coffee before setting off). I’d programmed the site in as a POI on the sat-nav so it took us straight there without any dramas. It was about 12:40 when we checked in. The site was quiet with maybe twenty or so vans and motorhomes so we had a choice of pitches, eventually opting for one on the corner opposite the facilities building.
Friday 18th December
The weather was forecast to be grey and overcast but no rain and after talking to the wardens the previous afternoon we had an option of catching the bus ( either the X50 or 150 from near the campsite entrance) or catching the train. A train journey of twenty minutes versus a bus trip of about an hour won out. It’s just over a mile (1.2 to be exact) from the site to Wythal Station and it took us about twenty minutes to walk there.
We originally opted for Snow Hill as a destination but looking at the map, Moor Street Interchange was closer. Tickets were £6.80 return each for an open return and the train seemed a logical choice as it was more frequent at peak times. You can buy tickets from a machine at the station entrance.
Moor St Interchange is right next to Selfridges (the pimply building) and is a good landmark to use for getting round. As it was only 10:30ish we… well me.. actually needed a coffee top up so we made a stop at a coffee shop to check the map and come up with a plan of action. The streets were still fairly quiet and we wandered down New Street towards Victoria Square. Following the market signs we navigated round a building that was in the process of being demolished to Centenary Square where there were some smaller craft stalls and a ferris wheel. We headed back towards Victoria Square where the smell of cooking bratwurst sausages, donuts and mulled wine got to us. We purchased a couple of mahoosive red bratwurst sausages, which were delicious.
Looking down New Street it was getting busier and we set off towards New Street Station. A few weeks before we had watched a program about the demolition of the old concourse and opening up of the building, including a new roof, and we, well me really, after working for a number of years for one of the train companies and passing through New St so many times, was keen to see the results. The transformation is amazing….
It was now light and seemed bigger, and the transformation with all the shops and food areas was such an improvement. However one thing to note – the signs for the toilets on the main level all direct you to facilities that are on the rail side of the barriers. The only loo’s that are available for non rail travellers are on the mezzanine level.
Even though it was a grey day never rely getting fully daylight, the light coming into the main concourse area made such a difference.
We had spotted a couple of options for lunch and continued exploring the rest of the malls that were now linked to the main station building. It reminded us of Boston, Mass. where you can walk from one mall through to the Prudential Centre and on to another mall without ever going outside… kind of handy with their winter weather.
Eventually we headed back outside on to New Street and wandered past all the market stalls that were all now brightly illuminated and with lots of people shopping. We did notice that some of the stalls did seem to repeat, having the same things for sale as another stall further up the street.
By the time we had got to the other end of New St again (and I’d bought a new camera) it was time for a late lunch and a sit down (plus I wanted to play with my new purchase). We wandered back to New Street Station and headed for a tapas bar (Tapas Revolution, Grand Central Station) we had spotted earlier.
After enjoying some tapas washed down with a rather nice house red, we ventured out again and re-visited some of the locations we had been to earlier so I could take a few photos with the new camera (OK why the new camera… well normally I’d have a full frame body with a 70-200 on the front and a couple of other lenses on my back pack and sometimes I just don’t want to carry all that gear about but have something I can slip in my pocket but still have the functionality and resolution of my normal gear and a Canon G7X fitted the bill)
By the time we got back to Victoria Square again, Sue decided it had to be mulled wine time by now and I wanted one of those hot chocolates with the squirty cream on top. The large Swiss chalet building had a bar underneath and a balcony with a group playing festive music. Just as we got served, it started to rain so we squished in under one of the covered tables with a few others to listen to the music. All very festive… except for the rain but it was way to warm to snow.
Saturday 19th December
For the past couple of years I’d always wanted to visit the Heritage Motor Centre as it is located adjacent to the Jaguar Land Rover Gaydon Centre the home of the Land Rover Collection. I’d had it as a POI in the GPS for a while and we had been in striking distance of it on several trips, but never had the time (or it was a school half term) However we thought it would be a quiet time to visit, so set off to drive the 12 miles from the site. We came off the motorway and followed the sat-nav through some road works and turned into the road that leads up to the entrance and were met with a small banner cable tied to the fence:- “The Centre is closed for refurbishment and will reopen on the 13th Feb 2016”. Nooooo!
It’s my fault, I should have checked on-line, but in all fairness who the heck thought they would close the whole damn thing. I was not a happy camper to say the least. I’d even picked up a brochure in the site information centre about it too!
Sue to the rescue
Sue being Sue had put one of the pamphlets from the information centre in her bag about Hatton Shopping Village which also had some christmas things going on and was only a couple of junctions back along the M40, so sat-nav suitably programmed we turned round in the empty drive to the motor centre and headed off to our new destination. It was a bit off the beaten track and if you go when it’s raining you need a 4 x 4 as the overspill car park is a field of deep Warwickshire mud.
There is an eclectic collection of shops from farm produce to bridal gowns and everything in between. It’s not huge but there are some nice outlets selling local crafts. We both spied a sweet shop that had a resident chocolatier and after small investment we emerged stocked up with a bag of hand made chocolates and regular readers will know my weakness for coltsfoot rock and traditional cough candy. Opposite the sweet shop was a furniture shop and in the small window there was a rather nice reproduction art deco square table lamp that would just be right in our hallway at home. Wallet somewhat lighter we emerged with a lamp. We continued our wanderings… past the bridal gown shop where a young woman was trying on a wedding dress… It took me all my strength to stop Sue from pressing her nose up against the window… not really, but it did look nice even I have to admit that.
We continued round and as luck would have it just as it was lunch o’clock a cafe appeared. The menu had a reasonable choice – Sue opted for salmon fish cakes with poached egg and hollandaise sauce with green leaf salad and I went for chicken schnitzel and a cheese sauce.
Unfortunately when it arrived mine was served on a planed down scaffolding plank. Sorry but scaffolding planks, bits of driftwood, roofing slates, cute mini dustbins/flower pots/buckets, shovels (yep there is a place somewhere that serves breakfast on a shovel) to me are not my cup of tea. Call me strange, but I do like a plate with my food.
On the way out we called in the village shop and picked up a hand raised pork pie and a selection of local artisan cheese along with a jar of sweet chilli jam and a fresh cottage loaf – still warm, just the required ingredients for an evenings grazing sat with one’s feet up in front of the TV. I wouldn’t say Hatton Shopping Village is a destination in its self, but it is worth stopping off if you are in the vicinity or passing near by.
Sunday 20th December
We woke up to clear blue sky and a chill in the air, it was only 6 degrees according to the digital thermomiterbob do-hicky, which was a drop from the past few days where it had been in double figures.
After the incident of the closed museum the previous day, I did check to make sure the “Think Tank” was open, it was and so we set off in the Freelander back into the centre of Birmingham not far from where we had been on Friday. It took us around 25 minutes and passed through the centre of Kings Heath so mid-week or on a Saturday it might take a little longer. Birmingham Science Museum is housed in one of the university buildings at the heart of the university complex. Quite handily there is a multi-story car park right next door and we took a gamble that on a Sunday morning it would be quiet. If you do decide to pay a visit head for the multi-story car park on Jennens Road rather than the sat-nav info on the web site as that takes you to Curzon St – the ‘wrong’ side of the car park for the entrance. Walking out of the car park it’s easy not to see the sign for the entrance. Car parking was a reasonable £3.20 for the time we were there.
For the two of us, including a planetarium show it was £27.50, which is not too bad I guess. The museum is spread over 5 floors (there are lifts) and we headed down to the ground floor to start there.
The museum is great for children/grandchildren with lots for them to get involved with, however for me, it does seem a little haphazard in it’s layout and as though the curators have had to cherry pick exhibits to fit into the available space.
After we had visited the planetarium for one of the shows we headed back down to the ground floor to the cafe for coffee. We were in the queue and the chap in front of us wearing a USMC shirt turned and asked “Is that a Breitling Emergency you are wearing?” It must be a man thing. I can generally spot Breitling watches at 20 paces and Sue is always amazed at this skill. And Sue herself wears a Breitling that she would never expect anybody to recognise. After a bit of a chat it turned out he did have the right to wear that shirt – he was a US Marine (semper fi) and he still had his Breitling issued by Uncle Sam.
Monday 21st December
Monday started clear and chilly, and it didn’t take long to pack everything away. We had already taken the awning down on Saturday evening as the wind was quite gusty and it was flapping around a bit so while Sue cleaned inside, I loaded up the Freelander and squared everything away outside. It was a joint effort making the sammiches for the trip and I stored them in the electric cool box on the back seat of the truck, along with some water.
It wasn’t long before we were ready to hitch up and pull off site. We remembered to post the barrier tag through the reception letter box and we headed out on to Chapel Lane. The run back home was as easy as the trip down with the M6 being fairly free-flowing again.
What do we think?
A great four-day mini break with a Christmas Market, some trips and some great memories. Chapel Lane Caravan Club site is an ideal base for Birmingham and the surrounding area. There are plenty of things to do and see in Birmingham and within a 20 to 30 minute drive from the site there is easily a week’s worth of places to visit. Extend the driving range to 45 minutes and there is enough to do for a second week.
The site seems well run and very clean and there is little or no road noise. Showers were hot and the facilities block well maintained and clean. They however might get a little busy when the site is full. The Club WiFi works OK with good signal strength and good phone signal too. TV reception was not a problem.
Would we go back? – It’s on our list of places to re-visit as there are still lots of places to visit in the surrounding area.
For those wishing to visit the Caravan Shows at the NEC it would be a good base for a show visit and to include other attractions in the same trip.
We would just like to wish all our caravanning and motorhome readers a very Merry Christmas.
Simon & Sue
It’s that time of year again for the Motorhome and Caravan Show at the NEC. I’m all set to visit next Saturday(17th) and will be dropping in to see a few old friends of Caravan Chronicles… and some new ones.
A number of companies have been in touch about doing product reviews and testing over the winter months and with nearly 1.4 million page visits to the Caravan Chronicles blog (over 3500 per day!) it seems like in the next few months I’m going to be busy. We are still thinking about changing our tow vehicle and I’ve planned a couple of articles about the excision process that we will be going through to help us decide. I’ve also got a couple of features on caravan and motorhome electrics in the pipeline.
So if you see me there dashing between stands, please stop me and say “Hi”, it’s always nice to meet some of the blog readers.
And I can’t go without saying a big thanks to NCC Events team for all their work in organising this years show. I’ll bet they have already started working on the 2016 show now!
PS… if you haven’t already planned you visit, this mint be handy: Motorhome and Caravan Show 2015 floor-plan
Sunday 6th September
Despite the weather the previous week being a bit ‘iffy’ Sunday started out bright. We had loaded up the caravan the previous day and within 20 minutes of arriving at the caravan storage compound we were hitched up and ready to set off by 9:35 for the 170 mile journey south to Plough Lane Caravan Park ( a member of the growing number of Tranquil Touring Parks sites) near Chippenham in Wiltshire.
Virtually all trips south for us involve the M6 and even for a Sunday it was busy, but the traffic was flowing and we didn’t get held up. On the northern outskirts of Birmingham it slowed to 30 to 40 MPH and there was a bit of a queue to get on to the M5. Once that hurdle was passed, again it was a nice easy drive with the traffic thinning out the further south we got. We were planning to have a coffee break and leg stretch at Michael Woods services ( a brief look at the map and I’d planned in my head M5 to Bristol and then M4), but the Sat-Nav had other ideas and brought us off the M5 early and we did a pleasant bit of cross-country. On this trip I had a new gadget to play with, a TyrePal tyre monitoring system (a full review can be found here) and was fascinated by how the tyres responded to different types of road – motorway and A roads. We arrived at Plough Lane around 13:15 and as we pulled in we were 3rd in the arrivals queue.
We pulled up to the automated barrier and pushed the button… a friendly voice told us to drive through the barrier and pull into the parking lay-by… when the next parking lay-by was empty pull forward into that one.
We drove through the barrier and pulled in. We could see the next caravan ahead of us. While we were waiting I dug my camera out and took a few photos.
The caravan in the bay ahead of us pulled forward to reception and we moved up another bay and a motorhome pulled in where we had just been. In all it only took seven or eight minutes before it was our turn to pull forward to reception.
At reception we were greeted by Helen Wilding, who with her husband Rodger created the site nearly 20 years ago. After a brief introduction and run through of the facilities we paid our £10 deposit (refundable) for a token for the electronic barrier and given a mahoosive site guide… probably one of the most comprehensive site guides we have ever seen!. We were given directions to pitch 39 (the site has around 50 pitches) and we returned back to the Freelander to follow the road round to our pitch.
We had booked on to a fully serviced pitch which had plenty of space and it didn’t take long to set up and plumb everything in.
It was time to relax and enjoy the clear blue skies and warm September sunshine… and have a read through the mahoosive visitors guide!.
Monday 7th September – Chippenham
Chippenham (tourist guide) is in western Wiltshire, at a prominent crossing of the River Avon, between the Marlborough Downs to the east, the Cotswolds to the north and west and Salisbury Plain to the southeast. Plough Lane is only 4 miles outside Chippenham and in the site visitor guide it said there were maps in reception for a nice short walk around Chippenham along the river. Never ones to turn down a river walk, or a bit of shopping, we drove into the centre and parked in the central car park near Brunel’s railway viaduct constructed as part of the Great Western Railway connecting London to Bath.
Being Monday, Chippenham was fairly quiet and we soon found somewhere to have a coffee and do a spot of people watching. We decided to head into to Waterstones where I bought “The Girl In The Spiders Web” the fourth book continuing Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo” trilogy, and do some window shopping. As well as the main street, there is a small shopping arcade complete with a Tesco’s if needed and on the opposite side of the street a modern open air shopping mall with a Wetherspoons, which we returned to later for a late lunch.
Once we had completed the rounds of the shops and picked up a few essentials we set off back down the high street towards Town Bridge to follow the map we collected from the site reception. It was an easy walk of about one and half miles and mostly level that first crossed over the river on a foot bridge and passed through a park….
Continuing to follow the path brought us right by the side of the river and you could glimpse through the trees some of the houses that backed on to the river Avon.
We continued to follow the river Avon and you eventually come across a foot bridge that takes you back into Chippenham… or you can carry on to the next bridge to cross back over… we continued to the second bridge.
Crossing over the bridge we stopped a while and just stood looking up and down the river… a great place to play “Pooh Sticks”
The path continues and leads you back into Chippenham past some really interesting old buildings that looked like they were rather grand houses when they were built. It was time to head back to the centre and call in Wetherspoons for a late lunch then back to the caravan and consult the mahoosive site guide… to plan tomorrows adventures.
Tuesday 8th September – Swindon
For a number of years I worked for one of the train operating companies, and that involved me travelling down to Swindon to First Great Western offices frequently. Some trips I’d take “The Welsh Rattler” as we knew it, from Manchester to Newport and then get on the London train stopping in Swindon. Other times I’d take the cross-country to Reading via Oxford and catch the Bristol train to Swindon. I used to prefer the Welsh Rattler route and each time entering Swindon station you pass the long line of buildings that made up the Great Western Railway Engineering Works that covered some 320 acres and at its height employed over 14,000 people. When I was travelling to Swindon over 12 years ago, a lot of these buildings were just shells some with no roofs. Now however some have been converted into a new shopping mall and a couple of others are now “Steam” – Museum of The Great Western Railway. Still having an interest in steam and the railway in general, it seemed like a visit to both was on the time-table for a first class day out.
Follow the road signs for either the Designer Outlet or the Museum and they will take you to one of the main car parks. It’s a ‘take a ticket’ on entering and you pay for your ticket just before you leave. However.. here’s a top tip: Do the shopping mall first, then the museum. When you buy your ticket for the museum ask for the car parking validation ticket. When you are ready to leave take this back to the information desk in the shopping mall along with your car park ticket and you will get free parking!
The mall… or “Swindon Designer Outlet” is packed full of the usual shops, however they have managed to retain lots of features of the original engineering works – some sections still have the travel crane’s and you can see where the old line shafts that ran through the workshops once were held on massive bearings. Even if you are not into shopping, its worth a walk round just for the architectural interest. Keep an eye out for the brass plates on the walls that tell you which part of the original works you are in. There are also a few of the old machines once used in the engineering works dotted about. There is a great bandsaw that I wouldn’t mind in my workshop!.
We picked up coffees ‘to go’ not knowing how long it would take us to walk to the museum and headed outside following the signs… the foam on my latte hadn’t even cooled and we arrived outside the entrance. Thankfully there’s a couple of benches and we sat and finished our coffee before going in.
The Museum is well worth a visit. The exhibits are first class and unlike a lot of museums you can get up close and walk on, through, under and even pick some things up. The story of the Great Weston Railway engineering works is fascinating and it’s well worth buying the modestly priced guide (front cover shown above) A number of the displays are interactive and while Sue watched on I managed to set all the signals and points in the box correctly to allow the Royal Train to pass through… OK so it was meant for children, I’m just a big kid really. Sue even commented on how much she enjoyed it and rated it on one of the best railway museums we had visited. It’s just a pity that they can’t run a heritage railway from there operated by steam engines.
After leaving the museum we headed back to the mall and called in to Wagamamma for a late lunch. While we were eating talk turned to replacing the Freelander., which we bought new, but was now nine years old. Originally I’d had in mind to go for another Land Rover, specifically the new Discovery Sport, but Land Rover are now just pricing themselves out of the sensible market not only with the initial purchase price but also the dealer servicing. Not keen on the 4 x 4 offerings from Toyota and Mitsubishi, or anyone else for that matter, by chance a week earlier on the way to work I was stationary next to a white VW Amarok. It was the first time I’d seen one and by coincidence, days later I was talking to someone who had bought one a few months earlier to tow their caravan. I was relating all this to Sue who said she had never seen one, so a quick Google on the phone looking for photos I discovered we were only a mile away from the Volkswagen commercial vehicle distributer in Swindon. So a quick detour on the way back to the caravan was planned.
We spoke to Craig one of their sales people and had a good poke round one in the showroom. It was ticking all the boxes ….. 4 x 4, low emissions, two litre twin turbo direct injection diesel producing 180PS (BHP in old money), eight speed auto gearbox, ladder chassis and could tow 2300Kg’s. It was big, apparently it didn’t need towing mirrors at 1.954 M wide and 5.254 M long and weighed in at 2093 unladen, 3170 Kg gross and a gross train weight of 5950Kg. (The mirrors thing has yet to be tested). Sitting in it was comfy and there seemed plenty of room in the rear seats. There were a few questions the salesman couldn’t answer… was the 13 pin electric fully ISO compliant (I.e. the leisure battery and fridge circuits installed), did the ECU need programming for trailers, what was the hitch nose weight limit, any known issues with LED trailer lights), so I’m going to ping off an email to VW with these and a few other questions. With that new vehicle smell still in our nostrils we headed back to Plough Lane with a few brochures tucked under our arms. Watch this space.
Wednesday 9th September – Devises
Wednesday started out rather misty and was forecast to be a bit of a grey day. Consulting the mahoosive visitors guide, a trip into Devizes seemed to be the way forward. We loaded up the Freelander with warmer gear, just in case, and set off. Parking was easy to find and about a minutes walk from the main shopping area. Compared to other towns around the area, Devizes, although having some tourist type shops, is mainly a working town for the locals. Pulling out a handy map (copies are in Plough Lane reception) we navigated our way around the shops, and of course stopped off for a coffee part way round. Sue wanted to visit Caen Hill Locks which is about a five or six minute walk out of the town centre.
The famous Caen Hill Locks are a flight of 29 locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal. The 29 locks have a rise of about 230 feet in 2 miles and come in three groups. The lower seven locks, Foxhangers Wharf Lock to Foxhangers Bridge Lock, the next sixteen locks form a steep flight in a straight line up the hillside. A final six locks take the canal into Devizes. The locks were designed by engineer John Rennie and provided a solution to climbing the very steep hill. Apparently the locks take 5–6 hours to traverse in a boat and lock 41 is the narrowest on the canal or so we were told.
As the locks are so close together there is a danger of running out of water… or over spilling the next lock, so there are elongated ‘pounds’ (I think that is what they are called) that project sideways away from the canal between locks to take the volume of water from the upper lock and store it for the next lock down the flight. We walked down the tow path about half way down the flight, overtaking a few barges descending the flight in the process. Part way down, if you are in need of a spot of refreshment there is a small cafe in the old lock keepers house – or a couple of locks away a nice looking pub with a beer garden on the canal side… well it looked nice Sue reckoned because they had a cat. We turned and headed back up the flight… passing some of the barges we had overtaken while walking down and some of the barges that were still climbing the flight. Walking back into Devises we passed the Wadworth Brewery… handy place to do a tour if the weather is inclement, and decided to seek out a modest lunch in a cafe we had passed earlier in the day. Doing another circuit of the shops we strolled back to the car park and headed back to Plough Lane. That evening I finished the book I’d bought on Monday and started drafting the review for the TyrePal TPMS unit loaned to us.
Thursday 10th September – Bath
Today was our 32nd Wedding Anniversary… how time flies! So something special for lunch in way of a celebration we thought. Consulting the mahoosive visitor guide once again Bath seemed a good option and we could easily get there via bus and train. The visitor guide said timetables for buses were available in reception. The number 91 stops right outside the site… well about fifty feet from the end of the drive… and goes into Chippenham calling at Chippenham Station. A quick check of train times and the train from Chippenham into Bath Spa only takes 12 minutes… it could take that long to find a car parking space in Bath apparently!
We caught the 09:45 train arriving in Bath 12 minutes later after passing through Brunel’s famous Box Tunnel. The weather had been kind to us so far and today was no exception… warm sunshine and clear blue skies. We headed for somewhere to get a cup of coffee, sit down and consult the map (copy available in the site reception) for a plan of action. One of the best ways we think to get a feel for a new place is to take one of the open top bus tours available in many cities. We used the City Sightseeing ‘hop on hop off’ tour costing £14 each (£8.50 for children). There is an added bonus as there are two routes – the city centre and the skyline route all included in the price. We trundled round the city centre route and in the process learnt a little more about Bath’s history. Hopping off the bus we headed for a stroll round the shops, stopping off at some of the sight-seeing spots. A quick stop in the Apple shop to buy a new mouse for my Mac Pro and a new lead for Sue’s iPhone and it was time for a late lunch. An old school friend, Sue Adams had recommended the Pump Station for a suitable anniversary lunch, but the queue for a table was a bit long so a quick check with google gave us directions to Yo Sushi. Always a good standby for us. Time to walk off our lunch and capture some of the classic tourist spots of the city.
Hmm…. could Bath be connected with rugby in any way?
Crossing over the bridge (above) we descended some steps and walked along the river for a while, passing the rugby ground and the big flood gate sharing the path with dog walkers, cyclist and joggers all enjoying the September sunshine.
We planned on catching the 16:43 train back to Chippenham so it was time to turn around and head back to the station. The train was packed but we managed to find two seats. not long after we were sitting outside Chippenham railway station waiting for the number 91 bus and reflecting on how much we enjoyed Bath and making a point to come back and visit again soon.
Friday 11th September
Friday was going to be an easy day before setting off for home the following day. We decided to visit the market in Chippenham to pick up some fresh bread to make sandwiches for the trip back and a few other bits and pieces. I’d finished my book the day before and wanted something else to read so we called in Waterstones again. I didn’t spot it, but Sue’s eagle eye spotted “After The Flood” about what the Dambusters did next by John Nichol (John is an ex RAF pilot who was shot down in his Tornado during the first gulf war in 1991 and I have a signed copy of his book “Tornado Down” about the shooting down, his and John Peters subsequent capture and torture). So that was my reading sorted out. In the afternoon I settled down to write my review of the TyrePal tyre pressure and temperature monitoring system that had kindly been lent to us by TyrePal. You can read my review is here.
I was so impressed by the product, it’s on my list of things to buy… as soon as we have sorted out if we are going to replace the Freelander with a VW Amarok. Of course like any good writer I have my editor…..
Saturday 12th September
Saturday started wet. It had been raining quite hard over night and was still raining when we got up. One cup of coffee later and the rain had stopped and the clouds were slowly breaking revealing patches of blue. We started the well rehearsed routine of packing up. By quarter to ten we were done. All that remained to do was to drop off our barrier token and return the by now well-thumbed mahoosive visitor guide. While Sue walked round to reception, I hooked up the caravan and did my usual pre departure walk round. It wasn’t long before we were pulling on to Plough Lane heading back towards home. Interestingly, this time our Sat-Nav decided to take us directly to the M4 and west towards Bristol before turning northwards along the M5. The trip home was much longer… this time it was down to a couple of accidents on the M6 in Staffordshire which delayed us by about an hour. We eventually arrived back at the caravan storage site a little after three o’clock. Another adventure done.. but not the last of our Wiltshire Wanderings I’m sure of that.
Other Places to visit:- Cotswold Motoring Museum & Toy Collection - http://www.cotswoldmotoringmuseum.co.uk Avon Valley Railway - http://www.avonvalleyrailway.org Atwell Wilson Motor Museum - http://www.atwellwilson.org.uk Swindon & Cricklade Railway - http://www.swindon-cricklade-railway.org
If you are a regular reader you may remember that on our last trip out we had a bit of an issue with tyre pressures with the caravan (“When Things Don’t Go To Plan…”). Well, a few days ago I was contacted by Charlotte from Wheel Solutions Ltd the people who make Tyre Pal – the tyre pressure monitoring system, asked me if I’d like to test out and review one of their pressure monitoring systems.
With the recent trip still in my mind and especially the difference that just 10 PSI can make in the towing experience I jumped at the chance. Charlotte arrange for one of their TC215B units with 6 sensors to be delivered on loan for a few weeks while we try it out on our next trip. From saying “Yes”, the package containing the TC215B unit, mounting bracket, charging lead, accessories and sensors arrived the following day.
So, this weekend I’ll mainly be unboxing, evaluating and installing the unit and sensors and posing about the install and setting it up which, from my brief scan through the comprehensive user manual, looks like it’s going to be a breeze.
Now, “in a bit of an exclusive” (I’ve always wanted to say that!) for Caravan Chronicles we will have a special offer from Tyre Pal at the end of the review… just in time to get yourself an early Christmas present… so keep checking back.