First Easter in the new ‘van

We left this booking until the last minute really; usually Easter is a weekend camp with a bunch of friends but these seem to have dwindled of late as kids grow older and vans go in for repair….

Our journey down to sunny Wiltshire wasn’t without drama as a couple of miles from the storage yard, the car chucked a hissy fit and went in to limp mode, on a hill……..joining a dual carriageway! It’s an ongoing intermittent issue, solved by by turning it off and on again, it just makes you a bit wary with a long journey towing a van ahead. Knowing what the M5 can be like at the best of times, we routed down the M42/M40 then back roads down the A429, very picturesque route but it was squeaky bum time on the big hills after the earlier incident.

A few hours later (I found out the excess traffic was partly due to a tanker fire on the motorway; at least we got to our destination) ended up at a site we’d visited a few years back as a small group, on the other side of the A350 from Lacock, nice small-ish commercial site, very clean but the owner is a bit “old school caravan club” for want of a better description. On arrival i was made (and had a personal guide) to reverse on to the pitch; i usually take it part way in then use the mover to align it, level and line up the Alko wheel lock, but he wasn’t content with that for some reason. We were soon level and utilities attached, then the new awning came out; i wanted to video the maiden erection, but forgot the tripod. Out of the bag, blown up and pegged up to the point of being stable took about 25 minutes, very impressive. Attaching the rubber ladders and extra pegs, limpets and poles was another half hour or so but no divorce! I’m very impressed with the air awning, the only down side is it is very heavy to thread through the rail, I could have just about done it on my own once the kador strip has softened up a bit but even at 6’2″, i needed to use the step to get the leverage required.. It feels a lot warmer than our old Rally awning and feels a LOT bigger even though it’s only 60cm wider. We’d considered going for the Rally plus for the extra room and part of me wishes we had, but we’ll just get an annex at some point to increase options for storage/sleeping. The lighting i made for the awning was a near perfect fit and worked really well once i found the batteries for the remote.

 

On Saturday we headed up to Caen hill locks for a wander, had a bit of craic with a couple of families on boats and marveled at the engineering of boats going up hill. Even Leah was showing some sort of interest rather than burying her face in her phone; she even got to open a lock for a family. I’ve always fancied trying a short break on a narrow boat, this just added to it.

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SONY DSC

A coffee in the cafe at the lock keepers cottage and back to the site for lunch before a wander in to Lacock and a cheeky beverage in The George Inn before wandering back to the van. Tea was a Cadac affair; external BBQ point is ace, however if there is an annex on the awning, I’ll need a plan B.

Later Sunday, the Swindon contingent came over for the day, they would have camped with us but their van is in for warranty work. We had a good couple of hours chin-wag before going up to the Rising Sun pub and a cracking pup lunch, returning to the van for a couple of drinks and watching the F1 before settling in to watch a DVD. The site has a great dog walking field at the back of the play area, on Sunday night there was a fallow deer in there which stayed for a short while before spotting us and running off, the dog was determined to get after it, thankfully he’s always on the lead or he’d be long gone now; furry idiot.

Taking down the awning on Monday was straight forward, getting the last of the air out of the poles, less so; we have a pump in the shed for our canoe which has a “suck” setting on it which may help, otherwise it’s a case of rolling the air out, sealing the valves off then re-rolling it to get in the bag! The drive home was even more straight forward, M4/M5/M42 and we were home about 2 hours faster than the drive down. Hopefully the twin axle van we passed and attempted to alert about their EXTREMELY flat tyre got home OK too

 

Why a caravan??

It’s something I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, usually in the same breath as being called and old fart…

It’s basically come full circle for me at least and a natural progression for Debbie and Leah. As a nipper, we caravanned as a family; me , my younger brother and parents. To me it was just an alternative to my grandparents static caravan albeit smaller, but we could go where we liked within reason. The last caravan was sold when i was about 8 or 9 years old but we continued going to the Lakes in the static, between foreign holidays up until about 1997 when it was sold.  I picked up a tent again in the early ’00s doing festivals before shelling out for a 1975 bay window camper in 2006; i was very much wearing rose tinted specs at the time as i would soon find out.

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“Egg”

Good old Egg as he was later named by Leah turned out to be a bit of a money pit; breaking down on the M1 on the way home from buying it should have been a warning really. After laying it up for the winter i set about fixing it up ready for use, little did i know how much fixing up I’d be doing. The above was taken after I’d spent many evenings and weekends cutting out rot and welding fresh in as the numerous shades of yellow show. After tarting up the inside, by the summer it was ready for a week away (that was about the only use it got that year due to a change in jobs). In the Autumn of 2007, i met Debbie and Leah who was just turning 3 at the time. Debbie had some horrific memories of camping at school and the suggestion of a trip away in a rusty old VW didn’t go down that well!! Our first trip away in it was Easter 2008 when we met with a handful of friends from a Volkswagen online forum I’d joined. It was cold, wet and it snowed and all we had was a tiny oil radiator to keep us warm but the rest is history and both Deb and Leah were thankfully hooked.

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At Cannock Chase C&CC site

Through ’08, we had plenty of adventures in Egg (the photo above was taken at Cannock when Deb and I went to see The Zutons play in the forest) but i was spending more time fixing it than using it. Following an epic trip from the midlands to Newquay, then up to the Forest of Dean and back, the engine gave in, thankfully not too far from home. This took weeks to diagnose; finally, after a stroke of luck it was repaired at a mechanical weekend camp in Leicestershire by legendary engine builder Laurie Pettit. Even though it breathed again, Egg was sucking my bank account dry and I’d lost heart; late in 2008, Egg went off to a new home.

Early in 2009 I scraped together the funds from the sale of Egg, my normal car and some extra and splashed out on a refrigeration engineers van with the intention of converting it into a fully blown 4 berth camper….. Oh, and i had less than 3 months to finish it before we went away at Easter.

I did finish it in time and anyone that’s interested, i documented it here http://www.vwt4forum.co.uk/showthread.php?s=3e4b943db7dd65fb8066e0d62bb6afa9&t=28311

It went from an empty van to this

I did finish it in time and anyone that’s interested, i documented it here http://www.vwt4forum.co.uk/showthread.php?s=3e4b943db7dd65fb8066e0d62bb6afa9&t=28311

It went from an empty van to this

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The final straw for me came in 2014 in Cheddar. This was the first time we’d taken Mason camping after adopting him in early April; he spent both nights bed hopping between the cab seats, the floor and our bed. I mooted the idea of a caravan to Debbie (our good friends Helen and Rob were away with us in their caravan) but was slightly shot down with “we’re NOT getting a caravan”, however the seed was sown for me……

At the end of 2014, we gave in; i sold the van, bought a Mondeo (The ST, so as not to be too sensible) and a 4 berth 2002 Avondale Dart which was light enough to stay under 3500kg

 

I can honestly say, it wasn’t a mistake by any stretch. The extra room, comfort and flexibility has seen us go away more than ever. The first time we used it was Christmas, sleeping on my parents drive. We did a week in the lakes in 2015, decided it wasn’t long enough (previously we’d be yearning for a comfy bed after 5 days) and camped in the snow at Buxton….

Fast forward to now, we’ve decided that a caravan is for us long term. In October last year i took and passed my B+E test so we could tow a heavier van, we sold the Avondale and regrettably the Mondeo (man i loved the ST) and we now have a Ford S Max and a lovey 2011 Bailey Unicorn with a fixed bed.

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So far we’ve only properly been away for 2 nights in November for Leah’s birthday and the annual stop over on my parents driveway at Christmas but the double bed is fantastic, as is the better insulation and Alde heating.

So why do we caravan?

  • Practical? Yes
  • Boring? Depends how you look at it
  • Expensive? depends how you look at it
  • Enjoy it? Bloody right we do!