Thursday, 26 May 2011

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

Tomorrow (27th May) we set off for a couple of weeks while Chrissie and Dixie, hopefully, complete the Pennine Way. Tilly and I are providing support and accommodation with the van, at a very reasonable rate. See Chrissie's blog for details of their progress thus far (link at the bottom of the page).

To start with, we're off up towards the Tan Hill Inn; alledgedly the highest pub in England. That's where the intrepid pair have got so far. I'm sure Tilly and I will have some fun walks together, but just now she's gone an upset tummy; awwwww, poor thing. Not only that but Dixie's got an ear infection; awwwww again. But it's on the mend with the ear drops which she delights in shaking all over the kitchen!
With luck, we'll all arrive in Kirk Yetholm, just over the border in Scotland, by the end of the two weeks.
My ambition is to wild camp (ie for free) for as many nights as possible on this trip; already have a spot sussed for tomorrow night.
So, no further stuff on here 'til after 12th June.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

February 2011, the Lake District

We hadn't been to the Lakes together for years so this made the perfect reason for our trip for February half term. We thought we'd try a Caravan Club CL near Haweswater. But Chrissie had no work on the Friday so we set off early and aimed to wild camp at Ribblehead in the Dales. Chrissie has lots of childhood memories around this location. It was fine when we set off and still ok when we arrived. We passed a reasonable night; disturbed only by passing motorists who felt that sounding their horns was an appropriate greeting. When we awoke next morning it was to the sound of, seemingly, hordes of fell runners setting off in ... snow!

The lay-by, empty the night before, was now full ... at 8 o'clock in the morning! Still, we enjoyed breakfast and set off to the Lakes.

The week was passed uneventfully. The weather was pretty dismal - typical Lakes weather in fact. But we made the most of it and enjoyed some walks.

in the mist and rain.

The dogs were happy though,

despite the weather,

and used the week to make quality control checks

of their preferred sleeping locations,

while the two of us danced attendance on them ... as ever.

We had a pleasant enough week but came away with memories of parking charges, crowded towns and the sense that, since we'd become very used to quieter locations - Northumberland, the Dales, north west Scotland - perhaps, just maybe, the Lakes seems to attract many with less imagination. No offence intended. Each to their own eh?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A cold, snowy Christmas in the Dales

We just couldn't resist the temptation to be away in the van over Christmas. So, packing began in earnest and, on the Saturday morning I went to fill the van with water. Switching the pump on to fill the water heater produced no sound at all. For some reason the pump wasn't working. Frantic checking of fuses while Chrissie phoned Spinneys.
No problem, bring it in and we'll sort it out for you.
So, we packed everything, threw the dogs in (not literally) and off we went - south (Yorkshire's north from here by the way - oh well).
Forty minutes later we arrived at Spinneys and, to their credit - it was a Saturday morning remember - they whipped it straight into the workshop while we waited in the service reception with our two lively hounds.
In no time at all they had it sussed. The pump had been frozen. Yes, I had made sure it was drained off when not in use, but the workshop manager recommended running the pump for about 30 seconds after all the water was drained, to make sure it too was drained. In all, despite the detour, this was a valuable learning experience.
So, off we set, up the M6 towards Hawes and the Caravan Club site there.
You'll remember how much snow fell during December. Well, more was forecast for Saturday night so we had a window to get there with clear roads.
On arrival at the site we found a light covering of snow and only a handful of units. The wardens suggested a pitch near the loo block since the water taps had been freezing and the only reliable supply was indoors in the dishwashing room.
Good job we set off when we did 'cos overnight it snowed,

and the next day,

and the next,

It was such fun! But damn cold. Not inside our van though. With heating on mains and gas together we built up a nice cosy temperature inside. And our new Silver Screens window cover kept any hint of condensation in the cab at bay.

We tend to be quite lazy and use the two single beds but one night, for a treat (keep it clean!), we made up the double; which really is king-sized, being over 6 feet in both directions! There we were, from the left, Dixie (the boxer), Chrissie, me and Tilly (the lab), all in a row with room to spare. Boy were we comfortable! And who said our dogs are spoilt?

We had a great time, wandering into Hawes for shopping trips,

walking the dogs,

visiting the church for a delightful carol service

dealing with the high stress levels of motorhome living,

and just generally having fun.

Over the week, temperatures overnight steadily dropped to around minus 12C without causing us any problems with water. We left our tank heater switched on permanently. Others around were having lots of trouble, including smart caravans with inboard tanks. Several had frozen loos!
However, on the night it dropped to minus 17.5C Chrissie got up to use the loo, came back to bed and then we both lay there listening to this faint hum.
Who's running a car engine at 4 in the morning?
I stuck my head out of a window.
It's something in the van.
It was the pump, trying hopelessly to refill the pipe after Chrissie washed her hands in the washroom. We had a frozen pipe!
Not bad though, for a van not specifically designed for winter use, managing down to at least minus 12C.
So we coped for a couple of days using our 15 litre folding water carrier (everything we have has to fit in as small a space as possible), on the drainer. No real problem.
We left the tank heater and water heating on so it kept fighting off the cold and, after a day or two, the temperature rose just enough for me to thaw out the frozen pipes and, despite, again, being as low as minus 12Cish, we had no further problems.
I should add that we were topping up the water with a funnel and our trusty water carrier to save moving the van; the outside taps were usually frozen anyway. And for waste we had a 5 litre folding Ortlieb sink under the open waste tank drain and alongside that a Lifeventure folding bucket. The folding sink is the only thing low enough to get under the drain, but decanting from that into the bucket and then, when the bucket's full, carrying it to the waste drain worked quite well and avoided a frozen waste tank.

On Christmas day we were due at my brother's in Wetherby for Christmas dinner.
We sorted ourselves out and, presents duly opened we moved the van for the first time in a week and off we went. We got about half a mile and, on the main road out of Hawes, the van's engine just stopped. Oh dear, hazards on!

After a few attempts, by keeping the starter running and the revs up (sorry residents of Hawes) I managed to get it started again. As I write, five months have passed and we've had no further problem. I can only guess that, given the low temps the van had been sat in, there had been some waxing of the fuel. I don't really know. Anyone else had this?

A pleasant Christmas day came and went and we spent the night outside my parents. From here our original plan was to go to the CC site near Scarborough. However, they had contacted me a few days earlier to say the site was closed due to freezing problems in their loo block. So we decided to head for Grassington CC site instead.

Out lpg tank has a level monitor on the dashboard. It has four green LEDs then a red one. we'd discovered already that when we hit the bottom green LED (suggesting a quarter of a tank left) the tank took around 12 litres of gas. It takes 25 litres in total so that meant that, when showing the bottom green LED the tank was still half full. Of course this is all very well but it means that, once you've hit that LED you thereafter have no further clue as to how much you have left. So, in short, we decided that, at that point, we needed to refill. We were of course using rather more gas than usual since we had the gas running along with the mains to give space and water heating. On its own mains electric wouldn't keep the van quite warm enough in, let's be fair, extreme low temps.
So we went looking for lpg. Not a hope, it was boxing day and few places were open. Morrisons often sell lpg but not the ones in Harrogate or Skipton where we were passing through.

In an attempt to source some we went to a dealer we found listed on a lpg website in Skipton. It was on a small commercial estate and I was pleased at the way the van negotiated the snowy backroads. I drove up a slope and parked in a car park to go and investigate. The dealer was closed but, more importantly, a walk around the site showed no evidence of a lpg pump. Never mind. Returning to the van I began to carefully negotiate the reversing manoeuvre out of the car park. I didn't ask for any help from Chrissie and the reversing camera lens was mucky with road muck. So, you've guessed it, I manage to reverse into a tall sign I hadn't noticed at the entrance to the car park. A quick look revealed no damage except a slight scuff on the back box.

Right, let's move forward and try again. Oh no, the van won't go back up the slight slope!
After a few pointless attempts I gave in and got out our pristine Spikes Spider snow chains. As promised in the blurb, they were on in less than two minutes and worked brilliantly, enabling me to complete a complex series of shunts to get us out, onto the road and back down the slope without drama. A minute or so and they were off and packed away in the back box again. It was only then, as I tried to close the lid, that I spotted the extent of the damage from my connection with the sign. The two uprights of the bike carrier which held the back box were both now banana shaped and the box was slightly deformed. A few expletives passed my lips and I was in a black mood as we drove to the campsite; with a damaged van and no lpg to show for it.

We spent a fun week at Grassington. For some reason I only have this pic.

As you can see, more snow! We had a great time walking around the area with a couple of trips into the town of Grassington. We eventually got lpg from Morrisons in Keighley; some 14 or so miles away.
Gradually, the snow disappeared, and by the time we left for home it was on messy, dirty post-snow roads back to our home in Hayfield.

After sourcing a supplier of a new bike carrier at around £250 I bit the bullet and removed the box and stripped the carrier down. Patience (not always my most obvious virtue) saw me bending the circular lengths of tubing using my bench vice and gentle leverage. Eventually, after an hour or so, I reassembled the carrier and refitted the box. It now looks pretty much as good as new.  In future, before reversing, I'll clean the camera lens and/or enlist some help.

Despite all this, we now felt we'd experienced probably the worst weather an English winter was likely to throw at us. We'd managed all that successfully, including using our snow chains, albeit breifly. We were no longer motorhome virgins!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Kielder Forest, Oct 2010

We had a couple of snatched weekends but our first proper trip with the van was in October 2010. Chrissie works as a supply teacher so you'll notice our longer trips coincide with school hols.

We'd been to Kielder Forest briefly before but not for a week. We set off, full of excitement, towards the Camping & Caravanning Club's site at Bellingham. But we left home early on Friday (Chrissie had no work) so thought we'd try a stab at, what's known in motorhoming circles as, wild camping, ie finding somewhere free to spend a night. Our knowledge of the Dales suggested a likely spot close to Buckden by the side of the fast flowing River Wharfe.

The van's heating system runs on gas, mains or both. Gas operation is very efficient so we were toasty warm inside as rain rattled on the van roof.

The dogs had already become quite accustomed to motorhome life. You can see why we needed those nice long sofas.

Dixie proved that there's plenty of room on a front seat for a sleeping boxer.

While Tilly prefers a little more room.

We explored Kielder, taking the van along gravel tracks.

And into far flung corners of the forest. Spot the stealth van.

And enjoyed some gloriously quiet walks.

And, on our way home, discovered another wild camping spot above Hawes. This one's become a favourite; we've used it again since this trip.

We had some problems with the water pump on this trip; it stopped working at least twice. And we also kept finding water on the floor of the washroom. We couldn't figure out where it was coming from.

Returning home we took the van to Spinneys. They replaced the pump but couln't find any water leak. They did find a crack in the shower tray though and arranged to get a new replacement.

Our first week away had been great fun and whetted our appetites for more.

How it all began

It's late 2008. Following the passing of Chrissie's mum, she's been left a house to sell (Chrissie's my long-suffering wife).
When the house sells (this was to become a much repeated phrase). When the house sells, let's buy a caravan?
Months pass.
When the house sells; perhaps we'd be better off with a motorhome?
We begin researching motohomes and decide on the smallest kind of coachbuilt; basically a cab with a caravan type body on the back.
Gradually, for a number of reasons, we change this to what is called a "panel van conversion"; a motorhome, built inside the existing body of a commercial van.
And, by the time the house sells, some 2 years later, we've narrowed it down to a make and model.
We muse on the fact that, had the house sold much earlier, we'd have bought either a caravan or a motorhome that didn't really suit us. Maybe that 2 year wait was for the best.
So, at the end of September 2010, we pick up our beautiful new motorhome.

Here she is, on the drive.

She's an Auto-Sleepers Warwick, formerly known as a Warwick Duo but, sometime during 2010, Auto-Sleepers deleted the original Warwick and renamed the Duo as the Warwick. That sounds as clear as mud! In short, this model has long, single bed sized sofas allowing use of two single beds or one king-sized double.

There were many reasons for our choice of van:
We really liked the look of panel van conversions.
We liked the idea of a relatively narrow vehicle.
We didn't want a white van.
We did want the option of single beds, primarily for comfortable lounging.
We liked the standard 25litre lpg tank; much cheaper than using bottles.
We liked the black, glass windows giving privacy and adding a sleeker look to the vehicle.
We liked the worktop space and the sink drainer; surprisingly, many similar vans are lacking in this area.
We were impressed with the list of standard equipment including a freeview TV, microwave and a full oven.
We wanted to be able to source a van as soon as funds allowed. So a larger manufacturer was more suitable than a smaller one. Many have waiting lists of six months or more and we felt that, with Auto-Sleepers, we stood a fair chance of finding one in stock somewhere. As it turned out, just 3 days after accepting an offer on the house, we went to the Cheshire Motorhome Show and Spinneys, the closest Auto-Sleeper dealer to our home, had not one but two in stock. Not only that, but they were happy to hold one for us until the house sale completed. We still feel indebted to them for this and it meant that, within a fews days of completion the van was on our drive.

Both the vans Spinneys had were fully specced with extras which meant ours came with alloy wheels, cab air-conditioning, cruise control and a reversing camera. We had a Fiamma bike rack fitted and, onto that, a small Fiamma backbox. This was because we we were concerned that we might not have enough storage inside to accommodate our hillwalking gear and all the accoutrements surrounding our two dogs (Dixie, our boxer, and Tilly, our chocolate lab). We also had Spinneys fit an alarm and swivel seat bases for the cab seats. Even though it's a rear lounge van but we thought this would give us extra lounging space (we call it "the study"), separate from the main lounge.

The van's built on a long wheelbase Peugeot Boxer window van base, with a 2.2 litre turbo diesel engine and a 6 speed gearbox..