Category Archives: Travels & Camping

heritage wood

Heritage Woods is a Caravan club campsite in the grounds of a wooded area suitable for a maximum of 5 vehicles. This was just a short one night getaway in the van. We wanted to remain local to Derby so this was perfect.

 

The trees in the wood are sponsored by people who want to commemorate a loved one. We were the only people camped the night we stayed over.

The weather was amazing, and although Mandy had reservations about camping in a place with such spiritual meaning, she soon put this to the back of her mind and we both had a much needed, relaxing couple of days in the van

Start at the start…where it ended!

Leading on from the last BLOG entry the replacement gearbox was fitted and we focused our attention on contacting campsites and making sure everything was checked and packed. We would need to run the van with the storage box on the back to give us extra capacity for the outdoor equipment. This has become known as the ‘bum bag’ and is extremely useful on long trips. Its been colour coded and recently had additional graphics applied so I really didn’t want to do anything to damage it.

However, the regulations in some countries stipulate that a reflective white and red square needs to be applied to any vehicle that has anything hanging over the rear by half a meter. In Italy they require that this be made of aluminum sheet. So for me this became a real headache as box is curved and attaching it would almost certain cause damage somewhere along the line. So I scratched my head for a few days, then after a visit to the local B&Q to buy some materials set to concocting a bracket.

As you can see, I did have to drill a hole in the box itself for a stainless fixing, and a corresponding hole in the reflective square. This along with a foam strip on the back of the square meant that it  would ensure the square itself would not rub on the box or damage it in any way. Attaching the square was done by three wing nuts, and could be done 30 seconds. We would only attach when driving so anticipated fitting it around ten times throughout our month long euro trip

This was completed on the Friday, which left Saturday free for some last minute checks and a bit of spit and polish on the van. Our plan for the Sunday was to drive down to Canterbury Park and Ride. We anticipated getting there around lunch time and go into Canterbury for the afternoon. We would stop overnight in the park and ride car park and leave around 5am on the Monday morning for the Dover to Calais crossing to France. Well that was the plan anyway…

The morning was just about as good as we could have expected. Brilliantly sunny,  and the forecast both in the UK and Europe was looking good for the forthcoming week. We were both in high spirits as we moved from Derby onto the M1 and later the M25.  Traffic wasn’t a problem and we made good time as we passed Dagenham and towards the Darford tunnel. We decided with only 50 miles left to travel that we would pull in to Thurock Services, have a coffee and re-fuel. This is where it all went pear shaped.

We  pulled onto the slip road and onto the M25, A13 intersection. I shifted down from 5th to 4th gear. Something didn’t seem quite right as i slowed to stop for a set of lights on the junction. My doubts were re affirmed when i couldn’t get the van out of 4th gear. The lights stayed red for a short time during which i continued to struggle to get the van out of gear. The lights turned green, my hazard turned on and my heart sunk. I wasn’t in a good place geographically or mentally. I eventually managed to get the van out of 4th by the time the lights had turned green the second time, but the lever was all over the place. I couldn’t get 1st so had to settle for second but with a little clutch slip I pulled off.  I knew I couldn’t risk trying to do any distance so park my van on a concrete verge just before the next set of lights.

I continued to wrestle with the lever, but I knew that unless this turned out to be a simple, obvious issue with the gear linkage, our holiday was pretty much over before it had even started.  There were no tears, but I was crying  inside. Next step recovery to a place of safety…

Thurrock services. We we had intended to go to the services anyway, but under our own steam would have been the preferred method!

While the AA recovery chap settled my van back on terra firma, Mandy and I went for a coffee and tried to gather our composure. We made our way back to the van after ten minutes. I was thinking about how the gear lever felt in my hand, and hoped that I could source the root of the problem quickly. Possibly a bolt had dropped out of the gear linkage between the lever at the front and the box at the back? A second AA vehicle would be along in the hour to try and get my van back on the road which was reassuring. However, I wasn’t going to wait till then. I got the jack out, elevated the front and dropped the spare wheel so I could gain access to as much of the lever and linkage mechanism as possible to try and find that loose or missing nut or bolt.

Nothing as obvious unfortunately.  The AA mechanic turned up and after a little  poking and prodding came to the conclusion that there was a problem with something linkage related above the fuel tank. This turned out to be a miss diagnosis! We were told that it was up to us what we did next. If we needed recovery home or to a garage it was we just had to let them know as it was included in our policy.

I had posted on a Facebook group specifically for this type of van about my predicament in the hope that I could get a remote diagnosis from people that have been in the same situation. Lots of suggestions which was really helpful. A friend also saw the post and called me to see if I needed any help. Long story short he arrived and spent the best part of the afternoon under the van as we both scratched our head to try and resolve.

Mark and I trying to fix…

We had to throw in the towel and accept that this was not going to be a quick fix. Late afternoon I lowered the van, and all three of us popped to the service station for another Costa Coffee. Marks time and help was very much appreciated, but we had to accept the fact we were going to be spending the night there. We bid Mark goodbye, and I drowned my sorrows with a bottle of white wine from Marks and Spencers. Mandy had a shot of toffee vodka. Sleep at the motorway service station was in short supply. This was largely due to the noisy generators on HGV refrigeration trucks continually working to keep the goods cool. With the pop top roof elevated there was little protection from the noise.

Monday morning I messaged the garage that fitted the gearbox a couple of weeks previously. He was reasonably local to our home in Derby so that would have been one possible option. No immediate response from him unfortunately. However,T3 specialist Brickwerks heard we were having difficulties and offered to assist if we could get the van to them that day. It was touch and go  as to whether or not we could make the 208 mile distance at the 56 mph the recovery trucks were limited to. But our options were limited, and if anybody could get us back on the road, it was these guys.

We contacted the AA and within minutes we were on the back of a flatbed en route for Northampton Service station for another relay vehicle to take us on to Honley in Yorkshire.  We certainly weren’t sad to see the back of Thurrock Motorway Services!

En route to Brickwerks

After leaving Thurrock at 10am we finally arrived at Brickwerks at 3pm. Both Mandy and I were feeling light headed due to lack of food. Brickwerks owner Simon swiftly pulled the van into the workshop and he and mechanic Angus frantically started trying to identify the problem.

We left them to get some food to try and raise our blood sugar levels. We were both emotionally drained and It was turning out to be a long day. But we didn’t loose hope. We wandered back to the workshop after an hour or so. The diagnosis was a fault inside the gearbox.

A second bite at the cherry was offered in the form of a second hand gearbox they had in the workshop. They worked to get the van back on the road and two hours after we arrived we were on our way again. Fantastic! We decided to head back home to Derby and re-assess the situation. There was a possibility we were going to continue to Canterbury after a shower and freshen up, but after the 36 hour breakdown saga, everything needed to be perfect if were were going to consider going ahead with the trip again. Sadly, we felt this wasn’t the case and decided to cancel the holiday.

Our first choice of holiday will always be in the van. We just love it! That said it has been a real disappointment that our holiday came to such an abrupt end. To try and salvage something we have booked a cottage in Kingswear, Dartmouth for a weeks holiday. Wolfgang is now waiting patiently to have his original gearbox reconditioned by specialist Aidan Talbot. Unfortunately he can’t even look at my gearbox until 17th July, and with a one month turn around, it doesn’t look like he is going to be back on the road until the end of August.

So there you have it. The start of an epic holiday… turned out to be the end 🙁

Kelham Hall & Park – Newark

Ouote “Kelham Hall is a beautiful stately home located in the Trent valley.  The Hall provides a stunning backdrop for weddings, events and family days out. Open Daily with free admission and car parking.”
Just Arrived at Kelham Campsite

Only decided on this camp site a couple of days before we departed. We knew we wanted to keep it local, so didn’t want to travel too far from our home address. Getting away for some ‘us time’ was the priority as we hadn’t been away in Wolfy since January. It took us best part of an hour to get to Newark as our first port of call late morning. This wasn’t bad, and from a fuel point of view was neglagable. Newark was only a couple of miles from our camping destination. We had a wander around, a coffee at Prince Rupert, and after a little shopping moved on to the campsite.

Online reviews for Kelham seemed hit and miss, but we were pleasantly surprised with the location, and flexibility the site owners gave us for pitching up. Not needing electric we paid £20 per night which we thought was OK, with a cracking, quiet spot surrounded by trees…but next to the church (Our choice 🙂 ).

Kelham Church

Our first afternoon was outstanding on all accounts as far as the weather was concerned. Not amazingly warm, but as good as could be expected for April.

Just pitched up

We decided to go for a walk to get our bearings in the immediate area.

Back of Kelham Hall during a walk on Friday afternoon

I must confess, I don’t really do a great deal of research about the places i stay, but Kelham Hall is a really nice building. I have shamelessly copied the below from the website (which is poor on my behalf)…but the picture above i took…so that’s fine 😉

“Anyone who has marvelled at George Gilbert Scott’s design for London’s St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel will find something familiar and remarkable at Kelham Hall. A Key figure of mid-Victorian Gothic architecture, Scott had originally been commissioned by the Manners-Sutton family to add a conservatory to the house which had already been rebuilt in the early 1700s, and then extended between 1844 and 46. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for Gilbert Scott, in 1857 a fire destroyed the older parts of the house and the architect was left with a blank canvas on which to express all the exuberance of his imagination. The result is a redbrick riot of Gothic styles, with towers, gables, arcades,exquisitely carved columns and fireplaces, and more than a score of different window designs. For 70 years Kelham Hall became home to an Anglican order of monks, gaining it’s impressive domed chapel, and today it remains a wonderful hidden treasure of English rural architecture and a magical setting for your perfect day.”

I totally appreciate the architecture in this building. Far more bravado than any modern building would ever consider! Friday evening consisted of a lot of chilling, and a nice meal cooked using our Cobb Cooker.

Saturday was quite relaxed in terms of getting out of the van. We are early risers, but it took us until 9am till we managed to get a shower. If I’m honest there doesn’t seem to be a great deal within walking distance as far as supplies are concerned, so make sure you get there with plenty of provisions if your stopping for a while. There is a pub in the village called the Fox Inn.

The Fox Inn

We dropped by for a half pint after a brisk walk. It wasn’t busy by any stretch of the imagination, and after an hour it didn’t show much signs of picking up. No reflection on the pub, and we didn’t try the food so can’t comment on that, but there is little else worth mentioning in the area.

Saturday afternoon
Saturday evening sunset
Sunday morning

Anyways, we left Kelham after a very pleasant two night stop. We would definitely go back here again for another night or two. We were very happy with the facilities the campsite offered. On that note I would suggest that the shower facilities ‘in’ the main building were probably better than the ones in the porter cabins next to the ‘Event Field’. They were heated which is always appreciated when the temperature is a little on the cool side.  🙂

As an overview for anybody that is considering this for camping …Its on a reasonably busy ‘B’ road so I would say if your prone to issues with noise make sure your nearer the river / Event Field (to the left of the below map). Motorhomes and Caravans will most likely suffer less from the acoustics side of things than tents and Campervans with Pop-Top type canvases like ours. All in all a cracking location if you just like being outdoors, and great for kids to play football, frizby and run around in the woods.

http://kelham-hall.com/camping/

Bristol 2017 (New Year)

It’s becoming a bit of a ‘done thing’ that Mandy and I head off in the Van for the first week of the new year. It’s nice to have a little time off for Xmas, but we both have the option of working in between Christmas and the new year, so we would rather do that and chill for the first week when everybody else is going back to work stressing.  2015 was the first new year break in the van at Links Lanes Campsite, Lincoln . Last year we had 4 nights at Baltic Wharf and enjoyed it so much we decided to do a similar thing this year.

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Fairbairn Steam Crane , M Shed Quayside

Bristol is a great City Break! As with any trip, the better the weather the better the overall experience. That said, you do have the safety with a city break that if the weather is particularly bad, you  can  fall back on some selective sight seeing, shopping, restaurants or catch the odd movie to keep you out of the elements. Basically the trip is not going to be a write off if it rains non stop. Last year was enjoyable because Bristol was a relatively new experience, majority of the time it was pretty damp, drizzly and overcast, but none the less, still lots to see and do.

The temperature over the Christmas break for 2016 was close to tropical, and it just didn’t seem like a traditional Christmas. I was praying for the colder weather because that’s what makes you want to hibernate, and it gives you the justification that staying indoors, eating food and watching TV is the right place if it’s cold outside. I was keeping an eye on the forecast after Christmas and on the run up to the new year and it looked like things were set to change. We saw New Year in …just! We are normally in bed pre 12am, but we made the effort this year to watch the fireworks in Londan before retiring after midnight. We weren’t booked into the campsite until the 2nd so New years day was spent chilling and getting the van ready for the following day.

So with the van all packed up and ready to go we left Derby  just after 9am. As the forecast predicted the day started cold, crisp and clear. As we drove the journey was interrupted occasional by fog and mist but it was a really nice drive and arrived at the campsite just after midday. Half an hour later we had checked in, filled the vans water tank, and we were pitched up ready for the next five night. The site owners had given us full autonomy as far as a parking spot was concerned and our chosen location was closer to the river than last year, which gave us good views over the perimeter fence where the brightly coloured town houses steep banks. It makes all the difference when sitting in the van having a coffee and listening to the radio if you have an interesting view…. as opposed to a line of white motor-homes & caravans. Its the little things that make a big difference 🙂

2nd Jan - Pitched up and ready to hit Bristol
2nd Jan – Pitched up and ready to hit Bristol

Our van was only a few yards away from a wooden security gate that exited onto the river path (visually blocked in the photo above by my van 🙂 ) but this was proof of just how good of a location we were in on this campsite. From the river path you could walk left to a pub called the Cottage Inn  for a bite to eat , or from the same spot catch the Ferry to any one of a number of different locations in the city center.

Ferry - River Avon
Ferry – River Avon

We decided to stretch our legs and take a walk towards the center along the footpath. The houses and industrial shipping buildings cast shade on the walkway in the winters low sun. It was still below zero and you could tell this by the occasional small frozen puddle along the way. That said it had a certain buzz of activity about it. People walking their dogs,  pushing prams, cycling , running and boating on the river . I guess I had to remind myself that this was Bank Holiday Monday, and most people were taking advantage of their last day of freedom before the first day of work in 2017. It was really energizing just being a part of it. The path lead along the river Avon a few hundred yards to a marina, then away from the waterfront via a couple of alleyways and roads for  a short stint. This is due to some dry docks, one of which contains the SS Great Britain. This is a fantastic attraction, one of which we did last year and well worth a visit. We then found ourselves back on the river front in a place called Prince’s Wharf . You could tell by the train lines, rolling stock and large cranes along this stretch that it used to be a real industrial hub.

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electrically powered cargo cranes

On the quayside  are four electrically powered cargo cranes built in 1951 by Stothert & Pitt. Three of these cranes are working and operate some weekends. A short distance to the west is a much older crane, the sole surviving operational example of a Fairbairn steam crane. Built in 1878,also by Stothert & Pitt, it was in regular use until 1973 loading and unloading ships and railway wagons with weights of up to 35 tons. It has been restored and is in working order, operating on some bank holidays and the Bristol Harbour Festival.

Bristol-Harbour
Fairbairn steam crane

Large building are dotted around the harbor as you would expect with industrial shipping . One is called the ‘M Shed’ which is a former ‘transit shed’. Its been developed as an attraction with museums, art galleries and is a real cultural hub for those that want to learn about the history of the area. More information on whats on here can be found at their website. We didn’t stop on the way into the city center, except to take the odd photo to capture the moment. Within 20 minutes we were at the Aquarium  where a large ferrous wheel had been placed. We were surprised at how little time it took us to walk to the this location. Last year we had used the ferry on every occasion, mainly due to the weather, so it was hard to judge from that respect, but we were please with the speed of access on foot, so this year walking was the preferred method of travel.

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The first day seemed to dissapear quickly after after lunch at Prezzo. We knew that we had plenty of time during the rest of the week to spend perusing the shops and exploring the surroundings, so stretching our legs with a brisk walk into the city and back with lunch in between was all we intended. This set us up for a relaxing evening in the van before retiring for the night.

The night heater was switched off as we climbed into bed. We usually get to warm if left on even in the coolest of nights. However, i woke up in the early hours with cold ears. I buried my head in the sleeping bag and didn’t really get back to sleep. I didn’t want to switch the heater on because i thought we would get too warm, but when we got up as the day broke, we realized that it must have been exceptionally cold. The sun roof in the cab is the only part of the van that gets affected by condensation. This was frozen solid on the inside. The temperature was reading -7. Maybe we should have left the heater on after all 🙁 .

So the heater was switched on and the van was nice and warm  when we got back from the showers. We took our time, had coffee and breakfast  and chilled in the van for until mid morning listening to the radio.

Mandy chilling with a cuppa ;)
Mandy chilling with a cuppa 😉

Once we surfaced we plotted a slightly different route into Bristol city by taking a left out of the riverside campsite gate, walked towards the Cottage Inn Pub and through a boat building yard. It was really great to get so close to the craftsmen working on these vessels, some of which looked particularly old.

Boat Building Ahoy
Boat Building Ahoy

The temperature was still very low, especially in the shade. From the boatyard we  across the road bridge, which was actually a turn table to let tall vessels through, and onto the opposite side of the river past the Pump House Pub. Here are a few photos of the mornings stroll.

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Well this pretty much set the scene for the rest of the break. The weather was very good most days and highlights included a walk up to Clifton Suspension Bridge on the Wednesday via Cabot Park.

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Cabot Park
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Cabot Tower

Bristol also has a lot of Banksy Graffiti. I am no expert on this subject, but I think some of these are from the famous artist? A couple are just cool. I think there is a fine line between unwanted scrawling, and something that genuinely adds something to a building or wall. Art is subjective.

Well I will conclude this blog (all be it three months after our visit) with a gallery of the best photos I took during the five night stay. Included is a photo of a great syncro T25 campervan called Rocky, owned by a really nice chap called David who camps weekly in it in Bristol. We had a nice evening at the pub talking BLOGs and camping, and as it transpired he did Europe In A Campervan in 2011. I cant explain in words just how much I love Bristol. We have already booked for the the first day of 2018 for another five night break 🙂

Liverpool – November Weekend Break

Mandy and I always make the effort to get away on our Birthday weekend which fall in February and November respectively. This used to be in the form of a B&B, or hotel in a nice location away from home. However, since we brought the camper its pretty much been an excuse to go away in the van.

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An example of Liverpool’s beauty

Come mid October we were struggling to decide on a location for my birthday. I saw a post on Facebook by somebody saying they had spent a night at Liverpool Marina in their camper, so we decided to investigated the option by looking at the Marina website ,and sending an email for prices and availability. The response was £15 per overnight stay in the outer car parks, which included access to shower facilities.  The price was fine as a room in a hotel or B&B in the center of Liverpool would have been upwards or £80. However, information on the camping location was sketchy, so Mandy and I were understandably apprehensive. We decided to commit to the weekend in the hope that it would work out for the ok. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Saturday 12th started well for me. I got presents and cards 🙂 . The weather on the other hand was dull and rainy 🙁 . We set off from Derby mid morning, and arrived at Liverpool just as the rain stopped and the sun came out. The post code we used in the Sat-Nav positioned us in a car park with a few campervans. Initially we thought it was the right location and were a little dissapointed at the lack of boats. There was water, but no boats. It soon became apparent we were in the wrong place as the Marina Yacht Club was nowhere to be seen. A short drive lead us to the right location where we found a nice spot on the edge of the car park to set the van up.

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This gave us great views of the boats in the Marina.

Pitched Up and ready to hit the city
Pitched Up and ready to hit the city

We popped into the Yatch Club to make our presence known, collected a swipe card to enable access the shower (£10 deposit), and paid for two nights parking (£30). We soon got our bearings and headed towards Albert Dock. This was a 15 minute walk along the River Mersey past the Liverpool Exhibition Center, BT Convention Center and the Echo Arena.

Mersey at low tide
Mersey at low tide

We had been to Liverpool in the past. The first time was a coach trip to the cavern club for an evening, and a couple of times after that where we parked up at the main shopping complex ‘Liverpool One’. On all  occasions we only saw a very limited portion of what the city had to offer. It’s not surprising that our impression of Liverpool was a little muted. That said, the regeneration and new developments seen on the brief walk from Marina to the Albert Docks was certainly giving me a reason to question my opinion. Over the course of the afternoon, my view of Liverpool changed dramatically for the better.

The quays, wharf’s, docks, architecture, museums and colorful history makes Liverpool one of the most interesting City’s to visit. I really couldn’t believe that  we had missed such a lot previously. Saturday afternoon gave us a great overview of the docks and its location in relation to the other areas we were more familiar with. A coffee at Nero, a meal at one of our favorite restaurants Zizzis, in combination with plenty of fresh air and  walking made the day pretty much perfect. Suffice to say we both slept extremely well that night.

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Sunday was Armistice day. This always fell on my birthday weekend so  we were used to being cought up in the excitement of the parades. This year was different. We had a leisurely start to the day because we didn’t feel the need to rush being so local to the city center. We had a shower, a cuppa & breakfast, then set off on a brisk walk up the now familiar ‘Kings Parade’  to the Albert Docks. We were so distracted by the shops and attractions at the docks, by the time we realized it was almost midday and we had missed the parade 🙁  …but I found this on youtube  🙂

On the Saturday I had seen some small ferries giving guided tours of the docklands and river. I decided that this would be a great way to pass some time and learn a little about the history of the area. Unfortunately no ferries were running on Sunday because of armistice day. So we settled for an open top bus tour.

The temperature in the afternoon dropped so this was a chilly experience, but it was a great way to see far more of the sights than we would have been able to on foot. One fact I  learnt was “Liverpool has more grade 1 & 2 listed buildings outside of London than anywhere else in England” .

Anyways, we stayed a second night at the Marina before heading home the following day. In summary a really great city break on a real budget. Highly recommended for anybody that has a campervan / motorhome 🙂