Caravan no more

It’s over. The caravanning experiment is no more. Good!

I’ve not entirely loved the caravan experience, just in case you hadn’t noticed. Sure, it’s not all bad news, but I must conclude that overall, the downsides outweighed the plus sides.

The biggest downside is having a ruddy huge caravan sitting on the driveway. It has been getting in the way. We’ve used it a total of four times this year (two of those times, it was sat in the same field in Buckinghamshire), and it just doesn’t balance out. It’s too much of a pain in the arse for the good times we’ve had in it.

Good. This caravan is no longer here.

Good. This caravan is no longer here.

I don’t much like towing it either. Sure, both of my tow vehicles (XM and then the RAV4) coped rather well with it, but it really does take the fun out of driving. Going away is meant to be a joyous experience. I felt the enjoyable journey was less enjoyable, because of worrying about the van and not being able to hoon. BORING. Also, crawling up Fish Hill in the Cotswolds in second gear was rather tedious.

The worst part was getting home though, where the only option was to reverse it down our narrow driveway. This was always horrible. I am so glad I’ll never have to do that again. It’s actually far easier to reverse a car trailer down our driveway, because you can see all of it, and double axles make a trailer less twitchy. I like a driving challenge, but sometimes, you just don’t want the trouble.

Anyway, it has gone. I’m not sure what our next strategy will be. We go camping so infrequently that it seems a bit silly to have any sort of vehicle on the driveway specifically for it. I suspect the S-MX will be rather too cosy with two of us trying to sleep in it, so we may have to return to tents. Or maybe spend the money saved by not hauling a caravan around on B&Bs instead. We’ll see.

Caravanning Experiences


It’s probably about time that I wrote up my caravanning experiences to date. I’m sure you’ve all been desperately* waiting for an update.

RAV4 shortie towing

Caravanning – better than you think. This was a test tug before our big trip.

Easter was the first big outing, when I still owned the XM. In theory, the XM should have been the perfect tow car. In reality, the weight of the caravan made it utterly frustrating to drive. Normally, the XM could be kept on-boost very easily, right down to just 1500rpm. Sadly, the legal maximum of 50mph (single carriageway) co-incided with around this engine speed. It meant that the slightest loss of speed caused a loss of boost, and therefore a downchange was needed. May not sound much, but it made the XM much more of a pain to drive, and much louder.

Frustrated, I put the caravan up for sale, though it didn’t attract much interest. So I sold the XM instead!

We didn’t go caravanning again until the last weekend in June, when we hitched up the caravan to my new Toyota RAV4 3-door and prepared to drag it all the way to Buckingham for Shitefest.

To be honest, I was nervous. After all, the RAV is much, much shorter than the XM, even though it has the same plated towing weight (1500kg braked). In a tow vehicle, length is your friend. It makes the tow car more stable. Mind you, the RAV at least has no rear overhang, so the tow bar is practically between the rear wheels. This is a good thing as there’s then no pendulum effect.

We set off, with me being very cagey at first. As the miles built up though, I began to realise that the little RAV is excellent for towing. The gearing is that much lower than the XM, to make up for the lack of torque at lower engine speeds. On the flat though, it really wasn’t bad, and while downchanges were needed to climb hills, the sound of a revving petrol engine is much kinder on the ears than an dirty diesel.

The only real struggle was climbing the very steep Fish Hill, near Broadway in The Cotswolds. I had to drop down to second gear, and the engine was working very hard indeed. It stank as old engine oil and muck began to cook on the hot engine. Thankfully, the temperature gauge stayed resolutely in the land of sensible.

It felt remarkably stable though, with caravan yaw (that wagging sensation) only apparent if you braked hard from speed, and even then only until the caravan brakes kicked in. Another benefit is that sitting higher up means I could see right through the caravan, to back up the towing mirrors. It’s so much nicer knowing what’s behind you. Amazingly few cars was what I saw. Far from creating huge tailbacks, there was only the occasional car. I had visions of irritating everyone as a mobile road block, but this never seemed to be the case. Nice.

On arrival in Buckinghamshire, the RAV had to drag the caravan into a very damp field. It did this with no trouble at all. In fact, when a friend got stuck in his Xantia trying to tow his caravan in, the RAV was able to take over with barely any wheelspin. I’m sure the Michelin Latitude Cross tyres helped – they’re brand new and have lots of lovely, semi-aggressive tread.

On-site. Pretty. Or something.

On-site. Pretty. Or something.

It also managed to drag his caravan back out again, by which time things had got seriously churned up. I really do like the RAV a lot. Which is good, as I’ve just had to pay £282.50 for a new timing belt, tensioners and water pump after the original pump came seriously close to failing (and taking the old timing belt with it). Oh well! At least it feels worth it.

I haven’t actually brought the caravan home yet. It’s still in a field in Buckinghamshire, where I’ll be sleeping in it for a night or two very soon. The following weekend, we’ll be collecting it and taking it to a 2CV camp in Warwickshire, before finally bringing it home.

That’ll be nice, because the caravan offers dry space to sit during poor weather, decent cooking facilities and a very comfortable bed. It feels like outrageous luxury to be honest, compared to a tent at least. I can certainly see the appeal of the ‘wobble box,’ and the downsides seem much reduced with a decent tow car. I am very surprised that a hydropneumatic, diesel Citroen has seemingly been out-performed by a tiny, Japanese soft-roader with a petrol engine, but there you go. Things aren’t always as they seem.

Certainly, I must concede that this is true of caravanning. Sure, I wouldn’t fancy going to a regimented site and calling that a holiday – I already live somewhere beautiful and peaceful, so I don’t need to sleep in a flimsy box to escape from modern life. But as an upgrade from a tent, it feels infinitely preferable. There’s only one problem really. There’s no way my 2CV is going to be able to tow it…

Hello caravan!

Yes, I am a caravanist, and the space left by the departing Prelude has already vanished.

The day began with a very scenic drive through the snow-capped mountains of the aptly named Snowdonia National Park. It wasn’t the route my sat nav wanted to go, but tough. Snowdonia is prettier than Newtown. The route was a no-brainer in my book.

The destination was Queensferry in Flintshire, where my blind Ebay purchase awaited. It was a trade-in at Deeside Towing Centre, whose website is broken. That doesn’t matter. They were very helpful and had the caravan hitched up in no time. I handed over £220, and parked up a short distance away to fit a number plate to the caravan (the classy ‘plate gaffer taped in window’ look until I can sort out something a bit more dignified), and towing mirrors to the XM. Easy.

It begins! Ready to drag the new caravan home.

It begins! Ready to drag the new caravan home.

Then, we were away. I was towing a full-sized caravan for the first time, and getting used to a rather fixed view in the car’s internal mirror. I’m not sure if we were constantly climbing a hill, or driving into a headwind. Possibly both. 60mph (on the dual carriageway sections) was hard work. The temperature gauge was rising, though the electric fans stopped things getting steamy. I could smell years of muck and old oil starting to cook nicely on the engine’s surface though. The poor XM was working hard.

To give the poor, shocked XM a rest, I pulled over after a short while in a handy lay-by. I had been clever and brought a gas bottle, water, a kettle, teabags, a mug, a spoon and milk. Time for a brew! Or, it would have been if I had remembered matches. DOH! Fortunately, I had also brought some orange juice, so I had a continental lunch aboard my Abbey GT 212, and munched croissants as I took in the splendid velour and absorbed facts from the handy brochure. With double glazing, an oven and blown central heating (which may now be lacking parts), this is a fancy van.

Croissants and velour for lunch. Stylish.

Croissants and velour for lunch. Stylish.

It didn’t feel fancy every time a truck went past. I was starting to feel nauseous. I refitted the steel wheel trims (because obviously that’s important) and got on my way again, ‘enjoying’ the fact that my XM now felt like the turbocharger and rear spheres had been removed. Caravans are good at absorbing power, and the weight of it was upsetting the Citroen’s usually cosseting ride.

Once up to 60/50 (dual/single carriageway), things weren’t so bad really. As I discovered when hauling the 2CV’s body up to Bradford, it’s actually quite relaxing to travel 10mph slower. Jeepers. How old have I become?! It’s true though, even if 50 is a bit annoying when towing. The XM struggles to pull it with the van attached and the slightest gradient becomes hard work. I was actually having to downchange. I rarely have to do this overwise! I may have pushed things to more like an indicated 55. This felt more comfortable and the sat nav said it was still 50-ish. This did also seem to mean that I didn’t have a queue of cars behind me. In fact, I kept catching people up! Who then angered me by slowing down on gradients that they had the power to climb easily! Ah, this was just like being in my 2CV. I still have angry memories of idiots getting in my way on the Hardknott Pass once, obliterating my hard-won momentum. Er, I digress…

A couple of hours of this saw me back home again, where the caravan seemed to win a new admirer in the form of Rachel. She fetched matches and we brewed up our first mugs of tea aboard our new camping machine. I think we’re going to enjoy it. I certainly deserved tea after reversing the caravan successfully down our narrow driveway!

Home! Where it was very well received.

Home! Where it was very well received. Note wheel trims now fitted.

There really doesn’t seem an awful lot wrong with the caravan, though that could be famous last words. For less than a really good tent, we’ve got a proper roof over our heads, an oven, a nice, comfy bed that isn’t on the floor and Rostyle-type wheel trims. WINNING! The bathroom is a bit of a state, as the roof has clearly suffered from damp. In fact, the ceiling is entirely missing here. I don’t think we shall be using that room. I may try and fix it up though, as the rest of the caravan seems so good. A lot of trim looks remarkably fresh for 35 years old. It frankly astonishes me that retro caravans can be so cheap to buy. Even a shoddy motorhome would be the best part of £2000.

It will be interesting to see how we get on with it. The first camp we’re taking it to is in about a month’s time, so we can get it nicely cleaned up by then. Let’s hope we don’t get too used to it though. I don’t think the 2CV will tow it…