I’m not going to lie, Keefy and I just love a good pie. And despite our geographical differences – he’s a southerner and I’m a northerner- we DO agree on what makes a “proper pie”. For a pie to be a pie, in our opinion, it HAS to have a pastry top AND bottom. None of this slapping a bit of pastry on top of a filling in our house- the filling has GOT to be fully encased by the pastry. Our passion for pies is so animated that it’s hardly a surprise that one of our favourite Campervan meals, especially on arrival day, is a Homemade Pie. But how do we manage that, in our tiny VW Campervan with just two gas hob rings?! Keep reading to find out!
We were gifted this by Lakeland 3 years ago to try out in the Campervan, and I can hand on heart say it is STILL one of the greatest things we carry with us. We use it on Every single trip (providing we have electric). It’s especially handy on arrival day, as it’s very low maintenance- we can pop in whatever food we’ve prepared – switch it on and relax (or finish setting up if it’s late) after our journey to the site. It’s also very low maintenance on washing up (if you use a disposable foil containers and tin foil underneath food to save mess!)
So what about the pies then?
Well we have this amazing gadget – a pie maker – which we use in advance before leaving home to batch make pies. We then freeze them, and grab a pair out before we leave, let them thaw whilst we drive, and then wack them into the Remoska about 45 mins before we want to eat (we keep foil over the top to stop them burning as the elements are on the top of the Remoska, on the lid).
It is brilliant.
The pies are dinky enough to fit in the Vw freezer, so we can keep them frozen whilst away if we don’t want to eat it on day one. For this reason they make an excellent back up meal. With frozen chips, or boiled potatoes. We’ve even been known to use packet smash or tinned potatoes from our emergency stash cupboard.
So there we go. We may be camping, in a tiny Vw Campervan, but there ain’t no stopping an O’Gorman getting their pie!
Our current batch is chicken Brie and mushroom, which are rather tasty. What’s your favourite pie filling? Leave a comment below with your favourite – we’re also on the look out for inspiring pie recipes!
Gandalf the VW is parked up on a glorious field in Eastbridge, in the heart of Suffolk and not too far from Minsmere and Dunwich. We’re on a C&CC certified site with no hookup, and just a tap, loo and chemical disposal. At just £9 for the night, we are very happy campers indeed. Eastbridge Farm, Suffolk
Yesterday we finally got our new solar panel fitted to the pop top ; after over a year of uming and ahing- a change of van, and then a long wait for our trusty caravan serviceman, Simon from Thetford Caravan Service- who is FLAT OUT! Yesterday was finally the day!
I’m not going to lie; our hearts were in our mouths as we watched Simon drill into Gandalf’s roof, but he did a marvellous job. We opted for Sunpower 110v flexible solar panels sitting on our pop too and this weekend ended up being the perfect test as we enjoyed the hottest weekend of the year so far.
Saturday dawned hot, and we were very thankful for our air con as we made the hour journey to Eastbridge via Morrison’s. By 1pm we had arrived set up camp. The weather was top notch, and we enjoyed a major chill for the entire afternoon; snoozing, reading and listening to music.
We are two days from breaking up from the summer and officially almost burnt out. The chill in the sun did a very good job at recharging our own batteries, never mind the solar panel charging the leisure battery. We kept checking the solar panel and couldn’t believe that we were drawing 5vs into the leisure battery. Most importantly the Prosecco and beer was ice cold.
Dinner time soon arrived and we bbqed a great big slab of steak with sausages – absolutely delicious; before thinking perhaps we should take a walk, so walked the 5 mins max to the local pub the Eels Foot Inn- an Adnams freehouse.
On our return to camp we set up our new piece of kit, a folding handmade fire pit. A student that we have both taught for over 10 years goes to Uni this summer so we received this immensely thoughtful homemade gift- handmade and designed by her mum. Isn’t it fab!
We slept like logs, and before we knew it Sunday morning had arrived. The cows mooing provided a gentle start to our Sunday morning, and as the sun rose the heat soared! We got out our sun canopy and had a light breakfast before packing up camp and heading to nearby Dunwich Beach.
We were joined here by both our mums, and Keefy treated them to a delicious fish bbq on the beach for lunch. That cadac safari chef 2 is really versatile and perfect for moving it around to find a picturesque cooking spot.
We spent all day on the beach – mum and I drinking mocktails pretending we were in Greece (we were both driving!) Several swims in the sea were enjoyed and before we knew it it was time to make our way home. We may have only been way for just over 24 hours but we feel recharged ready to tackle the last two days of a very unusual year of music education and performance!
We’ve got loads planned for the summer in Galdalf; we can’t wait to take you along with us on the ride.
Gandalf the VW campervan has been on a very special mission recently, testing a very cool new gadget that has just hit the UK Market; a Campervan specific Sat Nav Device.
The Garmin CamperVan is a device aimed at those who like to take more time to enjoy the world around them. It differs from other Sat Navs/mapping software and apps by pointing out attractions along your route, linking to pictures, trip adviser ratings and more.
One of our favourite features is the Custom “Trendy Places”section- something that you can set up in advance; for example a category of shops, beauty spots etc – in our case we programmed it to look for Farm Shops- close to your destination, or along the route. We’ve trialled it on each of our trips this year and as a result we have found some cracking farm shops to divert to as we close in on our destination, allowing us to stock up with enough local meat and treats to see us through our stay.
We really love the “Trendy Places” feature. Even without our own custom farm shops popping up as we drive along, it flags up all sorts of attractions such as theme parks, museums , pubs etc which are close by or on the route as we make our way from stop to stop.
Another really cool feature is the “Road Trip” option – something for those who aren’t in a rush, and want to see the scenic route rather than just stick to the motorways or larger A roads. If you have the time, then this option is brilliant to see off the wall places that you never would have known about without.
The tag line for this product is “Plan to be Spontaneous” and whilst right now, as we come out of lockdown, it’s a little harder to be as spontaneous as one may like to be, this device is certainly geared up for the moment we CAN relax our plans a touch. With an option to search Campsites at the touch of the button, we look forward to the day we can roll up to a new area with no concrete plans at all and rely on the Garmin CamperVan to look after us!
The device connects to your phone via bluetooth and offers live traffic updates on route. The screen size is great, and the maps show up very clearly on the device. Even in full sunlight- which our “car play” screen struggles immensely with – It’s really very easy to use with big clearly labelled icons to navigate around the Home Screen at just the touch of a button.
Living in Norfolk, where the phone signal isn’t always the best, we’ve previously had many times where we haven’t had enough Mobile Data to get our maps loaded to get us home. We’ve tested this device now for a number of months and it’s never let us down in finding a signal and getting us home as it relies on GPS rather than 4G.
Whilst in Cornwall last week, this device came into its own. We like to stop at supermarkets to stock up on fizzy water and other larger bits each time we move campsites. The Garmin was fabulous as it allows you to search on your “active route” – ie your route to your next destination- for certain categories on route. So we left a campsite, then searched for grocery stores “on route” and we had huge success with this, saving us bags of time googling the nearest Tesco (other supermarkets are available 😉) and then matching it up with our route.
We really REALLY love the device, and feel confident that it will enhance all our future trips immensely.
This is a sponsored post and the product has been sent to us by Garmin, but this did not affect my review or feedback at all. All views are solely my own.
It’s not that we don’t want to ever use campsite facilities again, it’s more that at the moment, we’d prefer to stay on smaller sites with no facilities, as we feel they will perhaps be quieter than those with facilities.
So we decided quite early into lockdown to invest in an awning and 12v shower. We picked the Eurotrails tailgate because that way we could aim for a cooler sleeping area during the hotter summer months. Our one criticism of Ruby is that during the height of summer we can get a bit hot in bed and the air around our face becomes a touch stuffy. The idea of a tailgate awning excited us as the prospect of being able to have fresh air around our faces during these summer months would hopefully make for more comfortable nights.
We picked the Eurotrails off-road awning as it looked spacious and very easy to assemble. Everyone refers to awnings as “divorces in a bag”, and we were keen not to be included into that generalisation thanks very much!
The awning is stored in a small tent sized bag and has just two poles for the entrance shelter. You hook the edge of the awning in to the hinge of the tailgate, line up the window in the awning with the window on your tailgate and open the boot! There are handy magnets which keep the awning secure onto the van.
There are two zipped entrances, one on the offside and one on the behind. There is also a window and a vent with net. The space is large enough for two small chairs to shelter in. Our only criticism is that with it being a European design, the side entrance is on the opposite side to our living area on our van, but to be honest I’m not sure we would use the awning to lounge in anyway and it was nice to have some privacy with the entrance being at the back of our pitch.
On our first use, the waterproof-ness was put through its paces as the moment we’d finished setting up the heavens opened and we found ourselves in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. We are happy to say no water got into Ruby and we were watching it like a hawk!
After our first night of sleeping with the tailgate open, we realised the boot light (inside) had remained on and therefore drained our battery! So we’ve since disconnected the light as we never used that anyway.
We were especially pleased to discover that we could close the boot without any drama, we leave the awning pegged in and just close the boot and lock up when we go out as we didn’t fancy leaving the vehicle wide open. On return, it’s really easy to just open the tailgate again and the awning pops up.
We’re really happy with the awning, and although it’s perhaps a little pricey at £200 , it’s going to massively enhance our trips. As well as a private area to shower in, it was wonderful as a dressing room. Another downside of Ruby has been getting dressed in the morning and not being bale to stand up whilst getting our clothes on. Now we can jump out of bed straight into the awning and get dressed whilst standing up!
We have this 12v shower which we are really pleased with. You fill the bucket (Included) with water, dip the motor in and away you go. The pressure is actually very good, and the lead for the 12v to the shower head is so long we can plug it inside the van and run the cable through the bed area. You can turn the water on and off with a switch and on the shower head too.
We used an old solar shower bag to heat the water during the day, (topped up with a couple of kettles) and then poured the water into the shower bucket. We stand in afolding dog paddling pool to collect our used shower water.
Ruby the VW Campervan is nestled amongst 4 other motorhomes beside the Oxford Canal in Warwickshire. We are at Britstop number 427/18 and for the first time ever, we are sharing our Britstop location with other vans! In 6 years of using Britstops, we’ve never encountered other vans!
This weekend’s mini escape has been a little topsy turvy to say the least. We were supposed to be going to see Tears for Fears tomorrow in Birmingham, which meant bank holiday camping plans were difficult. Then, Keith popped onto Arena Birmingham’s website 2 days ago to get parking directions when he noticed TfF wern’t listed this weekend. A little bit of digging and we discovered that the gig had been been cancelled. Thanks for letting us know.. not. Thank goodness I have a nosey OCD husband otherwise we definitely would have been non the wiser and would have turned up.
As soon as we found out the gig was off, before we even investigated rescheduling/refunds, the next step was to embrace the fabulous weather forecast, and our now completely empty diary and get ourselves onto a site somewhere for the weekend. All the forums/facebook pages I follow had been saying May bank Holiday had been fully booked all over the country for ages so my hopes were not high and I went to work extraordinarily hacked off to say the least.
Happily my husband is some sort of miracle worker and found us a site within an hour – vaguely in an area that we wanted to visit at some point this year, Chirk. Our preference was of course the Camping and Motorhome Club’s “Lady Margaret Park” in Chirk – it ticked all our boxes, we’d had several people recommend it and it had near enough direct access to the Llangollen Canal and it’s cycle route to Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Obviously it was fully booked already, but the warden told us to keep trying. During work on Thursday my email pinged with the email “Booking Confirmation – Lady Margaret Park” – Keefy had managed to get us on THE site we’d wanted. Woo!
I had work until 4pm Friday so we decided to break the 4 hour trip to North Wales with a popular Britstop half way. We phoned ahead, booked a table for dinner and off we tootled, sunglasses on feeling pretty chipper.
Britstop 427 offered a very warm welcome, the landlord liked the look of Ruby – and we enjoyed showing her off like proud parents, especially as we gave her a little makeover this week.
We had a beer on the canal side before heading inside for a delicious meal and crashing out early. It’s been a hell of a week!
We had peaceful night tucked away in the pub car park, but were keen to get up and on, as we still had to get past Birmingham. We were just having a cuppa when much to our surprise we found ourselves with some guests..! See video……. 🤣🚒
It delayed our departure a touch, but was fascinating to watch Warwickshire Fire Servie carry out a drill. Ruby gained a few more admirers from the fire crew and we were treated to a serenade of Morning has Broken. One of the more surreal mornings we’ve had, thats for sure!
Our journey to Chirk was smooth – a highlight was spotting Ruby the VW’s twin!
After a quick stop at the local butcher’s in Chirk of course we rolled onto the club site at midday exactly. It took us a while to set up as it’s been some time since we’ve been out on site with all the dry weather gadgets but it was soon time to have lunch – steak and stilton wraps, before having a little wander into town.
We enjoyed our walk, which took in the Chirk aqueduct and viaduct – which are positioned so close to each other that from a distance it looks like they are double decker.
We wandered across the aqueduct back into England and found my dream house.
We then picked up a couple of bits that’d we’d forgotten from shop before walking through Chirk tunnel – an amazing piece of engineering – a canal tunnel that is almost 500m long – so long that you can barely see the end of it!
It’s very cool – boats can only go through single file and have to have their light on so people know they are coming. We watched boat go through alongside us, and then some canooists we waiting to go through next. I quite fancy a go at that myself.
Back at the site – it was glorious weather so we tried out these self inflating sofabeds that we got off Dad and Jen for Xmas. I say self inflating – what I actually mean is “self inflating if you run around in circles wafting your arms around looking like a complete tool!” Our next door neighbour actually took pity on me and came to ask if I wanted to borrow his air pump – then looked mighty confused when I say thanks but this is actually how you’re supposed to do it! Once inflated though my goodness, they are comfy – it’s like you’re floating on a hammock!
We had a delicious bbq for tea which featured some welsh dragon sausages and welsh lamb leg steaks from the butchers down the road, before we both crashed out again at 9pm!
Another day of sunshine was forecasted for today – we could hardly believe our luck! After a tea in bed watching the rabbits behind us, we got on with breakfast – a full English on our outside gas ring. I love cooking al fresco- and is there anything greater than walking through a campsite on a sunday morning with all those AMAZING smells tickling your nostrils. No, I don’t think so either!
Whilst I got on with breakfast, Keith prepared the bikes and by 10.30 we were off on our way. We joined the canal tow path just by Chirk Station – and the first bit towards Pontcysyllte aqueduct is especially beautiful – steep banks either side, lush green trees and banks upon banks of bluebells and wild garlic. Just wonderful.
In actual fact – the whole cycle all the way to Llangollen (9 miles each way linear) was just breathtaking. It has absolutely worked its way to our (imaginary for now) list of top cycle routes in the UK.
The main feature of course is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the UK’s longest and highest aqueduct, which has now received World Heritage Site status. As such it is absolutely heaving with people, on the tow path on bikes and foot, and on the canal in canalboats and canoes; but who can blame them.
We just loved it there. We walked our bikes across the aqueduct, then carried on the canal towards Llangollen (you have to go over the bridge, cross the road and then take the new tow path). This stretch was another breathtaking sections, and the 4.5 miles to Llangollen just flew by.
At Llangollen you have the option to take a boat trip on a horse drawn barge. We didn’t fancy the trip but enjoyed watching the horse pull the barge – we’ve never seen this before.
We turned back round at this stage but you can carry on to Horseshoe Falls. After stopping for an ice-cream at the sweetie barge and a quick purchase of some souvenirs (some of you reading this will know we are suckers for souvenirs 😜) we soon found ourselves back at Ruby – exhausted but completely overwhelmed by the scenery.
After a chill on the inflatables (and causing amusement to yet more campers on the Caravan and Motorhome Club Site!) we cooked fajitas for dinner and had a little evening stroll down across the border back into England, to the Bridge Inn for a swift one whilst watching the sunset, before bed.
What a cracking day. You can view our Llangollen Canal cycle video highlights here.
Monday dawned way too quickly – we were having far too much of a good time to have to pack up and start spinning Ruby’s wheels back home! Luckily we were both feeling it, so after packing up, we drove the mile down the road to Chirk Castle National Trust in a hope to procrastinate!
Arriving early worked in our favour – I bagged a prime seat within the castle courtyard at the cafe in the sun and read my kindle whilst Keith went inside then we swapped (Jazz obviously wasn’t allowed in and it was WAY too hot to leave him in Ruby so we were tag teaming!)
We had to do the same for the formal gardens and woodland unfortunately as dogs weren’t allowed in there either – only the estate grounds for the furry ones. I assume this is because of the actions of selfish dog owners in the past leaving their poop.
The gardens were lovely, but I don’t think either of us enjoyed visiting them without each other. Especially seeing all the families and couples enjoying picnics etc. 🙁 But if you don’t have a dog – I’m sure you would just love it there!
All too soon, it was time to hit the road – we couldn’t put off the impending bank holiday journey home any longer. Luck was once again on our sides though it seemed as we got home in 4 hours exactly with no traffic jams. Unlike the poor folk who were queuing to get out Norfolk on the A11 – we hit no traffic problems whatsoever.
Love em’ or hate em’, you can’t deny that the invention of smart phones has changed the dynamic of camping. Long gone are the days where nipping out on a camping excursion means no contact with the outside world (unless you switch it off that is!) and for many (myself included) the invention of these annoying yet addictive devices has done nothing but enhance our trips away. So what appsdo I use on my iPhone to enhance my holiday? Read on for my top 10 camping holiday apps.
Us Brits seem to have a reputation about talking endlessly about the weather! It’s the one aspect of our holiday that we have no control over, but it doesn’t stop us wanting to keep an eye on it nonetheless. I use Dark Sky which although is a paid one (£2.99) rather than the endless free weather apps, I find it slightly more accurate than BBC Weather, Accuweather, the Met Office or The Weather Channel. It also alerts you if there is likely to be raining in the next hour, giving you time to get indoors or grab a brolly.
The Camperstop App is a great bit of kit, especially when you are touring Europe. It is linked to the Camperstops bible and lists near enough every Motorhome stopover, whether its free or paid, what type of stop it is, and even lists just the service point stops. In UK there are a few listed on, but as Aires aren’t quite so popular over here there aren’t so many listed on.
We’ve been using “Colin” the CoPilot for coming up to 2 years now, and have usedit in numerous countries. I’m still as chuffed with it now as I was at first. Advantages of Copilot over the free Googlemaps are that a) you can enter your vehicle measurements and the route is then calculated based on these measurements b) you don’t need any signal as the maps are saved online c) it’s relatively easy to use and d) you can save addresses etc so it’s easy to find locations in a hurry. Here is a link to my old review in case you missed it.
An online worldwide treasure hunt game, which opens up some great walks and outside adventures when you are in new (or your local) area(s). Free to join in (or pay to have a premium membership which enables you to have offline maps and caches saved)
Sat around the campsite with a great night sky debating which star is which? No problem – whip out Pocket Universe, point it at the sky and it will tell you. It’s a marvellous bit of kit and doesn’t need internet either!
Do you have any apps to add to my list? What are your favourites to use to help you on your camping trip?
Ruby the Campervan has whisked us away for a little bit of a change of scenery for a couple of days. School is now officially out for Summer (hurrah!) but we can’t go too far afield as we’ve got a few days of private teaching and gigs, plus a holiday course to run before our main holibobs.
Feeling totally drained having had to battle with not only end of term shenanigans, but also a flooded house (arghhh) we were so tired we couldn’t even decided on where to go! We ended up settling on the Suffolk coast for a night for some sea air and then a night in land, at the gateway to the broads at Beccles. Both locations were near to walks we’ve previously done before should we feel the need to be energetic.
Friday morning arrived, the sun was shining, so off we set, an hour down the road to Dunwich. Dunwich was once the capital of East Anglia and was the third biggest port in England back in Anglo Saxon times. Now, its home to less than 200 according to the 2011 census, because of coastal erosion, the entire village has gone! It’s a lovely wild, pebbly beach, and has a fab Adnams pub, not that we visited this time.
We parked up in the huge beach carpark at Dunwich and set off on our walk towards Dunwich Heath, a huge National Trust heathland, that at this time of year is the most gorgeous shade of purple.
We thoroughly enjoyed the walk, and were surprised we had clocked up 5.5 miles by the time we got back to Ruby. The walk wanted us to carry on further up past Ruby, but we were shattered so grabbed a picnic blanket, our flasks, and had a relax on the beach for a while instead.
We realised we were nodding off on the beach so moved Ruby the 15 mins dive to our base for the night- Eastridge Farm Camping and Caravan Club CL at Eastbridge (nr to Leiston). This was a basic site, at only £9 there was nothing other than a waste disposal, a tap and a very VERY basic loo. BUT- it was a huge field and was absolutely silent therefore, in our eyes it was perfect- the sun was shining so we got our stuff out, including sun loungers for the first time this year- and had 40 winks.
The water was really warm, and so we hung it on the sliding door and took it in turns to protect each others modesty whilst we had a quick rinse. We were really impressed with how it works. It has certainly opened the option of us being wild for more than two nights at a time now (perhaps only during summer though!)
We had a lovely BBQ that evening, the sun shone brightly for us all night! Keith was in his element as he didn’t even have to get out his seat to get another cold beer thanks to his birthday present 12v Electric Coolbox
Around 9pm we decided to have a wander to the local pub, The Eel’s Foot, less than 5 mins walk- perfect. A great selection of Adnams beers and a lovely menu (handy for next time) Despite Eastridge being a tiny hamlet the pub was PACKED! Great to see.
We slept so heavily and had a big lay in, whilst the rain eased off, which it did around 9am. We had toast using my RidgeMonkey MK2 Standard Toaster ‘Black’ with FREE Utensil Kit and homemade jam before setting off towards Beccles. I’ve set a summer goal of doing as much Farm shop shopping/cooking as possible, and knew we’d pass at least one farm shop on our journey. We did- so we pulled in, where we had a splurge, and bought some local chicken breasts, local mushrooms, local scones, clotted cream and loads of local raspberries and apricots to make jam with when we are home. On our walk yesterday we had also picked up a courgette from someone’s roadside stall for 20p!
We arrived at our next campsite, Dove Cottage, (£11.50pn incl. electric and with shower) near to Beccles around midday. We picked this site due to it’s close proximity to Beccles, where we had a 7 mile walk in mind, but in reality, despite it being a glorious day, we both just fancied going straight to the campsite and relaxing for the afternoon! So thats what we did. I made us beef and cheese pannini’s in the Ridgemonkey, we had a little explore from the site then we just set our stall out and relaxed away! Sometimes you just need to stop! The weather was amazing, and we actually got quite tanned 🙂 We dragged ourselves away from the sunbeds for a cream tea mid afternoon.
Dinner was a delicious Chicken, mushroom and Courgette risotto and as it cooled off we moved inside and began our Cracker boxset. We enjoyed a very local cheeseboard with cheeses we had brought earlier from the farm shop.
We had a fair amount of rain overnight but luckily it had cleared in time before breakfast. We were due to have a full English, but it turned into a bit of a disaster – first, the gas ran out on the hob in Ruby. So Keith got out our outside portable one. Then the gas on that ran out. So we changed that over. Then our sausages, which were from our local butchers, and are usually amazing, just would not cook! Put it this way, I was cooking them for 1 hour 20 mins and they were still raw inside. So they ended up in the bin, and we had a well done bacon, eggs, beans and mushrooms. This delay meant that the weather was beginning to take a turn for the worse, so rather than our planned 7 mile walk from Beccles we decided to do a much shorter river walk, which was lovely, and got home just as the rain started.
We had such a lovely mini break, just what the doctor ordered thats for sure. So just a handful of working days left now before we are off for our main summer holidays to South Wales, via Edinburgh (!) for a night at the Tattoo and Bristol for the International Balloon Festival! So excited about both of these!
Links to our new on board gadgets below (click on the pics)
As ecstatic as we were when we found Ruby the Campervan after our rather short- yet full on (in the grand scheme of things) search; there were a few “adjustments” we wanted to make to her to enable us to carry on as we had been in our beloved Bluebell the motorhome. From the day that we realised that we had to say Bye to Bluebell, we said there would more than likely have to be compromises made here and there, but we would concentrate on getting a decent (we hope!) base vehicle- anything extra can be added on.
First thing on the shopping list when we brought Ruby was a bike rack. Because she has a tailgate back rather than Barn Doors, it meant that we couldn’t get the standard Fiamma bike rack. On top of this, Ruby’s previous owner had taken “Pimping” up to an extra level by adding a rear spoiler. I still am not really sure what this adds to Ruby, other than the difficulty of adding a normal tailgate bike rack, so therefore a rather large hole in the wallet! Because we have this rear spoiler, we are unable to attach a normal tailgate bike rack, so investigations soon led us to getting quotes for a tow bar to be added, allowing us to go for a tow bar mounted bike rack instead.
We got a few quotes from a some local tow bar fitters, then Keith found a company online with an all singing and dancing website, and a quote that was a few quid cheaper than the local fellas. TowBarExpress.com. We booked and paid for our appointment for the following Monday- and celebrated with a cuppa. Then the phone rang- “Sorry Mr O’G, we can’t do that date”. “Ok”, we reply, and book in for the Monday after that. A week later, we get another phone call. This time, there were no apologies, just a curt “We can’t get a fitter, we need to reschedule”. Hmph. The only free day we have is Monday, so we rescheduled for the following week. Again. During that day, we both had a grumble, and Keith decided to go back to one of the quotes he had received. He realised it was only about a tenner more, so cancelled TowBarExpress and booked the local fitter in for the Monday that had been cancelled.
We cancelled our booking with TBE and asked for an email confirmation of the refund. We never got this, despite ringing twice and emailing. Almost a week later, still no sign of a refund and no word from Tow Bar Express- and our booking still showing on the online system, I decided I would take matters into my own hands. I rang up and received THE WORST customer service I’ve ever received over the phone. I kept asking for written confirmation about our refund and kept being told, we don’t have to give you written confirmation. Excuse after excuse I was given, but I lost my cool in the end when I could clearly hear the staff in the office mimicking me. I confronted the advisor and she denied it. They refused to put me through to a manager. In the end I got someone pretending to be the manager – I know this as she was so unprofessional but also, I later heard from our towbar man that the manager is a male! Along with a few other horror stories.
We eventually got our refund – but I would warn anyone about using them in the future. Disgraceful customer service- and that doesn’t half get my blood boiling.
On to the saga of finding a bike rack that would allow us to still open the tailgate door with the bikes on the rack. Did such a thing even exist? We were starting to think probably not! Keith must have ordered 10 different racks, of varying costs, and none of them worked! It was looking like we would not be able to open our boot with the bike rack on. Stress levels were rising, so I stepped in and asked on the VW Facebook page and also the overnight parking page. Keith, you see, is FAR too cool for Facebook (yeah right!!) but as I explained to him afterwards, he could have saved himself a week of stress if he were on Facebook as within 5 minutes I had over 10 replies, many of which saying the same thing. The http://www.roofbox.co.uk/scripts/rbvehsel4_tab.php?AR2603 . It was coming out a bit higher in price than we hoped, but- everyone was saying what a good job it does. So we ordered one. And, boy are we glad we did.
It’s very lightweight, yet doesn’t feel flimsy in anyway at all. It is so easy to use, it really is just a flick of lever to lower the bikes enabling the tailgate to open fully. Also, the attachment to the towbar is really slim, so you can walk in-between the tow bar and the van, really good when you’re trying to get something out that’s lodged its way further into the boot!
Other enhancements that we have made include changing the factory fitted radio to a CD/Bluetooth radio. This was a simple and cheap upgrade thanks to our local Halfords Store. £60 radio / £30 to fit. It’s pretty decent in sound quality, and the bluetooth is fab. I’m loving having my spotify blasting out, plus it make in car phonecalls much easier/safer (and legal!) We’ve just got our hands on Jamiroquai tickets so we’ve been blasting out quite a bit of JK- Keith now wants to fit a sub or something- I’ve told him he’s not allowed- unless he wants the world to know he’s having a mid life crisis!
This portable TV is GREAT. It’s about the size of our iPad, picks up all the free view channels, has a handy little arial that is magnetic and reaches through the kitchen window onto the roof, and best of all- has a record button, so we stuck a large memory card in the side and suddenly we can record Saturday Night Takeaway, whilst away in the middle of nowhere *ahem, obviously I just stuck that TV programme in as a random one….* It has 2.5 hours charge without being plugged in, but comes with a 12v charger too. Perfect.
So, theres a list of our new accessories for you. Ruby is now complete – although the new Cath Kidston catalogue has just arrived with some lovely melamine glasses, jugs and serving bowls in…. #justsaying
What are your must have camper van/motorhome accessories? Other than the obvious.. the corkscrew, that is!
We retraced our steps back towards Otterburn for a quick stop at the site of the Battle of Otterburn, where there was a picnic area and info board, along with a large stone from the battle.
The wind was absolutely savage so we didn’t stop for too long! We made our way back down the A68 and then made our way towards Kielder, a beautiful journey despite not being via the private forest drive (toll) as that is closed for winter. Our destination was Brit Stop number , a village pub right in the heart of Kielder Forest and Water park. We were intending on eating at the pub but with it being New Years Eve food service wasn’t offered all day, the menu looked good though! We opted for several drinks instead whilst getting to know the friendly barman (see below!) and then a cosy night in the van accompanied by a fillet steak and bottle of Pape! Yum.
Sunday, New Year’s Day
New Years Day dawned bright yet chilly. A perfect day for a bike ride, so we dismantled the wheels and set off for a few miles on the Lakeside Way path, a wide, hard surface track that is 27 miles long around the circuit of the reservoir. We didn’t realise that Kielder Water is in fact the largest reservoir in Western Europe! We didn’t fancy over-exerting ourselves, we’d had a lazy morning already, so just went on a short circular which took us under the impressive Kielder Viaduct, then over it, and alongside the lake for a little way before turning round and returning via Kielder Castle. In actual fact it was only about 4 miles!
I had a good play with my drone camera around the viaduct taking some amazing shots, and we also did some Geocaching too.
It was a lovely day and the light was simply breathtaking, until the heavens opened as the sun set for the first time in 2017. Being New Years Day, food service in our Brit Stop was again disrupted, but they were happy for us to stay put for the evening and we returned the favour by enjoying a few pints of the local ale, which was very nice!
We had a New Year’s feast of Moules Marinade followed by chicken casserole for dinner in the van, and just as we finished eating we noticed a break in the pitter patter on our roof; the rain/sleet had stopped and a quick check through the sky light and bingo, the stars were out. Our main reason for visiting this area was the draw of the night time skies. Northumbria is a Dark Skies area, and Kielder actually has an observatory with telescope. Sadly the events at the observatory were all sold out for our trip however I’d been itching to get my new telescope out for play. Here was my chance. My highlight was viewing Vega- the star in which the film Contact receives extra terrestrial signals from.. cue some singing of that wonderful John Williams theme!
We wandered up 100 yards or so to Kielder Castle and set up. The sky was phenomenal. We saw the Milky Way with our naked eye, and thousands of stars. Absultely breathtaking. Until a snowflake landed on my face. Then another. “Keith, did you just feel that” by the time he answered “Yes” we found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm! Northumbria, your weather is mental.
Monday 2nd Jan
We had another quiet yet cold night’s sleep, the temperature dipped to -3c, but we were toasty inside. We both woke early, a little apprehensive that the snow shower we found ourselves in the middle of, may have settled, causing us problems getting out of Kielder. We needn’t have worried, although there was an awful lot of ice on the ground, the road out of the forest park was clear. The weather again was gorgeous, a perfect winters day.
About 12 miles away from Kielder, we passed a large car park and viewing area for Kielder Dam. We pulled in for a leg stretch, and slip slided our way across the footpath across the dam. I also managed to get some more good drone shots despite poor Jazz’s protests, he’s not a fan of the flying camera!
The light was beautiful. After a cuppa and the last of my gingerbread house (Annie, it really is yummy!!) we hit the road once more- our destination was Hadrian’s Wall.
Getting from A to B in Bluebell the motorhome is quite different to getting from A to B in our little Yoda the Skoda. We need to consider many different factors when planning our jaunts in the motorhome, but mainly the issues we run into (sadly literally in one case back in 2010!) are our height and weight. We’ve used the standard Garmin satnav for 4 years now, and don’t get me wrong, its been ok, but this year we found ourselves looking at new satnavs and particularly one which we can input our vehicle dimensions in, so that the best route is found having taking these into account.
For the last year or so we’ve used Google Maps as a secondary sat nav, although because it uses data to download the map it relies on having a decent internet signal, something which we are not blessed with sadly, even in not so deepest Norfolk! We enjoyed using the phone as a sat nav, finding the screen on my iPhone 6 a good size for clear mapping.This led us to looking into an App based sat nav,which works offline and more specifically one which we could enter Bluebell’s vehicle dimensions into. Enter “CoPilot Caravan Europe”
At £49.99 I wondered if it was a bit pricey as I don’t tend to pay more than £4.99 for an app, but then Keith reminded me that actually having looked into Caravan/Motorhome/HGV sat navs, we were hard pushed to get one for less than £100. We decided to give it a go, and trial it on our recent Scotland trip- a handy test as most of the time we were without Mobile data.
After download, a user friendly screen prompts you through set up, with clear and easy instructions to navigate through. There are lots of options to tailor the app to your own personal requirements, something which we found useful- we could even personalise the welcome to say “Welcome Lydia and Keith” – not the most important factor on a sat nav I realise, but a nice touch nonetheless- (I’m such a girl!!) You have the option to display safety camera alerts (and change how much distance ahead you want to be warned of them) and set it to save battery, another useful tool when you’re doubling your phone as your sat nav. Finally it’s time to enter those important measurements- the app allows you to input your Height, Width, Total Length and Total Weight. You can also select how it should naviagate- the fastest route or shortest.
I like the fact that you have the option of which maps you want to download- having got the Europe version of the app, I had the option of downloading “Europe”, “Eastern Europe”, “Western Europe” then the individual countries as separate maps. This was useful for me as I have limited storage on my iPhone 6, so I was able to just download UK, although when we go to Germany over the summer I have the option of downloading “Western Europe” or just “Germany”.
On The Road
With CoPilot you have the option to save certain addresses as favourites. For those one off entries, its easy to input, especially if you have the postcode of your destination. You get the option to select a “cross street” too, making pinpointing your destination much easier.
There are several ways to view the app whilst navigating- the one we preferred was the larger instructions with a mini picture of the next junction and a countdown to the next junction. This made navigating really easy. Other options included a smaller instruction but more details for future junctions. I guess this would be useful for the passenger if they are navigating you. It reminded you several times which junction to take on a roundabout and although that was a bit annoying, it was useful and saved us going round roundabouts several times…ahem!
We LOVED the fact that it was easy to change the proposed route by a simple drag of your finger. For example- our route up to Loch Lomond from Norfolk wanted to take us up to Edinburgh on the A1. We wanted an overnight stop at Carter Bar border crossing near to Jedburgh so simply dragged our finger to the route we would rather take and it automatically updated. Fab. Equally you could add via’s etc and also it comes with an extensive list of POI – even more when you are online.
Traffic Updates are included for a year, however depend on Mobile signal. Our journey home was affected by a huge accident on the A1- we were delayed for nearly 3 hours (ouch) but sadly it didn’t do a great job in prewarning us (and we had 4G).
We travelled nearly 1500 miles using the app and in general we were extremely happy with how it worked. The only criticism was that sadly it did still try and take us on single carriageway A roads near to Inverness rather than the duel carriageway A Roads (it wanted us to take the A833 to Beauly to cut off the corner of Inverness, rather than staying on A82 then A9. It thought it would save 30 mins but when we ignored it, suddenly the ETA decreased by nearly an hour!) If we could get an update to make sure that duel carriageway roads take priority then for us, it would be 5*. Until then, we give it a very useful “does what it says on the tin” 4*. We look forward to using the app in Germany over the Summer.
In Summary– yes it’s nearly £50, but it made travelling round in a great big motorhome much less stressful and we were confident we weren’t going to find ourselves in a tricky bridge situation! We will still continue to use a road map alongside the app, but, find me a motorist that doesn’t do that!
Phones are so much more than phones nowadays aren’t they? Here we are using my phone to guide us 300 miles up to the Scottish Border, whilst using Spotify to serenade us- what happens when we arrive at the border at 01:00 – I have no battery left to take the obligatory “we have arrived” selfie! This was a worry for me- read into that what you will… ;0)