One of the big events of our summer this year is the National Feast of Lanterns, the Camping and Caravanning Club’s annual rally. We’ve not been to it for a few years because the early September date always clashes with Mad-Week at the day job, when time off is banned. So when we saw that this year’s event is in the middle weekend of our summer holidays in August we couldn’t wait to get the cheque in the post. The NFOL usually has about 2000 vans and tents, there are marquees, trade stalls, arena events, and every night there is a cracking live show. It really is a brilliant weekend.
So we were devastated to get the email this week advising that the record-breaking wet British summer had claimed another victim. The NFOL is cancelled. We are disappointed; I can’t imagine how the teams of volunteer organisers must feel, some of whom have invested three years of their lives into this thing. It is very sad.
But we shrugged our shoulders, hitched up the van, and headed out into Britain’s wet wilderness for some caravan therapy. (Actually we had to change the battery before we left because it seems to be knackered. And the caravan side-lights didn’t work, but we didn’t need them, we’d be there before dark. But was this an Omen?)
We headed for a temporary DA site at Lyme View Marina. We’ve been before, good location, with a fine walk over the moors to the National Trust’s Lyme Park. You’d think finding it would be easy, but we made the mistake of trusting the SatNav. When she takes you the wrong way in a car you pull into a side road and do a three-point turn. No problem, it’s just annoying. Try it with a caravan on a single-track, with passing places, reversing into a farm gate. Wild.
It didn’t help that there were none of the usual direction arrows fixed to lamp-posts. The DA’s are normally very good about this. We should have suspected something. But we found a road to the marina ourselves, one that we recognised from last time, and we wound our way up the hill, over the canal bridge and into the boat yard that leads to the site. At the end of the boatyard, taped to a chained and locked gate, was a damp sheet of A4 with the words “Site Shut” in dribbly felt tip. So now we had our second lesson in extreme caravan manoeuvring. Boatyards are magical places, with anchors and chains and other vicious chandlery scattered at random, ready to gouge and tear into the tender flesh of caravan walls. It took us quarter of an hour to get out.
So, where to go now? Not back home, please; the rain had stopped and the chances of the first dry weekend of the summer were high. There were other sites we knew. Each number we called was answered by a machine, ‘at the tone please leave a message.’ We didn’t want to leave a message, we wanted permission to pitch, and before it went dark. Because the side lights still didn’t work and it was already 7:40 pm.
Third time lucky, the Caravan Club site at Buxton - Grin Low – could take us. Just a few pitches since it’s the first day of the school holidays. But we had to get there in twenty minutes. The SatNav said we could do it, but we know that our SatNav is calibrated for Lambourghini’s driven by suicidal maniacs, and we had the Pennines to cross. But we made it. Just. And even though all the cupboards had emptied all over the caravan floor by the time we got there, we felt our luck was changing. Even better, just as we pulled onto the site, the side lights on the caravan started working again.