Sunday, 20 March 2016

Caravan in Chirk

At last our caravan season has begun, and we’re in Lady Margaret’s Park in Chirk, near Wrexham.

We didn’t get off to a smooth start. We had the caravan serviced last month, and if I’d troubled to look inside, after the service, I’d have noticed how the radio and other electrical things had been left on. We knew we had a problem as soon as I fired up the motor mover to get the ‘van off the front garden, because the motor mover didn’t so much as fire up, as just flicker, with the power of a birthday candle, then die. So, job number one, after rushing home from work and as the Friday evening light faded to gloom, was to swap out the leisure battery for an old one we keep in the back of the garage, ‘just in case’, and hope the spare had enough charge.
Success! On our way.

We arrived in the dark. I set about doing the 'man jobs' outside while Sarah did the girly work, getting the inside of the ‘van organised.

I use two Aquarolls, so that we can rotate them and avoid shower catastrophes, and after I’d filled the first and got the pump running to fill the hot tank, I went back to the tap to fill the second. By the time I returned, the pump was dancing about making funny noises. Had there been light I’d have noticed all the water around the caravan. But it was dark and I didn’t. So I spent ages checking for all the less obvious problems, like splits in the pipe and bad seals between the pipe and the outlet, and half an hour of fiddling passed by before I noticed that the Aquaroll was empty.

There is a bright yellow switch under the bunk that has to be opened to drain the hot water tank when leaving a site, and it has to be closed before switching on the pump, or your water goes straight from the Aquaroll to the floor. Ha! Back to the tap.
This isn’t the first time I’ve performed this little pumping-onto-the floor ritual. Or the second. One day I’ll learn.

Saturday, we walked to Chirk Castle. It’s only about forty minutes’ cross country from the caravan site. There’s a bit of a hill, because, well, it’s a castle and hills are were they tended to build them. I’d like to tell you all about the history of the castle and the Myddleton family who lived there, but here’s what stayed in my head: Minted Pea and lettuce soup with thick crusty bread. We had it for lunch. Gorgeous. Inside the castle there are paintings and tapestries and furniture and stuff, but I remember the soup. I know, call me shallow. I could have looked up some history and facts and sounded all learned, like I know what I’m talking about, but I haven’t got much internet out here so here’s a link instead.

If you visit this caravan site you must make time to see the Chirk Aqueduct, built by Thomas Telford in 1801. The walk over the aqueduct has wonderful views down the Ceirog Valley, and through the arches of the railway viaduct that stands close by and high above on one side. There is also a walk you could try through the Chirk canal tunnel, but take a torch; the tunnel is unlit and is 420 metres in length.
If you’re new to the area and enjoyed the walk over the Chirk Aqueduct, then you should also visit the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a little further along the canal in the Llangollen direction. Pontcysyllte’s only for the brave, though. It is high and narrow and very exposed. Not one for a windy day, I promise.

Here’s an interesting thing. On one side of the aqueduct there is a sign, Welcome to Wales. Walking over the bridge there is another sign, Welcome to England. So who own's the aqueduct?
Welcome to Wales
Welcome to England

Imagine, now, that your parents are Scottish. A couple with a love for canal boats. Suppose they were on a canal tour of the Marches at the time you were born, on the boat, just as they were crossing the Chirk Aqueduct.

What are you? Welsh, English, Scottish? Do you get to choose? You might choose Scottish and grab a free university education. You might, instead, value Welsh citizenship and hold out for a few more years to claim your pensioner's bus pass that can you can use in Wales and England. Or then again, you might choose to be English, so that… let me think about this for a moment. Yes, I know, you can wear that single star on your England football shirt that says how you won the World Cup Forty-seven years ago.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

New Caravan Season. Top 5 Tips

This has nothing to do with the post, I just like the picture
 of this lovely spot we found by a steam in Hay-on-Wye.
 Two days after I took the photo, though, the water level had
 reached the top of the bank, there were whole trees heading
 down stream, and we were prepped for the fasted  pack
 since records began.

I can see from the daffodils and the crocuses that Spring is with us once more, and soon it will be time to set out on our first caravan outing of the 2016 season. It's an exciting time of year, and I've been looking through old photographs, like this, getting in the mood.

I thought it might be useful to compile a top ten list of things for all you eager caravanners to peruse before we all hit the road.

I could only think of six items, though. 

No doubt I'll remember the other four items once we get pitched on site. Here's the list:
  1. Get the caravan serviced. Done. We take our ‘van to Derby for her service. It’s eighty miles each way but hey, you get a run out, and it feels almost like a holiday except you get to come home and sleep in your own bed at night. Except this year we slept in a cold and dreary budget hotel bed, having put the wrong date for a scifi thing I was doing, in my diary. It’s a long, unhappy and complex story, one for another day, perhaps. Anyway, we’ve been properly servicing our ‘van since we upgraded three or four years ago , and the process is still a bit of a novelty. The old approach used to be: set out into the wilderness. Pitch. See what breaks. As methods go, it worked. Most stuff broke. Things you absolutely need to be working in spring (which is really winter but with photos of daffodils on the calendar) would always break first, like the electrics, the heater, the water heater, the cooker… Spring is a really good time to find all the water leaks too. In our older vans, leaks didn’t mean cold spots that show up on a damp meter, leaks meant waking up in the morning with rain slapping you in the face. Yeah, so now we get the ‘van serviced.
  2. Check the items you took out of the van last year, and put them back. Yeah, a good tip. We once arrived without the bedding. Try spending the night under your coats and jumpers and the old smelly rug from the boot of the car. That will cure you of any laissez-faire attitude to check lists, I promise.
  3. Gas! This is an old favourite. You run out of gas towards the end of the season and you say, yeah, we’ll get some after the winter. It's a choice: End your autumn break with a meal in the pub, or shell out twenty quid, instead, for gas that you're not going to use for another four months. A meal wins every time. Or does it? Can you remember how good it tasted, four months ago, when right now it's gone midnight, and you’re outside with your head in the bottle locker, and you’re in your jammies, your head-torch strapped to your forehead, and there’s frost glistening on the outside of the ‘van. You swap the bottle over and you shout ‘okay! Try that,’ and you know what answer you’re going to get because that spare gas bottle felt awfully light when you moved it.
  4. Food. If you’re like us your caravan doubles as your winter larder. You’re out of pasta? No worries, there’s some in the ‘van. Need some cereal? A tin of peaches? Bin bags? People who aren't caravaners just don’t have this resource. They have to get in the car and drive to the supermarket. And so should you, my friend, because that first caravan outing can turn into a hungry affair.
  5. It makes sense to keep the wellies in the shed over winter. You’ll be using them in the garden. But it would have been good if you’d put them back in the ‘van afterwards, because your white trainers or your carpet slippers just don’t hack it when you have to walk across a meadow that is so slick with mud the Aquaroll you’re towing doesn’t even get enough traction to turn, it just… drags. You find your way back to the tap a few hours later by following the mud slide. 
  6. At home it can be useful to have some spare towels in the winter. Sometimes it’s hard keeping on top of the laundry, what with so many bad drying days (so my wife tells me). We caravaners are lucky to have a store of dry towels at the end of the garden. Not so lucky when we forget to replace them, and our daily trip to the shower block during the spring try-out becomes ever-more miserable, because your only towel has become nothing more than a wet rag that you use to rub the water around on your body. The walk back to the van in the sub-zero easterly can be quite bracing when you’re wearing your dry cloths on top of wet skin.
So there you have my top six. I hope you find this useful. If stumble upon the other four, please let me know.
Here’s to the new season.

Happy Caravanning folks!