“Travel Broadens the Vocabulary.”
A woman once said this. That woman was me. And I said it today – the most vocabulary-broadening day of our trip so far.
Only yesterday, we had met up with friends in Donington and had been telling them what a wonderful lifestyle ours is; touring in a caravan; seeing new and wonderful places; enjoying the freedom of the open road.
This morning, we woke up in a waterlogged field in Leicestershire with Storm Angus raging around us on what shall be known henceforth as ‘Black Monday’.
I wasn’t sure that we’d even be able to get off our grass pitch. We did, but it was the only thing that went well all day.
And so, I shall regale you with the tale of what we got up to on our Three Counties Tour – and what happens when Livin’ the Dream turns into a nightmare!
Our purpose had been a shopping trip around all the L’s. Leicestershire (doggie snow suits), Lincolnshire (wheels & winter tyres for Big Blue) and Lancashire for an Amazon ‘Click and Collect’ in a Post Office – since, being of no fixed abode, we have no delivery address. (We thought we’d also visit my Dad. He does live quite close to said Post Office…!)
The Sat Nav had been locking intermittently and now, had finally broken. This had made finding our field in Leicestershire tricky after visiting our friends in Donington. Nevertheless, AA Route Finder assured us that our next destination, Gainsborough, was less than 2 hours away from our Leicestershire campsite. 3 hours later, we were still en route, trying to text our eBay seller of van wheels and winter tyres to find out where he was – and make sure he was in. We got no reply.
We drove through Laughterton, which is always joyful. It is where our lives changed for ever when we picked up our beautiful boy, Kai a year and a half ago! Luckily, we got a text and continued to the back end of Gainsborough in the pouring rain, with our 7m caravan in tow. We finally found our man, who furnished us with 4 winter wheels for our impending Alpine adventure. Luckily, there was just enough room for us to execute a U Turn with our 40ft rig in Duck (rhymes with…LUCK!) Lane.
All we had to do then was drive over the Pennines to Lancashire on the M62 – in my opinion, the most dangerous motorway in the country – in the teeth of a storm! We had long abandoned any hope of getting to the campsite to set up while it was still light. I managed to find a Sat Nav App on Mark’s phone. It worked quite well until the battery died in the snow on top of the notorious Saddleworth Moor. Here, we sat for an hour in traffic due to an accident.
In the dark, with driving rain, surface water and strong winds buffeting the caravan, I was, in a way, relieved. It forced the traffic to slow down – people were not driving to the conditions and as we approached the accident, we saw the consequences. 12 fire engines were trying to recover a number of vehicles which had nose-dived straight off the motorway and plummeted down the steep sides of the moor. We crawled past Manchester and north to Preston at 30mph. We found our campsite – after 7 hours solid in the van. It was a relief.
Or so we thought!
“It is all hard standing, although the grass has grown through the hard standing a bit” were our instructions. “Just choose your spot.” We drove round the campsite, barely able to see and picked our spot.
You may recall that, on Noirmoutier, we had helped to dig a young German couple’s camper out of the sand. Congratulating ourselves on what experienced caravanners we now were, we had chortled “We’d never get stuck!” We were far to savvy for that.
So as we reversed on to our pitch and pulled forward to re-position slightly, Big Blue immediately got bogged down in thick mud!
We stood in the dark, in torrential rain, surveying the situation; “If we unhitch, we might be able to drive off…” But we couldn’t unhitch because reversing had compressed the tow hitch. A caravanning phenomenon that we had discovered way back on our Maiden Voyage!
After a good deal of faffing in the pitch darkness and driving rain, we did finally manage to separate the van from the caravan, but there was no moving anything. Big Blue was well and truly stuck. We tried to push the caravan, but that was always a bit of a tall order – 1.5 tons on wet grass? No way! We managed to spin her around. At least she was level and our cable could reach the electricity, although the caravan door had come to rest next to a rather large and muddy puddle. Ah well, at least it was sorted!
Or so we thought.
I got in the caravan and wondered why my slippers were wet. The answer was quite straightforward. The caravan was flooded! We had just replaced the two front carpets, which had become a little worn. Our brand new carpets were sodden with black, gritty water – it looked like water that had come in from the road. We tried to find the source of the leak and in the meantime found that all our documents in the offside locker were soaked and the camera and electronics in the front locker were almost floating.
We rolled up our lovely new carpets and put them in the shower cubicle then mopped the floor, which used up all our clean towels. We didn’t have any food, but we had half a bottle of wine. At least we could sit and relax.
Or so we thought.
As I went to get the wine glasses, I noticed a foreign object on the bed. With all that had been going on, we had not given the dogs the consideration that they deserved. Today could only be described as Scheisse – and one of the pups, who have been as good as gold all day, had been forced, in desperation, to underline it.
Tuesday – They say that it will all look better in the morning. I suppose that at least the rain had stopped, but 4 dogs and 2 humans still had to enter and exit the caravan via the muddy puddle. All the local dog walks involved thick mud and Big Blue was still immovable. The short route back on to the hard standing behind Big Blue was blocked by the caravan. The only route to release Big Blue was the long way, across the sodden grass.
Mark went out just after breakfast and by 12.30, was still trying to dig the van out.
Improvisation is the key to caravanning. With Big Blue stuck, we had no vehicle. The site was deserted and we knew of no-one on whom we could call to rock up with a handy, emergency Land Rover. Like the Apollo 13 Mission, we had to solve our dilemma using only items that we had to hand.
You may mock, but I hope that this might explain the litany of rather peculiar methods that we enlisted in our attempts to escape! We unloaded Big Blue to reduce her weight before employing an esoteric series of items to try to prevent her from sinking into the mud. This included a hard-backed A5 note pad, bits of memory foam mattress and my bath mat. Against my advice, Mark employed a pole from the awning as a digging implement – so that got a nice bend in it as well.
I ordered some gripper tracks locally, but we had no way of getting them. My Dad has passed his four score, so I couldn’t ask him to drive to a Caravan dealership on a remote industrial estate, then try to find us in the middle of a field, down a muddy lane.
Then the lady owner came down and asked us the most ridiculous question in the world:
“What did you go on there for?!”
We didn’t say it, but the answer on the tip of our tongues was “Because we wanted to spend 7 hours digging our van out of mud instead of seeing Jackie’s Dad, which was the reason that we drove 300 miles North!”
On further reflection, she did seem to accept that if guests arrive on a filthy, stormy night, in the dark with horizontal rain, distinguishing ‘hard standing with grass growing through it’ from, well, ‘grass’ may not be a given!
She conceded that “I should really mark out the pitches a bit better.” I would say just marking them out at all would have been a big help!!!! At least she gave us a shovel.
Chocks away. We had found a chock in the field in Leicestershire, but we are down on the deal. We have since lost two, engulfed by Lancashire mud.
By mid-afternoon, we were out of the mud. Then, all we had to do was make good our mess and go and collect our gripper tracks. The irony is that they weigh nothing and cost only £9.99! The caravan shop advised us; “Yes – it’s always worth keeping some with you…”
Well now we know.
We really are not too bright to get ourselves stuck!
After all these miry misfortunes, our clothes and pretty much every fabric item in the caravan was covered with mud or gritty water from mopping up the flood. I managed to see Dad for half an hour, having had five washes on the go simultaneously at the launderette. I was conscious of a sign that ordered “No Pet Bedding or Horse Blankets” – nothing about bath mats that had been ground into Lancashire clay by a van wheel. I managed to load the machines when no-one was looking, which was a good job. During the wash cycle, the front-loaders looked like they were filled with Turkish coffee.
Thankfully, the Proprietress of the Launderette didn’t appear until the second rinse, when the water had achieved a more acceptable hue. She had a solid, square middle-aged torso attired in a sleeveless, nylon overall. This showed off crêpey, white arms, festooned with intimidating, indigo tattoos. Beneath cropped, bleached-blonde hair were pale eyes, which darted like meteors around the launderette. They zeroed in quick succession on the rim of mud around my boots; connecting that with a few piles of earth on the floor, a twig and a stray leaf shed from my bemired bits and pieces. Her eyes bored into me for a second but luckily, she decided not to strike. I really didn’t fancy messing with her. Somehow, I knew instinctively not to volunteer a compliment that her washing machine had brought up my muddy bath mat like new!
The morning did finally arrive when everything looked better; all the mud had frozen, we had moved the caravan away from the puddle – and we were LEAVING!!!!
We had dinner with Dad in one of my favourite Lancashire pubs; The Royal Oak in Riley Green. Curry, a fry up, a roast dinner and The Royal Oak’s mouth-watering Steak Pudding are the four Great British foods that we had been dreaming of in France. We washed it down with a foaming pint of Thwaites ‘Wainwright’ bitter, named for Blackburn’s famous son, Alfred Wainwright.
Wainwright is the author of the beautiful, hand-drawn mountain guide-books to the Lake District and Scotland – and it was he who put our tribulations into perspective. Our beer glass bore a quote from the great man;
“You were made to soar, to crash to earth, then to rise and soar again.”
Research has proven that swearing has many benefits (click here for an article in Time Magazine, no less!) and c’mon, when learning a foreign language, you always learn the naughty words first! I can now swear effectively in French, Welsh, German and Italian as well as English, so I remain sanguine about our crash to earth.
As I said, travel broadens the vocabulary – and with the ability to lower our blood pressure and increase our pain thresholds in five languages, soar we shall!
I have chosen not to name the CL in which we got bogged down, since I think it would be unfair. It was a beautiful location, the owner was kind and it was mostly circumstance and ineptitude that led to our mucky misdemeanours!
For advice on towing safely in windy conditions, please have a look at To Tow or Not to Tow? – Is it Safe to Tow in High Winds?
Regarding the leak in the caravan, we contacted our dealer and they took in the caravan for 3 days for a ‘thorough inspection’. They told us that they could find no fault and put the leak down to a ‘one off due to extreme weather.’ If only…
It was nearly 6 months and a 2nd leak later when we found the cause ourselves by looking underneath the caravan in a field; to read more about a reasonably common problem with Bailey caravans and how to approach it when Bailey refuse to see sense, see Bailey ALKO Axle Problem