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Caravanning

     
 

The Spirit of Caravanning


This Easter holiday (2018) proved to be a revelation to me when it comes to modern caravans.

Friends of ours, a family of five, had just taken delivery of a new ‘Swift’ caravan and we arranged to meet them on a site not far from their home in order to ‘show them the ropes’ as they’d never been caravanning before. We took our 18-year-old Bailey Senator Montana Millenium and pitched near to our friends.
What struck me more than anything was the complexity and sophistication of the electrical / electronic systems in our friends’ caravan. Complex electronic controls and alarms for just about everything. What happens when something goes wrong? If something breaks there is little chance they could fix it themselves in the middle of a field in a remote location. And think of the cost of getting those fancy electronic components repaired or renewed! Rather them than me.

Do we really need this level of complexity in our caravans? No, of course not. Surely the original idea of a caravan was to provide a relatively inexpensive home on wheels, not a sophisticated and expensive ‘gin palace’ that costs a fortune to buy and maintain / repair.

Of course, manufacturers are rubbing their hands with glee as the money pours in but is it them, or us caravanners, who have lost our way?

My first caravan was a 1978 ABI Ace Rallyman. No mains electricity; gas lights; a gas fire for heating; battery lights and a water pump powered by the car battery. I later fitted it with a few mains power sockets connected to a lead that was routed out of the caravan via an open window. It served me well until 1997 when I moved abroad for a few years. I used it with my (first) family, and solo, both in the UK and abroad without any sophistication or complexity at all.

With my old Bailey Senator, I can fix most things myself if anything goes wrong – and there is less to go wrong. It’s simple engineering. In fact, I lived in this caravan with my (second) family for ten months (including a new baby, born during this time in the caravan) after returning to the UK after yet another contract overseas – where we also took the caravan and used it for holidays.

The one thing that I’ve decided during this Easter holiday with our friends is to keep our Bailey Senator operational for as long as possible and not change it for a new caravan. It’s time we went ‘back to basics’ as far as our caravans are concerned. By NOT buying a new caravan, maybe manufacturers will get the message – although, judging by what has happened to car manufacturing, that seems like a faint hope.

There is nothing wrong with simple engineering – except the reduction in profits to the manufacturers.

The other huge disappointment during this Easter holiday (2018) was the cost of staying on the very basic site I'd booked. The fees were quite extortionate considering the (lack of) facilities on the site.

Have we lost the ‘Spirit of Caravanning’? I certainly hope not.

The above was written in May 2018. In May 2020, I sent a letter to the Caravan and Motorhome Club as follows:

On a Different Planet

Having just gone through the latest Caravan and Motorhome Club magazine (May 2020) any doubts about having cancelled my direct debit payment for membership fees were blown away. I really do believe that club members must live on a different planet to most of us. My main reason for stopping our club membership is the extortionate fees charged by the club for staying on the club sites (and yes, I do know about CLs). Having read the latest magazine I fully understand that the spirit of caravanning and motor-homing has been lost forever.

For instance; there is a whole 9-page section devoted to the Club's 2020 Motorhome and Campervan Design Awards where the starting price is £43,967 for a campervan / van conversion. The most expensive product reviewed came out at £170,780. That's more than our house is valued at! Another 3-pages were devoted to a review of a campervan that cost £60,695. There was also a review of a tow-car priced at £47,130.

There were a measly 3-pages covering the more technical aspects of buying a second-hand caravan – no prices mentioned, of course – don't want to cheapen the club's image too much.

As we own a twenty-year old caravan which we tow with a twelve-year old vehicle, neither car nor caravan being worth very much, we find it unimaginable that there are so many people with such huge sums of disposable money as to be able to purchase the equipment described above and who can easily afford to stay on club sites.

Surely the original concept of caravanning was to provide cheap and cheerful accommodation for people who liked to travel with their very basic home on wheels – NOT mobile gin palaces! My first (and only other) caravan, a 1978 ABI Ace Rallyman, had no mains electricity and was fitted with gas lamps.

Your club has lost its way with the relatively poor people who still maintain the spirit of caravanning. No doubt that's what you want – an exclusive club for wealthy people to show off their mobile palaces.

Goodbye.

A letter I wrote to the Camping and Caravanning Club - published in the August 2020 edition of their magazine:

The Lost Spirit of Adventure

I shudder and cringe when I see the prices and sophistication of modern motorhomes and camper vans (and caravans).

My first camper van was a 1967 Morris Mini van. I used to take my yellow labrador, a sleeping bag, camera and a few clothes and bits and pieces of cooking gear and just go. By pushing the front passenger seat forward and tilting it, I could fit a box in the space between it and the floor of the van section onto which I'd place my pillow, so making it just about long enough for my 6 feet frame to lay down in my sleeping bag with my doggy companion curled up next to me on the skinny carpet I'd placed on the floor.

In 1972, I got some extra real-estate by way of a Mk I Ford Escort van – big enough for two adults to sleep in – and a piece of foam rubber as a mattress; such luxury. It was so cold one night that ice formed on the inside of the van but we were snug enough in our sleeping bag.

I could park these vans anywhere and never have to worry about being on a site – a real sense of the 'freedom of the road'.

In the late '70s, early '80s I was back to another very old Morris Mini Van – an ex-AA patrol van from 1969, this being followed by a Citroen GS Estate (all that space!). Two adults, two young children and the same yellow labrador and off camping we'd go – with the luxury of a small ridge tent into which we'd all pile for sleeping – including the aforementioned labrador. What fun we had! We were quite poor in those days but we still had a wonderful time in the great outdoors.

Have we lost the spirit of being in the great outdoors and having an adventure? I really think we have. There's a lot to be said for keeping life simple – and inexpensive.

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