Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Are you ever going to go, or what?

"When," I hear you say, "are you going to get off your soggy backsides and actually travel somewhere?"

Well, dear reader, the time is near.

We got up early (for us) today and set about breaking camp for the first time since we moved out of our flat. A wholly pleasurable experience, since there was relatively little wind to accompany the downpour. It seems that we didn't have as much of our "stuff" stowed as we thought we did and that, combined with getting the two rabbits ready for the road (did I mention we had two house rabbits? No? Maybe that's a story for another day...) meant that the whole process took a lot longer than we expected. Still, we were on the road by noon(ish) and heading for Tebay to get the awning fitted at Airstream HQ. Immediately things didn't feel quite right. The trailer felt heavy (I know we didn't overload it because I had the joy of weighing everything we put in it) and the car was having to work very hard to tug the beast. I stopped at the first lay-by and had a look around. All four brake drums on the trailer were hot. Very hot. After a moments worry to check everything (which way is the handbrake lever supposed to go?), we set off again. Still not right. A quick call to Airstream from the next lay-by and John was on his way up to meet us near Penrith. By the time he'd got there, the brakes were free and the brake drums were cold again. I felt like a bit of an arse, but I've still got the burned fingers from checking the drums, so I wasn't making it up. Honest.

We made it to Tebay (after a thoroughly unpleasant drive with strong crosswinds and heavy rain), where John set about fitting the awning. Not a huge job, but not something I would have liked to try on a wet and windy campsite. Michael had the coffee ready for us and showed us around the latest additions to the workshop. There was a Dutch trailer having a couple of panels replaced (note to self: don't hit anything...) and an empty shell of a 532, bound for Germany to be towed by a mini of all things!!! Michael also suggested that we didn't bother going all the way back to Keswick (cf. weather...) but stayed here in the yard outside the workshop. After a very small amount of umming and ahing, we agreed to stay. We did, however, have to get back to Keswick anyway - we'd left the bikes in the barn at the campsite, and hadn't paid the farmer for the stay (an excellent old couple, and the Caravan Clubs oldest CL). So off we sped, through the rain and wind (with only one wiper - I hit a pheasant yesterday and snapped a wiper clean off. The pheasant didn't fare too well either) to carry out a quick, commando style exit from Keswick. It turned out more like a Gulf War exit - Lots of promise, but it never actually happens. After terrible traffic and a few too many errands, it was nearly 6pm by the time we back to Tebay. Michael, bless him, had stayed late to let us through the gate and give us a key.

So there we were, in Tebay. What happens in Tebay on a Tuesday night I hear you ask? Bugger all, as it happens. But we did manage (after a 15 minute trek) to find a pub that was open and still serving food. I heartily recommend the "Barnaby Rudge" to all visitors. It's a place that has definitely seen better days, and was probably once a very up-market inn. Today, it was sad. When we walked in, the clientele doubled in size. The food was, shall we say, interesting. I ordered the veggie Kiev. Sadly, however, they were out of Kievs, so I changed my order to the veggie lasagne. Fifteen minutes later a meat lasagne arrived. I alerted the landlord to the problem, but as there were no more veggie lasagne portions left, I had the option of either a spinach and cheese cannelloni or a Tuscan three-bean crunch. I opted for the cannelloni, so fifteen minutes later the three-bean crunch arrived. That's what I call service - I managed to get through the entire vegetarian menu in one evening. Splendid.

The beer, however, was excellent (Old Faithful from Tirril Brewery near Penrith). After a few pints of that, all was well with the world and we sauntered happily back to the trailer.

Tomorrow we've planned a quick trip to Settle to have the Landrover looked at. There's a problem with the wing mirrors (and a broken wiper), and once that is sorted, we have our sights set on the sunny South. Apparently it can go for hours without raining down there. I'm not sure I believe it, but I'll let you know when we get there.

In case you were wondering, the Tuscan three-bean crunch was actually very good.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Compact Living? Still Trying

The last few days have been a blur of packing, transporting stuff to saintly relatives, charities, the tip and Ebay bunnies. For about three days I was telling Pete, 'I've just about finished packing up the kitchen.' At times it was an infinity of cutlery and crockery and an uneccessary plethora of blenders and gadgets. At other times I started to sense the Zen of bubble wrapping.

We finally vacated the flat yesterday and now have a trailer filled with our posessions, which need careful stowing. It seems that no matter how organised you think you are, there is always a last minute frenzy when moving home. We are both a bit spaced out today so things are happening at a  more gentle pace. As I write we are sitting in The Square Orange cafe in Keswick. They still make the best coffee in the north west, even though I no longer work here! It's lovely to see some familiar faces too. While we were getting ready to move we didn't see other people for days. Now, friends keep turning up at the cafe to catch up with us. Thursday night is live music night too, so Kalabash are setting up to perform some lively folk music (complete with a hurdy-gurdy!).

The weather news is less about rain today, now we are having some fairly strong winds and the trailer is being rocked slightly. There's rain too, obviously. By now dear reader there will be no need to mention it I'm sure. (We will though!) Of course the essential chores have to be carried out whatever the weather. I have lived in Cumbria for three years without a set of waterproof clothing. I'm a townie and have clearly been in some kind of sartorial denial all this time. Now I venture out to collect water etc. cocooned in waterproofs and wellies. Very attractive in an earthy and practical way, if you like that sort of thing.

So, back to the trailer to fold, stack, weigh and stow (or jettison) our stuff.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

It's raining


We get a lot of it here: the local farmers call it "Keswick Sunshine." The campsite is a mere 6 miles (as the wind blows) from the wettest inhabited place in England. Seathwaite in Borrowdale has the dubious distinction of getting a lot wetter than the rest of us, with a staggering 7' 8" of rainfall annually. The local water authority paid for the villages Christmas lights last year, as a "thank you" for their contribution.

I was going to have a moan about how much rain seems to be falling on us at the moment, but it seems a little churlish since there are 76 Flood Warnings in the South of England today. Seathwaite's record might be in jeopardy this year...

You may be wondering why we're still hanging around Keswick when the weather is dreadful and there are a thousand other places waiting to be visited. Well, we're about to move out of our flat there for good, which means re-distributing all our worldly goods - apart from the small, lightweight bits and bobs we can take with us. Since we're distributing it all around several friends and relations, packing it up is taking a lot of time. It's not like moving house, where a box gets packed at one end and unpacked at the other. Here, we have to decide what we're taking and what gets packed into which box to be sent where. It's doing my head in.

Driving into town from the campsite yesterday, negotiating the small lakes in the road on the way, we saw some absolutely amazing cloud formations hanging low in the valley. I learned two valuable lessons. Firstly, that even when the weather is appalling, Nature manages to produce something profoundly beautiful. Secondly, never leave home without a camera.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

We're back!

It seems like only yesterday since we lost the trailer. Wait a minute…it was!

I got a call from Anthony at Airstream this morning at about 11am telling me that the leak problem had been found and solved. He’d even been up a ladder soaking the trailer with a pressure washer for an hour just to make sure. If it hadn’t been a balmy 3ยบ Centigrade in the sun, that would have been a really unpleasant job. But big thanks go to Airstream for pulling out the stops and getting the trailer back to us so quickly. John had even gone around the interior and polished everything! Good stuff.

But suddenly we were faced with a problem. We couldn’t go back to the same campsite (they close for six weeks after tomorrow) so we had to find another one. Luckily there’re not many campers around at this time of year so we found a nice little CL (Caravan Club Certified Location) within spitting distance of Keswick. Anthony offered to deliver the trailer back to us, but we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to have a go at towing for ourselves. I’ve got to admit that if the new car didn’t have a humidity-controlled steering wheel, I would have had very sweaty palms. Let’s get this straight – it’s not a little outfit (especially for someone who’s never towed before) by UK caravan standards. We measure a little over 13 metres long (that’s about 42 feet in old money) and weigh in at about 4.7 tonnes. Luckily, the campsite we chose happened to have a very long, narrow, twisty, uneven road leading up to it, otherwise we’d have been in trouble.

It’s a simple enough site – there’s room for five outfits, a tap, somewhere to empty the toilet (more on that another day, I think) and that’s about it. But right now, we’re all nice and cozy inside the silver bubble with a beer in hand, while outside there’s a sky overflowing with stars, a nice, crispy frost taking over the grass, and a couple of owls having a loud conversation a few of fields away.

This is great.

Thursday, 10 January 2008


It was all going so well.

The last couple of days have seen some of the worst weather in nearly forever. We've been sleeping in our silver cocoon whilst being buffeted by 80 mph winds with snow and rain coming in horizontally. Cold and wet. Very wet.

Yesterday, we took a trip over to North Yorkshire to have a look for some essential stuff (like lightweight plates, plastic wine glasses, wing-mirror extensions, plate racks, etc, etc).

Catterick Caravans is a temple to all things caravanny, providing that the caravan is a white plastic box. To be fair, they do have absolutely everything you might need for any caravan situation (remember the time you needed a 5/16ths thingummajig for the broken doobrywotsit? Well they have it here). From there, we took a trip over the North Yorkshire moors to pick up our new tow-car, taking in the awesome Ribblehead Viaduct on the way. Built between 1870 and 1874 (the viaduct, not the tow-car), it spans the river Ribble, stretches for a quarter of a mile and is just over 100 feet high at its biggest. On the right in a snow-clad Ingleborough, the second highest hill in the Yorkshire Dales.

On the way, the weather got interesting again. In one short stretch we were nearly blown off the road while rain hit us sideways. To add to the interest, the weather sprites threw a few handfuls of hail stones at us, and all the while we were basking in glorious sunshine. Great British weather.

The new car is enormous and it has more bells and whistles than the trailer! It was more than a little scary driving it home in the dark and rain. And it was freezing cold! I had to stop on the way and spend five minutes working out how the heating works. After that it was nice and toasty and a real pleasure to drive.

Around 10pm, it started to snow. I got pretty excited about seeing the trailer and the new car covered in snow in the morning, but of course it turned to rain about an hour later.

You may be getting bored with all this talk of the weather, but bear with me - there's a reason. Overnight it rained even more. The campsite was very, very soggy this morning, and horror of horrors, the trailer leaked. Not a lot, but there were a few dribbles of water coming through the walls and a couple of windows. Not great. I got in the car and headed out to civilisation (there's no mobile phone coverage at the site) and phoned Airstream. Anthony (the technical wizard) jumped in the van immediately and drove up to take stock of the situation. After unloading a few essentials, he took the trailer back to Tebay for further investigation. As soon as it arrived there were Airstream staff from all departments swarming over it; I felt a bit like a formula one racing driver in a pit-stop! It didn't take long for the problem to be found - a tiny gap in the silicon sealant around the TV aerial. They're keeping it in for a couple of nights to soak-test it, if you'll excuse the term. Luckily, we still have the flat in Keswick for another week or so, because we're trailer-less until Saturday.

What's the betting that the sun comes out?

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Tracey’s First Blog Entry

Monday 7th January 2008

We collected our awesome new home today and as new and strange as it is to be calling an aluminium travel-trailer ‘home’, it feels kind of normal now that we are here. Possibly because it’s practically all we’ve thought and talked about for the past four months.

We haven’t really moved out of our flat yet, but have decided to spend the night in the Airstream. As I write it is around ten-thirty at night, we’ve cracked open a bottle of champagne, a recently bought CD of Fairport Convention is swirling comfortably nostalgic folk-rock sounds around us, we have dimmed enough of the lights to create a cosy atmosphere and I’m thinking, ‘I could get used to this.” We appear to have all we need right here.

The team at Airstream Europe were very lovely today. There was even a big red ribbon tied around our trailer, which we ceremoniously cut before Earl ran through what’s what, where, how and why in a very clear and systematic way. Everyone else popped his head round the door at some point to see how we were getting on with our initiation.

They all exude a lot of pride in what they are producing and they have been very encouraging to us concerning our choice to go full-time in an Airstream.

Michael kindly towed us to our campsite (it’s still another two days til we get our very own big, fat car). I followed in our old VW golf, so I got to watch the beast on the road. IT - WAS – BEAUTIFUL and I kept catching myself grinning. As Pete and Michael turned off the main road into a quieter country road, with snow-capped fells in the distance ahead of them the scene could have been from a TV advertisement.

We have chosen a site with every kind of facility to get ourselves settled into this new way of life. Will we ever be really ‘roughing it’? It doesn’t look like it, but we’ll definitely go for more basic sites once we’re more familiar with this fine capsule of coolness.

Comfort is the order of the day for now. We are still in Cumbria after all, so of course we’ve had all the weathers in one day; strong winds, hail, rain, sunshine, grey skies and that backdrop of snowy peaks.

My, this champagne doth make my pen to flow. Better check it before I post it.

Oh yes, it also happens to be three years to the day since we moved from London to Cumbria. The weather was wilder than today, gales and floods in fact, and we moved into a dark and damp throwback to the dingier aspects of student-like accommodation, the like of which has not been endured (by us at least) since the nineteen seventies, complete with an avocado-coloured bathroom suite.

Clearly this move is rather more to our liking.

We're Airstreamers!!!

Woohoo! Here we are, sitting with a glass of champagne in our new, shiny, very, very beautiful Airstream trailer. What a fantastic day it has been…

It was an early start (for us, at least) to get the pet bunnies sorted out before setting off to the Airstream Europe workshop/showroom/offices/HQ for about 10:30. As soon as we got there, we were treated like royalty. I don’t know if they treat all new owners so well, but it was a delightful surprise to be the object of such attention - they even gift-wrapped the trailer!

After cutting the ribbon (there were tears in our eyes when we saw it), Michael, the director, brought us coffee while Earl showed us the ropes. And there’s a lot of rope! It took over two hours to work our way around the trailer, visiting all the gizmos and gadgets in their respective nooks and crannies. This machine has almost everything – the only thing missing (sadly) is an attachment to make the tea in the morning – though I’m sure they’re working on it. The user manual is the size of a large telephone directory, contributing considerably to both payload and deforestation. After the guided tour, Michael took us out for lunch (very nice it was too) where we chatted about all things caravanny over a very tasty bowl of soup and a toasty.

After returning to the workshop, Michael went through the coupling-up procedure (in a vehicle-trailer sense) using his tow car, since ours won’t be ready until Wednesday. While we were doing that, John (the resident guru of all things mechanical) sorted out the Phantom tracking. This is a clever little box of tricks which means that if anybody tries to nick the trailer, some little angel hundreds of miles away can direct the police to intercept the rogues within four minutes. I’m not sure of John was pulling our legs, but he said that when he phoned Phantom to check the system was working, he was told that the satellite image showed that the trailer was “parked in Tebay behind a silver Landrover Discovery.” He might be joshing, but then again he might not. Either way, it’s an impressive piece of kit.

So, there we were, all coupled up with no place to go. Actually, we’re booked into the local Caravan Club site at Troutbeck Bridge, and after a crash-course (if that’s not asking for trouble) in towing, I took over from Michael and finished off the 30 minute trip to the campsite. Between you and me, I’ve never towed anything before in my life, and there I was in a car worth a small fortune towing a trailer worth a large one. “Tense” doesn’t quite cover it.

I’ll let you know what the campsite is like as soon as I’ve had a chance to check it out – it was getting late when we arrived. I popped into the site office to check in, and a couple of minutes later a charming couple of Winter caravanners came in and asked, in a thick Scottish accent “is that Michael Hold’s rig out there?” A little confused and surprised I explained that it was Michael’s car, but our trailer etc, etc, and while I was battling with the chip-and-pin machine, Michael came in and greeted the chap as if they’d known each other for years, which it turned out they had. Michael introduced us. I don’t know if I should read any great portent into the meeting, but on our first day in the trailer, we met Bob and Jeanette Black, Bob being the recently retired Chairman of the Caravan Club!. On another auspicious note, it was three years ago today that we moved to Keswick, and within two hours of our arrival back in 2005, we were flooded in.

The gods were determined to recreate the weather of three years ago, and while Michael was showing us the parking-up procedure, it was blowing a hooligan and lavishing rain on us . Then, because we weren’t enjoying the climate enough, the hailstorm started. All good stuff when you’re trying to figure out how an Aquaroll works when you’ve never seen one before (for anyone out there who’s unfamiliar with this contraption, it’s a cross between a grass roller and a beer barrel, and it’s supposed to make carrying water easy, so you can see my problem).

Michael left us to unpack what few possessions we brought with us, and here we are, a few hours later, sitting in our VERY cozy new home with a glass of champagne.

What a fantastic day it has been.


Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Don't hold your breath...

So Christmas and the New Year are out of the way, and we're still not in the trailer yet. What's going on?

Well, we finally managed to exchange contracts for the sale of our flat on the 19th of December, and managed to squeeze in completion on the 20th before all the solicitors went away for Christmas. This meant that we could at last pay for the trailer. Sadly, this didn't leave enough time for us to buy a tow-car before the holidays, so it is still in the warehouse at Airstream Europe in Tebay.

We did, however, pop along to have a look at her and frankly, she was beautiful. Michael and his team at Airstream had her all set up for a showing, with the lights on and the central heating all nice and cozy. Apart from a slight hitch with the table (which was sorted out within minutes!), she was perfect!

Since we couldn't tow her away, we just took a few measurements so we could try to figure out how much stuff we can actually fit in. It's not going to be a lot! And have you ever noticed that plastic storage boxes always seem to have a large lip or sloping sides (or both) so when you put them side by side, there's a huge gap between them. Very convenient for the shop that wants to sell them, but pretty useless for efficient use of space. I'm guessing that we're going to get very good at packing things into small spaces very soon.

This is a (not too great) image of the interior, including Tracey (looking very pleased) and a green carpet (not a permanent fixture - it's just there to protect the floor while the trailer is in the warehouse. Honest).

So what next? Well, we take delivery (or collect if we've got the tow car by then) next week. We'll park up in a local campsite for a week or so while we get the hang of everything (and we still have a roof over our heads if we need it), then we're off!

It was New Year's Eve last night (and a lovely time we had with Sam, Lee and Mary) and, as usual, I spent a few nanoseconds thinking if there were some resolutions I would like to make. Then it hit me - the point of a resolution is to try to make a change to ones lifestyle. But we're about to embark on a journey the like of which neither of us has ever done before - our whole lives are going to change, probably permanently. So I relaxed; I'll wait a few weeks before committing myself to a new fitness regime as well as a new home.