Category Archives: Campervan

A cautionary travel tale

On Monday evening, I had a ticket booked to bring me back on the overnight ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. (Here’s a bit of trivia for you: ‘Hook of Holland’ is actually a mistranslation of the Dutch name Hoek van Holland. ‘Hoek’, in Dutch, means ‘corner’, not ‘hook’. And if you know that Holland is only the north-west part of the Netherlands, then it is indeed the bottom-left corner of Holland, which is enlightening to those who, like me, have perused the map wondering what was quite so hook-y about it.)

Anyway, I duly arrived in the area, in my campervan, a few hours early and saw the ferry at the quay but, since you couldn’t check in before 9pm for the 11pm departure, I headed into the town and killed time buying provisions, taking Tilly for a walk, checking email, tidying things up etc. At about 9.30 we drove back to the ferry terminal, pleased with our efficiency and promptness… only to find the gate closed, the entrance area in darkness, and nobody to be seen.

Eh? what??

I started checking my emails, e-tickets and everything carefully, and discovered to my dismay that the ferry actually departed at 10pm, not 11pm, which meant that, having been pottering around for hours just a mile away, I had managed to arrive 15 minutes after the check-in had closed. How could I have been so stupid? Had I just been remembering the outbound journey, where the ferry did indeed depart Harwich at 11pm?

Eventually I realised that it was slightly more subtle than that. When I had made the booking, I had diligently entered all the relevant times into my calendar… but forgot to specify the timezone on the entries for the return journey. I used to do so much international travel that timezones were a regular part of my life, but since I’ve barely left the country since Covid, I’ve had many years to get out of the habit! The departure time had been correctly entered as 10pm… but in UK time. And so, during the two weeks I had spent in the Netherlands, it had always been helpfully displayed, on my phone, iPad and laptop, as 11pm. Only an hour’s offset, and exactly the same time as I had caught the outbound ferry, so I never thought to question it! Bother!

And so I found myself sitting on the dock of the bay, at 10-o’clock at night, with nowhere to go.

Fortunately, I had bought a Flexi ticket, and even though it didn’t technically entitle me to change my travel plans once the ferry was already sailing off into the distance, the people at Stena Line were very understanding, switching me to the ferry that left the following afternoon. And since I happened to be in a vehicle containing a bed, loo, water supply and heater, I was able to use the wonderful Park4Night to find a nearby spot where I could spend a peaceful night.

The following day actually turned out to be rather a good one! It was sunny, my car park was only a few hundred yards from a nice beach where Tilly ran free, and then with some diligent Googling we discovered a splendid bakery to get provisions for breakfast in a nearby town, and a country park in which to stroll. We hadn’t seen much sunshine for a few days, so it was a delightful way to end our trip… and a lovely contrast to the dark, abandoned ferry port of the night before!

All was therefore well that ended well. But I shall be checking that ‘timezone’ field in my calendar app more carefully in future!

Well, I finally folded…

I’ve wanted an e-bike for ages, ever since I first tried one many, many years ago, but most of my normal cycling destinations are close enough that I didn’t really feel I had an excuse to buy one.

But then we started to think that folding bikes would also be useful when campervanning, and so the idea started to grow of getting folding e-bikes… and we are now the proud owners of two Eovolt “Afternoon”s.

Interestingly, we just rode these and found we liked them slightly more than the others we tried, but when we got them home and started looking for reviews, accessories, etc found they seemed to have comparatively little presence online (at least, in the English-speaking world). I certainly hadn’t come across them on YouTube, for example, when researching possible brands. So here’s my modest attempt at rectifying that!

Peak Campervanning

At the end of November, I popped up to the Derbyshire Peak District for a weekend, and posted some photos here. At the time, I mentioned that I had taken some video footage too, and I finally got around to editing it into something watchable, at least by those who enjoy amateur travelogues. 🙂

(Direct YouTube link)

Peak-walking

One Friday night, in the dark, towards the end of November, I set off from home in the direction of the Derbyshire Peak District. Three hours later, I parked my campervan in the car-park of a friendly pub, and settled down for a night of testing its heating system against the outside temperatures, which had dropped well below zero!

But the following morning dawned bright and clear, and I could see the edge of Ladybower Reservoir.

With the sun still only on the hilltops, I headed up the frosty path behind the pub, looking forward to emerging into the brightness above.

Before too long, I was looking down at sunlit fields of happy sheep…

and the reservoir I had left behind.

Once up on the top of Derwent Edge, the path was easy and, though the air temperature was low, there was almost no wind, which made for delightful walking conditions.  I met many other travellers who were enjoying it as much as I was.

Places that might have been very muddy were now frozen, and the places that might have been untraversable bog…

were crossed by well-maintained paths, winding into the distance.

It really is a very pretty area…

…with lots of fun and varied rock formations en route.

But it’s not without its perils.  Many an unwary traveller has become prey to the giant prehistoric lizard who hides behind one of the ridges and creeps up on them from behind after they have passed by.

Despite this, I was having such a good time that I got a bit carried away, and what had been intended as a short morning stroll got extended for mile after mile after mile.

Though the weather was lovely, the areas in shadow were still frozen, and I was impressed at the dedication of the couple who had given up this quantity of their bodily warmth, long before I appeared on the scene, to record their affection on a thick slab of stone!

By this point I had done about eight miles and was starting to be more aware of the fact that I had set off without even a biscuit (since I had expected to be back for lunch!)

So I was glad when I reached the path theat would take me back to the reservoirs below: a gully cutting down through the Howden Moors.

The sun was getting lower, and much of this area was in shadow. Icicles dripped beside me…

…and in places I was rather conscious of the perilous drops to my right, as I, a tired, lone traveller, contemplating the likely time of sunset and remembering the temperatures of the night before, negotiated a path that I think was primarily used by the local sheep.  The slimmer individuals amongst the local sheep, too…

So it was with some relief that I made it down to more sheltered, level ground again in the last vestiges of the sunshine.

However… it was still 3 or 4 miles back to the van, so I set off in the gathering gloom along the side of the reservoir, passing the impressive Derwent Dam where the Dambuster squadron used to practice.

Just beyond the dam, I joined a lovely woodland path, broad and well-maintained, which was good because by that point I was dependent entirely on moonlight to avoid any obstructions!  The trees were just slightly darker patches of black to my left and right.  But I managed to avoid walking into them, or tripping over their roots, and so it was that I arrived, footsore but happy, back at the van, whence I had set off for a short morning walk after a small bowl of cereal 15.3 miles earlier!  

A lovely area for walking and highly recommended, though I do suggest you also take a biscuit or two!

 

More information about the rest of the trip should be coming before too long on the campervan section of my YouTube channel.

Watching the clock

I’ve written several times about my enthusiasm for the Apple Watch, but even eight years after getting my first one, I’m still discovering uses for it.

We’ve spent the last few nights in our campervan on a delightful small campsite in Devon.

Picture of campervan in a bucolic setting

There are loo and shower facilities in a nearby building but, unusually these days, you do need to insert a pound coin if you want to use the shower. It’s a fine shower, and I didn’t mind paying, but since the meter is outside in the corridor, you don’t get any warning before the water shuts off suddenly after six minutes, possibly leaving you rather soapy…

So even in this low-tech environment, where we treat an electricity supply as something of a luxury, there’s great benefit to be derived from a waterproof watch which can be instructed, with a couple of clicks or a spoken command, to warn you shortly before your shower is going to finish!

Too busy living’ it…

I remember in the early days of blogging, I was trying to persuade a good friend of mine that he would be capable of writing a really interesting blog, and his response was something along the lines of ‘Too busy living it to blog it!’ I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that. Was it an enviable, or pitiable, state?

My posts on Status-Q (now approaching its 21st birthday) have always been somewhat bursty and sporadic, and I notice that it’s nearly a month since my last one. I sometimes feel inferior to friends who produce impressive output every single week or even day (though I suppose many of them are not so much writing new content themselves as linking to valuable pieces elsewhere, which is something I generally tend to do a bit less because they do it much better than me!)

So blogging for me is something that generally happens when I have enough interesting stuff going on to write about, but not so much that there’s no time to write! My long-suffering readers just put up with the unpredictability. And this last month has been surprisingly busy, both with work and play, but a lot of the latter… so here are a few quick phone snaps and bits of news, to catch up…

Big boats…

Since the last post, Rose and I went on an RYA sailing course – the first for her and the second for me – and spent a few days living aboard a very fine 35ft boat. Here’s Rose at the helm, heading out to sea:

and we also enjoyed some night sailing on the River Stour:

And little boats…

At the other extreme we’ve been exploring the North Norfolk coast and its challenging tidal currents in our little inflatable boat with its electric outboard, getting up very early to set out with enough water from Morston Quay…

:

Popping out to see the seals on Blakeney Point:

before heading back inland towards Blakeney…

with the help of local signposts:

…and passing some of the pleasing local craft on the way.

Blakeney high street, which we had wandered down to a favourite restaurant the previous night…

was now our destination port…

and such is the height of the spring tide down at the quay that we could just sail into the carpark and tie up to a bollard there.

The quay soon became crowded with people enjoying jumping in to the warm, voluminous and fast-flowing river, which normally meanders much more sedately through substantial banks of mud and sand.

We walked back along the coast path to Morston, picked up the car, and brought it back to Blakeney, had a coffee and sausage roll for breakfast at the nearby cafe. After that, the rapidly-drying car park was once again full of cars, and we could roll up the boat and take it away.

Tesla travel

Of course, if you’re staying in a campsite, but your car is full of spaniels, boats and outboards, then transporting a tent can be a challenge. I do have a roof rack I can put on the Tesla, but I wasn’t too keen on attaching a heavy tent to my glass roof, nor on the likely effects of the resulting aerodynamics on my range.

Then I remembered that I had once bought a custom-made bag to go on our bike-rack when I was using it with our old campervan. It turned out to be a great way to transport the tent.

When we got to the campsite we removed it and had a normal (albeit boat-filled) car for the rest of the weekend. As always when attaching things to my towbar, though, I did need to adopt a slightly unusual position when using a supercharger on the way home!

An old design with new opportunities?

Next to us in the campsite was a rather interesting folding caravan. We made friends with the owner and discovered that it was a Carousel Slimline, a jolly clever design originating in the 70s and produced, in Norfolk, until just a few years ago. They look like this:

The slimline version of the Gobur Carousel.

Now, if you’re thinking that it looks a bit, well, boxy, remember… that’s what you really want when you’re living inside it. Houses are boxy too. Flat vertical walls and high ceilings are desirable, but you normally have to compromise them because of things like aerodynamics when you’re towing behind a car at high speeds. Not with this.

We were rather impressed, and since the company was just a few miles from the campsite, we went and had a look. They even let me try towing one on the Tesla… which worked very well.

For those interested, I got about 3 miles per kWh on my 18-mile test, as compared to about 4 miles/kWh normally. If that was representative for longer journeys, I would still get over 200 miles before recharging, which is just fine!

Turning this trailer into a liveable space takes about 3 minutes, which is rather clever: consider, for example, the fact that the van contains a wardrobe, and kitchen units, and that the folding point is lower then the kitchen worktops… Here’s how it works.

Sadly, new ones are no longer being built, but some enterprising former employees have got together and have an impressive collection of models available which they buy, recondition, service, resell and so forth. We were both impressed and tempted, but have resisted that temptation… so far.

Here’s the thing, though: there’s a real opportunity for designs like this in the world of electric cars. These are both light and streamlined, and even the slimline one gives you a lot more living space then some other alternatives like the Eriba Puck, the GoPod or some of the sexy teardrop-shaped options on the market. There’s an opportunity for an investor here, I think, to keep a classic alive and to market it as the EV-friendly caravan option for the future.

And lastly…

Combining the themes of boats and electric propulsion, I’m in danger of boring some of my friends by telling them how wonderful I think electric outboard motors are. (I’ve put lots more on one of my YouTube playlists if you’re interested, though.)

But yesterday, my friend Douglas and I sailed our little dinghy down the River Blackwater from the very friendly and welcoming sailing club at Stone St Lawrence and round to Brightlingsea on the River Colne. On the way, we passed the old Radio Caroline ship, which will bring back memories to UK readers of a certain age…

We made it to Brightlingsea, with a little exploration of West Mersea on the way. It’s rather fun sailing 12 miles along the edge of the North Sea in a little 12-foot boat. (That’s nautical miles, of course, so 13-and-a-bit to you landlubbers.)

The harbourmaster kindly let us tie up on the jetty while we went and got a hot chocolate at a local cafe.

Then we headed back, which we knew would have been rather a slow sail because it was into the wind, so we were planning to use the outboard, and this was made really easy by a new accessory I had just got for it. Details are here for those interested.

In the end the wind almost completely vanished, leaving us cruising silently up a glassy estuary towards the sunset as the evening came on. A very pleasant end to the day.

In summary…

It’s hard to believe that this has still, in general, been a normal working month involving lots of other things like trips to the vet, a family funeral, speccing out a solar-and-battery system for the house, lots of software development and some important deadlines for important clients. Fortunately, we’re going away at the end of next week to recover.

Who let the dogs out?

Dogs are not subject to the same lockdown restrictions as the rest of us.

They’re clearly making the most of it, and heading out for adventures in their campervans.

Spotted outside Sainsbury’s yesterday. I’m guessing they were just stocking up on sausages to go in the fridge.

A Wee Campervan Caper – Travels with Tilly

Christmas breakfast on the edge of the Cairngorms, 2019

Hello Everybody, and Happy New Year! I’ve been doing something very foolish in 2020, and now I’ve stopped.

Let me explain…

This time last year, over the Christmas and New Year period, Rose was visiting her family in the States, so after dropping her at Heathrow, I turned our little campervan around, and headed north, accompanied by my cocker spaniel. The only thing I knew at the time was that we were spending the first night in the Lakes, and that we were probably heading for Scotland. The rest would be decided en route, mostly based on the weather forecast. I’m not sure if the Dark Sky app is often used as a route planner…

Anyway, I recorded quite a large chunk of our journey with my GoPro, and came back with a ridiculous amount of video footage, some of which had technical issues to overcome, and I discovered I had a mammoth editing task on my hands. I feared it could be well into the spring before I was able to share any of it. And then we had a spring unlike any other. So then I hoped that lockdown would give me more time to work on projects like this, but actually 2020 has been really quite a busy year for me, and it was only once we got back towards Christmas again that I was actually able to devote any time to it.

“At least”, I said to myself, “I have to finish it before the end of the year.” And I did! I clicked ‘upload’ on the final episodes just before midnight last night. 🙂

Now, let’s be clear here: You’ll note I say ‘episodes’ above. There are, in fact, nine of them, and that’s after I’d edited out enough material for at least four more! This is perhaps the most extreme let-me-bore-you-with-my-holiday-snaps variant one can come up with, and I don’t expect the average Status-Q reader to be interested in watching one, let alone nine of these little narratives.

An AirBnB for New Year’s Eve, December 2019
The van is visible in the bottom right. Click for a larger version.

Amazingly, though, there are people who will enjoy my holiday snaps! Some are watching already.

Those longing for the open road amidst Covid restrictions, or those planning their next motorhome trip in more normal times, do like to get ideas for their next adventure, or relive the memories of journeys past, and road trip videos are very popular on YouTube. I’ve watched a lot of them, and some were partly responsible for me buying the van in the first place.

That’s before you get into the experiences, hints and tips of the full-time motorhomers: try searching YouTube for ‘van life’ if you want to enter another world.

But, even though producing this has, in some ways, been a burden that I wanted to get off my shoulders for a whole year, it’s also been a joy. Rewatching my holiday several times over means that some of the best bits are burned into my memory; there are sites, sounds and places that I would otherwise have forgotten in a month, and that I’ll now remember for ever.

And, in the unlikely event that you want to experience any of it too, there’s a YouTube playlist, and the journey begins here:

Social distancing in Norfolk

Yesterday, we took the day off and went to the North Norfolk coast. Maintaining social distancing wasn’t too hard. And Tilly got lots of exercise.

That old pipeline that runs out along across one of our favourite beaches has clearly seen some action in the past:

Rose said this looks like two friends embracing across a fence:

And at times, sections of the pipe emerge like a sea monster from the deep:

Here you might be walking on fresh samphire…

or crunching on cockle shells.

It was great to return to a place we’ve visited often and always enjoy.

(I posted a rather different photo from here on a previous visit.)


Now, you may well be asking, how did you manage this, when almost everything is closed? This particular beach is about an hour and three-quarters’ drive from Cambridge, and that poses some challenges when it comes to… ahem… the need for a comfort break.

Well, the answer is that we’re fortunate enough to have a small campervan.

We can’t use it for any overnight stays at present, but it does make a jolly good vehicle for day trips. It has a fridge, a table, a stove, fresh water…

And it also has a loo. Sort of. Even in a van this size. Now, we don’t often use the loo, because we usually stay on sites that have such facilities, and, well, frankly, a loo that you have to pull out of a cupboard before use isn’t that much of a ‘convenience’. Sometimes we leave it behind, because the cupboard space is more useful, and when we have used it in the past, it generally goes in a little loo tent we pitch beside the van.

Having said, that, these facilities have come a long way since the more primitive equivalents I remember from my youth. Ours is Thetford Excellence, in case you’re interested, and it’s remarkably civilised. All the necessary seals are good, modern chemicals do a good job, it incorporates a loo roll holder and even, would you believe, an electric flush! There are some places I never expected to install AA batteries… but it works well. We probably wouldn’t have chosen quite such a luxurious one, but it came with the van.

Anyway, the point is that this does, pretty much single-handedly, enable day trips during lockdown. “Would you like to take the dog for a short walk, dear? I’m just going to draw the curtains…”


Anyway, back to the beaches. The Norfolk beaches we visit are never crowded, but the car parks can be, so we made sure we arrived early. By the time we departed, a couple of hours later, somebody was grateful for our space.

We had lunch in a different car park, at Blakeney. There was still plenty of space here.

We managed to get a takeaway coffee and cake from a favourite spot in Holt which does an awfully good job of both, and then headed for a rather different beach at Weybourne in the afternoon.

Here, you’re walking on pebbles, which is not quite so easy, but they’re beautiful none the less.

We always bring some of the more colourful pebbles or shells back from our seaside trips, and they end up decorating the bird-bath in the garden.

Talking of birds, there were lots of happy ones bobbing about.

And there are suitably picturesque scenes to be snapped even from the car park.

The standard way to get one of these boats over a pebbly beach into the sea, by the way, is to attach a small accessory.

It’s basically a big chunk of ferric oxide with a diesel engine.

Anyway, all in all, a very pleasant day, and, being aware of the hardship many others are going through at present, I was enormously lucky to be able to enjoy it in such a versatile vehicle with my two favourite companions.

A remote dawn

Around Christmas and New Year, I was in Scotland in my campervan. I took lots of video footage. Far too much, in fact, so I’ve been gradually working my way through it, on and off, for several months. This evening, I came across this rather pleasing scene. It’s just a still frame captured from video, and on a GoPro too, so the quality’s not great, but I hope you enjoy the view!

This is a dawn dog-walk at Uig on the Isle of Lewis, on New Year’s Eve. Not only was I up at dawn, I had already breakfasted and was setting off for a hike! However, this sounds a bit less impressive when I point out that sunrise in mid-winter up there is after 9am.

The small black blur on the right-hand side, which you may be able to see if you click for a larger version, is Tilly romping in the heather.

Pannellum in Pittenweem

I’ve had fun in the last year or so playing with spherical cameras (often known as 360-degree cameras) and I’ve posted a few on here. But they’ve always had a problem: you really need a plugin to view them, which is untidy. This one of the Sacré-Coeur, for example, relies on a plugin from the Ricoh site.

So I’ve been delighted to discover Matthew Petroff’s Panellum, a panorama viewer created using just HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and WebGL, which means it runs in most modern browsers natively.

Here’s an example from Pittenweem, a favourite spot I discovered on my campervan trip over Christmas, just north of Edinburgh.

You can drag the image around to look in different directions, and you can zoom in and out by scrolling, or using Shift & Ctrl keys.

On my early experiments, it seems to work very well, even on my fairly elderly laptop. It even has a full-screen button…

So you may be seeing a few more of these here in the near future!

Eyes in the back of my head

Just before Christmas, Tilly (my spaniel) and I went to the Dordogne and back in our campervan. I made a video about it, which, while it may be of interest only to travel vlog and ‘van life’ enthusiasts, does have a bit of novelty value, because I filmed it on a spherical (360-degree) camera.

This means that after you’ve watched it, you can go back and watch it again from a completely different angle and see what was happening behind you!

I’ll put the link here, rather than embedding it, because this is something you want to watch on the YouTube site. Or, better still, in the YouTube app on your tablet, or phone, or VR headset…

You can find the video here.

If I had had more time, I would have made it shorter 🙂

This was really just an experiment for me, and I learned a great deal about the challenges and opportunities of filming and editing this particular medium, which I may write about in due course.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser