Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Unlike the last time I was at Commons Wood, where I went with a friend to see Kylie's amazing show at the O2, this time I was there and heading off to a concert of a completely different kind: Pete Yorn concert in the King's College Student Union Bar. A bit of a difference. But I was right at the front and made a couple of good snaps, including this one:

Pete Yorn

I have to say, I do rather like these intimate venues where the music is raw and the Jack Daniels is cheap.

My weekend continued in this happy manner at the UKAirstreamers/MyCoolCaravan Gathering in Leicestershire. It was the first time that the Cool Caravanners combined with the Airstreamers, and I for one really loved it. I like classic caravans anyway. If I had the time and means and premises…

Anyway, here are just a few snaps from a stonking weekend:





No video this time, as I was saving myself for something rather big a couple of weeks down the line.

But before that, I headed up to the Wirral, to Wirral Country Park Caravan Club Site.

Now, no disrespect to Wirralers, or whatever the people who live there are called. It's a fine place and the scenery is lovely. But don't go there looking for windsurfing or kitesurfing. Sand buggying maybe, but when the tide goes out… it really goes out. And all that's left is acres of wet sand and mud. Camber Sands it most definitely is NOT.

But I was there to work anyway, and spent a great day with the folks from Hometyre Group who were fitting me up with Tyron Safety bands and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System that I have been putting through its paces for them. Next day took me to the lovely folks at Witter Towbars near Chester to be kitted out for further equipment trials. It's all very nice trying out this stuff, but the cabin in my Nissan is now a tangled mess of wires and random screens.

Move on to a place near Rhyl, North Wales. I found myself a lovely CL with an impossibly narrow entrance. I thought these were meant to be highlighted somewhere? Anyway, luckily I got the Airstream in and out OK. I was there to go and see the charming folks at Fifth Wheel Company and their latest product. Beautiful it is. Lightweight it ain't.

From there, it was on to the next site, Cae Mawr Caravan Club Site on the Isle of Angelsey. Cae Mawr, like Gwern y Bwlch in Wales, is my kind of site. No loo block certainly makes for a far more relaxed and chilled ambience than other sites. The wardens there were absolutely lovely. Nothing was too much trouble.

While there, one of my pet rats, Mr Pinky, sadly passed away. He was more than ready to go, bless him.

Pinky Rat

But of course, that left me with the small problem of a corpse to dispose of.

And so it was that I approached the warden with a question that I was very confident that he had not yet had in all his years in the job:

'Excuse me, is there any chance I could borrow a spade? And could you show me an appropriate spot to bury a deceased pet rat?'

Yes, this was a first for him. But he was very sympathetic and showed me a place in the adjoining woodland where Mr Pinky could be laid to rest.

But there was fun to be had on my visit, too. Rhosneigr on Anglesey is one of the premier windsurfing and kitesurfing spots in the UK.

kitesurfing Rhosneigr

Here I digress a little.

Camber, where I normally sail, is as South East as you can get. Lots of Londoners come down, and on a busy day the sea is crammed with kiters and windsurfers. But no matter what your discipline, everyone (well, most people) respects each other and helps each other out. I've had windsurfers rescue my board and help launch my kite. I've seen kitesurfers tow windsurfers with equipment failure back to safety.

And they say that people in the South aren't friendly.

So imagine my surprise at Rhosneigr. The wind was blowing an absolute hooley. Even the seagulls had given up. But I thought I'd give it a go… up went my kite, but even fully depowered I could barely resist the pull of it as I staggered painfully slowly towards the sea. One failed waterstart later, I was heading straight for the rocks. Deciding to chose the sensible option, I gathered my board and staggered out of the sea back to the beach. Throwing my whole body to the sand, I teetered on the edge of control as the angry kite pulled relentlessly.

I got to the kite down to a couple of feet from the ground, which in beach circles makes it blatantly obvious that you would like someone to catch it. You CAN release it and hold it on the safety line, but on a day like that you run the risk of major damage to the kite.

Imagine my surprise as three people in wetsuits totally ignored my situation. I was dumbfounded. And still staggering about the beach on my knees. Eventually, after what was probably two minutes but felt like twenty, a young lad sprung over the wall and helped me land my kite. Voicing my gratitude, I told him about the three who had ignored me. 'Oh yeah, well they're windsurfers' he replied, as if that suddenly made it all better and acceptable. Certainly doesn't in my book. Respect is a two-way street.

Fortunately, the wind subsided and a couple of days later I enjoyed one of the best kitesurf sessions in my life, ever. The waves at Rhosneigr really are awesome.

kitesurfing Rhosneigr

(no, that's not me, I'm the photographer...)

From Anglesey I drove down the A5 to Henley-on-Thames, and the Caravan Club's Four Oaks Site. Two very dear friends of mine, Terry and Wenda, are the wardens there, so it made sense to go and visit them (and of course, be fed) while attending a nearby car launch.

Four Oaks is a great site. OK, it's right next to a busy road, but what I love about it is that you can walk into Henley in about 10 minutes. And Henley is a very nice town crammed with cafes, restaurants, and independent shops. Yes, it's a bit posh I suppose. But when you're caravanning, you're on holiday, so treat yourself,

It's a shame Four Oaks closes in the autumn, as it would make the most perfect Christmas Shopping and New Year Site. Maybe we will have to start a petition.

So, from Henley, it was back up the M40 to Broadway to cross the Ts and dot the Is of the feature I started in February. I was meant to be going back there with the family in the Bailey Pegasus, but life threw other stuff at us which meant I had to go back without them.

May was rounded off paying a visit to Airstream Europe's new Southern Base near Cheltenham to admire the new Series 2 684. Ooh I say, tasty!

From there I continued back to the South East. I had over six month's worth of planning to bring to fruition. An exciting trip lie ahead.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Welcome back after the break.

Right now I'm in the Airstream having just enjoyed an awesome kitesurf session at Camber Sands. I'm on a Caravan Club site ready to do a review of a yet-to-be released tourer that is embargoed for another two weeks. So I have to try and prevent the other 150 or so other carvanners on site photographing said tourer over four days. Meanwhile, one of my delightful pet rats, Chalkie Le Blanc, is busy pulling the throws off the seats.

But I digress.

So, April, and my summer of living in the Airstream had begun.

Commons Wood Caravan Club Site in Welwyn Garden City made an excellent place to kick off. It's only a five minute cycle ride to Hatfield station from where it takes about 20 minutes to reach King's Cross by train.

After my date with Her Most Loveliness Dame Kylie of Minogue at the O2, it was time to get back to work and take a close look at a Stealth Caravan.

People disbelieve that either Stealth or Airstream caravans even exist as they never see them on site. So imagine people's surprise if they saw this sight - both brands side-by-side!

Owly Images

And, like number 10 buses, a silver-nosed Stealth pulled out of storage while I was there.

After that, it was time to haul the Airstream to Newark showground for a task of a very different kind. I was one of four driving judges putting over 50 motorhomes through their paces for the Caravan Club Design and Drive Competition. It was a demanding, but fun, week. And I started to 'get' motorhomes. I mean, maybe I could tow the Airstream with a silver camper van where I can fold up the bed and bring the motorbike… then I would have a day van too. Hmmm…..

The competition ran into Easter weekend, so off I toddled down the road to Ferry Meadows Caravan Club Site. Remember the weather at Easter? It was amazing. Sunny, warm… The atmosphere on site was heavenly. Children were playing, families were laughing, and everyone was enjoying themselves. It was utterly perfect.

From there, it was time for an altogether different camping experience at Dunn St Farm Camping and Caravanning Club Certificated Site, near Ashford in Kent. I took the field where access was… interesting. Thank goodness I had the mover to unhitch and get the trailer in. But once settled, it was fantastic. Children bottle-fed the orphaned lambs, trees were in full blossom, and there was a 'proper' country pub serving good food and real ale just five minutes walk away.

While I was there I took the opportunity to try out my new Nordic Outdoors folding fire box that I bought at the NEC:


Verdict? Not so good I'm afraid. It's impossible to get it elevated enough so that it doesn't burn the grass underneath. But the holes in the base do make for a roaring fire!

After a wonderfully relaxing week (apart from having to do the day job, but we try not to think about that) May was upon us and it was time to hitch up and head off.

Cue the next video:

The weather was still incredibly kind. First stop was Gent, a wonderfully majestic Flemish city. Camping Blaarmeersen, a most pleasant full-facility municipal site, is a mere 15 minutes cycle ride from the town. Next stop was the coastal resort of De Haan. De Haan is, in my opinion anyway, the nicest town on the Belgian Riviera. It suffers none of the over-development of other Belgian coastal towns, and none of the airs-and-graces of others. Camping Ter Duinen is highly recommend. Lawrence, the owner, loves Airstreams. But more importantly, the campsite is clean and tidy, and a mere 400yd walk through pine forest to a wonderful sandy beach:

De Haan Beach

That could only mean one thing. Kitesurfing!

And afterwards? CAKE!


Altogether a brilliant short break, and in true tradition was nowhere near long enough. But it was time to head back to the UK and to Bearsted Caravan Club Site. I had a caravan waiting for me.

Having enjoyed the original incarnation of the Bailey Pegasus (remember Switzerland?) I was more than ready to take away the new Pegasus 2 for a week. And it didn't disappoint.

Destination was Kingsdown International Camping Centre near Deal. Formerly a scout camp, facilities are… well, 'rustic' is a good term. But they are clean, free hot showers, and painted in funky colours. And, when you're paying just £6 per night, who's complaining? Especially when this is the view.

My family and I very much enjoyed our time together in the Bailey, but it was nice to get back to 'Auntie Sue's' gaff (aka Bearsted) and move my goods and chattels back in to my usual home.

From Auntie Sue's I headed to my 'hideout' CL which I'm afraid remains secret. It's £4.50 per night, I can use my fire pit, and there is always space even during busy periods. I *might* reveal it at the end of the season…

I went home for a couple of days, did the washing, did the admin (or at least the bare minimum I had to do without getting anything cut off or being sent to jail) and then it was time to once again head off and away.

First stop, just like last time, Commons Wood….

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


You may or may not have noticed that once again I lagged WAY behind in keeping the blog up-to-date. Possibly a sign of taking a little too much on at one point. Then of course, the further it gets behind, the greater the task to restart.

'Just say that lots happened and restart it' advised friends. So this is that entry.

Lots happened.

But I can't just leave it there of course. While it may not be very detailed, here's a brief recount of the bits between then (September 2010) and now (July 2011).

So we were at Ludlow for the fourth UK Airstreamers Gathering. What a top bash.

From there, I headed on to Gwern-Y-Bwlch Caravan Club Site near Machynlleth to do a feature for the Caravan Club. Gwern-Y-Bwlch is my favourite kind of site: Quiet, green, lush, and remote.

Airstream Gwern-y-bwlch

My friend Mat joined me and took some brilliant photos of me kitesurfing on a pretty wild day on Yns-las Estuary.


From there it was an 'accidental' overnight at my favourite mountain bike centre, Nant Bwlch Yr Arian. It was accidental as - ahem - someone hadn't thought to fill up with diesel, and the filling stations in remote West Wales were all closed by the time I realised...

From there, on to the fab CCC Site at Kingsbury Water Park to review a rather lovely Lunar, and do the last couple of Milenco vids.

Lunar Lexon

After that, I had to put the Airstream away for a couple of weeks as I was hopping on a plane to Chicago. My destination? Well, guess…

Airstream factory

I spent a fantastic week in the company of the good folks at Airstream. I lived the life for a week, getting up at 6, being on the factory floor by 7.30, going back to my motel at 3, editing and writing, meeting up with the gang for food and beers in the evening, and falling into bed far too late every night. I loved it. I really loved it.

The actual visit warrants an entry in itself. Maybe in the future…

Come the end of October, it was time to head back up to Wales and to Coed Helen Caravan Club Site. It's one of my favourites since visiting last year, mainly due to its proximity to Caernarfon. Mind you, it looks like it may soon close (rotten land owners want to put statics on the site instead as there obviously aren't already enough in Wales) so go visit quick!

My task while there was to climb Snowdon. I had wanted to last year, but the weather wasn't amenable. This time, my friend Miguel and his dogs came along for moral support, and despite the awful weather we did it!

At the summit, the weather was so bad that they closed the shelter just as we got there. Read that again. Then go figure.


November, and after a way-too-brief visit to Cherry Hinton Cambridge (Adria Altea) and to Clumber Park (Coachman Amara), I was back in my Airstream joining friends for a weekend in the New Forest. The autumn sunshine shone as I enjoyed the walks and the company. A brilliant end to the touring season.

December was quiet on the Airstreaming front, for two main reasons. The first was a rather nasty bout of Bronchitis. We're talking cant-even-get-out-of-bed bronchitis. As soon as I was approaching fit, it was time to shoot off on a big project for Bailey Caravans, trialling the new Orion which at the time was still top secret.

My friend Steve from Seattle joined me for the trip to Barcelona via the French Alps, and once there fellow Airstreamer Tracey joined me as Steve tried, and mainly failed, to get home by plane. Remember the snow paralysing the UK Airports? Steve does. Sadly, I had family drama to attend to as well so the trip back was a little more intense than we would otherwise have hoped. Witnessing a car hit the central reservation, flip over repeatedly, then children crawl out of the wreckage, was further drama we could have done without. At least they all seemed to be OK; a testament to modern car design.

Have a look at the video you have a spare 10 minutes:

Very little caravanning was done in January. Many days were spent working for colleagues, something that I would reap the benefit from when they work back for me during the summer. I DID have a very lovely Range Rover Sport for a week which was nice. And only an all-too-brief trip to Alderstead Heath in the Airstream. At the end of the month I took off to Gran Canaria for a week of kitesurfing. Sometimes, it makes a change to be herded onto a SleazyJet plane and put the brain into neutral for a week.

February, and on a very sunny week I enjoyed the brilliant little Elddis Xplore at Alderstead Heath:

Elddis Xplore

Of course, February also means NEC. And what a busy, busy, busy week that was. Judging every day, and a dot attend every evening. It was hectic but a massive amount of fun. Highlight for me was tea and biscuits on the Coachman stand with Christine, a very lovely woman that I met on the Isle of Barra who makes the caravanning pilgrimage back there every year.

Immediately after the NEC week I took a few days to chill out at the Broadway Caravan Club Site. JUST what the doctor ordered! A lovely site, and Broadway itself is, if I dare say, a more enjoyable place in the winter than it is in the summer when the hoards arrive.

Broadway Caravan Club

March, and a full-on week at Ferry Meadows doing a Swift Challenger, Lunar Delta, and a Roma. Add the Airstream, and I had four caravans on site that week. Now you see why I often have to work off peak.

April saw me back on a plane, but to Seattle this time to visit my best friend Steve, and see one of my favourite singers, Pete Yorn, in concert. Steve followed me back to the UK and the following week we went to a concert of a very different kind - Kylie at the O2! She was amazing.

This period also marked the beginning of my summer living in the Airstream. I decided that going home for four days every three weeks is way too much hassle. Now I go back for odd days here and there, just to do admin. I don't sleep there any more.

This makes a good break to close one entry and open another. Go on, put the kettle on. Milk and no sugar for me please.