Friday, 25 July 2014

Road to the Islands Part 4: Dunnet Bay and Tyre tribulations

May 2014

So there I was, in the middle of nowhere in the depths of the remote Scottish Highlands with a blown caravan tyre. As I was blocking a lane of a two-way road, I certainly wasn't going to put myself at risk by changing the wheel.

I looked at my phone in this remote area fearing the worst, but to my delight and relief I had 4bars of 3G signal. Thank you EE. Proof, as if you need it, than when choosing your mobile operator, price should not be your only consideration.

It was time to put Green Flag to the test. I switched to the Caravan Club's 'Mayday' recovery service after an appalling experience with the RAC last year, where the recovery was both traumatic and farcical. When I complained, the long and the short of their excuse is that you cannot expect a smooth caravan recovery in the winter when you're travelling with a dog. Really.

The telephone service from Green Flag was good, and I was kept informed of progress. It took 70 minutes for the agent to arrive which, given the fact I was miles from anywhere, wasn't an unacceptable length of time to wait.

The operative's socket wouldn't reach the wheel nut in the decorative but chunky alloys on the Airstream. Fortunately, being the conscious caravanner I am, I had an 'extra long' 19mm socket attached to my torque wrench. Every caravanner should be torquing their wheel nuts on occasion and especially after wheels have been removed (eg service or a new van), so every caravanner reading this would have one anyway, wouldn't they? If you don't, here's another reason why you need to be carrying a torque wrench with a socket that fits your caravan wheel nuts.

The offending wheel was an absolute mess. 

As I had parked up by a kerb, we had difficulties getting the caravan jacked up high enough to be able to retract the spare wheel carrier. As the failed wheel was already off, moving forward was not an option. Top tip: make sure you avoid kerbs near the spare wheel carrier if you can.

Finally, the spare wheel was liberated and in its new temporary position. On my journey I continued, shaken not stirred. This being the Highlands of Scotland, I'd had five offers of help from passing motorists who stopped. You wouldn't get that in other parts of the country, despite being passed by 100 times more traffic.

Approaching Dunnet Bay Caravan Club Site, the first thing you see is the expansive bay itself. An impressive and welcoming sight indeed, but not as welcoming as the lovely wardens at the site. Sometimes all you need is a sympathetic ear and a 'there there' after such a hiccup, and that's exactly what I got.

Dunnet Bay Club Site is on the beach and enjoys a lovely outlook. However, most of the week was spent chasing around getting the tyre fixed which threw up another issue.

In an attempt to find out why the tyre blew, I took the Airstream to a weigh bridge. The reading assured me that the tyres were not overloaded, but despite my frugal loading the total weight was still heavier than I expected. The next few days were spent emptying out the 'van of everything, and I mean everything, so I could weigh it to ascertain its actual MIRO. A very, very kind couple in the Bailey next door offered me use of their awning to store my kit.

Despite my apparent restraint, I was still quietly shocked at the amount of stuff that had crept sneakily into my caravan over the years. The Airstream came out to be a few kilos higher than expected, but nothing that couldn't be overcome. It was time for a serious think, and a serious repack.

So, if the caravan wasn't overloaded, and the tyre was running at the correct pressure (I'd checked it before leaving Culloden Moor), and it was a decent brand, why did it blow? It was the offside tyre that blew, so that also rules out damage by kerbing.

The answer can only be: 'one of those things'. One of the kind people who had stopped to help told me he'd stopped at another blowout on the A9 the previous day. As far as he was concerned, the increase in tyre damage is as a direct result of the deteriorating state of the UK's roads. It is indeed possible that the tyre was weakened by pothole damage, but we don't know.

All in all it was a good catalyst to get the caravan weight checked and also it was a good test of the marvellous Tyron safety bands.

However, the whole episode had cost yet another week, and a lot of heartache and effort. The rain fell every day, my spirits were in my socks, and I was 750 miles from home, so scuttling back to friends and family in Kent wasn't a option. The only option was to simply count my blessings and get on with it. So that is exactly what I did.

Researching a travel feature always gives me the push to get out and visit places even if feeling a little lifeless and 'meh'. However, I didn't need much of a push to get out and visit the Castle of Mey near Dunnet Bay. Former holiday residence of the Queen Mother, the castle is now a living memory to a member of the Royal Family we all hold dear to our hearts. It was a wonderful, heart-warming, enjoyable day. Another place that put a smile on my face, especially during the dark visits to the weighbridge at Scrabster Harbour, was Cups Tearoom bang on the harbour side. Cups is a delightful, friendly, quirky place serving tea in pots with hand-knitted tea cosies, and delicious home-made cake. The lady serving was an real treasure. 

Absolute manna for the soul.

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