Friday, 30 November 2012

Nissan Blogger Part 1 - Chatsworth Park

Wednesday 28 November

It's rarely that we venture out this late in the season.  Usually the end of October signals the mothballing of the caravan until the following March, except that is for the two times we have gone to London over the New Year period, and even  then you tend to spend so much time in the city the van is just somewhere to sleep.

By 9am the caravan has bee pushed out from it's hidey hole onto the road and I make full use of the reversing camera fitted to the X Trail to line up the tow ball with precision accuracy.

Over the years I've been lucky enough to own and tow with a number of large 4x4s with equally large and thirsty engines to match!  Towing with them was always effortless, but I could no longer justify to myself the amount it was costing me to fuel the beasts all year round, so I parted company with my 03 Shogun some 16 months ago, and to be perfectly honest, I've missed the stability it gave when towing.

I will confess, despite Andy from Trackworks assurances, I was a little sceptical about the towing capability of the X Trail.  I had taken it out for a brief spin last night and noted at how 'car like' it was to drive.

Within 10mins of hitching up, all my doubts had vanished.  As we hit the M4, the X Trail accelerated the unit straight up to the legal 60mph limit and the 2.0dCi engine providing 360 Nm max torque at 2000 rpm being more than man enough to haul along our caravan with weighs in just on the Caravan Club's recommended 85% of the X Trail's 1660kg kerb weight (although the car can tow up to 2200kg).

It was a very stable unit with very little pitching being evident and the rig was rock solid at a steady 60mph despite the best efforts of 'white van man'.

We gobbled up the miles along the M4 as far as Newport before taking the A449 and M50 up into the Midlands.  The M5 and M42 saw us skirt around Birmingham before joining the very busy M1 up into Derbyshire.  The heavy traffic was stop start at times.  Queueing on the uphill sections was made all the more easier by the uphill start support that stops the rig rolling backwards without the need to apply the handbrake.

We stopped at the Tamworth services for a bite to eat in the van for lunch.  Caravans are directed to park amongst the HGVs, and whilst I am in awe of the HGV drivers' manoeuvring skills, I was not the most relaxed person over lunch as the lorries reversed around us.

Throughout the journey we have witnessed first hand the devastation that the recent heavy rains have brought.  Having said that it does seem that its not stopped raining for very long since way back in May earlier in the year.  As we travelled we gasped in shock as we saw the rivers Wye, Severn and Trent amongst others in flood covering miles and miles of land with dirty brown flood water.

Once off the motorway, it wasn't long before the rolling hills of the peak district opened up before us.  The crowded but wide open motorway was replaced with narrow and winding A & B roads that went up and down like the roller coaster at Porthcawl.  The road was wet and muddy in places, but with automatic 4WD setting the rig never lost traction once.

Pulling off the main road onto the approach driveway of the Caravan Club site on the Chatworth estate just outside Bakewell, the onboard computer tells me that we have achieved a few decimal points below 35mpg on our 230 mile journey north.  I am pleased with that,because there's no getting away from the fact that we tow a big caravan.  It has a shipping length of 7.2m and weights in at 1430kg, and I've not exactly spared the horses on the way here.

The Internet is rife with negative reviews about Chatworth's warden team and the scrum that occurs at check in and choosing a pitch.  The only advice I can give to people is to arrive after 1pm like the club stipulates.  Having travelled the access drive I can see why you have to be off by noon and arrive no earlier than 1pm.  Passing places are non existent.

We pulled up outside reception at 2.30pm.  There was no queue.  Booking in was done by a very friendly warden and was both fast and efficient.  The club had reserved a standard pitch for us, but as there were serviced pitches free, we quite happily paid the suppliment to bag one of these.

It took us less than 15 mins to set up on the spacious pitch.  Brick paviors for the car and van to sit on and a gravel space for an awning.  Water and waste points on each pitch and a chemical toilet emptying point too.

The caravan was a little chilly with the blown air heating not yet had chance to work its magic.  Leaving it on full setting we head off out to do a little bit of exploring.  We exit the site and take the B road that runs through the Chatworth Estate.  The house is lit up as dusk falls and we catch a glimpse of deer on the hillside.  We drive through Matlock Bath, which is a lively little place.  Its now dark but we can see the many restaurants opening up for the evening as well as the brightly lit amusement arcades and chippy's along the promenade.  Promenade? We're in the Peak District not Mumbles!

We arrive at Masson Mills for herself to do a bit or retail therapy in the warmth of the 4 storey converted mill.  The £20 notes are flying out of my wallet a bit too quickly for my liking, and I'm more than a little relieved when herself announces that she's finished!

We head back to site, looking out for somewhere to satisfy my hunger pangs along the way.  It's pitch black and the country roads have no street lighting.  I'm enjoying the benefit of the X Trail's bright Xenon headlamps which illuminate the road in front to almost daylight levels.

Worryingly they do not seem to be able to pick out a suitable looking eating establishment and we are resigned to cooking for ourselves this evening.  On the last roundabout before the site I spot Rowleys restaurant lit up in the darkness.  We dive inside to the real fire heated bar area and devour a very nice meal before retreating to the warmth of the caravan to settle in for the night.

The skies are clear, so it's going to be a cold one tonight.

Thursday 29 November.

We wake to clear skies and a layer of frost outside.  The caravan was in dire need of a clean.  We were somewhat ashamed yesterday pulling onto site.  The X Trail was gleaming, but the van was looking far from its best, not having been washed for at least 950 road miles (mostly in heavy rain).

My job this morning was to give it a quick once over with Showroom Shine.  By the time I had done that, herself had the breakfast ready.  I needed a shower before going out for the day, so I stripped, stepped into the shower cubicle, flicked the tap open after applying some shower gel to my head and body and waited for the hot water to gush over me.  And I waited and I waited!  No water!

Getting dressed and stepping outside, I kicked the aquaroll and the hollow sound tells me it's empty.  I check the tap is on, it is.  I lift the hose and it's like a length of lead pipe, we are frozen solid!!!!

The shower will have to wait and I wipe off the suds with a towel.

The club site at Chatsworth is in what was an old walled garden withing the estate and is a 20 min walk along a path to the house itself.

I will use the text on another on line blogger, whose excellent travel blog can be read in full here. I cannot put it into words better than David did himself so have shamelessly copied and pasted it below.

.......... After breakfast we made our way to T’big house! As you exit the secret garden of what is the Caravan Club Chatsworth site it does make you appreciate what a delight this campsite is. You walk across the fields towards Chatsworth House and you feel a bit more than a just a guest. Mind you these feelings of serenity disappear a little when you have to pay the entrance fee!.........

We arrived at the house just as the SAGA coaches were spilling out.  It was not immediately clear where you had to purchase tickets, but herself said it must be up there where the queue is.  We walked up the hill and with legs burning and lungs bursting it dawned on us that the queue was in fact the SAGA lot queueing for the toilets!!!!

After diving into the information centre making it look like we knew what we were doing we strolled back down the hill to the house entrance.  Thankfully on presenting your Caravan Club membership card you are entitled to £5 per person discount off the extortionate entrance fee.

We paid up and joined the SAGA conga as it snaked through the various rooms in the house which at this time of year are decorated festively.

I'd forgotten how rude, impatient, self centred, inconsiderate and ignorant some old people can be, and herself escorts me through the last few rooms towards the obligatory gift shop at breakneck speed before I start kicking walking sticks from under people.

We exit into bright sunshine, although it's cold.  Herself goes off to get a coffee and a hot chocolate and we find a space in the sunshine in an open fronted out building and watch the SAGA lot spew out of the house and fight for the best tables in the tea rooms.

Refreshed we set off up the hill to explore the gardens.  They are spectacular with a surprise around every corner.

From there we made our way up the hill to the converted stables, that serves as Chatworth's very own retail unit.

Once we've agreed that we're both Chatworthed out (herself is now also starting to lose it with SAGAs finest), we head back over the fields to the van for a late lunch.  The path is a little less frozen under foot than it was earlier, and feels a little strange to walk on.  Closer examination reveals it is covered with a layer of wool from the sheep grazing in the adjacent grass.

Refreshed after lunch, we have a mission.  Having grossly underestimated the power of the cold weather and sub zero temperatures overnight, I have to thaw out our water.  First off, the hose is disconnected and put in the shower cubicle to defrost, next the tap outside gets the good news with the shower attachment until it thaws and runs freely.

It's going to get colder tonight, so drastic action is necessary to try and prevent another freezathon tonight.

We jump into the X Trail, turn on the heated seats and set the onboard satnav to take us to Robinsons Caravans just the other side of Chesterfield. They have a padded jacket fro the aquaroll at bargain price. The savings are soon offset as we pick up a few more 'must have items' before walking out £50 lighter.

We point the X Trail over the hills towards Bakewell, where the plan is to purchase a 'Bakewell Tart' for desert tonight.  I have had one before, but I could not visit the area and not have a Bakewell Tart made in Bakewell.

We park up and walk out towards the village centre.  The shop selling them is unfortunately wrapping up for the day, and the trays in the window that were presumably full of said tarts earlier in the day were now empty.

I look longingly up at the sign, and put on my best sad puppy face for herself before shedding a tear and walking away with my bottom lip quivering (tartless).

Back at the van herself goes about preparing our tea while I attempt to winterise our water supply.

A pair of old rugby socks gets the good news from my leatherman, and are now lagging the tap and the connecting pipe from the aquaroll.  The lagging jacket is now hugging the newly brimmed aquaroll which is sat on a sheet of Celotex insulation, and the hose is put away for the night.

Herself rustled up a superb lamb and rice which was washed down with a nice bottle of Roja.

After tea it's time for a shower, and standing under the spray I realise I don't need shower gel as there's enough residue on me from my aborted effort earlier in the day.

Herself got talking to the lady in the gift shop earlier who'd asked if we had come far. Herself said not really, as we were staying in the caravan on the estate.  The lady then put on a face of mock pity and remarked that we must have been cold last night!

People do not appreciate how warm modern caravans are.  The blown air has kept us toasty warm all evening, only needing to open the door to toss empty bottles into the bin outside!

Friday 30 November

After a great nights sleep, helped in no small way by a few bottles of Roja, we wake to a light frost and some thin high cloud cover.  I'm hoping that means it didn't get quite as cold last night and our tap is still in an unfrozen state.

There's no flies on the ducks round here.  They've already sussed out that herself a soft touch and are waiting outside our van for her to get up and give them their breakfast.

After a breakfast of porridge we prepare a packed lunch, wrap up against the cold and step out of the ever so cosy caravan.  It's bloody cold, and although the tap is frozen again the aquaroll in its new coat has survived the night unscathed.

A brief look at the map and a plan is hatched.  The heater is turned onto full blast and the seat warmer is set to high.  We head north from the site for 10 miles through the Hope Valley towards the Ladybower Resevoir.

Many are parked up taking pictures of the glass like water in the bright winter sunshine. We turn right and take the road up the Derwent valley and follow the track that hugs to the hillside alongside the reservoirs and dams. As we snake through the trees there is a view around every corner. There's quite a bit of water cascading onto the road from the hillside, and in these temperatures the road resembles something that Torville and Dean would be quite at home on.

Whilst the hikers are busy doing impressions of 'Bambi on Ice' the automatic setting for 4WD on the X TRAIL ensures my no claims discount remains intact.

We reach the top of reservoir country and do a U turn to retrace our tracks back down to the main road. Turning right we follow the A57 towards Glossop - better know as the 'Snake Pass'.  I like driving over mountain passes, and this one is no different.  It's quite a challenging road, and it's easy to see why there are so many fatalities on it.

We drive through Glossop, which appears to be a very lively town but has far too many chain shops for us to consider stopping.  Turning south our stomachs are rumbling and we set about looking for somewhere to eat our picnic lunch.  The roads are lined with what seems like mile after mile of dry stone walling before we spot a brown tourist sign for Pooles Cavern and picnic area.

The picnic area is covered with a layer of frost.  Herself refuses to get out of the warmth of the X Trail, but I don't trust myself to eat inside the car so it's just me and the squirrels outside.  The cold soon gets to me and I need to visit the little boys' room in the visitors' centre.  The looks I get on the way out make me feel guilty enough to part with some cash for a coffee and a hot chocolate.

Refreshed we travel further south to the village of Crich, better known as Cardale in the TV series 'Peak Practice'.  Nothing looks familiar, and they're not exactly advertising the TV connection so we retrace our tracks once again northwards to the World Heritage 'Cromford Mill' site.  We spend a few quid in the craft shops before moving onto out final destination for today.

We've seen posters advertising a Victorian Christmas Fair in Matlock.  We park up and walk over to the town.  A few large marquees are set up housing an undercover market.  Stall holders are dressed up for the occasion with every other stall selling some belt straining wares.  I buy a slice of Bakewell Tart for after tea,and herself buys me a pair of leather sheepskin lined gloves.

The road back to site is covered in ice, but again the X Trail never loses enough traction to worry about. I'll be sorry to have to hand this car back next week.

Back at the van I get into JFO mode, and tea is carrot and coriander soup followed by spicy pork chops served with garlic roast spuds and stir fried cabbage and leak.  Washed down with a bottle of red whilst watching the late arrivals scrabbling for pitches in the darkness.

We'll be sad to leave the Peak District tomorrow,but at the same time will be excited at the thought of what York holds for us.

Monday, 26 November 2012

It's Arrived

I feel like a kid who's just gone downstairs to see if Santa has been on Christmas morning!

The X Trail that Nissan are loaning us arrived late this afternoon and is sitting patiently in the driveway until the insurance documents are emailed over to us for signing in the morning.

A very nice man from Trackworks was present at the handover, and gave me a quick rundown on how to use most of the kit on the car (and there's lots of it).

We're ready to roll on Wednesday morning, and I'm looking forward to test out the X Trail's towing capability.  So if you see us at Chatsworth Park, Beechwood Grange or Chester Fair Oaks say hello, but do it loudly because I'm deaf!!!!!

I havn't broken the news to Mandy yet that she's not coming on holiday with us, and I'm waiting for the backlash in the morning after she spotted me reversing the X upto the van and hooking up to test the lights.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Competition Piece.

If anyone is at all interested, below is the little ditty I submitted to The Caravan Club as my entry into the Nissan Blogger competition.  According to the latest club magazine I am named a one of the three that impressed them with my writing skills.  I'll let you judge for yourself......

It’s  December, the days are short and the nights are long.  The weather is not at its best and most folk would not entertain pulling a tin box the length of the UK to somewhere that is colder and darker than the relatively mild southern half of the UK.


The wind, rain, sleet and snow might put some people off, but not me.  With a smug grin spread all over my face I peak through the blinds at home and nod with satisfaction as I admire the freshly waxed Nissan Pathfinder sat on the drive, with our home from home, a Bailey Pageant Sancerre, hitched to its back and all ready for the off.


@DerekTheWeather has promised snow and sleet in The North, the police are asking people not to travel and herself is giving me the look that says I am out of my mind.


It’s still dark as we set off, but the Pathfinder’s headlights light up the road ahead for miles!  For once @DerekTheWeather is spot on, and by the time we are North of Manchester there’s white stuff at the side of the road.


Undeterred we soldier on with the Pathfinder making easy work of pulling our 1450kg caravan through the slush.


Arriving in The Lakes herself looks down in horror at the snow covered driveway into the Troutbeck Head site.  Not to worry.  A flick of a switch engages a different gear ratio and we descend safely onto the site.


Our first morning and we wake to snow covered mountain tops and a snow covered site.  Not the cursory dusting we usually get in coastal South Wales, but proper snow, and it’s deep.


I’ve not had time to belch after my early morning bacon sandwich washed down with a steaming mug of tea, when there’s a knock at the door.  Our neighbours are due to leave today, but towing with a Mondeo they have zero chance of making it out of the site to the relatively clear A roads and motorway network.


The Pathfinder comes to the rescue.  With their caravan hitched I select 4WD low and the Pathfinder growls its way through the snaking site roads towards the steep ascent out of the site.  Looking in my mirrors I note we have an audience willing us to fail.  I plead with the beast not to lose traction, but soon realise I needn’t have worried.  I am nearly at the top and note that the audience has retreated to the comfort of their caravans, no doubt making good use of the club’s wifi surfing the pages of autotrader.


When I return, herself is in the shower.  I take the opportunity to spread out the OS  map on the table.  I know what I’m looking for and it takes me no time whatsoever to locate the internet legend that I’ve read so  much about.  It gets circled on the map and I shout to herself to hurry up because we’re going out.


She knows there’s something up by the grin on my face.  You can’t be serious she says as she looks down onto the map and the circled Hardknot Pass!!!!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Caravan Club Nissan Blogger

In my last blog I mentioned that I had won a prize offered by the Caravan Club and Nissan in one of their competitions.

This week has been spent exchanging e mails with the Caravan Club trying to organise the prize to slot in with work commitments.

First things first was to establish which towing vehicle would be loaned to us by Nissan for the 10 days.  The CC have checked the respective weights and we are to be loaned a Nissan X-TRAIL 2.0D TEKNA (173) S-SH BOSE MANUAL for the holiday.  Very nice it looks too, and it has a list of options as long as my arm!  But then so it should with a list price of over £32k.

Next was to decide where to go on holiday. We will not be taking the dogs, and therefore at this time of year we will not require the awning.  Without that to have to erect and take down it leaves us the option of doing some genuine touring, as it only takes 15mins to set up on site without it.

As part of the terms and conditions of the prize I have to write an article for the Caravan Club and review the performance of the X Trail, and I figured the best way to do that would be to do a lot of towing in it.

The master plan is therefore to tour the north of England for 7 nights taking in some Christmas markets and events as we go.

Site number 1 is Chatsworth Park CC site in the Peak District of Derby shire for 3 nights.  This is a tow of 231 miles from home.  Here we intend to visit Chatsworth House for their Christmas events and Matlock for their Christmas market. I've not told herself yet, but I also plan to take a spin over to Glossop via The Snake Pass, well, with the X Trail it would be a shame not to!


The plan is then to move onto Beechwood Grange CC site in York for another 3 nights.  This is a tow of 76 miles from Chatsworth. The intention is to spend time at York's Winter Wonderland, The Dickensian Christmas Festival at Lightwater Valley as well as to put the X trail through it's paces going up onto the North Yorkshire moors to visit the village of Goathland (more famously known as Aidensfield in the TV series Heartbeat) and Whitby where The Royal is filmed.

After staying here it will be time to turn and head for home.  The journey Will be broken at Chester Fairoaks CC site where we will stay for 1 night.  This is a tow of 115 miles from York.  Chester is reputed to have a superb Christmas Market which will; be taken in during the evening.

From Chetser the tow home is 148 miles through mid Wales, and will take in some challenging roads, particularly at the start of December.

Even though we will not be taking the awning with us, it would still be nice to give the caravan door a little shelter from the elements.

Some internet browsing has thrown up this little number from Firwood.

So there we have a tour in 7 nights towing with the X trail for some 570 miles.  Wish me luck, and here's hoping that there will be no snow.  4x4 or not, I do not fancy towing through the snow!