We finally got around to taking the caravan on its first modest outing. The idea was to find somewhere close by that would offer nice walks and where we could practise setting up and taking down the caravan. Well, we found it, and with only one or two misadventures, it was a great success. Seasoned caravanners would of course be amused at our amateur mistakes!
We chose Gosfield Lake, near Braintree. Essex may not be everyone’s idea of a holiday destination, but it has pretty countryside beloved of John Betjeman, plenty of pubs, and decent roads for the novice caravanner!
In high season, Gosfield Lake is a water ski centre.
But on a blustery autumn day, the lake is left to wildfowl and fish and the occasional recreational walkers like ourselves.
The watersports centre, with its caravan and camping site, is separate from Gosfield Hall, which is now a wedding venue.
But to begin at the beginning. We’d booked to arrive Wednesday afternoon and leave Friday morning. The long-range weather forecast had looked good: cloudy, bright and dry, if a bit chilly. So we turned up at our secure site late morning. We checked tyres and wheel nuts, adjusted the nose weight, and we were ready to hitch up. The first problem was that we weren’t quite strong enough to pull the caravan from its extremely narrow parking slot up a slight incline onto the path. There’s not room to pull it forward with the car, so it has to be done manually. Luckily I’d brought a hand winch, left over from dinghy sailing days, which got us out of trouble. First lesson: we need some sort of motor mover, which we’ll look at during our visit to the Caravan Show next week.
The second lesson followed hard on the heels of the first. Don’t throw yourself on the mercy of salesmen. I’d already discovered that the secondhand anti-snake device and new towbar fitting that we’d bought from Harris Caravans were incompatible, in spite of assurances that they’d fit. Of course I found this out after having had the towbar attachment fitted. So I had to buy another anti-snake bar (thank you, eBay). But I now found that the fitting on the caravan frame needs to be lowered. That’s probably a job that I can do myself, but not in five minutes before we set off. Annoying, but the caravan tows well in any case.
The warden at Gosfield Lake was extremely helpful. We had a free choice of pitch, since we were the only touring van there. So we selected a level location, with a nice view of the church. Connecting the electrics proved an embarrassing struggle, since I couldn’t make the socket on the lead fit the plug on the caravan. After some minutes of fiddling, it turned out that it didn’t need finesse. Just brute force and ignorance.
After that, connecting the water was simple.
The gas all connected up nicely, and the waste water. But by now we’d discovered that the folder of instructions that we’d carefully put out to bring along had in fact been left behind. And a glance inside the lavatory cassette compartment revealed something that looked like a particularly complex slice of a uranium refinement plant. I had to download the instructions for the lavatory over an agonisingly slow connection onto my tablet. The loo is of course extremely simple to operate. But only when you know how.
So what should have taken five minutes had us messing about for nearly an hour. Still, the purpose of the exercise was to familiarise ourselves with everything. It was at this point that things began to look up. To our delight, everything now worked well. The heating rapidly made the van nice and cosy. The refrigerator is excellent, and the freezer makes ice cubes for G&T. We soon had hot water, and the stove lit to make tea. The van soon looked lived in, and we relaxed with a good book and a cuppa.
Next day we went exploring. Around the lake was lovely.
The afternoon became increasingly blustery, though, with occasional showers.
It’s been a fabulous year for fruit, as we’ve seen on the allotment. The hedgerows are full, too.
Near Gosfield Hall we found horse chestnut trees still untouched by the leaf miner that seems to have affected so many trees in and around London, turning the leaves prematurely brown.
I had to resist the temptation to collect pockets full of conkers.
And we found a number of hedgerow apple trees, of varieties unknown to us. We were very taken with these:
The apples were deep red in colour, but heavily russeted. We wondered whether they were cider apples.
Back on site we had one last small job with the caravan. When we’d set up, we’d selected a flat pitch, and the spirit level showed the van more or less level. Well, we soon learned that more or less isn’t good enough. The shower and the sink didn’t drain properly. So another eBay bargain came into its own. This Bulldog leveller is really easy and precise.
Our trip home was blessed with fortunate weather. It had been a stormy night, but the wind had dropped and Friday was bright and dry. We arrived back at our secure park by 11:30, and slotted the van neatly and easily into its space. Downhill is so much easier. As we left at around midday, the first drops of rain had just started.
Next year we’re planning to take a week or so in the Loire. We’ll need a couple more UK runs before that, but this was a good first experience.