The Club has joined forces with tent camper Gav Grayston from website Get Out With the Kids to tour England in a Compass caravan. We’ve challenged Gav and his family to visit 20 great Treasure Houses and English gardens in 12 months. In this, his first blog, we find out about the Graystons’ first impressions of caravanning…
A TYPICALLY BUSY FAMILY
I suppose some might class us an 'outdoor family'. We don't necessarily. We're a typically busy family that loves to get outdoors.
We've always taken our kids on days out, hikes, and other outdoor activities. That includes camping.
We have three kids, and unbelievably – to us – our eldest is now 16 years-old! She has been camping from a very young age.
Getting away at weekends and staying in a tent has been in our family DNA for a long time now. It's something we've always loved to do and has enabled us to explore many different areas of the country and try various activities.
It's also been an adventure for our kids. Staying up late, cooking around a campfire, and sleeping under canvas are great activities for children.
Get Out With The Kids
Friends and family were always asking us about how to go camping, where to go, and ideas that they can do with their children, so we started the website www.GetOutWithTheKids.co.uk to help other parents enjoy family time outdoors like we do.
WHAT ABOUT CARAVANS?
Apart from staying in the occasional static caravan, we have always been tent campers.
Sure, we have looked at caravanning in the past, but there were always a few reasons we stuck with tent camping.
Caravans are much more expensive than a tent. If we were to save up to get one, we would want to know that we would make good use of that investment.
We also had nowhere to keep one, plus, we would have to upgrade our car.
Finally, we have a good selection of tents now, and with three kids (plus dog), a caravan just appeared too small compared to our largest tent.
When The Camping and Caravanning Club and Compass Caravans challenged us to travel around the country with a caravan instead of a tent, it was both exciting and daunting at the same time.
To some extent, the Challenge would be similar to what we do anyway: getting away at the weekend while staying at campsites. However, doing it with a caravan rather than a tent would be very different. Plus, we needed to tow the caravan around the country.
ENOUGH ROOM FOR THE KIDS?
One of the concerns we've had about caravanning was the space. Where do we put all the kids?
Fortunately, the Compass Casita 586 that we are using is designed for families and has a layout out that we think works well.
At the back of the caravan are two fixed kids' bunks. Each bunk has a light and window.
There is also the option of folding out another set of bunks plus a double bed.
We add more space by using the Vango Kalari inflatable awning, which has an extension that works as a two-person bedroom. So technically, we can sleep eight.
COLLECTING AND TOWING CASPER
We visited The Camping and Caravanning Club's HQ in Coventry to collect the caravan for the Challenge.
Our youngest named the caravan 'Casper' and then we were set free on the roads, happily towing our new home on wheels. Well, not quite!
I had only towed a caravan once before. I have been on The Camping and Caravanning Club's towing experience at the NEC Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show.
That gave me some great instructions and practice, but now I would be towing 'solo', without an instructor.
As I navigated around the Club's HQ Car Park to the exit, I followed the satnav left. Fortunately, I stopped before going too far, as the satnav was clearly wrong and I needed to go right.
However, my first caravan reversing manoeuvre was required, right between a bollard and the cars parked at Club HQ.
Fortunately, the Club's Director General, Robert Louden MBE was on hand and guided us back the few feet to set us on our way.
I'm pleased to say that our first journey home was completed without any further incidents.
NOWHERE TO KEEP THE CARAVAN
Casper, the Compass Casita 586, is far too large to keep at our house.
We needed somewhere else to keep the caravan.
Fortunately, there's an excellent storage facility just a few miles down the road from us at Salop Leisure.
I had never realised that there was somewhere I could keep a caravan that was so close to home.
This was also our first real challenge of reversing. The storage space was between two other caravans, and its position meant that I had to reverse at a slight angle as there's no room to back straight in.
By taking our time, plus some help from another caravan owner, we put Casper to bed, ready for our first outing.
AND WE'RE OFF
Our first trip away was to the Verwood Club Site, which is quite some distance from where we live.
Verwood is a great campsite and the friendly staff directed us into the pitch.
Before long we were all connected up and found ourselves at home much quicker than if we were tent camping.
However, then came the awning.
The Vango Karali is an inflatable caravan awning. We're very familiar with inflatable tents, having used inflatable tents from Outwell, Vango, and Coleman.
We thought that this would be easy. After all, we can get an inflatable tent up and pitched relatively quickly.
Not so with an awning.
The whole process of threading it through to attach to the caravan was a nightmare the first time we tried to do it.
This is not the fault of the Vango awning, but the standard design for how all awnings connect to caravans. Personally, I think there's room for a bit of innovation there.
So, our first complete pitch, with the awning, was overall much slower than tent camping thanks to the awning.
However, the awning did give us a fantastic amount of space: an extra bedroom, room for tables and chairs, room for an inflatable sofa, room to store boots and shoes, room to store a gas BBQ/Griddle, and room for the dog. It made a huge difference.
The awning carpet was also an excellent addition, and something I think tents should adopt for their awnings and porches since you could take your shoes off, but it was also porous and protected the grass underneath.
A big part of the challenge is to visit all ten Treasure Houses of England.
We have not been to any of these houses before. Our first was Beaulieu, which is home to the National Motor Museum.
Beaulieu was a fantastic day out. We were impressed with the variety of things to do there, from both the old, to the new. It's well worth a visit.
FIRST TRIP, FIRST IMPRESSIONS
After our first trip away with Casper, we could see the appeal of caravanning.
Unlike tent camping, you pretty much have everything you need there and in the van. This makes it a lot quicker to pitch than tent camping, where you have to unload everything from your car and then set it up.
Towing wasn't as difficult as it appears. Though it hasn't been without incident....but we'll leave that story for another time.