The Treasure Houses challenge finished
So, we've come to the end of our ten-month Treasure Hunt Challenge - I bet you're wondering, did we manage to complete it?
Well "Yes" and "No". We found it a difficult challenge, but that wasn't with the caravanning part of it, which was much easier than expected.
Ten Treasure Houses and ten English ‘Capability Brown’ style gardens in ten months with a caravan in tow. That’s on average a place every fortnight. Sounds easy enough?
Well, no. And we‘ll get to why in a moment.
Here's what we did do.
Nine of the ten Treasure Houses Visited: Beaulieu, Castle Howard, Chatsworth, Blenheim Palace, Holkham Hall, Burghley House, Harewood House, Woburn Abbey, and Leeds Castle.
Seven Gardens Visited: Chatsworth Gardens, Burton Agnes Hall Gardens, Burghley Gardens, Blenheim Palace Gardens, Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Gardens, Woburn Abbey Gardens, and Leeds Castle Gardens.
Three National Parks Visited: the Peak District National Park, Snowdonia National Park, and Northumberland National Park.
11 Campsites: Verwood, Black Rock Sands, Slingsby, Scarborough, Bakewell, Sandringham, Oxford, Boroughbridge, Bellingham, Gullivers, and Oldbury Hill.
We also climbed one mountain (Snowdon), visited a Safari Park (Woburn), visited a theme park (Gullivers), went to Go Ape, cycled bikes, and did many hikes.
Oh, and the mileage covered doing this challenge: 4,400 miles!
So, we never managed to visit all the Treasure Houses, nor all the Capability Brown Gardens. However, we did do a lot of other activities and had a great time doing it. So why was it so hard?
A Difficult Challenge - Time was against us
We soon found out that most places close at the end of October, and remain closed until the end of March or start of April. That’s five months of our ten-month challenge wiped out.
We did some visits during the colder months, but still, we were pushed a little behind schedule.
The Challenge finish date was the National Camping and Caravanning Week
at the end of May, but there are only so many days we can get off work while the kids are on school holidays.
A Difficult Challenge - Distance was against us
With schools and work until Friday evenings, most places are too far for us to travel Friday night before the campsite closes.
The only option was to set off on Saturday morning, getting to the campsite for check-in at noon (though we would often arrive later), and then immediately off to the Treasure House or Garden.
However, a Treasure House can take a day to explore, and so fitting this into a two-day weekend was impossible.
For example, to get to the Oldbury Hill Club Site
near Leeds Castle
(in Kent) is a six-hour trip for us, which leaves us no time to visit Leeds Castle!
Fortunately, the Club allowed us to tweak the challenge slightly. Instead of ten English Capability Brown gardens, we could include a few National Parks, which was a big help, as there are no opening and closing times, so we have longer to visit after travelling.
And the not-so-hard
When we started this challenge as first-time caravanners, the thought of towing the caravan up and down the country appeared to be the most difficult part of the challenge.
Not so, as it turned out
Of course, there were moments of nerves, such as trying to navigate down a narrow lane to the Bakewell Club Site
, but overall, the Compass Casita 586
has towed well.
We did find that journey times are a lot slower though.
Before caravanning, we would normally tow a trailer with all our tent camping gear, and so the speed limits are the same with the caravan in tow, but we found overtaking not an option with the caravan. We just get stuck behind the slowest moving thing on the road.
Other things we learnt from Caravanning
After many years of tent camping, our family has developed a teamwork approach to pitching the tent and setting it up. We could set-up relatively quickly as we had done it so many times.
However, we soon found that pitching a caravan is almost instant, and it doesn't take too long to be set-up with the kettle on, and then enjoying the rest of the weekend with the kids - which is what it is all about for us.
The thing that we haven't cracked is the awning. When we put that up, it could take us as long, even longer, than setting up a large tent. In the end, we avoided putting the awning up at all this year!
So, are we caravan converts? Well, yes, but not completely.
We still like our tents, and throughout the year of the challenge, we still got away camping with our tents on the weekends it wasn't logistically possible to take the caravan.
These would typically be local campsites with small tents that were fast to pitch. Very different to caravanning, and still great fun. Camping means we can visit smaller remote campsites that aren't possible with a caravan.
There's no denying though, that having a caravan does make things a lot easier, especially with the kitchen already set-up and ready to go.
However, we think that a caravan might work well when you are staying somewhere for longer rather than just a night or two. And that's something we've not been able to do during the challenge.
Well the Treasure Hunt Challenge is over, but fortunately for us, we don't have to give back 'Casper' the caravan just yet... and a good job too as he's become part of the family!
and the Camping and Caravanning Club are helping us experience a different side of caravanning that we've not tried: staying somewhere for longer. And to make the challenge a little more difficult, we are going to do some long-distance caravan touring to Europe this summer!
So much for me saying the towing wasn't that bad. Now I'll have to do it on the wrong side of the road!