Caravan pitched on site

6 Mistakes I’ve made – and how not to!

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time – the key is to try and minimize the opportunities to make these mistakes . But once made, it’s important that we learn from them. I hope this post will help other people avoid the errors I made here!

Not checking the access to a site

On traveling to Leeds to have a consultation with my surgeon, we decided to take the caravan down and stay overnight, as we were planning on pushing on South the next day. We thought we had a good option but it was removed at the last minute, meaning we were frantically searching in and around the area for a site. Normally we would use the club sites for one-night stays as you pretty much know what you’re getting. However, we couldn’t find one in the area so plumped for St Helenas Caravan site near Leeds Bradford airport. On paper it was fine and had good reviews. However, when we got there, the site was under maintenance and the touring spots were right at the back, beyond potholed service roads and around tight corners. We got in ok but it wasn’t easy. Then we were directed to a grass ‘all weather’ pitch – it wasn’t suitable for all weathers; more on that later. The hard-standing pitch that I had booked was landscape in format, deep in puddles, down a slope and uneven. Well, we thought, it’s only one night, what could go wrong!! We reversed skilfully (honest) onto the pitch and began to set up. Doesn’t sound like too much of a mistake but it did add to the stress of the day

How to avoid: check out the site in detail on Google earth to figure out the access and layout of the site fully, avoiding leading to fraught moments and hasty decision-making on site. Never a good thing!

cute dog looking at the camera from inside a caravan.
Frank is wholly unimpressed with the state of the pitch

Not fully understanding how the Alko hitch friction system works

In the rain, we tried to unhitch our caravan. We tried everything, but it just wouldn’t budge. Eventually, a guy on the site took a jemmy bar to the lug to move it backwards, and in doing so, broke the crown liner on the hitch, which then released the towball. This was a bad thing as without it, we really shouldn’t tow the caravan any distance. Bear in mind this was less than an hour before I was due to see my consultant, who was at least 30 minutes drive away! After frantic calls to Marquis, Durham and much You-Tubing I finally felt I had a picture in my head of how the parts all work together – I should have known this before I even started towing.

Essentially, if you google ‘friction pads alko hitch’ you’ll get a great video from Dan at ‘The Trudgians’ who shows you how to replace the side friction pads. But the Alko 3004 has another two pads – more liners than friction pads, and it was one of those that I had broken, and replacing them is a much more involved process than is replacing the side friction pads! Initially, looking at the videos, I honestly thought I would need a mechanic to do this for me, but having taken advice, and done some more research, I felt confident enough to have a crack at it. So, £45 later, after a trip to Leeds Caravan Centre – thanks guys! – I had the liner. I then checked I had the right tools in my kit (torx 30 head) and set about replacing the liner. Doing this upside down on wet grass is not much fun, but once I realised lifting the hitch lever to its locked position gave me more space to ‘jiggle’ the liner, it went in and fitted snugly. I then replaced the screw and tested the hitch. Bonza – job done

Image of the crown friction pad/liner

How to avoid: Know your kit! Had I been more inquisitive about the connection between the hitch and my tow ball, I would almost certainly have educated myself about how to maintain/replace these parts, and had a spare in my toolkit. So, the lesson is, understand the things that can break and do a little research to avoid being stranded, requiring an expensive mobile call out. As I was in the Royal Navy for many years, knowing your kit will save your bacon when things go South!

Moving the Caravan on Mud using the Motormover

Sooo….. next morning, still flush with my success at replacing the hitch liner, we got ready for the off! The ‘all-weather’ pitch we’d been placed on was a quagmire. I certainly didn’t want to drive my Mercedes into the mudbath. Not to worry thinks I – we have a motor mover. So we duly engaged our EvoPowertouch motormover and believed it would serenely guide our caravan out of the pitch. Sadly, this was not to be. One wheel had sunk more than the other, leading to a difference in resistance from one side to another. This of course meant the caravan simply turned rather than moving forward. On reflection, I really should have anticipated this – but of course, hindsight is a very valuable commodity.

How to avoid: When on grass, even if all-weather, use tyre anti-slip mats or guides under the wheels. They are cheap and easy to find online. Having these placed under my tyres would have avoided the caravan creating ruts and allowed it to be moved more easily using the motormover. Lesson learned!

Not checking the jockey wheel clamp at each stop

After we finally got the caravan out of the quagmire, we set off Southbound towards Burford CAMC site. It was quite a long drive so we stopped at Leicester Forest Services. This is the point where I should have done a walk-round and checked all the things we normally check before setting off. I didn’t. Quick sandwich and coffee and we were off on the road again.

Car and caravan at the service station
This is where I should have checked the clamp

About 1 mile short of Burford, in torrential rain, we detected an unusual noise coming from the caravan. It was like a ‘wub, flub,wub’ sound that one might associate with a punctured tyre. However, we knew we had tyron bands fitted and figured it would be ok to drive the last short distance to the caravan site. We made it – still in absolutely torrential rain – no kidding, the worst I had experienced in some time. We pulled up at the site (not in the new arrivals area, rather outside reception – to be fair, visibility was so bad, as was signage, that we didn’t know where new arrivals was.. – this was to proved the starting point for the next mistake!)

When we got out of the van, we realized the jockey wheel had slipped free from its clamp and had been dragging along the ground, creating the noise I mentioned earlier. Thankfully, no damage had been done to the the jockey wheel.

How to avoid: I believe the rain and vibration on a long trip had combined to work the clamp loose. I don’t know for certain that if I had checked and retightened while at the services the outcome would have been very different. I don’t think it would had done any harm though, so it is now in my list of things to check every time we stop. It takes 10 seconds and might avoid losing a jockey wheel.

Yep- this clamp
Yep – that clamp!

Not fully appreciating the rear outswing distance on my caravan.

After checking in at the site, I needed to do a relatively tight turn to get onto the road into the site. After checking with the warden to let me go ‘in through the out door’ as I knew I wouldn’t make the turn into the new arrivals lane (which I could now see. Note to CAMC – better signage please – that could have helped avoid what happened next.

Still in poor visibility and with now 2 outfits queueing up to get into the site – and with 4 wardens hunkered down in the warm and dry office rather than managing the traffic. – I drove forward, made my right turn diligently using my mirrors. However, I couldn’t see the arc the nearside of my caravan was making towards one of the wardens’ car that was inconveniently parked in the arc’s way. I saw some frantic gesturing from behind but too late, my nearside quarter pillar knocked off the warden’s wing mirror – oops!! It’s a small accident in the grand scheme of things but still best avoided.

Damage to nearside of caravan
Minor but avoidable damage

How to avoid: – regardless of your journey and how much you are being harried from astern, take your time – look for the safest place to stop (almost always the new arrivals’ area) and ask for help spotting your van if ever in a tight spot. The wardens are there to help and may not appreciate the difficulty you’ve created for yourself but if you ask for help, they almost certainly will. Don’t be shy, ask for help!

Broken wing mirror
Oops….

Choosing a Pitch in Haste

I often see people wandering around a site before deciding on a pitch. I never realised until this trip what possible benefit it brings them. My first night on the pitch here made me think again about assuming all pitches are born equal! We got here, as mentioned earlier, in torrential rain and found the first free pitch – to be fair, it was really busy and not many to choose from. All the pitches close to the shower block were already taken so we plumped for what we thought would be a quiet pitch on the edge of the site. Not so – unbeknownst to us, directly behind the hedge at the back of our pitch was a road with a 90 degree hairpin bend and drop into which cars and vans would charge at all times of the day and night. Furthermore, we were shaded on all angles from the sun. So next day we moved and chose slowly, deliberately and carefully.

Frank after a sleepless night due to traffic noise

How to avoid: Look at the site map on the web if there is one before arrival. If you have mobility issues email in advance and ask for a pitch near shower/WC block and other services. If you enjoy peace and quiet, check out the site on Google maps and orientate the site plan to the roads. And finally, look at the orientation and elevation to see if you will benefit from sunshine, should the great orange orb deign to pay a visit.

Caravan pitched on site
Finally in the right spot!

Conclusion

Yes, embarassing, maybe expensive mistakes were made. But, the most important thing is no-one was hurt (other than my pride!) and nothing was damaged permanently. Learning from one’s own and others’ mistakes is a part of life – embrace, accept and grow!


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4 responses to “6 Mistakes I’ve made – and how not to!”

  1. Sara Talbot Avatar
    Sara Talbot

    Goodness Mike, I would have reached for the gin at the first hurdle. What a trip, but you overcame it all, I think all that could have gone wrong did on one trip, so now you should call yourself an expert!

    1. Mike McGuire Avatar

      haha – yes, I do think I’m learning – but wouldn’t quite call myself an expert yet lol!

  2. Sheepshank Avatar

    Soooo easily done – I feel for you Mike!

    1. Mike McGuire Avatar

      thanks! Yeah, I suspect I’m not alone in doing these things at some stage or other!

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