The Layman’s Guide To Towing In The UK.

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To date, my original article, and subsequent ‘Definitive’ guide to towing in the UK have received well over 250,000 views, however, it is clear from ongoing, online, discussions, that this is still a hugely misunderstood topic.

To this end, I have decided to both expand the original guide (to cover those aspects that may have been omitted before, such as nose weights and the implications of fitting towing mirrors when not towing, or when the towing vehicle is wider then the caravan, itself) whilst, at the same time, attempting to simplify and further clarify the core messages of the guide.

If you have any concerns, misconceptions or questions, appertaining to towing legislation, or if you just want to know what it’s all about, then it might be worth taking a look at the new Layman’s Guide To Towing In The UK.

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Understanding The Basics Of Onboard Electrics

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The vast majority of us will have some form of on board electrical system(s) in our units, be it 12 Volt, 240 Volt, or both, however, it is apparent that many users still don’t fully understand what systems power what appliances, and we regularly receive enquiries from people concerned that their three pin mains sockets aren’t working when there is no electric hookup (EHU) or from those unable to understand why their fridge won’t work on 12V, if there is no mains supply.

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A 240V Mains Socket Will Not Work Without EHU.

Most modern units will have two different electrical systems, a 12V system and a 240V system, however, it is more than likely, both systems will be inter linked to a greater or lesser extent.

What System Powers What Appliances?

Starting with the 12V system, this will, most likely, be powered by an on board leisure battery.

For more information on how these work, see our earlier article; An Introduction To Leisure Batteries.

In most units, the 12V system will run the following;

  • 12V sockets (these come in a variety of formats, depending on the age of the unit)
  • 12V lighting (some lights may be mains powered, but the vast majority are 12V)
  • Water pump (for main / wash room water supply to taps etc)
  • Toilet flush (where applicable)
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The 12V Switch Will Only Work Whilst Connected To A Car With The Engine Running

Please note; the 12V supply will NOT power the three way refrigerator, where fitted.

This is because it would drain the battery in a matter of hours, or, even, less.

Many fridges are not, even, connected to the leisure battery, for just this reason.

More modern fridges do tend to be connected to the leisure battery, but not for cooling, only to power the light(s) and electronic ignition.

The 12V setting on a three way fridge is only for use when connected to a towing vehicle, and, then, only when the engine is running (an on board relay will, normally, disconnect power to the fridge, as soon as the car engine is turned off).

The 240V system, on the other hand, is available for much heavier loads, especially those requiring some form of heating element. The 240V system (via the on site EHU system) will power the following;

  • 3 pin 240V sockets (like those you have in the wall at home)
  • Fridge
  • On board heater (where fitted)
  • Hot water system
  • In some units, there may, also, be mains lighting, as well, although this tends to be more the case with caravans, as opposed to folding campers.

How Do The Systems Work, In Practice?

The way the electrical systems work will, in the main, depend on the age of our unit. The very oldest units may well have no electrics, whatsoever, relying on manual foot pumps for water, and gas for cooking and, maybe, a fridge, if you’re lucky.

Slightly newer units will, often, have one system or the other, but not both, although you will, often, see one, or the other, or both, fitted as an after-market installation, by subsequent owners.

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A Typical On board Switch, allowing Us To Select The 12V Source, From Car To Leisure Battery

If the on board electrics are 12V only, this is fine, but does present us with one significant challenge; how do we charge the leisure battery, without a mains supply?

Of course, these days, we have various options, such as solar panels etc, but the original answer, usually, came via the grey 12S lead, connected to the vehicle tow bar electrics.

This gives us the option to charge the leisure battery, whilst in transit, but, of course, is not ideal, for longer stays, when the car may need to be hooked up, for a while, in order to top up the leisure battery.

Some models, actually, take this a step further, and use the vehicle battery to power the camper’s on board 12V system, thereby excluding the need for a leisure battery, at all. This is not ideal, as you need the car to be permanently connected, in order for the 12V system to work, but a surprisingly large number of models did, still, use this system.

On units with 240V power, only, there is no such issue with charging the battery, although, of course, there can be a bit of an issue, when visiting sites without electric hookup facilities.

So, of course, the ideal scenario is to have both systems installed, and, for the vast majority of modern units, this is the way they are configured, thereby enabling us to operate reasonably well, wherever we may be situated.

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Typical Power Supply Unit, The Sargent PSU 2005

Most, if not all, modern campers will have an onboard power management system. For most of the Pennine / Conway models, in recent years, this has been the very popular PSU2005 unit. These units perform three main functions;

  1. To control and distribute the onboard mains electric supply
  2. To provide 12V power, via an in built transformer, to the 12V system
  3. To charge the leisure battery, where fitted

This unit, also, contains all fuses / trip switches for both 12V and 240V systems.

The PSU provides a bridge between the 12V system and the 240V system. It allows the mains supply to charge the battery, but, also, allows the 12V system to run, even without a battery in place. Whilst this facility is available, and can be used in the short term, it is not recommended for long term use, in most units, as the battery is not only used for storing 12V power, it is, also, used as a buffer, smoothing out the power supply from the transformer, and protecting any in line appliances from damage. Having a dual electrical system really is the best of both worlds, with the facilities needed to charge the battery, whenever we are on EHU, and the backup of a leisure battery when we aren’t.

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Typical Pennine Folding Camper Electrical System Configuration

Working Without EHU

We looked at the general topic of working without EHU in our earlier article; Making The Most Of Life Without Electric Hook Up, but, for now, we are just looking at the specifics of what will, and won’t work, when we have no external mains supply.

We have, already, covered, above, those appliances that will work on 12V power, from a leisure battery, but what about those that won’t? The simple answer, to be honest, is that most will have to work on gas, in the absence of a 240V power supply. Typical examples of this include;

  • Fridge
  • Heater
  • Hot water

All of these contain a heating element, rendering them unsuitable to use on 12V, which is why many come with a gas option. If they don’t, then you will be unable to use them without electric hook up. Unfortunately, all new model folding camper models, from Pennine, are provided with electric only heating / hot water, and only UK competitors, Opus, have electric only heating, and no hot water system, at all, so off grid camping, in modern units, can be a little more of a challenge.

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A Solar Panel Will Help To Keep A Leisure Battery Topped Up

Of course, if we are staying away without electric hookup, for any period of time, we may well require some form of battery charging facility.

The most popular of these, today, is the solar panel.

An 80W plus model should give you all you need for moderate to average usage over extended periods.

If you do need a little 240V power, whilst away, without EHU, this is achievable with the use of an inverter.

This converts 12V power to 240V, for running the odd domestic appliance.

Of course, we need to be mindful of the power usage of those appliances, and, once again, anything containing a heating element will kill the battery in a matter of hours, or, even, minutes. Consequently, it is best to keep to inverters of no more than 300W, in order to protect battery life.

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Model Review: Opus Camper

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This week, Opus announced the forthcoming launch of their latest model, the AirOPUS, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to do a review of this innovative, and inherently cool, camper.

The Opus Camper first gained mainstream recognition when it appeared on the television show; The Apprentice, in 2013. The company, subsequently, appeared on Dragons Den. last year, albeit it, purely, as a PR exercise.

The Opus is built by Purple Line, the caravan accessory designers and manufacturers. A few years ago, the company decided that they should not just design for the recreational vehicle market, but, actually, get involved with it, and the Opus Camper was conceived.

The Basics

The Opus Camper is, unusually, a five berth folding camper, but with a traditional six berth camper layout. The reason for the loss of one berth is that the U shaped seating area, in the Opus, only makes up to a single bed, as opposed to the, more traditional, double of its competitors.

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Internal layout of the Opus; (1) Beds, (2) Sink, (3) Work surface, (4) 2 burner hob, (5) Seating area with optional single bed. (6) Table, (7) Storage / Porta Potti cupboard (8) Storage, with fridge over.

The layout of the Opus is exactly the same as most, if not all, six berth models on the market, today. Entry is via a near side door, towards the front of the camper. To your left is a small storage cupboard, beyond that, the first double bed. Directly opposite the door is the kitchen unit, and to the right of the door, a second storage unit. Towards the back is the U shaped seating area, and, beyond that, the second double bed. The layout is where the similarity with other models largely ends, and you can very much see that it was built by a team of ‘designers’, as it does have one or two issues in terms of practicality, but more on that later.

Specifications

The Opus Camper is extremely sturdy, and is, actually, the heaviest model available on the UK market. Weighing in at 1,050kg, for the basic model, it is 50kg heavier than largest competitors the Pennine Pathfinder and Conway Crusader. Not only is it the heaviest, though, it, also, has an pretty impressive payload. At 250kg, it is 70kg more than that of the Pathfinder’s 180kg limit.

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The Rugged Design Of The Opus Makes It Ideal for More Active Leisure Pursuits

When folded, the Opus is 416cm long (including tow hitch) x 195cm wide x 127cm high. Once opened out, on site, it is 580cm long, with both beds extended, x 127cm wide.

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The Opus Awning Is Not A Particular Strong Point, As You Are Paying £1,499 For What Is, Effectively, A Porch Awning, With Two Annexes

Opus were, originally, a little economical with the truth when it comes to the dimensions of their ‘full awning’. It was quoted as 620cm x 240cm. Sounds very impressive, until you realise it was considerably shorter than the main trailer unit. The latter is only 580cm long, so how can a much shorter awning be 620cm? It would appear that the answer lies with the optional extension pods. A little naughty, when you bear in mind that these add a further £398 to the price of the awning. The latest version of the brochure has now been amended, and the full awning is now sold, with pods included, however, the price has increased, still further, to a whopping £1,499.

Review / Appraisal

I have to say, I really love this camper. The main reason I love it, however is that it is just so cool, and different from anything else on the market. Unfortunately, therein, also, lies its core weakness. The Opus Camper is a designer’s dream, but I can’t help feeling, in certain areas, it is a triumph of style over practicality. It looks undeniably brilliant, but how usable is it on a day to day basis, and how much is this exclusivity going to cost us?

Pretty much everything on the Opus is an extra. At the time of writing, the base model will set you back £12,995. Ok. Not horrendously scary, until you look at what it doesn’t include, compared to its competitors. Just to bring the Opus up to the level of an equivalent competitor, you are likely to need the following:

  • Alloy wheels (£399)
  • Spare wheel & carrier (£199)
  • Cover (£99)
  • Carpet (£149)
  • Dometic fridge (£349)
  • Awning (£1,499)

These are just the basic extras, and take the cost of, even, a standard model to £15,689. Compare that to something like the latest Pennine Pathfinder, at £13,995, and you start to realise just how far behind the Opus is, in terms of equipment levels. Almost £2,000 more, and it has no toilet, oven, or, even, hot water.

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Leatherette Seating Looks Great, But Is A £999 Extra, On The Most Basic Model

Fortunately, it’s not as bad as it appears. Opus, also, offer a range of other variants on the model, up to the ‘Full Monty’ incorporating a wealth of options, including the full awning and leatherette seating. At a cost of £14,995, this represents, according to Opus, a saving of £2,610 on retail value. It’s still £1,000 more than the Pathfinder, though, and, still, without a proper toilet or hot water.

On the subject of extras, the overall list is pretty impressive, with many extras being unavailable in any other model on the market. Once again, though, some of them will put a pretty sizeable hole in your pocket.

Some of the options available include;

  • Premium body colours (£999)
  • Luxury body colours (£1,499)
  • Sound system (£499)
  • Cinema system (£999)
  • Sun canopy (£299)
  • Side skirts (£299)

This is far from an exhaustive list of options available for this model, and you could spend well over twenty grand on one, without running out of extras to buy for it.

OK, so, back to the every day basics of the camper, and what it’s like to use. As mentioned, above, the Opus Camper could be described as a bit of a triumph of style over practicality. So. what does that mean in reality?

Well, firstly, there is no denying that the Opus is one cool camper, and a great space to relax in. Another great thing about it is the interior height and head room. The main cabin height is 244cm max, or 8 foot. Most folding campers struggle to get over 6 foot of headroom. Add this to the clear plastic roof lights in the Opus, and it really does give an airy and spacious interior to the cabin area.

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With 8 Feet Of Head Room And Clear Sky Lights, The Opus Offers An Unrivalled Feeling Of Space, Internally

I can’t help feeling, though, that the Opus canvas always looks like it doesn’t quite fit. I think this is, probably, just down to the fact that all other folding camper models are set up in such a way as to pull the canvas taut over the main frame. The Opus doesn’t comply with this ‘norm’ and sits in a far more casual manner across the light weight aluminium poles. At the end of the day, I think the appeal, or not, of this will, largely, be down to the individual user.

Storage in the Opus is adequate, but not great. There is plenty under the main seating area, but the kitchen and cupboards either side of the door are a little lacking, compared to other models. There is a small cupboard to the left of the door, as you walk in. There is an option to have this replaced with a ‘toilet cubicle’, however, this is little bigger than the porta potti it comes with, and not practical to use as an actual toilet area, simply to store one in.

Storage in the kitchen area, although reasonably comprehensive, is mainly comprised of open shelving, designed to house storage baskets, or similar. There is also space for the optional (£99) microwave. Kitchen equipment, also, leaves a bit to be desired, in a camper with this price tag. There is, as standard, a two burner hob (no grill) and sink, with no hot water. On that note, I did speak to Opus, last month, and they assured me that hot water is very much on the wish list for the near future, so that will be a bonus, if / when it happens.

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Basic, But, Inherently Stylish. The Opus Kitchen, With Optional Microwave Installed

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The Top Open Fridge Is Not The Absolute Apex Of Practicality, Unfortunately

A Dometic fridge is an option, at £349.

Unfortunately, however, it sits on top of one of the cupboards, thereby losing the available surface space of that cupboard.

That wouldn’t be an issue, if the fridge were not top opening, meaning that anything stored on top of it must be moved every time you wish to gain access to the fridge.

Although there is no hot water in the Opus, it does have an electric blown air heater, mounted into the kitchen unit. This heater, along with the insulated aluminium trailer panels and heavy duty poly cotton canvas mean that this camper is reasonably well equiped to deal with some of the more inclement British weather.

The awning of the Opus is, to say the least, unusual. It is only the width of the main trailer body, but is extended to the full width of the camper by the addition of two extension pods. These are no longer optional, so the awning is a pretty expensive option, considering the actual available living area in it is far smaller than comparable models.

Variants

In a seemingly tireless attempt to re design the marque, regardless of practical application, Opus have brought out a number of variants, with varying degrees of success. The first, and most practical, of these was the Opus Drifter. This is, basically, an off road version of the camper, which was designed, primarily, for the Australian market, where it seems to have been reasonably well received.

Another experimental model, which is yet to hit the mainstream market was the Opus Moto. This model was designed specifically for the moto cross market. Its chassis was up rated to allow it to carry two moto cross bikes on top. It, also, incorporates a 500kg crane, to lift the bikes on and off. This crane then folds away inside the camper, when in transit. Who on Earth ever thought that would be a good idea? (Style over practicality again). Firstly, the market is relatively niche for a folding camper, especially when most involved in the sport prefer to transfer them in a standard van, or on a standard trailer. Secondly, having a crane that folds inside the camper means that you, automatically, lose the only decent sized storage area in the whole camper, and, thirdly, the up rated specifications takes the gross weight of the Opus Moto to a whopping 1,550kg, meaning that most people who would tend to use it are unlikely to be able to tow it on their post 1997 driving licences, not to mention the large number of smaller cars that would struggle to legally tow it. Great planning there, Opus.

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The Opus Moto, In Operation

The most recent, and, potentially, equally poorly conceived, model is the AiROPUS, which was announced earlier this week, and is scheduled for release in 2017. This is a self inflating canopy for the main trailer, which allows the AiROPUS to self erect, to a certain extent. Like most things Opus, it looks really cool, and your first impression is, usually; Wow! I want one”! Then you look at what it actually does. You still have to open the bed boards out manually, and attach the canvas, yourself. Basically, the air system inflates the air beams and tensions the canvas. Hold on. Isn’t that what we do when we push the main poles up? So we are paying goodness only knows how much to automate a process that is, perhaps, the easiest part of the whole procedure, and only takes a matter of seconds, anyway. Oh dear. It’s a little bit like buying a ‘self driving’ car, and then finding out that all it, actually, does is operate the indicators for you.

Conclusion

The Opus Camper is, undoubtedly the coolest folding camper on the market, at the moment, but, boy, does that come at a cost? There are some really nice features, like the leatherette seating, and huge eight foot of head room, but you have to seriously question the logic of any company that provides a £1,000 home cinema as an optional extra, but can’t muster the basics, like hot water or a ‘proper’ toilet.

Opus Home Cinema

An Impressive Home Cinema And Sound System, For Around £1,500, All In, But No Hot Water, Toilet Or Oven / Grill. It’s Fair To Say The Average Opus Owner Will, Very Much, Have Their Own Unique Set Of Priorities

The Opus design is inherently flawed in so many ways, and, yet, to many, that simply wont matter. In the same way that the average Lamborghini driver is unlikely to be worried about rear visibility, or space for the shopping, I suspect that Mr and Mrs Opus are unlikely to be overly phased by its apparent short comings. If you love the Conway and Pennine models, you will, probably, hate it, however, if you find traditional folding camper styling a little less than exciting, and you have very deep pockets, the Opus Camper may well be worth a closer look.

Personally, whilst I’m very much aware of the limitations of this model, I can’t help feeling more than a bit of love for it. That said, given fifteen grand to spend, I would be straight down to Pennine, for a new Pathfinder, plus a bit of left over spending money. Fortunately, for Opus, though, we aren’t all the same.

If you think the Opus Camper might just be what you are looking for, why not rent one for a night, under their ‘try before you buy’ scheme, which includes a camper and pitch at their North Essex camp site. The cost, of £100, for a night, is refundable against any subsequent purchase of an Opus Camper, so you can’t say fairer than that.

If you’d like to know a little more, feel free to check out their main web site, or give them a call on 01473 601200. You can, also, check out the Opus Page on our Web Site for more model details, and a number of videos. If you want to check out the release video of the AiROPUS, you can do so here.

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Model Review: Pennine Pathfinder

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The Pennine Pathfinder is the flagship model in the Pennine range, and has been since its introduction in late 1998. It came in various guises, including a number of other names, like the Trailfinder and the Pentium.

The Pathfinder, itself, mainly came in two versions, the TC and the DL. The TC was the more basic version, standing, simply, for Toilet Compartment, whilst the DL, or Deluxe, included a number of extras, the most noticeable of which was a full oven.

The Basics

The Pathfinder is a six berth model, with a comprehensive range of equipment, unmatched on the UK market. In terms of layout and equipment levels, the modern Pathfinder is, largely unchanged from the very first model to roll off the production line.

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Current Pathfinder Layout, With U Shaped Seating

The largest of the six berth berth offerings, the Pathfinder features two fixed double beds, plus a third which can be made up from the dinette seating. Entering from the near side door to the Pathfinder, immediately on the left is a three way fridge, with wardrobe over.

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Modern Toilet / Wash Room, With Hot And Cold Water And Electric Flush Toilet

Behind that is the first of the fixed double beds, running across the front of the camper, over the A frame.

Opposite the wardrobe is the washroom / toilet compartment, featuring an electric  flush Thetford cassette toilet and drop down sink with hot and cold water.

Beyond the washroom, heading towards the rear of the camper is the kitchen.

This features a three burner hob, grill, and, in most cases, a full oven. Behind this is a small shelf unit, and, to the side, a sink, with drainer, and large storage cupboard under.

There is, also, a further cupboard / drawer unit opposite, adjacent to the door. Moving towards the rear of the camper, we, next, come to the seating / dinette area, and, finally, the fixed rear double bed.

Set up, on site, the Pathfinder is a full six metres long by over 2 metres wide, and the optional awning more than doubles this living area. In spite of this huge size, the main camper can be set up in around 15 minutes, with a further 30 – 40 minutes for the awning.

Specifications

Not only is the Pathfinder the largest domestic model available, it’s, also, the heaviest. Standard models have a gross weight of 1,000kg, with some specials rising to 1,049kg. With a net weight of 820kg, this gives the average Pathfinder a payload of a reasonably generous 180kg. As mentioned above; the on site dimensions of the Pathfinder are 6 metres long, by 2.12 metres wide. The awning is 6.2 metres by 2.5 metres. This gives a total usable space, in the region of  twenty seven square metres.

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Pennine Pathfinder, With Large Awning, Doubling The Available Accommodation

Full specifications for the Pathfinder, as well as copies of all relevant paperwork (manuals, sales brochures etc) can be found on the Pathfinder Page of our main web site.

Review / Appraisal

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Latest 2016 Specification Interior

The Pathfinder is a generous six berth folding camper, however, at the risk of being repetitive, just like the rest of the range, their maximum berth capacity is better appreciated when used in conjunction with the optional awning.

Whilst offering a more than competent 6 berth layout, without the awning, it is going to feel a little cramped inside with 6 people, especially as the dinette is better suited for 4 to dine and relax in comfort.

The other minor annoyance is that the third double bed, which is made up from the two settees, is directly alongside one of the fold out double beds.

This is only really an issue at night, when the occupants of one bed will need to climb over those in the other bed, in order to access the facilities.

These issues, although minor, mean that the Pathfinder really comes into its own as a spacious four berth unit.

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Current Model Kitchen With Wash Room / Toilet & ‘King Size’ Bed Behind

In this capacity, there is very little compromise in terms of the facilities offered, once the unit has been set up, with comfortable seating and dining for four, two fixed, permanently made up double beds, more than adequate storage and a well equiped kitchen and washroom. The level of space and equipment just can’t be matched by standard tents or caravans with a similar footprint. The only thing lacking in a Pathfinder, when compared with an average caravan is a shower, as water and camper canvases have never been the most comfortable of bed fellows. On later versions of the marque, however, there is an external shower point, for those wishing to take advantage of it.

Whilst most models come with both heating and hot water, only certain older models were dual fuel. The current Pathfinder models feature 240V mains versions, only, which is, perhaps, a bit of a retrograde step. Personally, I have a 1999 Pathfinder, and I love the fact that the hot water etc works off the gas, for when electric hook up isn’t an option.

One thing that has improved, significantly, is the introduction, in 2012, of the Isabella acrylic trailer and awning canvases. These are more water repellent, and, hence, dry more quickly than traditional cotton canvases. They are, also, better insulated against external thermal fluctuations.

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Other Than Colour Schemes & Seating, There Have Been Few Changes From The Original Models

Beds in the earlier Pathfinder models were more than adequate, comfort wise, however, later models are even better, with ‘proper’ domestic style sprung mattresses.

Pennine are, however, a little economical with the truth (and they aren’t alone in that) when it comes to the size of the beds.

These are referred to as a ‘double’ at the rear, and ‘king size’ at the front.

In reality, however, the rear bed is 4′ wide, making it, officially, a ‘small double’, whilst the front bed is 4’6″, making it a ‘standard double’.

A genuine king size bed is 6″ wider, at 5′.

The Pathfinder has a very generous allotment of 12V lighting, especially compared to other models in the range.

Fellow 6 berth models, like the Pullman and Sterling, normally, feature one 12V light, above the mirror, on the side of the wardrobe. In contrast, the Pathfinder has four of them.

As with the other models, there is one on the wardrobe, above the mirror. There is, also, one on the side of the kitchen shelf unit, another in the wash room, and a fourth on the opposite side of the wardrobe, which serves as a dedicated light for the main bed compartment. Later versions of the model also feature a couple of spot lights on the underside of the shelf unit, over the kitchen.

The main dining table can be left permanently set up, or stowed on one of the beds to give you extra space. It can, also, be set up, permanently, in the awning. Storage is pretty extensive in this model. There are two large lockers under the bench seating, a large cupboard, or two smaller ones, in the kitchen, with further cupboard / drawer opposite and wardrobe over the fridge. Some models, also, have a small cupboard under the oven, whilst others have a plinth heater mounted there. On models with no oven, the oven is replaced by a further storage cupboard. There is, also, a full width gas / storage locker at the front of the camper.

Seating configurations in the Pathfinder vary, depending on year. There are three main options; (1) a four seater dinette arrangement, with large cupboard between the dinette and the door, (2) a five seater dinette, with two seater settee next to the kitchen unit and a three seater one opposite. Consequently, the cupboard unit by the door is correspondingly smaller. (3) The final option, which includes the current model, is a U shaped seating arrangement, along with the smaller cupboard.

Conway Crusader

The Conway Crusader is, also, worth a mention, in this context. It is no longer an official current Pennine model, and is classed as a ‘show only’ model. It is, however, effectively, a customisable version of the Pathfinder. The trailer and canvas are identical, but the Crusader allows buyers to pick and chose from a menu of options and equipment, internally. The main distinction between the standard Crusader and the Pathfinder is that the Crusader has the traditional style dinette seating.

Conclusion

The Pathfinder is the flag ship model of the Pennine range, and rightly so. Equipment levels are unparalleled within the folding camper fraternity, and, yet, older models can be picked up for a very reasonable figure.

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Our Own 1999 Pennine Pathfinder, Acquired For A Very Reasonable £1,000

Our own Pathfinder cost just £1,000, and sub £1,500 examples are becoming increasingly common. At the other end of the scale, a brand new Pathfinder, with full awning, at the time of writing, can be bought for £13,595, all in, including full awning and VAT.

Whatever your budget, folding campers don’t get much better than this, so definitely worth a look.

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Caravan Club Versus Camping And Caravaning Club. Either, Neither Or Both?

Club Comparison

There are certain questions which we can guarantee will crop up over and over again. “What’s the best insurance company to use”? “Do I need towing mirrors”? and; “What can I tow on my current driving licence”? One of the most commonly asked questions is; “Is it worth joining either the Caravan Club or the Camping & Caravanning Club, and what are the benefits”? So, I thought it was time we took a look at this, in a little more detail.

One of the most obvious benefits of either club, is access to member only camp sites and facilities, but the clubs have a lot more to offer than this. Whether it will be worth it to us will depend upon our own individual circumstances and requirements.

Caravan Club

The Caravan Club is the largest organisation of its kind in Europe, and has always, traditionally, restricted its members to those who own caravans and motor homes, however, it has, always, classified folding campers in the same way as folding caravans, so membership has never been an issue. Whilst this remains the case, a very small number of club sites are starting to allow tent campers, and similar, alongside the traditional units.

So. What is it that the Caravan Club has to offer? According to their web site, member benefits include:

  • A saving of £12 per night on pitch fees
  • Access to over 200 Club sites and 2,500 independent sites
  • Access to over 250 Club approved overseas sites
  • ‘Market leading’ caravan insurance, available to members only
  • ‘Huge’ savings on family days out and attractions
  • Free monthly magazine, ‘worth £40′ (Bless ’em)
  • Free car and caravan matching service

Of course, that list doesn’t include what, for me, is one of the single best reasons for joining the Caravan Club; their Mayday breakdown recovery service, and the equally well received (although many would argue a little on the expensive side) Red Pennant European travel insurance cover.

Other benefits include preferential deals on ferry and European travel packages as well as a variety of partner discounts, including 4% off your Sainsburys shopping, 15% off Go Outdoors and 20% at Road Chef, to name but a few.

Membership of the Caravan Club, currently, costs £48 per year, and, as they are quick to point out, you will save this in just four days, on one of their sites, bearing in mind the £12 per night saving, mentioned above.

Camping & Caravanning Club

The Camping & Caravanning Club is not as large as the Caravan club, with a little under half the amount of Club sites. It is, also, slightly cheaper to join, at just £37 per year for online membership, and £43 for paper membership. It has, traditionally, always, accommodated a broader spectrum of member units, from the smallest of tents, to the largest of caravans and motor homes. The key benefits listed on their web site include:

  • 108 ‘award winning’ Club sites, plus 1,600 member exclusive certified sites
  • Up to 30% off Club site fees (with additional 25% for over 60’s)
  • Free technical advice
  • Up to 10% off ferry crossings
  • Access to a further 150 camp sites, in 13 European countries
  • 2,500 weekend meets
  • Discounted tailor-made insurance products
  • Specialist breakdown cover, Arrival, via the RAC
  • free technical advice, including unit matching service
  • ‘Award winning’ magazine (apparently)
  • Additional discounts, via business partners

Making The Choice

As mentioned above, an element of the decision making process will, inevitably, depend on personal preference. Everyone has their own opinion as to which sites are better. Opinions are varied as to quality of facilities, application of rules and regulations, cleanliness of sites, etc etc. They are so varied, and opinion is so subjective, that the only really safe advice, is to give them a try and see how they suit your own, personal, requirements. This is crucial, because one of the key advantages of both clubs is the discount on club sites. As, already, stated, four nights spent on a Caravan club site, at £12 a night discount, will pay for your Caravan Club membership, however, if you prefer not to be too restricted to CC sites, then you will not be able to appreciate this benefit to such a significant extent.

So. Is it worth it? Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, but, from a personal perspective, I would say, for many of us, it’s a no brainer. In our recent article; What Breakdown Cover do we Need When Towing? we looked at the best breakdown policies around, and CC’s Mayday and C&CC’s Arrival, came first and second, respectively, offering facilities that aren’t available anywhere else. Add that to the fact that just one week away can more than pay for the entire year’s membership fees, and you are, already, on to a winner, without any of the additional benefits.

For me, membership of a least one of these organisations will more than pay for itself, in a very short period of time. Whether you chose to try both, and compare, is entirely up to you, but I, personally, am considering it, for the breakdown cover, alone. Anything over and above that will be, for me, a bonus.

Of course, this is just a very quick summary of the potential benefits of each club. For more details, Feel free to take a look at the following:

Caravan Club Membership Page or the Camping & Caravanning Club ‘Join The Club’ Page

 

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Blue Sky Thinking Tops A Quarter Of A Million Views

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Earlier this month, views to this blog hit the quarter of a million mark, in just two years.

Once again, I would like to thank all our regular visitors. I hope you continue to find it of use.

Of course, this is just the number of views to this blog, Blue Sky Thinking. Views to our You Tube Channel and main web site are significantly higher. Please feel free to check them both out.

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Customising Our Camper. What Are The Options?

dscn2617The current Pennine range are very much on top of their game, both cosmetically and equipment wise, but, for many of us, they are a little out of reach, or, perhaps, we would rather start out with an entry level camper, just to see how we like the lifestyle. To be fair, even if we buy a brand new camper, there will always be something we can buy / do to personalise it, and make it ‘our own’.

OK, so we have a ‘new to us’ folding camper, or we are thinking of getting one. For the vast majority of us, this will be an exciting prospect, and, just like our main home, there will, probably, be much we want to buy for / do to our new holiday home. Alternatively, we may have had a camper for a number of years, and decided it is time for a re vamp, to re kindle the enthusiasm we had when we first bought it

So. What are our options? For the purposes of this exercise, it is probably best to divide them into two distinct areas; original manufacturer equipment (which would have been available as an optional extra) and non specific enhancements we might like to try ourselves. A number of these we have done to our own demonstration models, including a few modifications to our current demonstrator, a 1999 Pennine Pathfinder.

Original Manufacturer Equipment

Unfortunately, these are notoriously difficult to come across. Of the two main UK manufacturers, Conway ceased trading in 2002, and Pennine (who acquired Conway) were subject to a management buyout in 2014, and now only stock current model, and generic parts. Likewise, Sunncamp, although still very active, as a company, no longer make folding campers, and the only other player in the market, Opus, is too new for there to be a significant number of suitably priced second hand models on the market. That, notwithstanding, what are our current options?

We will look at each one in a little more detail, however, as a quick guide, these are some of the most common OEM accessories we might want to look out for. For the purposes of this exercise, we are assuming that all of the original standard equipment, supplied with the camper, when new, is still with it when we acquire it:

  • Full awning (assuming the camper didn’t come with one, as most do)
  • Sun canopy
  • Porch awning (a popular alternative to the full awning these days).
  • Light weight fibre glass poles
  • Acrylic canvas
  • Under bed skirts (including ground sheet)
  • Under bed pup tents
  • Awning Annex (including curtain, ground sheet and inner tent)
  • Awning roof liner

Full Awning

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An Awning Is A Welcome Addition To Any Camper And Will Double The Available Living Area.

It’s probably fair to say that a significant majority of folding campers on the market, in the UK, do come with a full awning included. This is down to the fact that, although, mostly, available as an optional extra, it is one that most purchasers did tend to go for. The awning, itself, doubles the available living area in any folding camper, and, although not necessary for shorter trips away, it is a real boon for longer trips, or those where there are quite a few of us.

Most awnings have zip off side and front panels, enabling them to be used as both a full awning and sizeable sun canopy. If you can get a folding camper with an awning, you will find that, not only does it give you far greater flexibility of accommodation, it, also, will have a significant impact on resale value.

Sun Canopy

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A Sun Canopy Adds Extra Outdoor Living Space, Without The Need To Erect A Full Awning

Although the main awning can be converted to a sun canopy, simply by removing the zip in panels, it is still a large and cumbersome piece of kit to put up, and it is possible to acquire a dedicated sun canopy for some models of folding camper. These are less than half the size of the full awning, and come with no side panels, so they can be erected and taken down in a matter of minutes.

Porch Awning

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Pennine’s Own Air Porch 6 Awning Is Much Quicker To Set Up Than a Full Awning, With The Added Advantage Of Air Beam Technology.

Porch awnings are gaining in popularity as a flexible way of extending our accommodation, without having to erect a full size awning (not for nothing, are they referred to as a ‘divorce in a bag’). Porch awnings are now so popular that Pennine, themselves, launched their own product, the Pennine Air Porch 6 Awning, at the NEC show, in October 2015. Not only does this product have the convenience of being a porch awning, but, as an air beam awning, it can, also, be inflated and erected in a few minutes for that bit of extra space, without the hassle of a full awning.

The Pennine offering attaches to the main cabin using a series of straps, which means it does not need to have a compatible zip to do so. Adapted porch awnings have been available for folding campers for some time now, but most have been reliant on the fitting of a compatible zip, to allow them to be attached to the main camper cabin canvas. Most people who use porch awnings find them particularly beneficial for the storing of wet clothes, boots, and, even, dogs, without having to bring them all into the main camper, before they have had the opportunity of drying out properly.

Light Weight Poles

Current model awnings, within the Pennine range, are produced, by Isabella, and are provided with the convenience of lightweight fibre glass awning poles. for anyone wishing to do so, these are available as an upgrade to your existing awning, to assist when putting it up.

Prices will, inevitably, be subject to change, however, at the time of writing, a full set of light weight awning poles, sourced direct from Pennine, will set you back around £320. Compare this to the other alternative; a replacement set of steel poles, at around £170.

Acrylic Canvas

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A Modern Acrylic Canvas, With Matching Awning.

Again, the modern awnings and canvases, produced by Isabella, for Pennine are manufactured in Isacryl, an acrylic canvas, renowned for its water repellent properties, and resistance to mould and mildew.

The acrylic canvas is available for both the main cabin, and optional awning. Unfortunately, neither is a cheap option, and, let’s face it, if you replace one, you are going to want to replace the other.

The average cabin canvas currently retails at around £1,700, whilst an awning canvas will set you back around £1,000 – £1,400, depending on model. Of course, the other alternative is to have a replacement traditional cotton canvas made, by the likes of Tent Valeting Services, in Bolton. Prices for these start from around £1,200 for a traditional 6 berth model.

Under Bed Skirts

Under bed skirts are, probably, the most common form of OEM accessory, both in terms of demand, and availability, although that is not to say they are, in any way common place. Bed skirts for current models are available for the princely sum of £325. You can expect to pay around £75, for a second hand skirt. This will increase, slightly, if it includes the far rarer matching ground sheet for the under bed area. Under bed skirts zip on to the under side of the bed boards and fully enclose the under bed area, rendering it suitable for additional storage, and, for four berth models only, additional sleeping accommodation.

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Matching Bed Skits Really Help To Enhance The Look Of The Camper, As Well As Providing Useful Additional Storage

Whenever I acquire another folding camper, for myself, the first accessory I always look for is an under bed skirt. Not only do they provide extremely useful extra storage, for chairs, tables, bikes, BBQs etc, when the awning is not in use, but they, also, significantly enhance the overall look of the camper. Modern units have the additional zip on both beds, however, older models tend to come with the zip on only one of the beds (usually the rear bed, on 6 berth models). Skirts are, however, available for both beds, and, hence, often, on older models, it will be necessary to have a second zip fitted, in order to achieve the symmetrical look of a skirt on each bed.

Under Bed Pup Tents

Surprisingly, these are only, actually, available for the four berth models. This is, simply, because the six berth units have bed support poles that are at 45 degrees, thereby dissecting the potential under bed sleeping area, and preventing the hanging of an under bed pup tent. Four berth models, on the other hand, have bed support poles that run straight down to the ground, thereby allowing plenty of space for the installation of a pup tent. Although they do come up from time to time, model specific pup tents are pretty rare, however, it is no major deal to adapt a universal pup tent to fit. One of the most readily available, and cost effective, model of universal pup tent is, currently, produced by Sunncamp

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A Conway Countryman, With Both Sun Canopy And Under Bed Pup Tent Fitted

Some pup tents are single occupancy, whilst others are doubles.

Either way, it is, probably, fair to say that they are better suited to more junior members of the family, as opposed to adults.

Prices  can vary significantly, but you can expect to pay between £25 -£35 for a universal model, and, to be fair, in spite of their rarity, model specific pup tents aren’t that much more, varying, as they do, from £25 – £65, as a very rough average.

‘Proper’ pup tents can be used on their own, under a bed board, however, some are little more than inner bed tents, and need to be used in conjunction with an under bed skirt, to keep the elements at bay.

Awning Annex

The awning annex is, possibly the most popular method of extending the camper accommodation, and, in terms of availability, is, I would suggest, second only to the under bed skirt. It is certainly way up there, on my wish list, with the under bed skirt, whenever I acquire an additional folding camper. Unlike under bed pup tents, which are only suitable for four berth models, the annex is available for any size of unit, and provides two berth accommodation with a sensible roof height for adults and children, alike. Of course, its use is not restricted to sleeping accommodation, and common uses include a toilet / changing compartment, and, simply, additional storage.

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Pennine Sterling With Matching Awning Annex

Like the under bed option, it can come with a ground sheet and inner tent (although it is rare to find all three together). Even rarer is the front curtain for the annex. This is comprised of a large curtain (surprise surprise) which attached to the awning tensioner pole in front of the annex, at the top, and includes a number of rubber pegging out bands at the bottom, so that it can cover the entire wall in front of the annex. There is, then, a zip, in the centre of the ‘curtain’ to allow access to the annex behind. These are one of the least common accessories, and you will normally find them on the top shelf, at the end of the aisle, next to the hen’s teeth and bags of rocking horse manure. Personally, I think I have seen, probably, half a dozen of these in the last 3 or 4 years, so not the easiest of things to lay your hands on, unlike the main awning annex, itself, which tends to crop up at the rate of one or two a month.

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Same Sterling Awning Annex From The Inside, With Bed Pod Set Up, But No Dividing Curtain

Although a new annex will set you back a tad under £400, don’t expect to pay more than £200 for a second hand one. At the time of writing, there is one up for sale, on eBay, for £350. Whilst I have no doubt this will sell, probably best to ensure you are not the sucker that makes it happen, unless you have a significant and urgent need to acquire one.

Awning Roof Liner

When it comes to folding campers, this is something that was far more common within the Conway stable than the Pennine one, however, they do crop up very occasionally. Like awning annex curtains, they only tend to crop up at the rate of one or two a year, and prices tend to be around the £80 – £100 mark, although, like most second hand parts prices, this can be very subjective. The roof liner is little different from that in the main cabin, and attaches to the interior of the awning pole structure, where it not only looks much better, but, also, provides an additional thermal barrier, as well has helping to significantly reduce condensation.

Other Customisation

In addition to simply buying original extras and accessories for out unit, there are lots of ways we can customise it and ‘make it our own’ using simple DIY techniques and items that are readily available, to enhance the look of our camper, its functionality, or, indeed, both.

Whenever we are thinking of adding our own personal touches, we need to be aware of one or two considerations, in much the same way as we would with our home. If we are buying an older camper, for very little money, and we are planning on using it for a very long time, then there is absolutely no reason why we can’t do pretty much anything we like to really go to town on the customisation, as we are the ones who will get the pleasure out of it, and, also, if we paid very little for it, then we can’t really lose much on it.

If, on the other hand, we have paid a fair bit for our camper, and / or, we plan to use it for a relatively short time, prior to resale, then we may wish to keep any refurbishment work on a more neutral basis, in order to maximise sales potential. Most people like to put their own personal touches to their new purchase, and anything considered to be too extreme may prevent potential purchasers from doing so, thereby restricting resale potential.

The main options we will be looking at include;

  • Replacement flooring
  • Soft furnishings
  • Cabinet refurbishment
  • Electrical installations
  • Replacement lighting
  • Entertainment systems
  • Heating installation
  • Replacement decals

Replacement Flooring

One of the easiest, and most noticeable, ways to upgrade the interior of any camper is to replace the existing flooring. If the camper still has the original flooring, there’s a pretty good chance it will be showing its age. There are a number of options for upgrading the flooring, including carpets, carpet tiles, sheet lino, laminate planking and lino planking / lino tiles.

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The choice of flooring will be, largely, down to personal preference. Carpet may feel a little warmer, and softer underfoot, but vinyl is more practical, and easier to keep clean. My personal preference is for the vinyl planks, available from B & Q. These are available in ‘planks’ giving them a realistic look, when laid. They are self adhesive, and can be cut with scissors, making them extremely easy to install. They are, also, very cost effective, with an average four berth camper (such as the one above) costing around £20, and a six berth model coming in at around £30.

Soft Furnishings

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Matching Bedding Is Just One Of The Many Options To Enhance The Interior (Note, Also, The Dyed Bed Pods)

The generic term; ‘soft furnishings’ is wide reaching, and can be applied to many things, including curtains, cushions, bedding, roof liners and bed pods. For many, it will, simply, be a case of purchasing new scatter cushions and bedding.

For others, it may involve making new curtains or roof liners, or, perhaps, re covering existing seat cushions.

One of the more popular enhancements, recently, has been the dying of the bed pods, by many people.

Not only does this have the benefit of colour co-ordinating the bed pods, in line with the rest of the camper, but, also, it can be used to cover up any mildew spots or other marks, with the added benefit of darkening the pods, and helping to keep out unwanted light in the early hours of the morning.

Cabinet Refurbishment

Again, cabinet refurbishment can cover a number of things. The simplest of these is the replacement of cupboard / drawer handles, which is a quick, easy, low cost, and very effective way of providing a quality feel to the cabinet work.

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Unfortunately, some furnishings may be showing signs of use / age, and may well require a little more than just a couple of handles, to bring them back to their former glory. In this case, there are, probably, two particularly popular methods of achieving this. The first, and most obvious, is by painting the existing cabinets with a good quality, hard wearing paint, in order to avoid chips and dings from the inevitable every day use when away on holiday. The second method is by using Fablon to mask poor quality or damaged cabinets. This is particularly popular when applied to flat surfaces, such as tables and work tops, but I have seen entire interiors clad in this very useful material.

Electrical Installations

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Typical 240V Installation Kit

Many earlier models, from the 80’s and 90’s, particularly, came with 12V and 240V systems available only as an optional extra. These can be bought, separately, and retro fitted to any unit, although, for 240V systems, particularly, this is best undertaken by a qualified electrician.

In doing so, we open up the potential for a whole host of additional equipment including heating, lighting and entertainment items.

Replacement Lighting

Many older campers, which do have lighting installed, already, will, probably, have the traditional, and not overly inspiring, fluorescent lighting in place. These days there are some pretty cool LED lights available to replace there, which not only look great, but are, in the main, both brighter, and more efficient than their older cousins.

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As well as replacing the original lighting, many choose to install low level lighting under seats, cabinets, work tops and shelves. Often, these lights are colour changing, and, in many cases, operate by remote control.

Entertainment Systems

13413102_10154244031819530_1403507551973144789_nIt’s not that long ago that the height of audio visual entertainment was a car CD player installed in a cupboard, and a portable TV from the spare bedroom at home.

These days, everything is flat screen, HD and Bluetooth enabled, and many modern TVs look great when installed directly in the camper, with the added bonus of running on 12V.

In the image to the left, you can see a typical 12V TV / DVD installation. This TV is on a quick release bracket, to allow it to be removed for security, or for protection, when folding the camper away.

A simple Bluetooth speaker turns the average phone, tablet or ipod into a decent sound system, without the need to install speakers around the camper.

Heating Installations

These days, the camping period seems to be constantly extending, with more and more people spending Christmas and other Winter holidays away. Even during the ‘traditional’ holiday season, it can get pretty cold at night, so we may need a little extra heating, if the camper doesn’t have its own in built heating system (as many don’t).

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Typical Propex Gas / Mains Installation

One option is to, simply, use a free standing heater, like a fan heater, or convector heater, but these can be both intrusive, and a potential trip hazzard. Ideally, therefore, it would be nice to be able to install some form of in built heating, where possible.

For most of us, that means two main options. The first is the installation of a Propex style blown air heating system.

These are very effective, and have the advantage of being able to run on both mains electric and gas, however, cost can run into the hundreds of pounds, by the time they are installed, and, for many, that may be more than the cost of their camper.

Plinth HeaterA far more cost effective, and increasingly popular, method of heating is via a plinth heater, traditionally used in kitchens and bathrooms at home.

On the down side, these cannot be used on gas, limiting their benefit to sites with electric hookup, but with prices starting from around £55, they are becoming an increasingly popular option.

This particular one (to the left) is one I recently installed in my own Pathfinder. Remote controlled and compact, its position near the door allows it to heat the awning too.

Replacement Decals

Many of the options we have looked at have been internal modifications. One easy way of brightening the exterior of the camper is with replacement graphics.

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These can either be a direct replacement for the original decals, or customised to your personal preferences. There are plenty of companies around that will produce graphics, to your own design, for a very reasonable price.

Other Personalisation

The list of things we can do to personalise / enhance our camper is limited, only, by our own imaginations. Solar lighting, bunting, pictures, ornaments, pretty much anything we want to do to make the camper feel that little bit more like a home from home, whilst we are away.

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A Few Pictures And Personal Touches Never Go Amiss For That Homely Feel

A well looked after unit will last fifty years plus, with no problem, so it is perfectly feasible to buy a twenty year old unit, with many years of use left in it, for a few hundred pounds, and then spend as long as we want / need making it exactly how we want it to be. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

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What Breakdown Cover Do We Need When Towing

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Many of us would not consider travelling long distances without adequate breakdown cover, and that is, surely, even more relevant when we are towing.

The two main caravanning organisations; the Caravan Club and Camping & Caravanning Club both have their own in house, breakdown services available. The Caravan Club has its Mayday recovery package, provided by Green flag, whilst the Camping & Caravanning Club has its own Arrival breakdown cover, provided by the RAC, but how do they compare, and what are the key differences between these and the ‘standard’ caravan recovery packages provided by Green Flag, the RAC and AA?

The Caravan Club Mayday Recovery

This service is exclusively for members of the Caravan Club, and does appear to be extremely comprehensive. Features of this service include:

  • No size or weight restrictions apply and any combination of car and caravan / camper is covered.
  • Dual Recover is available on two out of three of the policy types. This means that, if you break down on the way to your holdiay destination, and your vehicle can’t be fixed, they will take you to your holiday destination and back home again
  • No additional charges for removal from soft or boggy ground
  • Misfuelling cover has, recently, been added, as standard, so, if you should put the wrong fuel in your vehicle (as I, myself, did a couple of months back) they will drain the tank and refill it with enough fuel to get you going again. This is a very worthwhile addition to the cover, as paying for this separately wont leave you with too much change from a couple of hundred pounds!
  • Rapid Response Pledge. If a technician fails to reach you within 1 hour, you can claim back £10. This is particularly good when you bear in mind their policy of sending out technicians to specific jobs, rather than having a fleet of vehicles scattered around the country and simply sending the nearest one to you.
  • Cover is provided for any driver in your vehicle.
  • Cover is provided 24/7, 365 days a year, regardless of whether or not you are towing. If you are, and your caravan / camper cannot be towed, then it will still be recovered on a low loader (top two levels of cover only).
  • There is an option to purchase additional services / cover, if you require. these include; Home Call, Personal Cover (you and your partner in any car), Additional Vehicle cover and Extra Care (which includes such benefits as accommodation expenses, free car recovery, and a chauffeur if the main / only driver is incapacitated).

Camping & Caravanning Club Arrival

As you would expect, Arrival is, also, pretty comprehensive, being designed to directly compete with the Mayday product. Again, you must be a member of the Camping & Caravanning Club, in order to take advantage of it. You can either sign up to the Club, and then take out the cover, or you can sign up, via the RAC web site, who will, then, include Club membership in the policy fee. The key features of this service are;

  • Arrival doesn’t specify ‘no size or weight restrictions’ as Mayday does, however, it does provide “cover for large units over 7.6 metres long or 2.3 metres in width”, which is, effectively, the same thing.
  • ‘Arrival Return’, like Mayday Dual Recover, ensures your holiday is not ruined before it starts. If your vehicle breaks down en route to your holiday destination, and they cannot repair it at the roadside, or a local garage, they will take you, your car and your caravan to the site and back home again.
  • Follow On Recovery is an additional feature, whereby, the technician will deliver your car to a designated garage for repair, and will then take your caravan to a separate destination, up to 75 miles away.
  • Re – Unite is another service provided, so that, if you are away from your camp site when your car breaks down, the RAC will take you back to the site, within a 75 mile radius, to collect your caravan, before taking you home.
  • The policy covers you for any UK camp site, at any time. If the caravan cannot be towed, then, like Mayday, it will be recovered on a flat bed truck. Optional European cover is, also, available.
  • Personal breakdown cover is also included, so you will be covered as a driver or passenger in any vehicle, whether towing or not.

Green Flag Breakdown Recovery

Green Flag provide the Mayday breakdown service for the Caravan club, but they also provide their own caravan cover. This ‘standard’ cover is part of their normal breakdown service, and is not, specifically, customised for the caravan user. Green Flag, currently, provide five different levels of service. For the purposes of this, we will look at their fourth level, and most popular, product, Recovery Plus (as the top product is identical, but with European cover included) The key features of Recovery Plus are as follows:

  • You are covered for any caravan / camper, up to a weight of 3.5 tonnes, a length of 7 metres (including A frame), height of 3 metres and width of 2.55 metres.
  • The policy includes onward travel, so if the car can’t be fixed there and then, they will arrange for a hire car, alternative transport, or accommodation. If you have to collect your car, at a later time / date, they will pay for a standard single rail fair to allow you to do so. They also provide a messaging service, to advise friends and family of the situation.
  • There are no additional charges for any specialist equipment required.
  • Misfuelling cover is, also, included, as standard.
  • Recovery is 24/7, 365 days of the year and is national. If you breakdown, they will take you to any single place in the UK (not multiple destinations for car and caravan / camper) however, if you break down at home, they will take you anywhere within a 20 mile radius, and this is further reduced to 10 miles, for flat or damaged tyres.
  • If recovery is outside normal working hours, and the vehicle is recovered to home, they will collect your vehicle on the following morning, and deliver it to the garage.
  • Personal cover is available, as an option. This covers you as the driver or passenger of any car provided the vehicle is under 16 years old. It also covers the vehicle registered under the policy, even if you are not in the car.

RAC Breakdown Recovery

The RAC appear to work on a much more modular system. Whilst this does give much greater flexibility in choosing exactly which services are best for you, selecting all of the main ones really seems to ramp the price up, unfortunately. In order to give a direct comparison, we are assuming that a couple of the ‘extras’ have been added on, including ‘Recovery’, ‘At Home Rescue’ and ‘Onward Travel’. If this is the case, then the features of this cover include:

  • Recovery of yourself, your car / caravan and up to 8 passengers to any single chosen destination, of your choice, in the UK. The key word there is ‘single’. They will recover you to one destination only, either home, or a garage, but not both. If you are recovered to a garage, then they will pay a taxi fare, of up to 20 miles, as long as a receipt is provided in support of that claim.
  • You are covered for any caravan / camper, up to a weight of 3.5 tonnes, a length of 7 metres (including A frame), height of 3 metres and width of 2.55 metres.
  • You can chose between covering the vehicle, in which case it is covered for any driver, or covering the person, in which case they are covered for any vehicle they are in. A personal policy can be single, joint, or family, for up to 5 family members.
  • As with all policies, this is a 24/7, 365 day a year cover.
  • At Home Rescue is, also, included, if that option is selected.
  • Note: Misfuelling cover is not included within any RAC breakdown cover.
  • The policy includes onward travel, again, if selected, so if the car can’t be fixed there and then, they will arrange for a hire car, alternative transport, or accommodation.
  • As already mentioned, the RAC system is very modular, and there are a number of bolt on additions. These include European Rescue (48 countries in continental Europe), Key Replace (up to £1,500 of cover), Battery Rescue (up to £600) and Garage Parts and Labour (up to £750).

One thing to watch, with RAC cover, is that, if you simply take out the totally standard ‘Roadside Rescue’ policy, they will attempt to fix your vehicle at the roadside, however, if they are unable to , you are only covered for a tow of up to 10 miles, to the nearest garage or place of safety. You are not covered for distances of any more than that.

AA Breakdown Cover

The last of the major players, the AA is the only organisation not linked to either the Caravan Club or the Camping & Caravanning Club. Consequently they do not have a dedicated caravan / camper policy, however, their overall level of cover is provided within the main vehicle breakdown cover, in exactly the same way as it is for the RAC. In fact, the level of cover is almost identical, as you would, probably, expect, so not really worth repeating here. Again, be very careful of the basic level of cover, which will only recover your vehicle a very short distance, to a local garage, unless you select the National Recovery option. The one area where the AA does differ, from both the RAC and Green Flag is in the size of units they will cover. They are restricted to 3.5 tonnes, like the others, however, there is no length or height restriction, only a width limit of 2.3 metres (as opposed to 2.55 metres for the RAC and Green Flag).

Summary

OK, so it appears we have two main options here. We either go for a dedicated caravan / camper policy through one of the main caravanning organisations (membership is obligatory, unfortunately, in order to do so) or we rely on our existing vehicle breakdown recovery policy, where applicable. So, based on the above, what are the main differences?

Well. It would appear that there are one or two significant benefits of going with a ‘specific’ policy. The first, and most obvious, of these is that a vehicle break down need not ruin our holiday. Both Mayday and Arrival will take you on to your camp site, and bring you home again. Of course, there is, always, the issue of travelling around, whilst on your holiday. It’s all well and good getting there, and setting up, but, if you are on a remote site, then you are going to need a vehicle. In this scenario, you can either hire a car, or, potentially, have your vehicle taken to a local garage, for repair. This might be the better option, if it can be repaired quickly, as, not only will you have your vehicle available for part of your holiday, but, also, for the return journey.

The second key advantage is that dedicated policies provide dual destination drops. This means that you can drop your car off at your chosen garage, and then travel on to home, with your caravan / camper, so that it does not have to be left at the garage with the car, which is, often, not the most secure option.

Thirdly, the Mayday and Arrival polices cover you for a breakdown of both your car and caravan, as standard. For most, if not all, ‘standard’ polices, the caravan is only covered insofar as it will be towed back for you, along with your car, if the car breaks down. If it is the caravan, itself, that is damaged, then you will not be recovered, nor will the caravan be repaired at the road side, unfortunately*.

The fourth advantage, which, admittedly, will not affect everyone, is that there are no size or weight restrictions on the dedicated policies, whereas standard vehicle breakdown cover only allows for units of 3.5 tonnes maximum weight, and a size of 7m long x 2.55m wide x 3m high.

The level of cover provided by both organisations is very similar. It is, perhaps, just worth mentioning that only Green Flag include misfuelling cover, as standard. The RAC and AA do not (The AA, for example, currently, charge £222 for members to use this service, if required, so having it included could be a real money saver). Because Green Flag provide the cover for Mayday, this does give it one clear advantage over Arrival, but, to be fair, everything else is pretty much like for like on each policy.

How Much Does It All Cost?

Cost is, of course, extremely subjective, and will depend on many things, plus, of course, not all cover will be exactly like for like. To give an idea of the sort of costs involved, and the level of cover provided, take a look at the table below (click on the table to enlarge):Breakdown Cover Comparison

Conclusion

Whilst it is always important to identify the cover most suited to our own, individual, needs, on the face of it, the best value and most comprehensive cover does seem to be that provided through Green Flag. They appear to offer the same basic level of cover as main competitors; the AA and RAC, with the added bonus of misfuelling cover, and all for a significantly lower cost. In fact, it is less than 50% of the cost of the other two, with the RAC coming out as the most expensive. This comparison continues to the Mayday and Arrival policies, with Mayday working out at exactly half the cost of Arrival**, based on the price comparison performed here, plus, being provided by Green Flag, Mayday has the added bonus of including misfuelling cover, as well.

Of course, it should be born in mind, as well, that, in order to take out either Mayday or Arrival cover, we must, first, take out membership of the Caravan club or Camping & Caravanning Club, respectively, with the additional costs involved. Interestingly, though, based on the costs reviewed here, it would appear that the cost of joining the Caravan Club (£48, currently) plus the cost of their Premium UK cover is, actually £1 less than taking out the RAC’s standard vehicle cover, on it’s own, so the conclusion here seems to be; if you want the cheapest policy, with a basic level of caravan / camper cover, then Green flag is the way to go. If you want the very best, all singing, all dancing cover, then Mayday would appear to be the best option, even if that means joining the Caravan Club in order to do so.

* – Since writing this article, both Green Flag and the AA have begun to recover caravans, even if it is the caravan that has broken down, provided it is attached to the car at the time the breakdown occurs.

** – The cost of the RAC Arrival policy is based on the inclusion of Onward Travel cover (in order to compare like with like). You could, of course, argue, that onward travel is unnecessary, as you, effectively have that already, if the policy includes transport to the site. If this option were not selected, the total Arrival cost would be reduced by £41, but, still £60 more than Mayday.

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Government Announces Cancellation Of Brewery Function, Due To Lack Of Organisation

Tape Measure

The Government were disappointed to announce that the p**s up they had planned in a local brewery has been cancelled, due to inadequate organisational resources.

The Gov.UK web site has, recently, received a subtle, but alarming update, which has caused massive concern amongst certain members of the caravan fraternity.

In the section of the site entitled; Towing With A Car, there is a sub section entitled; Width And Length. This has always read as follows:

“The maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres

The maximum length for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7 metres”

However, a couple of weeks ago, this was amended, with the simple addition of the sentence; “This includes the A-frame”.

Whilst not a major issue for those of us with a folding camper, this would render half of the new caravans, on the market today, illegal, if being towed with a ‘standard’ family car.

The Government web site is renowned for its inaccuracies, although it would be unusual, even for them, to take a previously ambiguous, but not incorrect statement, and to ‘clarify’ it by adding a sentence that makes it completely wrong.

Naturally, this immediately caused much concern, and debate, within the caravan fraternity, so I decided to try and establish the true position. Having failed dismally, in the past, in attempting to get any meaningful information from either VOSA or DVLA, I, initially, went direct to the Department for Transport, who had been extremely helpful (albeit not quickly) in the past.

On answering my call, the first operator advised me that it was nothing to do with them, and that I needed to speak to VOSA. I suspect that may be a fairly stock response, as she had the number right in front of her.

Another phone call, this time to VOSA. “Sorry. We only deal with HGVs, and similar. You need to speak to the DVLA”. (Again, the number was, immediately, to hand).

Phone call number three, to DVLA. “Sorry. We don’t deal with that. You need the DVSA. Here’s the number”.

By this point in time I was losing the will to live, so failed to pick up on the fact that the DVSA is, simply, the new name for VOSA, and, so, I was, once again, through to the same department I had spoken to on my second phone call. Sensing my frustration, I was put through to a very helpful gentleman (they do exist) who advised me that it was, definitely, DVLA, and that they would try and fob me off, but that I needed to speak to a Policy Advisor, as they would be able to clarify it for me. He said that I was not the first caller of the day, on this matter, and he had already discussed it with his Manager, and that, as far as they were concerned, the 7 metre rule included the A frame. He said that it didn’t include moveable draw bars on draw bar trailers, but it did include A frames on caravans, as they were fixed, and, therefore, an integral part of the caravan. OK. Not sounding too good, so far, but he did say that I should, really, speak to a policy officer at DVLA, in order to be 100% sure.

Phone call number 5, and I’m back on to the DVLA. “Sorry Sir. That’s not out department you need to speak to…” “No. I really don’t. What I need is to speak to a policy officer, if I could please”. (and I explained why).

After around 10 minutes, I was through to the Policy Advisors’ office, speaking to one of the Policy Advisors. She advised me that this had caused “much discussion” in the office, and that they were, all, unanimously, agreed that the 7 metres definitely included the A frame.

OK, so we now have a major conflict. The newly updated Gov.UK web site, the DVSA and the DVLA are all saying; Yes. It definitely includes the A frame. Everyone else (Caravan Club, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and the National Trailer and Towing Association, to name but three) is saying the opposite.

If the DVLA etc are correct, then this would wipe out the UK caravan industry in one go, a fact confirmed to me, by Kelly Henderson, Technical Advisor at the Caravan Club, when I spoke to her, yesterday. She further confirmed that the Caravan Club, along with the other major motoring / caravanning organisations have written to the Government, asking them to change their web site to; “This does not include the A frame”.

So. Another spate of confusion and chaos caused by the infamous Gov.UK web site. What the truth of the matter is, we have yet to discover. Is it that the 7 metre length genuinely does include the A frame, and the Government have waited until now to clarify it on their web site, or is it yet another error on a site that so many people are supposed to rely on?

Both the DVSA and the DVLA advised me, in no uncertain terms that it DOES include the A frame, but are they (as one DVLA employee implied to me last year) no longer receiving the training they once were, and are they now relying more and more on the, inherently flawed, Gov.UK web site for their answers?

The final outcome remains to be seen. Even if this ‘law’ is genuine, I can’t see it being enforceable, as it would render half the modern family caravans on the road illegal, so, more than likely, it is another error on the Government web site, that is, perhaps, we might speculate, being relied upon a little too heavily by its own employees.

I, for one, will be watching the Gov.UK web site very closely, to see if the “This includes the A-frame” comment remains in place, or if it is either amended or removed.  Either way, I suspect it will be a while before the local brewery receives any firm bookings from our friends at the Government.

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Digital Copies Of All Pennine Sales Brochures Now Available To Download

2001 To 2002 Brochure Cover

With huge thanks to Julie and Nick, at Pennine Outdoor Leisure, we have, now, been able to upload all available copies of the Pennine sales brochures from the first ever Alpine brochure, circa 1978, to the current 2016 brochure, and everything in between.

Not sure of the exact sizes, weights or specifications of your model, or just want to have a look at how it has developed over the years? This is the place to look.

The vast majority of these documents have not been, previously, available, anywhere, online, and we are extremely grateful to the company for sharing them with us.

These are just the sales brochures we have obtained. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to upload more flyers, manuals and instructions for the various Pennine and Conway models, and, as always, if you have something that we don’t, we would be very happy to hear from you.

Feel free to check them out here; Pennine Document Downloads

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