The year’s first camping trip

The Auto-Sleepers Gloucester at Mercedes-Benz World

The Auto-Sleepers Gloucester at Mercedes-Benz World

If you have a penchant for fine motoring allied with a slight tendency to jealously, may I respectfully suggest you move to another blog post now? Partly because if my first test of the year were a stick of rock it would have ‘Mercedes-Benz’ printed through it.

It began with the delivery of the fabulous Auto-Sleepers Gloucester motorhome, built on a Mercedes chassis. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for a well-specified vehicle that’s a joy to drive – and supremely comfortable to live in – you’ll be hard pushed to better the Gloucester. You can find out more in March’s issue of Camping & Caravanning.

Since it was still the school holidays, I enjoyed my daughter’s company on the trip down south. We spent a great evening on site, putting the Gloucester’s Avtex TV/DVD player through its paces with a five-series box set of The Big Bang Theory.

It was an early start the next morning, as we planned to get to Mercedes-Benz World by 8.30. My invitation included the words: “first-come, first-served” and we didn’t want to miss a moment…

So on one of the first working days of the year, at the time when I’d normally be powering up my Mac in the office and on a school day Sabrina would be in a maths lesson, we were test driving a Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG SPORT down the A3 towards Guildford with the hood down. The fact that the map suggested we should have been travelling in the opposite direction suddenly didn’t seem all that important…

It was a great day’s driving and Sabrina took the chance to get behind the wheel as well – both on the off-road track and elsewhere – with instructors from the Mercedes-Benz DrivingAcademy.

Sabrina takes to the wheel

Sabrina takes to the wheel

And before we left I took the motorhome on part of the famous banked track at Brooklands. I may only have reached about 2 miles per hour – but it was a privilege to use even a short section of track that saw so many incredible drives and record-breaking attempts in the early 20th century.

Here’s to plenty more great testing in 2013!

First posted on The Camping and Caravanning Club’s blog – dated 9 Jan 2013


A Day Van that lives up to its name

I’ve just said a sad farewell to an Auto Campers Classic Day Van – a small campervan I’ve been looking forward to testing since I saw the prototype at the Boat and Caravan Show in Birmingham back in February. Unfortunately circumstances meant my colleague Iain Geddes did the full test last weekend and I only managed to take it home for one evening.

Nevertheless, it still strikes me as a van that’s been designed by someone who understands what’s needed in a unit to use every day. It’s the little things that make it, such as the diesel two-ring hob that doesn’t rattle when you’re driving around town. Using diesel also means you don’t have to worry about turning off the gas before you drive off and you’re welcome in the Channel Tunnel, so why don’t more converters use it?

The Day Van in the November sunshine

The Day Van is based on a Ford Transit and you know you’re driving a diesel van from the engine note. And there are slightly fewer creature comforts than in a VW T5, for example. Nevertheless the price differential is considerable. Day Van prices start at less than £25,000 while the cheapest VW California comes in at more than £42,000.

To be honest, it’s a relief to drive a campervan where the handbrake is in a sensible place. However many times I drive a Fiat Ducato conversion I struggle with the parking brake on the right-hand side. I find I need to do an orang-utan impression to reach it. The Transit conversion also looks like a standard white van from the front (apart from the awning on the offside) so people on the road tend to treat you as a ‘white van man’ at first glance – which gives a certain sense of power for someone who normally drives a supermini.

The living space in the Day Van is sleek and functional. It looks as if it would be easy to keep clean, with the furniture being made of polypropylene. I managed a whole evening and morning without bashing myself on any of the interior. I can’t remember the last time I achieved that in a small motorhome. There’s plenty of space for luggage and room for four to travel in comfort, with all the passengers having loads of leg room, not to mention a massive ‘boot’ space behind the rear passenger seats.

For the full test report you’ll need to wait for Iain’s feature in February’s issue of Camping & Caravanning, when there should be some decent pictures too. Unfortunately I only had my phone to hand during my short trial.

It would be great to try this van again in the summer – opening the sliding door to use the kitchen from outside and sitting under the awning. I wonder if Roy Woods Transits will let it out again in 2012? Here’s hoping…

What to do with rose hips

We’ve had a bumper crop of rose hips this year. Or to put it another way, after being oblivious to their existence for ten years, we’ve suddenly got a harvest.

I don't think we're alone in having a bumper crop this year

I put out a tweet (via @creva) asking if anyone had any ideas of what to do with them and there have been several useful responses. Here are a couple:

@YasmineHamid suggested “rosehip syrup makes a great hot drink. rosehip and apple jelly is nice.” Yasmine has some impressive foraging pictures on her blog (Muddytracks) so I feel she speaks with authority!

Yasmine and @baz_carter (another blogger – Baz’s backpacking blog) both recommend Richard Mabey’s Food for Free. I’ve ordered one this afternoon.

One other vital piece of information. Apparently the hairy seeds inside the hips make great itching powder. Haven’t tested this out yet.

Outwell Camper Lux mocca sleeping bag

It took a while to admit it in public, but I’ve finally come out to the world. I don’t like mummy-shaped sleeping bags.

The Outwell Camper Lux in situ (in a motorhome...)

When I dare to mention this to others, I find I’m not alone. Although I (and some friends and colleagues) like the idea of hi-tech ‘I can camp anywhere in any weather’ kit, when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep on an ordinary British campsite, you can’t beat the foot space in a traditional rectangular bag.

The argument for the mummy-shaped bag is that the lack of airspace round your feet keeps the heat in better than a spacious bag. However, the Outwell Camper Lux sleeping bag is definitely warm and I love its shape. In the coldest of winters it’s not going to do the job of a mummy-shaped four- or five-season bag, but it’s said to be comfortable down to 3C and will keep you alive to -18C, so it should be fine for the standard camping season in the UK.

The bag itself is lovely and wide with its own pillow in the hood section, though I needed to supplement this with an extra layer for comfort because the pillow was quite low. The hood can be removed if you don’t need it to keep your head warm. If you take it off, the whole bag can be unzipped to form a duvet. I only had one on test, but I’m told that if you have two Camper Lux sleeping bags they can be zipped together to form a double, assuming you buy one with a  right-hand zip and the other with a left-hand one.

The baffle behind the zip is helpful for keeping out draughts but crinkles when you move it – I’m not quite sure why!.

Inside is a soft brushed-cotton layer that’s really comfortable. Even on the warmer nights I didn’t feel unpleasantly hot. In my ‘mocca’ bag the liner boasts brown, green and blue stripes, which would match Outwell’s 2011 AvantGuarde tent inners, but it works perfectly well in a caravan or motorhome.  I hope Clive from Outwell will forgive me for daring to photograph it in a wheeled unit rather than under canvas… If you prefer green to brown, the same sleeping bag also comes in ‘lime’, again with a striped lining.

I was going to say the Camper Lux went back into its storage bag very easily. And compared with recent attempts to get mummy-shaped bags into stuff sacks it was a piece of cake. However, I didn’t quite fold the bag carefully enough to match its neat cuboid carrier at first. The storage bag zipped up perfectly at the start but I had some difficulty at the top, with the hood tucked in. I managed in the end but when I put it back into the car boot alongside my daughter’s backpacking sleeping bag it became clear it’s not a lightweight piece of kit. Its packed size is 48cm x 42cm x 25cm – nearly 18 inches square and a foot deep. Nevertheless Outwell thoughtfully provides a carrying handle for convenience.

The Camper Lux is a good-sized comfortable sleeping bag that I can highly recommend for a good night’s sleep. And you can get one online for less than £50 at the moment – a bargain!

Sprayway Dash Hoody (2330)

I received this just as the riots broke out in London, so it wasn’t, perhaps, the best time to be testing a ‘hoody’.  Nevertheless, I decided the windy beaches of Cornwall and our annual family holiday were far enough from the troubles to get away with it…

The aim of the holiday was partly to enjoy bodyboarding (courtesy of the brilliant Rob Barber’s Bodyboarding School), but realistically I’m not going to spend as much time in the water as my husband and teenage daughter – for whom competitive marine activity is an important part of relationship building. As a result, I enjoy time on the beach with a good book. However, the wind chill on Cornwall’s north coast often means I’m huddled into coat and hat, the latter to keep the wind out of my ears.

Modelling the Dash Hoody

Owen at Sprayway suggested this Dash Hoody could be the perfect ‘post boarding cover up’ and I’m inclined to agree.

Previous hooded jackets have cords that should keep the hood over my head but generally don’t. The zip on this Dash Hoody goes right up to my chin, keeping my ears safely covered without the need for a cord to close it. I really appreciated this as it made the hood-wearing so much more practical and comfortable, even in a cliff-top wind. Admittedly, the family didn’t disguise the smirks when I put the hood up on our first afternoon on a cliff top at Tintagel, but I had the last laugh because there was a biting wind and it offered excellent protection.

The hoody is also carefully shaped, cleverly avoiding the ‘mother in a sack’ look that normally occurs when ladies of my age try such clothing.

I also appreciated the zipped pockets, keeping my phone safe on our leisurely walks along the South West Coast Path (the only place I could get any reception…).

I wouldn’t normally choose a manmade fabric over a cotton sweatshirt, but I was won over by this. It’s a wicking fabric and it really worked on the cliffs where it can be bracing in the wind one moment and baking hot the next, depending on the shelter available.

The label reads: “The material is soft and smooth on the skin <which I can vouch for>, non-allergic and does not product <sic> irritating rustling noises and is easy to care for.” I love the idea that I might choose an outer layer of clothing based on the quality of sound it produces. But now I think about it, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be a vital criterion for all future garment purchases.

Another concern I had was the washing instructions. The label instructs you to use ‘pure soap flakes’ in a 30C delicates machine wash. I’m afraid I don’t have washing-machine-ready pure soap flakes at hand, so I had to use my normal own-brand non-bio ‘green’ laundry liquid. Fortunately it’s survived its first wash well. The inward-facing fleece is still lovely and soft and it doesn’t seem to have lost its shape.  I’ll try to remember to update this after a few more washes and see how it fares.

And fortunately, it’s clearly outdoor wear, hence avoiding the chance that I might be locked away as a hooligan…

Still don't know why the family laughed...

Starting out

As Test Editor for Camping & Caravanning magazine I have the opportunity to test some great products. Unfortunately, pressure of space means I normally don’t manage to write them up as fully as I’d like.

The aim of this blog is to begin to put this right.

Let’s see how it goes…