Thursday, 20 November 2008

Room to Roam?

The following article is courtesy of "RAC World Autumn/Winter 08/09:

Caravan and motorhome sales are booming in the UK, so what's the attraction of a "box-on-wheels? Road Hog Jeremy Taylor finds out.

"Some, and its only a matter of opinion of course, accuse them of being big, white and ugly. Yet there must be something about motorhomes. Why else, last year, did thousands of families fork out up to £60,000 on one?

Despite being the butt of endless jokes and despite leaving frustrated road users cursing in their wake, sales of both caravans and camper vans are soaring, reaching an all-time high of 11,646 new motorhomes sold in 2007. Add to that the 69,000 caravans snapped up in the same year and you begin to get some idea of their popularity.

If you, like me, think that figure doesn't sound too alarming, consider this: experts say there are now a staggering 141,000 motorhomes registered on UK roads and the Caravan Club has one million members. That's enough to bring the highway network grinding to a halt behind a barricade of net curtains and swirly patterned upholstery.

But surely those thousands of owners can't be wrong? After all, younger buyers are the driving force behind the latest boom. Go slow thirty-somethings are now the target audience for manufacturers, who tempt them with trendy interiors and flatscreen TVs. The rising price of air travel and a fear of being "packaged" on holiday are also key selling points. Whether it's the Glastonbury Festival or Le Mans, a camper van makes the perfect getaway vehicle for weekend events too.

Still not convinced? Famous motorhome owners who have caught the bug include radio presenter Jeremy Vine, Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, singer Jay Kind and Steve McFadden, aka Eastenders' tough guy PhillMitchell. Even Robbie Williams has succumbed, according to the Motorhome Information Service "With everything on board, a motorhome takes you closer to the action" reckons spokeswoman Ruth de Mierre. "They're powerful vehicles, with turbo-diesel engines, giving decent fuel consumption as well as on-the-road performance. It's a "living" vehicle for people who enjoy living in style, any time, any place".

If you can beat them, join them. Which is why I'm writing this from the luxury "lounge" of my £40,000 Auto-Sleeper Sigma EK. Based on a Peugeot chassis, it's a popular mid-price model for four people. For that sort of money I could have bought a Porsche Boxster or three months of pampering at the Dorchester.

I should point out that I did once own a truly trendy VW Split Screen Camper, the same as chef Jamie Oliver's It was cool, whilst the Sigma, for all its luxuries, still looks like it's only missing a giant slot on the front for washing powder.

However, parked up on an Oxfordshire campsite, I'm already beginning to see why it's so easy to become a van fan. For starters, there's a distinct lack of naff cloth and loads of space for a family. It's ridiculously easy to drive, and apart from almost ripping the roof off under a low country bridge, very manoeuverable. If you are used to reversing a supermini, and not a 21 ft monster like this, parking sensors are an option.

The standard 2.2 litre engine can be upgraded to a 3 litre, so the quieter engine won't annoy every other holidaymaker who is facing an uncertain night ahead in a B&B. Cruise control, air conditioning and different upholstery are also available.

What you can't rush in your home on wheels is reading the instruction book. Just like a new tent, trying to convert the inward-facing seats into a double bed and fathoming the electric system will have you cursing, if left to the last minutes (AP comment: hope you are heeding this, Mrs Edwina Curry).

The Sigma sports a bed above the driver's cab, which your kids will love, There's even a net to stop them landing on top of you in the night. And, if the thought of waking up in a remote field is worrying, this model has a full kitchen, shower and electric flush toilet. Perhaps, more importantly, if you don't like the view from the window or your fellow camping pals prove noisy in the night, it only take a few minutes to cook a full English breakfast, pack up and move on. And that's the best reason to buy a camper van: freedom. If only they didn't paint them all white, then perhaps we would see even more on the road ....

Statistics courtesy of the Motorhome Information Service."
Above image: Camping on the beach at Muasdale Touring Park, Kintyre, Scotland
Copyright 2008


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Heage Windmill, Heage, Derbyshire

Whilst on a girlie weekend at The Firs - the latest new Caravan Club site in Derbyshire, we walked to Heage Windmill and were literally blown away by what we saw. The history of the place is fascinating and to see a working windmill in full sale is just amazing. Dogs were not allowed, so the Miller (in full costume) kindly agreed to look after Holly whilst we had a tour round the mill.

The following article is summarised from Heage Windmill's website. For the complete version, see web link at the end of this article.

"Heage Windmill is situated between the villages of Heage and Nether Heage in Derbyshire. It is a Grade II listed tower mill with six sails and fan tail and built of local sandstone and is over two hundred years old. Standing on the brow of a hill it overlooks the village of Nether Heage like a silent sentinel. The squat stone built tower is 24 feet in diameter and has a stone plaque by the entrance door marked “WSM 1850”, - the significance of which is not clear. The mill is built on a small mound and an entrance below could have enabled carts to back right into the building for loading and unloading. The first indication of the mill is in an advertisement for a tradesman in the Derby Mercury of 16th June 1791.

Tower mills were called smock mills in Derbyshire. There was a small stone building, built some years after the mill itself, alongside the mill which was used as the kiln. The roof of this later fell in and for a long time only the shell remained. This has now been restored and turned into the Visitor Centre. A kiln was often used to dry grain before it was ground into flour or oatmeal. A photograph dated before 1890 shows the mill with two common and two spring sales, a black ogee cap and a fantail which had 14 slim blades. It operated in this form until February 1894 when the mill was tail winded and the cap and four sails were blown off in a violent storm. A photograph in the Visitors Centre shows a man, presumably the miller, standing on the wreckage of the sails in front of the mill and the brake wheel protrudes from the top of the tower. When the rebuilding commenced it was decided to replace the four sails with six patent sails, presumably to obtain more power, although in other respects the mill was externally similar.

In the cellar below the mill there are four brick columns which were added about 1910 to strengthen the foundations of the mill, and the mill continued to be in regular use until 1919 and worked in conjunction with the nearby water and steam mills. However, in 1919 the fan tail was severely damaged in a gale, most of the blades being lost. The damage was serious and the mill closed down. She (windmills are always referred to as "she") became almost derelict, drawings and photographs in the 1930’s showing her with sail bars hanging down in a totally neglected manner.

The mill was struck by lightning in 1961 and a photograph taken in 1967 shows only the remnants of the sails and a stub where the fan tail and its staging had been. A preservation order was placed upon the mill by Derbyshire County Council who bought the mill for £350 and the mill was then listed "grade II*" on the 27th May 1966.

Over the next few years restoration work was carried out by the millwrights Thompsons of Alford in Lincolnshire and new floors, sails, cap and fan tail were made. New sails were hoisted on the 15th March 1972 and the fan tail was lifted into place three days later. The mill is still in the care of Derbyshire County Council and in 1993 it was necessary to replace the large wooden brake wheel, since the sails broke free in high winds, despite having no shutters, and smashed up the old gear wheel. In 1997 she was struck by lightning, fortunately without serious damage, and a lightning conductor has now been fitted. Some of the sail stocks and sheers (major support beams) had been recently replaced by Derbyshire County Council but full restoration work began in earnest in September 2000 and continued until May 2002. The working mill finally opened to the public on 1st June 2002.

Unfortunately during much of 2005 our six sailer only had four sails! We found we had wood rot in two of them during the winter maintenance work and, for safety reasons, removed them. New ones, which cost about £20 000, have been obtained and recently fitted to the mill , just in time for the start of the new season. Fortunately a six sailer can still operate quite well with four, three or even two sails, albeit with somewhat less power.

The new sails arrived from Boston and after some preparatory work were ready for lifting into position. The crane was ordered, and arrived on time, and so did the press – but also so did the wind! The wind was so strong that it was decided for safety reasons to delay operations until March 31st. Although still breezy it was much less gusty and within three hours both sails were back in place and the mill worked again with her full complement of six sails – just the day before we re-opened to the public.

Everyone who has contributed in any way to make all this work possible has to be thanked – perhaps many times over. Without these efforts the mill could so easily return to the decayed state it was in a few years ago"

Full information about Heage Windmill can be found at

Photograph above courtesy of Heage Windmill

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