Monday, 22 December 2008

Winter Camping at Chatsworth House Caravan Club Site

Winter camping at it's best has to be at Chatsworth Caravan Club site, near Bakewell, Derbyshire.

Camping in November in minus temperatures isn't everyone's idea of fun, but as long as you are not in a tent, what's the problem?

This site was closed this year until until summer for a re-vamp, and as far as we can tell, the only changes are a brand new shower/toilet block, which is FANTASTIC, the reassuringly high standard of facilities you always get with the Caravan Club, and improved hard standings.

This site is incredibly popular, and bookings need to be made months in advance. It's open all year round, (all pitches are hard-standing with hook-up) and was fully booked in the middle of November. Not a spare pitch to be had. And no wonder. The location is just amazing. Set in a walled garden, find the secret gate and you are straight in the grounds of Chatsworth House. From there a 10 minute stroll, slightly uphill, takes you to the house, shops, courtyard and gardens. A 25 minute flat walk alongside the river takes you to the Carlton Lees Garden Centre, and there are many more walks available on the estate and surrounding villages. The village of Baslow is a 15 minute flat walk, with pubs and a great restaurant (take a torch for walking back and remember your key to the secret gate!)

Points to be aware of: the children's play area is pretty small, bikes are not allowed on the Chatsworth Estate (but you can cycle from the site into Baslow and beyond), and the entrance road to the site is very long and narrow (with passing places). The wardens are VERY STRICT about access times, which, out of necessity, has to be properly managed. Strictly no arrivals are permitted before 1 pm and pitches have to be vacated by 12 noon. No exceptions. But this makes sense, as we would not want to meet another 'van on entry or exit.

To stay on this site, book early, pack your Barbour and Hunter wellies and live like a Lord or Lady for the few days you are there.

Image above: November sunrise, Chatsworth House Caravan Club Site, November 2008
Copyright, 2008

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Monday, 8 December 2008

Thank Goodness for the RAC

In twenty-odd years of driving, I have never broken down. Until last Sunday night, on the A42, on a wet and freezing cold winter's night.

The Golf had made a squeaking noise for a few days, but I put it down to the damp weather, and made a mental note to get it booked in.

I'd met a friend at the NEC for an enjoyable day out an exhibition, and we'd travelled there separately. "Safe driving" she shouted as we parted in the pouring rain at North 2 car park, and indeed all was fine until about 15 minutes later, trying to find my way onto the M42, when the computer screen flashed "Warning - Alternator". There was nowhere to stop, I didn't know where I was, and something awful had happened to the steering - I could hardly steer the car. I kept going, fighting to steer and got onto the M42. After a few more miles, arms exhausted, mouth dry, and lights getting dimmer, every light on the dashboard came on, the wipers stopped and that was it. Hard shoulder for me.

I'd got the RAC's phone number in my mobile phone, which WAS fully charged up (I was a Girl Guide and their motto "Be Prepared" has always stuck with me) and I'd got plenty of warm waterproof clothing. But this was my first experience of a breakdown and I didn't really know what to do.

The gentleman at the RAC breakdown centre was brilliant. I'd to walk carefully to the nearest white marker post and give him the number. Someone would be with me within 30 minutes and the Highway Patrol would be alerted as well. I was put through to a recording which told me how to stay safe in the interim. I had to get out of the car and find somewhere safe to wait. Pretty difficult on the A42.

Within 10 minutes I saw the orange lights of the breakdown vehicle and the friendly RAC man soon assessed the problem and fitted a temporary battery. "I need you to drive to Measham Services, where we'll load you onto the trailer and tow you home. Build your speed to 50 mph on the hard shoulder then pull out. Your power steering has gone, but you should be OK. I'll stay behind and protect you. Stop at any time if you need to". OK, I'll give it a go I thought, but I'll never, ever, take power steering for granted again.

At Measham, a magic trailer appeared out of the back of the breakdown van, the Golf was loaded and off we set for home. During the 2 hour delay on the A42 due to accidents, I heard all about what it's like being a breakdown man and some amazing tales of other people's breakdowns. Fascinating. In response to my question "What on earth makes someone want to do this job on a night like this???" the response was "I love it - I absolutely love it!" - and I believed him.

The next day, I had to get the car to the VW garage, and was advised to ring the RAC for an onward tow. Not only that, they also took me to work afterwards. How good is that? The garage diagnosed a broken alternator pulley, which was quickly repaired at a reasonable cost.

We see the AA and RAC trucks on the roads regularly, but never stop to think about what an incredible service these individuals offer at a very vulnerable and frightening time. So thank you Steve and Brad for your help, humour. patience and amusing stories. And thank you RAC for such a brilliant service. I'll never grumble about the price of renewal ever again.