“I want an adventure” I cried one day when I should have known better.
Almost everyone we talk to has been suffering from cabin fever and the frustration of plans being scuppered. It’s the common story of Covid. Most motorhomers that we know have looked at their pride and joy with a mixture of longing and frustration, wishing they could drive off into the sunshine without a care in the world. Getting our new to us Hymer last year brought a whole new dimension to this peculiar situation because we thought we could easily get it into tip top condition during these enforced limitations and then, when it was all ready, fly free.
Anyone that owns a motorhome or a caravan knows the feeling when you feel relaxed the second you walk into it. That wonderful feeling only comes when it has been properly worn in, like comfortable shoes and it contains the good energy you get from a few relaxing trips. Heidi hasn’t got there yet but we’re working on it.
Making Heidi Ours
Heidi the Hymer has now had a new clutch, new blinds and repaired cab aircon (all of these courtesy of Cleveland Motorhome’s brilliant warranty). She has also had a new fridge fitted, a new washbasin and a new rear view monitor. There will soon be a new stereo bluetooth radio fitted as a special birthday present to me from the family and we’re starting to feel like she’s ours. We hoped that the final job, for now at least, would be to get her upholstery refurbished by the incredible Reluxe by Premier Furnishings in Ilkeston Derbyshire. We were desperate for some adventure and a trip to Ilkeston and new upholstery followed by a visit to our friends Jann and Pat in Norfolk sounded like just the ticket. Little did we know that it was going to be a lot more adventure than we planned. Read on for the full story …
Getting the Reluxe Treatment
Reluxe at Premier Furnishings have thoughtfully organised their service so that motorhomes can stay on site at night and then, during the day when the work is actually happening, they lend customers a car so that they can have days out in the local area. Having work done there is a real treat. A very personalised service begins with a discussion about the look and feel you want to achieve in your van. Great advice is given about colours and shapes and any concerns are taken into account. Our van had been previously reupholstered by an unknown company and it hadn’t been done well. The cushions didn’t fit properly and they were uncomfortable. Jemma discussed the different options with us and took her time making sure it would be exactly as we wanted it. This is the second van we have had refurbished here so we were absolutely confident that it would look great when it was finished. On this occasion we chose not to stay over in their yard because we were bringing little Poppy with us and it was January. If it had just been the two of us we would have happily spent a lot of time in coffee shops and indoor attractions. With a dog this is harder to manage so we hit on the idea of staying in a local holiday cottage for two nights. Stag Cottage is just a short drive away and we can thoroughly recommend it. It is a one bedroom newly refurbished cottage with a wood burning stove. What could be nicer? We loved it, especially cosy evenings in front of the fire and lovely dog walks watching the sunrise. A very generous breakfast hamper was also supplied. Just fabulous.
On Wednesday we left the cottage and had a delightful tour, strolling through Matlock Bath with Poppy then stopping off in Matlock itself for coffee. Here we shared a small Bakewell tart – it would have been rude not to as we were just 8 miles away from Bakewell itself. Getting back to Premier we were given coffee while we waited for the big reveal. We were as excited as kids on Christmas Eve and when we saw it we were blown away by the new look. They had completely transformed the van and as an extra special touch they had made a new personalised bed for Poppy to match the upholstery. I kept asking them if they were sure it was our van.
After all the thanks and photo calls we decided it was too late to set off to our next destination so we arranged to stay overnight in their yard. We got out the blocks and made the van completely level before settling down for a quiet evening. Shortly afterwards the gates were all locked and we bid the lovely staff goodnight. Not ten minutes later we heard a shout from beyond the boundary wall. A couple who had brought in their motorhome had gone out for a walk and missed the gates being locked. Eventually they found a way over the wall (wish we’d seen that. it’s not a low wall). Trying not to laugh we made them a cup of tea and sat for a while chatting about the motorhoming life.
A bang and a whimper
That night we fell into a deep sleep only to be woken up half an hour later by a huge bang and a shudder from the motorhome. We honestly thought something had driven into us, before realising there was no way that could have happened. Out I hopped wearing my huge oversized hoody and PJs and carrying a torch, trying to look butch and scary. There was absolutely nothing to see. In our half asleep state we decided that a passing kid had lobbed something over the wall and hit us so I went out again to look for damage. Still nothing to see. We slept an uneasy sleep for a few hours before getting up and getting the van ready to go. All hatches battened down and Poppy harnessed on her seat and we were off. We made it about ten yards before we heard the most awful groaning, rumbling sound coming from the front offside. We stopped – naturally – then tried again. More grinding rumbling sounds. It was clear we couldn’t drive on so we called the AA. We have a Relay Plus rescue package with our van insurance and at that moment we were so relieved we had. Somehow we managed to get the van back into its original position so that work at Premier could continue unhindered and waited. Forty five minutes later an AA van turned up and the mechanic shone his torch under the van. He saw straight away what was wrong. The front coil spring had snapped – so that explained the bang in the night, no need for me to rush outside looking fierce after all. The AA man made a couple of calls then delivered his bad news. “I’m really sorry, your van is too big for us to rescue. We only move vehicles up to 3 tons”
Having delivered that bombshell he left and we looked at one another. What were we going to do? Eventually it dawned on us that we had bought the policy with our van insurance and they must have known that we were more than three tons so I called them fully prepared to get assertive. Safeguard insurance were onto it straight away, reassuring us that we were indeed covered and phoning the AA on our behalf. Before long we received an apologetic call from the AA who promised that they would bring in a 12 ton low loader to take us to the repair garage. Unfortunately such big low loaders are in short supply so we waited about four hours for the truck to arrive. The repair garage was less than two miles away but the task of putting our big van on the low loader was a long laborious process. We stood watching it happen and marvelled at the whole event until the driver wandered over and asked, “OK, who is feeling brave?” Seeing as I hadn’t needed my big girl’s pants despite my willingness to take on the mythical object throwers the night before, or indeed to fight our corner with the insurers, I felt ready for the task – except I didn’t know what he wanted me to do. He got me into the van and asked me to start the engine then informed me that I had to steer it onto the back of the low loader while the winch pulled the van and he waved his arms to direct me. I can’t tell you how scary this was – the winch gave me no control except to direct the wheels and the van only just fitted. One wrong move and I would have toppled off with 4.5 tons of van. Once up at the front of the low loader on steep blocks the driver got the winch to pull it forward until it was on tight. This caused loud noises and shudders and I wobbled about in my seat wondering what the hell was going to happen next.
Suddenly he gave me the thumbs up and I encountered the next challenge. I had to step out into fresh air as I was now on the edge of the flat bed and raised in the air. Shirley shouted to put the steps out and then held out her arms to help me down. By the time we were invited to get into the truck I was all of a wobble. Driving to the garage we were cheerfully informed by the driver that instead of a truckers’ sat nav he used Google maps that gave him no information about low bridges. Right at that moment we came up to a bridge with a height of 14 ft 6in. Given that our van is 10 feet tall and it was on the back of a truck we were terrified. He drove through cheerfully telling us he wasn’t sure we would make it but somehow we did. “Oh that’s a relief”, he announced, “I thought I might be going to give you a sun roof.” What? Finally we were deposited at TRS Repairs in Ilkeston and our rescuer left, giving us a cheery wave.
As well as rescue, the AA had promised us a hire car as part of the Relay Plus service. In the midst of all the other events of the day we had received a call from Enterprise Car Hire to tell us that they didn’t actually have a car for us to rent. So, on arrival at the garage I called the AA again to ask for assistance. I was left hanging for about 20 minutes until a helpful operator finally answered and listened to my tale of woe. He was suitably outraged on our behalf and told me that if Enterprise couldn’t supply the necessary car they would have to provide taxi service. I pointed out to him that we were going to Norwich for the weekend so it would be a very long and expensive taxi ride but he just said, “That’s their problem” and told me that we would hear something soon. At this point we called our friends Jann and Pat who were expecting us for the weekend to tell them that there may be a delay. When they heard what the AA man had said they remarked, “They’ll find you a car now for sure.” An hour later Enterprise rang to tell us that they had a car for us. Enough said.
Shirley got a taxi to the Enterprise office in Derby while I got the van ready for another night on a forecourt – this time at TRS services. They had promised to get the van fixed as quickly as possible and invited us to stay on site until the morning when we could drive on in the hire car in daylight. We were suitably impressed by their kindness and prompt action, given that they were very busy and we had literally appeared on the back of a low loader with little notice. Once again we settled down for the night behind a pair of locked security gates but this time there were no unexpected noises to wake us up… oh except for a strange gurgling noise coming from the bathroom tap. The damned thing had started leaking and getting up in the night for a pee meant stepping into a puddle on the bathroom floor – please note this puddle was not of our making. Fortunately our bathroom is all made of waterproof plastic type material so no harm came from the leak except perhaps to our moods that were already going downhill.
Wymondham, a safe haven
Our weekend in Norfolk with friends was an absolute delight. What a perfect way to spend a few days while waiting to get the van fixed. We slept in a big comfortable bed and were treated to lovely food and lots of chat and laughter.
Truly the best medicine – I promised to give them a 5 star review when we left so, Jann and Pat, here it is! Wymondham (pronounced Windem) is a very pretty town with lots of interesting shops, a beautiful Abbey and lovely walks. It has a small campsite (Caravan Club CL) that is not open in winter but from March onwards you can book in. We took a walk to check it out and it looked splendid. It is set on a farm with a café and shop that sells fresh eggs yet very close to the Abbey and the town centre. We’re planning to go back there one summer. Wymondham is close to Norwich, which is a fascinating historic town and, if you fancy a visit, it has a campsite close to the city centre. Whilst there we had a day out with lunch at the seaside in Sheringham and a drive down the coast road. Norfolk is a beautiful county and this little trip reminded us of its many delights.
Returning to Ilkeston we were surprised to see our van going in the opposite direction. We were puzzled for a moment until we realised it was the test drive before it was signed off ready to hand over. Before long we could put all our clothes and dog gear back in and get ready to return the car to Enterprise and be on our way. I know I often write about sat nav woes and several people have suggested that relying on a sat nav is perhaps not the best idea but when you need to set off quickly to get somewhere in an unfamiliar town it’s often the only option. That’s my excuse before I admit what happened next. We’ve bought a trucker’s sat nav for a small price as the reviews were as good for one costing £70 as they were for one five times that amount. The idea is that we can set it to our dimensions and not be surprised by low bridges. I set it to the address for the car hire depot and Shirley said she would follow me in the car. To my surprise, when I drove around a corner the screen went blank but seconds later a message appeared asking me if I wanted to go to my final destination. I took this to mean the place I intended to go to rather than my grave and said yes. Off we trundled around the edge of Ilkeston and up a dual carriageway. Suddenly I noticed the signpost saying we were heading for Nottingham. I then looked again at the sat nav and realised it was heading for Scotland. Clearly our final destination is home. It isn’t easy to turn an 8 metre tag axle motorhome in heavy traffic so I pulled into a bus lane (naughty), set my flashers going and reset the satnav. Fortunately we were approaching a roundabout so I could turn back easily and we were off in the direction of Derby where we should have been going in the first place. Shirley drove behind me all the way, although I couldn’t be sure of that as the rear view monitor had also gone off.
Finally we deposited the car, which was a rather fine new Vauxhall Crossland SUV and at that moment we loved that car a lot more than we loved Heidi the Hymer. We were soon on the road for a short hop to Worksop, chosen by me for two reasons. One because it was near a place that could possibly fix our leaking bathroom tap and secondly because I went there once about thirty years ago and remembered it as quite pleasant.
Worksop and the Caravan Man
Riverside Campsite in the town of Worksop is a very good site. It has great facilities, a very friendly lady who runs the place and big pitches. The only issue is the tight access over a tiny bridge and then through the Cricket Club car park. Once on our pitch we settled in for the night, exhausted. I should say here that Shirley had had to do the full drive to and from Norfolk in the hire car because my driving licence is still with the DVLA – regular readers might remember that I jumped through numerous hoops last November to have it renewed, including a medical. Three months on and it still hasn’t been sent back – checking the website it says they are working on applications from the first week of November. With any luck that means mine might be on its way soon. In the meantime, any hiring of vehicles for me to drive is illegal. I can drive our own vehicles but car hire places need to see the physical licence. So, Shirley had been driving for three hours that morning then patiently followed me in the wrong direction completely unable to alert me. I think she deserves a medal.
This morning I called a nearby motorhome and caravan servicing company and they invited us to come in and they would try to fix our leak. It was only 2 miles but we got lost again and had to call them for help. They more or less talked us through the route as we drove and we finally landed on their forecourt where a lovely young man called Ben changed the tap for a better model i.e. one that worked, checked everything and sent us on our way. Thank you Ben at Liberty Caravan Services. Great service and very friendly too.
I once read a blog called “Buy an old Hymer they said”. It was an account of someone buying exactly the same van as this and getting it in tip top condition. The frustrations he encountered felt a bit exaggerated to me when I read it – if we ever meet him I will apologise.
So Heidi the Hymer has caused us a fair bit of angst and expense on our first trip of the year. When we bought her we knew there would be work to do and we set funds aside for it. We just weren’t expecting so many issues in such quick succession. Here’s hoping the old girl will behave herself for a while now.
Next stop is York for a couple of days. More on that the next time. “See you later duck”, as they say around these parts.