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Guide to winter caravanning

Introduction

There’s not much anyone can do about the nights drawing in, the decided nip in the air or the risk of storms, cold snaps and freezes to come.

But none of that is any reason for giving up on your favourite pastime and sense of adventure. In fact, a touch of wintery conditions might just add up to making any outing all the more fun. Even when the weather is playing up outside, in the warmth and comfort of your own touring caravan, life might be just as comfy when you return from those bracing winter walks, or just watch the leaden skies and driving rain cast a completely different view on the world.

It is likely to be a quite different world to the one you enjoyed during your summer outings in the caravan, of course, and this means that it may be more important than ever to prepare yourself and your trailer rather more carefully than usual.

This guide takes a look at what you might need to know and do when making those preparations, so discusses:

  • why have a winter caravanning holiday?
  • what you need to know;
  • things to do before you go; and
  • lists some of the sites you are likely to find open all year round.

But just as every winter is different – and might bring with it its different challenges – so too is every caravan and the type of holiday the owner is aiming to enjoy. It is a broad guide, in other words, and might not address every concern for every winter holiday.

Why have a winter caravanning holiday?

winter1One of the great things about a touring caravan holiday is that every one is likely to be different. You get to enjoy different experiences, in different settings, and with different neighbours on every site you pitch your caravan.

This flexibility and diversity is heightened when you branch out and do something so apparently different as venture out in your caravan during the winter months as well as those lazy, hazy days of summer.

But why would you want to go away in your touring caravan during the winter time anyway:

Peace and quiet

  • the hustle and bustle of a busy caravan site during peak summer season might have been more of a strain than the relaxing holiday you had hoped for;
  • when the summer rush is over, though, you might have the place to yourself -choose your perfect pitch, watch the sun go down on a deserted beach or put yourself far, far away from the madding crowd;

Dreaming of a different Christmas

  • you might have always wanted a Christmas away from home, but think about how quirkily different this one might be if you spent it in your caravan;
  • whether it’s just you and your spouse or partner snuggling down to share the festive spirit in your own private way or whether you choose to invite a few friends down to share the occasion with you, it is likely to be a Christmas to remember – and certainly different to the millions of others being celebrated up and down the land;

Family time

  • if you ever worry about the amount of quality time you are spending together with your children, a caravanning holiday during the winter break might give you a golden opportunity to get to know each other once again;
  • there’s unlikely to be any stomping off to separate bedrooms, but the chance to sit down, chat and share some valuable time as a proper family;
  • put away those isolating smartphones – but you can still gather closely around to watch a little TV – and instead break open that pack of cards or rediscover the fun of a board game or two the whole family may enjoy;

Out with the thermals

  • thanks to advances in manufacturing techniques and materials used in touring caravans, you might safely leave your Long Johns at home;
  • the modern caravan is likely to be kept warm and snug thanks to the insulation built into it;

The modern caravan site

  • just as caravan manufacturing standards have changed, so too have the facilities you find on the typical campsite;
  • no longer the abandoned, muddy field with its breeze-block latrines, but a fully serviced site with firm hard standing, heated showers and toilet facilities and, like as not, a well-stocked shop and an inviting bar or restaurant.

Some or all of these elements may provide reason enough for your continuing to enjoy your caravan all the year round and venture out even in the dead of winter.

What you need to know

winter2Spontaneity may be the name of the game when it comes to getting the best out of any caravanning expedition, but there are still a number of things you need to know – and things which it is likely to be even more important to know when you are venturing out in winter time.

Where to go

Just as you might when preparing for any outing in your caravan, you might want to check the listings of available sites in or closest to your favoured destination. This might be the coast, the countryside, near your favourite woodland or forest or for easy access to some historical site, monument or other site of year-round interest.

Just as at any time of the year, you need to select your campsite in advance to know just how and where it is located and that it offers all the facilities and ease of access you need.

The difference with winter caravanning of course is that there are likely to be fewer sites that are open this time of the year. Although there may be an increasing number that are, you still to pay particular attention to the advertised closed season which the majority of campsites are likely to have for some months. Those that remain until Christmas and right up to New Year, may be closed from mid-January or so until March or April.

The key, therefore, is to double-check that your chosen site is going to be open. A telephone call or an online booking may help to confirm the fact. There are a number of listings online, including the following examples:

  • Pitch Up – which lists 5,726 sites, 1,401 of which are bookable on line;
  • Caravan Site Finder – which publishes an annual list of the top 100 sites in the various regions of the UK;
  • ukcampsite.co.uk – which not only claims “thousands” of listed sites, but also more than 1750,000 independent visitor reviews of them; and
  • campsites.co.uk – which lists sites by selected themes and destinations, but also publishes a regular newsletter for members.

What to take

Your wardrobe is going to feature warm and waterproof clothing of course. If and when the weather turns chillier, it might simply be a question of just adding a further layer – or two.

When choosing your waterproofs, you might try material that is capable of drying more quickly than usual, especially if you have only a confined space in which to dry out. That is one good reason for still taking your caravan’s awning with you – to serve as a wet room for waterproofs and muddy boots.

But there are also items of camping equipment that take on a greater importance when you are caravanning in the winter time. One of these is the gas you are likely to be using to fuel the heating system. This is not just a question of making sure the cylinders are full, but also checking that you have taken the right kind of gas with you. The website My Caravan, for instance, issues a reminder that Butane gas is generally no longer usable if the temperature drops below 6ºC and so you might want to think about switching over to Propane if you have not already done so.

To stay warm on the inside as well as the outside, take along a generous food store, especially those items which can be heated easily and quickly, so that something hot can be there soon after you come in from those bracing, cold winds.

Another essential is fresh drinking water. As well as any on board water tank, also keep a separate storage container of water inside the caravan and, if your main water tank is outside, have the material to insulate it and keep it above the freezing ground. Many sites these days have water standpipes or connections for inlet pipes at each individual pitch and this may make life somewhat easier – provided the site’s own pipework is properly lagged of course.

Our December issue of Cover4Caravan’s newsletter contains a list of the top ten items you might want to be sure to pack or stow on board for a winter outing.

Before you go

winter3Preparation for any outing in your touring caravan is a good idea; for a winter outing it becomes essential.

Weather forecasts

The weather, of course, is likely to be one of your principal concerns. When you are planning where to go and the caravan site to use, it is a good idea to check whether the particular area is at a known risk of flooding from either the sea or nearby rivers.

Probably the best way of checking this is to visit the Environment Agency’s map of such flood risks, which you can use to home in on your very location.

Immediately before you go – or for that matter whilst you are away and have access to an internet connection – you are able to check the weather forecast on day by day, hour by hour basis, simply by visiting the Met Office website. If no such connection is available, though, it is worth checking the local weather forecasts broadcast on radio and TV.

Preparing your caravan

Forecasts may only tell you so much about the conditions you are actually going to face when the time comes. This means it is going to pay off by taking particular care in preparing your caravan so that you are not caught off guard if the weather unexpectedly deteriorates.

The need for enough of the right type of gas has already been mentioned, as has the need for the ability to take care of your water supplies.

If you encounter freezing conditions, remember that driving your car when towing a heavy caravan behind it makes skidding a much greater risk. That risk might be reduced by carrying snow chains with you and fitting them as and when conditions demand. If you are touring in Europe in fact, some countries make the use of snow chains a legal requirement.

Carrying a broom or brush may also come in handy. You can use it to sweep away snow from the step up into your caravan and prevent it from becoming too dangerously slippery. But you can also use it to brush away any accumulations of snow on the windows of your caravan.

For more stubborn patches of ice and snow, try throwing down some handfuls of rock salt to melt the underlying ice.

When you have reached your destination, and begin forays out into the fresh winter air, you will probably be looking forward to a return to a warm and snug caravan. Prepare for this by leaving the heating system turned on – or better still, invest in a thermostatically controlled system. Maintaining an ambient heat in your caravan, rather than having to heat it from scratch each time, may actually help in reducing the volume of gas you consume.

When everything is packed and you are ready to drive off into the wild blue yonder, remember that you are probably carrying more equipment and a heavier load than in summer time. Make sure, therefore, that you have not exceeded the maximum towing and load weights – it not only puts you in harm’s way, but you are also breaking the law if you do so.

Supplies

While most sites will have a shop onsite or nearby where you can buy food and drink, remember that this is the winter. Roads can get blocked, for example.

Make sure you have plenty of drinking water on board, non-perishable and adequate heating supplies – just in case.

Sites that are open all year around

winter4Here is a list of those camping and caravanning sites which say they offer year round opening times – or those which take you at least until after New Year:

  • Carnon Downs Caravan Park in Devon, for instance, is open the whole year and has no closed season – it boasts a total of 180 pitches, 90 of which are on hardstanding and 50 of which are fully serviced;
  • Even in the far northwest of England you may find many caravan parks that remain open the year round – take Burrs Country Park Caravan Club Site near Bury in Lancashire, for example, which has a total of 89 pitches, 67 on hardstanding and 6 fully serviced;
  • If you thought the northwest of England was far enough north, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover just how many Scottish sites remain open throughout the winter too – in the Highlands, for example, is the very large Grantown-on-Spey Caravan Park, which hosts up to 220 caravans and provides 59 pitches on hardstanding;
  • There are more than 16 all-year caravan sites listed in East Anglia and the southeast, including the grandly situated Sandringham Estate Caravan Club Site, which has 138 pitches for caravans, all bar seven of which are on hardstanding, and 15 of which are seasonal only;
  • The listings website, Pitch Up, mentions 575 caravan sites which are open the year round, many of which are small and secluded – including, for example, Fron Farm Fishery, near Aberystwyth, in Wales, which has pitches for a maximum of six caravans only, but just as the name suggests is a haven for caravanners who are also keen anglers;
  • An only slightly bigger all-year caravan and camping site may be found near the village of Crossgates, some 10 miles from Builth Wells and Rhayader in Wales at Church House Farm – pitch up on one of the site’s 15 pitches (four of which are on hardstanding) and you have immediate and ready access to the winter wonderland that is the breath-taking Elan Valley Dams.

Summary

As may have become clear, there is unlikely to be any reason at all for storing away your touring caravan simply because of winter’s arrival.

With the right amount of research, preparation and last minute checks before you go, you may be surprised by the sheer number of caravan sites you can find throughout the whole of the UK that are open the whole year round.