Date of Visit: December 2020
Henley Four Oaks is part of the national portfolio of Caravan & Motorhome Club sites and is exclusive to members, though you can join on site. It is based very conveniently for Henley on Thames and is a level 15-20 minutes’ walk into the town. The site is level and access good, please see Site Arrival video. There are 81 pitches, a mixture of hardstanding and grass pitches. The site is situated on a main road and there is some road noise to be expected particularly during the day. There are bus stops within five minutes’ walk with Arriva buses running between Reading and High Wycombe. We visited in December 2020, just prior to Christmas and it was incredibly quiet with only a handful of outfits on site. The wardens were helpful and pleasant when we spoke with them.
There are several service points throughout and a motorhome service point. There is one shower/facilities block. Due to current COVID-19 rules, the site prefers you to use your own facilities. Reception and information room is at the entrance and there is a barrier key fob system in use. There is a small children’s play area at one end of the site and a small dog walk area at the other end. The usual Club WiFi is available and is listed as Gold. TV reception, however, is listed as poor. Mobile signal worked well, obviously dependent upon your provider.
Review of site pitch
The hardstanding pitches are of a good size and level. However, drainage is a problem in several areas. EHU bollards also offer TV booster points if required. The pitches are spaced out amongst the trees on the site. Service points are distributed throughout the site meaning no long treks to use them.
Around and about
Although the site is near Henley on Thames and therefore, a wide range of places to visit, it does not feel hemmed in and has more of a countryside feel.
Henley on Thames is, of course, the nearest town. A good place to start is www.visit-henley.com
The town is very picturesque and boasts a range of independent shops, good restaurants to suit all budgets, cafes etc. It is also home to the annual Henley Regatta, www.hrr.co.uk A world famous event on the River Thames which is to one side of the town and also marks the boundary between Oxfordshire, (Henley) and Buckinghamshire, (Marlow etc). If you are planning on staying on the site at the time of the Regatta, you would be well advised to book well in advance.
The first lock we visited on this trip is called Marsh Lock and is a wooden structure of some considerable length enabling excellent view of the river. This is wheelchair accessible.
One way of finding out about the town and its history is to complete a fun, all ages and abilities Treasure Trail . We completed one whilst we were there and it takes about 2 hours.
Marlow is a lovely Georgian market town about 20 minutes’ drive from the site. www.marlowguide.co.uk A notable feature is the plethora of small independent shops selling a wide range of goods on the high street. We found a lovely independent coffee shop, ‘Burgers of Marlow’ situated closed to the bridge over the river and were able to sit outside, don’t be put off by the name it is really good coffee, perfect for a very cold day when we visited. It is handily placed for parking and crossing the bridge to walk by the river. On the same side, you can walk and visit, Marlow Lock. This lock, along with a good number along this stretch of the river are used to help control the flow and pressure in the water. This is accessible to everyone including wheelchair users. Each one is different, and the settings and housing nearby are well worth taking the time to walk too. In sunnier weather, a picnic would be a lovely thing to do.
There are two further locks in the vicinity, Hurley, and Temple Locks. If it has been raining, waterproof shoes are a must as it can get quite muddy and slippy. Further information can be found on these and all the others, including useful maps at www.visitthames.co.uk/about-the-river/river-thames-locks
For those who like a traditional ale from a local brewery, The Marlow Brewery, www.rebellionbeer.co.uk comes highly recommended. Ample parking and a Drive Thru facility is available at the time of COVID concerns. There is also a shop on site.
The nearest Garden Centre to the site is Toad Hall Garden Centre, a 5-minute drive from the site or a 10-minute walk. www.toadhallgardencentre.co.uk
The area also has a considerable number of National Trust properties in the area, several which were unfortunately closed at the time of our visit. We were, however, fortunate to find two lovely places to visit. At the time of writing, pre-booking is essential.
Cliveden NT – www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cliveden This site is close to Maidenhead and an easy run from the site. Cliveden was the ancestral home of Dukes and has been a presence on site since 16th century. More recently it was the home of the famous Astor family and was a key player in the Profumo Affair in the 1960s. The actual building is now a hotel and not open to the public, you can however, visit the extensive gardens and there is a lovely café on site as well.
Basildon Park NT – www.nationaltrust.org.uk/basildon-park This NT venue is slightly further afield being closer to Reading. The day that we visited was glorious with winter sunshine and clear blue skies. Here it is possible to do a limited tour of the property and, as it was in the run up to Christmas, the house had been decorated beautifully. There are a couple of tea rooms available as well as plentiful walks.
A well-situated site with plenty of attractions close by. It would however benefit from some remedial work to improve the drainage around the site and pitches. The location is one of its main attractions, particularly during the Henley Regatta, advance booking is essential!!
This year – just as in most years – getting your caravan ready for the next season is likely to be a game of two halves. In the Spring you are likely to have a checklist of things to do as the caravan is brought out of hibernation; in the autumn you are probably preparing to put it into storage.
It might come around sooner than you expected – so don’t be caught on the back foot and ill-prepared for those first opportunities for getting out and about in the first fine days of Spring.
You might want to use the few months between now and then for a spot of caravan maintenance and tender loving care. The time spent on these tasks now may pay dividends when it comes to taking out a caravan that not only looks good but also has everything in tip-top working order.
So, here are our few tips and suggestions:
Keeping up appearances
- If your touring caravan hasn’t been stored under cover during the winter months, it is likely to be looking more than a little weathered once the winter storms, snow and gales have taken their toll – not to mention the inevitable bird lime or fallen leaves if you have had to pitch it up near any trees;
- as March or April come around, many people start preparing for that first outing around the Easter holidays;
- with the weather soon hopefully improving – and the Met Office is best placed to tell you just when – it won’t be long before you can give the caravan a thorough wash down and to apply a good quality wax to keep it glistening and pristine clean;
Interior spring cleaning
- what goes for the outside, goes just as important for the inside too;
- while dashing away with your brush, duster, and vacuum, you might also take this opportunity to look for any signs of damp;
- condensation tends to be one of the caravan owner’s worst enemies, with damp soon turning to corroding mould which eats away at the panels and furnishings of your caravan, leaving an unpleasant odour, unsightly stains and not to mention the serious health risks which might ensue;
- a thorough airing of your caravan is likely to be called for, with special attention paid to any soft furnishings which need to be dried out and a careful check of doors and windows for any signs of leaks;
- good ventilation is key in the battle against condensation, so make sure that the caravan remains thoroughly aired and that vents are free of any obstruction which might impair their proper operation;
- water tanks and appliances are likely to have been drained down for winter storage and may now have a musty smell and taste – annual sterilisation, flushing and refilling may help to get systems back into a usable state. There are lots of products you can buy online for this as well as useful videos detailing the correct way to do this;
- for similar reasons, the empty fridge might also welcome a thorough clean – some bicarbonate of soda mixed into the cleaning water may help to clear any lingering musty smell;
- check the cooker by lighting each of the jets to ensure that there are no blockages and replace the gas cylinder or cylinders if necessary;
Security and safety
- whilst working on the caravan’s interior, you might want to make sure that all locks and security devices continue to work as they should – including, for example, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers;
- modern touring caravans are usually fitted with a tilt sensor, so it is important to confirm that this is still in good working order and that the alarm sounds whenever it should;
- if you have taken the precaution of fitting a tracking device, now might be the time to test that it works by towing your caravan a little distance from its current location and then contacting the tracking monitoring control centre to make sure that the company can identify your caravan’s new location;
- the tyres of your caravan provide the only way of keeping it on the road, of course, but are especially vulnerable to wear and tear – an essential safety check needs to be made on their condition;
- even with the best will in the world and the regular rotation of the wheels while the caravan has been in winter storage, the tyres have had to support the full weight of the vehicle – sometimes for long periods on the same tread of rubber;
- the tyres must be checked very carefully, therefore, for signs of wear and tear, to avoid potential failure whilst under tow;
- before taking to the road, you will need to make sure that the wheel bolts are properly tightened – especially if they have replaced winter wheels that you used whilst the caravan was in storage;
- you might want to review our article on the subject: Tyre safety and your van;
- it is not only the tyres that play an important role in keeping your caravan in fully roadworthy condition – a condition which it is your legal responsibility to maintain – but brakes, lights, hitches, and other running gear all play their part and need to be carefully checked and maintained;
- if subsequent checks suggest that you are using your caravan in an unroadworthy condition, you might not only fall foul of the law but also have any insurance claim denied;
- some maintenance tasks might be so important that you may feel more confident in putting the task in the hands of experienced and qualified engineers – indeed, the manufacturer’s warranty on some makes of caravan might require that an annual service be conducted by such an approved specialist;
- if you decide to get these essential maintenance tasks done by a qualified service provider, the Camping and Caravanning Club, the Caravan Club, and the National Caravan Council all suggest lists of approved workshops;
- before you set out on your first outing of the year, close and lock all cupboards, wardrobes, and stowage compartments – securing anything that is loose or might shift about when you are underway;
- lock the fridge shut;
- close and lock windows and roof vents whilst on the move;
- check the caravan’s road lights;
- make sure the jockey wheel is secured in its raised position and check the breakaway cable is properly connected;
- check the caravan’s nose weight to check that you are not overladen;
- release the handbrake – and you are off!
Making sure you and your caravan are legal
Preparing your caravan for the new season, making sure that it is roadworthy, and actually towing it behind your car are not, in themselves, huge challenges and simply require a little practice and experience.
Beyond these essentially practical measures, there are obligations under the law which you also need to follow in order to ensure that you and your caravan remain street legal:
Your driving qualifications
- your driving licence determines the type of trailer – your caravan in other words – which you are entitled to tow;
- unfortunately, the situation is less than crystal clear because of changes in the law, but might be summarised with reference to the rules published on the official government website;
- quite simply, the rules have seen steadily increasing restrictions on the type of trailer you may tow behind a vehicle, although even the latest rules – allowing a combined weight of car and trailer of up to 3,500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) is likely to include the vast majority of caravans;
- nevertheless, the caravan must still be less than 7 metres in length (excluding the length of the tow bar) and be no more than 2.55 metres wide;
- staying within the law is important, of course, not least because of any possible invalidation of your caravan insurance – an issue which you might want to check further with us here at Cover4Caravans;
Your caravan/car combination
- perhaps one of the most widespread and significant areas for confusion or concern to those new to touring with a caravan is matching the trailer to the towing vehicle;
- at first sight, the calculations and the plethora of technical terms describing the relevant weights might appear overwhelming – although the essential limits for the caravans you may tow are in practice relatively straight forward;
- expressed most simply, there is a maximum weight that your car is designed to tow – a weight that is typically stated in your owner’s manual or other specification;
- if it remains unclear whether your car may legally tow your caravan, you might want to refer to the Gross Train Weight of your car and caravan combined – namely the fully laden weight of both the car and the caravan, which is typically expressed on your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate;
- for further information, please read: Caravan towing tips;
- if you are towing your caravan in Europe, there are further precautions you may need to take in order to stay street legal – and these may vary according to the local laws, rules, and regulations of the country in which you are driving;
- some of these rules may be familiar to British drivers – such as the prohibition against using a mobile phone whilst at the wheel – but other local laws may be less well-known;
- in France, for example, it is necessary to have onboard an alcohol breathalyser kit and it is worth remembering that in many European countries the blood alcohol limit when driving is much lower than in the UK;
- the cities and towns of some European cities and towns now have low emission zones for vehicles entering them;
- speed restriction signs might catch out some British drivers since they may be indicated simply by the name of the town or village which you are entering – the 50 kph (approximately 30 mph) restriction continues until you are leaving the built-up area, with the name of the town or village on a sign with a black edge and the name crossed through with a red line.
Although the local laws, rules and regulations when driving in Europe may not be difficult to comprehend, it is important to remember that they may be different from those to which you are accustomed in the UK and that they may vary from region to region and country to country.
Keeping yourself and your caravan on the right side of the law, of course, not only helps to avoid on the spot fines – or worse – but also plays its part in ensuring that your holiday proceeds smoothly and without a hitch.
You’ll recall our reference to getting your caravan ready for the new season being a game of two halves – preparing for the first outings and, at the end of the year, getting ready to store it once again?
Hopefully, the careful preparations you made at the beginning of the season meant that you had many trouble-free days of caravanning. Although you encountered no problems during the summer, however, it is still important to prepare just as carefully when laying up the caravan for winter – especially if you hope next season’s outings to go without a hitch.
The immediate question, of course, is where the caravan is to be located for its winter hibernation. In a choice between your own driveway, an unused farmyard, and a purpose-built caravan storage facility, the last is likely to win hands down. The Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association (CaSSOA) has a network of member sites throughout the country, with each one graded according to the security and facilities present – winter storage at a CaSSOA site may also earn you a discount in your caravan insurance premiums and is something we recognise and encourage here at Cover4Caravans.
Although the security measures may help to put your mind at ease, it may still be a good idea to visit the storage site in advance to check whether your caravan is going to be on hard standing or concrete, under cover or in the open, and ease of access for you and the vehicle being used to put the caravan into storage and retrieve it again in the spring.
Whatever your chosen location for winter storage, there is a checklist of precautions to take:
- it is important, for instance, to thoroughly clean and wax the outside of the caravan, removing birdlime, oil stains, black or green mould – all of which may leave permanent marks if left untreated;
- in your enthusiasm to clean the exterior beware of using pressure washers warns the Camping and Caravanning Club, which suggests that more damage than good may be done by such pressure jets;
- the Club also urges caution and a regard for personal safety when using step ladders or stretching over to clean the roof of your caravan – it might well not bear your weight;
- as we have mentioned elsewhere, tyres are especially vulnerable to wear when left to bear the weight of your caravan in the same potion over a long period of time;
- you may want to consider replacing the normal road wheel with winter wheels – especially the lockable type, for added security;
- where possible, store the caravan with the corner steadies lowered and the handbrake off, to reduce the chance of it sticking;
- probably the most important preparation inside the caravan is to completely drain down all water systems – whether freshwater, the toilet flush or heating system – to prevent damage caused by pipes, fittings or valves freezing during the winter;
- special care needs to be taken over the storage of gas cylinders, which need to be turned off and disconnected from the caravan’s supply;
- your caravan storage site may have specific policies relating to the storage of gas cylinders and you may not be allowed to keep them close to the vehicle for the duration of the winter.
Whether it is preparing your caravan for a well-earned rest during the winter months or the anticipation of enjoying yet another summer on tour, the care and attention you give to getting ready for the next caravan season may prove well worth your while.
Already thinking about where you will be going on all those caravan outings and expeditions come this New Year?
Then, here are some of latest handy, neat, intriguing – and, maybe sometimes not so spellbinding – gadgets to consider for your caravanning trips in 2021:
- we can’t promise that your next caravan pitch is going to be a muddy field under several days of relentless rain – but you’re as familiar with the British weather as we are;
- to stop the legs or corner steadies of your caravan from sinking into the soft ground, why not try this eminently affordable pack of four caravan jack pads from Maypole – your caravan will stay all the steadier for them;
Warm as toast
- there’s rarely much room in the caravan’s galley, so you’ll be limited in the range of appliances you can run;
- the Swiss Luxx Low Wattage Caravan Toaster (available from the Caravan Club Shop) is specially designed for use in a caravan since it is diminutive in size – only around 8 inches long by 5 inches high by 4 inches wide and consumes only 700 watts of electricity;
- a matching one-litre, low-wattage electric kettle is also available;
Your secret stash
- are you looking for somewhere to hide your small valuables? Then consider a cunningly disguised can which serves as secret storage for valuable odds and ends such as car or house keys, cash, and the like;
- in appearance, it looks like any regular tin of Heinz cream of tomato soup;
Cool in summer
- of course, it’s going to be hot and sunny next summer – so, you might be struggling to keep things cool;
- the generously proportioned 65-litre Chilly Bin cool box from Kampa keeps ice frozen for up to 4 days and has wheels for easy transport from one place to another, where it can be just as much at home inside your caravan for extra cold storage or outside for picnics;
- you’ll want to stay this coming summer, of course, and this collapsible, UV resistant and frost-proof plastic Colapz Fire Bucket has its number one duty “Fire” emblazoned on the side – but it can also be safely used to carry food and drink;
Round or square?
- that round washing-up bowl can be handy to use but tricky to store when you need to load your caravan with everything – including the kitchen sink;
- a handy way around that problem, therefore, is to invest a tiny sum in a collapsible square washing-up bowl from Sunncamp;
Love is in the air
- there’s just you and your loved one off on a caravan trip yet, when you want to sit outside, you have to settle for separate camping chairs;
- but no longer – just take a look at this cuddle couch seat from outdoors specialists Kelty, which lets you snuggle-up side by side on foldaway seating made for two. It also has 2X insulated, adjustable holders for drinks;
- the beauty of some of 2021’s gadgets lie not so much in their novelty or imagination but sheer usefulness and convenience;
- the Outwell Mensa mains roller kit fits just that bill, giving you a full 15 metres of extension cable – capable of reaching practically any caravan site electric hook-up point or a power point at home – and integrated three UK power sockets, two USB ports, RCD protection and circuit-breakers, with its own built-in 74 LED light and 1 LED night light;
You can never have enough of them
- you can probably never have enough airtight food and drink containers, so a JSK collapsible, silicone kitchen bundle is a welcome addition to storage solutions in the galley;
- the bundle of collapsible silicone bowls and boxes let you heat, bake, freeze, mix, store and pour.
If it’s only to show off your latest collection of 2021’s gadgets and accessories, you’ll be raring to get set for your next caravan outing soon into the New Year.
Please note that we do not receive any commissions for the sale of any of these products. The gadgets suggested are for information purposes only and should not be seen as recommendations of Cover4Caravans.co.uk.
Driving in Europe post-Brexit, taking your pets to Europe, Covid-secure driving courses, and Rural Business Award for Harborough site
The end of the year came with further headlines about some of the major news items of 2020 – the twin challenges of Brexit and Covid-19.
It’s probably a fitting way to bring things to a close and look forward to the freedom of next season’s caravanning now that Brexit is done, and a long-awaited vaccine should see off the last of the pandemic.
So, here are some of the news snippets in preparation for the coming season’s activities.
What you need to know driving in Europe after Brexit
Thanks to the agreement signed between the UK and the EU member states on the 24th of December, some things may change but a lot remains the same.
That includes recognition of your UK-issued driving licence throughout Europe – with the exception of certain UK driving licences identified in an article by the BBC on the 27th of December. If you are still driving on an old-style paper driving licence, for example, or any licence issued in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, you are almost certain to need an International Driving Permit (IDP).
As a posting by Practical Caravan on the 17th of December warned, however, although the motor insurance you arranged in the UK also extends to cover across the EU, you will need a so-called “green card” – issued by your insurer – to confirm the fact that you have the legally required insurance.
Your car and caravan need to be identified with GB stickers and also remember to take the vehicle’s logbook or V5C with you as proof of ownership.
Taking pets to Europe after Brexit becomes easier
While driving your car in Europe post-Brexit might involve some niggling changes to the current rules, taking your pet with you has actually become easier, advised a story in the Daily Mail on the 17th of December.
At one stage pet-owners had feared that European authorities were going to insist on tests for rabies antibodies – a complicated procedure likely to take three months to complete. In the event, the only documentation required to take your dog, cat, or ferret, into Europe will be proof of vaccination against rabies (21 days before the date you travel) and an animal health certificate (AHC) issued by your vet no more than 10 days before embarking on your journey.
As before, your pet must be microchipped and protected against common illnesses.
The rules apply not only to entry via any point of entry to the EU but also into Northern Ireland.
Caravan and Motorhome Club launches Covid-secure 2021 driving courses
If the experience of lockdown has awakened a desire to own and tow a caravan for the first time or if you worry that your driving skills have become a little rusty while being forced to stay at home, the Caravan and Motorhome Club can come to your rescue.
In a posting on the 27th of November, the Club announced its new – Covid-secure – driving courses for 2021. Available from February until October of the New Year, the courses will be held at 13 sites across the UK – so, there’s almost certain to be one near you!
The Caravan and Motorhome Club has been running courses like this for some 40 years already and topics currently covered include:
- straightforward safety checks;
- hitching and towing safely;
- practice in manoeuvring an outfit forwards and backwards;
- additional manoeuvring advice;
- loading your caravan and how that affects towing; and
- understanding the laws governing caravanning and motorhoming.
Family-run holiday site near Harborough shortlisted in the Rural Business Awards
Setting in the idyllic, rolling countryside around the village of Sibbertoft, in Leicestershire, there is a traditional working farm that also plays host to touring caravans and campers.
That 20-acre site – called Brook Meadow – already has a string of enviable awards for how the farm’s caravanning and camping site is run. Now it is poised to win a prestigious Rural Business Awards. The site’s shortlisting in the run-up to the awards was announced by the Harborough Mail on the 14th of December.
Caravan holidays for most folks will have passed their best for now this year – and what a year it has been.
But in that somewhat tumultuous year, caravans, campervans, and caravanning generally have been given something of a boost. Thanks to it being the perfect way to manage an outing or holiday without necessarily travelling all that far from home – while maintaining social distance from the rest of the world.
So, here are just a few of the latest snippets of caravan news to bring us all up to date.
Sales of camper vans soar more than 150% since first lockdown
The surge of interest in caravans, campervans, and motorhomes was highlighted in a story in the Daily Mail last month which reported that the sales of campervans and motorhomes had rocketed by more than 150% since the period of first national lockdown back in March.
Not only have sales soared, but a survey revealed that 71% of people thinking of taking a holiday this Christmas would consider renting a luxury caravan or motorhome (a so-called “glampervan”).
Nearly a third of those surveyed (32%) claimed that they would be prepared to pay as much as £1,000 to rent such a luxury caravan or motorhome.
Some of the motorhomes falling into that category come equipped with luxuries such as pressure showers, full kitchens, smart televisions, sound systems – and, sometimes, even hot-tubs. Little wonder, therefore, that they can sell for £50,000 to £100,000.
Meanwhile, the founder of caravan and camping website CaravanCloud told the Express newspaper earlier this month that, following their experiences of recent lockdown under the pandemic, increasing numbers of young people are attracted to the possibility of owning a caravan. Whereas the average age of the motorhome or caravan buyer had once been 50 to 70 years old, the majority are now aged just 30 to 50.
The south west is the caravanning capital UK
It’s official – the south west is the caravanning capital of the UK.
Confirmation came by way of the Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News. They cited the AA Camping and Caravanning Guide for 2021 which put Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset, in the top five counties in the UK for campsites accredited by the AA.
The counties were graded according to the number of campsites each hosted – with 86 in Cornwall, 59 in Devon, 39 in Dorset, and 30 in Somerset. Only North Yorkshire – boasting a total of 46 sites – smuggled its way into the top five.
Those campsites awarded the AA’s coveted Platinum Pennant were again all mostly situated in the southwest, with Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and Somerset gaining the most Platinum Pennants.
Eat a chocolate bar to keep warm in your caravan
Owning a caravan gives you a perfect opportunity for enjoying some of the natural beauties of Britain – even in the dead of winter.
The problems might begin to sneak in once the sun has gone down and temperatures begin to plummet for the night. Even with the best mobile heating systems in the world, caravans are notoriously difficult to heat. Warding off the cold and chills might present a challenge.
There are fairly traditional ways of finding some extra warmth, of course. A good sleeping bag, an extra pair of socks, and still more layers of jumpers – shedding the layers if you then begin to get too hot.
A novel suggestion made by contributors to an online forum reported by the Express newspaper recently was simply to make sure to have something to eat – a calorie-rich chocolate bar, for example – before turning in for the night. As the body burns off those extra calories while you sleep, said one writer, that metabolic process itself helps to generate additional heat.