Sunday, August 12, 2012

Kneps Farm Holiday Park Review

A quacking good site
After a browse on Google searching out caravan sites around the Blackpool area I came across Kneps Farm Holiday Park. At £20.50 per night it seemed a little expensive, but after looking through their website, which I have to say is excellent and very informative, seemed to at least give good value for money. The fee of £20.50 was for a pitch inclusive of 16amp electric hook up and and awning in the middle of the school holidays in August. In comparison with other caravan sites at this time of year it was probably one of the cheaper ones so on consideration their prices are reasonable.

It was a last minute decision to go away as the weather forecast had not been a very good one, although the weekend had proved the forecasters wrong and we'd had quite nice weather. We decided to go on the Monday morning, unfortunately when we got up it was pouring with rain - brilliant.  After much indecision we packed the camper for a couple of days worth of camping and decided as Blackpool is only about 50 miles from home we wouldn't bother ringing to book but would just call on the off chance. Luckily they had plenty of room when we arrived and I made the booking for two nights. Make sure you have £10 in cash with you if you go there as you'll need it as a deposit for a key to the toilet facilities, otherwise you can pay your pitch fees by debit card.

Once we went to pitch our camper we were not disappointed. The site is exactly as it's shown on their website. A fully hardstanding pitch on nice clean, bright gravel and completely flat. Any grass on site is purely for show, to the extent you are asked NOT to drive on the grass or to put your caravan or motorhome on any grassed areas. This means the grass looks good and is free from any muddy patches as it is never churned up by wheels.

Loo of the Year Award Winner
Once we'd parked up, next step a trip to the toilets before we put up the awning. This was something that had really appealed to me on their website, the toilets and bathroom facilities sounded really good. Again, no disappointment, they were even better than described. 10 private bathrooms complete with a bath, shower, wash basin and toilet. Fully heated, clean and roomy, oh and the washbasin actually had a plug! (See my previous review on Marton Mere site). These bathrooms are a brilliant idea. They are located in the amenities block for which you need your key to gain access. There are chairs in the corridor where you can sit and wait if all the bathrooms are in use when you go, but I never had to wait. At either end of the corridor are ladies and gents toilets. Mop buckets are outside each bathroom for you to clean up when you've finished and a cloth is provided in each bathroom for you to wipe up splashes and give the sink a quick clean around. Everyone seems to make use of them too as I never came across soaking wet surfaces around the wash basin or a basin full of some one else's toothpaste. It just goes to show if you're provided with a bit of luxury people are willing to look after it and leave it in the same way as they would wish to find it. It's no surprise then that they have won a Loo of the Year award for 6 successive years.

Other facilities around the amenities block include a laundry room which I didn't use but I think has a washing machine and drier. A dish washing room, again well looked after by campers and always very clean and tidy - nice and warm too.

Room for glampers too
Camping Pods
Whilst there aren't any pitches for tents it doesn't mean you can't camp. Kneps Farm has camping pods in two sizes, 4 berth and 6 berth. They looked really cosy and the families that were using them were sat out with their barbecue's until dusk. They have a TV, DVD player, lighting and electric sockets, you bring everything else you would normally use for camping except the tent.

If you fancy even more luxury the site has static holiday homes for hire too. These are dotted around the edges of the site in pleasant surroundings.

Holiday homes for hire
Around and about
The site is just outside Cleveleys - 3 miles - we cycled there. There is plenty of parking available at Cleveleys along the sea front, it also has lots of local shops and small supermarkets in the town. It wasn't too bad cycling there, the roads are not that busy and it's fairly straight forward finding your way there and best of all it's flat!

Within walking distance just up the road from the site is the Wyre Estuary Country Park where you can find walks of varying distances along the river. There is also a Tourist Information and Countryside Ranger service located there. See website for more information.

Blackpool itself is about 7 to 8 miles away. If you have a bike and good weather it's a very pleasant ride into Blackpool. Ours was a 16 mile round trip, setting off from the site, riding into Cleveleys and then it's completely off road cycling next to the sea along the promenade where you can cycle to St Anne's and beyond if you're feeling really fit. We went as far as Blackpool Tower and had a browse around the shops. Fleetwood isn't far away where you can visit the Freeport shopping outlet. There's plenty going on there during the school holidays to keep the children entertained while you pick up a few bargains from famous store outlets. We didn't get chance to go because we were only there for two days which is a shame, haven't been there for years.

Weather on Best Behaviour
All in all we had a really nice two day break. It did rain all of Tuesday morning and the great thing about the good quality gravel pitch was there was no mud, no water running into the awning, no mess. The rest of the time we were there saw blue sky and sunshine, something we've been very short of this year. We had a nice leisurely morning of packing up on Wednesday as we didn't have to leave the pitch until mid-day, which is quite unusual these days. I can never understand why campsites don't let you take up your pitch until around 2.00pm but want you off by 10.00am, it's not like they have to clean the room or anything, so 10 out of 10 to Kneps Farm for cutting their visitors a little slack when it's time to go.

Would I recommend this site to a friend?  Definitely, they are very deserving of their AA 5 Pennants award, though to be honest I think I would rather keep this site a secret so there's always room for me.

Perfect Pitch

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Changes afoot

Back in May I mentioned some changes and additions to the van but never quite got round to writing about them. Things have come on even more since then and my husband is currently in the process of lining the roof with plyboard ready to carpet it. Up to now we've used the van as it was, half finished with just parts of the sides boarded but the roof was just the bare fibreglass. When ever we were cooking or if it was raining and cold outside (which it has been mainly for the last two summers) condensation soon built up on the fibreglass roof making it quite wet to the touch. This is also a problem overnight from the condensation produced by our breathing. We've pondered over this problem for some time as I keep thinking that if we line the roof, even with insulation the condensation is still going to be there and eventually whatever we line the roof with is going to become damp. However it's no good the way it is. It doesn't look good and is obviously unfinished and every time we put things in storage over the cab they get wet from the roof.

In the end we decided it can't stay the way it is so we will just have to take the chance of damp occurring and decided to line it anyway and hope for the best. Before we went away in July my husband had already lined the part of the roof that goes over the cab. I love this space as I can fit loads in there. Unfortunately the space has become a little bit smaller because of the lining but I can still fit my two large plastic underbed storage containers up there. It's also good because now when we get up in the morning we can shove pillows and anything else up there without it getting soaking wet from condensation. We used household loft insulation between the roof and the plyboard. There is also a layer of tin foil between the insulation and the board with the idea being that the foil will make it a little bit harder for heat from the van to get through and meet up with the cold of the fibreglass roof, just hope it works.

Loft insulation in space over cab.

Underbed storage containers hold loads

We are doing quite well for storage. When we first started out with the van I did wonder where we were going to put everything. We've got the small wardrobe that as well as fitting our hanging clothes in, also fits two fold up camping chairs, a small TV, waste water bucket, the battery and various other bits and bobs and still has a small cupboard above the wardrobe that fits folded clothes. The underbed storage container on the right also contains clothes such as jeans etc and the one on the left holds our plates, jug, wine glasses, teatowels etc. Pans and kitchen type stuff reside in a cupboard under the microwave and the gas bottle and water container are in another cupboard under the sink. We also have a couple of colourful plastic tubs and small plastic baskets which are handy to store other loose stuff in like soap, shaving stuff and the like. These are really handy because it keeps everything together and can easily be moved out of the way into the awning when we set up.

Brilliant for storage.
Out with the old......
Last year when we started the van we looked at hobs. They are a ridiculous price for what is effectively a two ring hob and a grill if you're really lucky. They all seem to be made by one manufacturer Neff, not exactly renowned for being cheap. So we bought a second hand hob/gill and combined sink unit off ebay. We were never happy with it. The sink was OK but the cooker was old and rusty. Not really sure why they insist on making the pan holder out of thin chrome covered rod. The chrome cannot withstand the heat of butane gas and soon ends up looking very shabby and the metal glows moulton red when heated up and becomes worn and mis-shapen. 

Old hob
And in with the new........
We decided to cut the sink off and keep it but get rid of the hob and grill as it didn't look good. We now have the sink with a worktop at the side of it replacing the hob with a portable camping stove for the time being. This is not acceptable as far as the DVLA is concerned as they state it must have a fixed hob but we have our change of vehicle now and this is only a temporary measure until we have the funds for a new gas hob. It is so much better. The camping stove has two rings and a grill and after making a board to cover the sink, sits on top of the sink when we're using it with a nice work surface to the side. When we're on the move it is held in place with bungee elastic straps and only cost £30 from Go Outdoors.

The sink is under the cooker which can easily be accessed if needed.

Green silicone mat - great for putting hot pans or the kettle on.

Cooking is a whole lot easier with the new layout as there is somewhere to put plates when dishing out. The cutlery now fits neatly under the worktop where the grill used to be. When not cooking the worktop can accommodate the TV we bought which when you can actually get a signal is so much better than staring at the walls at night or watching the tea go round in the microwave.

So that's about it for changes so far. All for the better and we have just purchased some fabric liner for the walls and ceiling.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A summer washout

We went away again a couple of weeks ago in our campervan. Again I'd booked a week off work but this time we hadn't actually decided on where to go or booked a site. As everyone living in the UK is aware this summer has been an absolute joke. Cold temperatures and rain - lots and lots of rain. Compared to some areas we have actually been quite lucky where we live in that whilst it has rained a lot and it is cloudy almost every single day we haven't had the torrential downpours that other areas have seen with flooding. Even so I didn't have a whole lot of enthusiasm for going anywhere and spent more time looking for sites that might not be too waterlogged or where there were hard standing pitches rather than grass and looking at weather forecasts hoping that once we picked somewhere it was unlikely to actually flood. It's not the best way to find a holiday.

In the end we decided on Conwy Touring Caravan Park in Conwy, North Wales. We went there this time last year and quite liked it. It was sunny then. It was our first time away in our little camper, the glasses were kind of rose tinted. This time the glasses were distinctly clouded over and rained on. We arrived Sunday, went to Llandudno on Monday to do some cycling when it miraculously managed to stay dry and came home Tuesday as it did nothing but rain the whole time we were on site. In the rain, which was pretty heavy most of the time it didn't look quite so attractive. There are a lot of trees on this site and to be honest dark green trees, cloud, rain and mud coupled with the fact we had no TV reception, no mobile phone reception and no 3G internet, doesn't really make for a fun evening in. In fact the highlight of our two evenings there was to hurry over to the washing up area and wash the pots which because there is only two of us and we only had spag bol both nights, it didn't take up much time.

It was an absolute joy putting the awning away on Tuesday morning - not. It was pouring with rain, chilly and by now the pitches were getting really quite muddy. As we thought it would be better to get mud all over the outside of the awning rather than the inside, after taking all the pegs out we decided to carry it over to some grass that didn't look too muddy and tip it over onto it's side so that the outside of it would be face down on the grass when we took the poles out. After we'd finished scrabbling about on the floor in the wet grass we managed to get the poles out, dry off the pegs and shoved the awning in the back of the van and headed off for home. I would never make it as a festival goer, I just couldn't cope with being up to my eyeballs in mud.

All is not lost......
It wasn't a complete waste of time. We had a good day out in Llandudno on Monday. The campervan is brilliant as a day van. We parked up near a beach, had lunch in the van, got changed into our cycling gear and went off to the centre of Llandudno. Bikes are a brilliant way to get around. It means you can park up your van outside of the centre and ride in, so no roaming around looking for car parks. You can have a brew whenever you fancy one, if the weather takes a turn for the worst you've got a change of clothes with you and if we shut all the curtains we can even use our portaloo. Complete self sufficiency on a day out - love it.

Learning Curve
It was also an opportunity to test out the slight modification to the bed. When we went away in April I found sleeping in the van quite uncomfortable. The bed is a bench seat by day and opens out into a bed at night. The bed is made up of various bits of foam slotted together but as there was no side on the bed these pieces tended to drift apart in the night meaning we ended up sleeping in gaps that are not good for your back. Before we went away my husband made a side that slots onto the side of the base of the bed at night which keeps all the foam pieces squashed together so that they don't drift apart, problem solved. We now have a comfy bed again. We've also got rid of the quilt that we used last year and replaced it with out trusty old double sleeping bag that we've had for years, this takes up much less space during the day. We also discovered that the 12v battery system appears not to be working. We don't really need it as long as we have an electric hook up. The only thing we couldn't use was the tap because the 12v electric operates the pump. So that's something that still needs to be looked at though it's no big deal.

We also learned that there are better caravan sites than Conwy Touring Park. It's a vast site but it does seem to be getting a little bit worse for wear. They don't seem too interested in making any improvements to it. The washing up area was a little shabby, the roads seem to be developing pot holes here and there and in the rain it's a pretty dismal place to be. If you like things really quiet then go for it but we were getting just a little depressed there and I don't think we'll be visiting again.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Marton Mere Touring Site review

We've stayed on a couple of Haven touring sites before and been happy with both of them. Out of season, or I should say outside of the busy school holidays they have some excellent offers for both touring caravans and rental holiday homes. We've stayed at Filey in Yorkshire both in a tourer and last year in a satic and in Wales at Hafan Y Mor on the Lleyn Penninsular and had a good time at them all.

In April this year we had booked a 4 night break at Marton Mere Holiday Village in Blackpool staying on the touring site with our campervan.  A couple of nights before we were due to go I googled the site just to refresh on the details of arrival time etc. As you know when you start typing words into google other stuff comes up - like reviews. Oh well, may as well have a quick look. Wished I hadn't in the end.  There are some unfavourable reviews of Marton Mere, some criticising   the touring section, others the site in general and many not happy with their rented holiday accommodation. We weren't too sure after reading all the doom and gloom of what to expect when we got there.

Space at a premium

We needn't have worried. We arrived around noon as you can't go on to the site until 12.00. We were directed to the touring site by security on the gate, you then book in at the arrivals office. First impressions were that it looked neat and tidy and the statics were all attractively laid out with extensive landscaping.  Yes you could see that there was ongoing work being carried out, which was one of the complaints on the review sites, it did look a little untidy in that there were large statics apparently abandoned by the roadside, somewhat in the way but it's obviously not their intention to leave them there indefinitely. A couple of times when we went out a road that we had been up the previous day would suddenly be shut to allow them to carry out work and an early warning sign or a diversion sign would have been really helpful but it wasn't a big inconvenience. I certainly wouldn't describe it as a "building site" as one of the reviewers put it.

After booking in and being handed our information pack we went off to find a pitch. We had a super pitch booked but there were also premier pitches. Apparently a premier pitch has 20% more space than a basic pitch, although they do seem to call them Euro pitches which actually includes a TV hook up too.  I don't think the Premier Pitches at Marton Mere have the TV hookup but they have a nice little fence around the pitch for demarcation and just generally look more attractive than the super pitches.  Unless you have a large caravan or motorhome I wouldn't have thought it was worth the extra pitch fee - if you want a fancy fence stay at home.

On a Super pitch you get a hardstanding for the caravan or motorhome and a gravel section next to it for your awning. Wasn't entirely impressed with the dirty looking gravel but I suppose if you don't have a ground sheet which we never do it's better when the grounds wet than soggy grass. With a Super pitch you get 16amp electric hook up, your own water tap (yay, no trailing across wet grass looking for a tap in the dark) and your own grey water disposal point (a grid). The lap of luxury for us really.

There were criticisms on the reviews I read that the pitches were too small and there was very little room between pitches. I have to agree with this. For us it wasn't too much of a problem, our campervan is easy to get in and out on the pitch and our awning isn't that big but for anyone with a biggish caravan who isn't that confident with manoeuvring you're going to struggle a bit. You also have to make sure you stay on pretty good terms with your neighbours, you'll be bumping into them quite literally whenever you step out the door.

Superloos - cosy too!

There is a brand new toilet block specifically for the touring site complete with undercover and sheltered washing up facilities. The washing-up sinks are massive. Make sure you take your washing up bowl with you as it would take you forever to fill up the sink, they're big enough to have a bath in. When we were there they were always clean and tidy, none of other people's dredges of fried egg and cabbage loitering around like you tend to find on other sites. Who eats cabbage on holiday anyway? The toilets have a secure code entry gadget thing on the door so you need a 4 digit code to get in. I think it's a good idea. It means you don't have people using the toilets on the way back from their evening entertainment to their static caravans and is probably also designed to stop children messing around in the toilets on their own. Why do children find toilet blocks such a magnet, they always seem to end up playing about round toilet blocks on caravan sites. Reviewers have found fault with this idea though. Some people are just not happy unless they have something to complain about. It is a bit of a pain when you first arrive because until you've learned the number you have to remember to take the number with you otherwise you can't get in. They're lovely and warm, clean and have about 3 or 4 showers. Sadly though around the sinks there is nowhere to hang anything, sometimes you just want a quick wash rather than a shower. There are blown air hand dryers and a dispenser for antibacterial hand wipe which magically dispenses when  you stick your hands under it - no need to touch anything which I thought was a really good idea and went that extra mile to avoid spreading germs.


I can't comment on other facilities on site such as entertainment, shops, cafe's etc because we never had time to take a look. Touring site reviewers again commented on noise from the club at night. I did notice it, it was a little intrusive, mainly you could hear the base beat from the music which was quite loud but it did finish between 11.00 and 12.00pm. I wouldn't have thought it would disturb children's sleep but adults who like an early to bed, early to rise regime might be a bit irritated by it.

Marton Mere
All in all we enjoyed our 4 nights there and would definitely go back again. It's handy for Blackpool, there's a supermarket up the road, a pub within easy walking distance and apparently Blackpool Zoo and Stanley Park are just around the corner. On the site itself is Marton Mere, a Nature Reserve and lake of special interest to bird watchers which used to be the town's tip and has footpaths and birdwatching hides. Not to be confused with Martin Mere (I always thought they were one and the same) which is actually near Southport.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Outlook unsettled

St Annes
Oh dear, I've been a bit neglectful of this blog. Apart from a few days of lovely warm sunshine in March the weather since then has been rubbish. Snow at the beginning of April followed by rain, followed by some very unseasonal freezing cold temperatures.  18th May and we've had the heating on most of tonight with a temperature of 7 degrees (feels like 2 !) So no great incentive to get out and about.

Back to mid April though, and we did have a few days away in the van. I booked the time off work back in February when I realised it was our 30th wedding anniversary in April.  And where did we choose to celebrate this great achievement? Blackpool. Again I booked this break back in February through Haven Holidays.  They have some good out of season offers on and where can you get a super pitch these days at £10 per night including electric and awning. It was an offer too good to miss and fitted in with the week I booked off work and our wedding anniversary - sorted.

Now when you're booking your time off in cold and windy February you do expect things to have warmed up a little by April. When the time finally arrived I was seriously beginning to regret the whole idea and wished I'd spent a bit more and booked somewhere warmer and drier. However I had paid for it so we thought we may as well go as Blackpool is only 50 miles away and we could always come home early if it was too wet, boring, freezing or all three.  This is in fact a lesson to be learned. Had I not paid for it, in all likelihood we wouldn't have gone anywhere and I would have been cursing the waste of a weeks holiday from work. As it was we had a really good time and stayed for the whole 4 nights, which just goes to show you should always take a chance.  Sitting around waiting for perfect weather to turn up before you actually go anywhere is as good as watching your life pass by, perfect weather just never happens any more.

So to follow in a further couple of posts:

Hopefully by the time I've finished writing those, things might have warmed up a bit and we could be off on our travels to pastures new.