by Tom Leaning of Caravan Times
CaravanTimes recently caught up with Harvey Alexander, Director of Marketing at the Caravan and Motorhome Club, who has just returned from participating in the JustGo motorhome re-location programme with his family.
Mr Alexander also discussed what he attributes the Club’s record year (2016) to, in terms of member retention and acquisition, what he believes clubs and organisations can do to continue this growth and how the Club is attracting younger members.
Here’s the interview transcript below:
“We picked up a motorhome from a company called JustGo, and drove it back through Italy, Switzerland and France, stopping at 4-5 of our sites along the way, and brought it to the UK where it will spend another year touring the UK.”
On how long the holiday took and what the highlights were:
“So, you can take anywhere from up to 14 days. We took 5 days. Some of the highlights were just the driving through Italy and Switzerland, which was inspiring. It wasn’t a chore at all. When you think of driving around the M25 on a bank holiday, it sends a shiver down your spine. But when you’re out there in a motorhome, you’re high up and you’re touring and you’re really stopping wherever you feel you want to. It was just amazing. We stayed at some really stunning sites: one on the edge of Lake Como, where you’re literally by the water, lovely surroundings, there’s mountains in the background, the kids were playing football outside the motorhome, as they do. And then, from there we went on through Switzerland and ended up in the Morvan forest in France – again, one of the most stunning landscapes you’ll see. And we stayed at this tiny little site, with probably 20 or more pitches; just a really lovely setting in the forest, a fishing lake at the bottom of the site. [It just us] the ability to escape the pace of everyday life, to simplify things and get back to nature – it was just incredible, a real treat.
On the JustGo motorhome re-location programme:
“JustGo offer this to anyone who wants to try and drive a motorhome across Europe. They do it every year to bring their new fleet back to the UK, and we did it as a bit of a trial for our members to really see how we can make that the best experience it can be, in terms of getting the right routes for people, and giving them the opportunity to build their memories.”
On what he attributes the CAMC’s record year (2016) to, in terms of member retention and the acquisition of new members:
“It’s really interesting. We’ve seen record amounts of new members joining. Also, we’ve seen 90 per cent of existing members staying with The Club. And I suppose what’s most important to us is the fact that we’ve had a record amount of members touring our sites network across the UK. So I think it really comes down to our members loving what they’re doing, and enjoying it so much that they’re extending their season. Our last quarter of 2016 – October, November, December – was one of our best last quarters ever. So, it’s just incredible. We’ve got 40 per cent of members coming in who own a motorhome now, which is really interesting because they’re changing the dynamic and we’re seeing that motorhomers tour later into the season, which is great. So, we need to make sure that our sites are ready for the caravanners and the motorhomers, trailer-tents, whoever wants to come, but making sure we’re always staying relevant for that touring member.”
On what clubs and organisations can do to make sure these positive results continue:
“Well, I suppose the key thing, in this digital age, is we’ve got to keep inspiring people to get out there and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s about recharging. We attribute quite a lot of the increase down to shorter breaks. We have members who love their summer holidays with the Club or their Easter breaks, but it’s also down to the members who decide on a Friday night who say “d’you know what? Let’s just go away for a few days this weekend. Let’s recharge. Let’s get back to nature, and enjoy ourselves” rather than getting caught in that daily grind. We all feel that it all goes too quick and you’ve never got enough time to do anything, but I find myself if you just put that bit of effort in to just stop, go away – it doesn’t even have to be that far – I live in Rochester and we’ve got some wonderful sites around Kent. I go to Daleacres in Hythe or Bearsted – they’re literally 45 minutes away. But what it means is we can go and we can be in the middle of a lovely countryside park, within for 40 mins to an hour, where we’re just enjoying time as a family.”
On attracting younger members:
“I think that if you go around any of the shows and you look at these caravans and motorhomes, they’re anything but basic. They are homes from home. Some of them offer more luxury than their own homes. And I think that the fact is with all the latest mod-cons where you’ve got the proper heating in there, you’ve got cooking facilities, you’ve got digital [equipment] in there. It just helps people enjoy the great outdoors without feeling compromise. We’ve just come off the back of sponsoring the UK surfing championships down in Cornwall. The age group there is obviously not a typical age group for the Club, but they all love Club sites, they all love being part of the Club because we’ve got 40-odd locations that are near the greatest surfing resorts across the UK. So, I think it’s about being relevant for members and those people thinking of joining and creating that relevancy for them because there has been a stigma attached in the past that [the Club] was just for retired people, but I’m 40+ with a young family, and I guarantee you the best holidays we have are when we get the motorhome out or the caravan and we go down to the coast and we just have a great weekend.”
On falling back in love with the UK:
“We have recognised that people are starting to enjoy the UK more. They’re falling back in love with the UK. And that’s really the spirit of the Club in terms of touring. So, I think it’s important to recognise that, that they’re so much on our doorstep to explore.”
For more information about the JustGo motorhome relocation programme, visit:
arctic, articadventure, bailey of bristol, camc, caravan and motorhome club, Christopher Macgowan, finland, john rawlings, Lee Davey, Martin Dorey, millbrook, motorhome, motorhomenews, Nigel Hutson, simon howard
So the Arctic Adventure team has returned home. It was such fun following the group all the way from Millbrook to the Arctic Circle in Finland and back home again. Lee Davey, Martin Dorey, Nigel Hutson, John Rawlings and of course Bailey Mastermind Simon Howard (Marketing Director, Bailey of Bristol), together with a supporting cast. And all done in association with The Caravan and Motorhome Club
There were many high spots for us Groupies but watching the team drive across the Oresund Bridge from Sweden into Denmark was certainly one of them for me as a fan of the TV drama series The Bridge. Also memorable were Martin Dorey’s amazing skills at conjuring up meals under less than ideal circumstances. Artistic Creativity Award went to the photo of the Thetford toilet cassette in the foreground of a stupendous snowy arctic scene.
There was of course a very serious purpose to the venture which were the cold weather tests carried out by Millbrook’s operation in Finland; insulation materials and heating systems are getting ever more advanced and they are tested under rigorous climate conditions reproduced in test centres in the UK – but there is no substitute for a gruelling long haul run in the coldest possible conditions encountered in the Arctic.
It was fun following the trip; it must have been some experience to have been actually part of the trip.
I was talking to a fellow Caravan and Motorhome Club friend the other day and remarked that I am more of a tourer than a rallyer to which she rather tartly remarked “Well, Christopher, that’s your loss then.” That could be but I think I am likely to stick with my touring and this week has been a case in point.
A few days came free in the diary after an extremely serious bout of man flu which required a great deal of help and TLC to get me through – believe me it was touch and go.
For some time I have been wanting to visit a couple of the peace parks built near Ypres post WW1 and also see Prowse Point where the famous Christmas Day football match was played and where a faithful reconstruction of the trenches shows that just a few metres separated the opposing forces. Disapproved of by the generals at the time, it has become something of a focal point.
When in Ypres I usually drive the clearly signed Poppy Trail coming across all sorts of interesting history. Thursday night’s attendance at the daily Menin Gate ceremony was primarily attended by children many of whom were on school trips from the UK so that future generations never forget.
Whilst I may not be much of a rallyer, there can scarcely be a better way of touring the Somme battlefields than in a motorhome.
Bailey motorhome and caravans aim for the Arctic Circle.
Bailey will be heading off on its Artic Adventure in a motorhome and two caravans.
To demonstrate the strength and durability of its Alu-Tech construction, Bailey of Bristol is about to embark on another marathon product endurance test. This time the company, in association with The Caravan Club, will be taking an Autograph 75-2 motorhome and two caravans on an epic 5,000-mile journey to the Arctic Circle.
The Bailey Arctic Adventure will set off from the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, travel through Europe across the Arctic Circle to the Millbrook Winter Test Centre in Ivalo, Northern Finland and then back.
The journey will take 16 days and the team will visit 12 countries in the process taking in some of Europe’s most iconic locations including the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the official home town of Santa Claus at Rovaniemi in Finland, and the Oresund Bridge linking Sweden to Denmark on the way.
Road and weather conditions at this time of year in Scandinavia will be challenging. With temperatures possibly dropping as low as minus 30 degrees centigrade there will be plenty of snow and ice on an already harsh terrain, making driving potentially hazardous.
To combat this, the 2.0 Blue Hdi 160bhp engine of the Autograph 75-2 should be able to take this journey in its stride, said Bailey, especially as the motorhome has been fully winterised, are fitted with winter tyres and supplied with snow chains.
As with all Bailey leisure vehicles the ‘Arctic Adventure’ motorhome and caravans are built using the company’s patented Alu-Tech body shell construction system.
Bailey points out that this award-winning technology creates vehicles that are more robust, more durable and yet lighter than those manufactured using conventional methods and offer greater protection against the elements to keep owners comfortable, safe and secure all year round.
To date over 40,000 Bailey caravans and motorhomes have been built using this method.
The team will be posting daily blogs and social media updates as often as possible via the Bailey and The Caravan Club social media channels details.
Talking about the challenge ahead, Bailey Marketing Director and a member of the ‘Arctic Adventure’ team Simon Howard, said: “After completing the West2East challenge in Australia we wanted to show people the other side of the ‘extreme caravanning coin’. Whilst the road and weather conditions in Northern Finland will be the polar opposite to those we experienced in the Australian Outback, they will be no less challenging.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to show people that if you put your mind to it you really can go anywhere and do anything in a modern leisure vehicle” he added.
Commenting on The Caravan Club’s involvement Director General Nick Lomas said: “The Caravan Club is delighted to support the ‘Arctic Adventure’ as it highlights what fantastic adventures you can have in a caravan or a motorhome. Not everybody can travel to the Arctic Circle but we hope it inspires people to have their own adventures, whether it be travelling for 10 miles, 100 miles or a thousand miles.”
You can follow regular updates on the team’s progress on the Bailey of Bristol Twitter @BaileyofBristol (#ArcticAdventure) and as well as the new Bailey of Bristol Facebook page.
By Reuben Bakker-Dyos & Cycling Plus
Riding the length of Britain: 6 days and 1,000 miles
Reuben Bakker-Dyos enlisted the help of some buddies to ride the end-to-end route in just 6 days
Tackling the length of Britian in six days
Tackling the length of Britian in six days (Dave Caudery)
Callum, Daniel, Jørgen and myself had known each other for a while before we’d even ridden together. We met through one of the dustier, more niche corners of the internet, Reddit’s cycling forum reddit.com/r/bicycling/. Despite coming from varied cycling backgrounds, we all had an appreciation and a longing for that one challenge that would test us. So when a reader suggested Land’s End to John o’Groats, I pitched the idea and without hesitation they said yes.
For months the challenge didn’t feel real, even while trying to solve the arduous logistical puzzle of organising a week-long journey for six people. Then suddenly there I was, standing outside my front door with Jørgen awaiting the imminent arrival of our home on wheels that carried the rest of our six-person ensemble.
Leading up to our Land’s End grand départ, the weather had been fairly spectacular, which bummed me out. Not because I hate nice weather but because I knew it was only a matter of when, not if, the weather would turn. However, on the morning of Sunday 31 July, day one, the sun provided a pleasantly warm start to our 1,000-mile journey.
Three days of being at various degrees of damp to wet take their toll on enthusiasm. At times we did get a bit… snappy
Our planned route that day was just shy of 200 miles through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset’s steep, undulating hills, and was the day I was most worried about. Thankfully the wind was on our backs giving us a gentle push through the 15-hour day.
Arriving at The Caravan Club’s Burnham-on-Sea campsite as the clock ticked over into the early hours of the next day after 15,000ft of climbing was a real eye opener into what we’d got ourselves in to. We still had to deal with our post-ride routine (showering, locking the bikes up, laundry if required, eating, tidying up, charging gadgets and prepping for the next day). We finally got our heads down around 2am, after a brilliant meal cooked by our soigneurs-for-the-week, Don and Gwen, Daniel’s parents.
Day two’s early route visited Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon and on into Bristol (my adopted home and home to BikeRadar and Cycling Plus magazine), which meant we received welcome support through car beeps and drivers waving their arms as our four-man train snaked its way through Somerset bound for Wales. I’m certain it was all encouragement and nothing else; we were all in Team Cycling Plus Sugoi kit after all.
The drizzle turned into rain almost as soon as we crossed the Severn Bridge, conditions we would have to contend with for the next three days. On and off spells of rain plagued us all the way through to the Lake District where our 150-mile day ended with an eerie but incredibly atmospheric six-mile climb up the south side of Kirkstone Pass through fog, resulting in an even more spectacular north side descent into the valley surrounding Ullswater. There we were greeted with the warmth and comfort of sunshine.
We ended our day in the hospitality of The Caravan Club at Troutbeck Head campsite. Warm showers, dry clothes and the evening sunshine rejuvenating not just our legs but also our spirits.
You might think that riding from one end of the country to another would mean an endless maze of picturesque country lanes and villages. Reality struck fairly early and about 70 percent of the time it was the complete opposite. Traffic-laden A-roads, potholes that resembled Arctic crevasses, petrol and salted road spray that stung our eyes to near blindness in the rain, with miles of broken roads that shook our bones to the core.
Three days of being at various degrees of damp to wet take their toll on enthusiasm. At times we did get a bit… snappy. Thankfully there were no major ones, but certainly grumpiness at times, which came as no surprise with six people living in close proximity for eight straight days.
We’ve all seen motorhomes crowd the car parks of start and finish towns at professional races, and hiring one was an exciting part of this journey. I felt that the classic hotel-to-hotel option that most supported LEJOG rides feature had been done to death so wanted to test just how feasible it was to live in and out of a house on wheels — thankfully the others agreed.
In a nutshell it’s cramped. You have to ditch any ideas of privacy and accept a life of bumping into people, saying sorry when you realise you’ve been standing in the way and trying to keep as organised as possible. Organisation is the key to keeping sane in such small spaces.
Scicon had provided us with kit bags, personalised with our flag of origin and name — a nice touch that made us feel a little special.
Power on the move is a concern when doing big rides, because we all know if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen. So, when you include all the gadgets a modern day cyclist needs on a multi-day ride (for us it was three action cameras, four Garmins, four mobile phones and three laptops), power does become an issue. Goal Zero provided us with its impressive Yeti 400 portable generator for the nights when we were off The Grid and away from The Caravan Club campsites.
The Cannondale Synapses we rode had surprisingly few mechanicals given the distances we were covering, a lot of the time on pretty horrible surfaces. Graphene has been touted as the new wonder material for tyres and Vittoria’s Corsa G+s were excellent, but not infallible with two punctures throughout the week.
The only other notable issue was a frayed gear cable, but Arragons Cycle Centre in Penrith sorted my bike out quick sharp to keep our time off the road to a minimum, so big thanks to Phil and Ben.
Unfortunately, our bodies couldn’t be fixed so quickly. Callum had a reoccurring knee injury midway through day two and decided to rest up and hit day three fresh. Sadly the same injury bit hard early on day four, which ultimately meant he had to pull out of the rest of the ride. Thankfully Callum used his kitchen talents to join Gwen in cooking up some morale-boosting meals.
Our second big loss came as we rolled into our penultimate campsite on the edge of Loch Ness when Jørgen said to me in a very croaky voice, “I’m broken.” The steep and exotically named B826 climb out of Fort Augustus up to Suidhe Viewpoint had inflamed a niggling Achilles heel to the point where walking was a struggle. Only with the loss of our Norwegian powerhouse did it hit me how much the other guys had been suffering. We tried but ultimately failed to talk freely about how we were feeling throughout the week.
With the team down to Daniel and myself on the final day, everything came to the surface at the final feed stop at Bettyhill — an agonisingly close 50 miles from John O’Groats.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon the conversations with Daniel became shorter and my time on the front got longer, which gave me the sense he was suffering behind me. After reaching the motorhome 110 miles after leaving it that morning, Daniel fell to the floor and let out a considerable amount of emotion. The sheer physical exhaustion we could see Daniel was in meant something had to break.
Our original plan was a quick grab-and-go stop, but circumstances dictated a longer feed so we could gather our thoughts and hit the final 50 miles in slightly better shape. With the tearful release came the moment where Daniel’s head cleared, enabling him to push on to the finish.
The final run in to the famous John O’Groats signpost seemed to drag, but once there we exchanged some weary thank yous and tired handshakes and still managed to pop a bottle of bubbly in triumphant glory.
A ride like this is more than just jumping on a bike each day and following the route. The logistics, at least for me, have been the source of endless head scratching in the months preceding our departure and this is where I want to talk about the two most important people who were with us during the week.
Don and Gwen deserve more recognition for putting up with the four numpties on bikes than we do for riding from one end of the country to another. Don drove every mile that we cycled while Gwen cooked every meal accompanied by a seemingly bottomless barrel of coffee regardless of the time of day.
Despite the fatigue they were no doubt suffering, both remained upbeat and smiley, which does wonders for motivation. When you see first hand the amount of work a carer (and that’s what they were for us) does then it puts the job of a professional soigneur into perspective, allowing a bunch of cyclists to concentrate on doing what they’re best at — riding bikes.
What started out with four blokes talking bikes on the internet ended with four friends having travelled the length of an entire country together
It’s hard to find too many regrets with a ride that encompasses everything you wanted from a challenge such as this, but due to the amount of miles we covered I didn’t appreciate exactly where we rode.
Trawling through Strava and Google Maps I’ve been reminded of some of the incredible landscapes we rode through, down, up and around — the valleys of Exe, Wye and Hope, over the unforgiving Lake District, climbing above Castle Stalker on Loch Laich, under the shadow of Ben Nevis and through the barren, midge-infested yet still beautiful lands of Caithness and Sutherland.
What started out with four blokes talking bikes on the internet ended with four friends having travelled the length of an entire country together on two wheels in six days — quite an achievement whatever way you look at it.
LEJOG in numbers (According to Strava)
1,018 miles ridden
50,048ft of ascent
60 hours, 26 minutes and 17 seconds total moving time
16.9mph average speed
37,656 calories burned
13.5°C average temperature
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.
This was a flight to Palma and a week in a hotel. It is early in the season of course but I only saw one coachbuilt motorhome and maybe half a dozen van conversions. I think the long and expensive ferry from Barcelona is a serious inhibitor although on the plus side responsible wild camping is permitted. By contrast, many holiday makers bring their cars across on the ferries with German registrations winning the day.
Being the sad bloke I am I could not resist harping back to my British Leyland truck days and including in one of my photos a 45 gallon drum of Caterpillar hydraulic oil. It took me back to my early career tour of duty. Faye is very accommodating on the motorhome lifestyle, thinks I need help with my train spotting and has called our psychiatrist friend for an appointment over the oil drum…..
Here I am spending a few days in the Loire valley, enjoying a long leisurely lunch on the banks of this amazing river and the next thing? A stressed mother and father with thirteen offspring sit at the next table screaming, arguing and every sentence begins with “Like…”. I’m quite expecting fourteen smart phones to be produced at any minute and stared at.
But in fact they were a delight and I loved every minute of their visit. I thought mother had every reason to look stressed out. Father marched about looking important but actually did nothing of any use at all. Sounds familiar.