Guest Blog Post – Pro-tec Towing Jacket

Hi everyone. I am delighted to present another guest blog post. Caravanning pal Barry has a first look at the new innovative Towing Jacket from Bradford based company Pro-tec:

There are many things that I love about caravanning - too many to mention at this juncture and most have been covered in various Vlogs, Blogs & other media outlets anyway so I won't waste your time listing them now.
What I am going to write about is a couple of things l don't like. The first one is cleaning the outside of the caravan.
I take care of the interior of my caravan, an Elddis Avante 550 more than I do my home. I instantly wash up after we have eaten, I dust and vacuum daily, in fact I have made a rod for my own back because my other half expects me to have the same enthusiasm for domestic chores at home now but we won't go into that. Anyhow, I digress, it's the exterior of our beloved 'van that causes some consternation.
Don't get me wrong, I love it to be a dazzling example to other people on the road, I am very proud of my caravan, but cleaning it is so frustrating. You can spend a couple of hours washing, rinsing and waxing it before your short weekend break but if the conditions are against you by the time you arrive at your chosen destination it can look like this.


Thank you Nigel Hutson for allowing me to show the worst our roads can do to our home from homes.
The weather this last week is a prime example, the Beast from the East conspired with Storm Emma to conjure up a torrid time for the nation. Many parts of the country were cut off for a short while and lot's of commuters were trapped on the Motorways and Highways for many hours.

Fortunately the Beast & Emma have absconded but left us with some very messy roads, roads that will cause havoc with your recently cleaned vehicle.
If you are like me you will have given your caravan a clean down before embarking on your latest outing, however, with the recent weather your pride and joy could end up looking like poor Nigel's unit following a trip to York.
So, the question is how do we avoid this and the answer is a towing cover. That brings me to the second thing I have not liked so far in my caravanning journey so to speak. This little addition to your caravanning kit can not only protect your 'van from the perils of a dirty road or muddy campsite but it also has the added advantage of protecting the windows from stones and other debris thrown up from the ground.
So, I set out to purchase one and being a typical Yorkshireman looking for a bargain I bought a second hand one that was a few years old but still served it's purpose. However, putting it on the caravan was a right royal pain in the neck. I had to insert about twelve separate ties in each awning rail then fold the cover up from the bottom and tension each tie separately, something that really needed two people and was time consuming, so as you might imagine, after a short while I stopped using it and we were back to square one, until now......
Let me introduce you to the Brand New Pro-tec Towing Jacket. The Towing Jacket was presented to the caravanning world at the recent Caravan and Motorhome show at the NEC and by all accounts it has been received well by the community.


So, what is different? Well, firstly, it is a one person operation, it is unbelievably easy to attach to your caravan. The cover is in two parts, unsurprisingly a left and a right side. Slide the left side into the left awning channel.


Then the right side of the jacket into the right awning rail. You can do it the other way around if you so desire, we are very easy going us Yorkshire folk!


Once both sides are inserted into their appropriate rail, simply zip the two sides together and there you have it. Well almost, there are two hooks on each side of the jacket that you attach to the fascia of your caravan and a strap that you pass under the A-Frame to secure it. And that is literally that. It will take you two minutes, probably less with practice. It's so simple, let's face it,it has to be for people like me:


But that's not all. With most other towing covers, once it is on you can't get to the front locker box, not easily anyway, so fingers crossed you haven't absentmindedly forgot anything important like your towing mirrors in there. Ahem. However, with the Pro-tec jacket you don't need to worry about that because guess what? You can just pull the zip up and get access to the locker.


The jacket has two toggles at the top of each corner allowing you to fasten the cover so it doesn't impede you when you are doing what it is you are doing in the locker.
It doesn't end there. There may be some reason that during your journey you need to stop, maybe you are on a tour on the continent, France maybe and you stop in an Aire possibly and want a coffee or meal in your caravan. Do you take off the cover or put up with it obscuring any view, the chances are with all the shenanigans of putting it on you won't want to take it off. Well, with the Pro-tec Towing Jacket you don't have to.


All that is required is to pull down the zip from the top down to the desired level and you have a view again. The zips are kept in place with a Velcro cover, obviously I have not put these to the test yet, that observation will come later this month.
As you may have spotted there are a couple of other benefits to the towing jacket I haven't yet mentioned. On the photo above you can see at the bottom left and bottom right of the cover are two inlets that allow your lights to be seen, don't worry, they have a soft plastic cover so no chance of the dirt getting in there.
Also you may have noticed the two pockets on either side of the cover about half way up, the more astute will have gathered that these allow you access to the handles.


So to summarise my first impressions:
The Towing Jacket is lightweight and packs up into a neat little bag, handy for storage.
It is available in blue (like mine) or green, I have to be honest, I am not sure if they are available in other colours. The wife preferred blue because our colour scheme in the van is blue!
For me the main benefit is that it can be fitted quickly and is a one person task. That minute or two needed to fit it can save you time ( not having to clean the van as often) and money ( preventing damage to windows or body from stones etc).
Access to handles, windows or the locker is no issue.
So, we now have to put it to the road test, which, as I have mentioned I will be doing in a couple of weeks.
So far though, the Pro-tec Towing Jacket has ticked all the boxes and I haven't found any negatives yet (which has surprised my wife).
If you have got this far, thank you for reading this blog, it is appreciated and if anyone does have any questions they want to ask me regarding the jacket, I am on twitter @tyke34.

Happy Caravanning.


Check out the Pro-tec Towing Jacket HERE

Product Review – Solwise Patriot 4G Outdoor Antenna

For some, camping – however you do it, be it under canvas or in a caravan or motorhome, is all about getting away from it all. Others though – us included, do like to stay connected when travelling.

Mostly – for us anyway -  that is by using the on site WiFi, made easier by our Solwise WiFi booster kit which I reviewed last year. You can read that review HERE.

There’s been occasions though when WiFi hasn’t been an option, either because the site didn’t have any or there was nothing available nearby – like BT WiFi for example. Smaller sites, Cl’s and CS’s for example often don’t offer WiFi so the only other way of staying connected is through the mobile phone network – say by using your phone’s hotspot facility or a dedicated mobile WiFi device. We’ve used both many times but they do suffer from the same problem if the signal is weak as they’re located inside the ‘van – and at least partially shielded by the walls.

Solwise have now released a new product which they’ve very kindly given me one of to play with that is positioned outside, like the aerial in the WiFi kit mentioned earlier. Lets take a look.


At first glance it looks similar to USB WiFi antenna in the kit mentioned above and will handily fit in the same bracket. A standard sized SIM card form you network of choice slots in the bottom of the unit alongside the connector for the supplied USB lead.

The cable entry point ensures a good water resistance seal however it’s quite tight when first pushing the lead through. A quick wipe with something like a shoe shine sponge (not polish!) or similar silicon based product will help it on it’s way.


The unit can be used on it’s own with any Windows PC from 7 upwards with a USB socket, however it also pairs with the mini WiFi router/repeater that forms part of the kit mentioned at the start. We’ll take a look at both, the solo option first.

With the SIM card in place and connection sound at the antenna end, plug the lead into an available socket on your device. On Windows 10 devices it appears as an additional drive in explorer. Click on the drive then double click on Setup to start the installation of the software. There is no physical CD to worry about


Follow the on screen instructions – I accepted all the default options with no issues. on launching the program this is what you will see. The screenshot on the right shows how the device appear in your network settings.


Click connect. If the SIM requires a top-up or data to be added a web page from your chosen network should open. Top up or add package as required depending on the operator. For pre-paid SIM’s or those that already have data loaded you should now be on line and can surf away. No further set up details were required when I used it with EE and the others should be the same. Basic details, such as operator and data sent and received is shown at the front.

Right, now lets take a look at using the device with the Solwise router/repeater that forms part of the WiFi kit. This method will likely be of more interest to those that already have said kit. You will need the APN settings for your chosen network, and Solwise have a list HERE.There is also an important update that needs to be applied to the router first though. Here we go.

The router’s Firmware needs to be updated so it can work with the 4G antenna. It’s easy enough to do and only has do be one once but must be done right. The router will need to be physically connected to your computer with a network cable to do this. make sure you use the LAN socket on the router. This is the one next to the power socket. Do not plug in the antenna at this stage.

Open a web browser and access the router’s control panel by typing into the address bar, or if you have made the adjustment to work with BT WiFi. Enter your password.

SOL05Go to the Advanced tab then click on Management, then look on the right hand side under Firmware Upgrade. If the Software Version says anything other than so-2.33 then you need to upgrade the firmware. Don’t worry, it’s straightforward.

The Firmware upgrade file you need can be found on the Downloads Tab on the Solwise website HERE Click and save to your computer. I usually save to the desktop so I can find things easily!SOL07

Back on the router control panel click on Browse to locate the file then click on upload. The upgrade only takes a few minutes. Once the browser window goes blank re-enter the routers address and go back to check that the correct software version is shown.

Right, now the router is ready to use with the 4G antenna. Lets see how.

Log into the router’s control panel as before but this time select Easy Setup, then 3G/4G dongle. You will be presented with this


Enter the settings according to the list from Solwise as mentioned. I’m using EE in this case so have entered ‘everywhere’ in the APN Service box and cleared all other boxes. Then click next. I accepted the message about disabled budget control.

You will then be presented with this screen for renaming and securing your WiFi signal. If you have used the router with the WiFi aerial previously, you should have already done this and can leave the settings the same. If not I strongly urged you to at least add a password so no one else can use your valuable data without your permission.


Click done and next the router will reboot – this will take a few minutes, so time to put the kettle on. It may appear to ‘hang’ on 100%. Don’t worry, your computer will disconnect as the router reboots and if you’re doing this at home, it may have reconnected to your home WiFi. Just reselect the mobile router if your computer doesn’t reconnect to the router automatically.


You should then get a message indicating success. Click on OK then, depending on your browser another tab will open from your chosen network for you to top up or add a data package. Again, for pre-paid SIM’s or those that already have data loaded you should now be on line and can surf away.

So, that was the how. But what about the why? What are the advantages of using this over a mobile WiFi dongle or ‘phone hotspot? They can both share to multiple devices right?

Yes, however due to the fact that this device sits higher up and outside your ‘van it is much more adept at picking up mobile signals in areas with poor coverage – and there are plenty of those about as anybody who travels a lot will already know. Like the WiFi version it has a 5dB omnidirectional antenna so no fiddling with direction is required.

For those that mostly visit club sites with WiFi this may not appear to be of much use however in my experience site WiFi can be pretty slow and if you need the speed that a good 4G signal can bring then this will help. As I’ve said I think it will be of most interest to those that already have the WiFi kit – this makes a handy addition for those that need to be connected whenever and wherever they are travelling.

It’s available for a little over seventy quid and can be found on the Solwise website HERE

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to send me a message though the blog or one of our social media channels or give Solwise a call on 01482 672872. They’ll be happy to help.

Back in Bristol

Right here we go again, my first travel blog post of 2018. And although we now nearly two months in I’ll wish you a happy new year anyway. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

The recent half-term holiday saw us back in Bristol at the Caravan & Motorhome Club site at Baltic Wharf. We really loved both the city and the site last year and wanted to go back whilst it is still open. The threat of closure still hangs over it sadly

The journey west was fine, taking just a little over 4 hours although having started in bright sunshine, the rain came as we progressed along the M4. Rosie performed well as per usual although she is now starting to show her age a little and there were signs that the clutch is approaching the end of its life with the merest of  slippage whilst climbing Handcross Hill on A23. It’s a challenging climb with a tonne and a half on the back but she’s been fine since. We’ll be keeping a close eye on her though with our Easter break up north coming up in less than a month.

Our friends Neil & Dave were already on site and we met most evenings for the inevitable research expeditions. The Cottage, just a couple of minutes walk from the site has had a bit of a makeover, reflected in both the menu and bar prices. We ate there only once. The Nova Scotia just a few minutes walk further around the Harbour became a of the venue of choice for grog and grub. Excellent value meals and a great old fashioned boozer too.

The excellent Bristol Ferry service came in handy once again not least for a visit to the theatre to see Wicked, the city centre stop being just  a couple of minutes walk from the Hippodrome.  It's a lovely theatre, the seats were good (thanks Neil & Dave) and at the show was excellent.  Word of advice though, if you fancy a pre or post shown libation, the pub to the right of the theatre is a much better value than of the piano bar to the left. I speak from experience.

The weather tried to play it’s part as it was generally either bitterly cold or wet, however that didn't stop us getting out and about and a return to Portishead’s marina area was first up - and what a difference since we were last there in 2013.


One of Patsy’s hot water pipes had split at some point, indicated by the rather soggy carpets we were greeted with on our return. Fortunately a local dealer had the necessary parts - and were open late on a Sunday afternoon too. Thanks AJM Leisure for helping us out.

The train took the strain for a trip to Gloucester Docks and whilst we could have jumped on the Bristol Ferry to get to Temple Meads station, we opted instead for the bus which, we’d discovered stopped right outside the site and deposited us across the road from the station in around 10 minutes. It’s a free service runs in a loop and continues on to the Broadmead shopping centre and into the city. Very handy but do make sure you wave it down though as we were subjected to a lecture on bus hailing etiquette on boarding….

It clearly wasn’t our day for buses. Whilst Gloucester Docks was easily walkable from the station, we’d added bus travel to the tickets for a bit of flexibility. We jumped on the  bus and soon we were on our way. To erm, Cheltenham! Note to self - if you ask for directions, it’s best to actually listen to the answer! Anyway, we got there in the end. One of many dockland redevelopments around the country it did have a nice feel to it, though clearly the adjacent Quays outlet shopping area had taken it’s toll on the city centre. We’ve seen this so many times - when will councils ever learn? The Cathedral looked fantastic though and the work they are doing in the surrounding gardens will look great when complete.


Just a ten minute drive from the site is Bailey of Bristol caravan and motorhome manufacturers and were were treated to a fascinating tour around the factory. No pictures of inside were allowed but you do get to see me in something other than black! Big thanks to Bart for taking the time to show us around.

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A visit to Oakham Treasures came as a recommendation from friends and it didn’t disappoint. A wonderful collection of farming and retail memorabilia from times past with carefully recreated shops from an age where everything was behind the counter. A truly fascinating collection and while we certainly spent longer there than we thought we would you could easily make a day of it. Or More. The spacious and sensibly priced café is a great excuse to refuel before, during or after your visit. Caravanners and Motorhomers may be interested in the all weather pitches with electric hook up.


Our final excursion of the week was to the Clifton Observatory, located believe it or not, above the Clifton Suspension Bridge. For four quid you get to ascend and get a look at the Camera Obscura and descend into Giants Cave which opens out onto the Avon Gorge. The descent to the cave is steep and quite narrow and for once I was glad to not be wearing my trusty winklepickers.


If you don’t do either though the area around the Observatory is a great place for a walk and you are still blessed with stunning views of the bridge and gorge below.


And that was half-term over. Another great stay in a city we both really like. The Bristol Ferry service is so handy and - one bus driver aside - folks are really friendly and helpful. My desire to return again is tempered by the knowledge that there is so much more to see in the country of ours.

Right, until next time - which ain’t that far away - thanks as always for reading.

Cheers & Beers

Rich & Trev

LED Lighting Update

I know I shouldn’t go on about a woman’s age, but there’s no getting away from it - Patsy our lovely Coachman Caravan is getting on a bit. And whilst she’s extremely well endowed in the lighting department it is of it’s time - that is, all relatively power hungry filament bulbs.

Within a year of buying her we changed the awning light to a more modern LED based unit - the fan on the charger unit under the bench seat would cut in almost immediately after the light was switched on. And it was yellowing and looking generally tired anyway.

But it wasn’t until we became aware of a lighting company specialising in low voltage LED lighting for the leisure market that we started pondering the interior lights in the ‘van too.

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that we don’t generally go off-grid. Only once to my knowledge have we had to rely on the caravan’s battery and that was when there was a power cut on site! So what then you might think. I’ve heard the argument that - you’ve paid for the electric just use it - but it’s not an argument I accept. Reducing our power consumption is a good thing for this planet of ours never mind the wallet or purse.

However, making changes that would reduce our power needs would also give us more flexibility in planning future caravanning trips and with this in mind we got in touch with aforementioned company Aten Lighting.

I contacted them through Twitter and not really knowing what I was looking for they suggested emailing in pictures of the current light fittings to ascertain our needs. Within 24 hours of doing this they came back with a list and some options regarding brightness and whiteness. The order was placed and was delivered the very next day.

20180211_191153We elected to keep all but two of the current fittings, changing just the one we’d fitted over the hob and the one in the wardrobe. Two ‘colour temperatures’ were offered - the bright white more commonly associated with LED’s we felt just wouldn’t work with Patsy’s décor so we opted for the warm white which is intended to replicate the light offered by the existing filament lamps.20180211_191457

Fitting was straightforward - the LED units are a little larger than the filament bulbs they replaced but I changed them all inside 15 minutes, being careful not to bend the pins. The replacement fittings for over the hob and the wardrobe will have to wait as some numpty (that will be me then) left the toolbox at home. But I’ll update the blog with some photo’s when I’ve done so.

So, what’s the lighting look like? Exactly the same - which is just what we wanted. The warm white option almost exactly replicates the old filament bulbs and looks great in Patsy’s interior and each light uses roughly one tenth of the power now. A drastic reduction in usage that not only gives us more options for going off-grid but also considerably reduces the demands on the charging unit when hooked up.

Right, costs. We bought 13 lamps and two fittings for just over a hundred quid including delivery. A sizable outlay I know but we’ll certainly never need to replace them, they’ll give us greater flexibility and we’re also doing our bit.

20180211_192351As I mentioned, they offer two colour temperatures - but you can also opt for brighter bulbs too giving you the option of upgrading existing lighting without the expense and hassle of changing the fitting.

Thanks to Aten Lighting for their friendly, helpful and prompt service. Do please check them out as they not only do bulbs but a range of fittings too - not just for caravans or motorhomes but boats and other vehicles too.

Aten Lighting are at the NEC Camping, Caravan & Motorhome show from 20th-25th February 2018 on stand 1032 in Hall 1 and you can find them on Twitter & Facebook too.

We’ve also made a short video to accompany the blog which you can find on our YouTube channel HERE.