That old caravan magic...

It gets the Foreign Secretary's vote, but caravanning doesn't appeal to everyone, says James Ruppert

The caravan has never had such a high-profile ambassador as our new Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. An unapologetic caravanner, Beckett can now explain the benefits and joys of tugging around what is little more than a well-appointed garden shed, to the whole world.

Certainly, she is in step with prevailing trends because, according to the European Caravan Federation, last year registrations for caravans and motor homes rose by 1.5 per cent, as sales topped 126,108. So Beckett won't need to spread the word in Europe, which has the three largest caravan markets: in Germany, France and Italy. The strongest growth rate of these three countries was achieved by the French market, with sales rising by 14.5 per cent - 13,000 vehicles - in 2005.

Meanwhile, the German market increased by 4.9 per cent, to 14,195 vehicles, and the Italian market by 1.1 per cent, to approximately 9,800 vehicles. That's a lot of caravans and motor homes, even though there has been a bit of a blip in the UK as registrations actually fell last year. Indeed, what Beckett could get stuck into is lobbying the European parliament about towing regulations, which could cramp our caravanners movement around the Continent.

According to the Caravan Club, in the Third European Driving Licence Directive the wording proposed in the new legislation allows a combined maximum authorised weight of 3.5 tons on a B- category licence. The club is disappointed that the weight limit for motor caravans on a B-category licence under the new directive won't be increased to 4.25 tons. That's because caravans are getting bigger and heavier, especially when combined with towing vehicles that are also piling on the pounds.

The Club also opposes the introduction of an additional test (to obtain a B+E licence) for drivers towing a trailer over 750kg. Obviously, the legislators want to protect us from rogue overloaded caravans, but as the Club points out, UK government statistics indicate that only 0.07 per cent of reported accidents involve caravans. More significantly, motor insurance companies don't increase premiums for cars towing caravans because the industry view is that most towcar drivers are safe and responsible. Certainly, many vehicles are now more able than ever in the towing department.

Every year, the Caravan Club designates its Towcar of the Year, taking over 40 cars to the Millbrook Proving Ground, in Bedfordshire, and subjecting them to high motorway speeds and a testing hill route with hairpin bends and sharp inclines. Indeed, part of the test process is to stop and restart on the hill. Marks are awarded for acceleration, stability, hill-starting, gearbox suitability, traction, handling, brakes and parking brake. In the entry-level £13,500-and-under category, a Kia Cerato 15 CRDi GS was selected because it was stable and had good gears that coped well with different driving conditions.

At the other end of the scale, in the full-sized 4x4 category, the £34,000 Volvo XC70 D5 was judged to be great to drive and hugely practical as it could cope with a full load. The huge ground clearance and four- wheel-drive system also make this is a very versatile towcar.

Slightly more affordable, though, was the £13,500- £16,500 winner, the Citroën C4 VTR 1.6 Hdi (£14,500), which cruised comfortably and had great brakes and suspension that could cope with a variety of towing weights. It would be perfect for Margaret Beckett, who, back in 1997, refused to answer when asked what car she used for towing, on security grounds.

For caravan sceptics such as me, who still prefer their vehicles untethered but are curious to find out more about the whole caravanning experience, there's the Caravan Channel, which describes itself as a broadband TV channel but to me is a website with some buttons to click to watch a video. Even so, it's a clever idea as you can look at new caravans, destinations, caravan parks in both the UK and Europe, and even the National Boat, Caravan & Outdoor Show, held at the Birmingham NEC back in February.

But a computer screen is probably as close as I'm going to get to a caravan these days, after enduring one too many minibreaks at the (admittedly static) family caravan on the south coast in the early 1960s. However, I do appreciate that caravanning has changed utterly since then, with double glazing, satellite TV, fridge freezers and all mod cons, and can certainly see the appeal of the self-styled "friendly" Camping and Caravanning Club, which, for a £33 family membership fee, offers over 4,000 places to camp in this country and across Europe.

As for Margaret Beckett, with her new responsibilities, she probably won't have so much time to tow now, but she could still share her caravanning experience with us, as the Caravan Channel invites anyone with suitable footage to send it in for possible broadcasting on the site. Beckett home movies. What fun.

Caravan sites

The Caravan Channel: www.caravanchannel.co.uk

The Motorhome Information Service: www.motorhomeinfo.co.uk

National Caravan Council: www.nationalcaravan.co.uk

The Motor Caravanners Club: www.motorcaravanners.org.uk

The Caravan Club: www.caravanclub.co.uk

The Camping & Caravanning Club: www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk

The International Caravanning Association: www.icacaravanning.org

The Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme: 01722 411 430

Towsafe: www.towsafe.co.uk

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own