"Pier Cottage campsite - Looks quite nice from the water. Shame it looks so dire close up on site"
For our trip to the Lake District we planned to take the Friday afternoon off work and set off early for a nightly stop over at Brownhills’ club site, i.e. the dealer who we bought the Elddis Accordo 120 from. We thought it would be a god idea to break the journey in to two, and also have an extra night away at the same time, and since the Brownhill’s site is free (well you pay for it when you spend several thousand pounds on a motor home from them!) it was all good.
Whilst making the final preparations getting ready to leave I made a massive faux pas and tried to move the Accordo 120 with the wheel clamp securely clamped to the rear wheel. Needless to say the van was very awkward to move and suddenly jolted forward with a loud bang, which turned out to be the clamp smacking in to some boy work and breaking the plastic near the rear wheel arch. Hmmm…….. As I am sure you can imagine I was a little p****d of with myself for being such an idiot. As if we hadn’t spent enough already, what on buying the Accordo and then having to buy gas bottles, the awning and other various bits and pieces, I now had another god knows how much to find getting the plastic replaced. My better half took my faux pas very well, and far better than I did and with a “it happens – and you’ll only do it once” comment that’s all that was said.
After removing the wheel clamp (like I should have done in the first place) I had a look around the wheel arch to see what other damage I had done. Fortunately I there was no other damage, and I was definitely let off lightly as it could have been a lot worse and lead to a cancelled trip. To say I am gutted is an understatement and I am so, so disappointed in myself for being such an idiot (I want to use much stronger words but they would have to be censored out. Besides, I don’t want to offend anyone with my occasional potty mouth!)
With the damage done there was nothing we could do, other than stick some (ugly) black tape over the body work and carry on sorting everything else out. This wasn’t the best way to start a holiday, but since we had not had a proper vacation since April, and were well overdue time away we made it our mission to try and forget about it, which is easier said than done.
This monumental error was a hard lesson and it has taught me to make sure there are no luminous yellow security devices attached to the vehicle before attempting to move it. I did clear one of them, the Stoplock steering wheel clamp, but in my excitement to get everything done and get away I totally forgot about the wheel clamp – and it was going to cost me.
The only dramas we had on the way to Brownhills in Newark was nearly being side swiped by an old lady in a blue Fiesta as we took the exit on a roundabout about five miles from where we live, and also getting held up in a queue of traffic on the A47, also less than twenty miles from home, which turned out to be a lane closure to allow a recovery truck to collect a Range Rover (and a very nice vehicle it was) and whilst the driver and passengers looked on. I was glad the Range Rover hadn’t had a shunt, there have been far too many of those on the roads around where we live over the last few days.
Once we cleared the holdup on the A47 it was pretty much plain sailing all the way along the A17 and through the Fens to Newark, during which we did the obligatory wave to other motor homes and got totally snubbed by the VW campervans (I don’t know why there has to be this rift, it’s ridiculous). En route to Newark the Accordo 120 didn’t miss a beat and it was great. I have reached the conclusion it is a cracking little vehicle to drive, and not nearly as intimidating to handle as I thought a larger vehicle was going to be. When we thought about buying a motor home I did have concerns over the size of them, however the Accordo 120 doesn’t feel that big when driving it on the road and there are times when I started throwing it in to roundabouts like I would my car, so I needed a stern talking to from the other half to calm me down.
One reason for going to Brownhills early was to go and see the after sales manager about an ongoing issue that we had been trying to rectify for the last eight weeks, and I was hoping to catch him to finally resolve it. Since I had managed to damage our new motor home I also thought that whilst I was at Brownhills I would get someone to give me a quote on the repair, and let me know whether I would be shelling out hundreds or thousands of pounds, and to put my mind at ease that I hadn’t done any other damage.
"My big fat gypsy Club Brownhills site - Just the place for a noisy and sleepless night."
We arrived at Brownhills half an hour before closing time so I parked up in the overnight bay, and headed straight over to reception to see if I could catch a word with the manager, who was due to call me during the morning for an update, but didn’t get around to it. The manager had left for the day, which was a bit of a pain so there was no way I was going to get the ongoing issue resolved before moving on to the Lake District the following day. Oh well………………
When I asked if someone would come and give me a quote for the repair work I was told it would cost £84. I was obviously stunned by the cost, and asked again (I thought I had hear wrong – I am a bit luggy at times but then I had several operations on my ear as a kid and have never had great hearing) and got the same “It’ll cost £84 for someone to come and give you a quote”. To say I was less than impressed was an understatement, especially since we are still relatively new customers, our order was not yet complete and had taken two months and it was still not sorted out and we were told when we ordered the Accordo 120 that “Brownhills prides itself on after sales service”, which was the clincher for us, being totally new to the world of motor homing. I politely declined putting my hand in my pocket and walked away.
In the show room I found the “friendly salesman” who managed to bag our custom (no doubt earning him a handsome commission in the process) and asked if he could help and come and take a look. The salesman basically had no interest (he had taken our money his job was done) and pointed me back to the desk from where I had just come from. I was starting to feel very bitter by this point, and rather than say something I may later regret I walked back to the Accordo to let off steam.
The Brownhill’s campsite is a weird one in that it is great in some respects and terrible in others. The good things are it has free water, free electricity, there is a swimming pool, there is a TV lounge, there are free showers/toilets and there are washing up facilities, and there terrible things are it is right beside the A1 roundabout (VERY noisy), it is a tarmac carpark and looks like a travellers site, there are no plugs in the sinks (fine if you have a washing up bowl, but if you don’t like us (because we can’t find one small enough to fit the Accordo’s sink) you’re going to struggle) and the people using the site are the most unfriendly I have ever come across. Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to make friends but a “hello and a smile” doesn’t take much effort does it?
The Brownhills site is only designed as a one-night stop off place, a bit like the Brit Stops scheme, however I think I am going to struggle sleeping and wish we had done a bit of internet searching and found a quieter CL site and paid a few quid. Hind sight is a wonderful thing, and it’s too late now so I guess it’s make the best of a bad situation, see how it pans out and make sure we don’t let it ruin our vacation.
We clearly made a big mistake staying on the Club Brownhills site last night since I didn’t get any sleep at all! Traffic doesn’t usually bother me and I have stayed at some campsites right on the side of busy trunk roads and had no problems sleeping at all. For example, we stayed at Walnut Lakes (a brilliant site and highly recommended – out my “Review of Walnut Lakes for more) just off the busy A17 and I slept like a baby. The traffic of the A1 though, this is something different and totally relentless. It wasn’t just the traffic noise but also the lighting of the campsite. Sure, I’d expect some gentle lighting around, in fact I welcome soft lighting as it makes the toilet trips a little easier to navigate, but the lights here are bright enough to light a football stadium! It’s just too much. After no rest whatsoever I was not feeling excited about going to the Lake District, and was actually dreading the drive. This is not how a motor home vacation should start.
The more and more I start looking around the Club Brownhills site and facilities the more I am starting to realise they are “all show and no go”. Everything looks really impressive but that’s as far as it goes. For example the showers look modern and they are really big (well long) but when you turn them on they soak everything in the cubicle (including clothes, towel and shoes) as I found out. The damn shower head is angled so that the entire cubicle gets a soaking and there is nothing you can do about it because the shower head is fixed! I hate getting changed in shower cubicles where the entire floor is wet, but I had to at Brownhills site. The other thing about the toilets is there are no plugs for the sinks (just like in the washing up room) so I couldn’t have a shave either. As far as campsites go, Brownhills is one of the worst I have ever stayed on and I thank god it was only for one night. Whilst an overnight stop is free for us, as Club Brownhills members, in the future I am going to book somewhere else and pay for it.
The better half was more concerned about the damage than she first let on, and is worried that the Accordo 120 isn’t safe to drive. Since I was totally fobbed off about getting a quote for the work the following day the wife thought she would see if someone would at least come and have a look and let us know whether it is safe to carry on our journey or whether we have to abandon and go home to get it repaired. I was sure it was okay, I mean it behaved itself on the way to Newark, but there are times when all you need is re-assurance, and this is what my wife wanted. Hopefully, with so many people around who know about motor homes someone will take a few minutes out to take a look and put our minds at ease. I would like to think the “Brownhills the biggest motor home supplier in the UK who prides itself on customer service” will at least have a quick look. Here’s hoping…………………….
Hat’s off to Brownhills they did let one of their service engineers come and have a look at the damage I caused. I was impressed because they did it for nothing but at the same time disappointed because it took my wife to virtually beg and plead and say she was concerned that the van was unsafe to go on the road. In my opinion, Brownhills should have offered a little advice to some existing customers just being asked (i.e. and show a bit of good will) and not wait until someone is on their knees praying for assistance. Got to say Brownhills is sinking more and more in my estimations.
"On route from Newark to Lake Coniston"
The drive from Newark to Coniston was an experience and one I don’t really want to repeat. Most of the journey was fine, although there was a fair amount of traffic, and the trip along the A1, M62, M61 and M6 was fine. The A590 things started to get a little tight and twisty but it was still good. We were driving the A590 when “Jane” (the oracle of all roads and directions on the TomTom) told us to bear right off up some tiny little road. Jane has never let me down in the past, so I followed her instructions and by the time I realised what a mistake it was I was travelling up tiny little roads that were unclassified in a motor home we had only just covered 500 miles in. Hmmmm…….
I have no idea where we went, other than we past the “Drunken Duck” pub, which looked kind of quaint, but it wasn’t good. The road wasn’t busy, thank god, however I think it must be a road that only locals used since none of them was willing to get out of the way and they were coming through like hell. The third car we met forced me so far over the roadside trees scraped along the van at such a volume I was positive I gauged the side of the van, damaging it even more. After the third car I decided the next vehicle I met was going to get over for me and I was simply going to stop and slowly get as far over as I could without scraping the side of my vehicle. All the other drivers weren’t prepared to put their cars right over in the gutter so why should I?
Fortunately, I didn’t meet another oncoming vehicle for a long time but I did eventually meet one, and when I did I stuck to my guns. As I went over as far as I was going to the old bloke started waving his arms about and mouthing off even though he had loads of room to do the same we both could have got through. I don’t mind a verbal bashing from another motorist but I do appreciate them to have the balls to do it with an open window and carry on when I open mine so I can offer some kind of response (an apology if it is need or response at all, which is usually the case). What I don’t like is when the mouthing off stops when I am right beside their vehicle. Just grow a pair!!
That was the last oncoming vehicle and after many miles of single track roads, going uphill and down dale – most of it in second gear at around 15mph – 20mph we finally reached Coniston and the entrance to Pier Cottage Campsite, where we had booked for the week.
Once again the Accordo didn’t miss a beat and handled everything I threw at it. It didn’t sound too good on the unclassified single track roads, but then that was my driving style (which I admit was totally wrong) any vehicle would have protested. I know I keep going on about it, but the Accordo 120 is so good to drive and it just inspires confidence. I didn’t like the tiny little roads, and I will do my best to avoid them in the future, but I at least know that if Jane sends me down the backroads the Accordo can definitely cope with it.
"Pier Cottage campsite - Not the prettiest of sites. Not overly impressed really"
Driving in to the campsite I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed at all. It didn’t look bad, but there wasn’t the “wow” factor of other campsites we have stayed in over the years. I wasn’t disappointed with the site, just indifferent. Well, that was the case until I saw the view from the pitch we were allocated, which was absolutely stunning…………
We booked Pier Cottages because it had a couple of lakeside pitches, and this is what we wanted. What I didn’t appreciate at the time, but obviously do now is how lakeside some of the pitches are. The pitch we were allocated is about 5m away from the lake, and it comes with its own little pic-nic bench overlooking the lake. Chilling out in the rear lounge of the Accordo 120 ( I love the rear lounge layout of out motorhome) we get stunning views over Lake Coniston, people sailing their small boats around the lake and the steam gondola ferrying the tourists around. This pitch has the best view of any pitch we have ever stayed on. Once set up the fact that I didn’t say “wow” as we first entered the site is irrelevant because this site does have the “wow” factor, you just need to be on the right pitch, which fortunately we were.
Sunday - Thursday
I was told by some work colleagues that the Lake District is notoriously wet and that it always rains, which I thought was a bit unfair of them given we booked it for a week, but I now see what they were on about.
Saturday was a day of showers, with some glorious sunshine in between but Sunday, Monday and Tuesday it was rainy all day, and when I say all day I mean ALL day. Campsites are miserable places in the rain, and Pier Cottage campsite is no different. The ground is sodden, there are puddles everywhere and everyone is remaining in their caravans/motorhomes and only venturing out to visit the toilet block. Pier Cottage campsite didn’t have much of a wow factor (from the front) when we first arrived in sunshine, but over the last few days it is now positively miserable, which is a real shame. On a good note, the view across the lake is still stunning, even when the hills are covered in mist and it is raining.
I was starting to question whether we made the right decision with the Accordo 120 since we have to make the bed every night (and then pack it away in the morning), which is a bit of a faff, and we have no garage either. Over the last few days I have come to the realization that we did make the right decision and whilst having to make the beds/pack them away is a daily chore (it really doesn’t take that long) and a garage would be nice (but we would only fill it up, creating extra weight, decreasing the fuel economy and spending more on fuel) it is not an essential thing.
Every day seems to be a learning day in the motorhome, and even though we went and purchased a load of water accessories it seems that we still haven’t got it sorted out properly. I really thought that a 5m hose would be enough however, even though there is a water tap right near us the damn thing won’t reach, s we are having to fill the tank using the carrier and funnel we bought. All I can say is thank god we bought those otherwise getting fresh water in the tank would have been a right mission. We have decided to bite the bullet and just buy a 25m hose – one of the flat ones and then try and find somewhere to store it when it is not in use. This is where a garage would have come in useful, but hey ho. We paid our money and we took our choice.
It seems that everything is a compromise in a small motor home. You can have a garage and fixed bed but no rear lounge OR you can have a rear lounge but no fixed bed or garage. If you want a fixed bed, a garage and a sizeable lounge you need a bigger van, which we can’t have. We don’t have the budget for a bigger van and we don’t have the space to store a bigger van. Besides, I don’t want to drive a bigger van, and the drive on those single track roads proved that there are times when even the Accordo is too big.
Wednesday started off wet and miserable, surprise surprise however by early afternoon it had cleared and was looking okay. If there is one thing I have learned in my short time in the Lake District it is when there is a break in the weather you get out and go, and as soon as you can, before you miss it. With that break on us it was time to get out and leave the campsite for once, and talk a walk in to Coniston village and see what was on offer.
The village was a short fifteen minute walk, alongside a raging river (due to all the rain we had been having) and looking towards the hills and Old Man Coniston. The scenery is stunning, I can’t deny that, but I have to say I was not endeared by the Lake District at that point.
Coniston is a small, quaint and “twee” village that looks neat, tidy and well kept. The village is clearly geared up for tourism and there are pubs (two of which are directly opposite each other), camping supply shops (we found two!), cafes, gift shops and a few other retailers. The fact that there are so many similar competing businesses in such a small area amazes me, but if they all survive there is clearly a lot of trade coming in. Back home most villages don’t have one pub because there is not enough to support it, so to have multiple pubs all on top of each other Coniston obviously thrives, and all year around at that.
I really don’t understand why businesses and shops have to rip off the tourists, and it is something that pushes my buttons. I know it happens all over the country and it is not unique to Coniston, but that doesn’t make it right. During our trip in the village I was “conned in Coniston” and in the Co-op of all places. I bought a pie and a pack of kitchen roll, was overcharged by a pound at the checkout, not given the receipt and walked out. Outside the shop I checked with the wife how much the kitchen roll was as she picked it up and put it on the counter, and then said she thought whilst I was at the till she thought it was too expensive. Hmmm…………. She could have told me at the time! I went back in the shop to reclaim my nugget and the bloke behind the counter, who was so nice and chatty whilst we were paying, asked to see the receipt which obviously I couldn’t produce because he didn’t give me one. The bloke sat there with a big smirk on his face and said “no receipt no refund” and crossed his arms. I was clearly not impressed but I couldn’t be bothered to argue so I walked out and sucked it up. I know it’s only a pound but the total cost of the shopping was only two pounds (should have been two pounds) so it’s quite a lot. Besides, if that smug idiot made a pound from every tourist who bought something it would amount to a fair amount. Finally, it’s the principal.
Being conned in Coniston has made me realise that I need to ask for the receipt for every single purchase I make whilst in the Lake District, and from then on that’s exactly what I did. I made damn sure I was going to get ripped off again.
Wednesday night Mother Nature decided to throw another curve ball at us and not only send loads of rain over the hills but also gale force winds. We didn’t get the weather warning until a few hours before the winds hit, and by then it was too late to get everything out of the awning and packed under the van, deflate the awning and try and get that in its bag and pack that under the van as well. By the time we got the weather warning it was too dark and wet to do anything other than see what the carnage was going to be. From 9.20 Wednesday night to 3.30 Thursday morning we sat in the awning to make sure it was okay. Looking back it was comical, as there would be nothing we could do until the wind stopped, but at the time we definitely weren’t laughing and a lack of sleep made the situation even worse.
The Kampa inflatable awning withstood the wind and the driving rain and remained intact. Whilst I am totally p****d off the thing won’t fit to the van properly I am impressed with the toughness and durability of Kampa Travel Pod Air awning. It took a real battering and came out the other side.
Thursday morning was more rain and more wind (although it had died down to 18mph – 28mph – according to the forecasters) so we remained in the Accordo. By lunchtime it had turned to bright spells (I ‘d like to say sunshine but it wasn’t) and showers, so it was time to make hay once more. We have seen the steam boat Gondola go past the campsite every day since we had been there (it was also moored up by Pier Cottage at night) so we thought we would go and do a tour of Lake Coniston on Gondola.
"The queue for Gondola & Gondola on the water. Well worth the money"
On arriving at the jetty to buy the tickets we joined the back of a bus tour, which was just our luck. On boarding the boat we double checked we paid for the tickets on the boat, and proceeded to go in the cabin. Being almost the last on we were confronted by a lady doing a head count and also whinging that seating was a bit tight because there were “some people not on their tour” who jumped on first. Hmmm…….. before we got bitched about nicking seats and the like (we have been on bus holidays before so we knew how much people whinged on them) my wife had a quick word with the woman to see if she had hired the entire boat, to which the response was a yes. This is typical, the full lake tour on Gondola happens once a day and the day we decide to go the boat had been privately chartered, although the blokes running the tour never mentioned it as we got on.
We stood up, apologised for hijacking the tour and went to get off the boat when several people jumped in and invited us to stay and go with them. It was a surreal experience especially since the bus tours we had been in in the past the other passengers were horrible, cliquey and never accepted us. After being told several times to sit back down we said thanks and did as we were told (You should never disobey your elders) and enjoyed the tour.
Whilst on Gondola the mist started to descend over Old Man Coniston as well as the lake, which obscured the view somewhat and the rain started to fall. The seats we had for the journey up the lake had been taken by a lady (and her numerous bags) on the bus tour and the way she looked at us as we approached the seat was enough to let us know she was not going to move and we had to find an alternative seat. The only seats available were on the side of the boat which was going to give us the same view going down the lake as we had going up the lake, which was disappointing. In the end this didn’t turn out too bad at all because the windows along entire side of the boat we were supposed to sit on had fogged and misted up so bad you couldn’t see a thing through them, whereas the windows on the side we were now sitting on were totally clear. I know I am going straight to hell for doing so, but I did have to grin about this and the look on the lady’s face who nicked our seats (the phrase bull dog chewing a wasp springs to mind) and that grin remained permanently on my face for the rest of the tour, and the walk back from the jetty to our pitch.
The tour of Lake Coniston on Gondola, whilst not cheap, is well worth it and I am so glad we paid the extra and did the tour on Gondola rather than taking the cheaper option on the plastic boat. The boat is a fantastic vessel and it was silent – totally different to the diesel powered boats we get on the Broads. The scenery was great, the bloke telling us about the Campbell’s water speed record, Ruskin’s house, famous people who own properties around the lake, and about Gondola itself was very interesting and the people whose tour we hijacked were so friendly. Other than the weather, which decided to take a turn for the worse, the whole experience was very enjoyable.
The last day of our time in Coniston turned out to be the best day of the week (typical) and since it was dry we thought we’d get the awning down (whilst it was actually dry for once) and get everything packed up and away as far as possible. It does seem a shame to be packing everything up a day early but given the crappy weather we had, and the BBC forecasting rain the following day it seemed a sensible thing to do and also ensure we didn’t have a wet pack up. I know that an awning is an essential bit of kit, especially when on one-site, but they are a bit of a chore to clean up, deflate, and pack away so it fits in the bag. If we go touring in Ireland next year (which are intending to d) I am going to have to have a serious think of the best way to tackle it because we can’t keep putting up and taking down the awning we have.
It’s a sad thing to say but I was looking forward, i.e. I couldn’t wait to leave the Lake District and move on to our next destination. The campsite, whilst nice, didn’t live up to my expectations and whilst I could deal with the facilities at the start of the week the cleanliness and everything else about them soon got tiresome. I was bored of not having to get dressed with wet feet, I was bored of walking back to the van from the showers in squelching shoes, I was bored of trying to avoid the huge puddles on route from the shower to the van, I was bored of trees shaking drops of water on me as I walked past...... I was just bored of everything being wet.
I have heard the changeable weather is part of the charm of the Lake District, but I’m afraid this doesn’t wash with me. If people like wind and rain that’s their look out and good luck to them, I am not one of them. I didn’t warm to the Lake District during my stay in Coniston and I won’t be rushing back any time soon.
If you enjoyed the first installment of our motor home adventure and want to see what happened in the second week feel free to take a look at "2 Weeks in the Elddis Accordo 120 - Week 2: Church House, Merlverley"
About the author
A total motor home newbie with a six year camping background in a folding camper. A keen blogger sharing my experience of researching, choosing, buying and owning a motor home. and every thing that goes with it.
The Motor home