Advice On Touring
Well, you have had the Caterham for a short while, driven it, polished it, taken everyone you know for a blast, joined the club, brought the t-shirt and it has got to the point where you have bored everyone you meet to death about the car. What next?
Well there are lots that you can do in a 7, track days being one aspect that a lot of people enjoy and are very enthusiastic about. I personally found them fun at first but I soon got bored of driving in circles all day. I was also wary of pushing my limits too far and ending up with a very expensive bill if I got things wrong. So what else is there?
Well I have found the most enjoyable aspect of owning any sportscar is touring, especially in Europe. It has always been a dream of mine since watching the opening scenes of the film 'The Italian Job', where a Lamborghini Miura works its way up the Stelvio Pass in Italy to the soundtrack of 'On Days Like These' by Matt Munro.
If you are apprehensive at the thought of touring across Europe for a number of days in a Caterham, especially with a passenger, don’t be! It might seem a bit daunting at first, but with a little planning and consideration it really shouldn’t give you any cause for concern. Some people have never undertaken such an adventure in a normal car, let alone in anything as quirky as a 7. But as strange at it might seem, members of the Warwickshire 7s often undertake such adventures.
In this article I will try to give you a lot of guidance to help make such an expedition a whole lot easier. If you have never toured on the continent before, it might be a good idea for your first adventure to be with a group of other enthusiasts who can help you out, should a problem arise.
The first decision that you have to make is if you are going to undertake this adventure on own your own or with a group of people. If it is with a group, this will limit the amount of planning and preparation that you will have to do because normally, someone else has given a great deal of consideration to where you are going to go, where you are going to stay, what places of interest you will see while on the route, route planning, ferry crossings, booking of hotels and the budget needed for the trip. So it can make a lot of sense for your first touring holiday to be with a group.
I will therefore continue as if you were going to be joining a group of other enthusiasts and then come back to planning your own trip subsequently.
Your first touring holiday with a group of enthusiasts.
Well, the best bit is someone else has taken a lot of the strains of organising everything for you, but you still have a lot to do if your holiday is going to be a success.
This section will cover a number of aspects that you should give some consideration to. I have written this as though there are two people touring in a normal road going Caterham 7 in Europe. Things to consider are as follows:
Frame of Mind.
Remember, that unless you are travelling with a professional touring company, then there is a very good chance that the person organising the trip has done so out of the goodness of their heart and they are not making any money from doing so. There is also a very good chance that this is their holiday as well and they would very much like to enjoy it too!
Given this, there is always a possibility that something can go wrong even with the best planning. When this happens you just have to go with the flow and work around the situation. There is no point in getting upset. Sometimes the best bits of touring happen out of such events. If something does go wrong then everyone has to give a hand at sorting things out.
Given that you may never have been on such a holiday or possibly been with a group of strangers whist on holiday, this can be a bit daunting to some people, especially if your are with your partner. The best way to approach this is to get to know people as quickly as possible, even if it is just a quick hello. When people sit down to meals, always try and sit next to someone different, you will be amazed at just how soon you will fit into a group. It is very easy just to always sit next to someone you have spoken to previously.
Planning and Preparations.
Just because you are not organising the excursion it does not mean that you just have to turn up. There is a lot to do to ensure that hopefully everything runs smoothly and you have a good time.
Have you checked that everything is ok with the car?
Will it need a service before you set off given the mileage that you will be doing? Is there enough tread on the tyres to cover the mileage you will be covering.
Have you fulfilled all the legal requirements for travelling abroad?
Will your mobile phone work whilst abroad? Have you got your airtime providers contact numbers from abroad for if you need to contact them?
What luggage are you going to take and will it all fit into the car?
Have you got maps of where you will be travelling to? Satellite Navigation is good and a real help but I would always recommend that you have a good map book as well, mark up the route with a highlighter pen prior to setting off.
When travelling abroad you have to carry the following paperwork as a legal requirement.
Passports (For Both of you, are they still in date and will they cover the period of the trip?)
Drivers licences (For Both of you, just in case you are unable to drive)*
Car Insurance (For Both of you to drive the car, just in case you are unable to drive)*
Road Tax (Will it cover the dates of the trip?)
MOT (If your car is of that age)
European Breakdown Cover
* It is worth noting that in some European countries the police can seize you driving licence at the roadside. You might also need your partner to drive the car should you fall ill.
In most European countries the following items of equipment are compulsory, but some items can vary from country to country, so just take it all!
2x Red Warning triangles (Yes two)
Yellow High-Visibility Vests (1x for each person and they must be worn if you are stuck on the side of the road while you are out of the car). It should be noted that in France it is a legal requirement for the High-Visibility Vests to be located in the car, and they must be put on before you get out of the car.
First Aid Kit
Fire Extinguisher (Best to have one fitted to the foot well in the passengers side of the car just in front of the seat)
Motorway Passes: (In Switzerland it is a legal requirement to have one when driving on their motorways. They can be obtained from the Swiss Embassy travel office in London. A quick Google search should get you straight to the information required)
The main items are travel insurance and getting an European Health Insurance Card which will entitle you to medical treatment at reduced costs or sometimes free. I would seriously suggest that you do some research on the European Health Insurance Card on the NHS for full details of how to obtian one and know what it entitles you to. The provision of health care services in Europe, your entitlements and how you access them seems to change fairly frequently and I would not want to give you out of date information. You should also check to see if your your inoculations are up to date? It might be obvious but if you need any dental work make sure you have been to the dentist. Because you can bet you will need it whilst you are away if you haven’t.
A good first aid kit is also a benefit.
Touring in Europe during the summer can get very hot, it is not uncommon for temperatures to reach up to 40 degrees. In a Caterham you are very exposed to the sun and often due to the wind you will not realise the effect the sun is having on you.
I would seriously recommend wearing long sleeved cotton shirts and some form of head protection. While touring in Spain and wearing a baseball cap I have found the tops of my ears and the back of my neck have become burnt. I would therefore recommend some good sun block. Given the amount of time you are in the heat I would also recommend that you drink water regularly because you won’t realise that you are becoming dehydrated. I would also highly recommend taking a number of sachets of ‘Diarolyte’ which can be purchased off the shelf at any chemist. When you feel the affects of the heat and you are a bit dehydrated they help to restore the bodies natural salt levels. (But please consult the pharmacist first).
Lip salve is also a good idea because in the heat and breeze can dry out and crack your lips.
If You Wear Glasses
If you are required to wear glasses for driving I would suggest that you take a spare pair, It is very easy to to lose a pair of glasses or damage them.
Preparing The Car For The Journey.
A recent service is a good starting point. But given the nature of a Caterham and how exposed it is a quick check to make sure the nuts and bolts are all tight. Twenty minutes with a few spanners could be worthwhile. It is also a good idea to carry a few spare items that are known to cause problems or fail. (These item are covered later).
Spares and Tools.
It is well worthwhile to take a few basic items in a tool roll. Adjustable spanners don’t take up much space.
There are a number of sensible spares that are also worth taking because they are known to fail and this often happens when the car undertakes a long journey after it has been stood still for a while. I would recommend the following items;
Making life easy for yourself.
Packing the car! Well, after all the ‘must have’ items advised above you might wonder where you will find the space. The system that has always worked for me is to get two soft travel bags (one for you and one for your passenger) that will fit perfectly in the boot. The reason they need to be soft bags is so that they are flexible when you put them into the boot space. You need the flexibility to bend them a bit to ease them in and out around the roll bar. The bag should be big enough so that when they are both in the boot space they fill the boot perfectly, only leaving a bit of space at each end that is an odd shape. This is where the extra bits like the tool roll will be stored.
There are a number of other ways to take extra luggage in or on a Caterham. If you have a spare wheel on the back of your car, Caterham do a luggage rack that attaches to the spare wheel. This is a good method to carrying another bag. I would also recommend that this bag should be reasonably light because if it is heavy, it will eventually bend the rear wheel carrying rack and also make the front of the car feel light.
There are three different companies that make luggage systems for Caterhams that will allow you to pack more than you might think a Caterham would except. These companies are Stuart Golding, Carbon Bits and Soft bits for Se7ens.
The first option is the wheel bag produced by Stuart Golding, this wheel bag fits inside the spare wheel and is a great space for storing items like your tool roll, spares and other bits that you hopefully will not need. See here: www.warwickshire7s.co.uk/wheelbags.html
The second company is ‘Carbon Bits’ who make a three compartment luggage item that sits on top of the boot area and attaches to the roll bar. See here: www.carbon-bits.com
The third company is ‘Soft Bits for Sevens’ who makes a single luggage item that sits on top of the boot area and attaches to the roll bar. They also make a half hood that protect you from the elements without the hassle of a full hood. See here: www.softbitsforsevens.co.uk
When packing your luggage I would suggest that you take soft cotton clothes that don’t crease that easily. Avoid white and other very light colours that shows the dirt. A lightweight set of waterproofs tucked down the back of the seats so they can be accessed easily is always a good idea.
Helpful items I can recommend are black bin bags to put your luggage in should the weather turn really bad.
I would also advise that you have some money for toll roads in a small bag, because you will never get it out of your pockets while in the car. I have seen one enterprising person who toured regularly, use a kids fishing net on a short pole to pass the money to the person in the road toll kiosk.
For security of small valuable items I have known people to fit a small lockable metal petty cash box by bolting it into the car.
As stated previously, make sure that you have made arrangements for your phone to work abroad. Also pre-fix all of your important numbers with 0044 or +44 (and drop the lead 0 from the front of the number) for calling numbers back in the UK. Also don’t forget that the UK mobile numbers of members of your group will also need a +44 adding to it. It is also a good idea to have a full list of everyones mobile phone numbers just in case a problem arises or you get split up.
Make sure that your phone is in a position that you will be able to hear it in case someone else has a problem. Most people have phone charges in the car to top their phones up, but Caterham tend not to. Make sure that you have fully charged your phone up overnight. You will be amazed at the number of times people don’t and then need to use the phone.
Drinking water/juice (to stop de-hydration. The right size of bottle should fit down the sides of the seat to keep them out of the sun).
Baby wipes (Helps you to keep cool and freshen up)
Man Bag / wallet for travel documents
Michelin maps, spiral bound so it will fold back flat, couple of Bulldog clips to keep the map pages from flapping about in the wind and a highlighter for marking out the route.
Fitted elastic "map pockets" for your bits and bobs, helps to store away items so they are not rolling around the floor.
An umbrella with a couple of elastic straps and popper to attach it to the car, stops the sun from heating the metal parts of the belt and seats, also stops bits falling in and inquisitive fingers!
For the more serious touring person who will spend a fair while in France you might want to consider a SANEF "Liber-t" French motorway transponder, it is not essential, but it will make life soooo much easier by allowing you to drive through toll collection points without stopping. I understand that Autoroutes Paris Rhin Rhone (APRR) is an alternative that does not require a French bank account. You can still link their device to a UK credit card.
It should be noted that on the continent leaded petrol (For the older X-flow owners, that have not had them converted to unleaded) is very hard to find.
Outside large towns and off the main Autoroutes petrol stations often stay shut on a Sunday. Some also use credit card payment systems and sometimes they don't like UK credit cards for some reason. I would stress that if you are concerned about using your card in a machine and you would be relying on it for your holiday, I wouldn't use it on a forecourt. It is well worth carrying some cash, so that you can explain to a local filling up their car that your card won't work. I have in the past given a local cash while they filled up their car and mine at the same time.
I would try and plan this in to your traveling distances on a Sunday. It is also good to know the range of your feul tank with your driving style. I try never to let my feul tank get below half full. The range of a Caterham fuel tank can vary widely. Some old four speed X-flows can only do 120 miles, whereas some of the new SV's can get upto about 240 miles on a tank of fuel.
Planning A Touring Holiday Yourself.
Well having read all of the above and if you feel that the group thing really is not your cup of tea, your other option is to plan your own holiday. The more time and effort you put in at this stage will greatly affect the outcome of your trip.
The first thing to do is work out where you want to go to as a final destination and what you want to see while on route. Then you need to workout how you are going to get there, where you are going to stay while on route. You also need to give consideration to the distances covered between stops.
I will split this section into the following topics.
Planning your holiday.
This is the key ingredient to getting the best out of the time you have available. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips. But I would recommend starting with a guide to the country you intend on touring through.
I have found that the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides by Dorling Kindersley books to be the best and they can be purchased in most good bookshops on the High Street. I can honestly say that they are worth their weight in gold.
Having toured in France a couple of times, I decided to pick all the top locations that I wanted to see using the DK Travel Guide to France. Having bookmarked the top remaining sights that was of interest. I choose the following, (Mont-St-Michel, Rocamadour, the fortified Pont Valentre spanning the river Lot at Cahors, the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, Palais des Popes at Avignon, the bridge in the sky at Millau, the Massif Central Region Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley, the Normandy coast).
I set about plotting them all on a map to workout how I would join up the dots with expectable driving distances between locations. You should allow time to spend at each location for sight seeing.
When planning a holiday and researching each location, you need to bear in mind that you won’t plan your whole trip in a single day. I take weeks to plan a trip, especially if others are counting on my planning and preparation.
Ferries and the Channel Tunnel
I have to admit that I have never used the Channel Tunnel and therefore I can’t give any personal advice on this one. But I do know that other Caterham owners have used the Tunnel successfully.
Ferries are a very popular choice because they travel to and from the continent from a large number of locations. It is possible to cross the channel on one route and come back on another which can give much greater scope to your touring experience if you are limited on time.
There are a number things of that you should take in to consideration in advance and do your research. A number of ferry companies travel similar routes and prices can vary between the companies. The time of day you travel can also affect the price. Most ferry companies will also give discounts to early bookings, so it is worth getting on their email lists for their discount offers.
Prior to booking you should check that there are no issues with ground clearances when driving low sportscars. It is often best to email questions like this just in case a problem arises at a later date. You should also check the terms and conditions on cancellations; changes of dates, changes of car details and any other issues that you think might affect you.
When driving on and off ferries you should get one of the loading staff to watch you over any ridges in the ramps. If your ferry is running late the loading staff might be a little impatient to get you on or off the ferry. But don’t be rushed, make sure that they really are watching your ground clearance for you.
Distances you are able to cover.
This is very subjective, for instance I did Mont-St-Michel to Rocamadour. That was just over 430 miles (Approximately 700 kilometres) in a Lotus Exige with Air conditioning.
In the height of summer it is not unusual for the temperatures to be 40-43’c (104-110’f). Even the Air conditioning was struggling to keep the cars cockpit just comfortable. I would dread to think what doing that distance in a Caterham would have been like, given the exposure to the elements. In total it took about eight hours at a rather brisk pace on the Autoroutes with stops. I have to say that it was a very hard drive even on easy roads. Bearing in mind that you will also be travelling most days you don’t want many days like that.
I would say that if you are travelling in the summer in a Caterham, you should limit your driving to about 180 or 225 miles a day maximum. You could stretch this to 250-350 miles if you are using Autoroutes. If you did a big run one-day make sure that the days before and after compensate with a shorter distance. You should always give yourself time to arrive at the destination and book in to your hotel before doing some sight seeing.
I would also try and break the day up with a location of interest to visit and lunch while on route. This is very good for giving the legs a good stretch. It can get very boring for a passenger if they are stuck in the car for too long.
If you have had a day of driving a very long distance to get to an area of interest, I would recommend considering stopping for two nights, especially if there is a lot of places to look around. If you are also touring for more than five days, a two night stop can be very welcoming halfway through the trip.
Researching things to see while on route.
Again the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are very helpful and the Internet can also be extremely helpful as well. Personally I like places with some history, I find that it helps to exercise your mind a little and gives you a totally different train of thought from your days driving.
When looking at the Internet there are some very good tourism websites. For instance in Scotland there is a website I used extensively for a weeks touring the highlands. http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/ . But there are loads of websites that would be of use. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides also lists lots of websites for places of interest that are covered in their guides.
Again the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are very helpful with their local tourist websites. The Internet can also be extremely helpful with sites like these to name but a few.
Note: If you have a website that you found very helpful, let me know and I will add it to the list.
One thing to remember is that a lot of hotels on the continent normally expect you to have the evening meal with them. So when booking, make sure that you state what you want and don’t want. If you are in a more rural area I would say take the evening meal option. The food in small hotels on the continent is often way above the standard of some in the UK.
Best of luck with your planning.
Words and pictures by Jamie Jones
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