Martin Roberts

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Join us back in July 2013, when Practical Caravan columnist and Homes under the Hammer star Martin Roberts came clean about a slight towing, ahem, incident

So my big question at the moment is, “Am I any good at towing?” The thing is, I think I am, but recent history (and a friend’s gatepost) would suggest otherwise.

I’m pretty good at straight lines; it’s just turning and going backwards that are up for debate. So as long as I just go up and down the M5 I should be fine. Given that I hope to explore further this summer, I’m beginning to think a towing course might be in order.

I’m not a bad driver. It’s just that towing a 20ft caravan is a different kettle of fish to driving a car without one. And to be frank, it ain’t as easy as it looks.

Take garage forecourts, for instance. They are a minefield of potential hazards, to such a degree that I come out in a cold sweat whenever I pass them. You have to navigate into them, work out if the canopy is high enough and then carefully berth alongside the pump. As for pulling away from the pumps – nightmare! Who’d have imagined the damage you can cause if you turn either way too soon?

It’s this whole ‘pivot principle’ – it just doesn’t seem logical at times. You turn the car to the right, and somewhere in a different time zone at the rear of your articulated ensemble, the back of the van swings to the left. Whaaa...?!

That’s how I wrote off our previous caravan, a Bailey Pageant Auvergne. We were staying at a friend’s house near Plymouth and the idea was to park in their front garden. All that was in the way of this gloriously sensible idea was a (I’d say ‘very’, others would say ‘not at all’) narrow gate. I got through OK with the car and was proud of myself. But then I made the destructive and expensive mistake of turning the car too soon, causing the van to pivot prematurely while still within the confines of the gate orifice and impale itself on the exposed gatepost brackets.

“Funny – it’s a bit slippery,” I remember saying to myself as I piled on the revs to try to pull us out of what I thought was a dip in the track. The words ‘tin opener’ (along with a few unprintable expletives) sprang to mind to describe the effect it had on the van’s aluminium-skinned sidewall. I looked in horror through the wing mirror at my not-so-aerodynamically restyled caravan.

What to do? My limited experience prevented my brain from suggesting any sensible course of action, so I resorted to that age-old ‘bloke’ solution of brute force and maximum four-wheel drive. Backwards and forwards I went, desperately trying to free the impaled van. Bystanders shouted. My wife cried. The dogs cowered. But things only got worse.

Eventually a ‘do or die’ rev of the engine later, and we were catapulted to freedom. Sadly, the caravan was damaged beyond repair and at the moment, so is my pride. I think I really do need to invest in a towing course. My wife and kids think so, too.

Visit Martin’s website for information about him, his books and his property training weekends, and follow his adventures on Twitter
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