Peter BaberSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Peter Baber
I have to admit I learned a lesson on our most recent caravanning trip to Cornwall. A lesson about sat nav. As someone who spent many an hour as a child poring over maps, I have always been ambivalent about this new technology.
I don't like the way that some people have become so enslaved to it that they have given up their own knowledge of the road network or their innate sense of direction, and end up driving for hours before they realise that the saintly sat nav has taken them way off their route because they had accidentally set it to only take them down even numbered B roads. (OK, not strictly possible, but you know what I mean.)
I have become equally sceptical of the sat navs I have tried so far that claim to be specially tailored for caravans and motorhomes.
For one thing, they are not as reliable as they claim. One of them once suggested when I was driving a large motorhome that I could drive down Shaw Wood Road near Todmorden in West Yorkshire. (If you look it up on YouTube, you should come across a video that a mountain biker has posted of his ascent and descent of said road, and you can see why it would not be suitable for all but the smallest of motorhomes, and certainly not for caravans. It includes a 1:5 gradient topped off with a sharp and narrow hairpin bend.)
For another thing, I don't like clip-on sat nav units, or mobile phone apps you can use when driving, because the unit or the phone have a nasty habit of suddenly dropping off at inopportune moments. (One dropped off straight into my lap once just as it was telling me which of the many exits off Spaghetti Junction I should be taking.)
Just before we set off for Cornwall, I had been on a motorhoming trip where I had purposely decided not to take a sat nav along. I had a blissful time driving along uninterrupted by anyone telling me when to take a junction I had already guessed I needed to take. For a general view of where I was going I relied on my old atlas. Remember them?
I was, it has to be said, less familiar with Cornwall. So I agreed with my passenger, reluctantly, that we would have sat nav on, but only the one fitted into the dashboard. I would still rely on my own intuition.
All was going well until, about three miles from our intended caravan park, while passing through the village of Lanner, the sat nav told me to take a turn to the right. So I did.
I had no problem turning into the new road. It seemed a bit narrow, but nothing worse than I had managed before. Then, about a hundred metres in, my fellow passenger noticed a warning sign almost entirely obscured by the hedge. It warned that headroom ahead was only 6ft 9in. Disaster!
We had to reverse back over 100 metres, and even then unhitch the caravan and turn it around because the road was too narrow to do a U-turn in. Had it not been for the assistance of two likely Cornish lads passing in a white van (well, a green one actually, but never mind), we could have been far worse off. One of them was, of course, a caravanner.
So, does that mean in future that I will always rely on sat nav, and to a sat nav designed for caravans?
Well, no. For one thing, that assumes that the sat nav would have picked a hazard like that on such a minor road up. To tell you the truth, I haven't tried it out yet to see if it would.
Much more importantly, 6ft 9in is a ridiculously low headroom. (It is only three inches higher than I am.) Some cars would even struggle with that, if they had a roof box on them, for example. So why had the local authority not put in any other warnings than one red triangle obscured by a bush?
I suppose what it does mean is that in future I will rely on a combination of things. Yes, sat nav, I admit. But also believing even more in my own intuition.
After all, had I not just decided to follow whatever the sat nav said, I would probably have decided that a narrow sunken lane in Cornwall is possibly not something that I should take a caravan down. It looks as if I am as much a slave of sat nav as the next man.