62. How to keep warm in your campervan

I’m going skiiing in the French Alps in January. It’s going to be cold – I have to break a habit of a lifetime and make some plans. The campsite I will stay in has electric hookup so keeping warm should not be an issue once I get there. However I will spend two or three days travelling and I’ll be wild camping or staying in aires where there is no electric. There is also the possibility that heavy snow will force me to park up for a day or so. How then do I cope with the cold?

I remember about a year ago I arranged to camp with some friends in Eskdale and I got half way there before I realised that I had forgotten all my bedding. Fortunately I was able to cadge a sleeping bag which was a big relief but I also had my eyes opened to the miracle of the hot water bottle. One of the ladies gave me a ‘hottie’ which she told me to put in my bag before I went to the pub. So when I eventually climbed into bed I was able to luxuriate in blissful warmth and it was still warm the following morning. Needless to say I have since bought myself two hotties – one for the pre-warm piece and one freshly made to go to bed with. The beauty of the hot water bottle is that when I am stuck in a snowdrift in France I can still boil water as we have a gas stove in the Sick Bay. So my plans will include ensuring that I have a full canister of gas before I leave. Sounds simple but they say God smiles when he hears the plans of mice and men and I can imagine a time when I would go to prepare my hottie and find I have no gas. (Incidentally, you can’t simply light the stove and use that to keep warm because if you fall asleep you will probably never wake up. Carbon monoxide will see to that).

But buying a couple of hotties is not the sum total of my masterplan for this trip. A friend on The Late Bay forum suggested that I get an electric blanket and so I got one on Ebay, sixteen quid. Only usable with electric hookup but useful if my oil filled electric heater packs in at the campsite. I have also bought snow socks for my tyres, (like snow chains but cheaper, easier to put on but less long lasting). My friend Mooney, the globe trotting cyclist, suggested that I should upgrade my sleeping bag to a ‘four season’ jobbie – expensive but far more effective than the bog standard one I normally use. (Army surplus ‘Arctic issue’, £70 on Ebay. Just hoping it arrives before I set off on 2nd January). Joy has also agreed to get me a case of Cuppa Soups next time she goes to Tesco. So that, now, is the sum total of my plan.

One of my ‘snow socks’. I hope I don’t need to use them.

Playing tennis last Monday my friend Andy, who owns the beautifully restored Bay mentioned in earlier posts, invited me to join him and Lord Congi, of TLB fame, on a trip to Keswick. I thought that would be an ideal opportunity to test out my cold weather camping strategy.

My electric blanket. Just hope my hot water bottle doesn’t burst or I am toast

Lord Congi, otherwise known as Dave, was going up on Wednesday and I arranged to meet him at the first service station on the M61, south of Preston. Andy was planning to come up later when his van was out of the garage. God must have been smiling again as I failed to make contact with either of them. When I arrived at Rivington services I found I had a text from Dave saying he had a problem at work and would be delayed, and then Andy sent news that his van would not be ready so he had to cancel.

I pressed on regardless hoping to see Dave later at the campsite. As I approached the Lakes it started to rain and it didn’t stop. By the time I got to Keswick it was dark, wet and windy but I thought I could take Leo for a walk in  the hills, meet Dave and then find a nice warm pub in the town. The campsite was at the edge of Lake Derwentwater and no doubt very scenic but totally enclosed in fog and low cloud. I had taken a pair of wellies and a pair of walking shoes but unfortunately I found pretty soon that they both leaked. (Good plan, poor execution.) I also had no hat which didn’t help matters. Added to that I was struggling to get Leo out of the van. Every time I persuaded him out he’d jump back in again. Leo is a desert dog and even at home he will go all night without a pee if it is raining. There was no sign of Dave so we just went to find a pub.

Beautiful but only the ducks are happy in this weather


It was my first time in Keswick and even in the rain I thought it was lovely. In particular I was spoilt for choice with the pubs, the Dog and Gun looked great but eventually I settled for the Bank because it had a wooden floor, which Leo prefers, and an open fire. Goes without saying that it also boasted a range of real ales including an IPA that was to die for, albeit at 5.7% a bit stronger than what I am used to. Three pints later my wet feet didn’t seem to bother me at all. Even Leo was happily spaced out in front of the fire and soaking up the random pettings he tends to attract in a pub. I wonder how many people I have now told about him being the ‘Face of Co-op Dog Food’.

About eight o’clock we wandered back to the campsite which took a while as we kept getting lost. (Hard to do in such a small town but I guess the IPA had something to do with that). Still no sign of Dave or his newly acquired Landmark Bay, which I was looking forward to seeing. I set up the electrics, got the heater going and soon we were warm as toast. Just to top it off I fired up my new electric blanket and boiled some water for a hottie. It was all just perfect and before nine I was tucked up and hoping not to have Dave pitch up ready to go down the pub. I needn’t have worried and in fact I didn’t wake up until ten to nine the next day. It was still raining, Leo still wouldn’t go out and still no sign of Dave.

I slept for nearly 12 hours straight. Nice and warm but no doubt the 3 pints of IPA helped too

We have builders at our house – a kitchen extension, and Joy told me I needed to get back because of something they were doing. To be honest I had had enough of the rain, going for a long walk was not an option and I was happy to jump in the van and head south, and so was Leo. Just as the sun came out I got a call from Dave to say he was on his way but I had to tell him we would have to do it again another day. And give us a wave when we pass on the motorway.

Packing up the van with my heating goodies. Note the skip – full of our old kitchen
Leo was not prepared to venture further than the water’s edge

Naturally it was disappointing not to see Dave and Andy but I had learned a bit about my heating equipment and I feel a bit more confident that I will survive the Alpine conditions next month. At least I have my plans in place. Watch this space for an account of whether it all goes according to plan or if I just make God smile again.

Arriving at Keswick Caravan Club – nice site even in the wet
This is the key to keeping warm – the electrical hook up in action

About Basil John Mandy

A sixty odd year old born in Ladysmith, South Africa. Manchester United supporter and a great fan of the city in general. I worked for Kelloggs since 1982, apart from a year's sabbatical that I took to ride a bicycle to South Africa. I retired at the end of 2015 and have 2 grandsons, Lenny and Ellis. And now I've got a granddaughter as well - Dottie Joy!!


    1. Hi Dicky As you know I’m not in the least organised but my brother used to be a squaddie and they used to say, ‘Any idiot can be cold, hungry, tired…’ At least I’m trying. Not used the leccy blanket in the van yet – it will come into its own if the oil heater breaks down though. See you at BusFreeze?

  1. I love being snug and warm in bed in the van while the weather does its worst outside. If you’re truly organised you’ll be able to make coffee in the morning without leaving the warmth of your bed.
    Have a brilliant time skiing.

    1. Hi Bob I love being in the van when the weather’s bad so long as you’ve done your homework and you are warm and snug. Not managed the coffee in bed trick as yet though! Checked out the skiing today – there is no snow, just the snow cannon stuff but that will suit me fine. Thanks a lot for leaving a comment.

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