LIKE hundreds of others who make their living on the highways and byways of the Yorkshire Dales, I have spent many hours of my life - possibly weeks or even months if added up in total - stuck in huge crocodiles of traffic behind caravans being towed at, if I am lucky, 30 mph - 15 mph if luck is against me.
In the old days, I cursed, groaned and damn near wept on some occasions when in a hurry for important engagements. But I am older and wiser now and my views changed more than somewhat in that long year when I wrote daily update reports for Daelnet as foot and mouth was sweeping the Dales.
Like many others, I was shocked when it became obvious just how dependent rural communities were on tourism. Good friends whose pubs, shops and restaurants were empty for that long awful summer were driven to the point of despair.
One broke down and cried as we spoke on the phone. The Samaritans were kept busy and not always successfully - some people were driven to suicide. It was a hard lesson but it sank in deep: we need the visitors. Even if they come by caravan.
What brings this to mind are figures just issued by the Caravan and Camping Club saying that this summer saw a big increase is caravan holidays and that there are now at least 500,000 of them on the roads (see News, September 13).
Assuming that this lot go away for two or three weeks a year, and spend say £250 a week - probably a low estimate: good sites charge £15 and more a night - that adds up to something like £375 million a year, much of which will be spent in rural areas.
Now this is very big money indeed (if my calculator is right, that is, 'cos it can't deal with that many noughts). Quite a chunk of that will go into the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, helping to keep in business the pubs, shops and eating places which we use too. So even if we are not the owners of a small business, locals benefit from amenities which could not survive without the visitors.
That said, there are caveats. Caravanners could help themselves to a warmer welcome if only they would obey some simple rules - many of which were drawn up by the Caravan and Camping Club itself.
For a start, members are advised not to travel in convoys with other caravanning friends. They are supposed to leave overtaking spaces in between their vans so that other road users can pass.
And - as happens with great regularity on the windy, hilly roads of the Dales - if they allow a queue of other traffic to build up behind, they are supposed to find a suitable stopping place and pull over. Good rules. Sad that they are rarely obeyed.
I have been driving the A65 to Kirkby Lonsdale, where I go fishing, for more than 30 years and only once in that time can I remember a caravanner pulling over. It happened at Long Preston and I was so amazed that I even mentioned it in a column I wrote for the Craven Herald.
I can't remember the exact headline but just imagine: A65 SHOCK HORROR DRAMA: CARAVAN GIVES WAY TO LOCAL TRAFFIC! It's a two-way thing, this business of caravans in the countryside. We should welcome caring caravanners. The rest should be made to read the rules - or drummed out of the club.