I’ve pointed out pretty much all the vw camper vans that we’ve ever seen on journeys over the years and nearly lost hope that I would ever own one. M’s illness really has been a wake up call to make things happen rather than just dream about them. There were a hundred more sensible things to do with the money but on reflection this seems right for us as we come to realise the therapeutic benefit of being able to load up a few supplies and take off. I shouldn’t compare caravans to camper vans but we stopped using our caravan and it was mainly because it’s a bigger undertaking just to take off with it for a few days. Things have to be planned and prepared in greater detail, you can’t just roam with a caravan. That’s the part I dearly wanted to experience.
Having spent two weeks exploring France and Italy in peak tourist season with no accommodation pre booked and having no problems whatsoever, you’d think it would be easy enough to find a camp site in October in the U.K. It wasn’t. So many sites were fully booked, one was being refurbished. Towards the end of our trip we discovered that there’s such a thing as motorhome club sites. Previously we used camping and caravanning club sites. It was quite an experience being parked up with a large number of motorhomes we knew were second mortgage types (having seen plenty at the motorhome show earlier this year). Our camper van was like a dinky toy in comparison. However, we parked with no greater difficulty than a car, hooked up our electricity and then sat comfortably and watched as others tried to manoeuvre their huge vans into short bays. As caravan owners we were fortunate that M could reverse a 23ft twin axle caravan into any tight space without drama but I would still hold my breath and close my eyes! With Bert I’m much more part of the event and we were able to swap driving shifts as and when we felt like it.
I am not a big fan of satnavs. M puts total faith in them. I am tempted to accidentally on purpose leave ours behind next time. Our latest model seems to love getting you in the vague area but doesn’t want to get into too much detail after that. We developed a system of using the satnav for the motorway turns off etc but resorting to m’s phone for the country lanes. M would never agree to leaving all technology behind but that’s next on my wish list! One step at a time!
On the night we couldn’t find a site we decided to find an unofficial offsite place to park for the night. I know plenty do this and if it had been something we wanted to do more often then we would have chosen an inconspicuous modern transporter, not a bright and shiny obvious campervan! The spot we chose felt perfectly safe and in the morning we were surrounded by bird life, dog walkers, cyclists, joggers, all drawn to this beautiful lake. I didn’t take a single photo! Argh! It was our first pitch without the little heater but it really wasn’t a problem since it belted out too much heat anyway and we never did use it all night long. The duvet and crochet blanket were perfectly adequate. Nights were cosy and warm but daytime driving if the sun wasn’t out was bloody cold. That’s something we will try and rectify.
On the theme of keeping it real, the main thing about longer stays with a campervan is not having a fixed bed. Everything we transported in our ‘boot’ had to be passed over to the front seat area in order to pull the seat bench forward which effectively makes the bed in one swift action. We soon learnt that meant not travelling with anything you aren’t prepared to keep passing back and forth. Once we’ve got a waterproof trunk or cover for the roof rack there are several bits of luggage we can store up there. For this trip though we optimistically packed our camping chairs, a small fire pit and a bag of small logs. They were all a pain in the neck. Lesson learnt.
Roughly speaking our trip covered 550 miles; from home and stopping at Bexhill on-Sea, Shoreham by Sea, Brighton, Chichester, Portsmouth, Winchester, Odiham and home. Mechanically everything went just fine. We overtook approximately three vehicles in total, with a celebration for each one. Driving a classic campervan is a lot like driving a Fiat 500, people assess the vehicle they are behind and then fail to assess the safety of overtaking so great is the need to just get past what they perceive is a slow moving vehicle. Trust me, I’m no slower in E’s Fiat 500 than I am in my fairly powerful jeep. The van cruises comfortably at 55-60mph which is plenty fast enough for a 60mph road!
I don’t know what goes through other people’s minds when they embark upon campervan ownership and consequent road trips but I’m a sucker for good old fashioned seventies style leisure time. Drive, park up, explore, drive, admire the scenery, park up, read, relax, drive, park up and feel so tired you dig the duvet out at 9am and fall fast asleep! It did help that I knew a few nice spots to show M. His mind tends to always be firmly on the next few days rather than the one he’s in the middle of. It’s a work thing and I completely understand it but I still try and gently remind him, just enjoy today.
Without so many caravan related jobs to do I thought I’d get lots of crochet done, some hook carving and a travel journal written. In reality I just got stuck into my latest book which was great because I tend to choose crochet over reading when I’m at home unless it’s in bed. M ploughed through his latest novel too and we stopped somewhere with plenty of charity shops near Brighton to select a new one for him, donating the finished one at the same time.
Part of the trip incorporated a job in Portsmouth. It happened to fall on my birthday itself which was unfortunate but we are still catching up in the finances after M’s long break from work and couldn’t turn it down. It worked out just fine, though it was mildly alarming to be parked up in the middle of university buildings with lots of admiring students with cameras! I stayed mainly with the van but did venture out for new scarves for us both, pot noodles for emergency warming up food and a birthday cake! Can you believe that M has reached his age (9 years older than me) and never had a pot noodle? Clearly a big oversight. I think they might be an essential part of van life, being so easy to ‘cook’.
The best part of the trip was most definitely the Bexhill on-Sea stop over. Not only catching up with my Grandad, Uncle and Aunt but also just being able to relax in the van on the seafront in blazing sunshine. It’s uncanny how it’s always warm when we visit. We happened upon an upmarket craft event at the De La Warr Pavilion and sat on the terrace for a bit too. I was sad that a couple who had returned from South Africa thought it had gone downhill. Economically the climate might have changed but it’s still very much a happy place and although often labelled God’s Waiting room we only ever see a huge range of ages enjoy the promenade whether on motibility scooters, rollerblades, skateboards, bikes, trikes or on foot. Unlike a lot of other beaches and seafronts it’s also largely dog friendly, with just the sailing club section out of bounds. I love the fact that there are two huge stretches of parking for free with a view of the sea, so many resorts are less generous.
We’ve got minor bits to do to the van and by choice we will probably build a whole new kitchen unit even though the current one is perfectly ok and brand new with a sink and two ring gas stove. Design wise it needs a re think – a split lid so that half can remain down when not in use and be used as a worktop. Deep drawers instead of just cupboard space because everything is low down and we don’t want to be kneeling down to find mugs at the back of a cupboard! Also, we need a pull out table and there’s room below the stove without it having to be too low. M likes to plan it all on graph paper and then run it by me for design input, of which there’s usually quite a bit! It’s good team work and I’m hopeful that will make life a lot easier when it comes to brewing tea and coffee and preparing pot noodles! We packed a moka pot for coffee which scented the van for quite a while afterwards. Our original plan was to use coffeemate but half way through the trip we invested in a 12V/mains cool box which conveniently fitted between the front seats, holds plenty of milk and had external cup holders for our coffee. We could incorporate a proper van fridge but they seem to be quite bulky and I’d rather have the cupboard space for now.
It seems to be a bit like a house, you need to live in it for a while to know what to improve. I wish I was the sewing type because I’d probably have run up some new curtains by now. The current ones are fine, could be worse but somehow seem a little too floral for my taste. They fit the surf dude type and we aren’t surf dudes.
I’ve taken so long to finish off this post that we’ve done lots of little van jobs, stocked it back up and we are setting off again for an unexpected three day trip, squeezing it in just before M’s next operation. We agreed to be grown up, face it head on and not bury our heads in the sand but sometimes that’s not a bad thing and it’s our plan for the next three days at least.