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We Made This!!
Well it has now been nearly two months since we started living in a van full time. We have been up and down the country, visiting friends and family, and making up for lost time while we were in our DIY hermit phase (see previous post ‘Twas the week before Xmas’). We’ve driven through snow, rain, battering winds, across moorland and motorway, hill and valley. We’ve slept in car parks, on driveways, on the street and on a slope (really not recommended!). We’ve been far too hot and we’ve been far too cold. And we’ve slept like babies… seriously, our bed in the van is sooo cosy and comfortable, if we didn’t set alarms we’d be sleeping 12 hours every night! Mmmmm bed……
We’ve been up and down the country and so far have stayed in 17 different places in 12 different counties and 2 different countries! Here is a wee map showing where we’ve been:
Or in word form (deep breath)…
Dartmouth to Wellington (really disturbed night’s sleep – see why below) to Gloucester to Finchampstead to Sturminster Marshall to Ruislip to Walton-on-Thames to Twyford to Long Buckby (where village people are strange…) to Dumfries to Catterick Garrison to Wybunbury to Newton Abbot to Combe Raleigh to Bath to Street to Brighton and finally back to Finchampstead. Phew!
Our first night in the van was a revelation. We went for a farewell dinner with some lovely family in Dartmouth, then parked our van down on the harbour. The morning was gorgeous! We woke up to a beautiful view of the estuary, all of the pretty boats lined up and a lovely, sunny, crisp winter day. We were made up! When we found out there were hot showers just across the road that were open to the public and completely free we were beside ourselves. How awesome! Our first night! Hot showers! Beautiful view! We’ve totally smashed this! What could possibly go wrong?
It’s fair to say we’ve learned some very valuable life lessons since then…
1. Why you shouldn’t visit National Trust car parks after dark
On our second night in the van it's fair to say we learned where not to camp. We decided before getting the van that we’d like to wildcamp as much as possible (ie, not staying on a campsite), partly because it gives us a bit more freedom and also because it saves money. So we decided we would camp up by Wellington monument for the night. It’s a big obelisk on top of a hill outside Wellington in Somerset and there is a National Trust car park near it where people go to take their dogs for walks, and to wander up to the monument as there’s a nice patch of woodland there as well. We thought it would be a really nice place to camp – there’s loads of trees and we liked the idea of waking up in a forest-type setting. Sounds great right?
So we get there about 8ish, we cook some dinner, we drink some wine, we congratulate ourselves on finding another awesome place to camp and on totally smashing this wildcamping thing, again. We were rocking. There were a couple of cars in the car park when we got there but we didn’t think anything of it, assumed they were just people having a smoke or whatever, and they left shortly after so we didn’t really give it a second thought. Then, at about 11:45pm, we realised we needed something out of the garage (big storage area under the bed that you access from outside), so, being a little tipsy, we thought we’d make it a mission, take a torch, and maybe go for a midnight wander through the woods. Ah, the adventurers!
You got company?
So we get our hats and scarfs on cos it’s frikkin freezing, we get the torch, lace up our boots, and just as we’re heading out the door we hear another car pull into the car park. We pause cos we don’t really want to go out with another car there – it makes us feel awkward somehow – but then we realise we’re probably being a bit silly and decide to go out anyway. We open the door, get out, close the door, flash our light on to get our bearings, then go to the other side of the van to open the garage. Then, for some reason which we cannot fathom at the time, the person who’s just pulled up gets out of their car and starts walking over to us. Whaaaaat???
It is a man, on his own, and he’s big. Bigger than Bryn, and Bryn is 6ft 2” and used to play rugby. So he’s big. It is clear he is heading straight over to us so Bryn decides to speak first so he’s not on the back foot and says ‘Alright fella?’.
The rest goes something like this:
Man: yeah alright mate, nice van, that must be worth a few bob.
Bryn: [thinking he wants to steal van] Oh, not sure, we’ve just borrowed it for a few weeks.
Man: Yeah it’s nice it is. You from around here?
Bryn: [for ease] Yeah, we’re from just over there, Wellington way [pointing in Wellington direction].
Man: Do you come up here much?
Bryn: [not wanting to be truthful] yeah sometimes, it’s a nice spot.
Man: Yeah… all sorts happens up here, you wouldn't believe!… loads of people come up here and there’s all sorts going on… boy racers park up, people get out of their cars… doin' ‘funny business’… one guy brings his dog and the dog’ll be running all over too… it gets pretty mad up here, I can tell you [half laughing like it’s an in-joke].
Bryn: [bemused, thinking he may be talking about drugs??] Oh right? Yeah there were a couple of cars up here when we arrived but they left not long after.
[at this point Heather is in silent fits of laughter because she has twigged what is going on and, fortunately, cannot be seen in the dark]
Man: [after a pause] So are you guys… doing anything tonight?
Bryn: Nah, no mate, we’re just chilling out tonight.
[Heather silently cheering Bryn for managing to answer in such a calm, reasonable way!]
Man: Ah alright…. [very awkward faaar-too-long pause] I’ll leave you guys to it then… [starts walking away] oh by the way, the police come up here sometimes, so just… be careful.
Bryn: Oh right, thanks fella.
Man: [Gets back in car]
Bryn & Heather: [Get back in van both very quiet…]
Bryn: [very quietly] So… he was… asking if we wanted drugs?...
Heather: [quietly and emphatically] No, he was talking about dogging!!!
Bryn: [penny dropping] Oh sh*t haha!... That makes so much more sense now!!!
Unsurprisingly, we were a little freaked out after that! We expected him to drive away straight away. He didn’t. We were a little on edge, to say the least, so we had the smallest possible light on and no music, just sat there, listening, and waiting. We tried to teach ourselves backgammon but, surprisingly, couldn’t concentrate.
Another car pulled into the car park. We imagined the worst. A few minutes passed. Then, fortunately, we heard the sound of an engine starting up, then a second engine, then the first car leaving the car park, followed by the second car. We went to bed after a short while when we were reasonably confident that no-one else was going to show up. And we both had very disturbed sleep with very strange dreams!
Moral of the story: don’t visit secluded car parks after dark – and if you do, don’t get out of your van with a flashlight cos you might be mistaken for doggers!!
2. Why you shouldn’t drive down narrow lanes in the snow in a hulking great motorhome
Our second encounter that illustrates the saying ‘There’s nowt as queer as folk’, was when we tried, in the snow, to get down a very narrow lane to our friend’s house in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire. We’d had a long drive in the snow – a journey that should have been 1.5 hours turned into 4.5 hours, so we were pretty keen to get there – and it was the final hurdle after all! So we started off on this very narrow lane, with a few inches of snow, full of bravado, but soon hit a snag – a very, very narrow part, up a small slope, with 3 parked cars on the right. We tried to get up it, lost traction on the snow, and slid precariously close to the parked cars. Aaaaargh!! Tried again to no avail. We were stuck. Balls!
We called our friends, whose house was very near, and they came with shovels and grit to help us get out. After half an hours work we cleared enough so we could get up the hill a bit, past the cars and managed to park opposite someone’s driveway, making sure we cleared enough snow so cars could fit past us in the morning. Bryn very kindly left his name and number on a piece of paper in the windscreen, just in case anyone had any issues. We went to our friends, had dinner and a few drinks and fell into a deep sleep on their sofa bed.
We woke up late-ish, about 9:30am, and Bryn switched on his phone – to find numerous missed calls, a couple of texts and five voicemails, three of which were from the local police! A couple from locals saying the van needs to be moved so they can take their dog to the vet, others saying they can’t get past the van, and the police saying the van was causing an obstruction and they would tow it if it wasn’t moved immediately. All of this at half past nine in the morning! Wow, village people get aggro quickly! Bryn got dressed and went with our friend to where the van was parked, expecting to find hullabaloo. But they found no-one! Although there were clear tyre tracks where people had obviously gotten past us. Bryn was confused.
Anyway, the road was a little clearer and someone had obviously gritted overnight so Bryn wandered down the road to find the nearest, better place to move the van to. The police called him again at this point asking about the van, and Bryn explained he was about to move it but commented that people had already gotten past the van so he was confused about all the fuss. They didn’t pass judgement but did divulge that it was the person whose driveway we were parked opposite who had complained to the police. So Bryn and our friend went to speak to them.
The lady was very apologetic and said ‘So sorry for the trouble, we really didn’t want to cause any bother. We could see there was room to get past you but we were worried about sliding into your van and as we have to go to Scotland tomorrow night we were really concerned’.
What?? You didn’t want to cause any bother so you call the police?? You need to get out tomorrow night so you can’t even wait until midday to hear back from us before calling the police?? Crazy! To top it all off, we found out the next day that it was the mother of our friend who had suggested they call the police!! After all that we couldn’t help but laugh!
Moral of the story: Make sure you walk a narrow road before driving down it. And village people are a strange bunch!
Part Recall and Music Begins!
Unfortunately we were notified of a recall on a part in the van just before Christmas, and since the New Year we have been waiting for the part to come in. We were due to be leaving for the continent in the first week of January but our departure has been delayed until the work is complete. We are pleased to say though that HTC Van Centre in Theale now has the part for us and they have booked us in next week to get it fitted! Yay!! Once that is sorted we will be booking our ferry and heading off to new adventures. It’s finally happening!!
Despite the waiting though we have been getting on with music. I (Heather) have started learning guitar, which is going well so far. Bryn has been beta testing Ableton 10, which he is loving. And we have both started work on new music. WOOHOO! It is such a joy to actually have time to do this! I can’t begin to tell you. Neither of us have ever had that kind of time before… where you can just spend hours honing a skill… it’s so precious and we are so grateful to have the opportunity to do it now. We will be bringing you some new music as soon as it is ready so watch this space!
That’s it for now. Oh hang on, that’s nearly it. Here’s a joke that we were told by a guy in the car next to us when were travelling very slowly along an A-road in the snow (on the way to the friend’s house where we got stuck): What do you call a woman who knits bras? Baaa-bra!!! Ha-ha!
Ciao for now lovelies
Heather (and Bryn) xxxx
PS. Final lesson of the day: Don’t let kids play in your bed – they leave bogies
Have you got any stories from life on the road? Or any nuggets of infinite wisdom to help us on our travels? Let us know in the comments below!