Packing up the van and preparing to embark on our first real trip was a huge mixture of emotions, there was undeniably slight stress as I was trying to remember everything after a day’s work, as well as mentally prepare myself for a drive. Over everything though, there was palpable, almost childlike excitement, it was an adventure, after all.
To begin the journey an evening earlier than planned, and to cut the 5-hour drive in half, we stayed for one night in the very north of the Lake District, at a brilliant little campsite called Riverside Touring Park. We arrived to a very warm welcome (our names were written on the arrivals board) and a choice out of a handful of spacious, hardstanding pitches – I obviously understand that hardstanding pitches probably aren’t that exciting for a good 80% of people reading this, but trust me when I say it was a damn good pitch. There was a toilet and showers close by, as well as visible bins and a drinking water station.
We set the van up quickly, and eagerly set up bed for the night – learning rookie lesson number 1:
If your bed blocks access to cupboards once it’s set up – make sure you have everything you need for the night out of said cupboard.
After a surprisingly toasty sleep thanks to my fantastic little heater, we awoke to a light icing-sugar dusting of snow, and set out on a walk to the local shop in order to buy fresh bread and some butter for breakfast. The surroundings were serene and noticeably silent, it was a perfect stroll amongst a beautiful winter wonderland. After returning from our bitterly cold walk, we sat down to cook our first breakfast in the van, quickly adapting to a smaller space, we found ways to work around each other and to alternate certain jobs, teaching us lesson number 2:
One cooks, the other cleans – One sets up the van for the night, the other prepares it for the road again.
We then set off for Glasgow, and after a somewhat gloomy, drizzly and boring motorway drive, found a car park in the city centre, and took to the streets to explore. Returning to the van slightly later and full up on Italian street food (Italian food manages to find me wherever I go) we quickly found a pitch online for the night at the Caravan and Motorhome Club site near Strathclyde, and headed that way.
Again, we arrived to ideal conditions, close proximity to brilliant toilets and showers and with a hook-up close to our pitch. We found that we had settled into our little van routine so easily and effortlessly, as if we had always been waiting for this lifestyle, and were relishing the first taste of it. After paying £2.50 for half-decent Wi-Fi, and putting some beers outside to cool (perks of winter vanlife – free fridge & freezer!) we were Netflix & chilling in no time.
We woke up after a wonderful nights sleep, excited to head through the Loch Lomond National Park to Kilchurn Castle. With a roadtrip playlist on, the diesel topped up, and a relatively cheap little camera set up for a timelapse, we were ready to go. Driving through the Loch Lomond National Park truly was something else. I’ll admit – it was freezing cold, wet, damp and bitter, but the scenery more than made up for cold toes and a misty windscreen.
Slick tarmac roads curved and snaked up emerald green hillsides, and a low slung mist made the drive feel otherworldly, like we were alone in a dreamscape from a fairytale. Lakes appeared at the side of us like huge pools of silken silver, framed by deep jade forest; it was easy now to understand the legend of the Loch Ness monster.
This blissful drive was about to come to an abrupt halt. In the last half an hour of our drive to Kilchurn Castle, we were making our way through dense forest on the A819, curving around the side of the Loch Awe, when a couple appeared, waving their arms frantically, faces aghast. We pulled over, expecting to assist them with a mechanical problem or a flat tyre, but the reality was so much worse.
We were told that a car accident had happened, just seconds ago. Pulling up closer to the crash, I could see it was bad. Switching my hazards on and climbing into the back of the van, I grabbed whatever I could with shaking hands and adrenaline pumping round in my stomach, blankets, a cushion, a sleeping bag. The people involved in the crash had just got out of the car and an onlooker from the opposite direction was helping them stand. There was a family of four in one car and a lone woman in the other. The family were badly affected, a boy stumbled, hands grasping the sides of his head, he began to cry out – without going into too much detail, there was a deep gash from the top of his forehead to inbetween his eyes. There was blood running across the road and mixing with the rain, the smell rising into the damp air. I knelt down by a girl – who I came to learn was his sister, and slid a cushion underneath her head. I spent the 30-minutes it took for the emergency services to arrive talking to Rita, the injured girl from the family of four. Her back hurt, her hand was broken and she was freezing cold, despite all of us at the scene providing blankets and holding umbrellas over the family. They were Portuguese, and were due to return to their home in Oportu that day. Her dad, Manuel, had been driving and was in a state of shock, unable to talk as he watched the scene in front of him, his entire family on the floor – I can’t imagine how he must have felt, and how he is still feeling now.
We let the emergency services do their job, and left the scene with heavy hearts, turning round and heading to our final campsite. I kept trying to think of something positive to say, or do, but in reality all I wanted to know was if the family were okay, and what the hell had happened, and how different things might have been if we hadn’t stopped to take a couple of pictures along our route.
This experience was topped off by arriving at our final campsite just outside of Edinburgh, Mortonhall Gate, in the dark. It was the only campsite we didn’t have a hard-standing pitch, and it had rained alot. Safe to say, I got stuck, I got stressed, I was adamant we were going to have to camp on the road, and then when we finally managed to get into a reasonably decent position on the pitch, our hook-up lead wouldn’t reach to the electricity point. I had just about had enough negativity in one day… and was ready to throw myself onto the ground, soaking wet mud and all, and cry. (Slightly over dramatic, I know)
After a few minutes, and several expletives at a high volume, we were luckily greeted by an absolute angel in the form of an RV owning man who borrowed us an extra lead – this random act of kindness well and truly saved my day. One thing about the camping community, is that there is always somebody willing to help you out.
After another cosy night, we woke up on New Years Eve determined to change the mood set by the car accident. We hopped on the bus into the city centre, conveniently just over the road from the campsite and headed into Edinburgh. There was a distinct atmosphere that couldn’t quite be described, an electricity running through the streets, an excitement that was almost tangible in the smiling faces and chatter of the thousands of people. We spent the day filming clips on the afore mentioned little camera, and I was getting pretty stoked about making the edit upon returning home.
After picking up our Hogmanay tickets and exploring the city streets, we quickly got the bus back to the van and changed into warmer clothes for the evenings festivities. We began the evening at a pub in the centre, and quickly got chatting to an Australian couple, who I bombarded with questions (I cannot WAIT to go to Australia) and on we continued into the night with them.
The evening was (and still is) a slight blur, but of course, everything aligned into crystal clear vision when the time came for the countdown. I waited with wide eyes, my camera at the ready and a huge grin on my face, the time had come.
From where we stood, low down in Princes Gardens, our heads were held at an angle, chins pointed up to the stars, watching awestruck as colour exploded from behind the castle. They seemed to be endless, streaks of white and silver and gold propelling themselves towards the heavens, whilst music and merriment continued around me, my world seemed to stop still. Here it is, 2018, another year, another chapter in my life which hasn’t yet been written, and I’m about to throw myself into it, unknowingly, and completely willingly.
And so comes my final rookie lesson from our first van trip: when it comes to having somewhere to collect your memories, make sure it’s reliable. My little £60 wide-angle camera (basically a knock-off GoPro) somehow managed to wipe a good 80% of the videos from its storage, and I was left with nothing to make an edit of, or to really look back on. (I guess my own internal mental storage will have to do for this one).