The Open Road

My first encounters with caravanning were through books like The Wind in the Willows and Five Go Off in a Caravan.  Toad proudly shows off his latest acquisition, a gipsy caravan, shining with newness, painted a canary-yellow picked out with green, and red wheels.

‘There’s real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and off to somewhere else to-morrow! Mole is more interested in the inside, which is compact and comfortable. Little sleeping bunks—a little table that folded up against the wall—a cooking-stove, lockers, bookshelves, a bird-cage with a bird in it; and pots, pans, jugs and kettles of every size and variety. 

Enid Blyton’s characters have a similar reaction on first sight of their holiday caravan.
‘Bunks along one side — is that where we sleep?  How gorgeous!’
‘Look at this little sink — we can really wash up. And golly, water comes out of these taps!’

‘There’s a proper stove to cook on — but I vote we cook out of doors on a camp-fire. I say, look at the bright frying-pans — and all the cups and saucers hanging up!’ 

I fantasised about staying in a caravan and its pleasurable compactness of design, so, aged 7, couldn’t believe my luck when a Saturday family outing turned out to involve the purchase of a caravan – green and shiny, with bunks, a cooker, even a tiny toilet.  My mother made curtains and covers for the seats, my sister and I chose favourite books to fit into our allotted shelf space, finally setting off on a three day journey to the North East of Scotland for the first of many holidays.  My husband also had good memories of his family’s caravan holidays – being outside, the smell of the countryside, the cosiness on a wet day.  I associate wet days with steamed up windows, my dad’s pipe and damp dog.

We decided to hire a campervan for a few days, finding it surprisingly difficult to find something at short notice, settling for a ‘motorhome’ available about 30 miles away.

Although I knew it slept up to 6, I was still taken aback by the size and bulk of our new vehicle.  We were introduced to its many features:  king size bed above the cab, gas fridge and cooker, cupboards with racks to hold the crockery in place, a combined toilet, sink and shower compartment and a flatscreen television. Outside we had to learn features behind locked panels:  mains electricity hook-up, fresh water inlet, orange cassette for loo waste (!), as well as plastic wedges for levelling the van.  My husband drove (he drives minibuses) – I decided I couldn’t cope with the sheer size, but quite enjoyed being perched up high in the passenger seat.  Next we had to pack, so came home to load up.  There was nowhere to park in our narrow street so made four journeys each from house to van.  We finally managed to secure the bikes on the back and set off with a real sense of adventure.  Where would we go? Initially, we had liked the concept of finding an off-road track, leading to a clearing in the forest. Not the easiest thing to find without detailed maps and careful planning.  We had neither.  I was also affected by watching horror films where a couple drive up an unmarked road and get lost, pursued by sinister noises and lights.

It was early evening when we got underway, with darkness coming soon, so we settled for a pitch at Strathclyde Country Park.  Having got successfully connected to electricity, we were able to heat our microwave dinners and close all the blinds. Watching television required one of us to stand by the open wardrobe, turning the roof aerial until a picture appeared. We decided not to bother and just head to bed.  Easier said than done.  Access to our eye-level mattress was via a ladder.  I needed a serious boost from below to propel me onto the bed, with very little headroom.  Reading in bed proved impossible, and any thoughts of needing the loo in the middle of the night had to be swiftly quashed.

Next morning, feeling like seasoned motorhomers, we headed for Dumfries, where we were faced with another challenge.  Your average car park, e.g. Morrisons, has average car spaces.  Twice round the one way system we realised we needed a bus or lorry park.  Fortunately we found one.  We did think, briefly, of staying the night, but it was just a bit public.  That night we headed towards the Solway Firth and found a well-maintained site with everything from Bingo to Karaoke (not that these were features which appealed).   We were given a pitch number, but just as my husband reversed, we realised there was a three inch metal bolt sticking up from the asphalt.  Abandoning that pitch, he moved to the next one, where we got set up for the night.  Unfortunately, our jazzy little control board indicated no mains power.  We tried standard disconnect, reconnect.  No joy.  Time to refer to the multiple manuals of instructions, eventually concluding that we had no power.  This took a while. I’d noticed that the post with the connection was at an angle, probably from someone reversing into it, making it likely that it was broken.  We packed up and secured everything again and moved to a third pitch, where (hurrah!) we had a working connection.  Ready for food, we checked out the options and settled for takeway scampi (him) and chips (me).

We stayed another night, visiting Wigtown, with its idiosyncratic bookshops and cycling round the paths of our campsite.  I know, not proper grown-up cycling, but I hadn’t been on a bike since falling off a Boris bike in Hyde Park last year.  I have to confess I wheeled mine up the not very steep hills.  As we had to return the van by mid-morning, emptied and cleaned, we decided to spend our last night on a site 5 miles from home.  It gave us a new view of our own coastline.  Fortunately, no-one asked where we were from.

Did we enjoy our motorhoming?  Yes, but – I felt the one we had was too big for the two of us and hard to park and manoevre.   I had imagined something more like a VW campervan. I didn’t like the claustrophobic bed (coffin dreams!) and extras like the shower and the tv we’d happily have done without.  The freedom of just being able to go off anywhere and be self-sufficient is very compelling, although for what it cost we could have had several nights in up-market b&b, driving our own comfortable car.  It has let us know what it’s like – it might be a good option for our next holiday in the USA.  Any comments, suggestions, advice welcomed!

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