Camper vans

The Camper Van Diaries – Your First Motorhome

Camper van on Holy Island

The camper van on the road

So it’s farewell to our lovely Hymer RV, our stylish retro, snail-like home on wheels is to be sold this week.

The old truck has been brilliant and is now setting forth on its next journey with a new owner and family.

So it’s hello to a new, smaller, modern and stylish Vantage camper van which arrives this weekend.  The excitement in our household is palpable.

But I can’t help feeling a tinge of sadness for the old truck which took us on our travels to eight European countries including France, Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic.

Last night I found the old ‘captain’s log’, a book in which we wrote up the RV’s weekly adventures when we were on the road at home and abroad.

Van with blue bells

Van with blue bells

It was strangely moving to recall our sense of wonderment on buying our first motor home… our ‘ups and downs’, the bits that fell off the truck, the elation at arriving in far-flung places.

All this was there in its hand-written pages, often smudged after a few beers or glasses of wine. Hey, we even gave the camp sites marks out of 20!

So I’d like to share with you some of those early jaunts in extracts from Tammy’s camper van diaries, published as a blog post for the very first time.

It’s proof that I really do remember the thrill of the first time – the first trip abroad, the first Tour de France and the first winter weekend.

Let’s start at the beginning. I hope you’re sitting comfortably with a head full of dreams and a glass of wine…

‘Tammy and the Captain’ or ‘Mein Kampfervan’

“The log book of Hymer B5444, bought from that nice Chris from Ikonickampers in Hull on 22 October 2008.”

Hymer RV van

The Hymer van

“After our Colorado RV experience, we had to do it. So we looked around, haunted eBay, local dealers, websites… and decided that we wanted a nice, old A-class camper.

“Then this van turned up, and we thought why not?  So here we are.

“Collected on Wednesday from Hull. Trip back was great, made first cup of tea in a layby outside Beverley, cruised at 55-60mph, filled up with fuel, got home.

“Sat in the van all evening (outside house) – nearly slept here too… Next day took the van into work to show off. Had a work meeting inside!

“Spent ages on ‘the list’ – here it is – seems pretty comprehensive, but it’s just a first go.”

“Things to do before driving off” list

1. Electrical cable stored
2. Roof vents shut
3. Step up
4. Nothing loose
5. Windows shut
6. Fridge to 12 V
7. Heating off
8. Hot water off
9. Fan off
10. Exterior lockers shut
11. Ramps stored
12. Tammy on board!
12a New TV unplugged and aerial down
14. Satellite dish stowed
14. Bikes secured
15. Outdoor seats packed

First Van Trip:  25-26 October 2008

Destination: Yellowcraig, North Berwick, Scotland

Tammy at Yellowcraig beach

Tammy at Yellowcraig beach

“Weather forecast was awful, but we set out anyway. Very windy, heavy showers, reports of three caravans overturned on the A1. No problems here though.

“Nice slow drive after lunch stop at Beal near Holy Island. Stayed in van all night listening to rain. Tammy never got out all day!”

Dinner: Steak, sauté potatoes and salad. Aussie Shiraz wine and bubbly to celebrate.

What we forgot to pack: Cooking oil, washing-up liquid, drying cloth. Need to get a 3 metres mains extension lead, proper water pipe, brush to wash van, toolkit and bin bags.

“Next day, weather improving after wash-out. Tammy emerged from her cocoon and joined Tony for an early morning beach walk. Windy as hell and shifting sands blowing like a ‘Scottish Sahara’. Good mix of winter birds – including two Mergansers – close to the beach looking cold. Their heads were tucked in against the wind just like ours!

“Then off to look around the Scottish Seabird Centre – lots of video screens, showing baby seals (very cute) and gannets on Bass Rock.  Parking hard – the town is full of vehicles over 7’ 6” go-away signs.”

Dinner: Chicken and mushroom pasta.

New stuff bought for van: Door mat and tool kit.

Wildlife seen: Gannets, stonechat, oystercatchers, heron, eider ducks, long-tailed tits, redshank, gulls, mergansers, shags, greenfinch, blue and great tits. Rabbits.

RV campsite rating
Site facilities – 4 (out of 5)
Solitude – 1
Views – 2
Location – 3
Value – 2.5

Total – 12.5 (out of 20)

Call of the Wild: Caerlaverock – 16 November, 2008

Tammy at Caerlaverock

Tammy at Caerlaverock

“‘Honk if you like geese’ should be our bumper sticker.

“Woke up at 3am to sound of honking Barnies. Very atmospheric wild camping at Caerlaverock nature reserve.  Several other camper vans were there so felt at home. Tony made Tammy get up at 6am to go on a wild goose chase with the warden man and 20 other birders.

“Despite Tammy’s grumpy look, the early birding was worthwhile. Great views across the Solway Firth from the hide – with the inky silhouettes of the barnacle geese flying in to feed on the fields. Several more fly-pasts and a few Whooper Swans swooping in front of the hide.

“Back at the van for bacon butties and it’s still only 9:30am. Tammy is already looking forward to an early siesta.”

New Gadget – Remoska

“It’s a super-doopah RV oven invented in Czechoslovakia pre-Second World War.  I thought it was called a Rebaska – which turns out to be a Canadian  canoe. A great bit of handy cooking kit which can be used instead of a traditional cooker if you have a hook-up!”

A Tight Squeeze – English Lakes – December 2008

First winter trip in the van - Blea Tarn

First winter trip in the van – Blea Tarn

“Hilarious journey in the camper van over the hills and around super-narrow lanes and steep ascents to Blea Tarn in the Lake District.

“Thought we were going to lose a wing mirror and one side of the van when we rounded an awkward gate post after meeting a BMW car on a narrow track.

“Undeterred we headed up unfeasibly steep slopes and around tight protuberances before arriving at the Blea Tarn car park.

“Wonderful walk around the tarn with superb views all around us.”

First Trip Abroad: Amsterdam – March 29, 2009

Amsterdam camp site

Amsterdam camp site

“The time has come to raise the curtain on the Hymer’s first trip abroad. Actually, I’m lying… the Hymer used to live in Germany and no doubt had many happy trips to foreign parts with Herr Flick, its previous owner.

“But this is different. It’s Tammy and Tony’s first trip with the truck and it’s a very exciting landmark in our travels. Will the van blow up? Will it run back to Germany one night when we’re not looking? Will we like camping Euro-style?

“So the big day arrives and Tony is having a whale of a time preparing the truck, battening down its hatches and fine-tuning its engine and other organs.

“Like a surgeon on speed, Tony is in and out of the house with piping, hoses, tubes of assorted diameters and more spanners & wrenches than your average plumber.  Quite simply, he’s in his element!

Hymer van

The camper van packed up

“Meanwhile, Tammy is fluffing up the cushions, procrastinating over evening outfits and writing endless lists of art galleries and museums which ‘we must visit’.

“Then it’s off to the ferry port at North Shields and before long we’re embarking on the King of Norway, a huge cruise ship. Fasten your seat belts, take your travel sickness tablets and hold onto your hats – this could be a very bumpy ride.

“An hour later, we’re off on the ocean waves – well, the North Sea. It’s windy as hell but we brave the top deck for a great cruise down the Tyne. The waves are crashing down but the captain assures us that the wind is behind us and we’ll be  fine.

“Surprisingly, we get an OK night’s sleep and arrive 10:30 am in Amsterdam. The van is in one piece despite our fears of rough seas.

“Then it’s a short drive to the campsite just outside Amsterdam. The site is spacious, verdant and pleasant. We get the truck hooked up and take a Metro into Amsterdam city centre.

“Then we caught the number 5 tram to the Rijksmuseum. Saw the Rembrandts, tons of Dutch heritage stuff… plus old teapots and guns. Lovely!

“Strolled around the canals, lunch in canal-side cafe, more walks. Resisted temptation to ‘do another gallery’.

Amsterdam - this camper's even smaller than ours!

Amsterdam – this camper’s even smaller than ours!

“Tram and Metro back to van – and finally we took a bike ride around the local lake next to the camp site.

“Dinner cooked in the van’s remoska – roast chicken with white wine. Yummy!  Got settled for the night and watched the World Cup on the sat dish.  It’s hard to imagine we’re so close to the city centre here in the van.”

Ghent and Bruges– 2 April 2009

“Up early for our town tour of Gent (Ghent).

“Managed to park the van by the old barracks and hop into the city on our bikes. A numb-bumbing trip over the cobbles ensued through the streets of Belgium’s least bike-friendly town.

“The guide book described Ghent as Belgium’s ‘most dazzlingly authentic city’ which boasts people ‘who welcome visitors with an openess of spirit and glibness of tongue’. Really?

“Ghent is an odd place. The circus is in town and the fun fair is also about to rock the joint.

“The whole city seems to be full of white vans and trucks parked in every conceivable street… on pavements, by scenic spots, adjacent to café tables and in front of historic buildings.

Men with noisy drills dig large holes, erect scaffolding, unload large concrete blocks or simply sit around doing nothing.

“The town looks untidy and unkempt – and for me it’s hard to love this place.

“But I discovered some good yarns about Ghent.

“Did you know that the people of Ghent were made to wear nooses by the Emperor Charles in 1540? Hence the name ‘Stroppendragers’ or ‘Stroppy Folk’… sorry, bad translation. ‘Noose wearers’ was what I was looking for in the Flemish translation!

“There’s the Castle of the Counts with its torture chamber – and the Dr Guislain Museum of psychiatry – “you’d be crazy to miss it”.

Ghent - Chateau of the Counts

Ghent – Castle of the Counts

“Did you know that Raphael was found dead in St Peter’s Abbey? Was it foul play?  Murder? An accident?

“And then there’s the Castle of Gerald the Devil which later became a madhouse and a prison, although the building itself turns out to be a huge let-down considering its colourful history.

“We by-passed the bizarre and tried to accentuate the positive with a walk along the Graslei and a quick trip inside St Bavo’s Cathedral, world-famous for Van Eyck’s ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’.

“We went to adore the lamb and gave up when we saw the 6 Euros entry fee but managed to peer around the door and saw it anyway.

“Then it was back to the truck on our bikes, and a drive to Bruges 45 minutes away.

“Now Bruges is the business – fantastically well-preserved, extremely pretty and buzzing with life. It’s the opposite of Ghent and everything looks like a picture postcard. We check into a campsite handy for town and cycle into the city centre.

“It’s great strolling around the canals, bridges and alleyways – and there’s some very fine buildings to admire.

View across Bruges' roof tops

View across Bruges’ roof tops

“We enjoy a beer in one of the town’s quieter squares where Tony opts for a ‘kwak’ served on a wooden stand in a weird, bulbous glass. After another stroll, we eat at Chagalls, a pleasant restaurant with a roaring log fire.

“We go ‘Belgian’ with moules frites and steak béarnaise. Then headed back to the campsite for vino and movies in the truck.

“Next day we climb 343 steps to the top of the Belfry from where there are spectacular views across the city – and some very noisy bells!

“No sign of Colin Farrell or Brendan Gleeson (stars of the movie ‘In Bruges’) though. ‘Bloody Belgium’ is actually growing on us following our disappointing trip to Ghent.

“Then it’s coffee and cake with dollops of culture on the side at the Groninge Museum with its spectacular exhibition of Charles The Bold… a self-styled conquering warrior with great taste in tapestries, jaunty hats covered in precious stones, and armour.

“Back to the camper van to cook Guinea Fowl from the local shop (that’s what we think it is because the labelling is in Flemish). Watch a documentary film about Scott Walker and Jacques Brel in the van. We’re chilled!”

French Leave – Champagne – 25 July 2009  

“A very early start because we have a long drive ahead of us. We make good progress until it turns into the ‘day of the glitches’.

“A snapped wing mirror… a speed camera flashes us… the windscreen is chipped by a stone… the sat dish plays up  and Tony drops a loo roll down the toilet.

“After several hours on the road we arrive in Epernay, hub of the Champagne region only to discover that all the big Champagne houses are shut till 2pm.

“Hmnn… deeply frustrating this 12-2 closing time thing so it’s back into the RV for lunch and we wait around for the afternoon tour.

“It’s good to be able to retreat inside our mobile house.

“Two hours later we’re inside the Mercier champagne house, finally. We take a small tourist train down hundreds of metres of underground caves and tunnels, culminating in a ride into the main tasting chamber.

“Fizz is popped, glasses are raised and everyone is in good spirits!”

Tour de camper van

Tour de camper van

Friday 24 July – Tour de France @ Bourgon Jallieu

“Mega excitement as we head to the next stage of the Tour de France. We hit Bourgon Jallieu just as things are hotting up for the start of the race. We get a great spot close to the riders and bag our place right next to the Garmin team coach when it arrives.

“Tony takes 99 photos of Bradley Wiggins’ tour bike which is one foot away from us. But we’re rewarded further when the riders come out to chat and we get up close and personal with Bradley Wiggins and David Millar.

“We even get to exchange a few words with the great Wiggo!

“Then it’s back to the race pavilion to see the top guys get introduced… Armstrong, Contador and all the main contenders. Next we’re in the thick of the crowds where there’s a sea of riders right next to us. Amazing!

“After the race starts and the riders head away, we grab our bikes and cycle back to the camper van for lunch. A tour de force!”

Bradley Wiggins

Bradley Wiggins spotted on our camper van’s Tour de France

Camper van dreams

Reading these entries made me feel nostalgic so I’ve decided to post a few more highlights from our camper van diaries next time round…

In the final edition there’ll be stories of weird places and characters plus an exciting trip through Prague’s narrow, cobbled streets!

In the meantime here’s the camper van at sunset as we get ready for a night in.

It always reminds me of how cosy it can be in your very own truck with a nice bottle of wine and a beer or two plus an awesome view…

Sunset over the camper van

The van at sunset

1 reply »

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