Back in February, I talked about some fairly huge changes in my life in the blog post Dogs, Depression & Me. I was honestly overwhelmed with the amount of people reaching out to share their own stories, words of support, and just general bloody lovely messages.
Unfortunately, it didn’t get easier immediately. I had to go through the ordeal of seeing my eldest dog, Jasper, pass away peacefully. It was a decision my ex had to make, and I can’t imagine how hard that must of been, but being able to be there to say goodbye is something I’ll always be grateful for.
My house sold shortly afterwards, and with a small part of the equity I decided to take a leap of faith and do something that felt scary but that I also felt was something I needed to do. I was walking with a friend who I used to photograph for, and chatting about her partners business, Lovely Little Campervans. Pre covid, I had wanted to take a month out to do some travelling abroad, but why not do it in the UK?? The campervan was self contained so I needed limited facilities (and things were just about to open up again anyway), the UK has some incredibly beautiful places – okay, that’s it, I was doing it!
Ambitious? Or just a bit naive??
Now, to anyone who follows me on social media, I have frequently mentioned my lack of navigational skills (more about this on the journey later), it transpires that this extends to lack of knowledge on scale. I set myself the ambitious (a word used by other people), task of travelling around the UK in a month. I’m so bloody glad that I have friends around me who are there to cheer me on and who don’t dismiss my dreams, because good grief, what was I thinking!! Spoiler alert, I travelled over 3,000 miles in just under a month.
So that’s how it started, with a conversation. To put things into perspective, I have a little Kia Picanto, the van I was due to hire was, well, lets say very big! So to say I was apprehensive is an understatement, but what I kept in my mind is that people do this sort of thing all.the.time. It was all going to be okay.
I didn’t really have a specific plan of where I wanted to go, or the dates I wanted to be anywhere and I think that’s the best thing I could have done – with such limited expectations, what could possibly go wrong!
I decided to pick up the van a day earlier than I was due to set off, a good thing really as it took forever to make sure everything had it’s rightful, and easy to remember place. I’d stocked up with gin in a tin, wine, pasta, packets of lentils, crisps, all the essentials basically, as well as some little touches to make it more personal like a few crystals, throws, more books than I read in a year and some gorgeous cushions very kindly gifted from my friends at The Lounging Hound.
One thing I was very proud of is how light I packed clothes wise. It was the start of May, so I optimistically packed shorts, tshirts and a few light layers. It turns out I only got to wear shorts once, and that was out of shear defiance (I wore a big jumper too but that’s not the point).
I kept both a written diary, and a blog on a separate instagram page (Kerry Travels if you want to check it out) so this is how I’ll tell you how I got on, as well as a ‘what I learned’ at the end. It wasn’t all fun and games I’ll tell you that now though. I wanted this to be an honest version of how I found van life, a written Instagram versus reality if you will. I’ve also realised that my timelines are a bit skewhiffy, so take the dates with a pinch of salt!
06.45 – A friends field in Cornwall: Well it’s been a learning curve. The drive down was okay, and I spent time yesterday navigating some of Cornwalls narrower lanes, even getting over Helland Bridge (google it!) – not that I had much choice, reversing and turning round wasn’t an option on a one car width steep lane.
A storm was setting in yesterday so when the van started being a bit fussy with the heating I was a little nervous, changed a setting and it started working again. Then, in high driving winds & rain, I opened the back of the van to get the dog beds out from where I had stored them, only for the door to be flung back, cracking a rear light. I was mortified! I had only had the van 2 days and I’d managed to damage it, and not even by my driving, but by force of nature!
It didn’t get any better, the heating just wasn’t starting, I tried the hob to make sure it was a gas problem after googling the error code, seemed fine so I settled into the fact that it was going to be a cold night. It goes without saying that the hounds didn’t stay in their beds last night,
This morning I turned on the hob – no gas! So hopefully that was the issue!
07.15 After changing the gas canister, I’m now sat drinking a coffee and waiting for the designated 15 minutes for the error code to clear (thank goodness for camper van forums!) I was going to set off early today, but as I have a coaching call at 10am, I’m going to stick around and borrow my friends wifi signal. I had a quick dip in the river, have you ever heard of Wim Hoff? I’ve been doing bursts of cold showers for over a year now, and I’m pretty sure that that helped with being able to get in the river for a dip!
20.10 I’m now at a very cute caravan parked called Holly Bush in Somerset. I did a detour and met the lovely Hattie from Paws & Tors at the stunning Wistmans Wood in Devon. The drive through Dartmoor was pretty special, definitely something I’d do again.
I’m happy to say I now have water* and am hooked up to the electrics so can charge everything up. Also managed to find a replacement gas canister (there was another one in the van already but you have to change out the empty ones) so all in all a successful day!
I even managed to do a little work this evening, although now two GnT’s down and I can feel the day catching up with me. The plan was to move on tomorrow, but I may stay another night, not only to explore more, but to do some work!
*Oh yes, forgot to mention that because the temperature had hit below 6oC the night before I left, the fail safe to stop the water freezing had dumped a full tank of water for the sinks, shower and loo. So the first night, not only did I not have heating or a stove, I had no water either!
Days got mixed up, not sure when this was!
Well, today has been a bit of a write off!
My intention was, early local walk, couple of hours of work, bit of exploring and hiking for the rest of the day….
….the reality is that I did my early local walk and then spent 3 hours doing 30 minutes of work because of a terrible WiFi connection. I decided to move campsite, so am now in Cheddar in Somerset. Walked the dogs, sat down to work, you guessed it, the WiFi is being fixed!
I give up, Im taking this as a universal sign. I can at least do some editing and watch a downloaded line of duty.
Tomorrow I’m going to head off early, possibly to Wales, do a big hike and then have fingers and toes crossed that I can find somewhere to work!!
Friday 5th May
No early walk today, sat with a coffee listening to the torrential rain and realising for the first time the benefit of gravel pitches on a camp site.
I didn’t take my camera out yesterday and feel a bit silly – I was kicking myself for not bringing a charger, but then realised that the mirrorless camera is a bit of a step up from my bulky, and quite frankly, old, DSLR so I can actually charge it via USB. All charged up and ready to go for when the rain stops.
It’s been a week since I picked up the van and six days since I set off so I thought I’d do a quick round up of what have learned so far:
- After having 2 days without water, you get used to not showering every day very quickly, especially when you are on your own. And you become very aware of how much water you are using – shower is turned on to wet down, off again, and then on again to rinse down** – I was already pretty aware of this at home some I think that helped.
- Gross alert – skip this one if you are eating! One of the pieces of advice I was given was *ahem* not to do a number 2 in your own toilet. I have become stealth at popping in and out of shops and service stations – for someone with prudish tendencies, this was a big step! However – sometimes you just have to do it! In those times, I empty the loo cassette quickly. In a van loo, you have to push a lever to ‘open’ the toilet – let me tell you, you will only forget to do that once when you need to do a number two, that was not fun!
- You get used to the tiny space. The first few days are spent cursing, knocking things over, bashing elbows and knees and then things become more fluid. I have to say though, that’s me on my own with the the dogs – I’m not sure how I would feel about sharing that space!
- Because the van is a hire, bringing things like pretty bedding (which probably wont be pretty at the end) and scatter cushions has made it feel more personal.
- The amount of caravan camp sites is overwhelming! I signed up for pitcup.com which is more independent places, usually smaller and quite pretty with character, but the facilities are sometimes a bit basic, and the Caravan Club which is well organised, they have the same sign in processes at each one, good facilities when you need to do the ‘van admin’ stuff but so far, feels very like a caravan park. Note – when it says wifi at pitch on these sites, take it with a pinch of salt, or a whole box if you are rural!
- I haven’t been brave enough to use the app Park4Night yet which gives you loads of parking spots where you can just park for the night. Sounds dodgy I know, but it’s been mentioned by multiple seasoned campervan people!
- Allow for write off days. There are days when everything goes wrong and you will feel like crying. Just cry! Then have a glass of wine.
- Buy garden clogs. Sexy? No. Practical? Yes. Brilliant for popping to take the dogs for toilet break, and quick drying. Just don’t leave them next to the heating vents like I did, they will warp and be unwearable.
- Clear up after yourself – put things away not matter how tired you are after a couple of glasses of wine. It’s better than dealing with it in the morning when you just want to get on the road.
- Invest in hands free leads for the dogs.
- Other caravan drivers will wave to you on the road. Took me a few days to realise so I probably looked really rude for a while!
**This didn’t last with the shower – the tank was huge and never even got close to being empty.
Thursday 6th May
Today finally felt like a van life day.
I had an early night, woke up at 5 and made the decision not to go to Wales, I was getting overwhelmed with options!
I had a look at my Marvellous Maps and decided that as I wanted to do the Peak and Lake Districts, then the Shropshire Hills were on route.
Wooooow, this is what I was hoping for on the tour. Shropshire Hills had never been on my radar, but they made want to stay! I’ve booked in for an extra night and I’ll be getting up early to go back for a hike. I got quite emotional at the beauty of the area if I’m honest. Being in such a magnificent landscape lit my soul.
The hounds are doing so well, lots of travel and change and they seem to be taking it in their stride. They are now fully sparko, and I’m not far behind them!
Saturday 8th May
[Not sure where I was! Good diary keeping Kerry!]
I’m not going to lie – today has been a shite one.
It started with a nice relaxing lie in, listening to the torrential rain, drinking coffee and journalling.
It ended in me sat working, a few glasses of wine in at 6pm, not in a good place.
The main 2 issues were my absolute lack of directional skills, and the dreaded wifi in rural areas.
Lets start with my directional skills. Even something as simple as turning into a motorway service station ended up with me in some kind of sci-fi loop round an industrial estate for 20 minutes until a kindly couple flagged me down after seeing me pass by a few times, to give me directions out.
I then did a mini tour of Walsall for, well an indeterminate amount of time, not exactly a scenic route. For some reason the GPS stopped and kept randomly plonking me somewhere else! Same happened close to the camp site which is probably why a 1.5 hour journey turned into 3.5 hours.
Oh and it doesn’t end there! I chose the caravan club membership for the main reason that it had wifi access, something that I have yet to actually get! I was getting stressed, I actually had to do some client work at some point while I was away! Finally got it sorted (there is a problem with the payment site so I have free access now), which is why, here I am, a little tipsy, working on a Saturday evening.
Also, note to self – camp sites at the weekend are not for me!
Monday 10th May
Morning: Okay, I have got over the woe is me from Saturday. Yesterday morning I did an hours stroll along some of Carsington Waters. It was pretty empty at that time but it just didn’t light me up the same as the grand hiills of Shropshire. I decided to have a bit of an admin day as everywhere was going to be pretty busy, so laundry, topping up water etc. For some reason I can’t empty the ‘grey’ water*** (from the dishwasher, shower etc) but I’m not entirely sure if I have left it open at some point – I have tried running water and turning the key to open/close the valve – nadda! I’ll have to see if I can find someone to have a look at it at the next camp site. It’s little things like this you have to learn. Van life takes a lot of getting used to!
I decided to be be brave and do an off-grid camping night using the app. And it was certainly off grid! Zero phone signal. A friend who was travelling down south popped in for a coffee so I didn’t feel too bad, it’s a lovely location and actually it was quite nice not to have phone signal. I’m not going to lie though, I had downloaded more episodes of Line of Duty so I wasn’t completely wild!
I’d like to say though – don’t ever let people’s travel photo’s fool you. They are more than likely carefully choreographed. When I went to Dovedales yesterday (which is stunning) it was heaving with people, I just waited for a break to take my photos. And yes it’s high up and the views are spectacular, the van did most of the hard work though and it only took about 30 minutes to walk up (I kid you not, there were girls in pleather pants doing the walk!)
So it’s now over a week, where has the time gone? I’m trying not to think about the fact that this will have to end soon and just appreciate each moment.
***Turns out I just had it open all the time, so glad I didn’t book an engineer to check it!
Afternoon (Instagram Post)
Another few up and down days!
Ups: more beautiful scenery in the Peak District.
First off grid camping, no mobile, peace and quiet.
Getting to a place up north where they have chip butties and curry sauce on the menu 🙌
Downs: getting frustrated with yet again accidentally detouring several hours out.
The driving (both intentional and unintentional!) can be pretty knackering so I’ve decided to stay put in the chocolate box location of Castleton where I can hike without driving.
Next stop is the Yorkshire Dale’s and hopefully another off grid night or two so I’ll get some work done while I’m here! But guaranteed, chips and curry sauce will be on the menu!
I think the hounds are grateful for an afternoon off today too apart from a wonder round town and a late pub lunch.
Tuesday 11th May
(Instagram Post) Stunning 9 mile circuit from Castleton via Mam Tor and Winnats Pass, set off at 6.30 and hardly saw anyone.
Note to self, pack everything up the night before, how did it take minutes to get the dogs ready a put a few things in a bag??
The @ruffwear harnesses have been indispensable in the Peak District, I must have added 15 minutes to the walking time just lifting the dogs over stiles 😂
Wednesday 12th May
(Instagram Post) I’m not sure why, but I’ve been waking up at around 5am most mornings, not that it matters much as I’m usually up at 6am anyway! It does mean I can be up and hiking before the rest of the world decends though, although not to self, pack walking bag etc the night before, how did it take half an hour to get dressed and get the dogs out!?
The first place was the stunning Bamford Edge, another place which looks like I’ve hiked for hours but you can get pretty close in the van and it probably took 40 minutes to get to! The light in the morning was divine after thunder, lightning and hail the night before!
I then did (planned) detour to Janet’s Foss, again, just over a mile from the main parking, and absolutely magical. The walk through the woods filled with wild garlic was something else.
It made me realise how much we can miss when we are caught up in our own thoughts though, on the way back I noticed a couple of tree stumps with hundreds of coins pushed in, some ionised with age, kind of like a wishing tree maybe?
Things I learned today: the difference between an exhaust pipe and a great water pipe 🤦🏼♀️ more on that later.
I think I have tried to do too much this last week and a half, and I’m writing this with a view to chilling and doing some van admin today (Thursday morning because the text wouldn’t upload last night), and taking a leisurely drive up to the edge of the lakes. I really want to try a couple of nights off grid again this weekend. Campsites are great for charging up, filling up, van admin etc, but I’m craving just opening my door and walking, and some real solitude.
I’ll let you know how I get on!
Friday 14th May
(Instagram Post) Van admin in the morning, little detour to a lovely little complex with artesian coffee makers (@rinscoffee ) who came out and fawned over the whippets!
I was super proud of the boys today, we scrambled up some hard sections of Red Scree, not something they are used to but they gained confidence and took it in their stride!
At the top we met a lovely chap with a drone and a camera, turns out he’s a bit good at photography! Check out @black.crag
I’ve now just finished cooking and having a glass of wine in a rural lay-by, watching the sheep wander round the hills. Finally starting to enjoy Van life. Think I’ll give the hounds a day off tomorrow and explore some of the pretty towns.
Saturday 15th May
(Instagram Post) Having a bit more of a chilled day today. Ambled round Ambleside Town and the local waterfall.
I’ve parked up in a spot I can spend the night, which I probably will. Everywhere will be busy today so think I’ll read and do a bit of art!
I cant believe that tomorrow it will be 2 weeks since I set off, where has the time gone! I’m still optimistic that I’ll actually get to wear shorts on this trip, the weather has been a bit chilly!!
Sunday 16th May
Instagram Post: I’ve tried to be pretty honest about this trip and the ups and downs! Yesterday I had a couple of moments where I let myself cry.
It may seem like an odd thing to say to ‘let’ myself cry, but I have only realised recently that I find it hard (unless it’s a film with a dog, or the Lloyd’s bank adverts, then there’s no stopping me!)
These last 5 months haven’t been easy, but I’ve been through a fair bit in my life so know how to keep going.
Yesterday’s cries were a complete mixture of sadness about the way some things have unexpectedly turned out, grief, but also extreme gratitude for where I am in my life right now, and what the future holds.
I’m sure the universe will throw more challenges my way, but as long as it teaches me something each time, then it’s never a bad thing. And of course I’ll learn from the good times too!
Monday 17th May
Instagram Post : Was it warm enough for shorts today? No, I could barely feel my fingers but I will not be beaten by this May weather! It’s taken 2 weeks but I finally feel like I’m finally getting into the swing of this van life malarkey 😆
I’m just on the edge of Derwent Water today it feels like I’m in Jurassic Park! Clouds hugging the mountains, twisted ancient looking trees, moss covered floors, just beautiful! A trip to the local waterfall, a couple of hours work, a run round part of the lake, then another walk with the hounds was today’s agenda.
I had to hand wash the dogs jumpers because, dear god, Shadow is the laziest dog when it comes to peeing! All up his stomach and legs, particularly on thr first morning toilet, and of course I kept forgetting to take his jumper off first so I had to stand by in disbelief as he missed all the surrounding woodland and just aimed at himself 🤦🏼♀️
Tomorrow though, a little luxury!! I have a voucher from a cancellation with a booking site from over a year ago so I’ve decided to treat myself to a hotel stay and shower that I can move in 😆 the hotel is perfectly positioned for some epic hikes and the weather looks good!
Wednesday 19th May
Instagram Post: I left the beautiful Barrowdale (first image) on Monday to come ton stay in an actual hotel in Coniston. I could have quite happily stayed a few more days in Barrowdale, the walks around that part of the lake are pretty special. And I really liked the Keswick area from my last visit.
Coniston is lovely, yesterday we had a little walk round the local town and today the boys hiked up Old Man Coniston. Again, another steep walk with lots of Scree but the boys were amazing.
One thing they have learned on this trip is how to settle! Any short stops and they have started to immediately take the opportunity to rest.
Being in a hotel has been strange, I have got so used to having everything at my finger tips in the van! It had reinforced my dream for a tiny house, its definitely still on the cards.
Tomorrow, off to Northumberland way!
Monday 24th May
North York Moors
I can’t believe its been 2 weeks since I last sat down to write and only four more days till I’m home.
One of the many things I have learned to do on the road is go with the flow. I fully intended to be up and driving to Norfolk at 6am this morning, but after a night of driving rain and high winds, I decided to take it easy this morning so its just before 9am and I’ve had a shower, done a bit of a tidy, let the dogs out for a mooch and sat with a coffee.
This is my second night off grid in the North York Moors and I definitely enjoy being out in the wilds.
I woke up in a bit of a funk, maybe because of not a great nights sleep, maybe because I know I’m near the end of this journey, but the sun is coming out and sitting here in solitude for a while helps clear the head. Or maybe it’s the coffee.
Instagram post: Yesterday morning was spent browsing the quaint Robin Hood Bay, having a fabulous hours interview with @annalouisepresents and then hunkered down off grid when the high winds and rain set in.
I woke up in a bit of a funk, maybe because the pitch up site was quite exposed, and despite the remoteness, there were still cars passing, maybe because I need to give the van up soon; regardless, after a coffee and sitting admiring the view, the funk lifted and I was ready to rock and roll to Norfolk.
It was a long drive, and on the way, I realised just how much I have been enjoying this nomadic life.
I forgot to me mention the serendipitous meeting I had on Thursday! I have been looking at @tinyecohomes for quite a while now, and on Wednesday morning I happened to look again, only to realise that they would be 10 minutes from where I was going to be staying! (Well it was 20 minutes in the end because of my amazing directional skills). So I went to see an actually tiny home and I was smitten. This is something that I would love to be my part time residence, with the rest being on the road.
For now, I’m drinking fizz and watching a film, and contemplating how different my life will look in the next year.
Wednesday 26th May
Instagram Post: I’m sat here in Norfolk after another rainy day, not wanting this journey to end.
I can’t believe the month is up already. I drive back home tomorrow, I’ll unpack the van, give it a clean, then drive it back to Lovely Campervans and pick up my car (which will seem tiny in comparison).
If I’m being honest, it’s only the last maybe week and a half that I’ve really started to relax into this lifestyle. The first couple of weeks was getting into a rhythm, getting to know my new small space, learning the ropes and making a multitude of mistakes.
In the last month I’ve visited Cornwall, Devon, Shropshire Hills, Peak District, Yorkshire Moors, Lake District, Northumberland, North York Moors and Norfolk. Some places only a day or two, some a bit longer. I probably tried to fit too much in, I seemed to be driving more than I was staying anywhere, but I also wouldn’t change how I did it.
Most of the time, each location was planned only a couple of days before. I learned to be flexible in my approach to travelling, not to set any expectations on plans.
I wore shorts only once, and that was out of shear defiance and I had a fleece jumper on. It’s typical that summer weather seems to be arriving when I get back home.
What can I say, it’s not been easy, but it’s been amazing. It’s a lifestyle that I want to pursue more of, I’ve already started looking at vans for sale.
Thanks so much for coming along for the ride – keep your eyes peeled, there will be updates on the Tiny House project, and if I manage to get a van I love, the open road will be calling again!
Well, if there’s anything I have learned in the last 6 months, its how to be fluid with my plans, and I wish I could say that everything magically sorted itself out. The Tiny house is still something I plan to do, but my circumstances meant that I needed to look for a more immediate option. I can’t remember how it happened, but I saw a house for sale on the edge of the Lake District for a price which I could buy outright so started to do some research, I went back up there looking at properties and checking out locations. It’s a fair way from a lot of my friends, however the drive doesn’t seem that long after the tour, and I could be within 20 minutes of the Lakes, one of the places I fell in love with, and mortgage free!
My tour obviously hit a cord, so many people said that I was living the dream, obviously the reason that I was able to do it wasn’t an ideal reason, but little steps got me there, not a massive leap. I’m a firm believer that if you consciously want something, subconsciously you work your way towards it. So if there’s something you want to do, put it out there. Tell yourself what it is you want to do, and see how things start to fall into place. I’m not saying it would be easy, it certainly wasn’t for me, but ultimately I’m starting to do the things I really want to do, and regardless of any external influences, that isn’t something that anyone can take away from me.
If you have been inspired to do a van holiday after my adventures, I’d bloody love to hear about it!
But for now, thanks for reading, I’ll keep you up to date.
Some links for you:
Lovely Campervans: www.lovelycampervans.co.uk
The Lounging Hound (my amazing scatter cushions): www.thelounginghound.com
Pitchup Campsites: www.pitchup.com
Caravan Club: caravanclub.co.uk
Tiny Eco Homes : www.tinyecohomesuk.com
App: Park4Night for off grid camping.