The Story So Far...
Travelling, wildlife and photography are my biggest hobbies, especially travelling by campervan. I’m very lucky that my other half, Bill, is also a big campervan and travel enthusiast. Bill has designed and built our campervan conversion so that it is liveable, comfortable and more than roadworthy. He’s also very handy at fixing any problems we may have along the road (yes, we have had our fair share of breakdowns - who hasn't?). Together, along with our neurotic Jack Russell, Millie, we have set out to seek the wild sites of the U.K. Having the freedom to wake up somewhere different every morning is incredible, and we have been lucky enough to tick off plenty of wildlife along the way, but it took a big leap to transition from home life to van life.
Our story starts back home in deepest, darkest Wiltshire where we were renting a tiny, damp, cold bungalow in a little village in the London commuter belt. It’s amazing that something so small took up such a large chunk of our wages, we worked solely to pay our rent and had nothing left to travel with. We went from spending every other weekend exploring in our campervan to weekends where the camper had no choice but to stay put on the driveway. With no way of being able to afford to buy our little dwelling we felt stuck in a rut and decided things had to change. There was a big wide world out there, and a lot of wildlife to see. With no commitments it made sense that now was the time to get out and see it. So, after many evenings spent pouring over maps and travel books, calculating budgets and living costs we decided we could manage six months solid on the road. The only question left was where?
Our Iveco Daily hasn’t been the best-behaved machine, she took more than a bit of wrangling at the beginning to convince her that campervanning was cool. After bribing her with a new prop shaft, new brakes and a new floor, she slowly came round to the idea of having a bed, shower and cooker on board. It's a whole world away from her glory days as an agricultural mechanics van but she is now a willing camper - mostly! The odd hiccup happens on occasion so bearing this is in mind (and the fact that the dog also has her moments) we decided to stick to six months travel in the U.K. That way if we had any major problems we could easily get home. Plus, there is so much in the U.K. that we haven’t seen; huge wild remote parts that we wanted to get stuck into exploring. There was also my extensive wildlife tick list for Scotland, I wanted to see; eagles, pine martens, otters and tonnes of bird life and cetaceans.
Bill and I decided that a trip around the U.K. coastline would be a great way to see as much as we could. That was it, we had our plan, time to make it happen. Our keys were eagerly handed back to the landlord and we swiftly moved into a friend’s garage conversion to save. Bye Bye Bungalow!
For the next year we worked every hour we could and saved every penny we had. Bill put in extra time on the van to get her ready for full time living. I spent my time making endless lists of things we would need, sites to see along the way, and importantly, which spots were the best for wildlife watching at what time. We started to stockpile groceries and toiletries whilst condensing all of our other belongings to fit in the van. By the end of it our life fitted neatly into a box and by mid-December we were ready to put some serious miles on the clock.
The trip was incredible, we steadily worked our way along the U.K. coastline, ok so we cheated a little bit and cut out the really built up areas – we were keen to get to the wild places where there were more open spaces than people. This quickly brought us to Scotland, which turns out is quite the distraction. Taking in the rugged east coast was amazing, we spent our mornings drinking coffee whilst watching waves break from from the comfort of our bed. Both of us knew that this was the life for us, but we also knew that six months wasn’t going to be enough. Even though we were managing our budget well and having money left over at the end of each week, it was obvious that it wouldn’t last forever. At the end of six months we would have to head home, unless we could find a job.
Our route had briefly taken us inland to visit the Caingorms, a place I’d always wanted to visit to see the huge stretches of pine forests covered in the morning mists. It didn't disappoint, it was truly wild but so was the weather. The majority of our stay was fine but there were a few bitterly cold snowy days where thermals just weren't going to cut it for long stretches outside. Perfect job hunting weather, luckily there was plenty of tea to fuel our searches. The idea of a campsite warden role appealed to us, 6 months working, 6 months off to travel, plus a free pitch with electric - bonus! Having no previous experience as a warden we didn’t expect to be successful, but it was worth a go, especially when a position came up on a quiet site on the remote Ardnamuchan Peninsula. The fact that it came with three days off a week was not a deciding factor at all (ok, well maybe it was a little bit). We sent off an application and not expecting a reply just carried on exploring the snow-covered pine forests before heading further north to John O’ Groats. You can imagine our surprise when we received a reply to our email application asking us to head down to the campsite for an interview. By the end of that week we had ourselves a summer job, a chance to save and then the opportunity to spend another six months travelling.
That next month was a whirlwind, we had to drive from Scotland to Cornwall to visit Bill’s family and then back to Salisbury to see friends before heading back to Totton to visit my mum. During this month not only did we get snowed in but Bill spent an evening in A&E with back spasms unable to walk for the following few days. As well as Bill being out of action our van also decided this would be a good time to have a complete meltdown. She spent the entirety of our trip down south in the garage having some very expensive repairs done. Honestly, the odds were stacked against us, we really didn’t think we were going to make it and we were both preparing ourselves to make the call to cancel our job and our new lives in the van. Luckily, after a lot of hair-pulling, nail biting and alot of time spent driving back and forth between Salisbury and Totton in a fair amount of snow, everything fell into place. Our brilliant mechanic had us back on the road, the day after we were due to leave, but it didn't matter we were good to go, it was all good. One solid day of travel later we arrived a day late to our job on the shores of Loch Sunart where we planned to spend our summer.
So that’s where we are now. On the remote but stunning Ardnamurchan peninsula, spending our days learning about computer booking systems, chatting to other campers and watching the abundance of wildlife. Since we’ve been here we have seen seals swimming in the loch, otters skulking the shore line, eagles stretching their huge wingspans over-head and pine martens hiding in tree branches. The hardest part of our new life is deciding what to do with our days off.