A year ago today we were sat at home in the West Midlands, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and the camper-van/motorhome pages. Writing a “2019 top 10 moments” post was a dream not a reality. We had been thinking about the van life dream for some time and although we had a short wheel base VW, it wasn’t really big enough for what we wanted to do.
We were scrolling through one page where a lady was celebrating. She had been to see a van yesterday and brought it home today. It was an Iveco Daily. As happy as we were for this stranger, we were also sad that we had not yet found the van for us, despite looking at several. One of the top runners was an old minibus we had prematurely nicknamed Sweet Pea, however when we took her for a test drive (past our mechanic) he strongly advised we disregard her.
We read the comments and saw others also saying they were looking for a van too and then this guy pops up with “I am selling one of those…”. We arranged to drive to Hull and back to see her and collected her on the 5th January. The rest, as they say, is history.
A new beginning!
Chewy (short for Patchouli when she is being good and Chewbacca when she is grumpy) has changed every aspect of our lives in the last year. Through her we have been able to travel most of England and Wales over the last 9 months and we have seen some amazing places. Many of these have not made it on to the blog as there was just so much that we were involved in and not enough time to document it.
Over the last few months we have been working really hard to remodel the van ready for next year’s adventures and although it has taken longer that we had initially anticipated, I am happy to say that we are coming along well now with the kitchen being installed as we post this. Neither of us have converted a van before and if we had a penny for every time we wondered “what are we thinking trying to convert a van!” we would be able to afford fuel for next year’s adventures! However, we have been very lucky with family and friends lending their help and experience to get our vision to work.
This post we wanted to treat you to some of our favourite moments of the last year. It has been jam packed with our calendar now full of memories to treasure for the rest of our lives. It has been so hard to narrow them down to just a few. However here we go with our favourite top 10 moments of 2019!
#1 Collecting Chewy!
January 5th has to be a new National Holiday if we ever become Prime Minister! We were so excited to be driving to collect her – it was a 175 miles each way from our house. We left early, full of excitement and loaded with snacks. Arriving a little later than scheduled due to traffic, we checked the van over once more, happy to do the deal and sign paperwork / transferred funds before returning home.
The driver’s seat is one of those truck driver ones with the suspension. You have to adjust the dial on the side to your weight in kg and it automatically calibrates for the correct amount of spring! I am old school and still do stones (the numbers are lower) and just guessed. I got into the driver’s seat with Louise driving the VW behind me and started to make our way West. After successfully navigating a narrow road and a double decker bus with a van much larger than I was used to, I felt a little bit smug. That was until I found a speed bump that sent me shooting up to the roof and my feet completely left the pedals! Needless to say we had to stop and readjust the seat to ensure that didn’t happen again!
All doors have locks on right?
It was only when we got home that night, that I realised I couldn’t find reverse. I spent ages edging further down the road than needed before we could back onto the driveway. Once we parked, the 2nd realisation happened when we went to lock the driver’s side door to find that where there should be a lock, there was just a black seal. The previous owner had wanted to slow down any possible theft and taken the door lock out from the outside (could still be opened from the inside) and the rear door was held shut with a ratchet strap! We had to lock the door from inside and climb across the van to exit from the passenger side!
Next time we go looking for new vehicle, we will be looking for all the locks on the doors and not just assuming they will be there!!! Without this event, the other top 10 moments of 2019 wouldn’t have happened.
#2 of our top 10 moments of 2019 – Foraging course!
Being on the road and on a budget, we wanted to ensure that we had some skills to help us along the way. I looked into survival skills courses but I felt that these were a little overkill for surviving in the UK as we were unlikely to be far from civilisation at any point. It was our first great adventure and we were going to ease ourselves into it. I booked Louise and myself on a foraging course to teach us about the wild edible plants – and also the ones to be aware of.
This was a great day out for us as we got to try some samples of things you can make out of the wild edible plants that we would be seeing and help us to identify which ones were safe to eat or deadly! Unless you are beyond certain – never eat something if you can’t 100% identify it. We are now able to spot plants on our travels that we couldn’t have done before and now understand the benefits of finding free food when on a budget. If you haven’t been and are looking for something interesting to do, we would totally recommend going on a foraging course!
#3 The cheap pub stopover that cost more than a campsite!
We are often mindful about money and having no income (living off of savings) we were well aware of trying to keep costs down. Campsites are lovely but if we could find a free spot tucked out of the way or a little pub stop over, we would go there and then have more pennies to spend in local independent shops.
On our way between foraging and a visit to Ross-on-Wye, we found a cute little pub stop over that looked promising. It was getting dark when we arrived one April evening and after checking with the owners that they were happy for us to stay, we moved the van to a quiet spot out of the way. We went in to have ourselves a drink and some food (all they asked for in return) to then find they were having live music on that night. A Welsh man turned up with his guitar and was really good, playing a mix of his own music and songs we all know and love from all decades. He even took requests!
Although there wasn’t many people in the pub that night, the atmosphere was great and the drinks were flowing well. It ended up costing us more for a pub stop over than it would have done if we had booked a campsite with electric hook up and showers! Did we mind? Not really!
#4 Tuckers Grave Meet Up!
One of the things that Louise and I were worried about was becoming so disconnected with society that we wouldn’t want to be around people anymore. However, our online van-life friends turned into reality when we went to a meet up at Tuckers Grave inn and campsite. I was really nervous about going and we had some van trouble the weeks leading up to the event. It wasn’t until the day that we knew 100% if we were able to make it, but it beat sleeping outside Iveco’s dealership in Avonmouth near Bristol for another night!
Lots of vans were parked on the field close together, all with their doors open so people could come and look at the self-build designs. Way too much cider was drunk. One lady had brought a bottle of Bakewell Vodka and was sharing it with people that were drinking it out of normal sized glasses! Well, a night of live entertainment, fire pits, BBQs and great friends ended up being a whole weekend as we all nursed hang overs and had to spend another night there until we were all safe to drive!
That night we went into the pub and took over a side room with a log fire and shove ha’penny board. We played Bingo, with a new friend supplying the prizes she could rustle up in her van – a banana, a hard boiled egg and a bulb of garlic! Sometimes, the adventures that are unplanned turn out to be the best nights and the most amazing memories can be made. As far as top 10 moments of 2019 go, this one couldn’t be left out.
#5 Making do with what you got!
On occasions we have had to overcome challenges that we were unprepared for. From little things like creating the Boxer Bunting (Seen by over 1,659 people on Facebook) when they hadn’t dried overnight (so I hung my pants over the stove when cooking breakfast), to having to climb over the seats to get in and out when the side door got jammed shut in Ross-on-Wye.
We have also had to get ourselves out of some tricky situations when driving Chewy too. Recently, we were in Wales and trusted our satnav to take us to a monkey sanctuary. We ended up having to go up a steep hill on a single track road, that was windy and narrow. On our way up we came face to face with a delivery driver in his van, looking as traumatised as we did. He had to reverse up the hill a short distance to let us pass as he was closer to a gap. Once we had passed him, we then had to drop back down the hill again a little bit before Louise took a good run, beeping the horn to warn oncoming traffic and just flooring it up the hill. I had my eyes shut the whole way up!
Making up our own recipes has also been a great adventure. We have invented many a dish that we would struggle to recreate. We managed to make bread in the van using the summer heat in the cab to make the dough rise, flatbread and pittas. “Whatever we have left” soup, if we have an odd potato, carrot or other veg, it all gets made into a soup to save it going in the bin and these have cured ills and hangovers on many occasions. Thank you Louise for always making me feel better when I can’t hold my drink!
#6 Many firsts
Being on the road has provided us with some great opportunities. Things that we had not been able to do before, whether through fear or lack of funds etc. We made a promise to ourselves to take advantage of those moments and grab them with both hands. In the last 9 months, we have learned how to drive a New Holland tractor (Thanks William!), been on a speedboat, climbed a mountain, swam in a waterfall and so much more! Swimming in a waterfall is not just on my top 10 moments of 2019 list, but of my all time top 10 bucket list items that we have managed to achieve!
It was the first time we had been able to have an adventure on this scale before and although we only left the UK once, we are planning many more trips abroad now that we have dipped our feet in the water. We have some amazing plans in the pipe line for 2020 and can’t wait to share them with you! If we were writing a top 100 moments of 2019 instead of top 10, we would be able to list every single first, including my first bonfire on a beach and first time we slept next to a nuclear reactor (we didn’t realise why it was so quiet until we googled where we were!).
#7 Visiting Spain
We took a couple of weeks out from our busy schedule of exploring the UK to travel to Spain. We did cheat a little and left Chewy at home, opting to fly instead. The weather here had been awful we were keen to get some sun! My aunt has a villa near Torrevieja so we flew into Alicante and we were met there by one of her friends. We spent the time we had there going on some coach trips to see cave houses, towns on top of massive cliffs, swam in a waterfall and visited Benidorm… We still laugh about the mobility scooters for 2 that we saw there!
It was the first time I left the country without my parents and it did feel strange. We absolutely loved this experience and have written a few blog posts on our adventures there. One of the best evenings we had there was our last night at the Olive tree restaurant and then we took a slow walk home before laying on the sun loungers on the roof terrace watching the stars and satellites. It was so romantic and one of the most beautiful nights of my life.
#8 Ponies on the Gower
I was born in London and lived there until I was 18/19, my heart always craved the countryside. My grandparents on mum’s side had a caravan in Bognor Regis and my grandma (dads mum) lived on the edge of the New Forest so we had plenty of opportunity to get out of the city.
For number 8 of our top ten moments of 2019 we had to include the ponies! We found a lovely free camping spot on the Gower Peninsular that we have stopped in a few times. Cows and Horses roam free on top of the hill there. When we were up there, there were some young ponies in the group, enjoying the warmth of the sun.
This blue one caught my attention and allowed me to get quite close as I slowly edged towards it – keeping an eye on mum’s whereabouts of course! I have a decent zoom on the camera and managed to get some lovely pictures. Once they got used to me sitting there, they would come closer on their own and choose to be near us.
One morning we woke up to the van shaking. Unsure if we were being broken into or if it was an earth quake we looked out of the window to find a cow having a good scratch on the rear ladder!
#9 Polar Express
Christmas is all about the kids but when you are still a kid trapped in the body of an adult, Christmas is all about the Polar Express! Louise and I are both massive festive fun-bags and love the season of goodwill and cinnamon. Everything gets covered in decorations and we love to visit Christmas Fayres and all the aromas of the bratwursts and mulled wine, new pyjamas and cosy nights in with a blanket watching the telly-box.
This year I treated Louise to a trip on the Wensleydale all singing, all dancing, fully immersive trip on the Polar Express steam train to the ‘North Pole’ to meet Santa. All the characters were there from the movie, the singing chefs, the conductor, the homeless man/ghost and of course the real Santa with real beard. As part of the trip we also got hot chocolates and cookies as well as our first gift of Christmas, a silver bell!
It was a really fun event and one that we would love to go on again. There were whole families including grandparents dressed up in their pyjamas and dressing gowns on board the train. The children’s faces were incredible when Santa came to see them and the atmosphere created by the staff was worth a million pounds!
#10 My favourite top 10 moment of 2019 – when I proposed to Louise.
It was a hot summers day and we were in Whitemill, Wales. We had found a stunning campsite called Quarry Lodge with beautiful pitches, great facilities and friendly hosts. The site was in an old Quarry – I know! It’s like they knew there was going to be a campsite called Quarry Lodge built there in the future!!! Anyway, the site was on a few levels with little openings and groves poked here and there. We had walked around the site earlier in the day and I knew it was the place that I wanted to propose.
I had been carrying the ring around since Cambridge and had asked the permission of her closest family – all had given me their blessing. The sun was starting to set and it looked to be a beautiful evening. We had gone for another walk outside the campsite but I had not seen anywhere as special as this spot. I encouraged Louise back to the site so that I could put my plan into action.
On the way through the site, we found some long grass. Lou asked if I had ever done the trick where you put the grass between your thumbs and blow to make a squeal/whistle/random noise. I had not, so Louise proceeded to give me a tutorial without blowing it herself. She helped me place the grass between my thumbs and told me to blow. Well, the noise was so loud I scared myself, tried to run away and stumbled about flailing. Louise was killing herself laughing the rest of the day and wished she had videoed it. I didn’t realise the noise would be that loud and I wasn’t prepared.
A few minutes later I had reached the perfect spot with Louise, the sun was glowing orange as she was sinking and lighting up the sky as if it was on fire. Louise was still laughing about me scaring myself and had turned away from me to compose herself. When she turned around it took her a moment to realise that I wasn’t where she left me, I was on the floor on one knee, with a ring in my hand. Luckily she said Yes!!!
So as for a rundown of our top 10 moments of 2019 go, these just touch the tip of the iceberg. We have so much more to share with you next year and we would love it if you could leave us a message of your top moments of 2019. Tell is what you got up to and what you have planned for next year! We cant wait to #goexplore again next year.