As you all know, we have been approached by a Galgos dog rescue charity in Spain who require immediate help. The charity are currently bursting at the seams with over 200 dogs on site needing urgent care. They are so full that they have had to ask for help from other rescues as they do not physically have room for dogs found abandoned on the street.
How much does it cost to run the Galgos rescue centre?
With the kennel cost rising all the time to cover vet bills,
food, power and accommodation, it is easy to see why they can not afford to pay
staff and rely so heavily on volunteers to assist in programmes on site to
continue their work. So where does the money go? It costs around 45,000 Euros a
month. Vet bills (16,000 euros), Food (3,500), social security (thousands of
euros a month) as well as maintenance, accountants and solicitors, vehicles (inc
running costs), medication, pest control, insurance and tax. They use 7000 litres
a day of water and the water bills are unforgiving.
We hope that you understand that our fundraising campaign is to help feed us one meal a day and cover basic expenses whilst there – all cash over this will be donated direct to help the Galgos.
Our Responsibilities with the Galgos charity.
We will not have any say over adoptions before anyone asks
if we can smuggle one back home, but will be there to assist in other duties
around the centre. We have done everything we can so far to raise money i.e. raffle
of personal goods, fundraising plus of course we have lived a very basic life
in the last few weeks that we have known our services are desperately needed.
We are paying for as much as we can ourselves however we still need your
We have had some technical hitches over the last few weeks with GoFundMe as some donations have been returned or refunded for reasons we do not understand so the option of using Paypal is in place now. Our paypal link is paypal.me/vanlifediary2020
With all this taken into account unfortunately we still have
a shortfall in the donations of £2000. If only we could explain how we are
feeling knowing that we may not be able to fulfil our promise due to the short
fall meaning we could not support ourselves fully whilst committing 18 hours a
day, 7 days a week with no days off to helping these dogs, around £14,000 worth
of minimum wage hours if you work it out.
We totally understand financial implications for individuals
however even by just sharing our plea for help you are enabling someone else to
help us, our promise to help these dogs is imperative to their future. Anyone
who knows us knows just how hard working and passionate we are when it comes to
animals. They will know that the thought of us having to cancel the trip and
leave the rehoming charity without help will not sit right with us.
We also understand that making donations that are so public is uncomfortable for some, therefore, we offer you the opportunity, in the hope that you can donate to meet the shortfall of over £2000 to our PayPal account. We will not publicise your donation on social media but will endeavour to thank those that do where possible and keep you up to date via our blog.
Louise and I are coming up against some resistance from those who do not understand how or why this is so important. Galgos are used as hunting dogs and after the short hunting season, thousands are turfed out and abandoned. Many are killed in inhumane killing stations, others are mutilated. Some are dumped in large dumpsters that they can not get out of and others, like we were hearing about only a few days ago, are killed in traffic accidents. One of which Maria, a volunteer was on the way to rescue as she had a plastic bag tied around her throat. Sadly she was run over before maria got to the location.
This is hard work, but to those dogs, they are having their
lives saved. They are being rehomed and living full happy lives and they are
We are supposed to be travelling on Friday to Spain and need
your help and sponsorship to make this happen so that we can help the dogs that
are so desperately in need.
Whilst not impossible, the City of London are making it more and more expensive to take your vehicles into the centre of London. This post aims to educate you on how to use the London Underground instead and save time and money.
The congestion charge was introduced in 2003, initially a £5 a day tariff to drive your vehicle between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday in the city centre. As it name indicates, the charge was set up to reduce the number of cars and journey length as people would not drive in the city and want to pay the tariff.
This fee has increased over the years to £11.50 and must be paid either in advance or on the day or travel (until Midnight). At the latest, you can pay up to midnight the next day with a surcharge but after that you will receive a fine.
Low Emission Zone
Low emission zones were introduced in April 2019 and this incurs a further charge if your vehicle does not meet the standards set out by the government for emissions. Essentially, for a diesel campervan over 15 years old, you are looking to pay another £12.50 on top of the congestion charge.
Parking is harder to come by for larger vehicles and the risk of theft, damage or break-ins rises sharply too. We recommend that you find a safe place to park and then make the most of London Transport. In this guide we tell you how to use the London Underground with confidence and clarity.
How to use the London Underground
London is a major city with a population of almost 9 million people. The travel infrastructure is advanced with busses, over-ground trains, trams, Docklands light railway, a clipper boat and of course, the London Underground. This is essential to combat the traffic and pollution issues that large cities face. Sadly, even with the public transport in place, many still prefer to use cars to move around the city resulting in long road delays.
We highly recommend using public transport where possible as it is often easier and quicker than driving, plus your carbon footprint is reduced. It doesn’t matter how you use the London transport as long as you understand it consists of the Underground and overground components.
In this post we will be explaining how
to use the London underground to navigate your way around the city easily, and
with confidence. As someone who grew up in London I really took for granted how
advanced our network is. Whilst it isn’t perfect, these frustrations come from
the reliability of the service providers, weather causing delays an occasional
strike action, not from the destinations or routes available.
of the underground
How to use the London Underground
Navigating the stations
Platforms and boarding
Leaving the train
History of the Underground
I could talk all day about the history
of the underground, it is part of the fabric of modern life and the oldest
underground rail system in the world. Its origins stem back all the way to
1863, believe it or not!
I will give you a brief overview of where it all began but if you are interested in this, then there is so much more to explore and even some attractions you can visit, such as a 2 hour tour from the oldest to the futuristic stations at the Visit London website.
The Metropolitan line is the oldest underground line in London. Opening in 1863 and using steam locomotives pulling wooden gas lit carriages. In its first year, the Metropolitan line transported over 9 million individual journeys, with public calling for more to be built and with companies petitioning parliament for new lines.
Within 2 years, the circle line was completed alongside the district line. As the lines expanded, the metropolitan line reached as far as Buckinghamshire, ensuring a line 80km long could transport passengers into the city centre. They all had to learn how to use the London Underground from scratch where as we all grew up understanding the concept.
Different companies owned different
lines and sometimes this caused friction, especially if they were sharing rail
space. It wouldn’t be until much later that all of the networks would come together
and run as one.
Before long, other lines were added
and electric trains introduced in 1890. The development of the railway lines
seemed to boom, spurred on from the industrial revolution. More people were
drawn to the factory work in the city rather than the farming work of the
In the first half of the 1800’s, the
population of London tripled, leading to more traffic and congestion. There were
already 7 major over-ground lines meeting in the city bringing people in, so
something had to be done to ease congestion.
As technology improved, the tunnels became deeper. The first tunnels were mere meters underground, with trenches being built and roofs being laid on top. Now, the deepest tunnel is 58 meters underground and belongs to Hampstead heath on the Jubilee line.
The London Underground created jobs and revenue from those who knew how to use it. The city continued to grow.
The Tube during the War
Many stations were utilised as air raid shelters during the wars. Additionally, the government made use of the tunnels to to hide some of the cities treasures as well as make administrative office space for them and the Army. Some of the tunnels were even turned into factories making munitions and aeroplane parts to assist in the war effort.
Although the tunnels were used for shelter
during the first world war, it was discouraged for the 2nd. 10
massive air raid shelters were supposed to be built in the city housing thousands
of civilians however only 8 were built and mostly used by government officials.
Every time a siren would sound people would still head for the shelter of the
The government reluctantly backtracked
and allowed the stations to be used as air-raid shelters after a disastrous
accident. Sadly, during an air raid siren test on 3rd March 1943, a
surge of people trying to take shelter caused a panicked state at Bethnal Green
station which resulted in the deaths of 173 people.
Royal Mail Trains – Mail Rail
The Royal Mail – mail rail line, opened
in 1927 it operated for over 75 years before closing in 2003. The line was
designed to transport mail between sorting offices in the city was a narrow gauge,
driverless train. With 8 stops between Whitechapel and Paddington, 50 driverless electric trains shifted
30,000 items each day a mere 70 ft beneath the surface between the main sorting
offices around London.
Although now closed, you are able to
still access the tunnels and take a ride on the train through the Postal Museum
in London. Take a 15 minute ride on the small trains and see the largely
unchanged 100 year old tunnels, see the station platforms and experience a 1:20
gradient from the lines to the stations used to help the trains slow down on approach
and speed up on departure!
for the Royal Family.
It may be just rumour, or it may be
fact. The history books tell us long ago that secret tunnels were built within
castles, churches and important buildings to aid escape in times of a siege or,
in the modern age, bombing and terrorism.
People have spoken for years about a secret tube station underneath Buckingham Palace, linked to Parliament and Downing street, to aid the escape of the Queen during such an attack. The private tube is said to have its own network of tunnels under the city, one even reporting it goes as far as Scotland which is far fetched even for me.
A darker past
In some reports, the underground tunnels from the palace go to the darker corners of the city where princes and dukes would visit women of the night undetected. The Queen has visited stations as part of her royal duties and the thought of Her Maj popping on the tube to get to Gala Bingo has me in stitches. Does HRH know how to use the London Underground and sneak around the city?
It would make sense to have a network
of tunnels to aid escape although these are unproven, or guarded so highly no
one will tell us for fear they would be misused. We do know there are a warren
of disused tunnels by London underground and likely used by the government for ‘storage’.
It is claimed that Buckingham Palace has its own cash point and post office inside and many have speculated that the Royal Mail train runs underneath Buckingham Palace and therefore providing an escape route for the Royals. I guess we will never know for sure, but it is a plausible case to argue that the Palace would have escape tunnels.
How the Underground Works
The underground is currently made up from 11 tube lines, not including over-ground, Emirates and Docklands Light Railway. The networks lines tend to cover different routes into the city like a spider’s web but once in the main sections, it is not uncommon for them to share train tracks. For instance, the circle line and district line share 18 stations on the same route from Edgeware road to tower hill. Similarly, the District and Hammersmith and city line then share 11.
Some lines go just from point A to
point B with varying amount of stops in between. Nice and simple! You are
either going forwards or backwards. Other lines break off into ‘branches’ and
may go via another destination. The Northern line, for example, has two
branches to it splitting off at Kennington and going via either Charring Cross
or Bank, before joining briefly at Camden Town to terminate in either Edgeware
or High Barnett.
Do make sure you check which branch
you require and always note the termination destination to keep yourself on the
correct journey. Any ember of staff will help you if you are unsure.
Some lines go East/West, others North/South
and some across the middle. At first glance, it looks like a plate of spaghetti
however once you have a vague idea of the layout of London, it is easier to
work out where you need to be. If you can find out where you are and where you
need to get to you can easily trace the trainlines to find out your
connections. If you are unsure on how to reach your destination, there are
staff on hand to assist you that know the network inside out.
The map that we look at today is not geographically correct, but topological, formed to make an easier to read map with straight lines. The map was first designed by Henry Beck in 1931 and although ‘London Underground’ were sceptical of the initial design, they trialled it a few years later to see if people would accept it and found people preferred this type of map, with straight edges. It was easier to read and follow, everything was spaced out evenly and although not a true representation of the lines, it made navigation so much easier.
Circle line isn’t a circle anymore.
The circle line used to be just that, a
loop of stations where you could get on either side and eventually get to the right
station, which happened to someone one meeting me for a date! (I thought I had
been stood up but turns out they went the wrong direction!). In 2009, an
extension to the line now means that the line begins and ends in Edgeware road
and Hammersmith, now resembling a no 6 shape flipped over.
‘Transport for London’ calculate your fares
in accordance with a zone system. Whether you are using the tube, a bus, Docklands
Light Railway (DLR) or over ground, you will find the zone system in place. This
is in order to calculate fares. There are 6 main zones within central London and
for national rail lines, these extend over-ground to 15 (but don’t worry about
those for the moment).
Imagine Saturn’s rings. At the centre of
the rings is a circle, this is zone 1. Every 3 miles out from the city centre,
another zone comes into action. This then leads to 6 rings around London and a
variation in fares depending on where you are travelling to.
Only 78 of the 270 stations have some form
of step free access to platforms although this may be a manual boarding ramp
between lines. On the official TfL maps, stations marked with a white wheelchair
symbol are step free to the platform but not all are step free to the train.
Some still need manual ramps.
This is an area that TfL are trying to
improve but with such an old network of tunnels accessibility is proving very
hard for them to achieve.
So how does this effect tickets?
Transport for London have tried
several initiatives over the years, with the zones coming into force in the 1980’s.
Beforehand, the price you paid depended on how far you were travelling and was
calculated by the conductor. As the conductors were removed, the driver was
responsible for collecting fares and time spent at bus stops calculating the route
needed to change. Zones meant that the driver would know what zone they were
going to and easily work out the fare.
You can use cash to purchase a ticket, however you must purchase them in advance. Drivers do not accept cash on board so collect your ticket from ticket machines at Tube, DLR or National rail stations.
and return tickets
still available to purchase although not often the most cost-effective way to travel.
The fare for a single journey in central London zones 1-3 is £4.90 (Adult) each
leg of the journey. Unless you are planning to make just 1 single journey on London
transport then you are better off to purchase a travel card, Oyster card or use
a contactless credit/debit card.
London Travel Card
style of travel card is still operational in London. It is a simple card ticket
that you pay up front for and it provides you with unlimited travel across the London
Transport network for the duration of the card. You can purchase the 1 day
travel card, the 7 day travel card, 1 month or 1 year. The days are consecutive
and do expire.
The travel card provides you access to the London Underground, London Busses (the lovely nostalgic red London busses but not the tourist hopper bus), Network Rail, Docklands Light Railway, TFL railway and also a 33% discount on many scheduled river crossing services.
Heathrow and Gatwick express
You cannot use your travel card on the Heathrow express trains but you can for slower national rail trains departing from Heathrow station. Heathrow airport is in Zone 6. Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead are outside of London zones, in conclusion you can not use a travel card to reach these places.
For travel cards 7 days or longer, a passport sized photo is required. However, the cards can be made up on the spot and is free to do.
Oyster Cards Vs Contactless payment
and Go’ travel is simple and easy to use. No fiddling about with change, no paper
tickets lost under a pile of tissues and sweet wrappers in your pocket, just a
credit card sized piece of plastic with a chip in it to simply tap on the
yellow circle, and go through the barriers.
much difference between using contactless payment and an Oyster card
(apparently called that because the shell of an Oyster is a hard protective
shell, a metaphor for its security. There is also a nod to the Oyster beds from
the Thames Estuary and probably a nod to the phrase “the world is your Oyster”).
are not many differences between contactless and Oyster cards but I will list
the main few.
card = Pre load a card with funds before you travel.
= Use your credit or debit card to pay after you travel.
A standard Oyster Card requires a non refundable £5 deposit. You then ‘top up’ the card as you go along and pre pay for your travel. The fees are then deducted immediately from your card where as the contactless way means your journey is totalled up at the end of the day and a single charge is then deducted from your card.
to the standard Oyster, this card is one of the cheapest ways to travel around London.
It comes with some extra perks such as its ability to be used on Emirates Air Line cable car and River Bus services
(MBNA Thames Clippers). You can also use the travel credit on your Visitor
Oyster card to buy a ticket for Thames River Services and Circular Cruise
Westminster at their ticket offices.
Different Caps for different cards.
Contactless cards do have a weekly cap on them running Monday to Sunday. However it is important to remember that if you are travelling from overseas and using your credit or debit card, you may incur foreign exchange charges from your provider the same as any other payment in GBP.
The price of the weekly cap is the same as the 7 day travel card. The Oyster card caps after 3 journeys in one day. In other words, no mater how much you use your card, after the third trip you are no longer charged that day. It is important to note that travelling at peak times will cost you more, so if your first few fares are within the peak tariff, expect to see your cap at a higher rate than if you set off a little later and travel in a cheaper fare bracket.
Tap in and out
Oyster OR contactless, you still need to tap in and out of stations, even if the
gates are open. Failure to do so will mean that you will pay the full price of
a capped day even if you only used the train once that day. If
you don’t touch in and out on a yellow card reader, you might be charged a
maximum fare, charged a penalty fare or prosecuted.
Oyster cards do not have an expiry date. Any money you have left on the card can either be refunded at a train station kiosk or you can leave it on the card until you next visit.
Can I share
my oyster card?
are travelling with a companion, they must have their own card. If you are not
using your card, in theory you can pass it to someone else to use as they do
not require a picture or a name stamp on them. However, for just £5 it may be
worth investing in a card even if you are only visiting London once in a blue
How to purchase and top up an Oyster card
purchase an Oyster card from the ticket offices inside train stations, tube
stations, TfL rail stations, some DLR and National rail stations, the Croydon
Tramlink store and Newsagents around the city. It will cost you £5 to buy the
card before a penny is added to the account. You do not need to give ID as you
name is not written on the card. You can purchase the card, top it up and use it
straight away when purchasing from a ticket office or newsagent.
have a mobile phone, you can download the Transport for London app and top up your
Oyster card on the move. The website said to allow 30 minutes for the money to
show up, although it is often quicker. Please note, if you have a first-generation
oyster card, that these are not compatible with the app.
wish to purchase by cash or card payment, ticket stations as above and most
newsagents will be able to do that for you with funds immediately showing.
Navigating the stations
Now you know where the tube station is
but how do you get into it and then get to the platform? The large red circle
with the blue line across it is iconic. As soon as you see the logo, you know
you it is the London tube sign, just like a yellow cab lets us know we are in
New York. Entrances to Tube stations are usually well sign posted with this
sign lit up and usually on busy streets.
Some station entrances are close to
the surface so you may walk straight into a large area with ticket machines, ticket
booth with humans in, and the barriers. The signs for the trains are all colour
coded so that you can follow the directions of your colour of line if you
forget the name of it. This is especially helpful in stations where multiple
lines depart from the same station. It may not always be the same platform as
different tube lines run at different depths.
There will inevitably be a decent
involved. Usually, this involves quite steep escalators as many of the stations
were built before lifts/elevators were being used. Some stations do now have
lifts, such as the Heathrow airport station on the Piccadilly line, Kings Cross
station and London Victoria.
Platforms and Boarding
Once you have taken the escalator down
to the right line, you then need to locate the correct platform. Good news is
there are usually only two! By the entrance to each platform you will find a
map from the current station to the end of the line in the direction it is
travelling, so if your arrival station is not listed, check the other platform.
Once on the correct platform, you will
notice it is tunnel shaped, not with straight walls along the platform. Considering
the amount of users on the network, the platform can easily get overcrowded in
rush hour. It is always advisable to move down along the platform as far as you
can to allow other users a more comfortable space.
Above all, stay behind the yellow lines on the platform as this is very close to the platform edge. It is very dangerous to stay here and the draft from the trains can sometimes be quite forceful. Consequently, the tight fit of the train within the tunnel was designed to keep the network ventilated and the moving train in the tunnel forces the air forwards, you will feel the pressure change as trains are arriving to the station.
How to use the underground during rush hour
If you can avoid rush hour, please do. For your own sake. Imagine a can of sweaty sardines all crammed in together. In the summer the temperatures sore underground (reports indicate the temperatures are so high it would be illegal to transport animals in those temperatures) and this leads to a lot of perspiration. It isn’t made any better when you are all crammed in so tight that you are wedged under someone’s armpit just trying to find something to hold on to. Travelling off peak isn’t only cheaper, its more user friendly and you are often able to move around the carriage/ find a seat.
There isn’t an orderly queueing system
for getting on the tube in rush hour, it is a free for all as the worker bees
are trying to get home to their families. You have to push and shove your way
on. I am not telling you this to put you off, rather persuade you to allow the
commuters to elbow each other for a good position and allow yourself an hour
extra to enjoy the shops, restaurants, museums and other activities in the
city. Trust me you will be glad you stayed out for that extra Martini!
Usually, above you on the platform will be an electronic notice board advising what train is arriving next (and the one after that) as well as the time. The arriving trains will also be announced over the loudspeaker.
On the train also, an automated message is played when the doors are about to close and also to alert you of the next station (as well as any connecting lines at the approaching station for connections).
Leaving the train
When the train comes to a stop, there is a dash for the doors. Many people will be making their way along the carriage on its approach ready to disembark. Do be careful of trying to manouver yourself on a moving train as they can be a little unsteady! Only do if safe to do so.
When the train comes to a complete stop, you will notice a green push button lights up for you to activate the doors opening. Don’t bother pushing it, they don’t do anything and the driver will open all of the doors automatically. You should be able to exit the train before others enter it and exit signs should be clearly displayed on the platform. If you are unsure, just follow the crowd and you will end up either at an exit or another platform – you won’t get too lost!
Some train stations have multiple
exits depending on their location, for example, if they are underneath a cross
roads they will usually have an exit on each of the corners. Connecting lines
will also be sign posted in the station.
Do not forget to tap your card on the
yellow circle for the contactless or oyster card!
Just a couple of pointers on tube
etiquette, the unspoken rules of how to to get along with your fellow tube
Make sure you invest in a good deodorant! It gets very hot down there and having a good deodorant will be a great help to all. More so when you have the awkward moment of standing, holding on to the bars and feeling nervous about sweat patches!
Always have your ‘ticket’ or card ready for when you reach the barriers. Everyone in the city is in a rush to get somewhere and they don’t appreciate being help up whilst others look for their ticket.
On the escalator, always stand on the right. The left hand side of the escalator is the ‘moving’ lane so that people can walk down the escalator.
When trains arrive, ensure to let everyone off before you try to embark. If someone has stepped off to allow people behind them to depart, they are allowed back on the train first before anyone else.
Move down the train. It can cause delays to services when drivers are not able to close the doors and depart on time.
Priority seating. Most importantly, signs tell you that selected seats in every carriage are priority seats for pregnant women, people with young children, disabled or elderly users. Failure to do so will see several people glaring at you for the remainder of your journey in a disastrously British way that not even a cup of tea and a digestive will fix!
Don’t stop at the top of an escalator. If you get to the top of an escalator and don’t know which way to go, keep moving forward and find a safe place to ‘pull over’. Think of it as a motorway exit for example, you wouldn’t just stop on the slip road. In addition, any slight slowing down or hesitation can be serious if people behind you can not get off of the moving escalator and pile ups can have nasty consequences.
Going to the toilet is a basic human requirement but still something we tend to be a bit taboo talking about. Especially when it comes to how you cope with needing to go to the toilet in your campervan. The internet is full of information to the point where it can be overwhelming but not always easy to navigate the pros and cons.
However we are here to try and write a simple guide breaking down the basic elements of each one. This should give you a basic overview on the principles of each design. you can then research further into the type of toilet you like the idea of and find out more information.
The main two components in choosing a toilet seems to be how expensive and how eco friendly is it. Companies are listening to the customers and trying to provide less harmful chemicals that was has been on the market until recently and a variety of designs mean there is a toilet fit for every bum.
Best seat in the van!
When thinking about vanlife, it is important to have a list of essential things, that are important to you, included in your design. You may be starting a conversion from scratch or maybe you are buying one ready to go. Either way, your dream home on wheels will have several must haves such as windows or no windows, what type of heater, fixed bed or a pull out?
Almost every person will have their own list and vision. Often these are then impacted by costs, van size and layouts. It may not be practical to have an automatic flushing toilet in a Caddy where space is a real issue, for example.
One of the things that both Louise and I were adamant about was that we needed a toilet of some sorts. When we saw our campervan we were glad to see that she came with a toilet already installed. We currently have a Thetford toilet and cassette in place half way down the campervan on the drivers side. This model features an electric flushing pump, a waste compartment accessed from outside, a tank for the flush liquids and a toilet roll holder.
In this post, we look at some of the types of toilet you can get for your campervan, talk about the chemicals and how they work, look at some more Eco friendly toilets and how they compare cost wise.
From the Bottom Up!
Mobile app to locate toilets. Cost – Free, Installation –
Let’s start at the rear end of the scale, no toilet. For some people, having a toilet is a luxury they just can not manage. Either space restrictions, cost or just a lifestyle choice not to have one! When we had our T5 campervan, we didn’t have a toilet on board. We just made sure we took advantage of public restrooms in supermarkets, pubs or dotted around towns. The only problem for me was the first pee of the morning where we would have to make sure we were parked near a 24 hours supermarket or public toilet for the morning dash!
Vera the Wanderlust also decided to forgo a toilet when they left in their VW.
“We hit the road in our VW T3 in July of 2019. We had packed everything we needed; food, clothes, music, bedding, tools, you name it and we’d packed it. Everything except one thing- A toilet.
To be honest we were so excited to start our journey that we hadn’t even considered what it meant to not have a toilet in the van. For the first few months it wasn’t much of a problem, it was warm outside so even if we need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night we just got up and found the nearest public restroom using the app ‘Where is public toilet Europe’.
However, as our trip progressed in to winter and the weather started turning for the worse, it became more of a challenge finding the courage to brave the elements, to find a restroom or a suitable natural space to do our business. As a result we have started to think about investing in a chemical toilet, although we think we may decide against it as they are not overly environmentally friendly.” You can follow them on Instagram @verawonderlust and on facebook
Using ‘Where is public toilet’ app (only available on
android) you are able to use your current location to search for public toilets
near you. The app is free to download and easy to use. This would have been so
helpful for us!
Bucket and a tent – Basic costs – under £30 for full kit
One of the toilet options we looked at when in a smaller campervan was to have a bucket and tent option. We had seen a toilet tents for sale the VW festivals and did purchase a pop up tent for around £20. You can buy a bucket with a toilet seat attached for around £10-20 but you can just get a bucket from the £1 shop and a bit of insulating foam around the edge for added comfort.
Essentially you place a bucket in the tent and do your business. It is recommended that you line your bucket with bin bags!
Lots of chat happens in the camping and campervan forums about what to use to soak up the fluids and mask smells. Most opt for sawdust or cat litter and line the bin with a small amount then layer a little over after each use. Disposal of this waste must be done in accordance of the laws where you are. It is your responsibility to check this.
Removable Porta Potty – Easy to store and empty, from £50
and up. (Thetford/Dometic)
The next step up from a bucket is a small portable toilet cassette stored in your campervan. The two common brands are Thetford and Dometic. This is where waste is held in a secure holding tank underneath the toilet bowl. There is a twist disc to open and close the valve. This allows the waste to go down and the smells to stay sealed in an air tight container below. Some are fitted with pump flushes so that a 2nd tank, containing clean water and a pink chemical, clean the bowl and keep it fresh.
The tank size can vary greatly depending on what you want to
spend but the more you pay out, the more comfortable the experience will be for
you. The small portable ones are handy to stow away under a bench seat or in a
cupboard for occasional use. This isn’t so bad if you are a solo traveller
however if you are sharing with someone, it can test the personal boundaries
fairly quickly. It may be that one person has to leave the van whilst the other
uses the loo. Not so much fun in the rain and snow!
Fixed Porta Potty. Service waste from outside, approx. £350 and up. (Thetford/Dometic)
A fixed toilet has advantages but is usually reserved for larger vans, given the space they take up.
These will often be the same basic design as the above but on a larger scale. With a fixed toilet in your campervan you are able to add walls, giving you a cubical in the van for privacy. Often these have an outside door to access the waste container. Some of the waste tanks have wheels to make them easier to transport but when they are full, they can be quite heavy and the shifting contents make it unstable.
3 main types on the market but what do they do?
We touched earlier on the chemicals and if you have been into caravan and motorhome shops you may have seen shelves displaying pink, blue and green liquids. The core functions of these chemicals are to break down the waste and reduce odours. To be truthful, it is hard to disguise the smell of the harsh chemicals altogether so pick what is more offensive for you!
Pink and Blue
Typically, the pink liquid is a nice fragrant one that us diluted to make the flush water. The blue ones are usually diluted for the waste tank. Some of the older solutions contain more harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde.
The green toilet liquid is usually the more eco friendly of the toilet cleaners but do still check the ingredients. It is more environmentally conscious, can be emptied into a septic tank and is only in temps as sold as -20, depending on the brand.
Some of the older solutions contain more harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde. This is a toxic element which needs to be handled and disposed of safely. Due to the harm these chemicals can do the environment they do need to be handled safely. There are come companies now working on less toxic alternatives, harnessing enzymes and natural substances instead, to make them better for the environment.
There are plenty of discussions on the alternatives you can read on line. Some people recommend using biological washing tablets however some reviews have said the smell was worse and it took a long time for the solids to break down.
Composting Loo – Self contained housing and ventilation.
Those looking for a more environmentally friendly toilet for their campervan, without the use of harsh chemicals, may think about the composting toilets. The science behind these is to separate the fluids and solids holding them in separate areas. The solid waste is dried out using ventilation and sawdust, the fluids are sent to another tank for easier disposal.
Emma Milford – turning a chemical toilet into an eco toilet
After much deliberation about building my own composting toilet, or installing an all singing all dancing throne, I decided to simply go with the Thetford Porta Potti 145; a small portable toilet which can be purchased from must outdoor retailers and fits in my van under my table or in the back of my van – one day (when I build it!) it will be on a pull out tray in my storage area.
This lovely little toilet is super simple to use, fits pretty much anywhere and does what it says on the box! There is a 12ltr waste reciprocal which will hold around a week’s worth of waste, unless you’re a large canine, a bellow pump ‘flush’ and it can be emptied really easily. With the flick of a catch, the container detaches from the main body and there is a spout to aim the contents in to a private loo, drain, chemical disposal point etc.
Personally, I don’t use any chemicals in either the waste area or the ‘flush’ section (just some plain water in the ‘flush’ section), as I want the ability to empty it pretty much anywhere without killing the environment or my friendly neighbour’s waste pipes. I don’t find it smells without the chemicals but a good rinse with water and a wipe over with some eco cleaning spray after emptying keeps it fresh and clean, and if you can avoid mixing solids and fluid, it tends to smell less.
Top tip… DO NOT add toilet paper to the mix; cheap paper generally does disintegrate but be like the Europeans and just bag it with your normal waste and save any blockages. Overall, this is a great little loo, which isn’t cumbersome or heavy, is easy to install, empty and store wherever you have the space. Happy camping!
The joys of a composting toilet by Clare and Ryan.
“We are Clare and Ryan and we have been living full time in our custom built van conversion sinceSeptember 2018. Since then we have travelled throughout the UK, spent the winter in the Iberian Peninsula, the summer in Scandinavia, visiting 12 countries so far and our plans for 2020 are to head east and explore the rest of Europe.
As we custom designed our van, spending many hours on YouTube exploring the right design and layout for us, we came across composting toilets for the first time. The more we investigated, the more we liked the idea of being free of nasty chemicals and smells, whilst being self contained with the ability to wild camp for longer periods without having to find suitable waste disposal points. Being on a budget in a relatively small van, with no dedicated shower room, space and costs were also important considerations.
After doing some shopping around we settled on the Kildwick Koodle with purple sparkling separatorbowl (no longer available but Strumpet & Trollup do a similar model), costing about 400 GBP. It now lives on a sliding pull out, neatly tucked away but easily accessible, vented to the outside by a flexible pipe. We use a dilute vinegar solution in a spray bottle for our liquids flush and cover any solid deposits with a sprinkling of sawdust.
The fan assisted ventilation over time dries out the solids and we have not had any issues with unpleasant smells or flies. We supplement our compost loo usage with public toilets but find that we empty the liquids container daily and the solids box is emptied [responsibly] about once a month and takes about 5 minutes.
Please remain seated during the performance
The only real surprise for us (easily overcome) was that we needed to change our mindset on how we use the toilet. For me I found I needed to sit further forward than a traditional toilet and hubby has to sit down to pee to help ensure proper separation of solids and liquids – the key to successful composting toilets and the avoidance of smells.
After 18 months on the road, I have to say that getting a compost toilet has been one of the best decisions we made. It has been easy and convenient to use, saving us significant time and money, not having to find and pay for waste disposal points, it is far better for the environment, using no chemicals or water and is definitely less yucky than the alternatives. As we sit watching fellow travellers drag a smelly, sloppy box of waste across a car park, spending 10 minutes trying to juggle the toilet box, water, splash back and holding their noses, we have a quiet chuckle and wonder, why doesn’t everyone have a compost loo, we certainly wouldn’t be without ours!”
Toilet paper – Can I flush it?
The ‘Bog standard’ toilet roll we use at home isn’t really recommended as conventional loo roll takes a long time to break down and leaves clumps in the tank (and also around where you are emptying it). Unless you want to poke at bits of paper with a stick to get rid of them it is easier to buy the campervan toilet paper in the caravan shops or at least the cheapest thinnest paper from the pound shops.
Just like your toilet at home, all campervan toilets need regular cleaning. Different products will need to be used given the components of your toilet and the seals involved. Domestic cleaning products on the plastic toilets in a motorhome can cause problems that are hard to fix.
– After a little use and especially in the summer time, waste tanks can get
quite dirty and smelly. If you think emptying them is bad enough, wait until
you need you need to scrub the cap which is often an oversight to wash. If you
do swill the cap out at the site, don’t drop it down the hole! There are several
different types of tank cleaner from liquids to tablet cleaners. It is
recommended to empty and rinse the tank and then add a cleaning solution. You
ideally want it to slosh around in there for a good amount of time so if you
can do it whilst driving between locations would be a great opportunity to give
it a good blast.
You will need to follow the instructions on the packet for disposal but usually you can empty it down a toilet at home or at a waste disposal point.
If you have
a built in flush tank, it is advisable to empty this if you are storing your
camper over winter. Due to freezing temperatures, the waste tank could freeze
causing the liquid to expand and contract, bursting your pipes.
Empty the container and give it a good clean. Remove the spout cam this will ensure that it does not get stuck after being still for a long time and also that no pressure builds in the tank.
The rubber seal should be maintained also to avoid it drying out. Spray this with a specific lubricant or run a little olive oil onto it. Thetford do sell a lubricant for this purpose.
If you have a toilet in your campervan, tell us what you have and how you feel about it to help other readers below.
Set in the Yorkshire countryside 24 miles north of York, the charming medieval market town of Thirsk rests between the Hambleton Hills and the Dales. Perhaps most famously known as the home of Author James Herriot. Although James Herriot is the name we know him by, it is actually his pen name. Born James Alfred Wight (Alf to people that knew him), Herriot became a Veterinarian before turning to writing.
He is best known for his books on animals and their owners called ‘If only they could talk’. Herriot’s practice was located in the Yorkshire town of Thirsk, 23 Kirkgate to be exact and now the site of the Herriot Museum. The veterinary practice is still working on this site, caring for ‘all creatures great and small’. The museum is well worth a visit, even if you are not familiar with his work.
James Herriot Museum
As you step through the bright red door into the museum you are taken back in time to visit the fully restored 1940’s home of the author and vet. A magical time capsule of the author awaits you, a moment frozen in time where you can imagine him sat at his writing desk, recalling the tales of the clients he had that day. During the war, his basement was converted into an air raid shelter. As well as a family home it is also the site of the veterinary surgery, dispensary and waiting rooms.
Herriot’s books were turned into a tv show called All Creatures Great and Small in the late 70’s and again in the late 80’s. A reproduction of the set and the vehicle used are still on show for visitors today. The legend of veterinary work is still being televised today with the popular programme ‘The Yorkshire Vet’ filmed here with Peter Wright (who worked alongside James Herriot) and Julian Norton.
James Herriot’s honeymoon in Carperby
We visited Carperby, a little village not too far away from
Thirsk on the other side of the A1M. It was here that James took his bride for
their honeymoon and according to the documents in the local pub, he stayed
there and then spent half of his honeymoon working on the local farm looking at
Cows! His signature is displayed in the pubs guest book.
Whilst there we highly recommend you stay for some food as
it is incredible! You can take a nice walk to Aysgarth falls through the fields
or head up the hills for some stunning views from the beacon.
Thirsk, not just a Market town in Yorkshire.
The road that runs between York and Northallerton may be Roman
built, but the Yorkshire town of Thirsk situated on that route is actually
Saxon in origin, although it is likely there were settlements here even earlier
than that. The town has held a market
here since the 12th century and been the meeting place for local
villages to come together. Markets still happen here every Monday and Saturday on
the cobblestone floor of the town square.
The sounds of the traders selling their goods has long been
a sight on these stones and if you can imagen them in different clothing with
different shelters, you can fall back in time. Horses tied up where cars now
park, meat hung up for sale at the butchers, hand carved utensils form the wood
turner. There would be people from all over the area coming to market to
collect fresh goods for the week ahead or try to sell their wares.
The town square houses a nice collection of independent shops, a few branded shops, pubs, cafes and gorgeous architecture. It is easy to see where newer buildings were built next to old ones if you stop to take in the buildings character above the shop fronts.
One of the plus sides of social media is that you get to connect with people like you. It is even better when you are then able to meet them in person. We had been following LifeBeyondBricks for a while, and unbeknown to us they were following us too!
We started talking over the internet and when we saw they were in Yorkshire we did a happy dance and tried to meet up, It was here in Thirsk that we finally met. If you havent heard of them before, here is what you need to know…
Tash and Jon travel in their motorhome. They started their full time adventure in March last year, at the same time we did but they took their 3 cats with them on the road.
See what happened when we met the team in Thirsk!
Sadly, barely any trace of it is left to be found. Built
around 959-970’s this Motte and Bailey castle is now reduced to imagination,
myth and legend. There is some argument to whether it was a Norman Castle as
there is no mention of it in the Doomsday book. After the conquest, the castle belonged
to the De Mowbray family. Around 1175, one of the descendants rose up against
Henry II somewhat ineffectually. Thirsk castle was besieged, rapidly
surrendered and totally destroyed as a result.
All that remains now are raised earthworks around town with
information boards to tell you more about that area. There are plenty of walks
around town that explain the history of the Yorkshire town of Thirsk.
12th Century Church – St Oswalds
Whilst walking around the town, it is worth taking a little
stroll down the lanes and side streets. When we visited with Jon and Tash from Life
Beyond Bricks, we noticed a sign pointing to a 12th century church
so decided to investigate. It was a little further walk than we expected but a
glorious walk past the back of the Ritz Cinema, past the Thirsk and Sowerby Institute
and stunning open views of the North York Moor hills rising sharply as if from
The church dates back to around 1140 and over the years had
been refurbished with bits added on to allow for larger congregations. The
Church has a large cemetery and a sign displaying a sign for war graves. Squirrels
were racing around in the trees and on the ground the snowdrops were standing
with their heads bowed showing how much life was ongoing, even in this cold January
The clock in the main square was erected in 1896,
commemorating the marriage of the Duke of York and Princess May of Teck. They
later became King George V and Queen Mary. The position of the clock ensures
that on a sunny day the clock face glows almost golden. The skyline dominated
by it at sunset means that many a photograph have been taken here.
Tour De Yorkshire
The Tour de Yorkshire cycle race thundered through the town
of Thirsk in 2016 but sadly wasn’t on this year’s route, that didn’t stop the
whole of Yorkshire celebrating the coverage of its glorious county. Everywhere
you went, bicycles were being decorated, bunting was out and strange knitted
racing jerseys were being hung around windows. Thirsk threw themselves into
Yarn-Bombing the town and drew crowds in for miles away to see! Now this tradition
reappears every year and is a favourite of many a tourist.
The hope is that the race will return here again in the
coming years. The nearby town of Leyburn
has been nominated again as a start/finish point for the 2020 races. We
recommend booking accommodation early if you wish to come and watch the events
as it does get very busy!
The charm and history of Thirsk reveals itself like peeling an onion. Everywhere you look there is a blue plaque denoting something from history. The Ritz cinema is one of the oldest continuously run cinemas in the UK after opening the doors to the public in 1912. The 200 seat cinema was originally the mechanics institute but converted for entertainment. Now, the cinema is run by volunteers desperate to keep the history of the local cinema going.
A Question of sport
One of Thirsk’s most famous sons is Lord Thomas, founder of
the cricket ground. He was born here in 1755. However, one of Thirsk’s more visible
claims to fame is the racecourse. Established in 1854, the flat ground made it
a fantastic venue for horse racing. At one time, other then Newmarket, Thirsk
was the only other racecourse where prize money was allowed for races.
Thirsk’s rich history with racing dates back as far as 1740
and was the site of the first official racecourse in England. During the 2nd
world war, the racecourse was closed and turned into an Army camp before
returning to, and still operating as a racecourse.
Food and Drink
Located next to the town clock, is the Yorks café. It is full
of racing memorabilia and jerseys decorating the walls. We do love to drop in here
for a brew or a spot of lunch when visiting as they are very welcoming to
tourists. They are dog and muddy boot friendly and also cater for vegan, veggie
and gluten free diets. We visited them again last week when we met up with Life
Beyond Bricks and all opted for a nice warming bowl of soup and fresh bread.
Here is a cute tearoom and deli with lovely cakes displayed as you walk in to the shop. Homemade pies and a wide selection of cheeses will have your mouth watering and craving more. A small selection of dried products are also available such as teas, pickles, chutneys and breadsticks. Several butchers shops also tuck neatly in to the town and provide fresh and local produce to locals.
A pub dominates each side of the square like a monopoly board giving lots of options. The pubs likely made their appearance around the 17th and 18th century when Thirsk became a popular coaching stop for people travelling to and from Scotland.
The Mowbray Arms, a nod to the family that owned the land
many years ago, sits on the south east corner, the Three Tuns, Golden Fleece,
Black Lion and Black Bull are also located on the perimeter of the square.
Getting to Thirsk is very easy, good road signposts pave the way from the A19 and A1M. Getting around the coast to Whitby and Scarborough
Parking in Thirsk is easy as multiple car parks dot the surrounding area, each just a short walk to the town square. These include long stay, short stay, disk parking and even some free parking is you are savvy!
Thirsk has a rail link connecting it to other parts of
Yorkshire. It is part of the East Coast main line which travels 210 miles from
London Kings Cross in a southern direction and north to Durham, Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
National Express also operate to here and the coach from
London to Thirsk is just £7.50
Just outside of the main square you will find a Tesco Superstore
and a Lidl both with their own car parks. A little further out of the main town
but still easily reachable (and easier to park large campers) is Aldi.
We love Thirsk
The Yorkshire area has turned up so many hidden gems that we
honestly didn’t realise were here and Thirsk is one of them. Driving through on
our first trip, we knew we had to come back and explore the picture postcard
town. With the main roads connecting here had travelled through it on a few
occasions before getting to explore on foot and the things we found took our
We really do recommend that you visit Thirsk should you be in the Yorkshire area and stay tuned for other locations in Yorkshire that we have visited!
Another VanLifeDiary post that doesn’t directly involve the van but she is still being rebuilt and we have lots of adventures planed for her in a few weeks time. However, for today’s post we first need to skip back to Christmas morning before getting to the helicopter lesson.
We were sat on the floor in the living room, still wearing
our pyjamas and sporting messy hair when Louise gave me my Christmas card. Needless
to say I was suspicious when she started filming so I knew something was up!
I opened up the card and read the lines “Please don’t hate me, I love you. You can do this” which filled me with an air of both excitement and terror. The next page was hiding something. It was a card with a picture of a helicopter on it and on the inside of that card, the realisation that Louise had bought me a helicopter lesson in Yorkshire!
Fear, nervousness, excitement and realisation hit one at a time followed by some swearing. I was shocked and had no idea that a helicopter lesson in Yorkshire would even be something Louise would have thought about!
Helicopter Lesson Day
Having had the flight cancelled once already due to storm
Brendon, I was pleased in the morning that the flight was still on today – so far!
I rang up at 9am to check and they said it looked good so come along for 1pm. I
had all the camera gear set up ready to go but somehow lost the chest harness
for the go pro somewhere – no clues… it is in the house somewhere! I managed to
lengthen the head harness to make it fit.
We had a light lunch and set off in the beautiful sunshine
and blue skies, got fuel and headed towards Leeds/Bradford airport. Not even
halfway there and all of a sudden this wall of cloud hit us. It was like a
scene from a movie, where the tornado lands and kicks up a skirt of dust, only
this is cloud and threatens to halt the experience.
Nervously we drive on, hoping to exit the cloud and leave it behind us and after a few miles we seems to have passed the worst of it. Low cloud is still evident but the visibility is much better. I get more nervous every mile we travel. It isn’t more than about an hour until we reach the destination of Leeds, Yorkshire for the days helicopter lesson. I have never even been in a helicopter and lots of ‘What if’s’ are buzzing around my head.
Low Cloud could stop the helicopter lesson.
We check in at HeliJet Aviation and take a seat in the conservatory, large windows looking out over the field and a few helicopters dotted around the edges. The cloud seems to have congregated over the helipad and I don’t know whether to be happy that it might get cancelled again or if having to wait a 3rd time would just drag out the agony.
A gentleman in overalls goes out and checks the helicopter
over. He fills her up with fuel as Louise and I discuss whether it’s a positive
sign. We watch him talk to the control tower on the radio before walking
towards the conservatory doors.
“I doubt Leeds will let us fly” he says as I wait nervously for the lesson. The cloud level is too low. We joke that it was blue sky at home but this man is serious. “Well we are not there are we! Besides – we are just over the road from Leeds airport”. It’s all business here. No messing around and no sense of humour, something I am learning about Yorkshire inhabitants.
I wander around the conservatory – may as well take some
pictures while we are here as it looks like we will be sent packing when the pilot
appears again. I get a small lecture on using my phone, I am here to fly not
take video so I quickly throw my phone to Louise and wish I could take off the
go pro but it’s under a hoodie and I don’t want to make him wait.
His sharp tone puts me on edge and I want to run away but he
said we can fly if we go quick. I am marched upstairs to a replica helicopter
and am told to sit down and not interrupt him when he is talking – Questions at
the end. He runs through his checklist with his broad Yorkshire accent pointing
to dials and I can only assume explaining what they do but I can’t follow him
I catch what I think are the important bits, hold the bar
but not tight. Don’t press the pedals unless told to. Keep the compass on the horizon
and he will keep the chopper in the air. He tells me the route we are taking
but it doesn’t mean a thing to me as I am not familiar with the geography here
yet. I am too scared to ask him any questions at the end and decide to hold my
breath and trust he will keep me alive.
Hellicopter, Check. Lesson, Check.
Marched down the stairs and shuffled outside I am starting
to regret this decision but I understand that he is making sure I am listening
and respecting the danger of learning to fly. This isn’t something that I can
take for granted. We all know how dangerous this is and it is his job to make
sure I understand, after all he is putting his life in my hands too.
Once in the helicopter the health and safety instructions on
what to do in the event of an emergency are recited by heart as if a national
anthem. He tells me to put on the headphones and makes sure we can hear each
other. He turns on the chopper and the blades start to turn quicker and
quicker. Once at speed, the pilot explains that there is a lever which turns
the blades, it is this that will push the vessel upwards as the force of air is
He lifts the helicopter and after a quick pose for the
camera, he turns us around and shoots us off over the fields. It is only after
we are in the air that he seems to settle and relax, making me see that he is
actually ok. I realise as long as I do as he says we will have a laugh. He points
out the location he wants me to head towards, shows me once more how to steer and
lets me loose on the controls. I am flying! I am actually flying the
Learning to fly
The helicopter has been adapted for dual controls and the
steering is controlled by a T bar shaped joystick. Both of us can hold it at
the same time meaning that he can correct any movements required quickly. It isn’t
like the movies at all. No sudden sweeping movements and over exaggerated actions
to move the helicopter. In fact it is quite the opposite. With my right hand
resting on my lap holding the bar, I only need to move it within an inch circle
to control the direction of the helicopter. This lesson has taught me so much
about the reality of flying a helicopter already.
“Can you see that large pile of rocks sticking out of the ground? That’s Craggy Rock. I want you to fly us to the left of that rock and then turn right and past that farm on the horizon”. I have full control of the steering and keep her steady. It’s a straight line so if I keep my hand perfectly still, we should be ok.
As we pass Craggy rock he indicated to move the bar to the right and tells me to lean in with the craft. I fight my body that wants to stay upright and move left but manage to turn, watching the horizon and trying to keep us level. The cloud is low today and we need to be careful. We are flying just underneath it for most of the lesson and the Pilot is on constant contact with Air traffic Control about our location and visability.
I spot a viaduct of some sorts out of my window and make a
mental note to try and find it again on land to visit. It is a large bridge,
glowing yellow in the sun that has started to peak out of a cloud. Lots of
little arches support the structure and the pilot indicates that he wants me to
fly over the idle of it. I manage to centre the helicopter directly in the
middle of the bridge and watch my lines as we fly over it. It looks like a
railway line on top.
A lesson on hovering a helicopter
Once back at the heliport, he brings us in and lands us in
the middle of the field. He says that I did very well for a first timer and
that he would like me to have a go at hovering. With such ease he lifts the
metal bird up and shows me just how easy it is. It is all about keeping her
from spinning. He shows me that with the down draft from the blades, the
chopper automatically wants to spin the other way and that the art of hovering
is all about counteracting that.
The pilot gets her in position for me and tells me that when
he lets go I will feel some kick back and it is my job to keep her steady. No
pressure… He releases his hand slightly and I feel the force of the helicopter
wanting to spin. I counteract and for a few seconds all is going well. Suddenly
she wobbles and I try to balance her out but it is so hard. The nose tips down
and then swings up before going from side to side. My calm co piolet said well
done for a first attempt and takes control. He swings her round in a circle
bringing her back to the correct position before handing over for a 2nd
and third attempt. Very slow improvement was made but he said after flying for
about 20 hours it gets easier to do.
Louise gets a treat
The whole time we had been out here Louise was standing outside
in the cold and wind videoing my helicopter lesson. My brave soldier endured
biting winds to film me so my pilot, now relaxed and enjoying the ability to
show off a bit, decided to treat Louise to a heart attack, on the house of
course! He took us up along the treeline to gain some speed and then made a bee
line for her. We came in low, straight towards her and the main building before
climbing overhead, banking right and bringing her back down for another
In the last session I was allowed to gently use the foot
pedals. A bit like driving a car, it centres on clutch control for this
section. He showed me how to turn the helicopter using just the pedals for this
lesson and then let me have a go. Getting her to start turning was fun but
getting her to stop on a mark was harder. I managed the first 3 compass points
but fudged the last one as I stopped too early and she started to swing back
around the wrong way.
A few attempts at landing the hovering helicopter were allowed
and I managed to do them very gently. The pilot gave a last hurrah for Louise by
swinging the helicopter around on our way to the last landing spot and once
down we were able to start the proceedings for our exit. You can not get out of
the aircraft until the piolet lets you out. As far as a cheap haircut goes, I
think I would rather pay more than lose the top of my head, thank you.
Once the rotors had come to a complete stop, we were allowed to disembark sharing a celebratory hug. Once we were in the aircraft he really did relax and the brash Yorkshire Sargent became a happy and relaxed mentor. He has been flying a helicopter for 30 years and giving lessons is a joy to him. He wants to share his passion and knowledge but wont settle for time wasters or mucking about.
What an adventure
Here is the video of the experience!
I am so glad I had this opportunity. I had mentioned one lunch
time about 2 years ago that I hadn’t been in a helicopter and Louise had
remembered that. She keeps a diary and anytime I mention wanting to do something,
she writes it down and tries to make it happen. I feel so lucky.
If you get the chance to fly a helicopter, do it! It is
incredible to be able to fly up, down, left or right. I felt like a bird. Would
I do it again? Absolutely.
Fun Fact, Carol Vorderman is a trained helicopter pilot as
is Noel Edmonds, James May, Sir David Jason and James Blunt!
If you haven’t subscribed to our YouTube channel please
watch the video below and at the end click on the yellow logo.
Well somehow it’s almost the end of the month already and as much as we were hoping for a quiet yet productive start to the year, it has turned out to be a rather hectic one so we are renaming it jam-uary as we are trying to jam so much in!
It seems like ages ago now that we were in London celebrating New Year, a time of reflection and new beginnings. Louise had bought my parents and I surprise tickets to see Wicked at the theatre in London New Years Eve and we headed up to the capital city on the train early enough to have a spot of dinner at Bills restaurant first.
Bills is located in Cardinal Place, near Victoria station
and is on the corner of an undercover shopping area. Large glass windows
stretch from bottom to top and the ground floor and first floor seating can be seen
from outside. The interior design is one that is light and elegant. The staff
were fantastic and once they had asked if there were any food allergies at the
table, and there was, our orders could then only be taken by the manager. This
would ensure that the responsibility was placed firmly onto one person.
The menu was varied, with favourites such as their burgers (which were so tasty and filling) to pan fried seabass and steaks. They also cater for vegetarians, vegans and gluten frees in their menu and when we were speaking to the manager about the meals we wanted they could list the ingredients by memory to ensure there was nothing that would be an allergen to one of the table.
Fully stuffed, we made our way to the theatre and saw the show. Although we were right up in the gods, it didn’t spoil anything with great views and the sound quality ensured we didn’t miss a thing. We treated ourselves as it was new year to a couple of glasses of prosecco from the bar and enjoyed learning about the back story of the witches in The Wizzard of Oz.
After the show, we took a quick trip on the bus to see the festive Christmas lights before they get packed away again and then headed home before the city got too busy with people celebrating. I don’t particularly like crowds at the best of time but add in alcohol and trains and I get all kind of anxious so I wanted to get gone!
Jam-uary is relentless!
A few days in to Jam-uary we took the train back up to Yorkshire
and have to say that the LNER service was fab. We had prebooked our seats in
advance and got the fast train which gets us from Yorkshire to London in just
over 2 hours with only 5 or 6 stops. It
was quicker than driving and half the travel time. Plus we didn’t have to find
parking in London for Chewy.
Louise had given me a present for Christmas that had blown me away. I had been given a flying lesson in a helicopter! Crazy I know!!! I can’t parallel park let alone fly a helicopter but WOW! What an experience it will be! It was booked in for the 11th January, a Saturday and we had also arranged to meet up with Georgina and Corrina from 2Born2Travel on the Sunday. Our Jam-uary diaries were filling up.
Between then, we were still working on the van refit. Every
Sunday I would drive to my friends farm where he had the space and tools needed
for the big jobs such as building the kitchen or putting up the tongue and
groove ceiling. During the week Louise and I would be sewing the cushions for
the seating areas or painting the insides ready to hit the road.
The weather was rotten on the Saturday morning and the helicopter
flight had to be cancelled and re-booked. This is something that we will rearrange
when the weather sorts itself out. Sunday morning was no better with the wind
howling around the Yorkshire Moors.
2Born2Travel at Tan Hill
2Born2Travel had suggested that we meet up at Tan Hill,
Britain’s highest pub. We hadn’t been and it was only an hour and a half from us
so we jumped at the chance to spend the night in the van again and meet up for
the first time with this pair of nutters!
We packed our van with the essentials that had been taken out during the rebuild. Loo roll, gas bottle, heater and cooker, duvet, blankets, food. We never pack light but we did manage to pack less than normal – and yes it was painful! We drove up the A66 towards Barnard castle and then branched off to the left, across the moors to find the pub.
As soon as you turn off of the main road, you find yourself quickly lost in a land of nothing. I mean nothing at all. Its just hills and streams and a road that seems to go to nowhere. The weather is harsh because it is bleak up there. Not a tree in sight, just low and stubborn gorse that seems to be surviving. The half structures of stone shepherd huts remain like scars on the land where the elements laughed at the attempt to build shelter there. You can quickly understand why so many people can get lost walking out here as there is nothing to use as a reference point.
Something shimmers in the distance. I say to Louise, “is
that the pub?” although we are baffled as to why anyone would want to run a pub
in the middle of nowhere – other than ‘Because they can’. The roads are
recently tarmacked and we have seen 2 or 3 cars on the 5 miles from the A66 to
the pub. As we arrive at the pub, we are gobsmacked. 1 because it is beautiful
and 2 because even though they have a large car park and roadside parking too,
there isn’t anywhere to park! It’s full!
Maybe its Sunday lunch, or maybe it is because the social media strategy run by the pub is fantastic. They are a really active pub with lots going on and it is always party time at Tan Hill! After about half an hour we managed to find a parking spot and check in with Georgina. They were ten minutes away and we excitedly looked for parking spaces for them for when they arrived. Luckily the car next to us pulled off so they managed to squeeze in by us.
We invited them into our van for a brew and also to try a
Yorkshire tradition of fruitcake and Wensleydale cheese. Yes together. Strangely
it works! Once we were warm and filled with Cheese and cake, we thought about
going for a walk together with the dogs, Marley and Max – however the van was
rocking like a see saw and the wind was picking up so we sat back down!
The pub is on the top of the hill and is not at all sheltered from the wind. Once the car park had got a little quieter and some of the guests had left after lunch we did manage to move our vans around the side of the pub for some shelter from the wind. Inside the pub, the fire was lit and the low beamed ceiling of the bar were decorated with strings of light bulbs ensuring a warm glow throughout. To the left of the bar was the room they would be showing Vera in later and to the right was another side room where we sat at a large table. We would have looked out of the window at the view but 2 travel bloggers had parked their campervans around the side because of the wind…. Oh yes, that was us!!!
The food at the pub is highly recommended. I will say that
when Louise told me they did a sharing roast dinner platter I swore at her for
suggesting anyone share their roast dinner, however on reflection it is
incredible value and quality. For the price of £23.95 you can have a two course
chicken sharing platter. A fresh whole chicken served with coleslaw, chips and
pudding. For £29.95 you could have a two course roast of the day platter with
steamed veg, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, cauliflower cheese, Yorkshire pudding
and a dessert. (There was a choice of 2 out of 3 meats on offer.)
After the meal, the pub was showing the episode of Vera live
as it was broadcast. The pub was featured in the episode and the film crews had
all been up there filming in and around the pub a little while ago. Vera fancy
dress was encouraged and the Tan Hill had issued Vera facemasks for the group
photos being taken to celebrate. Later that night, after we had all sat around
talking about travelling, blogs, dogs and wild adventures, we all tried to get
some sleep in our respective vans.
It was all quite a wild adventure as the vans were rocking
wildly in the gales that seemed to swirl around the pub and vans. The flag pole
was taking a battering as was the flag flapping with such force it was whipping
and cracking like a wild fire. Around 3am we gave up and made a cup of tea. We could
see our breath it was so cold and the gas fire tried to set itself on fire
before so we decided to not try that one again and just add layers! We were
social media-ing from one van, George was social media-ing from her van and none
of us had much sleep!
The following morning we all had breakfast as Louise cooked omelette in the Ridge Monkey and we woke up slowly. Georgina and Corrina are exactly like they are in their videos, funny, kind and down to earth. It was so nice to finally meet them and I am sure we will be planning another wild adventure soon with them.
They had to be getting on the road up to Scotland, and the
wind was increasing still! Storm Brendon was on its way but hadn’t actually hit
yet. Snow was threatened up on Tan Hill later that afternoon so we all decided
to head off our separate ways and after some pratting about trying to film each
other in our vans we said goodbye and headed home.
Along with going to London, almost flying a helicopter, building
the van kitchen, painting the inside of the van, sewing the cushions, battling
a storm, meeting Georgina and Corrina Jam-uary has been keeping us busy.
Galgos del Sol
As you may have heard already from our mass emails and
social media posts, we are also trying to raise money to help the Galgos in
Spain. This is really exciting and something we are desperate to do so looking
at all avenues to make it happen. From spending hours emailing companies and
radio stations to local vets/groomers/walkers and anyone who will stand still for
2 minutes, we have been trying to engage people with our GoFundMe appeal.
It is very short notice for us to be able to raise the funds
needed and although we are giving approx. £14,000 in time, we need the money to
feed ourselves and actually get to Spain. If you think we are going there for winter
sun, think again! Today the Mayor of Alicante, an hour north of the rescue
centre, has issued safety for code red weather warnings. 2 people are already dead
due to storm Gloria with ALL outside activity cancelled until the storm passes.
Snow has fallen in Andalucía over night. The dogs are scared by the winds and
cowering in their kennels looking at the reports coming from the facebook page.
Today we are sorting out a raffle that my hairdresser has
offered to run for us, just another way to try and raise the much needed funds
to feed ourselves as we will not have an income whilst donating time. My
hairdresser has kindly donated a free haircut and we also have around £40 in
vouchers to give too. It’s a mad dash trying to get posters designed.
Finishing touches on the van.
We have been working hard getting the van ready and the date
of the Spanish volunteering means we only have a few weeks to get the van
finished. It isn’t a dry Jam-uary here, we have tried to seal the roof light 3
times now and its still leaking. We did joke about hanging an umbrella upside
down to collect the water! The log burner is at a farm, William has sanded it
down ready for us to spray and install in the van however the thought of
cutting a hole in the roof is scary as is knowing there is another place water
could get inside from.
If we are going to be in Spain a while, we need to get the
van booked in for an early MOT and service. The electrics still need finishing
and we need to finish the kitchen and get the new hob/sink fitted. A curtain is
currently proving a toilet door so we would like to get that fitted too at some
point. No pressure!
Chewy could do with a wash too. Some helpful sod decided to
write looser all over the van, using their finger in the dirt on the side. Yes
looser, not loser. Makes you laugh… without wanting to provoke anything more
than a finger in dirt, if you want to graffiti the van, spell the insults
So hopefully, in a month’s time we will be driving to Portsmouth
to board the ferry. A 24 hour crossing on what we have been told can be quite
rough. Hopefully the weather will be kind to us as we felt sea sick in the van
at Tan Hill with the van rocking in the wind! Once we arrive in Spain, we will
have an 8 hour drive to complete from Santander to Murcia before we arrive at the
centre. Once there we will only have a day or two with the current onsite couple
we are replacing to learnt the rope and get our bearings before they head back
to England for a short visit before returning to the rescue centre.
In the mean time, we will be trying to raise the funds and ensure we can get to Spain and back. If you are able to donate, please do so here.
We have really enjoyed the freedom and the opportunities that being on the road has given us over the last year. Having been able to learn many skills whilst travelling and a chance to practice more of a minimalist and alternative lifestyle has taught us many valuable skills. It hasn’t changed our perception of things, so to speak, however it has enhanced our core values and given us a cleaner perspective of life and the way we fit within our community. We will get to the volunteer opportunity with Galgos shortly.
We very quickly relished the change in energy from having less ‘STUFF!’. Objects that were no longer fit for purpose but reminded us of someone/something meant they had been kept. Even when they didn’t work any longer. We also became a lot more aware of waste and how much of each resource we used.
Change of Perspective
We found that through our time we really changed our
perspective on what we find important to us too. One of our core values, even
before we set off on this adventure was animal welfare. Louise and I both come
from a background of animal care with experience caring for cats, dogs,
rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish, sheep, horses, chicks, snakes and bearded
dragons. Between owning them, fostering them for charities and pet sitting,
animals are at the heart of both of us.
Whilst travelling, we were able to spend time with lots of animals along the way as you may have noticed!
VanLifeDiary have an amazing opportunity to help a charity but we need your help to do it.
We volunteered on the road with either car park clear ups or lending strong arms and backs to help clear land in Wales, amongst other things. As dog lovers, we were also following other groups and charities. This is where we came across Galgos Del Sol. Tina, the head of the charity, moved from the UK to Spain with her family. She set up this amazing charity in 2007 devoted to helping the population of stray Galgos after coming face to face with a stray.
Galgos Del Sol
The charity now has an amazing team looking after around 190
(at any time) stray and unwanted Galgos, Podencos and their crosses in the
south of Spain. A Galgo is a Spanish Greyhound, a sighthound, with the easily
identifiable needle noses and slender body types. In ancient times these dogs
were seen to be prized possessions however now, they are disposable hunting
dogs, turfed out on the street when no longer required or able to hunt. There
is a short hunting season every year and at the end of that they are abandoned
or cruelly killed in their tens of thousands.
Some of the dogs they have there were saved from savage killing stations, others found in horrendous situations. Often they are found emaciated, covered in ticks, mange or suffering injuries from road traffic accidents. Their injuries are often life threatening. Due to the demand in medical fees needed, they can’t always pay for the staff required to run the shelter and turn to volunteers.
Volunteer at Galgos del Sol
Those who volunteer are a lifeline to charities such as Galgos and they are devoted to the care of the dogs in any situation. Many petrified, untrusting, fearful and in lots of pain. It can take weeks or months to capture some of the Galgos due to their fears and they often needs lots of care when they get the safety of the shelter.
Tina and her team then care for, and rehome, these stunning
dogs to loving homes in Spain, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, the UK and USA
following a strict adoption process.
How are we helping?
Having followed the charity for some time we wanted to give something back. We had been in contact with the charity informally and then we were approached by the Galgos Del Sol volunteer co-ordinator to see if we would be able to help them out at the shelter in person. Louise and I have been given a real opportunity to help but we need your help to do it.
They have asked us out there end of February 2020 for 2-3 months initially to assist with the duties. Caring directly hands on with the dogs, this would be a volunteer position with Galgos Del Sol. For both of us it would mean the world and enable us to share the skills we have. We will also learn some new ones with an incredible team. Louise and I feel really strongly in our hearts that we need to go and help them and turning this opportunity down isn’t something we can do. We know from UK rescue that it will emotionally and physically hard, overwhelmingly sad and at times incredibly heart-breaking.
This opportunity to help an amazing charity is one we have dreamed of being able to do. To be able to give back to the dogs of our past that have helped us through hard times in our own lives and honour their memories as well as ensure the continuation of Tina’s mission at Galgos del Sol.
What are we asking?
Well you all know that Go Fund Me accounts are asking for financial support and this is where you will help us fulfil our dream. We have set up an account to help us cover our basic costs only. In order to get there and survive for the 3 months we need to factor in costs.
Before we get to that I would like to explain that we will be donating approx. 120 hours a week to volunteer on site at the Galgos centre in the south of Spain. This is currently for up to 3 months, helping with the daily tasks at the centre. These can be feeding, cleaning, training (behaviour and crate training for their trips to new homes) and feeding the volunteers as well as site based night duties (and anything that crops up along the way that we can assist with).
Our outgoings shouldn’t be much when there but before we go we need to ensure we have the funds and also cover our living costs.
£980 Return ferry. A 24 hour crossing between Portsmouth and Santander that can be quite rough – this seems to be a lot cheaper than driving through France and taking the toll roads into account. We have also managed to get discounts where we could to get those costs as low as possible.
£500 ish Fuel from Yorkshire via Santander to the sanctuary (and back again) in the south east of Spain with today’s fuel price and staying under 50MPH!
£289 Breakdown cover for Europe
We also need to
Update our Van Insurance to cover 90 days in Europe. Travel Insurance for annual cover as could be longer. Cover living costs to include food, cooking gas, laundry and fuel.
We are hoping to raise at least £3,500 to cover our expenses and also be able to donate a chunk to the charity. Any money left over will be donated and accounted for. This does not take into account any other activities whist there or general exploring. If time allows, we will fund that ourselves, somehow, however it seems that most of our time will be spent in the centre.
Any left-over donations will be transferred to the shelter and we will constantly try to keep under cost for as much as we can. This centre is a strictly Vegan site for humans and therefore food will be both yummy and healthy, as well as a new exciting challenge!
We are desperate to be able to make a difference and have the opportunity to give back to a great cause. I know many of you are animal lovers too and will sympathise with our plight to make this work. In return for your financial support we are donating over 120 hours a week of our time voluntarily (would equate to over £14,000 at minimum wage for both of us over 3 months). We will keep the blog updated weekly on what we are up to and post on Facebook throughout out trip to publicise the charity in any way we can.
Please can you share our go fund me appeal with all of your friends and contacts as we are desperate to help and are donating 7 days a week on site for the duration of our stay, to help with them anything they need!
WE WILL DONATE ANY ADDITIONAL MONIES TO GALGOS DEL SOL.
One of the main attractions to vanlife is waking up in a
different spot every day. From beaches to mountains and forests to urban
stealth spots, the possibilities are endless when you are wild camping in the
UK. If you are new to vanlife and want to know more about where you can sleep
in your van, you are in the right place! We have put together this comprehensive
guide to help you overcome your nerves, fill you with knowledge and give you some
Sleeping in our van but not on a campsite was something that we were both a little nervous to do when we first started so we know how it can be! Will someone knock on the door? Should I respond to it? Could we get arrested? Now, a year later we feel much more confident about wild camping in the UK and have some great locations that we like to visit.
The first time is the hardest!
We had done a few trial nights in the run up to our adventure
of full time vanlife to get us used to it and have camped all over England and
Wales since. One of those adventures was a week-long tour of North Wales where
we found spots in Trawsfynydd, Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon and Anglesea.
Maybe we have been really lucky. Perhaps we mastered the art of parking a massive campervan where she wouldn’t cause too much of a problem. At 7.2 meters long, she isn’t very subtle! Having only been asked to move on once in our travels and that was because we had parked somewhere out of our norm and was totally our fault. We moved straight away and went to another spot nearby that we had been to before.
What is Wild Camping in the UK and is it legal?
It depends on who you ask. Some adventure enthusiasts refer to wild camping as a tent and a sleeping bag. No luxury, no bed, no leisure battery, no vehicle etc. For vanlifers we often refer to wild camping as sleeping in our van away from home, not on a site and without hook up to electric. It is also referred to as free camping.
Almost every piece of land is owned by someone in the UK. Without permission you do not have right of access to their land, even if they leave the gate open! If you are asked to move, you must do so. That being said, there are some spots where ‘wild camping’ is tolerated in the UK and as long as the basic rules of decency are followed you should be able to enjoy your trip without interruptions. The more remote your location, the easier it tends to get so busy tourist resorts can be hard to wild camp in and you may need to look at sites if you are planning a holiday in the south west of England in peak season!
Scotland is a lot more tolerant to wild campers
However in the last few years campers and motorhomes have been flocking to the country in their droves and over the last 6 months we have seen the Scottish councils putting up barriers and making it harder. We will touch on this later on in the post.
Essentially, whilst wild camping is not technically legal in
the UK, if you are discrete and courteous, do not camp where there are signs that
state no overnighting allowed, and move if asked you should be ok. Vanlifediary
will not be held accountable for your decision to wild camp. We provide the info.
Please do your own research in case rules have changed.
What types of camping are there?
If by the end of this article you are not quite ready to
leap to wild camping in the UK, there are other places that you can go to
bridge the gap from campsites to wild camping. This will help build up your confidence in
staying in more unusual places without the luxuries found on campsites.
Pub Stop Over
Some pubs, like Tuckers Grave Inn in Somerset, welcome campervans and will either charge a minimal fee for you to stay or just ask that you eat dinner as payment in return for sleeping in their car park. It is not always cost effective. We tend to relax and have a few drinks which is fine as we are staying overnight. If you are on a budget it may not be the best option but it is a great way to relax and have a nice evening with not far to stagger.
Please note that you must be careful if drinking when in charge of a vehicle. Do your own research but you must be able to demonstrate that you are not intending to drive the vehicle when under the influence so if like us you have a separate key for the engine and the doors, perhaps ask to keep the engine key behind the bar! We do not drink unless at a site or pub stop over. Otherwise you could be asked to move on at any point and be over the limit.
Finding spots like farm shops, thatched country pubs, vineyards and breweries can be tricky however if these sounds like places you may like to investigate we suggest you look at Brit Stops. They aim to enable direct contact between you and the providers. They aim to encourage motor homers and caravaners to try local produce and for sustainable tourism through links to local communities. Although not Wild Camping, these can give you a good taste for being off grid in the UK.
Several different options on this site including NightStops, a scheme overseen by the Motor Caravaners’ Club in conjunction with the monthly magazine. Comprising of around 50 individual properties from pubs to community areas, they offer overnight accommodation for motorhomers in their vehicles. You can stay for free at one of the pubs if like above, you buy a meal in exchange. You do need to be a member of the club to benefit.
Sites like Pitchup.com or the Camping and Caravan Club do offer more basic sites for you that vary in facilities. Some are just a field with hardly any facilities. It will get you used to being off the grid and away from hook ups.
Basic rules of ‘free/ wild camping in the UK‘
Don’t litter or empty your toilet!
Some people are very disrespectful when ‘wild camping’ by littering in the UK. Either by leaving rubbish or emptying toilet cassettes along with chemicals and waste matter. We have witnessed this ourselves on many an occasion, walking through a forestry car park a couple of months ago there was toilet paper and human faeces by almost every tree stump around the car park. We found washing up sponges and food wrappers, tin cans and cigarette butts all over the place in another location.
On one occasion, in a car park by a canal in Coventry, we filled 2 bin bags of rubbish that we found there and took it to be responsibly disposed of. Most campsites that we asked during one of our earlier posts advised that they do allow campers and motorhomes to come in for an hour or so to use the facilities such as showers and toilet disposal for a small fee or donation. It is not impossible to be responsible and is part of being in nature and respecting it. Emptying your toilet and leaving rubbish is a sure way to get into bother.
Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.
Local councils in the UK are ending wild camping spots. By putting in height restricted barriers and no camping signs they quickly eliminate a subgroup. Councils will not allow us to use areas if they are being treated like a tip. I am one of the first to say that caravan and motorhomer’s get blamed for a lot of the rubbish and not all of it is theirs. Vanlifediary feel that if everyone left a location a little tidier than you found it and the rubbish was removed, we would get positive reviews instead of negative ones.
Don’t outstay your welcome
It is best not to park in the same spot for more than 2 nights in a row. It is OK to revisit stops as long as you are not there permanently or so frequently that you could become a nuisance. If you have a vehicle that stands out a little then it will be easily noticed by the local community and authorities. By having a few options and moving around every night you can offset the impact to the community and have more luck at being left alone. If you are going to be in the same area for a few days, it is good practice to have a list of night spots and day spots.
Do not get too comfortable! Don’t put up your awning, get you deck chairs out with washing lines and make a garden like you would on a campsite. Keep everything close and inside the van as much as possible. Taking up more room than necessary is a quick way to make enemies and upset the locals! ‘Setting up camp’ may make it look like you are planning to stay a long time.
Do not enter areas where there are farm animals, crops or historical sites.
Farmers are not the most tolerant. As tempting as it may look to just nip into a field where the gate is left open for a safe camping spot, It isnt a good idea. Also good to note, farmers tend to have big guns so tread carefully however we have never put ourselves in a situation where we are on farmers land. Their animals and crops are their livelihood and they will protect them. You can approach the farm and enquire as to whether they would be happy for you to stay a night or barter manual labour to stay longer. That is always an option!
Use common sense and trust your gut. If you find a nice spot
but something in your gut gives you an uneasy vibe, move on. It is telling you
something for a reason and while it might turn out to be wind from last nights
vindaloo, better safe than sorry! On the flip side, if you have a thought that
says “I wonder if its ok to park here, maybe this isn’t the best spot” listen to
that too. The last thing you want is to be uneasy all night expecting a knock
on the door.
Give others space. If you pull into a car park or
park-up and there are already other campers there, don’t park up 6 inches away!
Take the opportunity to park further away and give each other space. Do feel
free to introduce yourself once parked and strike up conversation if you feel
it is safe to do so.
Get used to the sounds.
Before you set off for your first night wild camping in your van and opt for the UK wilderness, spend a few nights on a site so that you can ensure that everything is working in your van and that you are used to the noises that it makes. Like a house, the van will make noises as temperatures change and the metal expands and contracts. The weather will also make noises such as the wind finding the one hole in the van you thought you had fixed and whistle through it all night and the rain will make varying sounds depending on how hard it’s hitting your roof!
By getting used to these noises it will be easier for you to determine what is normal and what isn’t. When parking in an urban area expect to hear traffic, sirens and people as the norm, where as when is more rural places you are more likely to hear owls, branches cracking and be woken up by wild cows having a scratch on your rear bumper making you question if there is an earthquake on the top of the Gower Peninsula! Wild camping in the UK can be just that!
Aside from the rural setting of opening your door and doing
yoga just outside on the beach at sunrise, the practicality is that at some
point you may need to be a little stealthier or camp in an urban situation. The
key is to try and blend in to your surroundings. Try to make your van look as
generic as you can, if it looks like commercial work van it wont draw as much
attention as an older style van or one covered in stickers and a cool paint job
that will stick out in a crowd.
Try to make it look as though the van is empty. If you have
blacked out windows and curtains this will help not draw attention and alert
the locals that you are there. If they notice you are sleeping in your vehicle,
they could call the police and report suspicious activity and get you moved on.
Be cautions when cooking.
On the odd occasion we have needed to urban #stealth camp, we have cooked our dinner elsewhere and then moved late in the evening to our sleeping spot, climbed in to the back and drawn the curtains. This way we are discreet and try to draw as little attention to ourselves as we can. The smell of food cooking is a sure way to get noticed.
Playing music loud or standing on the pavement to brush your teeth is a sure way to raise eyebrows so try to keep your noise and activity to a minimum.
When it comes to actually sleeping, pay attention to how close you are to traffic. If you are on a road, be aware that there is a possibility of someone having an accident and crashing into you so where are you sleeping in relation to where impact could be? Try to make sure you are safe and that your head is away from an exposed corner. If possible, use a lay-by where there is a clear island between the road and the lay-by.
After a few nights in the van you will get used to the noises of people passing and tune out the sounds but for the first couple of nights you may find that you wake at every noise. This is normal. There are so many options of places to experience wild camping in the UK that you do not have to use areas that seems risky.
Ideas for places to park
There are apps such as searchforsites and park4night that
will show you places that others have parked up before with pictures and
reviews others have left. These can range from campsites, pub stopovers, carparks,
laybys on the main roads which we would never do personally for security and
safety reasons but some people do. You can search around you using GPS or by a
specific area. Each pins are colour coded and the sites are easy to navigate.
You can get a good variation of wild camping spots to campsites in the UK and
some abroad too.
If you don’t want to use these apps there are places that you can look that will usually come up trumps. Do check signs in the car parks and obey any local bylaws. We look for places that are out of the way of most people and where it may not be unusual to see a van parked up. For example, we have looked on the map for canals and areas where they moor up. It would be quite normal for vehicles to park here if the owners were on a barge. Forests are a good idea too as there are often large car parks set back off of the main roads.
To Urban, or not to Urban?
Side roads are an option however if you are in a residential area, do be warned that there has been an increase in people getting very protective of the car parking spots outside their houses! In America Walmart allow overnight stops however this hasn’t really caught on in the UK yet. Some stores are happy as long as you purchase items in their store. You could ask store owners for permission and see what they say. Look at industrial areas where lorry drivers park up. Although there will be a lot more coming and going as they finish their breaks and move on, there will also be safety in numbers. Again, if you don’t feel safe don’t do it and secure your vehicle when you are sleeping.
In terms of safety,
instinct is under-rated. Trust it. It is there for a reason. Be that for a
positive decision or a negative one. Use your 6th sense and take
time to take in the area you are in. Do you notice anything unusual? Can you
see any evidence that the area is a dogging site after dark or that it is used
for drug taking? Are there people around? Is it lit? Does it feel safe? We always spend about an hour or so looking
for a suitable spot to sleep and if we do not feel safe, we move on.
Break ins. Yes they
can happen but more often than not, it will happen when you are not in the van.
Have as many security devices as you can to keep your possessions secure. From
a portable safe for your valuables to extra bolts on the inside of your van,
anything you can do to make your van more secure is a bonus. Do make sure that
you can always get out of the van quickly if you are in danger or a fire
What to do if someone knocks on your van door?
First and foremost, your safety is paramount. There are very differing views on the best course of action should you receive that dreaded knock and we would advise that you treat each situation as an individual case and weigh up the pros and cons as you deem safest.
If is it just someone trying to see if you are in the van you could choose to be quiet and still. They may get bored and wander off. If it is someone scouting out the van for a break in they are more likely to return if they believe the van to be empty.
It may be the police or a local resident for example. If it is the police it is likely that they were on patrol and came across you or that they were alerted by a local that a van had parked up that was suspicious. Either way, it is best not to ignore the police. We were on our way to a park up in the back and beyond in Wales when we passed a police car who stopped to talk to us. He was very pleasant and just let us know that there had been a spike in break ins lately due to more vans arriving and people going hiking. Not every interaction will be a bad one.
With unknown people knocking on the door these can be more risky. If you are a solo traveller be especially careful. Always keep your doors locked when you are inside. You can shout through the door “who is it” without putting yourself at risk. You do not have to open the door unless you feel safe to do so. If someone is being aggressive and you feel that you have the right to be there, call the police yourself but be prepared to move on.
Always be ready to move.
If you find yourself in a confrontation, you can quickly drive away – hard to do if you have all of your stuff everywhere! Make sure your drivers seat is always empty and your keys close to hand so you can jump in and go at a moments notice.
At the end of the day it comes down to how you feel about the situation. If you feel able to handle yourself in a confrontation then make a call on it yourself. We would never suggest using weapons in a confrontation however if anything escalated you should be able to defend yourself. Pepper spray would be a good call, a rape alarm – depending on how rural you are or self defence classes are always a good shout. Weapons can be used against you so if you do decide to be armed – make sure you keep yourself as safe as possible. Call the police and lock yourself in/drive away if you can.
What 3 Words
It is easy to get
carried away in the wilderness, so to speak, and get used to not quite knowing
where you are! In the eventuality that someone has an accident or is taken ill
you should always know where you are. You can not always rely on having internet
and using google maps to find your location so having an idea of where you are
is essential. If you are going hiking take a map and compass.
There is an app that we have seen called ‘What 3 words’ that
will tell you your location using 3 unique words designated to each 3m square
in the world. Many emergency services can use this app to pinpoint your
location to get to you quickly.
This is a GPS location app that you can set up with your
loved ones so that they can look at the app and see where you are. This is
especially helpful if you haven’t checked in for a while and people can see if
you are driving or stationary, and where you are (signal permitting)
Iphone Find my friends.
An app between iphones so that you can find your friends using GPS.
First Aid Kits
Sounds obvious but always have a first aid kit in your campervan so that if you get into a scrape or are taken ill, you have some emergency care in your possession. You will also be able to help out if you come across someone that needs aid.
Food and water.
Always ensure that you have water on board and plenty of it – especially in hot weather. Ideally around 2 litres a day per person plus extra for washing up and cleaning. You need to be prepared for emergencies such as if you break down and are delayed getting to water source should you be very rural. You need to ensure you also have food for your survival!
Keep a close eye on the weather and make sure you are prepared for the forecast weather. For winter, ensure you have working heating and blankets to keep warm. Your vehicle should have a winter service and essentials such as a shovel for if you get stuck in the snow.
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
#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
#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
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
#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.
Saturday evening Louise and I embarked on a magical journey. I had purchased the tickets in advance as I knew they would be popular and secured the last train ride of the evening for our 2 year anniversary. We were going to be immersing ourselves into the fantastical world of Polar Express hosted by Wensleydale railway.
“WELL… ARE YOU COMING?…” said the conductor.
“Where?” said the little boy.
“Why to the North Pole of course. This is the Polar Express!
We received the tickets in advance. Not just any tickets, but golden tickets – replicas of the ones used in the movie as well as instructions on where to park and what to wear. When I gave them to Louise she was so excited. I explained to her that it was a fully immersive interactive experience on board a real steam train with hot chocolates and cookies!
The event organisers were encouraging all attendees to wear pyjama’s and dressing gowns to fully experience the magical atmosphere aboard the train. You could purchase Polar Express PJ’s as well as other merchandise at the check in desk however these were subject to availability of course.
The instructions told us to park at the Leeming Bar services no sooner than 45 minutes before your train to ease parking congestion and there would be a shuttle bus to the station. On entering the services, a car park was clearly marked for the Wensleydale Polar Express passengers. It was lit up with flood lights and staffed by several people directing cars to the vacant spots. Once parked, and wrapped up in coats and gloves, we were instructed to cross the road over to the entrance of a building. A double decker bus was waiting outside with some passengers already boarding.
Inside, was a Polar Express backdrop screen where you could take pictures of your family or selfies as a reminder of the event. A selection of merchandise was available here but there is much more at the end of the experience. A very friendly woman approached us and asked if we had our tickets. Once she had checked them over she told us that we could now board a bus, there were 3 in quick rotation so was plenty of opportunity.
The bus that we had seen as we were entering was full up now and was starting it’s journey onward to the station with whole families wearing matching pj’s, onesies, elf hats and dressing gowns. Kids jumping up and down full of excitement and wonder as the staff, all in character, entertained the children by asking if they had been a good boy or girl this year and if they were excited to see Santa at the North Pole tonight! They were oblivious to the freezing temperatures that we were experiencing!
Once we boarded the next bus and arrived at the station, just a few minutes away, we could see the bright lights of fast food vendors in Swedish chalet style huts. There was a Donut and waffle stall, a bar and a grill serving bratwursts and pork baps. Of course, for you readers we felt it was our duty to try them all! We started with the hot dogs – I had a bratwurst and Louise had a regular hot dog. Large sausages ensured we were well fed for our evening. By the Marquee, a condiment station was set up with big containers of sauces and almost cows udders fixed to the bottom of them so you had to squeeze them to get the sauce out.
We then treated ourselves to 2 hot mulled wines, sweet and full of flavour these really got us in the festive spirit. They did also serve a small selection of wines beers and spirits. The Donut and Waffle hut was the busiest, with lots of choice. We opted for the 5 donuts with a sauce and topping. There were a fair amount of options to choose from but we went with marshmallows and chocolate sauce!
Most of the stalls did accept card payments but the donut stall was having some technical trouble so were cash only on the night we visited.
After the food and drink we opted to look inside the marquee. A large screen at the end of the room was showing the film on a projector with rows of seats spanning most of the room. An aisle in the middle was left clear and people were standing around the edges of the room. Children had all congregated on the floor at the front to better see the film and all seemed to be making friends whilst parents, grandparents, reluctant older teenagers and adults all talked amongst themselves.
Although predominantly family groups were in attendance there were also groups of adults that loved the film and we were not looked at any differently for not having little ones with them. Everyone was welcomed and in great spirits. As the clocked ticked by to the start time of our tickets, an excited hush blew over the room. What was going to happen now? Where was the train? When would it start?
A voice came over the speaker and then a man appeared. He
was sporting an American accent and was telling us that his friend had lost her
Christmas spirit so would we all help her get it back? Over the next 10 minutes
or so, the children were encouraged to shout out what made them happy at
Christmas. One shouted food, one shouted singing and the last little boy said
his family made him happy. The whole audience felt their heart strings being
ruthlessly tugged as we then sang Christmas songs together. The other lady in
the performance was even using sign language when performing Jingle Bells.
After the performance was over they pushed the screen back
to reveal the exit onto the platform. Each carriage was marked on the platform
so you knew where to stand and Christmas music was being played. Slowly the
platform filled up but there was no sign of the train yet! We waited for a
little while before the first gasps and cries could be heard from our left. “Its
coming!” a little child said. One thing we did notice is that years ago,
children would have been lifted high onto adults shoulders for a better view, but
now people were raising their mobiles instead (yes, me included).
The steam from the train was all we could see at first as she slowly approached the platform, the black engine barely visible in the dark and carriage after carriage, windows steamed up promising a warm space inside. Chefs waiting at the doors waving as they passed and lanterns on the tables glowing orange and flickering. Fake snow was sprayed above us and ‘When Christmas comes to town” was being played from the movie soundtrack announcing the arrival of the Wensleydale” Polar Express!
Once the train stopped the conductor stepped onto the platform talking to a boy who hadn’t been at his best this year. He had not sent his present list to the North Pole, or had his picture taken with a department store Santa and had left his sister to put out the milk and cookies. The conductor encouraged the boy to get on the Polar Express and after a little persuasion, he agreed! Once he was aboard, the conductor asked if all of us would like to join them too and a roar of cheers erupted from the crowds!
The famous “ALL ABOOOOOARD” echoed down the platform as
everyone started to board the train.
Once everyone was seated we set off for an adventure on the Wensleydale Polar Express all singing, all dancing, interactive ride no one will forget! Every ticket holder will receive a freshly baked cookie and a hot chocolate on board the ride as well as the first gift of Christmas – A silver bell from Santa himself.
I had purchased the premium tickets for us and this gave us
a few extra goodies. We came away with our very own Polar Express ceramic mugs
and also the best views of the “North Pole” as we arrived. With the carriages
now in motion, we were treated to the singing and dancing chefs who entertained
and sang along to the Hot Chocolate song as they brought us our refreshments
and the Polar Express song!
It’s a magic carpet on a rail Never takes a rest Flying through the mountains and the snow Ride for free and join the fun (You can ride for free) If you just say yes! 'Cause that’s the way things happen On the Polar Express You bet!
The conductor came down the train to check tickets taking the children’s golden tickets and punching their initials into it, just like the film. Our conductor made sure to do this right above the children’s head so they got covered in confetti! (It looked as though every carriage had its own set of characters to make sure all passengers got the same experience).
The homeless man/ghost also made a few appearance’s talking to the children about their persuasion with the Big Man Santa. An emergency stop did need to be made because of caribou on the line, but once they had moved the train was free to continue onwards!
The first gift of Christmas
Once at the North Pole, Santa boarded the train and worked his way along the carriages meeting the children. It seemed that this Santa had a real beard and was incredibly authentic. He loved to meet the children and signed his autograph in the Polar Express books they had brought at Wensleydale station. A little girl – maybe 3 or 4 years old, was calling down our carriage to him “Santa, I love you!” and when he got to her he picked her up and she wrapped her arms tightly around him, burying her face in his neck.
It was so sweet to watch all the children, who still believed in Santa, bursting with excitement. Santa gave each child their silver bell and his trusty elf dished out the adults so he could spend a few extra seconds with the children. Once he had left they continued to shake their bells, staring at them with wonder as they could hear the Christmas spirit in each one.
They all rung their bells together, the whole carriage was alive with the sound of sleigh bells whilst the train started its return journey to the station. On the way back the singing chefs continued to sing to us and the train driver began to tell the story of the Polar Express. The chefs held up giant illustrated books for all the passengers to see as the story was being told and with one last visit from the ghost and conductor, the Polar Express pulled back into Wensleydale station.
On exit from the train we were directed into Santa’s workshop where you can linger for as long as you want. There is the SCANtaclaus 5000, a doorway scanner that sorts the good children from the naughty children and lots of merchandise you can purchase as gifts for others or to remember this event for years to come.
Once you have finished, there are busses waiting to take you back to the car park, the children were starting to get a little tired and restless at this point and I saw a post on a facebook group a few days ago that came to mind.
It said that at this time of year, we should be patient with children. They have likely been plied with sugar and will have higher highs and lower lows. Children are excited by Christmas as will likely overdo it on adrenaline before crashing out. They will not have set out to embarrass or disappoint you, but it is harder for them to regulate their behaviour when their routines are so out of sync compared to other times of the year.
So if your little one throws a tantrum because they didn’t get to hug Santa, or they want matching pyjamas, don’t be too hard on them. They are only young once, and when they stop believing, Christmas will never be the same again. Embrace them and encourage them to imagine great possibilities.
Wensleydale Polar Express
We loved our trip to Wensleydale and the Polar Express ride. The staff were amazing, friendly and helpful. They gave us all such a gift and for just a few hours, we were all children again waiting for Santa.
I would highly recommend taking this trip if you can. The level of details and effort put in from the organisation to the casting of the staff is fantastic. It was easy to believe you were part of the film and everyone was included to feel the magic. So whether you believe still, or maybe a little part of you hopes Santa is real, or you just want to see the faces of your kids and gradnkids, this event is one of the more fun activities we have ever been a part of!
If you would like more information on the Polar Express, click here to visit their website. At the time of printing there are still a few seats available before this years run finishes just before Christmas but we hope it will return again next year!