Friday 5 October 2018. It’s been a week already since I began my vanlife!
Today I pitched at Gairloch Caravan Park in a beautiful place by the sea in Wester Ross, along the stunning North Coast 500 (NC500), Scotland. I have yet another amazing view from my back bedroom/lounge!
I started this route from Inverness 5 days ago and I am exploring it anti-clockwise. I won’t complete the full 516 mile loop on this occasion. I am planning to reach Applecross before heading for the Isle of Skye, where some friends may be campervanning too. Amazing!
The weather has been loopy but the autumn colours are incredible. The Highlands are incredible!
IN THE BEGINNING
On 28 September, my alarm went off at 5.30am to catch an early train from London to Durham, where I would pick up the campervan. My new home-on-wheels for a year! It’s a new Fiat Ducato Compass Avantguarde CV20. The hand-over date coincided perfectly with my birthday. What a way to celebrate.
Some close ones worried about me spending my birthday alone, but I didn’t feel lonely for a moment. It was in fact a very busy, fun and emotional day. The first half, I spent it like a kid on the way to Disneyland as I watched beautiful England pass by from my train window. On the journey I was also offered a glass of Prosecco by four beautiful ladies on their way to Edinburgh for a girly weekend. It was my birthday after all and 5 o’clock somewhere in the World…
At Elddis, I was greeted by lovely Rachel and Emma, then Ian patiently showed me around my new van. The whole team is so friendly. There was a lot to take on board and I sure asked many silly questions, including: “What happens if I forget to unplug the electrical cable at the campsite and accidentally drive off?”. The answer was very simple: “Try not to do that!”. I had a feeling I would learn that lesson the hard way, however I didn’t expect it as soon as day 5.
I was sure to have checked everything before driving away at the Durness caravan park, which also offers incredible views of the beach. I seriously laughed at myself so loud. Luckily, I didn’t cause too much damage. The cable snapped at one end and I replace it with a new one at my next stop. I need a sticker on my windscreen with a cross-check list: “Don’t drive off until…”. Unplug the cable, switch accommodation mains, lock all cabinets, secure all moving items, close the shower-room door and, oh, release the hand-break.
Driving the van off for the first time felt surreal and empowering. This was it, I was officially on my new adventure!
I couldn’t take too much with me on the train (despite crossing London with 3 heavy bags at 6am!) for my first two weeks on the road, before returning to London to stock up properly. Hence my first stops after the hand-over were at shops to buy a few basic, missing bits and food. I then arranged to have a motorhome Wi-fi box fitted that same afternoon near Newcastle.
By the time I finished all the “chores”, I was ready to settle in my new home. I was gifted a pass to stay at the Durham Grange Club site and the staff here were very kind, especially as they realised I was a true beginner.
I cooked myself a simple meal, opened up a little bottle of prosecco and caught up with all the birthday messages I received. So many, the love was overwhelming.
And the party started!
THE FIRST WEEK
How’s the first week been? The way I described it to mum is that I feel like I have gone back to my childhood and I am playing “grown-up”. Isn’t that what we should strive to, enjoy life like a child? With joy, simplicity and curiosity.
I am in that Barbie van I never had!
On my drive up to Scotland on day 2, I stopped at the Alnwick and Bamburgh castles and the Helix Kelpies, and visited a good friend in Perth, where I parked up for the night.
I was offered a nice spare room to sleep in but I was too excited about my own new bedroom. The following day I aimed for Inverness and officially started my tour of the NC500. Hands down, one of the most beautiful drives of my life. The landscapes are breath-taking, and I gasp at every new turning.
When my navigator shows my ETA as 2 hours, I know it really means 3 or 4. I stop regularly to take in nature’s awesomeness. I have to return for the spots I had to enjoy from my driver’s seat.
I remember worrying I would find the small living space limiting, but it hasn’t felt that way at all. In fact, it’s been comfortable and homely from the start. And it is true what they say: when you’re touring in a motorhome or campervan, your space is infinite. I can change backyard every day.
I won’t lie, the experience does come with a few challenges. The main one for me has been the ghastly winds at night. Winds can be so powerful in this part of the world and they make eerie whistles and the van “rock n roll”. One evening I asked lovely Paul, the owner of a small park in Murkle, where I was the only one staying, if I should worry about the 30mile p/h winds they forecasted for that night. He smiled and reassured me that I should only worry when they get to 100mile…and they do apparently get them here. Ouch!
I never paid so much attention to wind speed and direction on the weather forecasts before in my life. I do now and make sure I park safely. You live and you learn.
The drive and the camping have been fun.
I love driving and I am used to shared facilities. I learnt to love and appreciate them during other recent travels. The NC500 is well stocked up with good campsites and because it’s October I’ve not needed to book anywhere in advance.
Another bonus? I’m cooking for myself more.
The kitchen may seem tiny but it is so efficiently equipped. It has 3 hobs, an oven/grill, a microwave and a decent fridge/freezer too. Amazing!
Wind aside, the route is very tranquil this time of year. I’m enjoying a lot of my own company. To think I used to dread being left alone for too long, and now I genuinely enjoy my me-time. I do miss friends and family, and thankfully technology allows us to connect easily from almost anywhere. And some have said that they will join me sometimes along the way too. Let’s see.
Solo travelling gives you greater opportunities to connect with new people and share stories.
At my first stop in Fortrose (THE spot for Dolphin watching by the way!), I went to a local pub that evening, where I was told they’d be playing local music. There I met lovely Lynne and Lee and before we knew it the pub was closing and we were technically in a pub lock in. Walking back in the dark with my solar lantern was perhaps too brave, but I was reassured the area was very safe. Lynne and Lee are having an amazing time travelling in UK and Europe in their van with a trailer carrying their Triumph motorbike (previously a Harley but its weight forced them swapped it). They helped me with so many valid vanlife tips. Thank you!
I loved what Lynne said to me. By the way I walked into the pub, she thought I’d been there before and knew everyone already. It was my first visit to the village and that pub.
I mentioned meeting Paul. What an incredible man. He suffered a severe stroke in May last year and had to learn to speak, read and write again. In under 18 months he’s not only recovered all of them but he is also back at college doing an IT course. A topic he was never into before. His positive spirit and his determination are so inspiring.
Right. I am popping to the local pub for a 1st week celebratory night cap! A local Whisky from the Isle of Skye.
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