The Lady and​ the Van – taking back control​​

The last few weeks have been challenging. Waiting for one life to finish and another to start always involves a transition. Chris and I have planned to start travelling this summer. The process of leaving and the prospect of moving has been hard at times. While delays, barriers and looming blockages, caused by circumstances beyond our control incite frustration, insecurity and uncertainty.

Against this backdrop, a glorious, sunny Easter holiday weekend arrived. Outside on the drive sat a recently, converted camper van waiting patiently to play her part in the next phase of life. While at a marine supply company somewhere south of Luton, an outboard engine, also with a supporting role in our future, was waiting to be collected. A curious plan formed in my mind. I could take advantage of the hot weather, head towards Luton, test out the van on its first overnight stop and then collect the outboard engine!

Red, the name of our VW Caddy van, has very little space and only two cupboards. I am ashamed to say my desire for adventure wobbled, as the challenge of where to put ‘stuff’ loomed in my head. Fortunately, the girl who likes camping soon returned, as I gave myself a stiff talking to. It has been a while since I’ve ventured off on my own.

In an exploration frame of mind, I grabbed the basic things I needed. First a sleeping bag and extra blankets – I knew I would be cold, so precautions were required. I once spent the most uncomfortable, never to forgotten, night freezing in a tent near Ullswater in the Lake District. I did get the most incredible sunrise shots early that morning, but now when I look at the image, I remember the cold! Next essential item, a pillow. This is one of those things I always forget and then end up trying to improvise with rolled up clothes or a towel. It never works and results in a bad headache or a stiff neck for the rest of the following day. After sorting out the sleeping paraphernalia, I looked in the fridge; beans, bacon and eggs stared back at me. Along with milk, bread, honey and tea bags, I had a veritable feast. Finally, I threw some clothes in a bag; clean knickers and socks; a pair of trousers and a warm jumper; toothpaste, toothbrush, a hairbrush.

That wonderfully warm Easter Monday, I eased into the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition and took hold of the wheel. Adventure pulsed in my veins, a booking at a campsite near Stamford had been made for one night, and I had chosen my route. I headed towards Rutland Water, my planned first stop. The drive was smooth, and the van zipped along comfortably. Upon arriving, I hit the first technical problem. After all the thought of what needed to go in the van to facilitate a seamless camping experience, I had overlooked one small thing – coins. Coins for the carpark.

I had none. I had more than enough money, just not in the right form. A small food outlet where I had hoped to treat myself to ice cream and would have had the potential for sourcing some change was closed. I toyed with the idea of not paying and arguing that I did indeed have the necessary parking fee, but could not get it in the machine. However, I couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I turned the van around and head back up the access road, where I found several visitors had parked their cars and vans. Presumably, they didn’t have change either? I parked up too and spend a short while wandering in the most beautiful of bluebells woods. Once I had had my bluebell fix, I headed to my final destination.

The campsite I had chosen for my night away was just outside Ryhall, Rutland. It sat on top of a hill, down a small driveway that I missed three times. Someone taking note would have seen a red van making U-turns in small farm gates while avoiding busy roads. Red has parking sensors, but a limited field of view. There is no rearview mirror because there is no rear view and in my preparations for modesty, I had secured the ‘work in progress’ blinds to the back windows with bulldog clips and drawing pins. So I had to rely on the side view and the parking sensors. I didn’t hit anything and managed to arrive at the campsite in one piece. I duly parked up and paid my £9 nightly fee. For which I had access to toilets, water supply and a rubbish bin. I hauled out a small single burner camping stove, filled the kettle with water and made a cup of tea. Then, I sat in the open side doorway of the van, mug in hand surveying my kingdom and pondering why the cabin lights stayed on far longer than I expected.

That evening, I sat and listened to a blackbird serenade me until way past dusk and be up again singing long before the red sun slid into the sky and disappeared into the clouds. The night had indeed been cold, but I had survived. The extra blankets and my down jacket came to my rescue. No repeat of ‘the lake district experience’ I slept well until around 4:30am when I needed to make use of the toilets. I managed to slip quietly out of the van, but on my return made the mistake of unlocking the doors. All the inside lights came on and would only go off when I closed all the doors and locked myself back inside. Clearly, the issue of lighting would need further thought, along with a myriad of other bits and pieces my overnight adventure had revealed. “All good learning,” Chris said when I reported back. A list of things we need to do next is being compiled as I write.

Final thoughts? 

I reminded myself that sometimes I need to do things for ‘me’. I need to push myself. At that precise moment, I needed to realise what I can control –  the decision to go off for 24 hours and spent the night in a van. Against a backdrop of those who claim to be ‘taking back control’ while in reality, throwing my life into deep uncertainty and chaos.

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