Introducing you to Martha! She is a classic VW T25 Camper Van and the replacement for The Catavan. I decided that my lovely Catavan was not really practical for what I wanted to do – i.e. drive the N500 coastal route around Scotland. They do not recommend that you do that route in a caravan!! And I want to do it in winter as well! Also with the best will in the world and unless you are the very skilled caravan tower Andrew Ditton, you really do need a second pair of eyes when you are towing. So I rehomed The Catavan to the most lovely couple who I know will love and adore her as much as I did. So lucky to have found them.
Then I set about looking for a Camper Van – a bit of a daunting task when you don’t really know that much about engines and you have a miniscule budget. I read up virtually on every guide to buying one ever published on the Net. Then after a week of searching I saw Martha. I called the seller even though I was pretty sure she had probably been sold already. I was told there were two other people coming to view her but they took my number just in case. And then a miracle, they called me back the next day and asked if I’d like to see her! One of the viewers had given the impression that he wanted to break her up for parts and the other was still trying to make up his mind. So I met up with the sellers and all that research went out the window when I stepped inside her! Pure gut feeling! I was in love. Graham and Sandy her lovely owners showed me all around her – so much storage for such a little girl. I couldn’t believe how well designed she was. I did the test drive remembering to ask how to get reverse on the gear stick (the number of times I’ve been stuck in a car trying to work out how to get reverse!). I loved being up high as well, did I mention she has power steering? Perfect. She also has a bike rack and a new awning, oh and only 60,000 miles on the clock!
So I sat down and had a chat about her. Graham and Sandy had named her Martha after the track Martha, My Dear from the Beatles White album. She’s been all round Europe, she has a fantastic collection of stickers on her ceiling, she was also the wedding car for their son’s big day. They made me a cup of coffee using her cooker and a collapsible kettle (how cool is that). I got so much useful information from them about where to go, campsites, wild camping, radar keys, rechargeable shower gizmos etc. and the most important one – use gas powered hair tongs when you are off grid. So I paid a deposit there and then and they said they would deliver Martha to me the following week which they did and now she is all mine!
She is obviously going to continue to be Martha and I’ve even made her a CD with all Beatles tracks on it including her name track! I took her to a VW specialist as I had a problem with starting her a couple of days later (my fault, not Martha’s) and he tuned her up and ran tests and tweaked a few things. I also bought her a set of new shoes (tyres) and my VW expert gave me the ultimate compliment “You bought a good one there”. So chuffed to hear that. I trusted my gut and seeing Martha and meeting Graham & Sandy just felt right. BTW if you ever need a VW specialist for classic campervans and cars etc. try Doug’s – VW Werks, Angmering, West Sussex. What that man doesn’t know about VWs isn’t worth knowing plus he also helps run the Stolen VW Register. All round good guy.
So the next step is to introduce her to my Poppy. I think they will get on well together. I bought a lovely purple sheepskin rug from a charity shop for her. She can burrow into it and snooze or whatever when we are on the go. Have also got a hooded cat litter tray as she does have a tendency to have a right old fling about when she’s doing her thing in it.
It’s finally here! My manual on how to divorce your sofa and live your life to the full.
I will admit to having watched a great deal of TV in the past myself (I ask for every single episode of Dr Who ever aired to be taken into evidence) and sofas are very comfortable places to be. However there is a big wide world out there full of wonders and no TV programme can ever substitute for a real experience, although Blue Planet II does come close! With that in mind I want to help as many women as possible to create incredible memories and a life well and truly lived.
I do hope you will give Step Away from the Sofa! a whirl and try even just one of my suggestions. That would make me very happy indeed.
Send me some pics, I’d love to see them
A list of things that the last few months have taught me –
- Instead of ruminating over something constantly get busy
- Nobody really notices your limited wardrobe as long as you don’t smell and you hair isn’t greasy
- You don’t need every camera gadget under the sun to take good pics
- You don’t need every fancy bit of software, super duper high end laptop, 29 fountain pens, fancy ink to write a book
- You don’t need the latest makeup, household gadget, new car to feel good about yourself
You do need –
- A steady supply of coffee and biccies for said friends
- Discipline in work when you’re self-employed
- A library card
- Warm quick dry socks and clothing
- Rubber gloves to get cat hair off your clothing
- Notebook and pen
- Access to free wifi where poss
- Water, veggies and fruit
- Countryside and wildlife
- Peace and a hug every so often
When you leave the place you’ve lived in for the last 26 years, sold, given away or donated most of your ‘stuff’ and loaded everything else including the cat in to a caravan and become technically ‘homeless’ you get the Collywobbles. Well at least I have. I blubbed continually for a few days worrying if I had done the right thing, but when your dream is a wee house and garden in la belle France and you know you have to live as cheaply as poss to achieve this it has to be done. And also as I mentioned before I think sitting at home on the sofa recovering from chemo fairly focuses the mind on what you need to do to achieve your dreams. So here I am plonked in a big field (CL site) watching the rain thundering down but I know there is a whole world out there and a lot of living to do.
To keep me inspired I’m reading this wonderful book published by Bradt
It’s full of tales from solo travellers who despite their own collywobbles have embarked on a journey of a lifetime. Spookily the first story I read was written by an ex-classmate from a U3A writing class I attended a while back! I’m taking it as a sign!
Also I am re-reading Karen Wheeler’s brilliant trilogy about finding a new life and love in a French village
Guaranteed you will laugh and cry along with Karen
So that is me at the beginning of a road which will take me who knows where……………….
When you’re standing alone in remote country car park and a man you’ve never met before shouts over to you “Would you like to come with me?” it would be rude not to.
The man in question was Keith our instructor on a “How to Tow Your Caravan” course run by the Caravan and Motor Home Club. I’d signed up for it months ago on the recommendation of a forum club member and I wasn’t disappointed.
Last photo of bollard before its sad end plus a motley collection of horse trailers
In between the giggling and sharing stories I actually did learn something and I significantly increased my towing yards (I say yards as I have only previously towed 300 yards on my own!). I reckon adding up all the going backwards and forwards I must at least have a mile’s towing under my belt now. There were just 5 of us which was just right. Keith was our instructor and must be one of the great caravanning oracles of all time. I don’t think there was a single question that floored him except for Mark’s question as to which type of mortgage would be best to go for.
Having weight ratios and how to pack your caravan was really useful, plus what type of tools to take with you. Then we went outside and did the practical bit – hitching and unhitching. I was paired up with Michala and I’m convinced that girl could end up winning timed hitching and unhitching competitions! I don’t think I’m afraid of the Jockey wheel anymore having wound it up and down so many times, in a perverse way I really enjoyed seeing the back end of my car rising up when we were testing that the tow ball was properly attached.
Keith set up a course where we had to drive forward and make a tight turn and come back the other way. I really enjoyed that bit and discovered that my car does have a decent wheel lock. The others nailed it as well. It was only when we did the reversing along a line of bollards that one of them suffered an untimely demise at my hands. I’d quite like to blame it on the fact it was raining and I had naff, cheapy towing mirrors fitted. When Keith swapped them over for some decent glass it really did make all the difference and everything did become much easier to see. So new mirrors are now on order.
The course was held in the grounds of an Equestrian Centre and it was weird being in the classroom and seeing horses trotting to and fro past the windows. They were all gorgeous creatures and seemed to have a large dedicated team of young people looking after them.
The second day of the course and Keith had us all reversing in to ‘pitches’ from the left and the right. This is the bit I’d been dreading but you know when you have a great instructor who thoroughly explains the manoeuvring to you the fear really subsides. We all did the manoeuvres about 4 times each. We learned in our cars and also by watching each other reversing.
Just a fab learning experience in the company of 5 of the nicest caravanners you could meet –
Mark – who introduced me to reversing cameras (got to get one of those!) and the world of gadgets for cars
Alison and Nigel – whoever gets them as neighbours at a caravan site will be very lucky indeed, so kind and considerate
Michala – as I said above an incredibly fast learner and a serious future contender for Caravanner of the Year
And finally Keith the instructor – patient, knowledgeable, encouraging and his pictures of a site virtually on a Scottish beach will have me planning routes to Skerray in the very near future.
And here they are – L to R – Mark, Michala, Alison, Nigel and Keith
I’m getting closer to the off!!
What a learning curve a caravan is. Although the caravan technician did a good job of the handover going through how the water, electric and gas operated, I promptly forgot everything by the time I got home. Interesting that the printed manual doesn’t show where on the caravan exterior all the connections are. All I can say is thank goodness for YouTube.
The tow instructor came with me on collection day and helped me hitch it up and sat with me as I towed it out of the Caravan Centre. I don’t think I breathed once on the 10 min journey home! We got it parked up at the back door and secured it. Then I got scared of it and left it a couple of days before I attempted to connect up the water and electric! More YouTube! I sited my laptop in the caravan and watched videos about half a dozen times before I attempted to do anything. But I did get it connected – got the water tank connected and even heated the water. I had the big electric cable hooked up via an adaptor through a window and into my bedroom. Next step was to see if the shower worked and it did, so I know I will be clean on my travels.
I wasn’t the only one who was scared of it initially – Poppy one of my cats was terrified of it slinking past it every time she went out the back door. But like any animal it was food that cracked it. 3 slices of ham every afternoon for a week served up inside the van.
Suddenly she had taken to claiming the caravan step as hers and would sit there so she could be ready when the door was opened.
This is Daisy also getting in on the treat handouts.
I decided I quite fancied a solar panel so I could do off-grid touring as well. I literally haunted the caravan help forums trying to get advice on where and what to buy. To cut a lot of very long posts small I ended up buying a fold up 120 watt solar panel from Amazon, fitting inline connectors, cutting off the crocodile clips and wiring the ends directly into the battery terminals. And voila – here is the whole set up when I did a 5 day camping test run last week in an off grid site. Brilliant solar panel kept everything all charged up. Awning took me 3 hours to erect but it did stay up. Not the neatest construction but I’ll learn.
Poppy came with me too, although I did keep her on a harness when she was out of the van.
So that’s that. I’m off soon taking my “Writing Room” around Britain and France. Poppy is coming with me. Sadly little Daisy passed away last month, she was 17 and was in so much pain with spinal arthritis. So I had to make the big decision. I rescued her when she was a 6 week old kitten and I cried buckets saying goodbye to her, so this post is dedicated to my Daisy – RIP my darling.
I got me a new writing studio!
Yes, it’s a two berth caravan. The above photo is a slightly younger model. I was so excited when I was taking pics of her that I forgot to take any images of the outside. She’s being prepped at the moment and I take delivery of her at the end of April. I have never towed anything in my life so I am booking a towing lesson at a local driving school. It will be fitted with a motor mover so parking will be easier, but I want to learn how to reverse it manually just in case!
She will be named “The Catavan” as I will be embarking on a series of trips trawling around the UK and France this year and the cats are coming with me! I wonder if I can get a little logo or piece of artwork depicting the name to go on the outside.
Cat harnesses will have to be bought but my two oldies may not want to leave the van after suffering ‘moving house’ syndrome. I’m getting an awning as well. I am trying to convince myself that this is not a Wendy House for grownups but a proper roaming writing studio.
It’s amazing to find how many of my friends have caravanned when I’ve mentioned the Catavan to them. Indeed some lovely friends are donating gas bottles etc. Must also book in to have a towbar fitted to my car, sort of essential really!