Winnats Pass Derbyshire…the nice lady from Rowter Farm had said something about Winnats Pass and Sparrowfoot….
“Yeah yeah” we said, too excited about our break in Derbyshire to actually listen.
It was something about there being one way to the camp site that we were not to attempt in a motorhome.
Especially an old motorhome.
Particularly OUR old motorhome….it didn’t take us long to realise that we were on our way up that very road with no chance of turning back.
Unless we didn’t make it up – and in that case the way down would not be pleasant.
That was almost the case….this poor old CREE almost breathed her last on that stairway to van-heaven. She doesn’t like hills in Suffolk let alone anything like this… 20% and counting! Labouring in first gear, wheels slipping on the Derbyshire rained on road, another fifty feet would have been forty nine too many. Not often the passenger stops talking but …..!! Said passenger also tried to refuse to go down that treacherous Pass on the way home – but got ignored. The brakes got warm. It was o.k. actually – the view is amazing – certainly takes your mind off the risk of impending death.
There used to be an alternative route – something more user-friendly. A mountainside road with a softer incline. And it collapsed many years ago. The road just cracked and slid down the mountain.
That road was built along the side of a mountain whose sides slip and slide. Eventually the authorities gave up repairing it. Mam Tor has sides of shale and is known as the shivering or shimmering mountain due to the frequent land slides. Going up or down Winnats Pass in this vehicle also produces a sh** sensation.
We walked it and that was gruelling enough although worth every pained step.
We then travelled along Snake Pass. Stunning scenery – the heather blanketing the peaks as they dipped their foothills into the reservoir. A glance in the side mirrors confirmed why it is called Snake Pass – our beast proudly headed a long snake of traffic.
We often have a bit of a following….we could refer to them as fans maybe. Or maybe we could not.
We are keen on designing a bumper sticker with the van’s amply proportioned bum on it and the encouraging logo YOU COULD ALSO BE FOLLOWING US ON FACEBOOK. ….it will give a smile or add to their irritation. But at least they can voice their love of camper-vans to us on FACEBOOK. What better way to make friends and connect ?
Choosing a camper-van/motorhome is like choosing a family dog…so much depends on your lifestyle or personality. And definitely on the depth of your purse.
Maybe you want a big butch beast of a van- one that scares the hell out of minis on the motorway. One that you can’t park within city walls due to its size but you love showing it off in a macho way. If you have the money to feed it then good on ya!
Maybe you like nippy terriers…small and fast.
Or pretty poodles – cute and fussy and prone to large vet bills.
Or a Labrador? Family-friendly, comfortably-reliable but a little predictable.
Well…we chose a van which is big and cumbersome, with a low-slung solid body. A van with a few unexpected little habits and quirks. Not pretty to look at and never fast – but once you know it, you can’t help but love it albeit mostly in a “oh heavens, what now?” sort of way. Oh…and it smells sometimes if you leave the plug out of the sink whilst travelling. A Basset Hound of a van!
Actually, we have sometimes wondered if the van chose us.
We looked at others but couldn’t take to them – they were cheaper, younger, cuter but not quite right. We read advice about buying, we learned what traits to look for, which makes to consider and what to avoid. And every time we turned round, this beast was there, kind of sulking. Like a stray dog, it just wouldn’t go away. Some of its poorer aspects were things we were advised against accepting: water ingress, damp, rot – these are the swear words of campsites. These are the expensive faults which you never, ever take on. But still it hung on in there, getting itself under our feet until we gave a resigned sigh and dived into the adventure – the three of us…Gav, me and a great big Cree. Most of the original issues are sorted so to ensure the fun never ends, she chucks us a curved ball every so often – we have come to regard trips to the garage or caravan repairer as part of the adventure. Just as well really.
This was written in an ECO campsite. What makes a camp site into an ECO campsite ? Maybe not allowing dirty diesels in would be a start….we half expected to be met by placard waving save-the-earth types as we chugged our way along the backwoods, dirt track lane. No, we were met by a delightful chuck wagon which serves as RECEPTION. As a receptionist, we have encountered worse – cute enough to be allowed a degree of scruffiness and easy-to-understand enough to be acceptable as low tech (except for a surveillance camera!) . Certainly more polite than most doctor’s receptionists!! All the necessary instructions were there – we felt welcomed in a remote, trusted sort of way.
Like grown ups. We then found our allotted spot which was basically “where you like in your field”. All laid back – like a different world. We had a wander, found the toilets and water point and spoke to a guy on a bicycle – turns out he is the owner. What a brilliant place – full of reclaimed stuff which other sites would have binned or burned. We love reusing stuff – although one of us is over enthusiastic in her “might come in handy” collection she is told!
Wandering around the site, we found two Yurts set up for visitors that evening and had a sneaky look in – they are every little girl’s dream of a fairy palace. Well….how THIS little girl would have pictured it anyway. Kinda natural with comfy bits and a slight hint of sparkle – if the little lights work.
Not the sort of site to come to if you want shiny floors and precision planting …this has nettles because they are a “complete ecosystem” for some creatures, no bingo or snazzy bars. We saw a heron alighting from a pond, we heard a woodpecker, we saw dragonflies, we watched bats beginning their evening frenzied feeding, and listened to the mournful twilight hoots of a tawny owl from his perch in the crack willows. It was almost an Eco-crime to have asked for electric hookup. But we did.
And we were under the flight path of both Mildenhall and Lakenheath bases- we saw the huge cargo planes heading for the former and heard the smaller beasts buzzing to the latter. Not “ECO” but exciting!
At a different campsite, Gav bought a pile of dirty books. No, seriously, grubby. Historical novels and reference books which needed a wipe.
This site was quiet…eerily so as there were ten other units in the field. The facilities and pitches were spotless – one got the impression that the plants had a measured distance between them and any with an odd number of flowers were promptly corrected. The pedantic grammar police were delighted to see real filth however: TOILET’S and SHOWER’S as well as a misspelling of their own name – ewwwwwwww! But that is our particular soap box to stand on – we do so with glee (and a wary eye on our own scribblings!). The site was beautifully run, organised and the welcome was comfortingly and efficiently warm like a new blanket which smells of shop rather than home.
All types of site have their place in society. We are accepting of most – every site has a reviewer’s vision of lofty summit and death’s dark vale – it depends on what one is seeking and on one’s emotional eyesight as to what one notices the most each time.
En route to Wales, we invented a new game: we like to wave at other vans/motorhomes – we like it better when they return our cheery salutation. So, we began counting.
It went poorly to begin with. Then we decided that if a fellow “house-on-back” traveller waves first, it counts as two points. We were around 8-4 in front when we found that on the motorways, no-one notices other vehicles unless they are trying to get past them. And that happens a lot with motorhomes…other vehicles trying to get past I mean. We were getting a drubbing – one of us is an Ipswich Town fan and was getting that sinking feeling so we gave up.
Until that is, we got onto a Welsh coastal road and employed some gamesmanship by flashing the headlights and waving madly at oncoming vans – we scored 8 – 3 on one stretch…easy easy!!
A little playlet was composed as follows:
Gaff-the-driver was despondent that no-one would return his cheery waved greeting as he drove his old motorhome around the Welsh hills and valleys. Trudi-the-talker encouraged him…”flash them dear, flash them!” Before you could say “Roberts-the-exhibitionist” , Gaff-the-driver had his skinny arse waggling out the window with a beaming smile. No mean feat whilst negotiating his way around the A493 Machynlleth to Dolgellau coast road. He got plenty of waves that day…good of the local constabulary to join in!
It started as an innocent word, thrown into a sentence: the first drop of rain that started the flood, the tiny ripple which led to a tsunami….one innocent word thrown into a sentence. And with that final straw, the camel’s back snapped asunder and the world ended. Just saying!!!!!
I like to find out what the camera on my phone will do – it can make some funky images. These are a mix of what we saw and what the camera will do.
We always try to brush off minor worries with a cheery - and brave if a little trepidatious - "what's the worst that can happen?". Dear Traveller, one of the worst things that can happen whilst being away in the van is finding that also sharing the journey, sitting grinning inanely out of the windscreen, is a diarrhoea and vomiting bug. Murderous! Especially if there are no toilets nearby!! See, we have an agreement....no solids in the van toilet. Not that diarrhoea is solid but....you get the idea. How many holes can one dig without leaving the area looking like a mole army battleground? A toxic mole army battleground at that. The dreaded D/V struck us both whilst we were enjoying a peaceful weekend in the Suffolk countryside in an orderly and pristine campsite. Just making it outside at dark-o-clock to throw up right outside the van door is not conducive to a romantic break. Nor does it endear one to one's fellow field-sharers. Then there is the hurried trot (sorry!) to the camp toilet block ....again and again. Probably leaving a well-worn trail in the camp site's beautifully manicured grass. Never mind what we left in the impossibly clean facilities. Well....we came home. Having invented a new high number on the Bristol Stool chart, we did not want to share our new found infamy.
“A VW van….a Cree? CREE? What is that?” is what we usually hear when we proudly tell people that that is what we travel around in. They hear “van” and “VW” and assumptions are leapt at with misted-eyed nostalgia and longing. “VW” and “van” invoke teenage dreams of picnics in the woods and wild-fire parties on the beach. It is the CREE bit that throws them.
Then the mist clears….like that sobering moment when you see your parents are also at the beach party.
” oh….so not a proper V-Dub then….not a real one”.
That goes down well with us every time….NOT!
Yes, it is a real one….a Volkswagen “Camper-van” for grown-ups.
It is a camper-van for grown-ups who are prepared to not fit in with any group, sub-group or genre- it is a little enclave all of its own. Too reliable to be a “loved-by-all character” , too clumsy to be cute, too middle-aged-comfortable to be trendy and too old to be hip-hop-and-happening. We love the anonymity whilst mildly (in our grown up way)resenting the lack of recognition.
Being alone in the crowd is great….seriously great….but being ignored is slightly, unnervingly, irritating. We have a hidden craving to be different yet still want that “hey! How are you?” from fellow travellers.
A hidden craving which is not so well hidden sometimes.
We wave madly at other T4 drivers -and see them checking to see whether their indicators are still flashing, saying “What is up with motorhome drivers?”. Those who own those coveted, sweet little brightly-coloured, bunting festooned VW day-vans don’t even see us. Even the vehicle they drive thinks “Just a motorhome….not a proper van”
We use the word “van” and the picture of the iconic “splittie” or “Westie” springs to mind but the Cree is simply not that cute! Bunting doesn’t work in its chunky broad beam. It is a big amiable beast as opposed to a cute playful kitten. But it is still a VW van. The front of a T4 van, with living quarters added. VAN! See ?
Plus….we have a toilet and shower room.
Ok…we drool over photos of those little vans too. We probably want the picnics in the woods and the wild-fire beach parties…well…maybe a barbecue and an early night. But one has to be practical…we wanted room for four small to medium size people when necessary. And not have those people spitting at each other after a day or so of camping. And we wanted to be able to be comfortably spread out. And take badminton racquets. And clean clothing. And somewhere for the lady to dress. You know?
So we chose comfort. Dreams can be planned whilst settling down to sleep comfortably and then lived the next day. We are living our dream without breaking our sleep pattern. Or the bank.