So we had became the proud owner of a camper van, but there was just one small problem, I’d never actually camped before and didn’t really know where to start!
The kids were champing at the bit to get out into the great outdoors, Bertie was fuelled up and ready to go, but what next? A trip to ‘Go Outdoors’ secured a boot full of sleeping bags and some basic camping equipment. A quick scout around on google for some top camping tips meant we could do this, right?
We decided not to venture too far and chose a campsite literally ten minutes up the road for our ‘trial run’. Thankfully they could accommodate us at short notice so we rolled up, somewhat noisily compared to the newer camper vans and tents already on site I might add! But all the same, it was rather nice to see the looks of admiration as our green god parked up proudly in the field.
After a light supper and being inundated with kids who wanted to join in with our bubble blowing session and football game, we rolled into bed for our first night in Bertie. Did I sleep well? Was it the exciting night under the stars I’d imagined….. Mmmmm maybe not quite! The rock n roll bed didn’t feel all that rock n roll in my opinion, the lack of blinds in the pop top wasn’t conducive to sleeping in the July early sunrise, my sleeping bag was shiny and therefore slippy and uncomfortable, we hadn’t bought enough torches for the very, very dark darkness (where are those lights out in the countryside? ;-p), needing the loo constantly in the night was uncomfortable to say the least (when the toilet block was five minutes walk away in the pitch dark)… need I go on?
So was the magic of camping all that I had imagined, or was it all muddy fields and sleepless nights? Did we have fun despite having huge bags under my eyes the next morning? Yes! Yes! Yes! We had an awesome time! We giggled, we played, we drank, we ate under the stars and more importantly spent quality family time together. Yes we had a lot to learn about this camping game, but hey Rome was not built in a day!
Bertie had arrived and this was just the start of something special! I just know it!
My top ten tips for camper van beginners
- Sleeping bags are not comfortable, I repeat not! They slide around on the top of the rock n roll bed and you feel like you’re on the sea all night! Take your duvet and pillows vacuum packed and get a really good memory foam mattress topper for your bed! Believe me it makes a huge difference!
- Don’t rely on your leisure battery to run a fridge and the lights at the same time! It just can’t do it and you’re soon left with neither! Buy a long lasting cool box instead or use torches.
- Pop tops don’t come with blinds for the roof lights! Make some or get some made and stick on with hook and eye. Early morning light is very bright in the summer even if you have curtains all the way round your van.
- Take lots of torches! The countryside is dark! ;-p
- Gas stoves do not make decent toast and you will burn your fingers trying!
- Take double the amount of snacks and ball games because you inevitably get inundated with other people’s kids who want to play with yours.
- Invest in a portable toilet! We bought a popaloo and it is brilliant! Packs away really flat and means you don’t have to brave a long dark walk in the middle of the night to the loos.
- Pack warm clothes. We went on a hot day and kind of forgot that the evening would still be chilly.
- Take wet wipes, they are so useful for just about everything, from having a quick wash, to cleaning grubby hands, to mopping up spills.
- Have fun! Leave your worries behind and live for the moment!
You know the saying ‘you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince’? Well I think it should be changed to ‘you have to view a lot of T2’s before you find one that isn’t a mechanical disaster, or nothing but filler joined together with the odd bit of bodywork’! T2’s aren’t quite as rare as hen’s teeth, but good ones… well that’s a different matter!
Our search for the perfect van started on a hot sunny day in July, and although most people search for months or even years for their bus, we found Bertie in just one week! This was less to do with the availability of good T2s and more to do with our pure determination to make our dream come true, in the only week we were both likely to get off work in the foreseeable future.
All my adult life I have dreamed of owning a camper van. As a teenager I’d enjoyed many a family holiday with my friend in her parent’s van and my house has been peppered with VW memorabilia for as long as I can remember. Biscuit tins, keyrings, car stickers, soft toys… you name it, I was hooked on T2’s but the dream of owning one always seemed to be just that, a dream.Last year I had a health scare, I was diagnosed with a stomach tumour and underwent surgery to remove it along with 20% of my stomach. Recovery took a lttle longer than I would have liked, both physically and mentally, as I’m the kind of person who prefers to get things done and sorted and move on quickly. The enforced confinement however did give me time to reassess a lot about my life and with far more clarity than before. I don’t want to use the cliche of ‘none of us know what tomorrow will bring’ but my illness really did bring this home to me, along with a realisation that dreams will only come true if you make them, and dreams do not have to be realised twenty years from now, or when the kids have grown up, or when you’re financially secure, but actually when you NEED them to come true. It was my time to grab life with both hands and say this is my moment, right now and I’m taking it! I needed my dream of owning a camper van to be realised and together with the undying support of my husband Tom, we committed ourselves to making ‘Bertie’ a reality!
So that hot sunny day in July we started scouring eBay, Gumtree, Preloved, Classic Cars, VW mags – everywhere and anywhere where camper vans were up for sale. We quickly realised that due to our limited knowledge of vehicle renovation we would need to disregard any vans that needed a lot of work doing. Whilst we would be able to put right the odd problem and carry out simple work, a full body rebuild or major mechanical work was going to be out of the question. Making this decision was all well and good, but the reality had to be faced that that meant spending a whole lot more than we had budgeted for. With a new budget in mind we set about viewing the vans on our short list.
We tried to limit our search to a relatively local area, but it soon became clear that we would have no choice but to travel pretty much the length and breadth of the country to compare all the vans on offer within our budget. After filtering out the obvious cons, the obviously over priced, the obviously over sold and the downright out of our league, we hit the road.
The first van we viewed was a lovely red with a more than a fair covering of rust. It struggled to get into first gear and the owner clearly hadn’t loved him all that much – too much work for us, so there was our first no. The second viewing took us to a dealership and what looked like a fab van online. Mmmm in reality it was less than impressive, no MOT, no wish from the dealer to give us any history about the van and a big price tag with no justification… nope not the one for us. Next on the list a newly imported South African Kombi. The guy selling it imported several a year and knew his stuff. He pointed out the good and the bad and overall it looked like we’d come across a reasonable bus, but with no interior so to speak, we knew it would mean a further considerable investment to get it ‘family ready’, and that would mean no camping this year or for the foreseeable future. We decided it wasn’t a definite no, but not a yes either. Fast forward past the rust buckets, the mechanically weak, and even the bus that claimed
to have been blessed by a buddhist monk, whilst running like Usain Bolt with the figure of Kylie Minogue, but ended up being nothing short of a wreck on wheels!!! We’d clocked up over a 1,000 miles travelling in nearly a week and still hadn’t found the perfect van.
Feeling a little disheartened but determined to carry on, a week to the day we had started our search, we came across a beautiful green 1976 late bay, that looked stunning in the photographs and had what looked like an honest and clear write up. it ticked all of our many boxes, and on paper seemed to be just what we were looking for. Three hours later we stood on the driveway staring at what I knew there and then would become our Bertie. He was totally stunning! Clean, tidy paintwork, minimal rust, a sound well looked after engine and an immaculate interior. Recently fitted with a brand new pop top and kitchen, including a fridge and sink, this little dream on wheels captured our heart at first sight and sealed the deal with his solid engine and beautiful authentically restored body work. Many of the original features were still intact and any new additions were sympathetic and well thought out.
Two hours later he was ours, I drove home in our L200 with Tom behind in our new baby. It was a good two hour plus drive home and I knew Tom was having a serious baptism of fire behind me trying to get to grips with the heavy steering, the column gears and sticking to 50mph to be sure our little green dream didn’t overheat on this balmy day. Mistake number one came when Tom decided to switch the engine off at a level crossing. Bertie wouldn’t start again and a huge queue of traffic started to build up behind us. Several tries to turn the engine later, the battery was sounding worse for wear and we were wondering whether we’d just bought the wrong van! After what seemed like an age the engine finally turned again and we were off. Lesson learned, old vehicles don’t like to be switched on and off a lot in traffic, a few revs are needed to get that engine ticking, AND you need to get it right first or second time, not on the fifth or sixth attempt! Old vehicles just don’t like amateurs!
We finally arrived home and Bertie was introduced to our five kids! I’d like to say that they appreciated his awesome retro style, his beautiful paintwork and the sound of his engine ‘putt putt putttinnnnnngggg’ but of course all they saw was camping trips ahead and the opportunity to sleep ‘in the car’! But that’s ok, a v dub means something different to everyone right?
The next morning I have to admit I headed straight for the window to see if my dream really had come true, and was more than ecstatic to see our new baby parked there proudly on the drive. Today was the start of a new chapter in life, a chapter where dreams come true, where family trips become so much more fun, where new friends will be met and memories will be made! Welcome to our family Bertie! This is going to be the start of something beautiful