This is the first of a series of excerpts from guest blogger Geraldine Onslow who decided to do something rather extraordinary in celebration of turning 60…
In April last year I set off around the coast of Britain in my campervan, Baa. The idea had been cooking in my mind for some time since watching Coast on television with my Mother, who lived with us for the last three years of her life. A feature came up about The Wash and I mentioned that I had never seen it, or knowingly been to Lincolnshire. You must go, she said, as she had such happy memories of Christmases spent with her Uncle Sidney who farmed in the Fens.
Some time later, when Mum had died and our lives had begun to adjust to her not being around, I met a friend, Sylvia, to walk at the Devil’s Punchbowl at Hindhead. I talked about my plan to travel the coast – it would be a celebration of my 60th birthday – and about Uncle Sidney and his potatoes, and that I thought I would like to do it in a campervan.
I wanted to buy one and make it lovely and I would write about it so that my grandchildren (when I have any) would know a bit about me and what this country was like in 2014. Sylvia is mad about anything to do with camping, so I was pushing against an open door. As we walked back through the NT car park a small Fiat camper drew in, with a man of retirement age smiling behind the wheel. “That would do,” I said as we went in for a cup of coffee and to talk about campervans.
When we came out the smiling man had his side door open and had a brew on – he was repairing his grand-daughter’s bike. He showed us his van which was rather more workshop than Toast catalogue, more oily rag than patchwork quilt; he had all his tools out and an elderly terrier was stretched out on the bed. He and his wife went on some little trips but mostly he visited his family to do odd jobs. He was on his way home from helping his son-in-law put up a conservatory.
Campervans (or motorhomes, they’re the same thing) are expensive because you are buying a car as well as a home. My search was difficult because of my budget (£15k) and my list of essential requirements (a side-opening door, room to stand without having to push the roof up, sleeping that could be twin or double, a loo). Berty, a friend and a mechanic, helped enormously (where to look for rust, feeling the gears/clutch, when was the cam belt replaced?). He was keen on a bright red Ford “It’s got low mileage, is in excellent condition, has the sliding door and it’s a good price…. (I said nothing).. “You don’t like the colour of the seats do you?” (lightning strikes in orange and red) “Or the walls,” I said (black and grey stripes). It was a non-starter.
I eventually found Baa, a 13 year-old AutoSleeper Symbol, on the internet, for sale with the Somerset Motorhome Centre. My children were staying with my sister nearby and they all hurried to Taunton to see her. My son, Will, drove her and said that considering her age, and the fact that he was driving a small house, he thought she was just the job.
Three weeks later I swung out of the forecourt of Somerset Motorhomes, white-knuckled among the juggernauts on the A303, with a suitcase of reading matter beside me: about filling tanks and draining tanks, and charging batteries and how to operate the loo. On the A30, now driving a little more confidently, I was transfixed by the majesty of the Fovant Badges, carved into the chalk downs above the village to commemorate all the regiments who marched through there on their way to WWI. I nearly took out a hedge. Note to self – sitting so high up can be distracting – keep looking forwards.
Two weeks later I set off for Kent. My journey would begin at Dungeness.