This 'lite blog' gives more of a factual, pictorial account of how it all began and my adventures on the road. If you want the longer occasionally more humorous stories behind each adventure then please review the 'unedited blogs'. Enjoy. Scroll down for older blogs.
The North Coast 500
(Well 790 actually but hey give two Cretins a map and anything can happen!)
Right - Quick Summary - Just Do It! Four weeks after coming back from the trip and still the memories are strong. The whole trip was amazing. The West Coast scenery is breathtaking, The North Coast Beaches are stunning and we found a wonderful unspoilt camping area on the East Coast that was to date the best nights camping we have done in the Campervan. Scotland up and beyond Inverness is totally out of this world amazing and I can't imagine anyone would not find something to love.
The North Coast 500 is a cleverly marketed 500 miles around the uppermost Scottish Coastlines, starting in Inverness, heading West to Applecross where you follow a trail up the West Coast until you turn right along the North Coast and Back down to Inverness via the East Coast.... but what a route. Ensure you are either on you own or have a funny, humorous, childish traveling companion like mine and you are sure for an amazing time.
When not driving, we were shopping for food, a drop of alcohol, award winning smoked Salmon or stopping off at one of the many distilleries. We even bought some Haggis, which to be fair was simply gorgeous - perhaps one of the finest tasting foods I'd ever sailed..... and then I read the ingredients and know for sure I'll not be eating it again! Enjoy first - read later.
The scenery is amazing, you could take a thousand photos a day and still not capture it all. There are well signposted toilets a plenty on route and there is of course waterfalls and the Sea to bathe in as necessary. Possibly standing start b@@@@@k naked 30 metres besides a road, soap in one hand an 'things' in the other seemed like a great idea on a Sunday morning right up until he road turned from being a quiet disused track to the over populated M25. I'm sure we gave a few car drives a smile and a story to tell.
Prepare yourself for well looked after roads, midges and an experience you will remember for many years. All narrow roads have plenty of passing points, so all easy to navigate. We particularly enjoyed the hairy but comfortable route across to Applecross where you gain height fairly rapidly.
Keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife with a particular highlight being the Wild Stags.
In hindsight we rushed the route, but we'd already driven 600 miles painful tiring miles to get to Inverness so kind of saw the 500 Scottish mile as challenge to defeat as against 'we're here now let's relax'. So we were kind of intent on eating up the miles on a daily basis.
The trip was once again 'Silverback' and I....and if I should have learned anything from our previous travels its that Silverback (aka Bellend) whilst an exceptional Adventure Companion is completely f. useless at map reading. So it was a mere 15 minutes into day 1 that we went off on an unnecessary 80 mile detour. That said, to be honest in the Highlands of Scotland I don't think anything can be classed as a 'wrong turn', the place is stunning whichever way you go. So for us the North Coast 500 by finish turned into the North Coast 790, but hey... who's counting!? Total trip door to door 1900 miles and not so much as a whinge from the T5. What a machine.
Day 1 we spent the night just outside of Applecross.
Day 2 we drove up the West Coast target just north of Ullapool... made it to Lochinver and drove through it and up in the hills to find a quiet spot for the night... and boy was it quiet... nothing at all.
Day 3: Stopped at the stunning beach near Durness and carried on towards Tongue then got amazingly lucky finding the beautiful Strath Beach to stop, secluded again, for the night.
Day 4: Stopped off at John O'Groats and then purely by luck struck GOLD, spotting a sign and then a stopover at "Crakaig Beachside Camping". Yes it was our first paid for stop, but for £15 it was the most memorable night we have had so far in the Van of ANY trip. Just go there and enjoy the unspoilt right on the beach parking up in the gars areas with a real wood fire, naturally kept (with basic hot shower and toilets). Go find this place an enjoy a memorable night. Totally recommended for peace, tranquility and sea views (otters, seals and whales can be seen at times and if really lucky even the Northern lights).
Please, please, please, if you are wild camping take nothing but memories and leave nothing but footprints. Having spoken to a few Scots, there are plans gathering momentum to look at clamping down on the Wild Camping as locals are beginning to get frustrated at the mess being left behind too often by Tourists. Do yourself and others a favour by doing the decent thing.
Three in Nights in Coventry August 2018
The Goliath 2018 is the biggest poker tournament in the world outside with over 6,000 entries outside of the WSOP in America. It has a prize pool of a guaranteed £500,000 and a guaranteed 1st prize of at least £100,000. About a dozen or so friends had traveled up to take part. Some staying in the Hilton hotel next door to the Casino, some staying in a local Air BnB and me staying in the car park in my Campervan!
At the Casino car park entrance I was informed parking was free until Saturday for Goliath players - sorted. Not wishing to be disturbed int he night, I found a space in a secluded spot and parked up.
Within an hour of arrival I bumped into a friend, another local player I shall refer to as The Fox. Why 'The Fox'? Well a fox is often described as ‘wily, cruel, cunning and intelligent’ and this person can certainly be all of those along with being funny and a decent sort. 'The Fox' is central to our local poker collective and is a very successful, mature, businessman. He started playing poker 4 years ago, has studied the game intently and as a result has accumulated over £100,000 in winnings. He is a good player yet has an amazing knack of pissing off other players, dealers and Tournament Directors. You could call him a Marmite man. You either like him or loathe him.
Tuesday evening: I sat down for a drink with The Fox and agreed our plans for that evening. The first event open was £38 to enter and was an absolute shocker. The level of play was poor and coupled with a bad structure made for a reasonably poor experience. I was knocked out early so went to play some cash poker.
I bought in for £100, got my stack up to £275 at which point I decided a few ciders (well 5) was the way forwards and as booze and poker are a bad combination for me I promptly gave away all my stack. Equating to £55 a pint! Doh!!
Dejected but cider happy I wondered back to my Camper around 11:30pm to fall into a sound but rather nervous sleep hoping they’d be no loonies out looking for some post Casino high-jinx.
Outrageous Post Casino High-Jinx – 1.30am: I awoke a little jaded around 8am, picked up my phone and opened Facebook to read possibly the most ludicrously funny post of 2018, written by The Fox around 1:30am. Remember at this stage that The Fox is a mature 53 year old, highly respected businessman - coupled with the fact the potentially the most terrifying thing a Campervan occupant can experience is unwanted happenings during the night. It read
"OMG.. just finished playing cash so walking through the casino car park to get my belongings from my car and head into the Casino hotel when I see Twu’s campavan parked up in the empty part of the car park. I’ve been on the rum and cokes all night and won some money so feeling a little boisterous I creep up and start banging on the windows and shouting “no pikeys allowed in this car park” No response, so I start shaking the side of the van from side to side for a laugh. The lights go on and there’s some movements - a petrified old man and his wife pull the curtains back and the women starts screaming... Whooops wrong campavan”
Outrageous!! On realising his mistake he then ran from the scene. I figure this morning that the Campervan in question has likely been put up for sale.
Wednesday: I wandered across to the Casino around 9am to ‘freshen up’ for the day, courtesy of the large disabled toilet. The walk to the casino was around 300m and I noticed half way across the car park two tattoo covered (across bald head, neck, chest and arms) staring at me intently with half smiles on their faces. I immediately looked away now wondering if my Campervan would even be there upon my return.
I returned 30 mins later to find the two lads had driven over and parked up in the otherwise empty section of the car park just 3 spaces away from my van. They proceeded to strike up a conversation, complimenting the van and asking how much it cost and how they’d take it off my hands if they won some money that day. Thinking on my toes I told them there were 3 of us staying in it and it was just a bit of a laugh and had only cost me less than £10k as it had plenty of miles on it etc.. All lies of course but I had to give the impression it was nothing much.
Literally at that moment, a white Audi pulled up in front of the van and the beaming smiling face of someone who I shall refer to as 'The Bear.' “Hello mate” he said.
The Bear: Bears can be described as many things. 'The dumb, dopey, lazy, but loveable bear, The cuddly, sweet bear, The strong and vicious bear'. This friend possibly fits the “I’m a sizeable military bear, tall in stature, large in build, charming, yet perfectly capable of looking after myself – and my mates – friendly yet formidable… so don’t fuck.” In fact the perfect bear for this very moment in life.
“I’m up here for the Goliath, I’m playing today, if I get knocked out I want to play again tomorrow so will probably sleep in my car” he said. “Well…” I said… saying “How about you crash in here, you have the comfy double bed downstairs and I’ll hop onto the upstairs bed. It’ll be much more comfortable, a bit of a laugh and its perfectly comfortable up top”. Of course what I really meant was “Please stay here with me and protect me. These two tattooed hoodlums are planning on breaking in, murdering me, eating my corpse and stealing my Campervan. If you stay downstairs then if they do break in they’ll get you first and whist I’ll be sleeping upstairs on the uncomfortable parcel shelf I might be able to remain quiet and stay alive”. “Wow.. you sure that’s sounds like a great idea” he said. Deal done. Life saved.
The Goliath Main Event started at 11am and began well for me. I picked up a few pots here and there, winning around 80% of the very selective pots I entered. Sadly I was eliminated just before the lunch break when the Poker Gods in consultation with the real Gods decided they’d done enough for me that day and I owed them a little pay back… and boy did they take it (all results posted at the bottom of this blog). My poker luck had also rubbed off onto The Fox who was eliminated shortly after.
Now a wise man once said “when you get eliminated from a poker tournament a clever person will give themselves a bit of time before joining a cash game”… so being the buffoon I am I immediately sat down at a cash table and donated a decent amount of cash to the other happy players.
The Bear however went off on a decent run that would see him playing well into the evening.
I wandered back to my Camper for a Pot Noodle and a Cup of Earl Grey to reflect on the days performance. The Gods not content with stitching me up in the poker decided that I also deserved to starve... so they ensure the gas bottle in my van ran out.
I sat there drinking my nice luke warm tea and crunching a half cooked pot noodle with the words of advice at the beginning of my Campervan days ringing in my ears “Make sure you carry a spare gas bottle as you don’t want it to suddenly just run out”… hmmnn I thought good advice! Bugger.
That evening I met up with a group of friends for a bit of posh nosh and plenty of red wine at a rather expensive restaurant on the outskirts of Coventry. The main topic of conversation was the 1969 Moon Landing with 2 opposing views. One adamant it never happened. We had a collective vote and decided by 3 votes to 2 that the moon landing had in fact happened.
Having been eliminated late on, The Bear came to collect us and take us back to the Hilton hotel for The Fox and the Carpark for myself and my new roomie.
Arriving back at the van around midnight there were now a few other campervans parked up nearby along with a converted horse box and a massive Motorhome right next door.
Now mix alcohol, two boys and a Campervan and school boy humour is never far away. Desperate to impress my new guest I set about explaining how the sleeping arrangements would unfold. Of course I came across as an incompetent buffoon, when I was incapable of removing panels and accessing the bed in the roof and it became a near disaster. Much of the time was spent with us doubled up in childish laughter at my inability to do the simplest without making a complete mess of it. Proper belly laughs that seems to have bene a reoccurring theme to my Campervan adventures to dates.
The ended wit us almost dying of laughter as the airbed, which we should have pumped up earlier not at 12:15am was inflated with a foot pump that sounded like a rate loud dying asthmatic Alsatian on helium. Just ridiculous.
Thursday & Friday: Goliath & Jokers Wild Poker then home: You got to play in the £60 'Jokers Wild tournament' if you were crap enough to have been dumped out early in the Goliath. So I was always going to be a shoe in for this event and my run of luck continued until I was eventually left feeling dazed, confused and thoroughly knackered from the whole adventure. I went back to my Camper around midnight and slept through like a baby until early the next morning where I said my fond goodbyes to the gang and headed South for home.
Three nights parked in a huge Casino car park in Coventry and what a blast. An exhausting blast but what a blast.
Bad Beats: For those who want to know this is genuinely how my tournaments ended…
Tuesday night: Pocket 8s became a set on the flop. Bet all three streets only for the big stack to win hitting his straight on the river holding 63o
(really calling all streets with 63o just because you're bored)
Wednesday Goliath: Sat for 2 hours playing 0 hands then pick up Kings in the Cut Off only for the Button to have Aces. All in pre me – eliminated.
(so you give me FA for 2 hours then kindly give me Ks to play v As - thanks!)
Thursday Goliath: Slowly building a nice stack. Wake up with pocket Kings in the Small Blind. Go the to flop 3 handed. I flop a Full House - Flop KQQ. Turn 8. River 3. All in on river beaten by Mr Aggro holding pocket Qs!
(Outrageous. Simply outrageous)
Thursday Jokers Wild: All in pre with pocket Kings to be called by Joker + 8. Lost to a 226 flop - thus his pocket 8s became a set of 2s of course.
(Stupid game. In fact Poker is a stupid game. Thats why I love it)
All just unlucky…. But when you don’t run good there ain’t nothing you can do!!
Cash – mostly played like a drunk tilted donkey.
New Forest 27.06.18 - "How did you sleep?" "...Well glad you asked."
First time out proper for two nights in the Camper I wanted to experience sleeping both on the bed and up on the boards, to see if any 'tweaks' were required. So last night was my turn to be the 'peasant on the parcel shelf' and sleep upstairs on the boards..... and what an experience it was.
Firstly, upstairs has a sloping roof which expands from 0 to 3.5 feet. The 3.5 end feels spacious and airy, perfect for resting the head with feet down the other end.
Problem being we left one of the boards at home thinking "not required" which meant I had to fit my at 5 foot 11 frame into a 5' 6" space.... to fit I had to position myself awkwardly and diagonally, desperately trying not to rip the foot end of the roof, thus it looked - and felt - much like I'd dislocated my left foot and suffered some form of tortuous disfigurement to my right. That coupled with three back vertebrae being realigned on the sturdy boards made for a tricky nights sleep!
'Chipmunk' of course had a glorious nights sleep, snug downstairs on the 6 foot x 4.5 foot bed.
Have you ever seen that Hippo advert on TV where it turns over and doesn't wake the one sleeping beside them? Well this was the exact opposite....
'Chipmunk' seems to have an interesting sleeping turning technique. Every time she needed to turn, much like a WWF wrestler grappling with an opponent trying to pin them to the canvass, she would elevate herself off the bed by 4 or 5 inches and then body slam herself down in an attempt to murderously crush her opponent.
Similar to the actions of the Killer Whale over at Florida sent high into the sky to jump through a hoop before coming crashing down, the reverberations upstairs were terrifying.
5 or 6 times during the night as she turned and landed it would result in me being bounced up in the shelf, gaining about 6 inches of air and trying to stop myself toppling off the shelf like a skilled body surfer.
It was like sleeping in a zoo with a very angry gorilla!
....additional note to self, "Do not leave the keys down below with guests, as if required in the dark, making a 3am pee dash is literally an accident waiting to happen."
New Forest 27.06.18
We decided to head off from Durdle Door in search of a place to sleep in the New Forest. The sun was still high in the sky as he arrived at a Forest Car Park overlooking a hill and miles of natural woodland. We stopped for a while to eat cake, drink tea, play the Perudo World Championship and the Stratego World Series. Both of which were won of course by myself resulting in tears and tantrums for the Chipmunk left dejected crying into her cider.
In short I am the undefeated Perudo and Stratego Champion of the World...ish (until next time). Anyone for cake!
Lulworth Cove 27.06.18
Delighted to not have been attacked by bears or burgled and well chuffed that the first test of 'the parcel shelf' has been successful we headed out on a walk over the hills to a place called Lulworth Cove.
Downhill into the Cove was awesome. The Cove itself is magical and a little step back into little England of old. Again, if you've not been then you must stick it on your list. The scenery is stunning.
Be warned, the walk back up is arduous - with plenty of stops required for the less abled (or Benson & Hedges loving) walker.
Once at the top we walked on down to Durdle Door again and spent a few hours just chilling, resting weary bones on a rather busy beach... the water was refreshing but outrageously cold.
Below are a few pictures, they do not do this place justice but will give you a flavour - it is as mentioned, stunning and incredibly beautiful.
The First Overnighter 26/06/18: Durdle Door & Lulworth Cove
As it turns out, Durdle Door is not a grey haired wizard from Harry Potter but in fact a stunning natural limestone arch on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Seriously, how can this place be in my wonderful Country and yet I have never been here before? If you never been - one simple instruction - you must.
My first overnight adventure and I need to try out the sleeping capability of the upper tier aka 'The parcel shelf' I also wanted to find out what I still needed to buy/pack in order to make the van ready to set sail whenever I was ready. For this adventure I enlisted the services of my sister whom for the purposes of this story I shall refer to as "chipmunk". A chipmunk that does in fact have an unnatural love and admiration for large amounts of cheese.
Having driven for two and a bit hours, just arriving at the Campsite, at the top of the hill from Durdle Door, felt like a victory. A bit surprised by the amount, we coughed up the £34 fee for overnight + hookup.
Naivity I guess, but It's kinda weird in that I had assumed when you bought a Campervan that life on the road would thereafter be fuel and food. I know stupid school boy ridiculous assumption - but I hadn't thought it would be £34 a night!
We wandered on down to look at the beach and it was sensational. After a tough walk back up we settled down for some food, cider and a sleep. All top draw.
Wednesday 13th June - Mission: To find out what we need
A bit of anxiety had been creeping in over the previous few days. The idea of a Campervan is great, but slightly less great when it just sits on the driveway, looking back at you like a £14,250 bit of 'were you a bit rash and have you wasted your money?'.
Wanting to ease the anxiety we set forth on our first drive out.... West Wittering. The purpose was to drive it a distance, park up and then see what bits we'd need if we were planning on doing a future overnighter somewhere.
The 55 mile or so journey took about an hour and a half. We pleaded and begged with parking attendant who wanted to charge us £7 to park for the day. We pointed out it was already 11am and we'd be gone by 1pm, but alas she was not for turning, so we coughed up and drove off to find a suitable parking place.
We parked up sideways and opened the side door, well that's what Campervan owners do isn't it? We spun round the double passenger seat - with a bit of difficulty. Need to refine our skills there a bit.
Sorted, we cracked open the food and set about cooking eggs and quorn sausages but no tea or coffee or plates! Lesson learned for next time, we went off to beg or borrow and the fish and chip shack came up trumps.
For those who have never been, West Wittering is an awesome beach; long and sandy with pockets of water to paddle in or the sea to swim in if the fancy takes you with sand underfoot - perfect for kids, paddlers or walkers.
All in all a successful first outing. A new list created of all the things missing such as plates, black bin liners, spatulas etc.. and a plan to make ourselves even more prepared for the next adventure.
Wednesday 6th & Thursday 7th June - One viewing. One Purchase.
As they say, 'People buy people' and once I'd made contact with Peter via text on Wednesday 6th June, a reasonably local, mature guy who clearly loved his VW Camper the deal was virtually done. The advert was in the Classified section of the magazine I'd bought on the Sunday and the spec sounded perfect. At least it was nearby for a viewing I thought.
On Thursday 7th June, Peter and his van ticked all the boxes to reassure a novice. Nice house, nice neighbourhood, nice seller, loved his van, had lots of history and stories of many miles on the road, plenty of paperwork, decent reason for the sale and was about to take it on a 6 week European adventure.
After an inspection, a demonstration and a test drive we agreed a price of £14,250 and the purchase was made.
Casual interest to Campervan owner in a mere 4 days!
Saturday 2nd June - The Beginning
I have wanted a Campervan for about 5 years now, but had never bought due to work commitments, too much choice and a tendency to over think why I should not buy one.
I bumped into my mate Rich who owns 2 VW Campers. One a show van one a T5 day van. He lives in his day van.
He blogs about his travels and regularly updates Facebook with his adventures, I read his posts with interest.
"Hi Richard how's it going? I've been following your camper van adventures on Facebook. Would you mind showing me around the vehicle, it sounds awesome living in a camper van. How cool!"
That was it.... BOOM.... having seen the inside, having listened to tales of finishing work for the day then deciding upon where to spend that evening - anywhere within reason - perhaps besides a river, a lake, the New Forest, the beach, in London.... I felt a sleeping fire of my youth kicking back into life.
"That's it" I said to my mate "I'm buying a camper van, I'm just gonna do it...before I don't do it... before I change my mind or work or life distracts me. I'm buying one". "That's a great idea" said my mate, a wise old sage. "Do it. A Campervan. That sounds fun…. you know the gift that just keeps on.... taking!!"
The following day I nipped into WHSmiths and purchased a Campervan magazine and went home to look through the pages to see what it was all about. I also spent some time online primarily on eBay, Autotrader and Facebook to see what campers were about for sale.
Due to lack of knowledge I messaged Richard and asked him to help me whittle options down to say 3 or 4 possibilities. He was great and agreed.
He did give me one sound piece of advice "DO NOT RUSH INTO ANYTHING. CAMPERVANS COME UP FOR SALE ALL THE TIME. TAKE YOUR TIME. FIND THE RIGHT ONE."
Four days later I was the proud owner of my first Campervan!