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Vanning, not Planning (for the dedicated planner)

A little background: Mr W and I bought a campervan in August 2019. Well, we bought a van, and converted it, well – he converted it – I painted some doors and did a bit of sanding.

Campervan Conversion

The first week we had it we went away – emptied out the junk from the back, stuck in a bit of carpet, the mattress off our fold-out bed, a portable loo (with a curtain) and an array of our usual camping gear, and set off.

Now those who know me will know that I am a planner – I don’t like change and I need to have a plan for what to do if something unexpected comes up or I feel super anxious – so heading off in our van with no destination in mind was a huge leap for me.

Campervan Conversion in Progress

That first week - with only camping chairs and table and a gas cooker, all bungeed down in the back of a fairly bare van (our lighting was a few sets of battery-powered fairy lights) – that was the week that ensured our battered (Sorry Penny) Renault Master work van was definitely going to be a campervan and not a failed project.

After the first trip, we’d been bitten by the van-life bug and Mr W was filled with dreams of adaptations he wanted to make. The van (Penny Van for Pen – Y – Fan) started to evolve.

Campervan Conversion in Progress

By the end of the year, we had a bed (sofas in the day), a kitchen, a toilet cubicle, and several storage cupboards; our trips were becoming more luxurious – especially after we had the diesel heater fitted and the hook-up fitted. We spent a week between Christmas and New Year 2020 touring Scotland and spent our first Hogmanay at The Clachaig (a family favourite in Glen Coe); filled with enthusiasm for our new passion, the next addition to the van was a bar – pumps, copper piping and full cocktail mixing kit – just in time for the socially distanced events to be permitted again in summer 2020.

Flooded Campervan

That Autumn we had a slight setback when we parked Penny below the high tide mark at a local marina and went for a walk – rookie error (especially as we sat and watched the tide come in) – but one new alternator and floor later and Penny was good as new.

There are still little fixes and tweaks that we talk about for all intents and purposes she is ‘finished’. We have put just over 12,500 miles on the clock in just over three years and have loved every minute: we see beautiful places, spend hours together, and push our boundaries.

I have become accustomed (sort of) to the ‘not planning’ part: we follow the weather, and I browse for possible overnight stops as we go. We have taken some hairy trips – driving up the Wye valley to Shropshire in high gales; finding our way up and down the Peak district to a lovely lakeside beach spot, racing ahead of Storm Dudley to get a week away while I recovered from my radiation treatment.

Penny is as much our home as the new home we bought in January this year – more so in fact, as she’s been ours for longer. So, when we set off and things don’t go quite to plan – we have changed our route on several occasions – we know that there are no worries, as we have our home with us; we don’t need to worry about losing money on hotel bookings and if one of us becomes unwell, the bed is right in the back.

Penny has also been a port in a storm when out with friends, giving us a dry and warm spot to have a hot chocolate and some lunch. She allows us to visit friends and family without putting them out or requiring them to make room for us.

It’s not just the convenience of the accommodation, driving for hours can take its toll, but in the van with seats designed for long hours of driving, Mr W can keep going all day and we are able to go further afield than we might otherwise. This most recent trip (October half term 2023) we were able to take our bicycles – electric – and get out and about in a way neither of us has been fit enough for in a couple of years. Nothing major, just a couple of miles to clear the head.

We also took the plunge into wild swimming this October, indulging in a dip in Loch Harport at Carbost before our tasting experience at the Talisker Whisky distillery. An experience we both found exhilarating and plan to have another go at – we’ve already got some spots in mind.

We are now planning a European trip in our Penny; having renewed our passports finally this summer for our trip to Corfu, it seems sensible to get use out of them.

Our Penny is one of the best ways that we have to disconnect from our busy lives and get some real mental health recovery.

Gwen Weir

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