Morning Campers (OS018)

For some time, I’ve been thinking about converting a van to a campervan and sample some of the great places around the UK. I guess I was inspired by the local garage who carry out conversions themselves. They always have half a dozen smart looking completed vans in the forecourt, way out of my price range. However, one of the vans was a rather tatty looking ex builder’s van. It’s been there for ages without any work being carried out on it, as far as I could see. I thought they might be willing to sell it to me ‘as is’ and let me do the conversion.  I called at the garage and asked to see it.

There is a fair amount of work to make it look road worthy. The bodywork wasn’t good. There was just one dent but it was the length of the van. Inside splashes of concrete covered the floor and there were several gashes in the metal work. Faint letters on the side of the vehicle, were still visible, showing the previous owner, Manuel Labor – Construction Ltd. The builder obviously left in a hurry as scattered around the back of the van were broken tools and building scrap:

  • Five curtain rings
  • Four caulking knives
  • Three French Doors
  • Two Thermostats
  • and a ridge tile in a rubble sack

The sales person said it made him feel festive which I let pass, as it seemed an obscure comment. He seemed pleasant but it was quite a leap to feel anything but challenged by the vehicle.

It was high mileage and did smoke a bit when started. It also curiously had a sticker ‘Powered by Fairy Dust’ on the back. I guess it was owned by a family but an unusual household vehicle I thought. Still, it was good deal so I agreed the purchase and attempted to peel off the sticker. Unfortunately, it concealed a rusty tear in the metal. I stuck it back down and began to wonder what the larger stickers ‘This is not an abandoned vehicle’ and ‘Honk if anything drops off’ concealed. I wasn’t sure what concerned me most about these stickers, their implication or what they may conceal. Still, I thought it’s done a lot of miles. Why would it give up now?

‘The Van’

I was now the semi proud owner of a slightly run-down holiday home on wheels and couldn’t wait to take it out for a trip to get the feel of it. Before long I was throwing my mattress in the back and setting off to North Wales. It was a short trip as I didn’t want to overstress the van (or myself). Before long I stumbled on a site in the middle of farming country, a splash from the beach. The owner asked if I needed a pitch with electricity or fully serviced? Not clear on the question I explained it’s just a van with a mattress. He suggested that I need the fully serviced pitch.

I parked up, sat on the mattress with the rear doors open soaking up the sun and opened a bottle of IPA. So far so good. Before long, the site owner wandered over and commented on my brew. After a few comments about the heat and how he’d been slaving over a hot lawnmower all morning I offered one which he accepted without hesitation. After a stilted conversation about my plans for the van, whether I’d been to Wales before and where the best beaches are, he wandered off.

The next thing I knew, he appeared slowly driving a battered land rover which made my van look like showroom condition. Strangely, it was towing a carpet with a small child on. Odd I thought. Next, the same child drove past on a lawnmower deftly missing the van. I thought I needn’t worry about him scratching the van. I could just add it to the list of jobs.

Having no cooking facilities, I drove to a pub for a meal. I ordered and was impressed when a basket of cutlery, salt, pepper, vinegar and small pouches of sauces and mayo were instantly delivered. Bit inappropriate for a panini I thought. Another beer later, the caravan site owner appeared and sat opposite me. “Ah! you’ve found the pub then?” This didn’t warrant a reply so I didn’t. “Good beer, isn’t it? I’ve gone and forgotten my wallet.” I considered responding this time with an ‘Oh!’ but then decided to buy him a half. He thanked me and then joined a table of people who clearly knew him.

Time passed and I’d guessed at all the news on the Welsh channel TV and read all the sauce packet ingredients and still no food. Eventually, the Panini arrived. It was more brick like than your average Panini and required another beer to wash it down. Foolishly, I forgot that I’d driven the 200yds from the site. Having a zero tolerance to law breaking I decided I shouldn’t drive back. The site owner offered to drive the van for another pint. That somewhat defeated the objective as he’d just be breaking the law as well as invalidating my insurance and so I declined his offer (without funding his indulgence any further). Instead, I locked myself in the back of the van and ignored the passing locals laughing at the various stickers on the van. I decided to invest in some gaffer tape the following day.

The next day I cleared my head and drove back to the camp site, showered in the converted cow shed, hid my remaining beers, thanked the site owner and set off sight-seeing. This is the life I thought. After struggling up a few hills belching out a few clouds of black smoke (the van that is) I came across a sign for ‘Nant Gwrtheyrn – Heritage Centre’ which sounded interesting. I turned off the road, through a few trees and then the road got steeper and steeper. The trees opened up into an awesome valley with the winding road clinging to the edge. Normally I would have slowed right down and taken in the beauty of the sight but the van had other ideas. It’s fair to say the brakes were not formula one standard and after a few metres I was standing on them, changing down gears and praying for the end of the hill. After what seemed an eternity, I arrived in the car park with steaming brakes. Luckily, there was a nearby hosepipe which allowed me to quench myself and the brakes which sizzled in the spray.

Trauma over, I grabbed a coffee and sat on a bench looking at the amazing view, waiting for the AA to arrive. Well, it was an interesting break and I got to know the van, warts and all. Believe it or not, I was hooked on touring and camping.

It would be great to hear from you. Drop me a comment (at the bottom of the page). Just some thoughts on possible subjects but feel free:

  • Tell me about your memorable camping trip (or holiday).
  • Where’s your favourite place in the country?
  • Did you own a vehicle of borderline road worthiness?


… Oliver Sudden

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