Van life - From the low country to the highlands and beyond - CycleBlaze

August 23, 2018

Van life

There is an air of majesty about us as we glide silkily into the Tyne River mouth the next morning. By our standards, she is a big vessel, much larger than the intrepid little Cook Strait ferries we are used to seeing in our neck of the woods.

The ferry sails past the ruins of Tynemouth Priory while we make the most of a buffet breakfast and, in no time at all, we find ourselves, bike bags and sundry gear deposited on British soil.

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The rest of the morning is a blur of arrival in Newcastle, picking up our rental van, organising SIM cards and food and, finally, navigating ourselves badly northwards. 

The van is a delight. For the next three weeks we are responsible for the care and wellbeing of a brand-new  shiny grey Ford Transit cargo van. An odd choice of vehicle, you may think, but we couldn't be happier. Bikes and luggage fit easily into the cargo space and we slide nicely into our front bench seat. Let the adventure begin!

Now that we're navigating to our first destination over the border - thankfully, things are much better once we're out of Newcastle - I can digress. There's nostalgia in the air. We've done van life before.

In 1984, we followed many Kiwis before us and headed off to London for our "OE".  When it came time to plan the summer jaunt around the Continent, we took ourselves down to the Hungerford Bridge van market and began the search for the ideal home on wheels. This informal market is where Antipodean sellers camped out each day after having "done" Europe, waiting for their vans' next owners to turn up. We prowled the street for a week or so, looking for the best van available, and ended up buying ourselves a lemon. Of course.

Before we had even left England, the bed collapsed. That was easily fixed, in the car park of a DIY store. Once we crossed the Channel, things went well so long as we remembered to top up with oil more often than with petrol. By the time we reached Yugoslavia (this was a long time ago), the oil situation upgraded itself to an oil crisis. We limped back to Germany (it was a VW Kombi after all) for a mechanic's diagnosis. No dictionary required: Motor kaput. Many German marks and three days later, we were good to go again.

The starter motor was also dodgy. At times, it required some manual help involving a screwdriver under the van to get itself going. In the Cold War environment, crossing the border from East to West was a tense business. Military jets were a constant presence overhead. Convoys of Soviet vehicles rumbled by.  East German guards checked papers thoroughly and rolled mirrors under vehicles, checking for escaping comrades. It was no time for mechanical problems. But sure enough, to the obvious amusement of those border guards, Bruce had to crawl under the van with his screwdriver to take us back to freedom  - and, eventually, the Hungerford Bridge.

By mid-afternoon, we are nearing our destination, a B and B in the tiny hamlet of Moniaive. Alarmingly, the satnav is urging us forwards onto ever-narrower lanes. Before we're forced to drive onto a footpath, though, we notice the sign for 'Garden Studio'.

And it's delightful: Our base for three nights is a self-contained wee apartment that's part of an old farmhouse, set in lovely grounds. We're in Scotland. It's gently raining. All is right with the world.

Garden view from our studio unit
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