I don’t quite know what I expected when I bought my 1985 VW camper van, but it certainly wasn’t this. The red warning light flickered then came on and stayed on.
I had, I think like most, a romantic vision of a camper van. Flitting from place to place, anywhere I stop a temporary home. Surfing, exploring, meeting people, seeing places, that sense of freedom. Oh, I forgot the continuous cups of tea…
The reality of camper ownership, was far more interesting than I had imagined. The sun was setting over the beautiful countryside of the Wye Valley. It hadn’t been a long journey, just 90 minutes out of Warwickshire, and Cookie, as I had named my blue and white bus, had performed well.
Mumford and Sons were playing on the stereo which really seemed to fit the feel of a camper van journey, perfect accompaniment to the sky changing from pink to purple. The views were breathtaking, it had been a sunny day but it was still a little chilly outside. Spring seemed to hold back in 2013 and was determined to wait for May. Dusk was descending quickly and the red light on the dashboard rudely reminded me that my alternator was no longer charging my battery.
Vanessa, (my girlfriend and travel buddy ) and I made the decision (as the temperature gauge was steady and the van not overheating) to keep going to our destination which was closer than home. The diesel would keep running just as long as I didn’t turn the engine off. Fortunately my gf was a calming influence and I know that even though she was quite worried she didn’t let on.
As the sun dipped close to the horizon the headlights had to come on, and my battery started to drain, well drain faster…
My bus is designed, as many are, such that when the engine is running, the leisure batteries are charged and the fridge is kept cold. Usually that is fantastic, but without an alternator my batteries were draining fast and the fridge seemed to be making it worse.
Our destination was Baskerville Hall in Hay on Wye, with still 20 miles to go along winding A roads, the dipped lights were on and getting dimmer with every minute. The journey that had started so fun, got a little tense, and then I realised our iphone based Waze satnav was further draining the diminishing power, so unplugged it. The phone quickly conked out and we were without directions.
Luckily the roads were close to empty and our instincts saw us through a tense 30-40 minutes and a few wrong turns that had me cursing. We pulled into the camp site at Baskerville Hall with next to no battery left, the lights would let anyone else see us but they didnt give as much forward vision for us, the sun gone entirely. My biker friends were there already and I hoped to get a belt from somewhere nearby the next day to repair the van. For now beer and food with friends seemed a much more important priority.
The next morning we started researching, although with no phones and being in the middle of nowhere it was rather difficult. This combined with the fact the nearest car part store was around 30 miles away and closed at 12pm on the Saturday, meant we didn’t feel confident. Hay on Wye is beautiful but most of the shops are book shops and not much use to a stranded camper van. It was then that the Hotel receptionist, whom we had asked if there were any car part places nearer, stated that her friend from the farm next door was a mechanic and she would give him a call.
Shaun arrived minutes later, a pleasant and talkative guy who was also enthusiasic about camper vans. He was so keen to help despite having never met us before.
“Oh I may have a belt that fits that,” he said cheerfully in his very slight Welsh accent, “hang on”. We weren’t going anywhere we joked and he vanished back along the road and 3 minutes later arrived with a handful of belts.
Ten minutes later he had jump started Cookie and the power was once more going into the batteries. It was almost a little surreal but I think this really sums up the camper van way of life. It seems to put you in positions you might not normally be in, but also leads to you meeting people and realising that there is almost always a way to solve your problem. Not only that you learn that most people are pretty decent human beings happy to help a stranger in need. It gives you faith back in people.
We drove around the area for 45 minutes to make sure we had a good charge, enjoyed the views and waved at numerous t25s. Cookie was back to her old self. It always seems to be the way with the bus, something ‘exciting’ always happens on a trip, but likewise it always seems to get sorted in strangely surreal fashion.
Maybe next tine I’ll tell you about my first trip out in her to British Camp in the Malverns, which lead to an AA truck not only fixing my van, but leading us to get my head fixed at A&E. Or perhaps the time we were stranded in Cumbrian snow drifts in Wasdale.
One things for sure, even a simple road trip often turns into quite an adventure and I sure do love my T25 VW camper van.