Ride: Cycle The World

Some of my time in Lock Down One was spent writing about two impressive European cycle rides for a new DK Eyewitness book, Ride: Cycle The World. Writing about two very different cycle routes took me back to trips to stunning inland Spain and historic Germany. Austria and Hungary. I hope my contribution inspires others to pack a saddle bag and pedal into the distance.

Ride: Cycle The World came out in April 2021 and features 100 amazing cycle routes from across the globe, 32 of them in Europe. This is the book that could inspire you to grab your bike and cycle some ups and down from the south of Wales to the north or around the dramatic Applecross Peninsular. Maybe Paris to the magical tidal island of Mont St-Michel appeals to you or just packing a couple of t-shirts, shorts and sun cream for some summer cycling between the island of Croatia that sit in the turquoise-blue Adriatic. Further afield the epic rides featured include Bolivia’s infamous Death Road and island hopping in Japan.

Each contributor has written about what they know. The 1,228 km Danube Cycle Route from the source in Germany to Hungary’s Budapest is a classic ride that takes cyclists through five memorable countries and three capital cities, connecting a diversity of peoples and landscapes.  It can be completed in one long ride or [like us] in sections. A largely traffic-free cycle path, this is a perfect bikepacking trip for beginners; you are always pedalling downstream and the river’s banks burst with significant and fascinating places making the really tough part fitting everything in! Popular with Germans and worldwide there will always be another cyclist to chat to over a beer or a coffee and share riding adventures. Should you be unlucky and have a breakdown, there is always a passing experienced cyclist with a better tool kit than you!

My second route was a shorter but equally wonderful cycle ride through inland Spain. At 129 km you could cycle the Ojos Negros Via Verde downhill and in a day if you are in a rush but I prefer the less hurried uphill version. Climbing steadily inland from lush Valencian orange groves through changing scenery and charming small towns, the Ojos Negros take the cyclist to Teruel, a World Heritage Site. The via verde or greenway follows a disused railway line and is pleasurable leisurely cycling through attractive off-the-beaten-track Spain. Teruel is the place to immerse yourself in Aragon’s Mudéjar Art. This elegant fusion of Islamic art and European-Christian styles flourished from the 12th to 17th centuries and is characterized by intricate geometric patterns of terracotta bricks and glazed tiles. Teruel has three outstanding Mudéjar towers and the Cathedral’s decorative wooden ceiling is the Sistine chapel of Mudéjar art.

A fantastic book to buy for yourself if you’re looking for inspiration for your first bikepacking adventure, this is also the perfect gift for any intrepid cyclist in your life. As well as descriptions of each ride, maps and practical information the book includes tips for the best places to eat and not-to-be-missed highlights and practical guides to help you choose a bike and the kit you need.

Ten years of Travel Writing & Reading With A Writer’s Eyes

I was so excited when, way back in 2011, my name topped my first article published in MMM. Although it has happened many times since, the thrill of seeing my name in print still remains. Having sharpened my pen working as a volunteer on a community newspaper in Preston and writing my own travel blog, I dipped my toes into paid writing. That first article was a short light-hearted piece about campsite showers. It was the following year that I had a full article published about our campervan and my first travel article was published in 2013. From this slow start I gradually became a regular contributor for MMM and more recently for Campervan Magazine and occasionally other publications.

As well as contributing, I also subscribe to MMM and Campervan Magazine and I continue to read them cover to cover every month. I read with interest what is new in the campervan and motorhome world and I am constantly inspired by the wonderful trips other travel writers make in their ‘vans. If someone else’s trip sounds like just the sort of thing we would do I will scan and keep a copy of the article for future reference before the magazine goes into the recycling box.

Although digital copies are available, I spend so much of my time looking at screens editing photographs, writing and reading some of the excellent blogs out there, I prefer to get a hard copy that I work my way through over a mug of tea. I might curl up in a chair in the afternoon and read MMM or Campervan Mag but I most often read them during our leisurely retirees breakfast time.

For me, writing and reading go hand-in-hand. This isn’t so that I can copy other writers although I do find that reading good travel writing sparks ideas in my head. I will make connections about places and themes to write about next; I might get ideas for how I can structure an article or construct sentences differently in the future; and I learn how I can improve my writing to interest or inform readers better. Every writer has their own voice that shines through the pages and I can only be myself as I write but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to see how someone else does it.

Reading good travel writing inspires me to be a better writer but bad writing can help me recognise where I might make mistakes too. As Anne Lamott pointed out:

One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless. You begin to read with a writer’s eyes. You focus in a new way. You study how someone portrays his or her version of things in a way that is new and bold and original.

Writing is never effortless. Typing just 2,000 words that are coherent, absorbing and represent an authentic experience for a travel article takes considerable time and effort and I don’t always meet the standards I set for myself. I am in awe of anyone who has the ability to write enough words for a whole travel book and I am grateful that many wonderful authors have the imagination to write novels. Although I think I still have something new to say, I am clear about and happy to accept my limitations and I don’t intend to put myself under the pressure of writing anything longer.

Travel writing is more than having an engaging style and good grammar, it also has to take readers to a place and give a flavour of the destination. I enjoy telling stories from places we visit, sharing nuggets of history that interest me and I include a variety of activities so that each article and blog post is relevant to different readers. We would happily spend an entire holiday walking and cycling but I try to be inclusive and varied. The starting point of each of my travel articles is a trip of our own, I pay my own way and the priority is that we have a good time! So no matter how much readers might like to vicariously experience sky-diving or deep water swimming through one of my travel articles I won’t be giving those things a go just for the sake of good copy!

If I make mistakes, I am sorry but few people are perfect. If my writing looks effortless then I have done a good job. And always, thank you to everyone for reading!

Survival as a Travel Writer in 2020

2020 started ordinarily enough. We took our campervan away in January and February to various corners of the UK. In March, as we walked around charming Cheltenham, I noticed that the shops were running out of hand sanitiser and people were buying face masks. When Lock Down One came we were in Scotland and had to race back home to Lancashire feeling sad and frustrated. My pessimistic inner voice mithered inside my head, insisting that this coronavirus wasn’t going to leave our shores without a fight. A pandemic would surely be a long haul and I wasn’t sure I would come out the other end still working as a travel writer.

In March I wrote about these anxious lock down feelings. With no possibility of travel I had little else to write about and sharing my worries helped. Walking and cycling our local paths every day eased the anxiety and helpful and caring readers gave me support after my heartfelt and desperate post when I felt about as useless as one of those proverbial chocolate teapots.

I had planned a busy year of writing in 2020, penciling in more travel articles than ever. So much for plans! With little paid writing through the spring I had more time to spend on blog posts. I have continued to write regularly, although posted less than in 2019. I still prefer to write 600 – 800 word posts that readers don’t have to invest a stack of time ploughing through but in 2020 I have experimented with writing some longer posts. These are designed as detailed guides for an area, particularly for walkers and cyclists. This is information I haven’t had time to arrange and share before and from comments I have received these posts will be useful long-term. As I have got to know the corners of Morecambe and Lancaster I have shared my local knowledge on the blog too.

Since I started this blog five years ago the readers have steadily increased each month. Not surprisingly, there was less interest in a blog that focusses on travel early in the spring of 2020 and views plummeted in March. Readers gradually returned through June and I am quietly relieved that I’m not talking to myself and that the number of views over the year has held steady and reached slightly beyond 2019’s stats. That said, this blog is never about the numbers, what has been fantastic is the lovely comments and feedback I have received from readers, the blog has been a more interactive space in 2020 and with much less contact with actual people through the year this has been important.

My other blog, Memorial Bench Stories, has had its best year ever! This is nothing to do with people being drawn to my writing, it is the power of the media. The blog and I were featured on Radio 4 in a piece about memorial benches in January and this directed new readers to that blog. I have been recording memorial benches that catch my eye since 2012 and that blog continues to be driven by respect and sympathy, the media interest won’t go to my head!

While I have been writing for MMM for many years, in the last couple of years I have also been paid for writing for Campervan Magazine. Looking back, in 2019 I wrote 16 articles for these two wonderful magazines, whereas in 2020 I have only managed to pull together nine [and four of those were pre-Covid-19 trips]. There is always a time-lag between my completion and submission of an article and publication so I have still seen quite a few articles published in 2020, although about four less than expected. Peering into my 2021 crystal ball it is clear that this side hustle income will not recover to 2019 levels at least in the medium-term.

2020 laid on many surprises but an exciting one was being asked to contribute to a book of world-wide cycling routes by a large international publisher. Writing for a book, rather than a magazine, was an interesting learning experience for me and I felt out of my depth at times trying to understand their lingo and ways of working. Although it only paid a similar amount to writing for magazines and so won’t make me rich, you can’t put a price on a new experience. The editing process distracted me through lock down, as my copy pinged to-and-fro between me and the editor, who ‘marked’ my writing with a big red pen [otherwise known as track changes]. This felt like being back at school and was often frustrating, particularly when I was being asked to change something back to the way it was the first time! I gritted my teeth and accepted the challenge. Unlike in a magazine, I also got the chance to proofread and comment on the final page layout, including the photographs chosen.

For the past six years most of my free time [in between campervan holidays and seeing friends] has been spent researching and planning the next trip, writing travel articles and blog posts and editing photographs. 2020 has given me more free time than I have ever had before. I haven’t learnt how to play the saxophone or become fluent in German in that time but I have read a lot [over 50 books] and got stuck into a lot of DIY and gardening. 2020 has given me the chance to experience proper retirement!

There is now news of the first vaccines, hints about rapid tests and I am starting to get hopeful that the freedom to travel will once again be something we can take for granted by the summer of 2021. I am hesitant to plan or book anything yet but I truly hope we will get to visit mainland Europe again. If not, I hope I will be allowed to find joy exploring the UK in our campervan. My fascination in uncovering interesting stories and histories and finding beauty in unlikely places hasn’t diminished but I’m still not sure if my short travel writing career will survive this interruption.

My Coronavirus Rollercoaster: Just wake me up in March & tell me this is all over!

I normally enjoy the moment I am in. If I am reading, engrossed in a project or out walking or cycling in the great outdoors I am completely focused and present. Although I get anxious about the future, I am not someone who generally wishes my time away, I know that every minute is precious and appreciate being alive and well every day … but these days I am experiencing a strong urge to hibernate until this melancholic winter is over.

Lancashire has now been placed in the highest category in the UK for coronavirus restrictions and we’re advised to stay confined to our county; much as I love Lancashire, I once again feel restrained. I am dreading this winter that will be a long calendar of missed get-togethers and celebrations. I am sure my partner will make it special but my forthcoming birthday will most likely be just the two of us. Christmas and New Year are not a big deal in our house but in normal years we do socialise and knowing I might not see my friends and family through December makes me weep. And then the dark days of January and February will roll in. These are difficult months at the best of times but this year I can feel them advancing like a heavy dark cloud. How will those months of long nights feel without occasional warm convivial evenings around a friend’s dining table drinking red wine, eating their fantastic food and laughing? Just wake me up in March when at least spring is springing.

I heard Simon Armitage on the radio for National Poetry Day talk about the ‘coronavirus rollercoaster,’ before he read his poem ‘Something Clicked.’ In the poem he considers some of the benefits of a pandemic such as not having to endure the commute now many people are working from home and having time to just sit and think and appreciate nature. Of course, this is the life I had been living from 2017 and retirement and while it is good to hear that some people are finding positives in this whole muddle my own rollercoaster has rushed mostly downhill with only small optimistic inclines.

I have tried to be realistic about coronavirus, knowing it will be with us for the long haul, the virus won’t be beaten or sent home with its tail between its legs. I hoped that we would find a way to manage and live with covid-19 among us. I thought we could live differently, make social distancing and good hygiene normal and perhaps invite our friends to our home one household at a time. I was optimistic and excited in June when we could drive away from home and walk in the hills again and on 4 July I was on a high at being allowed to go camping again. July was good, we met a few friends outdoors and went camping but by the end of the month it was clear that these less uneasy days weren’t going to last forever.

We grasped our chance and escaped to France in August, just in time to have to return and spend two hard weeks in quarantine. As well as thoroughly enjoying travelling in another country again, by fitting in a trip before the amounts of alcohol we can return with is limited [after Brexit] our cupboards are now full of red wine!

I always experience some dread as the cold dark months approach but I have been working on having a more positive attitude circulating in my head and in September I was learning to appreciate these days of colourful autumn colours, rainbows and stunning morning and evening light. We toured around Northumberland and Yorkshire in our campervan and walked up mountains until our legs ached in Scotland. We have met friends and our son and daughter-in-law for long walks, layering up to keep warm and hunkering down with a flask for a picnic and I was starting to feel happy and more balanced again. Having spent too long with only each other to chunter to about the state of the nation, it felt good to hear other people’s ideas and thoughts and really have a conversation in a way you can’t do as the internet freezes and falters the to-and-fro of real communication.

I am still wary of planning more than a week ahead at any time. So many lovely proposed meet ups and trips have been scuppered by the ever-changing rules and each blow sends me hurtling down that rollercoaster. Always an enthusiastic arranger of holidays, meet-ups and celebrations in the past the next few months look empty and bleak but at least I won’t have the disappointment of cancellation. I am learning to accept the gaps in my life, at least they are certain and when we do get the chance to snatch time away in our campervan or with friends it is a bonus.

We are being nudged back into isolation. I’m sure I am not alone in my feelings of despair and it is going to take a bit of effort to see the positives in this.

Something Clicked – Simon Armitage

Then something clicked

and the day quivered and rang like a question mark!

Why grit your teeth in the gridlock now the commute’s

a superfast hop and a skip from toothbrush to keyboard,

from bed-hair to screen-call?

Why wrestle with glitches and gremlins

or tussle with gubbins and gismos, or idle and churn

in the swirling pit of the buffering wheel

now you’re fine-tuning the senses, enrolling for real life,

getting to grips with arts and crafts

that were only a keystroke away all along –

you’re a rhythm guitar, a poem, a garden, a song.

You’ve learned to cook –

you’re a Sunday roast, a multigrain loaf, a recipe book!

Why be garbled and scrambled again

now you’re mindful, resourceful, neighbourly, human?

Now you’re curious. Fruitful. Meaningful. Tuneful.

And why twiddle your thumbs, though sometimes it’s good

to kick back, to noodle and doodle

letting dreams swim into pin-sharp-focus,

meander through luminous moments. Why stall,

why settle for knowledge arriving granule by granule?

No more fishing for news with a butterfly net,

doing the human aerial. You’re bright of late, ideas hitching

and switching from one domain to the next,

thoughts swiping from subject to subject, planet to planet,

globetrotting the universe. And you’re riding a bike –

you’re a walk, a hike, a mountain, a lake.

It’s a new world – you’re at school in the kitchen,

at work in the attic, in Ancient Rome in the lounge,

on Mars in the basement. Why tear out your hair

while the present dithers and loads, you deserve

to lean on the airwaves and not fall over,

to feel the hub of your heart’s heart

pulsating and purring with life’s signal.

So you’re right here this minute being your best being.

And now you’ve hooked up

with the all-thinking all-feeling all-doing version of you

why sit in the future’s waiting-room

drumming your fingers,

why lose the connection

when you could be your own greatest invention?

While no one can travel it can be enjoyable to be reminded of past holidays: A postcard de-cluttering lock down project

Postcards (2)
Our postcards

If you have some extra time at home during lock down, you might have used some of this time to spring clean or de-clutter.  Being able to combine some small steps to having less stuff with sharing something with friends is a win-win.  I certainly have plenty of friends I am missing meeting up with during the pandemic and some of them are struggling with their own isolation or have helped me get through my anxiety in some way.  Clearing out and distributing old postcards to some old friends turned out to be a really positive lock down project.

Despite being an enthusiastic de-clutterer, having down-sized to a small flat, sold everything to go travelling and recently moved house, a cardboard box full of postcards, all sent by friends from their holidays over 40-plus years still remained as clutter / treasure in our small home.  There is something about letters and even postcards, perhaps because they are handwritten communication, that makes them special and I had looked at the box every time we moved, thought about discarding its contents and on each occasion gave the collection another chance.

These days we don’t receive many postcards, there are just a couple of friends who hang on to this tradition that I remember as quite a holiday chore back in the day.  I would sit in a cafe or at the campsite with a pile of colourful postcards in front of me, trying to think of something new, interesting and appropriate to say about our current destination to our address list.  These days a WhatsApp message, text or blog post reaches everyone more reliably but through the 1980s until well into the 21st century we received plenty of postcards from the UK and more exotic locations as friends found their wings and travelled.

We would display our friends postcards for a month or so on the mantelpiece and then pack them away in a box that originally held a couple of bottles of Christmas-gift wine.  I rarely looked at them over the years but when I did there was plenty of joy, the years rolled back and I was hearing again memories of friend’s holiday stories they had shared with us.  Many of the postcards reflect the varied characters of our friends; some are informative, giving us a detailed itinerary and telling us about the must-do sights in their chosen destination; others are funny and even surreal, bearing little relationship to their actual trip.  A few poetic friends sent us pithy and yet evocative word portraits of their destination.  Some postcards were written neatly and others arrived on our doormat covered in uneven rows of spidery handwriting that took hours to decipher.

Early in lock down I took the box out of its resting place in the highest cupboard in our low bungalow and began the process of sorting them into piles, one for each of the different senders.  I was somewhat surprised how many postcards some friends had sent us over the years; from just one very good and old friend I counted 52 postcards!  These were sent from across the world, from Australia and Japan to Iceland and North America.

A Zoom conversation with another friend put the idea into my head of sending these postcards back to their original sender.  What better thing to do while none of us can take a holiday or travel than to remind friends of trips they took in the past.  I hoped that by sharing these saved postcards I could rekindle some happy memories as well as make space in our limited storage cupboards.

After reading them one last time, the pile of each friend’s postcards were carefully packaged, along with a new postcard from ourselves explaining why we were returning them.  I didn’t want anyone to receive their parcel and think we had decided to enigmatically end our friendship with a dramatic return of our correspondence!  Or worse, they might assume that we had died and this was a tidying up of affairs.

Up to now, our friends have been thrilled to receive their package of holiday memories.  Many were amazed, thinking they knew us so well, that these postcards had survived our many moves and clear outs.

I have just one small pile of nine postcards left that I need to send to one more friend.  One reminds me of his family trip to Ireland and I notice another isn’t even addressed, so I think he handed it over in person when he returned!  This latter postcard is a photograph of some typical caves in southern Spain, which he thought would be great to live in and save on window cleaning bills!  Another is a night scene of Porto in Portugal and I can hear his voice when I read, ‘I have a full glass of port in front of me now and it’s very nice.’

Have we kept any?  Of course!  In the box were a few postcards that we sent to each other before we were married and a couple of precious ones from our son and daughter-in-law.  These hold a few special personal memories, but are not enough to merit using the box, this has been repurposed …

All in all, through the darkness of lock down, this project has been a small particle of joy.

Postcards 1
Sorting out the postcards

 

Trying to co-operate with the inevitable as my travel plans shatter

16.06.2016 Herbeumont and Cugnon cycle ride (5)
A Belgian sign

 

I am sure most of us had plans for the spring that involved something more exciting than staying at home; everyone’s plans for celebrations, days out, weekends away and long holidays have all turned to dust.  So much upbeat anticipation of exciting places to visit and people to meet has vanished in a storm of viral infection.  As soon as lock down came into force the internet brimmed with advice on how to stay positive during a pandemic and I am working on staying in the present and co-operating with the inevitable, a wonderful saying that a loyal reader gifted me.  My mostly outward calm hides my inner turmoil where I feel trapped and the waves of anxiety that this will never end wash over me, as sure as the sea fills Morecambe Bay twice a day.

‘Set a routine,’ is the mantra of many self-help gurus.  My partner is good at this but I have never been one for regularity.  I like to think of myself as spontaneous and living in the moment, although you might see me as hopelessly restless.  If it is a sunny day I want to make the most of it, on the off-chance that it is my last, and I am the one who is always ready to drop any other plans and go camping or walking.

In an effort to endure this lock down stoically and with fortitude, I have tried to add some structure to my day to see if the gurus are right.  The daily strength exercises and tai chi are helpful, our morning coffee and daily outdoor exercise are all positive and there is some sense of adventure in going to the supermarket to see what they do and don’t have on the shelves.  I find I can fit these things into my day randomly, mixing them up to give me some sense of impulsiveness.  Our daily exercise from home can be hiking to the sea or the countryside, sometimes we take an evening walk along the sands to see the sunset over the bay, other days we take a morning cycle ride along the river Lune or the canal, taking best advantage of the tide or the weather.  We have a variety of supermarkets nearby and we can choose which one to patronise.  And still the days merge and seem almost the same and the happiest days for me are when we ditch the routine and do something different!

Like many in the campervan community we had plans for 2020.  Each trip we make it our campervan requires some planning and days of research for the travel articles I expect to write after each trip.  In January this year I, foolishly it now turns out, had the first six months pretty much mapped out and it was going to be a busy time.  I had at least eight trips and corresponding travel articles planned and I was working hard, doing the preparatory research as the virus began to lurk.

Never having the patience to wait for spring or summer, we go away in our campervan all year and I have never been more glad that we were away camping in January, February and early March on different trips.  From early-March we were planning to be in Scotland for a full month; this was a trip we were both happily anticipating.  As it turned out we were in Scotland for a shorter time before we had to return home.  I am pleased we got there at all but still can’t bear to even glance at, never mind edit, the photographs from that trip; they remind me too much of what I am missing.

Last week I had to ring the ferry company to cancel our ferry to Europe in early May.  A small and fairly simple action that was distressing because it put me face-to-face with the reality that we wouldn’t be travelling around mainland Europe this spring, never mind summer and probably autumn.  My brain had been protecting me by compartmentalising; one half optimistic and ill-advised, thinking this was all a bad dream, while the pessimistic section is over-actively creating apocalyptic scenarios!  This simple administrative call shattered my fragile equilibrium.

The pile of guidebooks, phrase books and maps I had purchased and sorted for our springtime European trip sat on the living room floor taunting me for four weeks.  I would look over at them hearing my pessimistic brain area banging on about how much money I had wasted and that they needed putting away but in the background my optimistic brain put its hands over its ears and sang, ‘Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.’  It wasn’t until lock down was extended that I caved in and packed them all onto the book shelves where they still mock me quietly when I dare to glance across.

There are more bookings to cancel / postpone but small steps and one day at a time is what the internet recommends!

Planning
My pile of guide books, maps & phrase books

 

 

 

 

 

The Culture of Vanlife book review

A book just about campervans!  You can imagine just how much that appealed to me.  I was lucky enough to be chosen as a winner of The Rolling Home book, ‘The Culture of Vanlife’ in a Twitter competition.  If you’re thinking of buying this for yourself or think that it might make a great present for the campervan lover in your life, here’s my review.

Firstly I wanted a bit of background about The Rolling Home.  In 2016 they published a photographic book and today they are producing regular journals which are a platform for campervan owners from around the world to share their passion for living in a van through a collection of stories, illustrations, interviews and technical advice.  The Rolling Home story involves Calum Creasey, Lauren Smith and a 1996 VW Transporter.  They have been travelling on and off since 2010, creating their dream van on a low budget with an eye for style and finding their own community.  You can read more about them on their website.

The Culture of Vanlife is a delightful book to flick through.  It is packed with beautiful drawings and photographs that make you want to start travelling.  With an eye for an evocative image, you could just gaze at the photographs and cartoons in this hefty book and be happy.

But how do the words stack up?  Once you start reading you find a collection of essays and chapters by different writers that aim to explore the culture of vanlife through the ideas and people that make it.  On the first page they sum up their way of thinking about living in a campervan, seeing them as, ‘Catalysts for happiness.’

There is plenty of variety here.  The first chapter discusses the perils of social media against the urge to be nomadic and appreciate the present.  I was interested in Mattias Wieles’ chapter about vanlife and minimalism.  Mattias and his girlfriend travelled for a year in a yellow van packed with everything they owned.

‘We sold everything, threw out all financial burdens, cut all redundancies out of our lives.  All our possessions fitted in our little van now; ties had been cut, jobs left behind, subscriptions to magazines and the gym cancelled.  We said goodbye and felt free as never before.’

Mattias writes that a shift in how they viewed their trip happened when they left Europe and adapted to having limited opportunities to buy food and fill up with water and they found a simpler life.  He sums up perfectly how living in a campervan eliminates anything unnecessary from your life until there is no hiding from who you really are.  With no fancy job, the latest smart phone or new clothes to shield you, vulnerability can materialise.  Mattias writes honestly about how the road changes you and that in this simpler world there is just the earth and the people you love.

There is, of course, a chapter on the vans, although no mention of the vehicles I have owned, a VW T4 and T5 or a Renault Master … enough said!  Let’s move onto interior design, where readers can see there is no right way to do it and everyone has a different idea of a perfect campervan.  If you are a self-builder you will enjoy the case studies.  There is something for everyone here, a 4×4 Merc, a VW T25, a small Japanese van, some technical info, a van with a wood burning stove and one with a roof-top bed.

Chapter Three is about vanlife people and readers are invited to meet the ‘van dwellers.’  ‘The Adrenaline Junky’ fills her camper with kit for activities.  ‘The Digital Nomad’ is a working recluse who is always online.  ‘The Hipsters’ live in a Mercedes Sprinter and have a herb garden on the dash.  ‘The Eco Warrior’ has a recycled Transit van and ‘The New-Age Hippies’ have a converted horsebox which they share with their rescue dogs.  ‘The Golden Oldies’ have a coach built ‘van and travel around Europe spending the children’s inheritance.  These are just for fun; I don’t recognise myself in any of these vanlife profiles and there is still no mention of a Renault Master!

The real strength of The Culture of Vanlife is in the personal stories it tells.  Matt and Steph talk honestly about full-time vanlife as a young couple who spend six months a year on the road

‘For us, van living created a very intimate and close relationship.  Disagreements are dealt with immediately and we usually end up laughing about it an hour later!  As a result we have become excellent at communicating and knowing how the other feels, sometimes even without speaking.’

The thoughts on solo van travel might touch you; the van owners who make music and busk on their travels might inspire you; or reading about the family in a converted bus might encourage you to reconsider your life’s trajectory.

‘In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall that warriors go to after falling in battle … there is a lesser-known land, Vanhalla.  Some say it is a fictional place, where camper vans and their inhabitants go to when they no longer travel.’

I hope I won’t be ending up in Vanhalla soon but this fantastic idea introduces a list of favourite places to travel, from Europe to South America, India and Canada.  There are stories from New Zealand and rugged British Columbia.  You will find plenty here to inspire your own trip.

This is a book that asks questions and tries to get beyond the hashtag campervan lifestyle on social media.  The book reflects on the tension between the simplicity of vanlife that so many people seek and digital connections that allow remote campervan fans to reach out to others.  The authors find both real communities and those in cyberspace and consider their value.

Yes, this is a book that will look beautiful on your coffee table and any campervan owner could buy it to browse and learn from.  If you are looking for a gift, I would suggest you buy it for that reflective and discerning friend who is yearning for a campervan.  If they sit down and read some of these stories they will either buy a ‘van and set off on their own journey the next day or realise the lifestyle isn’t for them.  Either way they will thank you for the present.

If you want to know more about The Rolling Home you can sign up for their newsletter here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an Uncertain World & a Pandemic who needs a Travel Writer!

05.29.2019 Eshaness (1)

I am feeling discombobulated and not particularly useful at the moment. No one wants to read a travel writer’s blog in these days full of coronavirus disease [Covid-19]. We are all feeling confused and worried in different ways; some of us are concerned about elderly friends or relatives; some motorhomers are wondering whether to stay in Spain, Portugal or France or come home; we might worry about whether we washed our hands enough and why we can’t stop touching our faces [or is that just me?] and others are wondering where they can buy toilet roll or dried pasta.  In this period of social distancing a full lock-down is only a matter of time and even though my fear of when this will happen doesn’t help, the fear remains.  On top of this global apprehension, the campervan and motorhome community is arguing amongst itself about whether anyone can follow social distancing rules in a ‘van and what essential travel actually means.  The only certainty is that very few people are looking ahead and planning holidays and trips away.

I am not alone in living during a time that just a few weeks ago seemed fairly humdrum, I was blogging about being a frustrated travel agent and also busy writing and planning my own campervan trips for the year.  Those days seem very carefree and distant as uncertainty has mushroomed and I am finding this increasingly difficult to deal with.  I am sure I am not alone in wishing that I knew how long this state of emergency was going to go on for.  Last night we watched an episode of Countryfile from a few weeks ago, it was in many ways a calming escape to a world before all we thought about was a virus but as soon as we switched off the TV I remembered and the dread returned.

I long for the pandemic to be declared over, returning some stability to everyone’s lives but I realise that isn’t going to happen soon.  It may be that we never return to how things were but I hope that eventually people will begin to look to the future with confidence again.

In addition, of course … and this is only a minor worry … I am also aware that if I can’t get away travelling and camping then I will have no income.

Please don’t think I am feeling sorry for myself. Although we are both over 60 years of age, we are both in good health and have every reason to feel confident that Covid-19 will make us poorly but not kill us … but as apparently we are all going to get Covid-19 eventually, if it is my time than I have had 60 good years.  It is not for myself that I am anxious, what I dread is anyone across the world suffering unnecessarily and I fear for my close friends and relatives.

I Know that I am not alone in feeling anxious and fearful about the difficult and stormy future road ahead, so I am no expert but here are …

… My ideas for coping with coronavirus anxiety

  1. Although I have a strong need for information, too much news consumption is more than I can handle. Limiting my access to the news and Facebook does help to keep me on an even keel. I try hard to be aware of what is factual and what is conjecture and keep a reasonable perspective.
  2. In contrast, the social media that is supportive is Twitter. My Twitter friends for the most part keep me positive and are kind – thanks guys!
  3. I have always been an obsessive hand washer after too many years in the NHS and the annual infection control talk, so we are washing our hands thoroughly.  We are maintaining social distance and keeping a check on our own health.
  4. While we will miss our tai chi classes, closed during this social distancing period, we keep practising most days.  Tai chi is fantastic for focusing the mind and relaxation.
  5. I might not be sure when I will once again be able to travel to mainland Europe but at the moment I continue brushing up my German so that I am ready for when those borders open. This half an hour a day of language learning is time when I am not worrying about any end-of-the-world scenario.
  6. Reading is always my favourite relaxation and I have sought out uplifting and funny novels to get me through. This is not the time to read Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 – save this roller-coaster novel for happier times, although it has been haunting me this last two weeks.  Instead I have been re-reading Magnus Mills and getting lost in his comedic and fantastical world and I have a Neil Gaiman on my reading pile.
  7. After living in a small village for 25 years I am accustomed to always keeping well-stocked kitchen cupboards and what might be stockpiling for some is my normal. We could live for a couple of weeks at least on the food in our house and yet I have to admit to a real fear about the shortages and I struggle to keep this in any kind of measured perspective. For example, as a bread maker we are down to our last two bags of flour and haven’t been able to buy more as the whole country appears to have taken to baking bread! While I am pleased everyone has discovered the joy of homemade bread, when I think about running out of flour I want to weep and I have to remind myself that at the moment we continue to eat well on healthy home-cooked food.
  8. We are keeping in touch with friends and family, making sure everyone is coping and keeping the love and care flowing between us.
  9. It might be twee but I count my blessings, knowing I am so lucky to live with my wonderful partner in the amazing town of Morecambe with the sea and the bay only down the road. We get out for some fresh air every day which helps my mental health and my sleeping.
  10. I am not naive, I know that everything will not be okay in the short-term but I try and make myself step back and give myself space to reflect on what the numbers of cases and deaths and the shortages of essential items actually means and why they are making me feel so anxious. With effort I can think it through, sort out the speculation from the facts, calm my brain and remember that this too will pass.

What are your own tips for avoiding overwhelming anxiety?

All in all, this seems like the right time for me to take a short break from travel blogging, although I might try and conjure up some light-hearted content in the near future.

Take care everyone, stay kind and we’ll catch up soon.

Sunshine Blogger Award

sunshine blog

 

I would like to thank Jackie and Mark [and of course their canine companions] from the excellent blog World Wide Walkies for this nomination for a Sunshine Blogger Award.  They gave up work, bought a caravan and four cavapoos, sold most of what they owned and began travelling full-time, mixing up living in their caravan with rentals.  They have a tremendous sense of adventure and their posts are always entertaining and thoughtful.

The Sunshine Blogger award is given by bloggers to bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

The Rules

  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you for a blog post and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  3. Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they received the award and ask your nominees 11 new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

My answers

1. What is the inspiration behind your blog and who do you want to reach?

The inspiration for my Back on the Road blog is two-fold.  It firstly gives me a chance to document some of our travels in our campervan, the Blue Bus, and secondly gives me time to practice my writing technique and try out ideas, without the constraints and word limits of magazine editors.  I hope to reach other people who are interested in living a purposeful and frugal life and who enjoy reading about beautiful and interesting places.

2. Which is your favourite blog post and why?

This is a tough question!  I like to write posts that are useful so my top tips for different destinations are great posts that I am pleased with as they get a lot of hits.  Everyone likes a drama and so the stats say it is my blog post about our Greek incident – not something I like to remember!  I like to tell stories and one of my favourites is the Tale of the Postman, because the incident marks my early retirement and a new life and it is a story of a helpful postman that you might not expect to encounter in Salford.

3. Tell us an interesting or unusual fact about yourself – do you have a hidden talent or claim to fame?

I write another blog about memorial benches I find on our travels and write a mixture of travelogue and the story of the person that is remembered in the bench.  This blog was featured on Radio Four recently.

4. Name your favourite song, book and movie.

Song – It is so hard to choose but pretty much anything by Black Sabbath would be in the running.

Book – Today it is Death and Penguin by Andre Kurkov [this choice might be something different tomorrow]

Film – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – it makes me laugh and cry every time I see it

5. What’s on your bucket list?

There is no bucket list.  I am happy that I am able to explore new and familiar places independently.

6. What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t waste your time marrying that first husband, he will treat you badly and try and break you.

7. Living or dead, which three people would you invite to your dinner party and why?

Although I wanted to say three good friends would be my choice, I thought I would play the game.  If I was inviting people I didn’t know round for dinner I would get Geezer Butler, bass player with Black Sabbath, Chris Wolstenholme, the bass player with Muse and Stuart Maconie together.  We could start with music and see where the conversation went.

8. Is your ideal holiday lying on a beach, climbing Mount Everest – or anything else?

My ideal holiday is being pretty much anywhere with my partner Anthony in our campervan.  I like to be somewhere warm but never lie on the beach.  My ideal day is walking in the mountains among wild flowers and bird song, the warm sun on my arms and no one else around.

9. What would you do if you won the Lottery?

I did blog about what I would do if I had loads of money and writing my thoughts certainly helped me work out what I might do.  I would give some to my favourite local charities, some to our son and daughter-in-law and then spend some on travel, in particular going to visit our lovely friends in California and Australia.

10. How do you relax? Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty about enjoying myself and relaxing.  I have loved getting lost in books since I was a child and this a favourite relaxation.  My biggest fear is running out of books to read while we are away in our campervan!

11. Dogs or cats?

This was the easiest question to answer!  I have had the pleasure to live with six different cats in my life.

My Nominees

I follow lots of blogs and can’t nominate them all.  I am also aware that after the first flush of excitement has worn off about being given the Sunshine Blogger Award, you might realise it involves writing another post!  I tried to give this task to people who will grasp the opportunity with enthusiasm but if any of you want to skip the post that is, of course, your call.  I do hope you all think about following some of my favourite bloggers.

OurTour Motorhome Blog – Julie and Jason have reached financial independence and are travelling in their motorhome.  As well as blogging they have published several books.  Their posts are both practical and fun and always honest about the ups and downs of living in a van.

The Urban Wanderer – Sarah is a Manchester-based blogger whose outdoor travel and lifestyle blog always has something new and interesting to share.  Her enthusiasm will win you round and encourage you to get outside and have a mini adventure.

Gail and Keith Blog – Gail and Keith share their motorhome travels, delicious recipes [with mouth-watering photographs] and even tips on wine with a flair and energy.  Their blog gives you a feel for life on the road.

Bon Voyage Blog – Jane and Tim are determined not to let life pass them by and are travelling full-time in their motorhome.  Their blog is honest, thoughtful and interesting as they share what they have learned as they travel.

Tea & Cake for the Soul – Jo is a hardworking freelance writer and blogger, a music, cake and tea lover who enjoys reading, writing and upcycling.  Jo’s blog, like mine, is a mixture of travel and lifestyle.  She has tips on surviving the menopause alongside trips along the Basingstoke Canal.

(Get Your) Legs Down – To non-caravanners the title of Richard’s blog might seem unusual.  This beer-drinking caravan owner writes what he calls, ‘random ramblings’ but are useful and informative diary-style blog posts about his trips away in his caravan.  He has also written openly about his grief following the sudden loss of his partner, Trev, after 27 years together.

Eyes in the back of my Head – Joyce likes to surprise her readers with sensitive and well-observed posts about a whole range of topics.  Joyce shares stories from her travels in her motorhome, about life with her dog, reading, nature and astrological psychology and is always a kind and generous blogger.

In Pursuit of a Dream – Deb and Steve are a caravan owning couple, originally from the north, now living in the south and working as wardens for the Caravan and Motorhome Club.  Their posts are often funny and always compelling as they follow their dream to, ‘Work less, live more, see more and meet more.’

Brian Jones’ Diary – I have been enjoying reading the journey of this newish blogger.  Brian is 60 years old and transitioning into retirement.  He writes sincerely about the things that are important to him at this time in his life, his health, family and friends, finances and how to enjoy life in this transition phase.

Gum Trees and Galaxies – This Australian dog-owning couple have adventures in their teardrop camper.  The name sums up their trips out to the bush to escape the light pollution and stargaze.  As well as camping stories they are enthusiastic about books and their blog has reading tips and #BooksnapSunday.

My 11 Questions

  1. What is your favourite thing about blogging?
  2. What would be your top tip for a new blogger?
  3. Assuming you are still with us, do you think you will still be blogging in five years time?
  4. If you could have something named after you (either your real name, nickname, or blog name) what would it be?
  5. If you could have one super power what would it be?
  6. What is your favourite road trip film?
  7. What is your first drink of the day, tea, coffee, smoothie, water or something else?
  8. What song would you like played at your funeral?
  9. If you could go back in time, what event or period would you go back to?
  10. I was a chef in a previous life and love cooking and eating, what is your signature dish / favourite thing to cook / eat?
  11. Where in the world do you feel you most belong?

I look forward to reading your answers.  Thank you all and happy Sunshine blogging!

One’s Destination is Never a Place, but always a New Way of Seeing Things

21.04.2017 Delphi walk to Livadi plateau (16) edited

We are all heading somewhere aren’t we? Isn’t that destination we are aiming for what the journey is all about? Well not on my campervan trips; for me the journey is the main event. I might have a destination in mind but arriving there isn’t vital if something better turns up on the way and I don’t want the journey to end. For me, a trip is a whole event and is about more than getting somewhere and I concentrate on enjoying every moment, discovering all sorts of thing on the way.

We can never turn back time and change the journey we have made up to now but we can choose the direction we are heading in, the speed we travel at and where we linger on the way. Henry Miller’s quote tells us that by having one place as a destination we could be missing the bigger picture.

In life our target place might be financial independence, a bigger house, a new campervan or a happy-ever-after wedding. They might seem it at the time, but these things are never the end of a journey, they are just lay-bys off the road. Your journey will continue through retirement or marriage or the reality of paying for a bigger house.

Ever since I was young and found the travel section in our local library I have wanted to be a traveller. Even then, as a young teenager, I was drawn to those travel writers who didn’t necessarily have a fixed destination but wandered, and reflected on how the journey had changed them. As a teenager I felt that the small village I lived in was suffocating me and knew it wouldn’t be big enough to contain me. I wanted something that was beyond what I knew and I was sure that there were places where I would find new ways of seeing and being.

My early travelling

I was so excited about my first trip abroad to Austria on a school skiing trip. Safely dipping my toe in a foreign country by travelling with friends and trusted teachers taught me a number of things that have been important in future journeys. I learnt patience as we waited out rail strikes at stations and missed train connections across Europe. I discovered real coffee and delicious Austrian white wine and I gained confidence after managing to use my school-learnt German to buy a roll of film for my camera and coffee and cake in a cafe. I also learnt that being homesick, even over 24-hours away from home at the age of 13-years, was never going to be part of my vocabulary.

Confidence vs anxiety

There is nothing like having a problem in a foreign country and having to communicate with people whose language you hardly speak beyond the usual please and thank you to give you anxiety. Up to now every time we have had to deal with a problem in another country it has related to our campervan. Less urgent things have included buying new tyres and the most extreme incident was the accident in Greece. In every case I have lost sleep worrying about how it will work out and each time we have survived these incidents. I come away both stronger, I know we can deal with anything together, and conversely more fearful, as the list of things that I know can go wrong just grows and grows!

Learning tolerance

Even on the best campsite you are in close proximity to your fellow human beings and you quickly learn to live with your neighbours foibles or risk being frustrated and unhappy. We have had next-door campers who have been noisy [and then I will exercise my assertive skills when I ask them nicely to be quiet] and others who have invaded our small pitch with their stuff. I have met barking dogs and people who are shockingly judgemental. I am generally happiest on empty campsites with no one around but I have learnt to love [or at least tolerate] the breadth of human life and want us all to rub along as best we can.

A New Way of Seeing Things

Travelling to new places exercises our wonderment muscle. Away from home the flowers and trees are different, the weather is new, the houses are unfamiliar, the things in the shops are excitingly different. And so everything takes longer. I will linger over the shopping [something I rarely do at home] and stop to study and photograph flowers and insects. I am curious about the local history and stand in awe at new sights. Coming home, after all that exercise, my wonderment muscle will keep on working and I see all those familiar things as if for the first time.

I am happy that for the moment my journeys continue and my perspective on life keeps shifting.

‘One’s Destination is Never a Place, but always a New Way of Seeing Things,’ is a quote from Henry Miller.