Adventure In A Family Van or How We Got Our Summer Scars
Updated: Mar 2
The Mission: Seven week summer road trip around Britain's wild spots, exploring North to South, West to East in a giant St George's Cross.
The Actors: Me and three children, aged 12 years, 10 years and 5 years.
The Vehicle: aka, The Puffin Express, was a rented Fiat Select Autocruise 184 Motorhome, kitted out with two 'double' beds, a kitchen, TV, DVD, shower and toilet, heating, GPS and an added bike rack.
Digital-free zone: Kids had no access to smart phones. Instead, we gave them each a basic Sony camera, a Swiss Army knife, three fiction books, a coloring book, a journal, gel pens and unlimited access to downloaded music on my iPhone. We believed this to be generous. They never complained about being bored. They bought into the whole adventure. When my oldest's Swiss Army knife was confiscated at the airport (it was in her hand luggage), her tears were fierce as she wanted to carve wood sculptures. What a sweetheart. I gave her my knife.
Navigation: We used my iPhone to access Google Maps. 'My Places' and 'Saved' pins showed my saved destinations. This made driving easy, as I didn't have to stop and research where we were going. My map of the UK was covered in multicolored pins - green for 'want to go', blue for 'accommodation', 'food', 'castles and great houses', 'transport', and yellow for 'starred places'. Cell phone coverage in the rural areas is still terrible, so we often cross-referenced Google Maps with old fashioned paper maps bought at gas stations. My girls loved learning how to read a map. Proud parent.
Gear: We packed for all weather, especially rain. I stuffed in a few party outfits - you can never tell. We also brought tennis racquets and balls, a fishing net, flashlights, Smidge repellent, rope, a magnifying glass, a cotton picnic blanket and one sleeping bag but no tent as we didn't have enough room. Our van was stuffed to the gills. We could not sit down without moving stuff. Even our shower was turned into a cupboard. Anyone want to invent a collapsible suitcase?
First day: July 3, 2017
We flew from Avignon, France to Edinburgh, UK with only four suitcases to pick up our rented van. The van drop-off was at a hotel car park near the airport. We had to lug our suitcases over a four-lane highway with no pedestrian crossing.
The driver was over an hour late. He hurriedly showed us how the van worked. I had spent hours on websites selecting the nicest looking van, and was repeatedly assured via email our van was brand new. Of course, soon as we saw it, I realized we'd forked out thousands for a fancy tin can.
Everything inside was cheaply made. Just touching the curtains made the rod fall off. Our bed frame was too short, even for me. I complained to the rental company. They offered to exchange it with a smaller, older van in a few days. Er, no thanks.
An hour later, creaking at the seams, we drove through outer Edinburgh in search of supplies. As I turned right into a small side street I heard a loud grating and a vicious crack. The kids were shrieking in the back, "STOP! STOP!"
The van had scraped along an industrial trash bin. The wing mirror was torn clean off!
Luckily, Kwik Fit was around the corner. Here's Andy jerry-rigging the wing mirror back on with a few plastic tags. Of course, I now had a huge blind spot and the wing mirror wobbled at medium speed, but I was proud of my first ever accident.
Only seven weeks to go.
Check in soon for the next installment. Meanwhile, follow me on Twitter @evstarkey