Hi folks! It’s been a while but …. we have some big news!
We’ve sold Holly, our lovely motorhome and bought an entirely different one. After years of looking at them longingly we have bought a Hymer A Class. Before you imagine that we have suddenly come into a massive amount of money I should tell you more. Our new van is actually older than our Autotrail. We have bought a 2004 Hymer B774. It wasn’t an easy decision. First of all we had spent a lot of money and effort on our old van and she was pretty much in tip top condition. We liked the layout (mostly), the comfortable driving position, the relative economy of its big 3 litre engine and the huge fridge. She was a familiar and well loved companion and on all our long tours she has rarely let us down. So why change?
Life is short … eat the dessert
Facing a life threatening illness and the shock of knowing that our adventures together could be cruelly curtailed has had a big impact on us. We are left with the powerful sense that we really must live now. None of us knows how long we have left but my encounter with cancer last year has completely changed our mindset. We are reminded that the present is really all that we have and we are going to use it to the full. We might also have lost all common sense but only time will tell if that is true. We’ve always loved older Hymers. We love the big windows and the feeling of light and space, the solid well made fittings and the comfort. We also like the fact that the one we have chosen means we no longer have to step over the toilet to get in the shower and that we can choose between the famous Hymer drop down bed above the cab or a pair of singles at the rear of the van. Finally and crucially for anyone who prefers to not be on campsites every night, this one has much bigger water and waste tanks than our last van. Autotrail Miamis are great vans but because the base vehicle is a Renault Master there is only room for 80 litres of fresh water and 40 litres of waste. The waste water tank fills up very quickly and after months on the road it became one of our biggest frustrations. Hymers are much better insulated than British coach built vans so travelling in cooler weather is more comfortable and there is less chance of freezing in the winter. Given that post Brexit we won’t be able to spend the entire winter in southern Europe, we have to be practical and accept that we’ll be touring in colder weather. So there I’ve listed all the good reasons but I have to admit that our final decision wasn’t the product of sensible thinking, it came straight from the heart. “Let’s do it!” we said, so we did.
I want to give a big thank you here to the lovely people at Cleveland Motorhomes in Darlington. We bought our first van from them in 2010 and we found them to be honest, helpful and reliable so we were thrilled to see that they had ‘our’ Hymer for sale on their website. Steve in sales has been wonderful, answering our messages honestly and quickly, agreeing to the extras we felt were needed and making sure that we were happy. Brent gave us a most entertaining and knowledgeable introduction to the van and another Steve, the workshop manager, chatted to me on the phone about a problem we’re having with the loo, called me Flower and gave me absolute confidence that they will be there if we need them. More on the loo incident later but for now it’s important to say that we can’t recommend them highly enough.
Help! My toilet cassette won’t fit!
We left Cleveland Motorhomes and motored north for about 30 miles before stopping at the Dun Cow Inn just off the A1 near Durham. It is one of the many pubs that allow motorhomes to stay overnight on their car park in exchange for spending some money in the pub. We were tired after a long day driving down to Darlington, getting our introduction to the van and then driving north in busy traffic, Shirley in the van and me in the car with Poppy and Boo in the boot. It was brave of Shirley for being the first driver – this is a huge beast and it takes some time to get used to the width as well as the more ponderous engine. Going up the gears takes a while so we’re undoubtedly going to cause people following us a bit of frustration – having said that we always pull into laybys when we’ve collected a line of cars behind us.
We got home and began the process of making Heidi the Hymer our own. First of all we cleaned the toilet cassette, returned it to the van and found that we couldn’t get it fully into place. I was soon on the Hymer Owners Group site asking for advice and got lots of suggestions. Sadly none of them worked. Eventually I phoned Steve the workshop manager at Cleveland Motorhomes and he said he would need to see it. After that we discovered a mysterious puddle in one of the lower lockers and then a damp doormat. At this point we began to wonder what we’d done. Filling the van with all the stuff stored in our spare room was a slow process, not least because all our lovely neighbours wanted a look round. We didn’t mind this at all, we have wonderful neighbours and they were genuinely pleased for us and made lots of all the right Wow! noises. We didn’t enlighten them that our bathroom was effectively unusable – it felt too hard to admit it when they were so upbeat about our new van.
We left the next morning for our trip to Pateley Bridge via Cleveland Motorhomes. Being without a working loo we decided to stay overnight at Barnard Castle CC caravan site in order to get to the dealers in good time in the morning. We often talk about ‘Blog Fodder’ when things don’t go to plan but we weren’t expecting it to happen 50 yards from the house. There is a narrow winding lane up to where we live and we turned a sharp corner to find the dustbin lorry lumbering towards us. Help! One of the men in the lorry jumped out and helped us to reverse – this is much harder in a long twin axle van but somehow we managed it. As we got on our way I mentioned to Shirley that I could hear the binmen’s walkie talkies coming through our reverse camera screen. She looked at me as though I was losing it and for a bit I imagined I was. Down the A68 we went with the sound of passing cars, bird song and the swish of wheels coming in through the screen. How weird! Eventually we could bear it no longer and pulled into a layby to try to shut the thing up. We managed that by shoving an audio cable into the audio socket and blissful peace returned.
Off we went again down the A68. We set the satnav and bowled along without a care in the world. More than a year has passed since we were last travelling to somewhere unfamiliar so we had conveniently forgotten that using a satnav when in a large vehicle isn’t always advisable. “Turn right here!” I called cheerily and we left the wide A road and set off into the wilds. We realised almost immediately that this satnav wasn’t the one set to our van dimensions as we rumbled along single track roads. We would have turned back but there was literally nowhere to turn. We had to plough on. This ‘short cut’ took us over the moors into the Pennines National park and through tiny villages, up terrifyingly steep hills and then down the other side all the while meeting crowds of merry picnickers and kids in swim suits, sheep, lambs and sundry vehicles in the middle of the road. It was Bank Holiday Monday and the sun was shining. Poor Shirley! She drove with her teeth gritted and barely audible whimpers. Arriving at the site in Barnard Castle we discovered a lovely peaceful haven with a massive toilet and shower block. Thank goodness for small mercies. By the way, if you are wondering, the site isn’t in the town of Barnard Castle, it’s a 2 mile walk away. We stayed on our pitch, only leaving it for trips to the toilet block and dog walks.
The next morning we drove to Cleveland Motorhomes feeling more than happy that our toilet woes would soon be over. Just as we approached we heard a squealing noise from one of the front wheels. Pulling into the forecourt I went off to find the workshop and Shirley (whose nerves were only partly recovered from the previous day) discovered smoke pouring from the front of the van. She hopped out, grabbed the dogs and I ran for help. They invited us to drive it up to the workshop but we declined, telling them that given the circumstances we were in fear of our lives. A brave young man jumped in and drove it up to the doors and out came Steve to investigate. “The toilet?” he asked “and the rest” I replied. First thing first the bonnet was open and the air cleared of smoke. Next he took out the cassette and shoved it back in. It fitted! We just weren’t pushing it hard enough! Embarrassed we went on to describe the water leak. “Where?” (a man of few words obviously. I opened the locker – it was as dry as a bone. Now feeling really silly I pointed him in the direction of the under seat locker and thankfully found a small puddle. A lot of head scratching but no solution to that puzzle he turned his attention to the burning smell. He was certain that this was caused by something sticking to the brake pads and offered to test drive it to make sure it was clear and safe. He came back smiling “It’s a great motor, I had it going at 70 and tested the brakes, it’s fine now” We puzzled about how he’d got it going at such a speed when we had found it rather lumbering but agreed to come back in a couple of days to have another look at the water problem and also have a dodgy indicator light looked at by an auto electrician. Somehow during lockdown we had forgotten the not so merry side of driving an older motorhome but we’re brave and not a little whacky so we got in ready to set off for Pateley Bridge to meet up with our friends Katherine and James. Not so easy! Steve the workshop man had pulled the handbrake on so hard we couldn’t get it off! Back I went, feeling silly, to ask for a strong man to come and release it. Brent, the cheery one who gave us the tour before we collected the van, dealt with the handbrake without any effort at all and went off laughing. We drove off blushing.
Sunshine, BBQs, wine and friendship worked its magic very quickly and we remembered, at last, why we love the motorhoming life.
We went to the cinema last week for the first time in several years. It was a strange experience as we booked and chose our seats online and immediately the website automatically blocked out all the seats around us. Stranger still was the experience of watching an entire film wearing a face mask. The film Nomadland had an obvious appeal to us, being an account of the life of the folk who live permanently in vans in the US. We know a number of full time motorhomers and for most of them the decision to not live in a house has been a lifestyle choice. The film explores the many different reasons people end up being van dwellers and we found it profoundly moving. If you haven’t seen it yet and you get the chance we recommend it. I was crying within the first ten minutes, but then again I’ve been known to cry reading children’s books so don’t be put off!
There were lots of good reminders and life lessons in the film as well as some seriously wonderful acting. One highlight for us was the realisation that some of the characters were real life van dwellers telling their own story, however the biggest impact on us was a reminder of how much we love the motorhoming lifestyle. For us it’s the ultimate in freedom and fun, liberally splattered with challenges and a few four letter words. We hope to be doing it for many years to come.