I love camping. My happy place involves a tent, a glass of wine, my husband and some stars! Unfortunately since getting ill, I’ve had to do away with the first two! Nowadays, I have to be slightly more inventive.. I get my wine fix from sniffing Phil’s wine (!), and amazingly we’ve found a solution to satisfy my camping cravings. Goodbye tent.. hello campervan!
I’ve always loved nights under canvas. It started with sleepovers in the toy wigwam in the garden. Then family camping holidays to big activity sites in our enormous three-hours-to-put-up tent. As a teenager it became D of E walking expeditions carrying all of our kit. And later with Phil, quiet wild camps in our tiny walking tent exploring the countryside. I loved them all; summer wasn’t complete without a handful of trips and nights under canvas. Camping centres around two of my favourite things -spending quality time with the ones you love, and being surrounded by nature and the great outdoors. It gives you a break from modern life: there is no TV, internet or racing about to be done. I love the late night chats under the stars, the hours spent playing card games, wearing all of your clothes to keep warm, waking up to hear the birds chirping around you, sitting barefooted in the grass admiring the view, eating corned beef hash, drinking endless cups of tea and wine from a plastic mug, listening to the rain on the tent roof. Gees I don’t even mind the dreaded campsite toilets, it is all part of the adventure!
And then I got ill and camping no longer seemed practical. It was the cold that mainly worried me. Apparently as my heart is working harder to keep my blood oxygenated, it sometimes chooses to not pump blood to all of my extremities, meaning I struggle to keep warm. If I get cold then I can’t breathe properly. Everyday I wear extra layers of clothes – vests and tights and jumpers and body warmers. Electric heaters are strategically placed around our house and used almost daily, and bar the hottest months the electric blanket is my trusty friend overnight. I was scared that if we went camping then I’d get cold and not be able to breathe! I was also worried about not having somewhere comfortable and quiet to rest during the day. I spend the majority of my time lying on the sofa in a quiet house, where the sun is not going to overheat me, and the rain is not going to accidentally leak on me, and the wind is not going to batter the walls. Again if I can’t rest properly then I can’t breathe properly. I was scared to go camping with my illness, I was worried that it would make me ill and ruin my love for the activity. Camping and walking are my biggest misses; the things I dream about, the things that makes me saddest when I look back through old photographs.
So one day Phil just decided we should get a campervan. It would give us a chance to go camping of sorts again, but would allow us to control some of the aspects I was most worried about. We’d spent an amazing four months living out of a campervan in New Zealand in 2011, having the best time of our lives (read our blog here), so I didn’t need much persuasion. Unfortunately our list of requirements in a van has changed considerably since that time. My biggest demand now was somewhere to lie down easily whenever I needed, without having to pull a bed out or manoeuvre the chairs around. And it was also essential to have lots of extra space to store my mobility scooter and my oxygen. These needs could be met in a large motorhome, but this contravened Phil’s only want- a van small enough to drive down winding country lanes. So it took us a good year of looking and failing to find, before we concluded that what we wanted didn’t conventionally exist.. and we’d have to buy a van and convert it ourselves (read the blog here). So The Bumblebee van was purchased, pinterest boards were created, cardboard cut out models were made, conversion blogs and websites were browsed, and little by little the campervan started to take shape. Phil did it all himself 🙂 The bulkhead was removed, insulation was put in, cupboards were built from scratch, a gas cooker and electric pump sink were fitted, USB sockets were fitted, splashback and carpets were laid. To allow me to lie down in the day time, a large L shaped bed was made, which cleverly pulls out to make a double overnight. An abundance of storage space was created underneath the bed for my scooter and oxygen. There is still plenty more work to be done -currently we are using blankets pinned up as curtains, and the carpeted walls are only gaffa taped up- but it is finished enough to allow us to use her.
I was very nervous about our first overnight trip in the Bumblebee in June, however I needn’t have worried. With the combination of the insulated van, the sleeping bag and duvet, the gas heater and the layers of clothing.. the cold didn’t touch me- in fact I was too hot! The bed was the perfect size to lie down when I needed a rest, and closing the doors blocked out the noise and the elements allowing me to fully relax. We cooked dinner and ate it under the trees, we stayed up chatting under the stars, we went to sleep under the twinkling of our fairy lights in the van, and we drank our morning tea admiring the view. However Lottie refused to sleep in her dog bed on the van floor, and spent the night between us with her head on our pillows!
Since then we’ve been away on two further weekend trips; one to the Cotswolds with my brother, and one to Epping Forest with my best friends and their families. Both trips were brilliant. With my competitive brother, we spent our days playing an assortment of board games (and trying to stop them being blown away in the wind!). We went on lots of dog walks, ate far too much junk food and ice cream, had afternoon naps under the sun, and debated until late. We’d forgotten to put a blanket on one of the windows so Lottie woke us all up at 4am when she spied a burglar going past our window to the toilet! At one point, our neighbour overcooked his steak, sending plummets of smoke in our direction. I can no longer tolerate smoke from BBQs or firepits, so I retreated in to The Bumblebee and happily with the doors closed, the smoke could not reach me!
The weekend with my friends was wonderful. The weather was glorious, so we needed the giant gazebo for shade. We spent hours sitting on our camping chairs; chatting and catching up over beakers of tea and plastic glasses of wine. I had time to cuddle and play with the babies; my breathing was good enough to read a story to Agnes for the first time, and Nate loved joining me for rides on my scooter. We cooked a yummy three course meal between us, each couple providing a different dish- impressively Jim managed to make naan bread from scratch over a cobb fire! Normal daily tasks become fun when the comforts are stripped away; filling up a water container from a tap, washing up sitting on the grass, continually stirring the dinner so as not to burn it. The facilities were “rustic” and needed a very bumpy ride over the field in my scooter to get to them, but it was all part of the adventure.
Camping in the Bumblebee was everything I remembered camping to be. I realised I didn’t need the canvas shell of a tent, the campervan still allowed me to do everything that I was excited by. There are a few changes that have had to be made, that we miss. We can no longer camp in the middle of nowhere, our bright yellow van does not camouflage well to allow wild camp pull ups, and requires roads! And we have to ensure we are within mobile phone range in case of a call from Harefield. We can also no longer have BBQs or fire pits. But these are small misses, for the main the Bumblebee allows us to do everything we love about camping.
We have a few more weekends planned this summer which I’m really looking forward to. Then over the Winter, we’ll finish off the final bits of the conversion. We’ve caught the campervan bug again; our dream is to travel through Europe with her after my transplant. But we’ll definitely need to fit the curtains before then… so Lottie doesn’t spot any more toilet goers in the early hours!