Reblogged from chrisandsuzegowalkies.co.uk with kind permission of Chris and Suze. They’re a British couple from Kent who quit their 9-5 lifestyle in order to housesit and travel full time! Chris works as a freelance web developer and photographer, while Suze makes handsewn home decor items for her Etsy shop online. They became a couple in 2011 and have enjoyed many years of adventuring together ever since. They took Homer, a Roamer campervan rental to the Lake District in September 2020.
Amongst the many van lifers, van converters and van enthusiasts we follow on Instagram, Homer stood out, and not just because of his bright yellow paint-job. The DIY conversion, solid oak cupboards, smart sofa/bed and high top for extra head-height ticked a lot of our dream-van boxes. So we were delighted to discover, on a van life IG scroll-fest in early August, that Homer is now available to hire! After a very brief discussion (Chris trying to sell me on the idea of hiring Homer, while I was already entering bank card details) we booked our trip and began to make plans for one of our most exciting adventures yet!
After what felt like an eternity waiting for October to roll around, we excitedly picked up Homer in Leeds and hit the road to roam the Lake District and Scotland. Initially Chris had been worried about adjusting to driving a bigger vehicle, as the VW Transporter was at least twice the size of our little Ford Fiesta and towered over us. However, around ten minutes into our road trip, he found it wasn’t much different to driving a regular car – except we’d occasionally hear cutlery rattling around in a kitchen drawer, and during that first drive a bunch of insurance papers came swooping out of one of the top cupboards that we’d failed to batten down properly!
We booked into a campsite for our first two nights in Homer to allow ourselves time to get used to living in the space. Waterside House Campsite in the Lake District is situated right on Derwentwater and has stunning views across the lake, where you can also hire canoes and paddle boards, and made for a peaceful couple of days of getting our bearings in the van. We had use of the squeaky-clean facilities just a short walk away, and chose a pitch right on the lakeside for the perfect view over the water, and of the rolling hills all around. Cooking our first dinner in Homer while admiring the dusky orange sunset reflected in the rippling lake made for a beautiful first evening of van life.
We loved that the kitchen hob could slide out from the side of the counter so, when you have the door open on a warm evening, you can cook outside and admire the view! One thing to mention about living in a van is that you need to plan your meals well. You’ll have a smaller fridge, and while there were plenty of cupboards that’s not to say you can fill them with hundreds of spices and condiments that you rarely use. Homer had a magnetic spice rack above the hob which came in handy, and we fitted about five days worth of meals in the fridge, but it’s just another thing to think about. Without an oven, we planned hob meals only and tried to incorporate as many dry, easily stored ingredients as possible. All things considered, we still ate a lot of our normal meals and it didn’t taste like camping food!
Upon packing our belongings into Homer, our fears were quickly quashed as we realised that not only did we manage to store everything away neatly, but we even had empty cupboards leftover. The storage solutions in Homer were well thought out and included a variety of shapes and sizes for different possessions – we stored small tech and books in drawers, bedding in top corner cupboards, and dry food in the cupboard above the hob. Even with blankets, padded fleeces and camera tripods, everything found its place in the 60ish-square-foot van.
When night time rolled around, we made up our comfortable and surprisingly sizeable bed with ease by sliding the frame out from under the bench, with only some light re-arranging of cushions required. Although we had ample solar-power from Homer’s roof panels, we hung our own solar-powered lanterns from ceiling fixtures. We bought two pretty powerful solar lights for our recent camping trip in Cornwall, and while we didn’t necessarily have to use them, they were good to have as a back-up. We charged our phones and iPad using the USB sockets in the rear of the van which meant we could spend our evenings tucked up under our blanket watching films. Bathing in the gorgeous orange glow from Homer’s strategically placed fairy lights transformed the van into a snuggly autumnal nest, while the Diesel heater kept us toasty with a warmth that quickly filled the whole space.
Leaving the campsite, we headed to Keswick – a place we know well since we completed our first ever housesit not far from the town, and were keen to revisit. We found a spot for Homer at the spacious Lakeside car park on the edge of town, even on the busy Saturday market day. We made our way through the drizzling rain and crowds of market-goers to revisit our favourite cafe in Keswick, Kat’s Kitchen, a veggie/vegan heaven where we enjoyed a full vegan brekkie. We perused a few of the outdoorsy shops before a brisk walk back to Homer under a darkening sky. Our living room on wheels was a welcome relief from the rain when it began hammering on the roof, steam fogging up the windows as we enjoyed a quick cup of tea before hitting the road once more. Being able to make a hot cuppa is definitely one of our favourite perks of travelling with your home!
After spending the drizzly day parked up lakeside at Ullswater, we headed south for about 20 minutes to Kirkstone Pass – the highest Pass traversed by road in the entirety of the Lake District. With a gradient of almost 25% in certain spots, we were a little nervous about Homer, a 3.5 tonne van built in 2011, making it to the top! While we did crawl up the Pass in places, we made it to the top and to the car park of the Kirkstone Pass Inn (the highest pub in the Lake District, and third highest in England). Now that we were a few days into van living, we decided that if we are ever to travel full time in a van, it would be beneficial to travel with chocks. The small but heavy duty wedges make it easy to level out your vehicle for a good night’s sleep. As it was, we had to take a bit more care making sure Homer was level with the help of a spirit level compass, or at least that our heads would be above our feet. Nevertheless we found our near-level spot for the night, safely nestled between other campers and motorhomes. After a quick drink at the Inn, we settled in to sleep – Homer rocking from side to side slightly as strong winds howled through the Pass.
An early start the next morning rewarded us with a beautiful sunrise and stunning views over Kirkstone Pass in both directions. Ahead of us lay a road named The Struggle (infamous in the cycling community for its dips and harsh climbs) but unsurprisingly we didn’t feel daring enough to test Homer on the winding track! The serenity of the morning was punctured only by gently bleating sheep perched precariously around us on the hillside. Over our week, we found this became another favourite part of van life – choosing a new park up spot in the evening and come morning, being surprised with tranquility and picture-perfect landscape views all around.
Having National Trust membership meant we could park up for free in any of their locations and spend the afternoon relaxing, or exploring if we felt like it. It was a real bonus having our membership while in the Lake District, with gorgeous places like Aira Force or Fell Foot to get out in nature. Keen for some true peace and quiet away from crowds, we headed for Scotland where wild camping is legal and we were sure we could find some more secluded places to stay. Driving along the M6, cutlery drawer rattling, Chris & Rosie Ramsey podcast playing, we enjoyed our easy drive at a slower pace and not just because of the slower speed limits placed on a van the size of Homer. After just a few days we’d settled into van life and felt super comfortable being on the road.
Once we arrived in Scotland we instantly felt more at ease being in the peaceful wild nature, and decided to spend the majority of our trip driving from one secluded Scottish park up spot to another. The Forestry Commission in Scotland are currently trialling a ‘Stay the Night’ campaign in which self contained vehicles – campervans and motorhomes – are permitted to park overnight at a selection of their forest car parks. You are only allowed to stay for one night at a time in each place, and must arrive after 6pm and depart before 10am the following morning unless you purchase a day ticket for the forest. The only other rule is leaving at least four metres between your vehicle and your neighbour to follow social-distancing, though we found at each spot we Stayed the Night we were one of a small handful of campers. Staying the Night in these spots felt like a good middle ground between campsites and wild camping – we definitely felt there was safety in numbers and, for our first van life adventure, we felt more comfortable in the knowledge that we were parking somewhere legally!
Finding a new beautiful forest location to Stay the Night became a fun part of our trip, and the Forestry Commission spots are all stunning in their own way. We enjoyed Clatteringshaws for its dead silent location with a stunning view over the Loch, Kirroughtree we arrived at quite late, but it had a well maintained, hard ground car park which was perfect as rain hammered down all night, and we didn’t have to worry about the quality of the ground when we left the next morning. Stanes Dalbeattie was our final Forestry Commission stop, a popular place for mountain bikers with its many winding trails. Though the highlight for us was discovering it was also well-known amongst dog walkers as we awoke to lots of happy four-legged friends padding around outside the van.
Of course we carved out some time in our trip to see some furry friends! Witnessing the regal herd at the Red Deer Range at Castle Douglas was breathtaking as we listened to stags bellowing across the hills. While a sudden downpour of rain had other visitors rushing back to their cars, we got in the back of the van and watched the deer from our back windows in the comfort of our living room / bedroom and waited for the rain to pass.
Glen of the Bar. This small lay-by in the middle of the forest on the A712 became the spot where we spent an entire day parked up, all van doors open, sunshine streaming in, while we played games, talked and enjoyed being together in our little home on wheels. Van life makes you slow down and simply appreciate where you are. You begin to take note of little things in your surroundings; like changes in the weather when the first tinkling rain sounds hit the roof of the van, or the time of night by hooting of owls somewhere in the forest around you.
Our first taste of van life was everything we hoped it’d be and more. For people that aren’t aware of tiny living, telling someone you’ve slept in a van for a week might sound super unappealing. While sleeping in a vehicle definitely takes some getting used to, and I’m not sure we’d 100% adjusted by the end of our trip, the best part of van living for us is having all your home comforts with you in the back of the van, and spending our days just hanging out in our tiny space and being together. We had everything we needed for a comfortable trip – plenty of water for washing up, as well as two huge tanks for filtered drinking water of which we only used one during our week-long trip. It’s surprising how little you need to live happily, and while we definitely enjoyed the extra head-height of a high top van, the physical size of the van was just right for us. We loved living in Homer and are already planning ahead for another van life adventure!!