#VANLIFE – Entry 1.

So, I know I haven’t posted on here for a long while but so much life has happened since that I don’t even know where to start. Instead of going through all the intricacies of the past few months I will forward you to Laura and my YouTube account where you can watch Vlogs to explain all… LINK HERE.

Once you’re all up to date, you can get your reading glasses on to read all about our new life living in #NellieTheVan on the road throughout Europe. Here is Entry 1 to our new blog:

Van life Blog:

Vanlife here we go…

Entry 1
Sitting on Laura’s parent’s dinner table, eating a delicious meal for what could be the last time for a long while, I was trying my best to keep it together. Emotions running rampant; a mixture of excitement, nerves, apprehension and an overwhelming sense that once the evening was over, life would never be the same. The night before we left was always going to be one to remember, we kept looking at each other and saying, “I wonder what we’ll be doing this time next week…”. Well, one week on and here we are in South West France at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains with nothing but a week full of memories behind us and endless amounts of stories more in front of us.

Let’s start with the day after the night before we left shall we. Laura and I woke up in Nellie, our converted Mercedes Sprinter which up until now we’d been living in on Laura’s parents drive for the past 3 weeks. We’d been spending the time modifying and preparing Nellie for our big adventure; full time Vanlife on the roads of mainland Europe.

The morning started in the usual way they had been for the past few weeks; workout in the garage, yoga in the lounge and a nice warm shower in the house, with unlimited water – I might add. We threw our last few bits into the back of Nellie, said our emotional goodbyes to her family (not knowing when we’ll next see them) and hit the road.

First on our list of stops was our favourite coffee shop; Bohemia, in St Neots – about the only place we’d recommend visiting in the town we both grew up in. Then, after a swift food stock-up in Tesco and a quick run into B&Q for a hammer, we were on our way to the Eurotunnel.

In the classic fashion of how these things always go, it was once we were on the motorway that Nellie decided to get sensitive on us. A less than incriminating light shone on the dashboard with an accompanying ‘ding’ sound, written were the words “WARNING: OIL HIGH” in bright orange. A few days before, we’d had Nellie serviced so that she’d be tiptop for our excursion into the mainland, but it appeared that the garage had over filled her oil supply. We called Mercedes who were helpful and arranged to meet a mechanic at South Mimms services. Not exactly the exhilarating start to our new life that we’d planned.

Watch the Vlog on this happening…

Two hours of people watching and inventing stories about the poor unsuspecting customers of the Starbucks ‘drive-thru’ and finally our mechanic came to save the day. A 10-minute job was all it took before we were back on the road and the adventure was finally on.

The Eurotunnel was a painless experience which, the presences of face masks and being refreshingly quiet, didn’t seem any different to usual despite the current circumstances in the world. The feeling that we were doing the right thing wriggled around our bodies, this adventure is so much more than a trip away – it’s our new life – and the Eurotunnel represented passageway into this chapter – here we go!

Out the other side and we’d used our crossing time to prepare some of our dinner; less chopping for later. Due to Nellie’s over sensitive oil gauge, we’d lost a lot of our journey time so the park4night stop that we’d planned on heading to was simply too far. Whilst driving south west to avoid Paris, we found a nature spot that boasted a small car park in the forests above Rouen, perfect for hikes as well as being a quiet night’s rest.  

We rolled into our first ever ‘wild camp’ at around 9pm, hungry for dinner and ready for bed. The spot was pitch black so we were unsure of our surroundings, but it was clear we were in a rural wooded area from the sounds of animals that could be heard. Again, came that feeling; the feeling that can only be felt when you are truly following your heart. We cooked up a Tofu stir fry, got cosy in our new neighbourhood and crashed out into a dreamy sleep.

The morning brought us an incredible field of stars in the sky and a hike surrounded by green giants as the sun rose. The forest had artwork and sculptures scattered about the paths, one was called ‘the giant’s banquet’ – a huge table and chairs that we were able to climb on. We had an impromptu photoshoot; realising the reality of our new life – this is what we do now. Our quiet little car park set up had become the start of many morning runs and walks, Nellie had plenty of company and was surrounded by cars. A perfect time for yoga! Going into Vanlife, something Laura and I were not willing to compromise on is our daily yoga practice. Although Nellie isn’t big enough for a practice, we have gym flooring squares that we lay out on the ground as to make a dirt-free space for our mats. Hidden in the corner of the car park behind Nellie’s trusty backdoors, we had the first of our daily practices surrounded by the trees underneath the blue skies and the odd French family or solo runner.

After a delicious breakfast consisting of our usual oats, fruits and almond butter, as well as shooting our van tour vlog, we hit the road once again. As we were still quite far north the quest for the next few days was to get as far south as we could in order to find some heat. Day 2 underway, we found another park up in a tiny little hamlet just south of Le Mans, right on route for the South West which is where we are as I write this. It took us 4 hours before we arrived in the small village which boasted, as most small villages in France do, a lovely church surrounded by quaint little houses which you would presume are deserted if it wasn’t for the lights on inside. The park up was empty which meant Nellie had it all to herself again. Our second wild camp and we once again had no neighbours, very much our preference. The place had some incredible autumnal trees, so we used the golden sunset hour as an opportunity for a photoshoot and quick excursion around our new surroundings.

Day 3 started as every morning does in our new life; a hike to explore the areas we stay in. The autumn bringing darker mornings that mean the sun takes a bit more time to rise. As we walked around the farm tracks of the local area, our headtorches illuminated a sign which sported the skull and crossbones on it. I’m sure this sign was just a warning for something perfectly sensible like ‘dangerous mushrooms’ but in the darkness of the early morning, we were a little freaked out. Luckily, the sun rose, and we completed our morning with a workout, yoga and of course – oats. A bit more filming for the vlog and we hit the road once again. It had been crisp and cold all morning, but the temperature was slowly creeping its way up… South we headed!

Our next destination was a park up next to a lake, about 3 hours south. Our new life in Nellie is all about figuring things out and Day 3 saw no exceptions to this. Our water pump didn’t seem to be behaving quite how it had been, after two days of showers and washing up we figured our tank was probably empty, but this didn’t mean that we weren’t worried as to if we might have a more serious problem. The 3-hour journey swiftly became a series of detours to try and figure out where and how we fill up our water tank up. After an unsuccessful trip to a free campsite where we learned that we did not have the right hose attachment for the French water outlets. We found a tap in a town that yet again, we didn’t have the correct attachment – despite this, I held the hose as tightly as I could to the tap as we filled Nellie back up. A soaking wet shirt was a small price to pay to find out that we did in fact have an empty tank and that our water pump is in full working order.

The dramas of the journey were not quite over once we had arrived to our 3rd park up. The sun had gone down and the darkness of the lake shores, just north of Limoges, meant that we didn’t realise we’d parked under an acorn tree. With aid of the high wind, the tree released what felt like its entire acorn army on top of Nellie. We genuinely thought that we were being attacked by stones. Luckily the park up had a few more options for places to park because yet again, we had the place to ourselves.

Another day, another hike and this time we had a lake to walk around. The lake itself didn’t boast anything special, it felt a lot like Centre Parcs and being out of season (as well as in the midst of a global pandemic) seemed to have a lot of construction going on. It was raining but this didn’t put us off getting our mats out; I like to call it ‘wet mat’ yoga when its raining. 4 days in meant it was time for our first ever ‘admin’ day. Admin days are currently on Tuesdays and Fridays; these consist of food shopping, laundry, vlog uploads and any other bits and pieces that contribute to the functioning of Vanlife. A nearby supermarket offered the full works – laundrette, food shop and enough 4G to get our vlog up. The day felt nice and chill until I dropped a glass jar whilst trying to wash it up. After this blunder, the drive to our next stop included a roadblock which made for 6 hours of driving. Worth it though as our new stop came fit with a toilet and shower, free for use due to the village’s generous municipality. Also, we had finally made it far enough south to get rid of the blankets on our bed, store away the hot water bottle and say hello to 25 degree C temperatures.

Day 4 ended with a sweet potato and bean stew and a night’s sleep in our newfound heat.

Day 5 in the village of Pompejac; we hiked, hit a workout and flowed through a yoga practice and followed it all up with a warm shower with unlimited water! Vanlife is all about the little wins; the views, the open road, the kindness of strangers and the days you get to use a real toilet and shower.

Pompejac’s park up was located in a little green lawn which contained what I would call ‘sound trees’ – metal structures shaped like trees that make soothing sounds when blown by the breeze and hit by water droplets or debris. There was also a bohemian café with an avant-garde décor making Laura and I feel right at home.

Being that we’d made it as far south as we felt we had needed, we agreed that there was no need for anymore long drives from now on. With all the admin done the day before, this meant that we could spend the day doing what we love most – getting outdoors and into nature. We had another hike and enjoyed the heat from the sunshine, there’s something very satisfying about getting sun burn in October and definitely something we can get used to in this new life of ours.

Pompejac offered such an ideal set up and due to the long drives really taking it out of me, we stayed another night. Idyllic surroundings as well as real showers are not to be taken for granted. Hike and yoga in the bag, we made the most of the last of our homemade granola for breakfast that we’d been sent off with courtesy of Laura’s lovely mother (looking forward to receiving our care package soon!). Our next destination had a slightly intriguing review on park4night which told of a profound church on a hill where, if you’re lucky, the gatekeeper who goes by the name of Jean, gives you a private tour should you stumble upon him. Only an hour’s drive away, we took our time – slow movement is how we roll now we’re here in the south. We pulled up to Saint Christie d’Armagnac and went on a little walk to inspect the church. Now we weren’t seeking out a private tour, but it’s the type of thing that just happens to us, before we knew it Jean had appeared and asked us if we’d like to see inside. He was better than I could have imagined, a true Gascon Frenchman – short and full of character. He insisted on giving the tour by speaking French into his phone and letting an app do the translation to English despite Laura’s first language being French and her offering to translate for me. He also told us that he had to rush off after the tour as he is a knight and had a meeting, maybe with the roundtable but I’m not sure. Madness! We got cosy in Nellie and cooked up some food to round off the day, although we didn’t have to worry about getting too cosy as the southern heat means that UK winter temperatures are a thing of the past.

Hike, workout, yoga, breakfast – my favourite kind of morning. On our previous admin day, I’d manage to run into a hardware store and buy all the attachments imaginable for our hose, as well as a funnel, meaning that we are now fully equipped for any tap in order to fill up our water supply. Unfortunately, Jean’s little church hamlet didn’t have a shower, but it had a water supply and a very nice toilet. We filled up, emptied our dirty tank and hit the road after another morning of vlog editing and uploading. It was a Friday, meaning another admin day so we headed off to the supermarche in order to restock our fridge. Foreign supermarkets are awesome, they’re like going to the shop and a museum all at once. I love looking at all the different ingredients and various produce. Being plant based, Laura and I like our Tofu and Tempeh and it seems this is hard to come by in France, something we had expected. We also couldn’t find any vegan ice cream options, not that it’s a necessity but it is always nice to have some in supply. Laura was a bit more gutted than me but nothing to complain about when you’re living the free life in the sun of Southern France.

Park up number 6 and day number 8 and we found a spot around a large fishing lake that was ‘ideal for activities’ according to the park4night reviews. ‘Acitivities’ being what Laura and I are all about, we were also excited about the photos that showed a backdrop of the Pyrenees mountain range. We arrived in the evening due to our day of admin, but we managed to catch the last of the sunset and had a little walk though the view of the Pyrenees was consumed by clouds. This park up was our first near a busier road than any we’d had previously but thanks to France’s new curfew, after 9pm there isn’t a whole of people on the roads which made for a pleasant night’s sleep.

The next day brought in our first full week of Vanlife and our new chapter. We hiked around the lake and the as the sun rose up we saw our first glimpse of the Pyrenees mountain range, which had us feeling electric like nothing else. The sunrise was so perfectly pink against the snow-capped giants. As I’ve said before, the illumination gave me feeling that we were exactly where we’re supposed to be.

A global pandemic, the uncertainty of finance, doubts, fears and the unknown – these are just concepts that the ego tells us to worry about. It stops us from being our true selves and following our hearts. Laura and I are aware of all of these things, but we are too busy making our dreams reality to worry about them. As it says in the book ‘The Alchemist’, “follow your heart and the whole universe conspires to make sure you find your treasure”.

Week 1 of our new Vanlife is complete and I couldn’t be more amplified. I round this post up with an overview of our next steps, but to be honest we are making them up as we go – the beauty of this lifestyle. So you’ll have to keep up to date with the vlogs and this blog in order to find out what we do next!

Weekly posts incoming – every Tuesday.

Thanks for reading!
Benedict & Laura x

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