Houseless, not homeless… van life after lockdown

I moved to Newcastle when I was 18. Bright-eyed, wielding a cheap guitar (a battered Les Paul copy) and dragging a huge Laney valve amp from the ‘70s. I came to study Zoology and it was great. I loved the city and soon came to call it home. Spital Tongues and Kenton briefly, but mostly the Cradlewell end of Jesmond. So many great memories. And though we’ve been on the road full-time since April 2019 – when we rented our house out and set off on our van life adventure – we always had a sense of ‘at home in Newcastle’.

Well! Today, 29 years after I arrived in the Toon, that’s all about to change – we’ve sold the house! So now we’re ‘houseless, not homeless’ – as the van life saying goes. We’re starting a new chapter – very exciting and a tiny bit strange. In the current circumstances, the shifting sands of Brexit and COVID-19, u-turns and uncertainty – it seems sensible to continue with our “the plan is there is no plan” approach.

Our take on van life

‘Van Life’ can mean different things to different people – it depends on your circumstances and how you want to live. There’s a lot to explore between the extremes of Nomadland (seasonal labour and shitting in a bucket) and the luxury apartments on wheels (Morello Palace anyone?) I guess we’re somewhere in the middle. I went into more detail about how we live and typical costs in an earlier blog. We have a toilet and a shower, but manage to get by without the wine cellar, his and hers walk-in wardrobes and a runabout car 😉

We set out to take a break from work, enjoying time together and with our dogs, especially precious time with our old boy Marra. Enjoying seeing new places, making the most of our pre- Brexit freedoms. We were enjoying living more simply – we’d dumped a house-load of stuff in storage and didn’t miss any of it. We were enjoying travelling light, meeting friends old and new, eating and drinking well and experiencing wild places and nature. I was enjoying making music, finding gigs and playing my songs in cool places.

Lockdown slowed us down for a bit but if anything, it just made us more determined to carry on, to see more. But it also brought about a step-change in employer’s attitudes to remote working and huge leaps in IT capabilities – opening up new opportunities for Digital Nomads. Given the decimation of the live music scene, I’d found a great data project to work on, which gave us some stability to continue our adventures. We’d made the most of our winter lockdown – 20 days of snow and cross-country skiing in the hills above Durham! – but we were so happy to get back on the road again when restrictions eased in April.

After Lockdown

We headed back to Devon and Cofton for a few weeks. Loads of great walks nearby, and swimming twice a week at the pool. The shower block was still closed but that was no problem for us.

We visited Exeter and found a little Portuguese spot for coffee and fell in love with it – the Cork and Tile on Gandy Street. Pastel de Nata’s and cappuccinos for 2nd breakfasts, back for lunch of Portuguese style tapas.

Our next base, after some socially distanced visits on the way up the country, was Loch Ken in Dumfries and Galloway – paddleboarding and watching the red kites. Great campsite and loads to see nearby – the gardens at Arbigland House, Kippford, great meal at the Clachan Inn.

Then, something new for us! Bev had signed up to HelpX (blog coming soon) and arranged a fortnight on a croft on the Isle of Mull. She was in her element working a few hours each day on the smallholding. Planting out, weeding, feeding the ducklings and chickens, and laughing at the 13 new piglets. We stayed with Celia and Phil and their children and it was a fantastic experience. It was a great chance to see first-hand the joys and challenges of running a croft or smallholding – which is still very much what Bev wants to do. We toured the island and called at Tobermory, but our favourite place was the wild camping site at Lochbuie. The wildlife on Mull was fantastic: otters, common and grey seals, red deer, curlews, eagles, dolphins and more – highly recommended.

Another HelpX at Comrie Croft in Perthshire. A bigger operation – camping and katas, mountain bike trails, a wedding venue, co-working space, café and farm shop. Bev turning her hand to all kinds of work. Planting, weeding, and – with her craft and sewing skills – making mattress covers for the huge beds in the katas.  Lovely part of the world, on the edge of the Highlands, with some fantastic walks.

What’s next?

We’ll soon be double vaccinated and are trying to put everything in place to head off to Europe. Keeping an eye of course on each country’s Covid-19 rules and restrictions. After Brexit, we can stay only 90 days out of 180 in Schengen countries. Our whippet Boo can stay up to four months with her Animal Health Certificate. So, we’re exploring non-Schengen options to maximise that.

Our van life is a chance to enjoy doing what we love – sometimes it’s hard to think of staying in one place! But now we’ve sold the house, we can start to think about where we might settle and start on Bev’s dream of having a smallholding. Till then, we’re ‘free range’ 🙂 #homeiswhereyouparkit

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