Going to Scotland is becoming an annual thing for us. While October is not particularly cold in England, it’s when the weather really changes in Scotland, so we didn’t really want to take a tent. After looking around for a while on the internet, I posted something on Facebook mentioning that I was looking at hiring a campervan. A friend saw this and put me in touch with her friend, who by chance had just bought one.
Now I’ve never driven anything other than a small car – I have a Polo at the moment, my previous car was a Micra – so you have an idea of what I’m used to. Driving a van was something I’d never done – then you throw into the equation the fact it’s from 1973 and therefore has no power steering and no ABS. This was going to be an interesting trip. Needless to say, when I finally saw Bertie (that’s his name, because every campervan needs a name) I loved him. A true retro van, with his bay window and little bug like headlights, blue body and pop up white roof, VW stamped shiny metal wheels. What’s not to love about that?
We agreed to make a film and take some photographs of Bertie for his website, as we were the first people to take him out and there weren’t even any pictures of him online yet. The people who owned him were planning on making him available to hire under the company Cheshire Classic Campers, so he needed a website and – by extension – good quality photographs and video of him in action.
Driving a different car takes some getting used to. Driving a campervan from 1973 is a world apart from modern vans and cars! A fully mechanical handbrake on the dashboard, an old gearbox and a giant steering wheel that is difficult to turn at slow speeds – needless to say it took us some time to get used to! The smiles on people’s faces when they saw Bertie – and the smiles on our own faces while driving him – were pretty infectious though.
We took Bertie around the Cairngorm National Park and Wester Ross in order to get the photographs and film we wanted. Going in October gave us some dull mornings, but it also gave us some beautiful colours in the landscape. A top speed of 55mph made things a bit more relaxed than had we taken a car and a tent, as we couldn’t race around everywhere. We also have a rule of no satnavs in Scotland, meaning we do the ‘old school’ thing of navigating using maps. Most of Scotland hasn’t changed too much so you can still do this with relative ease.
The main challenge with Bertie was keeping warm. As he’s so old, he has a lot of mechanical parts where today’s vans would be electronic and this means holes in the floor to physically connect things like the handbrake to the brakes. These little holes allow the cold in at night and even though you’re sleeping in thermals, you’re still freezing. It would often get to midday before we were warm enough to drive without wearing gloves and hats. In October. We got some strange looks! But we didn’t care what other people thought, this was something we hadn’t done before and we were happy doing it.
Filming and photographing him was relatively easy – we had some ideas about where and how to do this before even going to Scotland. I’d been inspired by the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and wanted to do something similar in terms of the composition, colour and editing. The difficulty was trekking gear partway up a slope with mushy ground underfoot and ferns attacking you. Or hanging out the side door and holding on for dear life – while Bertie was only travelling at 20mph, it felt a whole lot faster – because I was filming from behind the front wheel. Actually, getting the shots was probably the easy part. Turning Bertie around to get the shots wasn’t so easy – some of the roads were single tracks with shallow passing places that didn’t make it too easy to turn in. I almost had a van and a Land Rover run in the side of me during the same turning point. I also had a wheel off the ground another time as the layby in which I was turning around was so bumpy. It probably didn’t help that in the 1970s nobody saw the need to have reversing lights, so it wasn’t always obvious that we were reversing!
Driving Bertie was an experience we’d never had before and although we knew where we were going for most of the trip, it still felt like an adventure. When I got home my Dad instantly asked me ‘so, are you buying one?’. Well, we can’t afford a campervan at the moment, but if we could I’d probably say yes. Maybe not an old 1970s one like Bertie, maybe a modern VW Transporter type campervan would be better for us, simply because as our business grows a Transporter type campervan would be more useful. When working we could use it as a kit van to transport all our gear, when not working it’s a campervan with a good engine and modern brakes. So yes Dad, maybe in 5 years we’ll buy one! That being said, every once in a while it’s just good fun to drive an old retro van like Bertie.
You can watch An Adventure With Bertie here.