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'Vanniversary' celebrations as motorhome life in the Highlands and Moray sparks magical memories

By Nicky Marr

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A campervan opens up a world of opportunity to explore far and wide – or even just across the Highlands.
A campervan opens up a world of opportunity to explore far and wide – or even just across the Highlands.

While the world and their partners were getting loved up and soppy last weekend, Mr Marr and I had celebrations of our own to get busy with.

We didn’t ditch St Valentine completely – cards were, after all, exchanged – but far more exciting was that last weekend was our first ‘vanniversary’ – a whole year since we drove away for the first time in our very own motorhome.

Regular readers might be aware that we are ‘out and proud’ motorhome owners. We were inspired to take the plunge after a three-day trip round the Highlands in October 2018 in a van loaned to us for an article I was writing.

We were loving our trip – even in October with later sunrises and 6pm sundowners – we couldn’t believe how luxuriously long our days felt. There was time to talk and to walk, to explore and to cook, and, crucially, just to be together in silence.

We decided to add ‘Buy a Motorhome’ to our ‘Retirement To Do List’. Then we heard that a good friend had lost his life to cancer. Des never made it as far as retirement. Why wait?

It took us four months of research and financial jiggery-pokery before a second-hand van was ours. And what a year it has been.

I’ve kept a log book (you just knew I was that sort of person, right?) so it’s easy to remember where we’ve been and what we’ve done. And while Storm Dennis rained heavily on the roof of our van, parked for the night under the trees at Dalraddy in the Cairngorms National Park, we looked back at our year.

In September we revisited one of our happy places in France. My abiding memory of those holiday days is of walking and swimming on Breton beaches, cycling to markets and drinking wine under our awning as the sun went down. Also, of feeding chopped up windfall apples to laughing ducks on an orchard campsite in Normandy.

But other than our trip to France, we have barely left the Highlands and Moray – and why would we? People travel from all over the world to experience what is right here on our doorstep. Among our highlights was a single snatched night at Loch Achilty when we got the place to ourselves. We drank wine as the sun set over our campfire, and were swimming in the fresh, clear waters just after six the following morning.

From West Beach at Hopeman we have pottered along the coastline between Cullen and Burghead both by bike and on foot. And we also simply sat on the beach with coffee, watching the waves. With my mum I explored the fishing villages of Findochty, Crovie and Gardenstown. Hardly far from home, but I’d never had the excuse to visit before.

A July Saturday night in Fortrose was perfect. I was still sore from my accident in June, so the 20-minute journey was far enough. Falling asleep to the lap of the waves gave me the soundest night I had had in weeks. With binoculars, we could probably have seen our house.

Our 25th wedding anniversary was three lazy days at Sands near Gairloch, and Daughter No.2 and I had immense fun taking the scenic route home from Glasgow after decanting the contents of her student flat into the van. We overnighted in the Trossachs National Park and walked round Loch Ard before breakfast. If I’d collected her in the car, we’d probably have driven straight home.

Have I convinced you yet? If you think van life isn’t romantic, think again. Mr Marr spends his weeks working in Edinburgh, so I have taken to intercepting his train at Pitlochry or Aviemore. There is something immensely pleasurable about packing the fridge with good food and setting off to meet him at a station.

The weekend starts as soon as he’s in the van. And we’re hardly roughing it – there’s heating and hot water, a loo, a cooker, a fridge, and proper beds.

But the best bit about it? In the van, there are no distractions. We don’t sit glued to our phones; we don’t watch telly. We can’t do the ironing, catch up on emails, hoover or cut the grass. So, we talk, cook, walk, swim, laugh, cycle and read in companionable silence; we play cards, take naps and plan our next adventures; in short, we live in the moment.

There’s an explosion of people catching on to this way of weekend life, and I can absolutely see why. If you get the chance, try it. Just don’t forget to wave when we see you on the road!

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