Alen and Anne McFadzean live in Barton, North Yorkshire. They’ve just bought an old Volkswagen T4 and plan to drive off to a new life in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in Andalucia, Spain. Alen’s passion is climbing mountains and writing about them in his blog, Because They’re There. Anne intends to soak up the sun and do charity work.
Happy Campers’ is a series of posts featuring camper vans and their owners. It’s designed to offer advice and inspiration to new and existing camper van owners – featuring members of the WildaboutScotland community. To take part, please send an e-mail to me answering the standard question format below together with a good photo or two.
1. Introducing myself and my camper van
I’m a journalist and Anne’s a local government officer. We’ve just bought a beaten-up, left-hand drive, 1991 VW T4 van conversion because we needed a vehicle to get us, two cats and some belongings to Spain to start a new life. We were looking for a left-hand-drive van but saw this camper on Ebay and drove down to Witney, near Oxford, to inspect it. We bought it there and then, left our car in part-exchange, and drove it home the same day. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.
I’m a tent man by nature and tradition and have always viewed camper vans with hostility. But VWs, unlike those massive luxury vehicles that clutter the roads, do have a certain appeal and cult status. Plus, we need our T4 for a purpose, and once settled in Spain it will serve as a vehicle for exploring our new country.
2. How do I use my camper van ?
I’ve just been made redundant, so at the moment it’s just being used for the occasional overnight trip and as a means for getting me to mountains. I have a blog called Because They’re There, which deals with fell-walking and hiking, and finding new material and keeping it updated requires a fair amount of driving around. The van’s ideal for this because it means I can pull over for a cup of tea whenever I feel the urge, and stash all my gear in the roof space above the front seats.
3. Best thing I love about my van?
My favourite thing is the driving. Even traveling along familiar roads is a new experience because the van is so much higher than a car and I get to look over hedges I’ve never looked over before. This can be a bit of a distraction and Anne’s always shouting at me. But there’s a whole new world out there that’s been superimposed on the one I already know.
The van, which hasn’t got a name yet, and despite having the steering wheel on the wrong side, is a dream to drive. I was impressed immediately, before we’d even got off the garage forecourt on the test drive in Witney. It rattles a bit, but what the hell. The seats are comfortable and the CD player works. What else do you need?
4. Pet gripes ?
The water container is too small. Camping on a site, this doesn’t matter too much, but when wild camping you have to be careful or it soon runs dry. Other than that, my only complaint is the driver’s seat – which despite being comfortable squeaks like hell. Even on a flat road, if I move position slightly the seat squeaks. I’ve had the seat off its stand and tightened all the bolts – two of which were missing – but this has made no difference whatsoever. So I just turn up the volume on the CD player and live with the consequences. Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra or some Led Zeppelin does the job.
5. Favourite accessories ?
The bed. It’s a plywood base that folds down and has foam mattress sections fastened on with Velcro. It’s really comfortable. Previously, the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on was a plywood bed in a narrowboat, and the van’s bed comes a very close second. There’s a business opportunity here for someone who wants to revolutionise the way we sleep.
I also like the Fiamma awning, but one of the legs is badly damaged and needs replacing. We have a flag of Andalucia which we stick on the awning when we’re in residence. Nearly everyone who passes – walkers, cyclists, and even motorists – stops to ask which country it represents.
Familiarise yourself with websites that deal in VW parts and forums that focus on VW issues. There are thousands of VW anoraks out there – and they have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.
Also, dig out those old tools you thought you’d never need again because they’re going to come in useful: spark-plug spanner; oil filter gripper; socket set; tub for catching waste oil. All those jobs you used to do on cars that were gradually overtaken by technological advancements are waiting for you on your VW – especially if you buy an older model.
7. Best trip in my van ?
We’ve only had two short trips so far: a night on a site near Hornsea for a visit to Spurn Head, in East Yorkshire, and a wild-camp near Britain’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn, on the top of the Pennines. Both were enjoyable, but I think we preferred the wilderness and beauty of Tan Hill.
8. Dream trip ?
This will be our long haul to Orgiva, in southern Spain. I reckon it will take about four days of solid driving. We’ll be loaded up with our worldly goods, two cats, a guitar and a banjo. We’ll be like the Clampetts moving to Beverly Hills – only in colour and without Elly May.
I’m really looking forward to the journey. I’ve driven across France several times, but the vast bulk of Spain is an unknown country. Anne will be navigating. Hopefully, before then, she will have familiarised herself with the van’s left-hand-drive configuration and can take her turn behind the wheel.
9. Favourite campsite ?
We haven’t got one yet. But waking up in the dawn, with sunlight streaming horizontally across the Pennine peaks while sheep nudged the van, was pretty special.
10. When I’m not camping I’m …
. . . spending time cleaning up the van. It had some garish transfers stuck all over the paintwork, so I’ve replaced them with my own garish transfers from Hippy Motors (take a look at the website – it’s great).
I also spend a great deal of time working on my website. When you’ve been made redundant you have plenty of time to do the things that really matter.
The van’s a bit battered and rusty in places. When we get settled in Spain I intend to attack the bodywork and knock it into shape. There are quite a few scratches and dents that need sorting – one particularly nasty dent in the rear door. Because of the drier climate, vehicles don’t rust so much in Spain so I’m hoping I can stop the rot, and our tatty T4 will rattle on for many years to come.
You can read more of Alen’s exploits in his blog, Because They’re There. And very best wishes to Alen and Anne for their big move to Spain !