Hi Ho Sylvie!

by Sheila A. Grant

Hurrah! 2nd October 2021 and time to collect Sylvie, my new campervan. By tonight she will be sitting in my driveway while I study maps and guide books looking for routes that do not include the Loch Lomond side – too scary! I remember driving in the car, behind a campervan, when the wing mirrors collided with a van coming the other way. There was a shower of glass but nowhere to stop.

I was nearing 30 when I learned to drive and since then have enjoyed driving a series of family sized cars. When my husband died, I sold his Range Rover believing it too big for me. Now, here I am collecting a vehicle measuring 6 metres by 2. At 80 years old, nobody questions my driving experience or capability.

You pays your money and you takes your chance!

The salesman rattled off the instructions while I sat in Sylvie, hardly a word of it penetrating my brain. It sounded scarily technical. Water in, water out, gas on and off, cables with ends labelled male or female – everything but how to drive! Any questions? I shook my head, hoping that Douglas (my trusty advisor) had absorbed it all. Keys handed over, a handshake, and that was that! I owned my dream campervan!
After a few circuits around the forecourt to familiarise myself, it was time to hit the road. Douglas was my wingman for this maiden voyage. Both weather and traffic were favourable and I began to relax, enjoying sitting high and proud. After dropping Douglas off, I drove on through Glasgow, eventually daring to make a lane change and succeeding. Yippee! My knuckles were white and I missed having an inside rear mirror, but I concentrated on familiarising myself with the wing mirrors. Then it was down the M77 for my nightmare challenge – the reverse into my driveway.

A cul de sac is an arena where a circle of people witness events taking place in the centre. I felt like someone thrown to the lions, hoping my neighbours would not be at the windows. Slowly does it, forward, back, forward, back, until I made it – scratch free. This time!

Packing in the requirements for holidays I soon realised that despite cutting down on the extras like microwave, coffee maker, sandwich toaster and luxuries, the cupboards were still rather full. Kettle, toaster, two pans, one casserole, binoculars, a bottle (or few) of wine, M&S meals, food, maps, books, radio, and supplies for Cleo all took up a lot of space.

Cleo lay in the hall, chin on her front paws, watching me balefully. Ready for the off, I lifted her (no way did she go willingly) and hooked her lead to the rear of the passenger seat. Her tail was so far beneath her tummy the tip surfaced at her nose.

Engine on and we headed down the road to a symphony of rattling and banging, increasing Cleo’s fear. I drew into a lay-by and packed towels etc around the metal items to muffle the noise. I understand knickers are ideal!

Culzean Castle Campsite site was to be my training class, with Margaret and Douglas visiting to teach me the ropes. Turning confidently into the site, I reversed back as quickly as I could. I had chosen the exit gate! Only then did I learn that guests (i.e. Margaret and Douglas) were not permitted due to the Covid restrictions in place.

Lining up at my pitch (under the impression I was in a perfect straight line), I commenced the reversal between two caravans, watched by neighbours relaxing in deck chairs, reading and enjoying the peace. Not for much longer! I nosed forward, began to reverse, only to stop suddenly when a man arrived at my window waving his arms and shouting rather loudly. I was close to relieving him of his awning! I moved forward to try again, with my now calmer neighbour directing me in safely. Stage one complete.

Time to set up the toilet. Jerry can of water, sanitiser additive, handbook and key. Simple. The access panel refused to open. My new friend, obviously keeping an eye on me, was swiftly at my side, key in, a button pressed, and the panel opened with ease. He then very slowly and precisely talked me through the whole procedure before watching me do it on my own (once a teacher always a teacher). He was kind, but I felt it was time to distance myself from the area.

We took the path to the castle and enjoyed a long walk through the extensive grounds with access to both woods and beach. I decided it would be a good idea to eat in the restaurant, just in case I was unable to operate Sylvie’s oven.

Returning to the site, we watched the sun drop down behind Ailsa Craig. The settees converted into a comfortable bed and Cleo was allocated a corner with her own bedding. By morning she was tucked in to my back, which was actually quite pleasant.

The learning was brief that weekend, but despite the hiccups I did enjoy my trip and could now tick off toilet skills! Onwards and upwards.

Marine Drive Site near Edinburgh was my next tutoring appointment. An easy route circling the city then a short drive down to the site. On the final stretch I had the road to myself, unaware that the road was actually closed to traffic. I didn’t see the sign!

My first lesson was to ditch the jerry can and use a hose to fill the water tank so I had to meet Douglas at the tap. With Sylvie in gear, I moved forward. Once again, shouts halted me. I was still attached to power! My new cable was ruined, despite efforts from a surrounding team of campers. There were none available in nearby shops (I told myself it must be a common error) but a lonely old guy who wandered along looking for someone for a blether, offered to sell me his spare one for half the price of a new. I accepted, gratefully adding a bowl of my home made cullen skink to the deal. He dropped by frequently over the next few days. I think it was only soup he was after…

With traffic-free walks along the Forth and views of all the bridges, it was a great site. We lunched at the quaint Teuchters Landing, where meals are served in huge mugs. Too full for dinner we relaxed with biscuits and cheese and a glass or two of wine. Having mastered the toilet and the water and succeeded in putting up the canopy, we deserved some relaxation.

Next day, we enjoyed a woodland walk through Dalmeny Estate. It follows the Forth inland with a fine view of an enormous oil tanker installing a new fuel line.

Lunch was at Queensferry where, with Cleo, we sat outside wrapped up against the cool breeze and watched wild swimmers, their clothes in a sort of balloon floating behind them. We listened to the trains thundering back and forth across the original Forth Bridge. By now, we were all in holiday mood.

A learning curve? Definitely.

Confident? No! But more relaxed and keen to keep going.

And next time…?