Van life in the UK and farewell 2020!

Well, Merry Christmas folks and all the best for 2021! It’s been a year like no other, and perhaps not the best time for van life in the UK. Hoping for better things in the coming year – stay positive and look after each other. A blast of snow this morning in County Durham, enough to get the cross -country skis out, so we’re smiling 😊

Van lifer and cross country skier Bev outside her winterised Benimar Mileo 201 motorhome enjoying the snow

After our adventures in Sweden – and the rare joy of playing live music to a live audience – we’ve made the most of our time in the UK, keeping an eye on the changing tiers and restrictions and local lockdowns…

  • A few days in Helmsley, a lovely town, motorhome friendly overnight parking, great walks nearby.
  • Enjoyed walking in South Lakes, near Kendall.
  • Saw the aqueduct at Pontcysllte and Tintern Abbey, in Wales.
  • Visited Church Stretton – which has campervan friendly parking in the middle of town. We avoided Long Mynd, the famously narrow road over the tops. Bev bought some wool and knitting needles from the prolific crafter craft shop and it has certainly kept her busy. Orders for fancy socks, gloves and hats have been pouring in!
  • Through Cheddar Gorge, then a lovely meal and pub-stopover at The Candlelight Inn, Bishopswood, Somerset

With shorter days and cloudier weather, wanting to avoid worrying about solar power to charge the laptop while I’m working, we booked into a site in Devon for a few weeks. Although much bigger than the sites we normally visit, Cofton Holiday Park outside Dawlish turned out just fine. They have a pool and we swam twice a week. Loads of apple trees and sweet chestnuts for the scrumping! Great walks and an excellent pub nearby. Then on…

  • I liked Baskerville country – visiting Dartmoor for a suitably bleak walk on Haytor Rocks.
  • A coffee at Jamaica Inn and a misty walk around Fowey, home of Daphne du Maurier.
  • A long awaited visit to the Eden Project
Van lifers How and Bev Askew with covid masks in the palm house at the Eden Project

Then the news of another national lockdown came in. For the first time in 20 months of van life in a motorhome in the UK and Europe, the concept of a ‘home address’ became a problem. We’d booked back onto Cofton, now in a ‘tier 2’ area, but because our home address was ‘tier 3’, we couldn’t stay. A shame, as we’d not been in a tier 3 area for months, but hey ho. We hoofed it back up North to get locked down closer to home.

Compared to some full-time van dwellers, we played it fairly safe – for the full lockdowns we booked a long-term pitch on a site. I needed to be able to guarantee power and mobile signal. One upside of 2020 is the huge leap forward organisations have made in enabling remote working. With tools like Teams, Slido and Miro, it’s easier than ever to work productively and collaboratively from wherever you may be in the world. A big plus for Digital Nomads.

We’ve been very fortunate so far in terms of the virus – family and friends have stayed safe – but we had our own tragedy in September, when we lost Marra. He was a lovely boy, our first dog and very special to us. We miss him terribly.

our whippet Marra enjoying van life on the road in Europe

No gigs of course, but I managed to finish a new song. With classic Askew timing, I released a song about travelling and freedom the very day after the UK went back into national lockdown and travel was restricted!

Huge thanks for all the support for my music – for Travelling Girl and my album Brass Neck! earlier in the year. To those that bought CDs and downloads, to the Spotify streamers and followers, and for the radio plays – Cheers!

A shout out to a few DJs in particular that have helped to spread the word up and down the country – Gary Grainger, Jimmy Carlisle, Richard Dunning, Sion Ap Gwilym, Dennis Roberts, Dr Wart Hoover, Paul Winn, Harry Simpson, The Geordie Hour, Pablo Stewart, Mark Hughes, Richard Harris, Tim Eden, Ian McKenzie and Steve Taggart.

And to my fellow musicians: Richy and Phil (hopefully we’ll get to gig next year), Lyndon, Phil Moore, Gary, Gav and Dee (on Brass Neck!), and Jen Stephens and BJ Cole (on Travelling Girl)…

Thank you!  

As for the new year, we’re hoping the vaccine roll-out will allow some aspects of life to resume safely. More travel and gigs are high on our list!

Winterised: Winter Camping in the Benimar Mileo 201

We’ve really put our van through its paces in terms of winter camping this year, and it’s been great! It’s a Benimar Mileo motorhome, model 201. Ours is from late 2015 and includes various extra features that are supposed to make it fully ‘winterised’:

  • Thick insulation on the roof and floor
  • A 6 KW gas and electric Truma for central heating and hot water
  • Fresh water stored inside the insulated space, so no worries about freezing
  • The waste water tank under the van is insulated and has a heater to prevent freezing
  • Fridge vent covers and an external thermal windscreen cover

In addition, we added winter tyres front and back and bought some hefty snow chains, both legal requirements in many EU countries. We had the garage check the antifreeze levels in the radiator coolant and it was good to -36°C. We used a screen wash fit for -70°C in a 1 to 1 ratio with water, so again it would work in similarly freezing temperatures. And earlier in the year, we’d made the big decision to invest around £400 in a fitted LPG tank. I’ll post soon about how that’s gone, was it worth it, etc.

So, how did it perform? We spent 10 days or so in on a site in Austria in early February – lots of snow, temperatures down to -15°C – and it was fantastic. Then we had a few days wild camping in the German/Czech borders and again the van performed great. It was easy to keep the van toasty warm, everything worked*, life carried on pretty much as normal.

Bev had sourced this snow brush… (thanks to my sister Wendy for an early Christmas pressie!)

…and couldn’t wait to try it. Good job we had it. Our Italian neighbour’s on the site had ladders but no brush, so we pooled resources and cleared both van roofs after the heaviest dumps of snow.

We took a spade also – just a normal garden spade rather than a snow shovel. We cleared snow each morning from the door of the van to the main path through the site (which they kept cleared with a snow plough). We also kept the snow clear at the back of the van, so we could reverse out when required. Didn’t fancy having to battle it out through a wall of thawed-frozen-thawed-frozen snow and ice when it was time to go!

We’d read a lot – on sites and forums like winterised.com – about running a ‘dry van’ in winter. This means for example: Draining all the water from tanks, pumps, pipes, taps, etc; filling up water bottles for use inside the van; and leaving your waste open so the tank doesn’t freeze and split. This means you have to catch the waste in a watering can or similar and empty it before it freezes.

Well, we didn’t go that far. We used the taps as normal, but tried to reduce water use where possible to minimise the amount in the waste tank. We were on a site for the coldest spell, so this was relatively easy as we could use the site showers. I tested our waste every morning and it was flowing freely. We moved the van maybe twice to empty it at the waste point – which sensibly was indoors.

*We had one glitch. Our pump started playing up towards the end of our time on site. I’d noticed that the only patch on the outside of the van that showed any sign of the cold was under the lounge window. Turns out this is where the pump is housed, in a compartment under the sofa. It was screwed to the van wall and so fairly exposed to the external conditions. It must have frozen at some point. After googling, and trying the fuses, we gave it a knock and it started running again.

A few weeks later, the pump stopped again so we took it to bits and cleaned it thoroughly. It limped on for another month, but eventually died. We found a replacement in a motorhome dealer in Belgium. It’s a slightly more powerful pump but was a fairly simple swap.

Old Pump New Pump

For convenience at the time, we put in back in the same place – fixed to the outside wall. But for our next winter trip, we’ll definitely move it to the inside wall of the compartment under the sofa. Might make the pump a little noisier inside the van, but we can live with that.

So would we say that the Benimar Mileo 201 is ‘winterised’? Yes!