First – acquire your van

portia fuzzed

Meet Portia-the-portly: a three year old Bailey Approach 620. She is English-made but despite this does not seem to leak oil. We bought her unexpectedly in July 2015 having planned to carry out much more, sensible, in-depth research in the months up to April next year. We are happy with our purchase.

Built on a Peugeot Boxer van she is a two person, low profile, end kitchen motorhome with two parallel benches behind the cab for the living and sleeping area. These can be two singles, for hot countries, or one huge double for cooler climes. We did not like the idea of a space-hogging, albeit convenient, fixed double bed and at least this arrangement means we can avoid the hassle of making up the bed if we cannot be bothered.

portia floorplan

There is a free-standing table that can be set up in the aisle between the benches but it is way too heavy for easy handling and so large that it gets hopelessly in the way once up. We have already found a smaller, lighter camping table to replace this.

Portia is only six metres long (not counting the bike rack) and under three metres high (not counting the satellite dome). Fingers crossed that ferries, trains and toll roads count the same way:-( She is also 2.42 metres wide which is apparently a little on the portly side.

Newbies in North Yorkshire – Thirsk Racecourse Caravan site.

Why Thirsk for our first outing in our new motorhome? Because it is only 23 miles up the road, is flat, has toilets, has hot showers and is close to Lidl (yes, we have been reading OurTour religiously). And principally, this being a trial run in Portia, we wanted to be close to real home with all its comforts, just in case. Why is the prospect of staying in a well-equipped van so nerve-wracking to house-dwelling, drain-connected, power-supplied, centrally-heated, normal people? Beforehand it seemed to represent freedom – throwing off the shackles and heading for the wild blue yonder. Suddenly the wild blue yonder threw back a whole bunch of unknowns and what-ifs. OhMyGod – no electricitygaswaterdrainstelevision! What’s the worst that can happen? No hot water – boil a kettle. Cooker does not work – go for chips. Shower does not work – well – do your skin a favour and don’t wash for once. Anything else does not work – go find a B&B. So with well laid fallback plans in place we set off.

Accommodation for the weekend

Taking off in a great big vehicle for the first time is also nerve-wracking. Even though both of us have driven large vehicles in our chequered pasts, none of them had a body wider than the cab. We had to keep reminding each other that delivery vans, builders lorries, emergency vehicles and so on navigate our not-very-wide street every day. And we made it to the small caravan site with only one instance of van-on-van wing mirror action and no harm done. The main driving lessons: go slow, don’t drive like you do in a car and adopt a more phlegmatic attitude to other vehicles (yes, even the ones clearly driven by idiots), slow down a lot and well in advance for roundabouts even if the way seems clear, and do not try to nip into any gaps where you would have in your other car. In fact, do not try to do any nipping of any sort – motorhomes do not nip. Reflect that although you often see car drivers snarling rude words and making rude gestures, you never see HGV drivers reacting like that. Whatever they may be thinking, they seem to manage a professional zen-like calm behind the wheel.

Portia in thirskWe parked up, unpacked and connected the electricity. Things worked! The fridge lit up and the lights came on. Then we disconnected the electricity, repacked and drove around to the water supply. Note to selves: get the sequence right next time; get a water carrier of some sort. We have a Whale pump system so the best option for filling is to be within 7.5 metres of the tap. Note to selves: get an extension hose. Reparked and friendly neighbours advised that we should disconnect the lead from the electricity source as well as the van rather than leave a live cable lying on the damp grass:-(

Amazed at how, despite appearances, “flat” really isn’t. Note to selves: get levellers and chocks. Amazed at complexity of Truma heater and hot water system instructions. Even more amazed when the water came out hot! Disappointed when it did not do so the second time and much knob twiddling was required to get it going again. Think this may be a fault. Amazed at goodies and value in Lidl. Bought a bottle of champagne (real!) for £9.97 and amazed at how good it was. And so to bed (on the single benches – only so much new stuff a brain can take in one day!)

Thirsk is a quiet North Yorkshire market town with some charm and enough to do for a day or two. Did you know “Lord’s” the cricket ground has nothing to do with the House of Lords or any peer of the realm? It is named after its founder Thomas Lord who was born in Thirsk in 1755. His birthplace now houses a small museum of cricket memorabilia and displays of local life of the time (free, but donations appreciated). And it is just opposite “The World of James Herriot” (not free). How much culture do you need in one day in one small corner of North Yorkshire?

On a less elevated note, we also hit the local pound-type shop to pick up things we had forgotten – hosepipe connector, watering can, cheese grater, sieve, wiper blade for shower and so on. Should have paid more attention to Our Tour’s Essential Packing list which I have now printed out and started ticking off:-)cropped-snails-poor.jpg