Our love affair with O’Connor’s Campers (and their campervans…) began in the summer of 2011, when Charlotte, in her infinite wisdom, expressed her misgivings about spending Sunrise Festival with three girls, in a tent whose last outing to Morte Bay had culminated in a night spent in the car (then two children and a heavily pregnant Charlotte…) as biblical force winds blew the tent flat, and our clothes across the length of North Devon… After trawling the ‘net, we came across O’Connors, who had a van free at short notice for the festival weekend, and so Nice Guy Eddie came into our lives.
Charlotte travelled down to Okehampton on Thursday morning to pick Eddie up (as O’Connors were kind enough to let us have him a day early), while I waited on the doorstep, trying to keep him a secret from the girls, who still thought we were going to spend another weekend from hell under nylon.
I’ll never forget the look of excitement and joy on the girls’ faces as Charlotte pulled up in Eddie in all his solid, sturdy blue glory! This time round we did more camping and less vanning, only driving the few miles to Sunrise festival before parking up for the weekend, popping the top and pitching the awning.
I knew at that moment the depth of Charlotte’s wisdom, and realised that whatever happened, I’d never sleep under skinny, flappy nylon again, braving the elements with nothing but a flysheet between me and the raging elements and marauding slugs- a love of campervans was born!
How ironic it was then, that Charlotte and I were relegated to sleeping in the awning while the girls took full advantage of Eddie’s warm, dry interior, spreading out over the rock’n’roll bed, the pop top and the cab bunk- we were allowed in to cook their meals and make them cups of tea (Oh, the joy of cooking facilities instead of a saucepan balanced precariously on a single camping gaz stove that runs out of gaz at the crucial moment!), but come bed time the side door whoosh-blammed shut and Charlotte and I were left to battle the elements once again under- admittedly comfier, but still flappy- canvas.
We began to plot our revenge… On the way back to Okehampton on monday morning we started formulating a plan that involved less children and more cruising around the countryside, and within hours of our arriving back home after Zoe had managed to pry Eddie’s keys from our vice-like grip we were back on the website re-booking him for our 3rd wedding anniversary weekend.
So, two months later, Charlotte and I were heading back down the A30, with our youngest, Poppy, in tow for a return visit with Eddie. At this point, I must highlight one of the joys of hiring a van from O’Connors, which is the friendly, welcoming vibe around the workshop- chatting with the O’Connors team, and hanging out with all the vans- peering through windows, comparing interiors and deciding which van to hire next! I was quick to realise all the vans have their own characters and characteristics, they are all treated like adored family members and you can’t help feeling that at the end of the day, when the shutters come down on the workshop, they all gather round to tell tales of their exploits ferrying holiday makers around the moors and beaches of the Southwest, moaning about the indignities they’ve been put through and chuckling about how they got their own back by stalling on that hill into Newquay with a snake of 20 cars behind them…
So, after minimal delay for orientation from Pete (‘Hill start…’- pulls handbrake on, ‘Steep hill…’- pulls handbrake on harder…!) we rolled out of the yard into the baptism of fire that is O’Connors hill- I’m sure there are destinations if you turn right out of the yard, but it just doesn’t seem right to start a holiday without careering down that hill, hoping that the brake drums don’t decide to disintegrate as you roll out into Okie High Street! Charlotte had the first days driving, which suited me fine, enjoying the passing scenery as we pootled off towards Fernworthy Reservoir- it was only as we drove Eddie about, up and down various grades of hill that we came to understand 2 realities- 1) that first gear was no longer just for setting out, but was also Eddie’s gear of choice for anything other than a gentle incline, and 2) there was a Zen-like quality involved in finding any of Eddie’s gears- search, and you shall not find, give yourself over to a greater power, and the mysteries of his gearbox shall be revealed to you…
We finally arrived at Fernworthy Reservoir, just as the sun was setting and the mozzies were rising, and parked up for our first night under pop top. Oh! The joy of slamming the side door against the night and its flying, buzzing biters, snuggling up in the rock’n’roller and listening to the rain hammering down on a solid roof at 4am, safe in the knowledge that we didn’t have to face the damp, slug-strewn ground before a proper cup of coffee in the morning!
My first experience of driving Eddie came the next morning, and lasted a full ten minutes before handing the wheel gratefully back to Charlotte (she has a long history of VW driving)- ten nailbiting, nerve shredding, sickmaking minutes in which I ploughed through my stock of emotions, from abject terror to frustration to joy and exhilaration, but thankfully not through any hedges or flocks of sheep…
I was happy to hand over the wheel until we’d found some roads that were marginally wider than the van, and slightly less steep than Dover’s cliffs, at which point I suggested we needed to pull over for some nefarious reason or other, whereupon I leapt into the drivers seat as soon as Charlotte opened the door, handcuffed myself to the wheel and sat revving the engine until she reluctantly climbed in the passenger side.
The rest of the weekend was spent pretty much like this- a set of keys left on a table was fair game, and the driving was only relinquished once the current pilot had got us well and truly lost, or led us down a lane that could only be traversed with the aid of climbing ropes and the Coastguard… So as the last weekend had been all about the camping, this was definitely about the driving- Pete’s words rang in our ears as we stalled on a 1:1 hill with a snake behind, I pulled on the hand brake with all my not inconsiderable weight as Charlotte revved Eddie in first, only for us to roll slowly back down the hill the moment I let off the brake, meanwhile, Poppy sat in the back laughing, clapping and offering us pearls of one-year-old wisdom like ‘Veedub!’ and ‘Gatling Gun!’ (Don’t ask..!) -it has to be said, that by the end of the weekend, she was savvy enough of our situation to give Eddie a round of applause every time we managed to crest a particularly steep hill.
We spent the next couple of days traversing the length and breadth of Dartmoor, we travelled as far as the godforsaken hellhole that is Dawlish Warren, under the advice of our book of wild places around Britain, only to find their definition of ‘wild’ obviously extends to wall to wall amusement arcades and caravan parks, so back we ambled to Dartmoor, finding ourselves in the pitch, foggy darkness with nowhere to stay, which precipitated one of the best nights in my mind- namely parking up in a layby on top of the moors with no idea of where we were or what we’d find (or if we’d be found…) in the morning.
Our nerves were on edge as a pair of headlights pulled up a few hundred yards away from us in the gloom, until we heard the reassuring sound of a Veedub sidedoor slide and realised it was some other like minded intrepid explorers.
The night was spent once again curled up toasty in Eddie as he was shaken and rocked by the wind like a small boat on a big ocean, and morning brought stunning scenery and cows peering in through his windows.
Eventually, however (after another day’s aimless meandering and another night back at Fernworthy) we reluctantly crawled back to Okehampton, gliding up O’Connors hill as though it was nothing after honing our hill skills all weekend. Once again Zoe had to wrest the keys from us, although this time it was two against one and she had to call in the police…(this bit is an outright lie, she’s much tougher than both of us!!)
Sadly, we unloaded Eddie and packed up my boring, reliable, gets-up-hills-in-3rd-gear car, grabbed a coffee and said our goodbyes to that stately, unrushed hero of Dartmoor, the nicest of Nice Guys, Eddie. It was no fault of our own, but as we left, ‘I Am Spartacus’ tipped us a saucy little wink, flexed his taut, baby-oiled Viking roof conversion at us and told us to hurry back- but that’s another adventure…
By Adam Fosbery