Power lines criss cross the deep blue sky, the freeway buzzes it’s low, constant hum. The Los Angeles air, at the beginning of Autumn, is all dry heat and still, the threat of drought. Hummingbirds flicker in and out of view of the kitchen window, and my thoughts turn to somewhere entirely different, somewhere cold, wild, and quiet.
It was December, 2014, and Mike and I had finally just about finished the several month-long process that was the conversion of our Hyundai H200 into a comfortable home for the both of us for the next seven months. We had decided that we would journey out on a test trip, so that we might see how the van fared on the road, and particularly in the colder weather. Where better for us to explore than Scotland in the heart of winter? Neither of us had ever visited before, and so eagerly, over the course of a couple of days, we began piecing together our route.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, we began driving north, from Birmingham. Torrential downpours of freezing rain, and the orange glow of street-lamps, sparkled on the windscreen, blurring our vision. We battled constantly to keep the glass from fogging up, as the traffic started to slow around us.
Our first destination was to be Lake Windermere, the most well-known of all the lakes in the Lake District, a popular national park in Northern England, famous for its teashops, mint cakes, hiking, Beatrix Potter, and for its old-worldy, quaint, englishness. Eventually, after a lengthy and slight testing few hours of rainy, and congested, freeway driving, we found ourselves turning onto a series of tiny, winding, country roads – the kind of roads that bridge cosy little villages, with their crooked ivy-covered houses draped in fairy lights, thatched rooves, and billowing chimneys.
Later that night, we arrived in the village of Windermere, and settled down for the night; huddled under thick woollen blankets, wearing our thermals and with a hot water bottle stuffed under the duvet in our effort to keep warm. Our in-car kettle was already proving itself invaluable.
The next morning, the weather had transformed. Lake Windermere no longer swirled with rain and wind, but was instead calm. The skies were clear, and the air was brisk. We spent some time walking along the shores of the lake, shooting photographs of the swans that glided elegantly in and out of the still water, looking at us with expectant eyes, hoping for a handful of seeds or perhaps a chunk of bread.
It was time for us to head onwards, and so we packed up the van, took off our coats, and continued driving. We were heading north, and the landscape was changing. What had been subtle, and gentle, at first – rolling green hills and one lane roads, lined with tall and brambly hedgerows, winding through the english countryside, was beginning to shift. The colours, at first every shade of emerald and pale green, yellow, and brown, were transforming into more earthy hues: winter fern and its fiery reds, dusting the rocky tops of taller and taller hills, and we drove further and further north. And then, the first signs of snow on the horizon: powdery, snow-tinged mountain peaks now peeking through the gaps between heavy, low, deep grey and threatening clouds.
As we reached Scotland, the clouds burst, as they had been promising to do for some time. All around us turned to white. We navigated the heavy traffic of Glasgow, and over the course of the next couple of days, continued driving north. It was our intention to visit the Isle of Skye, having been drawn by photographs of The Quiraing, a dramatic, rock pinnacle in the northern-most reaches of the Isle of Skye.
We passed countless Lochs, castles, and tiny little cottages, sitting on the edge of the water and perched on the edge of some vast and forested wilderness. Our surroundings shifted and transformed hourly, blue skies would be replaced with snow-storms with little to no warning. Dew drops clung to winter-stripped branches, and we crossed paths with locals who would regularly share stories about the places we found ourselves in.
We drove for hours each day, getting up early in an attempt to make the most of the short daylight hours, and stopping every few moments to shoot photographs. We ate pancakes and travel mugs filled with steaming soup and noodles.
The Isle of Skye caught us completely by surprise, with its raw, and untamed beauty. The Isle of Skye is raw, and harsh – a barren, treeless, wind-swept landscape quite reminiscent of the Icelandic north-east, or so it seemed to us. We spent our first night on Skye in the small town of Portree, though we didn’t sleep much. A winter storm raged, shook and rocked the van, as rain pummeled our roof, the deafening sounds of clanging water on metal a reminder of the sheer power of the Atlantic Ocean and the natural forces that shaped the island that we found ourselves on. We were some distance away from England now, and we felt it, at 4am on that mid December morning.
Whilst exploring the Isle of Skye, we visited Skye Forest Garden. Skye Forest Garden, or Rubha Phoil Skye Forest Garden, is located on the Sleat peninsula. The cliffside Forest Garden consists of 16 acres of woodland, to include a camping area, eco-retreat areas, and a wonderful forest adventure walk – complete with hand-crafted signs, viewing platforms, and information about the local animal and plant life.
After visiting Skye Forest Garden, we started driving east, charting a course directly across the Scottish highlands. We passed through snow storms and over mountain passes, travelling on icy roads that we’d learn later to have closed a couple of days after our using them.
The Findhorn Foundation came as a sharp contrast to the wild, and windswept, western Scotland. The Findhorn Foundation can be found in the small town of Findhorn, in the north-east of Scotland – located in a pleasant and mild micro-climate that makes for an ideal living setting, right next to the beach. The Findhorn Foundation was a place that both of us had been eager to visit, and our time at the community was restorative and calming. You can read about our Findhorn experience in full, here.
Eventually, it was time for us to begin our snowy drive south. The van had gotten us around Scotland without any major disasters, and had, in our minds, performed amazingly during our test trip. There were a few things that we wanted to fix up and finish before hitting the road and heading into Europe, which we’d do after christmas, but spending a week or so living out of our van had us eager to jump into the full-time vandwelling experience!
Stay tuned for updates as to what we’re doing next!