About Me

Welcome to my blog. I'm feeling pretty smug right now because I've quit my job and on 25th October will be heading to Europe for 6 months to do nothing but surf. We're gonna hit France, Northern Spain and Portugal. It's a well travelled and documented road but I'll try to write up my experiences and hopefully share an insight into the road trip experience. I'll not blog regularly, but I will add the odd little story here and there. If you see a white LDV with boards on the side come and say hi! Andy

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Naming Ceremony, May 2009

Moments after the ordeal
Emre’s eyes lit up. He was sheltering in the red brick entrance to the station, rain and gusts of wind tearing at the surfboard under his arm. He bounded over to the van with his typical enthusiasm as I pulled into the car park, and leaped through the sliding door. He surveyed the inside of the campervan, taking in the fridge, cooker, shower and bed. He turned round to me and grinned,
“This is gonna be the perfect van for Scotland. I’m so stoked on it. What’s its name?”
“It doesn’t have one”, I replied. It hadn’t really occurred to me to give her a name.
“Well that’s a goal for the trip man, we gotta find a name for her!”

Five days, two thousand miles, two ferries and many waves later we were on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. We’d fully explored the north west of the island, where the hard rock of the peat moor meets the North Atlantic. Arriving in bright spring sunshine and blue skies we’d stumbled on a surf paradise. A few days later we’d tried to sleep out a Hebridean galein an exposed cliff top car park. We failed, and eventually decided to drive over an hour in the black of the night back to Stornoway to find shelter from the pounding wind.

A few days later we were exploring once again. We’d driven past salmon smokeries, deep sea lochs and miles of pristine countryside. Mangersta was the name of the beach we could see from the road. I’d heard there was a good point break nearby but so far we’d not been able to find it. We were in no rush because although it was early May, daylight lingered until nine in the evening or later.

I could see the beach and the swell on the horizon but couldn’t find a route down to it with the van. After some driving around we found another one of Scotland’s best road signs. They read “To the shore”, and this weathered and bent example pointed right, towards a decent enough looking dirt track that bent out of view behind a bluff of rock. We’d come across these signs all over the islands, and they’d not let us down yet.

I turned down the track. Emre jumped out to open and close the farm gate, fixing it in place with frayed orange bailing twine. He slid back into the passenger seat as I drove forward, confident in the high ground clearance of the van to overcome the bumps and ruts. The track bent to the right and lead downhill, but the corner was blind, shielded from view by the rocky bluff into which the track was cut. We both noticed a large boulder on the right hand side of the track. It was out of place, and looked like it had been moved there deliberately. There was some faded red paint, possibly writing, possibly in Gaelic, that had succumbed to the maritime climate.

Emre and I looked at each other. “I’ll just have a look round the corner”, I said, “and see if we can get down or not”. I nosed the van round the bend, as the track dropped sharply. It led straight down to the beach, cutting across a very steep rocky slope, for a hundred metres, with a sheer drop of fifty feet on one side. It was horribly rutted, with holes two feet deep in places. At the bottom of the track was an area of grassed sand, a few metres wide, with stone boulders, before it reached the soft looking sand of the beach.

“I guess we won’t be going down there” I said, and put the van into reverse. I lifted the clutch, but only felt the back tyres spin on the loose dirt and stone. “Shit!” The weight of the van had moved entirely onto the front axle due to the downhill slope of the track. I tried to move back a few more times but just span the wheels. I looked down the track with a sick feeling and cursed the inventor of rear wheel drive.

“Do you think we can turn it around in that grassy area?” I asked Emre. After some debate as to the availability of farmers with tractors in such a remote location, Emre walked down the track to inspect my proposed turning area. He gave me the thumbs up and I inched the van down in first gear, using the engine and the brakes to slow its fall. The steps and ruts in the track shook it violently but I kept a sure grip on the wheel.

I reached the bottom of the track and levelled out into the grassy area. It was covered in a short grass on sandy turf and was uneven with banks and some grass covered boulders. I was wary of bogging my wheels in the grassy sand so we took some of the surfboard bags out of the van and used them for traction. It took five minutes to complete the turn around, and was actually easier than I had imagined. During the process my kitchen cupboard had banged open, and a bottle of Scotch leaned out invitingly. We both had a dram to calm the nerves.

“That was the easy part” claimed Emre, “now we’ve got to get it up the hill again”. We both walked up the track inspecting the course we should take. Within the ruts were steps of stone a foot high that I’d never be able to drive over without seriously damaging the van. I took a despondent look around at the fields overlooking the beach, but could only see one house, about a mile and half away. Help was not on the horizon. There was no shining knight astride a John Deere tractor to come to our rescue.

“Can you drive with one wheel on the middle of the track, where it’s covered with grass, and the other on the side?” asked Emre. I looked at it and considered my options. I was never going to make it up the wheel ruts, but there was a chance that if I picked my line I could fit one wheel on the grassy ridge between the ruts and the other on the right hand side of the track. It was not without risk, however, as I had only two foot or so of ground before the steep drop to the beach below.

We decided to go for it, with Emre walking up in front of me to help me guide my wheels. I waited for a nervous minute while he climbed the track. The tension stung my stomach as I started the engine. I crept forward and lined up my route. As the van started to climb I felt the rear wheels grip as they took the weight of the van. Looking ahead I decided that the best way to do this was quickly, because I did not want to get stuck half way and have to try to reverse back down for another shot. I gunned the engine and took a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel.

Ignorant of the shattering jolts and shocks from the track I shot up the hill, forcing myself not to look over the edge of the drop to my right. I passed Emre was shouting something at me from halfway up the track.

I reached the top, rounded the corner onto the flat area in front of the gate and turned off the engine. I fell out of the door and sat on the boulder by the side of the track. My hands were shaking as the adrenaline washed through me. Emre must have caught up with me because when I next saw him he was thrusting the bottle of whiskey into my unsteady hand. I took a long gulp from the bottle and hugged him.

“You know that van is my house now, it’s got everything I own it. If it had got stuck, or if I’d slipped off the edge...” I ranted. But Emre interrupted me, “But it didn’t. You made it. And man, she climbed that track like a mountain goat”. Emre paused to open the sliding door to the van. Every cupboard had opened, spilling clothes, tins of food, spaghetti and surfboard leashes and wax . “Yep that was a real cupboard opener “ I said, but Emre was lost in thought.

He span round and looked at me, grinning.
“We’ve done it” he said.
“What’s that mate?”
“We’ve named the van! She’s called the Goat” he shouted, and grabbed the bottle from my hand to pour some whiskey over the bonnet. “I name you the Goat!”

“Next time”, I said to myself, “next time I see some red writing on a stone I’m going to take bloody notice of it”.

I like to imagine, when I remember this story, that somewhere on the moors overlooking the beach a local farmer sat in his Landrover watching us with an amused grin cracking his weather beaten face. “There’s one every year” he thinks to himself, “I really should repaint that sign”.

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