My first post was supposed to be a love letter to my hometown, Stoke-on-Trent – probably quite a bittersweet one as the city has never fully recovered from the loss of its coal mines, steel plant and much of its iconic pottery industry.
But we haven’t actually been there because less than three hours into our 365-day odyssey, I managed to drive the motorhome into a ditch in Dumfriesshire!
In my defence, it was a track only a few inches wider than the van itself, leading into the farm we were to be camping on, and it had potholes the like of which I have only previously encountered when driving in Malawi. It was in trying to avoid one of these holes that I misjudged the space on the other side of the path.
It was (genuinely!) one of those moments that seem to happen in slow motion. As the van started to tip over, it was clear that I couldn’t steer it back onto the road, and we slowly fell further down into the soft verge.
I was convinced that we would tip over completely on our side – and that even if Susan and I emerged unhurt, that would be the end of the van, our trip – and quite possibly our marriage too!
Luckily, we stopped at a jaunty angle short of total collapse. The farm owners and one of the other campers had seen us and a tractor was quickly despatched to tow us out. This was swiftly followed by the arrival of our sister and brother-in-law, Wendy and Steven, who provided much needed food and alcohol.
With no physical damage to either of us – apart from my wounded pride – our thoughts turned to fixing the damage to the side panel and bumper, and to checking that the steering and other vital parts on the underside of the van were okay.
Our experience has actually been a delight. We have been pointed cheerfully to people who could do these jobs by folks who couldn’t do them themselves, the garages have been very quick to fit us into their busy schedules, and the work – as far as I can tell! – is of a very high quality.
Over the past few months, we’ve had some really poor experiences with tradespeople doing work on our house and with the companies who supply our power and connectivity, so it’s actually been quite a heartwarming few days in that respect.
My genuine thanks to all the people in Dumfries, Penpont and Thornhill (and Preston for the bumper) who’ve helped us get onto our ferry to the continent on time.
I hope I will be able to report to you from sunny Stoke on our way home next year. And that by then, it will have won its bid to be UK City of Culture 2021 – and that the mighty Stoke City FC will have lifted themselves off the bottom of the Premier League table.