Rachel Kershaw Chats to The Backpacker Herald
Rachel Kershaw is a travel blogger from Lancashire that became well known through her 2012 travel adventures around England in a camper van called Rosie. She embarked upon on the ten week trip after being chosen by Visit England as England’s biggest fan and became known as the ‘Fan in a Van’.
I’m happy to say that Rachel joins us today for a quick chat about her travels and I’m also absolutely delighted to announce that Rachel will shortly have her very own column here on the Backpacker Herald. She knows her way around this country rather well and will be sharing her travel recommendations and thoughts on a regular basis.
First of all a big hello to you Rachel and thank you for taking the time out to join us today for a chat. Before we talk about your recent adventure, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well hello, what can I tell you? I’m 31, I live in Newcastle upon Tyne with my partner of eight years and my day job is Head of Creative at a local radio station called Metro Radio. When I’m not at work I love getting out and about with my Nikon D3000 in an attempt to take some half decent photographs, I’m slowly improving! Like most girls I’m a shopaholic but I’m also the bargain queen, friends and family are always coming to me for ideas of what to do and where to go on a budget!
So how did this fantastic trip with Visit England come about?
I saw a post on twitter about the competition and when I read the description about the type of person they were looking for it was like reading about myself! I’d never had a gap year when I was younger and have always dreamt about a road trip in a camper van so I just decided to go for it! First I had to send in a photograph I’d taken of a place I loved, mine was of Newcastle Quayside. I got through to the next stage and then had to make a three minute video which was a right laugh as you can see here. Finally I was interviewed by two panels of judges at VisitEngland and they chose me as the winner, I was over the moon!
The trip was to last 10 weeks, did you have to leave your job?
My employers were a bit shocked to say the least, especially when I only gave them a weeks notice but thankfully they were really supportive and allowed me to take a sabbatical. My colleagues were just as excited I was and all chipped in to make me a camper van survival kit which came in very handy!
Did you travel alone or did you have company?
I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend with me a lot of the time, I think he thought he was going on holiday but he certainly earned his keep, taking photos, packing up the camper van and navigating country lanes. I was also met by lots of lovely people from the tourism industry who helped me get the most out of the trip.
What was the build up to the trip like? Were you nervous?
To be honest, there wasn’t much time to think about it. I found out I’d won on a Monday morning and the following Monday I was in London at VisitEngland’s head office meeting the team! It was all a bit of a whirlwind and I just remember feeling very excited, it was like all my Christmases had come at once!
You followed the route of the Olympic torch, what were the cities, towns and people like when the torch arrived?
The Olympic Torch Relay brought out the best in the country, everywhere I went people had made a huge effort with bunting and banners and the crowds seemed to get bigger as the relay gained momentum. There were smiling faces to greet me in every town, city and village and it made me feel really proud to be British.
Tell us a little about what your daily life was like in the van?
Hectic! I stayed in a different place nearly every day and I slept in the camper van every night so part of the morning routine was packing up the bed, pulling down the roof, and trying to keep everything clean and dry, not easy during one of the wettest summers on record! I was also using go-pro cameras to record the journey so every day I had to remember to charge the batteries, download the images and re-attach the cameras to the van. I soon got in to a little routine though and as long as I got my morning coffee I was fine!
What were the real highlights of the trip?
There were honestly so many it’s hard to choose! Some of my favourite memories include spending an afternoon on a canal boat in Essex, flying a gyrocopter over Lake Ullswater in Cumbria, Surfing in Tynemouth, walking the Malvern Hills, chilling out Ragdale Hall Spa and eating stupendously good food at places like Bettys in Harrogate, L’Enclume in Cartmel, Urban Reef in Bournemouth and Roger Hickman’s in Norwich.
Were there any low points?
A: I gained quite a bit of weight!
If you could go back to one place, where would it be?
I definitely want to re-visit Cornwall as I only caught a glimpse of the beautiful coast before I had to leave, plus that’s where Rosie lives so it would be great to be reunited for a week or two.
Where is the one place you would not want to go back to?
That’s a tough one, I genuinely thought everywhere had something to offer! If I had to choose though I would have to be honest and say I’m not in a massive hurry to go back to Middlesbrough, I did a bungee jump off the Transporter Bridge and it was petrifying! Although I’d love to try a ‘chicken parmo’ so maybe I could be persuaded.
Where did the trip come to an end?
London baby! I was based near the Olympic Park for a full week and had to chance to experience parts of the city I never even knew existed. I loved Bankside and had a great afternoon at Kew Gardens.
What was it like working with VisitEngland?
They were fantastic, really creative and always open to my ideas too. I felt like I’d been part of the team for years!
How has the transformation back into normal life been?
I have to admit the first couple of weeks were tough, I missed the Rosie the camper van terribly and the pace of life felt so much slower. However, it was nice to not have to pack my bed away every morning and having an indoor toilet felt like a real luxury.
Would you do it all again?
In a heart beat!
Rachel’s Backpacker Herald column ‘Rachel Recommends’ starts on Monday October 1st!