I decided after coming back to the UK from Canada, that I wanted to do another winter season. I had really enjoyed the last two, and the previous ones in Europe and New Zealand. So before I left Banff, I had started looking for work.
Sadly, the Brexit situation and my limited knowledge of French (and lack of contacts) made it a little tricky to find anything in the Alps, so I started applying for places in Scotland as well. It wasn’t long before I got an interview, and a few days later had a confirmed job at the Nevis Range Mountain Resort near Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. After a little research, I figured the best/easiest way to live would be to buy a van and live in that for the season. I found a 1991 Talbot Express with a decent Auto Sleeper unit on the back. The previous owner had taken it to the French Alps to live in, and was pretty happy with it, so I assumed it would do well in Scotland.
So with everything in place I made my way up to the hills, and started work. Sadly, the snow that had fallen prior to my arrival quickly melted, and with it, the work melted away as well. I still had full time (ish) hours, but a disappointing lack of snowboarding opportunities. I learnt a lot about ski tech and servicing, got paid enough to cover my costs, and made some great new friends. Fort William is a great little town with some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. The town is famous for its mountain biking, especially as it has played host to the world championships for many years running. This, along with the (potential) snow, means that there are a lot of young and adventurous people around. Bikers, Climbers, Hikers, Kayakers, and so much more. However the weather means that there’s not many chances to do these activities, instead they flock to the indoor climbing wall. I have done a bit of climbing and bouldering so I jumped on this and got involved, slowly meeting most of the interesting people in town. Between the wall, and the amazing people at work who introduced me to many more folk, and invited me to the pub more time than is healthy, I found some wonderful people to hang out with.
So, with no snow, I concentrated on staying healthy – between the gym, the climbing wall, and a few little hikes I think I managed to gain some muscle mass. A friend was kind enough to lend me a hardtail mountain bike, so on the days when the rain wasn’t sideways, I could head out and get mucky on the mountain, even if it wasn’t the kind of riding I was really there for. I also worked on a little D&D campaign which went fairly well, and I really learned a lot.
Finally I spent time figuring out the van life. I went for a van big enough to stand up in, and with a decent kitchen area so I could actually live in it. However between the cold, and the rain, it quickly became very damp and pretty cold. A couple leaks sprung up for me to fix, but that didn’t do much for the cold. The gas heater was functional, but not budget friendly by any means, so my days off were spent bouncing between cafes and friends houses to save gas and my fingers from falling off. One thing I learned from living in the van, is that doing it in a warm, dry country is far nicer than a cold wet one. Due to the age of the van, I had various issues with it that I fixed, or had fixed, but thankfully it ran quite well, and it was still more cost effective than renting a place for six months. I think if I was to do the van thing again, I would go for a much smaller and easier to handle van, something that doesn’t look like a camper, and something you can park in a regular car park. I tended to find other places to hang out other than in the van, so all I really needed was a bed, and a place to store my clothes and some food. By the time I left Scotland I was only using it to sleep in, and rarely cooked. If I wanted to cook, I’d ask to use someones real kitchen (in return for feeding them). Perhaps for a trip across Europe in summer it would have been the right tool – no leaks, no cold, and no friends houses to cook or sleep at. The bottom line – make sure you know what you’re going to be using it for.
The area around Fort William is quite striking, and it’s clear to see why it’s such a popular tourist destination. Ben Nevis is a short drive (and long hike) away, there are some stunning beaches, and plenty of other little gems (like the ‘Harry Potter Bridge’ or Glenfinnan Viaduct as it’s actually called). Of course Loch Ness is not too far either, which makes it a good stop for a motorhome road trip or a coach tour. I had a few days when the rain eased up enough to explore, and am very grateful I got to see some of the highlands properly.
So after a few months of climbing, going to the gym, exploring, biking, playing D&D and occasionally going to work to clock up hours, I had another opportunity crop up – this time in France. While I had been enjoying Scotland, I have to admit that the weather had really started to get to me, and by the time I left I had had only three days of snowboarding, and those were not great by any means. I was happy to be moving on, although I’ll always have a bit of a soft spot for the town.