Katie Gylynes and her husband, owners of two rescue dogs made the spontaneous decision to purchase a motorhome and set off on the adventure of a lifetime; with their pooches and a campervan full of Skinner’s Field & Trial… what more could you want?
We asked Katie to tell us about how she ended up celebrating Easter on a mountaintop in Northern Norway!
Two years ago I was happily living in Lincolnshire, newly married and in a job that I loved – training guide dogs for the blind and supporting clients with their new guide dogs. My husband and I were active members of our local cani-cross group with our 10kg pocket rocket mixed-breed Nemi, who has a story of her own to tell.
Flash back 6 years when Nemi unapologetically barrelled into my life. After an impulse decision to accept a short-term job post in Rome, I befreinded a fellow amateur photographer who also loved dogs. She invited me to assist her on a puppy-photoshoot for a local breeder. A hot and hard days work later, surrounded by exuberant adolescent Labradors, we had achieved what we needed, and gathered in the breeders kitchen to enjoy a well deserved pizza (this was Italy after all!) I couldn’t help but notice two small white feet, pawing at me under the table, and a sweet inquisitive face peeping from the shadows. I was told in broken English that this odd little dog had been picked up by the breeder herself who’d found her running along the side of the road. Lost, alone and confused. No collar, no chip and no interest in 3 months. After hearing her story and taking a moment to remove some grass seeds from her fluffy chestnut ears, I offered to take her back to my apartment for the weekend, to give the breeder a break and give Nemi a change of scene. Also selfishly the dog shaped void in my life was ever growing and even just a weekend would be enough to tide me over for a little longer.
It may come as no surprise that Nemi had other ideas, and within 24 hours had made a firm decision that leaving my side was not an option.
Skipping back to sunny Lincolnshire, my husband happily shared running Nemi at cani-cross races and often borrowed other people’s dogs, but when my eyes fell on the grainy photo of a scruffy brindle lurcher for adoption something resonated inside and I was instantly desperate to meet him. In the name of ‘not getting another dog’, I instantly fell in love.
But back to the main story! It was just an off the cuff remark that led to us quitting our jobs, uprooting our lives and jumping feet (and paws) first into the unknown. My husband and I were driving to a cani-cross meet, and saw a youngish couple in a dilapidated van. Net curtains in the windows and a dream catcher swinging on the windscreen. They looked fun-loving, care-free and have a bright little terrier on the front seat. “I’d live in a van” I dreamily remarked.
One week later I found myself standing in the rain on a strangers’ driveway as we peered under the bonnet of a 25 year old motorhome. My off the cuff comment had spiralled into “just looking” at vans, and of course finding the perfect left-hand drive, budget, yet well built, motorhome just a few miles from our house. The interest from a few other buyers put the pressure on, and we gritted our teeth and went for it. Clearing out a savings account and watching the cash counted out on the floral patterned salon seats.
It was difficult saying goodbye to my colleagues, the dogs and of course the clients that I had come to know so well. But in the forefront of our minds was the eternal question, “If not now, then when?”
We put a date in the diary and organised renting out our house. I had been organised enough to get Falco’s rabies jab done soon after we took him home, and felt certain that Nemi’s was still valid from her journey back from Rome. In the chaos of packing and saying goodbye to friends, it wasn’t until the night before we left that I actually checked her passport to make sure. Rabies expired, oh no! In Italy they only vaccinate for 1 year. Lesson learned, life in a van = take things as they come. No challenge is too great. We managed to get a vet appointment straight away, but of course could not avoid the 21-day wait before Nemi was allowed to travel. Luckily generous relatives offered us their driveway on the stunning Cornish coast. We rebooked our ferry ticket and reset the sat-nav. First stop, Cornwall!
Two weeks of ice creams, long walks and towelling off sandy dogs was a gentle way to start our adventure. It also gave us some much needed time to tie up some final loose ends. We spent a jovial Easter in Brighton and headed across to France the following day. With all our documents now in order, I was almost hoping that we would get checked, but we cruised off the ferry and through the port without a single stop. We were finally on our way to Norway!
From France we explored Belgium, Germany and ended up staying for a short while in Denmark with an aunt and her opionated French Bulldog, who lay down with its legs in the air if anyone attempted to take her for a walk. Falco, of course, fell instantly in love with her, much to Nemi’s disgust!
We left the windy flat lands and journeyed on. The Black Forest in Germany was a firm favourite, and sneaking a quiet parking spot we woke extra early to take the dogs exploring the Triberg waterfall. Catching the views uninterrupted was fantastic!
When friends invited us to meet them in Chamonix for a few weeks we thought “why not” and made a bee line back south again. Our friends are avid paragliders, and had been living in their converted 4×4 all summer, accompanied by their Alaskan husky. We joined them at all the local hotspots and hiked up the mountain side with them. As they lept off the hillside, we would run back down on the trail with the dogs and meet them at the landing site. Nemi and Falco took to this sport very well, and luckily never tried to take a ‘short cut’ after them, unlike their husky who we had to keep a close eye on!
The life of a paraglider is perfectly in tune with van-living. However summer time camping in the forest with adventurous dogs required a bit of extra management. ‘Tick-time’ was regular evening entertainment, and Nemi, with her short legs and long body was inevitably the winner. A flea scare saw us stripping out the entire interior of the van, down to the curtains – definitely not a highlight. Although waking up to a view of Mont Blanc from our window was a personal highlight.
Before leaving the UK I had taken time to establish connections with other European guide dog schools. My husband had an event to attend, so I knew I’d have 3 weeks alone in the van. After waving him off at the airport in Geneva, I jumped into the drivers seat and headed for a little village in the suburbs, where the assistance dog school was located. It was a fantastic experience to spend a few days with like-minded people and learn new techniques in the training of service dogs.
With the peaceful clanking of Swiss cow bells still ringing in my ears I headed to Austria to support a friend in her Ironman Race, and then drove on to Poland to be reunited with my husband. Our next stop was Estonia. This was one of my most eagerly awaited stops. We had arranged to help out on a sheep farm. The X-factor being that the lady who ran the farm was the first farmer in Estonia to own working ‘livestock guardian dogs’. She had chosen Maremma’s and had 5 stunning dogs, each weighing between 60 and 70kg! They lived full time out in the field with the herd. She raised a rare Viking breed of sheep and had experienced problems with wolves, foxes and eagles in the area. Since getting her first maremma 12 years ago, she had lost very few lambs other than to natural causes. A great success.I spent many hours grooming each dog when ‘off duty’. Their fleecy double coat made excellent wool, and was collected for spinning and knitting into socks and mittens.
We reluctantly said our goodbyes and hit the road once more. The North was calling us and it was time to take the ferry across to Finland to complete the final leg of the journey.
The relentless heat of the day meant that we would stop whenever we found a secluded lake, and all jump in for a swim. One evening we had found a beautiful little camp stop not so far from the Swedish/Norwegian border. I brought the dogs back in and noticed that Nemi had a strange mark on her inner ear. A deep red bulls-eye. I investigated further and found another bright red ring on her other ear, then more on her stomach and even more in her groin. She seemed bothered by them and was licking and chewing at her skin. Flustered, my thoughts were roundworm, or worse still… I checked over Falco, his dark fur hiding the tell-tale bulls-eye marks, but yup, he was covered in them too. As with any vet emergency, it was a Sunday night and we were in the middle of nowhere. We drove back to the nearest town about 20km away and tried to call the on call vet. No answer. The dogs were looking fairly calm, no raised pulse or high temperature. All we could do was wait. So we parked right outside the sliding doors and waited. It was of course a fitful nights sleep. Nightmares of Alabama Rot, Lymes Diesase or other such horrors were buzzing around in my head. As soon as the key turned in the latch of the building door we tumbled inside trying to explain our concerns. The cheery receptionist said “Oh yes, we have so many midges at this time of year, poor dogs!”, midges…MIDGES! I was so relieved. Next stop, Norway.
The end to one chapter of our adventure was imminent, and we were glad to stay with family for a few weeks enjoying being in one place and catching up. We picked up some odd jobs, painting houses and chopping wood, and it became clear that we were not quite ready to consider turning around and heading home. In fact, we felt like maybe we weren’t ready to leave this incredible land of mountains and fjords just yet.
8 months later and we are still here, working over the winter at a tourist company running dog sledding tours. Both Nemi and Falco took to dog sledding easily. Falco running in the team, the scrawniest, yet most vocal of the entire group, and Nemi riding in the sled like the ultimate Queen Bee.
The beauty of this country and peace that we’ve found here is unparalleled. Day to day life is tricky (we have to dig A LOT of snow!), and of course sometimes mundane, but when you are walking back from the local shop with a shopping bag in one hand and dog leads in the other underneath a dancing display of Northern Lights it all seems a little more special!
From here our plan is to continue ‘taking it as it comes’, which we will have to since our family will be welcoming a new addition this autumn! Let the next adventure continue!