Cecil the campervan nearing 900,000 miles and helping clean up UK coast

<span>Steve Green with his campervan Cecil, built in 1972.</span><span>Photograph: Apex/Clean Ocean Sailing</span>
Steve Green with his campervan Cecil, built in 1972.Photograph: Apex/Clean Ocean Sailing

The owners of VW campervans often become deeply attached to their characterful vehicles, regarding them as companions in adventure, workhorses, part of the family.

But Steve Green is prouder than most of his van – rejoicing in the name Cecil – which is well on the way to totting up a million miles and still gainfully employed clearing the Cornish coast of plastic.

Green, 50, bought Cecil, 52, for the equivalent of £180 in 1998 while he was working as a mechanic in Australia.

The van had already done more than 500,000 miles and was in a sorry state having been used as a shuttle bus between Canberra and Sydney airports.

Green spent six months repairing it and when the time came for him to leave Australia he planned to sell Cecil at an auction in Sydney, but couldn’t bear to part.

“We wanted to drive him back to the UK. We even managed to get a visa for India and Russia, but sadly China said no, so we put him on a ship back home and haven’t parted since.”

Green said he grew up loving the Herbie films, which told the story of a lovable VW Beetle. “I believe cars can have a spirit of their own. He’s approaching 900,000 miles, which as far as I can find out is the highest mileage on one of these in the world.’’

Cecil is now a part of Clean Ocean Sailing, a Cornish organisation that hauls waste plastic collected from beaches, working alongside a century-old sailing boat called The Annette. Cecil, which now runs on waste chip fat oil, takes the plastic from beaches in the south-west of England and transports it to a recycling plant in Exeter.

“The boat’s over 100 years old and still going, so let’s see if we can keep the old van going for another 50 years,” Green said. “Using historic transport and sailing boats fit with our ethos.”

Cecil has never been towed, though Green pays for breakdown cover every year. “I always have a laugh with the insurance company every year.”

However, he reckons he spends as much time repairing it as driving it. Green said: “You have to be a DIY mechanic to drive one of these – but they are so simple to work on and simple to fix.”

Even Green would probably accept Cecil is not a classical beauty – it is rusty and battered, and a makeshift crane made of scaffolding poles used to haul plastic adds to the make-and-mend feel.

Green said he was inspired to set up Clean Ocean Sailing after a sailing trip to Isles of Scilly where he saw many tonnes of waste dotted across the beautiful coastlines.

He said: “There was so much rubbish washed up on the little tiny islands. We’re talking one metre deep of washed up trash of all sorts and I wanted to do something about it. We don’t use engines, apart from Cecil, and we sail, row and paddle everywhere.”

When Green acquired Cecil in 1998, it was from the original owner and there was a full service history. Green feels it has many more miles in it.

A spokesperson for Volkswagen has said there are a number of other very high mileage campervans and could not confirm a record for Cecil but described Cecil as “really impressive”.