Monday, September 3, 2012

If you go down to the Woods today......

 This summer has been a poor one for getting away in our van. Mainly due to the lousy weather and also by the fact the van was in the garage for 5 weeks having its gearbox being rebuilt.  So when we picked up the van last week I was itching to get away even for one night. Laura was taking Erin down to London at the weekend and the weather was set fair, so I decided to do a quick lads night away with my six yr old son Joel.
  After much head scratching as where to go, I decide on a spot just a few miles away in a woodland we'd been to before as a family. A few provisions were chucked in the van and off we set and since it was local we were there in less than 30 mins.. It was a lovely warm Autumn evening and it  didn't take long to make camp so we set off to hunt for blackberries near the lake. I kicked myself for not packing a fishing rod as the fish were biting.
  Our appetites were duly built ,so I rustled up some supper for me and Joel just as the sun was setting and shinning into our little clearing on the edge of the woods. Its funny how the mood of a woodland can change as darkness creeps into what had been lush canopy of green with pools of dappled sunlight.Once Joel was tucked up asleep in the Campervan I lit a fire to keep me company and cracked open a beer. I could see the stars through a clearing in the canopy of foliage and now and then a snap of a twig and a rustle in the undergrowth, as some creature scuttled by. At night I was glad of the campfire as my imagination played tricks on me with the dancing shadows all around.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Campervan and the Festival...

 No British summer is complete without a festival or two. The great thing is no matter what your interest is, whether it's  music, cars , beer ,comedy etc etc there will no doubt  be some kind of outdoor show/festival to suit you.
  Anybody who has ever been to or seen on TV " Glastonbury" will be familiar with the vagaries of the British weather. You get thousands of people in a field in the rain and what do you get....."MUD".. Now here's where the campervan has the advantage over the tent as you are "up" out of the mire and as long as you packed you wellies ,you can be all clean and mud free inside.
  Also the most feared of all things at a festival are the "toilets". If you've ever had the unfortunate need to use one of these plastic coffins of doom you'll know what I mean. Festival rules dictate that the more people that attend the less toilets will be available/fit for use. So a portaloo within the comfort of you Campervan becomes the best thing you ever bought, as long as you remembered the loo paper.
  Assuming you don't intend to buy all your meals from the overpriced "food" vendors then you'll be needing to cook a meal for yourselves. Here again you will come up trumps in your van, as out of the wind and rain..(I did mention rain didn't I).. you can rustle up a simple  yet tasty meal without even leaving your seat. And you can't beat having chilled beer in the fridge and the luxury of being able to put the kettle on in the morning without getting out of bed.

  To be honest though one problem you may encounter with your camper when you mix over two tons of steel and rubber with a boggy field...yes you "WILL" get stuck. This summer when attending one VW festival the camping field more resembled a battle field with us getting stuck once getting in and three times getting out. Thankfully VW folk are a helpful bunch with plenty of people willing to give you a push when you get stuck(don't forget to do the same for others). Ironically the getting stuck in the mud made it more fun for Erin who kept shouting faster faster as we tried to plough through the quagmire.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Due South....

   If you enjoy camping in our green and pleasant Isle, you will be of a hardy breed who will come to expect our weather to be "variable". If you were camping for a week in mid summer, showers even a day of rain would be expected and we would just shrug our shoulders and show that British stoicism for which our nation is famous for.
   However the last couple of years I've noticed a change in our weather patterns, where cooler wetter summers are becoming the norm. This year has been the worst I can remember with records been broken for rainfall month after month and its still July. No matter what is causing this, the fact is spending a week camping (even in a Campervan) can become a miserable affair if it rains most days.
   So what do you do?..Well alas the reality is the further south you go the better the chance of good weather. But even the south west tip of Cornwall and Devon has had washout conditions this year and I know of dozens of outdoor events that have been washed out and even cancelled due to the horrendous conditions.
    It may seem treacherous to our wonderful British countryside but the only solution is to cross the channel going to France , Italy , Spain  in fact anywhere warmer than Britain. When you have children you quickly realise  that they want to be outside playing and not stuck in a damp Campervan playing on their Nintendo DS or watching DVDs.

   Of course such a holiday takes a little more planning , particularly if your Campervan is no longer in the first flush of youth. But with a good service a few carefully selected tools and breakdown cover don't be afraid of a little risk. Last year knowing the gearbox was dodgy and taking a spare  clutch with us we did 2000 miles down through France following the sun. Whilst Britain shivered in the rain and rioters rampaged through the cities , we were chilling on a French beach watching the sun go down.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Running a Campervan...

  For many people the first idea for owning a Campervan comes from something they've seen on TV or read in a magazine and now the idea has been  planted. The dream our escaping everyday life and hitting the open road grows and grows until one day they hit the "Buy it now" button on Ebay.
  Now whether you spent £1000 or £20,000 you still have to keep your new pride and joy going, otherwise you have a rather large and expensive garden ornament. Now regardless how often you use your van it still has to be taxed and insured so straight away that's the best part of £500 gone. On top of that you've got servicing costs and fuel and not forgetting the inevitable breakdowns, so very quickly you can see how that dream of escaping the rat race comes at a cost.
   Fear not all is not lost, the best way to keep costs down is to learn how service and repair your van yourself, thus saving a fortune in labour costs. One of the best ways I learnt about our van was to join a local or national VW club where to can meet fellow Campervan nutters face to face or through many of the online VW Camper forums such as  Club 80-90 .Once you learn you're not alone in your obsession then asking those seemingly silly questions doesn't seem so bad .
  No matter how much you spent on your van it WILL breakdown at some point, leaving you to finish your journey on the back of a truck (we've all been there) . So it goes without saying that breakdown cover is a must, particularly if you plan travelling any distance. One of the best ways to avoid breakdowns is to use you van as much as possible and get used to all its quirks and rattles so then if something new starts rattling you can see to it before it breaks and leaves you stranded. We use our van all year and as of next month it will be the one and only vehicle we own so preventative maintenance is a must.
  For some owning a Campervan will be a passing phase (bought in the spring and sold in the autumn) . But for the rest ,owning a Campervan gets in your blood and you could no sooner sell your van than you could "chop off your hand"....its that addictive. To truly get to know your van who have to at least go once on a "Big" adventure in her and I don't mean a weekend in the Cotswold's. I mean two or three weeks minimum to a place you've never been to before living in each others pockets waking up to a different view each morning. Once you've had your "adventure" all the money and heartache your van has put you through will be worth it and you'll have memories that last a life time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Camping with Autism...

Joel is a good looking happy five year old boy who loves animals and being outside. To look at he appears no different from all the other children in the park except if you talked to him he would never speak back and probably just ignore you and run off... Yes Joel is Autistic.
  Autism has a very wide spectrum of symptoms and indeed no two Autistic people would show the same characteristics and yet one in a hundred people are thought to have Autism in one form or another. So you see it's quite probable you've met some one with Autism and either not known or just put their behaviour down to a personality quirk.

  Back to Joel though. Joel was diagnosed with Autism aged three when certain characteristics were noticed at his preschool and thankfully with their support and now with his Infant schools help Joel is happy and making progress. One key factor with many forms of Autism is that the individual relies on routine and order in many aspects of daily life and if things are different they can become unsettled and upset.  So as you can imagine going on a camping trip can seem fraught with potential upsetting scenarios that would put most parents with Autistic children off the entire idea.
 Thankfully this is where the Campervan is so useful. Because we use the van all the time even for shopping trips, Joel is used to being in it. Also when we first got the van we spent time playing in it with his toys and older sister and so after a while it just became an extension of home. The big test came on our first camp out just a few miles from home. We packed his favourite food (very important for children with Autism) his favourite toys and with a little trepidation set off....He loved it..especially the freedom of being outside, it even helped him to socialise with other children. It was quite touching when his sister Erin who is only 18 months older than him was explaining to the other children that Joel couldn't speak because he was Autistic.

 Each camping trip we've gone for longer and longer expeditions until last year we spent three weeks touring France and Joel loved it ( so did we).  In many ways our camping expeditions have made Joel more able to cope with different routines and even encouraged him to try new activities and foods. So much so that now all Joel wants for breakfast is croissant's.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Homebrewed Campervan.....

Lets get something clear when we mention a homebrewed Campervan, that we aren't talking about any illegal moonshine still in the back of a Camper, that's produce would send you blind. Rather we're talking about converting a humble Van or minibus into your home from home on wheels. As a couple we've always enjoyed camping with family and friends and so when Erin and Joel were born we sort to introduce them to the joys of living outdoors. About four years ago we splashed out on a new "family" dome tent and set off to our favourite destination of Anglesey in North Wales.Though we were well equipped that first night a "summer" storm rolled in and we endured the worst night in our camping lives as the wind and rain battered our tent. Needless to say we got no sleep that night and we looked on in envy at the Campervan pitched near to us that rode out the storm with ease..That day I vowed that the next camping trip would be in a Campervan. The trouble with campervans especially VW ones is that they are highly sort after and so that is reflected in the prices. Our budget was small and so the only one we could afford was a VW T25 Danbury conversion that we got off Ebay for £1400..To say that it was rusty would be an understatement, but undaunted I vowed to restore her back to glory over a year or so (rolling restoration) Alas it quickly became clear that the rot was deep and my pockets were shallow and after four months I sold her on. Despite this setback we kept searching until one day we sported a "Ex Taxi" late model VW T25 on Ebay. Clearly unloved but solid she was crying out for some TLC. After parting with £900 and a long journey home at 50mph she sat outside our house and I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.We drove her around for a while, as we drew up our plans to convert her into a camper After about a month our plans were drawn up and We set about sourcing the bits we would need to build our "bespoke" camper on a paupers budget. Many of the bits came off Ebay ,like the hightop roof , flooring, seat cushions ,sink fridge ect ect. The units and cupboards were modified "Ikea" kitchen units and the front seat were from a VW club member. So as you can see I cast my net far and wide often travelling 100s of miles to collect items. The key to success in building your own Campervan is research and patience, as building the camper had to fit in with every day life's demands. It was nice to involve the family in building her and it was scary at times (cutting a hole in the roof)but the sense of achievement was immense as it was all my own work. In took about 6 months to initially finish the Camper which it included painting her using a roller and special paint (I'm serious). The best bit about doing it yourself is the cost..£900 for the Van and then another £1400 over 6 months to convert her. So for £2300 we got our homemade bespoke budget camper and no more storm ravaged sleepless nights. So if you fancy your own Campervan but can't afford the mega bucks they demand these days, role up your sleaves and have a go yourself. Then one day you will peer out of the the window of your snug Campervan at the poor souls trying to pitch their tents in a howling gale and a warm smugness will make you smile from ear to ear....

Monday, April 9, 2012

Let there be Light...

Last month I was re-upholstering the high top area of the Campervan after many complaints last year of tatty state it was getting in (it is over 22 years old ..tsk) Whilst the roof panels were out I decided to improve the lighting as the existing lighting was ok , but when you slept "up top" you couldn't reach the light switches and it was looking a little dated. I decided to fit some recessed halogen down lighters (12v)which I picked up in the bargain bucket at my local B&Q for the princely sum of £5. A little rewiring and new switches and hey presto .."We have Light"...Next job new door panels!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring refurbishment....

Now the days are drawing out, I feel inspired to spend more time doing those jobs on the camper which I've been putting off over the dark winter months.Last week I got round to fixing one of those niggly jobs everyone hates ,in this case a dodgy speedo. Now I'm rarely likely to break the speed limit on the motorway, but around town it would be nice to know how "slow" I'm going.It turned out to be a little clip that had dropped off the speedo cable at the hub and cost pennies to fix and all of 5 mins of my time to do and yet I've been without a speedo for 3 months.. (slacker that I
Next on the list was the lining of the hightop bed area which was starting to disintegrate and shower very itchy dust on us as we slept. Thankfully they are fairly easy to remove and after a visit to my local upholsters (A campervan owner himself)I returned with a role of vinyl and foam padding and glue...guess what I was doing the rest of the day?..
Hopefully this will all be done by Easter, which if the weather is fair, will be a great time to get away with the family.
Mmm what's next on my list?...interior lights... To be Continued....