We've done lots of camping over the years, many's a night on a beach, mountain sides, fields, forests, you name it, we've kipped on it. Having done the touring caravan thing we moved up to owning a motorhome, which was fantastic, the only downside was that it sat at the side of the house for 6 months of the year, off the road. Not through any mechanical issue, just, well, it's the weather here. It's shit!
It rains a lot here in Northern Ireland, and I mean a lot! But here in the North West of the North, it rains even more than the rest of the country. I've spent a morning in blistering heat in South Down (the East side) on one of those rare sunny days, then travelled up to the North West (NW) only to see it pissing down with rain, and I'm only talking 2 hours drive away. There must be something about that notorious Glenshane Pass that doesn't allow the clouds to pass, just stacking them up one on top of the other until they burst and flood back down all over us here in the County Londonderry region.
Where was I? Oh yeah, camping and motorhome ownership.
Why did we sell the motorhome in the first place? My wife says it's all my fault we had to sell it cause I was always a grumpy git on the first few nights away, intolerable apparently, I have no clue what she's on about! Maybe it was the thought of having to live in a tin can full of grumpy kids and two wet, smelly dogs that put me off, but we'll never know, despite what she says. Once we sold it though, we instantly regretted it. The finances of owning an all year vehicle and yet only using it 50% of the year spoke for itself if we were really being honest.
Dial forward 12 months, and we have a massive van at the side of the house that I'm planning on converting, but one I'm also going to be using as an all year round vehicle for the work commute and obviously as a base for my photography and videography work. It has to be able to hide in plain sight, which is going to be difficult as the thing is over 10ft tall. It also has to be comfortable enough for a weekend away for me, the missus and the two dogs. No kids allowed, they moan too much that they're bored, or that they can't get WIFI, plus they need feeding all the time, so no.
Anyway, our first few nights away in the as yet, unfurnished to my plans (which I've still yet to draw up), were upon us. Coldplay were playing in Croke Park, Dublin and my wife has been wanting to see them since she missed out over 8 years ago. We've been together the last 7, and I promised, come what may, I'd get her there. That meant not chancing fate, and going the night before.
Friends are going to be meeting us down their on the Saturday, so we found a decent enough spot to park using Google Maps. Less than 15 minutes walk from the stadium, and less that 4 minutes away from the hotel our friends would be staying in. All I had to do was make sure the van was ready.
We'd essentially be camping inside the van. As I said, it's not what you would call homely. The previous owner just slept in it when he was done for the day working on a building site across England, so it was practical for his needs, and comfort wasn't high on his list.
There's plumbing in there for hot water for a wash and shower, and there's also a toilet with an electric flush, all very practical. I filled the internal fresh water tank at the back, and got the air beds ready, the wife got the blankets and a Camping Grab Chest, which is a chest that contains everything you need to eat, sleep and cook with. It's even got various lights in there, so we're sorted on that front. The 12v fridge was lifted down from the attic and packed with drinks and snacks, as we knew we'd be enjoying a few meals out, so cooking wise, that wasn't going to happen inside the van this weekend. Once all set up, we set off down the country for a 3 and a half hour road trip, with a quick pit-stop to see my kids at their Mum's.
Driving something of this scale is almost like driving a lorry. The road view is amazing. I keep forgetting it has 6 gears and kick myself when I cotton on I've been coasting in 5th for while without realising. The wipers are shite, so another thing to add to the list of replacement parts. The washer jets are actually on the blades, but only one of the 6 spray holes work. When will this list ever end?
It's holding a 60ltr fuel tank, and with the way the prices are on fuel, we tapped out at £60 in filling it up. It must have had a few sips left in the almost empty tank.
Noise wise, it has it's issues. Plenty of rattles and squeaks, which I'm sure I'll be able to resolve with a new cab carpet, and finishing off some of the insulation on the sliding door. When just idling it's grand, not a peep, only when we're moving does it play the song of it's people.
A quick stop to see my daughter who was over visiting her Mum from Scotland, hug from the other kids after a bit of craic, and we're motoring again all the way to Dublin, avoiding the toll roads, cause I'm a cheap skate, and I didn't have any Euros on me yet.
I found the road I was hoping to park on easily enough, and with the benefit of rear parking cameras I managed to squeeze the van into a parking space with inches to spare and we got settled for the evening.
When you're finally forced to live in the space, only then do you start finding other faults that you previously never gave any thought too. The first being: No toilet flush. It just wouldn't work! There was water in the tank, the water pump was working, and when you pressed the toilet flush switch, the lights dimmed a little, yet no water appeared. Thankfully I brought along some spray bleach to help wash anything down that needed washing down. The taps in the sink gave a quick burst of water, then they too stopped working! No water at all coming through anything. Fine... I'll deal with you when I get home! Ever the cub scout, I had bought water on the way down, so we were grand for a quick wash if we needed too go beyond the baby wipe shower.
We had the company of a few spiders dotted around the place, which were quickly despatched the following morning, and I also noticed that the sliding door doesn't sit flush against the van. I've since tried to adjust it, but to no avail, as there's no more give in the guides to pull it in further. I'll seek expert advice on that later.
The previous owner had fitted a TV aerial to the roof, but then when he'd bought his new wagon, he transferred that aerial to it. Leaving us with the pole housing and a hole for good measure. The second night's rain managed to find it's way down the pipe. A bung is now needed for that to stop that happening again. I might even get that welded over and sealed up when I go see my favourite welder again.
First night in the camperNot wanting to drain too much from the leisure battery, I used our camping lights.
The next thing I found was that although we do have a leisure battery fitted to the rear of the vehicle which takes a charge from the starter battery, it doesn't appear to have a working switch isolation relay. I found that out after we got back from the concert. I'd left the 12v fridge running to keep the beers cold for our return, only to find everything dead, including the starter battery. Back to cub scout mode, I'd packed jumper leads for this very event. As I said in a previous blog, there are way too many leads coming off that starter battery for me to run any risk.
After a few minutes of me trying to flag someone down to help me jump start the van, a kind Polish gentlemen stopped and got our engine going. Which meant I had to sit in the van not drinking whilst it was charged itself up for a bit. Needs must I suppose. It was still good to go the next morning, but back to that shopping list we go - New Switch Isolation Relay.
The drive back was uneventful, I think I've learned a lot about the space we were in. It's given me a few structural jobs to think about, a bit more welding (roof) and I'm going to have to bite the bullet and sort out that wiring, but the interior has to come out first for that to happen. Anything that needs power from the starter battery will be handled by a main switching panel so I can turn off any and all unnecessary items for fault finding.
I worked out the water situation this week, but I'll tell you more about that next time, and how I nearly shot myself in the foot with the official camper classification.
Oh, Coldplay, I forgot to mention, they were amazing! Just look at my wife's wee face!
My wife's dream come true!Coldplay were amazing! Just look at the amount of people...