March Travel – U.K by van

The travel journey starts

January and February was made up of building the Van. In March travel began. U.K by van was a go. All together I went to 17 different towns and cities and enjoyed the experiences of 20 different places. Yep I get around and why the hell not.

I climbed Snowdon, with its snow covered Summit and rapid change in weather conditions. Hard work and cold but absolutely awesome. Stayed by the sea and slept to the sound of crashing waves, Dont get to say that every day. However to get to these places I also drove along some of the most amazing roads around offering some of the most amazing views possible. Yeah yeah its all been amazing but I have had a few break downs along the way, some character making others have tested my love for this van to the limits. Yeah still love her though.

Best part

Enjoying time with my nephew, sharing special moments with my girlfriend along the route, and enjoying some down time on my own to sit and think. Exactly what made March so great and definitely why I built this van in the first place. U.K by van is definitely the way to see it.

First trip out and off to Woking

Ooooo so excited! the van was almost done and ready for it maiden voyage. Location was woking for a basket ball game. Got loaded up and set off on my travel’s. Bedding in, clothes sorted, food packed and water loaded. I was good to go.

My first trip out was some what funny and expensive. More expencive that funny but now looking back at it some stuff just cant be made up.

I had a Wheelchair basketball game on the Sunday so thought i would go up on the Saturday night. It snowed and I am an idiot! the game got called off due to the weather and i am now snowed in on the side of the road in Woking.

Okay not exactly snowed in as such but there was about 10 inches of snow on the van and it was bloody freezing. Lesson 1.) I need a heater and possibly a onesie.

The journey back was interesting. This is where a mix of cold weather snow and stupidity all meet. Not leaving out the fact that before i even set off in the first place i had locked my keys in the van in Tesco carpark and had to call out the GreenFlag to come and let me back in my own van. I should have really stopped there.

Driving the M4 in snow is no fun, tiring and very interesting. Well the speed of other drivers and the stupidity they show with acts of sheer madness is the interesting part.

the services

Stopping at the services is another very expensive mistake. Yes i went over the 2 hours rule and got fined £100 although I did fall asleep! With my lights on! And the van wouldn’t then start sooooo…. Had to call out GreenFlag again. But not before wondering off to try and find a set of jump leads. I even visited a 24 hour break down service centre behind the services that was bloody SHUT!! honestly WTF..

Oh yeah lets not forget the little short cut I took that seen me fall knee deep in sewage. Not just any sewage but that fatty horrible stuff that seems to come out of chip fries, mix in some water or in my case snow and there is no denying it….. absolutely horrendous.

When the guy from GreenFlag arrived and after he diagnosed my battery as completely dead even he commented on the awful smell in the area. Was rather amused when i told him my tale of adventure in the snow.

He did get me on my way and I did make him a coffee so actually it was not so bad after all. then on the way out some guy drove out of the fuel station and slammed into the side of me. Yep that really did happen and by this point i was wishing i had stayed at home.

the next day

After a good night sleep and rest I purchased a new battery. £145 later, add that to the fine for going over 2 hours at the services, £100 and with fuel and food; looking ata nearly £300 trip.

lessons
  1. I needed a heater as the van gets cold.
  2. Something to cover the front window to offer privacy.
  3. Dont leave the lights on.
  4. Dont stay in the services for longer than two hours.
Good points
  1. The bed was comfortable.
  2. She drove well, even in snow.
  3. The cooker worked well.
  4. The van stayed dry.

Not so much U.K by van, more like park van up and get wallet out. Thankfully this did not put me off and my next adventure was soon upon me.

A week away with my nephew

I had been promising my nephew a road trip as soon as the van was finished and it was a promise I kept. How do you keep an overactive 15 year old entertained in a van? Easy teach him to cook! Coffee and breakfast every morning! WINNER!

We climbed Snowdon just after the snow. It started off hot and as we got higher it got hotter by the foot. The views where something else. I have climbed this mountain several times. I had completed the 3 peaks challenge twice. The problem with a challenge is it timed so you never really stop and just appreciate the place.

We watched a herd of mountain goats go about their business, tried to sneak up really close but they aint stupid and soon moved away from us. Some of the view are just breath taking. I believe that when you climb any mountain its not a case of beating the mountain its a case of if the mountain allows you to pass.

Just after the pass the remaining snow was getting thicker. Out came the cramp-ons to help with grip underfoot. These are basically spikes that you wear on your feet but at first site they look like something out of fifty shade of grey. Once on they are an absolute god send. Although i still managed to fall on my arse. And more than once.

The summit was completely white and thick with snow. The Walk up took us through snow drifts up to my shoulder. The experience was just awesome, here I was with my nephew. Two of us working together looking after each other. I was teaching him a few skill of mountaineering. Showing him how quickly it could turn and he was there absorbing everything. Smiles all round.

Dol Idris parking

Free parking over night with toilets and great views. Not much else needs to be said. my U.K by van adventure is full of these little gems.

Next up Cader Idris

Now this is a mountain that never lets me pass with ease. I have attempted this climb many times. Once I even sat on the grass and cried because the pain was so bad I didn’t think I would get off. Once you summit it makes it all worth the effort.

When my nephew and I attempted this climb the weather was against us. We first climbed the never ending steps through this forest. Heavy rain made things a bit miserable. We emerged through and into sun. Then we was greeted with natures humour by sending bellows of snow our way.

Unfortunately we made the correct decision to climb back off, some risks are just not worth it. First lesson I ever learnt about mountains is to know your limits. Worst thing was we where only 95 feet from the summit.

Yeah it sucked but it will be there another day.

Molifor Farm Beach Park

I dont need to say much here. My U.K by van next overnight stop was just fantastic. Sleeping with the sound of the sea cashing against the beach. peaceful and tranquil. Perfection! And no Signal. My nephew had to read!!

And then there are the regular places

What a month! amazing time and some fantastic experiences. Some great new places explored and some good old regular hangouts. Glastonbury is always a favourite of mine. A place where you can just be yourself. everyone seems to get along. great places for food and just very unique. Ogmore is another place. Very close to my heart with great memories of days out with my parents as a child. Tinern Abbey always gives me a great closeness to my late father and sometime i will simply drive down there, park up and have a brew. Why not I am after all in a campervan.

Stepping towards Campervan-Life

The goal “Life Changes”

I have been dreaming of the freedom of a Campervan-life for years. The idea of being able to go where I like when I like.

Of course that’s not always the case! Yes I work. People often tend to think that as I am in a wheelchair I instantly get everything for free. That is not the case.

Up until recently it is no secret now, I was married, owned my own home, had a car on finance and had bills and Direct Debits up to my eyeballs. I am sure most people can relate to this, the life of imprisonment by your own made responsibilities. Well that soon all changed when my wife left and I got divorced. The house has been sold and suddenly i have a lot less bills and things holding me down. Again there are people out there that will relate to this situation as well, the moment you stop and realise that all of a sudden you are stood there and you just cant remember who the bloody hell you are.

Needless to say its been tough. I have had a lot of change. Not all for the good but also not all for the bad either. I have found that for the first time in years my bills are minimal, my outgoings are low and I have the opportunity to free up some of the time in my life to follow my dream.

step one find a van

first step was to find a van! I honestly thought this would be easy. however I know “NOTHING” about vans. The options are never-ending. Different sizes! all sorts of makes. And as for cost, that’s just an open ended cheque.

I decided to write a list of what I wanted and needed. The list got bigger the more I thought about it, then I looked into other people’s vans for inspiration. Places like Pin-interest, Instagram and the many Facebook groups and pages.

My List
  • A fixed Bed
  • a sink
  • cooker
  • storage for food,
  • somewhere to prepare food
  • A place for clothes, and some things.
  • wheelchair storage
  • Tools
  • a woodburner
  • shelves
  • table to eat
  • chairs to sit at
  • rustic look
  • good engine
  • low mileage preferred
  • It needs to be clean ‘ish’
  • Can I stand in the van
  • Bodywork in ok condition
  • Side window
  • rear window
  • heating

Layout was going to be tricky. Getting in all the bits I want. A fixed bed. with storage under it to fit two wheel chairs. Storage for clothes and food. Somewhere for tools. I needed to look at my options for cooking as I didnt really what to fit gas. I have been looking at my choices for heating, What do I go for that is reasonably priced? and this is currently still a question i have to answer.

The Van I purchased step one completed

First I purchased a medium wheel based ford transit for £800, an absolute bargain. I was just waiting for everything to tie together when One day the guy I bought it off gave me a call.
He had just had a LDV convoy 400 in. It was longer, had only done 30,000 miles, was all in all in good condition and pretty much good to go.
It was a few hundred more but worth the money. looking at the van and for some unknown reason I fell in love with it straight away, she really is a bit of an ugly duckling but at the same time retro and cool. She was perfect!!

The Strip out

Stripping out all the insides was great Fun. Taking the old bus back to its shell and giving it a bit of TLC.
I found rust and lots of it. New steps were needed and the cab was soaking. The seats came out first then the cab liner. the Dash was a mess and damaged.
A cheap makeshift bulk head and all the wall boards were removed. The floor boards were lifted and the extent of the rust was apparent. Not to mention I had a fern bush growing under the front seat.

With a wire brush attached to my drill I was able to clean off all the light stuff. A grinder got rid of all the deeper rot and reviled a few holes in places they shouldnt have been.
Left with an empty shell and some welding to do it was soon decided a good idea to fit better seats. There was a rather exciting moment when a mate told me of a set of BMW seats he had out of a 5 series. (in leather). Well the seats where still in the BMW and the car was a scrap. The seats where green! These needed to be cleaned and then cleaned again and then modified to fit..

Welding and building.

Welding is an art form and not a skill I have at the ready but what I did have, a Mike. Starting in the back and rebuilding the wheel arches, big chunks of the floor and spot welding the smaller holes in no time at all the rear of the van was good to go.
With plates everywhere but the holes gone I could get back in to the next stage of building.

The front was where Mike really showed off his skills. The passenger seat was fine it had room to position and the new seat was only a single compared to the bench seat that came out.
The driver seat was a bit more tricky. with it being wider than the original, having a hand brake in the way and a step to think about it all had to sit centre.
Mike built a new step and amended the position of the hand brake. Took a few hours and a bit of steel but once painted you would never know.

Base painting

I was advised to treat the whole floor with Zinc182 and glad I did. It offers a protection layer that is water-resistant. I remember painting it on and thinking that the van looked almost new when I finished.
Top Tip do it on a dry day with plenty of air flow.

Insulation

Here is an area where I made a few mistakes but soon learned by my errors. first off I did it on a day I had nothing else to do. Then realised I still had to do the welding so ended up creating a massive fire risk.
I also done the roof and struggled my arse off with my girlfriend in assistance only to find that I couldn’t fit the timber tidy as it was in the way so had to strip it all out again and pack it behind the timber as I went.
Foolishly I thought 1 roll would be enough, I was mistaken and 5 rolls later I had used the lot. I don’t know the right or wrong way to be honest I know there are loads of different materials you can use, I went for loft insulation. It worked for me!!

Timber clad

I really wanted a timber look. I wanted a feel of my father in the van. Dad was a carpenter and loved working with wood. I was never very good at DIY and in fact it was a bit of a standing joke at exactly how bad I was.
I knew I was going to test myself but that was the idea so I kind of just cracked on.

The main issue I had was angles. The curve of the roof from side to side was obvious. The bow from the front to the back! not so!

I ended up cladding up the side so far and the making the roof flat and cladding up to the side peaces. This lost the bow in the corner and I made a nice little lighting feature out of it.
The Banding idea was something I really wanted. It covered the joints I had not done very well on and it gave the van a bit of character that i instantly fell in love with.

Pine is a very light timber and yes I could have kept it however I wanted rustic not new. To get the effect I wanted  the timber had to be scorched with a blowtorch and then stained to dull it down.  Deb was the blowtorch Queen.

The after effect was absolutely gorgeous and I couldn’t have been happier.

Internal Fittings

So here I was the body of the van, completed! The cladding internal shell was ready to be fitted to and now i had to somehow fit my list of wants and needs into the space that I had created.

The bed

The most important feature, and the storage underneath was going to be fundamental in the success of the concept. So that was where I started. Once that was in place i had ticked off the bed, the clothes storage and the wheelchair storage.

work top area

Next on the list was somewhere to cook, wash and prepare food. As well as the idea of storing food I needed to think about the gas bottle and water storage. Now at the beginning of this project I didn’t really want to fit gas. To be fair I researched a lot of options but gas was by far my best choice, so gas it was.

I built the unit off the side of the bed, Framed against the side wall and anchored into the floor it formed a strong and sturdy framework ready to clad the same as the roof to tie it all in nicely. With in the unit I created a space for the battery as well, a nice little bonus.

Once the doors where on and the timber was treated the same as the roof the look was awesome and exactly what I was looking for. A bit rough in areas and almost square it created a timber based rustic unit that covered off most of the wants and needs except the wood burner. This unfortunately was not to be but as time has gone on I think it was the right choice for my van.

seating

The seating area gave me the opportunity to create two great storage boxes that could double up as seats, also it is a requirement for the DVLA so in they went. A simple design and one that was perfect. My tool box was created on one side and on the other lives the BBQ, a spare camping cooker (you never know) and a few extra bits that needed a space.

The over head Cab

This caused me some real headaches! the shape was horrible with loads of angles. My skills where just not cut out for this. I sat for a bit, did a bit then sat for a bit more. Didn’t like it so ripped it out and started again. Again I didn’t like it and out it came. Lots more sitting and in the end with a bit more help from the trusted Mike the idea was born to simply spray the inside black and use storage boxes to create the best use of the space. Why didn’t I just do that in the first place?

The Cab Header was taken out of a scrap box van and cut down to fit, this really finished off the look perfectly, gave a soft finish but still in keeping with the rustic look. I even fitted a retro light in the cab. Around the rough edges I used the banding to tie everything in together. The corner sections where the overhead met the side walls I created a beam like look using up some of the scraps and off cuts. Once the door was fitted and the wood made to blend in all the effort was worth it.

Electrics / Gas

Originally I was completely intimidated by electrical systems for Vans. Some of the drawings on-line was so complicated and terrifying that I really didn’t think I was up to the task.

Lots of Youtube videos, plenty of research and loads of asking advice the concept was actually made very easy to me by a friend who specialises in auto electrics. I  wont lie, I can’t advise you how to do it, that would be wrong but i simply kept it simple. My switch panel came with all the fuses built-in. Everything goes into the panel and is isolated there. Idea is “keep it simple” my whole van is run on 12v so again no other added complications. I have a 240 cable in the back of the van for camp site use and that has 4 sockets on it so again nice and easy.

My lights are all LED and low voltage, Have two sets on centre lights and some reading lights by the bed. All fused! along side that i have some LED strip lights that run along the corners offering me a great mood light effect.

With 6 USB charge ports and 3 12v sockets I have plenty to choose from. These run my cool box, charges my phone and for music i use a pulse speaker with a usb charger.

Now for the Gas……. the area I really did not want to go anywhere near. Then I found a two burner hob. Instantly simple and as safe as houses. One gas bottle, one meter of gas pipe, two ring connectors and a regulator. Job Done!!

Are we happy?

Completely, absolutely and with out a doubt. The van has already offered me freedom to go places. I am experiencing new people all the time. Time, something I can now enjoy. and do I recommend this for others? In a heart beat.

For me this was not only a dream, it became a journey. I wanted to test myself find out who I was. I met someone on the way who shared in this vision. We became connected with the van helping us along in a positive way. A bad day at work now just motivates us to get in the van and escape the holdings of life. Most of all now I am inspired to be who I want to be wherever that maybe and whenever I decide to do it. This van is more than just four wheels, it’s the key to escape the holding that reality forces on to us and with that comes freedom.