Archive for December, 2015

December 23, 2015

Amdro – turning an MPV into a campervan

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that I started to miss the Bongo after we had it scrapped. Although it only got used a few times a year, I liked the idea of being able to jump in it at a whim and disappear into the hills. The thing that often stopped me doing so was the prohibitive cost, it was a gas guzzler getting only around 23mpg.

Looking round for a more economical replacement I was shocked at just how expensive campervans are these days. Even panel vans with less than 100k on the clock and in good nick cost enough to make your eyes water. I then discovered a company based in North Wales that makes removable campervan kits for van based MPV’s, I was sold on the idea.

There are loads of these types of vehicles knocking about which means that you can easily buy a decent one second hand. We opted for the rather utilitarian looking Fiat Doblo, finding one with low mileage and a reasonably powerful 1.9 litre diesel engine. It’s proved more than capable of getting up the steepest moorland roads and cruising comfortably on the motorways. A week after getting the car, the campervan kit arrived from Wales. Here are a few photos showing how it all works (mud and dog hair courtesy of Reuben).

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Just another car parked at a muddy North York Moors car park.

 

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When driving around it is a normal 5 seater car, the camper kit hidden in the boot.

 

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The Amdro boot jump sits in the boot ready for use. It simply clamps into place and can be removed when not needed.

 

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To make a bed you simply pull the front seats forward and flatten the back seats. The Amdro boot jump then folds outwards to provide a flat platform. The lighter curved section at the front can be removed to access storage boxes underneath and to make a table when in day mode.

 

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The cushions then fit onto the platform to give a very comfortable bed. I’m 6ft and I can lay flat with no problems. There is room for a couple, or a man and his Staffy. Reuben will have to be relegated to one of the front seats when there is two of us though!

 

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For day mode you remove the curved section and using the pole provided it becomes a handy table. Two people can sit and eat comfortably.

 

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The kitchen unit slides out on rails from under one of the seats. Under the other seat there are two plastic crates for storage.

 

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The stove is a high quality double alcohol burner, mainly designed for use on boats. It is simple and works well. A spill proof reservoir under each burner holds over a litre of fuel. There is then enough room to store your kitchen equipment, although you have to be fairly minimalist. It’s a handy thing to have even when not using the van as a camper. It is easy to just pull over and make a cuppa or cook a meal. If the weather is bad the stove unit can be lifted out and used inside (making sure there is adequate ventilation).

 

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Over the past weekend it proved to be a comfy place to hang out whilst the wind blasted across the North York Moors. I’ll do a proper review at some point after using it over the next year. The main thing I will be looking at is how it copes with extended use and abuse.

Amdro can be found here.

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December 16, 2015

Battered days and bothy nights in the Ettrick Hills – pt2

by backpackingbongos

One of the things that I had been pondering during the night was whether the track marked on the 1:50,000 map existed on the ground. A quick scout around the area the night before showed a worrying lack of anything track like, this being confirmed by the 1:25,000 map. Two maps by Ordnance Survey failing to confer was a bit worrying as my onward route was through a dense forestry plantation.

The damp weather followed by a cold still night meant that the Enan was a bit drippy with condensation when I got up. I was soon packed and making my way across wet tussocky ground, the grasses having a fine autumnal tint.

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Of course the track did not exist, instead I followed the stream to the forest edge and was pleased to see that there was a small strip of unplanted ground on either side of it. Mist was rising through the trees and there was not a breath of wind. The silence was deafening as I slowly made my way into this long forgotten corner.

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The going was tough, the ground uneven and the grass long and wet. Encroaching trees had me crossing the stream several times, wire from a long rotten fence attempting to trip me. One area was a large quaking bog, the grassy surface wobbling like jelly. I had to close my eyes as I pushed through the dense conifers to avoid it, wary of an errant branch poking me in the eye.

It was with relief when I finally reached the security of a forestry track, a rotten observation post giving me something to lean against and have a well-earned snack. The track then led down to the glen of the Ettrick Water.

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I had planned on climbing some of the hills on the other side of the glen but the cloud hung low and I lacked the enthusiasm to do so. Instead I followed the forestry track on the south side, this being rudely interrupted by a steep, rocky and highly vegetated ravine. I had wondered why the map showed a break in the track for a couple hundred metres, now I knew why. I gingerly climbed down to the stream and then hauled myself up the far side, using vegetation as hand holds, feet scrabbling for purchase on wet rock. The track on the other side had long since grassed over, providing a pleasant if rather slippery alternative to the usual gravel.

As the trees thinned the view down to the head of the Ettrick Water and towards Over Phawhope bothy was one of utter devastation. Extensive felling was taking place and huge new tracks and bridges had been installed since the last time I had visited. The area was a right old mess, although the bothy itself looked as good as ever.

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I had toyed with staying and having a lazy afternoon in front of the fire. However it no longer occupied what previously had felt like a wild out of the way spot. The logging trucks trundling up the other side of the glen did not add to the ambience!

Instead I took to one of the new tracks, leaving it to climb directly up the hillside where there was a break in the forest. This was initially tough going due to the tussocky ground but it got easier with height.

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A detour to bag White Shank and then a wonderful rolling route to the summit of Capel Fell. The views across Moffat Dale to the higher cloud covered hills was spectacular.

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The weather continued to be changeable, a dry-stone wall providing scant shelter from the wind.

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It would have been possible to march back down to the car and get home that night. However despite the weather I was keen to spend another night wild camping. A descent due east led to Ettrick head and a welcoming sign amongst old lichen encrusted fence posts.

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A short descent along the Southern Upland Way and there was a hint of drama with the steep sloped hills.

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I had planned on an exposed pitch with a view but the gusty wind made me settle on a sheltered spot close to the footbridge over the Selcoth Burn. Sadly this meant that the view from my tent was reduced to the grassy bank in front. However as the wind continued to blow and the rain started to fall I was glad to be tucked away for the night.

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There is an alternative high level alternative on the Southern Upland way that zig zags its way up Cat Shoulder and onto Croft Head. This avoids the monotony of the forestry plantations below. I came this way many years ago when the zig zags had just been put in, they were a great eyesore then. They are still not very pretty but I certainly appreciated the assistance they provided in getting me up the steep slopes. With the ravine of the Selcoth Burn as a backdrop I did not need many excuses to stop and get my breath back.

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The wind was fierce along the top of Crookedside Sclenders, ragged banks of cloud being blown up from the damp forest below. The route was marked by wooden posts, although these disappeared at just the wrong moment when descending from Gateshaw Rig, it’s a shame that the route is not marked on the OS maps.

Before joining the main forestry track the path went through an area of golden grasses, lit up by the autumn sun. The path twisted and turned, there was fun to be had in trying to work out where it went next. It is obvious that not many people come this way. I had been out for four days and not seen another hiker in the hills during that time.

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