A couple more nights to go and we start our first long adventure in our new campervan; 16 nights to go up North and travel round (most of) the NC500, a 500 mile route around the north coast of Scotland.
How did we get here? Well, about 13.8 billion years ago... 😂
For a long time I've wanted a campervan, it was one of those things I'd always wanted but never really imagined happening. They aren't "on a whim" cheap and it always seemed like it wasn't the right time. Our house didn't have space for another vehicle, children, a million other little reasons.
Last summer we both decided to take every Friday off in July and August and do "family days", the very first being a trip to Brighton. We wandered the little back streets, found quirky shops, went to the fair and had some fantastic food from a vegan restaurant. And then we were going home ☹️ The day was fine and the weekend was about to start. While the children were sleeping in the back one of us (and I honestly can't remember who) said "if we had a campervan we could have stayed over and made a weekend out of it". And so we rushed into buying our first campervan; a Mazda Bongo Friendee.
These vehicles are amazing, the AFT versions come with a built in electrically operated roof tent, separate front and rear climate controls, electrically operated blinds, and they smell of 90s Japanese cars. Now this last part might not be a positive to many but every time I got into it just set the atmosphere and made me smile.
We bought one that had been converted by removing the 3rd row of seats and replacing it with a kitchen area and a couple of bench seats that along with the table and the rotated middle bench became a bed. I went go into all the details but suffice to say we had an absolutely awesome time that summer, going away somewhere nearly every weekend.
We hadn't spent too much on the Bongo in case it turned out that we hated the whole camping thing, but despite loving it we knew that for the 4 of us and some of the trips we wanted to do that we'd need to buy something larger. I spent many weeks looking every night to see what new vans had come up for sale that day, resigned to having to pay the VW scene tax (T5/T6s are nice but you pay proportionally more for them than other vans) because that's pretty much the whole of the campervan market. Sure you see others occasionally but they're that much rarer and usually too far away. Until one night up popped a Vauxhall Vivaro campervan at a reasonable price, low mileage and ticking pretty much every one of our requirements. And even better it was only 5 miles away. I sent a message that night, we saw it lunchtime the next day and agreed to buy it the same day!
So now we had two campervans in the middle of winter. Now like convertibles winter is a great time to buy and a bad time to sell. But no worries, we could hold onto to the Bongo until spring when the market picks up and sell it then 🤦🏻♂️ Thanks coronavirus. Although in the end once lockdown ended the market for campervans went a little bonkers and we sold it in less than 12 hours for what it owed us.
Knowing that we wanted to get away for a long trip in the summer I had booked the new van in to get a pop top roof fitted over Easter, the fitter was in Castleford not to far from Jane's parents house so the plan was to stay with them for a couple of weeks and do Easter there while the roof was fitted... Oh, yeah, coronavirus again 🙄
Luckily I was able to arrange to get it done during July and we were now long trip ready. Well almost, before getting the roof fitted we took a family trip to Knowsley Safari park and being familiar with the pleasant, sedate monkeys at Longleat decided to drive through the ape enclosure. That was a terrible mistake. Those Northern beasts were feral creatures who descended on unsuspecting cars tearing and biting them apart. We escaped having only lost a piece of trim from the bonnet and both windscreen washer jets. Cheeky 🐒🐒🐒
Back home and seeing that Spain and other countries were looking inaccessible or requiring quarantine we decided that a visit to the North coast of Scotland that we had planned for a year or twos time would probably be our best bet at a holiday away this year. There were still a couple more jobs to do to get the van completely ready; fit curtains to the rear barn door windows, put a new stereo in with DAB radio and Android Auto and fit new seatbelts on the RnR bed that are longer to go round Liliya's new car seat.
The radio fitting was uneventful but time consuming, I had to take the dash half out to run the cable for the DAB aerial and hack out several bits of plastic in the depths of the dash so the new unit would actually fit in. Same with the seatbelts it was simply unbolt and replace. The rear curtains though were a little more trouble. The "kit" was a generic one, not customised, the rails that the curtains go in came straight, the space they go into is curved 🤔 after measuring twice, cutting once and carefully hammering hundreds of times I got them into a state that they fit and looked good. Now to actually attach them which necessitated drilling holes in the body work of van 😱 This is one of those situations where I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing but if I get it wrong it could make a horrific mess. Issues with secondary door skins, a rivet gun and a small amount of super glue later and they were all in.
Van ready, route planned, time to go!