Wednesday, 22 April 2015

'Classic' Camper meets Captivating Coastline

Billy the 'classic' camper's first road trip was a great success.... what's more, it left me well and truly smitten with Northumberland's magnificent coastline.

So, I promised to fill you in on Billy's first road trip.  But first of all, how come I'm now referring to our old Bedford motorhome as a 'classic'?  Well, I guess when you literally 'chug' onto a rather swanky campsite (two words I never thought I'd use in the same sentence!), its beautifully tended pitches scattered with a selection of top of the range winnebagos, and caravans only marginally smaller than our house, you kind of find yourself looking for ways to keep your pride in tact! So, feeling a little like the Clampetts, we decided to go down the self preservation route and convince ourselves that whilst our particular camping vehicle may be seen by some as simply old, slightly rusty and very out of date, he is in fact (if only in our eyes) an absolute classic!

As mentioned in previous posts, we've had one or two problems restoring Billy and getting him to the stage where he's actually fit for the road, and relatively comfortable to camp in, so it's probably understandable that we were a little apprehensive on our first road trip to Northumberland.  As it turned out, we needn't have worried. Yes, we had to take things at Billy's own pace (top speed 50mph!) but to quote Martin Dorey (BBC2's "One Man and His Campervan"), we were "Kings of the Road" - in other words nothing but wide open road in front... all other vehicles behind! Things were pretty cosy and comfortable on the inside too!

This was a bit of an experimental trip all round really.  Yes, we needed to test out Billy's capabilities and stamina on the road, as well as getting to grips with his on-board facilities (you know... fridge, hob, oven, comfort of bed etc), but actually we also needed to find out whether or not we would even enjoy this motorhome camping malarkey thingybob... which luckily we did!

So, apart from a few minor (but very necessary roadside repairs) which were the result of high motorway winds and dodgy wall panels! (no I'm not joking), everything went very smoothly indeed. Old Billy boy took us from Leeds to Seahouses, Seahouses to Alnwick and Bamburgh, Bamburgh to Low Newton, and across the causeway to Lindisfarne and back.

Of course we were very impressed with the old classic camper's performance, but I have to say, not nearly as impressed as we were with the natural beauty of the Northumberland coastline.  Soft golden sand beneath our feet (which would give any Mediterranian beach a run for its money), crystal clear rock pools, refreshing sea breeze, blue skies with a scattering of fluffy white clouds, and more magnificent castles than any other county in England. Quite simply stunning!

Considering not that long ago, Neil and I used to spend our spare time riding his sports motorcycle around the country (to be more specific Neil rode, I was pillion), it may seem strange that we're now happy to 'cruise' along at little more than 40mph in an ancient camper vehicle, but we're loving it! I'm sure at some point in the future our need for speed may return (once a biker always a biker). I know neither of us would never say never to blowing the dust off our leathers and cycle helmets (although we might both struggle to squeeze into them now!) However for the time being, we're delighted with our old Billy and our newly discovered laid back form of travel.  With one successful trip under our belts and festival season on the horizon, both Neil and I are very much looking forward to our next road trip and camping adventure!

 If you've never visited this part of the UK, I would highly recommend that you do... soon!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Billy's Makeover!

Look at him now... Billy the old Bedford camper has scrubbed up pretty well!

If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll know that my hubby Neil and I (for reasons we still haven't quite figured out) acquired a rather old, rather decrepit Bedford CF motorhome late last summer, and decided to name him Billy!  You'll also know that between then and now, we've faced one or two challenges in getting him ready for his first road trip.

Aaahh, where to start?!  Well, Neil's done a sterling job on dealing with the mechanical side of things... Billy needed a fuel tank restoration and fuel lift pump, refurbished radiator, new alternator, upgraded air filter, and a full service.  We also discovered old Billy had quite a few leaks which had, over the years, resulted in damp and rotting wall panels, as well as a lovely little infestation of woodlice!! On closer inspection, the soft furnishings, which we'd originally thought were in pretty good nick, had also fallen victim of the damp and needed completely replacing. So, wall panels stripped, mouldy foam seating and grubby old carpet ripped up and off to the tip, we had our blank canvas and began the process of  building up old Billy back to his former glory.

To be honest, it sounds worse than it was, as there were actually signs that someone somewhere along the line had taken a bit of pride in Billy, and had made a half-hearted attempt to look after him. Bearing in mind he hadn't been road taxed since 2009, we can't help but wonder if his previous owners had perhaps had no choice but to give up on him for one reason or another, and whilst he'd obviously been left standing unused, it appears he was not totally unloved!  It might sound a bit weird to most (and it would have to me before we started this 'relationship' with an old rotting vehicle), but we've actually become quite attached to our Billy.  I guess we've kind of built up our own story of what we think might have been his history, and why he might have been out of action for a while... that is before we rescued him for a better life and many an adventurous journey ahead - we hope! Actually, do any of you readers know anything of Billy's history?  His reg is KOB 779W, it's a bit of a long shot I know, but it would be great to hear from you if you have any information or knowledge of Billy's life, pre August 2014. 

Anyhow, back to the makeover... compared to the money people fork out for some other old (and granted perhaps more iconic and stylish) camping vehicles, we paid a local garage next to nothing for Billy, and on top of his original purchase price have spent around £500 sprucing him up!  At around £350, the mechanical side of things proved to be the most costly, although this would have been considerably more without Neil's knowledge and practical capabilities in this area. The remainder was spent on plywood, paint, silicone filler (lots of), foam, vinyl flooring, curtains (made with the help of my wonderful mum, from a few old duvet covers), cushions, bunting, fairy lights, and the obligatory whistling camping kettle!

To be honest, our intention was only ever to do a bit of a '60 Minute Makeover' job, and that is pretty much what we've done.  Although it's taken considerably more than 60 minutes, our make-over of Billy has been relatively cheap and cheerful, and we could have done an awful lot (and spent an awful lot) more!  When looking at Billy's exterior, we realise there's still much that could be done, the cab carpet could do with replacing, and we've covered up many an interior imperfection with silicone filler and a lot of paint.  However, 'simplicity' was our goal... a bit of an upgrade in luxury terms compared to the old tent, and never intending to reach the dizzy heights of a modern winnebago, or top of the range caravan.  Indeed far from aspiring to anything remotely luxurious, our aim was to restore something old, something that had been pretty much written off, keep it simple, and work with the abundance of character already there.  In doing this, we feel we've created our very own wonderfully personalised and cosy small space, in which we'll hopefully enjoy many an exciting and relaxing camping experience.

We recently had Billy checked out by a camper van / motor home enthusiast / mechanic, and he reckons we got ourselves a bit of a bargain.  He also reckons that we could probably make a penny or two if we sold him now... as if we would even consider that!

Billy's restoration so far has actually been a really enjoyable and exciting process, however we did realise very early on that it will almost certainly be an ongoing project.  There's still plenty more we'd like to improve upon aesthetically, especially to his exterior, and we're very conscious of the fact he's no spring chicken! However, despite a few hairy moments along the way, when we half considered just giving up and trading him in for scrap (how could we?!), we reckon old Billy's now good to go! And, in fact tomorrow, we set off on our first real road trip, heading for the beautiful English coastline of Northumberland.

So, whilst excited and raring to go, we must bear in mind tomorrow that old Billy doesn't do much above 50mph, and so far (to our knowledge) hasn't been any further than Leeds to Brid!   Indeed, we will have to remember to be very gentle with him all round, if we ever want to make it to our intended destinations of Seahouses, Alnwick and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  Of course we will also make sure we have our vehicle recovery membership card in the glove box... just in case!

I'll let you know how it goes :-)

Old mouldy brown and mustard tartan... to fresh, clean red white and blue!
Temporary fuel tank and tool kit, now replaced with bright comfy cushions, cheery sunflower, retro radio, and a little quote we try to live our lives by!

Old tatty high sleeper... stripped out, re-boarded and freshened up with a bit of  white paint. Now strewn with jolly bunting for that finishing touch... the perfect place to store our bedding, and perhaps for a daytime nap!
Not much work required here actually, except for the addition of a tea and sugar caddy, not forgetting the old whistling camping kettle!

All coming together very nicely... just can't wait to get going now!
Finishing Touches!