NEC Show 2018

Had a great time at the NEC looking at equipment for outr new van.

To get ready for the arrival of our new VW Crafter that we are going to convert over the winter we took ourselves and our credit cards to the NEC Motorhome Show. We booked a hotel the nights before and after to give ourselves a whole day and what a good day we had. The show wasn’t too busy on a Thursday and we were there from open to close. So what did we see and and buy.

Well we started with a look around some of the big panel vans on offer. Most were on Fiat Ducato chases with just a few on Sprinter and Crafter chassis. To be honest we didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen before and if the did one thing it confirmed for us why our fit out ideas are better than the market norms. There were only a couple on VW chassis, Westfalia and Hillside, but these just followed the others so nothing inspiring although we did learn a couple of useful points.

So off to start spending. Talking to some of the companies there we ended up identifying a few “deals” and a couple of decisions to make. As well as finding out who to go to when the time came. The idea though was to buy as much big kit as we could now to hedge against the pound crashing further after brexit and to make sure we had the kit ready to do the job.

Fiamma F65S Awning

Trying to understand the difference between makes and models we spoke to both Fiamma and Thule about wind out awnings. It always amazes me how little some of the people on stands know about the product, often companies seem to take anyone along regardless of their ability to present and sell the product. Anyway rant over. So after deliberating we were minded to go for Thule but when we tried to place the order the price we were told just went up and up so in the end we went back to Fiamma, who incidentally were being represented by our local dealer, Johns Cross. From them we ordered a 4 meter long F65S in black with a grey fabric. The painful thing wasn’t the several hundred pounds for the awning but the £180 for the fixing kit! Still it was on order and by the time we got home the following afternoon it had been delivered direct from the distributor.

We had been going to look at a Thetford fridge that is designed for a panel van. Campervan fridges are ridiculously expensive for what they are and this was certainly no exception. On the way to look at at it we stopped by Vitrifrigo whom we had bought our last fridge from only to be presented with a new slightly larger, cleverer and even more expensive fridge. These both had us in a quandary for the day. The head man from the Vitifrigo made us a show special and returning customer off that in the end we could not resist.

Vitrifrigo SLIM150 Fridge

The 150L compressor fridge layout is the best we have seen in a compact package and with a remote compressor. It has a large -18C 3* freezer compartment and brilliant cool drawer. It can be set to night mode to keep it quiet and turbo mode for freezing. The fridge is a useful height that will sit in a cabinet over one of the rear wheel arches. Yes it was very expensive but it will be a boon to be able to shop and store for more than a day at a time.

Wallas XC DUO Diesel Hob & Heater

Next on the list was our Wallas XC Duo diesel hob / heater – the same as we had in Van Blanc. Actually we already knew we were going to buy one so this was just a placing the order exercise. Sue loved cooking on ours and although we rarely used it for heating we are sure that in a well insulated van it will have no problem keeping us warm. Anyway we wanted to say help to Darren the tech sales guy from Wallas and had fun helping him make a couple of sales.

Aguti 2017> VW Crafter Swivel Base

For all sorts of configuration reasons we had to order the van without swivel seats and use aftermarket swivel bases. I found that no one yet seemed to make specific units and that converters were using those for other models and adapting them. So at the NEC I had a look at a Westfalia “Sven Heiden” that is based on a crafter and found they had used some from a company called Aguti that I had not seen before. Later in the day we came across a trade distributor who had Aguti in their range and who told me that they had recently got the bases but as no one yet had them for sale they would sell direct. Again they are expensive but they are the right thing and seemed to work well.

And really that is all we bought and paid for at the show although we looked at a lot of other products that we have since come home and ordered that I will detail my next posts.

Why “Van Wolf”

So why is this van called Van Wolf?

Ordinarily would have liked another white van but really – a long wheel base Crafter doesn’t do it. Too much white and looks like a DPD delivery.

Oh and it cost £8 just to hose the dirt off Van Blanc after the tunnel cleaning in Norway. So this time we decided on metallic Iridium Grey in the hope that it won’t show the dirt so easily.

So we needed a name that would lead to a decent graphic. We started with VW which gave us Van W From there we got Van Wolfsburg  (Wolfsburg is the historic home of VW) which then got shorted to Van Wolf. Wolf is good because we can get some nice frontal and silhouette graphics and some decent gothic fonts.

So there you have it.

The Reasons for Van Wolf

We have thoroughly enjoyed the past 5 years with our T5 and T6 vans. We have been on incredible journeys and visited fabulous places and want to do much more of it while we can. However doing long trips in the past two years we came to recognise the difficulties of travelling is a small van especially in less than perfect weather. That said in fine weather a lot of the problems diminish but new ones of crowded roads and busy camp sites replace them. We came to the conclusion if we are going to carry on travelling and perhaps travel more and out of high season the only possible solution was to go bigger and be more self sufficient. Despite the small size of our vans carrying enough provisions, clothing and equipment for long journeys has never been a problem. We used “Really Useful Boxes” for a lot of things so they were relatively easy to load and unload but there was a drawback – as we tour rather than go somewhere to pitch up for a period of time we were constantly unloading and reloading everything. That was not so bad in good weather but in inclement weather it became a real pain. Additionally access the on board storage, while there is a lot of it, was cramped and makes getting at things uncomfortable. Then there is getting out and about in the bad weather. We don’t mind a bit of rain and cold when we are suitably dressed and we had heating if we needed it. The problem is getting both of us and a wet dog into the van in wet gear, getting it and us dry and then drying the dog. Inevitably everything stays damp. Not having on board facilities wasn’t the end of the world, indeed I have often shunned the idea of lugging our own shit around with us, but in these days of Aires, Stellpatz and Wild Camping we found our selves driven to expensive campsites just for the sake of a wash and the loo. Having our own facilities will solve several issues such as going to the loo in the night, especially in the cold and wet, struggling to find loos while on the road and of course parking up almost wherever we like and still being able to have a wash or even a shower. And while we are both trying hard to deny the raging process it has its inevitabilities. Not blaming the dog but he like us is used to his meal times and stopping to make dinner generally necessitated emptying out the van and putting the roof up so by that measure it became time to stop for the evening regardless. Finding camp sites is not always as easy as one might expect and often we have ended up pitching up late in less than pleasant surroundings just for the sake of stopping. So now we are looking forward to being more self sufficient in facilities and also power that way we can stop where and when we like within reason. We will have storage space that doesn’t mean reorganising everything when we stop and we will have a larger more comfortable living space for longer periods way, to pitch up and relax for longer periods and to be warm and dry hiding from the weather. So now read on and enjoy as we start work on the new van.

Van Wolf – Announcement

If you have been following us as as Van Blanc and want to continue you will need to use our new URL vanwolf.blog and soon vanwolfsite.wordpress.com

After weeks away this year and sometimes in less good weather we have come to the conclusion that if we want to carry on touring into old age and do it regardless of season then we need a bigger and better equipped van.

So our VW T6 has been sold and going to a new loving home.

We are upsizing to a VW Crafter LWB that is on order and has an estimated build of week 47, late November. So now its time to start planing and buying stuff.

Journey to the Top of the World : 5

We pitched up for a couple of days at a campsite overlooking the fjord at Trondheim and got the washing done. A nice site with an elevated pitch looking out over the mountains with more fabulous sunsets. The morning we moved on we went into the city for a wander around the city centre shops, a mixture of old buildings, rough wooden build with smart wooden fronts, modern concrete and glass and traditional houses and of course coffee and a cinnamon bun at a pavement cafe. One interesting sight was the collection of traditional wooden fishing boats of the type that would have been the mainstay of the Shetland Bus all moored up by the central station.

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Leaving Trondheim we decided to head inland to Roros, a small town in the east close to the Swedish border that was the heart of the old copper mining industry and is now a World Heritage site. The town centre is made up of very traditional timber buildings including two main streets of shops similar to those we saw earlier in the day in Trondheim. There are many buildings, houses and shops, built with rough wood structures some with and some without smart wood fronts. At the mine workings themselves you can see the conditions people worked in and how they extracted the ore and alongside are ranges of old buildings of rough timber construction with grass roofs that housed workers and tradesmen. The camp site we found here was ridiculously expensive with poor facilities, a dreadful example of ripping off visitors.

We decided to follow a lesser road through through wooded hills that were either wild or mainly sheep farming. Along the way we found our first of several traditional wooden churches. The road eventually took us alongside Storsjoen lake and on to Hammer on Mjosa lake where we stopped for the night. The only thing of interest here was the construction of a new tower block hotel that will be the world tallest timber building.

The next morning came with the promise of some fine weather and we decided to go a short way further up the lake and back to the lakeside campsite at Lillehammer that we liked so much a couple of weeks earlier. We booked in for the 3 nights and eventually staying 4. We were rewarded with warm sunny days and beautiful vistas and sunsets across the lake. The centre of the town is an attractive shopping street with traditional shops and cafes so of course more coffee and cinnamon buns. There is a large park area by the lake great for Fred who made the most of the opportunity to swim and chase the ducks.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and hope for decent weather further west. We decided to chance it and head towards Bergen. Our route took us over the spectacular Hardanger Plateau. A spectacular wilderness of lakes and today people and a main road with 4 meter snow poles at 4200 feet above sea level. The height being significant as the van trip counter passed 4000 miles at the same time. We descend from the plateau through steep gorges with massive water falls at Voringfosen and down a spiral road tunnel. That night we found a camp site surrounded by huge cliffs at the end of the Eidfjord.

Next morning was bright and sunny as we headed along Hardangerfjord toward Bergen. To cross the fjord the road loops through a tunnel onto a long suspension bridge the other end of which disappears straight into a tunnel and a blue disco lit roundabout. As we neared Bergen we decided to avoid the city and head south for the ferry on to Stord Island where we found a neat little camp site on the waters edge at Lervik. It was a damp evening but we had views across the sea to the mountains beyond that were lit by the setting sun. In the morning we were woken by the fast catamaran passenger ferries   full of commuters of kids coming to school.

The following day we decided a route back inland. We headed south across the islands and the east along the side of fjords and lakes. The weather turned filthy wet as we headed into the mountains again. A car stopped in front of us and the the driver jumped out in the pouring rain – turned out he is a number plate spotter and wanted to photo my personal plate. As we pulled away around the next corner was massive cascade of water falling off the mountain, a sign of things to come. The road started to climb and narrow as it wound its way through steep gorges, along the side of cliffs and over high passes. All the time there was a torrent of water falling off the mountains all around us, the weather may not have been nice but it was spectacular. High up in the mountains the road ran along the top of a dam and can’t have been wider than 3 metres, it was single track for miles and just wound in and out of rocky outcrops and lakes, it was a wonder how they built it. Finally it descended down an amazing zig zag but not before we passed through a cascade off the mountain onto the road. That night we pitched up on a camp site in Roldal a huge green space with just a few camper vans dotted around on the only bits of hardstanding we could find.

With the weather improving and after a quick look at the local timber church we set off to see Eidsborg stave church. It was a cool but bright morning as the road climbed through the mountains and past lakes and reservoirs and eventually through wooded gorges and valleys. The stave church at Eidsborg is part of the Telemark museum of old buildings and industries including a canal. The church is in a beautiful setting as is a well preserved example. After lunch we carried on south alongside the same lake for most of the afternoon until we found a campsite for the night at Treungen. Nice though it was the ducks couldn’t keep away, obviously used to scrounging crumbs. It was too much for Fred and in the end we just let him off his lead and he was after them up to is neck in the lake but at least they stayed away after that.

By now we were a long way south and with just a few days left in Norway we had to chose between driving around aimlessly or finding somewhere to put our feet up for a few nights. We went to Lillesand on the south east coast and were getting a little frustrated before we took a side turning on the off chance. After several kilometres and a long dirt track we came to an un-inspiring camp site we turned back and saw signs fo another and thought that we might as well have a look as we were there and what a gem it turned out to be. The small camp site at Bufjord is mostly static vans with a few touring pitches by the water. The facilities block has been newly constructed with large shower rooms and very disabled friendly and there was a decent mini market a short walk back up the lane. The weather was fine if a bit chilly at night but with fabulous start nights. Being the end of the season we were the only campers so we Fred had space to run, chase Oystercatchers and have a dip in the sea. Altogether a lovely lite to remember and only a short drive from the ferry.

Finally the day came to head for the ferry. A really dreary wet day with little to do other than work out where to stop for the night in order to be at the ferry at the crack of dawn. We ate out for the first time, at McDonalds in Kristiansand, two chicken sandwich meal deals for £16!! We had thought about wild camping at the ferry terminal but decided against it an found a small campsite nearby where several others had pitched up waiting for the morning ferry.

xZWVhIgWQEG2iTttr7ueEAOur ferry crossing to Hirtshals was comfortable and uneventful and by midday we were on the road south towards Zwolle in Holland for an evening with friends and for Fred to visit the vet to get his passport stamped. On the way we needed to find a couple of camp sites, the first one in Flensburg came easily but we struggled the following night eventually finding somewhere just into Netherlands. After a pleasant afternoon and evening with friends we headed for the Tunnel and after a night at a large site in the Belgian seaside town of Nieuwpoort we were on our way home.

IMG_2389And here we are, happy campers after 5 weeks and 5442 miles away.

Would we do it again? In the blink of an eye yes.

But we have come home with a new plan – Van Blanc is sold and a VW Crafter LWB conversion is on its way.

 

 

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Journey to the Top of the World : 4

Finally after 2 weeks and 3500 miles on the road we have stopped for a break. The past few days have been spent chasing or running away from the weather. Norway’s climate is never going to betropical but after a couple of good months it has turned decidedly below the seasonal average for August. We expected cold and occasionally wet in the north but it was 5-8 degrees below average and not much better in the south.

After our day trip to the Nordkapp we opted to stay in Alta for an extra day. The weather was cold but bright and we needed to shop, wash the van after the dirty tunnels and there is a an area of prehistoric rock carvings worth seeing nearby the camp site at the Alta Museum at Hjemmeluft. The museum is at the centre of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes 45 prehistoric sites across the area. Around the museum itself are stone carvings depicting daily life and stories from as long ago as 4500BC. They were discovered beneath turf in 1973 and would have originally been a the shoreline but are now several meters above. They depict people and animals, farming and hunting and they also have boats firstly with just a few people but in the end with many. And all this in the Arctic 6000 years ago.

The next morning we set out for Tromso for no other reason that it was the major city and warranted a visit. We decided to use a couple of short ferry crossings to shave some distance off and the route took us down some smaller roads. There were several small glaciers either side of the road and at one point we passed below one where the meld was shedding a scree of stones and boulders down the mountainside to the fjord and the road had had to be tunnelled through.

The weather had miserable most of the day and it was late afternoon by the time we got to Tromso’s one and only camp site in the city. A modern site and very regimented but oh so busy that the nice new facilities were overloaded and very expensive. And so after a very damp night with our kit stashed all over and under the van out of the rain we woke the next day for a look around the city. I cant say that we were overly impressed but at least we looked and had coffee and a bun outside a smart cafe.

Back on the road the next place we wanted to visit were the Lofoton islands. It was a pleasant afternoons drive and we ended up on a campsite by the shore in Harstad. However nice though it was there were several families of ducks that drove Fred mad and he us! WE had intended to drive to the western tip the next day but the weather forecast was not good at all so we decided to head south. We drove through some dreadful cloud bursts to a town called Furske that was having some kind of music festival. We pitched up at a site on the edge of town and hid amongst the trees from the weather and listened to the noise of the festival until the small hours.

Still the weather forecast was bad. It wasn’t much better further south but we decided to make tracks anyway. Up early and on the road we made the first 100 miles to the Arctic Circle centre, where it was only 7C, by 08:00. It was here that we saw the last herd of reindeer. It was going to be a long day, 400 miles to Trondheim, and to start with being a Sunday the roads were quiet but by late afternoon we became embroiled in weekend traffic until we reached the camp site. It is another expensive site but we decided to stop for a couple of days to do laundry and write blogs in the hope that the weather will improve a bit in the coming days.

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Journey to the Top of the World : 3

We got to bed extra late on Sunday, we were too busy writing blogs and listening to the wildlife at Skibont. Not to mention that dusk wasn’t until nearly midnight and I don’t know if it ever got fully dark all night. So we managed a wee lay in until gone 07:00 and subsequently didn’t hit the road until 09:00. Today would be a short journey, when I looked the next site in Alta up the site finder said 66 miles which of course was as the crow flies. In reality it was 135 along the shores of the fjords some “follow me” roadworks through tunnels and rock falls and over a couple of passes and a short ferry crossing.

As it turned out today’s views the most spectacular yet. As we drove along across the other side of the fjord we could see snow on the mountains and numerous small glaciers between them but the best was to come. We stopped for lunch in a lay-by next to a large UK registered motorhome with a covered trailer containing a car and a boat. We watched an attractive lady drive an articulated tarmac truck in to clean the back out and get told off by the highways people – all very interesting. After lunch as the road climbed up a pass we noted that the pine trees had given way to stunted silver birch. As we crested the pass the view that unfolded before us took our breath away. The fjord was turqoise with snow capped mountains and glaciers beyond. The stunning scene was further enhanced by reindeer grazing at the road side. Difficult to believe that in WWII the battleship Tirpitz was holed up here until the RAF managed to sink it.

There are 3 camp sites in Alta all next to each other on the banks of the river. We chose the last in the row and were not disappointed. We booked in for 2 nights with the intention of doing a day trip to the Nordkapp and back the following day. A day ahead of our contingency plan which was useful. We were up early on Tuesday for the final push. It would be about 150 miles and 4 hours and we planned to have lunch there, admire the view and send some postcards.

Did I say earlier on this page that the views that day had been the most spectacular yet? Well forget that, yes they were good but the awesomeness of the land and seascape on the final part of our Journey to the Top of the World was simply gobsmacking. It was a cold, grey, damp and sometimes wet day but that was immaterial.

We headed North out of Alta climbing on to a treeless wilderness plain. The road was  long and mostly straight for the best part of 50 miles. There were Sami (the local indigenous peoples) camps and settelements at the side of the road and stalls selling their goods. On the hillside and beside the river there were occasional holiday cabins, skidoo’s for sale. A real wilderness, that must be inhospitable in the extreme in the winter but so much life going on. An then there were the reindeer herds, hundreds of them in large tracts of crudely fenced land and to think Sue had been worried about seeing just one.

Eventually we got to the small town (if it could be called that) of Olderfjord with fuel, shops, campsites and a hotel that we thought might be the last civilisation after which the road followed the coast line for 60 miles. Sometimes shiny new 2 lane and others barely 5 metres wide with uncomfortable drops off the edge. The views out across the Porsangen Fjord and the mountains beyond were stunning as were the clouds with sheets of rain where they met the sea. Still people lived and worked along the way mostly fishing but also still bailing hay obviously for winter feed and one guy who was the local helicopter service. Along the shore there were family groups and rafts of Mergazer and Goosander  ducks with the occasional Wigeon and Long Tail ducks.

At the top of the Fjord the road crosses to Mageroya island through a 6.8km tunnel. As you drive in it starts to drop until it is eventually 212m below see level. Shortly after we stopped at a road works waiting for a “follow me” through a tunnel and watched an Eider family with still very small chicks. The roadworks inside this tunnel turned out to be cleaning with big spray trucks washing the roof and walls (these tunnels are all rough hewn from the rock) and here I have a bone to pick – we had to go through is in both directions and it cost me 80NKR (£8) to get the van anywhere near clean again.

Immediately after this tunnel we came upon Honningsvag which seems to be a bustling small town with tourism (there was a small cruise ship came into the harbour), fishing and other shipping or perhaps oil related services. Continuing up the road with just 21 miles to go we passed a large and recently built Scandic hotel before climbing high across the very wet and windswept moor until we came upon the Nordkapp visitor centre at 71.10.21N. They charged us 55NKR (£55) for the pleasure but after 2390 miles we were hardly going to turn around. The temperature was as low as 7C but we just had to do the photos before seeking shelter in the visitor centre. So we had made it, an itch well and truly scratched.

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After a hot dog and a bun in the visitor centre and sending the obligatory post cards we set off back to Alta. Of course the same journey was just a retrace, and that tunnel, but we knew where to look for things. We stopped and got a great view of a Black Throated diver on a pond on the moor and got fabulous views of 2 pairs of Golden Eagles soaring above the road. By now we were suffering from reindeer overload so it might be time to start looking for some for the BBQ when we get further south to warmer weather. As we got closer to Alta the weather did improve and we returned to a not unpleasant but still chilly evening.

A couple of things that have struck us are the number of different countries cars and campers have come from apart from the obvious Scandinavian and Northern European. We have seen Russian and Ukrainian, hardly what we expected, Italian and Spanish, hell of a long way, and even one Australian BMW bike but we have seen precious few British certainly in Norway. Sue saw a car a few days ago and we passed a VW camper and then there was that Burstiner motorhome wit the trailer. On the way back from the Norkapp to Alta we sa a UK plated Unimog type camper and big 4×4 van camper with UK plates but that is it. Another surprising thing especially to and from the Nordkapp was the number of cyclists laden with tents and luggage battling the elements, the hills and tunnels and the traffic to reach the Top of the World – to be frank they must be bonkers.

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