So I got a van. I wasn’t gonna. It wasn’t for me. Who’d want to stay in a van when you could be in a hammock or tent close to nature? Well.. with winter approaching, my second winter season guiding full time, I reflected on the prospect of ‘the choice’. The choice arises from having a winter hillwalking job up north. Its to be windy, cold and snowy. Choice a): do I drive up the night before and camp, pitching my tent in the dark, waking up to condensation and frozen boots or, choice b): wake up at 4am – a bit sleep deprived – and drive north for three hours and be ready to meet clients at 8:30am. I didn’t like either these and with a bit of time on my hands over the winter I decided to embark on a van conversion project.
Step one, which van to buy. Inspired by Murray Wilson’s wee peugeot partner camper I wanted a small panel van that would drive like a car, give good fuel economy and be spacious enough for me to sleep in with all of my kit. Four types of van were considered: the Peugeot Partner, VW Caddy, Citroen Berlingo and Renault Kangoo. All three came in short and long wheel versions. I wanted a long wheel base one, affording me enough space to lie down without having to move the front seats forward.
After much searching I found a Kangoo in Warrington in England that fit the bill. A panel van, lined with plywood, in good condition, with about 70,000 miles on the clock and costing £6,000. The Kangoo does about 55mpg so it would be reasonably fuel efficient as well.
Step two, the design stage. I wanted my van to be well insulated; have a comfortbale bed; have a gas stove for cooking; fitted with water supply, sink and tap; and, have lighting, USB and laptop charging. With pencil and paper over a few days I sketched out my design. The three key furniture elements were a bed box (at the head end of the bed providing storage and space for a leisure battery and the electrics), an extendable bed with storage space underneath and a kitchen cabinet with water and waste tanks, sink, gas stove, and storage for pots and pans and food etc.
Step three, making it happen. This is where youtube comes in. I poured over loads of videos on insulation and electrics particularly. I also got lots of help from family. My brother Jim is an amazing craftsman, carpenter and artist who led the way in making the furniture, my dad helped with the insulation and fitting the plywood lining and my mum and sister did a wonderful job covering the matresses with cotton and wool. The wool by the way came from a blanket I found on top of a mountain in the French Pyrenees, Puig de la Grava (2,700m high). The bit I couldn’t do on my own was connecting the car and leisure batteries together. This entailed feeding a cable through the engine bulkhead. I attempted it but promptly decided it was beyond my capabilities and I found a local mechanic to feed the cable through for £35.
The finished van has been a delight to use. I used it for the first time last weekend (late Jan 2019) in Braemar. Over four nights it was my home away from home. It kept me comfortable and warm whilst it was -10C outside and the stove enabled me to cook up some fine food as well. There’s a good bit of tinkering to do to get the van just right, but I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out.