Awning Experiences

Over the 3 years we had our first van we learn’t a lot about awnings and what worked for us.

I am a big believer in keeping things minimal and I do like the idea of being able to pitch up quickly. So we started in 2013 with a simple arrangement, a Kyham Sun Canopy and a windbreak. They worked OK, they were small and lightweight to pack and simple to put up. However they didn’t afford much protection from the British climate and weren’t big on privacy when needed.

Sue decided that we need something that gave a bit more protection and we liked the look of an Outdoor Revolution Sun Canopy. From what we could see it looked a good shape and seemed to give sideways protection. It packed quite small and it wasn’t complicated to put up. Sadly it turned out to be a real shambles.

The first problem was that they hadn’t made it clear that it was designed for a long wheelbase van, we found others who had been caught out by this, so it overhang the van quite bit. Next, because the van was on 30mm lowers, the awning was too high which was exacerbated by the excess in the roof panel. And to add insult to injury we discovered, after discussing the importer, that they had actually been made wrong which made it pretty impossible to square up. We persevered with it for the summer thinking that we would rework it but in the end decided against that. Recently it was cut up for material, that is now our floor mat bag, the fittings and the bag is just the right size for our new home made awning.

Sue decided that what we needed was a lot of extra space and the ability to leave stuff on site while we left site. So next in 2014 came a Vango Kella II Air Beam drive away tent bought on a deal at T-Fest. They seemed like the thing to have, we had watched people putting the up and they seemed simple enough. We made good use of it but it has to be said that it was used mainly as a dumping ground and we either sat in the van or if the weather was nice sat outside.

Again it was not a good fit for the van, they now do a lower version specifically to cater for the van market, so it was always difficult to get square. Worse still because of its size and all the bits of keder strip and figure of 8 in the wind it would walk out of the roof rail. Also when it rained there was a constant drip between the bits of figure of 8. It packed OK but it was a very large bag that needed up taking up a lot of floor space in the middle of the van.

Eventually it dawned on us that the most of our travels were just that, travels, and we weren’t pitching up anywhere for more than a few nights. So while planning our Scandinavia trip we looked at how we would cope with one and two night stops but still planned to take the Vango for longer stops. We went back to our simple Kyham Sun Canopy and worked out a way of making it more useful.

We could still use it as a canopy but by adding a couple of extra eyelets we could fold the canopy down to shelter the door and afford a little privacy. For 4 weeks in Scandinavia this worked a treat. It did just what we wanted, it packed small and took up very little space and was up within minutes of parking. We used it every night on our Scandinavian  tour apart from 3 stops when we used the Vango and one when we stopped in a friends garden.

One time when we used the Vango we had to take it down because it was flexing too much in the wind. And then when we weren’t using it we ended up storing it on the drivers seat. It just took up space so that was the end of it and it was sold as soon as we got home.

By now we were planning our new van and a new awning along the lines of our Kyham adaption. It was going to have to be home made to get it just right. We bought a Kyham pop up toilet / shower tent to use as a utility. It doesn’t take up much space, goes up and down quickly, easily holds all of the kit to make space in the van and can still be used as a makeshift loo with a bucket if need be on a wild camp. And of course we can drive away and leave it on our pitch – its probably more secure than a drive away tent after all who would want to knick you loo?

I bought some Robens telescopic tarp poles instead of the Kyham steel ones and found an Isabella telescopic fiberglass ridge pole on eBay. So at Busfest in 2016 we tried our modified canopy, windbreak and utility tent and it worked great. Shelter from the rain, wind and sun and privacy on a busy campsite. If it had any draw back we would like a couple of hundred millimetres more between the van and the down turn and a slightly heavier weight fabric.

Size of the packed awning and utility is important to us. Even though it only takes minutes to put up there may be occasions when we are stopping at an Aire or stealth camping when we don’t want to advertise. In order to do that we need to be able to get everything into the van with the roof down and still get the bed down and Fred’s basket in. With this arrangement we can do that with space to spare.

And that was it. The basic Kyham canopy went with the van when we sold it so then it was on to the new one…..

Arctic Circle to Home

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Day 10 : Thursday 23 June

Heading back south from the Arctic Circle we found a nice camp site at on the E6 by a river. The site office was the Krokstrand Cafe across the road who hacked me off with stupid Norwegian alcohol laws. They wouldn’t let me buy a beer and take it back to the van – if I wanted one I had to drink it in the cafe – how stupid! That night a thunderstorm brewed and it poured.

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Day 11 : Friday 24 June

The next morning we went back to Mo I Rana and the supermarket where I could buy beers to drink wherever! We stocked up for a few days and filled up with diesel. As we left I set the sat nav for , Storuman, the town in Sweden that we were heading towards for the night. Once on the road out of town the sat nav lady told us to take the third turning off the roundabout after 156 miles and the day night feature started working again. Clearly the software could not cope with the latitude at that time of year!

We headed across the border into Sweden past mountainsides full of Huttes and a large area for garaging skidoos. We drove alongside mirror lakes and through mile after mile of pine forest – Ikea will never be short of raw material. We hit Storuman later in the afternoon and found the municipal camp site where we could pitch up next to the swimming lake. While Sue made use of the laundry the heavens opened and treated us to a spectacular thunder shower. That evening there were a number of folk with classic American cars driving around the town and it was surprising to see the number of immigrant or refugee kids who congregated by the lake in the evening. We took the opportunity to introduce Fred to swimming and I took him in out of his depth, he wasn’t too happy but like a true Spaniel he swam.

Day 12 : Saturday 25 June
DSC_0250The following morning we set off for the coast, again lakes and pine forests. The previous day we had seen a Reindeer on the verge and Sue was just saying she was pleased to have seen one when we came across a large stag in the middle of the road. He wasn’t in a hurry and trotted down the road for a while before disappearing into the bushes. Shortly after we drove through Junsele, a small town that resembles something out of a Wild West movie, that was playing host to the Swedish Wild West Cruisers club for American cars and motorcycles, surreal to say the least.

We got to the coast at Harnosand and visited the supermarket. Our first experience of a a Swedish supermarket and we couldn’t help but notice the single refugee sat at the door begging. We stopped the night just down the road at Bye Camping, simple but economic, and had the field backing on to the lake to ourselves and a few mossies. It was a warm evening and we were able to enjoy a few beers with our BBQ.

Day 13 : Sunday 26 June

Next day we carried on south and then looked for a campsite inland. We found a nice quiet municipal campsite in Soderfors, a company small town laid out in a grid its main industry like so many others in Sweden being pulp. We shared the touring pitches with, amongst others, a German couple in a Unimog Camper in which they had been on a 2 month tour up through Finland at, judging by the speed they we were doing when we passed them earlier, 30kph.

Days 14  & 15 : Monday 27 & Tuesday 28 June

We headed east looking for somewhere to stay near the coast and came upon Osthammer a delightful quiet resort town. Here we pitched up for 2 nights so we could have a day doing nothing much. The town itself had an attractive centre of traditional buildings around a small square. There was a park area next to the camp site where we walked to the waters edge for a paddle and an ice-cream from the kiosk.

Day 16 : Wednesday 29 June

Today we had to get past Stockholm but first it was time for a bit of culture and a visit to Gamla Upsala. Upsala is the old capital of Sweden and Gamla Upsala is the village of Old Upsala where the burial mounds of the ancient kings are amongst the important archeology on the site.

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Afterwards we headed across Stockholm and its dreadful motorways and traffic, the first we had seen since Bremen in Germany. Clear of the city we went looking for a camp site and came across Jorgeso Camping in Oxelsund. A nice quiet family run site with a walk along the beach where Fred had a paddle. Strangely the car park was full of Brits camping in vans and caravans who seemed to have something to do with Triathlon that happens there.

Days 17 – 19 : Thursday 30 June – Saturday 2 July

Today we explored some of the small roads to the coast looking for camp sites and admiring some of the smart holiday properties. Carrying on south down the Baltic coast it occurred to us that half of Sweden looked like they were on holiday. In which case it might be prudent to find a 3 night stop with washing machines to catch up on some domestic chores. We found a large site in Kalmar with nice facilities although we needed some help turning the washing machine on. There were nice walks around the wooded park and a little bit of beech to paddle on.

The site was a little more expensive than all the others and insisted that we take out some kind of Swedish Camping Card. There were a lot of seasonal caravans parked there just like home from home even with front doors in the awning.

Kalmar has a fine medieval castle set in the sea on the edge of the tree lined old town.

Day 20 : Sunday 3 July

The day was one of sunshine and showers. We tried exploring inland but it got very wet and thundery before we headed back to the coast and added up in Karlshamm. Here we found a Nice site with good facilities although it was a bit bunny infested which was a problem with Fred.

 

On one side of the estuary was a huge edible oils and fats plant but the town itself was quite attractive with some grand residences.

Day 21 : Monday 4 July

An interesting day driving along the coast. In the morning we were driving through fruit farms and orchards and in the afternoon through cereals and potatoes. It was interesting to see how early the cereal harvest was at this latitude compared to home.

At lunch time we found a nice parking spot among the dunes but dogs weren’t welcome on the beach. From here on west the road was tight to to the coast and the further west we got the more holiday land it became. We stopped the nite at a pleasant site on the beach front just before Trelleborg before heading to Malmo.

Day 22 : Tuesday 5 July

This morning we crossed the Oresund Bridge from Malmo back into Denmark. The bridge, that costs £45, is actually half bridge and half tunnel that spits you out into Copenhagen.

Once there you can’t not go and see the Little Mermaid along with hoards of others off the cruise ships. Fred wasn’t impressed despite the several American and Welsh lady tourists that wanted to say help to him. On the way we passed the Tivoli so that was 2 birds with one stone.

As we drove around that morning the weather got progressively worse. We crossed the Storbelt bridge, another £40, to Odense, by which time it was a continuous downpour so we headed for the Bojden ferry and stopped at Faarbourg for the night.

Day 23 : Wednesday 6 July

This morning the Camping Gaz ran out in the middle of making a brew so we had to find a supply. Actually the local Shell garage and it was cheaper than at home. Then on to the ferry that takes about an hour to get to Fynshav on the mainland. We drove to Flensburg in Germany and then a rural drive to Kappeln and a camp site at Karshau. It was a disappointingly small pitch and infested with bunnies which was a major problem.

Day 24 : Thursday 7 July

This morning we decided to make progress and head for Holland but first we had to cross the Scheilbrucke at Lindaunis. The bridge is interesting as it is single track controlled by lights and carries vehicles and trains in both direction and pedestrians as well as lifting for boat traffic.

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We used the Autobahn and drove all day until we got to a cute place called Bourtagne just across the border into Holland and found a nice quiet camp site.

Days 25 & 26 :  Friday & Saturday 8 & 9 July

Bourtagne is a complete fortified star shaped village dating back to medieval times. It has a town square surrounded by quaint buildings several of which are cafes and restaurants. A walk around the ramparts gets views of the whole village including the old toilets build on platforms over the moat.

 

Days 27 & 28 : Sunday and Monday 10 & 11 July

Fro Bourtagne we had a pleasant morning drive through Holland ending up at Sue’s friend Marja’s house near Zwolle where we chilled for the afternoon and camped on the green next-door.

Day 29 : Monday 12 July

Marja had booked Fred an appointment with the vet first thing so he could get his worming tablet to come home. So after breakfast we walked her son to school and Fred to the vet. For the rest of the day we headed toward Dunkirk and in the end stopped at a camp site near Ypres in Belgium.

Day 30 : Tuesday 13 July

Today we caught the ferry home. For the first time they wanted to check Fred’s chip against his passport.

It has been an epic adventure and we can’t wait to do more. Our one regret is not spending more time in Norway so next time we will go to the North Cape. In future we would probably not bother with Sweden or Denmark.

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Arctic Circle 66° 33′ N

Situated on the E6 about 80km north of Mo I Rana the Polarsirkelsenteret is a bit more than just a line across the road.

We arrived at the Arctic Circle at about 17:00. It was a pleasant afternoon with an air temperature of about 18C but at that time of year and latitude the sun is very hot. There is a large car park, a visitor centre with all the touristic paraphernalia built astride the line and overnight parking for campers. There are also monuments, including those to Russians and Yugoslavs from WWII, and a large area of rock piles that Fred had a go at knocking over!

DSC_0204We were not sure what to expect at this latitude and the surrounding terrain is rugged but then the visitor centre is at 630m a.s.l.. However not far down the road in either direction industry and agriculture continue despite the shortened seasons.

We were in too much of a hurry to get here and were worried about how long it is going to taker to get home. In reality we could have taken our time and / or gone further north. We must come again and and carry on to the North Cape.

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Kristiansand to the Arctic Circle

Depending on the actual route you take it is about 1000 miles from the southern tip to the Arctic Circle by the main coast road and then the main road north. Sounds like a long way but that is only half the distance to the North Cape – but that will be another story.

kristiansand2arcticcircleDay 3 – Thursday 16 June – Kristiansand is the southern most tip of Norway a 4 hour crossing from Hirtshals The Colorline ferry arrived mid afternoon and took quite a while to disembark and single file past the immigration / customs – sadly a test of things to come post Brexit

It was overcast and damp as we hit the road aiming to find a camp site not too far away for the night. The first of many spectacles came on the E39 at Feda, a tunnel that exited directly on to a suspension bridge over a fjord before going straight back into another tunnel on the other side. Shortly after we cut off at Flekkefiord on to the 44, a smaller coast road. It was spectacularly senic even on a damp and dreary evening often single lane winding through narrow fjords with big drops, picturesque valleys and cragy tops. Getting desperate we stopped in a small village and contemplated stopping for the night until we opened the door and met the local residents – mosies! Eventualy we found a small and surprisingly inexpensive campsite with nice facilities, Bakkaano Camping, in hills near Sognadal.

Day 4 & 5 – Friday 17th & Sat 18th June – The next day we followed the coast north heading for Stavanger. After stopping for a quick look at Egersund church and a coffee by the fjord the country side along this stretch of coast turns into flat coastal plain with arable farming all the way to Stavanger Fjord. I used to stay at a hotel in Sola so we headed for Sola Strand, a long sandy beach, where we rocked up for lunch. Sola is next to Stavanger airport that is constantly busy with helicopters coming and going to the oil and gas rigs.

A quick look at a couple of camp sites and we decided on a nice site on the beach south of Sola Strand at Olberg harbour. It was barely separated from small the beach by a row of dunes and had great facilities. Next day was Sue’s birthday so our plan was to stop here and chill. It was a great spot and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Fred particularly liked the beach, the Oyster Cachers and a family of Eiders. It was windy and a showery at times. The winds off the Atlantic were a constant 65kph for 24 hours so we had to take down our inflatable drive away awning and when it came time to go we had to to turn the van back into the wind so that we could lower the roof without risking damage.

Day 6 – Sunday 19th June – After filling up in Stavanger with what had to be the cheapest diesel in Western Europe we headed for Bergen opting to take the scenic route with a couple of longish ferries hoping across the islands. However before we could do that there was the tunnel under Stavanger Fjord which at 8.5km long may not sound too spectacular but at 265m deep it certainly is. There are 2 ferries each about 45 minutes and such an enjoyable way to travel.

We arrived in Bryggen, the old town at the heart of Bergen, for a spot of lunch parked up just off the waterfront and had a quick look at the touristic buildings. Most of the big buildings are stone or brick from the early 1900s, presumably because the wooden ones would have succumbed to fire amongst other things, but there are several preserved or reconstructed buildings.

A short stroll was enough for us – nowadays we really don’t do cities and Fred certainly doesn’t! This section of the old waterfront overlooks the harbour where apart for a host of sail boats and fishing boats the ferries and cruise ships dock. Further out to sea it quickly gives way to shipping for the oil industry.

Leaving Bergen and still on the E39 it was a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon and the views from the road across the fjords simply went on and on. We stopped for refreshment at a busy road side cafe to buy ices – not something to be recommended at those prices. Parked up enjoying them a guy pulled up next to us in the most pristine black 1957 Thunderbird convertible, such a nice way to enjoy that road. Shortly after we came across the quintessentially Norwegian church nestling in a small hamlet on the shore of the fjord at Vikanes.

Crossing the Sogner Fjord to Lavik we took a detour from the E39 in search of a camp site for the night. We found a one in the middle of nowhere and by that I mean we turned off the main road following a camping sign and drove for miles along small roads until we came upon it by lake Askevatnet,. It was in an idyllic spot in a valley next to the lake with several Huttes (the Norwegians enjoy holidaying in Wendy houses) and a small communal block with a toilet, shower and small kitchen. It was so quiet we only had 2 other vans and several Polish workers for company that night.

Day 7 – Monday 20th June – The following morning still following our detour on scenic small roads we came across a roundabout at Dale in the middle of the tunnel that was lit in disco blue. The whole day was just more great roads and fab scenery on our way to our next stop over that was to be Alesund.

Here we made our first foray into the supermarket which as expected was expensive and we were surprised by the poor choice, something we found throughout Norway. We also had to go to a pet shop as Fred had chewed through his lead and if we thought the supermarket was expensive the pet shop beat them hands down! That night finding a camp site was a annoying and we drove 20km up the road until we found one at Sjoholt. It was a bit uninspiring but the dreary evening probably didn’t help.

Day 8 – Tuesday 21st June – The following morning I was on a mission so we drove back into Alesund. As a kid one of my favourite books was the Shetland Bus, the story of the Norwegian fisherman and sailors who escaped from Nazi occupation of Norway and with the help of the British SOE formed a naval unit that sailed from Scotland to Norway in fishing boats supplying the resistance, rescuing people and carrying out attacks like the attempted sinking of the Tirpitz. On the harbour front by the ferry terminal is a monument to the men of the Shetland Bus.

From Alesund we headed on toward the Atlantic Road. A series of bridges hopping across several small islands. Nice though it is it is no where nears as spectacular as the tourist literature makes out. As it sweeps from one island to another there is only one main arch, to allow boats past, and this is the one you will see on all the photos. The other bridges are all fairly flat. We stopped for coffee and waved to the first Brit we had seen since Germany and who just happened to be another VW T5. They pulled in for a chat and recognised our van from the T4/T5 Forum!

Immediately after the Atlantic Road we followed a sign for a camp site heading out to the islands. It took us so far out and the road eventually turned to gravel before we got to Camping Lyso. This site has to be recommended with loads of pitches in amongst the rocks and views all around. The facilities were excellent including good WiFi and all for a great price. That night was midsummer so the shortest of the year and we were able to wonder around taking in the views late into the evening while the sun still shone on the mountains.

Remote though this place was there were new holiday homes being built in several places and some of the Lithuanian workers were staying on the camp site. Yet another example of Norway’s relationship with the EU.

Easy 9 – Wednesday  22nd June – Continuing to head north and after several days following the E39 we finally reached the end and joined the E6 on the way to Trondheim. Sue had been suffering from a bad cold and sore throat for several days so we made a detour into a small town, Bardshaug, and called into Boots the Apotek for a packet of Strepsils at twice the UK price!

Despite the northern latitude it was warm in the rush hour traffic around Trondheim so we were pleased to find a nice camp site just north of Steinkjer, Follingstua Camping on lake Snasavatet. From our pitch we had an elevated view over the lake.

Day 10 – Thursday 23rd June – The following day we simply headed north on the E6. On the way a long tunnel at Hemnes was closed and the traffic redirected over the old mountain road. From the viewpoint at its peak we got clear views of the Okstindan mountains and the Okstindbreen glacier. As the weather promised to be fine all day we decided to press on to Arctic Circle that afternoon. Just before Mo I Rana something strange happened to the sat nav and the screen decided that it was night time so that the only solution was to turn the day night feature off. It was a haul getting past Mo I Rana because of the amount of road works but we made it late in the afternoon.

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Home to Hirtshals

Setting out on our 2016 trip to the Arctic Circle. We had a 2 ferry deadlines to meet before our adventure could begin in earnest. Lots of miles in 2 days.

home2hirtshals14th June 2016 we left home on a bright and breezy morning and headed to Dover for the 12:00 DFDS sailing to Dunkirk. The first time we had used Dover for a long time, the first time to Dunkirk and the first ferry trip for Fred. It is was an uneventful 2 hour crossing that tipped us out on the Autoroute just shy of the Belgian border.

An 400km drive through Belgium, with an unintentional afternoon detour through the middle of the Antwerp rush hour, the Netherlands and Germany to Haltern-am-See a bit before Munster. Here we tried a new experience and found a Stelplatz. For anyone touring Germany in a camper or motorhome these are brilliant.

DSC_0004They are basically stopping places that you are allowed to use for a night. They might be car parks or lay-bys, with or without facilities and free or a couple of Euros. They are identified my the image of a camper on a street sign. The particular one we found was on a grass car park part of the local sports ground. No facilities but a lot of woodland and a bar nearby. It was a very quiet night only us and one other and our first experience of having to dig ticks out of Fred!

DSC_0014The following day we had decided to bash 800km to Hirtshals on the northern most tip of Jutland, Denmark, with a few detours for roadworks and epic torrential rain around Aalborg that slowed the motorway to 20 miles and hour and even then we couldn’t see anything. At least we could have a relaxing evening with no pressure to rush for the ferry in the morning. We arrived at the camp site overlooking the straights from where we could see the ferries heading to Norway. That far north is on the same latitude as Aberdeen so it was light well into the evening.

The following morning we had time to kill, a walk on the beach, a visit to the limited supermarket and a fill up of reasonably priced Danish diesel before we headed to the ferry for an 11:00 sailing. Another long trip for Fred but he seemed OK with it.

It is worth noting for anyone going to Norway that going this route the ferry actually costs the same as or even less than the tolls on the bridges in Denmark and across to Sweden. However it is several hundred miles less to drive!

Another point of note if you are travelling with a dog even though you will have a pet passport for Europe the same rules regarding worming when coming from Europe into Norway apply as for returning to the UK. So we took Fred to our local vet the day before we left home for his worming tablet that lasted until we crossed into Norway.

Next – Kristiansand to the Arctic Circle >

New Van – The Decision

We have been considering either updating our current van or starting a new one while we can. A key criteria for Sue is the ease of which we can get the roof up and down as we get older. There is no after market option for this and a VW California does not float our boat. However it is possible to retrofit a California roof. Earlier ing the month we had a trip to Cornwall and paid a visit to Kernow Transporters and Premium Camper who buy in salvaged California roofs and fit them to vans. We have given this option a lot of thought and have decided we are happy to go with it.

So to get the ball rolling and to beat a 1st June VW price hike we have placed an order for a new T6. It is a SWB T30 Kombi in white (as if it could be anything else) and the spec is much the same as our current van except that it will come as a Euro 6 Blue Motion so 150PS DSG with LED lights,

Lost Gardens

So a few days in Cornwall at The Lost Gardens of Heligan. There is a fab campsite next door that is part of the estate which is only a short drive from superb beaches. At this time of year they are empty and Fred just adores chasing seagulls.

We used the trip to pay a visit to Kernow Transporters & Premium Camper in St Just. From Heligan to St Just is a long way on a wet day and it is surprising how long Cornwall is. A bit of a drive about and we had a walk at the Minack Theatre.

The lost Gardens themselves are a spectacular tropical garden with a rain forest in a valley. The kitchen gardens (almost a farm) have been beautiful restored and able to grow all manner throughout the year. The farm shop on site is a great place to shop for the BBQ.