Wednesday 10 July 2024

Can you Wild Camp in the UK?

Wild Camping seems to have really taken off in the UK recently, but what is Wild Camping, and is it legal in the UK?

What is Wild Camping?

Many people have different opinions on the definition of Wild Camping; the term is very loose and is often interpreted differently.  You may have heard it called stealth camping, off-grid camping or bush camping.  

Wild Camping Discovery Island

Most people would agree though, that in general the true meaning involves sleeping in a tent somewhere in the wilderness, ie not on a campground.  Some people will go even more extreme and sleep in a hammock or a bivvy, while others will claim that their campervan/roof tent park up is Wild Camping.
Whatever your definition, there's a real sense of escape and adventure in Wild Camping which seems to be appealing to many people right now.

Is Wild Camping legal in the UK?

There are actually only a couple of places in the UK where Wild Camping is legal; Scotland and Dartmoor in the South West of England.  It is important to note that the right to Wild Camp in Scotland and on Dartmoor does not extend to vehicle camping.  Overuse and damage to the landscape has also caused the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park to introduce camping bans in certain areas and a permit system in others.

If you are going to Wild Camp, please, please, please follow the principles of "Leave No Trace".  Wild Camping should be lightweight, done in small numbers and only for a couple of nights in any one place.  You should avoid camping in enclosed fields of crops or animals, and pitch away from roads, buildings or historic structures.  The Scottish Access Code website has more info.

In the rest of the UK, most of the land is privately owned and the only legal way to camp is with the permission of the landowner or in a registered campsite.

So how can I find wild places to camp?

If Dartmoor or Scotland are too far away, or if you want to camp in a vehicle thankfully there are lots of other options that can give you the feeling of wild camping without hours of research into land ownership and requesting permission.  Here are a few of our favourites:

1. Off Grid Camp

This is a membership club which collates cool off grid campsites (over 165 across the UK at the time of writing).  For £25/year you get a searchable map with the contact details of small campsites and landowners who are happy to allow access to their land.  You book and pay for the sites direct with the owners.  The site is aimed towards 4x4 vehicles, but has a variety of different levels of accessibility.  We've had some amazing sites through here, and highly recommend it. 

Off Grid Camp Locations Map

Off Grid Campsite in Cumbria

2. Wild with Consent

Wild with Consent operates in a similar way to Off Grid Camp, but doesn't charge a membership fee and allows you to book sites directly through the website.  All of their sites are private, and only take one booking at a time.  It is less 4x4 focused, but the pitches tend to be slightly more expensive.

Wild With Consent Locations Map

3. HipCamp

HipCamp took over Cool Camping in 2022, and provides an AirBnB type service for campsites, caravan parks, glamping and cabins.  They have a huge selection of sites to suit whatever form of camping takes your fancy.  The campsites tend to be slightly larger, but you can still find some cool wild camping spots.
If you haven't used HipCamp before use the referral link above for £10 off your first stay.

HipCamp Booking Site

4. Greener Camping Club

The Greener Camping Club is a members club which licences over 160 small eco-friendly camping and glamping sites across England and Wales.  Membership costs just £12/year.

Greener Camping Club Locations Map

Cowpots Camping Wales

5. Park4Night

park4night is a community driven database of campsites and overnight park-ups aimed at campervans and motorhomes.  It is active across Europe and we've found some cool free camp spots in the UK, France and Spain.

Park4Night Website

park4night pitch in the Pyrenees

Check out our Gear Page if you need any ideas for wild camping equipment, and if we've missed any sources that you use let us know!

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Can you sleep a family of four in a Defender?

The short answer is yes, but read on if you want to know how!

4-berth Defender Camper Interior Layout

It has taken a lot of planning, but we've come up with a solution that allows us to retain the middle (second) row of seats for the boys while travelling and then convert the rear area into two beds for sleeping.  While the boys sleep downstairs, Sarah and I get the big bed up in the roof, in our Alu-Cab Icarus roof conversion.

Planning a 4-Berth Defender Interior Layout

There is lots of information online about camper layouts if you've got the standard Transporter, Sprinter, Crafter or Transit Van, but not much about Defenders.  If you want a family friendly, 4-berth Defender layout that retains four travelling seats, there's even less!  

The standard Defender Camper layout usually involves fixed cabinetry along one side, and some form of pull out bed on the other.  While the boys are still pretty small this might have worked, but we couldn't see them wanting to share a narrow bed for long!  The standard layout usually also involves removing the second row of seats, but this wasn't an option for us.

We did get some layout inspiration from our friends at whereistheworld, and from YouTube videos by Off-Track Family.  

After many hours sitting in the back of the Landy, measuring, sketching, and even a bit of 3D modelling in SketchUp, we eventually came up with our own solution, and I must say we're really pleased with it!

Defender Camper Interior Layout

Our Goals for the Interior

1. Retain at least four travelling seats (with seatbelts)

2. Maximise storage space

3. Full width sleeping area for the boys

4. Space for a cooler

5. Re-use as much of our existing camping gear as possible

6. Quick setup and stow

The Interior Build and Storage Solution

Our layout consists of a fixed platform in the back, which we built to fit under the lip at the top of the tub.  This is supported on two wooden beams which use the existing holes in the tub capping.  

Fitting a camper interior to a Land Rover Defender 110

Fitting a camper interior to a Defender 110

The platform is cut from 15mm lightweight eucalyptus plywood with a black phenol hexagon coating.  The platform is also supported by a vertical section of ply, which is slightly offset from centre for our sliding storage solution.

Land Rover Defender 110 Camper Interior Layout

We were really keen to make use of our existing RUX system, so used heavy duty drawer sliders from Aolisheng, and built a frame to support two 70 litre RUXs.  

RUX 70l in a Defender Camper

RUX storage solutions for Defender Camper

If you haven't come across RUX before, the 70l is a rugged, compressible, weatherproof, soft sided gear storage container with a wide rigid opening for easy access, a secure stowable lid and modular straps for easy carry.  Designed in Canada, and now also available in Europe, we use them all of the time!

We decided to remove the middle seat from the second row, and used the existing frame to build a platform for our Yeti cooler.  The Yeti Tundra 45 fits perfectly, and the Harvest Red is almost a match to Budgie's paintwork!

Land Rover Defender Campervan

Yeti Tundra 45 in a Defender Camper

In order to retain the boys seats, but still give them a full length bed; we used another two pairs of heavy duty drawer runners and built two sliding extensions, which pull out over the top of the folded middle row seats.  It only takes a couple of seconds to fold the seats forward and slide out the extensions.

We then had some custom foam cut to size.  The foam for the extensions is 1.5" thicker than the foam on the fixed platform, which gives a nice flat surface for the boys to sleep on.

With Sarah and I sleeping up in the Icarus roof, we've comfortably got space for all four of us to sleep, and we're happy that we achieved the goals of our interior layout.

Read more about the rest of Budgie's camper conversion.

* Some of the links on this post are affiliate links.  It won't cost you any more, but we may receive a small payment if you purchase through our links.  We will never recommend a product which we haven't fully tested and love. 

Monday 22 April 2024

A Defender Road Trip to France and Northern Spain

We had a brilliant Easter holiday in France and Spain with Budgie.  We were away for 10 days and covered over 1750 miles (2850 km), making it all the way down to the Spanish Pyrenees.

Alu-Cab Defender Camper in the Spanish Pyrenees

As is usual for our road trips, we did a few long travelling days, but interspersed these with shorter days and one two-night stay in San Sebastian.

Ferry to France

We chose to take the DFDS ferry from Newhaven, in Sussex, to Dieppe, in Normandy.  For us, Newhaven is only about an hour and a half away and this route was considerably cheaper than the alternative routes from either Portsmouth, Dover, or Plymouth.   

The ferry takes around 4 hours.  We travelled both ways on the Seven Sisters vessel, which was very comfortable and had great facilities onboard.  The boys highly recommend the croque monsieur and the sausage rolls!

DFDS Seven Sisters

The return ferry departed Dieppe at 0630, so we decided to get a cabin for this leg.  We booked a four berth outside cabin, which had two sets of bunks and an ensuite bathroom.  We were heading straight up to Edinburgh when we disembarked, and after the early start we really wanted to make sure we got some sleep on the ferry.  It was definitely worth the extra cost!

4 berth cabin on the DFDS Ferry Seven Sisters

Top Tips for Driving in France and Spain

1. Check the Crit'Air Clean Air Zones

The first bit of travel to Ballon-St-Mars took us a bit longer than expected as we diverted around the Rouen clean air zone.  Budgie is too old to register for the French crit'air system, so to avoid fines we just had to avoid the zones completely. It only costs around 5 Euros for a sticker or 'vignette' if your car is eligible for the scheme, so make sure you check this out before you travel.  Ensure you use the official French government site, as there are a number of scam sites around.

2. Consider avoiding the Toll Roads

Google maps also took us on a couple of toll roads on the first day, which I think costs us around 30 Euros.  The next day we selected 'Avoid Tolls' in the maps application, which made life much easier for route planning.  Most of the toll roads have a maximum speed of 130 km/h (80 mph) which is pretty much out of reach for Budgie, so we were much more comfortable travelling on the slower roads.  These routes also took us through some beautiful towns and villages, and made stopping at the delicious boulangeries easier!

3. Take the required equipment and documentation

There is additional equipment required for driving in Europe; some is obvious, like headlamp deflectors, but others are not so intuitive, such as reflective jackets for all passengers which must be carried in the cabin.  The RAC has a handy driving in Europe checklist, so be sure to check this before you travel.

Finding Camp Sites in France and Spain

Unusually for us, we didn't really have much of a plan for the rest of the holiday, other than to hopefully catch some sun and a vague aim of getting to Northern Spain and maybe Portugal. 

We ended up staying at a mix of campsites, off-grid park ups, and aires, which we felt gave us a nice balance of facilities and some stunning locations.

We had only booked one camp spot in advance, and that was for the first night, as we wanted somewhere to aim for within a fairly short drive after disembarking the ferry.  We booked Ludovic's site in Ballon-St-Mars through PitchUp.  It was a great small site with the added bonus of a small cabin with a hot shower and a sitting / dining area.  The boys loved their first night in their newly built sleeping area:

Kids sleeping in a Land Rover Defender Camper

For our second night, we had aimed to get across the border into Spain, but we were enjoying taking our time and exploring, so decided to have a shorter day and stop on the coast in France.  We headed to the small town of Andernos-les-Bains, which sits on the beautiful bay of Bassin d'Arcachon, and our first 'Aire de Camping Car'.  

Aires come in a variety of forms in France (the literal translation is just 'area'), from motorway services, or picnic areas, to camping zones with facilities.  They are often free, or charge a small fee for overnight parking.  We picked up a guide to camping aires at a local supermarket, but you can also find them in maps, and they are usually signposted from the main road or entry into a town.  

The aire in Andernos-les-Bains was a simple area of ground alongside a quiet no through road on the edge of town.  It is minutes walk from the beach and some great seafood restaurants.  The payment machine was out of order, so we stayed for free!  The following morning we woke up to find that the Easter Bunny had managed to track us down in France and had delivered some chocolate eggs for the boys to find:

Easter Eggs on a Defender

Defender Camper at Andernos-les-Bains Aire de Camping Car

We spent the next day exploring the Arcachon area, including the Cap Ferret lighthouse and the amazing Dune du Pilat:

Phare du Cape Ferret

Steps at Dune du Pilat

We spent the night in another aire, just down the road in Biscarosse Plage.  After hotdogs in the rain, we were treated to a stunning sunset:

Defender Camper at Biscarosse Plage Aire du Camping Car

Sunset at Biscarosse Plage

Next we headed down to San Sebastian, in the Spanish Basque region, and spent a great couple of days exploring this beautiful coastal city.  We stayed at WeCamp San Sebastian, which is in a great location on top of the cliffs at the edge of the city; with a regular local bus service into town.  It's a very clean and tidy campsite, with a lovely cafe bar on site and an outdoor pool (sadly we were too early in the season for it to be open).  It was nice to spend a couple of days relaxing at a site with facilities.

San Sebastian Corniche

While in San Sebastian, we decided we weren't going to have time to make it over to Portugal without some very long drives on the way home, so instead we headed down to the Pyrenees.  It was a beautiful drive down to the mountains, and we found an absolutely stunning off-grid park up on top of a hill through the park4night app:

Defender Camper off-grid in the Pyrenees

Pyrenees mountain view from the roof tent

After crossing the border back into France, we headed north to a great campsite we found on HipCamp.  (Use the link for $/£10 off your first booking.)  Camping D'Artagnan is run by a British couple and they also have a British style pub on site!

Defender Camper at Camping D'Artagnan

Boys relaxing at Camping D'Artagnan

From here we headed up to La Rochelle.  Our next camp was another site from park4night, there were no facilities, but it was right on the sea front and next to a brilliant seafood restaurant, La Cabane de Pampin.

Sitting on the bonnet of a Defender

Seafood platter at Le Cabane de Pampin

The next day we drove up to Mont St Michel.  As we were taking the shuttle bus over to the island to explore, we noticed a campsite right by the causeway.  It turned out a night at the campsite wasn't much more expensive than the parking we had already paid for.  So, top tip; book the campsite online and you can drive straight in!

Defender camper at Mont St Michel

Boys with Mont St Michel in the background

Exploring Mont St Michel

Our last stop of the trip was another aire, this time right in the heart of Dieppe.  We wanted a camp spot near to the ferry due to the early start, and this fit the bill; as well as being right next to the beach, it was a short stroll to the bars and restaurants of the quayside in Dieppe.

Dieppe beach

Dieppe church

Defender at sunset in Dieppe aire de camping car

Let us know if you have any other sources for campsites, and if you'd like to see our full route, check us out on Polar Steps!

Ridley Errington on Polar Steps

Read on for info about Budgie's camper conversion.


Monday 25 March 2024

Fitting a Diesel Heater to our Defender Camper

Following on from our post about fitting solar panels to the Alu-Cab Icarus roof on our Defender, the next step was to install the auxiliary battery, run the internal wiring, fit the charge controller and fit the diesel heater!

Diesel Heater Location

After much debating on the position for the diesel heater in the Defender, we decided that the best solution for us was to remove the front middle seat and fit the heater in the Nakatanenga heater console. 

Diesel heater console and cubby box in a Land Rover Defender

Nakatanenga supply a full heater kit for the Defender, with all of the components required to fit it.  The only UK supplier is 4x4overlander, the website is not always up to date with stock, so do give them a call or email to confirm availability.

Nakatanenga Diesel Heater Kit for Land Rover Defender

Mounting the Diesel Heater in the Console

I started by fitting the heater console to the mounting plate, and then fitted the heater inside the console.  The power supply to the fuel pump can be fed through the small hole in the mounting plate.

Defender Diesel Heater console

Defender Diesel Heater Console

Diesel Heater fitted to the mounting plate

The console comes with a few options for the mounting plate for the controller, we decided to just keep it simple at this stage and got the option with a single hole for the controller.  The controller has a backing plate which is bolted through the plate, and then the controller simply clicks onto the backing plate.

Nakatanenga Diesel Heater Controller

Solar Charge Controller

We decided to make use of the additional space in the heater console to mount the Renogy solar charge controller.  We went with a 30A DC-DC Battery Charger with in-built MPPT.  
(Use this link for a 7% Renogy discount code on your purchase.)

The charge controller fits nicely inside the heater console, with plenty of space for the required wiring.

DC-DC Battery Charger in a Nakatanenga Heater Console

I wired up all of the cables to the charge controller at this stage, and left the cables long so that they could be run to their final positions in the battery compartment.

Nakatanenga Heater Console with Solar Wiring

In hindsight I should have also fitted the air intake, exhaust pipe and fuel line at this stage too, as they are really fiddly to fit from underneath once the heater is in position.

Installing the heater assembly

The first step was to remove the centre seat, I also removed the passenger seat to make access easier.

Defender front seats

Defender seat box

Budgie's previous owner fitted these great sound deadening rubber mats, so the next step was to carefully cut out the matting to the dimensions of the heater console.

Land Rover Defender seat box rubber mats

With the mat cut out, the access plate can be removed (just a couple of screws holding it in place).  The access plate is exactly the same dimensions as the mounting plate supplied with the diesel heater kit.

Defender middle seat access plate removed

The whole assembly can then be fitted in place of the access plate.  The mounting plate has a recess at the back which catches the frame of the seat box, and uses the same screw positions at the front to secure it in place.

Defender diesel heater console in position

The rubber mats are then refitted, and the seat rails replaced.  All of those long cables from the solar charge controller, which we fitted earlier, are run along the back of the seat box and into the battery compartment. 

The positive cable from the solar panel is also fed along this route and into the charge controller, while the negative cable from the panel is fed into the battery compartment.

Land Rover Defender diesel heater centre console

Battery Compartment and Solar Wiring

With a bit of shuffling about, I managed to get the original start battery moved over slightly which made enough room for the new 100Ah Renogy lithium (LiFePO4) auxiliary battery.

Renogy lithium auxiliary battery in Defender seat box

There's also enough room for the ANL fuses required for the solar wiring and a new Blue Sea auxiliary fuse panel, which all of the auxiliary loads will be wired to.  At the moment the only auxiliary load is the power to the lighting in the Alu-Cab roof, but the plan is to add some more charging points in the back later, and maybe some heated seats!

The two ANL fuses are mounted to the front of the seat box, and the auxiliary fuse panel is mounted to the back of the seat box.

Solar ANL fuse in Defender seat box

Blue Sea auxiliary fuse box in Defender seat box

The diesel heater comes with a fused power supply, so this was wired straight to the auxiliary battery, and the fuse holder mounted beside the new auxiliary fuse panel.  With everything in position the solar cables can be cut to length, terminated with a crimping tool and wired up to the correct positions.

Auxiliary Battery wiring for a solar powered Defender

The charge controller comes with clear instructions and a handy simplified wiring diagram.

Renogy solar charge controller wiring diagram

Air Intake, Exhaust and Fuel Line

With everything sorted inside the Land Rover, it was time to fit the external components.  Thankfully it's easy enough to crawl under a Defender, so no need for ramps etc.

As I said earlier, it would have been easier to fit the air intake, exhaust and fuel lines before fitting the heater assembly into the vehicle, but it is possible to fit them from underneath.  All three lines are pretty close together, so it's just a bit fiddly getting the lines into position and tightening up the fasteners.  It would probably be best to do the fuel line first, as this was really awkward!

Air intake, exhaust and fuel lines for the Defender diesel heater

I ran the fuel line and the fuel pump power supply cable along the chassis rail, following the route of the existing vehicle electrics.  You can then cut the fuel line to length and fit the fuel pump.  The pump is fitted in a rubber mount which I screwed to the chassis leg behind the rear wheel.
Diesel heater fuel pump

Fuel pump in position on the Defender chassis

The heater kit is supplied with a fuel pick up, which fits into the Defender fuel filling trunk.  I popped the filling line off, cut the pipe at the required position, fixed the fuel pick up into position, then re-fitted the whole assembly.  Don't do this with a full tank, while parked on a slope, or you will spill diesel everywhere - trust me!

Diesel heater fuel pick up

Bending the fuel pick up pipe down a bit, lets you decide whether the pick-up reaches all the way to the bottom of the tank, or leave a bit of reserve in the tank, so that the heater can't run the tank empty.

For the heater exhaust pipe, I followed the vehicle exhaust pipe.  Cut the pipe to length, and fitted the provided silencer, screwing it to the chassis cross member.

The air intake pipe also runs towards the back of the vehicle, but closer to the middle and above the chassis cross member, so that there is a bit of separation between intake and exhaust.

Powering up!

With everything connected, it was time to power up and test the heater out.  It took a couple of attempted starts, to get the fuel pumped all the way from the tank to the heater, but after that it fired up straight away, and ran for the required 2 hour running in period with no problems.  

Once everything was in and tested, we fitted the Exmoor Trim cubby box to the top of the heater console, and I think it looks great.  Next up is the rear storage and sleeping solution for the boys!

Diesel heater console and cubby box in a Land Rover Defender

Read more about the rest of Budgie's camper conversion.