Tuesday 20 February 2024

The Isle of Jura

One of our favourite things about living in Victoria, BC, was being able to explore beautiful Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, but our love of islands didn't start in Canada.  It actually started in Scotland on the Isle of Jura.

Lorne Cottage, Caigenhouses, Craighouse, Isle ofJura

I (R) have been visiting Jura for almost 40 years now, and Sarah has been joining me for more than 20 years.  It's one of our favourite places, and we even got married there on the beach at Corran Sands in 2012.  

Isle of Jura Wedding at Corran Sands

One of the best things about being back in the UK, is being able to get up to Jura regularly.  This is our third trip up in the last 6 months!

About the Isle of Jura

Jura is an island in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.  


Despite being the 8th largest of the Scottish islands (about 30 miles long and 7 miles wide), it is only the 31st largest in terms of population with around 200 permanent residents.  The residents are vastly numbered by Red Deer, with a fairly steady population of around 5000, and in fact the name Jura is thought to derive from the Old Norse word Dyrøy meaning "deer island".

Red Deer on the Isle of Jura

The island is dominated by three large peaks, known as the Paps of Jura, which make for a distinctive silhouette from the mainland and also from neighbouring Islay.  Only the South and East coasts of the island are inhabited, leaving the West coast as a beautiful wilderness which is only accessible on foot or by boat.

With its small, friendly population and remote feeling, Jura is a magical place which really gets under your skin and many visitors return on a regular basis.

Getting to the Isle of Jura

The Isle of Jura was described as "ungettatable" by George Orwell when he was writing his famous novel '1984' on Jura.  Fortunately it's not that difficult these days, and there are a number of options to get here, but it does take a bit of planning!  The major options are listed below, but get in touch with us if you need help planning your journey.

Jura Passenger Ferry

This is our favourite way to get to Jura. The Jura Passenger Ferry crosses between Tayvallich, on the mainland, and Craighouse on Jura.  It's the quickest (less than an hour) and most scenic way to get across the Sound of Jura, but is for foot passengers only, no vehicles.  Craighouse is the main settlement on Jura, so it's an ideal place to land.

Car Ferry

Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) sail to Islay from Kennacraig, on the Scottish mainland, to either Port Ellen or Port Askaig on a regular basis.  This route takes about 2 hours, and you can check out the current schedules online at calmac.co.uk.  From Islay it's a short journey from Port Askaig to Feolin on the Jura Ferry, which takes around 10 minutes to cross the Sound of Islay.  You will likely need a car (or bike if you're feeling fit) for this route, although there is a limited bus service available on both Islay and Jura.  Be sure to check that the connections work if you are planning to come over as a foot passenger with CalMac, we've been stranded on Islay before!

Ferry traffic queuing for the Finlaggan at Kennacraig

By Air

There are regular scheduled flights between Glasgow (GLA) and Islay (ILY) airports with Logan Air

What to do on Jura

Jura is rightly famous for its whisky, visit the Jura Whisky website for details on tours and tastings.

Did you know that Jura is now also home to a gin distillery, rum distillery and brewery?  

Lussa Gin distill by hand in a traditional still in a converted stable on the Ardlussa Estate at the North end of the island.  Using 15 botanicals which they grow or forage on the island, it's the 'spirit of island adventure'.  They are also open for tours, check out the Lussa Gin website for details.

Deer Island Distillers make a small batch Scottish spiced rum from the business units at Craighouse Pier.  They have a distillery shop and also offer tours, check out the Deer Island website for details.  They're also right next door to Konrad's beautiful photography gallery - The Whisky Island, and the local craft store - Camella Crafts.

Jura Brewery are still finishing the construction of their new brewery at their croft in Kiels, which is about a 15 minute walk.  Their Laughing Stag is an easy drinking pale ale which you can find in the community owned Jura Stores, in the Jura Hotel bar, and from the Jura Brewery TrALEr at certain events.

Jura Brewery Laughing Stag

It's not all about alcohol though!  Throughout the year there are a number of regular events, which can see the Jura population expand significantly, you're strongly recommended to book early if you want to stay on Jura during these events:

Jura Fell Race - this 28km fell race sees 200 competitors climb seven of Jura's summits on the last weekend in May.  This is one of Jura's busiest weekends.
Ardlussa Sports - this annual sports event is great fun for all of the family and raises money for local charities, it usually happens the last weekend in July. Events include tug of war, hammer throwing, barrel rolling and family races.
Jura Regatta - this day of water based sports is usually held on the first Saturday in August.  Events include open water swimming, rowing, kayaking, sailing and a raft race.
Jura Music Festival - this great festival is usually held on the last weekend in September.  

Jura has some amazing scenery and wildlife which you can explore for yourself, or take a guided tour with one of the locals:

Jura Guided - Grant offers guided walks suitable for all levels around the island.
Jura Boat Tours - Robert offers small group wildlife and sightseeing tours in their MCA approved RIB. 
Discover Jura - Alex offers small group tours by minibus and in conjunction with Jura Boat Tours.
Jura Cycles - Are now offering bike hire on Jura to help you get around.

Where to stay on Jura

Jura has a variety of options for places to stay, from a super luxury hotel to rustic bothies, and everything in between.  

Lorne Cottage

Of course we are biased, but we think Lorne Cottage is one of the nicest small holiday cottages on the island.  Sleeping a maximum of six, but more comfortable for four, our wee cottage in Craighouse was fully rebuilt in 2019.  With stunning views over Small Isles Bay, our self catering holiday cottage is literally a stone's throw from the beach and just a short stroll into the village.

Lorne Cottage, Isle of Jura


While we were in Canada, we offered the cottage up for long term let and had a number of great tenants.  Now that we are back in the UK, and will be able to visit more often, we're moving to a holiday let arrangement. Stay tuned for an announcement when we are ready to start taking bookings.

Self Catering Holiday Cottages and Bed and Breakfast

There are a number of other holiday cottages available to rent on Jura, and a couple of options for Bed and Breakfast. The most comprehensive listing can be found on the Jura Development Trust's website.

Jura Hotels

Until fairly recently there was only one hotel on Jura, the imaginatively named Jura Hotel!  The Jura Hotel also has a public bar, which serves as the island's only pub.  

When an Australian hedge fund manager bought the Ardfin Estate, he set about a massive investment program; including building a world class 18-hole Golf Course, a huge extension of Jura House and refurbishment of agricultural buildings into a boutique hotel.  If you have deep pockets, Jura House can now be rented for up to 20 guests on an exclusive basis (minimum 3 nights, price on application), or you can stay in the Quads on a hotel basis for a rumoured £1000 per night!

Camping

The Jura Hotel has a large waterfront field which acts as a semi-formal campsite during the summer.  There is a shower block, toilets and laundry facilities available to the side of the hotel, via a key fob system.  Enquire at the hotel for the latest prices and seasonal opening.

Wild camping is permitted on Jura, but it should be noted that this does not extend to vehicular camping.  Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and Leave No Trace:

    This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one         place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply but help avoid causing problem for local     people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and keeping well     away from buildings, roads or historic structures. If you wish to camp close to a house or building, seek     the owner’s permission. Leave no trace by taking away all your litter. Remove all traces of your tent            pitch and of any open fire.

There are extremely limited places to park campervans, all without facilities, but there are public toilets by the big pier in Craighouse.  Large motorhomes are unsuited to Jura's single track road, and may struggle to get on and off the wee ferry!

Isle of Jura Tourist Map



Is Jura in your plans for this year?  If not it probably should be!

Monday 22 January 2024

Fitting Solar Panels to our Defender Camper

The second phase of Budgie's camper conversion involved fitting a solar power system.  After much research around split charge relays, battery to battery (B2B) chargers and battery composition, we ended up with a 175 Amp solar panel charging a lithium battery via a B2B charger.  

Having used Renogy equipment on our RV camping trailer in Canada, they were an easy choice for the Land Rover Defender.  (Use this link for a 7% Renogy discount code on your purchase.)

Mounting the Solar Panel


The first step was to mount the 175A solar panel to the roof.  The Alu-Cab Icarus roof conversion comes with a track system and we paid a bit extra for a set of Alu-Cab load bars.  The load bars are fitted with a t-track on the top and one side to allow simple fitting of accessories.  It seemed to make sense to fit the solar panel between two of the load bars, but we wanted the bars to still be available to use for other equipment (like skis).  

Land Rover Defender Alu-Cab Icarus Roof Bars

I'd seen a few people mount the panel flush with the bars, but I was worried about the panel getting damaged while loading, so decided to mount it below the bars.  A few aluminium angle brackets and some t-slot nuts, made it quick and easy to fasten the panel to the bars. 

Solar Panel Mounting Hardware for Alu-Cab Load Bars

The plastic end cap on the bars simply knocks off, allowing the t-slot nuts to be slid along the side-facing track.  Using M6 pan head bolts, each bracket can be fastened loosely to the track.

Alu-Cab load bar solar panel bracket

With two brackets fitted to the load bar, the panel can be offered up and the brackets slid into position to align with the pre-drilled mounting holes on the panel.  I used M6 flanged bolts and nyloc nuts to fasten the panel to the brackets.

Renogy loar panel mounted to Alu-Cab load bar

Repeat for the other load bar.

Renogy solar panel mounted to Alu-Cab load bars

Once the panel is fitted to the bars, the whole assembly can be slid onto the cargo track on the Icarus roof from the back.  Once in the final position tighten up all of the fasteners.

Solar Panel mounted to Land Rover Defender Alu-Cab Icarus roof

Running the solar cables

After removing the cab parcel shelf and the front passenger corner of the side panelling, I was ready to drill through the roof.

Drilling a pair of 18mm holes through the side of my new roof was terrifying.  Measure twice (or three times) drill once!

Alu-Cab Icarus solar panel wiring

I used a pair of 20mm cable glands to get the cables through the roof and into the cab.

Alu-Cab Icarus roof with solar panel cable glands

I also fitted a cable entry housing over the top of the cable glands, just to be doubly sure that the holes were watertight.  The housing was sealed and stuck in place with sika-flex, and held in place with a ratchet strap over the roof while it cured.

Cable entry housing being fixed to alu-cab icarus roof

I decided to run the solar cables along the outside of the roof following the gutter line, which means they are mostly hidden behind the awning when the roof is closed.  Remember to leave enough length for the roof to open!

Alu-Cab Icarus Land Rover Defender Solar Panel Cables

I used a pair of 1.5m (5ft) solar cable extensions between the panel and the front of the roof, and then a 3m (10ft) solar adaptor kit from the front of the roof to the battery compartment.

Once inside the cabin, the cables can be run along the inside of the Icarus roof to the B-pillar behind the passenger door.  Routing down the B-pillar, takes the cables to the battery compartment under the passenger seat.

Battery Compartment

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 new auxiliary fuse panel, which all of the auxiliary loads will be wired to.

More to follow...


Wednesday 10 January 2024

An Epic Christmas Road Trip

We're now back to reality with a bump after our Christmas break!  We travelled almost 1400 miles (2250km) in Budgie (our Defender); from our home in Portsmouth up to Sarah's parents in Edinburgh, down to Ridley's Dad in Northumberland, back to Edinburgh, over to our cottage on the Isle of Jura, then back home to Portsmouth via Edinburgh and Northumberland!

Portsmouth to Jura Map

Sarah's parents kindly looked after our dog, Hector, while we went skiing before Christmas, and we spent a lovely Christmas back in Edinburgh with Sarah's family, for the first time in 5 years.  Click the link to read more about our ski trip to Montgenevre.

Edinburgh Castle Sunset

We popped down to Northumberland and back in a day, to borrow a livestock trailer from Ridley's Dad, so that we could transport some tools and furniture up to Lorne Cottage.  We managed to time this trip during Storm Gerrit, so had a pretty horrendous journey down through flooded roads and snow, and we were glad we were in the Landy!  We opted to drive back via Berwick on the main A1 to avoid towing the trailer on the usual back roads.  Once back in Edinburgh we spent the rest of the day outfitting the cottage (our least favourite task is shopping, but we survived Ikea without an argument!) and loading the trailer, ready for the drive over to Jura the next day.

We had an uneventful, but wet, journey over to the west coast and a rather lumpy crossing over to Jura!

Defender and trailer with MV Finlaggan

Defender on the Jura Ferry

We knew that the cottage had suffered some flooding while we'd been away in Canada, and that some of the newly fitted floor tiles had lifted and cracked.  So we were prepared with tools and ready for some DIY!  Unfortunately the extent of the cracking was worse than we expected, and it was heart breaking to have to rip up the entire floor in the main bedroom.  Thankfully we managed to salvage enough full tiles which we can use to patch repair the broken tiles in the rest of the house, but we're going to have to re-lay the concrete and find some new tiles for the bedroom as the current ones are no longer in production.  That will be a job for February half-term!

Broken tiles and concrete

Lifting broken tiles

Sad looking dog on broken floor

It wasn't all doom and gloom though; the work we had done on the drainage out the back, seems to have done the trick, and the cottage was warm and dry!  Apart from the floor it was looking really good, and the furniture we had brought over really started to make it feel like home.

Happy border terrier with Jura tartan chair

As it happened, it was exactly 20 years since Ridley took Sarah over to Jura for her memorable first visit.  The cottage certainly didn't look like it does now, back then it was a one bedroom cottage with only coal fires for heating.  We arrived over for Hogmanay (New Year) to discover that the shop had run out of coal.  Then there was a power cut, which lasted three days!  The pub and shop both shut for Hogmanay, and the only method of cooking we had was a disposable BBQ (there is no gas on Jura).  I vividly remember attempting to cook sausages and garlic bread wrapped in tin foil over the disposable BBQ in this fireplace:

Old fireplace

Of course the BBQ didn't generate enough heat to get the chimney to draw and the entire cottage filled with smoke.  We then had to open all the windows to clear the smoke, which made the cottage even colder.  Somehow Sarah still fell in love with Jura and agreed to come back!  This year we celebrated the anniversary with our first meal in the renovated Lorne Cottage.

Lorne Cottage dining table

Jura certainly knows how to celebrate Hogmanay, and we had a great time celebrating with wonderful friends in five different houses over three days of parties (interspersed with smashing up tiles!).  The weather on New Year's day was beautiful, and we managed a quick dip in the sea from the beach in front of the cottage.

Wild swimming on the Isle of Jura

Lorne Cottage from the beach

We also spent our first night sleeping in Budgie's pop-top so that we didn't have to drive down the island after the New Year's Day party and despite the cold temperatures, we were cosy and warm in the roof tent.

Boys in an Alucab Icarus on a Defender

We were booked onto a late ferry from Islay on the 2nd of January, but because it is a Scottish holiday the wee ferry from Jura to Islay was running a reduced service.  This meant that we had to go over to Islay much earlier than necessary.  As it happened the earlier big ferry had just finished loading as we arrived in Port Askaig and still had space available, so we managed to drive straight off the wee ferry and onto the big ferry as it was about to depart - lucky timing!  We headed back to Edinburgh to return some borrowed tools to Sarah's Dad, and spent an extra evening with them.

The next day we had planned to head back to Northumberland to drop off the trailer and spend some time with Ridley's Dad, but Budgie had other ideas!  We got about 10 minutes down the road before the battery light illuminated constantly and the temperature gauge rose rapidly.  We pulled into a petrol station to take a look, and discovered a large leak of water/coolant which was dripping onto the fan/alternator belt causing it to slip.  After a quick look around, Ridley couldn't identify where the water was coming from, so topped up the tank and headed carefully back to Sarah's parents watching the temperature gauge like a hawk!  Luckily they have a large garage, which we could fit Budgie in to take a proper look.  It took a couple of days to dismantle the fan assembly, identify the water pump as the problem, order parts, change the pump and re-assemble, but by Friday we were back on the road!

Defender 200tdi water pump replacement

We spent the weekend in Rothbury; including a trip to the tip to get rid of all of the broken tiles we had dragged back from Jura, helping out around the farm, catching up with the family, and a couple of meals out.

Alucab Icarus on a Land Rover Defender

On Sunday we headed back down to Portsmouth, with a quick stop for brunch and a catch up with friends in Morpeth.  Budgie performed perfectly and didn't skip a beat on the six and a half hour journey home.

We now need a holiday to recover from the holiday!  What did you get up to over Christmas and New Year?



 

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Skiing Montgenèvre

Shortly after we moved to Portsmouth, the boys realised they wouldn't be able to ski every weekend of the season, like they had been used to in Canada!  

After a bit of internet searching and researching European ski locations, we settled on a trip to Montgenèvre in France.  The small town sits about half way between Grenoble in France and Turin in Italy and is right on the border.  We flew into Grenoble Alpes-Isère Airport with EasyJet from Edinburgh, and had a private transfer with Snow Cab.


Welcome to Montgenevre

It's the oldest ski resort in France and it's possible to ski across into Italy to join up with the Milky Way resorts of Clavier and Sauze D'Oulx.  Beware that the Italian resorts open later than Montgenèvre; for our early season trip before Christmas the rest of the resorts hadn't opened.  There was still plenty for us to do though, with over 100km of runs and 38 lifts.  It's a good mix of beginners and intermediate pistes, with a few advanced runs.

Beginners ski area Montgenevre

View from the top at Montgenevre Ski

Montgenevre Ski Lift

The town itself is fairly small, but retains a rustic Alpine charm and has a good selection of bars and restaurants, and according to Innes all the food was 'delicious'!

Innes with a calzone pizza

We stayed at the Résidence Club MMV le Hameau des Airelles, which is a collection of self-catering apartments in a number of chalet style buildings set around an outdoor pool. The location is ski-in / ski-out, but the access lifts hadn't yet opened when we were there. It was just a short walk over to the piste though and there is also a free regular shuttle bus which stops just outside the hotel. There's also a great bakery just across the road for lovely breakfast pastries.
 
Night time view from Montgenevre Apartments

Montgenevre Pool

We booked the flights, hotel and transfers through Heidi, who we highly recommend.

Not sure what to pack for your ski holiday? Check out our handy guide and printable ski trip packing list.


Friday 1 December 2023

Budgie the Defender Camper

We purchased our new adventure wagon in October 2023 and we are now converting him into an off-road camper.  I'll keep this post updated as we progress with the conversion.

Budgie the 110 Defender

Our new vehicle is a 1993 Land Rover Defender 110 County Station Wagon with the 200Tdi (Turbo Diesel Injection) engine.  He was affectionately named Budgie by a previous owner's kids, apparently because he had a squeaky fan belt which chirped like a budgie!

Land Rover Defender 110 County Station Wagon

Land Rover Defender 110 County Station Wagon

Prior to our purchase, Budgie had an extensive renovation including a galvanised chassis and some serious rust repairs.  He even came with a photo book recording the work done.

We'd been looking for a Defender since we arrived back in the UK; Ridley was looking at newer models but Sarah spotted the advert for Budgie, who was just down the road from us.  The amount of work done meant that Budgie had already been 'future proofed', and we just couldn't resist.

Restored Land Rover Defender 110 CSW

Roof Tent vs Pop-Top

We'd been debating for a while whether to get one large family roof tent, two smaller roof tents, or a pop-top.  

We really enjoyed our time in the Yukon, where we hired a Jeep with a roof tent, but we found the soft cover a bit of a faff to pack away and we knew that the boys would soon outgrow the space available in most large roof tents.

Yukon Overland Jeep at Tuktoyaktuk

We seriously considered an iKamper or TentBox hard shell tent, but even the largest models didn't seem big enough for long term sharing for the four of us.

We thought about fitting two smaller roof tents, but it would require a specially adapted roof rack, and would be a considerable amount of weight up high, and pretty expensive.

In the end we decided on the Icarus pop-top roof conversion from Alu-Cab.  While the roof will only sleep two, it is raised in seconds and packed away in only a couple of minutes.  The pop-top has the added advantage of giving us standing room inside the Land Rover.  We're currently planning a layout which will allow us to use the folded second row seats as beds for the boys.

Defender Camper Alu-Cab Icarus

Alu-Cab Icarus roof Defender 110

The roof was fitted for us by Tuff-Trek, along with an Alu-Cab 270 degree awning which wraps around the Landy to give us some outdoor shelter.  Tuff-Trek did a great job, and we highly recommend them. 



Fitting a Solar System to the Defender Icarus Roof

The next major upgrade was fitting a solar system to Budgie.  We went with a fixed 175 Amp solar panel fitted to the Alu-Cab Icarus roof bars and a battery to battery charger.  You can read more in our Fitting Solar Panels post.

Land Rover Defender Alu-Cab Icarus Solar Panel

Phone Holder

Anyone who's driven a Defender will know that there is nowhere to put your phone!  Budgie doesn't currently have a radio and we don't have a satnav, so we usually use a phone for music and directions. 

I'd been looking for a new phone holder for a while, and recently came across an eBay listing for a 3D printed adaptor that would fit in the ashtray space on the dash.  The adaptor allowed a Ram Mount to be fitted without drilling any new holes in the dash, and covered up the useless ashtray!

The adaptor was well made, and came with pre-marked positions which aligned perfectly to the Ram Mount 7" Tough Track.  After drilling a few quick holes in the adaptor the Tough Track was quickly bolted onto the mount using the bolts supplied with the adaptor.

Defender Ram Mount Tough Track Ashtray Adaptor

Once it was all bolted up, the assembly was fitted into the ashtray position and the securing arms tightened up with an allen key.  The 1" mounting ball can then be fitted onto the track and the X-Grip phone holder accessory fitted to the ball.  The track allows for additional accessories to be fitted later, I'll probably be adding a GoPro mount in the near future!

Ram Mount Tough Track in Landrover Defender

Ram Mount X-Grip in Landrover Defender

Overall it's a really quick and easy modification which solves the phone holder issue, only needs a drill and a couple of allen keys, is completely reversible, and makes use of the ashtray; highly recommended!

Adding a Defender roof access step

If you've ever tried accessing the roof of a Defender from the front, you'll know it's pretty easy to get up on the wings, but getting up the windscreen onto the roof is tricky.  I'm always worried about damaging the window gutter, or scraping the paint!

I spotted a great step on the LR Challenge 4x4 web site the other day, which really solves this problem (and looks good in the process - in my opinion!).

Defender Roof Access Step Windscreen
It's a quick and easy modification, which I managed to complete in my lunch break yesterday.  You simply undo three (13mm head) bolts which hold the window hinge in place.  You will likely need to pull the door seal trim out of the way to get the socket head in.  Replace the 13mm bolts with the longer (14mm head) bolts provided with the step, and position the rubber gasket and step over the bolts.  Tighten up the bolts and replace the door seal - job done!

Defender 200tdi Alternator Upgrade

Our alternator failed the other day and since it needed to be replaced anyway, we took the opportunity to upgrade from the standard 45amp version (which had been fitted since 1993) for a new 70amp alternator upgrade from Britpart.  This should charge our new leisure battery faster than the old alternator would have done.

* Make sure you disconnect the battery before starting work on the alternator!

I had a fear that there would be lots of other removals required to get the alternator out, like there was with the water pump a few weeks ago, but actually all it was pretty straight forward.  All it required was the removal of the air filter housing (which can just be unfastened and moved over to the side) and an air pipe to the turbo (2 jubilee clips).  With these out of the way, it was just a case of undoing the three securing bolts. 


The new alternator had slightly different wiring connections on the back.  On the old alternator the wire from the dash warning light (thin yellow and brown) was connected to a D+ post, but after some friendly advice from the LRUK Forum, I was informed that this had to be connected to the smallest pin of the three pin plug position. So I had to change this wire from a ring connector to a small spade.  I also had a blue/brown wire connected to the D+, which appeared to be a non-standard addition.  I traced this wire back to a relay inside the back door. This relay controls the power to a socket that charges a caravan battery whilst towing, so that the circuit is only live while the engine is running.  I wired this to the same small spade connector.    


The new alternator also came with a new red cable, designed to take the higher output from the alternator.  This was wired to the B+ terminal along with the original thicker brown wire.  The other end of the new red cable was connected to the positive terminal on the starter motor (in parallel to the brown wire - but following a shorter route).  It's a bit fiddly to reach the terminal on the starter motor, but can be done without any further removals, if you lie on the wing and reach down!


Once everything is wired up, the new alternator was placed into position, the three securing bolts were loosely fastened, and the alternator belt replaced.  Then the belt is tensioned and bolts tightened up.  The whole job probably took about 3 hours, but would be much faster if you had standard wire connections.