Showing posts with label Camping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Camping. Show all posts

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.


Thursday 3 August 2023

Pender Island

We're just back from a great long weekend on Pender.  We've been to Pender a number of times in our boat but never stayed there before, so it was great to explore more of the islands. 

About Pender Island

Pender Island actually consists of two islands; North Pender and South Pender separated by the Pender Canal.  This narrow channel was dredged in 1903, and a single lane trestle bridge was built over the canal in 1957.  Originally home to the Coast Salish peoples, there are now around 2,250 permanent residents. 

Pender Canal and Bridge

Getting to Pender

We had planned to boat over to Pender, but we had some issues with the fuel system on our outboard, so decided to take the ferry over instead.  Normally we launch at the Tulista boat ramp in Sidney and land at the Port Browning Marina in North Pender.

The ferry service goes to Otter Bay on North Pender with BC Ferries from either Swartz Bay (Sidney) on Vancouver Island, or from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) on the mainland. There are multiple sailings per day, and most ferries are direct to Pender, but some stop in either Galiano, Mayne, Salt Spring or Saturna.  
The ferry from Swartz Bay is not bookable, you just buy a ticket at the terminal, ticket sales for vehicles close 3 minutes before departure and 5 minutes for foot passengers.  The ticket is a return, so no need to buy another ticket on the way back.

There is no public transport on Pender, but there is a semi-formalised system of hitch-hiking.  Multiple 'Car Stops' are located around the island, often with a handy chair! 

Pender Island Car Stop Sign

Where to Stay on Pender

We stayed at the brilliant Woods on Pender, and would highly recommend it.  Sarah and I rented a small airstream trailer called The Nest, while Sarah's parents took a nearby cabin with the boys!  

The Nest has a beautiful deck with sea views and an outdoor shower, while Cabin 2 down the hill has a hot tub. 

 'Coffee+Kitchen' on site serves great coffee and pastries in the morning and is open for dinner reservations on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Gulf Islands National Park has two campgrounds on Pender; front country (drive-in) camping at Prior Centennial and back-country (walk or boat-in) at Shingle Bay.  The campground at Beaumont on South Pender is closed until further notice.

Port Browning Marina has glamping tents, a rental RV and camping spots on the large grassy field in front of the pub.  There's even an outdoor swimming pool and kayak/SUP rentals on site.

Top Things to Do on Pender

1. Visit the Farmers Market - held at the Pender Islands Community Hall on Saturdays at 0930-1300 from the May Long Weekend to Labour Day Weekend.  There's a great variety of local artists and food producers.

2. Take a hike to the viewpoint at Oak Bluffs Park and look for whales.  This is a short but steep trail through the woods and up onto the bluffs looking back towards Vancouver Island.  Viewpoint No2 has more open views and a picnic table.  We've often seen Humpback and Orca in this area from our boat, but didn't have any luck from shore this time.

3. Skip some stones at Mortimer Spit Park while admiring the view of the Pender Canal Bridge.

4. Wine tasting at Sea Star Vineyards and Winery.  Choose a flight of wine, and find your favourite while enjoying the gardens.  There is a food truck on site serving some very good looking seafood inspired meals.  Unfortunately for us they had sold out on our visit, so we didn't get to taste it!

4. Cider Tasting at Twin Island Cider.  We actually tried the ciders at the Farmers Market, but the cider house is open for tastings Thursday - Sunday. 

5. Lunch at the HUB at Hope Bay. This stylish Mediterranean restaurant overlooking the ocean serves great food (and cider from Twin Island!).

6. Port Browning Marina - no trip to Pender would be complete without a visit to 'The Pub'.  Enjoy a drink or some food on the deck, while admiring the views over the bay.

While you're here, check out some of our other favourite spots in the Southern Gulf Islands.  What's your favourite island?