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 Land Rover 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

Fitting a Diesel Heater

The second stage of the solar wiring also included fitting a diesel heater to Budgie.  

Nakatanenga diesel heater console in a Land Rover Defender camper

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.

Monday 23 October 2023

Back in the UK!

Well it's almost two months since we moved back to the UK, and we're still kind of getting over the culture shock, but as usual we're making the most of things. The boys are enjoying lots of UK snacks that they had totally forgotten about (as is Sarah!) so every trip to the store is bigger than intended.....  It's been great to catch up with old friends and family, although we've still got lots more people to catch up with!

Langstone Windmill, Hampshire

Exploring our new home has been fun, and we've managed to keep some of our Canadian traditions like pumpkin picking before Thanksgiving, this year joined by the boys' Uncle, Aunty and wee cousin - there are some advantages to the UK.  After a world of pain navigating the UK school application system the boys have settled into their new school and have restarted skating lessons, and joined a great local rugby club.

Pumpkin picking at Tulley's Farm

First Day School Photo

We're missing our outdoor gear, which we shipped over from Canada and should hopefully arrive in a few more weeks.  Being unable to camp, we had a great weekend in a Shepherd's Hut, just up the road from home in the South Downs National Park.  We booked through Hipcamp, which is a great website listing cool camping and glamping spots in both the UK and Canada (amongst other places).  Use the link above for £10/$10 off your first stay.

HipCamp Shepherd's Hut, South Downs

Our Canadian Land Rover has now gone to a loving new home, and we just picked up another Defender last week - he came already named 'Budgie' so we are sticking with that - welcome to Team E Budgie!  We've already had a great proving run from Portsmouth to Edinburgh (about 450mi / 725km), and we're booked in to have a new pop-top roof fitted next month which will be the first stage in creating our new camping adventure wagon!

Budgie the Land Rover Defender 110

I'm sure there's lots more adventures to come, so stay tuned!

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Washington State - Seattle and Olympic National Park

Getting to Seattle from Vancouver Island

We travelled to Seattle on the FRS Clipper service from Victoria on Vancouver Island.  It's a fast, passenger only catamaran service between Victoria's Inner Harbour and Pier 69 in downtown Seattle.  The journey takes roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes to cross the scenic Juan de Fuca Straight, then into Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound towards Elliott Bay.

Seattle Clipper in Victoria

Keep an eye out for whales and dolphins whilst you travel at 30 knots, or just enjoy the views of Mount Baker and the Olympic mountain range.

The clipper has 3 different classes of ticket, but all have allocated seating and great views, as well as bar and food service! 

Where to Stay in Seattle

We stayed in a great townhouse AirBnB in the Queen Anne district, which had amazing views over the city and the Space Needle.  We were surprised by how hilly Seattle was, but the views were definitely worth the hike up to the top!

Seattle skyline at night

Queen Anne was a great location, walkable from the clipper and easy access to the Space Needle or Downtown areas (as long as you're ok with the hills!).

Top things to do in Seattle

1. The Space Needle - it's hard to miss this landmark, and you really shouldn't miss a visit.  The entry tickets are timed to a 15 minute slot, but you can spend as long as you want at the top.  As you'd expect the views are stunning, and the rotating glass floor is a cool experience.  There's also a nice bar up there! 

Seattle Space Needle from Chihuly Gardens

Boys at the Seattle Space Needle

2. Chihuly Gardens - this gallery features the amazing glass work of Washington artist, Dale Chihuly, and is definitely worth a visit.  There are 8 internal galleries, a huge glasshouse, and a beautiful garden filled with architectural glass works.  The bar is home to some of Chihuly's personal collections, and is a great spot for lunch.

Chihuly Glass

Chihuly Glass

Chihuly Glass House

Chihuly Gardens

Glass Tree at Chihuly Gardens

3. Take a ride on the mono-rail from the Seattle Center (beside the Space Needle) to the Westlake Mall terminal downtown.  It's a short trip between the two terminals, but only costs a few dollars and passes through the architecturally impressive Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP), and then on a high track above the city.

Seattle mono-rail

MoPop Seattle

4. Take a stroll round Pike Place Market, it is buzzing with shops, restaurants,  and the first ever Starbucks; if that kind of thing floats your boat you can join the huge line up to get a coffee, perhaps unsurprisingly we didn't!  Instead we headed to the ever important brewery - Old Stove Brewing and grabbed a beer looking out over the water. The market is a bit of a maze but there is an app to guide you - we didn't have this when we were there so can't comment on how good it is but we think it would be worth a try.  The market is also home to 'The Gum Wall', dubbed 'a hidden work of art' - we'll let you be the judge of that!

Getting to Washington State from Vancouver Island

A couple of weeks later we took the Coho Ferry from Vancouver Island to Port Angeles in Washington State.  The Coho is operated by Black Ball Ferry Line, and has been operating this route since 1959!  Travelling on the ferry is like stepping back in time, with the original decor and jolly music accompanying the safety announcements.

Coho Ferry entering Victoria, BC

The ferry takes 90 minutes to cross the Juan de Fuca Straight, from downtown Victoria into Port Angeles.  Heading to Washington, you will clear US customs in the ferry port, so need to be there 90 minutes prior to departure.  On the way back, you only need to be there 60 minutes before.

There is a bar and cafeteria onboard, but we spent most of the trip out on the foredeck looking for whales.  We didn't see any on the way south, but spotted a few humpbacks on the way back, so keep your eyes out!

Olympic National Park

On our second trip over to Washington state, we visited Olympic National Park.  Managed by the US National Parks Service, the park is a vast wilderness of nearly 1 million acres and over 70 miles of beautiful wild coastline.

Olympic National Park Welcome Sign

Where to Stay in Olympic National Park

We stayed in a really cool camp near Forks, which we booked through AirBnB.  The camp is by the river at the end of a rough track, with no near neighbours.  It's completely off-grid, with no power or running water, but there is a covered shelter for cooking and eating and a cool outhouse with a view!  You have the entire property to yourselves, and can pitch your tent wherever you like.

Camping near Forks, WA. Kestrel's Place AirBnB

If you want somewhere with a few more home comforts, the friends we were travelling with stayed in a log cabin at Kalaloch Lodge.  The cabins overlook a beautiful beach, and there is a nice restaurant on site.

Things to do in Olympic National Park 

1. Marymere Falls is a short hike through the forest from Crescent Lake.  The early part of the walk is pretty flat, and meanders past some huge trees and over a couple of log bridges, the last section up to the falls is pretty steep, but there's a good path with steps in places. Sadly this trail does not allow dogs so Sarah and Hector chilled down at the lake, but worth bearing in mind if you travel with your dog.

Kids inside a tree, Olympic National Park

Log bridge, Olympic National Park

Marymere Falls, Olmypic National Park, WA

2. Hole-in-the-Wall is a stunning natural arch in the rocks.  Walk along Rialto Beach from the car parking area at the southern end of the beach, making sure that you get the tide times right!  There were some huge schools of fish just off the beach when we were there, which attracted loads of Pelicans.  Some of the fish were getting washed up on the beach by the waves, and the kids loved catching them.

Errington Family at Rialto Beach

Hole in the wall, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

Catching fish by hand at Olympic National Park

Catching fish by hand at Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

3. Sol Duc Hot Springs offers three pools at different temperatures, plus a fresh water outdoor swimming pool and cold water shower!  The natural mineral hot springs are directed into man-made pools.  There are also changing rooms and a gift shop.

Sol Duc Hot Springs Pools

There are other natural pools in the park, but the hike was a bit far for the kids after already hiking to the hole-in-the-wall.

4. Ruby Beach is one of many stunning beaches on the western coast of the park.  There's another much smaller natural arch at this beach, and it's much quieter than Rialto.

Natural arch at Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

Two very different experiences in Washington State, but both well worth a visit.  Olympic National Park was more our usual style, but we really enjoyed our short city break in Seattle.  Which would you do?