We have decided to spend more time travelling so are downsizing our home and building an expedition truck to enable us to travel further afield spending more time off grid. The last few months have been immersed in various books to compile a list of all the requirements to make this project come to life. To buy new, secondhand or have a bespoke build was where we had to begin and it soon became apparent that new or secondhand were either too expensive or too much of a compromise so we looked around for someone who could build what we wanted at a reasonable price, enter Gekkotruck in the guise of Neil and Ania who have their living boxes built in Poland and are based in Germany, after many emails a trip to Poland was decided upon as we wanted to see the the build facility and look at a few ex Polish army Star trucks that were recommended by Neil.
Star trucks were bought by MAN in the late 1990s and the few examples we saw were completely refurbished and looked “as new”, they were priced at around Euro 25k so represented good value for money, however they were 6×6 which we felt was overkill and had already decided 4×4 was adequate.
The living box build facility in Poznan were converting a number of vans and the standard of workmanship was good although we were unable to view any larger projects that we were looking to undertake. Neil & Ania had their Unimog on site which had a 3.8 metre living box attached and it was remarkable what they had managed to pack into it in the way of accommodation and storage.
After a lovely few days in Poznan we decided to head home and on reaching The Netherlands we arranged to visit BlissMobil in Breda, WOW, what an operation as they were building up to 30 living boxes annually at a very high standard but were outside our budget, we can but dream.
We were at this stage still searching for the right base truck and whilst travelling home we found on the internet an ex Fire Tender which had carried some 3 kilometres of flat hose to deal with forest fires for the Dorset fire brigade. It turned out to be a 2003 MAN LE 18.280 4×4 with an auto gearbox which had only done 11000 miles and was in excellent condition and the only compromise was the 6 man crew cab as we had felt we needed the slightly smaller sleeper cab which would allow a larger living box as we were trying to keep the overall length under 8 metres.
We visited the village of John O’Groats, the most northern inhabited part of the United Kingdom. The harbour area was a dreary collection of souvenir shops and cafés, although the local hotel had been refurbished in a colourful manner and was being used as a natural retreat complete with strange looking accommodation pods set on the hill above the harbour. It was chilly and there were few visitors; didn’t linger long.
We drove south along the coast towards Inverness, passing Wick, Brora and Invergordon. The rain had hardly stopped all day and driving was tiring. We stayed overnight near Banff at a secluded site in Gamrie Bay, 15 minutes outside the town.
The owner was the local prawn fisherman and his wife, Linda. She came to say a friendly hello and stayed chatting with us for half an hour, telling us she had been born and brought up in the area. She was so enthusiastic about her local village of Gardenstown, she said that most of the villagers had the surname Watts or West (she was married to a Watt). She had a girlfriend whose surname was West-Watts until she married a West! She laughed and said she supposed they were all related. A lady happy in her own skin, she was a joy to meet.
Blue spot – Gamrie Bay
We continued our journey east following the meandering coast road around the shores of Loch Eribol before the terrain softened as we took the causeway over the Kyle of Tongue. We drove on to Scrabster and then parked at the seaside town of Thurso to pick up fresh supplies from the high street. We were hoping to find a good fish restaurant but the town seemed rather run down so we drove on a few miles to Dunnet Bay, a site on the beach with a pub ten minutes’ walk down the road, where we had a pint of beer and some beautiful fresh fish.
The House Today
The House In 1999
A fellow traveller recommended that we stop at the croft of a sculptor, Lotte Glob, who in 1999 had purchased 14 acres of.land in a desolate spot over looking Loch Eribol. She created a garden, planting over four thousand trees where trees were known not to thrive. Today the garden was lush and green and anyone was welcome to stop and explore the area, have a picnic and discover the many sculptures set around the garden.
The campsite at Durness was in a stunning situation overlooking Sango Bay. At last it had stopped raining and lots of people were enjoying the beach. Most were swimming and surfing wearing wet suits although there were a couple of girls (from Czech Republic) who were swimming in bikinis (no photo provided!)
Our Campsite Overlooking The Beaches
We returned from Stornoway on the ferry to Ullapool and then headed north along the coast road towards Durness. The road often narrowed to single track with passing bays but the traffic was light and, in spite of the occasional rain shower we enjoyed a beautiful drive.
Stornoway is the Blue Dot
The Outer Hebrides was a chain of about two hundred islands lying in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Scotland. They stretched for 130 miles from the north at the Butt of Lewis to the south at Barra Head. The ferry journey from Ullapool to Stornoway took just over two hours.
Our campsite was just outside Stornoway and the next morning we drove south to the Isle Of Harris – home of Harris Tweed – didn’t buy anything. There were few trees and the terrain was grassy peat bogs surrounding hundreds of small lochs. We saw lots of sheep and even a few cattle and, had the sun been shining, the scenery would have been beautiful in a wild way. Everywhere were thick carpets of wild flowers bright against the greens of the grasses, interrupted by huge granite boulders scattered over the landscape. The colours were rich and varied, even on that dull day.
We returned to Stornoway for lunch before driving north to the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis, reportedly the windiest coast in the UK. The day’s drive was little more than a hundred miles, we kept to the main roads and the route had very little traffic – although a large proportion of these vehicles were other motor homes.
Butt of Lewis
Butt of Lewis