Dawn of the Bongonauts Part 2

In May 2003 the Bongo Fury club and website was officially launched. We figured out how to get the club to the top of the internet search engines and waited to see what would happen. At the time Marianne and myself were working full time at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and hating every minute of it. We were looking for a route out, but never ever imagined that running Bongo Fury would be be our reason for departure.

Within a few weeks 23 poeople had signed up to be (non-paying) members. Indeed Peter Hyde (member no. 7) and Colin Woods (8) are still with us today! We decided to send everyone a newsletter, pictured above. In this rare collectors item we informed everyone that we were getting English language owners manuals imported, and that if people were interested we were going camping in Wiltshire in late September and all were welcome to attend. We called it the “Sad Anoraks Day Out”. By the way the newsletter was designed and printed by our good friend Pat Moran who also prints our membership cards and has been a key part of Bongo Fury for the last 20 years.

I don’t know what it’s like now but the Postern Hill campsite in the Savernake Forest, near Marlborough was not a good place to hold a meeting. Although the toilets were open the shower block was closed and it was a long way to the pub and the newsagent. We would not make that mistake again!

By this time we had about 110 members and had started charging a nominal admin fee to cover our costs. So it was quite remarkable that 22 Bongos and their occupants tuned up from as far away as Morecambe, Cornwall and Sunderland. There was a report back in edition 2 of the newsletter.

My memory of this event is a bit vague, but I certainly remember Mike and Pam Longhurst (member number 37) and Jan and John Barlow (97) being there. Indeed, they are still regulars at the Bongo Bash 20 years later. Also present at the meeting was Kit Palmer (RIP) who suggested that we should hold future meetings in a more central location. He nominated Lickhill Manor in Stourport, Worcestershire and we have been going ever since.

The main subject that came  up at Postern Hill was where everyone could obtain parts on a regular basis. We promised to look in to it.

In May 2004 we held the first Bongo Bash at Stourport. 60 Bongos turned up. We had managed to source some parts and set up a table which did brisk business. More meetings were arranged in different sites around the UK. A dedicated members area of the website with a number of fact sheets was established. We also introduced a more structured membership package and were considering whether it was possible to actually make a living from the club so we could leave DWP! We had launched a database of Bongo friendly garages and the Bongo Fury Forum went live. A number of dedicated Bongo dealerships had been established including Wellhouse Leisure, Imperial Cars and 321 Away. Things were on the move. And so were we.

We made a decision. We figured if we could run the club side of things on a cost-neutral basis by charging a low membership fee, then we could run the parts and accessories side of things as a commercial business and maybe, just maybe, pay ourselves a salary, make a small profit and leave our jobs. So in June 2004, with membership at about 500, but a whole untapped “non-member” market out there we took the plunge. We bravely handed in our notices, put our Sheffield house up for sale and moved to a rented property near Kelso in the Scottish Borders (Mellerstain Mill, pictured above) where we established an online/mail order business called the Bongo Shop. Very few firms were selling Bongo parts and we had a captive audience. Club membership climbed to over 1,000.

But living 6 miles from the nearest Post Office (and pub) wasn’t really for us, so in April 2004 we moved back to Sheffield where at least we could understand the indigenous population, and we have been here ever since.

By the way membership peaked at 3,650 in April 2009 and now stands at 1,600.

It’s been a fun journey but change is coming once again, more of which later.






Dawn of the Bongonauts (Part 1)

In fact, it wasn’t a field full of cows that led to the formation of the club. Rather it was the fact that there were NO cows in the fields at all. Let me explain.

We (myself, Marianne and the dogs) have always been keen campers. Mostly packing our small tent, sleeping bags, walking boots and thermal clothing in the back of our Vauxhall Corsa, ambling around and arriving at campsites in the middle of nowhere. Whether it was the Mendips, Snowdonia, the Lakes, the Dales, the coast, the Isle of Skye……we went all over when we had time off from work.

But in 2001 disaster struck!

An outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease effectively shut down the countryside for a number of months and we were unable to explore or stay in the Great Outdoors. We found other things to keep us occupied but were itching to get back out there.

When the summer of 2002 came round we booked 2 weeks off work, packed the Corsa with our equipment and the dogs, and set off on our way, initially heading for the East Yorkshire coast at Cayton Bay near Scarborough. Where it proceeded to rain. And rain. And rain. Not just at night, but during the day too. We figured it could not last forever so headed inland to Osmotherley near Thirsk. But it did not stop and all our kit was soaking wet. And it is no fun in a small tent with wet dogs.

Anyway, to cut our story short, we headed West and tried camping near Hexham. Then we went to Dent in the Yorkshire Dales. But we never actually got to dry out. It was at Dent that we made the decision: if we were in a campervan, we would be (relatively) dry.

So over that Autumn and Winter we considered our options, and took out a bank loan. The trouble was, the more we looked into it, the more we realised that a decent campervan was WAY out of our price range. Which is when, in the classifieds at the back of one of the Motorhome magazines, we spotted something called a Mazda “Montague” Bongo. WTF, as the youth of today would say…….

They seemed remarkably cheap. You could get an unconverted low mileage van for about £5,000. Or pay another few grand and get a basic kitchen unit installed. But Wokingham was a fair old distance from where we lived, so we started to make some enquiries. Remember, this was the early days of the internet, and there were few forums, and no information about Mazda Bongos except a basic Wikipedia page and a Japanese owners club. So, we put out a request for information on the Motorhome bulletin board on Yahoo Groups: “Has anyone got any experience of Mazda Bongos?”

Remarkably, within a few days, a message came back from someone called David Elliott. He said he had one if we wanted to come and see it, and what’s more he was only about 20 miles away. We jumped at the chance.

David, who was in the process of setting up Wellhouse Leisure, was following in the footsteps of Wade Montague at 321Away, and had started to import Japanese MPVs to convert into campervans. The Ford Freda he showed us had only done 6,500 miles, had 8 seats, was in a distinctive British Racing Green and was ours for a remarkably low price. At the time Wellhouse did not have the facilities to install a kitchen unit, so this work was undertaken by a firm called AVA Leisure near Gatwick Airport.

On that fateful day in February 2003 when we went to pick up our pride and joy, Vaughan England, the owner of AVA, asked what I did for a living. I said I was a website designer in a government department. He mentioned in passing that I should set up a website for Mazda Bongos. “Why would I want to do that?” I asked. Vaughan replied “Because they are just about to become popular. Big time!”.

And so began an interesting experiment. At the time nobody had a clue about where to get spares. Were there many other owners out there? I designed a basic website, called it “Bongo Fury” after my favourite Fank Zappa album, learnt how to get a website on the front page of the search engines, and waited to see what would happen.

And happen it did, as you will find out in Part 2 of……..Dawn of the Bongonauts!

Lockdown Vitals

If your Bongo is laid up for a period of time follow these ten important maintenance tips.

  1. Keeping your battery charged is vitally important. The best way to do this is to start her up once a week and run the engine for 15 to 20 minutes, although a battery should not go flat within 3 weeks unless it is on its last legs. We do not recommend disconnecting the battery as this has an adverse affect on alarms, immobilisers, radio, auto sliding door etc. It is also possible to hook up the battery to a trickle charger; the best ones stop charging when the battery is full.
  2. If you have a leisure battery fitted, run the engine for about 20 minutes once a month. This will ensure it is charged from the alternator.
  3. If not using the vehicle for any prolonged period then do not use the handbrake as this can put too much pressure on the cables and rear shoes. Instead, when you start it up, move it forward and test all the brakes, even if it’s just a few inches.
  4. It’s worth over inflating the tyres otherwise flat spots may occur. This is also why it’s worth moving the vehicle forwards a few inches.
  5. Rubber items can get brittle if not used. By running the engine for 15 minutes coolant will pump its way round the hoses.
  6. Similarly it is a good idea to run the air conditioning system for a few minutes.
  7. Fuel: diesel can start to evaporate in the fuel lines if left un-circulated for more than a few weeks. Petrol is better but you might want to put in a dose of Redex or something similar if leaving petrol in the tank.
  8. If you have an Auto Free top, then raise the roof once in a while. This will stop the motors seizing and will keep the vinyl from cracking.
  9. If you have a fresh water tank, then empty it before storage. Disconnect your gas bottle if you have one.
  10. If at all possible take the vehicle out for an “Italian tune up” once a month to blow away the cobwebs. But during the 2020 lockdown this can only be done if it is an essential journey such as a weekly supermarket shop or dropping off medicines for a relative.

The Story of the 2019 Bongo Bash

Once again Lickhill Manor in Stourport, Worcestershire hosted our annual UK Bongo Bash but it very nearly didn’t take place! However before we get in to that let’s take you back in time to September 2018, a full 9 months before the event. This hidden-away industrial unit in Sheffield is where Mission Control is located and it was from here that the entertainment was booked, the PA system procured, the site itself confirmed, and the marquee and coach for the Saturday trip organised. We also ask the regular traders whether they want a pitch, and arrange the catering unit (Colin the Mad Chef).

In February it’s time to recruit the volunteers who will help us on setting up, reception, security and other tasks during the week. The previous year’s volunteers are given the option to return. But if it looks like we need some new blood then an appeal is put out on the Bongo Fury Forum. But mostly the previous year’s volunteers are only too happy to return.

By late March/early April we are ready to start taking bookings. There are only 56 hook ups (and another 8 that we split in to two) and these are taken quickly. It’s our busiest day of the year, but our team of highly trained operatives (Tracy and Marianne) are happy to take your call.

Over the next couple of months we continue to take bookings, mainly for the non-electric pitches until about a month before the Bash, we start to prepare the master lists and the information packs.

Finally, in mid June, we contact the site to check everything is OK……..but this year we were told there may be a potential problem. Lickhill Manor is right on the banks of the River Severn and although the stretch between Bewdley and Stourport has not flooded for a while, heavy rain in mid Wales meant that the river was swollen and had to be monitored carefully. Indeed flood alerts were being issued along the full stretch. We would have to get down to the site early and hope that the worst didn’t happen. We drew up contingency plans just in case Stourport flooded like it had previously. The key was 3 miles upstream. If the flood barriers were deployed at Bewdley we were in trouble.

Fortunately we were spared. On the day before the Bash began, the river, which was only 9 inches from the top of the bank at the rally field, started receding and we were open for business.

Tuesday 18th June was just about sunny enough for the grass to be cut, and the volunteers arrived to help set things up.

Apart from the usual minor issues, the Bash then proceeded as planned. Here’s a selection of some images from the remainder of the week. See you next year!






Tailgate Strut Supports

Are you fed up with your tailgate closing when you don’t want it to? It may be due to tired struts, it may be due to a heavy bike rack. But fear not, we have a solution! Introducing the Tailgate Strut Support.

Precision engineered in coated steel by Andrews of Long Eaton, these “Strut Brakes” sit on exposed inner (silver) part of the strut to prevent it shutting.

They come as a pair and are available in a variety of bright colours. You can obtain them from the Exterior section of the Bongoland shop. As used and recommended by the Bongomaster!



Hyde in New Zealand

Peter Hyde is our longest serving club member with a membership number of 7. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, which has not been a happy place recently. Late last year we contacted him to ask a few questions about Bongo ownership etc.

1) What made you buy a Ford Freda?

Versatility. We needed a wagon to haul stuff including trailers (so added a towbar) and of course our family of three kids. We also liked the idea of camping in it occasionally also – it’s unconverted. We have indeed used it a bit for camping – mainly the kids as they grew up – and have greatly appreciated how many people and/or how much stuff can be transported internally with comfort and relative ease – even without a trailer attached.

2) What type is it? Do you use it for camping or is it a run-around?

4WD diesel automatic, lifting roof, 1998 – we got it in early 2006. Our primary vehicle is a 2001 Mercedes SLK roadster, we use the van when that won’t do – which is somewhat less often now that our kids have all left home. We also loan it to visitors on occasion, most recently to some friends from France.

3) How did you find out about the Bongo Fury club?

Probably a web search – even in the early days, the club had lots of excellent content and of course really helpful forums.

4) Any notable adventures over the years?

A few 🙂

1. Early on I used to take it off-road a bit – after all, it’s a 4WD, right? 🙂 The best such trips were twice down the Rainbow station/Molesworth station track in the South Island high country – nice and high and wild in places. But there were a couple of rugged creek crossings, meaning I had to get the steering rack repaired after the second trip. After that, I limited our endeavours to unsealed roads, but not offroad tracks.

2. Soon after the Feb 2011 quake hit Christchurch, we had the misfortune to be forcibly evacuated from our home (for no good reason) late one night. So we piled our most valuable possessions – artwork, ID papers, photos, computer server etc. into the van until it was filled to the gills, and sent the kids and dog walking down the road to our overnight billet. Next morning we did a quick check and found that the cordon the police had established didn’t include our place at all! So naturally we drove right back home again. During that period, the van served in good stead several times as a beast of burden – carrying tables and whiteboards down the street to establish a an ad-hoc information post, taking supplies to suburbs in worse condition than ours, or even ferrying a young mother, bike and baby across a stream of raw sewerage that was inadvertently being pumped across the suburb’s only access road right after the local power had been reconnected.

3. Kayak & drone transport. A whole new level of usefulness and fun arose after we bought an inflatable tandem sailing kayak in 2012 – a wonderful way to explore NZ’s lakes and rivers.
Though the fully packed kayak could (just) fit in the back of any car, with the van we could let just a bit of air out of the kayak, fold it in two and shove it in the back, meaning we could get it up and running really quickly at each new launching point. Plus we could camp out, of course.
When I started flying drones in 2014, the van made a great base of operations for all that kit too.
(Of course, I had thoughts of using the kayak as an aircraft carrier as well – but drones and water really don’t mix that well 🙂

4. Otago Rail Trail – this is a great and sometimes spectacular inland cycling route in the South Island – but although it has gentle grades – being a former railway – there are occasional hills, so… When we did the trail with two friends, we used the van to haul people plus three bikes to the top of each descent then rode down to meet the van plus driver at the next pub or cafe. After a bit of essential R&R, swap the driver out with one of the cyclists, rinse and repeat. That’s the civilised way to do it 🙂

5. Not our van at all, but a direct consequence of Bongo Fury. Back in 2010 I used the forums to offer a van swap with someone willing in the UK – we’d go and borrow their Bongo, they’d come and borrow our van. In the end, it was a one-way swap, with Chris from Huddersfield picking us total strangers up from a random bus-stop and handing me the keys to his precious Bongo (his wife said he wouldn’t even let her drive it!). The trip north into Scotland was excellent of course – apart from the bit where I carelessly left the fuel cap behind at our first stop. Even better, on our return, Chris offered to drive us to Wales, where we were meeting friends for a canal boat trip.
Unforgettable kindness.

As you’d expect, we’ve truly benefited from the Freda, which is why we are loathe to move on from it, even though it’s now a tad old and tired. The best investment I made for it was the Waeco cruise control – it was already a comfortable long-distance drive and that made things even better on long, straight South Island roads. I still do the occasional mod like converting internal lights to LED, adding a solar panel trickle charger and so on – but mostly I just use it.

5) Current state of vehicle? How long do you think you can keeop it going?

Currently it’s mildly banged about – it’s not worth fixing cosmetic stuff now – and has definitely shown signs of its age in recent years. For example, it required a new radiator and cylinder head in the past couple of years. We figured it was still worth the reinvestment, given that we still use it regularly enough, and know its capabilities and quirks.

6) Photos? (Action shots?)

Heh. You’re lucky that I have a filing system of sorts – in our travels we take tens of thousands of photos a year, including more than a few FROM the van on our many road trips to wonderful NZ scenic spots and activities. But almost none OF the van since the early days. FWIW, some such are attached.

Roy’s Self Conversion

Well it was handshakes all round as Roy finally self-converted. Here’s how he did it.

I have owned a 2001 Aero City Runner for 2 years now and during that time, like many I suspect, I have toyed with converting it. But each time I was not convinced I wanted to lose the space within the van, did not really have a need for a sink, and also I wanted to retain the ability to carry 7 passengers, also not knowing where I would store the seats once removed.

After searching without success on line for a “storage box” that would fit on the rear seats when folded down I opted to build one myself. My criteria was to be as light but sturdy as possible, removable, to fit on the rear seat when folded down but not to obstruct my rear view, to be able to store all my camping cooking essentials etc and the big challenge, to be able to access it all from either inside or outside the vehicle.

After searching on line, as I intended to build it using 12 mm ply wood, I found a company selling 12 mm T trim which was essential for a good finish. At £20 for 10 meters I thought this was a good price.

As mentioned earlier my biggest challenge was gaining access to all items, as due to the size I knew I would need to include shelves to maximise storage. Gaining access from outside was simple as I included 3 doors giving me easy access, however when in the vehicle, on a rainy day for example I needed to retain that easy access. This was achieved by adding a double lid on the box and shelves on hinges. Then I could open one side only and remove items from that side, placing them on the other lid therefore allowing me to flip the shelf up to access items below, both lids are supported by gas struts. The only way to fix the struts was via the sides of the middle compartment as otherwise the struts would impinge on the shelf flipping up. Here’s a few photos of what I did.

I have also added a drop down shelf on the front of the box which provides a sturdy shelf for cooking, washing up on etc from the outside on a warm sunny day.

Since completion I have also constructed a “cup cupboard” above the window as I had all the materials following my initial purchase (2×2.4m ply board and 30 meters of 12mm T trim)
To finish off the cup cupboard I added an LED strip light plus a twin USB charging port coupled with a volts meter so I can monitor the leisure battery health.

Come and find me at one of the Bongo meetings and I will be happy to show you around!

Roy Clark


Paul bought his Bongo 12 years ago and has clocked up about 300,000 miles since. But now the rust has set in (big time!) and it’s time to do something about it. This is his pictorial tale.

This was his Bongy with about 80,000 miles on the clock

Fast forward six years and some serious rust issues started to become apparent.

We managed to get this sorted out (see the factsheet entitled “Rust Directory” in the members area for a list). But by late 2018 more issues started to emerge under the van.

This was a job for a real expert, so we booked the van in to Bongo Spares. They’ve got an excellent reputation and it was only an hours drive from Manchester.

And here is the finished Bongy. Excellent job chaps!

A Day at the Races

During the hot, hot summer of 2018 we thought we would try something different. Usually our monthly meetings, especially the annual Summer Camp, involve loafing about and having a quiet time. But not this year! This year we had…….A Day At The Races!

The Jockey Club own Market Rasen Racecourse and its associated campsite. About 25 Bongos pitched up during the first weekend in August for an action packed weekend that would culminate in Sunday National Hunt racing. Here’s a pictorial record of the highlights.

As always there was someone on hand just in case things went wrong, although it was nothing serious this time.

On Friday some of us took the 20 minute walk in to town. Market Rasen is a small but interesting place with Georgian shops and pubs.

The campsite wardens, Dee and Joolz were kind enough to order a curry night at the local Golf Club and most of us (with dogs) went down there on Friday night. During our stay Dee and Joolz couldn’t do enough to help us. They ensured we had a fantastic weekend. But more about them in a while.

On Saturday we were treated to a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the race course itself.  I don’t think any of us realised how much emphasis there is on equine safety.

Then on Saturday night we had a right treat. Everyone brought some food along to our evening social and after we stuffed ourselves Joolz provided us with entertainment which led to a spontaneous outbreak of dancing by Dee and others (sort of). And The Bongomaster made a presentation to the happy couple who were getting married the following weekend!

However some people were more interested in looking at Sunday’s runners and riders on their Racing Post apps. 

On Sunday, it was time to go to the races. It was blisteringly hot, we all had a great time, and a few of us even went back to the campsite afterwards showing a small profit!


It was such a fantastic weekend we will be back again next year. But, Dee and Joolz, if you are reading this, see if you can do something about this guy!



The John Bullas Files

Dr John C Bullas BSc MSc PhD MCIHT MIAT (or Doctor B as we prefer to call him) is a “tarmac doctor” and when he is not working on expert witness cases concerning road surface characteristics he is working for the 111 service in Hampshire.

Having spent the last thirty years tinkering with Minis he moved on to Bongos five years ago when Mrs B bought “Purple Pixie” the Ford Freda.

He has documented his mechanical Bongo adventures on his YouTube channel and in his Flickr albums and has made these available as a resource for other Bongo owners. Here are a few highlights (in no particular order). All links open in a new tab.

Rear Brake Pad Swap (video)

ATF Replacement (video)

Front Brake Pad Swap (video)

Rear Light Cluster Removal: New Shape (video)

Air Filter for 2 Litre Petrol (video)

Dipstick on the 2 Litre (photos) 

Fitting a Towbar (photos)

Split Charger (photos)

Wishbone Boot Replacement (photos)

Bongo Bash 2012






Dutch Oven

There’s a lot of ways to cook food in the great outdoors, but Phil Jones’ preferred method is the Dutch Oven. It’s a large cooking pot suspended over hot coals and is ideal for casseroles.

“Over 45 years ago my Romany Gypsy pal and I roamed not only the UK, but Canada as well, during the long Summer holidays.


Cooking on an open fire with cast iron kettle and pans using a heavy ‘kettle prop’, he knowing more than me, bemoaned the absence  of a Dutch oven, which to this day I don’t know if he ever had one.

Funny that because he hailed from Hartlebury and I bought my oven from Stourport just up the road.


Allcocks Outdoor Store has 2 sizes in stock 10″ 4.4 litres and 14″ 8.5 litres. Priced at £28.99 and £38.99 and tripods with chains. 10 York street,01299 822212″

Or available online from www.dutchovens.co.uk

The Wrong Walter

On a damp early March morning the hardy members of the NW Bongo group decided to meet up on the Wirral for a flask of soup and an exchange of information. Many thanks to Walter Smith for setting this up, and Alan Tunnicliffe for filing this report.

“I was in Ipswich that weekend but made the effort to attend so arrived a little late. I found the Wirral country park and eventually found a Bongo parked up with a note under the wiper.

Bongo owners! We are in the cafe!

I went to the cafe and asked if there was a Walter there. I was directed to an ancient person sat with his wife.

The conversation went something like this………

Me: Hello….are you Walter…?
Walter: EH>>!!!!
Walter: YES
Me: Sorry I’m late…..just got back from Ipswich….!
Walter: EH….!!
Walter: OH AYE……!
Me: Is there anyone else here…..?
Walter: EH….?
Me: Any other bongos..?
Walter: What…..?
Walter: WHAT’S A BONGO…..?
Walter: NO………!

Oh s**t. It was the wrong Walter! By this time everyone in the cafe was staring at this weird person shouting at a poor old deaf man having a cup of tea with his wife. The real Walter Smith had just nipped along to the information centre.

Oh well…..”

Watermouth Cove

Pictured above is Bob and Mo May’s Bongo and boat ‘Boy Adam’ taken at Watermouth Cove, near Ilfracombe.

“Bob and I took our newly acquired N-reg Bongo on holiday to Watermouth Cove, near Ilfracombe, North Devon, a few weeks ago. We have been camping for about 50 years, and this was our first experience of sleeping in a vehicle instead of a tent. We assumed it would be much easier, but I’m not sure about that now! Instead of just unzipping the bedroom compartment of the tent and collapsing on to the already-inflated airbed, we had to (a) put up the privacy screens (b) lay the seats flat (or as flat as is possible with a Bongo!), (c) crawl over the seats to lay out the mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows. By which time I felt too exhausted to undress and usually slept semi-clothed.

We only bought the Bongo a couple of months ago and have not yet got around to any conversion, which we do intend to look at next year, and perhaps this will help. We are coming to the Bongo Fest South West and hope to pick up some tips from seasoned Bongliers on sleeping arrangements, kitchen conversions and awnings (we really do need one as our tent is not high enough to stand up in).

Anyway, we had a wonderful time at Watermouth Cove. We stayed at Big Meadow camping site, which I can recommend. Very clean and well laid out, excellent toilet and shower block, laundry room, small shop, games room, very friendly proprietors, only £6.50 a night. Just about 10 minutes by car or bus into Ilfracombe, and only 10 minutes walk to Watermouth Cove harbour. We took our boat and did a lot of fishing in the little bays along the coast. The camp site does have its own private beach but it is 220 steps down a sheer cliff face, and I got one-third of the way down and chickened out!

I took my Bongo Fury ‘calling cards’ and managed to Bongo 3 people, don’t know whether they will become members though.

Three tips I would like to pass on – not for seasoned Bongoliers or campers of any sort, but new recruits might find them handy.

Firstly, buy a toasted sandwich maker (only £5 odd in Asda), you can very easily make a delicious meal with the addition of some salad, and no messy pots to wash up. Secondly, take a crate for washing up. Carry your dirty dishes to the washing-up facilities in this, as you wash your dishes stack them in the crate, they drain dry very quickly and stop teatowels from getting sodden. And thirdly, take a few solar lights from your garden. Stand them outside the Bongo or awning during the day, then at night you can light up your site with them.

Looking forward to our first meeting at the Bongo Fest South West.”

Bob and Mo May

Summer Camp


Ever wondered what goes on at our infamous Bongo meetings? The October 2008 edition of Caravan Motorhome & Camping Mart featured a major article about about summer camp which was held near Kings Lynn. Full details below.


Article reproduced by kind permisssion of the publishers.





Stripped for Action

Andrew Welch (pictured above during his dinner break) is the Commercial Manager for British Naturism (www.british-naturism.org.uk). He quite obviously doesn’t live in Yorkshire! This is his tale.

In a rare idle moment I logged onto www.bongofury.co.uk a few months ago and was surprised to see myself (and my newly acquired Bongo) as the picture of the month. It was taken from an article in The Guardian about the International Naturist Youth Rally and, yes, I had no clothes on. There was some speculation in the forum about who this madman was and so I contacted Ian who suggested I explain myself in print.

For the uninitiated, naturism is simply the practice of going without clothes. (Stop sniggering at the back there!) Whatever you may think about people who do such a thing, it is not shameful, embarrassing or ridiculous, in fact when the weather is hot it’s the sensible option.

It’s good for you too – the human body was not designed to be completely wrapped up in clothes and subjected to artificial heat and light sources and air conditioning 24/7. Millions of normal people around the world have discovered how good it feels to have the sun and breeze on their skin and we feel better, more relaxed, less self-conscious and de-stressed as a result. Poor body image is improved when you realise that almost no-one has a “perfect” body.

Sunbathing and swimming are the most popular activities – there is nothing like an all-over tan, swimming in the nude is bliss and swimming costumes are among the most uncomfortable, unhealthy and pointless items of clothing there are.

Naturism is also very sociable. Naturists are happy, friendly people who are pleased to have discovered such a great way of being and treat everyone with respect, and as equals. Being among contended, comfortable and like-minded people brings about a sense of mental well-being and – despite what you may think – one quickly becomes used to being naked among other naked people. Sounds impossible? Even the most reluctant first-timers say how they “forgot” they were nude after only a few minutes and stopped noticing that everyone else was too. Also, simple nudity is not sexually stimulating – in naturist places you will find people doing what you see anywhere else, only without clothes.

It’s true that newcomers can be hesitant about stripping off in front of others for the first time. Contrary to popular belief, no-one is ever forced to undress and so people can easily experience naturism first hand even if they are not sure if it is for them. Many naturists discovered naturism by accident – often on holiday – and soon realised what they were missing. When the weather cools, naturists get dressed. Naturist places usually have indoor and outdoor facilities and many are open all year round.


(photo by Richard Daniels)

Anyone can be a naturist. Background, age, shape, race, marital status, sexual orientation, creed and colour are irrelevant and it attracts people from all walks of life. At naturist places you will see babes in arms, children and teenagers right up to the elderly. There are thousands of naturist families – some into many generations – who find that they get on better with each other as they can all enjoy something together and children brought up in naturism say how they grew up without the usual hang-ups about their bodies.

Despite often unreliable weather, naturism is thriving in the UK. There are loads of places to go and whilst more luxurious accommodation can be had, naturism and camping go really well together with thousands of naturists holidaying in caravans, motor-homes or tents. My job takes me around the country and so I bought my Bongo so as to be able to stay over at events at naturist clubs and elsewhere, rather than driving home late at night, struggling to put up a tent in the rain for just one overnight stay, or paying hotel fees. There is nothing quite like waking up with the sun streaming through the roof-light and being able to get on with the day without getting dressed. Needless to say, I haven’t used my window blinds yet…

British Naturism

British Naturism, or “BN”, is the UK’s internationally recognised organisation for naturism and exists to unite and support naturists, to protect naturist places and provide more, make social nudity more acceptable across the UK and to provide comprehensive information on naturism around the world. Recent events include “Nudefest2007 a weekend of activities in Cornwall (a bit like Bongo Fest, I guess) with a unique evening at the Eden Project (yes, naked), a weekend at Alton Towers’ Splash Landings hotel and clothes-optional events at Abbey House Gardens, Wiltshire, and Castle Howard and York Maze, both in Yorkshire.

Naturism is not illegal in public in the UK, but society doesn’t always understand why people would go without clothes and so we have many challenges. We campaign and inform against discrimination, poor laws, Victorian attitudes and misunderstanding, and work to make the life of a UK naturist a happier and easier one as well as encouraging many more people to discover the benefits of being without clothes. Find out more at www.british-naturism.org.uk or write to BN (Dept. L07), 30-32 Wycliffe Road, Northampton, NN1 5JF, email [email protected], or call 01604 620361 and ask for an information pack. Please mention this article.

So, any other Bongo Nudes out there?

Southbound Again

Roy Aylett reports:

We have just returned, in our Bongo, from the South of France, where we have been holed up for the worst part of the winter. We are fortunate enough, to have pretty much permanent access to an apartment on the northern edge of the Camargue, where the Rhone splits to form the delta. We have made this journey on a regular basis for several years in a wide variety of vehicles, and generally stick to the same route southbound, via the motorway, through Reims, Lyon and Arles. French motorways are a joy to drive, they are fairly traffic free, superbly maintained and offer spectacular scenery for a modest toll.

Now here’s the rub. AFT Bongos are 2.09 metres tall, and the toll charges are based loosely on height, 2m being the max for classe 1. In the past, one would pull up to a toll booth, greet the occupant with a cheery bonjour, and be charged for a car (classe 1). How the charges were calculated were a mystery until, one day, we pulled off the motorway at a remote exchangeur, for a spot of lunch, and chatted with the toll booth occupant at some length. It would appear, at some booths, a green line is painted on the next door cubicle at 2m. If the operator can see the line over the top of your car, you’re under 2m. If not, you’re over 2m and move up a band in the charge scale. Experienced operators just know how high your vehicle is. At others, about 5m before the booth, a painted pole indicates to the operator the vehicle height. Up until recently, pot luck seemed to be the rule, most times you would win, occasionally you’d lose.

But that’s all changing. simple technology is being introduced, and will take the guesswork out of the equation. An electronic beam is fitted across the booth entry lane at 2m, break the beam and up goes the cost. Our AFT Bongo broke the beam every time. We now travel to the south via the west side of Paris. From Calais/ Dunkerque/Boulogne, head for Rouen via Abbeville, then Orleans via Evreux and Dreux, we jump off the motorway at Orleans because its peage to Clermont Ferand, but its free all the way to the stunning new bridge at Millau (well worth the €5.40), and the scenery across the Massif Central is drop dead gorgeous. Total toll charges for this route are about a quarter of those for the Lyon route. You pays your money etc. etc..

Billy billy bongo (from San Fernando), didn’t miss a beat, and just loved the plage at Piemanson (photo above).

Southbound again, YOU BET!

Snow and Ice


The winter of 2009/2010 seemed to go on for absolutely ages. Many Bongonauts were stuck in the snow and ice, yet many Bongo owners had to rely on their vehicles for getting about.

Here are a few of their tales, collected from the Bongo Forum.


Mobilecat: I live on a steep hill, and have a drive that slopes down from the hill. When the snow first hit I thought I would be fine. I know from the last two years that she drives and handles beautifully on the snow and the ice so I wasn’t worried. But I was wrong.

My first problem was on Tuesday. After driving back down my drive, I compressed the ice and got stuck for 4 days until someone was able to help dig me out as the thaw started.

Now I hit my second bad one. I have been using her last week no problem and over the weekend my whole estate got iced over. I left her on the road like a good girl last night, to avoid the previous problem of being stuck again as it’s about -5 here today. Problem – side door frozen shut, plus all of my windows, except the back one were thick with ice inside and out and I had no chance. Even if I had my 12v heater (which I lent to a friend last week and get back later this morning) I don’t think I would have had a chance. So once again – I am reliant on a friend for the school run.

I need you to send me some calming and warming thoughts please

Ron Miel: Please don’t start sticking pins in an effigy of me, peeps – but I’m really finding out now just what the remote start which came with our Bongo is all about. I am leaving my heaters and rear de-mister set when I park up at home, at the moment. To defrost thoroughly, I can then just point the remote out of a (closed) window indoors, and watch the Bongo get all toastie for us before we have to go anywhere near it. In the camping season, the remote start is brilliant for AFT up/AFT down engine runs, without having to clamber round to the front – especially if the wind has got up in the night, and the roof needs to come down quickly. Has anybody fitted an aftermarket remote start system, which I think you can get? Worthwhile piece of kit, if you can.

Munroman: It’s been cold up here in Central Scotland, and I have been using the Bongo every day, sometimes to get out hill walking, sometimes to do ‘Dad’s Taxi’ stuff, sometimes to get shopping, and it has been great, yesterday it carried 6 of us and gear up and down a 3 mile ice rutted track without a whimper.

At my age, I have seen theses sorts of temperatures before, I have ridden motorcycles across ice, seen the ‘Grand Match’ in curling where over 2000 people were on the Lake of Menteith, burned a child to keep warm, that sort of thing – (just kidding about the child thing, honest!)


Here are some simple tips that have worked for me. Don’t skimp on screen washer liquid, make sure it’s of the proper strength, it’s better too strong than too weak. If you have ‘strengthened’ the mixture, use the front and rear washers to ensure that the stronger fluid is all the way up to the nozzles. (I have been down to -14 with mine and it has worked so far)

Lift the wiper blades and give the edges a little wipe, and don’t think you can scrape ice with them, the ice always wins! Door seals, etc, a little glycerine, or even a rub of candle wax can help them stop sticking. If you do a lot of short journeys, the Bongo never really gets a good drying out, I found I was getting a lot of condensation, I suspect that the rear exit vents were perhaps iced closed, so I ran with the side windows popped open and this cleared things.

If you get a chance to make a long journey, take it, because it give the Bongo a chance to get warm and for things to dry out. If it gets really cold, I have used a fan heater running for a while to thaw out the windows, on one car there was a 3″ band of thick ice inside where the condensation wasn’t getting blasted by the hot air vents, the fan heater enabled me to get rid of that, (keep a side window cracked open to help ventilate it.)

Keep wiping the lights and number plates, it is amazing what crud builds up on them, but a clean rear lens might help someone see your brake lights a fraction earlier and avoid a bump.

Finally, please try and get any snow and ice off your roof before setting off, unlike the Skoda on the A9 today with about 2 ft of snow just ready to either fall onto his windscreen, or fly off and hit the car following, another minute would have got rid of that hazard.

These are not conditions many people have seen for a long time or perhaps ever, but with some simple changes of habit it is possible to carry on safely enjoying the Bongo in all weathers.

Bigdaddycain: I actually HAD to use my 4WD bongo this morning as the guy from Asda phoned to say they wouldn’t be delivering our shopping today because of the weather conditions, so the missus insisted I went to get some tide-over provisions.


I couldn’t believe just how well the Bongo coped! I must admit I didn’t expect much from it to be honest… I’m on very low profile sports tyres (small sidewall, minimum flex, less grip) And they were still inflated to 45PSI!

So it was with much trepidation that I set off on the admittedly small mile and a half trip to my local Morrisons… It wasn’t the Bongo’s abilities I had to worry about, it was rear wheel drive cars that was blocking all the roads (again stuck up against the kerb). And vans.

Picture this scenario: there is an increasingly steep gradient leading to our Morrisons, the road is maybe half a mile long. This was ram-jammed with stuck, or abandoned vehicles as far as the eye can see. At the head of the queue was a jack-knifed articulated lorry blocking the way. I sat at the end of the queue patiently waiting for enough room (and grip) to become available to do a “U-Turn”.

Then some smarta** just HAD to do it didn’t they??? Up came a silver BMW X5 on the wrong side of the road with that “move out of the way peasants! I’m a 4X4 with considerably more money than you” attitude… and duly got stuck trying to get around the stricken lorry COMPLETELY BLOCKING THE ROAD! Well… that was it… Like a bull to a red rag, my bongo WAS gonna make it to that damn shop! SO off I went, past ALL the stuck and abandoned cars, up behind the (by now sliding backwards X5) up onto the kerb, then along the grass verge (with a banking into a field), back down the kerb, past the stricken truck, with a quick slip of the handbrake to make the 90 degree left hander into the entrance to Morrisons, plenty of power on to keep the traction minimal at the back, a bucket full of opposite lock, and the bongo straightened up perfectly, on cue to glide straight into the virtually empty car park! That bongo made me look like a stunt driver! All credit goes to the vehicle, NOT my driving skills.

The trip back out wasn’t anywhere near as eventful… I’m sure I overheard one of the stranded motorists say that an X5 driver had melted the snow on the road with the steam that was coming out of his ears!

Dandywarhol: Here’s atip for driving in ice and snow if you have an automatic Bongo. 1st and HOLD will lock the ‘box in first. 2 and HOLD locks the ‘box in second. 3 and HOLD starts the ‘box in second and quickly shifts to third and locks there until you come to a standstill and it repeats itself.

Croylo: Towing a horsebox from Fort william to Inverness yesterday with a 2.5 manual Bongo 4×4, about 2-3 inches of snow, no gritters, hit black ice at Laggan, Bongo and horsebox spinning bumped verges a bit with both Bongo and horsebox but finished up perfectly straight facing the other way. Horsebox hitch is a bit bent but Bongo unscathed.


Went on to travel along A82 twice more in the untreated snow, not pleasant but as long as you never brake and control your speed with the gears, quite manageable. Oh I have Kumo tyres by the way.

Harry: The current cold snap has brought to mind my first ever bongo overheat back in ancient history. It was the first severe frost following a summer/autumn driving back and forth to Southern France from the Lake District every couple of weeks. My anti freeze practically non existent having frequently topped with water during a long hot holiday season.

What happened? Sub zero early morning….drove about five hilly/fast miles fully loaded before noticing steam/water vapour coming from under bonnet. Pulled in immediately and decided to let things cool down before removing coolant tank lid. Steam escaping under pressure from coolant overflow vent. Checked hoses for leaks…no leaks but bottom hose ICE COLD and RIGID.

Once steam had subsided topped up tank with warm water from kettle. Didn’t know about bleeding in them days. Rechecked hoses and found bottom hose was no longer cold and was now flexible.

Conclusion (later confirmed by garage) was that the bottom hose had frozen solid thus preventing circulation of coolant when the thermostat should have opened as engine reached working temp. Bottom hose had thawed out whilst we had stopped due to heat from engine.

Moral….make sure that your anti freeze is up to strength and make sure it has circulated throughout the system.


Travis: Our other car is an Astra and other little ones in the road have been driving up and down our icy road all day. I had to pick my daughter up from town today my wife was out so I fired up the silver surfer. I got him going and the first left turn I took he slid right across the road and just missed a lamp post. I was able to reverse back and slid into a safe parking spot up the street.

Is it the front wheel drive, the automatic gears or is it me?

Going to leave it parked up now

Harry: From experience of driving my 2wd bongo in the ice last winter:

Make sure that you get some weight in the back over the rear axle.
I used my bongo as a delivery van carrying up to half a ton of birdseed.
Fully loaded it was fine…empty it had no drive wheel grip at all.

Also put it into one of the lower gears and try not to touch the brakes.

Scanner: Crap tyres………….

I have a 2WD Bongo and it doesn’t do that but then it has some decent all-season tyres fitted. As Ron Meil will confirm the difference is astounding.


Ron Miel: just read right down this thread, intending to say what scanner has said, when I got to the bottom – but he’s already said it. I’ve been out a lot on snow and ice, and some inclines, yesterday and today, and the traction with the Quatrac 2’s is very impressive indeed (2wd).

I haven’t crawled around but, touch wood, I haven’t yet lost drive traction once, and the ABS has only activated very briefly, and still perfectly steerably, a couple of times. Although, if you accelerate or decelerate (including transversely in cornering) clumsily, nothing will save you on ice, if your control is good and the tyre tread is still working at low temperature (which is what Quatrac 2’s are about), ice driving is perfectly possible. The limits are just much lower with summer tyres on ice.

I have always found it best, with automatics, to avoid all possibility of unforeseen/uncontrolled engine driven effects on slow speed icy turns. I’m finding exactly the same with the Bongo – get down to the safe speed (if there is one!) for the turn in plenty of time beforehand (if it’s icy just bleed off the momentum without braking), shift into neutral while you are actually turning, and just use very gentle progressive steering inputs to get you round. With a manual, you can achieve the same effect by declutching. Otherwise, the engine is still driving the rear wheels as you turn, and the effect of that is both unpredictable and outside your control. If you get it right, the engine isn’t working against you. If you don’t get it right, then skid recovery afterwards is purely down to your steering skill, without that unpredictable element making it more difficult.

Mikeonb4c: I’ve found moving off in ‘L’ reduces chances of slipping while pulling away, and then careful deceleration moving through ‘S’ and ‘L’, finally with HOLD when in ‘L’, works really well for slowing right down on snow and ice. I hardly use the brakes.



This first ever Bongo Tale was received from Terry Shorthouse.

“Kitchen sink’s aboard we’re off on our first expedition; destination – Ireland.

Bit apprehensive only had Freda for a couple of months, just a few small outings to judge her by, impressive as they were we did experience the fan belt thing.

Headed out from deepest South Wales to Manchester joined forces with other family members and headed back to God’s country to the Holyhead Ferry, “We are sailing- We are Sail… ” this is a bit rough, (the sea, not the singing) and why is that sea king Helicopter following us.

Dublin City, the ” Emerald Isles”, Freda fits in – she’s green, even some off the passengers tried to fit in they all got off the ship looking a nice shade of green as well. (sorry my accent is slipping into my writing)


Mulingar first stop, almost the centre of the island, no time to dilly dally, all Wedding arrangements have to be sussed out, and I must get into Guinness training before Saturday, I wonder if three days is enough, I have been informed however and it did surprise me, “today only 50% of the Irish population drink Guinness”, apparently the other 50% drink it tomorrow.

Wedding done and dusted, Monday, 7 adults + 1 child, first full seating load for Freda, were off for the Dublin tour.

Wish we hadn’t come, some horrible Irish git smashed passenger door window to steal what must have looked like an Mp3 player, but was infact a camera battery charger, like I said to the two Garda (Irish cops) who happened to arrive at the scene, ” must have been Irish the stupid git left all the leads behind “, Funny they’ve got no sense of humour either.”

(Sorry to butt in on your narrative, Terry, but I have contacted Shaw Taylor at Police 5 and he is very interested in what you have to say.- ed)


“Were you in Dublin in mid June? If so, the Dublin Gardae would be interested in hearing from you if you saw anyone looking like this….”


Anyway, back to Terry’s tale...

Door fixed with a shaped piece of Perspex and all things forgiven Shirl, Freda and me head off into the blue green yonder.

Another first on the horizon as we decided on a sleep out in the Bongo, arriving rather late we were unable to watch the “Sun on Galway Bay” but we managed to find a camp site, after our second robbery of the week (17 Euros including two brass cheques for showers) Shirl and I settle down for what turned out to be a comfortable nights sleep, however this fact didn’t stop us putting mattresses on our wish list.

West by north west, “Quiet man country” and the Bogmen, stunning views, good fun, toured all round Lough Corrib and beyond, back to the west coast to discover a place called Fanore, a short grubber kick onto golden sands, the Atlantic surf with views of the Arran Isles, Irish heaven and the man charged 10 euros including showers, fanbloodytastic.

Freda proved to be the right choice in many ways, so much so we have started to collect the rest of the camping trappings, we should be full Gypsy by the Anoraks day out, that’s done it back to Gods country.


A Cautionery Tale by “CB”

The long and short of it is that we researched and then bought a Bongo in June 2011. We were coming to the UK from Australia for 3 months, needed a campervan, and a Bongo looked like the best option for us. We found one through a dealer (who wasn’t a Bongo specialist as we were to find to our cost), paid 8k, got a guaranteed buy-back price for 3 months later of £5,700. We insured it through Down Under Insurance on a specialist tourist campervan policy.

We bought it as in good condition. Turns out we should have got an AA check, because it may not have been roadworthy at time of purchase. 5 weeks later we suffered a blow out at 100kms an hour on the M4 at 5pm on a Friday – one of the tyres had not been replaced with the others. We were super lucky, my hubby managed to steer us into a crash barrier after we tipped over. Our 4 and 6 year old children were blessedly unharmed, and we walked away from the crash with minor scrapes.

The cop on the scene of our crash told us the rear tyre was almost bald in the inside edge, and receipts in the big file of paperwork we were given seem to indicate one of the rear tyres was replaced but not the other, to get it through the last MOT.


The van was totalled, the chassis was buckled and most of the glass broken. There was damage to the crash barrier, and the M4 was closed for a short time for cleanup = insurance $$$!!

And then the ‘fun’ started. We phoned the insurance company and put in a claim. They were closed because of the London riots….. After that, they called us back to say the policy was not in our name and threfore invalid – because the sale was so recent, the Highways Agency had called the previous ownners insurance by mistake…

After a week or two they finally agreed that we had paid our premium and we were dealing with the correct insurance company. Brokers and agents be damned, it’s the underwriter who has word of God!

And so we spent the last 7 weeks of our once in a lifetime European trip hiring a car, not knowing if we were going to get any $ back or not. The company didn’t listen when we said ‘please contact us by email, because we will be travelling in Europe’, they sent us letters to our UK parents’ address.

By the time we left the UK in Sept 2011 we were despairing of getting any money at all. By Nov 2011 we had been offered £3,700, the price of a Mazda MPV without campervan conversion. We said no.

By Xmas 2011 we had had to send adverts to the underwriter to ‘prove’ value – because guess what – Bongos aren’t in Glass’s guide…,. We were offered £5,700 , we said no.

Jan 2012 we were offered £6,700 as a last offer. We said no, and responded with info from the UK Financial Services Ombudsman that say that, unless there are extenuating circumstances which the insurer has to prove, purchase price is market value in very recently bought vehicles. We said we would make a formal complaint thru the Ombudsman.

April 2012 – guess what – we suddenly get paid, 8k minus excess. Hallelujah!

To this date the insurer has not formally apologised that it took us 7 months and endless calls and email from the other side of the planet to establish a decent market value for the vehicle. They clearly had NO idea about the Bongo market, the seasonal campervan market or indeed what constitutes a converted van vs a car. And yet the underwriter claimed to be a specialist.

We’re cross because the dealer sold us a short term car with a major fault. But I’m mostly cross as I had to do the underwriters’ job in proving how much my vehicle was worth. I understand that agreed value policies are much less common (very very rare) in the UK, but surely as a specialist item the Bongo desrves decent treatment!

So stay wary kids, and don’t trust insurance!


Yours, missing my bongo


Scandinavian Odyssey


Dave Owens and his son Nick decided to do a spot of bird watching in Northern Scandinavia. Here is their story.

Both my son Nick and myself are birdwatchers and that was the principal reason for our trip which took from 4th to 26th June 2007. We took the Harwich to Esbjerg ferry, drove across Denmark (quite boring – looks like less interesting bits of the UK) and crossed into Sweden using the new (and expensive!) Oresund Bridge. Travelled up the eastern side of Sweden, into Finnish Lapland and further north, about 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle to the Finnmark Region of Norway. This is too far north even for fir trees to grow. It’s basically just tundra with quite a bit of snow about despite it being midsummer. (Continues below).



We came back through western Sweden. Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, is an ideal destination for camper-vans and mobile homes. In addition to having good campsites, there are many stopping places on main roads with excellent, well maintained toilet facilities including hot water. Also, their laws are quite liberal in terms of allowing “wild” camping.

Interruption from the Bongomaster: In Sweden there is something called Allemannsrätt, or “Everybody’s Right”. This effectively means that, within reason, anyone can camp anywhereunder certain conditions, except on non-cultivated ground. Some of these conditions are: Max. stay 48 hours, no garbage left behind, and if closer than 150 metres to a house or cabin you have to ask the owner for permission.

In all, we did in excess of 5,000 miles which was also about the number of mosquito bites we collected (up there, they bite you through your hair!). Didn’t experience any darkness for most of the trip. In fact, in the arctic, the best time for birdwatching is the early hours of the morning.

The Bongo proved ideal for the trip. Never let us down and we only needed to use the diesel heating once with the weather being generally pretty good. I slept downstairs and Nick upstairs. On a few occasions, we rented a cabin for the night, just to allow ourselves the opportunity to “spread out” a bit.

Definitely recommended!

The Rigs

“Rig” is a funny word. We use it in many ways. Perhaps the most common use is when someone says they are “working on the rigs”. This would indicate that they are working on a windy platform out in the North Sea. But, apart from the historical sailing terms, there are other uses of “rig”. For instance, according to the Urban Dictionary it is Australian slang that “defines a well fit chick/bloke. They contain a hot body and a face that does not need plastic surgery“.

For the dedicated Bongonaut, “rig” also refers to the full unit when towing a largish load behind your vehicle, as shown above.

Unusually, Stef Young’s use of “Rig” can apply to at least 2, and possibly 3 of the descriptions above. This is his tale.

“I’m a 39 year old guy who works as a climber on the oil rigs and work around 4 months out of the year.

The time I spend at home is filled with all sorts of things to keep me busy; fishing, tennis, gym, pubs etc, but I knew I needed to get out and see the country more and maybe take my fishing boat with me. I needed something that could tow the boat with and allow me to stop, eat, sleep and relax as and when I wanted, wake in the morning and drop my boat in the water, go fishing and have total freedom!!!! THE SEARCH BEGAN.

I spent nearly 12 months looking at different options for my ‘missing link’; motorhomes, VW transporters, and Bongos. I realised that after all my research the one that (to me) comes out on top is the Mazda Bongo. The reason for this is pound for pound the Bongo is the most cost effective option and gave me everything I was looking for in a freedom van, all I needed to do now is find one!!!!

After looking at different styles and models I decided that the one for me was the Aero city runner in white. I kept my eye on a few sites and eventually found the one I wanted from a guy selling private in Bristol, I was in Denmark working at the time and did not want to miss this one as It was THE perfect model for me!!………….. YES! I won it……………!!



It was 10 am on the Friday morning and my desk had been cleared (palmed off onto others)……

We had loaded the van the night before, bikes on the back and surf board strapped straight to the roof with “Rok” straps, that hooked under the elevating lip of the roof. This meant that we could elevate the roof without removing my 9’10” longboard!. The bikes were mounted on the tow bar, over a backplate, and then padlocked on to the plate. The bikes were secured to the bike rack by means of a very heavy “everything Proof” bike lock…… (I think is was made for Harleys!)

By the time I had collected Sally from work and picked up our pack-up-smoking patches for the 2 weeks, we got away at about 11:15, arriving in Dover at 13:20. Sally drove the first stage as I had opted to do the first bit of cackhanded driving. P&O changed our ticket from the 21:15 crossing to the 14:30 crossing… we stood a good chance of getting to Sally’s brothers in Burgundy by midnight… both of us had been told some very scarry stories about people being attacked in Aires so the last thing we wanted to do was get forced into stopping over in one of those….

We arrived at Ian & Theresa’s at about 01:00 and promptly sank a welcome glass of wine and went to bed… 987 km from Clacton…. That was our first experience of France on our own…. We had not booked any camp sites or realy planned the holiday in much detail at all, all we new was that we were going alone, with very little French Language knowledge (but we knew enough words to be polite even if it meant “Pump 4 Silvouplay” gestering with four fingers raised)…. Ian and Theresa Lived in Burgundy, Frank and Danny lived in Gers, and I wanted to do some surfing on the west coast at St Giles. That was it… our plan.

Having completed the Autun tourist bit, and had a cycle out on the first and only rainy day we had, we decided to make a move on the Monday. I had taken a close look at the map and seen some grey bits sort en-route!… it was the Auverne, our first sighting of proper mountains!… we camped at a municipal site in a village. It was more than adequate for us and as other municipal sites proved they were to be the best option for the whole trip. We realised we were camping at about 1000m… probably higher than you can walk in GB, right by a river, and I am guessing that the altitude we were at was the reason we had no gnats that night.


We headed from there south through some spectacular scenery, changing all the time as we came out of the mountains and onto the plateau of Gers. Our friends Frank & Danny (old VW bay window folks) lived right in the south of the Gers region 2.5km from the Pyrenees region and 20km from the foot hills. Because of the heat haze we were unable to see the mountain range from their garden… but I believed him…. Along with the fairies!!!! We are flying back in November just so he can prove that we can see them from his garden.

We headed up the mountains, via Linamazan, and up through the National Park. We tried taking the little road into the Park…. But it turned out to be a small village in a cul-de-sac, with a tiny turn round road which went up at about 30 plus degrees and turned sharper than any hairpin I have ever seen…. But from a standing start, 4 up plus 3 dogs we went round… and….up!… I dare not look back as I think I must have moved half the nice new tarmac that laid there.

From here we went back to the main road, and then up … and up…, and up.


We turned off just before the entrance to the tunnel into Spain, and found a Ski resort with a massive car park next to a huge gorge… we were above the tree line… why don’t trees grow here… well I don’t know other than the lack of oxygen! We were also at the altitude that meant we had snow still below us… but with or without snow… WOW!!!! WOW!!! WOW!!!… and this pair have this on their door step (and can see it from their garden, allegedly!). The temperature up there was about 22-25 deg, comfortable in a tee shirt until the sun went in and then it got cold very quickly, well there was snow!…. when we decended (Auto box in hold…. In 1st gear for the first part of the decent) and returned to their house, it was 6 in the evening and 36 degrees in the shade….

After much supping of falling down water and a great time we headed off on the Friday morning dropping Dannie off at Pau airport to go back to the UK for her brothers little one’s christening! Then on via Bauduax on the motorways up to St Giles Croix du Vile… it is just North of where Ellen McArther set off for her Vendee Globe challenge. About seven miles of sand, gentle waves striking the long beach normally perfect for my “barge” of a surfboard… but you would have needed a 20 ft board and to weigh about 6 stone! It was flat as a pancake on a flat pancake day… for all the days we were there.

So after slobbing and enjoying the night life there, oh and wearing our crotches out on our bike saddles…. We moved onto the Loire Valley….. stunning… especially when you get lost and find yourself driving up gated roads…. Gated by the military, it was a rifle range…. Luckily they we either really bad shots or at lunch!.. but we found a lovely municiple camp site just near the river, and we took a stroll into the village.

Next day up to Dieppe and stopped at the next point we came across in our campsite book, lovely sea views, well it would have been had we got there early enough, but we were stuck behind the log cabin they call reception… we should have gone with our instincts and and stayed with the 20 or so campers on the edge of the beach. We had an interesting night having had to release the front strap to raise the roof ( Rok strap horror story!, will let you know if I don’t get a suitable response from them) the wind got up at about 2 am, and the board had to be secured quickly… trying to clear the top bunk of all our clothes and general “stuff” we chuck up there when we stop, and the close the roof down quietly…. Ahem… beeep beeep beeep!.. ahem!!!!!

It was now Friday the last night of our holiday was approaching, and for some reason we wanted a big campsite near Calais. So we could swim drink and eat without going too far….. so after being turned away from the beach fronted campsites between Calais and Dunkirk, we headed back west through to some of the real WWII areas and again we were turned away… all too full…. So we went back to Sangatt and found the best campsite we have ever been on…. It was a muniiciple site, but the pitches were surrounded by 10ft hedges and they were huge…. Good showers and a restaurant or too just outside the campsite…. And then at about 20:00 hrs the local Marie started a Disco outside the back of the town hall…. Fantastic… it was beater than listening to the ferries coming and going just the other side of the sand dunes….

After trying to spend the day in Calais, and being completely embarrassed, by some gang of drunk English idiots, we called it quite and went shopping, topped up the tank and headed for the port and then home….


4000km, and the surf board only came off the roof because the Rok strap frayed, beyond my comfort zone….

Pick Up!


Steve Drewery from Outback Autos (01485-520394) tells us how to make a pick-up truck from pieces of Bongo that you may have found in your back garden.

1) Identify your perfect Bongo or Freda (in this case, a green one) and then cut it up in to bits.


2) Once you’ve got rid of the tall bit on the back, stitch it back together again.


3) Now add some old radiator pipes.


4) Finally, get some of that silver foil stuff that they put on the blankets that they give knackered runners at the end of the London Marathon.


And hey presto!, you have a Bongo pick-up truck!


Norway Calling


I returned a few weeks back from yet another trip to Norway in my Bongo, my third trip back since writing off a Bongo a few years back (see Kens smashing time in Norway).

Well I must say whilst the temp in the UK was low, and lots of rain – I was about 100Km north of Trondhiem, past the artic circle, and the weather was, as always, so hot, 30 – 35 plus degrees, needless to say as I was on a Salmon fishing holiday all I wanted was cool weather with lots of rain, in the end it didn’t matter as the fish were biting and I ended up with several fish up to about 7 kilos in weight.


If any of you ever thought about a road trip to Norway, do it. Although it can be expensive in Norway, there are ways and means to make your Pounds go further, fuel was about the same as over here, but beer was about £4 plus a glass, needless to say a quick stop at Morrison’s before leaving got me stocked up with Stella, Cider and Rum.

The scenery is spectacular, with rivers running so cold and clear, all I wanted to do was to dunk my head into the water and drink them dry!


Before leaving I put on a new set of filters, an oil change complete with oil additive which is supposed to make everything even more slippery, a couple of bottles of diesel additive to help clean the injectors, and I was away, my Freda didn’t miss a beat once, it’s the only way to travel. The journey over from Newcastle was as calm as could be, once in Norway, you have to get used to draconian speed limits, some long main roads with excellent visibility had limits of about 45mph, when you have to travel say 300 miles, then it becomes a bit tiring, but, on the up side there are lots of places to pull over and have a rest, most with spectacular views, also they are free, you don’t get ripped off with parking charges as in the UK.

As I was on my own, I rigged up a device which I attached to the top of my dash using Velcro, on this was my camcorder, so I could video using my remote control as I was going along, this was excellent as I now have lots of footage of driving along route 55, the Sognefjord, even in summer there were places on the side of the road 5 meters deep in snow and lakes glistening with blue ice.


I had quite a few Norwegians asking about my Freda, it caused quite a bit of interest whilst parked with the roof up. I can’t wait for my next trip, although DFDS are stopping the direct route from Newcastle to Norway at the end of August, I will have to go from Harwich to Denmark and drive up from there, but believe me, it is well worth it.

Happy motoring to you all (“BournemouthKen” August 2008)




Oh dear!

Ken James went on holiday to Norway.

“On July 20th I arrived in Kristiansand Norway, ready for four weeks of touring. On the 22nd I was about 20Km North of Voss when I went off the road, going around a left hand bend I was distracted for a split second, time enough for my offside wheel to go over the edge of the narrow road, on the other side was a drop of about 1.5 metres-there was no way I could pull my Bongo back, it careered along an embankment, cleared a farm track and embedded itself into some trees. Luckily no one was hurt-just shock, my elderly parents were taken to hospital, and I have to say things might have been worse if not for the strength of the Bongo.

Now if I may pass on some words of wisdom–
Breakdown Insurance-I had cover for being abroad, £1000 worth of cover for hire car in case of an accident—NOT ENOUGH for my trip, to be towed out the trees cost me £450, hire of an old VW camper for one week approx £400, plus there was approx three weeks of hire after that!!
A mobile phone was essential,-but beware of the costs, my bill for that period was over £280, you get charged for receiving calls as well as making them, in hindsight I could have bought a mobile phone in Norway for about £40 plus a charge card for another £30, saving a lot of money.
Make sure you are adequately covered, find out the cost of hiring a camper abroad plus towage should the worst happen to you.

Remember, all that camping, fishing equipment, suitcases, in fact all the bits and pieces we all stuff into every nook and cranny still has to be brought back home–minus a bongo to get it home in!! I had to buy extra suitcases to put all my bits and pieces into, when you turn up at the Ferry terminal to get home, your hire vehicle has to stay put, leaving you with all that gear to bring back home.

My thanks to the staff at Europ Assistance, after contacting them they took charge of everything, arranging for a hotel accommodation 11 o’clock at night, hire vehicle, believe me, they are worth their weight in gold, you need someone to take charge of the situation and they do just that and they continued to do that right up until departure, also to the staff at DFDS Seaways who helped me store my equipment and to carry it through the terminal at Newcastle.


Oh yes–if you need spare parts when touring in Norway–contact Viking recovery in Voss where they have a nice silver model.

Safe motoring!”

Well, thanks for that Ken.

Latest news just in. The Norwegian police have arrested two suspects….



Caroline Sarychkin didn’t go to Norway, but she was involved in a smash. “At the end of May we were driving along the M25 to catch a ferry. The Bongo was loaded with luggage plus my husband, 3 kids and myself. A tyre blew out as we switched lanes, all hell broke loose and we ended up hitting a tree and tipping over. We were doing about 70mph.

Now the good bit. We all walked away from the crash with no more than bruises, apart from my son who was driving (his first and only time in the Bongo) who had a cut above his eye where he hit the steering wheel.

The front of the car was completely stoved in, including a substantial bull bar, the pop top was ripped off, the side windows were smashed, poor car was a total mess but we were all fine. I couldn’t believe that we survived without any serious injury.

Despite being an old car (1995) the Bongo kept us safe. I am really sorry to see it go, and miss waving at other Bongos as I drive along.

In case any of your members has ever wondered what would happen I thought this might offer reassurance. At the end of May we were driving along the M25 to catch a ferry. The Bongo was loaded with luggage plus my husband, 3 kids and myself. A tyre blew out as we switched lanes, all hell broke loose and we ended up hitting a tree and tipping over. We were doing about 70mph.

Now the good bit. We all walked away from the crash with no more than bruises, apart from my son who was driving (his first and only time in the Bongo) who had a cut above his eye where he hit the steering wheel.

The front of the car was completely stoved in, including a substantial bull bar, the pop top was ripped off, the side windows were smashed, poor car was a total mess but we were all fine. I couldn’t believe that we survived without any serious injury.

Despite being an old car (1995) the Bongo kept us safe. I am really sorry to see it go, and miss waving at other Bongos as I drive along.

In case any of your members has ever wondered what would happen I thought this might offer reassurance.

Here’s a pic. It’s a bit blurred, my hand was shaking.


Reading Ken James’s account I am thanking my lucky stars once again that the accident took place this side of the English Channel (we were on the way to France). Also, my son was on a stand alone insurance policy which gave comprehensive cover in the UK but only 3rd party abroad.
One thing Ken is absolutely right about is having to shift all the contents of the car. We had to get a taxi for the 50 odd miles home, and though we requested a large 7 seater my youngest was practically buried under cases, bags etc, there was just no room at all by comparison.

The insurance company have only valued the Bongo at £1500 so I have directed them to BongoFury to give an idea how much they are worth.

I do miss the Bongo, we had to get a replacement in a real hurry so it was a question of what was available within a 20 mile radius. I really miss being able to just throw a bicycle in the back of the car, you can’t do that with a Golf. The kids miss what they called the ASBO seat as well, my eldest could sit and play guitar there without annoying his brothers.

Happy times, great car”

No Midges

Derek Wallace has sent us this story of his jaunt around Scotland. At least we think it was Scotland because he doesn’t mention midges once, and refers to something called “hard ground”, which as far as we can tell, has not existed in Scotland since before the last ice age.

“We left the South of England (Hants) on Saturday morning, loaded up with all we would need for a weeks trip round Scotland. Just past the toll road on the M6 we met up with John & Carol in their Bongo, they had just dropped off their boat in Norfolk. We then headed for Kendal for our first stop on our journey. We had not booked a site and the one we tried which belonged to the caravan & camping club was full, we were told that the whole area was full. We decided to head on a bit further and went on to Kielder Water in Northumberland. This site was great so we stayed for two nights taking in the falconry display and the lovely weather. Be careful on these roads as we were almost put off the road by a very large logging lorry which was travelling far too fast for the conditions.”


What Could Have Happened

“Next stop was near Oban. a good site at Connell Bridge, we put up one of the awnings with difficulty because of the hard ground (we did not find out about the steel pegs that the caravan club sell until our last night of the trip at Coniston Water, no other site had them) this night was very wet and windy, the awning nearly, was lost. The next day at Oban was not much better, I had to take some photographs of Oban Distillery for our magazine www.fineexpressions.co.uk which was inside so kept mostly dry. We had two really nice meals in the local restaurants.

After two days at Connell Bridge we moved North and ended up at Kinlochewe the weather had improved by now and the scenery was stunning. We again put up the awning but this time on some grass. This was no good though as the warden told us off and asked us to move it. Again very hard ground.


“Next day it was off for a drive to let John & Carol play a round of golf at Gairloch Golf Club They had a great time with sunshine and a course overlooking the Sea. Sue and I went on about 20 miles to see our friends John & Francis who own the Aultbea Lodge Hotel and Distillery, Here we had hot smoked salmon that you would die for.They also have over 600 different Whiskies, well worth a visit if you like a wee nip.


600 Different Whiskies!

“After two nights at Kinlochewe we headed South to Culloden Moor campsite, calling in past the Black Isle Brewery on the way. Next day we moved on to Park Coppice by Coniston Water (pegs) that evening we had fish & chips from the on-site chip van very good they were too. Next day we headed home. All in all a very good trip, and both Bongos did very well.

PS Ours does have a slight problem in that the fuel gauge tells us it’s empty when it’s not. On more than one occassion I have had to persuade Mrs Wallace to go and get us some fuel, only to find that we have half a tank left after all.”


Hopefully will be fixed this week when I take it back to our supplier.

No Man is an Island…


…..except the Isle of Man!

Stunning scenery, quiet beaches, secluded bays, utter tranquility. The perfect ingredients for a week in Bongo paradise. When most people think of the Isle of Man, they may imagine an environment of high octane speed, noise and motorcycling mayhem; after all, the Island is the Road Racing capital of the world and hosts the world famous TT races in late May, early June every year and the Manx Grand Prix in late August. Regardless of whether you are a bike enthusiast or not, outside of the racing schedule the Island settles down into the more familiar peace and tranquility accustomed to Island life and sets the scene for a fantastic Bongo experience.

Lee Millhouse sends this dispatch from the front line.


2 Adults, 2 Kids, 2 Dogs, 1 Bongo, 1 Island = 6 Fantastic Days in the Isle of Man.

We sailed from Heysham to the Isle of Man but you can also sail from Liverpool, Birkenhead, Belfast and Dublin. The ferry can run expensive but it’s worth the price for what the destination has to offer. After all, some of the Campsites, if you choose to use them, are free. Alternatively, there are plenty of well equipped sites with reasonable fees, or like us, you can just find a secluded beach or bay and make that your home for the night.

I planned to spend six days on the Island relying fully on the Bongo for all our transport and accommodation needs. No awning, no tent, no caravan or trailer, just the humble Bongo to provide all our needs. I knew that would bring about some challenges but everyone was up for it and the adventure was on! I decided that we would spend every night at a different location to truly wake up to a different breathtaking view every morning. I know the Island well, so quickly had a plan for most of the different places we would stay but left a few nights just to be spontaneous and find somewhere on spec.


Our Bongo is a basic 1997 2.5 2WD with no real modifications. We have all the kit we need (Cooker, BBQ, Toilet, Fridge etc.) and only take what we need with us depending on the type and length of trip we are planning. I love the camperised Bongos but we have always needed the full flexibility of our Bongo, be it for a family outing, short stay at friends or with family, weekends away, or longer camping breaks; so we just pack what we need depending on what we’re doing. For this trip, it was to be pretty much all of our kit and with carful planning and packing we got everything in the Bongo but with enough room to still travel safely and sleep without leaving too much stuff outside overnight.

So with meticulous packing the Bongonaughts were set to go. We – being Sue, my wife, Alfie (13) and Josh (11), the youngest of our 4 children, the 2 Dogs Tilley and Boo Boo and me of course – Captain, Cook and Bottle-Washer for the expedition.

We took the early morning crossing from Heysham which leaves at 2.15am and arrives in Douglas, the Islands capital, three and a half hours later at 5.45am. It’s a popular sailing as it’s discounted due to the timings and Dogs are allowed on certain decks/lounges if you want to use them. There are quicker and more convenient alternatives if desired but this crossing worked for us just fine. Although we were full of holiday excitement, we got a pretty good sleep for a few hours and rolled off the ferry on a bright sunny morning with the whole Island to explore and enjoy.

The Island was magnificent – it has something for everyone. We walked, fished, explored, cooked and most of all we Bongoed in the most beautiful locations across this outstanding Isle. At times it was tough but we worked together to make this a comfortable and most pleasant adventure with all the kit we needed for week of what could be called “extreme Bongoing”. We cooked some of the Islands wonderful produce and Barbequed and ate the fish we caught. We did eat out and from takeaways too -after all we were on holiday. My diary tells much more of the story and I hope you enjoy it.

Day 1

We cheated really and had breakfast at McDonalds at Douglas. Well, we were a bit tired after the crossing but this gave us a good easy start to the day. We went on to explore Peel with its Castle, Viking Museum and famous Kipper Smoke House. We had had Fish and Chips for lunch, and then settled down for our first evening in Port Mooar; a truly beautiful spot. We set up the BBQ and enjoyed a quiet evening flipping burgers and sipping wine before turning in to the comfort of the Bongo and fell asleep listening to the waves lapping against the shore. What a start to what was to be the first of many happy, enjoyable Bongo nights.


Day 2

Again the weather was warm and sunny but it can be very changeable, so we did prepare for the possibility of wind and rain, after all, this is a northerly Island in the middle of the Irish Sea. We had coffee – well, several coffee’s – and cooked bacon and eggs on our stove before a leisurely stroll on the beach skimming stones and chatting before packing the Bongo up ready for our next destination. Just up the coast we visited Maughold Village and it’s, historic Church and dramatic Lighthouse. We spent a good few hours walking and taking photo’s – Josh is a keen photographer and a pretty good one too. Then we made for Ramsey, the 2nd biggest town on the Island. We just happen to know a really good Fishmonger in the town, so we bought some Queenies; small, sweet tasting scallops which are one of the Island’s delicacies. We then made for Glen Moor for our 2nd night. This is another beautiful costal spot which happens to have a convenient, clean public toilet and washbasin. Not essential but nice to have. Anyway, we set up camp and prepared the trusted Bongo into “sleeping mode” ready for the night. That evening we walked Boo Boo and Tilley along the beach and watched the sun go down. Some local fishermen were setting up their beach casters for a nights fishing. We chatted with them for a while and got an insight into an age old fishing technique enjoyed on the Isle of Man for centuries. We are more pier and breakwater fishermen ourselves but this looked like something we will try someday. Well, it was time to cook those Queenies in the fading evening light. For this the BBQ was ideal and I cooked them in an unconventional way, in a tomato, garlic and chili sauce. Separately I cooked some Tuna steaks to have a varied fresh fish feast on a bed of rocket and with fresh crusty bread. Unfortunately the weather was staring to break and the rain started to fall. We opted to stay warm, stay dry and stay in, so I set up the TV, uncorked a bottle of Red and we spent the night chatting and watching the telly in the Bongo till we fell asleep. Another day, another destination; lovely memories.



Day 3

Fishing was the order of the day. The weather was fair and mild, so after the proverbial cooked breakfast and lashings of coffee we packed the Bongo back to “driving mode” and set off to Peel Breakwater for a day’s fishing. We parked the Bongo conveniently on the breakwater, set the rods up, scrounged some bait (this is a popular fishing spot and for the most part the fishing folk are friendly and helpful) and off we went casting and fishing for mackerel. Sue and I were in assistance whilst Alfie and Josh took control of the rods. After a quiet hour or so they started getting bites and before we knew it a typical Mackerel fishing session was underway; three, sometimes four fish being reeled in per cast and in quick succession. A few hours later we had more than a dozen mackerel and it was time to say enough. We never take more than what we can eat or give away to other people. This evening was planned to be at the first “proper” Campsite at Glenn Wyllin, Kirk Michael. This site offers excellent facilities, shop, showers, electrical hook up if you need it, dog friendly etc. It is set in a beautiful wooded glen which has a small stream with a pretty waterfall running down to a golden beach. Again the BBQ was the best option for cooking the Mackerel. Simply garnished with salt, pepper and dusted with dried herbs, I wrapped them in foil with plenty of lemon slices and the BBQ cooked them through. So fresh and so tasty we ate 2 or 3 each and then the kids offered the rest around to other Campers and they were soon all gone. From the comments from our fellow campers, they were very much appreciated and enjoyed. Job well done. We had a very pleasant night’s sleep in Glenn Wyllin and would highly recommend this site to anyone.

millhouse6 millhouse7

Day 4

After a long hot shower and a good wash and brush-up we left Glen Wyillin and made for the South of the Island. For an Island of 221 square miles it’s astonishing how much diversity of landscape and features are packed into this place. Feeling fresh, bright of the eye and bushy tailed we took a long stroll around the Langness peninsular near the historic town of Castletown. Langness is a stunning peninsular with open spaces, beautiful costal paths and is scattered with various ancient structures, a fortress, a lookout tower, a lighthouse with quaint cottages; which I believe to be a residence of Jeremy Clarkson and a Golf course with Club House. After a refreshing walk and taking in the scenes we returned to our Bongo for lunch. It was warm enough to eat out so we just made a few sandwiches and salad and sat in the fresh sea air to relax a while. As we sat admiring the panorama across the sea we agreed this was definitely where we were going to return and spend the night. We spent the rest of the day in nearby Castletown where we visited the most well preserved Castle on the Island “Castle Rushen” with its famous clock tower and Dungeons which were particularly enjoyed by Alfie & Josh. In the evening we decided to eat out and enjoyed a warm welcome and relaxed atmosphere at the Garrison Restaurant in the town. We found that this Tapas restaurant offers a wide range of freshly made good food and has a good selection of wine too. After a very enjoyable meal we took the short drive back to the Langness peninsular where we made camp for the night. It was a warm pleasant evening so we prepared the bongo into “sleeping mode” ready for bed and set up a table outside to relax, watch the sun go down and enjoy the three hundred and sixty degree panorama of outstanding views across land and sea. The kids played on the shore until dusk and we sat and chatted over hot chocolate until late at night before retiring to the warm comforts of our beloved Bongo. As we fell asleep I couldn’t help but leave some of the blinds open so we could watch the nearby lighthouse flashing , the twinkling of boats lights out at sea and the lights of the towns and villages further in land. What a way to explore and everyone agreed, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Another great day, another great night.


Day 5

We awoke after a good night’s sleep excited about what the next day would bring. We were spoilt for choice as to where to go and what to do but decided to do something we’d never done before on previous visits to the Island. Surprisingly, for such a small place, the list was still extensive. It was a dry, bright sunny morning, so we opted to take the Mountain Railway to the top of Snaefell, the tallest mountain on the Island. The Mountain Railway was built 1895, and runs a total of four miles from the village of Laxey to the top of Snaefell at 2,036ft. So, after a hearty breakfast, we packed the Bongo up and set her into “driving mode” and made off to Laxey. The weather looked set to hold as we booked onto train No 5 for the trip to the summit. The ride from Laxey to the summit takes thirty minutes and we took in the amazing views of the Glens and surrounding countryside. Adjacent to the railway we could see the Laxey wheel (the biggest water wheel in the world) which made for some good photo opportunities. At the top we made a short walk to the mountain summit and just sat and took in the scenery. Truly magnificent views; hours seemed to pass as we gazed out across the landscape and beyond that the sea. From this position it is said you can see the seven kingdoms. The Kingdom of Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland & Mann: the Kingdom of the Sea and of course, the Kingdom of Heaven.

As we ate lunch at the Café on the Mountain the weather started to break and as we arrived back in Laxey in the late afternoon I was actually hoping for severe weather! Why? Because there’s a spot on the Northern tip of the Island known as the Point of Ayre which is the perfect place for seeing dramatic weather fronts and to set up for a night of “extreme Bongoing” . We weren’t to be disappointed. The weather can be severe to say the least at this exposed tip of the Island and I’ve always wanted to spend a night there in the warmth and security of our Bongo but with the wind howling and the waves crashing outside. And so it was; as darkness fell I pointed the nose of the Bongo into the wind, battened down the hatches, locked everything down and set up for the night. Whilst the outside elements were wild and hostile, we snuggled up warm, cosey, safe and spent the evening telling stories and drinking hot chocolate before watching a bit of telly and settling down to sleep. Normally the kids sleep upstairs in the roof but on a night like this we decided to keep the roof locked down and to all stay downstairs. Yes it was certainly a bit cramped but we did get a decent night’s sleep and listening to the conditions outside we were glad to be in the comfort of our Bongo. In the morning the weather had settled down considerably. It was still overcast and windy but ok for a brisk walk along the shore before breakfast. Alfie and I decided to go out and walk the dogs whilst Josh and Sue opted to stay in keep warm. The walk certainly blew the cobwebs away and the sea spray and wind made for a salty start to the day. We took the opportunity to take a few snaps and spotted a few Arctic Turns that nest in this area. When we arrived back Sue had made coffee and breakfast which was just what we all needed before moving on.

millhouse9 millhouse10

Final Day

We had the “end of holiday blues” as the coffee and bacon & egg sandwiches were being consumed but before they were finished we’d already agreed we were coming back and next time for longer! With this promise made we looked to enjoy the rest of the day before heading back to the mainland on the Ferry. Our crossing was at 7:45pm, so we had plenty of time to explore just one more time before needing to get to Douglas for the return journey. There’s many beautiful Glen’s to see on the Isle of Man and we have indeed seen and camped in many of them. One we had never visited though was Glen Maye on the west side of the Island. So that was to be our final trip before returning home. We were not disappointed. We called into Shoprite in Ramsey and filled the cool box with everything we needed for a picnic. After a leisurely drive to Glen Maye we parked the Bongo and set off through the densely wooded Glen, passing it’s dramatic waterfall and then following the footpath down to the shore where we set up to relax whist the Kids and dogs explored. This was yet another outstanding location which was quiet and un-crowded and with its own unique rocky features. The weather was warm and sunny, so we found a sheltered little area by the rocks and spent a few hours grazing on the picnic and basically chilling out under the sun. As we knew time was running out we just had to visit one of our favorite spots before finally meeting the Ferry. Just a bit further down the coast lies Niarbyl. We’ve been there many times but we couldn’t leave before calling in to see this wonderful place just one more time. Niarbyl is a tiny cove with caves and a cluster of thatched Fishermen’s cottages. It’s like time has stood still in this place and as with many of the Islands features it’s steeped in history. Here you can get a good insight to the lives of the Fishermen who lived and worked in this cove for centuries. We spent our last few hours here rock pooling and taking photos of a place that entices you into never wanting to leave, such is the beauty and tranquility here. Nevertheless, the time came where we needed to head for the Ferry. So for one last time, we packed to Bongo ready for the voyage home. On the Journey to Douglas, the Ferry to Heysham and on the final leg down the M6 to Shropshire, we, as most people do, chatted and re-lived some of the experiences we had just shared and enjoyed. All in all, it had been a fantastic break and our fantastic Bongo had provided us with transport, somewhere to cook, eat, sleep and live comfortably throughout. A great vehicle and a great Island. We and our beloved Bongo will be back in 2013 and we hope to see other Bongonaughts there too. It’s certainly worth a try!



We took delivery of a Navigator Awning in mid October, and promised that we would supply a review back to the manufacturers by the end of the month. We looked at our campsite guides, hoping to find an all-year campsite, preferably with interesting walks nearby, and a pub, and no more than 90 minutes from Sheffield.

The missus spotted a campsite that had a good review and was open all year. It was 100 yards from a pub in the Good Beer Guide, and the evidence on the Ordnance Survey map suggested lots of local footpaths. And although it was only 45 minutes away as the Bongo flies, there was one slight problem…..it was near Scunthorpe! On the banks of the Trent!


In many ways, the Trent is more interesting than at first appears. For a start, it is Britain’s third longest river at 170 miles, bettered only by the Thames and the Severn. And geographically, it follows a bizarre course, starting high in the Staffordshire hills at Biddulph Moor, before heading South through Stoke, turning East through Burton on Trent, Nottingham and Newark, and then veering North through Gainsborough and Scunthorpe until it meets the Humber.


Since the dawn of the industrial revolution the mighty Trent has supplied the water to power much of Midlands industry, and this is still much in evidence today, especially in Nottinghamshire where the M1 crosses the Trent just to the South of Nottingham.

Until 10 years ago, the Trent was perhaps the most polluted waterway in England, if not Western Europe. Large chemical works, steel plants and power stations flushed their waste direct in to the river, but now otters have been reported as far inland as Newark.

The campsite (unfortunately called Brookside, but superb facilities!) we stayed at was in the pretty Lincolnshire village of Burton on Stather, 6 miles north of Scunthorpe and 3 miles from the Humber. It is at this point that the Trent is widest, and still navigable. Large vessels still come in the wharfs at Scunthorpe to pick up steel for far away markets. And until relatively recently there was a local crew of pilots or navigators to safely escort the ships through the difficult currents. Which brings us nicely to the reason for our visit; the Navigator awning.

Blue Diamond are a camping supplies manufacturers based in West Yorkshire, and for many years have been one of the market leaders in the supply of accessories to caravanners. More recently, through their Outdoor Revolution brand, they have received praise from many quarters for the innovative design of their tents and drive-away awnings. For those that need more room, and something a bit more robust, the Navigator awning looked ideal. We wanted to see if it would stand up to the rigours of a cold and windy night in Lincolnshire, and whether it was compatible with the Bongo.

The awning comes with its own groundsheet, pegs (more than enough!) and fibre glass poles, all contained within a hold-all that measures approximately 80cm x 30 cm x 40cm. The packed weight is 17.7 kg. An inner tent and storm straps are available but not included in the pack. The whole pack retails at £250, and is available from the owners club.

It took the two of us about 45 minutes to erect the awning; not too bad as it’s always difficult the first time. There are instructions sewn on to the side of the tent bag, a nice touch….how many times have you seen the instructions flutter away in the wind? Once erect, its unique design features were quickly apparent. Because it is nearly hexagonal in shape, it is far more roomy than other similar awnings we have tested. And unlike cheaper awnings, there is a wet weather water apron that can be pegged all the way round for maximum protection. Storm straps (pictured in orange below) are also available, but these are an optional extra.


Attaching the awning to the Bongo could not have been easier. Most awnings of this type have an elasticated gusset, but the gusset on this one was deeper than others we have come across, so there was not the same faffing about when trying to get the Bongo in to position. The gusset itself can be clamped to the drain sill on the side of the Bongo, or attached using a plastic “figure of eight”.

As the light failed, we made the rock’n’roll bed up, put the silver screens on, fed the dogs and then walked round the corner to the Ferry House Inn, which served a superb pint of local Newby Wyke Premium Bitter. In the Ferry, we got talking to a local old boy who told us all about the Flixborough disaster in 1974. Flixborough, a village 3 miles upstream from Burton, was the scene of a mighty explosion at its chemical works. In total 28 people lost their lives and, in the words of the bloke in the pub, “all our doors and windows were blown out….and we’re a good 3 miles away.”

(He then went on to say “You’re not camping out in this are you? You must be nutters…..”)

That night, a tempest of a different type hit the campsite, but we are please to report that the Naviagator was more than a match for a good rain-lashing, and everything within stayed bone dry.

The following morning was bright and sunny, if a little cold. Time to investigate the Navigator a bit further. As mentioned earlier, the awning is 6 sided. With a height of 220cm, an overall length of 380cm, and a width that varies from 190cm at the ends to 383cm in the middle, there was more than enough room for the two of us and our pets to lounge around with the Sunday papers after a hearty breakfast. There was also plenty of room to hang an inner tent which we did not have an opportunity to test.

But the best thing about the Naviagator awning was still to come.


Although it does not come across too well in this photo (my batteries ran out on the digital camera!), each of the 6 side panels will unzip to become an entrance/exit! You can have all 6 panels open at the same time if you wish, although this is not to be recommended on cold October mornings by the banks of the Trent, especially when you are only 3 miles from Flixborough!

So, all in all, our mission was a success. The Navigator was packed away (how on earth did it fit in that hold-all?) and we went back to Bongo Towers.

For details of how to order, see the Awnings section on the Parts & Stuff page.

Mushroom Roof

For many months rumour on the Bongo Forum had it that Japanese Auto Locators (JAL) had, after a few prototypes, finally managed to develop a push up roof for the Bongo.

Member Nick Collier doesn’t live too far from me in Derbyshire, so I popped round to take a look.

What the team at JAL have done is completely remove the roof from a tin-top Bongo, and then install a fibre glass (or is it Glass Replacement Plastic?) replacement. This is moulded from an original Auto Free Top as seen on Bongos with elevating roofs.

The roof hinges from the driver side, and is secured in transit by 3 clips, 2 along the passenger side, and one above the passenger side of the windscreen.



Once the clips are undone, and an internal strap is unfastened, it is just a case of pushing the roof to an upright position. Telescopic struts hold the roof in place.


Inside, the floor of the roof-space comprises of 3 removable boards. Once up in the roof, in my opinion it is more spacious and less claustrophobic than the standard AFT, mainly because there is much more headroom. Which puts to bed all those old jokes about there not being “mushroom” up there!


JAL have said that this is very much “work in progress” and further refinements are being added all the time.

I can understand why Nick is chuffed to bits with his new purchase!


JAL have now completed the work on internal hinges, and some photos are shown below.




(Further update 20 October 2009): JAL have now added a side pole and catch for quick & easy opening, and new hinge covers that are colour coded to each individual Bongo. These are available as a retro fitting for all existing mushroom roofs.

Bongo Fury

Bongo Fury