Building a Den

Recently there have been a lot of weather, snow and wind and rain, but you might never have known it walking down the quiet wooded path. The only evidence of rain was the absolutely sodden ground we moved across. The light breeze moved the trees in the sunshine, throwing shadows across our muddy footsteps as we made our way to the spot I’d found a few weeks earlier.

It’s almost a year to the day since coronavirus closed schools for the first time and the opening up of business and leisure is keenly anticipated by all of us. Schools have just reopened after the second lockdown in Scotland and there is genuine excitement at being able to go to school and back to work.

But our world still feels very small and so Young Johnston and I decided to create a new world. Not very far flung of course, just far enough to give the impression of being far flung.

I’ve been watching far too much YouTube lately while napping Mini Johnston and I’ve come across a couple of channels that are totally absorbing, partly through the personalities involved and partly through what they get up to. The first channel is called Simon, a Bloke in the Woods and the second channel is called Kent Survival.

But undaunted, and seeing this as a first “draft”, we continued to build.

Inspired by their first class bush rafting and my own live if the outdoors, I located a nearby woodland, and found a spot just off the beat and track. Or so I thought until I saw all the dog walkers who use the field next door.

We started by building a skeleton, a sort of double lean-to.

More shell was added ready to tarp over and a wall/fire reflector was added at the front.

We found some Y branches and created some hooks that allow us to keep our bags off the ground. I also created a special mallet for Young Johnston. So he could hit things.

And hit other things.

The tarp was added to the roof, attached with cable ties, gaps filled with bracken and logs placed to stabilise the bracken.

We decided we need a bench, again to keep us off the ground.

You don’t go out with a 5 year old without taking a bag of snacks.

Young Johnston worked on his own little projects, like an extra seat and a flag pole.

We also added more fencing. Although there is more fencing to be done.

Our little homestead is really coming together. We have a back door into the den, we’re still discussing whether to close it off or not.

The view from the inside.

Looking up.

And where we have got to so far.

After all of that, we were shattered. Thank goodness we had a bed to lie down in.

More fencing is needed, especially if the back door remains, as that is the side the wind usually comes from. More bracken could go on the roof and there are also a couple of holes needing filled in the tarp.

It’s one of these projects that will probably never 100% be finished. Young Johnston is pretty proud of his efforts and rightly so. And today it was announced the “stay at home” message and national travel restrictions will go by April. It’s great to have a wee local outdoor base, but we’re also keen to get back into the van and go off exploring.

Really? …. More Shelving?!

When you own a house, you’re always saying you need more storage. For every new dress or outfit, you need a bigger or better wardrobe. When you buy extra kitchen rolls, because your young boys like to spill stuff, where do you keep them?

A van is the same. I built it with under bed storage, which seemed a good idea and is great for keeping the van tidy. There is loads of space under there too. Then I decided to make some shelves…. because… you know, I bought those extra camping mugs and I needed somewhere to put them…

Well, the new shelves were such a success I wanted to make more! Some would say having more storage means you just buy more things to fill it. As long as it’s bought in Tiso or GoOutdoors or some other outdoor emporium, I think I can live with that…

I cut some wood.

I fixed it together.

I oiled the wood with teal oil.

I added elastic to the bottom shelf to stop the small storage boxes I bought falling out.

I added the fittings for the two metal end shelves.

I placed the shelf unit in the van and started to install it. Some well placed brackets and it’s solid.

I re-organised some of my gear into the new shelves/boxes.

And here’s how it looks all finished.

The bed will now be smaller but can still hold two people. And there’s now more room for storing tents and other stuff under the bed. It’s great having a small table top now as well as part of the build.

I will need to stop building shelves. Otherwise there will be no room to sleep or sit. And the shelves aren’t full. So what shall I buy to fill them?

Building Bernie’s Bed

It’s always more interesting to look at how a child sees something. I’ve spent hours/days/months looking online and speaking to friends to find the best way to create Bernie the mini camper out of the Arnold Clark ex-hire van I bought back in August. Some of the builds I’ve seen have been painfully impressive. Young Johnston’s ideas were…..different.

Drawing his plan with him was probably the most fun I’ve had in months. He was articulate, engaged and full of very funny ideas about what would make Bernie the perfect mini camper. The teacher in me liked the giant tick and hoped it wasn’t a blood sucking version. Including a fire to burn me on the bum when I least expected it was a typical Young Johnston thing to say, but in this context it really tickled my funny bone.

I set to work with two competing ideas. The Instagram perfection version, all smooth lines, bright surfaces and usually with a stunning sunset in the background. And the plan I drew, with utmost precision, but probably way beyond my skillset.

With my measurements in hand I bought all the timber and bits that I thought I needed and set to work. I’d seen one film on YouTube that was my guide as I set off, cutting lengths of planed pine and screwing them together to create a basic frame, with added wood glue for extra muscle.

Even by this stage I was proud of my efforts. Size looked good and it seemed fairly strong. Next I had to find out how my storage boxes would best fit underneath. After trying a few options, I plumped for this layout.

And with the storage boxes in situ.

Next up I cut the slats for the solid section. And then created the frame for the pull out section.

And then added the slats for the pull out section.

You’ll notice two slats are missing. My calculations for what I would need were just ever so slightly wonky. Unlike the final frame! Which I’m pretty proud of. The final test was to make sure it would fit in the van, which it did.

I used some braces to screw it to the van floor.

And added these clips to stop the pull out section from moving when on the road.

Finally I had to add the cushions, kindly donated by a friend with an old caravan. My original measurements were made with these cushions in mind. I’m not a fan of the orange, but Kirsty is going to re-cover these for me at some point.

And all set up, ready for the road!

I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved, with a lot of help from others like Kirsty, Young Johnston, The King, Rich and the many bloggers and YouTubers I’ve been stalking. I’m no DIY guy. I think Kirsty might expect a bit more from now on though…. And as for the wee man’s original ideas, there is no room for a police station, but for me, this is definitely worthy of a giant, big, fat tick.

There have been less outdoor adventures lately due to all the insulating, carpeting and bed building. Let the outdoor adventures recommence.


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