DISASTER TRIP TO WALES 22ND – 28TH NOVEMBER 2014

My intentions on this trip were to produce a significant body of work comprising an intensive series of A3 exploratory studies in the Barmouth area, focussing mainly on the Dolgellau area, Mawddach Estuary and Cadair Idris culminating in one or two large oils using my large field-easel newly modified with braked wheels fitted.  I was particularly anxious to examine the landscape when subjected to the low trajectory of the winter sun, and planned to be working for approximately two weeks as a “dry run” for a major expedition in 2015.

22 Nov 2014. (LR) Loading up, showing spartan interior living-working space.

Loading. Showing spartan interior working, storage and living space

22 Nov 2014. (LR) Loading up, showing rooftop rig, side storage unit and large field easel (inverted)

22 Nov 2014. (LR) Loading up, showing rooftop rig, side storage unit and large field easel (inverted)

SATURDAY 22nd  NOV

Loaded van using equipment and materials checklist. Set off for Barmouth arriving 6pm. Found somewhere to park the van to sleep for the night. Had a small beer at the Tal-y-Don Hotel, and so to bed; early.

SUNDAY 23 NOV

Aims today- 4 A3 gouache studies. Achieved – 2 gouache studies and a lot of walking. Early walk on the beach followed by a visit to renew my acquaintance with artist Bernard Barnes who I met a couple of years ago, at his studio, a converted Church Hall in St John’s Road, Barmouth www.bernardbarnes.com. Leaving Bernard, I drove up the estuary towards Dolgellau looking for an opportunity to turn left and head for higher ground affording views across the Mawddach towards Cadair Idris.

23 Nov 2014.(LR) The van on location. Mawddach Estuary.

23 Nov 2014.(LR) The van on location. Mawddach Estuary.

24 Nov 2014.(LR) The van near the knoll

24 Nov 2014.(LR) The van near the knoll

I produced an A3 gouache “Winter sunlight on the Mawddach Estuary” (finished at 2.10pm) and then drove back down to the estuary levels and made the study “Low sun on the Mawddach Estuary” (finished at 4.35pm).

2.10pm 23 November 2014. Winter sunlight on the Mawddach Estuary. Size A3 Gouache

2.10pm 23 November 2014. Winter sunlight on the Mawddach Estuary. Size A3 Gouache

4.35pm, 23 November 2014. Low sun on the Mawddach Estuary. Size A3 Gouache

4.35pm, 23 November 2014. Low sun on the Mawddach Estuary. Size A3 Gouache

DISASTER DAY   MONDAY 24th  NOV

My planned early start on the sandbanks and mudflats had to be abandoned due to the speed of the incoming tide so I again headed up the valley looking for higher vantage points. I drove off-road up one of the tracks and spotted a knoll that promised to be ideal. It was very steep so I decided to make a preliminary reconnoitre/climb without my kit.

24 Nov, The knoll.

24 Nov, The knoll.

24 Nov. View of the van  and landscape from the top of the knoll.

24 Nov. View of the van and landscape from the top of the knoll.

Much of the climb had to be done on all fours due to the steepness of the slope and I realised that this, plus the unstable ground cover of dead brushwood combined with prickly shrubs, gorse and heather would render it impossible to scale carrying easel and backpack painting kit. From the top however, it did afford a useful view of Cadair Idris and I noticed a narrow track running across the top which promised easier access.

I walked approximately a mile and a half in the direction which initially looked the most promising but began to deviate and seem endless, taking me further away from my van and equipment.

Endless track (1)

Endless track (1)

Endless track (2)

Endless track (2)

Endless track (3)

Endless track (3)

Annoyed at the loss of “painting time” I retraced my steps and tried the other direction which proved to be more suitable, shorter but steeper. Loading up with backpack and equipment, I climbed back up the track and made the study “View of Cadair Idris and glimpse of Dolgellau”

2.35pm, 24 November 2014. View of Cadair Idris and glimpse of Dolgellau. Size A3 Gouache

2.35pm, 24 November 2014. View of Cadair Idris and glimpse of Dolgellau. Size A3 Gouache

I returned to the metalled roadway and headed further up the valley, seeking even higher elevation.
After travelling a mile or so, dashboard emergency warning lights lit up indicating low oil pressure, overheating and STOP ENGINE.  I pulled off the road, stopped engine and checked the oil level – OK, checked the coolant and temperature – OK.
I reasoned that it could possibly be a faulty pressure switch and that even if not, the loss of pressure had only just occurred and that if driven carefully there would still be sufficient oil in the cylinder head, crankshaft bearings and oil-ways to do a couple of miles so I decided to risk driving very gently down to a garage at Dolgellau. This I did without incident and arrived at the garage with the engine still sounding OK.
The garage manager said they would be unable to do any work on the van for a few days but suspected something more serious than a pressure switch. They would also need to locate and borrow a special pressure gauge because of the age of the vehicle (registered1996 )

TUESDAY 25th NOV

Having slept in the van on the forecourt and, as ever, unable to waste time in inactivity, I hastily put together a basic kit of drawing materials and a sleeping bag and caught the bus to Barmouth where Bernard kindly offered to let me sleep on a settee in his studio for a few nights.
I then spent some five hours walking/reconnoitring the hills above the town and made one rather paltry A4 drawing.
A very disappointing and stressful week so far!
Evening. Drinks with Bernard and friends at The Last Inn and musical jam session with various performers from the floor (Bernard plays violin, recorders and whistles)

 WEDNESDAY 26th NOV

Re-traced yesterday’s walk and investigated new routes.
Two A3 drawings made (charcoal, graphite pencil and technical pen) and a lot more walking.
Body overheating when climbing, chilled when sitting drawing
Phoned garage – no progress on van.
Fish and chips supper.
Late night walk on beach.

1.40pm, 26 November 2014.  Study on the Panoramic Walk on the hills above Barmouth.

1.40pm, 26 November 2014.
Study on the Panoramic Walk on the hills above Barmouth.

3.05pm, 26 November 2014.  Rocks adjacent to the cliff face known locally as 'The Barmouth Slab'

3.05pm, 26 November 2014.
Rocks adjacent to the cliff face known locally as ‘The Barmouth Slab’

THURSDAY 27th NOV

Early walk on beach.
Breakfast, a mug of tea and one slice of buttered toast at the “Milk Bar” an establishment which (commendably) has not changed its name or layout since I first came to Barmouth aged 8 (1952)  Happy memories.
Waited with Bernard in his studio till 12.30pm and rang garage as arranged. Still waiting for pressure gauge, so no progress.
Returned to hill walking. Two more A3 drawings made. Constant stress regarding the van.

3.10pm, 27 November 2014.  Rocky outcrop on the Panoramic Walk near Barmouth.

3.10pm, 27 November 2014.
Rocky outcrop on the Panoramic Walk near Barmouth.

4.10pm, 27 November 2014.  Hills on the Panoramic Walk, Barmouth hinterland.

4.10pm, 27 November 2014.
Hills on the Panoramic Walk, Barmouth hinterland.

Invited to eat with Bernard and his partner Reyna in the evening. Watched a bit of depressing news on television, suicide bombings in Pakistan and further agitation in Scotland for the slow fragmentation of the United Kingdom.

 BAD NEWS DAY FRIDAY 28 NOV

7.30am Write up log. No plans for drawing today. Considering various plans of action in the event of no solution to van problems.
12.30pm bad news from garage, tests carried out showed absolutely no oil pressure and I sensed reluctance on their part of starting what could possibly prove to be major work on the engine which has done over 240000 miles. They also expressed concern about possible difficulties in obtaining spares which might be needed.
Agreed to leave the van with them whilst I returned by rail to the Midlands to investigate alternatives feeling very depressed and pessimistic.

DILEMMA

I bought the current van in 1996 (my third)  and have invested huge amounts of time and thought in the constant evolution and adaptations which it has undergone as it became a crucial component in my working method as a plein-air traveller-painter.
Knowing for some time that I have neither the money nor the time to invest in the total refit of a new vehicle, I have spared nothing in keeping this van in good condition mechanically and structurally.
However, over recent years, spares have become more and more difficult to obtain and I have become conscious of, and dreading, the possibility  of having to scrap the vehicle for want of some simple but critical component such as an oil pump, windscreen or drive shaft.

ON MY RETURN TO THE MIDLANDS

I approached Engine Services of Brierley Hill who specialise in reconditioning all types of engines. I arranged for the van to be transported, courtesy of AA, from Dolgellau to their workshop for diagnosis. They expressed the same concerns as the garage in Dolgellau but would enquire of all their network of contacts about availability of spares which might prove necessary.

To add to my discomfiture I then came down with a debilitating and demoralising influenza/bronchitis depressive type of illness which was to last for the next 4 weeks.

During all this time I was constantly considering other options, a smaller van, smaller work, more local work, or developing in-studio practice but all of these served only to increase my depression as imposing severe constraints and limitations on my work.

BAD NEWS FROM ENGINE SERVICES.

Phoned to say that they had exhausted all their contacts and had only been able to locate one piston and one cylinder liner. It seems that parts for my van are now virtually unobtainable.

IN DESPERATION

I searched the web for “Renault Trafic Camper” clubs etc in the hopes of finding enthusiasts who might have contacts or spares schemes that I might tap into but all phone calls and enquiries were met with negative response. The situation was looking more and more hopeless and depressing.

A LUCKY BREAK.

During further searches I came across an advert for a Renault Trafic camper van for sale in Tottenham @ £1800.00.
It was same year, same body shell, same engine and specification as mine but had only done 77,000 miles as opposed to my 240,000.
Snatching at this last chance, I immediately made an appointment with the seller, dosed myself heavily with Lemsips and Ibuprofen, caught the train to London, tube to Tottenham, took the vehicle for a test drive and made a deal of £1500.00 to buy it for spares.
4 days later, having organised funds, tax and insurance I repeated the train journey (and the Lemsips treatment), collected the vehicle and drove it back to the Midlands. The bodywork was rather tatty and it had obviously been neglected, but the engine oil was clean, it pulled very well up the motorway and was obviously mechanically sound.

GOOD NEWS FROM ENGINE SERVICES

In the meantime Engine Services had decided to make a preliminary investigation. They found that the oil pressure problem was simply a worn drive shaft to the oil pump. This they had replaced and whilst the sump was off they had also replaced the big-end shell bearings.


AND SO:

N561 AOX is now ready for 2015 adventures and in addition has a comprehensive stock of spares to sustain it well into the future, proving, as is sometimes the case in life, that what initially seems to be a disaster can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

It was a close call though.

3.05pm 25 June 09.  At work on the roof platform. Seine Valley

3.05pm 25 June 09. At work on the roof platform. Seine Valley

At work on rig in The Black Country 2011 (Courtesy of BBC TV)

At work on rig in The Black Country 2011 (Courtesy of BBC TV)

CLICK ON   http://www.robertperry-artist.co.uk/tv-video-footage/mobile-studio-special-equipment-bbc-tv-2011/

ADDENDUM

THE DEMISE OF N608 KBX

Dismantling team. L to R . Mick Gillet, Rob Perry, Simon Morton. 12.32pm, 7 May 2016

Dismantling team. L to R . Mick Gillet, Rob Perry, Simon Morton. 12.32pm, 7 May 2016

N608 KBX  Engine in.    1.21pm, 7 May 2016

N608 KBX Engine in. 1.21pm, 7 May 2016

N608 KBX.  Engine out.     08.20am 12 July 2016

N608 KBX. Engine out. 08.20am 12 July 2016

N608 KBX  engine and gearbox in rear section of  N561 AOX

N608 KBX engine and gearbox in rear section of N561 AOX

Unloading team L to R.  Rob, son Alex Perry, friend Eddy Trevalen

Unloading team L to R. Rob, son Alex Perry, friend Eddy Trevalen

N608 KBX  dismantled.        Body parts.

N608 KBX dismantled. Body parts.

N608 KBX dismantled.       Engine, gearbox and mechanical parts

N608 KBX dismantled. Engine, gearbox and mechanical parts