Photographs & tales, following a jazz saxophone & piano duo from Scotland, as they tour around the UK and beyond, in their Tour Bus (a converted ambulance). Click on a photo below to read each post.

The Birth of Our Tour Bus

Many of you have asked about our Tour Bus and its conversion from a Yorkshire ambulance. So here’s a blog post all about it.

Our Tour Bus at the Culbin Forest near Findhorn in Moray, Scotland

On tour, we used to stay in budget hotels – mostly Travelodges or Premier Inns. They were basic, but absolutely fine. But because the rooms are identical inside, you never really know where you are. They also tend to be on the M6 or A1 and are often 50 or more miles away from the gig. So there was a lot of extra travelling & fuel cost going from hotel to gig and back. Also, they were also becoming more & more expensive (especially at the weekends), and of course, you have to eat every meal out – although we kept the cost down by mostly eating in the cafes at Morrison’s, Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s Superstores.

One day, after discovering Mike Hudson’s blog at vandogtraveller.com, we decided to buy a van to convert into a mobile home to make our trips more cost effective, and more fun! After a lot of research, we decided that an ex-ambulance would be best:

  • they’re insulated
  • they’re well looked after & serviced
  • you can stand up inside them
  • they’re relatively cheap to buy
  • they have strip lights inside
  • they have various spotlights (useful for packing at night)
  • they give you a blank canvas to work with

This last point was important because (a) we’re not a couple, so need 2 beds (whereas most MotorHomes have one double bed), and (b) we had specific needs for carrying our equipment.

Every time we saw an ambulance in the street after that, we gazed it it with envy, thinking “wouldn’t it be great if we had one of those…

After going to see a few, we eventually found a Yorkshire ambulance for sale on eBay that we liked the look of. It was a Renault Master van and although we bought it “blind”, the guy selling it seemed very decent and trustworthy. He even took the trouble to take it through it’s MOT for us.

This was how our Tour Bus looked when we bought it

Florescent green & white stickers on the side
and the remains of “NHS” and “ambulance” stickers

A very heavy lift at the rear

Two extra seats in the back that we needed to remove

It was in Nottingham, so we took the train there from Edinburgh, and then the tram in Nottingham – the van was just a short walk from the last stop on the tram line.

Although the ambulance had already done 200,000 miles, it felt “right”. These vehicles are designed to do lots of mileage. So we excitedly drove it home to Edinburgh.

Now the hard work started. We had to remove the “ambulance” stickers and the yellow & green florescent squares. It took days on end with scrubbers, white spirit and washing up liquid. Quite a job! We also had to remove the (very, very, very heavy) lift at the back doors and take out some of the seating.

We finally managed to remove the green & yellow stickers and the writing on the side

The rear lift & two of the seats gone!

We put dark tint on the windows for privacy and started to build the interior to suit our needs. Bear in mind that neither of us really had the skills to do this! We were making it up as we went along.

Dark tint on the windows

We cut a hole in the bulkhead to make a sliding door

Rear bed and the start of the cupboards

The frame for the cooker & sink unit

Carpet starting to go on

Stove, sink and folding worktop in place

Sliding door fitted and carpeting completed

But a couple of months of hard work later:

  • we had a secure area for all our gear
  • 2 full size single beds
  • a 2 burner stove
  • a sink with an electric tap
  • a detachable table
  • and cupboards for food, plates & cups etc.

We kept two of the seats on either side of the sliding side door, since they were useful for eating at the table (and also they had seat belts fitted for any extra passengers that we might have). We put carpet on the floor and halfway up the walls for extra insulation and to make it feel homely inside.

We were able to have it reclassified by the DVLA as a motor caravan. Fantastic! We were up and running!

Meanwhile, back on tour…..we discovered almost immediately, that village halls were very happy for us to stay overnight in their car park. Not only does this mean that we have no accommodation costs, but once we’ve packed our gear into the van at the end of the concert – we’re already “home” for the night! Being able to cook meals, make coffee, wash etc in our van also saves us a lot of money whilst touring – and its great fun too! Here’s some photos of the finished Tour Bus:

The finished article looking towards the rear

Useful ambulance overhead lockers!

The other bed stacked up securely

The bed when folded down for use

With the table up

The view from the rear looking towards the cab

……and some of the places we’ve visited:

Coire Na Ciste in the Scottish Cairngorms

Nairn Harbour on a beautiful day!

On the ferry from Oban to the Isle of Coll

At Arinagour on the Isle of Coll

An RSPB Nature Reserve on the Isle of Coll

Applecross (with the village hall on the right in the distance)

The Lyth Arts Centre near Wick

The Moray Jazz Club is based here

Picturesque Adisham in Kent – a beautiful location

Stocklinch Ales Micro Brewery

Outside the Duck Inn at Pett Bottom, where Ian Fleming wrote “You Only Live Twice”

Word & photos by Ian Millar © 2019

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