The Ups and Downs of Motorhoming

I remember once staying at a caravan site somewhere in France. It was only a short stay, just a matter of days. I think we had travelled from the Loire up towards Calais and had a few days to spare before going onboard the shuttle for our trip under the channel and back to the UK. As I lay reading on my deck chair, an impressive motorhome pulled up opposite us in the camping area. This huge motorhome backed into place. The driver ambled out and set up his deck chairs, table and awning. Then he rolled out a huge TV dish, linked up to some distant satellite and finally sat down to relax.

The Germans had arrived.

I remember thinking that perhaps I wouldn’t mind a set up like that myself. Fast forward a few years and Liz and I have our own motorhome. Not quite like the German version, in fact it’s a pretty small motor home. It’s based on a Ford Transit, has a small bathroom and toilet, a kitchen area with a fridge and three ring cooker and a permanent double bed. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in someone’s wardrobe as there isn’t much space but it’s been fun pottering about France, Belgium and even Spain on a couple of occasions.

I do find myself worrying though, have we enough drinking water? Where can we empty our toilet? Luckily in France, there are numerous municipally owned aires de camping car where we can stop, sort those things out and camp for the night. In England, motorhomes are seen as pariahs. Nobody wants them on their doorstep. In lovely St Annes where we live, there is motorhome parking by the sea front but every time I click onto the St Annes Facebook page there are complaints about motorhomes. They have taken over the car park some say. A local restaurant owner says his customers can’t park because of the motorhomes. I sometimes visit that particular restaurant but I never drive there, I like my wine too much! Anyway, don’t motorhomes bring revenue to the town? Don’t motorhomers use shops and bars and restaurants, just like normal people?

One highlight of the French countryside is the local fair which usually includes a vide grenier; a car boot Sale or literally ‘empty loft’ to you. At these events there is always a bar serving draught beer (pression) or wine. At the food counter there is usually a barbecue which involves sausages cooked on the hot coals or rillettes, a sort of pâté served sometimes with warm bread.

Personally I love the frites; chips to you and me or fries to our American friends. There are generally three women on the serving desk, sometimes more. One will ask you what you want, in our case something like deux barquettes de frites, two trays of chips. The first lady will repeat this to the second lady who will pass this on the lady running the caisse, the cash till. She will ask for perhaps three euros which will be echoed by the other women. The cash will be handed over and finally the change will be passed via the three women. All this time no attempt will be made by either of the women to actually serve the frites, that job will be handled by three other women who will barack the group of chatting men, the chefs, because they have cooked too many sausages and not enough frites!

A quiet camping place by a lake at Les Sentiers du Rochereau

Another problem we have run into in Europe is filling our gas cylinder. We use LPG and have a refillable tank of gas. In France though LPG is called GPL and on our first trip in the motorhome we must have passed numerous petrol stations looking for one that sold LPG when we must have passed plenty of garages advertising GPL!

Our first European LPG top up took place in Spain and it was here I realised that the connections for gas in Europe are different to those in the UK. Despite not speaking much Spanish except for buenos dias and vino tinto, we managed to get the filling station staff to assist us. They had a connection convertor and we were able to fill up. Now Liz has picked up a handy conversion pack so now we are able to happily top up our gas wherever we are.

In a previous post I complained about the slowness of the service at a French McDonalds. The great thing about the motorhome is that we can stop, switch on the gas, fry up a couple of sausages and make tea in the time that the French McDonalds’ staff are still thinking about what to do. I’m not knocking French McDonalds, the concept of fast food is lost on them. Then again, if you’re in France why would you want to go to McDonald’s anyway? I think we went there last year because we wanted to make use of the free Wi-Fi.

In France my expert navigator, Liz, will usually sniff out a welcoming plan d’eau, a lake where you can swim and relax. Lac De Hommes is one we have visited frequently over the last two years. The first year was great, we found ourselves a nice corner parking spot and camped over for a few nights. We spent our time reading quietly by the lakeside, popping in for a swim whenever it became too warm. Later we either barbecued or ate salads parked in our small corner. The following year we arrived to find that barriers had been erected over our parking area with a height limit that prevented us from parking. Clearly, someone not a fan of motorhomes had taken over management of the site.

Sunset at Les Sentiers du Rochereau

Still, there are other lakes we have found and some just waiting to be found and happily, just around the corner from that particular lake is the small village of Gizeux, where there is a small aire de camping car a short walk from a nice village bar. When we went in 2019 the bar had sadly closed but my spies in the area have recently advised me that it is now open for business once again.

Another lake we found recently was at Brûlon in the department of Sarthe. A lovely lake with a man made beach. There is a campsite there but we chose to ‘wildcamp’ in a nice spot ideal for relaxing and a short walk to the beach. Also nearby was a cafe which served restaurant style food with a rather lovely house red.

The lake at Brûlon.

The day will come, soon I hope, when we can return to France.


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More Travels in a Motorhome.

This week Liz and I have been once again off on our travels in our motorhome. We set off on April 1st and rather than endure the long haul south to Folkestone and the horrendous traffic queues and delays we decided on another route, the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge.

This involved only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Lancashire over to Hull. One interesting aspect of this was although Yorkshire folk and those of us from west of the Pennines are sworn enemies, we are both northern and so a little northern humour and banter was the order of the day at Hull when we arrived at the port and I took a wrong turning and also when I stalled our vehicle as we were boarding the ferry. The ferry itself was also a delight. The bar was very northern in atmosphere and there was a ‘turn’ as we say ‘up north’, a vocalist and her keyboard man who knocked out some very nice songs indeed.

Off to sleep Monday night and we awoke in the morning in Belgium. There was no knocking on our cabin door by ferry staff, eager to get in and clean up for the next batch of passengers which is what we are used to with Brittany Ferries. No, with P & O everything was a little more relaxed. A little, dare I say, ‘northern’!

Belgium was looking rather sad and was covered with a grey low cloud and persistent drizzle but things brightened up as we swept into France.

After a few hours we stopped for the night at a ‘Routier’ which in France is a sort of restaurant come Truck stop. We were able to enjoy the usual lovely starter, a small plate from the buffet comprising salad, cooked meats, pates, pickles and so on. The main was a choice of two dishes, Steak or pork. The cheese board was as usual wonderful, this is France after all, and for dessert I chose ile flottant which was a meringue in a sort of cold custard. Nice and all for 13 Euros including wine.

The next day we motored on south to visit Liz’s sister who lives in the French Alps. She had mentioned the previous day that it was warm up there, 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F for all us non metric folk!) and apparently she had been swimming in the local plan d’eau, a small lake. However, on the day we decided to visit a major snowstorm blew into the Alps. Conditions were very, very Arctic indeed, in fact at one point we were almost in a ‘white out’ situation where only a thin ribbon of tarmac was discernible through the blizzard. If similar conditions had descended on the UK it would have resulted in a total grid lock on the roads there. Here, in France though, the locals were ready for bad weather and a small army of snowploughs were at work clearing and treating the roads.

Our big mistake was following the advice of the lady from Google maps who sent us up a small mountain which gradually became blocked with snow as we rose higher. Thick snowflakes were falling and as we approached the highest point, I stopped to avoid a large mound of snow and my wheels would not grip the tarmac to carry on ahead. A snowplough motored serenely past going the other way and I managed to roll back onto the snow free side of the road, turn in a small area where the road was wider and go back the way we had come. Back down the mountain we located the Autoroute where constant ploughing and treating had kept the surface clear and we finally got going once more. The route across the A40 was spectacular, changing from tunnels to bridges and more tunnels.

I clicked on my Go Pro camera which I had stuck to my window but sadly when I later transferred the files to my laptop they wouldn’t play. Of course, all the boring stuff I shot on the M62 in the UK was fine but the really spectacular views didn’t come out. It was rather like years ago when you took your camera film to be developed just knowing what great shots you had taken and for one reason or other they just didn’t come out. I was not happy. I hadn’t used the camera for a while but I had charged it up and fitted a new and better memory card. Oh well, that’s technology for you!

The next day it was cool but sunny and most of the snow had vanished. We motored on further south and stopped in the small lakeside town of St Chamas. We were hoping to stop in the camping car area but sadly it was under renovation but we managed to find a spot in the local car park.

Driving a motorhome makes you very aware of consumables like water and gas and also of the waste products you are creating. I’m not sure actually how much our toilet holds but I do find myself worrying about it getting too full and wherever possible we try to use public toilets. The great thing about France is that they actively welcome visitors in motorhomes and provide a lot of facilities for them, toilet dumps, waste disposal, drinking water and so on. Back home in the UK it is almost impossible to find such amenities unless you pay to go on a camping site.

A busy motorhome stop at Pelissanne.

After a wet evening in the town of Pelissanne where we were able to empty our onboard toilet we carried on to a lovely motorhome site situated in a olive oil farm near the town of Trouillas. The site was completely free and there was a shower and washing area available. The staff encourage campers to visit their shop and purchase some of their lovely olive oil products but otherwise, stopping here is completely free.

Day 9 of our trip saw us head further south and cross the border into Spain. In fact as I write this in a quiet motorhome parking spot in Cantallops across from what I hope will be a lovely restaurant, the clouds are clearing and the sun has appeared.

Fuel is much cheaper over in Spain, pity I filled the tank up in France! While I’m on the subject of money, in the UK I had got myself a post office card and topped it up with Euros. It’s quite handy for most purchases except in the french service stations where it has been declined it all but one so far.

One more thing though, I really am not happy about that video!


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Four Random Thoughts on a Sun Lounger

fourrandomOne

Lying on a sunbed under a blue sky and a hot sun must be one of the most relaxing and therapeutic things I can think of. The only sound is the rippling of the water in the heated pool and the rumbling of my own thoughts and I am thinking that as I write this it’s the last day of my holiday and in a few days time I’ll be back at work again, ploughing through a thousand e-mails, if not more.  Tomorrow someone else will be sitting here, in my villa, in my seat, drinking wine from my glass and contemplating the blue sky that I so love. I particularly like the heated pool and it has been great to swim every day and my fitness levels must have improved. A few years back I hurt my neck and it’s hard for me to twist and take a breath in the water so what was so good for me was that I was able to swim the whole length of this rather small pool in one breath. When we stayed in Portugal last year and had a big pool I was struggling to get to the other end underwater!

Two

One other thing that I enjoy when lying in the sun is listening to music on my MP3 player. As much as I have embraced technology I have been a bit of a late starter when it comes to MP3 players. It was only about two or three years ago that I changed from a car with a tape player to one with a CD player and since then I have had to start making CDs to play when I’m motoring rather than the tapes I’ve been making ever since cassette tape recorders appeared in the early seventies. Of course, once the CDs are copied to your PC it’s a pretty easy matter to then pop them onto your MP3 player. Quite recently I came across some software that has enabled me to digitise some of my old tapes and vinyl records. One of my favourite tapes was something I concocted over thirty years ago and has soundtrack music from my favourite films and TV shows along with some of my favourite dialogue too, things like Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront, James Garner and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, and Michael Caine in Alfie. It’s almost surreal to lie here under the warm sun listening -not to the latest downloads but to a compilation I put together over thirty years ago!

Three

This is a lovely villa, near to the bars and restaurants and from the balcony I can see the flickering of the flags on the boats in the harbour. At our favourite bar the Café Beruggo, the staff turned out in force to say goodbye which was really nice. Of course the last days of a holiday are always sad and it’s hard to hand over the property to the next holiday maker. It was just as hard when I was much younger and the holidays of my childhood were spent in rented caravans in places like Skegness, Prestatyn, Blackpool and Rhyl. I remember one such holiday when my brother and I ran excitedly through the caravan park following instructions on the lines of ‘go to the third row, turn left and your caravan is at the end with the red roof.’ Well, we went past lots of modern looking caravans, turned left but the one at the end was an old van, looking for all the world like one of those caravans you see seemingly abandoned in some corner of a farmer’s field or on a construction site. That couldn’t be our van? Surely not! When my dad tried the key and it worked, we entered into this old and rather dingy caravan in a state of disappointment and settled down for our week’s holiday. It was so ancient that it had gas lights that were lit by a match. The van filled with that aroma of calor gas that I always liked and I remember playing cards and board games at night lit by the glow of those lamps. Those were the days when Mum booked the holiday from a classified advert in the Manchester Evening News so we never knew what to expect. That particular caravan was a disappointment but there were others that she booked that were wonderful.

Four

One final thought on caravans. Once, a few years ago, Liz and I stopped for a few days at a caravan park in France. Our van was opposite the touring section and I remember one day, sitting in my deck chair in the sun reading a book when a foreign motor home trundled over and parked up opposite. The motor home was towing a small car which was unhooked and parked. Then a huge awning was wound out from the motor home, a ground sheet dropped down, and various items of garden furniture appeared. Not long after that our new neighbour rolled out something that looked like a circular wheelie bin. As I gazed on over the rim of my paperback the top of the object opened and a huge satellite dish that surely must have been NASA surplus stock was raised and aimed at some distant TV station. The Germans had arrived.


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