A Day in the Life of a Motorhomer

I’m not sure a motorhomer is even a word but language evolves, new words appear and it’s pretty exciting to think that this particular new word -Motorhomer- first appeared in the pages of this humble blog. After a few weeks of living in our motorhome I thought I’d try and give you a flavour of just what motorhome life is like. OK, here we go.

Morning.

It takes me a while to get used to sleeping in our motorhome. It’s only small and there is a little dip just at the point of my lower back which has given me some backache in the past but lately I’ve learnt to either avoid it or just live with it. Another issue that affexts our sleep is the way the van is parked but I’ll come back to that later. My place on the bed is over by the window and there is no way out for me except by climbing over Liz so one of my rules is to not have beer prior to going to bed. Otherwise I’ll be waking in the night wanting to wee and struggling to get out. Even so, I’m usually the first one up so I’ll shuffle over to the small bathroom for a wash and a shave.

On summer mornings I can handle a wash in cold water but as summer has come to a close I’m less inclined to do that. I can switch on the water heater but usually I just put a pan of water on the hob.

Despite the bathroom being small, actually very small, there is a basin, toilet and even a shower in there. To shower it’s important to switch on the water heater first, pull out the panels that keep the water away from the toilet and basin and then switch on the water. In a motorhome I’m always aware that there isn’t an endless supply of water so a good idea is to apply shower gel liberally to the body, switch on the water and get washed as quickly as possible using as little water as you can.

Note to self: Don’t drop the soap as it’s pretty difficult to bend down and pick it up in these cramped conditions.

Shower over, towel yourself down, get dressed and get the kettle on before hanging your towel out in the sun on the bike carrier to the rear of the van.

Next I’ll check my emails while the van chef, Liz, gets herself ready too.

I’m a big lover of breakfast. In fact I’m even tempted to say it’s my favourite meal of the day and I love a standard English breakfast. Bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes and eggs, preferably poached, served with toast. That can be a little difficult on the cramped three ring stove in the van so lately we’ve been having a bacon omelette with some French bread. I’ll either walk to a bakery if there is one nearby or we usually have some bread in our little freezer which always keeps pretty well.

Noon

Another option is to not have breakfast at all but to save ourselves for lunch. In France there are many places that serve a cheap lunchtime menu which will consist of a buffet starter, a simple main meal, a cheese course and a dessert.

We found an excellent restaurant near to Parçay Les Pins called the Restaurant De La Gare, the Station Restaurant. The buffet starter is always my favourite and I fill my plate with pâté, cold meats, coleslaw and various salad items. A basket of French bread will appear and is usually topped up when it gets low. Vin de table is provided as well as some chilled water and on this occasion,  a large bottle of cider as well. Not bad for 12.50 euros each!

OK, breakfast (or lunch) over it’s time to head off.

We will usually be parked in an aire in France and these special parking places, reserved for motor homes tend to have all the important things we might need. A very important thing is a place to empty the van toilet. It’s not a pleasant task but I tend to empty it whenever we get the opportunity. A lot of French aires have a water pipe to help you rinse your toilet cassette but many require a token, a jeton that is usually available from nearby local shops although there are many aire de camping cars that are completely free.

The van navigator (Liz) will usually have perused google maps for a plan d’eau, a French swimming lake and we’ll be off to find it. We usually factor in a stop for some French bread and some more French cheese as well as a box of wine.

It’s important of course to keep a check on our fuel. We usually fill up with diesel at French supermarkets as they tend to be cheaper than the usual petrol stations. What can be a bit of a pain is that many of them are unmanned. That’s not really a problem except I tend to use a travel card that I preload with Euros and it’s not accepted at unmanned petrol stations. Then I have to pull out my credit card and pay the foreign currency fee.

Our fridge and cooker are powered by LPG, liquid petroleum gas and we always keep a look out for stations that provide gas. The big problem when we first came to France was finding a petrol station with LPG. There didn’t seem to be any until eventually, we realised that in France it’s called GPL! Duh!

Swimming

In the French alps this year we found a fabulous lake. It was in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. It had a parking place for camping cars, the French name for motorhomes and it wasn’t too busy.

Various French people arrived around 12 noon with picnic baskets for lunch and few had a pre lunch swim. The water in the lake was lovely and cool and it was wonderful to have a swim and then lie back on our towels and dry off in the sun.

Over on the other side a couple of fishermen dipped their rods in the water and waited patiently for the fish to bite. We read our books, competed against each other to finish that day’s sudoku and swam some more.

Later it’s time to find somewhere to stop for the night. Usually, we will stop by the lake or if we are trying to make our way to somewhere in particular, we might get a few miles under our belt before stopping again.

On our last trip we had planned one evening to visit a restaurant where we have stopped before. The restaurant, Micheline’s in the village of Berny Rivière, is not far from a large camping and holiday spot. Sadly, when we arrived we found it was closed and the owners had gone on holiday after the camp site, presumably the source of most of their customers, had closed at the end of the summer. We were very disappointed. We found a place to park, not far from another restaurant but then the heavens opened and an almighty downpour began. Oh well. I decanted some wine and Liz made us some food and just as it was time to serve, the rain cleared and the evening sun came out.

The downpours in France always make me think of something that happened to me years ago when I was hitch hiking in France. I was making my way to Paris in order to get the train back home and it began to rain. It was pretty heavy and I was sheltering under a small porch but then I noticed a bus top on the other side of the road. I ran across but just then the rain came down, or so it seemed, in one almighty whoosh and it was if I’d decided to run under a waterfall. I got to the bus stop completely soaked. The rain cleared and the sun began to beat down again and as I walked along, steam began to rise off me!

Evening

On summer evenings I will usually get out our table and chairs and our little gas barbecue and we’ll have some salad with sausages and whatever meat we have bought cooked on the barbecue. We might finish with some cheese washed down with a glass of wine. Lovely.

Later we’ll be off to sleep but making sure the van is parked properly is very important. A tilt to the left and Liz will be rolling over and crowding me. Over to the right and I’ll be crowding her. A slight tilt forward and we tend to slide off our pillows and down the bed. If we have to have a tilt its better to tilt back toward our pillows but we do have chocks which we can slip under the wheels to level us up.

The sun going down after a day by a plan d’eau

We usually relax in the evenings with a book or an iPad but looking around I’ve seen some fabulous motorhomes this year, some with impressive satellite dishes so the occupants can watch TV. We’ve even seen some vehicles with a trailer towing a small car so they can park up and then drive off into town.

Personally, I’m happy with a good book.


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A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits (Part 3)

Sometimes, as a writer of blogs, I end up with a few bit and bobs of a blog that I know aren’t going to make it into a full blown blog post. So, what can I do except maybe pull them all in together and give them a title like A Bit of a Blog. See where I’m going here? Of course you do. Let’s crack on then. .

As I write this, I’m in France once again as Liz and I have decided to nip over to the continent. We came over earlier this year and have wanted to return for a while but various appointments and arrangements have been in place, keeping us at home but what the heck we thought, time for another trip in our motorhome.

September isn’t perhaps the best time to visit France. Yes things are quieter, holidays are over and the kids have gone back to school but the summer is largely over too. We had planned a week touring in our motorhome followed by a week in a French gîte which we have rented before followed by another week touring. As it happened, when we booked the gîte, the owner very kindly advised that the property was empty the week prior to us arriving and so if we wished, we could arrive whenever we liked.

As a member of the Order of Northern Tightwads, this of course was music to my ears. Free rental at a French villa with a swimming pool! Ok, no touring for us. We literally raced down to the villa arriving in a matter of 48 hours.

Our first day was wonderful. The sun poured down warmly, we swam in the pool and between dips, relaxed on our sun loungers. Day 2 at the villa was a washout, it rained all day, but happily day three was an improvement. So far, despite the mixed weather, I’ve managed to swim every day which has always been one of my goals on holiday; to relax but also to do a little exercise.

Another important exercise in France is to get out and about and mix with the locals a bit. I’m not much of a lunch person, I kind of like my usual late breakfast but a few times on this holiday we’ve skipped breakfast and headed down to a fairly nearby restaurant, the Restaurant à La Gare, or the Station restaurant to you. It’s about a ten minute drive away from Parçay Les Pins where we are staying and it does a four course lunch (yes, four courses) for a measly 12.50 euros, including wine. Ok, the wine is vin ordinaire, the cheap French wine found in most places in France but to be honest, it’s the kind of wine I like, not strong, fairly tasty and hugely quaffable. I’ll have a glass with my starter which involves a trip to the buffet table for all kinds of salad, cold meats, pâtés and so on. Our basket of bread is routinely filled by the waitress who then brings the next course which is jambon (ham) served with either frites, rice or petis pois. Time for more vin ordinaire and by the way I went for the frites. Top up the wine for the cheese course and then there is the dessert. I fancied a little ice cream but instead I had meringue with cold custard (île flottante). I prefer my custard the English way, warm but what the heck, at 12.50 Euros each I wasn’t likely to complain.

The Queen

Last week on the 8th September the Queen passed away. I’m not a particular royalist and there is a lot I don’t like about the Royal Family but the Queen is someone I’ve always admired. She had a dignity and elegance never to be found elsewhere in the British political scene. Whenever controversy emerged she rose above it and stayed discreetly silent, whatever criticism arose in the news media.

She has been, I’ve always thought, the glue that holds together the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As long as I’ve lived, she has been the Queen. I wonder now, how the country will change?

Books

So, what else have I done on this trip? Well I’ve read books, after all reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I took it upon myself some time ago to read the entire library of Hamish Macbeth novels. They are not great works of literature but the world of books has everything for everyone and sometimes, I just like an old fashioned, easy going mystery read. Here in France, I’ve just finished Death of a Scriptwriter, the 14th entry into the series which wasn’t actually one of the best. The previous two were very good though, Death of a Macho Man and Death of a Dentist. If you are not familiar with Hamish Macbeth, he is a constable in a Scottish highland village. He likes to apply the rule of law in his own way, taking away the car keys from drink drivers before they leave the pub, giving various minor bootleggers a warning before removing their illegal stills and he’s not averse to poaching the odd salmon. The books are wonderful, quirky murder mysteries which Hamish always solves but tries to give credit to others in case his bosses think of promoting him and moving him away from his beloved village of Lochdubh.

A somewhat different kettle of crimefighting fish is private detective Philip Marlowe and a while back I picked up a Raymond Chandler anthology containing three of his Marlowe books, The Big Sleep, Farewell my Lovely and The Long Goodbye.

I wrote about the first novel, The Big Sleep a while back. It is a brilliant novel, one of my favourite ever reads and I particularly like the opening where he is engaged by General Sternwood to look into an issue of blackmailing.

Book 2, Farewell My Lovely, starts off well. It’s about Moose Malloy, an oversized fellow looking for Velma, an old flame. Marlowe gets in on the hunt as well as looking into another case and later finds both are related. I read the first part of the novel pretty much all in one go and enjoyed it very much. The next quarter was a little confusing. (During the filming of The Big Sleep the director and his stars wondered who killed the character of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood’s chauffeur. They sent a cable to Raymond Chandler asking him. Chandler told a friend later ‘Dammit, I don’t know either!)’ Happily, in Farewell My Lovely, everything finally came together towards the end.

Dilys Powell called Chandler’s writing ‘a peculiar mixture of harshness, sensuality, high polish and backstreet poetry’ and it’s easy to see why. The Long Goodbye has been unputdownable. The mix of fabulous descriptive text and authentic dialogue has got me hooked and I love hearing about the Hollywood Hills, Mulholland Drive where so many film stars lived as well as Romanoff’s, the famous Hollywood restaurant.

Not quite sure how to finish off this blog post so let’s go with the trailer for The Big Sleep, the 1944 version starring Humphrey Bogart.


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A Few Holiday Reflections

It’s always a bit of a let down when you return home after a holiday. The weather isn’t that great, there’s a whole lot of washing to do of your holiday clothes. You start wishing things like, maybe we should have had another week? We were travelling in a motorhome and I start to think why didn’t we go there or go to see that? There’s always the next trip of course and the good thing is that as I’m now retired, I don’t have to go back to work. Anyway, while I’m feeling a little deflated looking out at the rather dull suburban view from my window it might be a good idea to take a look back at the last few weeks in France.

One of the things I’ve always liked about France is their laid-back lifestyle. Over there, and perhaps more so in the rural areas than the big cities, everything stops for lunch. No, not a quick sandwich grabbed on a 30-minute break, lunch times in France are something to be enjoyed and for care to be taken over. Shops close between 12 and 2 pm and it’s only in recent years that some supermarkets will stay open during those times.

At picnic tables all over france, the French descend on sunny days with huge containers of food and wine. Tablecloths are laid and the food is eaten and enjoyed at leisure.

Restaurants in France always have a plat du jour, a dish of the day and many are served as part of a formula menu comprising of starter, main, dessert and/or cheese. I always thought that the plat du jour was something a French restaurant had to serve but I couldn’t find any evidence of that on the internet so perhaps it’s just a tradition. Plenty of bread is always served with a French meal and it is usual for the waiter to top up your bread basket when he or she sees it is empty.

My favourite French restaurants are those which have a buffet starter. There is usually a small choice of main courses but over on the buffet table there will be a large selection of salads, cold rice and pasta dishes, pâté, cold meats in various dressings, shredded carrots and chopped beetroot. I try to avoid the various fishy dishes like cold rice and tuna but I usually find my plate piled with goodies.

House wine is usually served by the pichet, small jugs. Very small at 25cl and larger ones at 50cl. On hot summer days I tend to go for the house rose but more often than not Liz and I will share a pichet of red.

Cheese in a French restaurant with a pichet of vin rouge

Our first French meal this year was in the Buffalo Grill, a franchised restaurant you will see all over France. It’s like an English steak house serving steak, burgers, ribs and so on. A small salad in a bowl came first before our choice of mains. Mine was an excellent cheeseburger, Liz had a steak and the dessert was some ice cream.

In the town of Saumur, we had our first proper French lunch. The starter was the lovely French buffet I talked about above and the main was confit duck for Liz and a chicken in curry sauce for me. Curry is an unusual dish to find in France as the French don’t seem to go in for spicy food. The curry sauce was to me very mild and more of a slightly curry flavoured cream sauce. It came with fries and the traditional green beans and I have to say, I do love French green beans.

Curried chicken and frites

For dessert we ordered ice cream for me and cheese for Liz and we split the two between us. It was a lovely meal although perhaps a little too much for someone like me who rarely eats lunch.

Most weekends we scour the internet and find ourselves a few brocantes or vide greniers to visit. Vide greniers or car boot sales are usually part of a village fete and there will also be music, wine and food to be found. I remember going to one a few years ago which was interrupted by a pretty heavy shower of rain. In the UK, the vendors would have quickly packed up and been off but in France it was a different story. Plastic covers were quickly whipped out and people took shelter in the food and bar area. Liz and I stood at the bar and drank a glass of cheap red wine and when the skies cleared, we carried on looking for bargains.

I like travelling in our motorhome but after a few weeks living in a somewhat cramped environment I was glad to get to our French villa. I say our French villa even though it is a rental property. We have stayed here a couple of times before and it is ideally placed for everything we need although a bar or restaurant within walking distance would be nice.

The sun going down after a day by a plan d’eau

At the villa I usually try to act like a writer. I get up fairly early and after a cup of tea and a quick scan of my emails on my iPad I crank up my laptop and do some work on my writing projects. In my draft blog folder I’ve currently got eight blogs awaiting attention. Most are just ideas but some are partly written blog posts that need an injection of effort and inspiration to get them finished. The sequel to Floating in Space is still only half finished but I still chip away at it, a few pages at a time as well as a few other stories, screenplays and poems that all need urgent work.

After a little of that it’s time for a late breakfast, brunch might be a better word, and to have a swim and a read by the pool. I remember once reading about Noel Coward that while staying at his house in Jamaica, he rose at 8 am and worked at his writing until 12 when lunch was served. No wonder he produced a fine body of work while I have only produced one novel and one poetry anthology.

A big disappointment on this last trip was the failure of one of my video cameras, my GoPro Hero. I had intended to put together another travel video and at first, I thought it wasn’t going to be possible as I hadn’t shot enough video. However, looking back through my video files I see I’ve got hours of unused video from our previous trips so perhaps I can just cobble something together after all.

Looking back through some of my old video I came across what was quite a scary moment. We were travelling through the town of Rouen, a lovely old town but quite a busy one. I’m always a little nervous driving in big cities, especially in an area where there is lots of traffic and also when the road goes into multiple lanes. I’m pretty good at driving on the right-hand side but in multiple lanes I find myself drifting to the left-hand lane and I usually have to say to myself, Steve, get over to the right.

As you leave Rouen, there are numerous roundabouts and the French have come up with an interesting congestion busting idea. If you are carrying straight on you can duck under the roundabouts down a tunnel and in fact, Google maps which we often use, tends to direct you down into the tunnels. The big problem is that our motorhome is between 2.8 and 2.9 metres in height, just over 9 foot and the tunnels have a height limit of 2.6 metres if I remember correctly. One year I was getting flustered and ended up in the lane for the tunnel but then realised I wasn’t going to fit. Luckily there was an exit lane back to the main carriageway and after some scary reversing we managed to get out.

A big disappointment this year was not seeing much of my favourite cheese, Rondele Bleu. It’s a blue cheese produced in a light mousse style. I think we managed to buy the last tub in one supermarket and then failed to find it again in any other store.

Naturally, we brought quite a bit of French wine and cheese back to the UK but already our stocks are getting low. Time to plan another trip perhaps?


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Returning to France and The Kindness of Strangers

After months of waiting due to Covid, lockdowns and illness, Liz and I finally found the time to mosey off to France in our motorhome once again. It was a bit of a snap decision really but once we made it I checked the motorhome and its oil and water and generally got it ready for our holiday. The battery didn’t seem too good so I plugged in the charger and after a good 12 hours it still wasn’t looking good so we called the RAC and they came over and fitted a new battery on the morning of our departure. The fridge had already been switched over to gas to cool it down ready for an influx of various yummy foodstuffs but sadly when we set off and changed to internal power, the indicator didn’t light up on the fridge. We knew it worked OK on gas but as our trip on the channel tunnel had been booked, we had to set off and hope for the best.

We’d planned an overnight stop down south at a place called the Bricklayer’s Arms in Chipstead, Sevenoaks, a lovely looking village pub that allows people in motorhomes to park up as long as they buy beer or food. Various delays meant that it looked like we were going to arrive just before the food deadline of 9:30. We did but were advised that the kitchen had just closed due to it being quiz night. They offered to serve us a portion of chips each with our beers so we reluctantly had to settle for that. Had we arrived an hour earlier, for £15 we could have joined in the quiz and had a 2 course meal. Damn the M6!

The next day was pretty warm and it felt like the aircon wasn’t up to the job so we made a diversion to a garage Liz found on the internet for a regassing of our aircon system while we settled down with a cup of tea and a sandwich.

We were actually early for our channel tunnel crossing and we expected that as usual we would just be allocated an earlier train but sadly the prior crossings were fully booked but they told us to just go over to the embarkation area anyway and see if we could slip onto an earlier train. The channel tunnel of course isn’t a tunnel that you can drive through, all the crossings are made on specially built trains. After passing through customs, both British and French, we seemed to be waiting for forever to get moving and it turned out that the previous train had broken down. Anyway, we eventually crossed over to the continent about 40 minutes later than planned and headed for our first stopping place, a small motorhome aire based on a rural farm. We initially thought it was free but it turned out to be 10 euros per night. It had toilet emptying facilities and as our toilet was pretty full from a previous trip, that came in pretty handy.

We carried on the next day and made our way to a lake in Brûlon. We visited this lake 2 years ago, the last time we came to France and parked by the lake. There is a restaurant and campsite but when we checked at the campsite reception the staff told us we couldn’t park overnight by the lake but had to pay to book into the camping area. We checked with a few of the numerous other motorhomes parked by the lake and were assured that they had been coming here for years and yes, we could park overnight as they were certainly going to.

The lake at Brulon

This year, a new sign had appeared that advised motorhomes were only allowed to park by the lake from 07:00 to 23:00 hours. OK we thought. We’d park in the car park overnight and return to the lake in the morning, which is what we did. The only real problem was that the local youths and their 2 stroke 75cc bikes and scooters used to meet up late at night, do a few quick wheelies and then having thoroughly woken us up, ride off into the night.

One day, having departed to visit a vide grenier or pick up some supplies we returned and noticed another sign, no motorhome camping allowed except on the campsite. The campsite of course demanded payment to park our small motorhome and as this was in direct contravention of the Tightwads Society Prime Directive (I think I have mentioned before that I am a founder member) we decided to move on.

Liz, an absolute wizard with Google maps had found another lake just by the small village of Chantenay-Villedieu. The temperature was getting hotter and hotter so we decided to park up for a few nights, there being no restrictions and also a motorhome toilet emptying area with a fresh water tap.

A motorhome aire in Doué La Fontaine

Day 1 by the lake was quiet with the lake mostly to ourselves. A sign denoted bathing was OK 13:30 hours to 18:30 hours so at the appointed time, 1:30, we slipped into the cool waters for a swim. Later a number of anglers appeared and set about the business of catching fish.

Day 2 was pretty similar except that at about 3 pm when again, we had the lake mostly to ourselves a car hurtled up the gravel track and two youths alighted and jumped into the lake. I’ll call them Noisy Frog #1 and Noisy Frog #2. Noisy Frog #1 ran headlong into the lake and began shouting and screaming as if he had been thrown into an arctic pond. Noisy Frog #2 joined in with a similar reaction and this went on for some time, totally ruining my afternoon nap. Later Noisy Frog 3 arrived with Noisy Frog Dog #1. Noisy Frog Dog #1 ran around annoying everyone and despite various vocal commands delivered at full volume from the noisy frog contingent, the dog just carried on running around annoying everyone. Later as the temperature increased and more people arrived, the noisy people seemed to settle down until round about 6pm. At that time we had set up our little gas barbecue on a picnic table and the noisy frogs decided this would be a good time to start kicking a ball about right next to us. Liz directed some choice French at them and to their credit, they took their ball game and their dog to a safe distance.

The lake at Chantenay-Villedieu.

Day 3 was hot and another busy afternoon but we did have most of the morning to ourselves. We moved a little further away from the centre of the lake which meant a short stroll for our frequent dips (the temperature hit 100F) but it was a little quieter and my naps and reading were undisturbed. We had also noticed that despite extra signage going up banning all swimming, the local populace didn’t seem to give a flying monkey’s either way and went swimming whenever they wanted to. Naturally as it was so warm we joined them too having a night swim just before bedtime that night which was hugely refreshing.

We journeyed further south on a warm Saturday evening and we came into a small village where Liz had spotted a French restaurant with good reviews. Now I wasn’t getting my hopes up because in the French countryside, nothing much happens on an evening, not even on Saturday evening. The restaurant was closed and nothing was open except for a small bar which did not serve food. We stopped for a small but refreshing beer then carried on, eventually coming into the town of La Flèche. Not far from our chosen aire de camping car we spotted a Buffalo Grill Restaurant and decided to give it a try. Surprisingly it was open and very busy but most importantly it was air conditioned. We managed to get a small table and the fare was burgers and steaks, just like you might find in a British pub restaurant but of course with a French twist. Carafes of various sizes were available for the very nice house wine. A small salad came first followed by a steak for Liz and a cheeseburger for me. My burger was really nice, in fact it tasted like a much nicer and fresher Big Mac. Liz’s steak had to be sent back twice as the French like to cook a steak as little as possible. All in all it was a lovely meal.

For the final part of our three week holiday we had rented a villa in the small village of Parçay Le Pins. It’s a rather lovely place with a nice pool. We’ve rented the place before and Liz noticed there were four days free so she negotiated us a short stay at a knock down price. Despite me taking out all unnecessary goods from our motorhome before departing from the UK, we found a bag of charcoal in there so we decided to use the villa’s barbecue and have ourselves a ‘proper’ barbecue which was rather lovely.

Out in the French countryside I’ve always liked sitting outside watching the sun sink down and the stars emerge whilst sipping a glass of vin rouge and nibbling on some French cheese. My video camera had conked out while at the villa and my back up camera switched on OK but then didn’t stop until my memory card had been filled with one endless shot of driving through the French countryside. Oh well, so much for the video version of this post then!

Somehow, sitting there contemplating life and the universe and my favourite French cheeses and red wine, it didn’t really seem to matter.

The Kindness of Strangers.

Unlike Blanche Dubois, I’ve never relied on the kindness of strangers but that problem with the motorhome fridge I mentioned earlier was really bugging me. I wasn’t sure what to do except for a cursory check of the fridge itself and its various switches and connections. We decided to put a post on the Facebook motorhome site that we belong to asking for information. A few people answered saying to check the fuses which sometimes blow after a new battery fitting. Where were the fuses though? Other Facebook motorhomers advised that they were behind the driver’s seat in a rather difficult to access position. I checked the fuse and replaced it. No change. Another site member mentioned that there was another fuse box, under our bed. Nigel, one of the admins for the page was very helpful and during our night stopover we lifted up the bed, found the fuse box and changed that one too. Still no change. Nigel then mentioned that as he was in France already, staying at his French property, we were welcome to come and visit him, stay the night in our van on his drive and he would help us solve the problem.

We thanked Nigel and agreed to come and visit. Nigel and his wife were waiting for us with both a nice bottle of red and his barbecue warming nicely. They made us welcome, we had a nice evening together and it didn’t seem to matter that the fridge had starting working again all on its own.

The next day we said goodbye having made two new friends.


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Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 13

2021 has been an odd year for me and for most people too I expect. I’ve spent half of it in lockdown and the other half nursing a sore neck and shoulder. Finally, though, the lockdown has eased, things are getting back to normal and Liz and I have jetted off to Lanzarote, one of our favourite places.

Of course we should have been here back in January but Covid 19 and the lockdown put paid to that. Still, here we are, the sun is out and we are ready to enjoy.

In the film The VIPs, Margaret Rutherford observes that flying is a very strange form of locomotion. I tried to find the clip on YouTube but failed but here’s something that will give you a general flavour of her flight.

Flying today has hardly improved. To board a flight these days you must travel vast distances across Manchester Airport, be X rayed, checked and double checked. Asked numerous questions and because of Covid 19 be asked to prove you have been fully vaccinated and fill in passenger locator forms explaining where you will be and what you are doing. These forms cannot be done well in advance, they can only be filled in 48 hours before you travel adding to the stress of the departure. Will I manage to do them in time? Will I be able to print them off? Well, we are here in Lanzarote so we must have filled them in correctly as the Spanish airport staff looked at them and declared us fit to enter their country.

Then of course there is the stress of the flight itself. Flying by budget airlines it is easy to see that cramming that extra paying customer on board takes priority over comfort, so naturally we are squashed into our rather small seats, sold microwaved cheese and ham toastie snacks and tea in cardboard cups at ridiculous prices which, outside of the aircraft, one could normally buy an entire box of tea bags, a loaf of bread, and large portions of cheese and ham. After that the staff continually try to flog us perfumes and other duty free goods that we really don’t want.

One day I’d like to travel on a flight just like the ones I have seen on films, you know, with big comfy seats and lots of extras. In the film Die Hard II, while Bruce Willis is sorting out a bunch of terrorists down at the airport, his wife is travelling on an aircraft with lots of leg room and can even make phone calls from her seat. OK, terrorists have taken over the airport below and her plane is running out of fuel but at least she is comfy and I’ll bet she wasn’t charged £4.50 for a cheese and ham toastie.

The pool, a Lanzarote evening, an aircraft tea and the setting for evening food and wine.

After the stress of travelling, it was nice to settle down in our lovely rented villa and begin to enjoy the delightful weather. In Lanzarote, the weather is always perfect, or so it seems to me. It is not too hot and not too cold. As I write this the temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. For those of you who prefer Celsius that equates to about 21 of their degrees but either way, it a very pleasant temperature indeed. Perfect for lying in the sun, (a favourite pastime of mine) reading, (another) and swimming (yet another one)!

The villa is lovely, fairly near to the marina with its bars and restaurants but still in a quiet area. Over the way a new hotel has sprung up, still in the early days of the building process but the builders are remarkably quiet given the huge size of the project. When we came here back in January 2020 I noticed that quite a few building projects seemed to be under way. I remarked last time that work had recommenced on a villa behind a huge advertising hoarding announcing ‘opening in 2017’. That was 2020 but the Spanish are not ones to rush things. They have a similar philosophy to my own, there is always mañana.

Today’s surprise event came after a naked swim in the pool. We were drying off in the sun when we heard the call of the lesser spotted pool cleaner. ‘Morning! Pool cleaner!’ They were gracious enough to make a hasty retreat while we made ourselves presentable.

I have brought a small collection of books with me so hopefully I will be able to create another Holiday Book Bag blog post, something I have not done for a very long time.

Well, that’s about it from me this week. What should I do now? Have another swim, read a little or just decant some vino tinto for later?


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https://youtu.be/JzJA9YIAGls

Thoughts From A Sun Lounger Part 12

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these sun lounger posts. The simple reason is that just lately I’ve not been anywhere near a sun lounger to have any sun lounger thoughts. However, the sun has finally appeared over North West England, the temperature has gone up and finally it has been time to drag the sun lounger out from its winter hiding place. As the lockdown is still ongoing despite a recent thaw it has not been possible to drive over to France or fly to Lanzarote and take in some sun so the only sun lounging I’ve been doing lately has been in our own back garden, thinking idly back to those halcyon days before Covid 19 when Liz and I were free to roam the continent in search of wine, bread, French restaurants, Spanish Tapas, the sea and the quiet of the French countryside.

The French countryside really is huge and I do love the quiet. Silence is pretty hard to find these days, especially in a big city like Manchester but in rural France, the absence of sound is something pretty profound. Close your eyes while lying on a sunlounger and it takes a while for a city boy like me to take in the silence. No traffic, no shouting, no electronic noises, just silence. After a while new sounds begin to emerge, the sound of birds perhaps, the sound of a gentle breeze, a tractor out in the fields or the faint rumble of one of my favourite sounds, the drone of a small aircraft.

I conjectured in an old post that perhaps in a previous life I was a pilot. A barnstormer in the American west perhaps or a pilot from the Royal Flying Corps. I read a book once called Soul Survivor, a story of reincarnation; a small boy troubled by incessant nightmares of being trapped in a burning aircraft. As time went on the boy remembered more of his nightmares, details of his aircraft, the aircraft carrier he flew from and the pilots he flew and died with. It was quite a story and when the parents of the boy traced the actual pilot who the boy claimed to be, the similarities between the boy and the World War II fighter pilot were amazing. I do love the sound of small aircraft though and just lately, lying in my sun bed, the sound of small aircraft flying from nearby Blackpool airport awakens a distant memory inside me. Perhaps it is the memory of being a young plane spotter at Manchester Airport many years ago, or is it the distant memory of another life?

One time in France we were relaxing with our barbeque just by a plan d’eau after an afternoon swimming and we heard the familiar drone. This time it was a paraglider drifting serenely across the blue sky.

Another simple quality in rural France is the lack of light pollution. In the city, things such as street lighting, neon lights and illuminated advertising hoardings all contribute an abundance of light but here in the country, darkness is something different; a deep, sensuous blackness that almost overwhelms the senses.

Lying back on your chair or lounger in the soft, warm evening and looking up at the sky is a wonderful sensation. Without the interference of ambient light, the sky at night is a whole new world. An enigmatic velvet vista opens up to the naked eye with myriads of stars, some the merest pinpricks, others great beacons in the sky.

Peering into the night sky on one memorable evening, I noticed a particular star, much brighter than the others. It was then I remembered that on my iPad I have an app that can tell you which stars are in the sky. The star in question was not the pole star as I had surmised but Vega. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light years away from us, here on Earth.

One of the great things about the summer has to be the barbeque. Liz makes the most amazing salads to go with our food; homemade slaws and various mixes of crunchy green leaves and sliced tomatoes and onions to go with our burgers, sausages and steaks. I love it when the coals are hot and ready and the meat sizzles when it hits the barbeque. I do miss our French meals though. We had a brief visit to France in 2020 between lockdowns and I remember one lovely meal sat outside a hotel restaurant we have visited a few times. I had a cool French rose served with a starter of crudités and pâtés and fresh bread. Afterwards with a bottle of red came the main course, a nice steak. I have to say I worry about ordering a steak in France. The French tend to undercook a steak so I always ask for it to be cooked well done rather than my usual medium. The thing is, will the chef think that those stupid English want their food cremated as usual and actually give me a really well-done steak instead of a medium? Perhaps I should just ask for the omelette with fromage?

One of our favourite restaurants is in the north of France, not far from Calais. We found the restaurant just by chance, miles from anywhere. Liz and I stopped for an early evening meal one day and we have returned many times since. For starters I chose celery soup and Liz ordered the pâté.

I was a little disappointed with the rather small empty dish that was presented to me but then a huge tureen of soup arrived which was wonderful and produced about four small servings, one of which went to Liz while I sampled her pâté which was full of rustic flavours and was perfect served with fresh French bread.

The main course was a simple omelette, light and fluffy with a fresh salad and Liz’s fish was lovely with a creamy curry like sauce, unusual for French country cooking.

Anyway, as the weather had improved it was time to take a run out in our motorhome. Looking on the internet motorhomes don’t seem to be too popular lately, especially here in St Annes which is a seaside destination in its own right. Not as brash as nearby Blackpool with its Pleasure Beach and kiss me quick hats but also not as posh as Lytham thinks it is. On the internet I have read a lot of resistance to the holidaymakers arriving here parking up by the sea front. Why don’t they go elsewhere ask bloggers on one of Facebook’s St Annes pages, taking up all the parking spaces? Well, why should they? Motorhomers pay their road tax too and are entitled to park anywhere that is legal, just like a car. One comment said that if we can afford a motorhome then we can afford to stop at a caravan park? Again, why pay to park on a caravan site when the beauty of a motorhome is that we can stop anywhere and spend the night in the back of the van?

This last week we motored off to Yorkshire and stopped for the night in Skipton, a lovely town with some nice old pubs and many attractive barges moored by the side of the canal. We parked for the night on the nearby car park in the company of quite a few other motor homes. The charge for a night’s stopover was the princely sum of five pounds, although after nine am the parking meter wanted more money for a further daytime stay. We stayed a few hours for breakfast and to visit the nearby market which was pretty quiet early on but later when we left about noon everywhere, including the car park, was packed.

Liz’s cod dish: Looks pretty yummy

The next night we found a great pub in the village of Egton, the Horseshoe Inn. They told us the pub was fully booked for diners that night but we could stay free of charge and drink in the outside bar. When we arrived there had been a cancellation so we were able to drink and dine before wandering a few yards back to our motorhome.

In France, many towns and even villages sport their own motorhome stopping places with facilities to empty toilets and top up our water tanks. Many places like this are free, although some charge a few euros to top up with drinking water.

Yes, we’ll be sorely missing our visit to France this year. Of course, if we were still part of Europe that wouldn’t be a problem. It’s the fault of all those Brits who chose to leave the EC in the referendum. Let me see, who do I know that voted to leave, fed up with Brussels and its stifling bureaucracy?

Ah yes, that would be me . .


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Another Slice of My Locked Down Life

The lockdown has almost come to an end here in the UK this week. There are still some restrictions and it’s still advisable to continue wearing a mask in public and to keep washing your hands. If anything, at least we may benefit from the increased hygiene standards in future. I’m lucky in that I haven’t had the coronavirus but not only that, the winter is usually a bad time for me because I always, always end up with the flu or at least a very bad cold. This year I haven’t and that must surely be due to the continued hand washing and mask wearing.

What is also interesting is that we are now ok to fly to Australia and New Zealand. That’s great but the flip side is that those two particular places aren’t willing to let us in yet. Oh well!

The bad weather here in the UK is getting me down. We can’t go out much and inside it’s the usual routine, surfing the internet and watching TV. We decided to take a chance on the weather one day and combine the dropping off of Liz’s car at the garage to fix a faulty electric window, with a short trip to a pub that has outside dining. Liz had contacted the pub, the Midge Hall in Leyland beforehand to ask if we could stay the night in the car park in our motorhome. The landlord seemed ok with that so we parked up in a nice corner. I was glad to see that the pub had a couple of outdoor covered areas. One looked like it had either been made especially for the current coronavirus situation or had been nicely adapted from a former smoking area and another one just by the pub entrance. The ruling that week was that pubs and restaurants can open but customers must stay outdoors.

The Midge Hall

We had arranged to meet Liz’s cousin and her husband there and we had a lovely evening as well as a nice meal. The weather was warmish and it did cool off later but not unbearably so. We dined early so we didn’t stay out late, but it was good to be out and about again and good to be social, to sit at a table with friends just having some chit chat.

Our motorhome hasn’t had much use lately and it was good to get some miles under the belt on the van and give the battery a good charging. We saw quite a few motorhomes on the road and each one we saw, each one, gave us a wave. Their occupants too were glad to be back on the road I suppose.

Just recently at the Oscars, the big movie winner was Nomadland. Nomadland is set in the USA and is about a woman whose husband dies and then she loses her job because the sole employer in her town closes down. She sells up and decides to buy a van to live in so she can travel the country searching for work. I’ve not seen the film but it certainly looks interesting and I look forward to watching it when it either comes out on DVD or I see it on TV. The last Oscar winner I bought on DVD was The Shape of Water. It was universally praised but the fact is, it’s an utterly dreadful film and I’m hoping Nomadland will be better.

I suppose there is something romantic about living a nomadic life in a campervan or motorhome, stopping at a great location and then moving on when you feel it’s time to go. I’ve always loved our trips to France and we’ve found some great spots, all by lakes, plan d’eau they call them in France, lakes where you can swim. I have to say I find myself worrying sometimes; I like places where there are other vans and that always gives me a better feeling of security. Sometimes in the dark of the night when we are alone at a deserted spot and I hear noises I start to worry. The flip side is that after a day reading and swimming, it’s great to light the barbecue and settle down with a sizzling steak and some wine. Another lovely moment was last October on the Isle of Skye when we found an excellent but pricey fish and chip shop just by our park up point.

Parked by a lake in France

Could I live like that permanently? I’m not sure. In France I could perhaps drive further south when the weather turned cold and even spend the winter in Spain. That would have been easy pre-Brexit but I’m not sure how it would pan out now. A while back I started reading a blog about a woman who chose to live in a van for a year in the USA. Her big problem was the winter. I forget which state she lived in, although it might have been Oregon. The blog was called I failed at van life. Here are the 11 biggest mistakes I made. The biggest mistake was her choice of van. Looking at the pictures on the blog she chose a pick up with a camper unit bolted onto the back. She had to exit the car to go into the van area and there wasn’t a lot of space but the thing she really couldn’t take was the cold. When I say the cold, there were a few pictures showing her in what looked to me like arctic conditions. The flip side was also the heat of the summer. Think it gets hot in your car in the summer? Imagine trying to live and sleep in those stuffy conditions. Difficult but at least in our van when we experienced the heat of a French summer, we were able to stay outside until the temperatures eased but even then, the van interior was still warm and sleeping was difficult. On a couple of really hot occasions Liz wanted to leave the van door open at night but security conscious Steve didn’t. I fell asleep with the door closed but I’m pretty certain that soon after Liz opened it up. Happily, there were no roaming villains operating in the Loire at the time and we both survived.

Another easing of the lockdown came this week on the 17th when we could actually enter the interior of our beloved pubs and restaurants. Liz and I had a booking at a place called Ego in Lytham for the 17th, made many months ago and it was wonderful to sit at our regular table and be served by Ego’s friendly staff. The steak was excellent and the surroundings were warm and convivial.

Anyway, the next day it was time to forget about the cold because Tuesday the 18th emerged warm and sunny, the perfect day for some light gardening and a bit of a read out on the patio. Could even have been barbecue weather. Pity it was my back to work day!


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Lockdown and the Winter Holiday Blues

Anyway you look at it, this whole Coronavirus thing is quite frankly, a bit of a bummer. I might even go the whole hog and say a lot of a bummer. Of course, there is the tragic side of the virus, people dying in their hundreds and indeed thousands across the globe. Some fools even protest and say it’s a conspiracy and that the government is trying to control us! If they are it’s no mean feat for governments across the world to agree and work together, even if it’s just to keep us lot, the public, under their thumb. That control does come at a price though. Already businesses are closing and going under. Many pubs and restaurants may not survive and those who are self-employed may suffer the most as in many ways they fall outside the various schemes the government has concocted to help workers.

It is a sad time for me just now as months of planning and expenditure have failed to come to fruition. Last Saturday was the day we should have jetted off to Lanzarote for a month in an exclusive villa with a heated pool a mere stone’s throw from all the bars and restaurants we love at the Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca. We found the place last year when we stayed at another villa, a slightly disappointing one just around the corner from our new find. Last year’s villa was OK if a little bare. The cupboards were sadly empty, there was nothing, no salt or pepper, no washing up liquid or any of the staples you expect to find in a rented villa.

There was not even a welcome pack, so everything had to be bought from scratch, even a scourer to clean our dirty plates. The pool had no cover so every day when the 70 degree temperature warmed the water up to an almost acceptable degree, that heat would then dissipate into the cool Canarian evenings. Still, those freezing dips in the pool gave my body a freshness and vitality I had not experienced before, even if that extra energy was only employed to get the hell out of that pool as soon as possible.

The barbecue was in working order and plentiful supplies of red wine were freely available from the local shop. Our favourite tapas bar was a ten minute walk away and Playa Blanca itself was within easy reach via a short bus ride so despite the lack of scourers, things were not too bad at all.

Some months back we began to get an inkling that perhaps our holiday for 2021 might not be on the cards. First, we went into tier 3, then 4. In tier 4 foreign travel was not allowed except for certain circumstances. Of course, that was only advisory. We could still go away, couldn’t we? A negative Covid test was required and conveniently a testing station was set up at Manchester Airport, so we began to fool ourselves into thinking we can still go to Lanzarote. After all we had been isolating and wearing masks and consistently washing our hands. Then came the final blows: The flights were cancelled and Boris Johnson, our revered leader introduced a new lockdown. No winter sun for us, no tapas, no watching of the sun slipping behind the hills as we sipped red wine. As I said at the beginning, Bummer!

Looking back at my snapshots and old Facebook posts from last year was probably a mistake. There was the delightful Chinese restaurant we used to visit in Playa Blanca itself, eating lovely Chinese food with an ocean breeze wafting over us in the semi open dining area. Casa Carlos was Liz’s favourite restaurant over at the other end of the bus route. It wasn’t my cup of tea as the menu focussed mostly on fish and not being a great fan of fish I always felt the steely glare of Carlos after he would finish proudly reeling off the various fishy specials his chef had created, only for me to usually plump for a pizza. Sorry Carlos.

My favourite place down by the marina is the Cafe Berrugo where many of the locals come. They serve various rustic tapas dishes as well as burgers and chips to satisfy common English tourists like me and it’s nice to relax there in the evening with a glass of wine or two.

Out of the window has gone my usual winter fitness regimen. I know that me and fitness are not two things that anyone who knows me would usually put together however, in Lanzarote I forswear biscuits and chocolate and swap chips and potatoes for lashings of salads. I swim every day and return to the UK in February at the peak (if such a thing is possible) of my fitness.

Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote, a place for lovely walks, views and restaurants.

I read once that Noel Coward learned early in his adult life the joys of ‘wintering’ in warmer climes. He usually wangled an invitation from one of his rich friends to spend the summer in the south of France or somewhere considerably warmer than England. Later when he bought his house Firefly in Jamaica, he spent the winter there. He would rise at 8 and work on his latest play or book until lunchtime when he would then join his friends for a swim before luncheon. What a perfect arrangement I have always thought, and Noel Coward went up highly in my estimation the first I heard of it.

Casa Carlos: Fishy food, salad and pizza!

My personal routine on holiday goes something like this. I’m usually awake pretty early, generally around the nine o’clock mark, (nine o’clock? Early?) sometimes slightly later. First thing on my personal agenda is making a brew and bringing it back to bed. While we sup that I’ll usually check my emails and schedule my twitter posts for the day which consist of the usual calls for fellow Twitter users to either (A) read my blogs (B) watch my videos or (C) buy my book. Undeterred by the wave of disinterest that these tweets will create I will usually finish my tea and then perhaps saunter over to the bathroom for my morning ablutions. The knowledge that Noel Coward would have written an entire new act in his latest play by now spurs me on to lay the table for breakfast which Liz will be preparing as we speak. Later after my bacon and eggs have been digested the time will have come for a post breakfast cuppa, or emergency back up cuppa as I sometimes call it.

Washing of the pots completed, my first swim of the day will be due and to get myself in the mood for writing I usually find that a good idea is to settle down by the pool and have a read. As things warm up another swim will be in order and then my favourite part of the day, relaxing on my sun lounger and feeling the sun gradually warming and drying my body. That’s usually when ideas start to develop in my mind and after a while I’ll feel compelled to nip inside, crank up my laptop and actually write something. Noel Coward would surely be proud.

Post Brexit Europe is in the news as I write this. It seems that a UK trucker had his ham sandwich confiscated as he entered Holland. The Dutch customs officials were not happy that the driver had the audacity to prepare some ham sandwiches for his journey and had them wrapped neatly in silver foil on his dashboard ready for a bit of a snack later. Meat apparently cannot be imported into Holland and quoting Brexit the official whisked away the driver’s sarnies. Now this could have a severe knock on effect for me because when Liz and I travel to France in our motorhome, we usually take with us some bacon (in my book an absolute priority) and various other meats. We will also have a couple of steaks in the freezer ready to slap on a barbecue at any given time. On one occasion we took some meatballs and pasta in tomato sauce anticipating a quick stop over to heat up, eat and then get back on our way towards the south of France.

Confiscating a driver’s sandwiches though, surely that must be grounds for war or at least for the firing of various warning shots over the channel. Presumably in pre-EEC days our truckers and holidaymakers popped over the channel to Europe without any undue issues and many of these current problems will hopefully be teething troubles. In the meantime, I’ll be checking the motorhome over for any secret compartments capable of storing my bacon.

And just in case there are any Dutch customs officials reading this: we usually make up some egg sandwiches for our journey so get your beady eyes off my sarnies!


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Birthdays, Highlands and Hamish Macbeth

Last week was my birthday week and Liz suggested a trip up to the Scottish Highlands. The Scottish Highlands I thought, is it hot there? Can you sunbathe and swim in the sea? Well, you can although I wouldn’t advise it in October. The thing is with the current lockdowns in place all over the country and indeed the world, jetting off to somewhere warm isn’t much of an option. Anyway, our much under used motorhome was sitting on the drive just waiting for an opportunity for a run out so off we went.

Traffic was quiet on the M6 north so we made good time, arriving at our designated stopping place in the early evening. Park4Night is a great app to use for motorhomers telling us about handy stopping places nearby. We stopped in Lanark for the night just by the Loch and used a local chip shop to get our tea. Fish, chips and mushy peas seemed to take a hell of a long time and a great deal of commotion seemed to be aroused in the back office of the chip ship. However, finally our food arrived and we nipped off smartly back to our stopping place by the loch. Communicating in a Lanark chippy wasn’t easy, especially for the Italian guy who took my order. He had to go from Scottish/English to Mancunian/English which must be hard for any foreigner, especially so for an Italian living in Scotland. That is probably why I ended up with baked beans with my chips instead of peas. Beans with fish and chips is an insult to any northerners palate so the beans were stowed away for breakfast. The fish and chips were good though.

The next day, despite the rain, we made our way steadily to Loch Lomond where we stopped for the night. The Balloch House inn apparently welcomes motor home stop overs as long as they use the pub so we booked in for our evening meal. My meal, actually my birthday meal was nice but Liz’s wasn’t so good. New social distancing rules meant we could only stay for 90 mins in the Balloch House but round the corner we found a nice socially distanced pub serving some great beers.

Mallaig

Day 3 found us arriving at Mallaig, the quiet fishing village where we could board the small ferry to the Isle of Skye. Skye was a spectacular place, starkly beautiful and it reminded me so much of Lanzarote with deep valleys and great hills and mountains reaching into the sky. We found an excellent parking spot, again recommended by Park4Night which was conveniently just across from a fantastic chip shop. Fish, chips and peas was our evening meal again, although this particular chip shop served haddock rather than cod. The food was excellent and though it was a little pricey, the portions were huge. The view from the car park across the bay at Broadford was one we could only really appreciate the next morning.

The view across the bay.

The rain finally eased off the next day and we explored Skye bathed in warm autumn sunshine. We made a quick stop to pick up some Isle of Skye black pudding and after some more exploring we left the island over the bridge to the mainland and went in search of Plockton.

The splendour of Skye

Plockton is a small highland village where the TV series Hamish Macbeth was filmed. Macbeth is played by Robert Carlyle and he is the village bobby in the small fictional village of Lochdubh. Macbeth is a laid-back relaxed character. He is not averse to poaching the odd salmon and he likes to apply the rule of law in his own way. He avoids promotion as all he wants is to remain in his beloved village. The TV series is actually completely different to the books on which the series was based which was a little of a surprise to me and most of the characters in the series are the invention of the TV writers and not M.C. Beaton who wrote the books. I’m not sure how happy I would be if someone made a TV show out my book and then proceeded to change all the characters, still I did enjoy Hamish Macbeth as a TV show. It was an oddball quirky little drama which ran for only three seasons. I’m sure I once picked up a copy of one of the Hamish Macbeth books. Pity I can’t remember what I did with it otherwise I’d add a review.

I’m always surprised when I come across a location that I have seen before on TV because film seems to make things look bigger. Plockton was small and narrow in real life although on television it looks considerably more spacious. Years ago I visited Portmerion, the Welsh location for the TV show The Prisoner. The Prisoner was a hit TV show in the late sixties starring Patrick McGoohan as number 6, a former spy who resigns and who is whisked to a secret village where number 2 constantly asks the question ‘why did you resign?’.

It was a great series featuring elements of sci-fi and espionage and although outwardly a thriller there is much more to The Prisoner, and its counterculture and fantasy themes gave it a cult following which has continued to the present day. All the exteriors were shot in Portmerion and when I visited in 1986 or 87, number 6’s cottage was used as a shop by the Prisoner Appreciation Society. Like Plockton everything seemed smaller but I did recognise a lot of places used in the TV show.

Hamish Macbeth is completely different. I love the oddball characters like TV John, so named as he was the first in the village to get a TV set. The other villagers who meet regularly in the village pub are just as oddball as John but Hamish himself, torn between two women, Isobel the local journalist and Alexandra the author, is probably my favourite. He expertly solves various minor crimes and issues in the village, making sure visiting officers get all the credit so he can escape promotion and remain quietly in the village he so loves.

Plockton itself is a tiny village with a small harbour. We parked up at the car park while I went for a wander about. I found the row of cottages where Isobel, the town reporter lived but the village pub, a white building in the TV show eluded my searches. There was a pub, a grey building with an outside seating area looking over the bay, but it wasn’t the one I knew from the television. As we drove off, we passed another couple of pubs, neither of which was the TV village pub but I could imagine having a pleasant evening in Plockton with a nice pub crawl thrown in too.

Travelling south on the A82 (I think) we came across a monument to the commandos of World War 2. The commandos trained in the Scottish Highlands and the memorial is not far from Achnacary Castle where the commandos were based. The memorial is a sculpture by Scott Sutherland and as usual in these sort of places, I was humbled by the courage of these courageous men who fought and died to preserve freedom. In comparison, I’ve been rather lucky. I’ve not been called to fight in any wars, I’ve not suffered prejudice or been sent to a prison camp, in fact I’ve enjoyed a pretty easy life really. It’s not been that exciting and a lottery win would have been very welcome but at least I’ve been safe.

Coming further south towards Loch Lomond once again we found another lovely stopping place. A few other people stopped also for a photo opportunity at the Loch Tulla viewpoint. We took photos as well but we were lucky enough to be able to put the kettle on and have a steaming hot cup of tea and a corned beef sandwich.

Ah, the joys of having a motor home.


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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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