Hello and welcome to our first official blog! I hope it’s as enjoyable to read as it was getting the material to write about. I thought I would kick things off with a short blog (you wish!) about our first adventure in our 1981 Bedford autosleeper campervan. We had taken her out on a few test runs in the weekends before our trip, but we had soon decided we wanted to test her limits. So we chose to drive from home in Kent in the UK to De La Torche in western France. This would mean a 1,200 mile round trip. To put it into perspective, the furthest we had gone since buying the van was about 100 miles in a day. Now we were hoping to do double this and more…
The aim of the trip was to spend some time together, just the four of us (myself, Louise and my two children) with minimal interruptions. The van is very basic, being 30 years old – no TV, we didn’t even bring the laptop. At least we had some home comforts such as a hot shower and gas heater. This was an opportunity to catch some surf, but also enjoy a more rural part of France giving the kids a new experience. In fact there was only one English-speaking worker at the campsite.
France is an amazing country and the scenery was truly breathtaking – from empty roads, rolling hills and crystal blue rivers to the coastal land marks of St Michael. Not to mention our awesome destination of the world-renowned surf breaks at De La Torche.
Preparation for the trip was crucial. We loaded the van over two days, meticulously ticking off the items from our list as we tried to optimise the limited storage space. Once we had packed everything we needed, we hit the hay ready for an early start. I ensured we had all the basic consumables for the van and a range of tools (just in case!). We hit the road with our sights set on the EuroTunnel. We arrived at the tunnel in high spirits and the van was running nicely! We managed to get on the train and felt the excitement rise as the children pressed their eager faces against the windows trying to catch a glimpse of France.
We arrived in France mid morning, the sun starting to rise high in the sky. I have to say I was slightly nervous about what would greet us with the recent reports of the immigrant crisis and the attempts of smuggling aboard vehicles. There we were in a campervan with plenty of hiding places! Once we left the terminal, we caught a glimpse of some of the smaller immigrant camps and it was humbling to see. It made us realise how lucky we are.
As we made our way to the first destination, I was surprised at how well the country was set up for campervans, with a vast choice of Aires (areas off main roads for campervans to crash overnight). The UK could learn so much from this approach. Most villages also offer free parking and the country is so vast it is easy to find an idyllic place to stop. Although we only found this out after our first night which was spent in an industrial park as we picked a run down village off the map randomly. But with two very tired children and a thirty year old van that had been running for probably the longest time since it was built, we reluctantly set up camp in a nearby car park.
As we progressed further into the more rural parts of France the countryside seemed to get more and more impressive. We stopped a few times taking in some of the history (castles with amazing turrets) and experiencing the local cuisine (hello boulangerie!). We spent two days travelling to our destination of De La Torche. I’ll write about the surfing experience in a later blog – it was incredible by the way!!
We stopped at the historic walled city of Saint Malo, a fantastic little port city, despite being taken on a rather inappropriate detour by Louise (don’t give her the map!) through the historic part and down some of the narrowest parts of the city. It was so small in places and traffic was so infrequent that the local bars and restaurants had tables and chairs in the road, which had to be moved so that the van could fit through!! It made for an amusing exchange, trying to decipher the looks of the locals! The town was picturesque with an awesome harbour. It has an artificial beach amongst the historic buildings, with a nice restaurant where we ate lunch overlooking the harbour watching the tide roll in.
We arrived at the campsite, Camping De La Torche, and had awesome weather for the most part of our stay. More importantly, the surf was predicted to be epic. We checked out the local surf break that afternoon and this gave us an opportunity to demo the surf racks for our bikes! Knowing the campsite was a mile from the beach, I made these from some PVC pipes. They worked impressively well and drew a lot of attention from fellow beach goers (“how did you make that??”). The ride to the beach also took us past the local car parks which were full of an array of very impressive campervans. I have to admit I had van envy more than once! The views were quite impressive too. As we got closer to the beach we could begin to hear the familiar rumble of the sea. Both calming and exciting – it was also loud which could only mean big waves!
The campsite itself was well set up with plenty for the kids to do (pool, trampolines and kids clubs). As we had the kids, we played it safe by booking a campsite. But you could easily find free places nearby to stay and some of the vans in the beach side car parks were in the same place all week.
After a few awesome days of chilling out on the beach and enjoying camp life, we set off again to begin our return journey. We had only one stop planned and that was to visit Mont St Michael. This is a fantastic day trip to a historic walled village with a large monastery, all nestled in a small island that is 1km in diameter. The access to this island is only possible during low tide and tourists are warned of the dangers of trying to walk to the village through the mud flats surrounding it. Entry to the village is free (although there is a charge to visit the cathedral) and there were plenty of hotels to stay the night on the island which would have been very cool. I’ve heard it is the place that inspired the scenery in Harry Potter and places like Diagon Alley and Hogwarts!
After our visit here we stayed nearby over night with an aim to catch the late afternoon train the following day. You may be thinking the same as we were about this time – we had driven nearly 1,000 miles in the van with very little trouble. However…we soon found out that the van chose the following morning to not start! I have fairly limited knowledge of mechanics, although it is improving the more I have to fix with on the van. We tried to bump start her…but she didn’t bump start. Then, luckily, as we were scratching our heads, a friendly old French man who spoke very little English came to our rescue and we were able to decipher she needed new spark plugs or bougie d’allumage as we found out (via frantically trying to use Google Translate!).
After a relative quick change over, feeling quite smug that I brought a few spares, we were on the road again and things were looking good. Of course we would be fine from now on… We were slightly late for the return train but when we finally began to queue to board the train, we were asked to demonstrate that our gas was turned off. To do this we had to turn the engine off and nooo…the beast decided to not start again! We managed to bump start her finally but we were informed we had to wait for the last train of the day as we were too much of a risk. So we spent the final few hours of our trip watching hundreds of other cars board the train, under the pinks and purples of the sunset over Calais. It was picturesque and with a bit of luck we made it home in one piece.
All in all, our first adventure was a true success 🙂
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