Once in a while something comes along and makes you think…. ‘what a good idea’. I was contacted by James Clark and asked If I’d like to take a sneak peek at something he and his friend, Lucy Bartlett have been working on.
22 Monday Feb 2016
Posted Accessories, General, Product Review, Reviews, Travelling In Europe, Travelling in the UKin
Once in a while something comes along and makes you think…. ‘what a good idea’. I was contacted by James Clark and asked If I’d like to take a sneak peek at something he and his friend, Lucy Bartlett have been working on.
02 Friday Jan 2015
Posted Blog updates, General, Reviews, Travelling In Europe, Travelling in the UK, Web sitesin
Caravan, Caravanning, Caravans, RVillage, Touring, travel, Travel Trailer, Websites
It’s not often something comes along that is different and maybe the next big thing in caravanning and camping… but I think this website might just be worth keeping an eye on. I was alerted to it by Chris Dunphy & Cherie Ve Ard. (Technomads). It started last year in America by a group of like-minded RV’ers that wanted a way to keep in touch… and more besides. Continue reading
06 Wednesday Aug 2014
Camping & Caravanning Club, Caravanning, Caravans, Cheltenham, Christmas, Christmas Market, Christmas markets, Oxford, Touring, Travel Trailer, Travel Trailers
What!… It’s only August!
One of the great things you can do in the run up to Christmas to get you into the swing of things is stay a couple of nights at a site that’s within striking distance of one of the many Christmas Markets held all over the country (and Europe for that matter) Staying local also allows you to sample some of the mulled wine and cider that’s on offer.
Last year we had booked to visit Cheltenham’s famous Christmas Market, but unfortunately due to the builders not removing scaffolding from around the house in time we had to cancel. However to make up for it we decided to do two markets this year! We have booked into Briarfields an independent site just outside Cheltenham with a good bus service right into the centre of the town. From Briarfields we then head back north to Oxford to the Camping & Caravan Club’s site for a few days so we can ‘do’ Oxford’s Christmas Market too!
If you fancy the idea of visiting one of the UK’s many Christmas Markets we use this handy website that lists all the dates and opening times… http://www.christmasmarkets.com/UK.html and currently they list over 150 markets in the UK and over 250 markets all over Europe.
If you have never caravanned ‘out of season’ don’t worry. Caravan’s are great in winter… when it’s nice and toasty inside with some mulled wine… who cares what the weather is doing!
So it may only be August, but find yourselves a Christmas Market, find a site and get booked in and even better invite some caravan or motor home friends to join you.
A very early Merry Christmas.
Simon & Sue
03 Wednesday Apr 2013
Posted General, Help Guides, Travelling In Europe, Tripsin
Caravan, Caravanning, Caravans, french toll roads, Liber-t, sanef, Sanef UK, Touring, Towing, travel, Travel Trailer, Travel Trailers
Last year we had a little excursion to French France (The French Connection) down to La Tournerie near Montignac – a wonderful site run by Phil & Wendy. This was our first trip with the caravan to foreign shores. While we were at La Tournerie, Chris & Fran who we met up with told us about the Liber-t system for the French Toll roads. A wonderful little device fitted to your windscreen that allows you to use the ‘t’ lane at the toll booths and automatically collects payment.
If you are like us, it means no messing about with a cup holder full of Euro coins and the passenger tasked with trying to reach the slot to insert the required amount when the width of the caravan means it’s just slightly too far to reach, but too close to open the door.
So, in preparation for our return trip to France I went on to the website that Chris had given me. Sanef Tolling UK Ltd is a UK company based in Harrogate wholly owned by Sanef France for the purpose of supplying these little devices to UK drivers. Liber-t is the French national télépéage scheme for light vehicles operated by the members of ASFA, the association of French motorway operators on behalf of the French government. The scheme operates across the entire autoroute network and a Liber-t tag can even be used to pay for parking at some car parks.
To use the service all you need to do is register online and they will send you a small electronic transponder (or tag) that you attach to your windscreen just behind the rear-view mirror. As you approach the barriers, a device by the barrier will read your tag, securely extract your unique reference and then automatically open the barrier without you having to stop. You will receive an invoice the following month for your tolls and then around 15 days later they automatically collect the payment in £ (GBP) from your bank account by direct debit.
The web site is easy to use and registering for the device is simple. A deposit is required for the device and a UK bank account. It took me less than 5 minutes to complete the process. Once you have finished, they will not send a tag out untill you have authenticated your account, which is really easy… they just send you an email with a link in it. You click on the link to authenticate the account and shortly after you receive a second email thanking you for authenticating your account. And that is all there is to it. A few days later your tag will arrive and it’s just a simple matter of fixing it to the windscreen near your mirror. There are instructions with the tag on where and how to fix it, but it’s all on the web site anyway.
There is a really good FAQ page on the website that explains the different classes (nearly all car-caravan combinations will be class 2), charges etc and a short presentation on which lanes to use… basically any with a ‘T’ logo…. except the height restricted ones of course. In most cases you can just slow down to less than 30Kmh through the lane and you don’t even have to stop!
So if you want to make your next trip to France even easier click on the link and get tagged up!
Sanef UK Liber-t Automated Toll Payment Service
Now… just have to plan where we are going to go in France…. so many places, so many croissants, so little time!
See you there!
PS… Sanef UK are currently negotiating to allow the use of the tag on the Dartford Crossing, M6 Toll, Severn Crossing and in Spain… keep an eye on their website for more news!
09 Friday Nov 2012
Posted General, Travelling In Europe, Tripsin
Caravan Club, Caravanning, Caravans, Freelander, Pont Audemer, Touring, Towing, travel, Travel Trailers
Sunday 21st October
It was another early start. We were up at 6:00AM as we needed to be pulling out of the site at 07:00 in order to stand any chance of making the 110 mile drive to Dunkerque for the ferry which sailed at 12:00. We were supposed to book in at least one hour before, so we really needed to be there for around 11:00. As had become the norm, it had started raining during the night and now it was torrential. Sue did all the inside stuff while I got soaked outside. It was that wet and soggy on the pitch I wondered if we had made an error… was I going to be able to pull the caravan off the pitch?. In order to speed things up, I’d actually lined up the Freelander so the tow ball was directly below the hitch the previous night, and I’d also heeded what the English couple had said when we arrived that they thought it was too wet for their twin axle. When I’d reversed the caravan on to the pitch, I had made sure the front wheels of the Freelander were still right on the edge of the solid road. I hoped this was going to be the ace up my sleeve.
I worked from back to front again… Thetford cassette, wastehog, aquarol and finally EHU lead. Everything was stored in the appropriate locker and I wound up the steadies. Sue remained inside the caravan until I was hitched up and I pulled 50 metres off the pitch onto the road, thankfully without any tearing up of the pitch which by now was a big puddle. At this point Sue dashed out of the van into the car and I went the other way. I was soaked so needed to dry off and get changed in the van.
Sue got the maps out and fired up the Sat-nav…. it came on but the screen was frozen. She tried the “off and on again” trick… nope it was not having it. I’d got back in the car at this point and I tried a reset… it froze on the “do you accept the….” screen. It had turned French. I’d had my suspicions that it was changing nationality when it started to remind me to drive on the right each time I turned it on, now it had gone all the way and gone on immediate strike. I expect this was it’s way of blockading the ports.
“Right, you’ll have to map read, we need to get moving” I said turning on the Freelanders map reading light and handing Sue a torch. She was not a happy camper. Trying to map read with a map not designed for navigation, in the dark, with it pissing down and some iffy road signs was not going to be a pleasurable experience….. for either of us…. and lack of caffeine was not going to help the situation.
I lit a cigar, clamped it between my teeth and with the window half open and rain streaming through the gap we pulled out of the site at 7:05 puffing like a steam train and looking like something out of an American road trip movie. I headed in to Pont Audemer to pick up the signs for the A13 and eventually A28 north. Now this is where it went a bit wrong. At one sign it said left for A13 & Le Havre – the direction we didn’t want to go and right for the A13, which I assumed would take us to Rouen and then I could follow signs for the A28. We turned right. We followed the road which was a bit of a nightmare as it climbed and turned sharply, not ideal in a Freelander that was now having power issues, ,m and torrential rain in the dark. The signs for the A13 stopped and the road we were on Sue could not find on the map. After about 20 minutes we arrived at a roundabout, Ah Ha! A131 to Le Harvre…. we needed to go the other way. 30 minutes later we were doing our Bonnie Tyler impression again…. We ended up descending a steep hill into a small town in the bottom of a valley… and the signs stopped again. I managed to find a place to pull in. “I don’t think we will make the ferry” I said as it was now just gone eight thirty and we did not know how far we were off route.
Resigned to the fact we were not going to make the ferry, I took a pointy thing and prodded the reset button of the sat-nav. It rebooted and got to the “do you accept the….” screen. I prodded the “OK” button on the screen and it carried on booting up. The instant strike was over and the ports un-blockaded. Bugger, why didn’t it do this the half dozen times I’d tried before. I punched in “Dunkerque” and “Fastest Route”…. it told me to take the next right, which was a bit tight and at the end the next right again…. which after about 100 metres went even tighter. I turned round, thankfully there was a service yard for a company I could reverse into and pull straight out again in the other direction. I retraced our steps to the road we had parked on a few minutes earlier. This time it rerouted us back the way we had come, back up the steep hill to one of the round-abouts we had been on earlier and told us to take the road we had discounted, the “A131 Le Havre” road. We followed the directions and found ourselves back on the big toll bridge crossing the river Seine that we had crossed a few days earlier. Well at least we were now on the right side of the Seine! About 4 Km further on the road came to a roundabout… A131 Le Havre in one direction and the D something or other to the A28 in the other direction. Woo Hoo.
“It’s dark, we have 3/4 of a tank of gas and are not wearing sunglasses…. hit it”
That was it, the Freelander was not feeling well and we needed to get a wiggle on. It was something past nine and according to the sat-nav we had 96 miles to go. I have to say, it was now touch and go if we even made it to the port as I was having to come down into third gear for some of the inclines. “Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration don’t fail me now“! We kept pressing on, the fuel gauge was going down, it was raining, the traffic was getting heavier the further north we got. The miles (or Kilometres) seemed to click down slowly. Eventually we passed signs for the ferry terminal at Calais… only a few more miles to go and it was 11:05…. the ferry sailed at 12:00. The first sign for the ferry terminal at Dunkerque…. 11:15. We took the exit and followed the road to the first roundabout….”clear” Sue shouted…. It sounded like she was going to administer a shock from a cardiac defibrillator. I flew across the roundabout…… 11:20…. on to the next one……. “second exit – clear” Sue shouted….. 11:25 “second exit – clear”. How many bloody roundabouts did they need ?. Finally the last one and we entered the ferry terminal and joined a queue of three or four vehicles.
It was exactly 11:36 when I pulled up at the window. Sue handed our passports over and a minute later we were handed our dangly thing and told to follow the other few cars round to the UK Border Agency checkpoint….. where in good old British tradition there was a big queue. They inspected our passports and allowed us to pass…. What amazed me was the fact the dangly thing that we had been issed with to hang on the mirror showed us with 4 passengers and no one asked us where the other two were. We followed the concrete barriers round to the next checkpoint.
We stopped while another UK Border Agency chap checked our passports again and looked in the Freelander. Still no question about the two “missing” passengers. He asked to see in the caravan. It was now 11:54. I jumped out of the car and ran round to unlock the caravan door. I had expected him just to look in… Oh no, he wanted to check in the bathroom…..and lift the bed….. and check in the wardrobe….. and check under each front seat. Satisfied he thanked me and jumped down from the van. I locked the door, ran round to the Freelander and jumped in. 11:57.
We followed the road round and I was expecting now to get waived into a lane to wait for the next ferry along with the cars behind me. All that effort to miss the ferry by 3 minutes. I could see the crew stood by the winches for the shore lines……. As we approached the point where we needed to turn for lane ‘L’ one of the shore crew waived his arms wildly and pointed to the ramp. Despite being poorly, the Freelander seemed to know she was going home and shot up the ramp rattling away.
11:59 I turned the engine off and put the handbrake on. The only thing now was did we have enough fuel to actually get off the ferry and out of the port in Dover. That worry was two hours away. By the time we were entering the restaurant the ship was already moving slowly away from the quay side. There was hardly anyone in the restaurant so we grabbed two trays and shuffled over to the hot food counter. By the time we had got our food and drinks we were already making the turn to head out of the inner waterway. I put my card in the machine by the till…. it said wrong pin number… I tried again… wrong pin number and asked me for my pin again, warning me it was my last chance before my card was blocked. Bugger. I paid the bill with some of the Euros I had, at a really rip off exchange rate. We settled down by one of the big round windows at the side of the ferry just as we cleared the harbour into open sea. We couldn’t see much as it was piddling down again.
We stood with the other passengers infront of the big window watching as some unseen person performed the most delicate of ballets and pirouetted the ship round in the confines of Dover harbour and gently reversed thousands of tonnes back into a berth without any hesitation. I understand the physics of it, but the application was a skill few could emulate.
We were back in the Freelander waiting for the ferry doors to open. We drove down the ramp from the ferry and headed towards the exit ramp that climbs up to the upper exit road of the port. I really hoped we would not have to stop on that ramp as the Freelander was rattling away and I seemed to have only just enough power to pull away on the level, let alone do a hill start. We also didn’t have much fuel, the needle was on red, but the light hadn’t come on yet. Thankfully we exited the port without any issues. Now for fuel. All the way out of Dover there are filling stations on the opposite carriageway coming in, but nothing on the way out. We were almost on the M20 which I didn’t want to go on until we had fuel. We pulled off the last exit before you get onto the motorway and asked the now perfectly behaved sat-nav to take us to the nearest filling station, which just happened to be on Tram Road in Folkestone, which was down hill all the way.
It took 61.14 litres to brim the tank again and since we had filled up last time we had covered 297 miles and averaged 22.0 MPG. We pulled out of the service station down to the bottom of the hill to the traffic lights. Sue had set the sat-nav to take us to J15 on the M40 where we could follow the directions given in the Caravan Club handbook for the Warwick Racecourse site. As the lights changed I shot forward rather unexpectedly. I had been used to lack of power pulling away and the Freelander shot away from the lights like a 17 year old in his modded blacked out windows with a drainpipe for a exhaust Citroen. We pulled up at the next set of lights…. it was strangely quiet. The engine was ticking over with hardly any noise. I pulled away normally without any problems. We joined the M20 heading for the M25 and eventually the M40. I put my foot down to accelerate to merge with the other traffic and found I was going slightly faster than I should have been, I eased off and we settled in to the cruse at 2200 RPM… or 55 MPH.
On one section of the M25 near Ewell, the motorway has a steep climb on it, the signs say 10%. I pulled out of lane one to overtake some lorries that had slowed to 45 MPH and put my foot down. I didn’t change down from 5th, just squeezed a bit on the loud pedal. I was quite surprised to find I whizzed past them going uphill at 70 MPH and had to back off quickly and pull in again. That was it. I was convinced it was the fuel in France that had been the problem. We turned the radio on for the first time since leaving England and listened to the traffic reports on Radio Two tell us about a huge holdup on the M40 between J14 and J15 due to an accident. All three lanes were closed.
Thankfully it had all cleared by the time we were approaching junction 15 and we left the motorway to follow the directions given in the Caravan Club handbook. Now lets just say these instructions are a little lacking in detail and accuracy. We missed the turning for Shakespeare Ave… mainly because the distance from the last instruction is out a little and I did not expect to be turning into a suburban housing estate… we also went up the main high street which it advises against, but it wasn’t that bad. At the end of the main street we did a left and a left which just happened to take us past the Racecourse… so we followed the road a little, past a car park that had massive gates, the word ‘entrance’ next to it, but was full of Hymer’s, Tabbart’s and some really really mahoosive 5th wheel travel trailers, which all belonged to the fairground people. We continued on… Ah Ha, Shakespeare Avenue was on our left, so we needed to turn round. By now I was a dab hand at turning in tight places and at least this time it wasn’t piddling down. We passed Shakespeare Avenue on our right and the instructions said “at the end of Shakespeare Ave turn right onto A4189. Site on left in 1/2 mile across racetrack” Right… half mile…. entrance….carpark full of fairground caravans. I turned in expecting to see a Caravan Club sign and an arrow. Nope, bugger all. We had only gone fifty feet and I said to Sue “this is not right, jump out and watch me back into that gap, I’ll turn round”. As I said that a young lady jumped out of a shiney white Range Rover and said “I think you may be in the wrong place”. I appologised and she said there had been quite a few make the same mistake the last couple of days. I executed a quick reverse and turn… which must have impressed the fairground folk as they had gathered into a small crowd to watch us. I waived and shouted thanks to the lady that had intercepted us on the way in. She just smiled as she jumped back in her Range Rover.
We turned left out of the fairground campsite and followed the A4189 a little further to the racecourse offices and stands…. I turned in as there was a sign for a car park. As I parked up Sue read the instructions out again ” ……Site on left in 1/2 mile across racetrack”. Right, you should be able to see a caravan site of 55 pitches, its not that easy to hide them. The only vans we could see were way across the racetrack and belonged to the fairground people. Sue spotted someone to ask…. she came running back, “drive back down to the stands and follow the track round and cross the racecourse at the gap in the barrier“. Right ho….. I did another 180 degree reversing turn. We eventually pulled onto our pitch at 17:40.
If anyone from the Caravan Club reads this…. Please edit your directions, put some detail in there to make it a bit more clear and spend a few bob and put some feckin signs up! According to the wardens, we are not the first to have problems with the directions and there have already been a few complaints…. and move the ‘site’ flag on the map from the outside of the racecourse to the inside of it!
Sunday night was taken up with catching up with the news on the BBC news channel and for me relaxing… only a few more miles to drive and we didn’t have to be up early. Also it wasn’t raining.
We left Warwick Racecourse site at 10:30 for the 120 mile drive home. The Freelander was in fine fettle and we got our discount on the M6 toll using our Caravan Club membership cards. We pulled into our storage site at 12:55. When we got home I filled up the tank to the brim again, 57.91 litres and 357 miles… it worked out to exactly 28.0 MPG, the same as we had got on the fuel leaving the UK.
Total miles driven: 2071
Total miles towed: 1886
Total fuel: 423.91 Litres
Average MPG: 25.4
Would we do it again? – Yes, but covering that distance in that period of time was not for us, it was just too rushed. It is a minimum of two or three nights stop anywhere as we seemed to just miss the really good bits of France and pass by things we wanted to see.
Would we do it that time of year? – No, the weather was an issue, probably early September would be the latest.
Would we use Dunkerque as a crossing point? – If we were going to Belgium, Holland or further north, yes. But doing the maths it would actually break even or even be marginally cheaper getting the ferry to Le Havre and travelling south from there.
What about the ‘soft road’ stuff? – Excellent! If you havent taken your 4×4 off tarmac except for the occasional grass pitch, give it a go. There are 1000’s of kilometres of these single track trails criss crossing France. There are also lots of trails for experienced ‘green laners’ too. I’m sure Phillip would love to hear from you.
Any other tips? – Yep, Chris & Fran told us about an electronic tag for the toll system in France. We wish we’d had one. Some of the toll booth lanes only have machines at the height for lorries. nothing warns you of this. The lanes are also extremely tight towing a caravan, opt for the most right hand toll lane you can, they are usually a lot wider for lorries. Check out the Sanef UK Liber-t website.
Anything else? – Yes, driving in France, as people will tell you, is really easy going. That said, don’t think because the traffic is lighter and the driving easier that you will cover distances quicker. Driving 200 miles is still 200 miles no matter what country you are in. In fact, if you are towing, it might take you slightly longer as there are some long climbs. They have a lot of “M6 Shap” type climbs. Oh…. and if you are towing avoid Paris, that’s what we were told.
Would you do anything different next time? – Yes, we wouldn’t use the Freelander. When we bought the caravan we had an engine remap done. It was specific to the Freelander and increased the low down torque for towing, and it has been fantastic. However, it did reduce the ability for the engine to cope with low grade fuel. Land Rover set their engine systems to cope with a wide standard of fuel. Unfortunately I’d never considered that fuel in Europe would differ much from country to country. As part of the remap I had the ability for it to cope with lower grade fuel removed. So we are now looking for a Land Rover Discovery just as a tow vehicle, which means our little Brabus Roadster has to go.
At the end of this trip I made a discovery. Somewhere at our last stop at Camping Risle Seine or on the trip back to the UK and home I lost my wedding ring. It’s been on my finger for the best part of 29 years and it’s a devastating loss. To Sue: I am so sorry.
If anyone visits Camping Risle Seine – Pitch 1, or Warwick Racecourse Site and finds a rather thin, battered, and misshapen wedding ring, please get in touch, it might be mine.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed finding out about our “French Connection” adventure.
Till next time…. which will be the Christmas Market in Lincoln, unless we can get away before than.
Click here for:-
08 Thursday Nov 2012
Posted General, Travelling In Europe, Tripsin
Caravanning, Caravans, France, Freelander, La Tournerie Ferme, Pont Audemer, Touring, Towing, travel, Travel Trailers
Friday 19th October
The wind was still blowing, but as we had stored the awning canopy the previous day, we didn’t have a night of tapping and banging. The site was in darkness as I crept outside to start disconnecting things. Sue was tidying away all the loose items inside and I started at the back of the van….. the Thetford Cassette was first. Thankfully I didn’t have to empty it by torchlight as Phillip had installed lights over the Elsan point and Grey water point. Next came the wastehog followed by the aquaroll and finally the EHU lead. By the time Sue had finished we were ready to wind the steadies up. I had intended to use the manual handle, but unfortunately I’d parked too close to the rear wall so I had to use the Makita which seemed to sound like a road drill in the darkness. Apologies to anyone if it woke them.
We turned the caravan at an angle by hand, so that it was a quick reverse straight on to the hitch and I didn’t have to have the engine running too long. We coupled up, connected the break-away cable and the 13 pin plug, released the van’s hand brake and jumped in the Freelander. I started the engine and allowed the outfit to roll gently down the slight hill in first gear without any throttle. We crept past Chris and Fran’s van before turning on to the small lane and climbing up the incline to the cross roads. It was 7:18 as we pulled away. Sue had a couple of small bags of rubbish and a bag of empty bottles and a bag of paper for the recycling bin. Rather than stop and use the ones just outside the camping area, we followed the road out and at the next cross roads there were more bins so we stopped and, while Sue tried to silently drop glass bottles into a glass recycling bin, I programmed up the Sat-Nav…. “Camping Risle Seine”….”fastest route”…. “accept toll roads”…….. “planning route – 716 Km to go”.
We followed the narrow road towards the D704. In places the wind had brought down a lot of small branches from the surrounding trees, but nothing that couldn’t be avoided by driving around. Within a few minutes we were on the D704 heading past Montignac and on towards the D6089 and Terrasson. The wind was quite light and I didn’t really notice it towing the van. Once on the A89 there were a couple of the warning signs telling us of strong winds, but I didn’t think that they were excessive and they didn’t seem to be pulling me about even when we crossed some of the viaducts. Once on the A20 the signs weren’t warning us about the wind any more and I allowed the Freelander to accelerate back up to 55 MPH.
It was approaching 9:55AM as we pulled into one of the Aires, the ESSO station at Bois Mande. I brimmed the tank again and it took 37.16 litres. We had covered 257 miles since the last fill up so averaged 31.4 MPG. This was a quick fuel stop and by 10:05 we were pulling back on to the A20. The rattle was back a little. I did notice that on some of the long inclines I was having to change down a gear which normally the Freelander will hold 55 MPH towing even if it won’t accelerate. We settled in for the long haul.
We had left the Autoroute and were on the N10 heading for the A13 on the outskirts of Versailles and the traffic was starting to build up. I didn’t really want to tangle with traffic but there you go, we had had it good up to now. As we were on a duel carriage way not quite on the Autoroute all three lanes were at a crawl and we weren’t sure why. Then we heard it… the familiar sound from dozens of films, including the Inspector Clouseau Pink Panther films… that slightly asthmatic out of tune two note siren that I cannot take seriously. I could still hear it as it was getting louder and louder… I checked in the mirrors … nope nothing. Opening the window a bit more to establish some sense of direction did not help…. it was still getting louder. Then I saw it, well actually I saw several cars in my left hand mirror parting slowly, creating a gap, then closing in back round it. I still couldn’t see anything except this gap moving closer. There it was, a tiny dark coloured Renault with one blue light in the windscreen and a screeching siren. I have a brighter torch than that tiny pathetic blue light. He pushed down the side of the caravan with his door mirror less than half an inch from leaving a big scar down the side. A second siren sounded….. this time I was prepared and I moved over to the right as another car squeezed past, its out of tune siren clearing the way and a tiny blue light in the front windscreen. Seriously guys…. GET SOME MAHOOSIVE STROBE LIGHTS FOR THE ROOF! traffic will clear much faster for you.
As I’d moved over, I’d committed the cardinal sin of driving on French roads, I’d let the gap in front increase to about 6 feet. Well that was it. A woman with a 500 Euro hair doo in a massive shiny black Mercedes 4×4 who was on the phone, while programming a sat-nav with what seemed like a 40 inch hi-def screen, and simultaneously handing out snacks to two children on the back seat pulled in and stopped dead in front of me. She was obviously a veteran of the “Arc de Triumph” roundabout. After another 10 minutes it became obvious what the hold up was. As the road narrowed down to two lanes on the opposite carriageway there was a small car on the hard shoulder that was well alight…. parked immediately behind it was a fire engine with a fireman stood in front with a small hose that seemed to be watering it rather than trying to put the inferno out. Amazingly, cars were still passing in lanes one and two. OK, so they did slow down a bit… but that was while they warmed their croissants as they passed. The whole holdup only took 20 minutes from joining the back of the queue to Sue warming the croissants.
If that was on the UK motorway the Highways Agency would have closed all three lanes on one side and probably the opposite carriageway too while several fire engines and half a dozen police cars would have cordoned off the danger zone, and five miles back in the queue of traffic the tarmac lads would be waiting to re-tarmac the area, and the motorway would open six hours later.
It was approaching my bladder capacity limit (how Sue can hang on for longer I’ll never know!) and at 15:10 we pulled into the BP Aire at Louviers. As we pulled in the Freelander was feeling down on power again. I’d not noticed it much apart from in the long climbs but it was hard to judge really. I filled up to the brim again, this time with a treat…. BP Ultimate Diesel. 48.58 litres and we’d done 260 miles since the last stop, so an average of 24.3 MPG this time. We were back on the road by 15:15…. I’d managed in my best French to actually tell the girl which pump I was on and pay for the fuel. I also asked where I could get some cigars and even managed to ask for the right ones in the kiosk without once having to revert to English and gesticulations. I just wish Sue was in the service station with me instead of being sat in the car… she would have been so proud that all the correcting me each time was paying off. I felt really chuffed.
We eventually arrived back at Camping Risle Seine at 16:25 after a drive of 440 miles (708 Km), and a total trip time of 9 hours and 7 minutes. I was so glad we didn’t have any driving to do tomorrow. We had to wait until the office opened and just hoped that as we were a day early, they could fit us in…. which didn’t seem like a problem as most of the pitches were empty. There was another English couple with a twin axle van waiting when we arrived. They had already had a wander round and said they thought the pitches were too waterlogged and would probably drive further north for an hour or so. I did not want to drive further north, and as Pitch 1 was vacant I knew that the ground was firm as we had been on it a few days earlier. Ten minutes later we were settled on pitch 1, hooked up and power on.
We took a trip into Pont Audemer to visit the Intermarche. We stocked up on bottled water to put in the car and bought some rather nice fresh smoked salmon. Later “One Hairy Caravanner” donned his apron and cooked a spicy risotto with smoked salmon.
Saturday 20th October
It was a lazy start to the day. The rain had returned overnight, but it wasn’t torrential so we decided that wandering into Pont Audemer and maybe finding somewhere to have a coffee and croissant while doing a spot of people watching was just the thing for a Saturday morning.
Top Tip: don’t head for one of the car parks…. there are plenty of free parking spaces on the quay side… “Quai Felix Faure” on the map and walk down Rue Notre-Dame du Pre and cut across to the town centre.
Pont Audemer is actually a little gem of a town. It has a history going back to the 12th century and some fantastic architecture. In the 18th century, the English settled there and introduced tanning and paper making and it became the centre for
various different trades. After doing a bit of window shopping, we found a nice little street cafe on ‘Rue de la Republique’ to sit and watch the world pass by.
Saturday was obviously a get out there, buy the longest French loaf you can, then wander round with it and greet anyone else who carries a similar loaf like a long-lost friend type of day. We sat and watched as people wandered past, loaves in hand. In fact it was hard to spot someone without a loaf… even the children seemed to have smaller loaves of their own. We felt we needed a loaf… we must have a loaf. Were people looking at us because we didn’t have a loaf… were they shouting “Regardez, le n’ai pas de pain“…. we set off to buy a loaf…. and a newspaper for Sue, who was getting quite irritated that she’d not been able to read a paper for three days. “Oh non, c’était l’heure du déjeuner, tout était fermé” It was lunchtime and everywhere was closing. We called off the search for ‘pain’ and instead turned our attention on where to go for lunch.
We wandered down Rue de la Republique and into Place Victor Hugo, where they have a fantastic water feature. At each cafe we inspected the menu… the translation was becoming somewhat easier and even I found I was reading in French knowing what it was and not doing the mental translation flip in my head. That was of course until I came across an item on the menu I didn’t know and it fell apart. Sue seemed to be faring better. We finally ended up across from where we had started back on Rue de la Republique almost opposite the cafe we had sat at. Out of all the different cafe’s offering a wide variety of food, we chose one that did fresh hand-made stone baked pizzas. We ordered a couple of pizzas, a salad for Sue and a bottle of local house wine. You know, I could get used to this life!
That evening I managed a minor miracle…. I managed to get my Vodaphone dongle to connect and we had internet! We needed somewhere to stay when we got off the ferry in Dover. I looked at the map and Warwick was on our route and about half way home. The Caravan Club have a site at Warwick Racecourse, so five minutes later we were all booked in and I received a confirmation email… on my laptop not my iPhone, which thanks to Everything Everywhere (now renamed Nothing Nowhere) all my iPhone could do was display “No Service”.
Next time….. We revisit one of Bonnie Tyler’s greatest hits, we do a Blues Brothers impression and we thank the UK Border Agency.
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07 Wednesday Nov 2012
Posted General, Travelling In Europe, Tripsin
Caravanning, Caravans, France, Freelander, La Tournerie Ferme, One Hairy Caravanner, Sarlat, Touring, Towing, travel, Travel Trailers
Tuesday 16th October
Well, the rain returned overnight. Peering out through the windows of the caravan, to those of us from Manchester…. (that would be me and Sue then), it looked like it was set for the day. There wasn’t any ‘soft roading’ action planned for today, so it looked like a trip out to Sarlat, about 25 Km south, was on the cards. There wasn’t much hurry so a leisurely start to the day with twenty minutes of trying to decipher the local TV news ensued. We left the site around 10:30 and headed south along the D704 towards Sarlat and I at least hoped that I would be able to find a nice pavement cafe and have a petit déjeuner croissant and coffee while watching the world pass by.
The Freelander was running much better than it had been and we followed the road, past some impressive piles of logs, without any rattling from the engine. We arrived in Sarlat and followed the signs for the town centre. We managed to park in a small car park up a hill at the back of the main shopping street and for a reasonable one Euro got four hours of parking. Sue found a brolly in the door pocket of the Freelander and we wandered back down to the main shopping street. Despite the drizzle, I decided that having the collected contents of the top of the umbrella repeatedly emptied on one shoulder while being poked in the forehead by the pointy bits of the brolly with similar frequency was slightly more annoying than getting wet in the drizzle. After a brief look at an engraved map of the town to get our bearings, we set off in the general direction of the hub of things.
Wandering down a side street we came across a tower next to the church that has a number of market stalls inside, but what made this really impressive was the size of the door. I’ve seen some mahoosive sliding doors on hangers, but this was the biggest swing door I’d ever seen. I don’t have a photo of it as I’d left my camera in the car due to the inclement weather. I must upgrade my iPhone to one with a few megapixels… that would be a start. Mind you If I remembered my iPhone had a camera, that would be an even better start.
Wandering past the shops and peering in the windows, it became apparent that Sarlat was the centre of “duck and goose abuse” with the amount of shops all specialising in or selling Foie Gras. It also seemed to be the centre of tinned, bottled and generally pre-package “cassoulet” too. Well I guess they have to do something with the other bits of the ducks and geese they have left. Most of the pavement cafe’s were preparing for the lunch time rush, so we wandered on and came full circle back on to the main shopping thoroughfare. We eventually came across a cafe that had tables outside that were sheltered from the rain and sat down. Sue went inside and ordered coffee and Stella… well it was nearly lunchtime. We sat and watched the shops up and down the street. It was approaching lunchtime and as the local clock chimed out one o’clock lights went off, shutters dropped and signs in doors were flipped over to “fermé”.
A few years earlier we had sat outside at a pavement cafe serving tapas in Gerona, and witnessed the spectacle of everything shutting for two hours while lunch was taken. Then, as now, we thought how civilised, and always thought of office and shop workers in the UK that seem all too frequently have to have a lunchtime snack sat at their desk or workplace.
As the shops started to open again after lunch, we paid the bill and headed off back to the car. I never did get my petit déjeuner croissant. At least the rain had eased. Leaving the centre of Sarlat via the one way system we passed a number of motor-homes parked up in car parks. It would seem that some towns have facilities for overnight stops for motor-homes. The Freelander was still behaving itself as we turned north on the D704.
That afternoon Sue caught up on the news from home in a paper we had managed to obtain while I got my Macbook out and started drafting “The French Connection – Pt 1” That evening we polished off the remainder of the cheese and meats we had bought the day before with some more fresh bread we collected on the way back from Sarlat.
Wednesday 17th October
Wednesday started with more promise than Tuesday had done. It had stopped raining sometime in the night and looking out, the clouds were high and breaking up. All in all it looked like a good day for more off road adventures. Phillip had said on Monday that today would be a bit more challenging with a number of different surfaces. The departure time was again 11:30 am so we had a leisurely start to the day. We had another go at deciphering the local news, without much success, but we did find out that some French stations ‘simulcast’ the original English language soundtrack of programmes that have been dubbed into French. Quite useful as we had now watched the entire set of “Gavin & Stacey” including the Christmas editions that I’d copied on to a portable hard drive….. lush. At least now that evening we could watch “The Big Bang Theory” in English on the local tv channel.
We all assembled at the gate around 11:30 again. Phillip said we would be stopping for lunch at a spectacular view-point and the tracks today would be a little more challenging as they were not used as much and covered a different variety of surfaces, including flint. We set off initially on the same route we had done on Monday.
This time however, the view across the valley was not obscured in low cloud and offered an excellent view of La Tournerie.
We stopped there while everyone took a couple of photos and people chatted. Although we all knew each other via the various caravanning forums and had many ‘conversations’ on line, we had not actually sat down and talked except for small interludes like this.
We set off again in convoy. Despite all the rain the previous day the ground was firm and dry. Phillip explained that this year had been a particularly dry summer across the region and they needed all the rain they could to help build up reserves for next summer.
The tracks this time were more overgrown than the previous adventure. I’d pushed the button to swing the door mirrors into the parked position and hoped that the others had remembered to do the same. The surface changed from fairly compact limestone to a less compact and rough local rock. In a couple of places I’d used the Freelander’s “Hill Decent Control” on the steep sections as Ray’s Toyota Hilux which was in front of us locked up its rear wheels occasionally and slid on the loose surface. At the bottom of some descents the track was rutted and deep in mud, none of which caused any problems to any of the 4 x 4’s.
The surface changed to broken flint, which can be particularly hard on tyres. The trick here was not to rush sections and let the wheels find their own course. Trying to turn sharply or spinning the wheels would probably result in a puncture with a piece of flint being driven through the side wall. Thankfully we all completed the section without punctures, although I did pickup some damage to the front near side rim when I slid off a rock and it kicked up.
Philips promise of lunch at a spectacular viewpoint proved to be spot on. At the top of a 200 foot escarpment was an area where the local paragliders fling themselves off the edge and fly down, missing the power lines on the way, and descend into the grounds of a local Chateau.
We all managed to park up wedged in amongst the trees at the edge of a clearing. Walking to the edge gave a spectacular view of the valley below and across the valley was something that was familiar to Sue and I, a runway tucked on to the side of the hill on the other side of the valley…..
Wendy had once again provided an outstanding buffet… I can heartily recommend her home made sausage rolls complete with home made sausages and a rather fine tuna pasta that demanded seconds… or thirds even.
After lunch we tracked back down the hill and across through the grounds of one of the châteaux that was undergoing a massive restoration and rebuild. Some of the trails were a little more challenging and you could tell these were not as well-travelled as others we had been on. In winter some of these would be a bit of a challenge and I could see some of the tracks could need a bit of winching here and there. All too soon we were back at La Tournerie. The weather was warm and sunny with a light breeze so I thought it was time for my alter ego “One Hairy Caravanner” to don his apron and deploy the Cadac. The only problem was… we needed a few supplies. A trip to the Intermarche store in Montignac was required.
That evening “One Hairy Caravanner” donned his apron, fired up the Cadac to its ‘blast furnace’ setting and created “pan-fried new potatoes with chorizo and seared butterfly pork steak with a cayenne pepper drizzle” washed down with a rather lush white wine Sue had chosen. Unfortunately the wind was starting to pick up a little which required some delicate positioning of the Cadac lid as a wind break so we sat inside to dine. This is also the reason there are no photos of “One Hairy Caravanner” creating his masterpiece…. either that or Sue had spent too much time sampling and deciding on which wine to have with the meal.
PS… Sue wanted me to mention she also had some sliced tomatoes with a light vinaigrette as an accompaniment. There, mentioned it.
That evening after washing up and cleaning the Cadac (by the way, if you have a Cadac and haven’t tried the foam cleaner, give it a go… I think it’s fantastic!), we battened down the hatches as the wind was continuing to build up and we ended up watching a James Bond DVD that was part of a collection of DVD’s thoughtfully provided on a shelf in the ‘facilities block’ along with a selection of books.
Thursday 18th October
It was windy during the night, in fact on a few occasions particularly strong gusts felt like the caravan was lifting on one side. I got up a couple of times to check on the Fiamma Caravanstor awning. Although on the leeward side of the van it was having a severe flap, along with a metallic tapping sound which seemed to be right above our heads and a low thumping sound. I popped out a couple of times but could not see anything. I did however frighten the bejesus out of a rabbit that was taking shelter under our caravan step!
While the kettle was on for our morning coffee, I went out to investigate the sounds a little further…. the metallic tapping sound was actually the little finger grip part of the zip that closes the Caravanstor bag. It was in a position that allowed the wind to lift the bag and it would tap lightly on the side of the van. Closing the zip a little soon stopped that one and the thumping was… well I never did find out. After coffee Sue and I rolled up the awning and zipped it back in its bag which considering the wind, which I guess was blowing 30 knots, was quite easy to do.
As a pilot, I’d always been told “if you have a problem try to take it home, it’s always easier to solve back in your own hangar rather than sat in some remote airfield“. Obviously safety of the pax and crew always overrides this. The problem with the Freelander was still gnawing away in the back of my mind and on Saturday we had a drive of 440 miles to our overnight, then another 110 miles in the early morning to the ferry terminal. I think I’d already made the decision a couple of days earlier, but now I was convinced, we needed to leave a day early just in case, so that meant we would be leaving tomorrow. I thought if we can complete the 440 mile part of the return trip, I would have at least 24 hours to sort any problems and have a good break before potentially having to nurse the Freelander the remaining 110 miles before I could get her back on home turf. When planning the trip, I had taken out Red Pennant insurance, so if we did have a big problem, help was only a phone call away.
Thursday was a bit of an odd day one way or another. We spent some time tidying the van ready for the trip back. We decided that as it was potentially going to be a 9 hour drive it would be best to leave early… around 7:00AM. Another trip to the local Intermarche store to stock up on wine…. well when they were selling 3 litre boxes of good wine for 6 or 7 Euros, it would be silly not to take some back for testing!
It seemed that Chris and Fran must have had similar ideas as we met them in the car park. Chris had also just picked up the wheel for his caravan after having a new tyre fitted. It was also a chance to get the Freelander washed…. Phillip had actually managed to find some genuine French “splash it all over” mud the previous day and the Freelander was covered in it. Chris had similar ideas and pulled his truck on to the jet wash next to ours. I spent the afternoon with a spray of Dry Wash cleaning off streaks on the van and giving the Freelander a spruce up. This also included emptying all the door pockets of accumulated toll receipts and other bits of paperwork that weren’t needed. The wind was still blowing quite strong, although as we had descended from the hilltop that La Tournerie is on it abated somewhat, in fact in the Intermarche car park it wasn’t blowing at all.
Next time….. The long road north, a small fire in Versailles and will we make the ferry?
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06 Tuesday Nov 2012
Posted General, Travelling In Europe, Tripsin
Caravanning, France, Freelander, La Tournerie Ferme, Off Roading, Touring, Towing, Travel Trailers
We rattled our way into Terrasson, which was shut on a Sunday. Even without the weight of the caravan in tow I could tell the Freelander was down on power and pulling away from stationary it was a challenge not to stall the engine. Luckily the local Intermarche supermarket had a couple of unattended self service fuel pumps so I could at least top up with hopefully some different fuel. Filling the tank to the brim again took 24.12 litres and the mileage now read 62445, so we had done 257 miles since the last fill up and now averaged 25.6 MPG. We pulled out of the Intermarche filling station and stopped a few hundred meters later outside a bank…. time to top up the Euro’s. I had a sneaking feeling that we may need quite a few if the Freelander ended up in a garage.
However, pulling away from the bank, the Freelander was feeling much better, not fully fit, but off the critical list. I had now convinced myself that on the balance of probability and with what Chris had said, it was down to the fuel. We drove back to La Tournerie in a slightly less rattley Freelander.
Monday 15th October
Today was our first venture ‘soft road’. Phillip had briefed everyone to be ready to go at 11:30. We woke up around 7:30 and peered out of the windows…. where did everything go?. We were enveloped in cloud. As most of the Dordogne is on the edge of the ‘central massif’ we were at around 2000 feet above sea level, so basically we were sat in a cloud. Not knowing the local weather systems I didn’t know if this would clear in an hour or sit there all day. However, as there was a three or four knot breeze, at least it should blow through, and within twenty minutes it had started to thin out.
By 9:30 it was thin enough to see the outlines of clouds above so it would not be too long before it had gone completely. At the appointed hour people started appearing and the 4 x 4’s lined up at the gate with Philips blue Defender at the front. I had been undecided if it was a good idea to go on the off road trip with the Freelander engine not being performing 100 percent, but after adding the fuel yesterday and seeing the difference, I thought at least using more fuel and topping up again would at least dilute the ‘iffy’ fuel already in the tank. Anyway, there were enough 4 x 4’s there to be able to recover me out of almost any situation and I’d got my bag of off roading stuff in the back – collapsible solid tow link, recovery ropes, strops, shackles, hand winch, kinetic recovery rope and a couple of ground anchors.
Phillip gave us a briefing on the type of roads we would be travelling on and their history. France is criss-crossed by small tracks used by the “chasse” (the hunt). Each weekend, groups of locals head out into the countryside using these tracks. They park up and disappear into the woods armed with rifles to basically shoot anything that actually moves…. from wild boar to sparrows…. and including each other sometimes. Thankfully Monday was not a hunting day for the locals. Apparently there are tens of thousands of kilometers of these roads all over France. Considering how few ‘green lanes’ we have in the UK and how busy some of them can be, especially over bank holiday weekends, I am surprised there isn’t an invasion of UK 4×4’s trying out these roads.
All to soon we found ourselves back at La Tournerie. The trails had been mainly dry and fairly easy to negotiate, ideal for ‘soft roading’. I still wanted to see if I could get some diesel additive, so we set off to go into Montignac for a wander round. The Freelander had spent the last three or so hours on tick-over in first or second gear and had performed admirably and I hadn’t really noticed any problems. The rattle was still there on tick-over though and the low end power seemed lacking. We parked up close to the river and walked through some of the back streets following the riverbank towards the old bridge. The sun was shining, and even for October it was quite warm. Wandering past some of the old streets it always fascinates me that places always seem deserted with shutters over windows and no signs of life in a lot of buildings except for the occasional cat sat sunning itself on a balcony looking down on us feigning disinterest but watching our every move.
Crossing the old bridge we found a small ‘Tabac’ and “Presse’ and Sue managed to get an English newspaper and I bought some cigars which was strange really as I’d stopped smoking cigars quite a while ago. I guess my stress levels over the Freelander kicked in. We walked along one of the streets until it opened out into a small square surrounded by cafes. Apart from a young couple sat at a table outside one cafe both smoking cigarettes and hanging on the last drops of coffee in tiny cups, and an old gentleman sat outside a doorway of what seemed to be an private house, the square was deserted. We followed the edge of square and stopped to admire some of the wares on display in the patisserie window. A small alley led us back to the river and we walked back towards the old bridge. Crossing the bridge again and heading in the general direction of the car park we passed a few more shops and what I think was the town hall. As we had not planned anything for an evening meal, and the weather was so nice, it looked like there might be a chance of deploying the Cadac. We wandered back to the car and set off for the local Intermarche for supplies.
While Sue wandered off checking out the price of wine and varieties on offer in the extensive wine section, I was drawn to the tool and hardware section of the local Intermarche supermarket. I wandered past shelves of tools and hardware – thinking some would make welcome additions to my workshop, when I came across the car spares section and looking through all the oils on display there was a shelf that was full of a range of diesel and petrol additives. Donning the reading glasses in a vain hope it would help me to decipher the French instructions on one of the bottles I admitted defeat…. and headed off to find Sue who had the French dictionary in her handbag. After much page turning and some speculation on the deciphering of the instructions, including swopping of reading glasses as Sue had left hers back in the caravan, two bottles of Diesel additive were dropped into the trolley…. along with two or three bottles of wine and a 3 litre box of sauvignon blanc we then headed off to the food section.
I had added some of the diesel additive to the Freelander. It made a big improvement almost immediately. At least I was now almost certain that it was not an issue with the engine but fuel related. On tick-over the engine sounded almost normal and the low down pulling power had returned. I did start thinking as there was a shelf full of different additives in the local supermarket, was this a known issue by the French and they just solved the problem by adding stuff to their tanks?
We ended up not deploying the Cadac as we had found a fine selection of local cheeses, meats, garlic olives and good artisan bread…. and a couple of bottles of nice wine to accompany it with. Oh yes…. Sue had some salad as well.
Next time……. We get wet in Sarlat and go shopping again!
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05 Monday Nov 2012
Posted General, Travelling In Europe, Tripsin
Saturday 13th October
I had slept like a log even though the rain continued to rattle off the roof all night. Sue, who is a light sleeper, had not faired so well. It was still raining as we sat there and had coffee. The night before we were looking at the CC camping book for our next site and being October and everything shut in September we had a choice of three…. two were way off our route and the third just north of Limoge. We decided to ask if the chap in the office could ring through and book us in. Our combined French was enough to decipher a menu or order coffee….. but definitely not up to the standard of making bookings over the phone. The small office for Risle-Seine did not open till 10:00… so we put the kettle on again.
The young chap was very helpful and left a message on the site answer phone including our details and confirmed we would be stopping that night. He assured us that as it was a municipal site, it would be open and they would be expecting us and there was nothing in the message given by the answer phone to indicate otherwise. With that in mind, we programmed the junction number on the A20 given in the directions in the Caravan Club book. We had about 310 miles to drive. At 10:20 we pulled off the pitch, in the rain, and headed east-ish… that was until the Sat-Nav came over all French again and decided it wanted to take us north back over that very nice toll bridge over the Seine. ‘Non’!. After some delicate navigating on a map that was obviously designed not to be used for navigational purposes (this map feature will become a recurring theme), and some suitable gesticulating by Sue who by now I swear was gesticulating with a French accent, we found ourselves back on track on the A13 and heading in the right direction.
We were getting low on fuel and I planned at the next Aire we would fill up. On the A13, the next Aire was just outside Versailles…. so we pulled in and I filled the Freelander to the brim – 53.85 litres. The mileage was 62029, so since leaving Morrison’s in Canterbury we had done 247 miles, which meant we had only got 20.9 MPG!. Driving through all the rain and the long hills had taken it’s toll on the MPG and the slightly higher cruise speed of just over 60 MPH instead of 55 had made a difference. It was 11:15 as we pulled out of the Aire and we still had a way to go. It was still raining. As I accelerated onto the Autoroute, the Freelander didn’t feel quite right but nothing I could put my finger on. I reduced our cruise back down to around 55 MPH.
We had only spent around 20 minutes in the Aire, just enough time to fill up and procure some nibbles for the trip and obtain two rather nice coffee’s that seemed to have added chocolate… wrong button pushed on the machine, but a result! The kilometres ticked by and by 2 pm the fuel needle was the wrong side of quarter full again. The next Aire was only a few kilometers up the road and we pulled into the filling station 20 minutes later. Brimming the Freelander again took 57.54 litres and the mileage indicator said 62309. So we had done 280 miles and achieved 22.1 MPG, so reducing the overall cruise speed was working but I’d not gained as much as I’d hoped I would reducing my speed. We pulled forward into a parking area designed for caravans…. or so the sign would have you believe. The turn in was impossibly tight and OK, I know we are 38’6′ or 11.72 metres as an outfit, but we are not that big. I managed to run over the kerb. Bugger. No obvious damage to the tyre, and thankfully the van did not contact anything. We parked up and had a leg stretch… and went in search of more of that nice coffee. The exit from the parking area was even tighter and two thoughtfully placed lumps of rock had my head spinning from mirror to mirror as we only just squeezed out.
As I went to pull away I stalled the engine. Not my normal driving standard. I restarted the engine and tried to pull away again, then the engine was rattling and seemed to have little power. I only just managed to pull away without stalling a second time. Once we were moving it seemed OK…. although it was sluggish when accelerating back onto the autoroute. Every time I came off the power…. I seemed to get “injector rattle” which isn’t a rattle at all but more akin to ‘pinking’ in petrol engines. I started to wonder about the last two fuel stops. The manual for my Freelander says ‘no biodiesel or biodiesel additives’. I was almost sure that the pump I’d used on both occasions were straight ‘gas-oil’. The lack of power was noticeable and I had to reduce our speed somewhat.
As we approached Junction 24 that we were to turn off I saw the signs for an Aire… one without fuel and services…. but it did have facilities, and my bladder needed facilities! It was 17:25 as we pulled out of the Aire and a few kilometers further on we exited via junction 24 to follow the directions given in the Caravan Club book. The directions were a bit flakey but we eventually found the entrance to the site and at 17:40 pulled into the car park.
Well when I say car park, it was actually a gravel area outside the entrance barrier where they stored all the rubbish bins. It was occupied by a couple of motor-homes and three caravans all pitched for the evening. It would appear the campsite was closed and a big metal barrier across the entrance confirmed this. That was it. I was tired and had been pondering the possibility of an engine issue for the last couple of hours. I swung the outfit round and reversed in a lazy ‘s’ back into the end spot next to a very small Dutch caravan. We had gas, a fully charged battery and plenty of water. The loo was primed with green stuff and pink stuff so we could survive the night. If there had not been any one else there, I guess my Britishness would have kicked in and we would have driven on into the night trying to find somewhere ‘official’. When in France….. shrug your shoulders, turn your palms upwards and go “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ” while shaking your head. I didn’t even bother unhitching. We were level enough, so Sue just dropped the steadies down to stop any movement. Within 5 minutes of arriving, the kettle… or in this case, the pan was on and a brew soon followed…. so did a large glass of wine or two and a few beers. At least it had stopped raining.
According to the CC book, it was open all year round. According to the Dutch club’s guide it was open all year round. According to the French…. it was shut due to holidays.
Sunday 14th October
We were up and ready to go… well all we had to do was wind the steadies up and connect the 13 pin plug. We pulled out of the car park sounding like an old Lister engined tractor. Thankfully everyone else had either gone or was ready to go, so it gave me chance to leave the engine idling a few minutes while it warmed up. We only had around 110 miles to go to La Tournerie Ferme near Montignac and taking it easy I guessed it would take around two and a half hours.
We pulled back onto the A20 and the Freelander just about managed to get us up to speed before the end of the acceleration lane arrived. The rattle was still noticable at 1500 RPM but once up to speed in top gear at around 2000 RPM, the Freelander seemed OK. We sailed through Limoge. We had been here before many years earlier in a Piper PA28. We were low on fuel and it was the days before chip and pin…. the refuel guys wanted Francs so we had to go into the centre to find a bank that would allow us to draw cash on a card….. and we arrived just as the banks shut for their customary 2 hour lunch. At least it was 38 degrees and sunny then.
At 9:40 we pulled into another Aire. It was piddling down yet again and some of the car park was flooded, so since you could not see the parking bays I just pulled up along side a kerb. If anyone said anything I decided I’d shrug my shoulders, turn my palms upwards and go “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ” while shaking my head. Sue found the big brolly and we made a dash for the shop. As we had a speedy departure this morning, we didn’t have chance for a proper breakfast…. and up to now, I still had not had a traditional French breakfast where I could sit and eat my butter thingy’s while sipping a strong black coffee and watching the world go by. This stop would still not allow me that luxury. However, once again we obtained coffee from one of those nice machines, and some breakfast type French sticks with salami and cheese. By 10:10 the rain had stopped and the car park was draining nicely, enough to show we had parked across eight or ten bays…. but by then we had started a trend. A German outfit was parked across the way and a French car towing a trailer was behind us. Before anyone could point a finger and say “They started it” we were on our way, rattling back on to the autoroute. An hour later we were passing through Terrasson on the D6089 looking for the D704 that would take us into Montignac.
Phillip has put a detailed set of instructions on his web site on how to find the site as some of the roads were not suitable for towing. Unfortunately I’d assumed that we would be able to access the internet in France to be able to download these, but despite having between us two iPhones (Thanks Everything Everywhere… at least when you were Orange I could make and receive phone calls abroad – now all I got was “no service”), a 3G Dongle with international roaming and a Vodaphone PAYG Dongle with international roaming, we, or rather I, had failed miserably to access the internet. The outcome of this was we didn’t have the instructions given on the web site on how to find them via suitable roads. The saving grace was that a few months earlier I had programmed all the turn by turn instructions into our Sat Nav so it was just a matter of connecting the dots.
We eventually rattled our way onto site at 11:45. At least it looked like it hadn’t rained here and it was actually quite mild temperature wise. We were the last to arrive out of the group of “soft roaders” (if you follow the caravan forums you will know “Megladon” “Indoors” and “Doosan”) As Phillip wasn’t there, we waited a while and got chatting to Chris (Megladon) & Fran and were swopping tails of the trip… they had had a tyre blow out on the van while travelling down (everyone safe) and I was relating our rattly diesel issues and Chris said it might be the fuel as he’s had previous experience of something similar with dodgy fuel. The symptoms he described were exactly what we had been experiencing. Chris suggested adding some diesel additive to see if that improved things. After half an hour of chatting, Chris directed us on to a pitch next to Ray (Indoors).
It didn’t take long to set up… the pitch was well compacted and level so it only needed the steadies dropping. The electric connection was 6 amps and a continental style connector… not a problem – we did trip it a few times, but that was down to us not turning things off before turning something else on…. mainly Sue’s megawatt hair dryer and hair straighteners that seem to get to a temperature that allows them to smooth the ripples out of sheet steel.
We filled up the water container, deployed the waste hog and took the opportunity to check out “the facilities” which I can only describe as “Manifique”. After a spot of lunch we decided, although it was Sunday, to have a run into Terrasson and maybe there would be a garage or filling station open that would sell diesel additive.
Next time…… Some off roading, some fuel additives, and will we manage to deploy the Cadac?
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