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Showing posts from February, 2015

How to survive living in a campervan for a week in winter

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We spent seven nights living in Cleopatra in the middle of a cold and sometimes rainy February in the middle of France. Of course I'd have liked it to be sunnier and warmer, but I definitely enjoyed it.

One of the biggest challenges when spending longer than just a weekend is that you need to take more stuff. I mean more clothes really - there was no need to pack more of anything else as we could shop for food and wine as necessary. Not only do you need more clothes for a longer trip, but in winter they have to be warm clothes and you need to over pack in case you get wet.

Cleopatra is a VW T5 California Beach and she can fit plenty in the back. I'm just concious of leaving anything on show. I may know it's a bag full of dirty laundry but to an opportunist it might seem worth a punt. So paring down what we carry to the absolute minimum has been necessary.

When you spend time in a campervan you also have to stay organised. Everything must have a place and everything must s…

Our first French aire

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We woke up on our penultimate morning in France to a miserable rainy day. I came up with the idea of leaving our campsite and heading for the Loire Valley where we would try to find an aire de camping cars for the night. We'd be an hour closer to Calais for the next day, plus we'd get to explore a different part of the country.
I found an aire in the village of Gizeux on Tony's phone with a patchy signal. From the two photos on the website it looked like a quiet and safe place to stay the night.
When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to see it lived up to all expectations. Gizeux is a lovely quiet village and the aire consists of gravelled hardstandings for ten vehicles. Privacy hedges separate the plots. There are trees on three sides and the quiet village road on the other. There are public toilets next door. There's no charge to stay overnight, but you need tokens if you want drinking water. We enjoyed a lunch of fresh bread with goats cheese and a tarte citr…

Gizzards à l'orange

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Thursday was market day in the village of Pouzauges and so we decided we'd have a day mooching around the town and a walk to find the waterfalls the campsite owner had told us about.
We were up and about at 9am and cooked breakfast of sausages and beans which we enjoyed with cups of coffee. Beans, by the way, are not something the French seems to regard in the same way as the British. There was just one variety on the shelf of Super U, in what must have been about 80 feet of tinned vegetables.
We set off from camp at 11am and were in the centre of the village before it shut for lunch. We weren't particularly impressed by the market. Stalls were selling dated-looking coats, tea towels and napkins. A food market did look promising but trying to ask a market stall owner for meat and vegetables in French was too difficult a prospect, especially with a giant supermarket within walking distance.
We failed again at the next two parts of our plan. The first was to visit the church to…

Campervan tour of the Vendée

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We spent Wednesday without any real aim, just driving around little villages. We started in St. Michel Mont Mercure and I defy anybody to drive past without visiting the church here. The church sits on a hilltop and on top of its spire is a gold statue that shines in the sunlight and is visible from miles around. I'm a strongly minded atheist, and though I might believe the people inside the church are all delusional, I can still appreciate a church for its architecture.
Right next to the church is an Aire de camping car and I've added it to my newly-created list of best free camping places in Europe. The site is a very large gravelled area, serviced by clean water supply and motorhome brown waste disposal. It's the stunning view that is the winner here. Perched atop the hill, the highest in the Vendée at 285m above sea level, you can see for miles around over a lake, green countryside, villages and castles.
We left Cleopatra and walked around the lake, stopping in the vi…

Noirmoutier-en-l'Île

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With the weather promising sunshine on Tuesday we set off early for Noirmoutier-en-l'Île, a small island joined to the mainland by bridge and tidal causeway.
We arrived just before noon and our first stop was a beach in the north with dozens upon dozens of white wooden beach huts. There are 57km of beaches around Noirmoutier-en-l'Île and we only covered about 2km on our walk in the sun. There are at least 20 campsites on the island and we walked past one right on the beach that must be a stunning place to camp in the summer.
After our walk we climbed back in Cleopatra as she took us to the centre of the main town where we parked to meander through the streets. Once again we had timed our visit to a town with lunchtime closing and so only restaurants were open.
We walked around the perimeter of the castle, snapping pictures and then returned to the van. I made us goats cheese sandwiches which we gobbled down with the side door open.
We chose a different route back to Camping d…

Cholet

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We planned our first couple of days around the weather. Monday didn't look great and so we decided to visit an outlet shopping complex, Marques Avenue, in Cholet about 45 minutes drive.
We've not had many problems driving here. In fact it's a breeze. I had to chuckle though, as Tony waited at a junction for a van with lights flashing to pass before pulling out behind him. Even with my non-existent French I could work out that it's sign said abnormal load and that he was escorting the mobile home now separated from him by Cleopatra.
We had our first language problem in the Super Dry store where we thought a sign was proclaiming 50 percent off the lowest ticket price. Wanting to be one hundred percent sure I used the Google translation app on my phone, pointing it at the sign and deciding we were right. It must have looked as though we were taking photos as a shop assistant came over and spoke to us. I responded with my best version of 'parlez vouz anglais?' whi…

Our first full day in France

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I never have any idea of the approximate time when I wake up and I'm camping. It's usually ridiculously early. But on our first morning it turned out we'd slept until 10am.
It showed signs of being a lovely day; the sky was blue and, in between white clouds, the sun showed through.
I managed to have a bearable shower with a combination of the cold water and our hot kettle. After breakfast we donned walking boots and set of for the Center Ville.
Pouzauges is a really quaint and scenic village set quite high up. It enjoys great views of the surrounding countryside. A chateaux sits proudly looking over the village and we took plenty of pictures.
We continued walking to the twin windmills and through the woods that the Google translation app had interpreted as the Forest of Madness.
The woods were busy with mountain bikers whizzing past us absolutely caked in mud. Apart from a very few people getting Sunday morning groceries the village was otherwise quiet and deserted.
Our w…

Pouzauges

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It was quarter to nine at night when we arrived at Camping du Lac in Pouzauges. The site owners had said we could choose a pitch and they would find us later. They suggested a couple of pitch numbers that had gravel and so we picked pitch 14 that would give the best view of the lake. Tony drove onto the pitch but the ground was too soft and there was no sign of the gravel. Cleopatra really struggled to reverse in the mud and so I went to push from the front. Her wheels were spinning in the mud and I got a face full. 
After a couple of tense minutes Cleopatra was back on the tarmac road and we mulled over what to do.
Every pitch was the same; the ground was soft and no good to drive into. We knew we had to stay on the tarmac but the only tarmac that wasn't the road through the site was a small area outside the toilet block. We decided it had to be there and just hoped our electric cable would reach an electricity point.
The 25 meter cable just reached and I was just sighing with r…

France

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Our first big trip is a week in France in February, less than a month after taking ownership of Cleopatra, our campervan. During the preceding three weekends we have camped an hour or two from home, slowly optimising the equipment we need and the way we store it, and getting used to living in a van. We feel ready for spending seven days and nights in her.
We arrived a little more than two hours early for our Euro Tunnel crossing hoping for an earlier slot. This wasn't all that successful. We were allocated to a crossing half an hour earlier than we'd booked, but services were running half an hour late so it didn't look liked we'd gained anything, albeit we wouldn't be delayed as we should have been.
As we passed beneath the channel we sat in the back seat and ate carrot sticks which we dipped in a tub of hummus. It felt rather like sitting in first class!
The sun greeted us at Calais. We had Google Maps guiding our direction within seconds of driving off the train…

Hertford (and Ware)

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Our third weekend away was spent in Hertford on a great Camping and Caravanning Club site. We arrived at about 6.15pm on Friday evening and were welcomed by a really lovely couple and escorted to our pitch. It wasn't the slightest problem we didn't like the first two pitches we were shown, and we ended up with a hardstanding near the quiet road we'd arrived on.
We've now got our arrival procedure down to a fine art and within ten minutes have the roof popped up with it's Cali Topper protective cover in place, front seats turned around, bed made and safely pushed back up to give us back our standing room, and the electric hook-up connected. This weekend has been calm and so we've also had the awning out.
Within 20 minutes of arrival we were both wearing pyjamas and drinking our first beers, while researching what to do nearby the next day. I had the most success, having actually been searching for Hertford, while Tony searched for Hereford.
I had come straight …

The bit between trips

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Maybe it's because the van is still so new or maybe I'll always be too excited to wait until the next adventure, who knows? Between times I'm enjoying blogging about the latest trip and planning for the next one.

First of all comes researching sites we'd like to visit based on other campers' reviews, and I'm finding them from several campsite web directories. It's been a bit tough finding sites open all year and I've found that often sites listed as such have log cabins or other accommodation which is open all year while the camping field remains closed.

After settling on a site there's researching the local area to find things to do and great routes for walking. And then there's making sure supplies in the van are topped up, such as our travel bottles filled with olive oil or washing up liquid.

A couple of days before we go away with Cleopatra I find a nice recipe to cook for each night and write a shopping list. The night before I can then as…

The snowy National Forest

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If, like me, you've never heard of the National Forest that's possibly because it's new. About 200 square miles are being planted to form a brand-new wide-reaching woodland spanning parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. It's a project that I think should be applauded.
We ended up at a Camping and Caravanning Club Site in the middle of Conkers woodland park at the heart of the National Forest.
What Conkers seems to be trying to do is bring families outdoors - a good thing admittedly. But it also appears to want to extract money from you by encouraging you to visit indoor exhibits about the great outdoors. My advice would be to enjoy the outdoors for free, and there's plenty to enjoy with dozens of walks signposted. You can research and download maps of the walks or just do your own thing. It's an ideal area for cycling too with access to National Cycle Route 63 running from Burton on Trent to Wisbech.
We arrived at camp at 6pm and were allowed …