Chris and Clyde had long dreamed of a life on the open road. This came to fruition in Oct 17 after purchasing a suitable long term touring 'van and Chris retiring from work.
We worked hard preparing to leave our home as we had decided to rent it out for a few years. We booked a ferry from Portsmouth to Caen but otherwise we had no plan except to head for warmer climes to kick start our adventure.
The plan is simply to amble around Europe (that includes the UK), and Scandinavia, for a few years exploring as the fancy takes us. Previous travelling experience has been unplanned and reactionary and we see no reason to change our modus operandii. We have studied full timers’ blogs and listened to the wisdom of more experienced folk but, ultimately, we will have to follow our own path. That is part of the fun after all!!
This blog is for our family and friends to enjoy as well as providing a record for us. It is not intended to look professional or contain fancy links to all sorts of things. No doubt it will evolve as we go along. The posts will be sporadic as we will be relying on free Wifi. Please be patient!
Looking back at my diary for May reminded me of some small pleasures. We had to attend an emergency eye appointment for Clyde at QA hospital in Portsmouth. This involved borrowing our daughters’ car (carefully sanitised), and we had the treat of speaking to the children from the end of their drive. Self shoulder hugs all round and blown kisses from 10 feet away.
The next day saw us creeping quietly from the house at 0600 complete with flask of coffee and enough sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. We had an eerie trip along the unusually quiet motorways and arrived in record time. We had time to park at the car park on Portsdown Hill where we enjoyed the view across to the harbour and Spinnaker Tower, glistening in the glorious sunlight. We had a small cup of coffee as there were no facilities open! I dropped Clyde off at the front of the hospital and went in search of somewhere to park. It was not easy as most of the car parking is now reserved for staff. I finally found a small space at the back of the site and awaited his return. When he emerged blinded by the eye drops, he could not see me and I had to resort to old lady style cooees! Back up the hill to enjoy our lunch sandwiches and have another small drop of coffee. No toilet trip for me, Clyde was lucky as he had found one in the hospital. I managed the drive back to Bedford before desperation set in. It is not easy travelling during lockdown.
It was now the 75th anniversary of VE day and we had a socially distanced street celebration. This involved sitting in the front gardens with our own picnics. However, we managed to chat to the neighbours, listen to music and enjoy the ambience.
15 May was the first time I had seen my best friend since before lockdown. The rules were now relaxed enough to be allowed to meet one other person outside at a distance of 2 metres. We met at the Country Park in Bedford and brought our own cup of tea and chocolate biscuits. We then had a walk around the lake in the sunshine. Odd to be together but apart.
It was such a lovely treat to see Gill and catch up with our news face to face, albeit at a distance.
There are a few empty pages in my diary for May, which reflects how my world seems to have shrunk. My highlights are my daily walks, now up to between 6 and 8 km per day, video calls with the children and grandchildren, and working on crochet projects. Thank goodness for the sunny weather enabling us to get out in the garden for some of our meals and reading our books. We are so lucky to have been able to move in with Clyde’s sister until we can get back on a campsite. We are also very grateful that so far, our family have remained well.
By the last week in May the lockdown had been relaxed further and we were able to meet some of the family in a local park with each household observing the 2 metre distance rule. We had also managed to find a buyer for the campervan as we had decided to look for something a bit more spacious. It was very sad to see it go as it has been our home since we started full time travelling in October 2017. Now we can proceed with the purchase of a replacement. More on that coming up.
We have now been in Bedford for 3 weeks and there are shocking death rates being reported daily across the UK. So far we have remained well, and the neighbours here are all pulling together to keep each other safe and provided for. Social distancing has been adhered to locally, apart from a few non compliers.
We are missing the children and grandchildren masses, but so far our family has remained well. We have been touched by the sorrow for so many families as the virus sweeps across the country taking so many lives.
I have managed to Nordic walk an average of 5 km per day for my daily exercise allocation. It seems a good idea to use this time to improve our fitness and diet, whilst dreaming of the open road. I am managing the fitness, not so good on diet thus far. Last week I made bread pudding to use up leftover rolls, as we are really focussing on limited excursions to the food shops and reducing waste. It was welcomed by Clyde and by Shane next door. However, after a disappointing scales experience, we have decided that in the weeks ahead, we will not have puddings or cake except on odd occasions.
This has been an opportunity for me to explore parts of Bedford I was previously unfamiliar with. The Spring weather has taken the sting out of the tail of this period of isolation. The blossom on the trees and the Spring bulbs, have been beautiful in the sunshine.
The natural beauty of Spring is there for all to enjoy. This year it was enhanced by the sounds of birdsong that are so often drowned out by traffic noise. This is the silver lining.
It is difficult to know where to start. As we dashed back to UK, the Corona Virus was already wreaking havoc in China and starting to be reported in Europe. By the time we had completed the medical appointments and moved on to visit Suzanne and family in Wantage, then Sarah and family in Great Barford, the virus was starting to change lives.
Almost as though we had got an inkling of things to come, I had decided it was time to visit my eldest brother in Bury St Edmunds. For a number of reasons, we have not seen each other for 15 years, and it was a lovely reunion. I also managed a coffee and cake session with my best mate Gill, which will have to keep us going for a while now. Thank goodness for phones, internet and social media!
We spent a few days in Great Barford, which meant we could do a bit of normal grandparent stuff with Molly and Jessica. A trip to Wimpole Hall, National Trust, was the last family outing before we left again.
Images courtesy of Jessica (age 11)
By Monday morning we had decided that we should remove ourselves into isolation, as Clyde is 79. We chose a Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Malvern and booked in for a week initially. We have been here before and so we knew that it is near the village of Hanley Swan and the small town of Great Malvern. The countryside is beautiful, and it was very deserted and peaceful on the campsite.
All was well, but we started to feel that we should perhaps move ourselves a bit closer to family and friends. We became concerned that if we should become unwell, we would have no support if we remained isolated here. There was also an increasing issue with people heading off to their holiday homes and caravan sites, rather than staying at home. This movement would put immense pressure on some areas and therefore, the Government initiated a further stage of the developing social isolation policy to reduce the spread of the virus. On the Sunday morning of our stay, the warden came to advise us that all campsites would be closing with immediate effect. We asked whether there was any leeway at all for those of us who live full time in our vans. He contacted his head office and came back to say they had agreed to let us stay long enough to make alternative arrangements. It was a big relief, as I had just hung out the washing!!
Joking aside, we are very fortunate to have Clyde’s sister in a house that is big enough for us to move in with her for a while. On the Monday morning we drove down to Gosport to collect Clyde’s prescription, then we drove up to Bedford to become cuckoos in Jean’s nest. We were just in time before more stringent restrictions on movement came into force. Any unnecessary travel was disallowed so we might have struggled to get to our destination.
We had to stay near to Portsmouth for the various medical appointments regarding Clyde’s ruptured Achilles Tendon, and his deteriorating eyesight. To that end we booked onto Chichester Camping and Caravan Club site at Southbourne. It is a lovely village between Emsworth and Chichester, with a fabulous farm shop, handy Co-op, and a regular bus service to Chichester and Portsmouth. I was surprised to discover a village called Prinstead, attached to Southbourne next to Chichester harbour. It is a lovely place to walk along the waterside and there are some pretty houses along the way too.
Once all the appointments were over and we had 6 weeks to wait for Clyde to see the consultant again, and have his leg scanned (currently in a boot), we moved on to family in Bedfordshire. Little did we realise how our lives were to change as the Coronavirus took hold across the world!!
Here we were, once again, travelling through France in Feb. Unlike last time, in 2018, we did not have snow, but we did have plenty of wind and rain. We needed to break the journey from Spain to UK into sensible driving distances and so we allowed ourselves 5 days. Most campsites were still closed but there are plenty of aires in France, some of which even have electric points. We were able to get drinking water in most places and there were facilities for emptying waste water and the toilet.
We really loved it here last time we visited, so decided to head there again. The drive from Burgos took nearly 5 hours, but we felt that we had bitten off a good chunk of the journey. It didn’t seem that way after another couple of days on the road! We were last here in Oct 17 and it was buzzing with activity due to the excellent surfing beaches. This time, it was much colder and extremely rough with some heavy rain late in the day. In the morning the bread van arrived bringing delicious French bread to cheer us on our way.
Nersac is in the Charente Department in South Western France, eight kilometers from Angouleme. The village is very pleasant with a very old church, a chateau that needs Dick and Angel’s attention, and an excellent patisserie. The aire is located behind the Marie’s building and provides free electricity. Campers are requested not to use the electric for running their heating. We were joined by an English couple who were on their way south; lucky them!
We had a stroll around the village between showers and enjoyed the view across the parkland, visited the church, and bought fabulous pastries to have with a reviving cup of Earl Grey tea.
We were here when the schoolchildren started coming home from school and then reappeared with musical instruments, heading for the music school in the village centre. Several of them bid us a cheery bonjour as they passed. We had a peaceful night, apart from the bonging of the church bells until 11pm and again from 0600!!
This village was a bit remote and there were roadworks in the village centre with a diversion alongside a canal. It was a bit confusing, but we found the aire which was surprisingly busy. The village is in a market gardening region near to Tours and looked as though it would be nice to wander round. However, the storm that was due to arrive around now, had started to make itself felt and we stayed in the warmth of the van. The aire is located on the outskirts of the village and is a short walk into the centre.
The weather was a bit better today, although breezy and a bit cold. By the time we got to Nonancourt, it was sunny and after a bit of lunch we went exploring. I enjoyed the architecture of this place and once again, the aire was situated alongside the Mairie and the riverside park.
This is a place with a history that starts back in 1112. There are some delightful buildings and a lovely riverside park. Unfortunately, we could not walk along the river as it was far too wet and muddy.
At last we were nearing the end of our journey home. We had an e.mail from DFDS advising that our ferry crossing on Sunday was cancelled due to the impending effects of storm Dennis. After much discussion we decided to see whether we could get a crossing on the tunnel instead. The difference in price was £8, so we looked for an aire away from the port, and the immigrants, and found one on a farm.
We arrived in a gale on Saturday, which was Clyde’s birthday, and headed round to the back of a large barn. It looked very modern and robust and provided some much needed shelter. To make his day complete, Clyde battled with the slightly primitive toilet emptying facilities, almost being blown away in the process! It was a far cry from last year’s birthday spent in Madrid. It was a very wild night and in the morning we were very concerned that we might not make it the few kilometers to Calais. However, we managed to keep on the road, which was very quiet, and arrived in time for the earlier crossing. It was certainly a lot faster and calmer travelling through the tunnel and we will probably use it again.
Back in the UK we drove through heavy rain and wind from Folkestone to Gosport and went straight to the minor injuries unit for his leg to be looked at. A ruptured Achilles Tendon was diagnosed and we headed to our usual car park to consider our next move. We were blissfully unaware of the excitement looming once we got into the medical system for Clyde’s leg and eye issues!!
For this trip we stopped on a campsite that had a bus stop outside the gate. It only took 10 minutes to get into the city and cost 1.20 euros each. The campsite was very shady and had obviously enjoyed the same wet weather as the rest of Spain. We were advised to pitch in the middle and still struggled to get free of the mud when we left.
Burgos has to be back on our list as we had terrible weather whilst we were there. It was cold and wet and after a visit to the cathedral, we could not face wandering around the town in the cold for the 4 hours until the next bus. I have put some pictures of the cathedral on here, and a few of the grand buildings around it, but there is definitely more on offer and that will get on the blog next time around.
It is said that Burgos cathedral is one of the most beautiful in Spain. We did not get that impression although the colours in the stained glass are rather wonderful. There are also some lovely carvings and statues. The cupolas are also quite unusual and very attractive.
Squares and streets around cathedral
Interior of Cathedral
As you can see, there was plenty to enjoy in and around the Cathedral, this is just a small selection. Interestingly, Clyde was allowed to have the concessionary discount here.
This was a fleeting visit to Burgos, on our long trek north towards home. However, it was a pleasure not to be missed and definitely to be repeated another time.
Merida was on our list for a visit so that was our next stop. Because we are cutting our trip short, we have put the white towns, Ronda and Cordoba back on the list.
Although the weather is not so good now, we have to stop somewhere and Merida is a convenient place. There is an aire near the centre so, although it is not very attractive, we settled for a night there. Merida is a town with lots of Roman ruins that are scattered around the less than attractive centre. We had a little exploration, saw the aqueduct, the Circo and then the Roman Theatre and Amphitheatre. Well, I saw the theatre and amphitheatre as we could not have a concessionary rate for Clyde(we were denied it as we are not in the EU) and he was not really all that keen to see yet another Roman ruin. I paid 12 euros to go in and he sat outside in the sun.
I had been unimpressed with the ruins seen up to this point but, the theatre was worth a look. All Roman theatres were built in the same way and served the same purpose of educating the citizens and for political meetings. I had not seen one with the amphitheatre on the same site before. The photos say it all really:
The Spanish have a curious way of preserving their old ruins. We have seen numerous examples of repair to historic ruins, rather than preservation. That aside, we think that Merida would be worth another visit as we did not see everything. Maybe one day……
Bornos was a surprise as we had certainly never heard of it. We came upon it by accident really, as the aire we had intended to stay on at Arcos de Frontera was not as expected. I went back onto Search for Sites, and found a parking place near a lake, not far away. We had an exciting tour around and through Bornos trying to find the place, and eventually found our way to the small promenade instead. It was deserted apart from some workmen on a small building site, so we decided to stay there for the night. The lake, which is actually a reservoir, was lovely and I had a walk into the little town, which was unexpectedly pretty. It is in the Sierra de Cadiz, on the Pueblo Blanco route and has the usual white buildings as well as the Palacio de Los Ribera, which has attractive gardens.
We had a really peaceful night and recharged our batteries ready for gobbling up some more miles northwards. We got out of Bornos a little more easily than we got in by not using the SatNav!!
Having been off grid for a few days, I wanted to have a couple of days on a campsite so that I could do some washing and get all our equipment charged up. The best plan seemed to be a site at Cabopino with a bus stop nearby for catching the bus into Marbella. We arrived early afternoon and bagged the last pitch. It was obviously a popular place, although it was not really our preferred type of campsite. That notwithstanding, we settled onto our pitch and I headed off to the laundry. I met an English couple who advised me how to get to the little marina and the seafront which was handy, as we would not have found it.
It was a bit of a tricky walk to the marina, which was a poor effort after Almerimar. We did find a nice bar which had the rugby on, and there were lots of Ex-Pats there enjoying the match over a glass of beer/wine/gin……We joined them and rested our legs ready for the uphill walk back to the site. It was too much of a walk for Clyde really, so next day, I left him at home and went for a nice walk along the boardwalk through the nature reserve along the sand dunes. It was a much nicer experience than the marina. The dunes are protected and the wildlife is evidence of the success. It makes a very pleasant place to spend time as there are picnic areas as well as the beach which is accessible via boardwalk extensions.
Having got the washing dry and ironed, it was time to move on again. We were very reluctant to move away from the sun but the campsite was too shady, so we agreed that a day or two at the marina at La Linea, near Gibraltar would be rather lovely. We arrived there in glorious sunshine and I had planned to walk into Gib for a spot of shopping next day. Sadly, the bad weather arrived in the early evening, planes were cancelled and we had ships foghorns sounding all evening. Next morning we awoke to a damp, foggy day and decided to call it quits. It was time to start heading north on the long trek home.
Almerimar marina is a very popular spot and it is necessary to arrive at the marina late morning to jump into spots vacated by people who are moving on. It can be quite a cut throat process at times! On this occasion, we found a spot by the lighthouse and got talking to someone who had a better place overlooking the boats. They were moving on next day and came to let us know when they were about to move off. We were ready for me to run with our chairs and bag it immediately. You can’t believe you would ever behave in such a strange way! It was well worth the effort as we sat with our door slid back and surveyed our lovely view.
The marina is really the jewel in the crown at Almerimar. The seafront stretches in both directions and has lovely sandy beaches which must be ideal for families. There are plenty of small shops, bars and restaurants around the marina to provide interest too.
The sun and lovely view were so alluring that we stayed longer than originally planned. However, we had heard from the hospital with an appointment for Clyde’s replacement knee operation which spurred us into action. We had thought it might be nice to visit Marbella for a change, so we found another grateful recipient of our fab pitch, and moved on once more.
We are on the marina at Almerimar for a couple of days. We stayed here two years ago and decided we would like to revisit. There was a crowd of campers lined up along the marina edge, like paparazzi, marvelling at this amazing sky.
It was now the middle of January and we were still lazing in the sun! It was time to move again but not too far, so we decided on Puerto de Mazarron. Just along the coast is a small village called Bolnuevo and we rather fancied staying there and catching a bus into Puerto de Mazarron. We had a choice of an ACSI site or a free camping spot on a large car park at the end of the village. We plumped for the campsite and were glad we had when the weather took a dramatic turn a few days later.
Bolnuevo does not have a lot to offer but does have a small SPAR shop that stocks absolutely everything, and quite a few bars and restaurants. The promenade is nicely paved and runs along behind the high street and a row of old fishermans cottages.
The sandy beach is very wide and would be a lovely place to bring children.
At the end of the bay there is a rocky area that leads to more coves and the naturist beaches.
There are plenty of nice walks around this area. In the opposite direction you can walk across the beach towards Puerto de Mazarron. It would be quite a long walk, but definitely doable.
I was not expecting to come across the Erosions at the end of the prom. It was a huge surprise as we had not researched the village at all. They are at the base of some mountains and at the back of the free motorhome parking area. These are natural limestone sculptures also called Gredas De Bolnuevo, known as the “Enchanted Landscape”.
The other notable place to visit is the Torre de Los Caballos. This is one of a series of towers that were built along the coast to provide protection from the Barbary pirates in the 16th century. The tower in Bolnuevo is now attached to the chapel. There is a tale about the intervention of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception on the occasion of an invasion on 17 Nov 1585. The village was saved from the invasion due to the intervention. This event is commemorated every 17 November with a pilgrimage to Mazarron bearing the image of the Virgin. There is a statue of the Virgin on the top of the tower.
Having said there is not much here, it is surprising how much this little village has to offer.
The evening sunset on the Saturday was a harbinger of the terrible weather to come when storm Gloria hit the eastern side of Spain. We were treated to three days of heavy rain, strong winds and a drop in temperatures. There were floods and storm damage all along the coast. In Alicante and Valencia provinces the snow fell and caused chaos.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention Puerto De Mazarron! We took the bus on our third day in Bolnuevo. The best part is the marina with it’s bustling bars and variety of fishing boats and private small yachts. We were sidetracked from our exploration by getting chatting to a nice couple who were enjoying a peaceful drink. We soon put paid to that and joined them for a coffee and a natter. Before we knew it we needed to get going to catch our bus back. We intended to return but with the change in the weather, we had to abandon the idea. Oh well, there is always next year.
We arrived at Alicante in the early evening and were collected by Royal Parking who took us to pick up the van. All well so far. We then drove the 6 km to the aire at Santa Pola, where we had paid for the night in advance, and advised the patron of our late arrival. He was so not expecting us! He said we should have arrived by 11am and he had given our pitch to someone else. What a great end to a long day travelling – not! However, I managed to remind him of our previous arrangement and the fact I had paid in advance, and he found us a spot and some electric. He then thought we were staying for a few days, even though I had advised him it was for one night only. Something got lost in our Spanglish conversation I think. The next day we parted on good terms, so all was well.
I have come to realise that it is possible to be lulled into thinking that people speak our language more fluently than is the case. Like me speaking German or French, it is possible to hold a basic conversation, but anything more complex can become confused. It gives me hope, as I always feel bad that I have misunderstood people speaking to me in their own language. Having said that, I am definitely incapable of understanding Dutch or the Scandinavian languages.
As a precaution against having nowhere to stay, before we left Spain for Christmas, I had booked a few days on a campsite in Pinoso. We arrived at El Tranquillo after lunch and were welcomed by the British owners. The site has lovely views of the countryside around and we also had some nice sunny weather. As it is in the mountains, it was a tad chilly at night, but certainly lived up to it’s name. We saw the New Year in here, and a lively evening was spent in the little restaurant on site.
The next stop was to be at Marjal, Guardemar and I had also booked the site there, knowing that they were likely to get full around 3 Kings time. We arrived there to find they had tried to phone me earlier to advise there had been a mix up and they did not have a pitch available. They had therefore, booked us into their other site at Crevillent, twenty minutes drive away. We had driven past there on our way to Guardemar! We were very disappointed but decided to make the most of it and duly presented ourselves at Marjal, Costa Blanca. It is a much larger site and not our usual haunt at all. Again, the weather was lovely and the facilities were splendid, so we made the most of it and relaxed in the sun. Whilst there, we had a day out to El Huerto del Cura in Elche.
El Huerto del Cura – National Artistic Garden
We were surprised to find that this garden is in the centre of Elche. We have been to Elche before and visited many of the gardens, but had missed this one. We parked down the road after a circuit of the area produced no car park. At the entrance to the garden there is a series of history boards in Spanish and English. It was an interesting start to our visit.
In Elche “Huerto” means a small or medium plot of land on which palm trees are grown. Each huerto is named after the owner or someone connected with it. This garden is named after local chaplain Jose Castano Sanchez, owner until 1918. The garden has had many famous visitors over the years and throughout the garden, some of the palms are dedicated to them and have labels with names and dates on them.
The most famous tree here is the Imperial Palm which has eight arms. It owes its name to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who visited the garden in 1894. The palm would usually have children growing from it’s base, but this specimen has them growing from 2m above the ground making a huge vegetable candelabra and is unique.
The garden is not large but has a large number of different palms and succulents as well as a small lake with a variety of waterbirds
We were fortunate to have a sunny day for our visit as it would be quite gloomy on a dull day. It was also very quiet when we visited and we were able to admire the trees and succulents without struggling around crowds. It was a peaceful place to eat our sandwiches and we were joined by a white peacock, who was happy to share our crisps!
We did not visit the Mar Menor last year so I had a look on Search for Sites and found a new campsite right by the beach. It had rave reviews and was cheap, so we were sold. We left the enormous site at Crevillent and drove to Los Alcazares. The campsite is beside an old airfield which is now used by the Spanish version of the Red Arrows. It had it’s noisy times but was mostly very peaceful. The site is not complete yet but the first shower block is open and the restaurant provides a lunchtime delivery service. There is a rather scruffy beach and a boardwalk through a natural area to the promenade that goes all the way along to Los Alcazares. We spent a week here as the sun was shining brightly and it had good facilities and friendly staff. There was a good mix of nationalities which is always appealing.
The Mar Menor is actually a coastal saltwater lagoon separated from the Mediterranean Sea by La Manga (the sleeve), a sandbar 22 km long. It has ecolological importance and is preserved as a natural park.
This was a lovely spot to spend a few days with walks for me and relaxing sun for Clyde. However, once again, we decided to move on and headed to Puerto de Mazarron.
In mid November we started our journey through France to Spain. At this time of year, the French campsites are mostly closed, so we set a course via the most likely looking aires. Although the weather was generally a bit chilly, we did not encounter too much rain. We stopped at two small villages on the first two nights after leaving Dieppe; Fresnaye and L’Hommaize. The aire at Fresnaye was on the edge of a natural park and there was plenty of wildlife about. We had a lovely walk through the forest to enjoy the autumn colours.
Darkness comes early at this time of year and with it any warmth disappears. We were soon tucked up in the van with the heating on.
Our next stop was Cahors on the banks of the river Lot. We were fortunate to find one of the three riverside parking spaces free and from there we had a pleasant stroll across the bridge into the town.
It was another slightly damp, chilly day, so our exploration of the town was brief. It would definitely be worth a visit at a better time of year.
Our next stopover was the medieval town of Foix. We called in at Tourist Information for a map and followed the medieval route up to the chateau, which was closed! At least we stretched our legs a bit. Our plan was then to travel through the Pyrenees to Vilanova il Geltru, but the weather was terrible so we changed our route and went via the port of St Cyprien.
The journey to St Cyprien was mostly undertaken in the rain, but was still very scenic along the D117. By the time we got to St Cyprien and parked on the aire, it was sunny and 10 degrees. A great improvement. It would also make our journey to Vilanova a lot shorter. St Cyprien is a lovely little port and marina with a promenade overlooking the Cote Vermeille.
Although the aire was very full, it was quiet and we rested well, ready to arrive in Spain next day.
A three hour drive through beautiful scenery took us to Vilanova Park campsite.
Now in Spain, we had to lose the French and get the Spanish head back on. Not so easy as there were quite a few Brits to chat to. Our reason for revisiting Vilanova was to get the bus to Barcelona and visit the Sagrada Familia. We had visited more than ten years ago and now wanted to see it without the interior scaffolding. We were not disappointed. It is stunning! The light pours in through the coloured windows and colours the pillars and floors. The scale of the building and the way it is constructed to provide huge open spaces is just amazing. Here are a few pictures to give an idea. We really were bowled over by its splendour.
The pictures really do say it all. We were shell shocked after that assault on our senses and walked slowly back to catch our bus, stopping only to eat our lunch on a handy bench.
We were intending to spend most of December in Albir as we had last year. Our best route took us via Peniscola for a few nights, where we stopped, as the weather was very stormy, then on to Oliva. The trip there was quite unexciting but the campsite was near a nice beach and it was a reasonable walk into the town. Not quite so exotic here but we followed the old town route and looked at the buildings.
After a few days we were ready to head for our old favourite, Cap Blanch at Albir. We were lucky to get a pitch as it is very popular, especially in December. This is our place for relaxing and chilling out. We were joined by some people we met last year, which was very nice. It is starting to feel like a second home! Although we have been before, we managed to do some different things such as the trip to the Jalon Valley, wine growing region for some wine tasting and a great market. I had some nice brisk walks along the front and early morning excursions up the path to the lighthouse. We also had some really stormy weather with the waves washing over the sea wall and across the road. It was most unusual.
After a three week stay, we moved to a camper park near Royal Parking ready for our flight home for Christmas. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but necessary to be nearer to Alicante. I paid for the night and for another night on 28th December, when we would return to Alicante from home. Seems simple but………..
I am writing this in Jan 2020, as the blog was having issues whilst we were in France. I will have to content myself with a quick tour and a few photos.
After Freiburg we drove into France and stopped at Besancon. Sadly the weather was unpleasant so we did no more than a short stroll around the town. The highlight is the Citadelle but, that was up a lot of steps and too much for Clyde’s knee. As we stood at the bottom of the narrow flight of steps, a massive line of students came rushing down and we were almost swept away!
This town would be worth another visit as it clearly has a lot of history. Victor Hugo was born here in 1802 and Louis Pasteur studied and taught here for 3 years 1839 to 1842. There is more to enjoy in the surrounding area that we missed on this visit.
We did have a look in the Cathedral but it was disappointingly dull.
Our goal at this point was Monaco, and we pressed on southwards. Needing a stopover, we found a nice aire overlooking a lake at Nantua. The town is very small and many of the shops have closed, which seems a shame as it is in such a lovely location. Handily, there is a LIDL just up the road from the aire so we stocked up.
After one night we moved on and came upon another lovely lakeside aire. This one was at Treffort, south of Grenoble. It was a much bigger lake with a watersports centre. There were a lot of French families there enjoying the last weekend of the season. After 2 nights there, we could have stayed on without any facilities for free. However, we were on a mission to get to the south coast so we left the lovely lake and moved to Digne les Bains.
We drove through the spa town of Digne les Bains which is very attractive, and worth a return visit, and found the aire on the outskirts. It was a handy stopover for a night but a bit of a walk from the centre. We had a nice evening stroll along the river to stretch our legs.
After much research, we had realised that Monaco does not have campsites or aires. We looked at the map and decided to head for Cannes instead. We could always drive to Monaco another time. I had a sudden rush of efficiency and actually checked the ACSI guide for campsites that were still open. Most of them are closed at the end of September. The one we ended up on, Camping les Cigales, was a bit pricey as they only had a small number of ACSI pitches which were all full when we arrived. We bit the bullet and decided to stay on a luxury pitch in the sun for 2 nights and get some planning done. It was a pleasant walk to the beach, with a footpath along the river, if nothing else.
Our next stop was St Aygulf near Freyjus, after a lovely drive along the DN7.
After arriving at a campsite that was supposed to be open, but was not, we found a real gem. This was a holiday park but the touring pitches were separate and each had their own bathroom. We even had a proper patio and all for £15 a night! We quickly shared this news with our friends who were planning to join us for a couple of days somewhere. They arrived the next day and parked next to us. It was lovely to have a catch up and we enjoyed a walk through the nature reserve to the sea front where we had ice cream. Dinner was a combined effort that evening, we had bought frozen fish and chips in the local supermarket. It turned out that the packet, marked Fish and Chips, actually contained two pieces of fish and no chips. As we had bought a packet each, we had 8 pieces of fish and no chips for the four of us!! Oh how we laughed!
After Sue and John left us, we had another day to enjoy and decided to visit the hilltop village of Fayance. It was a lovely drive through scenic countryside along a steep winding road, yellow on the map. The village was not too busy but had enough visitors to give it a buzz. We enjoyed a delicious citronade, from an artizan shop, outside in the sunshine before climbing up the steep steps to the viewpoint. The views all around were gorgeous and worth the climb.
Port Grimaud and St Tropez
Next stop on our list was Port Grimaud. We chose this as there was a campsite with a bus stop outside giving easy access to St Tropez and St Maxime. It was a pretty drive along the coast from St Aygulf to Port Grimaud. The campsite was only open for another week so we booked in for 6 nights and chose a pitch in the pine grove, near the shop and restaurant. It gave me a lovely view of anything happening!
St Tropez was smaller than I expected but very attractive in a slightly old fashioned way. It is described in the tourist guide as a seamen’s village. We walked around the harbour and up into the backstreets before enjoying our sandwiches perched on a bollard near the yachts. It was very busy with visitors and we were entertained by a yacht backing into a berth right in front of our bollard. There was lots of gesticulating from the crew as they manoeuvred the vessel into a very small space. At the end of the harbour is the Tour du Portalet, one of the town’s earlier fortifications. Passing through the Revelen Door you get an entirely different view of the town and the sea. Up through the narrow streets into the old town, there is a tree lined square that was pasture land for animals until the end of the 18th century. Nowadays it hosts a market on tuesdays and saturdays, and petanque is played daily.
We walked to Port Grimaud from the campsite. It was quite a pleasant surprise as it is truly charming. We were more enchanted with Port Grimaud than with St Tropez. It is like a wee Venice, with canals and boats and lined with pretty little houses. As we passed an open fronted cafe, we were hailed by a couple we had met on the campsite and stopped to enjoy a welcome beer with them. They recommended scaling the tower and enjoying the view, but the tower was too narrow and spirally for me and too many steps for Clyde after walking there. We were happy wandering round the waterside looking at the boats before walking back to the campsite.
We caught the bus into St Maxime which has a lovely waterfront and old town. It was a nice place to relax by the water in the sun and stroll along the promenade.
Our stay on the campsite was now coming to and end. The campsite was closing for the Winter. We went for a lovely meal at the restaurant, a few yards away from the van, chatted to a member of staff from Scotland and got the low down on what campsite staff do when the site closes. The Scottish gent was off to Greece for a few weeks, recharging his batteries ready for the season to start in 2020.
We were now on a homeward trajectory. Not many campsites open on our route but we were more than happy with the aires. We drove through the Camargue and stopped overnight at Palavas Les Flots, near Montpelier. Next stop was at an eco site at Royat in the hills behind Clermont Ferrand, really tranquil and unspoilt but with fabulous showers and toilets in a log cabin. We needed another place to aim for and as we had not been to Bourges, we thought it would be a good place to break our journey.
We arrived in Bourges after lunch and found the aire in our book. Unfortunately, there are building works taking over the aire. There were a few spaces to park and a couple of other campervans there, so we parked up and walked into the centre to the Tourist Information office. We were advised that the aire has been moved to the other side of Bourges, about 1.5 km away. After much thought we decided to stay put overnight and visit the cathedral in the morning before moving on Northwards. We picked up a walking tour map and did some of it before returning to the van. Once the builders left for the day, it was remarkably peaceful. There were a handful of motorhomes keeping us company. It rained heavily overnight and we got up to a grey and miserable day.
Not to be denied the purpose of our visit, we donned our waterproofs and walked into the centre to follow the rest of the walking tour and visit the cathedral which is renowned for it’s beauty. Entrance was free and we were suitably impressed by the fabulous stained glass and flying buttresses that are a feature of this large building.
We spent two hours in central Bourges and got absolutely soaked. We were wet through our clothes and were grateful to get back to our cosy van and dry off! However, we had really appreciated the beauty of St Etienne Cathedral and the charming Medieval centre.
Next day we drove to La Ferte St Aubin, and stopped on the free aire for the night. We stretched our legs with a walk into the village and back along the river. We have been there before and visited the chateau so we knew we would have a peaceful night. I looked at the map to see where we might go tomorrow and realised we were only 3 hours drive from Giverney, home of Monet. As he is one of my heroes, it was a foregone conclusion that we would visit. Motorhomes are allowed to stay overnight in a specially designated area of the car park, which is extremely reasonable and not often to be found back home.
We arrived at Giverney in the early afternoon and in the rain. We decided to wait until the morning for our visit to the gardens in the hope we might get a drier day. We had made the right decision as we were treated to a glorious sunny Autumn day. The gardens speak for themselves, as you can see how Monet’s paintings reflect his love of nature and his garden. The views over the countryside, the flower borders and the water are all evocative of his art.
I was so excited to be here and as we entered the gardens, I shed tears. It was such an emotional experience for me to be here where one of my most influential artists had lived, loved and worked.,
For me, this was the absolute highlight of this Autumn trip. I would love to visit in the Spring to see those gardens dressed in delicate Spring colours.
We were now on our way to Dieppe for our journey back across the Channel to home. Next trip starting mid November.
Whilst staying at Kessingland, we made sure we had seen plenty of coast. The Suffolk coast is truly lovely with lots of history and wild unspoilt beaches. I think it is overlooked by many as it is not dramatic and it is a bit off the beaten track.
The village of Dunwich was swallowed up by the sea in the early part of the 12th century. Until then, it was one of the largest ports in England with a population of 4000. Since Roman times, the sea has taken 2km of coastline and reduced it to a population of 100. 12 churches were submerged and legend has it that you can sometimes hear the church bells ringing (nonsense, of course!) There is a very interesting museum explaining the history of the area and showing artifacts from Roman times. We also visited the current church which was built in the grounds of the old Leper Hospital.
Walberswick was also a busy port in Medieval times, known for its boat building industry. It still has a harbour along the river up to Blythburgh. There is a pretty village green and protected sand dunes leading to the beach. This whole area is a AONB with salt water marshes and reed beds supporting numerous species of birds, and otters.
Snape Maltings is known for its music events championed by Benjamin Britten. The Maltings house a theatre, shops and galleries. They are surrounded by a huge expanse of reed beds and access to a beautiful unspoilt coastal walk. I was also impressed by the sculptures, one by Henry Moore.
Thorpeness was our next stopping point. It is known for its lakes which were dug out by hand in 1911 to create a Peter Pan type of place. The spoil was used to make islands which were planted with trees and shrubs. It now looks completely natural and you can hire boats to go exploring. I can remember doing just that, as a teenager, with friends.
Whilst we awaited further action on our sinking floor, we abandoned the family again and set off to Essex and Suffolk. As it was a while ago now, I have selected a few pictures and will keep the commentary brief.
I grew up in Suffolk, in the small village of Risby, near Bury St Edmunds. We had occasional trips to the coast and visiting relatives in neighbouring Essex, so the countryside was still familiar to me. I have not stayed in the region for a huge number of years so it was a lovely treat for me to visit a few old haunts, and some new places.
First stopping point was Colchester. This is the oldest garrison town in UK, dating back to Roman times. We stayed on a small farm campsite and got the bus into Colchester. We did not pay the £20 required to enter the castle but, the walk through the grounds to the river below was very pleasant. I walked to the old Priory whilst Clyde reposed amongst the tourists in the castle grounds.
On the way to Colchester we spent a few hours in Coggeshall, as there is a lovely old National Trust house to visit. Paycocke’s House is on the High Street and has a delightful old English garden. The little town is very quaint and I was delighted to find some books I had been looking out for, in the local charity shop.
Whilst in the area, we had a day out on Mersea Island. It was a most attractive area accessed across a causeway and overlooking the Blackwater and Colne estuaries. We stopped on the sea front and had coffee at a small cafe after a lovely walk through a nature reserve across the shingle. There are lots of houseboats here and fishing boats plying their trade.
After a lovely relaxing few days in Essex, we moved up coast to Suffolk and our first port of call was Aldeburgh.
Aldeburgh is a very popular town on the coast but we were able to park the van on the seafront for a very reasonable charge. We walked along the front and enjoyed the very fresh air! Wrapped up against the chill of a June day, we paid a king’s ransom for some fresh mackerel pate at one of the seafront fish stalls. It was worth it as it was delicious.
Aldeburgh was the home of Benjamin Britten and is the centre of the International Aldeburgh Festival of Arts. There are plenty of lovely old buildings and shops to amble around.
After Aldeburgh, we found our way to Kessingland where we had booked a proper campsite. It was a good move as the weather changed, the sun shone, and the site was lovely. We spent a day local and walked down to the beach for a cuppa overlooking the sea, then had a day out at Southwold. The bus there went from outside the campsite, so not worth taking the van. We had a lovely day there; it is so typically English, with beach huts, a pier and a town centre with little shops and a lighthouse.
What a fabulous few days and there were more to come……..
Our plan to prepare for a May trip to Scandinavia was now in question due to the increasing delapidation of the van floor. We had to take the van to SMC on 21 Mar for them to look at the floor and send photos to Globecar for advice. A fix was agreed and we returned on 1 Apr for the work to be carried out. Unfortunately, when they started work they discovered a considerable amount of water under the floor and had to refer back to Globecar. Sadly, we took the van away and decided to do a bit of travelling in England whist we awaited news.
Firstly we had a good family catch up. A lovely day was spent at our very own Stokes Bay with Suzanne and children.
After a wonderful day, we had tea at “The Cocked Hat” in Gosport. The children got their pyjamas on and cleaned their teeth in the ‘van, then set off home. Sylvie’s favourite memory of the day was cleaning her teeth in the ‘van! Aren’t children wonderful?!
Next day, we set sail for Hereford. We had stayed at a campsite in Moorhampton when I was still working, and we decided it would be a good spot for a bit more exploration. We plotted a scenic route and took the day to get there. It was an interesting experience getting ourselves through Hereford, but we made it after a couple of detours, and were rewarded with a beautiful sunny evening overlooking some lovely Herefordshire countryside.
On monday we caught the bus to Llandrindod Wells. It was a very pretty, if expensive, journey through Herefordshire and then into Wales. Llandrindod Wells is an old Victorian Spa town which became popular when the railway arrived in 1864, enabling well to do Victorians to visit the fledgeling spa. The town prospered and became a rival to many of the more fashionable spas and resorts across the border in England.
The town is no longer as attractive but, it still has some fine Victorian buildings, two interesting museums and the rather lovely Rock Park. We walked through the Rock Park with its arboretum and drinking basin, and enjoyed the sense of times past. I didn’t take any pictures as it was a bit dull and I couldn’t seem to get any good views.
We only had a quick visit to Hereford itself on this trip as we have been there before. It is an attractive town centre with black and white buildings and a lovely cathedral that boasts the Magna Carta and a chained library. Well worth a visit.
Whilst at Moorhampton we took a day to drive around the Brecon Beacons and enjoy the scenery. We also stopped off for lunch at Hay on Wye which is famous for its many bookshops and the book festival. It is a charming little town with lots of independent arty and crafty shops as well as tea rooms and bookshops.
Following a few weeks in the bosom of our extensive family, in Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire, we needed another change of scene. We had taken the opportunity of getting medical appointments whilst in Gosport and Clyde was booked in for an assessment on his knee, which is now very painful. That is an ongoing process which will ultimately result in another operation.
We didn’t want to go too far from Gosport, so we decided on a trip to Dorset and booked ourselves into a campsite at Moreton, which is a small village quite near to Dorchester. Moreton was the home of TE Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lt Col TE Lawrence was a British Army officer renowned for his liaison role during the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916-18. He lived at Clouds Hill, until his death in an accident in 1935. Clouds Hill is now a National Trust property nearby. His grave is in the cemetery in Moreton.
Moreton village was a 2 mile walk from the campsite and has a lovely tea room, a botanic garden and a picturesque river. The church is known for its amazing engraved windows, the work of Sir Laurence Whistler. We were very impressed by the windows and felt it had been worth the 4 mile round trip at Clyde’s slow and painful pace.
We also went into Dorchester for a look around the town. We were able to catch the train from just by the campsite, which made a nice change. The town is most closely associated with Thomas Hardy and indeed, is the “Casterbridge” featured in his novels. It is another attractive small town with some lovely old buildings and the river Frome running by.
We had a few relaxing days at Moreton and I managed a couple of very long walks with my Nordic poles. We had to go back to Portsmouth for Clyde to have an MRI scan so had a break in our travels and went to visit some old friends and got the van serviced.
We returned to the UK on 15 Mar as the problem with the floor in the van needed attention. We now have a considerable dip in our floor with a spongy area. This is almost certainly due to damp. As the van is under warranty, we had to cut short our travels in order to make yet another visit to SMC at Newark!
We gave ourselves a week to get through France as the weather was not especially wonderful.
After our lovely relaxing stay on the campsite near San Sebastian, we wanted to stock up on wine before we crossed the border into France. I had a look online and identified a Lidl that seemed to be more or less en route. Well, it was but, it involved squeezing the van down some narrow streets lined with cars to discover that it was a very small store and it was closed for lunch! Rather a disappointing waste of time that delayed our journey to Bordeaux.
We had a long and damp journey to Bordeaux and the icing on the cake was the terrible holdups on the ring road around the city. After making an anxious call to the campsite to explain in my best French, that we were were still on our way, we arrived in the gathering gloom at 1800. The reception was still open thank goodness, and we joined the two other campervans on site. I had booked us in for 2 nights so we could get the bus into Bordeaux on the Saturday. Unfortunately it was such a miserable day, we did not venture off the site and wished we had moved on sooner.
Sunday was still damp and gloomy but we headed off towards Poitiers. I had identified a Camping Car Park at a place called St Cyr just north of Poitiers. It was a bit hard to find but when we did, it was in a lovely location near a lake and nature reserve. I had to register for a Pass Etap card in order to access the camping car park. I was a bit stressed by this time but, it was quite simple in the end and I now have an account and a card which is really easy to use. This is a new organisation for camping cars and the sites are apparently, all at beautiful locations. It was 9 euros for the night with electric, which we were very happy with. The weather had let up a bit and I had a very pleasant evening stroll by the lake. I was entertained by an otter which I viewed from a hide and it lifted my spirits.
The next day we moved on northwards and after a 4 hour drive through the countryside, and some lovely typically French villages, we ended up on a peaceful aire at Courville Sur Eure. It was a bright sunny day, a bit windy, but very pleasant. The aire is alongside a municipal campsite that opens in May. The river runs alongside the park behind the aire and there is a small village with a square and some shops. It was closed of course, as it was monday, so no vin for Clyde!
On the Tuesday we went for it and headed for Dieppe. We had a few deviations due to roadworks and therefore we spent much of the day travelling. We finally arrived in Dieppe and found a nice spot on the seafront aire. By now it was very windy and the waves were really impressive. We had decided to spend a day in Dieppe before catching the early ferry on 15th Mar. It was a bit of a dismal day on the Wednesday but, we did a bit of shopping and enjoyed walking along the beach with the locals marvelling at the rough seas. The evening was spent in the van with the wind howling around and rain lashing down. It was not so exciting next day when the ferry ran an hour and a half late and took an hour longer to make it across the Channel! It was so rough we could not stand up and the shop was closed. So boring!!
And so ended our Winter tour for 2018/19. Little did we know what trouble we were due to encounter trying to get the van fixed!! More of that later.