December 23rd 2009 – Telford to Dover
We decided to put our travel plans back a day due to the terrible weather conditions that were being experienced in and around the south of London and it was really a good job that we did as we were clearly not ready to vacate the house when we thought we would be. There are always those last minute things that need sorting. We eventually left Telford at around 1pm and made our way down to Dover, driving through rain and the horror that is the M25, essentially a car park when we joined it. We arrived at Dover at around 7.20pm and settled down to our evening meal of pies from the butchers in Much Wenlock and organic baked beans, very tasty indeed. That was the thing that went well. Through the evening we slowly came to realise that the van had a problem. Water was not coming out of the taps very well and we were not able to get any hot water either. I checked the drain valves, gas connections and everything else that I could but everything seemed in order. As we investigated we finally came to the conclusion that the water pump was the problem as it seemed that it simply wasn’t working………….now, where is it???
December 24th 2009 – Dover to Calais to Ault.
We got down to the docks in Dover in plenty of time after a good nights sleep on the sea front.
We somehow kind of forgot that we had Jack with us and were slightly nervous when one of the staff explained that he must stay in the vehicle during the crossing. As it happens, he just went to sleep and was stretching when we returned to the van, pleased to see us but oblivious to the journey he had just made. Calais looked dull and misty and much colder than it was at Dover. We drove off the ferry and straight onto the roads of France without any intervention from customs, I was amazed at this as we had Jack with us, our passports were not even checked!
We had originally planned to get to Honfleur and spent Christmas there but when we eventually got a signal on the GPS it said the drive was over 4 hours, and knowing that we need to add on an hour for every two due to being in a slower vehicle and wanting not to rush we decided that an Aire in a village called Ault would do us. In addition to this the visibility in places was not good and the snow that France had had was much worse than in the UK, and yet, every road was clear, no ice and no snow drifts, even on the smaller country roads we drove along, through Samer and along the D901. We stopped at one point to let Jack have a break and us a cup of tea and the snow was up to my calves. How well these foreigners deal with inclement weather compared to those in the UK where everything just stops at the first sign of snow!
The GPS was loaded with the co-ordinates and it took us right to the Aire we were heading for, promising stuff for the future! Parked up we headed into town to get some lunch and to see what was on offer for our Christmas dinner. After finding a butchers in the town we settled for a Guinea Fowl and some vegetables but couldn’t resist buying some fillet steak for our Christmas Eve tea. Not cheap at 30 Euros in total but will more than likely be well worth it.
After a bit of a wander we ended up at a small bar where we had a cheeky lunchtime glass of wine, Lorna slipping back into her fluent French like she had never left the place. Back at the motorhome later on we had a further mess about with the water pump fuses and amazingly it started working. Just my inexperience and lack of knowledge of the van obviously, but we now had hot running water and, a water point on the Aire that we could use to fill the tank which was close to empty after all of the previous night’s ‘testing’. A few texts from people back in the UK after a well timed ‘tweet’ from my mobile phone gave us details of the Hymer dealer in Rouen but it seemed as though we would no longer have to make that visit. We went to sleep that night with the sound of rain hitting the roof of the van, it continued all night and washed all of the snow away.
Christmas Day 25th December 2009 – Ault
We woke up on Christmas Day and opened the blinds to let in the beautiful sunny day that we had so far shut out. The temperature outside was 9.5 degrees and there was little breeze. After a few phone calls with friends and family we decided to take Jack out for a walk and to get some provisions for the day. We had checked yesterday and were quite surprised to find that nearly everywhere would be open, mini-market, bars, fish shop, butchers and bread shops. Having bought a couple of bottles of wine and some bread we saw that the Tabac was busy serving drinks and that it was full of locals, so we headed in, taking Jack with us. Sat at the bar we noticed that most in there were smoking, despite the No Smoking sign on the window. People were drinking rose wine, coffee and beers and the chap behind the counter was very friendly. After ordering a cafe each we sat at the bar and took in the atmosphere of the place, Jack had his usual look round and then lay spread out on the floor. The pelople here seem to be really friendly towards dogs and it always gets them talking to us, saying how nice the dog is………Lorna usually talks to them whilst I try and pick things up. I’m not entirely confident with my French unfortunately but I kn ow it will improve as time goes on.
Back at the motor home we relaxed for a while before putting yesterday’s purchase of a nice guinea fowl on to cook. Vegetables washed and peeled, the aroma of the bird cooking in the double skillett started to fill the van…….lovely! We had roast potatoes, carrot, chickory (we think, very much like a fat leek with leaves forming a bulb), guinea fowl and some special home made stuffing from the local butchers. Bottle of wine, sorted!
Before we knew it it was knocking on for 4.30 so we washed up and took Jack on another walk, this time, away from the main street and up to the lighthouse on the hill above us. Though there were lots of houses, not many of them seemed to be occupied with shutters across the windows and no lights on. Not many signs of life at all.
We wandered all along the seafront and then back into the bottom part of the main street where it was also very quiet, nothing open tonight. I did manage to take a few slow shutter panning shots of the sea as the sky turned a slight shade of red.
We move on tomorrow, heading down toward another aire in a port just south of where we are…….we have now run completely of water so we will be stopping at some more aires on the way to see if their taps are on.
Hope everyone had a good Christmas Day, ours was extremely relaxing and I didn’t have that ‘God I ate too much’ feeling.
Boxing Day 26th December 2009 – Ault to St. Valery-en-Caux.
What a day of opposites we had. We were quickly running out of water and decided that we needed to move on to try and find an aire that had the water supply on so we could fill our tank up. So, Jack walked and everything prepared we said goodbye to Ault planning to head to St. Valeray-en-Caux, and to stop at numerous aires on the way down. Key in the ignition, ready to go, turned…………nothing!
Luckily the aire we were on, despite having no water did have electricity so we plugged the van in and took advantage of the hour of electricity we had to trickle charge the starter battery, at least warm it up a little and see if she would start. After an hour she started without trouble and we were over the scare of being stranded in a little sleep village with a dead van over next few days.
The first aire we visited was Le Le Treport was a real eye opener. Having been virtually alone for the last few days this aire couldn’t have been more different. I lost count after 30 vans and the water point was on………JOY! (maybe the reason for the place being so busy was this and the free electricity). So, we filled up the tank with nice fresh clean water and started on our way to St. Valeray-en-Caux, stopping at a supermarket en-route to stock up on supplies.
St. Valery-en-Caux is a busy town right on the sea with masses of sailing boats moored in the harbour. We headed straight for the aire which was located right on the beach and parked up alongside maybe 10 or more motorhomes, none of them British. It seems that the French and Dutch make good use of the facilities in France whilst the British seem to head further south for the sun, we will get there eventually but for the time being, the sun is out, we have gas and water and we are in no particular rush to get into Spain.
27th December 2009 – St.Valery-en-Caux to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine.
We had decided to head toward Rouen as we were still having problems with hot water not running properly, so we identified La Mailleraye-sur-Seine as a ‘half way point. We also needed to fill up with diesel but being a Sunday it seemed that none of the fuel stations were open, so we crawled our way to our destination trusting in the sat-nav to get us there. Unfortunately the Tom Tom decided to tell us to turn left where there clearly wasn’t a left hand turn and the signs in the town were not very clear. Add to this a local who was advertising an ‘aire de camping car’ in pretty much the opposite direction to which we were heading and the confusion ensued. No idea where the official aire was and running low on fuel. Eventually though, as always, we managed to find where we were supposed to be and parked up right alongside the River Seine in a beautiful town. From then the usual drill took place, a quick walk with Jack to have a nose round and then onto the local bar for a drink, my first beer in France and quite nice it was too, Belgian blonde beer, 6.2%.
In the rain we made our way back to the motorhome and settled in for the night, we even managed a hot shower each as the hot water situation seemed to have resolved itself so there was now no need to get to Rouen to have it looked at. We have promised ourselves a trip to Honfleur tomorrow with the special treat of lunch out.
28th December 2009 – La Mailleraye-sur-Seine – Honfleur – Deauville – Tilly-sur-Seulles.
We left La Mailleraye-sur-Seine early today, planning to get to the huge aire at Honfleur, park up, have some lunch and then just chill out for the afternoon. The van started without trouble despite their being frost on the ground and we managed to find a petrol station within a mile of where we parked up.
Honfleur was about an hours drive away so we set off knowing that we would get there in plenty of time for lunch. On arriving there we went straight to the aire to find that neither the electric or water supplies were on, we paid our 7 Euros to park up only then to be told that the aire was ‘officially’ closed and that there was no need to pay, you could still stop there, but with no services. We actually met some British people here too!
We found a lovely little restaurant just off the main harbour and took advantage of the ‘menu du jour’ which was 12 Euros 90, Lorna had chicken livers followed by steak and I had fish terrine followed by grilled ham, both of us then had a chocolate pudding and an expresso with a calvados! Ended up spending just over 50 Euros but it was very nice and we had promised ourselves a good lunch anyway. A further walk around the town to settle the stomach and we were back at the motorhome.
Somehow at that point we decided that we should drive to Deauville to look at the aire there which was advertised as having free electricity so we set off on the short journey there. Unfortunately we didn’t like the look of the aire there as it seemed that it was inhabited by people full time, it was small and right by a main road, so we took advantage of the water supply which was on, filled our tank up and started off again heading for a small village called Tilly-sur-Seulles which also had an aire advertised as having electricity available (all this just so that I could charge my laptop up!). We arrived at Tilly-sur-Seulles at around 4.15pm, parked up in the aire (essentially just a roadside car park, but it would do us for the night) did some shopping and, with power, continued to tap away to get our blogs up to date. Still unfortunately no internet access but at least it’s ready for when there is.