It’s almost 6 months since I last posted and our only trip this year. Since then, apart from moving the van out of the way to get BugBlanc in and out of the garage, the only place we have been is 20 miles down the road to Perth to meet Sarah & James for coffee on their way south.
It’s below freezing here in the Heart of Scotland and the van is covered in a dusting of snow. It will be 2 years old in a weeks time so I knew it would be asking for a se4vice even though it has only done 600 miles since last year.
So this morning I thought it best to have look. I checked the batteries and the Votronic panel told me that the starter and leisure batteries were at one 100%. Good news that the solar panels and charge controller have been doing a great job. Of course as you would expect the van started on the button.
So that’s it, booked in for a service. Frustrating because it’s a waste, it is part of the package we bought, but modern vehicles insist that it is done on schedule. At least it can have a drive to Dundee and back, perhaps the long way round.
After several months of Covid Lockdown it is great to have a couple of days on the road. Camp sites are open but without facilities until tomorrow which is fine as we are self sufficient. We have a site for tonight and staying on Clare’s, my cousins, plot tomorrow.
Just for a couple of days before everyone is released in Scotland on 15 July we have got away for a couple of nights. The first of our hopefully many wee journeys around Scotland.
We have travelled up through the Cairngorm National Part to Moray, about 90 miles north of us, for a night in Grantown-on-Spey. A pleasant day, nice for travelling and quiet roads. Spectacular scenery, winding rivers, wonderful roads and still snow on the top of Cairngorm. We had time to go a little further to the seaside for Fred to have a run on the beach and a dip in the sea at Nairn.
Curious event of the day occurred on a single track road across the moors near Tomintoul. I pulled into a passing place for an oncoming car – it was our neighbours!!
Grantown-on-Spey is a very well to do place and the camp site is very smart. Plenty of gift shops to nosy round. We can’t really speak for the food shops, bars and cafes in the current climate.
Next morning we went back to the coast and a drive to Elgin and Kieth. We were in awe of the agriculture and the extent of the cereal crops. For lunch in Kieth we stopped in the car park of the China’s visitor centre. The visitor centre is just a front for a huge whisky brand.
That afternoon a trip to Cullen, yup the place of Cullen Skink, and another fab beach. My cousin lives a few miles from the beach so we all had a great evening and for us a night in the van.
And the drive come the next morning along the north Moray and Aberdeenshire coast before a quick bash to nome for dinner.
In anticipation of the odd night away we have been doing a bit of tidying.
The kitchen got a new paper towel holder and we finally got around to that all important loo role holder- especially one that you can easily take the loo roll off while you shower.
The toilet / shower floor had a plastic slated duckboard that was a nice idea but simply didn’t work as the rubber feet disintegrated as soon as you stood on it. I eventually found a nice bamboo one that was the right size all but 15mm and a cut out in the corner. For the money is seems very well made, bamboo is waterproof and will be comfortable to stand on. It sits on hard rubber feet with enough clearance for the floor to drain away.
Back in January we had plans for 2020 and then along came Covid-19. The van has sat on the drive except for a trip to gets its MoT and one to fetch my Beetle chassis from and deliver the body to Retrograde Autobody in January and another a couple of weeks ago to take the Polo for its annual srvice.
Now we are coming to the decision to cancel our 2 month Europe trip. Not that we are worried about our ability to stay safe but the changing rules across Europe and our lack of anything other than a bit of French and German should we become ill is disconcerting. Neither is traveling through England an attractive idea and who knows what sort of second wave or lockdown we may have to return to.
So what to do? Well we can travel all over Scotland in a couple of weeks time but here again there is likely to be a problem with campers and caravaners swamping us. We will just have to go easy and see how it all pans out.
Meantime the van has just had a tidy up, finish off a few details that didn’t get done last year, take the bike rack off – won’t need it for shorter trips at home and check the hob and water heater are both still working OK.
We are full of trepidation about what the future brings and, not knowing where Brexit takes us, haven’t been able to make any travel plans. As it is, in the period to the end of 2020, it seems that we will still be able to travel in Europe but after that – well who knows? At the worst, which seems all too likely, to travel in Europe we will need visas to stay longer than 90 days at a time, private health insurance, green cards for our motor insurance, additional recovery cover and the worst of it Freds passport won’t be valid and it could take 4 months of planning and blood cultures. If this comes to pass my calculations so far are that this will cost us an extra £700 a year never mind any further collapse in the value of the pound. So our plans of travel in retirement have been royally screwed.
Originally we thought we would stay at home this year and explore Scotland and we will in the spring and early summer. We are thinking west coast, the islands and probably the NC500, none of which are far away, as well as days out to the coast and into the mountains.
We had thought about Norway again but so soon after our last trip and with a great many similarities to home in Scotland we decided against. In addition there are some logistical issues such as the ferries and cost of them with Newcastle – Amsterdam working our at £950, Hull – Rotterdam/Zebrugge £670 as opposed to the tunnel at £275. On to which there is the additional cost of Hirtshals – Kristiansand at £400. So I don’t mind driving to the tunnel but there is a complication as Fred would need a worming tablet for Norway and if we used our local vet it would be a slog to get on to the Hirtshals ferry within 120 hours.
So with all that in mind we have decided to take the plunge and head south this summer. Good old Newhaven – Dieppe is inexpensive, with the van only being charged the same as a car, and still the most convenient route with Fred in the van. We have booked 2 months away and are thinking west coast France and northern Spain and Portugal again. We loved it so much last time and the weather should be fab in late summer. Granted it could be a wee bit busy in August but we are well equipped to wing it and it will be quieter as get into September.
With the ferry booked we have 6 months to plan our trip, as far as we intend to plan that is. There are a few places we visited before that we want to again, the Pyrenees, Haro, the beaches in Galicia, Laredo, St-Jean-de-Luz/Bairitz and the fish shop near the camp site in Gujan-Mestras to name but a few. They all set the imagination off and something to look forward to while we wait for winter to end.
Oh and a small footnote:- our stocks of necessities from French supermarkets are almost at an end ;=)
How time has flown since I last added to this blog. We have sold up and moved 500 miles north into Scotland. The van has been earning its keep during this time ferrying us up and down the country on more than one occasion including once with our Polo on the trailer and another with our new project VW Beetle on the trailer. We have done a couple of other short trips in the meantime including a long planned camp out at Sandringham with friends.
So now the dust has settled we have managed to use the van for the odd trip out such as an evening in the hills not quite seeing the Aurora and just this weekend another bash to the far south to visit family and Slough Swapmeet, an auto jumble for air cooled VWs that contrary to its title was at Newbury race course. The significance here of these two trips, and particularly the later, was testing cold weather use. several nights around freezing and we had the Wallas fired up in heater mode and the hot water from the Planar. All I can tell you is that they both worked excellently and we were toasty warm. We turned the heating off at bed time and climbed into our 4 season bags and stayed come all night.
So now we are looking for the opportunity to take it to mountains in the near future.
June and time for what has almost become a regular sojourn to the north west corner of France. The key thing this year was to really try out the van, its facilities and usability, particularly with Aire/Stellpatz style stopovers, wild camping and being off-grid. Some of those who follow our travels will already know we have an affinity for this area. We have visited Brittany many times since I first holidayed in Mousterlin as a kid in 1967. We visited several times with friends and camping by motor bike and then staying in various Gites until in 2006 when we bought our hose in Treboul. We loved the house and the place that we enjoyed until 2012 when we sadly had to sell. We have been back again over the past few years camping in the viallage and usually celebrating Sue’s birthdays.
We had booked a late afternoon ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe so even though it was Le Mans week it was very quiet as it didn’t land until 22:30. Fred was as comfortable ever in his new van and slept all the way. It was an incredibly calm crossing and we enjoyed a picnic and a beer in the rear saloon as watching a fabulous sun set. Sadly as we got close to Dieppe we could see that the weather was grim with Acuweather telling us there were thunderstorms in the area. Our plan was to drive to La Mailleraye on Seine near Rouen. Here there is a vet and a good Aire so we could make an appointment for Fred’s worming on the return trip. The drive was mostly dry and we arrived at midnight to find the Aire was full and we couldn’t find another spot in the village so wild camping it was in a car park by the Pont de Brotonne. Actually we had a very quite night after we moved away from a pond full of noisy toads.
We drove back to La Mailleraye, took Fred for a walk along the river bank where huge ships were hiding in the fog on their way upstream to Rouen. We bought croissants and had breakfast while we waited for the vet to open and booked Fred an appointment for two weeks time.
Our next port of call was to be Le Mans for the 24 Hour Race, see my blog from there. We used the peace and not used to our larger van got a shock when the toll came to 48 euro – that is going to be a bit of a game changer.Before we went into the circuit we needed a big shop up at Auchean to fill the fridge and wine rack for the weekend. We stayed at the circuit from Wednesday until Monday morning before we headed west to Finistère.
The journey to Treboul took us longer than we have been used to, again the bigger van thing. I am quite happy though that we are getting over 30mpg on what is afterall a tight new motor. It was mid afternoon before we got to E’Leclecrc to do another shop. Stocked and refuelled we headed to Camping Trezulien for two nights. It is a nice quiet little site on a hill side surrounded by woods and 10 minutes walk into the village (port du plaisance and shops).
Tuesday was Sue’s birthday so first thing I marched Fred down to the boulangerie fro fresh croissants and pan aux chocolat. A morning walk around past our old house, a peek at the garden that has become so well established after we remodel it, and then down to Sables Blanc and around the headland into the port for lunch at La Griella. Now driving all that way for pizza may seem odd but they aren’t any old pizza, they are a paper thin base with wonderful toppings. We had our usual with our litre of house red and even our usual deserts. We have been going there since it first opened and the lady who owns and runs it remembers us from quiet winters evenings huddling in the warm around the same pizzas and a litre of house red.
We set out from Treboul not sure of where we would be pitching up and headed through low cloud on Mendez Homme to Morlaix and then the coast road to St Brieuc and Dinard. Frankly I expect a more sonic road along the Cote d’Amour but we hardly saw any of it. There does seem to be a lack of aires in Brittany but we eventually found a nice spot at St-Jacut-de-la-Mer, an interesting little village if we had been minded to stop and explore.
We were planning to a bit more of the D-Day beaches so we headed past St Malo, Mont St Michelle, Avranche and St LO before we got to the museum at Utah Beach. Incidentally we have been to St LO twice before, once in the ’80s when we stopped at the Hotel de l’Universe and again in the ’90s when we spent the day in A&E having been knocked of our bike. We took a look at the Aire at Utah beach which looked decidedly scruffy and they wanted paying. A couple we met there commented that it was the worst they had seen so we decided against staying and headed for Arromanches, Gold beach on D-Day, and the municipal camp site in the town centre. We were there at the same time last year but strangely the town was quieter despite it being just 2 weeks after the 75th anniversary events.
The following morning we took a short drive to the gun battery at Longues. Four 150mm guns atop the cliff would have done a lot of damage and were seemingly taken care of quite quickly. Three are still fairly intact but the fourth must have taken a direct hit that penetrated the bunker. The resultant explosion within was catastrophic.
Our next stop was the British cemetery at Bayeaux, the beautifully kept resting place of some 4000 souls who gave their lives for a better Europe. We wanted to pay respect, to say thank you and finally to apologise for the unforgivable emayhem that is Brexit. Walking around the cemetery pondering the waste of youth was quite sobering. It is so sad the number of graves whose occupant is unknown and the memorial to the many hundreds who don’t have marked graves. Interesting to see the other nationalities, not just commonwealth but also Russians, Americans and many Poles. The cemetery is just one of several British but also of the large USA cemeteries, Canadians, French and of course Germans.
Back to Arromanches we parked on on the overnight cliff top Aire with a view out to sea. From there it was possible to put into perspective the extent and sheer genius of the mulberry harbour that for a few weeks landed many of the troops and a large proportion of the vehicles, equipment and supplies. It was clear from its position and topography why the location was chosen and the the Germans would have least been expecting it there. On the cliff top is a small memorial garden created for the anniversary. It is in 2 halves and represents Bill Pendell who landed as a solider and as an elderly D-Day veteran. The ghostly figures emerging from the surf have been very cleverly executed. The sunset lasted sometime and was quite spectaular as was the sunrise the following morning. As we were leaving we could not help but admire the absolutely mint and drop dead gorgeous Aston Martin DB4 Superleggera in the car park and nice to see it being used.
We headed next for Pegasus Bridge at Ouisterham stopping to look at the Canadian museum at Juno beach. We passed by the museum at Pegasus Bridge last year but decided to actually go in this year. It was the only one we had paid to go in and it was interesting enough to make it worthwhile. A short drive away took us the Melville Battery that was the farthest east of the D-Day landings. The gun batteries had been heavily targeted beforehand but the invaders, largely commandos and free Belgians, were surprised to find only old WW1 Yugoslavian field guns.
Our next task was to find somewhere for the night. We had mistakenly imagined that there would be plenty of Aires along the coast. There weren’t, and to make matters worse it was a very hot and busy Sunday so those few that there were (an they only had a handful of spaces each) were rammed. As a result we carried on all afternoon until we reached the large Aire at Honfleur. It too was rammed but a very kind Belgian camper offered to move over and make space for us. The next morning as people moved on we were pretty quick to grab a space on the waters edge. Although very touristique Honfleur has a certain “je ne said quoi” that we could never tire of. It was Saturday and very busy so we kept away and the following day Sunday we made do with a short amongst the throngs around town. Monday was much quieter but still oppressively hot as we took a walk into town for dinner. I think it was probably the same restaurant on the quayside that we ate in last year and the food was excellent helped by the atmospheric location.
From our pitch with a view across the river we were able to watch the otter and his family and the bird life in the roadbeds opposite. It was hot and sultry when we went to bed than night so we left the roof vents open. In the small hours a terrific electric storm blew up and deposited huge quantities of rain. I was vaguely aware of the storm until that is I started feeling rain inside the van. So great was the deluge that it had bounced up off the rood and back into the roof light. So here we were at X o’clock in the morning dancing around with towels and bowl trying to mop up while Fred eyed us sleepily from our bed where he had been since the first flash of lightning and rumble of thunder.
On the home stretch now we had to return to La Maileraye sur Seine for Fred’s passport appointment with the vet. We arrived at the Aire on the river bank in time for lunch and got a nice pitch with a view. It was another hot afternoon watching the odd ship and a few barges plying to and from Rouen before we took a stroll and Fred for his appointment. Now Fred doesn’t like vets but he entered willingly, probably because it was cool. However as sun as the vet pulled his top on Fred made for and sat by the door. He redeemed himself when told to get on the scales which he made straight for and sat down, that impressed the vet and his assistant. Next into the surgery without an argument but once on the table the image of the thermometer and the needle must have entered his head so he struggled until we put him back on the floor. And then the worming tablet, ooh a treat and that went straight down. Job done! Followed by a pleasant evening by the river, a bottle of wine and make up lost sleep the night before.
Finally returning to Dieppe we made the Aire on the sea front in time for lunch. There was an event, the end of a major sailing event, taking place on the quayside. We recalled the first times we had used Dieppe 25 years ago when the ferry went right into the old harbour to the liner terminal that used to be on this quayside before it was all redeveloped and the pavement restaurants and cafes prolifilated. It was a very windy evening kicking up dust and ozone that made it quite difficult. Nonetheless we ventured along the quay for our last meal out and of course it had to be Moules Frites, and very nice it was too.
So here we are, up early, tanks emptied and on the ferry home. Have we enjoyed ourselves – but of course – we can but hope circumstances continue ton allow us these trips. One way or another they will be that much more of an adventure after we relocate to Scotland. That in itself makes this trip more poignant as I have, we both have, enjoyed Le Mans, Brittany and Normandie, to the point of having a home in Brittany for several years, for the best part of 30 years. Living in Scotland might well mean that any trips across Europe we make will be farther and longer rather than just popping across to the nearest bit.
And how did the van perform? It was brilliant. Easy to drive and travel in and very comfortable to live in. Easy driving gave us a good 30+mpg and we had no problem getting in and out of places or parking despite its size. Apple CarPlay navigation was excellent and only managed to catch me out twice. The facilities we have installed; the kitchen, equipment, toilet / bathroom, bed and power systems all worked excellently. Even so there are a few things that aren’t quite right or quite simply failed but we wont worry about them until the summer is done and we can spend some thought and time to rectify or redo them.
And a foot note; Over the years we have done the 600km blast from Dieppe to the west of Brittany and Douarnenez many times. Firstly on bikes then in our C Coupe and 250CLK Mercs and finally in our V6 Vito and our T5 and T6 Transporters. Certainly by bike and car we paid scant attention to speed limits. I had 200mkph out of my FJ1200 and 250kph out of my 350CLK. WE have been flashed by many speed cameras and in particular one near Lorient and always joked that all they had was a picture ion Sue in the passenger seat. However with the VWs I have always intended, if not succeeded, to be good and now with the Crafter it really isn’t possible to be or much point in being anything else. The first night off the ferry as midnight approached I was get a little impatient to get to a stopping place for the night and finally I been caught for doing 87kph in an 80 limit.
An important reason to have the van ready before June was our 24th visit in 30 years to the “Circuit de la Sarthe” for the Le Mans 24 Hour WEC Sportscar race. Over the years we have camped at the circuit off the back of a motorbike with the army of the great unwashed, at club camp sites away from the circuit, in the car on the main car parks and recently in our T5/T6 vans again at the circuit. And while conditions have improved by Saturday and Sunday they still become a bit unsavoury. So this year was luxury with our own comfortable facilities to the track.
Taking Fred is limiting as he is not allowed on Friday pit walk and while he is allowed in all the public areas it is not fair or right to take him in amongst the really tick crowds. Otherwise he is absolutely fine amongst the noise of the race cars and all night long as they roar past every few minutes. Unfortunately he is not that interested in the racing so we have to work to keep him occupied. What does bother him though is the camp site fireworks at night which tend to be worse on Friday and Sunday.
Despite the limitations we camp near Arnage. We can watch racing and qualifying from here and we walk in to the circuit and watch from the kart circuit just before the main straight and stands. We also enjoy a few walks around the pit village and all the concessions and of course a few gold plated beers and coffees. These days that have neat reusable plastic beakers and glasses with artwork for each year. They charge you €1 a piece but they are great souvenirs and perfectly usable afterwards.
This year a highlight of the pit village for me was on the Aston Martin stand. They had on display 2 of their new top end cars alongside the first of a limited edition of hand built DB4 Superleggera. Built as a track ready collectors car it is to say the least drop dead gorgeous. However if you want one you also have to buy the new modern version and as a pair they are £6M + VAT. The press are valuing the DB4 at least £3.1M +VAT.
The race itself was the usual mix of 4 classes of GTE cars in amongst Prototypes. The fast cars lap at around 3′ 20″ and the slower production based cars at around 3′ 50″ which makes for interesting racing once they get mixed up. The only way to follow the race is to listen to Radio Le Mans, an English language station that broadcast all week from qualifying to the end of the race. During the night we manage to get 6 hours sleep only woken when the pace car comes out and the cars bunch up and the engine note drops. Winning the race is about outright pace and good management – just think by 13:00 on Sunday the cars have basically completed 11 Grand Prix distances and still have one more to do and will have completed close to 4000 miles by the time they see the chequered flag.
So will we be back next year? Well the jury is out n that one as we have been so many times and it will be a long way from Scotland just for a weekend. Perhaps we will just have a Le Mans party instead.
So here we are finally finished, or at least as finished as it ever will be because there always be something than needs doing, changing or repairing.
First thing this week the custom shower tray arrived from Henderson Plastics. It is a nice piece of work and very good value. I must have got something right because all it needed was a hole in the floor for the waste, a cut out around the fridge pipe and it dropped straight in. I had a plastic slatted insert ready and with a simple size adjustment it too dropped straight in. Delivery of the shower was followed by a large piece of acrylic mirror cut to size and shape with a cut out for the shower fitting. A little bit of work to trim and seal as best as possible and it is ready to go.
I also replaced the plastic sliding door track with an aluminium channel and a strip of PVC in the bottom to help it slide and added a couple of diagonals of tambour door tape. Now the door works as intended.
With that done there was one more big job which involved a trip to Glide-Rite in Liphook to have a Ride-Rite Semi Air Suspension system fitted. This involves 2 Firestone suspension bellows in place of the bump stops, a small compressor and a small control panel under the dash. So now we can adjust the rear ride height by about 75mm and the springs all the way from soft to rock hard. As the van will always be closer to its design weight this will help prevent the springs sagging, it will make the van more stable and we can adjust the height for camp site levelling and obstacles such as ferry ramps. Not a cheap option but given everything else we have done it seems like a worthwhile addition.
Other than that I have adjusted the tank position slightly to miss the below and shortened the fill and drain pipes. In addition I have made an alluvium tailpipe extension for the exhaust to direct it below the tank. Hot exhaust was already damaging the insulation I put on the tank so this seems a necessity. If this works then I will buy a short piece of 89mm SS tube and make a more permanent job. As I said at the start of this piece – there will always be something to do.
I said a few weeks ago that we knew it was getting heavy and when I weighed it it was already 3280kg so something had to be done.
I think the problem is that the original weight can be anywhere between 2150kg and 2450kg depending on the van spec. I have been assuming 3250kg but it looks like it was likely to have been nearer 2450kg. Another lesson, weigh the original vehicle before you start work. Although the van is plated at 3500kg (the limit that younger folk can drive without passing another test and the limit before a taco is required on a commercial vehicle) the front axle is rated at 1800kg and the rear 2100kg so potentially 3900kg. So on Tuesday I put in a call to SVTech who didn’t respond however John Ruffles at JR Consultancy did and with minimum fuss for £180 uprated the MGW (Max Gross Weight) to 3900kg.
I have popped it back on the weigh bridge with a full tank of fuel and all the camping equipment and got 3340kg total and 1740kg for the back axle only. That leaves a margin of 560kg for us, cloths, provisions, water etc. split 200/360kg between front and rear axles which should be plenty.
So now we are a 3900kg Motor Caravan. Things to remember / be aware of are;
over 3500kg you require a C1 driving license that those of us who passed our tests before 1997 have.
over 3050kg unladen weight speeds are once again restricted to vans, so 70mph on motorways, 60mph on dual carriage ways and 50mph on ordinary roads. Of course unless indicated otherwise lower.
Similar and even lower speed limits apply across Europe.