Monday, 30 December 2013

Day 5 - Monday 30th December

A day of well needed rest.  We walked into town today and had a look at where I used to come as a child. 
We can’t get English TV here – the satellite dish doesn’t pick up Astra 2 but we have got one which picks up BBC World News and there’s only so much of that you can watch, so tonight we’re going to watch something that I downloaded in the UK.

Not much to report here except that we have now planned our onward journey tomorrow which if we are to get to Altea tomorrow is over 350 miles – we haven’t done that much yet, but we don’t want to spend new-year’s eve on an aire and would like to get to our destination if possible.  So I’m now up-to-date with my blog and we’re having an early night tonight and leaving as soon as possible tomorrow to give us over 6 hours to get to our next destination.  Hopefully if we achieve that we will stay for some time – who knows how long.

It’s a bit more chilly than yesterday so after about 3.30 we have been confined to quarters. We did however sit outside to have lunch and it was very pleasant in the sunshine.

By the way Harry, I’ve already finished the book.  Loved the stories, some of which I had already heard, so it hasn’t lasted me until our journey south.  I’ve never had a book that’s signed by the author before so that one's not going into the book swap on any campsite.  Love to you both and see you when we get back.

Dinner in the van tonight and an early night.  Tomorrow we’re off early.  Batteries recharged and the weather forecast says it’s about 3 degrees warmer in Benidorm.

Day 4 – 29th December 2013 – Our wedding anniversary - we're in Spain

My mood had changed to one of optimism.  The weather had not!!! It was winter when we left Campagnac and we were driving in the clouds.

My worry was that maybe it had been cold enough to be icy on the roads but my fears were unnecessary and apart from the rain the conditions were ok.  Of course we had been up and now we had to go down – there were some steep descents– a longer one was 6% drop for over 6km.  Iain was keen to put the van into 3rd gear but 4k revs at 45 mph seemed a bit of a struggle so I used the brakes a lot and just gave them a lot of rest.  Then came the viaduct.  The cost was 22 euros just to go over, but it was a lot easier than the bridge over the Seine at Le Havre, at least it was fairly flat and you couldn’t see over the sides.

Then we had a really exciting DOWN.  Over 7% descent and a speed limit for big bu**ers like me of only 30mph.  It went on and on and my ears popped several times.  We must have dropped over 500 metres in a couple of miles. That was it not only had I survived the Peripherique but now the Massif Central range.
Now we had descended the mountains the weather improved and we could see the sunshine ahead of us.  Things were looking up. We were nearly in Spain and the sun was shining.

We've got to Spain

In our decision to have a couple of nights stop over we chose to go to Platja d’aro in northern Spain.  I chose this as we had come here as children in the mid 1960’s. I really don’t remember much about it but I did learn to swim here.  My mum did not want to fly and I suppose this was the nearest Spanish resort to the UK.  We used to drive here, in the Vauxhall Viva or whatever else we had at the time.  Which way did we come, how long did we take to get here, what car was it, how did we manage with two young children, were we taken out of school?  All those questions remain unanswered.  My parents had a guest house in Broadstairs in Kent and at the end of the season it seems that the hoteliers charged off to Platja d’Aro for a couple of weeks in the sun.  So for some reason I just wanted to come and see what it looks like now.
Platja d’aro was only 20 miles from the motorway so we found the one ACSI campsite that was open all year round and stayed there.

This was actually a lovely site, heavily terraced so it was a bit challenging just getting on a pitch but worth it.  Not only was there plenty of space but there is a very good restaurant on site, so being our wedding anniversary we decided to make use of the facilities.  A cracking bottle of Rioja and a large dish of Paella later, all the trials and tribulations of the night before were forgotten, we were moving on together to things new and exciting and WARM.

This is where we are now Campsite Platja d'aro

Digressing slightly, my advice to anyone is don’t get married at Christmas – it’s lovely that year but you will regret it always after that.  Normally we had Christmas at home and invited all the family to us, then we would be a bit fed up of eating by our wedding anniversary and then it would be new year to celebrate, followed by Iain’s birthday only 5 days later.  But this year was different – because we didn’t do the big Christmas at home thing this year we weren’t all turkeyed out by our anniversary and were looking forward to actually doing something for a change – like go out for a meal, just the two of us and somewhere different.

Day 3 – 28th December 2013-

Well well well, what can I say?  Mountains, mountains. This was fantastic driving – Neil A – you really do need to get your Porsche over here – you would love the roads.

The aires were a bit few and far between so we had a choice of staying on one in the mountains, or go another 50 miles plus to get nearer to Montpelier.  As I had not appreciated travelling in the mountains in December and that we were shortening our daily journey to around 250 miles I chose to stop earlier rather than later and we planned to stop at Campagnac, a small quaint village in the Massif Centrale (mountains).
We took a break at the motorway services where I quickly checked my emails – I wanted to make sure that nothing untoward had happened at home that we would have to return for BEFORE travelling ANOTHER 250 miles further south.  Luckily all was quiet and my mind was at rest.

Of course what I didn’t consider when agreeing to go over the mountains is that when you go up, you have to go down.  Also this was December and even though we were headed south to the warmth, we still had to go up the mountains where it was cold – and SNOWING!!!!!
At the top of one mountain (this is the Massif Centrale) the altitude marker was 1,110m that was the highest that I saw, I mentioned that the rain had become a little “sleety” and then it started snowing. This was getting quite exciting.   (Note, I’ve changed from scary to exciting).

We arrived at Campagnac which was very strange place, the whole place looked like it should have been deserted, the houses looked so dilapidated, however there were definite signs of life and  I’m sure this would have been beautiful in the summer months, but hey this was December.  During the night it was raining AGAIN!!! And I had the thought that at least I could hear the rain – that meant that it wasn’t snowing.  I really didn’t want to get caught here up the mountains for a couple of months during the winter – we were heading for Spain and the warm weather.

Unfortunately the strain of the driving, being in the van 24/7, no campsite facilities or electricity and the incessant horrible weather had taken it’s toll on me and I went into complete meltdown that evening.  I didn’t want to do this, we’ve left everything behind – what I really needed to hear was “That’s ok we’re going to the sun and to better things” but I’m afraid that that wasn’t forthcoming and the answer should not have been “Well we’ll go home now then” so my mood was even blacker than the sky.   Still a meltdown is a good thing sometimes, it gives  me a chance to think and to then come to my senses and remember all the reasons that we are doing this in the first place. Whilst for Iain this is a big relief, leaving work and retiring, I already had a charmed life and enjoyed it.  I didn’t need the change like he did.

I think Iain realised that I needed a rest and that rather than return home and get a divorce we agreed that as soon as we got to Spain we would stay on a site for a couple of days and have a break from driving. 

I didn’t sleep well and Iain had almost got the van ready to move on when I got up.  A bit sleepy  I got into the driving seat and we were off again for another 250 miles – next stop ……………………………………… Spain.

Day 2 – 27th December 2013

A fairly innocuous day travelling from Montreuil to Mery Sur Cher – about 250 miles.  Actually that’s a total lie.  The sat nag route wasn’t checked thoroughly before we left and it sent us to Paris, instead of via Rouen.  There was no obvious way to re-direct so we decided to continue as it was a second option anyway.  This was going to mean a trip around the dreaded Peripherique.  Not only that but Paris has a new motorway which it kept directing us to – the downside of this was that it was a tunnel and had a height restriction of 2m and we are over 3.  So not only did we have to navigate the peripherique, we had to do it without the help and actually with the hindrance of the sat nag. 

Finally we were out of the clutches of Paris and the rest of the journey went smoothly.  But at least for our adventure I can say that I drove a 7.5 tonne truck on the Peripherique AND SURVIVED!!!!

We stayed on an aire again which this time had electricity – the first time we’d had electricity for days so were able to watch a bit of TV in the evening and to get everything charged. We had arrived at around 3.30pm and only one other van was there, by about 7pm there must have been  7 or 8 vans parked up.  We are always surprised by how many motorhomers like to travel during darkness – we hate it and also like to get to an aire early before they get too full.

 For some reason the electricity tripped in the night but we didn’t mind as we were off - oh and another free night.

When planning the route Mr Always asked me if I wanted to go over the mountains or the long way round.  Well I looked at the map and considered that a) the roads would all be motorways and b) they weren’t too wiggly so probably they would be ok.  We had gone through the Ardeche Gorge in Vanessa a few years ago and that was the scariest drive I’ve ever done.  Iain was driving and I was pleading that he slowed down when he was only doing 10 mph.  I said then that I was very scared and he said “You’re scared, I’m 6 feet nearer the edge than you”.  Why do we torture ourselves like this?  Is adventure supposed to scare the hell out of you?

The Adventure Begins – Day 1 Boxing Day 2013

We awoke fairly early, the plan was to stay on aires until we got to Spain so the opportunity to take showers in a house was taken advantage of.  We had booked a mid morning ferry so that we would be able to leave in the daylight and also to say our goodbyes.  Also with it being a VERY boring day for dogs we got up and made sure that the smelly one had a run on the beach before breakfast.

The weather for the last few days had been awful and today ………. It was as calm as a millpond. Of course there was another storm due in that evening but for this morning we would have a good crossing – we could not have picked a better day – was this a symbol for our trip to come.

As one of his leaving presents from work, Iain had been given a proper French beret (from the French contingent) along with a load of pictures of his work colleagues wearing it.  We thought this was a fantastic idea and he decided that he would rather like the beret to be a “trade mark” to his travels. I think that as he is no longer a “suit” there might just be a little eccentricity creeping in. So  the beret will go everywhere with us and I will be taking photos to prove it.
Showered and clean we bade our farewells and left for Dover – a short drive.  We had decided to travel flea-bag ferries (myferrylink) because they had the best time for us, although after our last crossing with them we weren’t very impressed.  We didn’t bother to try to brush off any crumbs from the seats in case we disappeared into a cloud of dust again.

Very smooth crossing and lovely sunny day we were soon on our way.  We had decided that we would only take a short drive on the first day – we (or was that I) got it wrong and expected it to be getting dark around 3pm (an hour earlier than in the uk) but of course it was 5pm (an hour later) so we could have gone a lot further on our first day. 

Our first stop was an aire  about 20 miles from Calais. This was just a dump stop as we were desperate.  We’d been away from campsites now for 6 days without any facilities and didn’t dare wait any longer – just in case the aire we were headed for didn’t have any facilities. There just is nowhere in England to dump – it’s about time we got our act together.  Actually we had planned to use the facilities at Cobham services and they charge you £5 just to dump – but that’s the only facility that we have ever seen in the UK.  Anyway as said before the weather was foul and we ran out of time – enough of the necessities, let’s move on.

We then moved on to stay at a very pleasant little town not far (inland) from Etaples called Montreuil.  We were pleasantly surprised.  It was high up and had been a walled town.  Having a walk around we decided to have a look at the ramparts, but Iain is not too good with heights – well actually it’s drops really and our walk around the ramparts was cut very short.  I must admit that I put the dog on a lead and didn’t walk too close to the edge.  There wasn’t even a railing. Evening fell and we retired to Jan for dinner and of course the compulsory bottle of red wine.  There was more rain and the wind picked up again so the storm had come in the evening as forecast, but I don’t mind being blown around when we’re not a the top of a cliff or near any large trees and at least I could sleep without the worry of getting on a ferry in the morning in that weather.

Of course having got it wrong about getting dark early, we also had it wrong about what time it got light. Having wanted to get an early start it didn’t get light until well after 8 am. 

Iain was still keen to do 400 miles a day to get to Spain quickly but I wasn’t.  1.  Iain had hurt his back and so I had to do all the driving. 2.  We have a maximum speed of 65mph (that’s quite fast enough) and 3.  I don’t like driving long distances or spending a long time in the van.

Have I mentioned that I HATE travelling – a strange thing to say I suppose from someone who has just committed to spending the foreseeable future living in a motorhome and travelling around Europe.  But I do HATE travelling.  The only thing I like about travelling is getting there. It doesn’t matter what mode of transport I use, I don’t like getting there, I just like being there.  I’ve flown to the States, South Africa and China and I know it’s worth it in the end but I HATE getting there.

So for me a maximum of 300 miles and 5 hours per day was agreed.  Of course in the days before HRT it would have been only  50 miles driving a day before I would fall asleep.  In fact in the past I was banned from driving the van for over a year because I couldn’t stay awake!!

We had hoped to get to Altea (near Benidorm) by our Wedding anniversary on 29th December and with only 300 miles per day we wouldn’t make it but at least we could be in Spain.

Our last few days in the UK - more visiting

We departed the campsite to head for The Three Horseshoes in Alton.  They are in Britstops and are getting used to us now.  Overnight there and a very pleasant dinner with Iain’s daughter, her partner and his lovely boys.  Yes, really they are very nice kids.

The following day we moved onto the George Inn in Alton for an adult dinner.  We were allowed to stay again in the car park but this was no so pleasant.  We were squished up against the fence, the other side of which appeared to be a graveyard for gravestones – pretty eerie really especially when the dog had to be let out at 3.00am.

The following morning we had to head off to Cobham services to meet some work colleagues of Iain’s and to hand over his company laptop and phone – it was all becoming a bit final. You could see the look of relief on his face that after all this waiting it was now almost over.   The services give you 2 hours free parking and then it’s £25 after that.  We arrived 20 minutes early, they arrived 45 minutes late so the meeting which was supposed to be a bit of social and lunch as well was cut very short.  The weather was foul and Cobham services was really busy.  Still by having to be away by 1.40pm at least that gave us a good chance of getting to east Kent in the daylight. 

This was now Monday 23rd December and as I said the weather was foul.  While waiting for our friends we had a look at the weather forecast.  The Dartford Crossing was about to be shut due to high winds and gusts of 80mph were being forecast.  The ferry crossings from Dover were also disrupted.  Because of the uncertainty of the weather we still hadn’t booked our ferry to Calais and we wanted to travel on Boxing Day.  I checked out the 7 day forecast and Boxing Day actually looked to be the best – well the only day that there wasn’t a storm forecast, so I got on a booked it with Flea-bag ferries – it was starting to feel very real.

We left the services in torrential rain and the journey was horrendous.  In parts we were down to about 45 mph and even our truck was being blown about, especially when we got to the Manston Airport area of Kent when one gust got me and nearly threw us into the hard shoulder.

We arrived in Monkton at about 3.30 – just a bit before dark and luckily we managed to fit onto Harry and Kay’s drive.  Harry is one of my oldest friends – well not in age but in time.  I first met him in 1975 and although we hadn’t seen him or Kay for 11 years it was just as if it was yesterday.  Not only that but they are also keen motorhomers so we had a lot of stories to talk about and swap. Unfortunately along with the stories a lot of wine was flowing and I retired for the night rather confused – well confused as a newt actually.  During the night a huge storm hit and although we didn’t know anything about it at the time (did I say I was a little confused?) by the next morning all of Monkton and a large part of east Kent was without electricity. 

Well to say that I felt rough in the morning is an understatement.  I managed to get up at a reasonable time, then went back to bed, then tried again a couple more times until I managed to stay up at about 11. 
Thank you to Harry and Kay for your wonderful hospitality – it was great to see you again and we really WON’T leave it so long next time.  Thanks also for your book, I’ve started reading it and am enjoying it very much. An opportunity to give  Harry a plug here - check it out  A Yachtsman's Tale

Luckily we didn’t have too far to go, only about 25 miles to Folkestone but there was no way that I was fit to drive. About 1 o’clock we had a discussion and decided that Iain would have to drive.  Oh no! not only did I swear that I would NEVER drink alcohol again (actually not that day anyway), I then had to be a passenger.  I don’t want to labour a point but I did carry one of the dog’s poo bags with me at all times – just in case!!!!! 

Now we were going into unknown territory.  We’re not much for wild camping, we prefer to know that we are allowed to stop somewhere, but we were about to arrive in Folkestone with nowhere to stay. All the campsites were closed for the winter and we didn’t want to be too far away from the family get-together.
We parked up in Wear Bay Road which is on the top of the cliffs at the east end of Folkestone.  Now this might have been very pleasant during the summer but did I mention that we had had a terrific storm the night before? Well we were experiencing the tail end of this now.  Iain had to go off to find milk and I needed a lie down.  That didn’t work and without again going into detail I was feeling a bit better about half an hour later.  I wasn’t entirely happy to be wild camping on such a main road  but Mr Always Right had decided that this was ok, so it had to be ok for me too. 

Now that I was feeling a little better we decided that we could go family visiting.  I did however make the decision that I was going to have an alcohol free day (Xmas eve – unthinkable) just in case the police wanted us to move on during the night – at least I would be able to.  I do think it was more because I was still feeling the effects of what amounted to alcohol poisoning.  Anyway that decision was to be of benefit  later.

We had dinner with the family and then returned to Jan later in the evening.  Mr Right disappeared off to bed and was sleeping soundly – as was the smelly one.  I wasn’t particularly tired when I got into bed so there was no way that I was going to sleep.  We were at the top of the cliff, with a fair drop to one side (perhaps on the other side of the road I might have felt a little less vulnerable).  The wind was blowing a hoolie; all the twats (skylights) had to be closed as they rattled like mad and I was just not going to settle.  So at about  1 am , sober as the proverbial judge,  I climbed into the drivers seat, started the engine and moved us into a side road.  Bliss, no wind howling, no fear of being blown off the top of the cliff (yes I know I worry about nothing) and I was now able to sleep comfortably.  

In the morning, Iain woke up first and got up. He opened the door to go out for a smoke, to find that he wasn’t where he had been when he went to bed and had been transported elsewhere and he hadn’t a clue where he was now.   It must have been quite a shock.  

It was Christmas morning and we took the dog for a nice long walk along the beach at Folkestone and into the town.  We are always scouting for places that we might park up legally overnight and for the motorhomers reading, you can park near the harbour in the lorry park for £13 per night – I know that’s a bit steep but we always sleep more soundly if we know that we are allowed to be parked somewhere.  There are other places in Hythe and Dover that you can park if anyone wants to know them. A couple of lorry drivers we spoke to said they didn’t have any problem parking along the front near to the lorry park in the winter and didn’t get any bother.

A lovely Christmas dinner was cooked by Anne and Neil, thanks - it's been many years since I haven't cooked Christmas dinner - it felt very strange but was most welcome.  That night we tucked ourselves up into bed to look forward to the morning when we would finally get our ferry to France to begin our adventure.

Non-stop visiting

Time to head south.  First a visit to Connor. A bit earlier than normal for Christmas this year but we’ve got to fit so many visits in before we cross the channel.

I made the mistake of thinking that we could visit Connor, have lunch with Iain’s dad and move to another campsite in the New Forest in the same day and arrive before dark. What I didn’t appreciate was the lovely Somerset and Hampshire roads.   The plan was to stay in Bawdrip and get Iain’s dad to pick us up to go to Cheddar to see Connor.  We pulled into the campsite and both said “We’ve been here before”.  Indeed we had but we visit so many campsites that sometimes you forget where they are.
Anyway as often happens, Connor slept through our visit, but it’s important to see that he’s being well cared for.

We left Bawdrip at 2.15 in the hope that we could get to the New Forest before dark – pushing it a bit. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my passenger hates gadgets and thinks that you can just let the sat nag get you there.  NO you need a plan as well for when it doesn’t feel right. Well the sat nag wanted me to pull off the road to Southampton and go to Ringwood and the navigator said to do that.  Well I immediately felt that something was wrong as I had picked the campsite because it was on the Salisbury to Southampton road – nowhere near Ringwood.  I pulled over and checked the map and decided that we needed to turn around and go back or we would be travelling on B roads all the way there.  Well as I’ve said before, turning around a 30 foot motorhome is not an easy task. This was not helped by my navigator who said – it’s ok after the second car.  Unfortunately I didn’t know which was the first car so I asked if the car that had just passed us was the second car.  After the next comment from Mr Right I nearly kicked him out of the van to walk the rest of the way.  The comment was (and he’s never going to be able to forget it) “What part of second car didn’t you understand?” Well I was furious, it was getting dark and we had ages to go and I really deserved a comment like that – NOT!!!!!

Having still to drive through the centre of Salisbury we arrived at the campsite well after dark, to find a pitch black lane with a closed gate at the end and not one light to be seen.  That’s one of those moments when you hope that you put the right co-ordinates into the sat nag!!!! And that you did book at that camp site, not another one!!!

After a phone call we were let in.  I parked extremely badly across three pitches and basically dumped it there for the night. I’d had enough. 

Of course after a night’s sleep all seems a lot better.  The campsite was actually quite nice and we had a pleasant walk into Nomansland which was in the New Forest.  I also managed to get my washing done.  This is something that I’m  having to get used to.  When on holiday I would store up the washing and take it home.  But now this is home and I have to remember to do the washing.

A couple of days relaxation and we were ready for more of our visiting onslaught before we left for France.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Four weeks and we're still speaking

10 days since my last post, but then most of the things to write about are what happens whilst you are moving around.

We’ve been in or around Fillongley for a few days, to tie up loose ends oh and I forgot to mention Mr Right has to go to the office occasionally over the next few weeks.

Having pitched up at The Weavers for a few days and not wanting to outstay our welcome,  we decided to move onto a campsite. We did the necessary dumping and We made sure that we left before the pub opened  as we didn’t think the customers  would appreciate us doing our necessary dumping while they were arriving for their Sunday lunch.  So we trundled off  for a really long journey to Meriden and Somers Wood Campsite – all of 6 miles. 

Oh how our friends jump to conclusions – there happens to be a traveller site in Meriden  so they immediately thought that that was where we were.
Lots of offers again of would we like to have a shower, a meal, or even a bed for the night.  We’re convinced that people think that we are living in squalor and eating road-kill.  Actually I nearly hit a rabbit on the way back to the camp site the other night, a bit more accuracy and we could have had that for dinner. I have had to say several times – “Don’t feel sorry for us, we are doing this as a life-style choice – we feel sorry for you – you are the ones still working”.

I had a new experience on the Monday – a visit to the Launderette.  Well that was exciting!  As I had warned Mr Right, no more white t-shirts as everything was going to be washed together in future!!! He really thought I was joking – but no, when you pay for everything as and when you use it you become far more cost conscious. At £7 for a big load it was all going in together!   I obviously looked like a fish out of water and the lady attendant was very helpful and showed me the ropes.  I then took the smelly one for a walk while waiting for the washing  to finish.  Afterwards and because the excitement was getting a bit too much for me, I even made a visit to Lidl opposite the launderette to pick up some things for lunch.

Mr Right had a leaving do from work planned for the Thursday and we had another one planned for local friends at the Weavers the following Thursday so after 10 days we went off back to the Weavers ( and I did some updating to Glynn’s website as a thank you for letting us stay.  As we were expected, Glynn even laid on electricity for us. This was a great stop-over for us and if you are in the area, just give him a ring and he’ll let you park up overnight if you have a meal.  We had arranged a few drinks for friends and of course frequented the pub several times over the next few days.

One of the things that I wanted to stay around for was that I had been training the local primary school children to use a rowing machine and the competition was on 13th December and I really didn’t want to miss is.   The little loves WON nearly everything going, four events to compete in and they won three gold medals and a silver.  They were just fantastic.  I’m so sorry that I can’t be around for when they represent Warwickshire in March. You wouldn’t  believe how competitive they were.  Have a look at  for a great write-up on the event.

With that over we decided to stay the rest of the weekend and then leave on Monday 16th.  The car was sold on Sunday and that’s when the panic set in. It all seems to be getting rather final now. I don’t know why but it seems much easier not to have a car when you are abroad than when you are in the UK.  A lot of people have asked why we aren’t taking the car with us and yes we have considered this.  However by the time you factor in, the cost of MOT,insurance, depreciation, the cost of the car itself, the trailer and the extra fuel involved in towing, the hastle of having a much larger outfit to manoeuver, the extra cost of ferries and the amount of times you actually need a car etc etc  you can buy a lot of taxis or buses with that money. Also if you have all day to go somewhere then it doesn’t matter if it takes all day to get there using public transport!  If we find we need a car when we come back to the UK then we will probably buy an old banger and then flog it when we leave to go away for the winter and while we are abroad then we might just hire one a few times.

Monday morning came and we packed up and trundled off on our last family visiting before we leave for the continent.  We went via a last visit to the house to pick up some bits and pieces, to leave behind a few things that we had decided we didn’t need to take with us and to pick up our bikes because  now we don’t have a car they will be our main form of local transport. 

So it was off to Briarfields at Cheltenham for a couple of days to chill out and then head off to visit Iain’s son near Cheddar on Thursday.   We’re now four weeks in the van and that’s the longest we’ve actually spent in Jan the Van.  Things have been going great, a few grumbles from me but that’s mainly because I’m struggling to move on.  This is the first year for many that I haven’t been “doing Christmas”, I loved planning the Christmas stuff, decorations, food and I loved having everyone come to us for Christmas, I’m finding it very difficult to start feeling festive and it’s hard to walk around the supermarket and not think about what I would normally be buying at this time of year.  We’ve even decided that presents to each other are not necessary – if we don’t need it then there’s no space for it – whatever it may be. We’ve got everything we need and have left a lot of what we don’t need behind or got rid of it. I did buy some Christmas lights for the van though and some baubles to hang on the cupboard knobs and thank you to Sharon for my diddy Christmas tree.

Anyway enough of me moaning. Thank you Mellie, for reminding me not to fret over what I’m losing or leaving behind but to look forward to what I’m going to.  I’ve never had a problem moving on before but we’ve been in Fillongley 9 years now and I have to admit it’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived , so although I do want to move on, I’m really going to miss it and the people that we’ve made friends with there.

However, today I’ve picked up the map of France to plan our journey south and have got some excited butterflies thinking about it. Just a few more days now and we’ll be on the ferry on Boxing Day.  Better get onto booking that now! Catch up later on.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Check this map out

Hiya, I've just found this map stuff so that I can share with you all where we are and where we have been.  I've updated it to show our travels since we went full-timing and will keep it uptodate.  You can click the link from my blog to the page "where we are now".  If you want to set your own up then go to


Thursday, 5 December 2013

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men (Robert Burns)

As Mr A Right (the planning manager) always says, once a plan is in place then it will go wrong. Now we are full-timing we can be flexible but last week our plans nearly went totally t*ts up.

When I wrote last we were having the van serviced and our hab batteries had failed the day before.  Well we needed a new set at a cost of over £350.  Wow that wasn’t planned, but at least it was before we needed to go pub-camping, before we need to watch the budget and also while we were in the country.

We had a lovely stay at Cheltenham, as usual,  and toddled off to visit Mr Right’s son  in Cheddar, then we left for Hampshire. Now there’s not much choice of a campsite near to Alton, we had settled on Woodside in East Tisted and booked in for four nights.  

When we got there, it was along a dirt track about half a mile long with a hair-pin bend half way up.  Had I mentioned before that we are over 8 metres long?  I’ll bet we had.  He went first in the car (Frodo) and I followed in Jan the Van. The hair-pin was certainly interesting, not to mention challenging.  Only a couple of shunts back and forward and yes!!! I was around without any major trauma. Following up the hill it was becoming clear that this independent campsite was going to be nothing like the luxury of Briarfields in Cheltenham (highly recommended). 

Well there was a gate which Frodo went through quite happily and as I could see a few vans parked in a field with electricity to my left I assumed that this was the field we were to park in. I decided that I’d had enough, I wasn’t going any further until I knew exactly where I was going to.

Yes I was right – that boggy sloping field was where we were to stay for the next 4 nights.  I quickly said to Mr R so say that we had booked in for only 3 nights, I didn’t want to stay any longer than necessary. They did have toilets and a shower, but I declined to make use of the facilities as they were just a portaloo (a ceramic toilet though) with absolutely no heating – hang on, I’m not that fussy but this was late November!!!!

What we have realised for a while is that you can go anywhere and stop anywhere as long as you don’t need to be somewhere specific. Once you need that then somehow there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to stay. We had spent 2 days searching on the internet and visiting CL’s and CS’s to find somewhere suitable and all were either, not suitable, not open, or too far away (33 miles) – very frustrating for me – I do like to know where I’m going. 

We were going into Alton for dinner and had considered getting a taxi, however reconsidered with that driveway.  If we asked a taxi to take us up to the site late at night I’m sure he would have thought that we were about to drive him into the woods and mug him.  No-one would have taken us and we would have had a very long and muddy walk in the pitch black.

We had  a lovely stay with Mr Right’s daughter, partner and children and left on the Monday morning to head home to the midlands for just a couple of weeks to tie up loose ends before heading south again on 21st  December.

We decided to have a luxury stay in Henley on Thames at Swiss Farm Campsite as we hadn’t got any commitments until Wednesday and turned up – on-spec in Henley.  We were greeted by a lovely lady who asked with a big smile “Are we expecting you?”, “No” I replied, “Well I’m sorry but we are closed to tourers until March.” What? I was sure they were open all year round.  Anyway the kind lady asked the owner if it would be possible for us to stay and he agreed that one night would be ok, so we were let in.  

This is a cracking site and the facilities are great, so we had showers etc and a lovely evening just the three of us (including the smelly one), cooking in our van and thoroughly enjoying it, looking forward to our months in the sun that were only a few weeks away.

On Friday we decided to return home (oh actually our motorhome is our home now), well to the midlands to just “finish off”  things and then head south. 

Heading home – or to Fillongley.  The stop over bit is always the comfortable boring bit so I don’t write much about that.  The fun always starts once you have to worry about going somewhere, where are you going to stay and wgd (not wkd as in the drink, but wgd as in Water Gas and Dump).

We had plenty of gas and water but needed to dump our waste (sorry but these are fundamental things to consider when you are living in your van). So we decided to stop at Warwick Services to refuel – yes I know the services are expensive, but sometimes you have to work out how far out of your way a cheaper station is and that can often cost you more money when you only do 9 mpg.

As we were approaching Warwick Services it was pouring with rain and as it was nearing lunchtime I took pity on Mr Right who would be standing out in the rain filling the LPG tanks.  If you have ever used these pumps you will know that it can take over 20 minutes to fill the tanks and you have to lean on the button all that time.  So to be kind, I pulled over into the HGV area to have lunch and to wait for the rain to abate.  After about 20 minutes we decided to push on.  We still didn’t have anywhere planned to stay for the night and were thinking of going to Somers Wood in Meriden.  We knew that they didn’t have anywhere to dump our waste – yes I know that gets boring. So we rang our mate Glynn at the Weavers Arms in Fillongley ( to ask if we could dump there.  Yes, I’m sure I’ve got a drain that you can use.  Thanks Glynn.

We pulled away from our parking space on the services to find the lpg filling tank.  Oh no – there was no way that we could get to the filling station from the HGV parking. The only thing to do was to reverse back into the filling station or give up and go somewhere else.  We knew there was a Shell garage in Balsall Common but as we were going to Fillongley it was out of our way.  I sort of had this problem that if we went through Balsall Common to get to Fillongley then we would have to go past Somers Wood campsite then go 6 miles to Fillongley which seemed a waste if we were going to stay at Somers Wood.  My sub-conscious just had to find an alternative, the stress levels were rising.  I had heard of a cheap lpg station in Coventry but couldn’t remember quite where and it wasn’t showing up on the sat nag.  We agreed that we would go to Balsall Common and pulled out of the filling station.

Then out of the blue I remembered the name of the road where the cheap gas could be found.
We pulled off the M40 onto the A46 and I signalled to Mr Right (now remember that name it comes in useful in a bit) that we weren’t going to pull off but to go straight on towards Coventry. The sat nag took us directly to the filling station that I wanted – Mr Right hadn’t got a clue where we were going so had to stay close.

Horror upon horrors – the lpg tank was around the back of a unit on an industrial estate.  There was no drive in and drive out.  I would have to reverse all the way in, or reverse all the way out.  Now having changed the plan at Warwick (by going to the hgv parking) and now going to Cov instead of Balsall Common to get the LPG I had changed the plan twice without consultation.  I was treading on very marshy ground here.

Mr Right, whilst not actually saying it gave me the "Shouldn't have changed the plan, I'm always right" look.

I reversed the van out of the drive of the filling station and had a hissy fit in the middle of the road. I was seriously fed up now – I’d driven for 140 miles, made two wrong decisions and we still didn’t have anywhere to stay tonight and time was getting on, only a couple of hours until dark – except in reality we did have 4 choices of where to stay – but then that’s too many choices that I couldn’t decide where I wanted to be.

So another decision was made, go to Balsall Common to get gas then to Fillongley to dump our waste at the pub, then we’d make another decision of where we’d go.

Now from the filling station in Coventry to Balsall Common wasn’t that far, but it was across the back lanes.  I followed the sat nag.  All the time I was aware that I didn’t want to go anywhere near Berkswell station as I knew there was a low bridge – only 7ft and we were almost double that.  Well I missed the first turning as I thought that went to the bridge, then I refused to take the next turning, which did go to the bridge and I ended going “all round the Wrekin” (a great Brummie expression) to get to the Shell Garage. So having tried to save a bit of money going to a cheap station, we ended up paying Shell prices and used up about 1.5 gallons doing so.

Having re-fuelled (both vehicle and habitation tanks), we departed the Shell garage and moved onto Fillongley. My stress levels had started to subside - thank got for HRT. At least we were going to get to wherever we were going and we would be warm tonight.

As we got to the pub all the lights went out as it closed for the afternoon.  The car park was empty so we looked around for hopeful drains. Iain got out a screw driver and the drain lifters and as much as we cleared the lifting holes and the edges of the drain and then pulled and pulled, we couldn’t get the drain cover off.  We tried a couple of options.  Oh no, we were tired and fed-up and now we still couldn’t sort out the essentials.  Finally he noticed that (not for the first time) I had parked over the top of a potential source of relief, a drain cover.  I moved the van and this time the cover lifted.

By then Deb (the landlady) had come out to her car to go off home for the afternoon.  I was desperate and asked Deb it if would be ok for us to park overnight as I was knackered and had had enough for the day.  No probs said Deb – so here we were again, in pub car park.

This is a really salubrious life!!!! At least we don’t have to worry about drinking and driving we can simply fall into our van.

And if you are wondering about the title of this post  - catch it here

Hudl, Hudl, toil and trouble

I've recently bought a Hudl, so I thought I’d do a review for you – please ignore this post if you are not interested as that’s all it’s about.

If you don’t know what a Hudl is (you probably do or you would have switched off already), it’s the new 7” tablet computer from Tesco.  I compared it to the Samsung Galaxy Tab2 and 3 coming in at between £90 and £175 and also the Google Nexus at £199.  The Hudl retails at £119.  For the price, it is a pretty good specification and the only advantage of the others was that the Nexus had better screen resolution.

What really sold it to me was that I could exchange £50 worth of Tesco clubcard vouchers and double up to £100, then we had a £13 off voucher if we spent £90. So I actually only had to part with £6 to buy it (and of course I got 120 points so that was a net spend of £4.80).

So far so good.

This was a bit more bulky than the Nexus but for the difference in price I was happy to live with this.  And of course it comes in 4 colours, Black, Red, Blue and lovely lovely Purple (but not pink!!!).

Now for the review
Firstly, you can have any one of the four lovely colours – as long as it’s black.  They don’t seem to have any stock except BLACK. Ok, so I can get a really girly cover for it.

It first gave me a problem when I tried to set it up.  The password to get onto the internet could not be entered, the letters on the keyboard turned blue when touched but the password did not get entered into the relevant box.  So I booted it 3 times before it decided to play ball – not a good start but I was off.
Very impressed with the screen resolution and unless you are an HD freak then it’s plenty good enough.   I also got a micro HD lead (about £2.80 on ebay - £15 in Tesco) and connected it up to the tv so could watch on big screen.

Happy so far – except – it keeps crashing on me.  The screen either freezes in total or just parts of it freezes and fails to respond – completely.  At one time I pressed the power off button and the pop up, popped up but the screen failed to accept the command to shut down.  So the only thing I could do was to use the “hard” reset (put a pin in the small hole in the back).  This brought it back to life when it rebooted.
This does happen a lot – the screen freezing – so I decided that I wouldn’t load too much on as I would take it back to Tesco as soon as I got an opportunity. In the meantime I used it to pick up emails and to play a few games – namely Angry Birds and Spider.  It still kept crashing though.  Of course with all intermittent faults it is going to be difficult to get Tesco to accept any responsibility for it.

So having given it a bit of a try, I found that if I pressed the standby button on the side and then turned it back on, the screen unfroze and I could continue as normal.  Whilst this does give a short-term solution to the problem I don’t think that it is acceptable, so I  packed it back in the box and trundled off to Tesco. The lady on the electrical desk was very helpful, but it was made clear that I should have called the number on the box rather than taking it back to store.  Anyway, she checked that the firmware was the latest version and did a “hard” reboot to reset everything.  Of course she could not get it to freeze – I just knew that would happen.  Anyway, bless her, she called the number on the box and gave me the phone to talk to support.  They were about to ask me to do the same two things again (firmware and reboot) so I explained that that had already been done. Then the person on the phone sort of mumbled that it was a known fault!!!!!  And that she would replace it for me.  

Good for Tesco, no argument – just replace it – I was given a code number to quote to get my replacement, but…… they could not do a swap-out (from special held-back stock for replacements) because I hadn’t had it 28 days yet (not sure what sense that made but hey-ho). Unfortunately they didn’t have any in stock, hopefully they might have some on Friday but after that then that’s it until after Christmas.  Oh and sorry I can’t reserve you one, however if you call on Friday and we have some then I can put one away for you as you have a faulty one.  All this was getting very messy.  Even more so as next Saturday we are heading south, a long way south and I didn’t know when I would be seeing another Tesco for a while.

I could of course have elected for a refund. I did contemplate for a moment buying the Nexus, but as I had doubled up my vouchers, and used another voucher I thought this would get messy and I’d be parting with the best part of 200 quid or I would just get a load of vouchers back.  So I left the store with my “faulty” hudl to consider my options.  One good thing was that as I now had a fault code to swap the hudl then I could do so for up to 12 months after the purchase date.

I think I’ll think about it. It does work and if I can get a replacement before Christmas then I will, otherwise it may have to wait until the Spring when we get back from our winter travels.

Apart from the screen crashing, the only other thing that I found was that the wifi range wasn't that good. You really need to be close to the signal source.  However I don't have any other tablets to compare this with. However it's unlikely that I'll be able to use it in the motorhome.  This is more for when you go to the pub to pick up emails etc and don't want to carry a laptop.

Generally though, if it hadn't been faulty (and I will give them an opportunity with another one), I'm quite pleased with the Hudl.

 Iain can't begin to understand why I need so many gadgets that do the same thing (laptop, smartphone and tablet), but I keep assuring him that they are all "slightly" different.