Week 25 & 26 – Over and out (for this trip)
Week 25 – Day 172 – Monday 19th March 2018
Saint Valerie sur Somme – 0 miles
We are now killing time until we head off for the ferry in the very early hours of Wednesday morning and we are in a beautiful little town on the Somme estuary, plugged into the mains which means we are warm and comfortable. In the morning I used the power to fire up the laptop to almost finish off last weeks blog until I ran out of data which means it won’t be online until Wednesday when the data month starts again.
After lunch we ‘happed’ up and had a walk down into the town to see what was happening, or what had changed since we were here in October, and in a word – nothing. The town was deserted. 95% of the shops were closed, as was every cafe, restaurant and bar, so, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t spend our left over euros, the very few we have left. It was bright enough , but the wind was icy cold so we headed back to the van for a cuppa to thaw out. As we were out of data, we had no new podcasts to listen to so Stevie Wonder was called in to entertain us then it was an early night, and an attempt on my part to finish the book I started to read 6 months ago and have yet to complete – Gyles Brandreth’s Breaking the Code, his diaries for the period he was the MP for Chester. It is a hardback about the size and weight of a breeze block and is both entertaining and interesting and I’m determined to get to the end. My efforts are in stark contrast to The Navigator who has read tons of books while away, sometimes completing one in a day!
Week 25 – Day 173 – Tuesday 20th March 2018
Saint Valerie sur Somme to Silverstone – 275 miles
Our last full day ‘sur le continents’ and its another bright, breezy, freezing cold morning so we had a bit of a lie in.
The Navigator didn’t think it was quite as cold as previous nights, but then again she is up to 3 layers of clothing in her bed so its no wonder she is not feeling as cold!
After breakfast we serviced the van as we will be in the East Midlands before we have the next opportunity to do so. Today’s plan is to head inland to the large town of Abbeville as there is a Hyper U there so we can do a last shop, laundry, van wash and fill enough diesel to get us to Dover, where hopefully the fuel prices will be lower than here. That was the plan, but…
The Hyper U was a disappointment as it was crammed into a site on the edge of town so the usually huge car park was quite small, didn’t have a laundry or jet wash, the filling station was too awkward to manoeuvre the van into so I gave up. There was a brand new Intermarche nearby, and after a few attempts to find the entrance, I fuelled up there. We decided to head up to Boulogne to the Auchan car park where we endured our first night in France, being buffeted by a gale force wind, and spend the rest of the day and evening relaxing there before heading into Calais for the ferry. By all accounts Calais is not as lawless as it once was, but we are happy to be out of it and not hanging about after dark, just incase some sub-saharan Africans fancy stowing aboard for a new life in Mid-Argyll.
It was almost 2pm when we reached Auchan so we decided to have lunch in the Flunch, which was a more calm and relaxed restaurant than the one in Dieppe on Saturday. After another good meal we could nor resist a walk round Auchan to see if there were any last minute wine bargains. The quality of the wine is much better in these huge French hypermarkets, especially for red wine, but the prices are accordingly higher than we were paying in Spain.
We were joined by a few other vans for the evening, probably aiming to stay the night, unlike us who were counting down until heading off for Calais. Just before dinner a momentous event occurred – I finished the book it has taken me all of 6 months to complete! Well, I have been otherwise occupied… This book gave me 6 months worth of entertainment for the princely sum of £ 2.50, a bargain from Oxfam in Oban!
As an aside. Over the past 6 months we have stayed over in quite a few supermarket car parks without issue, in fact, many of the French supermarkets actively encourage motorhomes, either with dedicated overnight parking bays, service points for water etc, laundry facilities and LPG pumps. This is in marked contrast to the practice of most UK supermarkets where there are no such facilities, and they install number plate recognition cameras to keep your stay under 2 or 3 hours.
We set off for the short hop up to Calais just after 10pm, only the 4th time in 173 nights that I have driven in the dark, the first being the night we arrived and the other twice was when the Spanish police moved us on at Hondarribia near San Sebastian and Cala de Finestrat O Morales near Benidorm. The road into the port is now well fenced off to keep the migrants at bay, although a couple of precautions stood out. On the dual-carriageway from Boulogne to Calais it is now forbidden for lorries to park up in the service areas between 10pm and 8am, no doubt to force them into the secure port area. The other thing that stood out was all the overhead sign gantries had the message that drivers should be vigilant for either pedestrians or objects on the road ahead. This message was just a precaution rather than a known presence ahead. As it happens we had a clear drive into the port with only a handful of people seen loitering at an intersection off to our right.
Security was quite tight and a French security guard came on board the van to check inside any space an ‘illegal’ might be hiding, the fact that we had more than a few bottles of Spanish and French wine was of no interest to them, thankfully! That apart, the passport checks etc were all quick and straightforward and we did not have that long to queue as the ferry before our planned 00.30am departure was running late so we were put on the earlier one, which saved hanging about for another hour.
Week 25 – Day 174 – Wednesday 21st March 2018
Silverstone to Gunthorpe – 118 miles
And that was it, after 173 days abroad we were back in the UK in the very early hours. The ferry had been very quiet, a quarter full, even if that, and we were the only motorhome onboard, and, apart from one family who sat near us onboard who talked constantly for the whole passage making a nap impossible, I think there were very few other Brits on board!
We were waved through without stopping and then took ages to get out of Dover and heading in the right direction as the main dual carriageway out of town was closed, necessitating a lengthy detour, but once reunited with the M20 it was plain sailing. A clear, rain free night with very little traffic made for good progress to the M25 and onto the M40 where the diesel warning light came on, I think for the first time ever, but we made it to Beaconsfield Services running on fumes as much as diesel!
As you will have read in the ‘The BIG surprise – Part 1 – We’ve sold Louis the McLouis!‘, over the course of the last few months we had decided that we would upgrade to a new motorhome on our return to the UK and today we would start viewing vans we had on a short list.
From Beaconsfield we headed up the M40 then across towards Silverstone on the A43 where a lay-by was our stopover for a few hours sleep. By 8 o’clock the traffic was so heavy thundering past us that it woke us up. The satnav was set for the west of Northampton where we went to a Marquis dealership to look at the Benimar range of motorhomes, as we saw a lot of them in Spain (they are made in Spain) and they have a high spec list but pretty quickly after stepping into one it was ruled out of contention as the storage capacity was significantly less than we need, and have at the moment. Drop down electric beds seem to be “de rigueur” at the moment but the trade off is in the reduced overhead lockers.
From Northampton it was then north to Newark to the massive Brownhills complex to look at some vans there. We spent a fair amount of time there poking and prodding the vans, opening cupboards, discussing layouts and generally assessing whether each van that we looked at was significantly better than Louis and how much extra we would have to spend on any required extras to meet the fairly rigorous list we had drawn up for any new van to pass muster. This list had been compiled over the course of the past few months and comprised of ‘must have’ features and ‘would like to have’ features. The van that ticked every single box we wanted was a Swift Bessacarr 597. Brownhills did not have this particular model but did have a 599 model which was 75% identical so we got a feel for the quality and features of the Bessacarr without actually viewing the particular model. Don Amott, near Derby had the correct model in stock and we had an appointment to view it on Friday morning and get Louis appraised at the same time as a trade-in back to where we originally bought it. They had e-mailed a tentative price for Louis which was fair, at least a starting point for negotiations anyway.
After lunch at Brownhills we set off for our final destination of the day, Lowdhams at Gunthorpe, not far north of Nottingham, to look at their range of motorhomes. Lowdhams, like Brownhills, are a massive dealership for caravans and motorhomes, especially the Swift brand, so big in fact that they customise the Bessacarr range to add what they claim is £5,000 worth of extras ‘at no extra charge’. As it happens they had a 597 in stock with the extra bells and whistles so we were taken out to see it. Having spent a lifetime in sales, it is impossible not to judge the performance and ability of someone trying to sell me something, but fair play, Adam was knowledgeable and personable without being too pushy or seemingly desperate for a sale. After ages looking at it and a few others for comparison, we had made up our minds, this was the one, subject to the trade in deal being right.
To cut a long story short, we were very happy with the terms and agreed to buy it there and then, subject to a few conditions which were agreed. We needed a 2nd leisure battery and the transfer of our Gaslow system from Louis into the new, as yet unnamed van, and the final requirement we had was for it to be ready for delivery next Thursday, instead of early April, as originally quoted.
We brought in the day sitting on the quayside at Calais and ended it knackered and brain dead, after only 3 hours sleep, 118 miles driven and visits to 3 motorhome dealers, poorer, but satisfied we had found the right van to continue our travels into the future…
Week 25 – Day 175 – Thursday 22nd March 2018
Gunthorpe to Castle Donington – 68 miles
Lowdhams have a field beside their complex with some electric hookups for their customers, and, as we were now customers, we were offered the chance to stay on it until our new van was ready so we took them up on the offer and moved onto the field and so stayed there last night. Today we had to nip down to Loughborough to the premises of Gaslow to see if they would upgrade one of our re-fillable gas cylinders.
When we had the Gaslow system fitted, the space in Louis could only accommodate a large 11kg cylinder and a 6kg cylinder, but the new van has the room to take two large cylinders which would increase the gas capacity by nearly 30% so it was worth the effort, and extra cost. Roger from Gaslow was very helpful, offering advice and tools to help me disconnect the small cylinder. Before that however we had to go and get the tanks filled up as the large one was empty. He sent us to a gas cylinder supplier in the next industrial estate, who had no lpg left, and then the BP garage between the university and the M1 had gas, but their pump was out of action, so we went back to tell him we would have to go further afield and return on Friday morning.
We had lunch at KFC, a rare treat, then headed down to Leicester where we filled up without a hitch this time. From Leicester we went to Castle Donnington to park up in the same industrial estate we had used back in early October. I e-mailed Don Amott to say we could not make it the next morning!
Week 25 – Day 176 – Friday – 23rd March 2018
Castle Donington to Gunthorpe – 46 miles
In the 16 years we lived in the East Midlands the M1 at junctions 23 and 24 seemed to be continually being either repaired or upgraded and this visit was no different. At present it is being upgraded to be a ‘smart’ motorway as well as coping with the new Kegworth bypass which is also under construction nearby, the consequence of all this being horrendous queues of stationary and crawling traffic in all directions so we rose early to get back on the Loughborough side of the M1 or we would have been delayed getting back to Gaslow.
The work at Gaslow did not take too long and we rewarded Roger for his help with a bottle of our favourite Spanish white wine which he seemed delighted with. A quick grocery shop at the nearby Aldi then it was back up to Lowdhams to park up again before we could get caught up in the Friday evening rush hour traffic. I had a siesta as the exertions of the past few days had taken their toll.
Friday night is YouTube night so it was good to relax, catching up with our favourites again. The new van is pre-wired with 2 positions for a tv and a boosted arial was an included extra in the Lowdhams upgrade package so I may be tempted to fit a new tv, after 11 years without one in Louis….
Week 25 – Day 177 – Saturday 24th March 2018
Gunthorpe – 0 miles
I won’t take long to write today’s blog.
It rained most of the day and we didn’t venture outside.
Week 25 – Day 178 – Sunday 25th March 2018
Gunthorpe – 0 miles
It was a better day today so we emerged from the van to go across to the showroom to have a seat in a Bessacarr and soak in some of the new features we have and plan what will go where once we transfer our 6 months worth of ‘stuff’ on Thursday. The Navigator treated herself to a new electric kettle in the accessories shop, surely one of the best stocked we have ever been in.
As it was still dry we walked across the road to Gunthorpe, a picturesque village beside the Trent which, as ever on a Sunday, was busy with day trippers out enjoying a day beside the river and the three busy riverside pubs and restaurants.
Week 26 – Day 179 – Monday 26th March 2018
Gunthorpe – 0 miles
After the exhilaration of buying a super-duper new motorhome last week, today was a reality check – we had to pay and insure it so that everything would be ok before we took possession on Thursday. Due to security checks and the bureaucracy involved in transferring the balance, it took what seemed like ages to complete. After that it was the turn of of the insurance company to quote us and all credit to Safeguard (part of Swinton), the process was fairly painless and cheaper than I was expecting, maybe that was because The Navigator is no longer a nominated driver for the new van.
There are two reasons for taking her off the insurance policy. She has never had the confidence to drive Louis, thinking it was too big for her to drive (the new van is a full metre longer), the proof of that is in her not driving a single inch of our 6,000+ mile European trip, her inclusion was always a ‘just incase’ anything happened to me. However, and the following might be a tip for other motorhomers reading this who will be venturing abroad with a partner who shares The Navigators fear of driving a motorhome, the Scottish couple we met at Manta Rota in Portugal were discussing their travels in their massive Concorde van and it transpired Morag was not insured to drive it. On enquiring why, they told us that if anything happened to Hank, and he was unable to drive the van back to the UK, the Insurance company would repatriate it, but, if there was another named driver on the policy, ie Morag, then they wouldn’t bring it back. So, if we head back to sunnier climes in the future, the van will be brought home, even if I couldn’t drive it.
Monday night is ‘Hangout’ night with the girls and their mother had the task of informing them that a sizeable chunk of their inheritance had just been spent on a new motorhome!! They had wondered why we were lingering in the East Midlands for a week rather than spend another week in France, or even somewhere more scenic in England like the Cotswolds or Derbyshire Dales, now they know…
Emma will be picked up in it on Friday for the trip north in the new van and is duly excited at the prospect, Jill will have to wait a tad longer. One of the decisions made in the ‘Hangout’ was the naming of the van, so, following on from Louis the McLouis we now have Bessie the Bessacarr. Emma was insistent it was to be Bessie and not Bessy, she’s gone native in Yorkshire! I’m only glad it wasn’t Aunt Bessie…
Week 26 – Day 180 – Tuesday 27th March 2018
Gunthorpe – 0 miles
I won’t take long to write today’s blog.
We relaxed and did some tidying up to prepare for the transfer between vans on Thursday.
Week 26 – Day 181 – Wednesday 28th March 2018
Gunthorpe – 0 miles
No time for a lie in this morning as Louis had to go into Lowdhams workshops to get the Gaslow system stripped out in preparation for it being fitted into Bessie. We decanted to their coffee shop to take advantage of their free wifi and power for the laptop. We had our lunch there, sadly no tapas, but those days are gone for now. Louis was ready so we moved back into it for the rest of the day, but with no gas meaning we were now without heating, hot water or cooking until we get into the new van 24 hours later. We have electric power so the kettle can be boiled for tea etc.
Week 26 – Day 182 – Thursday 29th March 2018
Gunthorpe to Leeds – 71 miles
This was the big day and we awoke cold but excited at the prospect of finally getting over the new van. We had a call to say the van would be ready at noon for the 2 hour handover demonstration so we went across early to have a hot lunch, both to get warm and get lunch out of the way before the handover, final paperwork and transfer. The new van is very high tech so the instructions were detailed and I’m not sure we took everything in first time but there is a briefcase sized bag with all the equipment handbooks, so we can study them at our leisure.
The handover complete, Bessie was driven round beside Louis for the transfer of everything we had in Louis, a task that would take almost 2 hours. It was almost 4.30 before we were ready to leave and we headed off into very heavy traffic as people were leaving their workplace for the long Easter weekend break which made it slow progress all the way north to Leeds. Once there we headed straight to an Aldi to fill up the fridge and enough food for the weekend.
We were exhausted so after a bite to eat and a fiddle with some of the controls, especially the heating, we had an early night.
Week 26 – Day 183 – Friday – 30th March 2018
Leeds to Alva – 296 miles
Sleep was not easy with the rain battering down and everything that we had been told about the van swirling around our overstretched brains. That said, it was very warm and comfortable and it was a struggle to get up at 8am to get ready to leave and pick up Emma for the long treck north from Leeds. The Leeds bypass was unexpectedly very quiet given it was Easter Bank Holiday Friday, and even the M62 was moving quite freely, until we arrived at junction 30 where the M61 joins the M6 heading north, just south of Preston and traffic was crawling slowly all the way to junction 32, the turn off for Blackpool, where people were heading for the holiday weekend.
After getting past this hold up we thought it would be plain sailing from there but the traffic ground to a halt at a few other junctions due to the sheer volume of vehicles of all shapes and sizes. We made it to the Moto Services at Southwaite near Carlisle just after 1pm and pulled in there to have a brief rest and some lunch.
From there on the traffic was not that busy and there were no further hold ups. Just south of Glasgow we swung onto the M80, then M9 heading for Stirling then Bridge of Allan and onto Alva where we were going to spend the night in readiness to visit The Navigator’s mother for the first time in 6 months in the Care Home where she now resides. Alva is always our overnight stopover location when visiting as there are a couple of great locations to park up, but more importantly a superb Chinese takeaway and we had a very tasty meal in the comfort of the van, the Pekingese spare ribs were well worth the 6 month wait!
Bessie performed well and was a treat to drive. All together it was over 7 hours solid driving, by far the longest drive of the entire trip.
Week 26 – Day 184 – Saturday 31st March 2018
Alva to Ardrishaig – 110 miles
We awoke to see a dusting of snow on top of the Ochil Hills but the heating kept us warm thankfully. We went to the Home to visit The Navigator’s mother and were glad to see her looking well and in good spirits.
We then went to Aldi in Alloa to get some groceries as there are certainly none at home, and once that was done it was down to Tesco to fill up with diesel and head for Argyll, with a stop at Buchlyvie for lunch in the van.
In an earlier blog post I mentioned that the roads in Portugal, in particular the N125 in the Algarve were in a terrible condition but the road that we were on from Stirling to Balloch then onto the A82 and A83 into Argyll were in a much worse state than back in September due to the horrendous weather conditions over the winter months.
I stopped Bessie for a few pictures at the top of the Rest and be Thankful, a road it will be travelling on quite a bit in the future as it is the main road in and out of Argyll to the south and civilisation.
Once we were home the plan was to move the car off the drive to be replaced by Bessie to get emptied. Maybe not surprisingly our car would not start so the van could not be moved to the drive. We unloaded the necessary items like the food and other groceries but decided to leave the rest until tomorrow. It was odd being home after such a while away, but in a way glad to be there and see some familiar faces again. Our grateful thanks go to our neighbour Jenna for looking after the house for us and putting the heating on for our return.
We had a meal, watched some TV (Everton v Man City) then a Netfix film in front of a roaring log fire.
Week 26 – Day 185 – Sunday 1st April 2018
Ardrishaig – 0 miles
We arrived home yesterday, late in the afternoon to a chilly Argyll after 184 days ‘on the road’ and 6,826 miles driven. The decision we made early last year to undertake this journey was not particularly determined by trying to find better weather, after all it was winter in France, Spain and Portugal too, moreover it was to see old favourite haunts in France, as well as see new areas like the Pyrenees. We had a flavour of Spain with the motorhome in 2015 and we spent more time there than any other country and we loved every minute. Spain has a great balance between superb beach resorts, and towns and cities full of history, culture and interesting places to visit. We ran out of time to do Portugal justice, but saw enough to encourage us to visit some other time.
Overall it was a wonderful opportunity and we would love to do something similar in the future, maybe not as long as 6 months, 3 months might be a better prospect. We hope you have enjoyed following our progress and maybe we have described somewhere you may want to visit in the future. Similarly, the videos I took will be on YouTube as a resource to anyone wanting a flavour of the places we enjoyed along the way. (There are quite a few still to edit and put online yet).
The next event we have to look forward to is the birth of our first grandchild in 2 months time, and then, maybe, the first long trip away in Bessie later in the year…
Today was a busy day emptying the van, washing clothes, getting the car started, eventually and opening mail, including Christmas cards, thankfully there were no bills in the mountain of envelopes!
185 nights away from home
6,916 miles door to door
£ 1,544.59 spent on diesel
£ 177.62 spent on gas
£ 1,369.58 spent on overnight accommodation
= £ 16.17 per night excluding groceries, entertainment, eating out, entry fees etc
To put the final 2 weeks into context here is the route we travelled…
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