We are home and it’s time to finish the latest tale and reflect on where we’ve been.
We spent our last five nights in Camping St Clair at Neufchâtel en Bray. This is the town we usually begin and end each trip and it feels very familiar now. Poppy had her necessary visit to the vet and we wandered to and from the shops and walked the green way through the rolling valleys of beautiful Normandy.
Having eaten a largely healthy diet throughout our trip, apart from the time I almost killed myself eating a massive crepe and the necessary cream cakes on Sunday Bundays, I was suddenly and most unusually overtaken by a desperate craving for a MacDonalds. I have no explanation for this insanity. We usually avoid them except when taking our granddaughter out for a treat and on those occasions the choice is hers not ours. So, having taken Shirley completely be surprise with this announcement, we walked down the road to the MacDonalds in the supermarket carpark and I went in to brave the process of ordering. I knew it was a mistake as soon as I entered the place. Ordering could only be done on one of those enormous floor to ceiling tablets that involve choosing and clicking your way through the menu. On our rare visits to these multinational centres for unhealthy eating it’s usually our granddaughter who does the ordering and I felt distinctly out of my depth. The couple in front of me were German and had magically found a way to order in German – there must have been a language choice somewhere at the start and I was briefly reassured. Suddenly there was a flash and the whole place went into darkness and ominous silence before the staff started running about on the spot clearly unsure what to do. The German couple shrugged their shoulders and left rapidly. Was it their fault? Were they secret agents for The Vegan Society? In the darkness I became aware that there were two boys behind me who, after a sneaky peek from me, were clearly of that age when they are still at school but already look like grown men with a five o clock shadow. One of them was carrying a folded electric scooter and the other had that air of absolute self confidence that comes from knowing that you are young, good looking and the best catch in school. In another flash the lights came on and the big tablet in front of me returned to life. I stepped forward, miserably aware that the boys behind me could see that I was floundering. Not only was the machine showing a massive array of things I didn’t want but it was still in German and the ridiculously huge order of the fleeing couple was still in the basket. I had no idea what to do. Mr Young and Confident approached and clicked a couple of times and the offending order disappeared and the page returned to French. I thought, ‘I can do this’, in the way people use positive self talk before taking a high dive. I somehow managed to order 2 chicken burgers, some chips and drinks and paid using my card. As I walked towards the counter Mr Young and Confident asked me a question in rapid French. I was undone. I had to reply that I was sorry but I spoke English – rather ridiculously as I said it in French but he got the idea. He went up to the counter, spoke to the assistant who looked on her computer then came back, smiled at me and said in that slow kindly way reserved for the elderly, “Your order number is twenty five” and left. When the order came only one drink was on it but I accepted it gratefully and went back outside to Shirley and Poppy sitting patiently waiting for me. After we’d covered ourselves in grease and regrets Shirley said “Do you want an ice cream”, “Only if you go in and order it,” I replied. Once is enough for anyone.
Our final evening in France was spent in the campsite Brasserie. We had eaten here on a previous visit but recently a couple of people had been less than complimentary about the food. Nevertheless we decided to risk it. It was our last evening and it has become something of a tradition to eat out and talk about our trip and our feelings about going home.
The St Clair Brasserie is basic in terms of decor and menu but it is reasonably priced and the staff are very friendly. We enjoyed three courses, a glass of wine (yes we broke our alcohol fast) and coffee for not a lot of money and we loved it. Whilst finishing my wine I began to cry at the thought of leaving France but I think it was the wine whimpering. It was a small glass but after almost no alcohol for six months it had significant impact. France is a beautiful country and we have loved almost everything about our many visits but it really was time to go home. By the next morning we were cheerfully chatting about seeing family and friends, playing unlimited golf and having our own flushing toilets.
We returned on the Dieppe Newhaven crossing to make it slightly easier to visit my sister Mary and family in Wiltshire on the way home. In hindsight we should probably have taken one of the more expensive west coast crossings to Portsmouth but our plans had put economy first and we soon realised the error in our calculations.
Newhaven Port allows passengers to stay overnight in their car and lorry parks and as we were arriving at 9 p.m. which would feel later due to the one hour time difference we decided this would be a good plan. We had a picnic on the deck as we set sail in the sunshine, watching the cliffs of Dieppe receding into the distance. We had a cabin on the boat and used the remaining time having hot showers and reading. Disembarking seemed to take a long time and it was well after 9.30 p.m. by the time we drove through customs and on towards the car parks. Suddenly the motorhome in front of us lost a wheel off its motorbike trailer and ground to a halt. We had been among the first off the boat and behind us were hundreds of cars and lorries, all of us stuck behind the hapless motorhome on the single lane exit. Eventually the motorhomer decided to move on, dragging his now useless trailer and gouging holes in the tarmac before parking in the only available visible space. We were reluctant to pull over and delay things further so we drove out into the town thinking we would find somewhere else to spend the night. The app Search for Sites is very useful in this kind of situation so we found somewhere to park and opened the app. Here we were met with a notice that said “Your subscription has expired, please pay £5.99 to continue”. I dived into the back looking for the purse that contained our UK cards and currency and eventually we managed to access the app and find the nearest available overnight spots.
The first we tried was closed and on the side of a dual carriageway which meant that we couldn’t stop and look for the next one, it was pitch dark by now and we were floundering, trying to get used to driving on the left and rediscovering the shocking state of British roads. Eventually we found another one that looked nice. Right beside two windmills called Jack and Jill it looked like a great option although frankly we didn’t care as long as we could get some sleep. We were soon heading the fifteen miles in that direction and began to relax until we discovered that the last half mile was on such a narrow lane that we could hear the grass swishing against both sides of the van. We parked up in the quiet spot on the edge of the south downs and set our alarm for 6 a.m. so that we could get down that narrow lane before anyone else was likely to be coming in the other direction.
Another fanciful idea was that we would get to the M25 before the rush started. We didn’t have far to go on the M25 but it took about an hour of stop start driving. We were hugely relieved to get off the biggest car park in the western world and heading west towards our destination. Google maps had alerted us to serious delays on our planned route and took us west on to the motorway we would have taken if we’d taken the apparently longer south coast route. We were exhausted. A short while later Shirley said “Do you remember that bacon and egg roll we had once?” I was confused. In a relationship as long as ours there have been a fair number of bacon and egg rolls. “I mean the one at the top of that hill,” came the additional information designed to jog my memory. “You know, it was huge. We got it from one of those lay-by mobile cafés.” I got it. “Yes, it was on the North York Moors.” There was a silence and a small sigh of disappointment. “Are you hankering for a bacon and egg roll?” I asked “Yes!” Shirley replied, clearly thinking I should have understood that from the get go.
To let you in on a little known fact about our relationship, I regularly issue reminders to my much loved life partner that it’s a good idea to say clearly what she wants rather than drop hints but it hasn’t worked yet. Being from Yorkshire I don’t appear to speak the language of hints and need clear requests in order to understand.
Mr Google came up trumps with a guide to the nearest lay-by with just such a café in it and we were soon parked up alongside several trucks eating an enormous bap that involved the usual challenge of biting bacon without it coming out of the bap in one piece and avoiding the squirt of soft egg yolk. It was fabulous. Bacon as we know it isn’t available in France and with this wonderful breakfast we knew for sure that we were home.
Our three days in Devizes was a holiday within a holiday. Lovely niece Ruth leant us her car and we had two days sightseeing, walking, eating and a proper catching up with my sister Mary. A guided tour of Salisbury Cathedral was a highlight with a knowledgable and interesting guide. It began with the threat of inappropriate giggling when we noticed that the guide had a whistle in his teeth when he spoke. I felt sure that Shirley would lean towards us and imitate him with a quiet aside. She refrained and he was so interesting that we soon forgot the whistle and enjoyed the tour, learning more than we ever could if we had wandered around alone.
It seemed like no time had passed as we left Wiltshire and headed north. We spent a night at Stamford Caravan Club site which has been one of our favourite places to stay over the years. It used to be called Top Lodge and I’ve no idea why they changed the name as it is about five miles from Stamford itself. When we were caravanners we came most years for the lovely peaceful setting, the access to the woods and the RSPB centre right next door. The wardens were super friendly, the woods as beautiful as ever and we sighed a little. Is it really time to stop touring? Yes but only for a few weeks.
Just for the record, Stamford site has no toilet block but a very good service point. There are no shops nearby and you need some form of transport, so if like us you drive a van too big to use for everyday transport bring bikes as a minimum if staying for longer than a couple of nights. If you love nature, fresh air, walking and watching big birds of prey circling overhead this is the place for you.
The next morning we got on the A1 and headed north, fully expecting to do the last hop in one go but along the way we started to feel tired and we did the only sensible thing. We pulled in to Boroughbridge and their very kindly provided motorhome parking in the Back Lane Car Park, which is much nicer than the name suggests. We were tucked in in no time, had a brief chat with a German couple who were unsure about where they should park, put our £5 in the honesty box, settled down and had fish and chips for tea.
The next day we drove into the grounds of our apartment in good time and were met with warm greetings from friends and neighbours. Hugs and calls of “Welcome Home!” were just what we needed to remind us why we love living here and how very fortunate we are.
We are very grateful for the fun and adventure of our travelling life but also for the joy and comfort of coming home.
Thank you all our lovely followers for taking the journey with us. We appreciate it probably more than you know.
Until the next time.