… but we’re on our way again for a long slow trip to the sunshine. After arriving much faster than seemed possible, courtesy of Eurotunnel, we drove about 140 miles south and parked up on an Aire de Camping Cars in the little village of Mesnieres en Bray. This is about 3 miles from our usual first stop in Neufchatel en Bray where there is a smart aire with all services very close to the town. So why change to this little corner of rural France, you might ask?
Before I answer the question I must tell you the news … we are towing our Debon trailer for its first outing on tour to Europe. In the trailer we have our electric bikes, two half sets of golf clubs, utility tent, two BBQs, additional clothes to keep us comfortable over three seasons, several boxes of porridge (you might well ask), a dog trailer, a shopping trailer and a few other bits and pieces that we’ve already forgotten about. Towing the trailer means choosing places to stay that are not too confined space wise. The Aire at Neufchatel is lovely but we would have had to do some complex manoeuvring to get onto the pitch with the trailer while being watched by other motorhomers desperate for something to laugh at. It’s too early in the trip to make public spectacles of ourselves, although we’re not under any illusion … we’ll manage it before too long.
Another new arrival in the Seabury-Hart travelling rig is a large inverter fitted by Adrian and Chris before we left. It is a 2kw pure sine wave inverter, necessary for charging electric bike batteries, our electric toothbrushes and running our yogurt maker. Once we get to the sunshine it will be super efficient but in these duller conditions we are only using it sparingly for fear of a rerun of previous years’ battery problems. In the meantime it keeps me happily out of mischief, checking the battery levels every 30 seconds or so. In the slightly longer term, if our plans work out, we should save the cost of its purchase within six weeks and hopefully do something positive for the environment.
We’ve set ourselves a few challenges on this trip. The first is to try new places to stay and have some new ideas to share with those of you who are sitting at home looking out at your motorhome and planning a trip like this one… or indeed sitting at home wishing you had a motorhome and living the dream second hand. We’ll do our best to give some honest feedback, specifically choosing places that are spacious enough for a really big rig. With our trailer on the back we measure 11.5 metres long. No doubt our tales will include the moments when we don’t fit … watch this space.
The second challenge is to do this trip on a budget. Exchange rates are grim, diesel in Europe is expensive and we’re hoping to spend no more than we do when we’re at home. Time will tell whether it’s possible.
The third challenge is one we frequently set ourselves but often fail. We want to live in the moment, not constantly thinking ahead to the next stop, the next country or even the next meal. In the here and now we will try to live the experience.
The final challenge is one we always travel with; to be open to doing small acts of kindness as we go. There is no hardship in doing this, experience has shown us that contributing to the flow of human kindness brings far more benefits than we can ever keep up with.
We were tired when we arrived at Mesnieres en Bray at about 4pm, partly because we’d woken up early on the Canterbury Park and Ride ready for our adventure. We were also a bit bamboozled by the time change because the clocks went back on Saturday night in the UK and then we arrived here in France less than 48 hours later to readjust back to British Summer time because France is an hour ahead. If we hadn’t had a crossing to catch we could have ignored the clocks but we were keen to be at the Folkestone terminal in good time. In fact we were in such good time that they put us on an earlier train only to post a sign up to say that there were delays so we left at the time we were originally booked on. No wonder we were confused.
The aire at Mesnieres is entirely free, with safe quiet parking, free access to water and waste services and it is virtually adjacent to the London to Paris Green Way (Voie Verte). If you so desire you can cycle all the way between the two cities passing here as you go. Alternatively you can do what we did this morning – onto the Voie Verte on our bikes with the shopping trailer and cycle the 4 miles to Neufchatel for a few items . Neufchatel has both a Lidl and Aldi supermarkets so it is an obvious choice for us. We bought a box of Merlot for the price of one bottle in the UK. Only time will tell whether it’s drinkable … more on that later. Just reading that paragraph back I can see that this blog should be subtitled “Cheapskates on tour.”
This aire is popular with people heading to and from the channel ports – in other words it is mainly people from the UK who stay here. Everyone we’ve met so far has been friendly and chatty, despite the fact that I got one woman’s husband mixed up with another man this morning and almost caused a marital incident. Motorhomes are coming and going regularly and it’s easy to get confused. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
We stayed two nights in Mesnieres and enjoyed the peace and a couple of long sleeps. When darkness falls here it does it with real French style. Around 6pm I stepped out of the van to get something from the underbelly and found myself unable to see a thing. Popping back into the van for a torch I hopped back out again and found myself face to face with a very large dog. Out of the darkness came a disembodied Dutch voice, “Don’t worry, she thinks torches are for playtime.” The Dutchman and I spent a few moments making polite conversation in pitch darkness because I decided that my best chance of not being slobbered on by a large pooch was to turn the torch off again. The dog was disappointed and I forgot all about the thing I was going into the underbed storage for … even now two days later I can’t remember what I went out for.
The next morning I met the nice Dutchman again as he tried to make sense of the strange tap at the services. Usually these are the kind of taps you find in gardens with a thread for a hose connector on. If you only want a watering can full of water there is normally no need to attach a hose. On this one the thread was above a push button tap facing skyward. Without an attachment you had no chance at all of collecting any water except possibly up your sleeves. I saw the Dutchman standing by the tap looking confused and took our short hose and connector over. “Try this” I said and he did. He looked across at our van and trailer parked next to his tiny VW and asked, “Do you have everything you could possibly need in there?” “More or less” I replied and he laughed. As I walked away I wondered how long it would be before we realised we’d left something important at home.
This morning we moved off and headed south east in the direction of some sunshine. Currently Northern France is in thick cloud with occasional bursts of rain. It’s cold and strangely reminiscent of home in the Scottish Borders. Beautiful autumn colours are dulled by the poor light and we’re hankering for some light and warmth. Another 140 mile drive and we rolled in to a lovely Aire in Marboué. This is a small town on the N10 road in the direction of the Loire valley. Arriving we found ourselves struggling to get the trailer onto the parking area, it being narrow and close to the kind of ditches that could cause no end of trouble, if we accidentally reversed it too far, so we unhitched and shoved it on to the parking and reversed in next to it in no time at all.
If someone had told us a few years ago that we would be doing this kind of crazy thing at this point in our lives we would never have believed them. But here we are, tucked in nicely and ready to see what this pretty little town has to offer.
Until the next time. Au Revoir!