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17/11/08

 

MEMBERS TALES

 

 

RED DWARF TRAVELS TO EUROPE

Have you ever thought that your old camper was not suitable for a European tour? Well here's an account of our two week tour in our 1977 Commer (Dodge) CI Motorhome.

Day 1 – Saturday 7th August 1999

 

We set off from our Romford home at 2 p.m. to find the M25 solid from the A127, so travelled on via the B128 and backtracked along the A13, over the QE2 Bridge and found the M2 ‘chocker’ at the Bluewater turnoff.  Luckily after this the roads are pretty clear all the way to Folkestone, where we arrived at 4.30.  We had a lovely fish & chip dinner here, then on to visit the Russian Sub, only to find it is now closed to the public and the owner having gone bankrupt. We headed off towards Dover, where we intended to stay in a car park overnight, as there are several other campers and caravans in the same spot. We parked next to a portacabin in a quite secluded space and headed off for a walk around for about 1½ hours.  Only to find on our return that the portacabin was the soup kitchen for the local ‘down & outs’. We moved the camper to the swimming pool car park, so that Malcolm could look at the front nearside wheel. It was running hot and causing Malcolm some concern.  He decided to change the wheel bearing to be on the safe side. After putting everything back together, we headed off to Dover seafront, where we had seen 15 – 20 other campers (of all different shapes & sizes, but mainly bigger than us) earlier and decided to join them for the night. We were treated to a fabulous fire works display, put on for the benefit of the passengers of the cruise ship Norwegian Sky, which was off on its maiden voyage the following day. Malcolm opened the skylight and snapped the catch, but luckily found a washer to repair it temporarily. Malcolm made up the bed (thinking of Hymer owners pulling their over cab beds down no doubt) and we slept like logs – must have been the bottle of wine we consumed while watching the fireworks. 

Sunday 8th

We woke to the sound of pouring rain.  Had a good breakfast got ready and set off for a walk, as the rain had eased off.  We visited the White Cliffs Experience, well worth a visit.  We came back out into glorious sunshine. We then drove up to Dover Castle at a snails pace. I would not recommend walking up from the town.  There are several attractions here and all are well worth visiting. As soon as you arrive it is a good idea to book the WW2 tunnel tour, as the queues can be very long during the summer. We left the castle at 5.50 to catch the 6.15 ferry, but were told that if we could get to Bay 131 in 5 mins, we could catch the 5.50 ferry, which we did – just). Once on board we headed straight for the ‘posh’ restaurant (definitely the best place to be on the 1¼ hour crossing).  The two-course meal was £15.00 per head. It was quite expensive, but it was our way of celebrating the start of our first European tour.  The food was excellent.  (We justified the expense by figuring that if we were wild camping a few times during our trip, then we had only spent the equivalent of a couple of nights on a campsite). We arrived at Calais at 8.15 French time and headed toward Etaples near Le Touquet along the 941.  On arrival we parked by the harbour with several other campers and spent our first night on French soil. 

Monday 9th 

We woke at around 8am after a good nights sleep and walked into town to buy croissants for breakfast and various other bits & pieces.  After breakfast Malcolm took the front wheel off again, as it was still running hot, he checked everything and all appeared OK, so he could not understand what was causing the problem, and finally put it all back together. We had a “conversation” with a French couple, who were very friendly and interested in our old camper. Afterwards we packed up and headed south for Chantilly.  We made a couple of stops on route for Malcolm to check the worrying problem of the hot wheel hub and it was still running red hot.  One of our stops was for petrol at Picquigny and Malcolm decided to take the wheel off for the third time.  He came to the conclusion that a deep score in the brake drum was causing the new brake shoes that he had fitted a few weeks earlier to bind to the drum.  He took the whole brake assembly apart and filed off the ridge on the brake shoes, turned them 180° and reassembled them. Bingo! It worked, no more hot hub. We arrived at St.Leu and endeavoured to find our chosen sight as recommended in the Alan Rogers site guide – Camping Campix.  Unfortunately the signposting is either poor, or non- existent.  We eventually found it and it is a good site, very informal.  It had once been a quarry, which has now been landscaped, so there were many levels on which you could choose your pitch.  We were surrounded by the ‘Nato alliance’ a very friend group of people. 

Tuesday 10th 

We woke to drizzle this morning, but it soon brightened up.  The site is now getting very full, mainly with Dutch and Belgian families.  We walked into town at about 12.30 (after breakfast!) St.Leu d’esserent closes from 12 to 2 every day, so we had to stall our proposed shopping trip.  It also seemed that most of the shopkeepers take their annual holiday at this time, as there were numerous shops closed for two weeks (at least that's what we think the notices said).  We had a pleasant walk along the river to the lakes and acquired a ‘chien’ en route; it eventually wandered off after about 1km.  We got back to the camper at about 3.30 (lunchtime) and whiled away the rest of the afternoon in the sunshine. 

 Later that day we took another stroll into town along a different route, through fields of wheat, horses etc and found the local ‘Shopi’ supermarket open (just) and replenished our provisions.  As we walked back to the campsite along the long entrance road, a steady stream of cars, caravans and campers passed us.  We found the site is much fuller that when we left and watch the stream continue until nightfall by which time you can’t get a fag-paper between us and its much noisier now. 

People from GB, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain, Portugal (and even a few French!), plus a man and his son from the Isle of Man in a very nice Autoquest 270.  Last to arrive are an English family in an A Reg. Clubman, which just about squeezed in by a tree, but they have to brake a branch off of it to open the side door.  It was fascinating watching everyone. 

Wednesday 11th ECLIPSE DAY 

 

The sky is slightly cloudy this morning.  Would we see the ‘eclipse totale’ or not, we thought.  We were now beginning to wish we had bought some eclipse viewers, but had decided we were not going to look directly at it after all the adverse publicity.  As the time approached a friendly Dutch family lent us theirs and what an amazing sight it was.  There was such a strange light as the sun gradually faded and it was surprising how quick it started to get cold.  Suddenly darkness was upon us.  Malcolm videoed the campsite at it was plunged into darkness.

Once it was over, it was as though everybody had decided to move on, including us.  There was a mass exodus from the park.  On the road out, we picked up a couple of hitchhikers who needed a lift into town.  They were from Ireland and were heading back to Paris, where they were staying with friends.  They had hitched their way up to St.Leu the previous day, just to see the eclipse. We stopped at St.Soupplets at the local ‘supermarche’ for food and petrol then continued the journey through Meaux and onto Euro Disney, travelling on our first bit of ‘peage’ motorway. A charge of 20ff for just a few km to Disneyland and more than the 17ff charge for a car with a caravan, which we thought was a bit steep considering we are only 15ft long.  (Cars on their own are 10ff)  We arrived at Disneyland and paid for two-night stopover (about £20).  We did not really realise at the time that there were no actual camping facilities, apart from the public loo.  You just line up at the front of the car park.  We found out later that we could use the coach water filling and emptying facilities (once you find them).  (We found out later that there is a proper campsite a short distance away). 

We spent the evening at Billy Bobs in Disney Village – line dancing of course. We met a group of line dancers from Paris and had a great time together. 

Wednesday 12th 

We spent the whole day in Disneyland, what a great place it is.  I had never had any great desire to visit there, but thought we might as well go, on passing.  I am so glad we did not miss it.  We did not go on many rides, but enjoyed watching everyone else.  There is so much to look at. (and do, of course). We decided on dinner at Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, this included a meal, complete with tin plates and bowls, and as much beer or coke as you could manage.  The show was spectacular, with real horses, steer, buffalo and chickens, plus cowboys and Indians, Annie Oakley etc.  A really fantastic experience. Afterwards it was back to Billy Bobs for more line dancing with the Parisians, of course. Then back into Disneyland to see the electric parade and firework display – another spectacular experience.

Friday 13th

 

We left Disneyland after breakfast and travelled to St.Dizier in the Champagne/Dijon region.  We visited a motorhome dealer here and it was interesting to see the differences from the British campers.  We then headed for the 'supermarche' for further supplies. We found the tourist information centre for information on local campsites and decided on one at Lac Du Der, south west of St.Dizier.  The facilities here were excellent.  I did the washing and drying, which cost a total of 40FF.  The site is beside a beautiful lake.  We had a lovely walk across the bridge and back as the sun set - if only we had taken the camera with us on our walk. It was a very picturesque spot.  We had our best nights sleep yet in this peaceful site. 

Saturday 14th 

After a good breakfast, we set off at 12 noon travelling through Bar-sur-Aube, Chaumont and Foulain.  There are some very pretty villages on this route with flowers and window boxes everywhere.  We passed under a massive viaduct at Chaumont, and stopped outside Foulain for lunch at 2pm.  It started to rain as we travelled on, through Langres and on to Vesoul. We stopped just before here at Port-sir-Soane, where it was festival week.  There were loud speakers everywhere playing incessant music.  We had a walk around this pretty little town set on a hill with three rivers running through.  We stopped to watch the wedding of "Sophie & Emille" and visited the Boulangerie.  We then sat and ate our Pain-au-raisins with a glass of fresh orange before heading onwards to Belfort. We got a bit lost here and ended up on the wrong road, though it still headed in the direction of our destination - Bazel, Switzerland. As the time was getting on we decided to look for a campsite and eventually found a very quiet small site just outside Delle, right on the Swiss/French border.  We ate our dinner, and as it was quite late we did not go for our usual walk this evening. 

Sunday 15th   

After a lovely shower we went into the village for more supplies, then set off towards Bazel.  We passed through the border checkpoint into Switzerland and had a good journey.  The roads are very good, and there's not much traffic. There is wonderful scenery on this route - straight out of "The Sound of Music".  So I had ear-shattering renditions of "The Hills are Alive" and "High on a Hill there's a Lonely Goatherd" from Malc - complete with yodelling! On arrival a Bazel we found a good spot to park by the Rhine and walked into town.  We had a delicious cup of hot chocolate at a pavement café and a good look around the town.  It’s a very interesting place, with lots to see. We originally intended to stay overnight in Bazel, but as the day were passing by so quickly, we decided after lunch, to carry on towards Mullheim and Freiburg, passing through the Swiss/German border and North towards Offenburg.  By now it was about 7.30pm and we thought it was time to look for a campsite.  We found a small one at Emmendingen, which was marked on an old map we had.  There were only about 4 groups of people actually camping here.  The rest seemed to be "static" touring caravans that appear to have been here for years and look as though they are occupied mainly by very elderly people. We had dinner and went for our usual walk.  We came across some interesting new houses in all shapes sizes and colours, but in traditional German style. One thing that intrigued me was that there were cigarette machines on walls and posts wherever we went in Germany.  Not only in shopping areas but also in the middle of residential areas, actually outside people's garden hedges, rather like the cable TV boxes you see here.  These had a variety of about 12 - 15 different brands, in rows of thirty packs.  I couldn't imagine these remaining full for very long in England, I am sure vandals would relieve them of their contents in no time. The strange thing is that despite cigarettes being so freely available, during the whole of our visit to Germany I only saw one young person smoking - makes you think, doesn't it. 

Monday 16th  

It rained quite heavily overnight, but cleared by the morning.  Malcolm gave the camper a good check over while I prepared breakfast. We set off towards Offenburg and it started to rain again.  We stopped at Lahr to get some cash.  It’s a really pretty town, which is very well kept.  It is a shame that there is so much traffic thundering through.We travelled on past Offenburg and on towards Baden Baden.  We got a bit lost here, but it gave us the opportunity to travel through a very picturesque village in the hills before finding the right road and continuing our journey towards Speyer. We wanted to visit Speyer because it is the twin town for Spalding, Lincolnshire, where we spend a lot of time.  Speyer is a very interesting town - lots of beautiful Bavarian architecture and good shops, plus the centre is traffic free, and there are plenty of car parks within walking distance. We walked along the Rhine and watched a cruiser berth for the night. It was a lovely evening. We found an ideal spot to wild camp about 50m from the edge of the Rhine, where we joined a German couple already parked there. We made friends with the German couple - Inga & Toni and have been corresponding with them since. Inga & Toni write to me in German, which I type onto the computer and put through the translator, I then reply to them by typing my letter on the computer in English and translating it to German to send to them, it works a treat!   In last letter we received they told us that they were on their way to the Algarve just after Christmas and returning at Easter. We spent the evening watching people disembark from ferries and listening to large raindrops falling from the trees and hitting the roof.

Tuesday 17th 

We woke up to dry weather and after breakfast set off towards Ludwigshafen.  We decided to stay at an Alan Rogers recommended site at Bad Durkheim, and went there first to book in before going into Ludwigshafen.  This is the most expensive site we have stayed at so far, but worth every Deutchmark,  The facilities are first class. As its such a nice place, we decided to stay there that day and walk into the town of Bad Durkheim about 1 mile away.  What a beautiful place is it, right in the middle of the Pfalz wine growing area, and every surrounding hillside is covered with row upon row of grapevines. We spent about 4 hours walking around Bad Durkheim, as it's such an interesting place.  We then headed back to the campsite. One thing we did notice about Germany & Switzerland is that they a very 'cyclist friendly' - there are safe cycle routes everywhere. We had our dinner and then took a walk around the site.  There are numerous static touring caravans here as well, complete with permanent awnings with proper Perspex windows, UPVC doors and gutters, plus the whole of the caravan & awning is covered in an all weather type of waterproof roof on a steel frame.  Each caravan has its own plot, complete with a garden, most of which were well kept. The central road through the campsite is covered in an archway of grapevines and each section has a description of the vine growing on it and the type of wine it is used for. We then walked along the edge of a large lake, finally returning to the camper, where we sat outside and watched the sun go down whilst consuming a bottle of wine - local of course. 

Wednesday 18th 

After a shower and hair wash in the superb facilities here, we had breakfast and then set off for Ludwigshafen, which is twinned with Havering - where we live.  We drove the 10 miles or so to Ludwigshafen and found a place to park about 10 minutes walk to the town centre.  Carefully memorising the route we took.  It was just like walking into Romford Town centre, built around the 60's and 70's, complete with Woolworths. C & A and Burger King, and a market -  and every bit as '(un)interesting'. Seriously though, beyond the centre there is some beautiful architecture and we enjoyed a hot chocolate and cheese pretzel at a very nice pavement café, of which there are plenty to choose. (We actually though we had ordered 2 chocolate milk shakes - must brush up on our German!) At this point the weather was looking ominous, so we headed back to the camper.  We just got back in time and on our way when the heavens opened. Luckily it stopped raining by the time we returned to Bad Durkheim for a last look around this beautiful town.  They were in the throes of setting up large marquees for the wine harvest celebrations that take place there each year.  It's a pity we had to move on before it all happened. We set off towards Luxembourg via Kaiserslautern & Trier, once again we had heavy rain - followed by gale force winds - followed by hail stones, with intermittent bursts of sunshine that were so hot they burnt our arms through the glass. (They say that the English weather is unpredictable!). We arrived late at our chosen campsite, Auf Kengert - another Alan Rogers recommendation at Larochette, Luxembourg.  A very friendly family, who speak good English plus many other languages, runs it.  This place had a very homely atmosphere and would take any denomination of money you happen to have.  The facilities are good and we met our first English family since leaving Chantilly.

Thursday 19th 

Had a wonderful nights sleep and never woke up until 8.45am.  We set off towards Luxembourg City late morning and found a good parking spot just outside the centre. We walked around the main streets, but did not have time to explore further, as time was now pressing on and its Thursday already!!, but its quite an impressive place and well worth a longer visit. We travelled towards Brussels taking the main road from Luxembourg but decided to turn off towards Bastogne at Arlon because of heavy traffic, which turned out to be a good choice, as it was much more scenic, with very little traffic. We passed the border between Luxembourg and Belgium and were amused at the number of petrol stations on the border; there must have been more than a dozen, one after the other along this stretch of road.  It was a peculiar sight. As we travelled into the centre of Bastogne we saw two Sherman tanks and Malcolm decided he would like to stop and have a look around the area, as it was the last turning point in the Battle of the Bulge during WW2.  We visited the tourist information centre and found a municipal campsite nearby, not much to comment about this site, but adequate with clean if basic facilities. We walked back to town from the campsite and I took some photos, including one of Malcolm standing by the Sherman tank in the town centre.  It was too late to visit any of the museums today, so that's on the agenda for tomorrow. Got caught in yet another rainstorm on the way back to the campsite. 

Friday 20th

We made any early start and drove back into the town centre of Bastogne, where we visited the United States Memorial & Museum.  It was extremely good.  We then visited Bastogne History Museum, which was also very interesting. We must now make tracks toward Calais and home. We took the motorway towards Brussels, where we got caught in an almighty traffic jam, then on towards Ostend. We had decided to take the coast road from Ostend to Calais with the hope of wild camping, but all the parking areas are 'camping cars verboten', so we decided to head over the border into France. As luck would have it, just outside Nieupoort  I spotted a sign showing a camper with 'P Gratuit' next to it, so we headed there and found an ideal spot next to the yacht basin. We were lined up with a wonderful selection of Hymers, Laikas, Pilotes and every type of 'Eurocamper' imaginable.  Our little camper was certainly 'dwarfed' by the rest and looked quite comical sitting amongst them.  There are hundreds of yachts moored here and we spent a long time walking around the harbour, followed by a walk around the town.  The main road is unexceptional, just a through route, but there are some really pretty areas beyond. 

Saturday 21st

The sun was bright when we awoke, but it didn't last.  We had time for a chat with our neighbours who were Belgians that live about 40km from where we were camped and had brought their three grandchildren away for a weekend visit to a childrens' farm nearby.  It's amazing how much information you can pass between different nationalities with the very basics of each other's language (unless you want a chocolate milk shake of course). We then set off for Calais, where we stopped for our last supply of real French bread and cheese before boarding the ferry and heading back to England and home. We had another meal on board, to celebrate the success of the trip this time, and to set us up for the journey from Dover.

--oOo--

 

On reflection - I was not keen on the idea of a European trip. I have never had any great desire to leave British shores, but Malcolm was so excited at the prospect that I went along with it. I suppose I was a bit concerned about the age of the camper and its ability to endure the journey, but other than the wheel hub problems at the beginning of the journey, we had no other problems whatsoever.  We read a lot about safety abroad, but never felt threatened in any way and found all the nationalities we came across very friendly and sociable. We found that it was best to buy all our petrol on our debit card, and that money is easily obtainable from cash points in every country we visited, although we had taken currency for all the countries we visited, with us. I am really glad we did it now, it was a wonderful and fascinating experience and this account really only covers a very basic part of our travels. 

Janet & Malcolm Bath

Members No.237

and 'Red Dwarf' of course

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Touring The Emerald Isle

By Colin Fleming

 After many months renovating a Bedford Dormobile  Landcruiser, Karin and I spent the summer touring around England going to various events including many organized by the Classic Camper Club. Many thanks to all those who put so much hard work in to put on such shows for everybody else's enjoyment. Now it is the time to venture further afield.

 For many a year now one of the places I have fantasised about touring has been Southern Ireland. Planning started during the cold winter month huddled around a welcoming fire dreaming of hot sunny days and wonderful scenery. Holyhead to Dublin was picked for the ferry crossing being an easy drive from Grimsby of motorway and duel carriage way without the risk of holding up any other traffic.

 We arrived at the campsite at Rhoscolyn 4 miles short of Holyhead for teatime allowing us an evening's walk along the campsites private beach. The weather was Idyllic, sunny, and warm, with a flat calm sea.

 The next day was spent getting into the holiday mood with long walks meeting up with my sister and her husband who live near by. A lazy sunny afternoon was spent in their garden with good food, good wine, and good company. Panic set in the next morning, as we needed to get to the ferry by 8.00am. Having arranged for the campsite to open the barrier to let us out an hour earlier, the man with the key overslept. Only after furious knocking on the windows a sleepy man turned up at 7.55 to let us out to make a mad dash for the ferry. The poor old camper arrived gasping for air with it's tongue hanging out! We were the last vehicle to get on the ferry!

 We had read that no foodstuffs were permitted from either country to either country so we arrived without any provisions at all. As it turned out we didn't see any customs and could have had a herd of cattle in the back for all they knew!! After an hour and ten minutes on a relaxing flat calm crossing we were in Dublin. The lack of signs for the way out was less of a problem than we thought, as most roads seem to head out of the docks. The journey south was very pleasant and uneventful with the exception of a young lady dressed in only a blouse and skirt in torrential rain. She was standing in the middle of the road threatening any traffic that came near her with her umbrella. All traffic had to drive onto the other side of the road to get passed her. We named her the Dolly with the Brolly. The overnight stop was south of Waterford right on the coast, we sat outside the camper, drink in hand until 11.00pm just winding down, watching the sun go down into a very calm sea. Wonderful.

 After a brief visit to the Crystal works it was off to Cork for lunch, an afternoon visit to Skibbereen where all the houses are painted a different colour. The locals say that this is so that the visitors of the local taverns can find their way back to the right house of the evening! The night was spent on a long finger of land sticking out into Bantry Bay with some of the most staggering scenery you could hope to wake up to in the morning. Shellfish was fresh and cheap as it was only dragged out of the bay an hour before hand.

 Beara peninsular was fantastic with wonder views of lakes and forests all the way to Killarney, a delightful town. It was about this time we cottoned on to one of the great ideas with the Irish main roads. They have a hard shoulder that can be used to park on, making it the longest lay-bys in Europe. If however, they are clear, any slow moving vehicles that are holding up faster traffic can pull onto the hard shoulder. The faster traffic passes and the slower moving vehicle then returns to the road thus relieving any traffic congestion. The faster vehicles then flash their hazard lights three times to say 'thank you', you then flash your headlights once, and everybody's happy. A simple, but effective idea.

 We learnt that the trouble free way to see the Ring of Kerry is to go anticlockwise as all the coaches travel that way so you don't keep meeting up with all the traffic on the narrow mountain roads. This is very much Camper country as most cars and caravans have trouble getting into the passing places, whereas campers fit in them a treat. We could have spent the whole of the holiday just soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the fantastic view.

 We spent the night at Caherdaniel on the south west point taking two days to do the 110 mile journey so that we could stop as many times as we wanted. The campsites in Ireland are fantastic, the one at Caherdaniel even more so. It was here that we found that every shop, garage, and campsite were selling freshly baked hot bread, which we lived on every day. A drop of Irish butter, and some cheese melting inside, it was heavenly to eat. The pitches were like a giant flight of stairs going down to the sea finishing up with a causeway leading out to a small island. Even on the island there were electric hook up points as well as water point, rubbish point, and drainage etc. Even the TV lounge was a thatched, stone built cottage with a peat fire at one end. TV in Ireland is transmitted in UHF and VHF so a TV set that can pick up both is ideal but not necessary to pick up the four channels transmitted. Next stop was Tralee to meet up with my brother-in-law (Martin) and his girlfriend (Kate) and some her family. Kate comes from Limerick and therefore was very handy as a local guide. The Irish are a very laid back people who live at a slower pace than the English which makes for very relaxing driving so allow for a much shorter distances to travel per day. Just take it easy on the roads and enjoy the driving. We found that the smaller the village, the better the pubs. They had so much more atmosphere and impromptu music with very friendly people. Limerick is a wonderful town with so much to explore. We took in a hurling match, a cross between hockey and rugby. Kate, normally a demure young lady, suddenly started to give one side some verbal abuse using language I haven't even heard after working for eight years on the docks. My Irish vocabulary increased quite a lot that day! They take this Hurling very seriously over there.

We spent a few spare days back at Caherdaniel just chilling out watching the sun melt the clouds looking out over the sea to the mountains of the Beara Peninsular, or a stroll down to the beach bar for lunch and someliquid refreshment. Ain't life a struggle! There isn't enough money in the world to pay for the views there. Alas, as all holidays it was time to head to towards Dublin. We allowed two days to look around the city and went on the tour bus first and then picked the places more interesting to us. The campsite we stayed at was just outside Dublin but the tour bus called in there every morning and evening and took us to O'Connell St. the main street of Dublin. This was very handy as it solved all parking problems. We saw the two statues nicknamed 'The Floozie With the Jacuzzi,'(the Spirit of the River Shannon) and 'the Tart With the Cart' (Mollie Malone) to add to the 'Dolly with the Brolly' we met at the beginning of our trip. We hope the poor girl didn't catch her death of cold. We learnt that with the ferries that all large vehicles (i.e. Campers) are loaded last and therefore get off first. We gave a long distance wave to Karen and Mark towards the direction of Amlwch on our way along the A5 and onto our way home bound. We were already talking of our next visit to the Emerald Isle.

Colin Fleming

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