Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

On the Road, Eakring, Nottinghamshire

Preparing for Two Weeks in France

We had a month to prepare, our new to us, 1994 Autosleeper Trooper for two weeks in France. We had a list of small things we needed to do or take with us from our first exploratory trip. We were looking forward to a flexible two weeks along the northern coast of France from Calais to Brest in Brittany.

Our researches and reading articles in magazines suggested that France was very campervan friendly. We ordered the bible for those motorhoming in France, All The Aires and joined France Passion so we could stay free on interesting sites on farms and the like. We had already come to realise that we did not really want to stay on full service campsites especially as we were coming towards the school holidays. It meant we had to be genuinely self-sufficient. The only thing that we lacked, apart from space, was a water heater and shower but for us they are a convenience not an absolute necessity.

The parts for our ancient refrigerator were finally tracked down and scheduled to be fitted just before we were due to leave; we were beginning to think we would have to buy a 12 volt cool box. Our other concern was gas. We had a newly filled 3.9kg Calor propane bottle, not refillable in France, and the gas locker will only take one; would it last us two weeks of cooking, refrigeration and possibly heating? We did our research and found that if necessary it would not be too expensive to buy a bottle and regulator in France.

We discovered another snag. With such an old van we were not going to be able to get European breakdown cover, or at least not quickly. Although t was possible, the insurance underwriters would need to see the service history before they set the premium and offer cover. We did not have much of a service history and did not have the time anyway so decided to take the gamble. If we broke down we would have to get it fixed in France just as we would in the UK.

Two days before departure the refrigerator was fixed and most of packing was done. This time we had packed plenty of bedding as the weather forecast for France was mixed; we had learnt our lesson from our Jubilee weekend trip. The evening before, we filled the fresh water and fuel tanks and set the alarm as we had an early start.

At 5am we were on the road and we settled into cruising down the motorway in fifth gear at 65-70mph. The satnav confirmed that the speedo was 4mph (6kph) fast at all speeds. The trip from Nottingham to Dover was routine and we were pleased at how well our aged van was doing. At least until we reached the Kent Downs. The long drag was a bit much for the around 76 horse-power (when new) and at times we were forced to drop down to third gear. Despite this we arrived in good time and got put on a slightly delayed earlier ferry.

We were a bit apprehensive as we pulled into the ferry queue as there was strange graunching noise which sounded like thin metal catching a moving part. A quick investigation showed nothing but it repeated itself as we drove onto and subsequently off the ferry. We headed for the service station on the A16 just south of Calais to refuel and have another look. There was nothing obvious and the noise appeared to have stopped. The climb out of Calais confirmed the lack of power and we were relieved we were not heading to the Massif Central of the Pyrenees. It gave us something to think about and add to our list of things we needed for our new campervan lifestyle. We were being drawn in to the motorhome life.

LF23011 Mussels lunchWe pressed on until we were clear of the developed area of Calais and Boulogne and then dropped off the autoroute on to the D roads nearer the coast. We planned to spend our first night at St Valery sur Somme but first we were going to explore some of the small towns and villages of the Picardy coast and to find somewhere for lunch along the way. It was time to enjoy slow travel and slow food.


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Kath Cobrey (not verified) on 26 March, 2015 - 17:57

Very interested to read your story as we have taken our 2000 van to France, Italy and Spain. Absolutely love it, although this year we had to replace her exhaust on the second day of the hols! That'll teach us to go abroad without a service!

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Martin P Wilson (not verified) on 26 March, 2015 - 17:58

Kath, I hope you had a pleasant holiday after the exhaust was fixed and that it did not blow too big a hole in your holiday budget. I think the secret of running an older (classic?) vehicle is preventative maintenance. If you can be mechanically aware and give strange sounds early attention, reliability should be much improved. We forget how much progress vehicles have made in the last 20 or even 10 years. Maintenance intervals have gone from 10K miles or annually to 20+K miles and 2-3 years. We can't get away with that on an old vehicle.

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