France
Arrondissement de Dunkerque

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  • Day999

    Estaires, France

    March 22, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Hello from northern France! A month in the UK gave us time to catch up with a few of our family and friends, get some medical appointments over and done with and finally get Martha Motorhome's bumper replaced, after a small collision we'd had in the summer. We were without our home for 2 weeks, but luckily family came to the rescue with offers of help, we stayed with Will's sister and brother in law, who put us up in their spare room and Vicky's Dad and Stepmum allowed us to use their van as a home from home - thanks everyone!

    Returning to the continent, we took the Spirit of Britain ferry from Dover to Calais and drove eastwards to the free aire at Estaires, the first stop on a 5 week trip. Located between a modern, low density housing estate, a petanque club and fire station, it has all the basic services, except bins and its 3 bays are separated by rows of Beech saplings, that will eventually knit together to form hedges. Behind us is a strip of grass with a picnic bench for each van and an electric point. Hookup is charged at €4 for 12 hours, meaning we don't need to move on when the leisure batteries start to run low.

    Arriving late afternoon on Thursday, Will immediately leapt out and after a short explore, settled down to fishing the nearby River Lys while Vicky curled up with a good ebook, enjoying the peace and quiet.

    The following morning we woke to birdsong, cockrels' crows and the chime of bells from Estaire's clock tower; the sort you might expect when opening a child's jewellery box. After a slow start adjusting to the 1 hour time difference, we took a saunter around the nearby town. Its red brick buildings reminded us of Belgium, but considering we are just 13km from the border, this makes sense! Amongst other outlets, the centre hosts a couple of artisan boulangers, boutiques, a tabac and several cafés. After a little window shopping we crossed a bridge and returned to the van via a treelined riverside walk. When the sun came out, buds and blossoms on the branches created a happy sense of Spring in the air!

    We've been saying for some time that we'd like to slow down our travels, spending longer in each location, striving for quality over quantity, hoping to gain a deeper experience of each place instead of just a snapshot. Old habits die hard and our last trip saw us moving on frequently despite this resolve. One of the reasons for this was the need to charge our leisure batteries every few days, either by driving or finding somewhere to plug in. At the end of summer we ordered a roof mountable 150W semi flexible solar panel to help feed our power needs. We picked it up during our stay in the UK over Christmas but our plans to fit it were scuppered when we read that the adhesive required temperatures exceeding 18°C for it to stick properly. Well, after lunch on the picnic bench our outside temperature sensor read 23°C in the sun so we siezed the opportunity.

    Vicky washed the area and we hoisted the lightweight panel onto the roof so it would warm to a similar temperature. After some meticulous positioning and being careful not to bend it too much, she peeled back the film to expose the strong layer of adhesive and smoothed it down. Covering the cells with cardboard to ensure they weren't live, she ran the thick wires along one of the roof bars, securing them with cable ties, and connected extension leads. Now it was time to test it!

    The power needs to be routed via a control box so Will cut a couple of lengths of wire and stripped the ends, attaching the panel to the MPPT controller, then the controller to the battery terminals using connectors we'd bought for the purpose. When Vicky exposed the solar panel, low and behold the MPPT displayed 12.8V! The panel was charging our batteries! Test complete, we unplugged the input and tidied the tools. The next stage will be to drill a hole in the roof and feed the wires through this and down an internal column to reach underneath the passenger seat where the batteries reside, but it was getting late in the day so we quit while we were ahead.

    We stayed 4 nights in total, taking things easy and enjoying the quiet surrounds. Unfortunately the IUS Vicky had fitted back in the UK doesn't seem to be helping with her PMS related fatigue at this stage, so we postponed drilling the holes. Will enjoyed many hours sat on the grassy bank of the Lys with his fishing rod and Vicky even joined him when the sun was out. Estaires proved just the ticket as the first stop in this journey, allowing us to relax and readjust to being back on the road.
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  • Day1038

    Bray Dunes, France, April 2019

    April 30, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    The three days spent in the UK has whizzed by and we have a whole three months' of travel stretching out ahead of us! From the familiar Bray Dunes Carrefour car park here in France, we plan to make our way through Belgium, Germany and Poland, to spend a couple of months exploring Lithuania, a country neither of us have previously visited.

    Bray Dunes is only 60km or so from Calais and its Carrefour supermarket offers an aire with van facilites, a laundery and car wash. Upon arriving, Will went shopping to pick up a few bottles of French wine and ensure we had enough edibles to tide us over for tomorrow's May Day public holiday. Later, we worked together to secure the living area door to its hinges. The external handle mechanism broke yesterday, leaving us unable to open the door from outside. Will did a temporary fix with some araldite glue, but it looks like we need a replacement handle pronto! Vicky found the part online and ordered it with delivery to an Esso fuel station in Germany, via the Relais logistics company in what appeared to be two day's time. When the confirmation came through, it told a different story; shipping within 2 weeks and up to 3 days for delivery! What!? We're not sure what we are going to do about this massive delay yet, but it obviously affects our travel plans...

    We decided to stay a second day at Bray Dunes to get our heads together. Will fished in the nearby canal, watching ducklings hone their swimming skills, hopping on their mother's back when they got tired. He fitted a new bike chain we'd picked up at Halfords and did some more work on the door, while Vicky carried out repairs to the upholstery. It isn't the most glamorous start to a trip, but the van is getting to the age where wear and tear is beginning to show and it is better to try and keep on top of it!
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  • Day35

    Student Blog - Jonny Lodder

    July 27, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    It has been such a great opportunity to be invited come back on tour, and to be able to play with the orchestra again (thank you Tim!!!!). After a year away at university not playing much percussion at all, I truly feel at home here, with my friends and family at NMPAT.

    I remember when I left last year, it was overwhelming, and not just because of the constant 35°+ heat. I was terrified, unsure of the future, sad, happy, and so proud, so so proud of the music we were playing. Even though that was a year ago, I can totally empathise with how some of my friends feel right now, as we heard back to NMPAT for the last time this year, and for some, the last time ever.
    Just before we boarded the coaches to come back from Italy, Mr Smalley told me simply (after I’d done a pretty big embarrassing cry, trying to say thank you, or maybe I was trying to say ‘PLEASE HELP WHAT DO I DO NOW?!’, but it came out as thank you) ‘I understand, I get it’.
    Now after a year, I think I get it too. Those of you that are leaving the orchestra, or choir this year will always have been in some of the best ensembles in the country. You will always have had the opportunity to tour with those ensembles and have performed amazing music in beautiful venues, with some of the best musicians, and friends you will ever meet. You will always feel the pride you feel now. You will always have been a part of this family.

    Being a student at NMPAT and working with the staff there is one of the best things that has, or will ever happen to me, and even though we move on, every year there is a new generation of young musicians who will need a nmpat, to make sure they have the same opportunities we have been so lucky to have.

    So make sure you hold on to how you feel now, and make sure you shout from the rooftops about it. Make sure you tell people about what we’ve achieved, and how it shaped you. No matter whether you’re leaving to study music at university or not; let’s make sure when we’re the parents, teachers, and the people WE look up to now, that we support and nurture youth music. Let’s make sure every child can have the opportunity to have their lives touched by music as we have.
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  • Day787

    Bois des Forts, Bergues, France

    August 22, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    It is calm here. A cluster of conifers and a curve of tall Black Poplars shade us from the warm afternoon sun, keeping the van comfortably below 25°C. The gentle rustle of a breeze through their leaves is louder than the distant murmur of traffic. Bois des Forts (Wood of the Forts) is a country park with pleasant gravel parking, divided by well tended hedges and surrounded by grass and picnic tables.

    After a bit of a stressful morning getting Poppy's passport sorted at the vets in Tournai, she flaked out in her usual position between the driver and passenger seats as we set off on today's 100 kilometre drive. Before we knew it (literally!) we were in France, the outskirts of Lille to be exact. We hadn't seen any 'Bienvenue en France' signs on the motorway and we only realised when a text came through on Vicky's phone saying that we were in a 'roam-free destination'. Every fortnight and each time we enter a different country Vodafone tells us we "are probably expecting a text about roaming charges" . As you can imagine, we are becoming rather tired of them after 15 months and nearly 30 border crossings!

    Poppy continued to snooze while we travelled out of the urban and into the countryside. A good feeling spread through us when we pulled up at Bois des Fortes. As much as we appreciate town aires like the one at Tournai, we feel so much more at home when our home is surrounded by greenery! After settling in and giving Poppy freedom to explore off lead, we took a stroll along the criss crossing paths that led through the woods and by the side of canals and large ponds. We leant on a bridge's wooden fence and peered over into the muddy brown water, spotting the large mouth of a carp coming up for air. It was a very relaxing way to spend our penultimate afternoon on the continent!

    The following morning we set off towards the Carrefour supermarket at Bray Dunes. We had stayed here previously and knew its car park offered overnight stays for vans, a petrol station and van wash. We planned to stay here but when we pulled in it was pretty busy. Although we managed to find a spot on the end of a row we made the decision to return to Bois de Forts and stay there a second night. We therefore did a shop, washed the van, filled up with diesel and set off back to the woods!

    We enjoyed exploring a different part of the plantation in the afternoon and knew the right decision had been made as we were able to thoroughly relax before our ferry crossing from Dunkirk the next day.

    We haven't booked a return ticket yet because we don't know whether Will might need to attend a follow-up appointment, but we intend to be back over on the continent and blogging our adventures as soon as we can!
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  • Day856

    Bray Dunes. End of 2018 tour

    October 30, 2018 in France ⋅ ⛅ 4 °C

    Sorry for the delay in uploading this one!

    We are parked at the familiar Bray Dunes Carrefour supermarket aire in France. The wind buffets the van as rain lashes down. We hope the weather improves for tomorrow's ferry crossing to Dover.

    We left the Netherlands this morning and drove all the way through Belgium into France. We rely very heavily on the sat nav to get us where we want to go, only occasionally toggling 'Satia's' settings to include or exclude motorways from the route. It was therefore a bit of a shock when we were slapped with a €19 toll for the Liefkenshoek Tunnel, that allowed us to bypass Antwerp. However, we have always had massive delays when taking the free roads through Antwerp and after mulling it over, decided we'd have rather payed the toll than face the traffic chaos around Belgium's 2nd city.

    As we drove the temperature dropped to a chilly 3°C and sleet began to splat the windscreen. We certainly hoped it wasn't a sign of things to come. At the French border we passed the obligatory cluster of businesses taking advantage of the changes in tax between the two countries. Smokey River, Tobacco Alley and Euro Baccy (yes, these were the actual names) were all flogging cheap fags to the Belgians.

    We had planned to spruce Martha Motorhome up at the Carrefour van wash but neither of us could muster the energy to face the elements after the long drive. We'd also hoped to make use of the on-site launderette and fill up with water, but both the laverie and the water point were closed so we trawled the aisles and stocked up on festive spirit(s) instead!

    We'll be staying in the UK for 2 months, until the end of December, visiting family friends and catching up on all the necessaries like the MOT and dentist checks. We are very much looking forward to seeing people back home and celebrating the season. The blog will be put on the back burner while we are trundling round old blighty so now is a chance to look back on our travels in 2018.

    The first part of the year saw us spending over 14 weeks touring Spain, including a fabulous week with our good friends Cath and Paul at a villa in El Gastor near Ronda and 2 brilliant weeks WWOOFing in the Sierra Nevada mountians. Neither of us had spent very much time here before but the winter sun, tapas, scenery and layed back culture were definitely winners for us! We popped into Gibraltar for a day in March and feasted on fish'n'chips and an English pint before taking the chair lift up the rock to visit the Barbery Macaques- a wonderfully memorable experience.

    As with many things in life, our travel plans veered off course when medical appointments extended our trip back to the UK in May. With the prospect of further examinations and consultations, we abandoned our plan of touring Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, opting instead to stay closer to home and spend July, August and September in Denmark with a trip back to Orpington in August for Will to see the doctor. The country's lakes, coastline, countryside and charming towns won us over. With free and easy wildcamping and innumerable opportunities for outdoor activities, Denmark quickly became our favourite country of the tour.

    October took us to the Netherlands, but with the cold and dark of Autumn descending and Denmark still fresh in our minds, it had a hard act to follow. While we enjoyed our Dutch tour, it lacked the thrills we'd had in other countries and we were ready to make an early return to Orpington for Vicky's long awaited gyneacology consultation on 1st November.

    While health concerns have come between us and farther flung adventures in 2018, our appetite for life on the road is not diminished. Our extended UK visits have given us the opportunity to spend more quality time with family and friends and the memories made are ones we'll cherish. Meanwhile our explorations of countries within easy reach of the ferry crossing has allowed us to fully discover and fall in love with Denmark.

    We'll take a hiatus from blogging while we are home, but we'll be back behind the wheel and the keyboard in January. Whether you've been with us from the start or have just subscribed, thank you for all the support you've shown in following us, it means a lot. See you in the New Year!
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  • Day730

    Bray-Dunes Carrefour Aire, France

    June 26, 2018 in France ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    We'd relished spending nearly 8 weeks of quality time with family and friends in the UK, mostly in people's gardens, relaxing or helping out. It had been an extended stay because of hospital appointments but with these over and done with for now, we were keen to hit the road again.

    Our carefully planned itinerary has had to change because of the extra time in Britain but we are going with the flow. Will has a colonoscopy in around 5-7 weeks time giving us a window of opportunity that we intend to make the most of. We wanted to visit somewhere close by so that our time wasn't eaten up by motorway driving and we'd toyed with the idea of The Netherlands, but in the end the coast, countryside and potential cool of Denmark called to us.

    Saying our goodbyes to our family in Orpington who had put up with us camped on their drive for over a week (thank you so much!), we had an uneventful journey down to Dover. We were pleased when DFDS ferries reminded us to keep our windows open and make sure Poppy had a bowl of water so she didn't overheat. They even offered us window grilles to help and provided a doggy exercise area in the shade that was within easy walking distance of the lane we'd been told to queue in. The hound was therefore happy to have enjoyed a bit of sea breeze when we drove onto the ferry and left her for the 2 hour crossing to Dunkerque.

    The boat had few other passengers on it so we easily found a table by a large window and Vicky got on with sewing the new cover for our bench seat while Will enjoyed some Kindle time. He had already changed the headlights to the European ones in Orpington and it only took a small amount of time to readjust to driving on the right when disembarked. It is getting easier each time we switch. The car park of a medium sized Carrefour 33km away provided an free motorhome aire and seemed an ideal spot to spend the night. We were able to drain our waste water and it even had a launderette and specialised van wash facility on site. It was great to be in a van friendly country again!

    Back when we were in the North East, Vicky's step mum had given us frozen snails in garlic butter that she'd bought during Aldi's French week, so it seemed only appropriate that we eat these together with a celebratory glass of bubbly on our first night in France for a while. In the morning we did a big shop at Carrefour and washed the van before beginning our journey north.
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  • Day1128

    Bray Dunes, July '19

    July 29, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    We are back at our favourite pre-ferry park up; the motorhome aire at the Carrefour in Bray Dunes. We do the usual activities of cleaning Martha at the specialist van wash and stocking up with alcohol for our visit home. This is a popular stop and there are several other British vans here. We get chatting to our neighbours over a trolley full of wine and they tell us they are planning to travel full time in a few years. We of course recommend it!

    We are planning on spending just over a month back in the UK, although we haven't booked a return as we both have medical appointments that may need follow-ups, so you never know. Meanwhile, we'll take a break from blogging, reconnect with family and friends and see you back here when we return to our continental travels!
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Arrondissement de Dunkerque

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