Estaires, FranceMarch 22 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.Read more