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Summer 2013

A short two month summer trip setting off late July.  The plan is Champagne, Burgundy, Jura, The French Alps, Ardeche, Tarn and Pyrenees.  Well thats the plan.  Lets see what develops!

Off again!  (Only just)

We weren’t supposed to be doing a tour this year.  The winter was horrendous business wise.  Since returning to England in early December everything has been pretty grim.  The weather didn’t help and last year’s six month trip cost a fortune and sadly I didn’t manage to secure any decent jobs for the long winter months.

The house seemed to be like a morgue for months on end although we did enjoy a three week break at Christmas at Flamborough on the east yorks coast as well as a spring break there.  Apart from that and a couple of boys trips Hanks has had little use.

The secret of a successful business is to plan a trip away.  Oh yes!  The minute you plan a trip the phone rings and you can pretty much guarantee that you will then be kept busy right up until the day you leave.  You couldn’t make it up!  It happens every year without fail.  I don’t even tell people I’m going, they just seem to know!

Anyway, despite making no money we are fed up and my diets not going well so the logical thing anyone would do is naff off to France for a couple of months!

So that’s what we did!


The stress of leaving

All my preparations go out of the window because of work but as usual Michelle is in control and stockpiles all the stuff she now knows we need.  The van is spotless.  Well the inside (Michelle’s bit) is but despite me spending three hours cleaning the roof one day and a further five trying to spruce up the outside it doesn’t look much different to me but definitely cleaner.

The day before we leave I am running around like a headless chicken trying to tie up loose ends work wise and get all my stuff together for the trip.  Planning the trip is usually something I spend weeks doing but it’s crammed into pretty much one evening this time.  The idea is Champagne, down to Jura maybe via Burgundy, then the French Alps, perhaps the Ardeche, perhaps the Tarn and then down to the Pyrenees.  Perhaps.

We have to get the 6:35 ferry from Calais which means leaving around 10:30-11:00 am to be safe.  At 9:00 am as I’m booting up the laptop to add a few final bits and bobs It gets hit by a virus!  A nasty one as well.  At first it looks like a day’s work to resolve it and we consider changing the ferry.  A very stressful two hours later I have it sorted and bundle everything that’s not packed into the van and hastily make a dash for Dover 310 miles away.

By the time we leave I’m already done in!

We make the ferry in plenty of time though and eventually arrive at the same Aire we stayed on last year at Bergues just outside Dunkirk at around 10pm.  Breathe and relax!!!


Champagne region

We weren’t particularly impressed with the Champagne region last year on the way to Lac de Der and the Alsace but as we are going that way again we decide to give it another go.  We spend our second night in the grounds of Abbeye Vauclair about 20 miles north east of Reims and its lovely and peaceful.  We would have stayed longer but we have yet to take on any water and it’s hot and we both need a shower!

Reims is nothing to write home about and I would only see if you’re passing but the Aire is handy for the town and is free with free facilities.

We then decide to head to Epernay which is the heart of the Champagne producing region.  The rolling valleys of vineyards are very pleasant and there are little markers on each field denoting the various producers such as Moet & Chandon etc.  I consider stopping and nicking some Moet vines but the stuff is so expensive they are probably alarmed or at least have CCTV in the bushes so give it a miss.  It’s way too early on to be confronted with the Gendarmes.  Plenty of time for that!

The aire at Mareuil Sur Ay that everyone raves about is full (only takes a few vans) it’s supposed to have been extended but we couldn’t see where.  Anyway its crap.  Under a load of trees and vans packed closely together.

The one up the road at Mutigny would have been alright but it’s full of British Vans and Mrs D refuses to stay.  I reckon she thinks it’s a ploy and I have arranged to meet all my motorhome mates from the Motorhomefacts forum.  Or maybe she just wants a break from her countrymen, I dunno!

Epernay doesn’t really look worth bothering with either so we just leave vowing never to bother with anywhere in northern France again and just get a hoof on!



Did I mention it’s hot?  It’s flipping HOT!

We need to cool off so head for a couple of hours further south to Lac D’Orient which is the next lake down from Lac De Dur where we started last year’s trip.

It’s quite similar but there only appears to be one beach and half of France is on it.  Still the lake is refreshing.  The Aire isn’t really and official Aire, it’s just a large car park at Mesnil St Pere but its free and it’s near the lake.  

The next morning though we are just uninspired by the lake and the general area.  I think we just need to wind down and being on a busy Aire on a frankly dull lake with hordes of people is not where we want to be right now so we head off a few miles down the road to Troyes.

Troyes is delightful and we park 3 miles out at a huge E’Lelcerc and scooter in early.  It’s already hot though but we enjoy the town and its well worth a visit.  Lots of small winding streets with Colombage houses.  Feels like we are back in proper France again.


Peace and tranquillity.

We decide we just need to chill for a couple of days if chilling is possible as the mercury hits 35c so we head just 18 miles south of Troyes to the little village of Chaource where supposedly there is a little grassy aire for just half a dozen vans.  According to Raynipper on the forum it’s going to be one of the busiest weekends of the year traffic wise as everyone heads off on holiday so a backwater quiet village will do us just fine to lie low until it calms (And cools) down a bit.

Before leaving we stock up on all our favourite French goodies in Troyes and head off hopeful in the pursuit of finding our own tranquil corner of France to wind down in, eat our goodies and probably have a well deserved booze up!

We are not disappointed.  The little town / village is quite nice and the Aire is delightful.  Just a grassy field on the edge of the village but only a handful of neighbours and plenty of space.

What I like about little villages like this is they have everything one needs.  A little Aire in proportion to the number of vans who will want to stop over, a little Tourist information place, bank, bakers, butchers, couple of bars and restaurants.  Pretty much everything you would want on a day to day basis.  And of course the obligatory hair dressers.  I think even a village of just one house in France will probably have a hair dressers.

We enjoy a nice ride through one of the local forests in search of somewhere to swim but despite not finding anywhere the forest roads are cool on the bike and on the way back we stop in the village and visit the local bar which is quite quaint but for some reason has an industrial size washing machine in the middle of it which is running at full pelt!

At last, a lovely evening relaxing with a little guitar music, some great cheeses and pate and of course some Leffe and Wine!

We have (finally) Arrived!

Self dentistry and mega storm!

Of course drama is never far away.  You were getting worried weren’t you?

We spend a lazy second day on the little Aire but its way too hot!  WAY TOO HOT!  That evening two things happen to liven up the lazy hot day.  I spent what seemed like weeks in the dentist’s chair before we left getting my teeth sorted.  He managed to save one back one that was falling to bits but it took him a good while and a couple of visits.  His parting words were “It could last three months or ten years, who knows!   Go careful on it.”  So I prepare a lovely salad and chomp into some really nice crusty French bread.  I’ve waited over half a year for some decent bread and want to enjoy it.  It suddenly feels a bit too crunchy though and I end up spitting out most of the repaired tooth along with a chunk of filling about the size and weight of a 9mm bullet!

Marvellous!  So now I have to find a dentist (Again.  Check out the start of 2009).  Then the weather turns.  The skies blacken and the thunder rumbles.  Then the lightning with the thunder coming 30 seconds later at first so it’s going to be a bigun!

The storm seems to circle us with the lightning and thunder all around but not directly on top of us.  The wind picks up to well over gale force and thankfully from past experience all windows and roof lights are shut and anything that isn’t attached to the van put away.

It’s a spectacular storm and its great being in the van watching it.

The next morning however we realise how lucky we were as we set of 20 miles south for another Abbey stop at Fontenay just outside the town of Montbard where I have located several dentists.  There are Route Barre signs everywhere and it takes us ages to get around the devastation that the storm has caused.  Huge trees have been uprooted and even some of those giant hay bails have been blow into the road.

The wild spot at the abbey is lovely and it’s here that I discover that there are two sections of tooth left.  One bit is loose but the other bit which is little more than a stump and pretty much dead might do to eat on if I can get rid of the sticky out loose bit.  Looking in the mirror I decide that there is no chance anyone can save the mess that’s left so I decide to make the best of it myself with some self dentistry.  Hard core wild campers and adventurers us you know!

After a bit of poking around I eventually manage to pull the offending loose bit out and what’s left kind of works.   A bit more money saved there then.  I try it out on a slightly less crunchy baguette and it seems to work ok!  Normal service resumed then!

Flavigny Sur Ozerain

This is where the film Chocalat was made and it sounds very promising.  On route I manage to get a superb internet connection just in time to do some remote work for a client back in Manchester.  It’s always a buzz to get a bit of invoiceable work while sat in the van on holiday with a solar powered laptop using somebody else’s internet connection!

The wild spot at Flavigny is nice enough but full of cars.  At last I get the chance to use my super new (new to me) jumbo levelling blocks as we cram into the corner out of the way.  It’s a nice enough village but we are yearning for the mountains now and press on the next day


Jura at last!

So our first place we have officially planned to be is Jura and we finally arrive at Messnay near Arbois exactly a week after leaving Calais.  Its only 450 miles!  Seems like we have been on the move forever.

Not much to say about Arbois or Mesnay but the scenery is improving and we enjoy a little excursion out on the bike but now we are in Jura I have a whole set of Aires and wild camping spots around mountains and lakes to explore and we are keen to press on and get started on the trip proper!


Those of you that regularly follow Hanks blog will know Michelle’s obsession with collecting water.  Last year she spent half the trip wandering around with a collection of empty bottles looking for taps to top up her stash of water.  Just In case we run out.  Running out of water in a motorhome in France is nigh on impossible as there are Aire de Services everywhere but we plan to spend a lot more time wilding and without moving on this year so every opportunity to fill up must be taken.   Now some of you may call us tight but we (well Michelle) hates paying for water.  It should be bloody well free!!  Don’t get me wrong.  We think nothing of spending fifty quid at a market or stocking up on nice wine and decent beer and cheese but there are two things that spoil a trip.  Paying for water or paying to park the van!

This year we have two new devices in our arsenal to assist in our freeloading lifestyle.  A 100 watt solar panel coupled to a very clever flux capacitor MPPT controller thingy and a collapsible 5 litre water carrier (we already have a bigger 25 litre carrier, on top of the 110 litres in the internal tanks!).  It’s Wednesday when we leave Arbois and Messnay and we fill up everything that holds water at a free service point on our way up into the hills.  As I write this on Sunday evening we are far from running out and could survive another night really at a push.  Hector (the new water carrier) which was a quid from a pound shop is proving quite useful as we keep topping him up at every church etc that we see with a tap and then sling him in the top box on the bike.  This little game for now is keeping Michelle happy but already the empty water and lemonade bottles are appearing full again squirreled around the van and in cupboards.  I think this is getting out of hand.  Maybe she has a problem.  It started off with just one water carrier but now it’s out of control!  I vow that the day I crack open a bottle of Leffe only to find it full of H2O will be the last day of Michelle’s water hoarding tomfoolery!

The solar panel is just superb.  By 9:30am everything is fully charged.  Thanks to our Motorhome royalty chum from the legend that is Don Madge we now also have an inverter which we now plug in to charge cameras and the like as and when we need to.  Don also provided us with a whole set of maps for just about every country you can think of and a brand new French Atlas and two French maps which is a good thing as my crappy 2008 dog eared and frankly useless French road atlas is ready for the bin.  Big thanks to Don!


Pic de L'Aigle, (Eagles Peak)

I have found this wild camping spot on the wonderful website as part of my crammed in planning (all done in one evening remember) before we left.

It doesn’t disappoint.  It’s up at over 3000ft so the evenings should be reasonably cool and there are lakes to see and peaks to climb.  At last!  It is to be our home for the next five nights it turns out.

Just 600 metres beyond the van and up to the Eagles peak there are superb views of the 4 lakes that are nearby.  It’s been labelled (probably by some local tourism committee) “Little Scotland”.  I can see the similarity actually apart from the weather where it frequently exceeds 30c.

Apart from one work out by the van in Champagne at the second Abbey I don’t feel like I have had any proper exercise so now is the chance.  We get some short but strenuous walks in as well as some swimming and eventually the big Yellow dinghy gets an airing.

This turns out to be a bit of a military exercise though.  We are wild camping on top of a mountain and the lake is two miles away at the bottom of the mountain.  So it involves me taking Michelle down to the lake, returning to the van, strapping on the boat, oars and the rest of the clobber and hoping it doesn’t all fall off on one of the U bends coming down the hill, then blowing it all up before repeating the whole process in reverse afterwards.  It sounds like a chore but I really like it.

The lake we go out on is called Lac D’llay and is the biggest of the four lakes around us but still only a couple of miles in length.  There is an island in the middle of it so we head for there.   On the island we find what must have been at some point a rather nice log cabin with its own sunbathing platform and jetty.   The whole thing seems long abandoned though now sadly which seems bonkers as if it were on lake Windermere or Ullswater it would be worth millions.  Still we bring it back to life for a couple of hours at least.

We are surprised at how quiet it is where we are around the four lakes.  There are people about and it’s supposed to the busiest weekend traffic wise but it doesn’t feel over crowded here.  However we decide to bike up to Lac Chalins about ten miles away.  It’s a lovely ride but when we get there, there is a charge to enter the road to the lake and for parking.  This is never a good sign.  However despite it being two Euros for a “Moto” (bike) the chap waves us through the queue of cars and motorhomes for free!  This often happens and I start to wonder if we just look skint!  When we get to the lake and the beach we find out where all the crowds are.  The place is heaving.  Every child in France must be here.  A quick swim and then back on the bike and away!
I forgot to mention that one of the main reasons for coming here is that Jura is home to Morbier Cheese which is one of my favourites as is now the Comte Extra mature which also comes from here.  We have a trip down to the town of Morbier and stock up on the lovely stuff.  There are plenty of Cheese places up in the hills as well and I am delighted to say the stuff is less than half the price it is at home and simply wonderful but bad news for my diet!
Swiss Family Robinson get blown away

It’s Saturday and the weather is lovely up on the Eagles Peak.  We have however being observing the weather forecast and Sunday is forecast to be stormy with thunder and lightning.   In the afternoon a young Swiss family arrive in a car with two very small children and pitch a tent on the side of the hill just a hundred yards away from us.  I wonder if they have read the forecast.  Surely they will have!

All is well until we wake up the next morning to black clouds and the rumbling of thunder in the distance.  We are used to this now in the mountains and after the experience we had last year in Austria where we nearly lost the sun awning as the black clouds tumble towards us we quickly put everything away outside the van and shut all the windows and hatches.  It is then that I remember the Swiss Family in the tent.  Surely they will pack up when they see this lot approaching.  Nope.  They are going to ride it out.

When it hits its severe.  The wind picks up to a frightening gale and the rain is like the clouds have just emptied all their water in one deluge.  It doesn’t pass quickly and visibility is now just 50 metres.  I can’t even see where the family are or if they are ok.  I ponder going out to see if they are ok but Michelle thinks it’s a bad idea.  Then Mrs Swiss family Robinson appears running quickly with a child under her arm.  I have to say I’m impressed as she swiftly darts across the hillside gazelle like back to the safety of their car.  She is eventually followed by Mr Robinson with the second child. 
I’m guessing they abandoned the tent and I feel really bad for them and the fact that I did nothing to help but promise to myself to help them look for their tent later which is probably on its way to Geneva by now.
As quickly as it started the clouds part and within half an hour we are in brilliant sunshine.  The Swiss family are fine.  The kids are playing and laughing like nothing happened and Mrs Robinson has all their worldly goods including (somehow) the tent sprawled out on their car to dry.  I go and see Mrs Robinson to see if all is ok and he’s just grinning and shrugging his shoulders like it’s an everyday thing.  Hardcore campers the Swiss, obviously!


 In Pole Position to get off the Ferry!  Still took forever!
 The Aire at Bergues near Dunkirk
Bit of sunbathing by the lake near the Abbey 
Abbeye Vauclair 
 Hank parked at Abbeye Vauclair
 Moet Vinyards near Epernay
 The makeshift Aire at Lac D'Orient
Idiot at Troyes 
Me and the future Mrs D in Troyes 
 Another succesful installation!
Finally peace and Tranquility 
 The day after the storm
 Wilding by another Abbey
And a workout! 
Le Hank Le Tank 
 Wild spot near the Eagles Peak
 View of Little Scotland
What Jura looks like 
 A Zoom of Mont Blanc from the Eagles Peak
More waterfalls, Cascades de Herrison 
 Guitaring at the wild spot
More Comte and Morbier than I can shake a stick at! 
 Michelle at Lake Bonlieau
 Rowing to the island
 Our private island
 Swiss Family Robinson dry out