Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mooching around the Pyrenees

A catchup blog as we have just spent 6 weeks on the road, the first 3 weeks hunting for some more Aires to add to the website listings - and we found some crackers! All of which will be added in as soon as time and internet access allow. The second 3 weeks were guiding some of our Club Motorhome members through some of the lesser known parts of eastern Spain.

We started from our Spanish base and used the newly setup Aire at Daimus for our first stopover. Being not too far from home gives us the chance to get ourselves all setup tidy for the rest of the trip. Expecting to be away for around 6 weeks its handy to pop back for anything major that's been overlooked. As it turned out there wasn't anything to be concerned about.

From there we headed north and stopped at a German restaurant that we had been told about 10€ a night or free if you use the restaurant, which we did. We spent a pleasant evening in company with a Belgian motorhome couple.

Heading north but still in Spain we pulled in at an Aire we used some 3 years ago to check it out as it was due to be one of our stops on the Run in Spain meet in a few weeks time. All was well except for the heat! 37.5 degrees..... We sheltered in the shade of a large building until sundown. With no hookup cooling in the van was limited but we managed. Typically Spanish we were disturbed at about 10.30pm when all hell let loose as the local drum band turned up for a practice session. Loud doesn't even come near to describing it and the sound reverberated around the surrounding mountains. All good natured though....

I had some concerns about one of our rear tyres keeping its pressure as it certainly looked a little soft. Checked with a gauge it certainly was! We called at the first available garage to use their air line. I had recently fitted some posh wheel-trims and matching valve extensions, these had been fine in storage but may have been leaking a little in use.

Up into the Pyrenees we made for the Bielsa tunnel rather than going right over the top. Still plenty of winding steep climbs though and our unreliable temperature gauge was dancing all over the place - mainly in the red! I had checked though and nothing was that hot under the bonnet so I knew not to be alarmed by it. We had to wait at the entrance of the tunnel for our turn at the contraflow system and the van didn't like that at all. The trouble with all this computer controlled system things is where they get their info from....... The engine was not overheating but the gauge sensor(s) said it was so the system shut the engine down to half power just as we had to lead a queue of traffic through 4kms of tunnel - great! All was restored as we exited and started downhill again and no troubles since!

We had a schedule to keep in that we were due to meet up with caromac's sister who was going to be on holiday near Bergerac, but until then we could just wander from Aire to Aire. The first we came to, not far from the Bielsa tunnel was high up in the Pyrenees. By a ski station and more or less deserted at this time of year we found ourselves completely along and were absolutely stunned by the magnificent views from our overnight parking spot...

Next morning the tyre was well down again... Then I remembered I had a small tyre compressor somewhere. Connecting this just let more air out - the compressor pipe had perished. With no air lines within miles we gingerly drove down the mountains and looked for possibilities of help in the villages. We came across a small council depot and they said I could use their compressor - brilliant! It didn't work! Not so brilliant. With even less air in the tyre now we crept along. I spotted a small farm complex with a blue cylinder just inside the door, a compressor perhaps? Pulling in there were a couple of lads working there and it was indeed a compressor... and it worked! They wouldn't take any beer money as a thanks but we were very grateful. I removed the offending valve extension and we've had no more troubles since.

We slipped into a daily routine of generally heading in the direction of Bergerac but wandering off course to check out any likely Aires, staying at ones we liked.

To be continued.....

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Van fixed, onwards and downwards (south that is) :)

Well the RAC did us proud, the warranty company were a complete waste of space (as expected to be honest) and we are back in business!

The Iveco agent replaced the big old aluminium casting which is the alternator and ancillaries support, belt tensioner and belt itself at, what we think is quite a reasonable cost, 360€. So it could have been a lot worse!

Anyway we retrieved to van and carried on with our travels stopping at the Aire at Benicassim for the night.

From there it was just a couple of hundred kms to our Spanish base where I can now settle down for a while and update the Club Motorhome website with all our new stopovers.

A trip to remember!

Monday, June 30, 2014

The best laid plans.....

Having spent several enjoyable but uneventful days at some Mediterranean Aires we pressed on south into Spain. We stayed at a couple of our favourite stopovers, Saint Feliu near Girona and Peniscola near to Vinaros.

A few miles out of Peniscola I felt the steering go very stiff so pulled in at the next safe stopping point which was a fuel station (closed as it was a Sunday) and popped the bonnet to investigate.

All seemed Ok with the steering fluid but then I did a double take as I noticed the alternator was sitting at a strange angle and its pulley had no belt on it! Access to an A-Class engine bay is a little restricted but reaching in I discovered that the alternator was just resting on a ledge at the side of the engine and had actually sheared its cast mounting bracket.....

We were going nowhere.

Finding all our relevant paperwork I called the RAC breakdown service back in Norwich and after lots of form filling questions they set the wheels in motion to recover us. So far the RAC have been fantastic! They have contacted us regularly to tell us what had been going on and to ask us if we'd seen the recovery truck yet etc. When we said no they went off to chase it and called back to explain that the delay had been because they needed to source a BIG truck.

A while later a blooming great artic unit and low loader arrived and the van was loaded onto it.

At this point we were a little surprised to be told by the very polite driver, in Spanish or course, that we wouldn't be able to travel with it because there were 2 of us plus our dog! Anyway another call to the RAC and they were surprised but would find us a taxi that would take dogs.

With a couple of hastily packed bags we stood abandoned on the deserted forecourt in the middle of nowhere watching our 'home' driving off on the truck into the distance....

We were entertained by the comings and goings of various vehicles calling on the services of a working girl who shared 'our' forecourt.

Quite some time later, as we were just starting to wonder what our 'plan b' might be a taxi arrived and took us back to Peniscola, to a hotel (that accepted dogs) organised and paid for (except 8€ for Digger) by the RAC. We were very relieved and settled in to think about what next...

Again the RAC called to see that we were settled in OK and that they would call again the next morning with an update on proceedings.

Using the hotel wifi I took the opportunity to prewarn the warranty company of our claim and to email the dealer we bought from to let them know what had happened in case we needed any support from them with the warranty company.

Sure enough next morning (this morning as I write) the RAC called to say the motorhome will be transferred to an Iveco garage today and that they will organise a taxi to pick us us and take us to a car hire place as per their policy.

So, I'm sure this won't be without further dramas but so far I have nothing but extremely high praise for RAC European Breakdown cover.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More Aires Hunting

More Aires Hunting - Day 1

In true motor-homing spirit we've been very casual about planning this trip south. We had to hang around a bit in the UK for the shower repair and a couple of other small things but as soon as was possible we had our channel crossing booked.

Eurotunnel prices had gone through the roof for the days we wanted so we booked a very unsociable 1.23AM! We took a bit of a chance and arrived very early, about 5pm and they very kindly rescheduled us to cross 6 hours early at no extra cost - thank you Eurotunnel! We also found out that the huge prices were because we had chosen dates leading up to the 24 hour Le Mans racing - doh!

So, arriving late evening we just popped around the corner from the Calais terminal to Cite Europe for the night. A leisurely meal, bottle of wine, some French TV and a good night's sleep followed.

Next morning after breakfast and over our traditional couple of cups of coffee we studied the map to decide on our approximate route. Although definitely heading for Spain we had not decided whether to go down through France via the coast, through the middle or via the eastern side and the Rhone-Alps. More or less tossing a coin we chose the Alps. Mostly based on the theory that at this time of year the coast will be hectic, inland hot and from previous experience the Alps offer stunning scenery in the summer without having to contend with snowy conditions at high altitude.

With the loss of an hour on the clock and the above lazy start a couple of hundred toll-free Km's will do for today so we're heading for the St-Quentin area in Northern France and we'll see what turns up en-route. After that we will be taking in some of the Champagne region, Burgundy and maybe a little of Eastern France as the days progress.

Well, 'en-route' we came across a very pleasant Aire, nearly missed due to the very small sign giving away its location. A canal side spot with free parking, and free services including free unmetered electricity..... Albeit it only overnight. So we stayed.

We had the place to ourselves and once settled in went off for a wander along the canal. Several fishermen were trying their skills, one offered us his catch to eat! Back at the van we acquired 2 neighbours, a Dutch couple and a German couple. The latter being of the type who fidget for ages before they settle down - try a different space, turn and face the other way, move forwards a bit, end up parked right up close to us (never mind the 5 other free spaces) and then go backwards and forwards to their lockers opening and slamming the doors, hey ho  its all good fun.

I'll update and upload the blog as and when we have wifi of some description

Day 2

A very lazy and late start, must be the hour lost still! Plan today is another couple of hundred km's hoping to stopover around the vineyards of the Champagne region.

Sat nav set for an approximate destination we set off to see what turns up. With a late start we didn't bother with a lunch stop, just brief pauses to have a look at a few Aires on the way - seems to be a bit of a canal theme to our findings!

Through Picardie and into the Champagne-Ardenne we headed to an Aire that we had used a couple of times before at Mareuil sur Ay but on the way we found a fabulous stop right by the vineyards of the big label producers Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger. The Aire has 8 spaces and still plenty of room enabling us to get the end spot with a great view to just gaze at

After a walk around the village, unfortunately too late in the day for some tasting, we settled down to food and to get the TV tuned for the Spain vs Holland world cup match.

Day 3

Spain are going to have to pull their socks up!!

Another 200 km destination although there is a lovely canal-side (again!) Aire that we used a few years ago that might tempt us to stop a bit early, a beautiful spot with all services and although not free it was very cheap. This day would take us right to the bottom of the Champagne region.

Driving was fairly uneventful but I am feeling more comfortable with the van. On an Iveco base its very lorry like as opposed to our Bel-Air which was fiat based and very car like to drive. The gear-change especially has a very long throw and feels quite clonky at first. The engine doesn't feel that it wants to be revved hard through the gears and, like the lorries I remember driving years ago, works at its best when kept in the green power band on the rev-counter. Initial calculations show that we're averaging just over 25mpg which at 4 and a half tons I'm very happy with.

Arriving at Froncles, the Aire I mentioned, we were really disappointed to see the state of it. A couple of really grubby vans and an old coach looked like they had taken permanent residence with associated debris strewn about and the others were jammed in at all angles with washing lines up - it all looked more like a travellers camp!

Back to plan A then, As we went through Landres we followed the signs to a town centre Aire but on arrival we found that although the services were open the parking had been blocked off and prohibited signs put up.

Another 15 or 20 kms on we pulled in at a village Aire that we recognised from about 4 years ago, it had been full then so we hadn't stayed but this time there was room. The pitches are good sized and in pairs bordered by hedging. We soon got parked and settled in. There's a 5€ charge but includes EHU and services and we found out later, showers and toilets too - we always use our own facilities but it's great for those who don't.

A couple of Brits were considering their parking options in order to be able to receive satellite signals for England's game against Italy but the surrounding trees were a problem. We just put up our Status aerial and found TF1 HD amongst our Freeview channels and job done

We decided we'd stay an extra day.

Day 4

A day of rest.

Thats's a laugh! Well, that's what we call it anyway

A great opportunity to finish a couple of jobs on the van whilst we are rested up in lovely surroundings.

Firstly I got the inverter connected up to power. I had previously installed the unit and run the necessary cables behind trim and through lockers etc to get the power where it would be needed. For some reason Carthago don't seem to think you might need any power points at the front of the van, they only supply 4 singles which are all amidships. The inverter (300W) is now mounted in the garage near to where the leisure batteries live and there are now power points in the rear bedroom, middle cupboard and front lounge, the latter being able to run off mains or inverter. The whole inverter supply can be turned off from inside the van via a switched relay.

With that done I bolted our old safe into its new position and tidied the garage a bit, to be fair though its carrying lots of stuff bound for Spain so can't help but looked a bit cluttered.

A quick look at the map and it will be another 200 kms tomorrow.....

Day 5

After filling and emptying as required we headed to the nearest E'Leclerc to get some shopping, fill up with diesel and give back our French Butagaz cylinder that we used in France in our old van which didn't have the refillable cylinders that we now use - on production of our original gas contract and ID we got our 9€ deposit back too.

Having had no wifi for a few days we also headed to a MacDonalds to see if all was well in the world. Their car park looked a bit tight so I pulled in at a garden centre opposite and used a long range aerial to get a just about ok signal. Caroline went for a wander around the centre to 'justify' our parking . Emails sorted, blog uploaded, lunch eaten (that time already!) we set off for Burgundy.

Our afternoon's driving finished in the south of the region at Louhans. Its a lovely Aire that we first visited a few years ago when it had first been refurbished. Set by the riverside its nicely laid out and landscaped with the planting of 50 different varieties of pear trees which were now coming along nicely.

Tomorrow should see us up into the Alps....

Day 6

After visiting Aires on the way we ended up at a charming location next to a small swimming lake, Serrieres En Chautagne. Parking and services free next to a little stream, we felt another day off coming!

We took advantage of the local bar's take-away pizza option and very good it was too.

A nice peaceful, if very warm, night other than the many local bullfrogs croaking the night away!

Day 7

The plan was to follow one of the local circular walks up into the mountains.

Whilst having our traditional morning coffee there was a determined knock at the van door. A Frenchman enquired as to whether we would be staying 'this night'? He advised us not to be worried by gunfire because 'tonight we kill some bad animals!'

We're intrigued to say the least!

We set of on the planned 5.4km walk which took us all of two and a half hours due to the slowness caused by the gradients but it was well worth it following waterfall after waterfall.

The viewpoint towards the highest point gave us an idea of just how far we'd climbed as we could look right down to our van in the Aire below.

By the time we got back to the van the lakeside bar had opened up so it seemed rude not to sit with a couple of cold pints for a while never mind the cost

Having had at least a day's exercise the rest of the afternoon was spent reading maps and books in preparation for more of our journey.

Day 8

Well, no gunfire in the night so I have no idea what that was all about......

Anyway, after a fill and empty we set off for a scenic day. Beautiful village after beautiful village we progressed through the Rhone-Alps and before long we were gaining altitude. Another difference discovered between this and our last van is the lack of engine braking on long descents - I can see more frequent changes of brake pads coming.

Our 200km day was a long one on these sort of roads so we were glad to reach our stop for the night. Pont du Fosse is a lovely Aire that we first used about 4 years ago, on arrival it was clear that it has been a little neglected since. However, its still free to stay and its a great location, we may have another day off tomorrow to walk the local routes as we did last time. (Incidentally, Pont du Fosse [link] is available for public viewing in full detail in the relevant stopover section on Club Motorhome).

Day 9

A change of plans

Rather than a day off we decided to proceed south, our intial destination being on the Med coast but thinking about a long day we decided to split the journey with a night-stop about half way.

Before setting off properly we nipped about 15/20kms into the mountains for some scenic photos, at somewhere over 2000mtrs we found our spot. We would have used the Aire at Orcieres but at 10€ a stop (18€ in the ski season) we used a public car park for a brief stop.

While I fiddled about getting photos Caro decided to start walking back down and I had instructions to catch her up in about half an hour - fair enough!

Once reunited we continued our day's journey.

Nothing remarkable about the drive - its amazing how quickly you become familiar and complacent about the scenery... We did have a MacDonalds wifi stop but other than having a lunch break (not McD!) it was a waste of time - their signal, my laptop or aerial weren't playing so we (I) gave up.

Our destination was an Aire by an observatory in a small village - big mistake! Access appeared to only be via the village and its very lucky we didn't damage our van or any one else's property squeezing through the tiny streets, several locals came out to watch our progress...... Eventually we came across some roadworks and we abandoned our quest.

Exiting the village our satnav told us it would be another 18km before we could turn around and I believed her - that was the second mistake! She directed us through the most tortuous 18kms you could imagine, the only good thing is I now know exactly how small roads and gaps can be and still be passable!! After that 18km detour we were back towards the ridiculously small village on the same road that we had left it on - the air was fairly blue.....

We found another Aire a few kms away at Dauphin, another tiny village but easier to navigate. The Aire is as good as disused but as we had no need for services it was a nice place with a countryside view to park for the night.

Tomorrow it'll be the hustle and bustle of the coast

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Making friends with our new van

We attended the Carthago Owners Club UK gathering in York which was our first proper camping. The meet was in the grounds of a stately home, Sutton Park, and was a great few days being a very well organised event.

By chance we met the previous owners of our van which was handy to fill in some of the details of the van's history. It was also an opportunity to acquire a set of stainless wheel trims that were residing in their loft!

We discovered at the end of the meet that we had a water leak from our shower and on investigation it turned out to be a broken shower trap. Long story short, the warrantee company said it was not covered by them (no surprise there) but the supplying dealer readily agreed to sort it out. It took a little while to organise as the parts had to come from Germany so we had to make do with Duck-Tape sealing one of the two plug holes.....

Time was getting on towards our date to get back into Europe but eventually the part arrived and was fitted at the dealer's workshops - thank you GoEuropean! Another visit to our friends in Stratford upon Avon and a booking was made for the Eurotunnel.

So what are our impressions so far?

The shower room, although nicely fitted, is too small..... This may be just because we had a huge one before.

Lefthand drive and larger vehicle dimensions take a little while to get comfortable with.

The huge storage areas including the garage soon get filled up.

These things aside it's growing on us..... Thank goodness!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All Change

Recently we spent our last night in our wonderful motorhome..... The next night we spent the first night in our wonderful motorhome!

After a long, long while of indecision we finally made our minds up and put our beloved Bel-Air up for sale, we had a replacement in mind but as always the figures to change had to work. We had a guide price to part exchange from a dealer who had what we wanted but felt we needed a bit more and placed some classifieds.

After a couple of weeks of enquiries without a serious one amongst them we visited the dealer for a serious viewing and a serious chat..... We definitely wanted to deal and with some negotiating the p/ex figure was raised and some goodies were included so we shook hands!

With some mixed and excited feelings we became the very pleased and proud owners of our new (to us) motorhome - a Carthago.

We arranged the changeover for a week later and decided to visit friends at a campsite reasonably nearby in the meantime. The week dragged by and the anticipation grew but eventually the day came and we made our way back to the dealer. After the formalities and the handover instructions we spent a couple of hours transferring our various bits of kit - hadn't realised just how much stuff we carried!

All done, I cautiously drove away glancing back at our Bel-Air in the mirrors - a strange feeling, that motorhome meant such a lot to us......

We returned to our friends' for a couple of nights to try it all out and I think we have got the hang of most of it, but time will tell - there's certainly a lot more stuff to know about.

From there we went on a quick family visit in Wales and stayed at our featured Pub Stopover at the Anchor Inn next to the ruins of Tintern Abbey.

A great night and a great stopover! Friendly staff, great food and some great ales - highly recommended!

Next morning after bacon rolls from the tearoom we headed back to Norfolk and 'squeezed' the van onto its official parking space.

A bit on the tight side so its a good job we're away in it so much

We're going to be busy personalising the van and some other things then we'll be heading back into Europe to start the next chapter of our adventures....

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wildcamping and Aires in Spain

We've just spend a superb month in company with some friends travelling around the Valencia/Alicante areas of Spain using a mixture of Aires and Wild Parking for stopovers.
We met up with our friends, Steve and Lorna, at one of our favourite spots just by the beach at a small Spanish resort, it was their first trip to this area and they were very pleasantly surprised by what a great spot it is! Very busy though with maybe a 100 vans and sad to say that some motorhomers were becoming very territorial about their spaces - even using water bottles to mark out their 'pitches'


That aside we had a great few days R&R before we went for an inland tour to show Steve and Lorna around a bit. Just a few miles inland there is a great, and little used, Aire. Free to stay with a proper service area we enjoyed a couple of nights and made use of one of the town's great little bar/restaurants - menu-del-dia at just 7.50€ and a wonderful part restored Monastery which was free to wander around plus free wifi at the Tourist Office.



On the second morning a Belgian couple joined us at the parking and proudly told us that they had been to the Aire before and were a bit dismayed to see others using it as they had been determined to keep the location a secret! They didn't approve of websites and books that publish locations, I kid you not.....
From there we drove over the nearby mountains to the next valley and on to an Aire that we had recently discovered. On arrival it was deserted and the electric gates were firmly shut. I phoned the number on the gate to see if they would open it up for us and in my best Spanish understood that someone would be along shortly.....

Sure enough a someone appeared and opened the gates, showed us where to park and gave us a tour of the facilities. He plugged in all the appliances in case we would want to use the washing up sinks , the washing machine and the showers etc. A few minutes later a man drove into the Aire and showed us around again - he was the village's Mayor, and very proud of 'his' Aire he was too. He took our payment for a couple of nights giving us a small discount and threw in a one hour wifi access for good measure (which for some reason lasted the duration of our stay - bonus!).

We had the Aire to ourselves and enjoyed exploring the village and spent a few hours having a superb tapas lunch at the adjacent municipal recreation area's bar/restaurant. We decided to stay an extra day and also had a great barbecue and watched some fab sunsets - it doesn't get much better .



Leaving there we checked out a couple of wildcamping areas that had been recommended to Steve and Lorna whilst at our original location. Although the towns were worthy of a walk around we didn't actually stay at either so continued to our next planned stop at a small established Aire on the side of a large town that we had used many times in the past.

A sign of the times I suppose but, although still open, the Aire was sadly neglected, drains blocked and overflowing with recent discharges of cassettes (why, when its already blocked?) and the fresh water tap had been vandalised some time ago as we seem to remember it was the same at our last visit. Probably a good example of what happens to an Aire when it's considered to be uneconomical to maintain....

Next stop was a pre-booked stay at a Super Aire on the coast. En route we had a great drive through all the groves with almond and cherry blossom starting to burst through.

Meeting up with some other friends in their massive RV we all enjoyed a proper dinner party at their place - so much space!

A bit of mountain climbing was on the cards so Steve and I scrambled to the top - what a view!


We wanted to stay a few more days but the Aire has a 3 day limit for where we were parked so, we had to move off for one night before we could return for another 3 day stint. We tried Wild Parking in a nearby street which worked well.

Leaving the Super Aire at the end of our second stay we headed to a little wildcamp that we discovered recently. On arrival there wasn't much wildcamping to be seen.... So we just parked and had some lunch and a wander around. Returning to the vans we had both acquired an offical(?) police notice that were illegally camped and should move on!


We did, and headed to a lighthouse on a nearby promontory and a likely looking layby parking area with the most fantastic views.




We had a great evening socialising and just marveling at what a great spot we'd found A Belgian van pulled in and stayed overnight too bolstered with confidence by being in a small group instead of on their own. A wonderful planetarium like sky with no light pollution other than the sequence of flashes from the lighthouse - a very peaceful night and views were just as good in the morning when our blinds were opened!


Just one of the many fantastic scenic wild camps we've experienced in Spain.

Mini tour over we headed north along the coast road back to our original wild camping location for a few more days before heading off in different directions.

Now, all the mentioned places we visited and stayed at are in the Stopover sections of Club Motorhome and unlike our Belgian acquaintance mentioned earlier we ARE happy to share our 'secrets' with our subscribing members - if the places are of interest to you please just PM or email me and I'll give the links to their descriptions etc