About Me

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I am a home educating mum of 2 living in the Northwest of England. I long to travel with my family (including the fluffs) to see the world and have amazing adventures, because life is too short to worry about paying off a mortgage!

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Road Trip Adventure: Driving Through Spain with a Caravan, kids and Dogs

We finally did it and reached Spain! 
Driving over the 'border' was a bit of a non event given there are no strict borders so no passports to show, in fact the only way we could tell was by the man at the toll booth greeting us in Spanish - hooray!

It was lovely to spot the beautiful chalet style houses that are dotted around the borders of the Pyrenees and the passage over gave us some spectacular views as we climbed high up the mountain pass. We all pressed our noses to the glass to see the huge birds of prey hovering over the cliff sides and crevasses. The road was amazingly clear with the fields covered in snow, such a shame we couldn't stop to build a snowman despite the kid's protests!

Crossing the Pyrenees - a grand affair

We soon arrived at our first Spain stop, Camping De Olite, clearly a more long term base and summer getaway judging by the bungalows in various states of (dis)repair. It had a certain charm and was so quiet - in face we were the only caravan on the very open field which meant we were treated to an amazing sunrise the next morning!

A beautiful morning welcome to Spain
The kids of course enjoyed the park and even found a new friend who kindly taught me how to say dinner (it's 'cena' for those who want to know) in Spanish. Something I've noticed out here is how amazing young children's English is, it has certainly made me concentrate (shamed me really) on learning and practicing my own Spanish whilst over here!

Our next driving stint and the kids were starting to miss a bit of space to play so luckily the weather was slowly improving the further South we got! Had we got the chance to get the awning out at a few of our stops I'm sure this would have been less of an issue.

The next excitement was spotting various toros (Spanish bulls) on the hills.

A lone Toro on the hilltop

Bow enjoying the view at Vilanova Park
Arriving at our next destination near Barcelona the huge Vilanova Park. Now this is definitely well kitted out for families and camping. Featuring 2 x pools including an indoor one, crazy golf and park, and lots of summer activities for kids this is a great place to stop. Tree lined and a lovely setting it's within easy reach of Barcelona so a perfect base. Sadly we had only the one night but even so we of course had a pit stop at the park whilst the caravan setup was completed.

View from our window at Vilanova Park
This was certainly a busier site and you can tell camping in the South of Spain for the winter is a popular choice, having seen the difference in weather I can understand why!
The dog's proved a popular addition to the play park the next day with the Spanish holiday makers. Again giving me a great chance to practice my basic Hola!, Gracias and Adios Spanish!

Alas we sadly had no chance to explore the area so we were off again to our next stop Camping Playa Tropicana in Castellon. Having been taken down a very narrow lane by Google maps (seriously would it kill them to have an option to select 'also towing a bloody massive caravan' when using their direction planner??) I discovered that this has to be my favourite site of all the ones we stayed in, situated almost on the beautiful sandy beach the sun was shining and the place spotless and friendly. We were helped into our space by a lovely German couple opposite us. We found negotiating the caravan into some of the pitches on busier sites is not an easy feat and were really appreciative of the help offered from other residents.
Pitched right by the entrance we had access to a well stocked shop and a stroll to the beach which was of course our first stop!

A refreshing view - luscious lemon tree outside our window

Heading to the beach - bliss

Bucket at the ready....

The beach was like a tonic, leaving all the cold and rain behind

The main attraction of this site is having the beach a stone's throw away, but there is also an indoor and outdoor pool. The toilet and shower blocks were clean with lovely hot showers. I even forced myself out of bed early the next morning to get some amazing sun rise shots....

I was surprisingly sad to leave this site, but we had only one more stop before reaching our final destination so we had to crack on:

Next stop Marjal Guardamar in Murcia. A lovely little site with substantial pool, play area and small shop amid a lovely tree lined setting. Sadly however it seems, having spoken with regulars there, that most of the pitches are being replaced by permanent bungalows forcing a lot of the motorhome and caravans out. 
We had the most overwhelming welcome when we tried to get the caravan on the pitch; 8 people of varying nationalities all appeared from nearby caravans and motorhomes, one even stopping on his bike as he cycled past, all rushing just to help us push the caravan into place; it was a sheer delight to have all these people from different countries working together just to get us sorted. I know it sounds small but when you've spent 8 days travelling with dogs and kids simultaneously learning the ropes of caravan living this gesture was just so heartwarming. 

Interesting entrance to the Marjal site.
We were delighted to discover that Bow and Bella had a doppelganger residing in the motorhome next door belonging to a German man. This turned out to not be a crossbreed like ours but a rare pedigree breed called a Bolonka! The things you discover when you leave the tiny stretch of Morecambe behind!

Our last night in the caravan was lovely, the kids were excited to reach the new villa we would be calling home for the next 5 months and to having more space, myself and my husband meanwhile were having mixed feelings about leaving the caravan; it had been such a wonderful, liberating experience not to mention challenging and it had gone so fast.

Our final drive to Mojacar felt really special an achievement in fact, we've finally stopped procrastinating and started on a journey of travel and adventure!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Road Trip Adventure: Driving Through France with a Caravan, kids and Dogs

What an amazing feeling to realise after months of prep, planning, stressing and spending copious amounts of money that we had made it to France!
Standing on the beach side walking the dogs in the sunshine was just pure bliss. We had taken the challenge, took the leap and done it!

Now for the next step of driving..... and a lot of it..... On the right....With a caravan.....

As it happens my husband is a confident driver and this type of thing doesn't phase him at all, he also enjoys driving, so the actual driving parts of our journey were really quite pleasant.

Our longest stints were around 4 hours and, having learned from our stop offs in England, we managed to arrive in the daylight with the exception of our first night in France which couldn't be helped due to the ferry arrival time.

 Our first stop  - Les Acacias in La Ville-aux-Dames

View from our window at Les Acacias
Not an easy site to manoeuvre in the dark but we got there eventually, helped by a lovely couple with bright flashlights. The showers were nice but basic and there was no shop on site but we managed with our stocks. The play park for the kids was again basic but it looks like in high season things pick up there a bit, and the surrounding area seems a beautiful place. As a stop off for us it was perfect.

An early start and we made for Bordeaux and the Village Du Lac.
Village Du Lac is certainly set up for big summer holidaymakers with a huge water park area and swimming pool that looked great, sadly the same could not be said for the disappointing play park. The pitches were quite tight and fairly churned up, certainly not great for winter weather but we managed to not get stuck so everyone was happy. We were relived to find a reasonable grocery shop on site but even happier to sample the on site restaurant which offered some delicious food. Perhaps it was having only eaten basics in the caravan but we had a lovely meal. I'd consider re-visiting this in the summer months to be able to use all the facilities, however it did seem heavily geared towards the chalets and lodges rather than caravans so how that would affect the vibe I'm not sure.

Enjoying the misty morning at Du Lac
It really was a whistle stop tour in France looking back, as the next day was dedicated to crossing the Pyrenees and arriving in Spain.

Some things we learnt driving through France though:

  1. You need to use Eurolites if driving a right hand drive car. I'd seriously recommend getting some advice prior to travel as the instructions are no where near as easy as they first look and we spent the first night in the dark getting flashed hysterically by oncoming French truck drivers. (Interesting the Spanish ones have never bothered so whether the French are just more particular or whether it was just the fact our LEDs are brighter than they are used to I don't quite know but they look right according to the instructions...)
  2. The French Aires that we stopped off at were surprisingly high tech, the loos locked and flushed themselves and some had showers. They seem like a great place if you need a picnic stop, loo stop or are travelling in a motorhome.
  3. If you have children prone to travel sickness then audio CDs are seriously a life saver! We have listened our way through all the Roald Dhal collection (the good and the bad..... don't get me started on the accents in the Matilda one or the sheer ridiculousness of Danny the champion of the world or the dullness of Charlie and the great glass elevator). Bring lots though unless you like listening to the same ones over and over and over and over (gaah no more Fantastic Mr Fox please).
  4. Check out the pine trees if you have dogs as driving though we realised just how many house nests of the Processionary Caterpillar. If you haven't heard of these they are nasty little caterpillars that have toxic spores on their bodies and can cause anaphylactic shock to both humans and animals. Dogs have been known to have needed partial tongue amputations due to picking them up in their mouths, these creatures are no joke so be vigilant especially around March, April time when they venture down from their nests in a long line (hence the name).
  5. When pulling up at the toll booths on the motorways remember if you have a caravan to go for the lanes without height restrictions on them! :D

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Road Trip Adventure: Driving Though England with a Caravan, kids and Dogs

So departure day arrived, aimed with setting off around 10am, we naturally left somewhere around 2pm. As it happens traffic was quiet so we got away with it really!

Lesson 1: Don't underestimate how much crap you need to take with you in a caravan especially for a 6 month trip in a variety of climates. Also don't underestimate how long it takes to decant all said crap into caravan on the first day of your trip.

Our first stop was Birmingham, a 3 hour trip down mainly motorways which was a relief given that we had neither towed a caravan before or pitched at a campsite.
We arrived at Chapel Lane caravan site around 5.30 so it was pitch black, luckily being January the UK sites are generally very quiet for winter. In fact the real challenge is finding camping sites that are still open in the winter months. Chapel Lane was a lovely site and one I would re-visit in the future, it was very clean, the toilet/shower block was warm and the pitches were easy to navigate (all things we have come to appreciate on our tour de campsite).

First view of Chapel Lane through our window

Here's an interesting tip for newbie caravanners - reversing a caravan into a pitch in the dark is neither easy nor fun, I don't recommend it!

Once done though, the real pleasure of the caravan is getting it all snug and cosy. The kids had a fixed bunk bed each complete with microwaveable bed warmer and loved having their own sectioned off 'room' with their toy boxes rammed into the under seat storage. The hubby and I actually enjoyed having a relax on the sofas before making up the double bed and making tea in the caravan, although challenging, isn't quite so bad with oven pizzas!

Bella certainly found it cosy

The worst bit about caravanning? The cold hop over to the shower block in the morning and the taking down of all the bits and pieces

  • unhook electric
  • empty waste water
  • empty bins 
  • empty aquaroll
  • empty toilet (obviously hubby's job)
  • hook back up to the car#
 All this took easily an hour on our first few goes.

Our next stop was Wareham Forest, a much bigger setup than Birmingham, Wareham Forest has a lovely setting with lots of trees and a big play park for the kids, it also has a pool for the summer. The shower blocks were reasonable although not quite as well kept as the Birmingham ones which had provided quite a high bar for the other sites to reach.
As we were leaving before 7am the next morning (barriers tend to be locked between certain hours to maintain security and noise levels) we had to stay in the late arrivals pitch but it was a great spot with plenty of room to reverse the caravan in. Again we made the mistake of arriving in the dark having being delayed taking a ridiculous route suggested by Google maps over a single lane narrow toll bridge and then up an incline of stupid proportions for a car towing a 6 berth caravan; so that elevated the stress levels slightly for both myself and the car's clutch. 
An early start the next morning meant no one fancied showers so we just headed the 30 min drive to the port.

As we had dogs we had to be at Portsmouth port an hour before departure rather than the usual 30 mins but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and laid back way it is to travel. I enjoyed it so much more than I anticipated and would certainly recommend it as a good way to get across to the continent (unless you are a terrible sea sickness sufferer of course!).
Dogs all settled in the car for the trip (4.5 hours) we got to the important task of breakfast and it was lovely sat watching the dock slip away with the sun shimmering on the sea. Yes I'm painting a romantic image and I'm sure I'd be less complimentary had we not been so lucky with such a sunny and still day but we certainly got a good deal for our trip.

Enjoying breakfast with the sun rising
Sadly this is where my enjoyment stopped for a little bit as I began to suffer from a bout of sea sickness....

Lesson 2: If suffering from nausea at sea don't stay on the edges of the boat head for the middle. Even better if it's a sunny day go and lie in the foetal position with your kids rucksack as a pillow on the sun deck, preferably next to the warm air vents, with every piece of warm clothing you have on you. Try and sleep until you basically are so numb from the cold hard ground that the nausea goes away, (well it was either that or I just found my sea legs at last! )

Sea sickness aside though the journey on the ferry was very relaxed, the kids got to watch Trolls in the children's play room with some lunch and again being low season it was very quiet.
Disembarking on the other side in the sunshine was lovely, a good few degrees warmer and there we had it welcome to France, or Caen to be exact. Let the driving begin!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Planning A Road Trip Adventure: with a Caravan, kids and Dogs

Late last year an amazing opportunity arose that would enable us to spend a few months in Spain from January this year (yep I'm writing this from the warmth of sunny Spain). Never being one to turn down a chance to escape the bleak UK winter rain, coupled with the promise of staying in one of Europe's sunniest spots we of course accepted.

The best way to enjoy your new caravan is with a dainty fairy light jar and a cup of G&T!!

Our next major decision was how do we get there?
Since we were heading out for 6 months there was no question of leaving our furry family members behind so any way we got here had to be dog friendly. That immediately ruled out travelling by plane as I didn't fancy stowing them away in the hold.
Whilst our European counterparts enjoy trotting through security at their airports with small dogs in tow ready to pop in the cabin together we, unfortunately, have to package ours up and bundle them in the belly of the plane hoping they'll manage it by themselves - something I just don't feel happy doing unless I really have to.
Next was a long ferry trip across from Plymouth to Santander. Not knowing how any of us would manage with long term sea travel and having to put the furries into kennels for 24 hours made this option much less appealing.
So we decided on option 3 travelling by ferry or tunnel to France, driving through France and Spain to reach our destination. We decided to break it up with frequent stops and take our time to get down here.

So method of travel had been agreed, next do we stop in hotels all the way down and cram as much as possible into the X-Trail or do we opt for something a little more? So being the jump in with both feet, the dogs, the kids and everything else kind of people we decided to just go buy a caravan. Easy.

Our lovely little house on wheels on the journey South!

This is how we have ended up with our lovely Lunar Quasar caravan and along with it being introduced to a whole new world of people, clubs and way of living. It can be a love or hate thing caravanning, luckily as it turns out we love it!

Dubbed "Rainbow Star White Olive" by the kids (the car incidentally has been named the "Black Olive" by JJ due to it being a very subtle dark shade of metallic olive) our little home on wheels has done us proud for the long journey down. Keeping us toasty warm in England and Northern France, carrying our heavy load of essentials for 6 months of living and just managing to cope with the everyday pressures of housing two young, curious children with ways of being able to test even the most robust of structures. Rainbow Star has passed the challenge unscathed; well apart from some unfortunate exterior damage where it appears some car or truck may have misjudged the distance between us when overtaking. No joke it was our first leg of the journey and first tow out and stopping at the services for fuel and a drink we spotted the paint and cracks - not the finest hour.

A note for anyone who is thinking of buying a caravan, do not underestimate the amount of crap you'll have to buy on top of the caravan itself - mains adaptors, gas bottles, waste carriers, aquarolls, hitchlocks, wheel clamps, any extra security you need, steps, all your lightweight kitchen equipment, awning, camping chairs, table, groundsheet, pegs..... honestly the list is endless and easily adds a few ££-£££ onto the original cost.
So it has been months of frantic planning, caravan buying and prepping, insurance arranging and now we are here in Mojacar in the south of Spain soaking up the beautiful rays, enjoying the breathtaking waves and mountains.

Arriving at the coast

What a journey it has been so far, a real adventure for us. There have been struggles, learning curves, great moments of joy and everything in between.

See Part 2 for our adventures driving through England to the ferry to France.