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!

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!