Tuesday 28th June.
We arrived back in England this morning, made our way to the Robin Hood & Little John pub in Hertfordshire for an overnight stop and, predictably, it's raining. We stopped here a couple of years ago but when I phoned this morning to check it would be OK to stop again they said they have had problems with "travellers" and now only accepted motorhomers who had joined the Britstop scheme. I explained that we weren't "travellers" (although we do travel), that we had stopped before and would be eating at the pub. Eventually they somewhat reluctantly deigned to let us stay, after checking six times during two telephone conversations that we would definitely be eating. So very different from Greece where taverna owners are never bothered if you park up outside whether you buy a meal or not. Welcome home.
Since we left Beines in the Chablis region last week we've stopped at a few places on our way to Calais. First stop was at Maeuil-sur-Ay in the champagne region near Epernay. It's a pretty spot, right alongside the Canal Lateral a la Marne. The half dozen allocated spots for motorhomes were all taken by folk who looked like they were spending their summer holidays there despite the 48 hour stopping restriction but we parked a little further up the road with a few other vans and nobody seemed too bothered (49.04552 4.03340). The next day we stopped at Banteux this time next to the Canal de Saint-Quentin (50.06296 3.20091). Again a pretty spot with nice walks on the canal and for €5/24hrs including electricity we weren't complaining. The following day we made our way to Arques, just outside St Omer, where we parked behind the large municipal campsite, between two lakes, for €3.50. (50.74665 2.30131). The following morning, in fact yesterday, we called at the massive retail park, filled up with diesel and a few bits and pieces from the biggest Auchan supermarket I've ever seen and then headed towards Calais.
For the last few years we've always stopped at Wissant prior to taking the tunnel home. The motorhome stop is shared with the local buses, it tends to get very busy, there's nowhere to empty the WC, no water and no WiFi so this year we elected to stop on the campsite on the other side of town, Camping Municipal De La Source (50.88366 1.65782). The young girl on reception said that I would only pick up the WiFi if I parked immediately behind the office and when I explained that I needed it to watch the football she said "No need, there's a bar 100 metres away, we all watch the football there and best of all - it has beer!" So at 8.45 last night we set off for the bar which we would recognise by all the French flags hanging outside. We found the bar - which was closed on Mondays! Back to the van, back to the WiFi and despite a ridiculous amount of buffering watched the shambles and our second exit from Europe in a week. I have no more to say on either exit.
We left home last September and by the time we get back at the end of the week we'll have been away for nine months. We've visited France (three times), Spain (twice), Portugal, Italy (twice) and Greece. We've travelled over 7,000 miles and stopped at 84 different locations 48 of which were free. Our van, Lulu, never missed a beat and the only repairs we've needed were to the brakes. An initial faulty diagnosis (and repair) in Spain was expensive and missed the fault completely but finally in Greece the problem was solved. We had a new kitchen tap fitted in Spain and I fitted a new water pump. We also had a new awning fitted in Spain as the original was on its last legs. We don't keep a note of costs or how many miles we get to the gallon as we're not on an accounting exercise but our children's inheritance hasn't run out yet!
We've enjoyed every minute of the journey, apart from Phil tripping on the ferry to Greece and cracking a couple of ribs and me falling off my bike in Spain and gashing my foot - drink had only been taken on one of these occasions and I'll let you guess which. We've met up with old friends and made new ones. We've seen some wonderful scenery, enjoyed some delicious food and wine and we've been welcomed just about everywhere we've been, especially in that special country, Greece. I also managed to spend Fathers Day with my eldest daughter in France for the first time in 25 years - thanks for a lovely day, Catherine. Tomorrow and Thursday we are having the van reupholstered in Ilkeston and then we'll head home, sort out our house, visit friends and relatives and plan our next trip.
If you've followed the blog or just dipped in and out I hope you've been entertained and amused, thanks for reading. If anybody would like details of the trip, with all our stops and details thereof which you can open with Maps.me or Google Earth then leave a note in the comments section with your email address and I'll send the info off in the next day or so.
Thanks to all the people who've posted comments on the blog, it means a lot. That's it for this trip, back in late summer.
We've taken hundreds of photos and posted many of them but I'll leave you with this one which is one of our favourites:
And here's a snapshot of the places we've stayed:
Pat & Phil