We have this…this…and these…
In preparation for stepping off the edge of the known world (ie catching the ferry from Portsmouth to tour France for 3 months!) and some pre-departure root canal work, we moved from Portland to the New Forest Centenary Site.
Not only that, we did it IN THE SUNSHINE, with no breakages or near death experiences. In fact, we pitched so seamlessly that we had time for a relaxing, post-arrival cup of tea with home-made lime drizzle cake, replete with fresh raspberries and blueberries. I think we’re getting the hang of this caravanning lark. Most pleasing.
Of course, that meant it was all going far too swimmingly…so we were not in the least bit shocked when, in our 4th week of caravanning, we got our 3rd Severe Weather Warning! A month’s worth of rain fell on parts of South East England and there were 1000 lightning strikes per hour!!!! The pups experienced their first real thunderstorm. There was a bit of barking but they coped quite well. Some wag once said disparagingly “Camping and caravanning is a holiday that reproduces conditions found in refugee camps the world over!” I guess he had a partial point. It is The Glastonbury Festival this weekend. I rest my case.
Our 4th week of caravanning; our 3rd severe weather warning!
We are on a budget and this particular pitch was nice and flat. You may remember in my blog “You Can’t Read That in a Book”, we had decided to save ourselves £40 on the purchase of a nose-weight guage and planned to fashion our own from a set of cheap bathroom scales (£1.50 in Home Bargains) and a couple of bits of wood, which we had foraged. There were those among our acquaintances who expressed a slight lack of confidence in this approach; some, a complete desolation of faith in the remotest potential for a successful outcome. A few might even have whispered the words “Idiots…” But I am delighted to report that it worked BRILLIANTLY and our nose weight came in at a perfect 70% of spec. So “Yah boo to you.” You unbelievers!
23rd June – The Great Continental Divide. It had happened! We went windsurfing with Helen for the final time at Mudeford to take our minds off the Brexit referendum result… It was strange being on our ‘home beach’ when we’re actually now homeless – and Britain is casting herself adrift from our destination, Europe! We got a gritty reminder of things that we had forgotten about beach walks with the dogs; the caravan is now full of sand and the bed feels like we’re sleeping on an emery board!
Thankfully, we had bought our Euros just before the pound plummeted to its 30 year low following Brexit. Some currency dealers actually suspended trading; our friend Elaine couldn’t buy even one, lonely little Euro to spend on her holiday the following week!
24th June – After a bit of a panic packing up and begging special dispensation for a late-departure from the campsite, we boarded our ferry at Portsmouth for the overnight crossing to St Malo. We settled in the bar with a beer and a bag of nuts. The ferry seemed very slow to get going; following the UK’s exit from the EU, Mark wondered aloud “Are we really under way, or is the ferry just tied to France and someone is slowly towing Britain further away from Europe…?!” On the ferry, we watched England vs Iceland in the European Cup… Ahem. A second British exit from Europe in a week!
The following morning, we sat for some time over breakfast looking out at the port of St Malo. “Disembarkation will take a long time due to Action Industrielle” came the announcement. Well it’s a Tuesday. Why would the French not be on strike? Out of Europe last week, last night – and then this morning, they’re trying to keep us out for a 3rd time!
We had booked kennels for the pups on the ferry, thinking it would be more comfortable for them during the crossing. They had to remain in the car after boarding, then once the ship was under way, we returned with a member of staff to transfer them into the kennels.
It could not have been more stressful and I just wanted to cry as we left them staring after us through the bars of their prison. I mean the kennel.
The hold of the ship was like hell. It reminded me of the set of the film ‘Alien’. The kennels were in a corner of the deck right next to the huge, thundering engines. The deck itself was a stroboscopic cacophony of car alarms blaring and flashing all around us. The deafening racket was amplified to pain level as it echoed around the cavernous, metallic interior. Mark and I couldn’t hear each other speak as we carried the dogs’ bedding and water bowls to the kennels. The stench of diesel from the engines made us feel sick. Our darling little puppy dogs followed us trustingly if cautiously, tails between their legs.
Dogs’ sense of smell and hearing is much keener than ours, so it must have been even worse for them. Even poor Rosie, usually the bravest and boldest, was literally shaking with fear as we put her in the kennel. They were supposed to be muzzled. The check-in lady gave us a muzzle; we tried it on our little Booby, who just looked at us with huge, sad eyes. “But I’d never do anyone any harm!” she seemed to say. It was horrible! I suppose muzzles are a sensible precaution; the conditions down there were enough to turn the most docile family pet into a throat-tearing Hound of the Baskervilles. There was visiting time at 10pm. I couldn’t get over the haunted look in their eyes when we went back to see them. “What have you done to us?!”
We couldn’t sleep knowing that our poor little fur babies would be scared and alone. We were ready and waiting half an hour early for the morning visiting time at 8am; 10 hours is the longest that we have ever been apart from them! No morning cuddles and no little Ruby song to wake us up, just nightmares about dogs dying of cold, fear or overheating on ferries. The biggest irony was that it was Mark and I’s first night without ‘the kids’ since we they had come into our lives – and we were in bunk beds!
We had a very civilised brekkie in the restaurant on the ferry; our final British fry up was presented to us under a silver dome. Then, at last, it was time to get our beloved puppy dogs back. A well-meaning, but particularly loud and enthusiastic Scandinavian lady took a real shine to the dogs. She had bright orange hair, a stout figure and was sporting a thick, hairy, lime-green mohair suit. As Ruby snuggled into my arms, happy to be delivered from hell and re-united with her human family, the lady came over to pet her; “SHEEEE’S A BAY-BEE!” she yelled delightedly. “A BAY-BEE!” She thumped Ruby affectionately over the head a couple of times. Boink, boink, boink. “SHE’S A BAY-BEE!!!”
Order was restored; we were all back together in Big Blue. As we disembarked from the ferry, some French dock workers handed us a leaflet complaining about their lot – that they only get 30 weeks’ annual leave or something. We hit the RIGHT side of the road, “SHE’S A BAY-BEE” still ringing in our ears. The pups were shattered. Like us, I don’t think they had slept a wink.
The journey to our first stop in Quiberon was uneventful. We got a spectacular view of Mont St Michel as we skirted the coast of Brittany, drove the van through Vannes (which I always find pleasing!) and arrived at Camping Municipal Penthievre in warm sunshine. We got a pitch just one back from the sea for E16.50 per night with enhanced electricity. Enhanced, but not sufficient to power the microwave and anything else simultaneously!
We had a Magic Markie Moment. I think Mark got confused over the ‘Road’ in the title of our ‘Road Refresher’ – the new, non-splash dog bowl that we had bought for the trip. He forgot that he had left it on the ground while we pitched Kismet and managed to carry out a Professor Denzil Dexter-style experiment; “Can this ordinary, plastic, dogs’ drinking bowl withstand being driven over by a 3.5T van?” The answer, surprisingly, is ‘Yes!’
For anyone watching us pitch the caravan, we gave a virtuoso performance. We lined up and reversed the caravan masterfully straight on to the edge of the pitch; but we had left no room to park the van. So we pulled off, lined up the caravan again, reversed into the perfect position in the middle and unhitched; but we had forgotten to level. Rather than going through the faff of hitching up again, we decided to investigate the question “Is it possible to pull 1.5t of caravan up a ramp by hand?” Predictably, the answer is “No…!”
So we re-hitched and pulled the caravan up the ramp with the van – and found that we were level. Hurrah! But we had forgotten to put on the ALKO wheel lock… So we jacked up the caravan to line up the holes for the lock, but when we let the jack down, the caravan was not level, so we jacked it up and down to move the chock, it was not level… and so it went on. It was not helped by the fact that the 3-way industrial sprit level that we had purchased at great expense gave different readings, depending on which way round you turned it!
We provided at least a couple of hours’ entertainment to delight our little crowd of clandestine observers… I had been warned in my Practical Caravanning Course, caravanning is definitely a spectator sport!
The Seavets (Senior and Veteran Windsurfing Club) camp in Quiberon every year. Keith and Mary wandered over to say hello. They are seasoned motorhomers who have been touring Europe for decades. They are in no small part responsible for our current choice of lifestyle. Back in 2012, they had regaled us with stories of campsites where you can fall out of your mobile home straight onto your windsurfer; their traveller’s tales had caused the germ of a lifestyle idea to form…
My absolute favourite approach to levelling, which I witnessed a few days later on site, was someone who had dug a deep trench straight through the pitch to accommodate their offside caravan wheel! We didn’t have to resort to such extreme measures. After explaining the issue of our self-contradicting spirit level, Mary and Keith gave us the full benefit of their many years’ experience regarding the mystery of levelling. “We check that the van is level by putting a glass of wine on the worktop… “ Now that sounds like a proper plan!
Pitching debacle over, we took the doggies onto the beach; a magnificent crescent of sand headed by Carnac, with the 10-mile peninsula of Quiberon curling gently round to cradle the southern end of the glistening, sapphire-blue bay.
I think the pups have forgiven us for the ferry. We did promise them faithfully that we would never put them through anything like that again – they can either have the run of the caravan or we’ll take The Tunnel so that we can all be together!
They seem to like France better than Bournemouth! Booby was frantically doing her job, running along the shoreline and sniffing while everyone else was jumping through pools, digging and chasing. It was lovely to see – a seamless transformation into Continental Cavapoos!
Well, Penthievre is home for a couple of weeks! Quite how many weeks it was going to be, we didn’t realise at the time…
To see just how long, don’t miss my next blog; A Postcard from Quiberon!
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To read a 30s Review of the Campsite and Things to Do around Penthievre, click Camping Municipal, Penthievre, Brittany, France.