First slab o’ the trip: UK & France

Mountain Snow

Week One: Beginning Monday 2/3/15

To ‘ease us in’ to life in a 6×2 metre van, we opted to spend the first week-to-10-days in the UK, doing rounds of friends and family to bid them farewell.

Two nights at Chrys’ parents, two at Andy’s sister’s, then a night each at Basingstoke and Eastbourne, a brave attempt at Wild camping on a beach at Pevensey Bay, then two nights at a campsite near Tonbridge before a final Wild night on Dover seafront before our 05:50 shuttle to Calais on the morning of March 12th.

Neelix T. Dog is, so far, bemused by the strange new quarters.

France: 12/3/15 >>> 22/3/15

Arriving at Calais around 8am local time (after a 4.30am wake up), we’d long since plotted a route as far south as we could drive in one day, to reach warmer climes. A campsite in Vendee was to be our first night’s stay in Le France. This ultimately had to wait a day as driving proved so draining (and expensive), we ended up staying about an hour away from our destination, in a free Aire at La Roche-Sur-Yon.

La Rochelle  forest

A €92 driving expense came from Toll Roads, a cost we underestimated, ramped up further by Autoroute taking us the wrong way and, when we left to rejoin the same freeway in the reverse direction, we were charged TWICE by the system, once for exiting, once for re-entry.

After about 7 hours rocketing south, with temperatures as high as 22 degrees according to the optimistic reading in the van (seems about 5 degs over the truth), we pulled into the Aire at La Roche Sur Yon, made some dinner and fell into a long, long sleep.

The following day, we took a walk through the town, which proved to be quite bland and uninspiring at best. Finding internet access was hard, and finding an open Boulangerie proved even more challenging. Of course, with dog in tow, curiously sniffing and then peeing on everything, nipping into shops requires a fair amount of compromise.

Roullet                 Florac Bridge

We lucked out with a small supermarket and headed back to the Aire, packed up, and drove another hour or so to Camping La Grisse in near-but-far Le Givre.

The camp was out of season and cold, heavy on the creepy, which, for me, is a plus. We paid for two nights with hook-up, but were disappointed to find that there were no hot showers, none of the on-site taps worked, and the reception was hardly ever manned so finding out the wifi password took most of a day.

On the Sunday, we drove to La Rochelle, which was mercifully populous (and open!!) enough to negotiate a couple of baguettes. The Aire here, albeit free, evidently hid its service points from the many campers in the parking lot, and we elected to move on to the next one, in the tiny village of Nersac, another hour or two’s drive south.

Mountain Snow  Back doors view of the Med at Sete

France is notable for some ultra-scenic drives when Autoroute is instructed to ignore toll roads, and we stopped several times over the next few days to take photos and breathe in some amazing sights.

These days took us south to Cahors, the the Alpine region of Florac, both of which rated high on the prettiness scale, but rain eventually scuppered the aesthetics. Leaving Florac provided us with the most adventurous driving day to date, along tiny, windy mountain passes that were more like tarmacked cow paths, going so high we found reached the snow. What Autoroute told us would be 2.5 hours ended up around 7.5, and we paid an expensive cost for an Aire in the town of Millau.


The hurrah moment of reaching the Mediterranean at Sete the following day was also marred when clouds came and it rained for what felt like forever. Still, I was hellbent on everything improving in the next few days.


We spent one more night on route to Spain, about two hours’ from the border, in a post-apocalyptic excuse for an Aire, and drove the twisty, turny mountain roads once more to cross over into España!

Crossing over into Spain