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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Dusseldorf Trip 2012 – The way home

1st September.
We could easily have stayed another day - we hadn’t tried out the electric bikes, or indeed the “Segways”, or indulged a few fantasies about a luxury megahome, but to be honest our feet and legs were wearing out and needed a break.

By common consent we decided to head back to Venlo via Kempen, a charming little town we had discovered on the way to Dusseldorf. At its centre is an old walled town, which goes back to the 13th Century and was once a centre of textile manufacturing. We had another stock up of essentials in the Edeka supermarket just outside the old walls - good quality, a wide selection and a good open car park!
GPS: 51.3619 N, 06.4177 E

Back at Venlo Jachthaven, Grey Herons could be glimpsed at the entrance to the marina, and large white geese wandered happily amongst the motorhomes. The geese give humans a wide berth, but when they squabble amongst themselves the noise is extraordinary and startling until you acclimatise.

If you wonder what the racket is - it's the geese!

We met up with Liz and Roger in the Brasserie de Admiral situated above a grassy bank above the marina. This bar/restaurant is replete with model yachts and nautical nick knacks, but the atmosphere is well crafted and welcoming. The patron is the local jester - don't ask him to take a photograph of your table! The menu was standard fare but well presented and we all ate well.

2nd September
We lingered another day at Venlo. As other vans left we shuffled ourselves over to the best corner by the picnic tables. A day for chilling out, I fitted our new cycle racks in warm, windless sunshine.

Picnic tables and BBQ included, along with excellent washrooms

We did not however visit the Floriade – Sue was disappointed when she later found out that this major exhibition of flowers and gardening is only held once every ten years, and changes its venue – like chancing upon Oberammergau in the right year of the decade and not seeing the passion play!

3rd September
We decided to head north and visit the ancient but small German town of Xanten.
Xanten’s main attraction is the relic of the Roman metropolis of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. The site is now an "archeological park", mostly covered by grass and shrubs, but with a re-created temple, amphitheatre, towers and baths on their original sites. The replicas are as near as possible to the original - indeed more are planned to help create the “feel” of Roman city life.

More in the present day, Xanten has a very pretty medieval town centre with an imposing cathedral, museums and two large man made lakes with a lido. In the summer it hosts a two week long classical music festival and even the annual German sandcastle building championships! 

The Wohnmobil Park is just five minutes walk from the pedestrianised centre of the town. It is more akin to a campsite than a stellplatz, situated in a gently sloping field on the edge of farmland, with an office, heated lounge, BBQ patio and kiddies play area. They (the town council) have plans to build a wellness spa and sauna on the site as well, though the charming and friendly manager assured me that the charges (10 euro + 2 for electric hookup) would remain the same...Hmm. You can also reserve a pitch in advance – tempted to put our names down for Christmas!

A handy and friendly place to stay in Xanten

GPS: 51.6541 N, 06.4632 E

Morning bread ordered and enjoying the produce of a visiting ice cream van, we walked into the town. It’s cute alright with a lovely central square surrounded by cafes, bars and restaurants, plus an organic bakery tucked inside a working windmill. After a beer and a pizza we called it a day.

The Gothic coffee shop on the square in Xanten

4th September
I went down early morning to the Reineke cycle shop, where a dear old guy changed both my cycle tyres for top of the range Schwalbe Marathon rubber and inner tubes for 77 euros – all done by midday as promised!

Mr Reineke gives a good service!

We had a look at the Roman metropolis and enjoyed a pedal around the lake. On one of the cycle paths is a plaque commemorating the bravery of two British RAF pilots who crashed near a village near by. A surprising find in Germany you might think, but this event happened after the war in 1971, when an RAF Canberra fighter bomber stalled over Luttingen. Foregoing the opportunity to use ejector seats the pilot heaved the aircraft away from the village, thus avoiding a major disaster, but giving up his own life and that of his navigator. The pilot was Keith Roland Holmes, the navigator Christopher King.

The memorial plaque to two RAF flyers

At the lido, we came across something we had never seen before, but I thought was brilliant. “Electric” water skiing might sound a bit risky but is in fact like a pommel ski lift that tows the skiers around a circuit of the lake. A group of young people on an organised outing were trying it out, some obviously for the first time, but a few were extremely accomplished, particularly on the boards, and made it look fabulous fun.

Water skiing the environmentally friendly way!

After all that activity and excitement we downed a couple of beers at the Vecchio Teatro, an Italian restaurant with a lovely ornate interior. The food looked excellent.

5th September
Still heading north we visited Anholt Castle at Wasserburg, a stately Baroque residence set in the middle of a lake surrounded by ornate gardens and landscaped parkland. Luckily for us we were the only visitors on our late morning tour, even luckier our guide spoke perfect English!

The restored Anholt Castle

The original castle was built in the 12th century in the then boggy area of the Rhine Delta, and then developed into a Baroque palace in the 1700’s. Virtually destroyed in the Second World War bombing, it has been painstaking restored over a period of 40 years at a cost of 8 million euros. The original castle now features lavish and remarkable furniture and artworks including a Rembrandt, that had presciently been stored in a shell proof mine before the bombing started. The castle extension and stables are now a 30 room hotel with 3 restaurants, and by the look of the tea time pastries, offer grub of a high culinary standard.

GPS: 51.8445 N, 06.4265 E
www.wasserburg-anholt.de (in German and French)

An overnight stop at Kleve

For our overnight stop we headed for the town of Kleve, where there is an aire on disused land opposite the rail station and in easy walking distance of the centre. It was fairly well occupied by Dutch and Germans when we arrived but we slotted into a place and soon found ourselves in deep discussion with a Dutchman on the subject of electric bikes!
4 euros per night plus 50c per Kwh on the electric meter. 
GPS:  51.7905 N, 06.1457 E

A totally different experience from the twee and prosperous Xanten, Kleve is undergoing a period of extensive regeneration. Opposite the aire, a huge old chemical factory complex is being torn down, and across the newly rebuilt bridge over the river a new hotel is rising.

Kleve on 13th February 1945

A wonderful bronze on the streets of Kleve today

Kleve has quite a history however, until the 1930’s it used to be spelled with “c” and if Cleve rings a bell, it should do because it is the birthplace of Anne of Cleves, wife to Henry the VIII. The town has been the capital of a county since the 11th Century and is dominated by a steep hill on which is perched the Schwanenburg, or Swan's Castle.

We crossed the rail bridge and wandered up the steadily rising shopping streets towards the towering castle. Apart from doing a circuit of the perimeter walls there is not much else to see as the building now houses Law courts and public offices.

The Zur Post Hotel and restaurant

As is now our habit, we had a beer on the street and then an excellent pork steak and chips at the “Zur Post” Hotel restaurant – though they gave us the wrong bill and forgot the change!
GPS: N 51.7851, 06.1355 E

6th September
Starting the trek home, we crossed the Rhine at Nijmegen and made our way into Belgium.

Now for somewhere to stay for the night….  Imagine rolling along a country lane in the late afternoon, long shadows in the lush green fields, a family of goats chewing contentedly and young ponies chasing around a paddock just for the joy of it. Suddenly there is the scent of wood smoke in the air and you think... wouldn't it be great to stop for the night around here, maybe grab a bite to eat from a farmhouse?
And there is the 't Brigandje, an unprepossessing, single storey painted brick farmhouse with a large carpark, and a broken, battered sign advertising beer.

What you won't expect as you pass inside is a pristine rural idyll of solid wooden beamed ceilings, exposed brick and stone fireplaces and dark stone flagged floors, all beautifully and elegantly decorated with evocative paintings and even some medieval stained glass probably rescued from a church. 

There is warm chatter and laughter mingling with the nostril-twitching smell of fresh meat roasting on a wood grill, that long day on the road seems about to come to a perfect end…

The beautiful and evocative decor of  't Brigandje

Actually it didn't quite happen like that, we plucked the location of 't Brigandje from the Camperstop guide, but the joy of finding such a superb and atmospheric restaurant in the middle of the Belgian countryside was undiminished, particularly as we thought our sat-nav was throwing a wobbler, taking us out on a wild goose chase!

Oak beams and stone flags...

After saying hello and a wash and brush up, we relaxed with a gin and tonic and settled on a T bone steak (Côte-à l'os) with fries and a pepper sauce, washed down with a bottle of Montepulciano. Despite the steaks overhanging the edge of a large dinner plate, Sue squeezed in some mouth watering passion fruit sorbet and I had a wonderfully light and cinnamon rich apple tart with vanilla ice cream.

The bill for this indulgence came to a very reasonable 77 euro. Considering the quality of the perfectly cooked and seasoned steak, and that we were in Belgium, we thought it was bargain. You might get a shock if you order the pork ribs - ready yourself for half the ribcage of a small pig! (you have to cut the ribs yourself).

We retired with the scent of new mown grass flowing through our open window and slept the sleep of the over indulged and privileged.
GPS:  51.1681 N, 03.4722 E

The perfect end to a perfect meal

7th September
A beautiful and peaceful night was not marred by the new day either, it dawned fine, warm and sunny and we continued our trek back to Dunkerque. We stopped off at Gravelines again, pumped and dumped at the new service aire (credit cards only) and had a brief nap before catching the DFDS Seaways ferry at 23.59

8th September
It was an uneventful passage, and we got some well needed sleep in the usual place on Dover seafront. Another fine sunny morning, stopping off at Fleet services on the M3. This time we didn’t make the same mistake as we did at MOTO services M5 Exeter on the way out…

Waiting on the doormat when we got home was a payment demand of £90 or 113 euros for overstaying our 2 hour welcome at Moto Exeter!!  (Number plate recognition camera shots included). So much for “Take a break – tiredness kills! 

I don’t know why they are allowed to get away with such a money making scam when it’s so obviously counter to safety advice. The charge was reduced to £50 or 63 euros for coughing up within 14 days, but it didn’t alleviate the pain much. Imagine if we had been caught unknown on the way out for a long trip - by the time we returned the bailiffs would have been at the door for unpaid fines! You (as they say) have been warned!

The Fox and Hounds, Charlton Adam

Our pitch for the night was the Fox and Hounds, Charlton Adam, Somerton. This is actually a Caravan Club CL, but in good stopover fashion the Landlord waived the £3.50 fee when we said we were coming in for a meal. There is a large gravel car park and a grassed area, but we pitched at the far end of the gravel.  We had an excellent dinner of duck, and a quiet night.
GPS: 51.0572 N, 02.6557 W

9th September
Oh what a beautiful morning – clear skies, crisp air, cool sunshine, sparkling dew on the grass. I walked around this lovely little village, taking photographs, chatting to the solitary horsewoman enjoying the same early morning peace.

Sunday morning gossip.....

The quintessential Somerset village

Our last stop of the trip was Dawlish, to meet up with Sue’s family at Teignmouth. This time we stayed at Lockwood House, a Camping and Caravanning Club Certificated Site. This was handy for the bus into Teignmouth, but apart from one flat piece of hardstanding is a fairly sloping site and we struggled to get flat on our blocks, even with the aid of some wood planks we were offered. 
GPS: 50.6042 N, 03.4651 W

10th September
A pleasant day in Teignmouth. We had lunch at Drakes restaurant, then got the little ferryboat across to Shaldon on the other side of this natural harbour formed at the river’s mouth. Then a walk back over the bridge to the car park, before picking up some scones and cream at The Co-op, for our own cream tea back at the family’s holiday flat.

The little ferry across the mouth of the river Teign

11th September
Another night at Lockwood house, before driving home via Plymouth.

All in all a great trip – we look forward to doing the Dusseldorf show again, there was so much to see that we didn’t manage to and the atmosphere generated by so many motorhomers from all over the continent was something to enjoy. Hopefully, we can get away soon, even back to Germany for Christmas!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dusseldorf trip 2012 - The Caravan Salon

The Düsseldorf Caravan Salon is Europe's largest motorhome and caravan show, held in the Messe Düsseldorf, a huge complex of 19 exhibition halls and a Congress Centre built alongside the brown waters of the Rhine and a short train journey from the city's heart.

This year the show ran from 25th August to the 2nd September. It is primarily an event for the movers and makers of the motorhome industry - indeed when you buy your ticket it will say “Trade Visitor” on it, and in fact there is only one hall, for accessories, in which you can actually buy anything!

However, that doesn't stop thousands of members of the motorhoming owning fraternity coming to see this vast display (stretching over 9 halls) of every major continental make of motorhome and many component manufacturers - from all the popular base vehicle manufacturers to suppliers of cabinet fittings and plastic mouldings. Some of the more extreme motorhomes will boggle your mind in size and scale, as will the sheer quantity of motorhomes, caravans and campers to inspect.

Imagine arriving at your local campsite in this!

28th August 
There is nothing to stop you using the huge Messe site as a base for visits to the city, once you have had your fill of the show you can easily purchase another day’s camping by seeing one of the many stewards milling around.

There are excellent toilets and shower blocks near the service area and an entertainment marquee, so it’s quite possible to behave as in a normal campsite, albeit “getting on your bike” for certain functions if you are parked a long way away. A trip in the van to the motorhome service area can be a bit long winded however, depending on the circulating traffic, and you would need to leave someone to stop your space being taken by an arriving camper.

Open hard standing near the service area 

On the Messe company website (www.messe-dusseldorf.com ) there is a 360 degree panorama over the complex and you can even take a virtual helicopter tour - if you have the bandwidth to spare! There is a supermarket, a doctor’s surgery and a host of other services, together with an underground station with connections to the airport and central train station. The website is also a very useful guide to Dusseldorf city itself – there is a lot to see!

There is more about the exhibition on the organisers website (www.caravan-salon.de), all of the facilities and an interactive hall plan where you can track down the stand of any particular exhibitor, if you want to pre-plan your visit.

The numerous food halls serve food of excellent quality and in large portions, and there are open air beer stalls where you can relax in the central square.

As you enter the Messe off the A44 there are four lanes of traffic, the two right hand ones have a picture of motorhomes on the digital display on the overhead gantry. If you want to drive straight onto a pitch its best to take the right hand one as the left one feeds into the right - as we found out as we queued in the after 1600 rush, some drivers can be reluctant to give way in turn.

I guess he's ready for anything!

If you need to "pump and dump" there is a signposted service area to the left. Here you will be whistled through with the aid of blue gloved assistants who will find and operate your waste tank dump valve and fill your water tank. I think they may draw the line though at toilet cassette emptying!

A very efficient service!

In the same area there is a ticket and information office where you can buy show tickets in advance. Pitch tickets with electric hookup can be requested in this office, but other pitch tickets can only be bought on arrival from attendant stewards - who will allocate you to spot of their choosing!

As we arrived, we pumped and dumped and waited for Liz and Roger, who toed their van in behind us. There was then a bit of a Germanic fight in the queue as the three lanes merge into one and we thus got split up - they were eventually shown a pitch on a different field. We all ended up nose to tail and under the trees – so much for using the solar panel!

Nose to tail under  the trees!

The pitches with electric hookup are only available on fields 13 and 14 (800 vans) and are closer to the Caravan centre with the entertainment marquee, information kiosk and van service, but none are more than a reasonable walking distance away. According to the official website there are 1200 spaces without hookup, but on our visit I reckon there were many more campers than that - and still fields to spare.

At the time of writing the price for an electric pitch was 22 euros and 15 without, differing from the 30 euros/15 euros shown on the website. Differently to campsites, you pay for the day, nights are free between 1600 and 0800, which gives a bit more flexibility to your arrangements. It is not possible to pre-book for pitches and no motorhomes will be allowed in after 2200.

The free shuttle bus service to the main show complex runs every 5 minutes to and from the parking areas until 1930. There are stops at the end of every field, so your position doesn't really make much difference.

Get used to low flying aircraft....every five minutes!

The only real downside to the site is that it is directly under the flight path from Dusseldorf  - which probably explains why it's been put there in the first place! The noise from the planes taking off and landing is thunderous and continuous, making conversation outside virtually impossible for a few seconds every five minutes or so. Thankfully it stops late evening, but only until 0500, when all but the heaviest sleepers will be jettisoned out of their slumbers by a large aircraft just overhead! Those of a nervous disposition might want to consider two other campsites that are listed on www.caravan-salon.de

We eventually spent three days in the actual exhibition halls, and still felt we could have seen more. There are opportunities to try stuff out like electric bikes and “Segways” (those sci-fi looking two wheeled people transporters) which could easily soak up another day.

Finding an exhibitor on a stand who spoke English was sometimes a problem, and only the larger makers had brochures in English, but we had some very useful discussions with component suppliers, who knew their stuff inside out.

The next show runs from 31st August to 8th September 2013

29th August
Our first day at the show.  On the huge Hymer stand there was a cutaway van, in which you could see all the intricacies of construction. All the major van/truck manufacturers were there in force – Fiat, Mercedes, Iveco, Renault, Ford and it was interesting to see the various construction methods of the base vehicle chassis.

Every motorhome manufacturer had a huge range of vans on display, and if you’ve ever wanted a look in some of these fabulous truck based homes like Concorde, here’s your chance. The range of panel van conversions was also exceptional, both in their quality and variation, something for every taste and some brilliantly innovative ideas, though at the top end costing as much as a luxury coachbuilt.

Now, that's what I call a garage!

We have always loved our Rapido, but have often felt that they have lost the plot a bit in the years since we bought ours - too many design changes, often not thought through or tested properly, though that criticism could be levelled at almost all the major manufacturers. Many say Hymer are not what they were. Our verdict was that Frankia currently holds the crown for quality design and construction and solid practicality and value.

Thinking seriously about electric bikes (lighter and more flexible in usage than a motorbike or scooter, environmentally sound – charge up with your solar panel!) we came across Flyer bikes, a Swiss firm making very expensive but very desirable electric bikes. You can order virtually any permutation of their seemingly endless specifications and indeed try them out on site.

http://www.flyer.ch/ (Unfortunately most of the website is in German – google translate to the rescue!)

We had a large and excellent lunch in one of the many food halls, and in the evening some wonderful roast pork butties for dinner from one of the market type stalls outside the entertainment marquee. I think the Germans can vie with the Americans for the size of their portions!

Beer, chat and chips in the Marquee

Inside the large marquee, there was another food outlet set up with a fairly varied menu of fast food (which changes daily). The band was loud and not particularly memorable, but the whole atmosphere was one of happy, family fun, seated at the long benches under the colourful roof. Drinks are ordered from your table.

30th August
The second day. We were intrigued with the concept of Notin motorhomes, this company builds its own A Class and coachbuilt bodies, but will fit out the interior with a design of your specification. They offer basic designs, but basically anything is possible (for a price obviously) and you can go to them with anything from a sketch on the back of an envelope to a finished CAD drawing and they will adapt and incorporate your ideas. Some unusual “standard” features they offer include exclusive electric opening windows complete with electric blank shutters that make a great security option, and also some good domestic size shower trays, of which we are definitely in favour.

This time we only managed a sandwich and salad for lunch as we were still digesting the previous day’s!

Let the outside in with the Challenger Prium XL

One of the most innovative vans we saw was the Challenger Prium XL, also marketed by the parent Trigano Group as the Chausson Sweet Maxi. From the electrically raising and lowering central bed, to the massive “wing” opening side door, the vertical storing bike rack and locker, to the fitted exterior gas griddle cooker that folded out of the side – it was certainly the most “out of the box” design we came across and one that actually worked. Sue was very taken, but I thought it more of the perfect weekend activity van rather than a long term travelling vehicle – though it had a commendable amount of storage space.

Get your burgers here!


We finished off the day with more beer in the tent and some weird Greek dish of fried Chicken bits (I think) with Tzatziki and chips. Because of the racket from the band we moved outside but struggled to find a seat, eventually grabbing one under a canopy out of the drizzle. Shortly the heavens opened and a bunch of burly Germans started snuggling up, in fact shoving us so vigorously up the bench to get some shelter, we nearly felt too cosy!
It soon appeared that their English was far better than our German and we started chatting about touring in Germany. The guy next to me turned out to be in charge of the Concorde stand (mega motorhomes) and invited us for coffee next day – an offer that unfortunately we ran out of time to take up.

31st August
Third day. This was the day for the accessories halls and trying to track down some elusive spare parts. I managed to identify and even purchase (unofficially) some plumbing components and we spent a long time gazing at satellite equipment and LED lighting. Some stands were strictly trade only and were roped off to the public but many others had English speakers and were only too happy to chat and inform about their products. If you want to learn about the Styrofoam that goes into the walls of your van, or how the latest heating systems and fuel cells work, you can get an answer here, even if they offer to send you an answer by email. Getting an English brochure was also tricky but a few of the major firms produced something.
Lunch was a superb piece of poached salmon with white wine sauce - the standard of food in the halls was very high, though the Jaeger Schnitzel we had for dinner in the tent tasted like the chicken and chips we had the night before (or perhaps it was the beer!).

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed the show experience and would definitely come again. if you have a particular focus, you will see what you need to see and find out what you need to know - if you are just looking, you could be there for the whole duration!

All is organised with Germanic  efficiency, as you might expect - ticketing, food, shuttle buses, only the pitch allocation became a bit haphazard at the peak afternoon arrival time.

If you can't stand the sound of low flying planes overhead, then you might want of travel in from elsewhere, but to be honest the only bother it was to us was to wake us up early and slightly disrupt our happy hours! 

The next show runs from 31st August to 8th September 2013

Friday, 28 September 2012

Dusseldorf Show trip 2012 - Outward bound

The Düsseldorf caravan show is Europe's largest motorhome show, held in a huge complex of exhibition halls on the outskirts of the city. Sue has for many years talked about going, but somehow the timing was never quite right. This year we finally made it.

Some of our readers may have noticed the long gap since our last post in 2011. A long planned for house refurbishment and some unexpected health issues are to blame, and this trip was all about leaving that behind us and reigniting our joy and love of the freedom of motorhome travel.

In our usual style I will cover our travels to and from the event, but if you would rather just read of our experiences in attending the actual show please move to Part 2, The Dusseldorf Caravan Salon, 28th August.

18th August
Despite the time gap, we managed to remember most of the special practices we have developed in packing our van to the gills with everything we like to have for a trip. The van itself had been sorely neglected and it grieved me to depart with green streaks down the white walls. Leaving late afternoon we stopped off at the Britannia Inn, St Austell for the night, somewhere we have used many times before and which appears on a few websites as a good and welcoming stopover.

A new addition since our last visit is a large camping field behind the pub, complete with a toilet and shower block, though it's not in use yet as the grass is still maturing. We were keen to enquire how they intended to run the site but nothing has been settled, so we begged them not to enforce charges for travellers like ourselves just using the pub as a stopover, and if they did, to waive the fee for those patronising the pub. This proposal seemed to be well received. If you want to add your comments they are easily contacted through their website:

GPS: 50.3459 N, 04.7402 W

19th August
We awoke to a dull wet morning and two problems of neglect immediately presented themselves. A large sooty mark above the fridge vent indicated that all was not well in the burner department – something to be fixed as soon as the rain stopped. Worse still, when I switched on the windscreen wipers to clear the rain nothing happened. The merest twitch of the blades indicated that lack of use was the problem, the wiper drive spindles had seized up in their bearings!

The addition of some WD40 just under the wiper arms and some “fingers crossed” switching on and off eventually freed them up so as to give the appearance of working normally – phew!

We topped up with LPG Autogas at the Shell garage, Trerulefoot and then at Plymouth paid a visit to Halfords at Marsh Mills Retail Park to get some new wiper blades. I took a punt on some new French made Valeo blades which come without the usual mechanism above the rubber, so far I'm quite impressed and they are cheaper than Bosch.

Dear old Totnes, as charming as ever

By the time we got to Totnes a hot sun had replaced the rain and we checked into the Steamer Quay Caravan Club site. This is a small 40 pitch site within a few minutes walk of the town centre and the River Dart ferries. There are no electric hookups, which is of little concern to our solar powered selves, but also probably helps to keep this little treasure of a site quiet enough to actually get a pitch!

GPS: 50.4289 N, 03.6807 W

Steamer Quay Caravan site, Totnes

The unexpected heat of the afternoon necessitated a quick strip down of the fridge burner - fortunately nothing worse than a winter's accumulated rust in the flue, shaken down with our belated return to the road.

Our friends Andy and Rosemary were already on site, but they were out with their children who were also staying in their very sleek metallic silver Wingamm camper.
We pitched ourselves close to Andy's Rapido and on their return out came the picnic chairs and Rosemary's monster homemade cake - so many stories to tell since we saw them last.

20th August
An early morning walk to the local Morrisons felt like blissful liberation as I crossed over the famous old Totnes bridge in the warm sunshine. We hadn't been away overnight in the van for sixteen long months and it felt like an age.

Totnes's distinctive spire from over the bridge

We decided on a boat trip down the Dart to Dartmouth. The Greenway Ferry Company was selected, as it was only £6 per head for a return trip - a bargain. As we cast off and slipped gently down the river, the skipper was at pains to explain over the PA  that Greenway had been forced to cut their fees to cost price as unfair competition from the Dartmouth River Boat Company - now owned by an industrial conglomerate - was trying to put them and others  out of business. More explanation is available on their website:

The Dartmouth River Boat Company charges £14 for the same trip, but they have larger more comfortable boats and also tie-ins with the Dartmouth Steam Railway and a vintage bus service. “You pays your money and takes your choice” but for us on the day for a simple trip to Dartmouth, Greenway was a no-brainer.

The ferry landing is just by the side of the campsite and has a little cafe that is in itself a pleasant excursion on a fine day. It turned out to be a perfect day, warm with a light breeze and the River Dart was looking at its best. I almost felt a tinge of envy at a troop of scouts camped on a gently sloping spit in the turn of the river, what a wonderful spot. Amusingly they had an inflatable shelter in the form of a classic VW camper!

What a spot to camp!

Some desirable riverside residences passed by including Agatha Christies old place, to which you can take a vintage bus from the old stone quay at Greenway House, across the river from Dittisham.

Greenway House Quay

As Dartmouth came into view we passed an old shipyard and marine works on the left bank, now derelict and soon to be the site of a luxury hotel. Just before the Kingswear chain ferry and the famous Floating Bridge Public house a row of modern houses has arisen as the backdrop to Dart Marina. Trying to look traditional with a Pot Pourri of styles, they still succumb to being a pastiche of old Dartmouth - perhaps if they hadn't tried so hard!

Alighting from the ferry in Dartmouth we walked along the front to Bayards Cove with its old quay, Customs house and Castle. This is the genuine article and has appeared in many filmed historical and nautical dramas over the years.

Bayards Cove, Dartmouth - the scene for many film dramas

Preferring a traditional pub to the pricier offerings nearer the waterfront, we had a convivial lunch in the Dolphin Pub in Market Street. It offers a modern take on traditional décor that works well, and the food and beer were fresh and tasty - so tempting in fact that one of the local pigeons had the brass neck to waddle through the open door, cocking its head to see if there were any tidbits on offer!

A coffee, an ice cream and a wander through the Royal Avenue Gardens soon whiled away the time and the return journey on the falling tide was equally pleasant, though there were a couple of close shaves with the river bottom, demanding the skipper exercise his local knowledge to the full.

A safe return to Steamer Quay

21st August
Totnes is a quirky, but delightful town and has a bit of bohemian atmosphere to it. This day in August is marked in Totnes for the Orange Race. This silly but hugely well attended event consists of groups of competitors of various ages dashing down the precipitously steep Fore Street rolling a fresh orange before them in the vain hope that by the time they get to the bottom of the hill they will a) have not tumbled and grazed their knees or worse, b) their orange is still intact - or  even recognisable as the one they started with - and c) they are the first lunatic across the line!

The Totnes Orange race in full flood!

It's obviously a popular pastime in these parts as the inimitable TV presenter Rory Magrath was taking part and even a section of Her Majesty's uniformed constabulary, whose good natured competitiveness and willingness to make fun of themselves speaks volumes for the quality of Police relations with the local community.

After all that excitement, which seemed to take all morning, we walked up the high street to Mount Pleasant and back and had a passable lunch in the Dartmouth Inn off Ticklemore Street. This pub is set in a large courtyard and looks the part outside. They have a large daily carvery and it was well patronised but we were put off a bit by the smelly loos and a slight air of neglect inside.

That evening we sampled the Royal Seven Stars. This hotel is the centrepiece of Totnes hostelry and should not be missed. It has a fine traditional saloon bar, a modern slate- floored bar with an alfresco terrace and a Brasserie Grill and Champagne bar located in the old stables.
Rosemary, Sue and I sampled the all-you-can-eat curry buffet and there was certainly plenty.  Andy had a gammon steak and again the quality and quantity was all you could ask for the money. Free wi-fi as you would expect these days in a place of this standard.

22nd August
Having said our farewells to Andy and Rosemary, we wandered back into the town awaiting (for us) the big event. After the allotted time I repeatedly checked my bank account, waiting for the evidence of completion of my house sale. We whiled away more time with coffee and cake in the traditional Anne of Cleves teashop and then retired to the bar in The Royal Seven Stars. Finally - Completion! The end of a long and arduous episode that had taken its toll on both of us.

23rd August
Reluctantly leaving Totnes behind we headed for Newton Abbot, then back onto the A38 for Exeter, but decided to follow the South coast on the way to Dover - just for something different. This took us past or through my childhood holiday haunts of Sidmouth, Seaton, and Lyme Regis before rejoining the A35 at Charmouth.

A pleasant stopover with a good restaurant

The Botany Bay Inne, Winterbourne Zelston, was plucked from the Club Motorhome website (www.clubmotorhome.co.uk) and we found a secluded corner of the carpark well back from the road, before checking that we were Ok to stop for the night. We had a good, reasonably priced meal, though surprisingly we were almost the only diners in the large restaurant  – business is variable apparently! This pub is on the brewer’s Hall & Woodhouse pub trail, which covers Dorset and Sussex.

GPS: 50.7766 N, 02.1450 W

24th August
Just along the A31 is the famous “Worlds End”, now a well developed gastro-pub, who would probably be just as amenable to over-nighting Motorhomers.

Skirting around the large metropolises of Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth, we turned off the A27 for Bognor Regis. Being the start of the August Bank Holiday we had phoned ahead to several Caravan Club sites and fortunately the Bognor Regis site had managed to squeeze us in.

They do say never go back, and Bognor Regis looked nothing like the resort of my youth, unrecognisable - though the Butlins was still there.

25th August
I popped into Halfords across the road from the campsite for some of the new breathalyser sticks now required for every motorist to carry in France – sold out! No doubt we can get some on the ferry. 

Now we pretty much hugged the coast on the A259, through Worthing, Brighton, and Newhaven, were we picked up some supplies at the huge Sainsbury's. Then on to Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings. Part faded resorts, part industrial waterfront, part cliff roads, this is not the most picturesque drive we have ever done and we wouldn’t bother to do it again, though Hastings I think is worth a second look.  

The white cliffs of the South Coast

The place we would come back to is Romney Marsh, a sparsely populated area of cultivated wetlands that has heaps of history and wildlife, from the Cinque Ports (of which Hasting, Romney and Hythe are three) to the RSPB reserve at Dungeness. 

The miniature Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway runs from Hythe, near Folkestone, all the way south to Dungeness. Based on a 15 inch rail gauge it was first opened in 1927 and claims the title of the World’s smallest public railway. It was used during the last world war to get supplies to Dungeness and a special armoured train was even built. I have never forgotten my first ride on a miniature steam train as an eight year old kid!

GPS: 51.0712 N, 01.0725 E (Hythe Station)

26th August
Parked up as usual on the waterfront Marine Parade, we boarded the ferry from Dover at 0200, an ungodly hour of the morning, but the lack of crowds does mean that the formalities are over quickly, there’s plenty of room on the car deck and of course it’s considerably cheaper!
The DFDS Seaways ship was one of the newish Norfolk Line vessels though we found it charmless compared with the P&O offerings. Not a pleasant crossing, with excited, screaming kids constantly running around disturbing those trying to catch forty winks! However, we picked up our breathalysers, which cost 6 pounds or 7.6 euros.

Departing the ship in Dunkerque in the dark, we drove to the popular waterside aire at Gravelines, which was packed out with French vans. We squeezed ourselves into one of the few remaining spaces as quietly as we could. By early morning most of the vans had gone. I had a short walk around this Vauban fortress town – they are currently refurbishing the main square so we left a longer look for another time.

GPS: 50.9881 N, 02.1223 E

Good old Gravelines, somewhere to stop when you need it most!

Driving through France into Belgium, we stopped once more at Eeklo, in a marina come motorhome aire by the canal, 10 euros a night, 12 with electric hookup.

The Jachthaven at Eeklo

There is a bar on site but no food available (the wonderful smell of cinnamon waffles comes from the biscuit factory next door!) so we walked into town for steak and chips at the Café Leffe by the cathedral, which with 3 beers came to euro 49.20.

GPS: 51.1784 N, 03.5489 E

27th August
In brilliant sunshine I wandered around the boatyard admiring the many sculptures, by local artists, that have been installed since our last visit. Some are very quirky but others I thought had real impact, especially in the dramatic light.

"Meeting" by Veerle De Smet at Eeklo Jachthaven

It was a late departure as we were still gathering our breath after the overnight ferry crossing and after a little research with the map and the guide books we found a Jachthaven at Venlo on the Belgian/Dutch border.

This turned out to be a little difficult to find as the entrance is in the middle of an industrial estate off the E34, with only one small sign to indicate its location (the clue is in the road name), but it was well worth it. Basically a well established marina with bar and restaurant, there is a large area of hardstanding (probably used for boat layup in the winter) with electric hook-ups directly overlooking the waterside - only 10 euros including electric and wi-fi. There was even a little picnic and BBQ area, and excellent toilet and shower facilities. The only downside was the awkward grey water disposal out in the lane if you wanted to empty your tank direct. There is no drive-over grey water dump, instead a large pipe rising from the ground into which we were instructed to drain our tank via a hose.

Venlo Jachthaven

GPS: 51.3924 N 06.1499 E

Across the water we could see a large illuminated sign for the Floriade, an international  exhibition of flowers and gardening, under way from 5th April to 7th October. Sue thought this would be a must see and we made tentative plans to visit on the way back.

Next stop however, was Dusseldorf!