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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!

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