Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Mega catch up on whats been happening

Friday -Nearly off

The last minute packing didn’t really go as smoothly as hoped, Gary was two hours late home from work, the roof box was a bugger to put on, neighbours stopped and chatted etc so by the time all the camp essentials, food and last minute/I nearly forgots were packed away it was near 11 o clock…….so much for our early night!

Saturday and we are off

The alarm woke us from our deep slumber at 3 am, we had only managed about 3 and a half hours, still feeling tired but excited we prepared ourselves before creeping out into the dark stillness of the sleeping village to noisily (we did try to be quiet but at 4am everything seems noisy) remove the wheel lock and slam car doors. Just 3 minutes past our planned 4 am departure we were driving off, eager for the fun to begin.

We always allow 5 hours to get to Dover, its near as dam it 200 miles door to door and this timing has always worked well although we normally do the journey late eve/early night.  The weather was awful with fine rain and mist but we still seemed to make good timing, as the roads were so quiet. Even the M25 was un crowded and it became apparent that there wasn’t going to be any last minute hold ups that we had allowed extra time for and in fact we were going to be very early for our  10.54 first ever chunnel crossing. We had overestimated the traffic and not factored in the saving to the tunnel rather than the ferry port. It’s a bit of a tradition to stop off at Clackett lane for a comfort break and grab a coffee so we stopped off for a bit longer than normal and began to fantasize that we may actually get put on an earlier train.

All fantasies were quickly dispersed on arrival at the chunnel check in……is it always that busy? Boards were flashing delay signs and our hearts sank. The automated check in was easy as and we soon joined the crawling queue following the all letters sign to the terminal car park.  Big signs were requesting letters M and N to make there way to the departure point, unfortunately we were letter U! Realizing that not only were we not going to be on an earlier crossing but infact more than likely on a later one than anticipated we went over to the terminal for a nose, and a secret hope from me that Gary may want to treat me to some gorgeous perfume from duty free……….all hopes went once we saw the bedlam in the terminal (again is it always like that). At this stage I began to wonder if we had made a mistake and pined for the ease and familiarity of the Ferry. We reconciled ourselves that this was at least free having been paid for with Tesco vouchers. The atmosphere was not conducing for mild flirting and playful coercion to entice Gary to get his wallet out and I couldn’t even face pushing my way through the hoards to get a free crafty tester squirt or two. We about faced and returned in the now torrential rain back to the safety of the car where we munched away at the remaining sandwiches and various snacks till thankfully our letter began to flash on the big screen. We had been tired but not felt secure enough to try and snooze for fear that we would miss this moment, it seems everyone around us had also been on the starting blocks as suddenly everyone was pulling off quicker than we could stuff the remaining coronation chicken sandwich back in the cool bag.

We were stopped by two guys at the exit of the car park for a gas safety check and awarded a wet pink sticker to put on the boarding card. Gary always likes to chat to people and he choose this moment to go into lengthy detail about the guys planned trip to Cornwall, im doing my nut, trying to do polite hand signals to the effect of get your arse back in the car so we can join that humongous queue following the way to FRANCE signs but he’s oblivious and doesn’t understand why I get the hump when he gets back in and complains how wet he’s got doing the check!! We crawl though passport control no problem….hey France knows no one but the mad English want to go that way! And luckily being a high sided vehicle we get directed into a different lane and sail past all the fast puller off’ers from the car park and are soon sat in lane 17. Yet another board showed that our departure was going to be 11.06, only 12 minutes later than our actual planned timing so credit to them they had done well to catch up with all the delays.

We were the very last vehicle to board the very last carriage on the train, it was an easy manoeuvre, and the man was soon putting the chocks under our wheel as the doors got closed behind us. I was worried about feeling claustrophobic in the compartment, but I needn’t have worried as the height and the fact that there was no one else in carriage meant it felt quiet open. It was however very bumpy and a guard came and apologized saying it was because two “bags” hadn’t inflated under the train! Bags apparently means suspension so we spent the next 20 mins anxiously watching the car bounce around. Soon we felt the brakes being  applied and  could see light and land through the windows, back to your car announcement was made and we were soon chocks away and driving down the whole length (10 carriages)  and off  onto French soil (well road really but you know what I mean).

All in all we decided that we probably would use the chunnel again (well definitely for our paid for return) , its speed was impressive but we know now not to book on a high season prime time crossing and don’t bother turning up too early. However we missed the thrill of waving good bye to the white cliffs and then getting that first glimpse of Calais, Gary missed having a snooze in a quiet corner and I missed the saunter around duty free as well as the people watching trying to guess why and where people were going in France…..hey we even missed the mad wait by the stair head waiting for the return to your vehicle message. So all in all I reckon it will be the Ferry again for us next year and the Tesco vouchers can be spent on something else.

So sat nav on and me with the map open we hit the road to our booked over night stop at Challlons du champagne, well recommend site (thanks David Klyne and assorted Ukcampsite users) just past Reims.  A journey of just over 200 miles and a projected time of 5 hours. We use a mix of tolls and non toll roads in an attempt to keep the cost down but at the same time not lose too much time and it works well until we hit Reims. We planned to come off the motorway there and go down the N66 but a new stretch has obviously just been completed so we totally missed the junct, the sat nav was going mental showing us careering across a field and I was under pressure to actually look at the open map on my lap! Id like to say it was my skill but it was really just a mix of following our nose and a quick re programme of the sat nav, we got of the motorway and we sort of back tracked into Reims before picking up the signs for the N66. The campsite was well sign posted which was reassuring, the location of some of these municipal campsites is very odd and it can often be very disconcerting to believe you are near the campsite when it appears you are actually  in the middle of residential areas or on the outskirts of industrial park.

Check in was easy, getting onto the pitch was super easy due to the wide road and flat level hard standing pitches and within 5 mins the kettle was on, the sun even managed a brief appearance as we sat and drank a well deserved drink and admired our surroundings. The campsite is charming but a few cracks seemed to be evident. It is a large site with lots to offer, games room, small lake, tennis courts, volleyball play park even a miniature fun golf course, but just here and there you could sense a lack of tlc and the toilet blocks although  lovely and clean if you ignored the odd cobweb here and there   just felt a bit dated. Gary went out to fill up with fuel at the large Carrefore we had passed two mins from site whilst  I got on with cooking the pre-prepared curry id brought with us and was most enjoyable with the addition of some frites from a take away van parked on site. We retired early, exhausted from our early start and hopeful of making an early one again the next morning.

Sunday, nearly there!

I awoke with the vague notion of movement around us and seeing the crack of light from under the van blinds I looked at the clock with the realization that the alarm had either not woken us (unlikely, im a light sleeper) or had not been set correctly (highly likely as Gary was the one who set it), it was half 7 and we had planned to be away at 8 or half 8 at the latest as we had a good 7 hour drive and 300 miles to cover.

We did well to be pulling out of site just gone 9, and decided that yes we would stay again as the site is literally just off the N66 so is ideal and the facilities were good. We felt it was maybe a little expensive at 22 euros a night, but its popularity maybe proved it was worth it.

Again our plan was to cut out tolls when the roads allowed and this again went much to plan there was a small hic up where a junct was closed but the sat nav and again my first rate map reading skills got us back onto the right road no problem.  Uneventfully after 8 long hours we were sat outside Lac Bleu reception.

First impressions are always hard, like books and people you shouldn’t let first impressions influence you, but its hard not to and unfortunately first impressions here were not good! The restaurant right next to reception looked characterless and the nee naw of several police sirens heard screaming along the adjacent main road was very off putting. Checked in were were told to take second right pitch 705. We set off into the camp past the smaller than it looked in photos pool and instantly you can see how small and crammed the campsite is, we take what we counted to be the second right down a very narrow road way only to heart droppingly realise that there are no empty pitches and no where to turn around! We had counted wrong…..now Gary is an excellent tower but even his reversing skills were going to be seriously tested to get us out of this. With me beckoning encouragement whilst trying to still be in view of the mirrors I expertly directed him back up the road avoiding overhanging trees and jutting out cars and trailers much to the enjoyment and admiration of the assembled campers who called out advice and encouragement as we went. Poor Gary was a star to get us out of there unfortunately it took a toll on the clutch which did not smell too good by the time we had got back out onto the access road. A warden alerted to our predicament escorted us up another narrow camping road to a turning point and directed us to our actual pitch down a avenue we had missed because it was hidden by the toilet block.

The road was narrow and no way were we going to be able to reverse onto the pitch. Again we instructed ourselves not to make decisions on first impressions as the pitch although one of the largest in avenue was smaller than a “British” pitch and very scappy with a hotch potch of rough grass, bare soil and gravel. Undeterred and with a well we are here and paid now attitude and with the tantalizing glimpse of the lac lapping onto shore three pitches down we knew it was a get on with it situation. Our Dutch neighbours opposite offered to move their car but showing off we said no problem we will use the mover! Unfortunately this was not to be, the jockey wheel appeared to be buckled, we possibly due to a vicious sleeping policeman we had gone over whilst going through a small village. This ment the caravan refused to move to in the direction we wanted, so we were forced to resort to the old fashioned push and shove method ably assisted by our friendly Dutch  and a “if I must show willing” British neighbours. Thankfully the caravan didn’t need any levelling so with legs down and everything plumbed in we  opened a bottle of red id brought with us and sat down outside just in time to feel the first drops of forecast rain start to fall. We retreated back inside the caravan, last remnants of any thoughts of putting up awning tonight firmly rejected. After eating and having downed a glass of the red stuff we decide a tour of the camp is needed plus I was itching to actually see the Lac in all its glory. We headed first to the Lac and taking in the panorama I was reassured why we had driven the 700 miles from home and that everything was going to be more than alright, this view so close to our van was worth the inconvenience of a cramped site, a dodgy pitch and anything else that we were yet to discover we may dislike about the site….to have this view  30 steps from our van door made everything worth it, in fact at £378 for 13 nights it was an absolute bargain. Passing the beach front pitches with envy we made our way along the beach admiring the “mad” late evening swimmers enjoying the waters before going along a path that took us alongside the park. Intrigued by cheering we poked our heads in and  realised that there was a children’s football match taking place, the kids and parents  seemed to be taking it a bit too seriously but hey that’s football I suppose. With no kids In tow this trip to worry about we continue back towards reception. Passing the toilet block at the other end of our avenue we are assured if not delighted with the standard and cleanliness. Next we pass the swimming pool and consider the fact that on reflection it isn’t that small and with the lake who would want to be by the pool anyway? The restaurant is obviously good as its heaving, music playing and  with the happy buzz of holiday makers has real atmosphere,  had it not been raining we may have sat on the patio for a drink.  At this point the heavens open even more, thankful of my umbrella and now having to share it with the previously brave “I don’t need one” Gary we make our way back to van.  Gary is pooped and soon grumbles about an early night but I’m still awake but show willing hoping that once in bed sleepiness will arrive. I regularly suffer from insomnia, but its usually better when away……aided by full days out, the odd glass or four of wine ect but tonight sleep evades me and I have a restless night hearing the pitter patter of rain on the roof while  counting sheep and trying to remember all the sight seeing advice given by the ever helpful ukcampsite forum members.

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