France, North Coast

We chose the Plymouth to Roscoff crossing because we wanted to travel east in France rather than the UK. It was important that we visited Normandy and the various D-Day landing sites and memorials. When we were writing our wish lists, the Bayeux tapestry was top of Mikey’s list having studied the Battle of Hastings at Dulwich College in Singapore. History, being Joe’s favourite subject, the Normandy beaches were top of his list.

We booked a night crossing simply to ensure we arrived in the daylight. This would be the first time we had driven the RV overseas and didn’t want to be learning in the dark.

Our call to the Camping & Caravan Club for their help recommending a campsite suitable for an 11 metre long motorhome for our first night in France was fruitless so our primary objective after rolling off the ferry was to find somewhere to park/camp/sleep. Two days before we left England we made an impulse purchase, a professional HGV TomTom, our anxiety for getting caught on height/weight/length restricted roads in Europe got the better of us, although a huge expense it gave us peace of mind we would never get caught out.

We used an app called Camper Contact which has campsites across Europe. It has both private and municipal sites and gives really detailed information. The first day we triumphed and managed to drive 5 miles ! We struck lucky and found an ocean side parking spot for just 6 Euros a night.

Early the next morning and feeling confident after our early success we hit the road on a high, heading east towards St-Brieuc. It’s fair to say Day 2 was a bad day.

A catalogue of disasters really, starting with a near death experience and a major explosion. A badly fitted LPG adapter (provided by the garage) caused a mass leakage from the pump. A mysterious warning light illuminated on the dashboard of the RV, a horrendous metallic rattling from the RV engine, the Mini headlight bulb blew, the electric connectors from the RV to the Mini failed and one of the brand new Mini tyres started losing pressure. It hit us hard, we couldn’t quite believe that so many things were not going our way, it really burst our bubble and suddenly made us realise our vulnerability.

There was a danger that we lost all focus and all the problems started to consume our energy and enthusiasm…it was time to park up, regroup and take a moment to sort out each individual problem. The LPG was our primary concern, not so much the engine LPG tank as we could still run on the expensive petrol option, it’s the LPG leisure tank we use for refrigeration when we are not hooked up to electricity. We have a years supply of Insulin onboard to manage Vanessa’s diabetes and under no circumstances can we ever let this get too warm as it will spoil. We had purchased a box of adapters in the UK but at this stage were baffled by the array of different nozzles valves and connectors…so much for a United Europe !

Once again the Camper Contact App came good and we found a place to stay for the night and opened a bottle of wine.

The next morning after quite a restless sleep, using the ‘driving in Europe compliant spare bulb kit’ which frankly we had bought simply to be be legal (who carries one of those in the UK?!) came into its own and the Mini headlight lamp was replaced and working again. Tick

With some help from Google, Jon disassembled the various connector sockets and located a tiny yellow wire which once reattached sorted out the dodgy connection to the Mini. Tick

Opening the engine cover on the RV revealed that the entire engine grill had all 4 fixings missing and it was hanging on with 1 cable tie (we must have bought it like that…wonder how it passed an MOT?). Three more cable ties later and the rattle stopped. Tick

A chat with a local garage and some help from Google translate reassured us that the warning light was a minor emissions issue that could be resolved at our next service and it was safe to keep driving. Tick

So that just left the LPG. We stayed put and used the Mini to explore St.Malo and various towns and villages within the area.

St.Malo had been recommended to us by some good friends who had enjoyed It during the summer months and although it was crazy cold we had a lot of fun in the town, it is so quaint, a walled town with cobbled streets full of cafés, chocolate shops, patisseries and crêperies.

Our campsite in a village called St Jacut-de-la-Mer was another Aires site, 6 Euros a night, water and grey water dumping, without electric hook up. It was within a 10 minute walk to the beach and a quiet location off the main road.

The next day we headed straight to the nearest petrol station with LPG (GPL in France) and bingo they had every conceivable connector and adapter available. We loaded up with LPG and were on our way. Next stop Bayeux.

Again the Camper Contact App came good and we opted for a site just 5 minutes away from the Overlord Museum called Saints-Honorine-des-Pertes. A glorious location, with electric hook up and great access to all the historic sites we wanted to visit. After arriving late in the afternoon we chilled with some wine and planned the next day. Up early we headed into Bayeux for breakfast followed by The Bayeux Tapestry, a definite must depicting the story of the Norman conquest of England. At this point whether you admire it or find it an irritation what is becoming apparent is that the French don’t work long hours. Shops, tourist attractions and businesses all close for 2 hours at lunchtime and have half days here and there which we haven’t yet mastered.

So after the tapestry we were ready for the American cemetery which was frankly beautiful, the Americans have done such a good job of honouring their fallen servicemen.

From the cemetery we drove to the Musee Memorial 1944 Bataille De Normandie, which told the story of the battle of Normandy. There was a huge number of vehicles and memorabilia on show. It had been a long day.

The following morning took us to the Overlord Museum in the neighbouring village near Omaha beach. The boys were fascinated by what they were learning. A drive along the coast to see the British landing sites at Gold and Sword beaches and the Canadian landing point at Juno in the town of Courseulles Sur Mer (twinned with Dartmouth). We ended our day with a visit to the Commonwealth War Cemetery, what struck us was the story told by the headstones and how so few were aged over 25 years of age. What a waste.

We packed up the RV and hooked up Mini and set off east to Grigneuseville. A fantastic French farmhouse with motorhome bays in the garden. Owner Eric, is a hugely accommodating and friendly host. Eric doesn’t speak any English and speaks French at 100 miles per hour but we managed somehow. From here we took a day trip to Rouen to marvel in the many churches in the impressive town. The temperature had dropped considerably and Eric’s water supply had frozen.

It was time to move on. The final leg of our French journey took is to Lille, our favourite French town so far. The square is beautiful and after a stroll around the shops we had lunch in a bistro just off the square called La Chicory, opting for the plat du jour. The food and ambience was perfect however the service was stereotypically stroppy!

Whilst in Lille we parked the RV at a brilliant site around 30km South West of the city in a park called Parc Olhain in Pas-de-Calais. A hugely popular leisure park, great for dog walking and parkour areas for the kids to play.

Our journey now continues to Belgium the second country on our tour of Europe. We leave France and head to Bruges. After chatting to a family camping at the campsite in Calais they recommended another camping app called Park4night. We downloaded it and planned our first nights site in Belgium. Jon found a great site in Wingene around 14 miles from Brugge on a working dairy farm owned by Kevin and Patrick.

When you are drowning just keep swimming

Coming back to Devon, the place I grew up was an eye opener. I had always envisaged returning to the beautiful tranquillity of Devon, the quiet and laidback lifestyle. The Devon-way. I surprised myself that it wasn’t all I had imagined it to be and that I must have changed somehow. Devon was of course glorious as ever, the beaches a real pleasure, the towns quintessentialy British and the weather was mild. Although there was a nagging in the back of my mind that this wasn’t all I had wanted it to be, we actually felt a little bit cut off , 14 years living in capital cities does this to you. The instant gratification of walking out of your house and grabbing a Starbucks, department stores on your doorstep and bars and restaurants minutes away, Devon now felt a bit remote. It has given us food for thought about where our long term home will be.

Anyway I digress, we had returned and were in the most part enjoying Devon life as a retired couple (boys at school) enjoying lesisurly walks with the dog and coffees whilst undertaking the mammoth task of renovating the RV.

It doesn’t sound like a massive task but trust me it was huge and even now we look at what we have achieved and still find things we would like to improve. The title sums up our feelings throughout the renovation process, when you are drowning you just have to keep swimming. That’s what 7 coats of paint on each cupboard door does to you. So after weeks of Jon getting up every morning at 6.30 and going to the RV to demolish, paint, build and beautify we got to a point of seeing this ‘thing’ as a reality. I have to say Jon is the real driving force behind everything we do, I am a dreamer and a proscrastanator, Jon is a doer. Without him none of this would have happened, he sees a problem or a challenge and turns it into a real thing, making it better as he goes and enlisting people along the way to have the same belief and passion he has. I am in awe of his passion and enthusiasm for a project. I look at a task and can’t even start because I see so many obstacles, Jon walks in and just says “lets go and don’t stop until the job is done”.

When I did come and help, it was cold and quite depressing without electricity I would whinge and whine about not having the right paintbrush, being hungry, not having enough paint, the paint not sticking and so on and so on. Jon just soldiered on, never complaining or giving up. That’s just one of the reasons I love him.

Could you drive from Singapore to England?

I really wanted to give a bit of background to what we are doing right now and I suppose this question really defines the moment that it became a thing.

Those who have met Jon will know he is a general knowledge guru, he knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things, a good friend once said “Mr S you know a lot of shit”, she was not wrong. So Mr. S enjoys learning knew facts and figuring out the answers to questions I don’t even think about. So imagine about 3 and a half years ago, sitting in our gorgeous shophouse in Singapore eating dinner with the boys and Jon says “boys could you drive from Singapore all the way to England?”

The discussion ensued and we figured out a route and possible problems and then discussed what vehicle you could use. Of course at the time it was just a discussion.

In the summer of 2015 we took a trip to America, at this point we already knew Jon wanted to retire at or before 50. We had booked an RV for 2 weeks to tour around Florida. We had enjoyed an earlier trip to the States in 2011 when we spent a month in an RV traveling from the East coast to the West coast. The trip was fantastic and we all really enjoyed the freedom traveling in an RV gave us, everyday we would rock up in a new town and experience things that we wouldn’t have found in a guide book.

Over dinner during this trip Jon brought up the subject of his impending retirement again, only this time it felt very real, the boys and I put up some resistance to returning to the UK, I say returning as for me it is where I was born but for the boys Asia is very much their birthplace and home. Joe, our eldest boy put across his argument for staying in Singapore one more year. It was August and Jon had already decided he would retire in September and for us all to return to the UK for Christmas 2015. After many more discussions and the fact that we all needed to get our heads around ‘retirement’ Jon agreed to wait one more year. It was on this trip that we decided we would go back to the UK and buy an RV and head out to Europe for one year, going to as many of the 50 (ish) countries as possible. Joe was delighted and I felt like I had a year to enjoy life in Singapore.