A Holiday from Hell by Dave Poulter

Thursday was a busy day , loading up our old (10 years) Camper Van, amazingly ahead of schedule and in nice weather we were heading for the Dartford and then Channel Tunnel. What no problems on the road or through the tunnel.

Out in France and off we go, the weather is dull, with the occasional drizzle, we are heading slowly southwest towards Cholet, then Challans picking up food and drink. A wine & food fair but I’m not allowed to stop, head to Ilie de Noirmoutier. We wait 30 minutes and then head across the tidal causeway, leading a convoy between the locals collecting sea food on the mud flats. We make it through the receding water, the first across.

We stay mainly in camp sites, depending on the weather and site for 1 to 5 days, and after visiting a view tourist sites, we retire to for the night, protected by trees. Weather still poor so we head south, this time over the bridge. Towards La Rochelle we head for the Ile de Re. At last sunshine but a cool breeze. Excellent sea food lunch by the port of St. Martin-de-Re look over the port and battlements, more sightseeing. Stormy night.

Head further South but also east, follow the Garonne to it’s source. Then down to Castres and Carcassonne. Tourist visits. Lots of Route Barre, don’t the French love them. A massive pothole hit hard and our main water tank drops to the road. RAC called, triangles out, we get picked up and taken back to Carcassonne, repair (bigger washers) takes a couple of hours, then off we go again.

Head to Narbonne then Narbonne Plage. On the hill top overlooking Narbonne Plage we stop for lunch and the view, the storm really blows us over but it’s warm. Lovely warm but very breeze weather. We follow L’Herault gorge lovely scenery. Then the Tarn, where I nearly go canoeing except it’s pouring down. Then to the Loire gorge. Helen’s worried the dam is not releasing water, but just a little further down there is plenty. Lots of eagles. plus a castle in the lake. Up to near Nevers and trouble!

View a two tier lock and help the gears wont work easily but I manage to get it going, only 15 kilometres to go to the campsite. We make the angling car park just next to the campsite and grind to a stop. No movement! Phone RAC told to ring RAC Lyon, duly do, as it’s late we ask to be picked up in the morning, at nine o’clock. Pleasant night. At 8.45 a phone call they can’t find us!!!! Although we gave the full address and postcode they are at another town with nearly the same name. New collection arranged picked up about 10.50. taken to Nevers. Garage personnel have very little English, explain problems, take limited personal effects, and have two hours to wait for a taxi to take us 30 miles to car hire place. Raining and cold! No restaurants but a patisserie! After an hour stop a cab driving slowly up the road, it’s ours, relief! Get a car told for three days.

Tour round Nevers and find a small restaurant/hotel at Grenouille (everything is frog based!). Next day RAC tells us it’s very expensive, we authorise, they authorise the garage. Next day, mid afternoon RAC tell us the garage will not act unless we go in and authorise. In we go takes about 30 minutes, with the help of a garage sales manager we authorise and the parts NOW get ordered, we are told should be tomorrow! Collect more personal stuff from the van. Next day told Monday van will be ready, so a weekend stay over, and we have to hold on to the hired car. Tour the area.

Monday no message! Ring RAC, they say ready Wednesday. No news so ring RAC Wednesday, more problems. Authorise again ready Thursday. Ring RAC ready Friday.

We were told you can’t pay for the repairs by credit cards even though we got permission for that amount. So we try the five major French banks not one would do a credit card transaction for the amount required. Told by my credit card group 3 different amounts per day I can get cash out, we drain over four days ATM machines of cash (extra expense), so the garage will get it in 20 and 50 euro notes. Have to rebook tunnel crossing 3 times.

Friday 15.00 hire car will not start, and we can’t jump start it. Phone hire place who charge to the rescue. Wait until 16.00 told van will be ready taxi will collect us at 18.00, garage will stay open just for us until 19.00. It’s very hot! We make it, pay, and head off, eleven days late.

Round Paris, nearly completely round, back and make Calais and the crossing two hours early, and home much the poorer, and had only about six good weather days out of over six weeks.

Dave Poulter