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Barefoot – Looking Back…Right Back…

***FROM THE ARCHIVE OF DRAFTS***

Despite having Old Red for over a year (*ahem* almost three), I’m still a bit of a newbie when it comes to packing for outings. In some ways I am brilliantly organised, sometimes usually to the point of having way too much stuff, but I’m still learning what we need and what we don’t need, and our trip to Barefoot Festival was yet another education.

What Worked…

  • Our gazebo!…last year (*ahem*…YEARS AGO) for Beat-Herder I bought a gazebo on a whim. This gazebo was NOT waterproof. Pie and I discovered this when we saw torrents of rain pouring through it and onto all our neatly stored stuff. The new gazebo has a woven plastic roof so it was much better at keeping rain out (when it wasn’t falling diagonally that is).
  • Once again, Poundland was a brilliant source of camping supplies…we got some tiny waterproof picnic rugs (just big enough for two people to put their bottoms on, or for one person to stretch their legs out) that were really light and folded up very small so they fitted in my festival bag. The main tent didn’t have any flooring so they were really useful to keep our bums dry.
  • Also from Poundland…a pack of three rain ponchos for a quid. The hoods on them were rubbish but they were easier than a coat to put on for a brisk run to the toilet, and you don’t mind leaving them outside in the rain as much as your favourite mac (we tucked ours into the roof of the gazebo).
  • Big fleecy blankets from Primark…they not only made excellent blankets (as you might expect), but they also worked really well hung from the gazebo as sunshades. We kept them up with pieces of rope (from Poundland of course) and LOTS of gaffa tape. They made our camp feel like a very cosy little den.
  • Instruments!…we took Luke’s guitar, my ukulele and an ocarina, along with quite a few music books. We had many lovely hours sitting in the sunshine and singing our hearts out.
  • Cooking for ourselves…we had a meal plan (of sorts) for the weekend, and took a BBQ along with us. We factored in a few meals out so we got to try wood-fired pizza and an amazing french-toast croissant, but ultimately we spent very little on food and ate really well. Admittedly, the fact that Luke is a chef didn’t hurt either…

Next Time We Will…

  • Remember that it’s never too early to start packing…especially if it’s camping stuff and things you don’t use on a daily basis. On the other hand, there is definitely a point when it’s too late to pack, and that point is about half an hour after you planned to leave. Next time I will try not to blur this line again…
  • Stick to the list…the list is there for a reason. If you don’t give the list the respect it deserves and put it in a pile of paper on the coffee table you are bound to have to go home for pillows and coffee presses, and you’ll end up spending the entire weekend buying tea at £1.50 a cup and having to barter for tiny sachets of sugar…

And We Will Take…

  • MORE BEER!!…we didn’t bring enough so we ended up buying 6 pint bottles of cider from the beer tent on our last night. That set us back twenty-four quid. TWENTY FOUR QUID!
  • More tarpaulins and blankets to make rain/wind/sun shields for the gazebo…and more rope! We took a small bundle but nowhere near enough to make an adequate ‘den’. Our den kept falling apart.
  • Pegs!…both of the clothes and tent variety. These would also have been very useful in the construction of sun/rain shields.
  • More instruments…like drums and a tambourine and maracas. Guitars and ukuleles are ace, but it would have been nice if everyone (kids included) could have joined in an made some noise!

……………………………………………….

The majority of this post was written not long after Barefoot Festival, some time in the summer of 2013. Now it’s March 2015, I’m three months pregnant and I’m very aware that the next time we go to a festival we will probably have our little one in tow (unless, by some miracle, we manage to make it to a festival this summer…when I’m six months pregnant) so we’ll have a whole new set of things to take into consideration.

On one hand I’m very excited at the thought of the adventures and fun the three of us will have together.

On the other hand, I’m already wondering what essential stuff we’ll forget this time…

 

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Our First Seaside Adventure…

Once we had overcome the trauma of a broken gear stick, Luke, Old Red and I were off to Kings Lynn (or there abouts) to seek out the sea. That was all the plan we had. We were back on the road again and we weren’t being towed home! Hurrah!

Aaaand, we're back on the road!

Aaaand, we’re back on the road!

When we arrived in the town centre we were met with a load of depressing buildings and roads and not much else. We gave up on winging it and asked Google maps to find us a site by a beach. We had looked at a map when trying to decide which way to head, but I had (unfortunately) failed to notice how in-land Kings Lynn (the town) is…

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Whoops!

Once again, we set our sights on the sea and headed for Diglea Caravan and Campsite in Snettisham. When we got there we found that it wasn’t exactly beach-adjacent (it was a good ten minutes walk) and that the reception had closed hours ago. We could still check in (at the amusingly named ‘Beavers Munchbox’) but the debit card machine was locked away in reception and we had no cash. Great. So we got back in the van and began our quest for a cashpoint. We found one in a garage a few miles along the road, and on the way we also spotted signs for other beachside campsites. It was just our luck to find one ‘randomly’, like we’d wanted to, after we’d half-booked into one that Google had found. We were tempted to pretend that we’d never given up on finding a site by chance and follow a brown sign, but n the end we drove back along the road and completed our check-in with the nice people at Diglea. It really is a lovely, friendly site…we highly recommend it if you’re in the Kings Lynn area and need a spot to camp for the night.

We settled for a pitch without electric hook-ups (they’re not much use when you’ve left your power cable at home), paid £18 for the night, and set off towards the Touring/Camping field (where we could barbecue our dinner) and the promise of free hot showers!

The facilities at Diglea are great and they give you a very comprehensive little map of the site so that you don’t get lost searching for toilets/water/fire fighting equipment.

digleamap

Map (not to scale) of Diglea…

The massive wash rooms were really clean and inviting, and the showers were lovely and hot. Unfortunately for me, they were those stupid push-button affairs, and I seemed to have picked a lazy one. It wanted reminding that I needed water once every ten seconds, which *almost* annoyed me, but by this point I felt so stressed and grubby that I could forget the button and imagine it was a luxury power shower.

It was probably about 10.30pm by the time we pulled the table down out of the roof and sat down to eat. I had a few sips of beer and closed my eyes for a minute, and when I opened them the sun was shining again. A cup of tea was the first order of the day but the milk had gone bad overnight, so we decided to drive to the nearby shop and have breakfast on the beach.

At the bottom of a long winding road we found the beach car park. It was £5 to park for the day, but the attendant was kind enough to let us have an hour on there for just a pound. After racing up the dunes to get a view of the sea we found a lovely pebbly beach and stood and breathed it all in for a while…

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It was pretty windy…

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…so we took full advantage of our new kite and, after tea and two MASSIVE bacon sandwiches, we spent a good while trying to pull some stunts (which resulted in a LOT of kite smackdowns)…

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Luke…

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Luke…

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Luke again…

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Me…

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Me again!

Eventually we got bored of putting the kite back together after each nose-dive into the pebbles. We said a last goodbye to the horizon and climbed back over the dunes the the van. It was Tuesday and it was time to admit that the weekend had ended…and time to head home…

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Back on the long (an traffic-jammy) road home…

The sky over Norfolk...

The sky over Norfolk…

More sky...

More sky…

Yet more beautiful sky...

Yet more beautiful sky…

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Camping, Days Out, Places, Travel

 

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That Really Grinds My Gears…

We left Barefoot on Monday, July 29th, heading for the sea with another day of holiday ahead of us. As I said before, we hadn’t wanted the festival to end, and so we’d set off for the east coast with Kings Lynn and the seaside in our sights.

We didn’t have a campsite booked (or even planned) and we weren’t even sure of where we were going, and so when we spotted a sign for a farm shop we turned off the beaten track and onto a country road. The fabled ‘shop’ was a van on the side of the road that sold a few rotten looking vegetables, so we kept on going to civilisation and eventually found ourselves pulling into an Aldi store in Wisbech.

We pulled into the car park with no problem and headed inside to buy all the essentials that we needed for the night and morning ahead (bacon, sausuages, a kite and a diabolo…as you do) and prepared to get back on the road.

…and that’s when we hit our first problem…

I’ve moaned about my clunky 5-speed gearbox and difficult gear-stick before. I always have trouble getting it into first and reverse is almost impossible…but this time it was a million times worse. Instead of plain old refusing the slide up into reverse, the stick was kind of twisting and bending in a very worrying manner. It felt like it was broken. After pulling up the collar and giving it some closer inspection, we found out that is WAS indeed broken…

The weld that connected the stick to the linkage was not only very badly done, but was also cracking and letting the stick turn around on it’s thread. Oh dear,…

Rather than try and force it into reverse and break it completely, Luke pushed us out of the space and I got the van into first, planning on limping it to a nearby garage.

…and that’s when we hit our second problem…

Just as we were pulling away the gear stick went SPLAT on the floor of the van and we were stuck in first. Oh deary dear…

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And so, at 5.15pm, just 15 minutes before most garages close, over 100 miles from home, we pulled into another parking space and began ringing around to find someone who could help us…to no avail. Eventually we called the RAC thinking that our adventure was over before it had begun.

The RAC man arrived incredibly quickly, and was a lot more helpful than we’d imagined he’d be. He told us that he couldn’t tow us (they’d done their usual trick and sent an entirely unsuitable response vehicle out), but he was more than willing to get us into second gear and limp us along to a garage. Not only that, but he knew a garage nearby that might still be open, which was on the same estate as his mate’s welding company. Result. If the garage was closed then we’d have to camp there overnight and his friend would be more than happy to weld us back together in the morning.

It was a great plan, until he realised how difficult it was going to be to get the van into second gear, and so he asked me to start the engine to see if that made it easier…

…and that’s when we hit our third problem…

Old Red wouldn’t start.

Nothing.

The hazard lights wouldn’t even come on anymore. The battery was dead, maybe from the fridge being set to 12V throughout the journey, or the fact we didn’t have an earthing strap attached to the bodywork. The helpful RAC man started us up by connecting jump leads to the battery and the bodywork…

…and that’s when we hit our FOURTH problem…

He didn’t connect the bulldog clip to just the bodywork. No. He connected it to the bodywork via one of our fuel pipes. It was only when Luke asked why there was diesel spilling everywhere that he even noticed he’d done it. Needless to say, I was not overly impressed with him at this point and time was marching on.

Before too long the pipe was trimmed and reconnected, we were in second gear, and we were following silly Mr RAC man out of the car park and along the four miles of road to the garage. At 10 miles an hour. It was 6.20pm by this point and I was already looking at nearby hotels and trying to work out if we could afford to sleep somewhere that had a toilet, rather than in a car park. There was no way we were going to get to the seaside that night…

And then we pulled up here…

Cannot recommend these dudes enough

Cannot recommend these dudes enough

Michael Motors, Unit 1, 62 Weasenham Road, Wisbech PE13 2RU…if you are ever in Wisbech and in need of the help of a mechanic, these are the guys to turn to! Admittedly, the first guy Luke spoke to said ‘tomorrow’ in a very gruff voice, but his colleague very helpfully pointed out that they were there, and we were there, and they might as well do it right then so that we could get on our way and not have to camp on their forecourt overnight. 

And into the garage we went…

Back in a garage...again...

Back in a garage…again…

One earthing strap, a bit of expert welding, and £50 later, and we were ready to roll again. I was beside myself with joy (and, honestly, disbelief) and thanked Michael and Thomas for their kind help. Luke tried to give them extra money for a drink but they refused on the grounds that if they drank they wouldn’t be around to do late-night fixes. They’d be at the pub.

I called them angels but they refused that too and said that they like to help wherever they can. Michael told me that he’d once leant his car to a woman for three days because she’d broken down with her kids in the car and he didn’t have time to fix it for her then and there. Once again, I told them they were angels.

Back in one piece again!...for the time being

Back in one piece again!…for the time being

…and so our mini seaside adventure began…

 

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Going Barefoot…

Friday, July 26th was the first day of Barefoot Festival, and the start of our first adventure of 2013…

Putting the postcode into Google...

Putting the postcode into Google…

Despite being REALLY well organised in the supplies department (we bought far too many ‘necessities’ that ended up coming home unused), we spent the Friday morning doing even MORE shopping and then tried to get the van packed quickly. Needless to say we left home a lot later than we meant to, and as we were on the way to the petrol station I remembered that I’d forgotten the cafetiere. Although this seemed like major catastrophe (no coffee?!?!) I wasn’t about to turn around just for that. It was only when I realised that we’d left our pillows at home too (kind of essential) that we turned around and went back.

…and when we got to Barefoot that we realised the teabags and sugar were still at home too, along with the moisturiser that my skin can’t live without. Whoops.

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Our route from Redditch to Preswold Hall, Loughborough

Clear skies over the open road!

Clear skies over the open road!

We were aiming to get there at 2.30pm when the gates opened, and the journey was set to take 1hr 15mins (about two hours in Old Red) but we didn’t leave until about 1pm…and then the M42 turned into a bit of a carpark for a while. In the end we got there at around 4.30pm, collected our wristbands, and set out to find Sarah and her friends.

Luckily they hadn’t been there long and (unluckily for them) they had a LOT of heavy stuff to ferry from the car to campsite so they’d been busy just moving stuff. Having a van is brilliant full stop, but the fact that you have all your stuff with you and you don’t have to worry about setting any tents up (especially if it’s raining) is bloody amazing. If only we’d had the forethought to put all the stuff from their car into the van, then Luke wouldn’t have had to carry a full (over-sized) cool box half a mile up and down a hill…

We said “Hi!” to Sarah and her son Isaac, met Lucy and her boys, Oscar and Hector, and Emma and her son, Conner, and then we set about finding a camp spot and setting up our various tents, gazebos, windbreaks etc,

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Gaffa tape…universal fix-all

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Our camp in one of it's many incarnations...we ended up moving the windbreak and turning the gazebo into a tent with big blankets and LOTS of gaffa tape...

Our camp in one of it’s many incarnations…we ended up moving the windbreak and turning the gazebo into a tent with big blankets and LOTS of gaffa tape…

…and then the weekend really began! I started off with a (canned) Bellini as we set-up and quickly moved on to the cider…and I don’t really remember too much of our first evening! A lot of fun was had by all!

The boys (aged 2, 3 and 4) loved the van and wanted to spend a lot of time climbing in and out of it…

...and they all clamber in!...

…and they all clamber in!…

I noticed a few rivets sticking out of the sill where they were climbing in, and despite bashing them flat with a mallet, they still looked pretty dangerous to little legs…

Rivets of doom...

Rivets of doom…

…so I used the all-purpose fix-all to save the day…

Mended! Taa daaaa!

Mended! Taa daaaa!

Happy campers in the happy camper...

Happy campers in the happy camper…Conner, Isaac, Hector and Oscar.

And so…the weekend went a bit like this…

Entertainment…

I have to admit, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time down at the main arena, choosing to relax in our cosy little campsite, cook our own food, play music and sing and keep ourselves entertained. Sarah, Lucy, Emma and the boys went exploring a lot more than Luke and I did, although we did get to see some capoeira and a few of the bands (whose names I completely forgot) in a beautiful Indian wedding tent…

Inside the Main Tent

The programme included lots of folksy music, drumming, dancing, yoga…and we also heard quite a lot of ska and rock music travelling up the hill and the evenings set in. During the day there seemed to be mostly drumming going on, and occasionally I felt like I was on the set of Carry On Up The Jungle.

There was a big camp fire with a circle of straw bales set around it (at a reasonable distance) to sit and recline on, and ‘busk stops’ at points around the arena and campsite so festival-goers could show off their skills.

We did a bit of shopping at some of the stalls and got chatting to a lovely couple who sell all sorts of ornaments, clothes, candles, incense, handmade items, etc., and who spend every weekend of the summer at festivals. We picked up some top tips for solar powered leisure batteries from them, and advice on how to keep things cool without having to run the fridge (hide them under the van!).

We also splurged some of our emergency beer tokens and bought some festival souvenirs to decorate Old Red with.

The kids (and when I say kids, I really mean all of us) played with…

…body paints (just a few quid from New Look…don’t forget to pack extra baby wipes if you plan on bringing body paints out to a festival)…

Isaac is DARTH VADER!!!

Kids of all ages...

Ha ha ha haaaaa...

…moustaches (six for £1 from Poundland)…

Hola amigo!

Careful application is necessary...

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BEST photo EVER!

…bottle tops…

The boys spent aaaages throwing two bottle tops around the main tent then chasing them...I started it off by balancing them on Sarah's feet...

…and a tarpaulin that was being inflated by the wind…

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…and we had lots of fun playing music and singing…

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Concentration face...

Ha ha ha...

And we drank a little bit too…

Sarah and I...having a little giggle...

Sarah and I…having a little giggle…

…perhaps a little bit too much…

Beer zombies...

Beer zombies…

Food…

The Festival had an amazing array of food for such a small event. Sadly, we either forgot to take pictures of the stalls and food, or lost the business cards we picked up, so I’m going to have trouble crediting them properly at all…

I did manage to take pictures of one stall though…CHOCONANA!

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Choconana…chocolate (or yoghurt) coated frozen bananas, dipped in all sorts of amazing things. They also do other awesome food.

…and the food was so fabulous that when my phone battery died I almost cried over the fact I couldn’t photograph it. The stall owner was kind enough to take some photos and text them to me so that I could show the world the joy of…FRENCH TOAST CROISSANT WITH SYRUP, STRAWBERRIES, WHIPPED CREAM, CINNAMON SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE….

Me with my breakfast of JOY

Me with my breakfast of JOY

I cannot begin to describe how amazing this feast was. The croissant was delicious and crispy, and even though the syrup soaked in and made it really sticky and gooey, it didn’t make the croissant soggy at all…it made it divine. It would have been amazing on its own with just a dusting of the cinnamon sugar, but there was no way I was going to miss out on strawberries, cream and chocolate. The strawberries were hulled and chopped fresh in front of me, and the entire thing was yum yum yuuuuum. I may have to follow this stall around the country…

Later on in the day I decided to try one of their frozen bananas. I was sceptical at first because I thought they’d be rock hard and make my teeth hurt, but the promise that they had “the texture of ice cream” lured me in…

Frozen banana, covered in milk chocolate and dipped in oreo pieces...*drools*

Frozen banana, covered in milk chocolate and dipped in oreo crumbs…*drools*

It does have the texture of ice-cream, and it doesn’t taste like a big manky bruise (which is what cooked banana tastes of)…so it’s win all round really! And it has a lot less calories and fat than the same amount of ice-cream (if you try not to think too hard about the chocolate and cookie pieces, that is) so you can feel all virtuous about your dessert. They also have yoghurt to cover the bananas in, as well as fruit pieces to dip them in, so you can feel properly virtuous if you really want to. I didn’t want to.

On the first night we tried some wood-fired pizza from a brilliant little stall near the main tent. The pizzas were only about £5 each, were freshly prepared in front of us, and took about 10 minutes to cook. They were pretty darn huge too, and I only managed to eat about half of mine, but it went down well as a snack later. We got a business card but have lost it somewhere along the way, and no amount of googling can find the right company. If anyone reading this knows their name, please please please remind me!

Other catering stalls included the Mashed Tea Tent, where you could get tea (of all varieties), coffee, cakes and an assortment of ‘necessities’. The only things we needed were the teabags and sugar (shame on me), neither of which they sold as a rule (they sell brewed tea so selling teabags would be a bit silly really, almost like saying “here!…don’t buy our tea!…just go and make your own!…for cheaper!”), but they were kind enough to sell us a few packets of sugar so we could make coffee back at the van (with the retrieved cafetiere).

There was also a Thai food stall that did noodles and curries, a vegetarian stall that sold loads of different dishes, and a crepe van that did sweet and savoury pancakes. We didn’t get to try them all but it all looked (and smelled) wonderful, and all seemed to be very reasonably priced. The bar charges were a bit steep, and we were surprised to pay £24 for six pint bottles of Bulmers, but that’s the price you pay for under-stocking your cooler with beers! Next time we’ll bring more with us…

We did a lot of cooking for ourselves…Sarah, Lucy and Emma enjoying veggie/vegan repasts, while Luke and I shamelessly barbecued meat just yards away. We had chicken wings, home (van) made burgers and tonnes of awesome salads using the camping-friendly spray olive oil I’d found. We took along a massive basket of spices that also proved very useful for making really simple dishes really interesting and tasty. I actually can’t take credit for the cooking…Luke is (most definitely) the head chef, and I just do as I’m told (sometimes).

Having the fridge (and plenty of gas) made life really easy for us, and when we discovered that the ice box actually works we could freeze ice packs to keep the coolers cold too. By ‘keep the coolers cold’ I obviously mean ‘keep the beers cold’, but it amounts to the same thing…

The Round-up

This year at Barefoot was a ‘fallow’ year, with about 350 tickets sold. We spent £30 each to get in and £5 for ‘parking’ (which is actually ‘camping’ in our case). Next year the festival is back to full capacity with around 1000 tickets going on sale for £70 each if you’re quick enough to get an earlybird ticket. We’d love to go again in 2014 but I think we’re going to wait until the new year begins before splashing out on tickets and van passes.

Suffice to say, the vibe of the whole festival was lovely and relaxed, and we were highly entertained wherever we chose to hang out. Late at night/very early in the morning we even made it down to the camp-fire to relax with other festival-goers who hadn’t made it to bed yet. Every day was a great day and every evening was brilliant. It was a shame that it had to end so soon, but we made the absolute most of it while it lasted.

Okay, so we didn’t spend much time in the arena itself and may as well just have gone camping for the weekend, but then we wouldn’t have had the company of the other revellers. The atmosphere was great and everyone seemed to be having a brilliant time. Apart from the odd torrential downpour we had beautiful weather and (I, for one) enjoyed lots of alcohol fuelled naps in the sunshine.

Two thumbs up to Barefoot Festival!

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The End?

We had such an awesome time that we didn’t want to leave once it was over. Emma and Conner had left early on Sunday morning, and when it came time to say goodbye to Sarah, Lucy and the boys on Monday we chose not to head home, but to the beach instead…but that’s another few stories…

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Camping, Festivals, Food, Travel

 

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Places to Visit: Huettenpalast…

So…first an admission. I read the Daily Mail. There, I said it…it’s done with. Can we move on now?

No?…but I swear I only read it ironically. And because I’m bored. And I quite like it.

ANYWAY!

Today I read (in the Daily Fail) about a hotel in Berlin called Huettenpalast where they’ve created a campsite indoors! From the looks of the photo the caravans and cabins all share the same massive room, and the holiday-makers all have to share the same ‘on-site’ men’s and women’s facilities, but what an amazing idea?!

and I thought you couldn't get any better than Glamping...

and I thought you couldn’t get any better than Glamping…

an indoor cabin...

an indoor cabin…

...and cosy looking beds!

…and cosy looking beds!

 

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Places, Travel

 

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Collapsible Camping Accessories…

I use Iwantoneofthose quite a lot for gifts/inspiration, and while doing a spot of Christmas shopping this afternoon I found these in their ‘Camping Gadgets’…

Collapsible Cooking Pot (click to see product in new tab)

They’re made of stainless steel and silicone, they hold 3.8 litres, an they fold down to about 55mm high. They’re not cheap (£39.99), but at the moment I have two small saucepans and am already struggling for space. I plan to do a LOT more cooking in the wild next year so one of these pots is definitely going onto my email to Santa this year!

As well as the cooking pot, you can also get…

Collapsible Washing Up Bowl (click to see product in new tab)

A washing up bowl for £24.99 that would be useful for all sorts of things besides washing up…I mean, it’s got a 7.5 litre capacity so you could probably make the mother of all vodka jellies in that thing.

Red has a little double sink, complete with tap and water pump, but neither of the sinks are very deep and it’s much more pleasant to wash up outside. This silicone bowl looks like it might be a bit sturdier to use than the foldable fabric kind, but it is a lot more expensive.

They also sell…

Collapsible Kettle (click to see product in new tab)

I’ve got a little whistling kettle that holds about the same amount of water as this collapsible kettle, and although it doesn’t take up a lot of room in the cupboards, the handle does make it difficult to get out of the cupboard (especially when the back seat is in bed-mode and the cupboard door doesn’t open fully) and it does have a habit of getting in the way when I’m trying to fish out saucepans or the chopping board. Again, this is another expensive product, and at £29.99 it’s three times what I paid for my kettle. I would be interested to see how sturdy it is, and if it folds as you’re trying to pour from it.

The last collapsible wonder from IWOOT is…

Collapsible Pet Bowl (click to see product in new tab)

For £12.99 you get a 1.6 litre pet bowl that folds down to 4cm high, and I’m fairly certain that it’d be lighter than the big ceramic bowls Fletch drinks out of at the moment. I’ve got a foldable fabric bowl for him that I take walking, but it’s quite small and he doesn’t really seem to like it. It’s also rather hard to clean and you can’t ever seem to rinse it out well enough. I’ll definitely be getting a couple of these ready for when I’m brave enough to take Fletch out in the van!

All in all, these four products come to over £100 if you want to buy the lot (and I do…) and there’s other products in the range that IWOOT don’t stock at the moment, like a collapsible bucket (VERY useful…I’m always moving my bucket around the van and cursing it when it leaves muddy rings) and funnel (also very useful), but there are other sites you can find these products on. For the most part, the cooking pot, kettle and bowls are very similar prices to IWOOT, but I’ve found a seller on Amazon who has the washing up bowl, kettle, bucket and a coffee filter contraption for a very reasonable price…

Collapsible Camp Set from The Friendly Lifestyle Store (click to see product in new tab)

Considering the kettle and washing up bowl come to around £55 together, this set is amazing value. I may not bother emailing Santa…I might just buy myself an early Christmas present before they’re all sold out!

 

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France Pt.5 – Looking Back…

When I bought Old Red, the idea was to be more adventurous, spontaneous and to see a bit of the world. My trip to France embodied the spirit I’d bought the van in, especially when you consider that I’d only put a deposit down on him when I committed to driving him over there.

…well…I never said that I was going to be sensible now, did I?

It was stressful to organise, and there were testing times before and during the trip, but it was a wonderful adventure, and it’s certainly given me the confidence and the desire to do it again!

One lesson I have taken from the trip, though, is that I will definitely be more organised in the future…

  1. I will have all my documents and necessities ready in plenty of time
  2. I won’t commit to a long journey without being completely sure that Old Red is as ready for the trip as I am…
  3. The journey might be spontaneous but I will make sure that I’ve got everything I need before I leave, rather than having to hit camping stores on the way to the port (hoping and praying that they have what I need in stock…)

I’m not sure if I’ve said already, but I have romantic notions of taking three (six?…twelve??)  months off work and heading out to explore the wilds of Europe. I adore Brittany, and there’s a lot that I’d love to go back to see…and then there’s the further reaches of Southern France, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe…

…I just don’t know how I’d go about financing a trip like that…

I’ve got a vague notion that I could live off my (rather meagre) savings and sod the consequences, but I don’t think that’s the most reliable of ideas. My next foray onto the continent will most likely be another short ‘holiday’ like the last, but it will be without oil issues (at least when I set out…I don’t want to speak too soon for the entire trip) and as soon as humanly possible.

But back to the point…

Redditch – Portsmouth – Ouistreham – Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier – La Fontenelle – Calais

We Travelled…

810 miles over land in Old Red

140 miles over seas in two ferries

countless kilometres in cars belonging to various cousins

We spent…

£383 on our outbound Brittany Ferry (for a 3mx5m van with a bike rack, two adults and an inside cabin)

£54 on the return P&O Ferry for a flexi fare (which cost more, but meant we could catch later ferries)

£120 (or thereabouts) on fuel…but I could have used less if I’d have stuck to 50mph

£30 (38€) on tolls from Caen to Calais…but this isn’t quite representative of the exact fee because we missed some pay points and we were over-charged at one point

£44 (54.60€) on one night at Huttopia Versailles (10€ of which was a ‘fee’)

£80 (89.84€) on two nights at Camping International de Maisons-Laffitte

£13 (15€ for two adults and 9€ for two 18-25 year olds) at Chateau de Fougères

£8 (10€) each at the creperie for a lavish crepe and a soft drink (this was Rhi and Gen’s treat to us…I’m only including it for price reference)

£20 (25€) for two meals, two soft drinks and a tip at the restaurant in Calais

£35 on oil (buying it in France proved to be VERY expensive)

…all of which equates to £779 between us…and quite a bit more on groceries, some souvenirs, and some bottles of tequila and boxes of chocolates from the return ferry.

Things I’d do Differently – Campsites…

I may have been a bit rubbish at getting ready for this trip (including (but not limited to) not having the right documents, not having the right equipment, not booking my return ferry til the day before we left, and not printing off our travel vouchers til the morning we left), but I did manage to find and book two campsites near Versailles and Paris so that Steph and I could explore, but with the security of a pre-booked spot and somewhere safe to sleep. I wish I hadn’t bothered now…firstly because we ended up wasting over £120, but secondly because we really didn’t need to

While we were driving round the narrow (and beautiful) streets of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier looking for the camp/reception site, we found a lovely little municipal campsite that overlooked a small body of water and had really reasonable prices. It also had electric hook-ups, toilets and shower facilities.

I didn’t know that municipal campsites existed before we found one (which should show you how much research I’d done) but I’ve since done some googling and found that these sites are plentiful around France. Next time I’d be happy to head onto the continent without pre-booking, and search out somewhere random and beautiful (and quiet) to stay for a night or two until I move onto the next place.

Things I’d do Differently – Speed…

I get bored easily and so I tend to drive fast just to get places quicker. I try my hardest to be slow in Old Red because I know that if he’s going at 60mph he drinks fuel almost twice as fast as he does at 50mph. Unfortunately, it wasn’t jut boredom, but necessity that pushed me to drive ‘fast’ in France…

In a bid to save a few euros, I’d decided to avoid toll roads on our drive up to Calais. As we were driving along the D613 to Lisieux and the km signs counted down I began to realise just how long it would take us to avoid the tolls. There was no way we were going to get to Calais in time and so we had to hit the autoroute and pay the tolls…and then I had to put my foot down to make up for the time we’d lost.

Once we were back in England I’d been awake for 15 hours, driving for 8 of those, on a ferry for one, and I had another 5 hours of driving ahead of me. I. Just. Wanted. To. Get. Home. So…I put my foot down. Again.

It’s annoying to think I could have saved myself some money and a fuel stop if only I’d have been more organised and more economical in my driving. Driving everywhere at (what feels like) a snail’s pace will be the order of the future.

Things I’d do Differently – Shopping…

I systematically turned down every opportunity to buy alcohol when the buying was good. By the time I finally committed to buying something, I was stuck with household brands and an insignificant discount.

did manage to pick up two 25cl bottles of kirsch (1.21€ each!), and Lesley was kind enough to give us some fizz to bring home, but I wish I’d have come back with a case or two of decent wine. When I go back I’ll make sure I plan my shopping a little better and not rely on finding a supermarché next-door to the port.

Things I’d do Differently – Return Journey…

I couldn’t book a return ferry from Caen (possibly something to do with the olympics), and financially it made more sense to pay for the fuel to drive up to Calais and catch a cheap ferry from there. Originally we were going to detour past Paris, which added 100 miles onto the 300 mile journey from La Fontenelle to Calais, but in the end we did the whole journey (minus the detour) in one day.

When we were going to ‘explore’, the journey didn’t seem so bad, but when we tried to do it in one go it was a bit of an ordeal. To be honest, what with the extra miles (and all the walking we’d have done), the stop in Paris might not have given us any respite at all.

Also, the ferry home was horrible and a very stark contrast to the plush Brittany Ferries ferry that we’d caught from Portsmouth…consequently…….

Things I’d do Again – Brittany Ferries…

Although the outbound journey cost seven times more than the return one, the cost was well worth landing in the area of France that we intended to visit (especially considering that we landed on the morning of the wedding). It also made more sense to pay the extra £60 for a cabin and get a good night’s rest before our drive in the morning. It might have been cheaper to make the short crossing and then drive down to Brittany, but (aside from the fact that it didn’t fit into my holiday from work) if we’d have wanted to break the journey up we’d have to factor in campsites and ‘tourist stuff’ money along the way.

If I was travelling to (or through) the north of France then I’d take advantage of the cheaper fare and shorter crossing, but if my next trip is back to Brittany (and I think it probably will be) then I’ll probably get another night ferry over to Caen, or St. Malo, or similar. With a little planning and a bit more notice, I could make the same crossing for much less money (by travelling on different days, during the day, not paying for a cabin, etc.), but I do kind of like the luxury of a cabin and the chance to sleep away an otherwise boring crossing, so I’d probably shell out for a cabin on future trips too.

And so…

France. Was. Brilliant.

I was incredibly badly organised and terribly scared, but nothing went (too badly) wrong, we had (pretty much) everything we needed and we had (a whole lot of) fun (and wine). We got to spend three wonderful days with our cousins, sharing laughter, eating good food and speaking disjointed franglais. The wedding was beautiful and it was and honour to be there as Lesley and Paskal got married.

It was my first time being ‘the responsible one’ on holiday..

…my first time taking a vehicle on a ferry…

…my first time driving in France…

…the first time I’d slept alone in my van (technically, sleeping ‘wild’ on the side of the road)…

…the first time I got to sleep on the rock and roll bed (it’s not as comfortable as the roof bed, but it’s far easier to get into!)…

…and it was one of the best adventures I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go back!!

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Camping, Lists, Travel

 

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