5 years ago Dee and I visited my great grandfather’s grave on the Somme in the bug on the 95th anniversary of his death. With 2016 seeing the centenary a plan was hatched to pay my respects again, this time in Clarence as part of a larger trip around northern France. Matt and I thought that throwing in a trip to Normandy to see the D-Day landing beaches would make for a pretty decent summer holiday.
All in all we covered over 1300 miles without a recovery truck in sight! I did have to change a brake light bulb but, other than that and the obligatory topping up of his oil, Clarence didn’t miss a beat.
A few weeks prior to heading to France, I’d caught up with Darryl and Jo down in the Peaks for our first get together of the year. I’d taken the day off so I could get a couple of new rear tyres fitted that morning before leaving for Edale, a new spot that we’d not previously visited. The forecast wasn’t great but, for once, was quite accurate and the rain started just as I was leaving ATS. The decent satnav was the only thing that the scumbag car thief helped himself to so I had updated my old TomTom – what a waste of time that was! Fortunately Google maps came to the rescue on what had turned into a particularly filthy afternoon.
I’m guessing that on a good day it must be a stunning drive but I certainly didn’t see a great deal of it. Finally I landed in Edale, checking in at Coopers Campsite. The site has mixed reviews online, which mainly appear to be a review of the farmer whose site it is rather than the site itself and I can understand how some people might not warm to him. It’s a nice enough site although the washroom facilities could probably do with hitting with the jetwash and a lick of paint. As far as caravans and campervans are concerned there don’t seem to be clearly defined pitches so your neighbours can be a little too close for comfort. Which is great when they have a couple of dogs who insist on permanently fighting in their cages in the builder’s van! It’s on a fair old slope too, so chocks are essential.
In a nutshell we had a lovely, if very wet, weekend. The inclement weather didn’t stop us from having a wander up to the top of Mam Tor – I’m sure the views from up there are rather special on a decent day. Sadly for us it was far from decent and by the time we’d made it back to the pub we were seriously drenched.
Anyway, back to the French Road Trip Part Deux. Clarence has still got a niggling ignition issue that I had hoped the new battery would fix – it didn’t. Admittedly the one in there was the 10 year old one he came across from the States with. And i might have slightly creased his rear bumper after a slight misjudgment when reversing near (into) a tree, And yes, the window lifter on the passenger side did give up the ghost when we landed back in the UK. But those are all very minor details. He covered a heck of a lot of miles in a short period of time, and made a load of friends along the way.
Day 1 – Leeds to Ashurst. 6 hours – thanks to people driving like morons and causing 4 accidents.
Day 2 – Early start – Ashurst to Folkestone to jump on the Eurotunnel (a breeze). Calais to Luc sur Mer – a long old way. Super smooth motorways and 2 ridiculously steep bridges near Le Havre. May have failed to fully disengage the handbrake causing the rear drums to overheat 25 miles from our destination. After cooling them down they seem to work ok and we make it to the site just fine. Upon arrival it starts to rain.
Days 2 – 5 – Luc sur Mer – campsite (Camping De la Capricieuse) is 50 yards from Sword Beach and is nicely arranged. It’s very warm. There’s a skeleton of a 19m whale. We ate some big ass ice creams and I made some big ass burgers (beef and chorizo stuffed with Tomme de Savoie and Port Salut wrapped in parma ham). We visited Arromanches, site of the Mulberry harbours and Longue sur Mer – site of some old German concrete (love a good bunker) and big ass cannon. Much BBQing takes place. The first couple of nights my lower legs got bitten pretty badly but fortunately the chemist at the Hyper U sorted me out with some hydrocortisone cream which provided some welcome relief.
Days 5 – 8 – Luc sur Mer to Albert. Large bridges avoided en route but a loss of sense of humour with Google maps with silly directions at Rouen. Driving into Albert we saw the only other old UK bus – sadly he was on the back of a recovery truck! On the 15th September we met my folks at the cemetery on Guillemont Road to lay a wreath at my great grandfather’s grave to mark the centenary of him having been killed in action. This was, in essence, the main purpose of the trip. From there we headed to Beaumont Hamel where the landscape is still showing its scars of 100 years ago. The following day we visited the Lochnagar crater, the Thiepval monument and the museum at Péronne. The site at Albert is very pleasant, but has a weird rubbish disposal policy. Still not sure I understand it now. Also, there were no draining boards in the washing up area. The weather wasn’t great so we ate out a couple of times, including the most overpriced bourguignon and dauphinoise you’re ever come across.
Day 8 – Back to Blighty. No migrant issues, but a moment of panic when exiting Carrefour we think the bus has been stolen. It hasn’t. Much confit of duck, wine etc purchased from Carrefour. Due to technical issues the Eurotunnel was delayed for a couple of hours and, even with an enormous Burger King in his tum, Matt was getting a little grumpy. The dude in front of us on the tunnel was very odd and claimed to be related to Tom Jones. Not sure I believed a single one of his claims other than that he had hand painted his T4 – it looked crap. In comparison to the French motorways the M20 is like the surface of the moon – it’s embarrassing to think that this is the one of the first impression that foreign visitors have when they arrive on our shores. Drop Matt off and head up to Newmarket to visit Oli and Zinnia.
Day 9 – Newmarket to Leeds via Wakefield for lunch with the folks, my sister and niece and nephew.
While we were away, it was a certain little orange car’s 45th birthday, having been built in September ’71. So the other weekend she got treated to a little birthday pampering in the shape of half the Autoglym catalogue!
We got back from France less than a month ago and it feels like an eternity since we were there. So I’m thinking that, since Clarence has proved his capability, it’s maybe time to start thinking about the next European jaunt. Perhaps involving a car train? Perhaps involving some Alps…….