Monday, 15 September 2014

Bye, Bye, Billie!

Well the deed has been done and Billie will be going to a new and loving home! Currently he is with a dealer and we are sure he will soon be happily parked with a new family.

We were really sorry to see him go and surprised ourselves how quickly it all happened, once we had made the decision to move on. While we were in France this year we had a long hard think about how we were using our motorhome and decided that we were really using Billie more as a caravan. With Smartie on tow, we found we had to think and plan ahead much. We did love Billie and were very pleased with the service we got from the dealers, which made our lives so much simpler. Billie had all the extras on him that we would ever need and more! The bed was as comfy as ours at home, there was mountains of storage and the shower was fabulous. By the time our holiday in France was over, we were already making plans about what van we would go for next. Billie will be a fabulous buy for someone, with all the extras and only 5000 miles on the clock, a great buy. Things we would change?

Nothing really, the only thing we probably would not have bothered with was the aircon, which we hardly used. Everything else was perfect and we loved the layout. Loads of lounging space, great kitchen with full oven and microwave, huge fridge, central heating, gaslow, awning, bike rack and sink big enough to wash a pan in! Billie towed Smartie easily on the trailer, we have just decided to downsize our whole lives and eventually our house. Buying a house without the need for a 25 foot drive will we hope, be easier! Things turn full circle, we started with a camper van and that's what we are going for next. I guess it's more about back to basics for us.

Our first thoughts were we wanted to buy something easy to drive around and park, that we could also use as a second vehicle. I have also been very wimpish about driving a big coachbuilt, but would probably be able to manage a panel van !  Having had 3 coach built motorhomes we have decided on a panel van conversion, with some luxury. We narrowed our choices down to  Murvi, Vantage, IH and the Autosleepers Kingham. I expect there are loads more vans we could have looked at but we also decided that for us Part Exchange was the option we would go for. Our new van would be probably 6.3m, so not so long.

The Malvern Show provided a good opportunity to test the water and much to our surprise we got a good part exchange deal and put a deposit down on our new IH van. The Shepton Mallett Show, saw Billie back on the market and no doubt it won't be long before he is rehomed.

As this blog did begin as "Bailey About" and we did think he would be with us for at least 10 years, this will be our last blog about Billie. We have however started another blog called "4 Wheel Camping" so the saga of us and our vans will continue. Did we regret buying Billie? Not at all, it was a great experience we hope someone else will get as much enjoyment from him as we have done. Life moves on a new set of 4 wheels 

We will be posting very soon!! Another adventure in store planning and finding our new van.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Back Tracking in France.

This year we decided to return to Parc Verger as we really enjoyed the break last year. We decided on the Portsmouth Caen crossing both ways for a change. We were quite disappointed with the crossing as we booked a late ferry 22.45 which got into Caen at around 6.30 in the morning. Sadly, the posh restaurant was closed which meant we had to make do with the self-service, not very exciting. Also, the short crossing meant we got only a very few hours sleep.The cabin and bathroom was clean, although we would have preferred not to have had the bunk beds, which was all they had available when we booked in March! On reflection, I think (although it's loads more expensive) the Portsmouth to St Malo crossing is better all round, because you can get a really nice meal in the restaurant, have longer to relax and still get a proper nights sleep. The home journey was fine though busy!

This year, was the first year we took our new convertible Smart Car, which was great fun, if not slightly traumatic to load onto the trailer. Moving the trailer around can be quite hard work, perhaps it's just us getting older!  Still it all looked good and towed well!

Billie would certainly look the part on the dock and flew along in comfort even up hill!

We plotted in the route to Parc Verger in the Limousin and estimated around an 8 hour drive. More or less spot on, including the slight detour ( me not the sat nav!) Another slight disadvantage of towing, you do need to stay on big roads, well we do. Billie performed well, trucking down the motorways, we went via the toll roads and the final bill was around 50 euros which we thought was worth it. We did miss going through all the little villages on route though and stopping at little places.  With a length of 10m plus you do need to think about where you are going and which roads you are going on. Den copes really well with the driving but we always have to think about reversing and the width of the roads. 

Soon we were happily set up at Parc Verger with a glass of red and a spot in the sunshine.


Billie's job was done, he now got a rest while Smartie took over. We also took our bikes and used them loads this year, getting used to trekking up the cycle track to the nearby town of Chalus( the place where Richard the Lionheart was shot ) and still overrun with Brits on every corner. We enjoyed a few happy afternoons in the village square sipping expresso, watching the French park their cars and earwigging Brit conversations.

A day trip we made which was really enjoyable was to the village of Brantome about 45 mins from Parc Verger. It was a lovely warm day and we spent a few happy hours drifting about the old town and watching the antics on the river, horses and canoes. A meal in a local hostelry rounded the day off well.

Brantome was a lovely place but very touristy and expensive. It made me smile to be stopped in the street by an English couple asking me in bad French where the market was!

We also went to St Yriex la Perche another charming village with another municipal campsite on the edge of the town. Less busy than Brantome and the day we went there was a great local market full of local farmers products. One of the best markets we have visited in a long time. A look around the medieval village is worth an hour of your time! Easy parking on the outskirts of the town for Smartie, I'm not too sure Billie would have enjoyed it, Den would not have.

Our next little adventure was walking miles around the reservoir of 77 hectares at Plan D'Eau Mialet. This is a totally untouristy but beautiful place, mainly populated by fishermen and locals. There is a small carpark at the entrance and a surprisingly clean compostable toilet. The walk around the lake through the trees is not for the faint hearted, mostly level on a gravel path it's around 8K......but seems longer! Take plenty of cream as there were a few insecty things that gave a nasty bite to bare legs, especially after the rain. We had the whole range of French weather in a few hours, hot sun, and showers, we actually used the packer macks. The walk was great we were glad we wore our walking boots as it was a long......way!


A peaceful and beautiful spot by the reservoir. We were glad we ate our picnic before we started walking though. The local workmen were all there, eating their meals from a whole collection of cool boxes at a picnic table, not what you would see at home.

Funny food always tastes better outside.

It always amazes us when we find these little out of the way places in France and we always wonder how the French manage to keep them looking so pristine. There were spaces for fishermen with isolated little camping spots which were well used by the locals and lots of small information boards about local wildlife and birds and when to see them. This is a place we will go back to another time.

Yet another day out and another fabulous small lake complete with full on campsite which was almost empty. Certainly worth another visit, another time, Lake St Fortunat is on the pilgrimage route in the village of Flavignac a really peaceful spot. There were a few French people by the lake but other than that it was deserted. It looks like the lake cannot be used for swimming but it is still beautifully maintained and great to have a picnic nearby. The campsite was quite big, large pitches clean toilet block ( we looked in) and empty!! Pitch up and wait for someone to come and collect the money we worked out it was around 10 euros! Another one on our agenda for a revisit.

Our holiday flew by and before long we were on the way back to the ferry. This year we stopped for two nights at Ouistram and had an excellent short stay at the campsite near the ferry port. A huge pitch and a bike ride along the canal rounded off our holiday.

Very lucky with the weather this year. Nowhere near as hot as last year, so we were able to do so much more and we rode the bikes a lot.

Perhaps the time for a re-think about how we use Billie. We really miss being able to up sticks and explore small sites which is not always easy with a 10m plus outfit.

Downsizing may be on the cards! We love Billie but maybe a smaller van could be the answer.... keep tuning in.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Avocado Adventure Part 2

Now we have been home for nearly two months it seems so strange to think we were sitting in the sun not long ago. Apart from one weekend we have had nothing but wind and rain!! Never mind, heating back on and it's our summer!

Having written about the first part of our holiday adventure I thought Part 2 had better follow while memories are still relatively fresh. As this is strictly speaking a blog about our adventures in our Bailey motorhome, a trip behind Fiona and Harry in their special Bakkie through game reserves and dirt tracks in the north of South Africa are vaguely relevant -  to me anyway! Trekking north to the sun, a strange concept for us, but lots of fun and loads of animals in their beautiful natural surroundings made the trip perfect.

Fiona and Harry thought long and hard about where to take us on our first trip. Africa is such a vast country with so many beautiful places to see, we were glad they made the decision not us! I should have taken more pictures and certainly will on our next trip, but you get to a point when a picture can't really tell the whole story. Africa is such a spectacular and beautiful country and around every corner was yet another fantastic view. The mountains, villages and sea all to take your breathe away.

We left the farm near Hazyview and set off towards Nelspruit ( one of the fastest growing towns in Africa and gateway to The Kruger.) Harry took us on the route via the banana plantation just outside Hazyview, we were very pleased we were in a 4X4.

Following a good breakfast at The Wimpy in Nelspruit, up into the mountains we climbed. We were searching for a dirt road that Harry had wanted to try out for some time, he called it a "short cut!" It was foggy up there....

This was one of those roads that had we been on our own I would have absolutely refused to follow!!  Fiona was made of sterner stuff. And so off we rumbled.

Following a quick bit of 4x4 tuition, we made sure we were on the right road.

Den managed really well considering the only bit of 4X4 driving he had done was a course he did around 30 years ago in a field. Hardly preparation for what was to come but we survived and really enjoyed the journey, shame it was too bouncy to take many pictures. The scenery made up for the rough road and the excitement and sense of adventure, made up for the potholes.

Finally we made it down the track!

Across a few mountains, through a game reserve and then we were at the highest point of the trip. Fiona's little bushbaby hanging in the front of the car bounced along over the stones and through the ruts. Then we were descending from 5000+ metres above sea level, down to the town of Piet Retief where we stayed for the night at a very nice lodge and camp site.

The Sundowner Lodge our first stop of the night. A typical African Lodge and camp site. Complete with roaming animals and birds!


For the camping fraternity. Camping African style. We had a lovely meal in the restaurant and a sound sleep.

The next morning we were off on the second leg of the adventure to St Lucia on the coast, destination Cape Vidal in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park a World Heritage Site. Completely different to The Kruger and far less commercialised.
Harry and Fiona loved this area and it was beautiful. Cape Vidal has a population of crocodile,hippo and millions of birds.St Lucia is a lovely town and one I certainly would like to go back to.

 Water Buffalo at Cape Vidal.

Our stay at Cape Vidal was beautiful. We stayed in a lodge by the beach which was empty and spectacular. The setting was perfect with wildlife everywhere including this cute wild cat who wistfully eyed our BBQ.

 Our lodge nestling amongst the trees.
                                                                 The beautiful and warm Indian Ocean
    at Cape Vidal. Peace and tranquility.

Our journey through the reseve gave an abundance of animal viewing including hippos, rhino and many more animals.



From Cape Vidal we spent a few hours at Kosi Bay in the top north-east corner of KwaZulu-Natal, just south of the Mozambique border.
 Kosi Bay is made up of a system of wetlands, channels and lakes with hippo, crocs. Access to the beach was down a "Harry Track" a dirt road only suitable for 4X4's. We were so lucky to get a permit to visit as only a few are given out daily. We set off with trepidation, but it was such a lovely and exciting drive.

Den and Harry on the beach at Kosi Bay.

This area is so special, the local community still does subsistance fishing on the lakes.

Our final journey was to Mukuze
A really interesting game reserve which really showed the animals in their own setting. Very uncommercialised with few people there, we really felt we were in the bush. Here we saw magnificent herds of giraffes, hippo and more rhino. We were so lucky! Harry and Fiona were keen to see the long tusked elephants, I wasn't!!!

 Fiona started to panic at this point that the hippos were heading in our direction. After her encounter with one in the bush in another place, she was a little apprehensive. Fortunately, it snorted and went on it's merry way.

Our acommodation, yet another lovely lodge with restaurant and pool.

 Fiona outside one of the safari tents on site. Complete with kitchen proper beds and ensuite !

 Animals in the wild, how they should be.

We had the most fabulous time in South Africa with Fiona and Harry who made us so welcome. We enjoyed every minute of our time with them and learnt so much about their country and it's culture and customs. Everyone we met was so friendly and helpful, yes South Africa has it's problems but so does every country! 

Loved Africa and we will be back.......................... very soon.

Choose a special moment, can't really we loved every minute but the people we were with made the memories.

Thanks Fiona and Harry. Love you lots XXX  Den & Lesley