After 3 wonderful weeks of staying at my sister’s house and catching up with friends and family, we are back on the road!
The day after we returned from Bangkok we took ourselves to a motorhome dealership in Reading and picked out our new wheels for the next 6 months. Knowing that almost all dealers take a couple of weeks to get the selected van ready, serviced and MOT’d we didn’t waste any time in sorting it out. I’m no expert in mechanics and motorhome specs so I focussed on the really important stuff when it came to selecting a model, including colour, kitchen space and interior decoration. Thankfully Gary is more knowledgeable and we settled on this handsome chap that we refer to as Harvey the RV.
I’ve only ever been camping twice and both occasions were short lived and full of alcohol so I was slightly apprehensive about living in such a small, contained space and coping with limited resources (ie travel hair straighteners). In order to give Harvey (and me) a proper test run and iron out any issues before we got miles away from home, Gary thought it prudent to drive down to Canterbury for a test run. These two days gave us plenty of time to use all the facilities and get us used to driving such a big vehicle before we hit France. Canterbury also delivered on wonderful weather and beautiful scenery which was a bonus.
We left for Dover on Saturday morning and boarded a ferry to take us the one and a half hour journey over to Calais. Everything went incredibly smoothly and we arrived on French soil in the afternoon and headed south west towards Rouen. Forgetting the weight we were carrying, we misjudged our optimum speed slightly and ended up driving the 300km over 4 hours. It was only when we were fully committed that we realised our campsite reception closed at 7pm and we were pushing it to arrive on time. The prospect of spending our first night abroad in a lay-by of a random French motorway was enough motivation to get us there by the skin of our teeth. This is what the Hawkins family like to call a ‘kick bollock scramble.’ Our Sat Nav even threw in a couple of dead end roads and single track lanes to keep us on our toes and elevate the excitement levels.
We were so relieved to arrive at our campsite in Bouafles and find the reception still open. Our host spoke no English whatsoever but I managed to recall enough French from school to get us checked in. We went for a brief walk around the grounds and watched the sun set over the Seine. First impressions of camping in France are a million miles away from my preconceptions of muddy fields, lousy toilet blocks and 70’s gear. Chateau de Bouafles is a beautiful campsite, set in gorgeous natural surroundings with nothing but birdsong to interrupt the perfect solitude. Our pitch is huge with established trees and hedges to give us privacy. There are bikes to rent and a jetty to fish from and the air feels so fresh and clean.
The next day we woke early and walked to reception to collect our pre-ordered baguette and croissants fresh from the local boulangerie. We ate them with fresh tea as the warm morning light streamed through the windows. We had a few admin chores to sort in the morning including a mad dash around the local supermarket for supplies before it closed at midday.
In the afternoon we headed to nearby Les Andelys which is a picturesque village sat on a hairpin curve in the Seine. Perched precariously above is the 12th century Chateau Gaillard. There isn’t much left of the chateau itself but the steep climb up in sweltering heat rewarded us with magnificent views from the summit.
We had a browse around the village which boasted a beautiful square and impressive cathedral whose impressive stature well exceeded the size of sleepy Les Andelys. We walked back along pretty lanes, admiring the quaint buildings with gorgeous brickwork and beautiful gardens. We got back to ‘Harvey the RV’ in time to enjoy the late afternoon sun with a couple of beers and BBQ. What a start to the trip.