We’re hoping to use a wide variety  of overnight stops. From full facility (pool, restaurant, bar etc) campsites, relatively cheap/free Aires to quiet out of the way free wild camping.

Different countries have different views on wild camping. Generally allowed in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Germany. Although on the coast it can be a bit tricky. Less clear on situation in Slovenia. Generally not allowed in Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro. As an aside it’s interesting that UK falls in the latter group and Ireland in the former! Of course there may be a difference between what’s officially allowed or not allowed and what happens ‘on the ground’.

There is also the consideration of needing to find Motorhome facilities, i.e. emptying toilet, grey water and filling up with fresh water.

There are many books, clubs, schemes, websites that give varying advice, service, information etc on places to stopover.
So far we have

Bought the 2017  ACSI discount card. This gives us off-season discounts at over 3,000 camping sites across Europe.

The Motorhome Guide Camperstop Europe which has information on almost 10,000 sites ranging from full price to free.

Membership of Wildcamping, whichs gives thousands of free camping locations in Britain, France and Spain (but sadly not Italy).

Those, along with the internet, will hopefully put us in good stead for finding suitable stopovers. Although we might buy some more books before we go. With those and all the guides books I can’t help feeling we’ll be a travelling library!

Hopefully we’ll find some quiet spots like this one we stayed at in Ireland. Bit worrying when the tide came into the carpark but a local assured us it won’t reach us.



Planning: the process

The idea of spending 6 months camper-vanning around Europe came about in the early 2000s.

The thought process developed along some broad principles.

A general overall route, with well-planned pockets joined together by vague and changeable links.

Our primary countries would be France, Italy and Spain

Southern Europe at the start and end with more northern parts during the hottest months.

We would try and get to see/follow some of the three European grand cycling tours (the Italian Giro in May, the Tour de France in July and the Spanish Vuelta end of Aug, Sept)

Ensuring we get a good mix of travelling but not spending all our time ….. travelling !!

Started with a list of favourite places we wanted to see/return to.

We looked at ‘Greatest 100’, ‘Best 500’ type articles online and added to our list.

Decided we would spend most time in Italy and added Switzerland (Germany) and eastern Adriatic to our countries list.

The current thinking is …

Ferry Poole to Cherbourg, probably Mon Apr 3rd.

Week travelling down to SW coast of France (popping into Mt. Saint Michel).

Week or so in Provence/French Riviera, see here for wish list.

Week or so travelling down Italy to Sicily, Italy wish list here.

Two weeks in Sicily.

May 9th. The Giro will be in Sicily. It and Ignatius will be cycling up Mount Etna (not at the same time!)

Week or so travelling back up Italy.

May 23rd. The Giro will be tackling the Stelvio pass.

Two/Three weeks travelling down the east Adriatic coast, see here for wish list.

Ferry from Bar in Montenegro to Bari in Italy.

Back up Italy to the Alps (hopefully we’ll have done most of what we what to do in Italy by then)

Bit vague here but during July early Aug we would like to fit in our Alps, Switzerland, Germany wish list, see here, Tour de France and a brief return to Britain for Fionn’s graduation.

Second week in Aug, hopefully Ignatius cycling and Kath walking in the Alps with some ‘visitors’ from the UK.

The rest is even vaguer. About seven weeks left from mid-Aug to first week in Oct (our end date). Hope to mop up anything left on our Alps/French wish list and head off to Spain (and the Vuelta).

I’m sure more detail will be added before we depart!


Gertie’s Trials

We went on a few trips in our beloved campervan Gertie last year, to test her out, and to check we had fully equipped her.

The very first trip was two nights at a motorhome show up at Romsey. We wanted to look at all the accessories stalls, talk to dealers about getting solar panels and bike racks fitted, and also pick up any tips from other motorhome owners. This show was quite an experience. There was evening entertainment both nights. Not quite our kettle of fish, but good to have gone and tried it out. One evening we wandered around the site, looking at everyone’s set-up, commenting on things like mats for muddy shoes under the step, portable aerials and satellite dishes, external gas points for barbecues. It certainly gave us some ideas. I don’t think I should mention our little run-in with ‘Caravan Club Man’.

The next trip was a fortnight in the south-west of Ireland, in early May.

In the car park at the foot of Carauntoohil

We took the ferry to Rosslare, drove along the coast to Cork, and then went in and out of all the south-west peninsulas – Mizen Head, the Sheep’s Head, the Beara, the Ring of Kerry and Dingle. Ignatius is Irish (from county Meath in the east of the country) and so of course we have had many holidays in Ireland before. I think County Cork is my favourite part of Ireland, and this holiday was amazing. It was a real test of Gertie and all our kit. We took bikes, did some cycling and walking, free-camped most of the time and generally thoroughly enjoyed every minute (the highlight for Ignatius being the rugby match we went to in Limerick, which Munster comfortably won; the highlight for me being our hike up Carauntoohil). My next novel is set in County Cork so as well as testing our Gertie and having a wonderful holiday, I was also researching and being inspired for the book.

Eating dinner in Gertie parked at Baltimore on the south coast of Ireland. Do excuse the state of my hair.

In July we took Gertie to the Lake District for a week. We spent three nights camping in Langdale, and three at Castlerigg outside Keswick. We walked or cycled (or both) every day. (This was immediately after a three-day writers’ conference. My idea of total heaven – three days talking writing followed by six days in the mountains…sigh.)

And finally in September we packed our younger son (then 18) in the van, drove up to Sheffield where we kidnapped our older son (21) and then into the Peak District for a couple of days. The boys took a small tent, as Gertie is really only a 2-berth van (3 at a pinch). We cheekily free-camped in a pretty amazing spot (could tell you where, but then I’d have to kill you), did some walking, and played games in the evenings with the boys. It was lovely having a little family holiday at the end of the summer.

These were great try-outs for Gertie. All in all we felt everything was pretty much perfect, and now we cannot wait for the big trip this year!

Choosing Gertie

We’d hired campervans a few times on holiday, but when it came to choosing a van we felt we could live in for six months solid, we knew we needed to get it right. Motorhomes are expensive.

Firstly, we decided we wanted left-hand drive. The whole six month trip will be on the continent, so it made sense.

Secondly, we were pretty certain it’d have to be second-hand, as new motorhomes can cost upwards of £60,000.

But other than that, we didn’t have many pre-conceived ideas about what to look for.

In June 2015 we went to our first motorhome show, at Paulton’s Park in Hampshire. It was just a few days after my Mum died, and it was surreal to be looking at motorhomes while the grief was still so raw. But it probably did me the world of good to do something unconnected with her death for a few hours. At that show, we wandered vaguely in and out of dozens of vans, liking some, loving some, dismissing others. By the end we had agreed on a few things:

  • The bed arrangement was all-important. Some vans have a bed you make up each day using the table and bench seats. I could not imagine doing this every day for six months, so we decided we wanted a van where the bed could stay permanently made up. I also felt I liked the idea of being able to lie in bed in the morning while Ignatius gets up to make the tea.
  • We did not want too big a van, as it’s harder to drive around cramped European towns.
  • The upholstery would have to be something neutral we could live with.
  • We’d seen a very nice, brand new van we really liked. Compact at 6m long but had very good storage arrangements inside. But it was £55,000….

In autumn 2015 we went to a second show, somewhere near Bath. By this time we’d done a lot of  research online, looked at layouts, become acquainted with some of the major manufacturers such as Hymer. We’d also discovered a company called Bundesvan (see Links page for details) who specialise in importing mostly German second-hand motorhomes to the UK. They’ll handle all the hassle and paperwork required to collect the van and re-register it here. We knew they were going to be at the show.

So at this second show, we focused on looking at as many Hymers as we could find, and spent a long time talking to Sue and Bob from Bundesvan. By the end we’d narrowed our decision down to two models, and felt either would do. It was just a case of finding a good second-hand van of either model, and sending Bundesvan out to buy it on our behalf…

Luck was on our side. In December, Sue contacted us to say they’d bought a Hymer B508 that was 7 years old but in superb condition, and would soon bring it back to the UK. We could go and look at it and if we wanted it, it was ours. In the end it wasn’t till January that they managed to bring it back. Meanwhile they’d sent us some photos, and it did look to be everything we wanted.

So about a week after they brought it over, we went to visit them and see it. We were pretty certain that we’d buy it, unless we spotted something seriously wrong.

I think it was love at first sight. Everything was as we wanted it to be. Milage was low, the upholstery was in great condition. Ignatius gave it a test drive and thought it was perfect. It already had a TV and satellite dish installed. So we handed over a deposit, and left the van with Bundesvan to re-register etc. Thankfully in those pre-Brexit days, the exchange rate with Euros favoured us.

We collected the van in February 2016, brought her home, squeezed her into our driveway (there are only inches to spare when reversing her through our gate posts) and named her Gertie. Over the next couple of months we had a few alterations made:

  • Added a bike rack on the back
  • Added a solar panel on the roof, so that the leisure battery charges up whenever the sun’s out, meaning we don’t need to be on electrical hook-up
  • Added an LPG gas tank underneath, replacing the bottled gas for cooking/heating. It holds more, and can be filled at petrol stations. (This also freed up the external locker that had housed the bottled gas. We now call that cupboard the ‘wine cellar’. Priorities, my friends!)
  • Replaced the TV. Just could not get the thing to work properly – there was some sort of intermittent fault. It didn’t help that all instruction books were in German. Satellite works well, which is good as that’s the expensive bit of kit!

We also bought loads of accessories for her of course, and had a few trial trips in her, which I’ll write about in a future post. I love the layout and wouldn’t change a thing.