Well, it’s been almost 6 months since we were last away in the van. This has been due mainly to work commitments rather than lack of desire.
However, with the opportunity to disappear off in our motorhome in November/December it seemed fitting that we head North-East to the WW1 battlefields, given that the 100th anniversary of the famous battle of Cambrai approached. This was even more poignant, given that Sophie’s great-uncle, Edward de Faye, commanded a tank in that battle, but sadly took a direct hit, dying on 1st December 1917. We hope to be there on the anniversary of his death.
As the ground around the site of the battle changed hands a number of times after the battle, there has been some confusion as the whereabouts of his remains. However, we do have the coordinates of his likely, although unverified last resting place, and we’ll try to get there on the 100th anniversary of Edward’s heroic death.
Anyway, back to more mundane matters. We were due to depart on the 11th November, but with force 9 (severe gale) forecast, all sailings were cancelled. Fortunately, for me anyway, as I was almost fully packed, there was a boat leaving on the evening of the 10th, so we opted for that one. We expected that we might experience at least a little foretaste of the impending stormy conditions, but I’m pleased to report that there was little evidence of any swell at all.
We arrived in St Malo at around 11pm, so I wasn’t keen to drive far at that hour, but equally didn’t want to park up at the port as experience had taught us that ports tend to kick off very early in the morning, for us anyway. So we drove for 45 minutes to a favourite “aire” near the canal at Hedé.
Predicting that we’d be the only idiots to be motorhoming at such a ridiculous time of year, we anticipated a lonely overnight stop. As it turned out, there were another 8 or so “idiots”, although most had left by the time we surfaced the next morning.
Having ruled out lunch at the nearby, and strangely named, Genty House restaurant, where we’d enjoyed a very nice lunch last time we were in the area, our next objectives were Lidl and SuperU. After stocking up with the essentials of cakes, wine, cheese, bread plus a few other less important items, we began in our general North East direction.
Having had our doubts about a November trip, we were pleasantly surprised by the stunning autumnal colours, although it did rain a fair bit that first day. Unlike our normal trips, we were conscious that the sun would be setting at around 5:30pm and given our preference is to be settled in at our overnight spot comfortably before dark, then we’d need to be checking out potential stops from 4pm tops.
As always, I program in several overnight possibilities, simply because Sophie is likely to be very vociferous if one doesn’t take her fancy, and an alternative must therefore be found. As it happened, on this first “proper” night of our trip, I was suddenly told to promptly turn around because Sophie’d seen what she’d considered an ideal place to stop for the night. This is a very rare thing, which I welcomed, and we parked up overlooking the Mayenne river in the tiny village of Montgiroux for a very quiet night.
During the rather pleasant country drive we’d had that day, I had to break it gently to Sophie that I suspected the water heater had died, and that we’d be having to heat our water in the kettle before washing for the next month. Earlier, on our first morning, there’d been the ominous red warning light when attempting to turn on the heater, accompanied by the more worrying smell of gas.
Once I’d braved it enough to let her in on this unfortunate turn of events, we agreed that a home repair, given the smell of gas, was out of the question, and we’d have to consider finding a service agent en route.
So that evening, whilst hunkered down for the night, I tapped into the ever helpful motorhomefun.co.uk website. Although I gleaned nothing particularly helpful from the site on this occasion, as I considered our predicament I did recall that several months previously, for the first time ever, I had fitted the external heater vent cover. It then struck me that this might explain the symptoms of the smell of fumes and a reluctant water heater.
Not raising Sophie’s hopes too much I explained my thoughts, but emphasised that, of course, this was unlikely to fix our water heater. I then donned her lightweight dressing gown and went outside with a torch to test my theory. Notwithstanding the flimsy dressing gown in a particularly windy situation, I removed the vent cover and returned to check the water heater. It worked, and no smell of gas. What a relief, and washing in hot water the next day felt almost miraculous given how convinced we’d been that a proper fix, beyond our skill sets, was inevitable.
So after a very welcome wash in hot water we braved the cold to walk up the river path to see the Chateau de Montgiroux, then back to the little village, and we were soon on our way for day 2 of our November adventure.