We returned home from our last short French trip on Wednesday afternoon, turned round the MoHo, shopped for supplies and early on Friday morning we were on the road again.
Back up the A14 and M6 to Staffordshire because the Carthago was booked into the dealers for her three month checkover whilst we were on the way to the RAF Cosford airshow.
Checks done we carried on along the A5 to our usual Cosford site at Crossways Farm. We have been to Crossways several times before and enjoy the quiet and attractive countryside surrounding it – very good value at £12 per night and only 6-7 miles from the airfield.
After a peaceful night we drove to Cosford on Saturday morning to meet up with the rest of the mad Vulcan Volunteers to set up for Sundays show. It was the middle of ‘flaming’ June and guess what….it was raining and had been for most of the night.
We parked Celine behind our pitch and put the awning out to offer some protection from the weather while the team started to erect three large Gala tents. Kate had the two kettles on the gas brewing tea and coffee to keep the troops happy. Fortunately the rain was more of a gentle drizzle so nobody got too soaked.
We stayed on the airfield that night which meant we didn’t have to fight our way in through the traffic the following morning. Bob and Isi kindly offered to come and pick us up later in the evening so that a group of us could have dinner together in a local restaurant. It was an excellent evening with good food, good company and interesting conversation.
Despite agreeing to meet on the airfield early and well before the ‘punters’ arrived there were traffic holdups which delayed some of the team as crowds flocked to see Vulcan’s last display at Cosford. It was a ticket only show with no tickets to be sold on the day and it was sold out well before the show day.
Due to the queues, the gates were opened early and we were soon busy and continued to be so all day. Our target was to beat the previous years takings and we did….by a huge margin.
XH558 displayed perfectly and there were, as usual, many a damp eye to be seen.
After packing everything up we went back to Crossroads Farm for the night, relieved that we didn’t have a long drive ahead after a very long and tiring day.
Back to Suffolk on Monday and then turn the MoHo round ready for the next weekend. Between us we had various appointments on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and on Saturday we set off again for our next airshow at Wellesbourne Mountford.
Wellesbourne Wings & Wheels.
The airfield at Wellesbourne, as well as being home to several flying clubs and schools, is home to Vulcan XM655. Flown into the field 30 years ago after being purchased by a fellow who intended to get her back into the air, she languished in a corner until the unpaid parking fees meant the company owning the airfield took possession in leu of the unpaid dept. More decay and vandalism followed until a group of enthusiastic volunteers were formed into MAPS (Maintenance and Preservation Society) who still look after her today. Components and equipment have been replaced and now the aircraft is considered to be the most complete Vulcan in the world. Not only do the engines and flight controls all work but the original radar and even the ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) could be operated, although to test them they would probably wipe out all radio, tv and electronic communications for a 30 mile radius.
Although ‘655 will never fly she can be put through her paces by blasting her up and down the runway in high speed taxi runs and the Sunday was to be Wellesbourne Wings and Wheels, held annually to raise funds for the group.
Not only was ‘655 expected to strut her stuff but ‘our’ Vulcan XH558 was to give a mini display on her way to Weston-super-Mare. So, we were there to help man a mini Vulcan Village (AKA Vulcan Hamlet). It was intended to also be a bit of a fun day with a large team of volunteers for a small show meaning we could all take things a bit easier than usual.
News of two Vulcans meant the crowds turned up early and the car parks were soon near to overflowing. ‘655 roared throatily during her two taxi runs getting her nose wheel well off the ground to the immense pleasure of the crowds and ‘558 howled like a good’un during her terrific but short display. XM655 and XH558 have slightly different Olympus engines so make a different sound.
After packing everything up we went across to the other side of the airfield where XM655 is kept and maintained. Our reward for a days hard work was for groups of 3 volunteers to climb the steep ladder into the cockpit and sit in the rear navigator and AEO’s seats and inspect the huge array of instruments and controls that are still installed.
When ‘our’ Vulcan was restored for flight all the redundant equipment, radars, electronic counter measure kit and most of the rear cockpit controls were removed on the basis that all fitted equipment had to operate to the CAA’s required standard. As all this gear wasn’t necessary in a display aircraft and it all weighed an enormous amount (in the 1950’s transistors were in their infancy and almost all electronic equipment was valve operated and thus extremely bulky and heavy) it was all removed to save weight and complexity. For us volunteers it was a rare treat to get up close and personal to such a rare beast and see what an original Vulcan cockpit was like for those brave souls who spent 18 hours cooped up in the cramped space to drop bombs on the runway of Port Stanley in 1982.
Once again, not wanting a long drive home after another busy day, we spent a very peaceful night in the car park of the flying club and trundled back to Suffolk the next day.
Back to France.
Yet another quick turn around as we arrived home on Monday lunch time and left again well before lunch on Wednesday. All the airshow kit had been unloaded and then we were into holiday mode again. After a stop for supplies on the edge of Ipswich we headed for the Channel Tunnel. Trust us to chose the day that the French transport union took industrial action which closed the port of Calais. Still we were going through the tunnel so we wouldn’t be effected……would we?
Listening to the radio as we drove south it was clear that the M20 was going to be a problem as Kent Police had initiated ‘Operation Stack’ which closed a chunk of the motorway and diverted traffic onto the old A20. No problem, we took the M2 then down some country roads to the tunnel and arrived well before our scheduled time. We were surprised to find that the car parking area by the terminal was almost empty but soon found out the reason why – the French protesters had invaded the tracks and all crossings had been cancelled. We would just have to sit and wait.
Eventually, as the afternoon wore on, the protesters all went home for their tea and services slowly resumed. By 7.30 we were on our way, three hours later than planned but it really didn’t matter because we were intending to stay the night just outside Calais.
As we left the French terminal there were lots of police and even more immigrants who had taken advantage of the chaos at Calais to try to stowaway on anything that looked like moving towards the ‘promised land’ of England.
It was just a short drive to Escalles and because it was now quite late we didn’t bother with the usual campsite but stopped on the newish and free Aire-de-Camping Car a few hundred metres away.
It is in a large car park marked out for coaches and motorhomes that is tucked away in a peaceful valley with a glimpse of the sea in the distance. We spent a quiet night and in the morning set off south towards our favourite aire on the River Seine.
So once again we were back at La Mailleraye, we really must like it there. Being in the north of France the weather can be a little ‘iffy’ and often is when we visit but this time it was near perfect.
Long warm sunny days so it was loungers and BBQ out and the days spent just relaxing, watching the river and the passing ships and barges. Occasionally we would stir ourselves to stroll up through the village to the very smart and new Carrefour and top up our supplies and every morning I would walk to the boulangerie for croisants so fresh they were often warm from the oven.
We stayed for four days before deciding we really should move on.
The sort of places that attract us usually consist of quiet countryside, a good view and preferably water in the form of a river, lake or sea. If there is a lighthouse in that view so much the better.
Lighthouses have always had a romantic attraction for us, whether it was a holiday to Cornwall many years ago when we timed the flashes on many different lights and marked them on a map or lying in our bedroom on Holy Island with the light flashing through the window onto the ceiling.
Last December we drove to the tip of the Cherbourg Peninsular to a small aire at Auderville which looked out over the sea and the tiny harbour at Goury The rain was almost horizontal and the wind blew so hard we were afraid our 4 ton motorhome would be blown over in the night.
This time the weather looked a touch better so we bravely decided to give Auderville another try.
We were not disappointed, although it was cloudy when we arrived on Sunday afternoon the forecast was for hot and sunny weather.
The sun was shining on Monday morning although there was a bank of fog over the sea that seemed to come and go for most of the morning. The fog didn’t effect us and it eventually retreated to leave a lovely afternoon and evening culminating in a glorious sunset.
Tuesday was wall to wall sunshine but with a pleasant breeze to keep the temperature at comfortable levels. The weather forecasts from the UK were full of heatwave horrors with a surge of hot air coming across France from North Africa and warnings of 40º+ in Paris. We stayed by the coast and kept our cool, enjoying some lovely walks down to the old harbour at Goury and through a medieval landscape of strip agriculture in narrow stone walled fields.
Lunch was eaten under the shade of the awning and the rest of the day alternating between a little cook in the sun and cooling off in the shade. Reading or just looking at the view were our favourite pastimes. Lazy days!
Wednesday started cool but by lunch time was getting hot…….then disaster!
OK then, perhaps not complete disaster as in the end of the world but a problem. Kate was getting lunch and complained that there were flashing lights in the fridge. The fridge was cutting in and out as if there was a loose connection somewhere. Check gas,OK; check 12v in the rest of the van, OK; try with engine running, still nothing. So I then removed the air vent on the side of the van to get behind the fridge and furkled among the wires. The fridge started and stopped as I fiddled about and I then found a loose cover to a terminal block which fell off as soon as I touched it followed by a ribbon cable which now dangled uselessly down the back of the fridge. The problem was I couldn’t see which way round the tiny multi plug had to go and although I could feel the exposed pins in the socket with my finger tip I just couldn’t get the plug back into place because of the restricted space. What I needed was a dentists mirror and multi jointed wrists, neither of which were in my tool kit.
With a freezer full of food and a hot day we needed to try and find a local Dometic agent and get this fixed ASAP and just to aggravate matters the mobile phone signal was rubbish.
The only phone signal was via the Channel Islands so I rang Dometic in England and after a longish wait spoke to a very efficient young lady who gave me details of an agent near Cherbourg.
Another long call to them which luckily was answered by someone with a smattering of English and we finally arranged to drive to them and they would see if they could fix it, providing no parts were required.
We eventually found Jacqueline Camping Cars and after a short wait one of their guys came to take a look and attempted to refit the errant plug. He gave up after several tries and fetched a colleague who spent some time struggling with it. He then went off and got a mirror and small torch and after another try….success. Phew, what a relief! Offers of payment were refused so a small tip and a handshake had to suffice.
Despite the fact that the cable and plug had obviously not been fitted correctly when the fridge was built Dometic and Jacqueline Camping Cars service came through with flying colours when help was wanted. Well done both!
After our adventures around Cherbourg we went back to our remote aire at Auderville to find a thick sea mist blowing across the hills and our lovely sea view gone. As the evening wore on the mist went and a lovely sunset followed. During the night we woke to light rain on the roof and a murky morning so time to move on. We needed to be heading towards home so it was back to La Mailleraye where the sun was shining again.
Friday was an idillic day in the sun, watching the river and enjoying lunch and supper outside. On Saturday it was time to head back towards Calais ready for an early morning crossing back to the UK.
As we needed an early start we intended to use the aire at Escalles as we had on the way down. When we arrived there was a new sign on display which banned Camping-Cars between the hours of 23.00 – 06.00, in other words ‘no overnight stays’. Plan scuppered so we turned round and went to the nearby Camping Erables where we got one of the last pitches.
Our Sunday morning crossing went smoothly with no delays from strikers or immigrants and we were back into the UK to heavy rain. Welcome home!
Not straight home though as we were invited to a family lunch to celebrate the 50th birthday of our brother-in-law at their house in St Leonards-on-Sea. After a very pleasant afternoon catching up with in-laws, nephews, nieces and grand nephews and nieces we headed up the A21 and a long drive home.
We did 1042 miles @ 25.4mpg on our trip to France and now have a total of 4577 miles on the clock.