Bay of Biscay : 3150 miles

Here is a flavour of how far we travelled, some 3150 miles Dieppe and back to Dieppe. Starting by travelling south down through France across the Loire, Limosin and Dordogne to the Pyrenees and across into Spain. From there we followed roughly the Camino de Santiago to the North West tip at Cabo Finisterre. After that it was easy – just follow the coast all the way to the tip of Brittany. And finally a quick run back the length of Brittany, and Normandy to Dieppe.


Apart from a few markers most of those on the map are the camp sites we stopped at en route. Below is a list with a few notes and our ratings;
Bay of Biscay Camp Sites

St Neots C&CC Site


The Camping & Caravan Club site in St Neots is well worth a visit. We are on a freinds and relies trip for the week and just happened to rock up here. The site itself is as you would expect from a C&CC site and getting to the location through housing estates might set you wondering but the location on the river bank is as good as it gets. St Neots itself is an attractive town on the Great Ouse river with copious amongst of green space. From the site you can walk either way up and down the river with good hosteleries in both directions.

However the crowning glory was our pitch backing on to the river. In the evening we watched the sun go down and the Terns fishing. They were spectacular when the red sun refelected on their wings as they fluted above the water. In the morning when we woke to clear blue sky the Kingfishers were occasional blue streaks along the opposite bank.

Tour of Wales

Despite promising to go there we hadn’t been to Wales for such a long time and even then only once on a failed camping trip and for weekends or business. The only times I had been there for any length was as a child to the Lleyn and Anglesey and in my early teens teenager to Pembrokeshire. So as we were kicking our heels due to our big summer trip having been delayed a couple of months we decided to take the plunge.

Day 1 : Friday 16 June

The day started with a 4 hour drive around the M23 / M25 / M40. The weather didn’t look that hot and but as the day wore on it just got warmer.  It might seem odd going to Wales from the South Coast via the Grand Union near Northampton but friends Lesley and Jeff have a Narrow boat moored there at Heyfields Marina and we had promised to pay a visit. Like all such places it was down narrow lanes so imagine our amusement when, after a mile or so, we came across an IKEA arctic on foreign plates stopped before a low height bridge – he wasn’t going anywhere except in reverse. As it was the marina owners were more than happy for us to pitch up there for a night. We spent a pleasant afternoon and evening at the start of a very hot weekend with a picnic lunch and BBQ supper and several bottles of wine.

Day 2 : Saturday 17 June

IMG_1090The day dawned with a cloudless blue sky and already hot. After a bacon sandwich breakfast Fred managed to exhaust himself with just one “walk” around the site. We hadn’t decided where in Wales we were going but as it happens the marina in question lies just of the A5 so it was an easy decision to head to North Wales and save on the navigation. Some of the old A5 is a bit of a drag but other goes through some lovely countryside.

It took a while before we eventually got to Wales and we started looking for camp sites. I thought the A5 took us to Bala but when it didn’t we took a turning off signposted to Ffestiniog. The 13 mile road had a number so one might think it was ordinary however as it climbed to around 1500ft over the moor it became a narrow single track passing Lynn Conwy lake, the source of the river Conwy.

Once in Ffestiniog with a mobile signal we got onto the web and found a nice site back in Bala – I should have taken the turning there in the first place. Situated in remote countryside about 3 miles outside Bala this C&CC site was just what the doctor ordered, very peaceful with nice facilities.

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Day 3 : Sunday 18th June

It was Sue’s birthday so a relaxed day was on the cards. One shortcoming of the site was a lack of walking possibilities without walking down the lanes so we opted to start in Bala where there is a great walk from the old station car park along the banks of the River Dee to Lake Bala. Fred had a great time in the long grass and the river and in the lake chasing the gulls. On the way back he got into the river and swam spontaneously for the first time.

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Our walk was followed by a tour of Snowdonia to Dolgelau, Betsw-y-Coed and back to Bala. It was getting warmer and the breeze through the van was welcome. Stopping anywhere meant tangling with the many tourists but we found a nice picnic lay-by on the pass near Ffestiniog where we could watch the classic cars out for the day and loads of would be Joey Dunlops.

Day 4 : Monday 19 June

As I said I was a child when my parents took us to Anglesey and Sue has never been there so that is where we were going but not before Fred had another play in Lake Bala. The A5 took us through Betsw-y-Coed and up and through the pass at Pont Pen-y-Benglog where the lay-bys are full of campers and cars that belong to the guys hanging off the cliffs all along the lake.

A quick shopping trip to Asda in Bangor to buy lunch and stock up and we headed for Aglesey. There are two bridges across the Menai straights and I wanted to use the old Thomas Telford suspension bridge close to Bangor.

Once across the bridge we turned right looking for a lunch stop, a frustrating excessive and annoying when we got to Beaumaris where they crowd you onto the sea front and charge £5 for the day. Anyhow we found a nice lay-by with a view across the straight of the whole of Snowdonia.

Driving a short way around the north coast it was cold and drab and it didn’t take long to work out that we didn’t want to stay on Anglesey. On the way back to the “new” Britannia bridge we made a couple of calls and picked a C&CC site near Cricceth on the Lleyn Peninsula. The site was on a bit of a slope but the facilities were exactly the same as the last site so it would do us for a couple of nights.

Day 5 : Tuesday 20 June

DSC_0012We decided on a drive around the Lleyn Peninsula for the day. The forecast wasn’t so hot and indeed by the time we sopped for coffee just before Nefyn it was bright but chilly. The views from the hillside, more Snowdonia, were nothing if spectacular once again. Parking at Nefyn was limited so we carried on to Abedaron where at least this time the National Trust would let us park for an hour instead of all day and let Fred have a run on the beach. We set off to towards Abersoch, a well to do resort, in search of somewhere to park up for lunch and were disappointed again by rip off car parks. In the end we stopped by a boat yard in Pwllheli where as luck would have it we found a fresh fishmonger and bought a couple of filleted Mackerel for tea.

IMG_1105Returning to the camp site, that was actually in Llanystumdwy the birth and resting place of Lloyd George, we tried to take Fred for a walk and a dip in the nearby river but he wasn’t keen on the boulders. He kept slipping of and he couldn’t understand how deep it was. In the end we took a walk through the woods and past Lloyd George’s grave.

As I said the weather forecast had suggested it would be cooler – it was nothing of the sort with the temperature in the high 20s and still warm at night.

After the frustration of all the expensive car parks we took the decision to join the National Trust so from now on we should be able to find free parking as well as places to visit.

Day 6 : Wednesday 21 June

IMG_0659Today we decided to head south toward Pembrokeshire via some of the coast and Aberystwyth. A short supermarket stop in Porthmadog and back on to the A470 heading south. We stopped for coffee and a walk in the Kings Forest a spectacular wooded area full of giant Canadian spruce trees.

DSC_0013Once at Dolgelau we took the coast road consisting of beautiful country lanes and spectacular coastal views. We pulled over for lunch in a lay-by on the side of a hill that looked out over the Irish Sea to the north we could see all round to the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula. Below us the sea was turquoise and clear.

Today it was very hot and as we got to Aberystwyth the van’s outside thermometer read 31.5C. We stopped on the sea front for a stroll and an ice-cream and watched a large dolphin lazily swimming just off the beach. It started to shower but came to nothing.

Looking at the forecast for the coming days we decided to head inland for the night and a C&CC site at Rhandirmwyn. It was so far out of the way that it was impossible to find and there was no mobile access to call them and once there there was no radio either. It could have been a nice place were it not for the clouds of ferocious midges which, along with the mozzies and bitting flies, made a feast of Sue. So bad was it that we very soon locked ourselves away and cleared the van of the insects as best we could.

Day 7 : Thursday 22 June

IMG_1110We got up very early and there were just a few beasties about so we very quickly loaded the van and headed into Llandovery to find a cafe and some breakfast. We decided to go back along the A40 to south Pembrokeshire and ended up on Pendine Beach for coffee. Fred was so excited being let off on such a big beach that I am sure he set a new land speed record for Cocker Spaniels.

IMG_1112From here we worked our way through Saundersfoot and Tenby and on to the Stackpole Estate and the beach at Bosherston. We had lunch overlooking the sea and then took Fred down to the gorgeous sandy beach. The tide was out and the beach was empty and he had such a good time.

DSC_0014Although the weather was holding it was time to think about going home that afternoon and we headed east along the A40. We tried a couple of small C&CC certified sites that were poorly located and very expensive before we found a lovely little site at White Mill near Carmarthen Coincidentally there was a couple already there in an VW T4 van with a Westie called Fred and they came from Lancing just 30 miles away from us.

Day 8 : Friday 23 June

Today was set to be grey and damp and sure enough as we were packing it started spitting. I managed to get a short walk in with Fred after breakfast before we headed on up the road. The A40 was full of classic hot rods on their way to Pendine for the Vintage Hot Rod Association speed weekend – perhaps we should have stayed. We were heading to the Dolaucothi Gold Mines just by Llandovery. Gold was mined there since before the Romans until the 1960’s. They are a National Trust property so another bit of value for our recent membership. We took the walking tour and the history of the site is fascinating, it would be easy to spend a lot more time there one day.

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From Dolaucothi I called my cousin Claire in Stroud and we spent the evening with her, Olie and Jade over an Indian Takeway.

Day 9 : Saturday 24 June

And that was about it. We had camped in Cirencester and were up early and on the road and home in time for lunch.

So we have done 1200 miles around Wales (where it always rains) and burned to a frazzle. Last time we tried to camp in Pembrokeshire, 45ish years ago we had to admit defeat to howling wind and rain. Lets try it again sometime…..

PS. please excuse the possibly clumsy use of the dash cam video. It is the first time I have tried it and I am sure I need to refine it a bit,

Our Awning

Having tried various products and looked around the market for our new van we have decided to make our own awning.

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If you have read my blog about our Awning Experiences you will realise why we have gone to the effort of making our own awning. It stemmed from our desire to have a simple fast up and down canopy that was versatile enought to shelter us from bad weather, give us shade and outdoor space in good weather and offer a bit of privacy on busy sites. Like all good designs the final result was a bit of an evolution and it may get the odd adaption in time. We often use it in conjunction with a Kyham pop up toilet / shower tent that serves as utility and drive away store and we take a Kyham winbreak with us for just in case.

So here I will explain what it is about and how we made it;

For the uprights we had already bought a few Robens telesopic tarp poles, these are about £15 each and readily available from a number of ebay stores. These work by extending them to the length you want and then twisting them to lock them. They are 950mm long and exted to 2300mm. That way you can level the canopy as you want. We have enough to do 5 uprights so the canopy fully extended but with a bit of a breeze.

In order to support the ridge I had already bought a fiberglass telescope ridge pole from an Isabella awning from an ebay trader. These extend quite a way so I had cut off a bit of excess and I bought some new quick release fittings for it. Since then I have found that our favourite tent material shop has started doing a nice telescopic aluminium ridge pole that looks like it would do the job for €17.

The next thing to look for was the fabric itself. On the internet we could find plenty of variation of PU coated ripstop nylon which, while it might have done the job, tends to be fragile and not wear well and is prone to leaking or condensation. It would need a lot of reinforcing and be difficult to sew. After a lot of research we found ESVO Camping Shop on the web. A Dutch tent maker and materials supplier. They have everything you need to make tents and awnings and they know what they are doing because they make their own qualty tents. After a few email conversations with them we settled upon some TenCate polyester fabric in 2 shades, a mottled grey for the main canopy and a plain grey for the drop front. It is quite heavy at 235gm/m2 but we ascetrained that Sue’s Singer sewing machine with big denim needled should be able to handle layers of heavier poyester tent material. The widths of the fabric are more than sufficient for our needs so we ordered 3m of each. Along with the fabric we ordered threads, reinforcement (that we didnt need in the end) eylets and a long open ended 8mm zip for the drop front.

While we were collecting materials togther another important consideration was the keder strip to connect the awning yto the van. We had VW California rails fitted to the new van, they look better than the Reimo ones and they are half the price. However the slot in them is slightly to big for the normal 6mm keder found on most awnings. VW sell a rubber insert that slides in and has a 6mm slot which would be great if you were going to use a drive away tent as you would have only one adapter to remove that is more stable than the figure of 8 type and won’t leak. as we were making our own awning we were able to fit the correct 7mm standard keder for the rail. It comes from Kayospruce in Fareham for a couple of quid a metre. It is worth mentioning that some people refer to it as kador and cant find it on the web whereas it should be keder and is easy to find. Also from Kayospruce we bought some more bungee hold downs.

Canopy Dimensions
You can make the canopy whatever length you line but we worked on 2650mm this pdf dodument gives the approximate dimensions out from the van and for the rurn down and drop front.

Assembling the canopy is simple but requires a bit of patience. Particularly the fabric we used needed 2 people to hold it and feed it IMG_1025through the sewing machine. First the main canopy making sure it was square we cut it 200mm longer than we needed and then folded both ends 50mm twice and sewed through all three layers of the fold. The first a few millimetres in from the first fold and again next to the second fold. At this stage we decided against using the strengthening tape as it seemed pretty robust without. Next we folded the outside long edge 75mm twice and again sewed through all three layers of the fold. This time the first about 25mm millimetres in from the first fold and again next to the second fold so that we left room to insert the zip. We cut the zip to length from the bottom and finished the cut end to stop the slider coming off. Then we inserted the zip into the 25mm left in the long fold and put 2 rows of stitching in to hold it.

To attach the keder we inserted the top unfolded long edge of the canopy between the 2 IMG_1027layers of the keder and put 2 rows of stitching along it to hold it. We trimmed the ends so that there is a fabric tag left to help pull the canopy through the awning rail and stitched and sealed it. Finally we inserted the 10mm eyelets. One 900mm, and another 1200mm to give us flexibility, away from the keder into the folded short edge . We put one in each of the keder tags, Lastly one into the folded edge in each outer corner and the middle of the long edge. It is worth getting a proper fabric punch rather than the eyelet kit to cut these thicknesses.

Next there is the drop front that zips on and off as needed. The method of assembly is similar except that instead of a keder it has the half of the zip and an extra hole along the bottom edge. We have made it 100mm high plus a short flap at the bottom to help close it to the ground.

As you can see it can be configured in a number of ways depending on our needs and the weather. Ordinarily as a porch it only requires 3 bungees along the long edge to hold it down but we also have 3 storm straps to use when it is a canopy or in strong winds. The ridge can be 900mm or 1200mm from the van and when we use the drop front it is pegged to the ground. Raising the ridge helps with rain run off and is necessary if we have it as a canopy. The fabric easily packs into a bag 600mm x 150mm, the poles into a bag 1200mm by 150mm and the pegs, bungees, mallet and so on into a small plastic box.

So there it is. We are pretty pleased with the finished result and at a couple of events we have attended several folk have admired it and asked where we got it from. And before anyone asks – no we aren’t going into production.

Awning Experiences

Over the 3 years we had our first van we learn’t a lot about awnings and what worked for us.

I am a big believer in keeping things minimal and I do like the idea of being able to pitch up quickly. So we started in 2013 with a simple arrangement, a Kyham Sun Canopy and a windbreak. They worked OK, they were small and lightweight to pack and simple to put up. However they didn’t afford much protection from the British climate and weren’t big on privacy when needed.

Sue decided that we need something that gave a bit more protection and we liked the look of an Outdoor Revolution Sun Canopy. From what we could see it looked a good shape and seemed to give sideways protection. It packed quite small and it wasn’t complicated to put up. Sadly it turned out to be a real shambles.

The first problem was that they hadn’t made it clear that it was designed for a long wheelbase van, we found others who had been caught out by this, so it overhang the van quite bit. Next, because the van was on 30mm lowers, the awning was too high which was exacerbated by the excess in the roof panel. And to add insult to injury we discovered, after discussing the importer, that they had actually been made wrong which made it pretty impossible to square up. We persevered with it for the summer thinking that we would rework it but in the end decided against that. Recently it was cut up for material, that is now our floor mat bag, the fittings and the bag is just the right size for our new home made awning.

Sue decided that what we needed was a lot of extra space and the ability to leave stuff on site while we left site. So next in 2014 came a Vango Kella II Air Beam drive away tent bought on a deal at T-Fest. They seemed like the thing to have, we had watched people putting the up and they seemed simple enough. We made good use of it but it has to be said that it was used mainly as a dumping ground and we either sat in the van or if the weather was nice sat outside.

Again it was not a good fit for the van, they now do a lower version specifically to cater for the van market, so it was always difficult to get square. Worse still because of its size and all the bits of keder strip and figure of 8 in the wind it would walk out of the roof rail. Also when it rained there was a constant drip between the bits of figure of 8. It packed OK but it was a very large bag that needed up taking up a lot of floor space in the middle of the van.

Eventually it dawned on us that the most of our travels were just that, travels, and we weren’t pitching up anywhere for more than a few nights. So while planning our Scandinavia trip we looked at how we would cope with one and two night stops but still planned to take the Vango for longer stops. We went back to our simple Kyham Sun Canopy and worked out a way of making it more useful.

We could still use it as a canopy but by adding a couple of extra eyelets we could fold the canopy down to shelter the door and afford a little privacy. For 4 weeks in Scandinavia this worked a treat. It did just what we wanted, it packed small and took up very little space and was up within minutes of parking. We used it every night on our Scandinavian  tour apart from 3 stops when we used the Vango and one when we stopped in a friends garden.

One time when we used the Vango we had to take it down because it was flexing too much in the wind. And then when we weren’t using it we ended up storing it on the drivers seat. It just took up space so that was the end of it and it was sold as soon as we got home.

By now we were planning our new van and a new awning along the lines of our Kyham adaption. It was going to have to be home made to get it just right. We bought a Kyham pop up toilet / shower tent to use as a utility. It doesn’t take up much space, goes up and down quickly, easily holds all of the kit to make space in the van and can still be used as a makeshift loo with a bucket if need be on a wild camp. And of course we can drive away and leave it on our pitch – its probably more secure than a drive away tent after all who would want to knick you loo?

I bought some Robens telescopic tarp poles instead of the Kyham steel ones and found an Isabella telescopic fiberglass ridge pole on eBay. So at Busfest in 2016 we tried our modified canopy, windbreak and utility tent and it worked great. Shelter from the rain, wind and sun and privacy on a busy campsite. If it had any draw back we would like a couple of hundred millimetres more between the van and the down turn and a slightly heavier weight fabric.

Size of the packed awning and utility is important to us. Even though it only takes minutes to put up there may be occasions when we are stopping at an Aire or stealth camping when we don’t want to advertise. In order to do that we need to be able to get everything into the van with the roof down and still get the bed down and Fred’s basket in. With this arrangement we can do that with space to spare.

And that was it. The basic Kyham canopy went with the van when we sold it so then it was on to the new one…..

Lost Gardens

So a few days in Cornwall at The Lost Gardens of Heligan. There is a fab campsite next door that is part of the estate which is only a short drive from superb beaches. At this time of year they are empty and Fred just adores chasing seagulls.

We used the trip to pay a visit to Kernow Transporters & Premium Camper in St Just. From Heligan to St Just is a long way on a wet day and it is surprising how long Cornwall is. A bit of a drive about and we had a walk at the Minack Theatre.

The lost Gardens themselves are a spectacular tropical garden with a rain forest in a valley. The kitchen gardens (almost a farm) have been beautiful restored and able to grow all manner throughout the year. The farm shop on site is a great place to shop for the BBQ.

Corfe Castle

The weather looked set fair for the weekend so we decided on a trip to Purbeck. Just for the adventure we opted to go via Bournemouth and the Sandbanks chain ferry. Once across the ferry we stopped for lunch and started thinking about where to camp for a few nights.

We had been to Corfe quite a few years before so we decided to try the C&CC site there and what a gem it is. Hidden away up a lane on the hillside amongst the woods. It has loads of sheltered pitches and really nice facilities. The lane means that you would struggle to get a big motorhome or caravan up there. From the site there is a green lane walk down to the castle and the village. Corfe itself is quaint and touristic and there is at the end of the Swanage Railway so you can ride a steam train into Swanage, which of course we did.

It was the first opportunity we had really had to do a nice dinner on the Cob so we decided to go culinary. We started dinner with asparagus on the griddle with a nice chilled white wine. We followed this up with a a lamb kebab salad and finally Gui chocolate cheesecake pots and nice bottle of red. A pleased what to will away an evening.

DSCF1208Getting through Wareham on the way home on Sunday was a bit of a mission. It seemed that everyone was heading for the coast for the day. On the way home we pulled in to Goodwood Circuit which always has a nice atmosphere when it not being used and there is plenty of space to pull up for a coffee or a picnic in the car park which is always spotless.