Monday 28 December 2015

Back in Blighty

France and UK, 6th – 21st December 2015

We have just completed a two week trip back to the UK, which we did to fit around my PhD graduation ceremony which I’d deferred from the summer when we were down in Greece, and meant we could see family approximately midway through our trip after over seven months away. We had a busy time getting jobs done and stayed a few days longer than originally planned to be able to fit in medical appointments for injections so that we’re prepared for if we decide to go over to Morocco next year. A positive side effect was it meant we avoided the premium rate ferry crossings during the busy weekend before Christmas.

The Journey Back 

While parked at Oye-Plage near Dunkirk the strong wind kept up through the night, I thought our bike cover might have been ripped to shreds by the sound of it but was surprised to find it still intact in the morning, well as intact as it was before with several splits that had appeared in it with its condition degrading recently.  Updates on DFDS’s website said all services were delayed due to extreme conditions causing an incident in Dover but to check in as usual. We got on our way to the port where the check in staff said they had no idea how long we would be delayed at that time, it could be ten minutes or might be two hours. A big benefit of being in a camper meant we could park up in line to wait and get some pain au chocolats warmed up and put the kettle on to have breakfast while we waited.

Eventually a lady walked along the lines of waiting vehicles to say we’d be boarding shortly after the scheduled time but wasn’t sure when we’d be departing. On the boat the captain announced that due to the closure of one of the berths at Dover there wasn’t a space available for us to dock but he was going to set off anyway based on the forecast saying the conditions should have eased by the time we arrived and hopefully a berth would become available. He suggested that everyone stay sat down for the rough crossing ahead. We’d been lucky with all the crossings we’ve had over the last year being calm but this time was different, out of the side windows we had a view from the horizon was moving from above the top of the windows to below the bottom of them. I was trying to get the previous blog entry written until I was feeling too ill and had to give up. The two hour crossing seemed to take ages but the captain came on the radio when we were a few miles offshore; luckily a berth was going to become available in five minutes so we were able to dock. While I went off to the toilets to be sick Jo got talking to a pleasant lady who was sat along from us with her husband. They had moved out to France a few years ago after retiring and were also just on a week or so trip back to the UK to visit family before Christmas.

We arrived about two hours late and very tired from all the travelling and interrupted sleep the previous night. I didn’t know after over 13,500 miles in the last seven and a half months on the continent if driving back on the left was going to be challenging or whether I’d just switch to it again like I found on previous occasions. It turned out to be the first of these, but I think mainly due to being tired, feeling rough, and concentrating too much on trying to get it right. The speed limits got me worst, with being used to km/h now I thought I’d convert the speeds from mph but on several occasions found I did it the wrong way, mixed myself up and slowed too much to 50 km/h at 50 signs. At least it wasn’t the other way around! On subsequent days I got the hang of it again apart from driving on the right on a few occasions, including one where I pulled out of a junction, drove along a road, stopped behind a row of parked cars on my side to let an oncoming car through, then set off again before I realised and said to Jo “Did I just drive on the wrong side?”!

With access to UK news again on the radio we found we’d been crossing the channel during the end of a big storm that had hit the UK. Along the route we found there were lots of lorries parked up at fuel stations or at the side of the road, and when we stopped at a motorway services for some lunch the truck parking was full, the caravan parking full of trucks and a large amount of the car park taken up by them too. Presumably there was a backlog of trucks getting over after ferry crossings were cancelled and postponed overnight. We cruised up the M1 in dull miserable weather to Jo’s parents’ house in Nottinghamshire, the first stop to start on a week of getting jobs done.

Time at Home

Whilst based between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire we had a lot to fit in with a week before my graduation and then aimed to get away as soon as possible again after. This included opticians and hairdresser for Jo, resealing our front skylight, cleaning the van inside and out, and lots of banking and other admin tasks. We managed to get an MOT done at my usual local garage, which the van thankfully passed with no issues at all, giving us flexibility to not have to get back again in April when the existing certificate was due to expire.

A short way into the journey back south however we had a scare and setback as the van suddenly lost power while accelerating, accompanied by a whoosh sound and the radiator coolant level warning light coming on. Pulling in as soon as possible to look under the bonnet revealed an air intake pipe blown off, later determined to be the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) pipe, but no apparent leaks elsewhere and the header tank at the usual level. After reconnecting the EGR pipe which had come off due to its jubilee clip being very loose, we turned around and had a steady drive back stopping several times to check on the coolant without incident. After another check over the engine bay with my dad and not being able to determine any further problem I thought the pipe must’ve blown off hitting the coolant sensor that was in its path and damaged it. The next morning we carried on as normal until we could get hold of a new sensor from a Fiat dealer.

With a new sensor in hand we syphoned off the coolant from the header tank in order to remove the sensor from the bottom but I couldn’t get it to move with the tank still connected in situ so decided it would have to be left until I had more time. With the coolant replaced and topped up we were surprised the next morning to find the warning light had gone out! It turns out the sensor wasn’t faulty after all, the only thing I can think is that because the tank has several divided chambers at the bottom and the coolant was near to the minimum mark, when the pipe came off and hit the tank the coolant sloshed up and trapped an air bubble around the sensor which was resolved by draining and refilling the tank.

We had an enjoyable day attending my university graduation ceremony with my parents where I received my doctorate so Jo was pleased she is now able to call me Dr Matt. It was nice to finally get my PhD concluded after several years of hard work on it. After looking at what immunisations are required to travel to Morocco we decided to stay back a few days longer until the soonest we could get medical appointments on the next Monday. We were still kept busy getting organised and ready to go away. We’d been having some of the nice food we’d missed while being away including an early Christmas dinner made by Jo’s mum, steak pie and cakes made by my mum, and an Indian takeaway. In the extra days we added to this nicely with fish & chips, a Chinese takeaway and another nice big Sunday dinner.

On Our Way Again

On Monday we headed off to our doctors travel appointments then I called into my old office to see the guys there before getting a few last minute jobs done in town. After a KFC we set off from here (later than planned as usual!) down to Dover ready for our early ferry in the morning. On the way down I got a text from P&O Ferries saying that all crossings were delayed due to adverse weather conditions, although we’d not noticed anything unusual to that point. As we got nearer Dover on the A20, lorries were lined up parked or were creeping along in the first lane for quite a distance, which must’ve been a backlog due to delayed crossings. When we arrived at Esplanade (GPS: 51.12019 1.31302), the seafront road where we usually park, we were surprised to find there were no other motorhomes there because there usually always is. I looked at signs to see if restrictions had changed but didn’t appear to have so we parked up for the night. Here it was quite windy, and as it was gone 11pm we got straight to bed and set the alarm for 5am for our early ferry.

- Matt

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