A Summer with Toby

In case you don’t know, Toby is my campervan; a 1991 Talbot Express to be precise.

Having just bought Toby from a private seller I decided to take him for a brand new MOT despite his current one only being 1 month old. If I was driving him all the way to Spain I wanted him in tip top condition. He failed on loads of points that the previous MOT should have picked up on, he needed some welding and a few other bits and pieces (though by all accounts he was in very good condition for his age). I did the only sensible thing, I threw money at the problem. I was planning on leaving in 2 weeks. The guys at the garage were incredibly helpful and by the time I got him back he was driving like a dream and I felt very poor.

Road Trip to the Ferry Port

After the final packing and loading of the camper-van we finally left for Spain. Our first stop was the local Morrisons. We bought petrol, snacks and had macaroni cheese to tide us over. Having never driven Toby more than 15 miles, we were now driving to 300 miles or so to Dover to get the ferry. He drove so much better than he had before the trip to the garage, he could even cruise at 65 mph on the motorway without complaining. I think we even managed to over-take a lorry at one point, it was exciting. We didn’t make it to the ferry port until about 11:30 pm which was a bit later than I’d hoped but the ferry wasn’t until about 6 a.m. the next day. We drove around looking for a likely spot to pull up for the night and settled on a small carpark; we pulled our curtains closed ready for a few hours sleep.

Camper Margot

Things that went unexpectedly well:

  • Toby – he drove really well and used less petrol than I feared.
  • Margot – she loves being in the camper and snoozed most of the way.

Things we we should have considered earlier:

  • Toilets – the carpark did not have a toilet. Mum and I both dealt with this differently but I’ll leave out the details.
  • The bed – we hadn’t actually investigated how the bed set up; by morning we knew it wasn’t how we’d done it.

 

Driving Through France

We took the non toll road route. I had a vague outline of a plan, places I wanted  to reach each day though no actual idea about where we’d sleep. A lot of Europe is very campervan friendly so I figured we’d make it up as we went along, after all we couldn’t really know how far we’d go each day.

The roads through France are very wide and well kept, there were views of fields for miles and we eventually made it into areas of sunflower fields (my favourite). I’d hoped to make close to Bordeaux that first day but it was getting dark and late and we decided to find a campsite for the comfort of a hit shower. We made a better attempt at creating the bed, but it still didn’t seem right. We covered about 500 miles from the port to the campsite, we were hungry, grimy and a little grumpy but the campsite staff were friendly and chatty and the inevitable pouring rain came more as a relief than a problem.

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As the driver, I was happy to just keep driving, I would have hated to be a passenger though so I tried to keep in mind what it was like for Mum. As I mentioned before Margot was having a great time so I wasn’t too concerned about her. I’d connected my MP3 player to the sound system so we had music and we kept trying to find a coffee shop on the road but it seemed impossible. It was difficult enough to find a petrol station at times, and we really needed petrol, with Toby being so old it wasn’t a good idea to run low on Petrol.

For day 2 we decided to take a detour into Bordeaux, it seemed a shame to do all that driving and not actually visit anywhere. We were listening to “A Good Year” by Peter Mayle as an audiobook in the camper (downloadable from audible). It’s set in France with vineyards, wine and eccentric French plumbing (read unreliable French plumbing) and they went to Bordeaux at one point so we thought it fitting.

a good year

The traffic getting in was appalling, and getting out was even worse. We were in the middle of a heat wave and you may be surprised to learn that Toby doesn’t have air conditioning. In fact with the crawling pace of the traffic the engine was getting worryingly hot (I didn’t mention this to mum) the dashboard indicator was creeping closer and closer to the red zone. Once we were moving it was fine, it just needed the air flow.

We arrived in Bordeaux about 1pm, it was was beautiful. I love architecture and I could have spent weeks wandering around and sketching, but alas that wasn’t the sort of trip we were on this time so I took photos. We managed to find an open cafe eventually (everything was closed for the holidays) and spent a fortune on one creme-brulee and a single profiterole. After only and hour or so we decided to continue on our way. We wanted to reach Spain that day and that meant getting through the mountains.

bordeaux

We took one more stop before heading into the mountain at a town called Orthez. We made sandwiches and took Margot for a stroll. It was a little cooler and the town was pretty and quiet. It was as we started making our way through the Mountains that Toby started having “moments”. He had a “cough” he used to do this quite a lot before he went into the garage and usually he just snapped out of it. We made it up and through the mountains without too much concern though I was going as easily as I could. He’s quite a big heavy beast for the size of his engine and it was quite a climb. I was relieved when we made it to the decent though I hadn’t really indicated my concerns to mum (you notice it far more as the driver).

route 2

We’d driven about 400 miles that second day and had made it into Spain without me realising. I’d expected some sort of notable border, someone to check documentation etc but nope, nothing. So we carried on driving into the night.

Tune in next time to find out about where we slept and how Toby coped with a very hilly Spain.

Preparing To Leave

Before heading to Kazakhstan I had a few things to sort at home. Such as buy a camper-van, try to sell my boat, flog most of my belongings, pack Margot and any items I wanted to keep into my camper-van and drive them to Spain for safe keeping, turn 30, you know, the usual things.

Toby 1

I won’t give you a full diary account of everything, but here are a couple of highlights:

The Penny farthing

I managed to sell a lot of my belongings by carboot and online, in particular I sold my penny-farthing using Facebook Marketplace. The lady who bought it was registered blind and was coming to collect it on the train with her guide dog, I was going to meet her at the station in the afternoon.

penny farthing

  • I was late leaving school meaning I was really short on time to get the bike to the station.
  • I couldn’t find the key to unlock the bike from the bike rack, I went back and forth to the boat with handfulls of keys – non of them worked, now I had even less time.
  • I eventually got my electric drill and broke the lock off – nobody at the marina batted an eyelid.
  • I couldn’t get the flaming thing into my car!
  • I grabbed the keys to the camper-van and managed to cram it in there.
  • I drove to the train station in the camper having only driven it once up to that point.

Success!

We made it in time, we even had enough time to pump up the tires.

The Boat

Despite several promising viewings I didn’t manage to sell the boat in the time I had available, the plan was still to “move out” though. My Mum offered to come and visit and help with the clearing out and join me on the drive to Spain. I wont bore you with the details of clearing the boat, but we had several lovely picnics in the marina and ate out a lot as mum decided the first thing that needed emptying were the food cupboards and we weren’t to cook anymore.

The day we were due to leave I was sitting on the front of the boat disconnecting the gas when I heard a splash and instantly realised my whole purse had fallen in the marina and was quickly sinking below the boats. I quickly plunged my upper body over the side of the boat into the water in and attempt to grab it before it was out of reach but no luck. Mum had no idea what was going on and thought I was falling in. I explained, partially stripped and jumped in after it – it had all my bank cards and driving licence in; if I lost it we were going to be massively delayed. The water was a little chilly and extremely dark and murky. Down between the boats and under the pontoon it was pitch black, I couldn’t see anything and didn’t know where the bottom was.

Mum secured Margot and came to assist – she was more panicked than I was as she couldn’t do anything. I bobbed about in the water trying to calm my heart rate so I could hold my breath long enough to reach the bottom. It was imperative I was slow and calm as if I stirred the silt up I would lose my purse forever and this water was incredibly silty. I dove down and slowly waved my hands around – nothing. I came back up reassuring Mum that it was under control. Up and down I went a few times until finally my hand made contact with my purse and I triumphantly made it to the surface.

margot

The purse safely on-board, the only difficulty remaining was how on Earth to get out. You have to realise the water level is maybe 70cm below the pontoons and a meter or more below anything on the boat you can grab. I tried clinging to the boat and pontoon and hoisting myself out, I tried using the ropes on my neighbours boat for a bit of leverage – it didn’t help, I tried moving further along in the hopes there was something to grab lower down and provide a bit some much needed assistance but no. Obviously I did eventually get out, using some combination of ropes , and Mum and swinging my legs up first, though not without gaining quite a scratch that seems to have left a bit of a scar, though I think it was fortunate not to get infected.

marina

Everything in my purse was laid out to dry, I changed clothes and Mum, Margot and myself went to the coffee shop for a breather. I couldn’t believe the adrenaline rush such an incident had caused.

We did manage to leave for Spain as planned, I’ll give you a few highlights from that adventure next time.