2020-09-04, Friday. Hornbach & France (again)

Time to get the bikes out of the garage. Last year, we attempted to follow the waymarked Pirminiusweg trail that goes from Hornbach, into France and down to the auberge Moulin d’Eschviller where we hoped to get food & drink. The trail then does a largish loop over fields and via a couple couple of small towns before turning back North to Hornbach. It’s about 90% off-road. Nothing technical, but a few steep climbs.

Following the trail within Germany was pretty straightforward, but it was very poorly marked in France so we lost our way a number of times. Plus… the Moulin d’Eschviller wasn’t doing food when we got there and we’d brought none with us.

Running out of energy we figured we’d take a short cut, which actually turned out not to be short at all. Needless to say, we did get back ok, albeit tires & hungry.

So this year, we thought we’d repeat the trail to the auberge, but then double back using a marked short cut. We’d also leave earlier to get to the auberge at lunchtime. It was a very hot day ~ 29°.

All went well until missed the turn off the trail to the auberge and had to back track several kms. The auberge was shut for 5 days vacation. An ancient peanut butter protein bar that was in my Camelback had to suffice.

Needless to say, we got back ok. Maybe we’ll even try again another time.

In various places around the trail, there were loads of apple trees, damson (Zwetschgen) trees, walnut trees, so we filled our boots. Some really ripe damsons. Apples not quite ready yet, but very good nonetheless.

The Stellplatz is completely full this evening. It’s weekend, and it seems like many Germans are staycationing.

Dinner in the moho, followed by a scocially-distanced couple of beers sitting outside the Capito restaurant/Gasthaus. Nice.

2020-09-03, Thursday. Longwy to Hornbach

Cool, damp & miserable this morning as we gladly leave Longwy & head towards Hornbach, in Saarland-Pfalz, near Saarbrücken, to a stellplatz we’ve stayed at before and we know it’s a lovely spot. We drove through Luxembourg, so were able to avail ourselves of a tankful of diesel at a mere €0.946/ litre.

Arrived in Hornbach at 15:00, and cycled round to the supermarket for important things like beer.

The Stellplatz is pretty full. Paid for 2 nights.

There’s a british couple here in a huge Carthago A Class with a Jersey licence plate: he’s a Geordie and hard to understand, but he pinned us down for a good 10 minutes before we could escape his clutches. Wanted to tell us all about his life roaming around Europe, especially Spain & Portugal, where they seem to spend 6 months of each year.

Later, he pinned down two separate pairs of Germans on the Stellplatz and gave them each a good grilling. Goodness knows how they managed to understand him.

2020-09-02, Wednesday. Le Shuttle, France, Belgium & France again

Up at 6am for a short, 20 minute hop to the Eurotunnel terminal. We always go by Dover-Dunkirk ferry. However, sailings are in short supply due to the pandemic and I was unable to book a ferry at that time. Nor at any time for the next several days. I was really surprised to find Le Shuttle so lacking in customers, then. Maybe 15 motorhomes and other tall vehicles and a few cars. I couldn’t see trucks embarking, but maybe the single deck part of the train got filled up with them.

35 minutes later and we were disembarking in Calais for the long haul down to Longwy. In France, but need to cross into Belgium and back out again into France by the Luxembourg border. It’s quite a long haul doing 55-60mph in the motorhome, especially with the number of roadworks and other hold-ups. But we got here around 17.30.

The aire here is not in a stunningly scenic location. In fact, it’s (allegedly) 7 spaces marked out for motorhomes in a car park for the sports centre. It’s not quiet as it’s sandwiched between a high rise housing estate and a large school, with a busy road in between. But there’s a free space or two and it’ll do for the night.

I’d often wondered why Longwy HAS an aire: typically they are found in places where there’s something of touristic interest, which seemed somewhat lacking here. However, we discovered there IS something: the ruins of a Vauban fort that are worth an hour’s exploration
So there you have it.

2020-09-01, Tuesday. The off

The Covid-19 year continues. We’ve not seen our daughter and family since Feb, when they came over for my mother’s 90th birthday. Since then, we’ve had lockdowns, easings, local lockdowns affecting Greater Manchester & Wigan, An ever-changing list of what one can do/not do and where/where not you can do it. An ever changing list also of countries which, upon returning from, one must self-quarantine for 2 weeks.

It’s against this background that we decided to risk a trip to Germany, to hopefully spend a week with the grandchildren before they go back to school on the 14th September.

No way were we going to risk flying in a small tin can with potentially unruly passengers who don’t care for their fellow passengers. Likewise trains. Motorhome is the obvious, safest choice, bur it’s a long drive. Also, have to bear in mind that all road routes to Germany from the UK are via “embargoed” countries. Germany doesn’t have such quarantine rules for other EU countries, so going there would be ok. Returning home would be a different matter, and there’s a risk we might need to quarantine on our return. At the time of leaving, one is allow to transit Belgium & France as long as one doesn’t stop, mingle with the hoi-poloi, or take on additional passengers. I reckon we can make it from Kent to Germany without needing to fill up the thirsty beast en route.

A quick visit to see my mum in Wigan was essential. Not seen her since Feb amd a narrow window of opportunity arose on Wednesday as the local lockdown in Wigan was removed. So Wed & Thur nights in Wigan, then back home to sort out the motorhome & pack for am early train through the tunnel on Wed.

Left home around 13.30 on Tuesday & spent a happy 4 hours on so on M4, M3, M25 & M20 reaching our chosen overnight spot – by the Dog House micropub outside Ashford. A couple of decent pints, the best chilli nachos I’ve ever had, and turn in for the night around 21.00.

Fri 5th September A worrying day

This morning – a catastrophe that almost precipitated our immediate return home…

I needed to drive the 2km back down the Aire/beach road back to the entrance where the motorhome service points are in order to drain & refill the water tanks, empty & clean the loo cassette. After waiting for my turn, I did all the necessaries, though did start wondering why it seemed to be taking so long to fill the fresh water tank. After a short while, I became aware of water running from the underside of the van. Hot water, that is. Our water heater/combi boiler was dumping water from the system.

The boiler – clever thing that it is – has a frost-prevention device installed: If the temperature drops below 4 degrees, it dumps the water. It being well over 23 degrees, this shouldn’t have been happening. After a quick panic, I found the heater’s temp sensor (buried under the floor, tucked-away in a slightly inaccessible location, and pulled the switch back out. The place we bought the van had suggested that; just possibly, if you go over a big bump, that could cause the sensor to dump water. Well, the road back was very bumpy, so perhaps that was it?

As the water had been dumped, I thought I’d run some water through the taps just to flush any air out of the system Next problem – taps not working/pump not running. It was at this point, I noticed that the van’s internal electrical system was off. Switching it on at the control panel had zero effect. No electricity = no fridge (no way to ignite the gas burner for it); no water; no loo flush; no ability to charge the phones. Very serious.

Still at the service point and holding up the queue, I tried starting the engine. No problem. Switched on the internal electrics, and on it came. Phew. Carried on filling the water tank and switched engine off. Next thing, water is draining from the boiler again, and all the power is off.

Drastic measures: Fixed a clothes peg around the frost protection switch to hold it in position.  Started engine to give me internal power and stop the water draining. Filled the tank and drove back to where Joy was waiting, patiently reserving our place. Parked-up, switched off the engine, and watched the battery voltage monitor show an absurd 15.5V battery voltage (should never go above 14V), rapidly decay to 7V at which point the system shuts down, including the battery monitor! I should mention, this is the NOT the battery for the engine, but is an additional “leisure” battery to allow use of electrical equipment when the engine is not running. Like the water pump, lights, loo, etc.

I started digging around in the (almost inaccessible) cupboard where the leisure battery resides. There’s also a myriad of electronic gubbins in there for split battery charge control (main battery or mains hookup), and for additional circuit protection (fuses) when running from mains or battery. I started tugging at cables in case something was loose. I got the instruction book out for the split charge electronics box: The LED’s were indicating no battery output. So the battery’s died? That was our thinking.

Time for a cup of tea & some breakfast, contemplating how we might get it repaired: We’re a million miles from any garage, French isn’t one of our fluencies and it’s coming up weekend when everything closes. I was on the verge of calling our insurance company to see if they could offer any help, but decided to take another look.

It was then that I noticed the main –ve cable from the battery had a broken crimp at the battery terminal. This was most definitely the cause, but didn’t help our situation. I didn’t bring any electrical tools, cables or other bits with me as I would have needed to pull a trailer for all of it. If only I could find a few scraps of cable I could bind together, I could duck tape them to the end of the main cable & to the battery terminal.  This would have been a serious bodge and – if it were to come loose – would start arcing & sparking and possibly worse.

The battery negative cable with broken crimp
The battery and electronic controller compartment with makeshift negative cable

I do have a toolkit – for keeping the bikes in fettle. So I have cutters, screwdrivers, and even a ¼” drive socket set. I also had a spare stainless steel brake cable that I thought I might be able to do something with, when Joy suggested our steel-cored washing line. She then noticed an extension lead I’d knocked-up to go from UK plug to European socket. Never mind the ends, it was a piece of 13A cable. If I could use all three cores in parallel, that would serve 40A more or less, which ought to be enough capacity without danger of frying the cable. Better still, I had the right sized sockets in my socket set to get the battery terminals off.

So, 1 hour later, we have a new temporary cable made up, securely fastened at both ends and were able to get the power back on. And it’s safe.

You cannot believe how worried I was and what a relief it was to get it working again.

On an entirely different note, the wind almost blew enough today to get the board out – that seemingly useless piece of baggage that we’ve trundled all over Europe. One guy was out, but he’d a much larger sail, much larger board, and much smaller body than I; each of which is to his advantage. He also wasn’t going anywhere too fast and soon gave up. The wind forecast is still tantalizingly close to what I need. Let’s see what happens…

The van’s back again

I did indeed take the van all the way back to the dealer’s at Weston on Wed 18th Jun, with the hope that I’d have it back today (Sat).

The good news:

  • A phone call last night (Fri) confirmed it would be ready for collection this morning, so I took the kindly-loaned-but-otherwise-‘orrible courtesy car (Rover 25. Ugh) back down the M5, luckily missing the worst of the Saturday morning “let’s all rush down to Cornwall while the weather’s nice & clog up the motorways” traffic.
  • It’s not blowing reversing light fuses any more, and the reversing light is actually working
  • They replaced the split breather hose on the fuel tank – they had to remove the fuel tank to do this.

The less good news:

  • They seem to have lost a fair amount of fuel in the process
  • The reversing camera doesn’t automatically switch on when reverse gear is engaged (they hadn’t thought to check that). Apparently, the garage that the dealer took it to had “tidied up” the wires at the reversing switch on the gearbox. They’ve probably disconnected the reversing light feed to the camera in that process.

We can live with manually switching the camera monitor on when we need it and they agreed to sort out the wiring when we’re back (in September?). So we’re now looking for a tomorrow night or Monday departure from Thornbury. Excitement is mounting. Time to start packing.

There’s a possibility that one or two of Joy’s friends may make use of the house while we’re gone – so I’ve started writing out lists of instructions for things like gas valve; water stop valve; boiler/heating; shower; fuse board location; fridge; freezer, etc. Hopefully these notes will make sense.

Further woes

A phone call from the dealer’s in Weston yesterday morning told me it was all ready to collect, so off I went back down the M5.

They’d kindly fitted new tyres (6 of them) following my complaint that the tyres that were on there – despite having done only 14700 miles – were still 8 years old and all had degraded and cracked sidewalls. Yup, they’d got it started after having taken the driver’s seat off to get at the battery and removing a piece of aluminium foil from between the negative terminal post and the cable clamp; claiming this to be the cause of it failing to start. With a distinct air of bullshit, I headed home with it. However, the wheel alignment seems to be out now – pulling to the left.

Called in at Bradley Stoke to fill up with fuel on the way back, & thereafter, there was the ever-present smell of diesel pervading the cab. We’d noticed this the first time we filled it up on our way to the Brecons. However, the smell had disappeared by the time we got to our destination so I though no more about it.

When I got home, I discovered the brand new reversing camera didn’t switch on when going into reverse gear. Not really wanting to have yet another trip down to WSM, I booked it in locally to have the wheel alignment checked (8am this morning), then spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon looking into the reversing camera problem – having assumed the cause to be related to the dealer having removed the phenomenally intermittently noisy indicator buzzers (at my request) under the instrument panel, adjacent to the camera wiring. The camera/display has a wire connected to the reversing light: This wire is what switches the display on & off. Lo and behold, the reversing light wasn’t lighting either. Check the fuses: There is a fuse for the reversing lights. 15A. Blown. 15A seems like a lot of spare capacity for a single reversing lamp. I didn’t have a spare 15A fuse, but I did have a 10A. Tried it – blew straight away. Give up.

However, whilst I was working on the reversing light fault, I noticed that from time-to-time, the automatic gear panel would occasionally light up as though doing its power-on self-test, accompanied by the sound of the automatic gears engaging. This was completely independent of anything I was or wasn’t doing at the time. Also, even with engine ignition off and the keys removed, there’s a constant buzzing/whirring sound under the hood. Something is running the whole time. Could this be something to do with the flat battery/can’t start problem?

This morning, it almost didn’t start: battery seemed pretty low. I never bought the idea of the alu foil on the terminal post as being the cause of dead battery/non starting.

I took the van round to have the steering alignment checked: They couldn’t do it because the laser beams from their alignment tools were being blocked by the coachbuilt body. I’d need to take it elsewhere. However, taking the van off the ramp, I noticed a trail of diesel fuel. Turned out to be running from the filler pipe to the fuel tank. Now I know why there was a smell of diesel.

Nothing for it now – another trip to Weston seems inevitable. Phoned the dealers: Service manager out today. Will call me back tomorrow morning.

Took the van to 2 further places to have the alignment checked/adjusted, having spoken to them about the size of the vehicle. 1st one also couldn’t do anything as they couldn’t get the gauges on the commercial wheels. 2nd place – in Yate – were able to do it after a fashion. They also looked into the fuel leakage whilst it was up on the ramp. Outcome: Split vent/breather hose at the fuel tank. Needs to have the tank dropped out to get at it. Bliss.

Back home, I discover a service invoice attached to the MOT certificate (it was serviced & MOTd a week before I originally collected it). On the service invoice was an item for the replacement of a defective reversing light switch on the gearbox. Could it be that this new switch has become faulty & is blowing the fuse?

I eagerly await tomorrow morning’s call from the dealer’s service manager.

Meanwhile, time passes, and we’re still stuck in this country instead of being in Italy.

The delays before the off

Originally, we’d planned to be leaving on Sat, 14th June (yesterday, in fact). We did only manage to get the motorhome fairly late however, and I was pretty insistent that it needed a road trial before going away to Europe.

So last weekend, we took it to the the Brecons – Rhandirmywn, to be precise; about 7 miles N of Llandovery. Fortunately, it rained (??) I say “fortunately”, because we discovered one of the skylights was leaking. And I couldn’t get the drain plug out of the fresh water tank which was a bit unfortunate as I’d filled it up and added a tank cleaner/purifier solution prior to setting off, aiming to drain it upon arrival. Not much use for 100 litres of chlorinated water – certainly can’t drink the stuff!

There were a couple of other “findings” too, so I had to book the van back into the dealer’s at Weston for all these bits to be seen to. Trouble was, they couldn’t take it in ’till Thursday & they needed it for 2 days to sort it all out.

Come yesterday morning, I was told it was ready for collection. Drove down to Weston. They were really busy & I had to wait almost an hour before they could find someone to fetch it from their locked-up yard. Then they couldn’t get it started. Sense of humour failure begins. For another 1/2 hour they didn’t have time to look into it. Then they tried jump starting it from a pick-up truck. Nothing. Not a peep. Dead battery? Who knows? The main battery is under the driver seat where it is totally inaccessible without removing the entire seat. And that’s not going to happen until Monday.

I suppose we have to philosophical about these things: Better that it happened there (so they are on hand to fix it, and at their cost) than somewhere in Europe.

The new home

This is the beast we settled on as time was running out. Not ideal, but then again – whatever we looked at involved some form of compromise. This one hit most of the right buttons…

 

  • Has a “garage” (bike storage, windsurf board storage, etc) Even had a bike rack in the garage from the previous owner, though I did have to modify it to take proper mountain bike – sized tyres.
Garage
  • Separate bedroom – don’t need to make up/take down beds to clear space for other activities/driving
    Bedroom area
  • Longitudinal/axial beds, rather than beds lying across the van – don’t want to have to climb over one another for any essential “nocturnal expeditions”
  • Combined shower/loo “wet room” – no need to waste space on a large bathroom as some motorhomes have

    Bathroom
  • Low profile – don’t need any beds over the cab. The overhang only adds more drag whilst motoring.
  • Forward-facing cabin seats with seatbelts – in case we ever need to take the grandchildren anywhere with us.
    Lounge/dining room

The one we got has all these features, but…

  • It’s bigger than ideal
  • It’s automatic
  • It doesn’t have cruise control
  • It has 6 wheels (twin wheels at rear) so another pair of tyres to replace when ness
  • There’s a lot of engine noise inside the cab – it’s a bit industrial!