After a quick turnaround (seven days at home for me, six for Mark) we were packed up and on our way again… Scandinavia here we come! Thus far, we’ve made it to Bremen in Germany….
Having worked out that we need to be back in the UK in mid-September, we wanted to set off as soon as possible to maximise our time away. A quick look at ferry prices for the week revealed a keenly priced Dover-Dunkirk crossing deal on Tuesday afternoon, which we duly booked.
As we were meeting up with James and Valerie for a meal out on Sunday night and that was in our direction of travel, it made sense to spendy Sunday night outside their house and continue on our journey from there rather than going back home and setting off again on Monday. Having made these optimistic arrangements, some rather speedy laundry and van packing was then required!
Monday night was spent at Canterbury on a fabulous aire that we’d heard good things about but hadn’t got round to visiting before. We didn’t have time to explore Canterbury this time round, but we’ll definitely be back.
Getting to Canterbury on Monday evening left us plenty of time on Tuesday before our 4pm ferry, so we headed across to the coast to have a look at Deal Castle. Deal is another of Henry VIII’s coastal artillery forts built in 1539-40. We’ve previously visited Portland, Pendennis, and Mawes Castles, so we already had the general idea.
After visiting the castle, we still had time for a wander round Deal town centre. It was very nice – not too posh but not run down either. A happy medium. Oh, and it had the best second hand bookshop (run by Oxfam) that we’ve visited in a long long time. We’ve got plenty of books in SOK but what the heck – four more books (two each) were purchased. Mark found two pork pie-selling establishments but rejected both, one for being too cheap and the other for being too expensive. He assured me that as a “connosewer”, he would know the right pie when he saw it…..
Arriving in Dover, we were offered an earlier ferry, the downside being that it was to Calais rather than Dunkirk, which would leave us an extra half-hour drive on the other side. We took it – it probably only got us to our destination 20 minutes earlier in the end than the ferry we’d booked would have. One funny thing did come from changing ferry though.
As we were parked up waiting to board, I said to Mark “there’s a lorry over there with Birchall Racing on it”. “Yes, but it’s not the Birchalls” said Mark. “It says Mansfield on it” I replied. “Oh”, said Mark, and disappeared off across the car park, returning a few moments later to confirm that yes, it was indeed Ben and Tom Birchall’s lorry. They were currently lying second in the World Sidecar Championships and were heading to Germany for the next round…. Mark was pleased that they later approached him on the ship and had a bit of a chat.
All I can say is that they looked a completely unassuming pair wandering round the ship in their baggy board shorts…..
I should mention that the ferry was packed full of lorries. Poor SOK really did end up perched right on the back:
Our destination for the night was Bergues, a town a few miles south of Dunkirk. We’ve been there before and we think it’s great – it’s a lovely little fortified town with a free motorhome aire just outside the ramparts. We did a lap of the ramparts on foot on Wednesday morning before heading to the Leclerc supermarket just down the road. It’s a well-known fact that our first supermarket stop in any country is always a slow affair as we trawl the aisles for all our favourite goodies (in France, rillettes are always top of the shopping list!). Mark was clearly going for quantity over quality in the cake aisle though:
The cake cost a whopping €1.87 and it’ll probably last him a fortnight….
A reasonable drive got us to our next aire, at a place called Grobbendonk near Antwerp in Belgium. In addition to the comical-sounding name, Grobbendonk offered a large parking area in a quiet area next to the town fire station.
Parking up here was free but you had to pay for services. One Euro would either give you fresh water or open the waste facilities for you to use (a grey waste drain in the ground and WC emptying behind the roller shutter door in the post itself!). All very high-tech….
Most people seem to draw the line at paying 2 Euros to open the waste bin, and just take their rubbish with them:
One of the nice things about travelling around by motorhome is that you end up exploring lots of reasonably random villages and small towns. We went for a wander round the centre of Grobbendonk, which seemed to boast quite a surfeit of banks and insurance offices relative to everything else.
The place is bicycle-friendly to the extent of being downright dangerous to hapless pedestrians like us. At one point, Mark ended up with his hands in the air apologising profusely after a Belgian lady rather gallantly screeched to a halt rather than flatten him as he nonchalently wandered along a pink bit of pavement (that we later surmised must’ve been a different colour to denote a cycle path, though it didn’t seem to go very far). Later on, I had to grab Mark and yank him sideways as he wasn’t reacting to the enthusiastic ringing of bicycle bells from behind (we were on a pavement of uniform colour this time, which must mean that the cyclists own all of it?). We were lucky to make it back to SOK in one piece…
The local wildlife popped round to visit later in the evening:
We woke up on Thursday morning to…. a van full of ants! There were hundreds and hundreds of the little blighters! We evicted as many of them as we could find, though we expect we’ll be finding strays for quite a few days to come….
We did manage to operate the James Bond-style fresh water and waste emptying facilities without mishap before leaving. It was worth €2 just for the experience! We didn’t manage quite so well later in the day, though, when we stopped at a Dutch service station to fill up with LPG. We connected SOK up, pressed the button, and…. nothing happened. We couldn’t see anything unusual about the pump, but we double checked the instructions and everything seemed OK…
To cut a very long and embarrassing story short, it turned out that the innocuous-looking bollard behind the far pump in the photo above contains a tiny little pre-pay unit where you have to enter your card and PIN number before you can get any fuel. Perhaps this would have been obvious to a local, but it certainly wasn’t to us (and the instructions on the LPG pump still had you filling up and then paying inside afterwards….). To be fair, the bollard did have a diagram of a card on the far side of it, not that this was of any help to us from where we were standing!
Oh well, we got there in the end. Thursday’s travel was as dull as Wednesday’s. This part of Northern Europe really is just motorway spaghetti. Perhaps next time we’ll have to do what we normally do when heading south from Calais and just take the slow roads (assuming they have room in Belgium and Holland for slow roads between all those blinkin’ motorways, that is!).
Eventually, the motorway spaghetti spat us out at a town called Delmenhorst in Germany. This promised another free aire. It wasn’t as immediately attractive as the one at Grobbendonk, but it’d do nicely – after all, we were only looking to stay there for a night, not buy the place!
It turned out that we were right next to a park, situated on the site of a castle. There don’t seem to be any remains of the castle itself, but we found a model of how it looked circa 1650 and we did a quick lap of the outside of the moat before tea (the castle having been on the island in the middle):
We’d chosen our overnight stop at Delmenhorst so as to be able to drive to nearby Bremen on Friday morning, grab a pitch on the motorhome aire there (at €15 a night), and then walk into town to see the sights in the afternoon. Arriving on Friday morning rather than Thursday evening wasn’t just a money-saving exercise (though the thought did occur to us….). We’ve noticed quite often over the years that on busy aires, you need to get there early to get a spot – by early afternoon, the place might well be full.
We had no problems at all getting a good spot at 10.45am. By evening, the site was getting pretty full, but it wasn’t as bad as we’d feared.
The walk into the town centre took us along a quiet residential road, and was only 1.2km. Although Bremen is the 11th largest city in Germany, the old centre itself is incredibly compact, with most of the sights around the central market square.
Cathedral and Town Hall:
Merchants’ Guild house:
Gabled houses and, in front, the statue of Roland:
Roland is a symbol of the town’s independence (facing the cathedral as that’s the direction from which challenges to independence most often came!). Apparently, there are many similar Roland statues in German towns, but this one is the biggest. It dates back to 1404 (so is a similar age to the town hall, which was built in 1405-10). Not that most of the tourists in town seemed overly interested: they were all crowded round the nearby 1950s statue of the Town Musicians of Bremen, based on the 1819 Grimm’s fairy tale.
If you’re wondering what Mark’s doing, apparently holding the front legs of the donkey brings luck. Yeah right…..
Inside the cathedral:
There’s a free cathedral museum, in which we learned that a chap from Northumbria called Willehad was the first bishop of Bremen, from 787 until his death in 789 exactly one week after the consecration of the first cathedral (presumably the builders’ bill finished him off?). There’s lots of really old stuff on display, much of it found during archaeological work in the cathedral in the 1970s, including some surprisingly ancient textiles.
This guy (Bishop Bezelin) had us scratching our heads. Who else have we seen depicted in an unfeasibly small boat?
Ah yes, Saint Brendan in Ireland last summer…. Mooching around by motorhome can really test our memory sometimes….
The oldest bit of town (very touristy but cute all the same):
Time for a rest stop! Becks beer is brewed in Bremen, so it would have been rude not to…. Here’s Mark watching the world go by….
We wandered back to SOK, happy with our afternoon of tourism. You really don’t need more time than that to see the old town…..
Overall, we’re pretty happy with our first five days’ progress. I’d show you a map, but to be honest I’m struggling on that score at present as Roadtrippers.com (which I’ve used to draw the maps in the past) has now reduced the maximum number of waypoints in the free version to such an extent that it’s now a completely useless tool for our purposes. If anyone can suggest an alternative app or website to produce a map with a line on it, we’re all ears!
Map created using PolarSteps (as suggested by Katherine in the comments):