Road trip – Fourth leg – Brielle to Belgium and home

We left Brielle on Thursday morning about half eleven, returning the John key to Margret for 20€ and foolishly leaving behind the doormat. We stopped at the supermarket on the way out of town. It was shut. No sign of opening any time soon, so, perplexed, we moved on to the self service station just out of town. It was card only, but didn’t take Visa. We moved on, with Brian’s advice ended up in a motorway service station on the outskirts of Rotterdam (or anywhere…) where we refuelled with diesel and pre packed sandwiches and the smallest bottle of milk in the world.

Recent discussions had been such that we would head as far south as reasonably possible and stay for 2 nights, so on Saturday the drive to the ferry would be a short one. (Actually the need for this had been miscalculated on my part, but more on that later.)

The Dutch/Belgian motorway driving was dull, except for seeing signs for… wait for it…

And by just shy of 3pm with no laybys, petrol stations or other visible rest areas, the boy’s bladder was about to actually burst after being on the look out for a suitable stopping place for the best part of an hour.

Fearing for the upholstery, we hastily took a turning off the main road and down a driveway, which ended up being a car park. On later consulting google it turned out to be for a nightclub, but it made for a pleasant enough picnic spot.

After another hour or so we arrived in De Panne, just off the French border. We rocked up at the campsite I’d chosen, only to be told they were full. On a Thursday. In late May. So, I consulted google and we moved down the road a spell to the most labyrinthine disappointment of a campsite, which was also full and we actually got lost trying to get back out again. At this point, approaching tea time and with a meagre supply of victuals we headed for the local Carrefour to stock up and regroup.

During our perusal of sundry Belgian beverages we considered just heading back into France, and on our exit from the supermarché we set a course for Bray Dunes, but then not 5 minutes down the road we saw this place and pulled in.

Bearing in mind the really good standard of camping facility enjoyed thus far, it proved to be a questionable decision.

The campsite was beyond huge, with hundreds of emplacements. The price tag, both of 57€ for 2 nights with EHU and 25€ deposit for a card to access the entrance barrier did not tally very well with the paltry, tired and underloved facilities. Mother, I’m afraid, would purse her lips at the minuscule hand washing sink on the exterior of the bloc sanitaire which the indigenous ruffianry clogged with sand on the way to the playground.

I’m sure the actual lavs would be broadly satisfactory if there weren’t hundreds of people using them, but the showers were shocking. Although a push button shower generally comes as standard on most European campsites, and the expectations for a pleasing and steady flow are not generally that high, you would expect more than one opening in the shower head, and when I timed the blast, on the first occasion it averaged a dismal 3 seconds, the second time only 2. I did not return for a third go for fear of actually remaining dry.

The John barn above, so picturesque.

The pitch itself was ok as we were on one of the quieter side roads, although if it had been busier it would have felt cramped. We took advantage of the sunshine and enjoyed a libation.

It is at this point that I must sing the praises of the new John tent once again. Over the course of the week, aside from housing the Popaloo for those nocturnal necessities it has been great for storing chairs in moist conditions and the integral drying rail has been most excellent. Although I did not dabwesh.

I did, however, manage to kneel on my glasses in the dark, rendering them useless, as they were skew-whiff and made me feel sick. For the remainder of the week I basically wore sunglasses the whole time.

It turned out that the basic raison d’être for this campsite was it’s close proximity to the local theme park, named, ahem, Plopsaland. (!) which was within walking distance. We had no interest in spending upwards of 30 euros per beard on what seemed about as much of a high quality attraction as Royston Vasey’s Roundabout Zoo.

There was a supermarket and a couple of restaurants also nearby, which seemed, enticingly, to specialise in Côte à l’os (T-bones) and we planned on entertaining ourselves with both.

Here are the highlights of the supermarket trip:

1. Advocaat in a jar, presumably so you can pour it in greater volume down your neck and then end up reversing into the lavateria.

2. Belgian blue J cloths. To appease mother, and to replace the scrawny half a one remaining from the Scottish trip.

3. Patisseries to enjoy with a nice cup of tea, as we stocked up on “milk”. (Further explanation is required.)

The pastries were as dry as a badger’s knapsack, the tea made them almost edible. We had taken ages to make a choice as most of the available pastries were lacklustre at best, we shan’t be requesting further examples. It is to be noted here that these cups of tea used up the previously purchased Dutch micro milk supply.

A quiet afternoon, as most of the camp’s residents had decamped to Plopsaland, so the infants inspected the play area. Interesting rules:

We enjoyed a quiet coffee. (Black, saving the new milk for the morning)

And due to the rubbish strewn, over grown play equipment and the stealthy return of feral ruffians, we took to the footie field for the maiden voyage of HMS Pterodactyl kite.

Tea time approached and we walked back towards the local hostelries. KB had his eye on Moeder Lambik’s place for some reason,

but neither place was open for over half an hour, so we strolled in nearby duney forest.

On our return Le Bercail was open, and we were seated to bake in the front window. An abundance of beef was offered and put away

and we took a slow meander back for movie night. I think on balance The Greatest Showman was improved by watching it from behind dark glasses.

On Saturday morning, our final day outre-manche, this is where the milk question reared its head, when, down to our last brace of teabags…

we discovered we had not picked up your common or garden fresh milk, but “lait battu” a sour version. Which is vile. Especially in tea.

Cue a dash for the border after just verifying the crossing time. And place. Which, fortuitously was later than I remembered, and also from Calais, not Dunkerque. Could have been an issue.

We allowed ourselves a visit to Auchan, where I spotted this comedy item

and got me some fresh reading matter

and then we headed for the port, where this time we were waved aboard by a Pirate/Parrot combination.

We hastily embarked and said à bientôt to France until August.

Back this side of the channel, and at the end of our first real road trip, it felt like we had been away a lot longer than a week, and in a good way. 2 nights is the minimum to feel like you’ve actually had a rest/seen something/got ready for the next leg and that’s worth bearing in mind for future escapes.

Coming up to one year of van life. Bring on the next #campervancapers.

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