It always takes me a wee while to write these Clara posts. Many of you are now very familiar with our temperamental old VW camper and the untold woes that she often throws our way. Bless her This summer, despite the debacle of last year, we decided to take Clara across the Channel once more and back into France for a relaxing little holiday. It was predictably entertaining. We’re currently 100% confident that we will never leave the UK again with Clara. But we probably said that last year and again in 2013. So who knows? For the time being, settle down, grab a cuppa (it could be a long one), buckle up and enjoy…
A few weeks before our holiday I delivered Clara to our local garage for her MOT. Taking any vehicle for it’s yearly checkup is always a little nervy. Taking 32 year old Clara is positively terrifying, but if anything needed doing, then two weeks before our European adventure was the ideal time to do it. The garage rang me before I’d even got half way home…
‘Hi. I think your fuel pump has packed up mate. We’ve just tried to drive the vehicle in for it’s MOT and it’s spluttered and died.’
‘Oh I’m so glad it’s done that.’
‘It’s the annoying problem we’ve had since the day we bought her. The pump’s fine. For some reason, if the engine’s fairly warm, she sometimes splutters and dies when you start her. Wait for the engine to cool down and she’ll start up fine.’
‘Oh OK. I’ll look into that before we do the MOT then.’
‘If you can fix that problem, we’ll be the happiest customers you’ve ever had.
A week later we had news from the garage that all was good. For the mechanically minded readers; a non-return valve had been added to Clara’s fuel-line and her fuel-pump push-rod had been lengthened. For the non-mechanically minded readers; fuel would now stay in the engine, instead of returning to the fuel-tank (which on Clara, is bloody miles away from the engine) and her fuel-pump would now be more powerful than it had ever been. As for the MOT; just a dodgy tyre The garage were confident that Clara’s Achilles heel had finally been healed. We were quietly optimistic. Clara had overheated over the summer. No idea why and I still had a few nagging worries about this. The garage said,’ just take it easy and you’ll be fine.’ Whatever the outcome, our five hour drive down to Plymouth, on one of the year’s hottest days, was sure to highlight any problems
The night before we hit the road, Clara was packed (and I do mean packed!!!), our crazed hound had been delivered to his new dog-sitting home, and we were all excitedly waiting for our early morning start. Apart from me. I was anxious. When we first bought Clara and naively/foolishly drove her all the way to Spain, we had no worries at all. And then she broke-down coming home, which made me a little bit wary the next time I used Clara. As the breakdowns have mounted up over the years, so has my worry, every time I sit behind the wheel of our lovely, temperamental flowery campervan. Most of the time she’s completely fine and will get us from A to B without a problem. But often she won’t and I have absolutely no idea when she’ll let us down, and this makes me anxious. Needless to say, my restless night was spent dreaming about fuel-pumps, water-pipes and temperature gauges
We set off early, in the hope of missing the bulk of the traffic, to avoid the predicted high temperatures and to give us loads of time, just in case anything happened… Clara’s temperature gauge was higher than normal almost immediately and the traffic ground to a halt around Birmingham. We crawled towards the M5. We were now in the midst of the busy morning traffic we had hoped to avoid, which was not great for Clara’s temperature gauge. So despite the warm weather, for the next few miles we stuck Clara’s heater on. It did thankfully bring Clara’s temperature down, but didn’t really make it overly pleasant for her poor passengers! Eventually the traffic eased and we had a pretty decent run down the M5. Clara’s temperature gauge was now looking fairly normal, which was a huge relief. We did still have one nagging concern. Would Clara start again, if we stopped?
Ideally I’d have driven all the way to Plymouth without stopping. Parked up really early. Allowed Clara to cool down and then boarded our ferry. But sadly this was not really a viable option.Clara needed fuel, not to mention her three hungry and tired passengers. We had to stop. So somewhere just shy of Exeter we pulled into an overly complicated service-station. After filling Clara with expensive fuel, we parked up and went to grab some lunch. My anxiety levels were now pretty high. We had now entered into PCBT prime Clara breakdown territory. It was stupidly hot, Clara was stupidly hot and we wouldn’t be leaving Clara long enough to cool down before restarting. If she was going to fail, this would be when she’d do it
With sweaty hands and a knot in my stomach I turned Clara’s ignition… She started fine. I carefully eased Clara towards the carpark exit and waited for her to splutter and die… She never did Wow, was she really fixed? Could she finally be cured? Even I was feeling fairly confident as we headed towards Plymouth. For the first time in a very long time, I was driving Clara without worrying about her dying at any second. Plymouth was a bit of a busy mare to get through, but what the heck, we had loads of time. Queuing for our ferry involved quite a bit of stopping Clara, waiting and then restarting again, which in the past, would have been PCBT. No such worries today. With Clara safely stashed onto the Plymouth to Roscoff ferry, we found our cabin and settled down for the next six hours. I was actually relaxed This was like a normal holiday
Our first week’s campsite in Brasparts, nestled in the vast Parc naturel régional d’Armorique, was about an hours drive from Roscoff. But as our ferry wasn’t due to dock until after 9.00PM, we’d booked into a nearby hotel for the night. It just made life a lot easier that way. I know a lot of people pull over and camp overnight pretty much anywhere in France, but it’s not really that easy to do in Clara. Especially in a Clara that’s bursting at the seems with luggage, food, booze, an awning, tables, chairs, bedding, a bbq, a guitar, games and God only knows what else!!! For just one night, we’d happily pay the money for a bed, a toilet and a shower thank-you very much.
A rather late breakfast the following morning was taken in a nearby café. It wasn’t the largest breakfast we’d ever eaten, so we took the opportunity to stock up on even more food/booze at the local E.Leclerc hypermarché and then attempted to squeeze this new stash of provisions into an already overloaded Clara About forty minutes later we’d pulled into a lay-by, somewhere in the Parc naturel régional d’Armorique for our second breakfast or early lunch. Again this was prime Clara breakdown territory, but once again, she restarted and drove away without a hitch. We were very happy campers as we drove the last few miles towards Brasparts.
Compared to the beach side, amenity crammed and action packed campsite we’d booked for our second week, la Ferme de Tuchennou, just outside Braspart, was rustic to say the least. A field, a farmhouse, a small toilet/shower building and not a great deal more. We knew it would be basic and had booked it for precisely that reason. Thought it would be a nice contrast to our second week. We rolled onto the campsite and all looked rather lovely. Tracy went to speak with the local farmer, while Sawyer and I waited with Clara. The campsite was practically deserted, but that didn’t stop Tracy and I having a minor domestic about exactly where to park Clara. Our campervan trundled back and forth across the field. I drove into our chosen spot, but apparently I wasn’t quite straight. Before I could begin my second parking attempt Clara spluttered and died Assuming that she’d just stalled I went to restart, but just like the problem of old, Clara was refusing to restart. Was this the same old problem? Did we have a new problem? We didn’t really know. Would Clara start up again tomorrow? I guessed so, but wasn’t massively sure. But at least we’d arrived. We had a campervan full of food, booze and heaven knows what else. We had a village that was apparently walkable. Our holiday had begun and Clara’s ailments would be left for another day and another blog post?