Tuesday, 28 June 2016

What will Brexit mean for your Euro camping adventure?

Whether you are an innie or an outie, there’s no doubt that this Brexit nonsense will have some kind of effect on your camping plans at some point. In reality it may not affect this summer that much but, depending on what our government (whatever or wherever that is right now) negotiates in the months and years to come it may have some long term resonance.

This week we are concerned about the exchange rate for our forthcoming trip to Spain (we leave on Sunday) but that’s just about it. We still have to conform to the rules of the road, we still can enjoy the benefits of our reciprocal agreements with the EU and, hopefully, we will still be able to enjoy French and Spanish hospitality.

So, in case you decide to head over to continental Europe (or Europe as it should probably henceforth be known), here are a few things to think about.

What’s your pound worth?

I checked the exchange rate on Thursday ahead of the referendum results. For my £500 of holiday money I would have got about €670. Now it’s down to about €600 (according to XE Currency), so there’s been some serious devaluation there. What you ultimately get for your sorry English pounds will depend on where you exchange them and what rates they offer at the time. My advice? Hold tight until you go… it could all change.

But really it’s not going to be that different unless you are buying big purchases. A pint, according to pintprice.com will now cost you about £4.45 in France but £1.66 in Spain. So that’s not too bad. It’s the first Euro trip we’ve had in  four years so we’re not going to let a few pence on a pint put us off, are we?

Why you should still carry your EHIC card.

When I caught myself in the face fishing in Spain a few years ago, my EHIC card got me great service at a public hospital in Spain. I showed my papers, signed some forms and was treated brilliantly by lovely doctors. Well done Spain.

For the time being the EHIC card is still valid. What it does is guarantee the person holding it the same treatment in a public hospital as someone from that country would receive. It comes from an agreement between EU states. Until it is renegotiated things should remain the same, but it will have to be renegotiated nonetheless. However, the UK also has reciprocal agreements with lots of other nations including Australia and Barbados, so there’s no reason it can’t be renegotiated.

A word of warning though: the EHIC is not valid in private clinics or hospitals so do not forget to get travel insurance too. That is vital.

Your European Union passport.

For now you’re stuck with your European Union passport, whether you feel like you have your country back or not. Borders are still open states and, for the time being, we can still enjoy freedom of movement, the freedom to study, live and travel. But watch this space as it will all change as time develops. We may find it more difficult to cross borders in years to come. Our kids may not be able to work or study abroad so easily either. And all for the right to take control of the curliness of our cucumbers… 

Don’t forget the usual motoring essentials.

We might be free from Europe and all that claptrap but we still have to abide by their rules when over there. That means you’ll still have to sort out your Euro travel kit before you leave. Here are the basics:

  • Red and white hazard squares are a requirement in Spain if you carry rear loads.
  • In France you must carry two breathalyser kits.
  • In most European countries you must have a reflective vest and warning triangle in the van.
  • You must have your registration and V5 log book document.
  • You must adjust your headlamps.
  • In some countries you must carry a first aid kit.
  • You will need a GB sticker
  • For goodness' sake, take out European breakdown cover.

Some other useful items…

Of course you’ll need a recipe book or two to take with you… and perhaps a guide book of wild swimming spots… or maybe a You can buy a few on martindorey.com but, just in case you see through the thin veneer of my terrible salesmanship, here are a few other suggestions:

  • Stay on aires de camping car. Directories are available at vicariousbooks.co.uk. These vary in size, quality and price but choose carefully and you could well enjoy a lovely cheap stay in a great place.
  • France Passion (and other country equivalents) are also available from Vicarious Books. These are places you can stay for free overnight on the understanding that you say hello to your hosts. Places to stay include vineyards, farms and auberges. Highly recommended.
  • If you go out of season get an ASCI card. This will give you out of season discounts at 3142 campsites across Europe. Again, available from Vicarious.

Finally, don’t let this Brexit thingummy ruin your trip. People are people wherever you go and it is up to us to be kind, patient and smiling humans. Our neighbours will always be our friends and we should embrace them as such. I, for one, will head across the Bay of Biscay with a big smile on my face next week. Cannot wait.


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Wash one, wear one. The art of packing light.

It’s that time again. I’m flapping like an old fishwife, trying to work out what to pack for our three week adventure in Northern Spain. We’re off in less than a fortnight so we’re getting close to the off. And that means we are getting close to packing time. This year I have given each of my family a box to fill with whatever they like. They can take millions of pairs of pants and no hats if they like or they can take 10 pairs of trousers and no socks. It’s up to them really.

The reason for this is that I know my family like to overpack. They produce new outfits each day while I bum around in the same old pair of shorts for weeks on end. It’s happened before. They are crazed packers, fitting in as much as they could get away with. Until now there was no way of knowing if it would all fit in.

The only way I’d know was when we’d get to the packing the van stage and we’d suddenly find that we’d run out of room very quickly and everyone would have to reconsider what they take. The last time we headed off I sacrificed my space for dresses and tinkles and sprinkles that ensured every night was dress up for dinner night. Meanwhile, I stewed, literally.

The thing about the boxes is that I know they fit in the van. They sit on the back shelf above the Slidepod side by side in a heavenly line of neatness. If you want something you go into your box and you get it, then you close up your box again, stick it back in place and the status quo is maintained. Boom!

Am I anal? Maybe. But when it comes to packing camper vans, space is everything. In packing you must never forget that there will come a time when everything needs to be moved and stashed away so you can go to sleep. It’s kind of important. And for someone who has previously done that 65 nights on the trot, it’s safe to say it can get tedious if you take too much crap with you.

It seems that no matter how much storage you have, you’ll never have enough. For that reason I have compiled my art of packing light top ten list of campervan packing dodges.

1                     Give everyone a set amount of space to fill and don’t let them go over. Make sure they don’t over pack useless items, like millions of pairs of shoes they’ll never wear. Be draconian. Be strict.
2                     Roll up clothes as they are easier to pack and get less crumpled. But don’t be tempted to over pack and stuff your allocated space to the brim. Allow a little room for laziness.
3                     Take CDs out of their cases and put them in a wallet to save carrying loads of extra stuff. Or, better still, take an iPod (don’t forget the charger!).
4                     Decant spices and herbs and oil into smaller tins or bags to save space in your kitchen cupboard. Put butter in a kilner jar so it doesn’t go everywhere. Don’t get hung up on kitchen gadgets. A sharp knife will suffice.
5                     Invest in square plates and bowls. It’s amazing how much space they can save. Consider taking a plancha for frying as it’s cupboard shaped and doesn’t have awkward handles.
6                     Don’t waste cupboard space with duvets and pillows. You’ll need them every night anyway. Cupboards should be for clothes and kitchen stuff.
7                     Don’t overpack or it’ll be a nightmare to get it all back in. Kitchen cupboards that are over packed are a pain as you need to take everything out to get the useful stuff at the back.
8                     Take a pup tent to stash all the unnecessary stuff you don’t need day to day.
9                     Find a place for everything – agree it with the rest of them – and everything will be found in its place.
10                 Have a practice with everything in its place. Then see how it is when you put the bed out and stash it all away. Then halve it and start all over again.

Good luck!

Signed copies of The Camper Van Bible are available - along with a lot of other great camping and outdoor books - at martindorey.com

Friday, 17 June 2016

What does a camper van mean to you?

What does a camper van mean to you? 

Good times? Camping? The open road? breaking down? A love affair? It was a simple question that I asked as many people as I could get hold of (including the good and great of the camper van scene as well as a few van owning 'slebs) when I was writing my new book 'The Camper Van Bible'. I wanted to find out what people thought of their vehicles and to look into the kind of relationships people have with them. I wondered if I'd get a load of hippy drippy stuff or something more pragmatic. In the end we got some sensible stuff but also some really emotional musings. Some people's connections with their vans run deep. Mostly though, the feeling was the same: camper vans make us feel free for a while. My favourite line, from Sarah Riley of Inspired Camping was this: "And just as we found we often had to fix it... it also ended up fixing us."

So true.

So let's hit the road. The quotes appear in full in The Camper Van Bible.

"When my daughter was a baby she was seriously ill with leukaemia. We spent six months by her side in hospital. During that period Jo and I hatched a plan to buy another camper and take off on a big adventure. We needed a dream to chase. It was the very best antidote to the horror of the childhood cancer we were facing every day and became, for us, a symbol of a hopeful future." 

Martin Dorey, writer and surfer.

"I love the smiles Nan the Van generates as we drive through towns and villages, but best of all I love the sound of the solid 'clunk' as I slide the side door closed. It always marks the beginning of another adventure."

Josh Sutton, AKA The Guyrope Gourmet

"For me it’s not a lifestyle, it’s a machine, an organism as old as me and just as finicky, we’ve got some dents, we’ve got some rust, we need a new gearbox but remarkably we are both still puttering along."  

Chris Packham, Springwatch presenter

"Custard carried us from the church on our wedding day and the precious cargo of our babies on their first camping trips.  I created a new career using the van as the focus for a column I write in a camping magazine. Custard remains the embodiment of happiness, freedom and family fun.  Just inhaling that familiar, evocative smell of my van every time I climb behind the wheel is enough to remind me what really matters in life." 

Ali Ray, author of Pitch Up Eat Local

"Put simply, my van is my escape. Escape from the world, escape from the set, escape from the executive producer who wants me to say it 'with more feeling'. But, most importantly it makes me feel like that 8 year old boy from Blackpool who used his duvet and mum’s dining chairs to make his den. Like most Vdubbers, I’m hooked." 

Barney Harwood, Blue Peter presenter

"A camper van to me means freedom and impromptu adventures. It's more than just my daily transport, it's a realisation of my dreams. We often jump in our Danbury for unscheduled day trips to explore the great British countryside. If we like where we've ended up, we stay the night because we can. If we don't - we turn the key and move on..."

Jason Jones, Danbury Motor Caravans

"We discovered motorhomes when we had twins. No airport stress, no being forced to follow someone else’s agenda and timetable and no need to spend the earth to have quality time as a family. Load up, drive, pitch-up, enjoy."

Daniel Attwood, Editor Motorhome and Motorcaravan Monthly Magazine

"Bernie was such a bargain! He was so unreliable every turn of the key felt like a step into the unknown. But that sense of adventure, the smell of the 80s upholstery and all the associated happy memories turned Bernie into a powerful time machine, somewhere I could hide with a guitar and be transported to wherever I chose." 

Brian Briggs, the singer with Stornoway

"From the moment I was handed the keys for the 1974 Type 2 VW Campervan, I felt like the queen of the road. Winning Visit England's 'Fan in a Van' competition and being given the opportunity to explore our green and pleasant land in such an iconic vehicle was a dream come true." 

Rachel Kershaw, the Fan in a Van for the Olympic torch tour 2012

"We bought our first VW Camper, a 1967 Canterbury Pitt, to travel overland to India via Iran and Afghanistan and back in 1976. We covered 30,000 trouble free miles on some of the worst “roads” imaginable yet only had one puncture! Though we had to sell her on returning to the UK, in 1978 we bought a 1966 Devon Camper; the family’s children cried as we drove off in her." 

David Eccles, Editor VW Camper and Commercial Magazine

"As we were travelling back home ELO Mr Blue Skies came on the radio & the name was born, Mr Blue. Working for ourselves, being able to escape was always a challenge but once we had Mr Blue all we had to do was climb inside and as soon as we had turned out of the drive we felt like we were already on holiday. He is the ultimate escape, whether for fish & chips near our local beach, a day trip on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, winding round the lanes or a full touring and camping trip." 

Lucy Jayne Grout, Lucy Jayne Caravans and Caravanner of the Year judge

"Our camper became a place of recovery, a safe haven and an escape from difficult times. Our family took on the life of a tortoise: slowing things down, carrying our home wherever we went and allowing the squishy suspension to comfort and rock us to sleep. That camper may have been an old metal box on wheels, but it felt like so much more than that. And just as we found we often had to fix it... it also ended up fixing us."

Sarah Riley, Founder of InspiredCamping.com

You can buy The Camper Van Bible on Amazon or signed copies at martindorey.com

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The best books to take camping this summer.

We are off on a big adventure to northern Spain this summer. It’s been 4 years since we ventured across the channel to mainland Europe and I, for one, can’t wait. It’s the promise of getting away from the PC and the DIY and the mortgage and all the everyday trappings that excites me most. We’ll have three weeks to meander around Spain and France doing the things that make us happy. We’ll camp, of course, but we’re also searching for good walking, surfing, wild swimming and snorkeling.
We have a number of great books to guide us on our way, including one of the Wild Swim books and the latest guides to the aires of France and Spain from Vicarious book. Some of these are available on my website at martindorey.com, where you’ll find a hand-picked selection of camping and campervan books. These are books that inspire me, make me want to pull on my walking boots of strip off and dive into a rock pool.

The Guyrope Gourmet

 Let Josh Sutton transport you to a place where the fire never goes out, the banjos are strumming all evening and the food fill your nostirls with heavenly aromas. That’s the world of the Guyrope Gourmet, my mate from up north who drives a very cool Viking Camper and who makes great nosh. His book is full of wonderful images, great recipes and beautiful illustrations. Flick through it ona sunny afternoon and you’ll soon be dashing off to the farm shop….

Wild Swimming

If you like exploring and swimming then you need this book in your life. It’s full of fantastic places to swim, dive, jump and float away your summer. Pack a copy and take it wherever you wander this summer so you’ll be able to look up Daniel Start’s favourite places to take a wild swim. There are 300 of them around the UK and they will inspire you to roll up your swimmers in the old beach towel and head for the hidden pools, rivers, waterways, ponds, waterfalls, rockpools and lakes  of Britain.

Camping by the Waterside

One thing you’ll need to sort out is where to pitch your tent this summer. And my friend Steven Neale has the perfect criteria for guaranteeing a perfect pitch. And that is to only go to places where he can (or at least very nearly) cast his line of launch his kayak directly from the campsite. Better still, from his pitch. This book was a labour of love for Stephen and it shows. There are 120 sites all over Britain, clear regional maps and top ten lists for every type of by the water camping.

The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline

If you like strolling along the shoreline and like to know what treasure you might find there, this is the definitive guide to it. This is a book that took years of experience and lots of time spent wandering to write. It lists pretty much everything you might find on the beach, from fisherman’s buoys to lobster tags, shell and seed pods. It’s one for the cuious stroller, the beach wandered and the inquisitive beachcomber. But just remember, once you start finding beach treasure you’ll never walk along the beach in the same way again.

All the Aires France and Spain

If you are heading for the continent then the place to get your guide books is Vicarious Books. They publish the well-loved guides to the Aires of Europe and are agents for France Passion, the scheme that allows campervan and motorhome owners the opportunity to stay as guests of producers, bars and restaurants all over France. The Aires books are really useful on any trip to France and Spain as they list free (or cheap) stopovers all over the place. We have visited a few of them ourselves and can say that the listings and reporting is fantastic. We will not be leaving home without them.

The Camper Van Coast

So you’re taking off for the coast this summer? My second book is full of great ideas for a fantastic campervan trip to the coast, as well as lots of fantastic cook-in-a-camper recipes based on the sort of stuff you might find at the coast (and more). There’s also lots of coastal information , some easy (and safe) foraging and a whole gamut of advice and ideas for the best trip ever… so slip the old girl into first and hit the road. The coast isn’t too far.

There are lots of inspiring camping and campervan books on martindorey.com and I am adding more all the time. It’s the only place you can get signed copies of my books too.

What do you call yours? #mycampervaniscalled LOVE!

A few weeks ago I (with the help of my friends at the Caravan and Motorhome Club) asked the good people of Twitter and Instagram to...