THE WEATHER WAS filthy by the time we hit the road, so we decided to use the A3 motorway as there was little joy to be had sight-seeing in the rain. It wasn’t the most fun day we’d spent.
We’d always known this sort of day would be required having enjoyed our time at the Camping Romantische Strasse near Creglingen. Our stolen extra day in the glorious German sunshine left us short of time to get to our ferry in Calais.
After a short lunch stop in a murky, unremarkable motorway service area, the weather brightened a little as we crossed the border near Aachen into Belgium. We had a decision to make. The Volvo was short of fuel but our long drive meant we were running out of time to find a site. We decided to press on and find a site and worry about petrol later.
Site not sound
The Caravan Club Europe II guide is excellent for finding campsites but the directions to find L’Hirondelle were not the best. Part of the blame should rest with the site itself though. The result of the severely sparse signposting and ambiguous instructions was a Volvo, a Sprite and a thirty-three-point turn in a remote Belgian backroad. Luckily, reversing up the severe slope to complete the turn was made easier by the car being very light. It had no petrol in it.
Weather less than clement as we wait for help on arrival at L’Hirondelle
Eventually, the entrance to L’Hirondelle emerged but reception was closed. Little English signposting was in evidence but experience, guesses and blind luck led us to a well-hidden intercom. A lady arrived about 10 minutes later on a bike and once we worked out that none of us spoke any languages the other could understand, we mimed an explanation of needing a pitch for one night. We were bleeped through the security gate and found ourselves a pitch with two other touring units, among dozens of holiday homes near the football pitches and play areas in an otherwise deserted site.
Everything seemed fine for about 90 seconds, when we realised that our continental hook-up adapter would not fit the bollard on the site. ‘No matter’ I thought. ‘A night without mains won’t kill us’. I then spent the next 20 minutes swearing before explaining to Mrs Donnelly that the fridge did not light on gas. We had no fridge.
Thinking that was the bad news, I was coping but Helen had worse news. We had nothing for dinner. I took a swig of warm lager as I contemplated a evening with no power, no dinner and beer that was only going to get warmer. There was nothing for it but to head out onto the labyrinthine roads surrounding the site in search of sustenance. We jumped back in the car and headed towards where we presumed town. It was getting dark but a bright orange light on the dash reminded me of the perilous petrol situation. It was as if all the bad things that could have gone on for the entire trip had occured on the penultimate day.
We headed for Huy as it was the nearest large town and the first task was to find petrol. Frustratingly, we found a supermarket with automated petrol pumps but it only took its own brand of fuel card. The mood in the Volvo got quite tense at this point. It was now properly dark and we were both getting worried that the only petrol in town was locked out of our reach. No petrol tonight wasn’t a big problem, but we needed to be on a ferry by 2.30pm the next day, and that meant we needed press-on pace, not to dawdle for an hour looking for a fill-up.
Helen looks pensive behind the wheel during our stressy driving day
All went silent in the car as we wracked our brains, but then two beautfiul things appeared either side of the road ahead. On the right was petrol station and on the left, a neon-lit ‘Friterie’. Within ten minutes, we had a tankful of ‘sans plomb’ and two paper parcels stuffed with chips, although mine was smothered with strange pink sauce and cost an extra Euro. Still, the evening had taken a distinctly upward turn, sauce or not.
It’s getting better all the time
Finding the site a second time was easier, but bad luck returned as we had not been given a gate pass. That meant the Volvo was going to be locked outside the touring field, meaning we couldn’t pack, couldn’t make an early start and our chips would be cold by the time we reached the van. At least I could pop them in the fridge to warm them up.
Resigned to our fate, we walked back to the van with our food parcels in hand. We sat outside, drenched in the diffused 5W glare of the awning light, waving frantically every five minutes to trigger the PIR sensor and turn it back on. Our waving was presumably seen as a distress signal by a fellow Brit in a Fendt tourer nearby and he came over for a chat. We retold the story of our evening and he quickly worked out the best way to escape the impromptu therapy session he’d walked into was to help out. He lent us a security pass for the gate and a spare hook-up adaptor solving two more of our little problems at a stroke. With the fridge cold and the Volvo cuddled up close to the van again, we headed off to bed happy, despite the faint whiff of pink chip sauce from the bin.
All told, the night we spent at the huge, well-equipped but strangely scruffy L’Hirondelle site was not the best on the trip, but for various reasons, was definitely memorable. I was hoping the final day would be far more forgettable as we headed off to Calais.