Walking in the Languedoc Hills: Winter Motorhome Life at its Best
After shopping in Narbonne at the beginning of the week we decided to return to our Christmas aire at Gruissan. The aire was pleasant enough, but a little too busy for us. Sixty four motorhomes half filled the large harbour parking area. Many were there for the winter. Most of the owners were French and spent hours standing in groups discussing the activity around them.
We enjoyed the view from the harbour and the clanking of halyards against masts on windy nights over Christmas so we decided to try again. We suspected that the numbers would have reduced after the Christmas festivities. Cynthia guessed at forty. I was confident that there would be no more than thirty five. We were both in for a surprise.
One hundred and thirty six motorhomes had shoehorned themselves on to the aire in four cramped rows. The aire looked more than a second hand motorhome showroom than somewhere an owner would take his pride and joy for a relaxing break.
We could have squeezed onto the end of one of the rows, but chose not to. We parked a couple of hundred feet away on the harbour access road to the aire and spent a very peaceful night watching sailing boats gently rocking on the water.
We returned to the peace and quiet of a solitary wild camping spot at Peyriac-de-Mer the following day and then Cynthia and I parted company. Two or three days a week now I leave Cynthia behind for an hour or two of vigorous exercise and solitude. A circle of hills rise two hundred feet above Etang du Doll close to where we parked the Hymer. I enjoyed a brisk march over the windswept tops. I was out for two hours but didn’t see a soul.
I stopped on a secluded section of the footpath high above the lagoon. For half an hour I sat surrounded by wild rosemary and gorse with my legs dangling over the edge of a crumbling cliff drinking tea and flicking kumquat pips into the void. A fluttering hawk hunted high above and half a dozen bright pink flamingos stood in shallow water at the lagoon’s edge far beneath me.
I was relaxing without a care in the world, enjoying a beautiful view on a Tuesday afternoon when millions would be longing for the end of another hectic and repetitive day at work. I realised how truly lucky I am.
We stayed by the lagoon that night. The view was wonderful, but very exposed. After a night of gripping the mattress to prevent ourselves being hurled by the wind to the floor, we could understand why we had the spot to ourselves.
Given the choice between a night plagued by wind – not the baked bean variety – or a tranquil night at an aire stuck in a rank of other motorhomes, I know which we would prefer every time.
The motorhome gods were kind to us over Christmas and New Years. At the only time of the year when someone as technically inept as me can’t get anything fixed, nothing broke. We managed three weeks with everything working as it should, so the law of averages dictated that another catastrophe was due.
On Thursday, as we prepared for an afternoon of nothing more strenuous than a little light reading, Cynthia pointed out that the water in the galley mixer tap was running a little slow. This was the tap that Narbonne Accessories replaced for us after it disintegrated two weeks before Christmas.
The new tap’s water flow has never been fantastic, but now it was down to a dribble. Because my knowledge of motorhome systems is now encyclopaedic, I assured Cynthia that the batteries were a little low and that the water pressure would be back to normal as soon as I turned the generator on.
I pulled the generator out of the garage, connected it to the Hymer, yanked the starter cord and then climbed back into the cabin and waited for the expected praise from Cynthia for a job well done. No praise was either delivered or warranted because we had no water at all.
I exhausted all of my remaining technical ability by checking the water pump fuse. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was checking for, but the fuse looked OK. Then I called Oaktree Motorhomes in Nottingham. They confirmed that the likely cause of the problem was a dead water pump and advised us to ensure that if a new pump was needed that it was fitted with a non return valve to prevent water draining from the taps back into the water tank, every time any of the three taps in the Hymer were closed.
We raced to Narbonne Accessories. They quickly confirmed that the pump was dead and booked us in for the following morning to have a new pump with a non return valve fitted.
The following morning we arrived just before 9am. Narbonne Accessories isn’t the easiest business in the world to get to. The entrance to their business is an exit off a busy roundabout on one of the main roads through the city. When they are closed, a heavy steel gate is pulled across the entrance. It’s not possible to pull up outside their showroom if the gate is shut. We pulled onto an expansive car park on the opposite side of the road to wait for their gates to open, as did one or two other early customers.
A few minutes after we arrived, an old camper van, driven by an even older and very doddery gentleman, did a slow and erratic circle of the roundabout. The driver couldn’t find a way in to Narbonne Accessories so he just stopped in the middle of the road while he considered his options.
I took the photo below after he was persuaded by an irate articulated lorry driver to move from where he was blocking all of the traffic. He stayed here for ten minutes. Actually, the camper van stayed there for ten minutes. The owner went for a walk, straight across the road into the path of the oncoming traffic, oblivious to everything around him.
Narbonne Accessories’ fitter took an hour to change the pump. He didn’t speak any English but didn’t need to speak to demonstrate that water was flowing from all of our taps. We paid €124 for the pump and fitting then drove back to our quiet Peyriac-de-Mer aire in anticipation of a lazy day spent doing very little.
Back at the aire, we filled our depleted water tank then turned the galley tap on to fill our kettle. Several minutes spitting and spluttering from the tap was followed by a trickle of water and then several more minutes spitting and spluttering from me.
The water flow was fine for a couple of minutes, but if we waited for half an hour or more between uses, we had to endure several minutes of spitting and spluttering again before any water appeared. Worse than an intermittent cold water supply was no hot water supply at all.
We suspected that the pump had been fitted without a non return valve. The water flow was fine when the fitter showed us the completed work, because he had already bled the air out of the system. During our drive from Narbonne back to the aire, the cold water had syphoned back into the tank and the hot water had dropped out of the boiler.
We were back at Narbonne Accessories as soon as they opened for business on Saturday. They don’t do any repair work at the weekend, so we made an appointment for Monday to have a non return valve fitted. Hopefully, that should cure the problem.
In the meantime, we had a bit of a problem to overcome. We had no hot water. This wasn’t a problem for dish washing because we could use a kettle. A kettle full of boiling water wasn’t the safest of tools to take into a shower with us though.
We popped into Narbonne’s sports mega store, Decathlon. The store is as large as one of the bigger B & Q stores in the UK, but they only sell sports clothing and equipment. They have a large camping section where they stock a very handy eight litre folding camp shower.
The shower is a foldable version of the Hozelock Portashower which I used to use on my narrowboat. It’s a very handy bit of kit which has solved our immediate problem on the Hymer. We’ll also use it on the boat later on in the year.
We hadn’t enjoyed a meal out for over a month so we treated ourselves yesterday. Peyriac-de-Mer has several bars and restaurants, but the most popular with the locals is O Vieux Tonneaux.
The business is part local’s bar, part cafe, part restaurant and part summer music venue. We visited the bar before Christmas and loved it. The bar is very popular with some colourful hard drinking locals. They were out in force yesterday.
A guy with long straggly grey hair a cauliflower nose and more limbs than teeth held onto the bar rail with one hand while he swept a white wine glass through the air with the other to punctuate the slurred monologue he delivered at great length and even greater volume to the unsuspecting couple standing next to him.
Another man dressed in a shabby full length raincoat swayed at the bar with a glass of wine in one hand and a thick lead in the other. The long lead was attached to a stocky labrador which took full advantage of its radius from its distracted owner to clear several nearby tables of unwanted food.
I love ordering meals from a French menu. I can probably read more French than I can speak, but that’s not saying much. Every meal is a lucky dip. Sometimes I can spot a word or two I recognise and guess at the rest. Most meals are a mystery, but I was quite pleased with myself on this occasion.
Cynthia decided what she was going to have, then asked me what I had chosen. “I think I’ll have the chicken with olives, fennel and parmesan,” I told her, confidently pointing at the menu. “That sounds delicious,” she said, “but why are you pointing to the fish?”
There wasn’t any chicken on the menu, so I had steak instead, and what a monster it was. I’m sure the chef simply pulled a cow in from the field behind the restaurant, pulled off its horns, wiped its backside and threw the rest on my plate. Fortunately the steak came with just half a dozen chips and a lettuce leaf. After two hours hacking and chewing, the steak was gone, and very nice it was too. The dogs agreed, as half the steak left in Cynthia’s handbag.
That’s my brief account of our week on the road. I’ve been too busy comparing the costs of living in a motorhome with those of living full time in a narrowboat to write much else. If you’re interested in finding out what the last three months have cost us, or how those costs compare with living afloat, you can find out here.