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Cooking in the motorhome

Rustling up delicious food in a tiny motorhome kitchen can be a challenge, but I was keen to see if I could manage things I make at home, whilst travelling. I had started a file of recipes we eat regularly and that I’d like to keep making if possible. This is, after all, our ‘home from home’.

The motorhome kitchen has a good set up: a generous fridge, small freezer, a combi microwave, a decent sink/drainer, hot and cold water, 1 electric hob ring,  2 gas rings, a gas oven and a gas grill. In addition there’s lots of storage for crockery, cutlery and our food (and dog food!!). The prep area is pretty small though and takes some organisation!

Smoothies. We always have a smoothie first thing, since enjoying them on holiday in Mexico a couple of years back. Packing the blender was a big decision due to its weight, size and the all important wattage/amperage (crucial on 6 amp hook up sites! We’ve blown a few in our time). So, we did decide to take it, as it was relatively low power and something we used every day. On days of no electric hook up, I make hand-mashed ‘lumpies’ rather than smoothies!!

Breakfast bars. Our friend Aston gave us the ‘Thugs Kitchen’ recipe book and we love the ‘go to breakfast bars’ recipe – a quick nutritious, breakfast when you’re busy. Most of the ingredients come in for other things, so that was a definite. First batch worked well, half measures due to the size of the baking pan, but just as good as at home!

Breakfast bars: Just about to go in the oven…gas mark 5??

Bread.  I love making bread at home,  where our posh warming drawer makes it very easy!!! On the road, I took advantage of a warm day, and although I bought slightly the wrong flour in a French supermarket, it turned out pretty well, if a little sweet (was great toasted, with whisky marmalade!). Not being used to a gas oven, I’m finding everything needs a little longer, and a little lower gas mark to stop the back of any bake from burning, as it’s such a teeny oven.

Lunches are usually sandwiches, soup or something else quick as we’re usually mid-travel or at a place of interest.

Dinners are our main meal when at home and we make all sorts – curries, tagines, home made pizzas, ‘Nachos Grande’ (our favourite TV dinner), risottos, lasagne, etc. I tried a pizza, but the oven was too hot and the back burnt a bit!! Ah well, if at first…

Pizza, pre burn…!

Other things I want to try include cookies, Naan breads, Chelsea buns and lasagne…. will keep you posted….




The names of things…

A common quirk of campervan and motorhome owners is naming their vans. I resisted at first but Bev won me over and we took to calling our first van Voyager (the number plate ended ‘VYR’). For the new motorhome, we agreed straightaway on a name: Stargazer!

Mostly because it has a fantastic huge skylight window and we pictured ourselves sat snug and warm watching the stars slowly circling above, maybe the northern lights dancing.

But also after the song (and album) by the American songwriter and guitar player, Jesse Terry. We’ve seen Jesse a handful of times – he’s a genuinely lovely guy and one of a handful of successful independent musicians that have inspired and motivated me to make some changes in my life.

Here’s the official video for the song – filmed at an iconic North East location!

Then there’s this gem – a stripped back version with Alan Fish on acoustic guitar and some lovely bass guitar.

The song always gets me to the brink of tears as it makes me think of our oldest whippet Marra who has started to stare off into space for long periods. He had a mystery health issue a year or so ago, maybe a small stroke, and has really slowed down. Sometimes when he comes into a room, he’ll just stop as if he’s forgotten what he came for, and stare. Doggy Alzheimer’s, Bev thinks. We’ve had to really come to terms with losing him at some point. Like the lines in the song, maybe one day he will choose a different universe. Until then, I’m grateful for the chance to spend more time each day with him.

Anyway, after that, everything had to have a name. So, I give you…

Moonraker! Bev’s B’TWIN folding bike, for nipping to the shops for fresh croissants.

Mars Rover! A dog stroller/jogger so Marra doesn’t miss out on any adventures. He still loves a walk but starts to drag his back legs after a while. We put him in when he’s had enough, and before he scrapes his claws down till they bleed.

And for aquatic missions: Sunseeker! An inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP).

The Monte Carlo Affair…

…Which sounds a bit like a spy movie. Except they never show the bits where the secret agent has to take an elderly dependent with mobility issues around an iconic/cinematic location. Is Monaco wheelchair friendly? Is it worth a visit? Is it doable in a campervan? We found out.

First, a bit of Askew glossary: The ‘Franklin Index’ is a measure of ‘well-travelled-ness’ – the number of countries visited, divided by age in years. Inspired by the arctic explorer John Franklin and in part by his namesake Jon Franklin, who I worked with for a while and whose wife regularly used the same calculation to plan their holidays. A positive Franklin index, a score greater than 1, means you’ve visited more countries than your age in years. Whoo. We didn’t really travel a great deal until our late 20’s so a positive index would be a tough target but still, any opportunity to visit a new country is quite a draw.

So, the James Bond glamour and the chance to tick another country off made me want to try to visit Monaco seeing as we were passing so close as we moved from France to Italy. We googled ‘motorhome parking monaco’ and there was some older information about parking spaces without height restrictions at the stadium but nothing conclusive from more recent comments. The weather wasn’t great as we passed anyway, so we didn’t bother – I was already hatching a new scheme!

We were camping in Ventimiglia, a short hop into Italy. The train from Ventimiglia to Monaco takes 30 minutes, and the campsite was a 10 minute stroll from the station. That sounds a lot easier that struggling to find parking for the motorhome!

Rules on taking dogs – and taking an old dog in a fairly chunky stroller – on trains were a bit vague, it depends on the type of train, size of dog, etc. We can only try. We positioned Marra in his rover in clear view of the guy at the ticket office and asked for 2 adults, 2 dogs ‘andate e ritorno’ to Monaco. Puffing away on his e-cigarette, the guy obliged, with nothing to indicate any concerns. The dogs paid half the child fare, had their own ticket, which we stamped before boarding.

The train was at the platform so we legged it. No lift so a bit of a haul down the steps to the underpass and back up to the platform. On the train no problem as they had lots of space for bikes, but there were no cyclists on so we parked ourselves in there. Nothing but smiles and cooing from the (French) train guards.

I realised I didn’t know much about Monaco other than it has a Grand Prix, it’s small, expensive and glamorous and the casino was in a Bond film. I now know it is very steep – there are public elevators between levels; it has several districts, of which Monte Carlo is one; and, there are 3 main attractions: the Casino, the Aquarium and the Japanese Garden.

We hit a snag trying to leave the station – the rover wouldn’t fit through the doors to the lifts. We had to remove one wheel. I guess we are just a little bit wider than an average wheelchair! We found this to be the case all round the city, so we avoided all the lifts except one up out of the marina. Good exercise, pushing the rover! Apart from that, we had very little bother all day.

We took a circular route:

  • down the roads to a pedestrianised shopping area, where we stopped at Grubers for an excellent burger,
  • round to the marina, where they were setting up for the upcoming e-prix and where we ogled the yachts,
  • up to the Japanese garden, where we took turns to wander as dogs weren’t allowed,
  • round to the casino, again where we took turns to have a nosy inside,
  • through the posh shopping/hotel area, where we ogled the fancy cars,
  • then on back round to the station.

A grand day out! Wasn’t that sunny but we got a few pics.

Route Napoléon

We moved south through France, and started to climb into the foothills of the Alps. We kept seeing Route Napoléon signs everywhere. After about 3 days, we looked it up: It’s the path Napoléon took in 1815 on his way back from exile in Elba, to retake control of France before his final defeat at Waterloo. Nowadays it’s perhaps as famous as a favourite route for thrill-seeking bikers. We saw a few, or more often heard them roaring up from behind to overtake. I had sore eyes so Bev drove 3 days in a row through the worst/best of it! Hairpins bends, stunning views, bikers and more. No small challenge when we’re still getting used to a 3.5 tonne, 6m long van, so hats off to Bev.

We set ourselves another challenge on the way – could we do 3 nights in a row wild camping? We had fresh water, emptied the waste and the loo. We had solar power to charge the leisure battery. We had plenty of propane. We even bought an inverter from Costarama (like the French B&Q) so we could run a few small 240V things like the laptop charger.

First night, we stopped at Lac de Petichet. Very quiet, still early in the season. I did a quick music video, to give prospective venues an idea of what they were letting themselves in for 😉

A nice wander at Sisteron, then a more basic/less glamourous stop-over at Dignes, with lots of campers in a row by the river, but at least the pizza was good!

Castellane was a highlight, we stopped for a coffee/beer and florentines in the sun by the square. Our camp for the 3rd night was a few miles past the town on Route Napoléon, off the road down a track. Very quiet, very scenic.

It was all going really well so we carried on and spent a fourth night camping for free by a park above the town of La Rouret.

We turned off Route Napoléon just before Cannes, heading east to Italy. We considered another wild camping stop overlooking Monaco but it was a grey and windy day, wouldn’t have been much of a view. So, we rolled on to Italia via the toll road, to a town called Ventimiglia and a paid-for campsite.

Apps for travel: Park4Night

Park4Night is an excellent user-input based app, which allows you to locate (and share information on) free camping spots all over the world. In addition, paying campsites, car parks, picnic areas and even farms are listed, making this an invaluable tool for travellers who, like us, don’t like to stick to a definite plan of where they want to be the next night.

There are literally thousands of spots and whilst some aren’t ideal for a larger vehicle like our 6m home, advice and reviews are given about this sort of thing, so it’s rare that you end up somewhere you can’t actually stay. Some of our favourites so far have been:

Staying on a snail farm! Guess what we had for dinner that night??!! Just €10 for the night, including electricity.

Relaxing by the Saône river. For free!  Our neighbours for the night were on a boat, called, er, ‘Le Boat’…

A peaceful fishing lake. Again, no cost! Beautiful weather, very pleasant.

On the ‘Route Napoleon’ just after Castellane. Great dog walk, great scenery,  no cost. Parfait.

Admittedly some countries don’t have as many free sites, for example, we struggled in Italy, but we still found farms and vineyards where you can stay for free, but you are expected to buy some wine, honey or other produce… which is no great hardship really!

So far, we’ve only used it in Western Europe – will update after we get to Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Scandinavia.

Ghent, Luxembourg, France

We got to Ghent on a Friday afternoon, and found the campsite close to the city centre. Big site, well organised and very helpful staff at check-in gave us a map and relevant details. The dogs were sleepy and happy to laze around so we thought we’d have a night out and check out some of the music bars. I took the guitar, just in case I got a chance to play a tune for whoever does the gig bookings – slim chance I know, but it was early evening and ‘shy bairns’ and all that. There was a bus into town, but we walked anyway, 30-40 mins through a big sports park. First stop Missy Sippy – really cool blues and americana bar near the centre. Had a few strong Belgian beers and a chat with the owners – really friendly but nothing doing gig wise. Maybe on our way back through Belgium in August. There is a big festival in July in Ghent, and the bar does its own ‘festival in a festival’ – looks great.

Some nice sights around the city. We liked it!

Next stop the Hot Club of Gent, a jazz haunt – liked the ‘no talking during the performances’ sign. Asked the lad behind the bar about rootsy blues gigs but he’s more into the ‘nightlife’ he says. On to Trefpunt. Again a nice bar, very strong beers, some local characters in. It has a venue attached and its own mini festival in July.

Stopped in at another bar on the wander back, for an 8.5% Charles Quint ale. Slept well!

On, down to Luxembourg, through snow and the dashboard showing -2° outside. Cheap diesel in Luxembourg – always worth filling up! Nice scenery, reminded us of the English Lakes. Stayed 2 nights in Enscherange but didn’t wander far. Toasty in the van though, got some jobs done, Bev sorting the bedroom curtains.

Back into France, started to head South, working out best way to get into Italy. Probably not over the mountain passes, given the amount of snow. A couple of nice stops on the way, including Arbois (home of Louis Pasteur) and Lac de Madine. Stayed at a nice site at Cerveyrieu and set up the dog stroller for a hike up to the cascade. Pretty tough going at times, uphill on cobbles and down a track blocked by a fallen tree, but we made it! Great views. I learned about ‘lavoirs’ which are a common sight in rural France – public areas for washing clothes, fed by streams or piped water. Apparently, there are over 17,000 of them, most in disrepair, some restored to their former glory, before launderettes and washing machines.

First proper ‘wild’ camp

As our house was all packed up into storage, we’d slept in the new van every night since we got it but sleeping in the street outside your own home hardly counts as wild camping! Our definition would be: camping somewhere for free, with little or no facilities, just what you have with you. We set off 9th April and spent our first night at Bev’s auntie’s near Bedford – still doesn’t count! But it did mean we only had a short drive to the channel tunnel, via the Dartford Bridge. Short delay with the tunnel this time – fire safety alarms weren’t working properly on one train, so we had to drive in a big loop and get on another one. Still a pretty smooth operation, friendly staff and no real concerns tackling it with the bigger vehicle.

We didn’t drive too far into France that day. Bev found a Park4Night site outside Bergues, about 10km south of the beaches of Dunkirk. It’s basically just a car-park in the forest, by some running trails, dog-walks and fishing ponds. Slightly nervy as we got ready for the night, with those stories of wrong-uns gassing people in their campervans and robbing them in my mind. But another van turned up, and assuming they weren’t the wrong-uns, I thought we’d probably be ok.

It was great. Lovely, peaceful, wildlife all around and we had absolutely everything we needed in the van.

In the morning, we had an opportunity to try out Bev’s folding bike – She rode ahead to find a patisserie. I followed with the dog stroller, so Marra could climb in when he’d had enough of walking. He can only go so far these days, poor old lad!

Looking forward to more nights like this!

The plan is… There is no plan

I guess we did have a plan to start with. We fancied a change. Bev would finish work, we’d sell the house in Newcastle and move to Northumberland, get some chickens or alpacas and set up a music studio in the garage. But our house didn’t sell – buyers being cautious with Brexit maybe, or maybe just no-one saw what we saw in our house and garden. Then there came an opportunity for an exit scheme at my work – too good to miss. I applied and was successful – I’d finish 6th April and get a payout at the end of the month. New plan – never mind Brexit, let’s vote with our feet and get out.

Bev tidied up the house to rent it out and we started to sketch out a route through Europe. Our friends Andy and Ucci are building a house in Sweden so we’d aim to get there and say ‘Hi’ at some point, probably late July/early August.

We part-exchanged our VW campervan as a deposit for a larger motorhome and after a few worrying weeks in the run up to the 29th March Brexit deadline, decided to get a loan and pay off the balance for the new van early and get set off, in advance of the new ‘deadline’ of 12th April.

This meant a truly bonkers and exhausting week after finishing work, with my leaving do and farewell gig with the band, packing up the entire house into boxes, loading into a storage unit, trying to sort the rental, sorting road tax, insurance, etc, then collecting the new van from Scotland, sourcing a new acoustic amp, trying to pack all our kit in…

…and seeing friends to say goodbye. I barely had chance to reflect on leaving work after 15 years, leaving a good, solid day-job at the age of 45 to go off travelling, leaving the house we’d loved for 14 years, etc. Ah, well. It’s done now and we’re off. Bring it on 🙂

Bringing forward our departure meant that I hadn’t had time to put any effort into findings gigs in Europe either. So we really didn’t have anywhere particular to be. The only place I’d contacted was a bar in Ghent, Belgium, but I’d not heard anything. May as well head that way, you never know!

Choosing a motorhome

We’d had our campervan – a converted T5 transporter van, nicknamed “Voyager” – for 3 years and had some fantastic adventures. We really caught the bug. As well as regular weekend escapes, gigs and festivals, we’d done 2 longer trips around Europe – first for 2 weeks and then 3 weeks. We loved it and wanted to go further afield and stay away longer, much longer e.g. months.  On our last trip we found more wild camping sites – Bev’ll do a post on the Park4Night app at some point – and again loved the freedom (and low cost) and wanted to do more of that. For a few reasons, we started to think that a bigger van might be required:

Living and storage space. We’re not just thinking in terms of taking a long holiday, we want to take our lives on the road to some extent. We’ll look long and hard at what we need – we are downsizing after all – but it’s likely we’ll have to take more ‘stuff’ than we do currently. (And that already includes the dog’s beds/coats/food, Bev’s paddleboard, my guitars, etc.)

We were lucky with the weather on our longer trips – it was sunny, dry and warm. I think if we’d had more rain, we’d have struggled a bit with wet coats, boots and 2 wet dogs! So, if we’re going to be away longer and we intend to keep on camping through winter, we should prepare for that.

Also, we love being outdoors and have the picnic table and chairs but we may also need space to ‘work’ indoors, especially through winter.

A made up bed. It might be part of the fun for some, making up a bed each night from the sofa but we love the idea of a separate space for sleeping. We’re both quite tall so sleeping widthways is not an option for us in a normal van. In Voyager, we came close by sleeping ‘upstairs’ – in the pop top. We could leave the bedding up there during the day and when driving. This also meant one of us could have a lie-in while the other got up to sort the dogs and make a cuppa in the morning. Of course, with the bed ‘down’ there isn’t much headroom so you have to do all this hunched over! We began to dream of doing this morning ritual without stooping and it became a ‘must-have’ for our new van.

Facilities for wild camping. Although the VW van was easy to drive on narrow roads and could get us into places that we’d never reach in a motorhome, there were a few drawbacks. The fresh water capacity in the conversion was a bit limiting at 12 litres, and it was fiddly to fill. So, more fresh water and an integrated waste tank were required. Having lived with 12v electrics and a Waeco CR50 compressor fridge and a Truma gas-only heater, we also knew we wanted more fuel/power options for storing food, cooking and heating the living area. Ideally, this would include solar.

Full winterisation for year-round travel. That means better insulation, decent heater, frost protection on the water supply, etc.

Although we’d got into to a fairly slick routine for setting up and packing up, we still imagined ways to make it easier. In an ideal world, it would be effortless to move from driving to camping modes – just pull up when we find the perfect spot and drive off whenever we felt like it. We began to look at motorhomes admiringly, and pondering… if we wanted to wild camp for days, we’d probably need a loo and a shower, so we’d need more water, and a built in waste tank, and what about the comfy captain’s chairs for driving long distances, that spin round to make a dining area with the adjustable table… And, ooh, built in cab-blinds… Classic van envy!

When you start looking at motorhomes, there’s a huge range of styles, layouts and of sizes. Some are absolute monsters. We decided on a few more criteria:  

Not too long! Neither me nor Bev have much experience driving big vehicles and I’d already had a ‘minor altercation’ with an underground car park in Heidelberg. We don’t want to have to avoid back country roads entirely. The van was 5m and we knew this would be bigger, but ideally under 6m as we’d heard this can be a size limit for some ferries in Scotland and sometimes vans over this length get charged more.

Reasonable fuel efficiency. The VW was fantastic, averaging 36 mpg. We’d seen online some motorhomes did less than 20 mpg which seems boggling. Ideally, hoping for something around 25-30 mpg.

Of all the different brands, types or classes, and layout options, we soon homed in on just 2 layouts and there weren’t many options in our price range:

French Bed layout – fixed bed, with storage underneath accessible from outside, separate bathroom, kitchen area, lounge.

Transverse Bed – fixed bed, even more storage accessible from outside, separate bathroom, kitchen area, lounge.

A chance encounter at Marquis Motorhomes in Birtley, where Bev ambushed a chap bringing his motorhome in for it’s annual service and he generously showed us around, convinced us that there was only one make and model that would tick all the boxes – the Benimar Mileo 201, a low-profile coachbuilt motorhome with a transverse bed layout.

Benimar Mileo 201

Typically for us, we had to be even more particular – it had to be a late 2015 or later model, as the earliest versions weren’t fully winterised.

Elddis had a transverse bed model, which was a cheaper option, but it wasn’t winterised, didn’t seem as well finished, and even the brand new models just had a ‘dated’ look/feel to them, like your Granda’s old caravan.

Benimar have a French Bed model, the 231, but we saw that it lacked a preparation space in the kitchen – something Bev was keen on. (A cooking and baking post coming soon!) We also liked the L shaped lounge, thinking there’ll be a bit more room when the whippets want to climb on our laps.

There’s a review of the early 201 models here. We watched this video countless times, despite the terrible spanish puns, while we scoured the second hand sites for a decent late-2015 201 to come up.

How much does it cost to run a campervan?

Mixed feelings as I dropped off ‘Voyager’, our trusty VW campervan, a few weekends ago, in part-ex for the new motorhome. On the train home, I got to pondering. We’d had the van a touch under 3 years, say 35 months, and the difference between what we paid and what we got in part-ex was £4,000 – Does that make the depreciation cost about £115 a month? Not bad, I thought, well worth it! For the freedom of Friday night escapes to the countryside, so many long weekends around England and Scotland, 2 amazing trips to Europe, not to mention using the van as a regular runabout.

Of course, that figure doesn’t include diesel, or insurance, or this and that… Turns out the total cost averaged out over the months is quite a lot! Well it sounds a lot, but this figure should be compared to the cost of running a ‘normal’ car, regular weekends away (caravan/B&B?) and 5 weeks holiday around Europe. Still well worth it! And the feeling of escaping the 9-5, the freedom to follow the sunny weather or to take on new gigs and festivals up and down the country – that is absolutely priceless.     

Priceless in one sense, but certainly measurable in other senses – and the inner analyst/geek’s curiosity was piqued. So, here’s the facts and figures. May be useful for someone considering taking the plunge – but don’t be put off until you’ve made that full and fair comparison. And bear in mind it could probably be done cheaper for example, we had agreed value insurance, breakdown cover, worldwide multi-trip travel insurance and so on.  

Averaged monthly cost over 3 years of owning a VW campervan: £410

  • 82 trips (day trips, camping, touring, gigs and festivals) plus regular short journeys/commuting.
  • Total miles 19,379: 17,887 on trips and 1,492 miles commuting.
  • 2,454 litres of diesel, averaging 36 mpg (min 33 mpg, max 42 mpg).
  • 9 countries: UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Spain
  • Longest journey: 3,228 miles through France and Northern Spain.
  • Most visited: Kielder Forest, Alwinton (Clennell Hall), Workington, Druridge Bay, Tynemouth

Breaking it down:

Averaged monthly van costs: £234

Including depreciation, insurance (up to 6,000 miles per year), road tax, servicing and repairs, diesel for occasional commuting.

Additional averaged monthly costs for our camping/holidays: £176

Including diesel, site fees, camping accessories, new leisure battery, gas tanks, camping club memberships, travel insurance, extra cost for insurance up to 10,000 miles in 2018, tolls and vignettes, 2 pet passports, 1 insurance claim excess.

Let’s see how much the newer, bigger motorhome ends up costing…

Trying the new camera

For a special birthday treat this year, and thinking ahead to our upcoming tour, I got a new digital camera. We’ve had a Panasonic TZ20 for years – great pictures in good light, good zoom, really compact – but it had some fluff in the lens that we couldn’t shift and the zoom motor was starting to play up. Low light performance was not great – my newer mobile (Samsung S7) took better indoor and night-time shots. As ever, I pondered long and hard over what to get – a good all rounder, for photo and video, not too bulky, not too expensive.

In the end we stuck with Panasonic, and the simplicity of a fixed lens, and went for the FZ2000, described as a super-zoom bridge camera. It has 20x zoom, 1 inch sensor, better low light perfomance, 4k video, good battery life and a host of other features like 4k photo, built in neutral density filters and much more to be discovered I’m sure.

Very pleased with the results so far. Got a lot to learn but hoping for some great photo mementos from our trip. These are from our fantastic trip to Mauritius. The .jpg sizes are normally around 6-8Mb (20Mp) so I’ve had to resize/shrink them here.

Launch gig for European tour…?

Looking forward to the big changes coming up this year! It’s meant that we’ve had to think carefully about which gigs and festivals we can try to book in. I’m starting now to plan a route through Europe and looking for potential solo gigs along the way. Tops tips for Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic anyone?

Plan is to be back in UK for late August and we have some band bookings already in for September. So, it’s likely that our 30th March gig at the Brandling Villa in South Gosforth will be our last for a little while – come on down and make it special 🙂

The Brandling is a superb pub – great beers, a unique grub menu, good crack. The original and best dog pub, always full of characters!

Well hello 2019

So, I mentioned some big changes for 2019… Well the balls are definitely rolling now! I’m finishing work at the end of March, the house is up for sale and I put down the deposit on a motorhome yesterday! Our current plan is to tour Europe for a few months and see where things lead us.

A little sad to part with our fantastic VW campervan which has taken us on some great adventures, gigs and blues festivals over last 3 years. Our camp breakfast up near Edinburgh this morning likely to be our last!

But the bigger van is likely to be our home for the foreseeable and that is really exciting. I can’t take all the guitars of course so some tough decisions ahead 🙂