We’ve recently returned from our longest jaunt in Precious to date. A late cancellation by a group of anglers freed up a very convenient week for us: it just happened to be the one when Caiti would be over from Ireland presenting her thesis in Leiden in The Netherlands.

So off we set on Sunday morning, destination Dieppe. Well, just outside Dieppe at Hautot-sur-Mer but there’s no nice alliteration in that! We had good weather and met minimal traffic, although we did come across a convoy of coaches bearing some very well-know pro cycling teams. We’re still not sure which event they were going to or coming back from, though.

Chris had picked a super campsite for our overnight stay (Le Marqueval, I’d definitely recommend it). There was a pond at its centre, well populated by moorhens, and there was also a pet farm with goats, a pony, a donkey and lots more moorhens. We strolled the half kilometre or so to the coast and walked along the seafront. The tide was well up so we only did a bit of crunching across flint and chert pebbles to admire the cliffs. We returned next morning, after a quick spot of geocaching, when the tide was much further out.

We almost missed the very humble memorial to the Canadians who died, alongside some British soldiers, during the Dieppe Raid in August 1942. This large-scale daylight assault was a disaster, with more than 3,600 of the 6,100 attacking force left either dead, wounded or missing, or taken prisoner.

Next overnight stop was Den Haag (The Hague). This involved a lot of motorway driving. In fact, it seems like most of Belgium and Holland is taken up by motorways! But we chewed up the miles, apart from around Antwerp where traffic jams were the order of the day, and got to our Dutch campervan site about half past five. We’d been warned about the armoured gate at the entrance to the area, Valutapad, where the campervan park is. We had to phone a number to be let in. I phoned the wrong number to start with, and spoke to the man who has a poultry farm nearby, but got the right number next time and we were allowed in.

The Dutch like rules and regulations, even more than the French. There was a long list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s, mainly the latter. One of these concerned grooming your dog on the campsite. Since a)Tobi was holding the fort back home with Benj, and b) we don’t groom her very often anyway, it didn’t affect us, but it was highly intriguing. I dare say they had their reasons.

We were issued with a cunning phone-like device to use to open the outer gate if we wanted to go out and about. However, you could only do that until 6.30 in the evening, and after 9 in the morning. You were sealed in, tomb-like, between those hours. And if you went out for a few hours in your van, as we did when we went to pick up Caiti’s belongings which had been languishing in a storage facility for slightly over two years, you had to hand your cunning device in at the campervan park reception and rely on them to remotely operate the gate to let you out and back in. When I expressed bewilderment at this requirement, I was told that well, we might decide to not come back and hang onto the gizmo as a keepsake. Unlikely when we’d paid for two nights and left our bikes in our camping spot, but there we are. Rules are rules.

It was lovely to see Caiti for the first time in 2021, and nice to catch up properly with news. The time flew by, a good chunk of of it taken up with reuniting her with her stuff, which she had a quick firkle through to retrieve a few treasured items. The rest was coming back with us in Precious. We discovered that unwelcome guests had taken up residence in her storage locker: clothes moths had infiltrated into a few bags and their larvae had been merrily chomping on various items made from natural fibres. I’m currently treating suspect items with either a stint in the freezer, or a good hot wash followed by a bright airing on the line followed by a blast in the tumble dryer. That should deal with any lingering eggs or larvae.

We had to kick our heels until 9am next day in order to be permitted to leave, which was annoying as we’d have preferred to have left a good hour earlier. We had a lot of ground to cover as we were heading to Lac du Der via Bastogne, so we could visit the Bois Jacques made famous in Stephen E Ambrose’s Band of Brothers book, and the ensuing TV series. It was in this wood that E Company of the 101st Airborne Division were based for a few weeks from December 1944 to January 1945 during the Battle of the Bulge. We saw some of the foxholes they’d dug to try and protect themselves from enemy attack, friendly fire and terrible winter weather.

We had a late finish to our day, not helped by our satnav insisting we drive through the middle of Liege or the diversions in practically every town we passed through, even including diverted diversions! That was in Verdun. From that famous town we drove along the Voie Sacrée Nationale, road RN1916, which I must confess I hadn’t heard of before. This 72-km stretch of road between Verdun and Bar-le-Duc played a vital role during the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Men, armaments and supplies were ferried along it in vehicles that passed as frequently as every 14 seconds.

We finally arrived at Lac du Der in darkness, too tired to do anything other than eat and then crawl into bed. Lac du Der at 48 square kilometres is the largest artificial lake in Europe. It was created in 1974 to regulate the water flowing from the Marne into the Seine. Three villages were sacrificed: Nuisement-aux-Bois and Chantecoq entirely, and all of Champaubert-aux-Bois except for its church.

We got to see the lake next day, once the mist cleared. We’ve wanted to go for a long time as it’s where the grey cranes stop off during their migration to and from Spain and the snowy north. We were a bit early for the mass gatherings but we did get to see and hear some cranes. The most prolific birds were cormorants and geese. We saw zillions of them!

The plan was to cycle the 34kms around the lake, but after a few kilometres a technical problem arose in one of Chris’s tyres which emergency gunk couldn’t solve so we had to return to base by foot. Fortunately we had a spare bike with us. None the worse for having spent two years idling in the storage locker, Caiti’s bike, after a quick tyre-pump, allowed us to spend another hour or so cycling in the opposite direction from earlier. It was most enjoyable.

And so we set off for home, sticking to smaller roads. It meant another late finish to the day, but thanks to Benj chips and cordon bleus were waiting for us.

We had a great time and are looking forward to our next jaunt, although we will do less driving per day in future, and have no immediate plans to return to traffic-filled Belgium and Holland!

And to finish, a photo of some rather splendid beach huts at Hautot-sur-Mer.