Our first camping holiday in France was in the summer of 1990 and boy were we novices to this camper van lark!
We had our two children in tow, Jamie was about 11 months and his big sister Laura was a grand 5 and a half. We made so many rookie mistakes that I wince.
My daughter, now a “wise” 34 year old is horrified by our ramshackle travelling arrangements.We had had a child car seat fitted to the “lounge” back seat thanks to “Grandad Jackson”. This was simply held in place by 2 straps which were attached to bolts in the metal floor at the back of the van. This was pride of place for Laura and, for anyone who knows the layout of a 1972 Westfalia camper, is quite a long way behind the driver and passenger seats.Making “emergency” visits to a wailing /distressed child quite a challenge when seated in the front passenger seat.
Meanwhile, Jamie, horror of horrors travelled in the cot part of a carrycot which was simply wedged on the floor between the larder/ cupboard and the wardrobe. He was strapped into the carrycot by a harness with the reins clipped onto the sides of the cot- this was more to prevent him crawling out than to secure him safely in case of a traffic accident! This cot was his travelling position, his bed at night and with the wheels, which were stowed in the boot when travelling, his pram for any explorations outside of the van.
We of course slept in the bed which the back seat dropped down into with Laura up top in the pop up roof. On many happy occasions all 4 of us would be snuggled in the big bed which was large and very comfy but took up most of the space in the van.
Our accommodation was very basic, a gas hob, no fridge just a sort of larder cupboard in which you could put blocks of ice to keep food cool….never got the hang of that and so used a cool box with ice blocks instead. Major drawback of this, was the reliance upon being able to freeze the blocks at camp sites. There was a small fold out table in the van and an even smaller drop down shelf just inside the sliding door. This last was very handy for cups of tea when sitting outside.
I think we had a couple of plastic plates, a kettle, one old camping pan, a few knives and forks, mugs for tea and that was it….oh except for a picnic blanket. No chairs or tables or anything else that a sensible camper might take.
So there we were on French campsites eating finger foods, sitting on a picnic blanket surrounded by French, German and Dutch set ups in massive trailer tents, caravans and swish shiny motorhomes complete with awnings, chairs, fridges and yes even…….washing machines! Other campers would walk past us as we ate our evening picnic and looking kindly down on us…..we were on the floor remember- smile at our very basic set up and wish us “Bon Appetit”.
Oh! I forgot , we did have something we could use as a stool……the cool box. Although as you can see from the picture, this was usually commandeered by one of the children .
Another rookie mistake we made was that we hadn’t booked any sites and simply toured Normandy’s coastline looking for camp sites. Invariably, this meant turning up after 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening to be greeted by the “Complet” sign. Additionally, we only had the most basic of touring maps and no guide book for camp sites. This meant we did end up in some fairly dire places. One I remember with some horror was particularly dreadful with its toilet facilities in a permanently unsanitary state. But we knew no better and having at least got a spot somewhere stayed there for at least a couple of nights.
But…….. we did have a fantastic, joyful holiday and we were definitely hooked. We absolutely loved camping and lessons learned we would be back!