Life on the road after lockdown: A Cambridge family's France adventure
We had dreamed of a motorhome road trip for some time. We often speculated about travelling through the diverse cultures and landscapes of Europe or following the Pacific highway hippy trail, along the spectacular American West coast. It was my husband’s dream first and then it became mine as we sat at home watching countless natural history programmes detailing the geographic gems awaiting us should we ever set foot out of our work routines, the demands of mortgage payments and needs of our two young children.
Lockdown wasn’t any harder for us then most families, and without doubt a lot less difficult than for many, but it was an incredibly intense time. I felt like I was holding my breath for most of it. Trying to keep myself from screaming into the hills like the beaver in that lockdown gif doing the rounds. I continued to work in my job as senior lecturer, from home, and my husband was able to access some government small business support to keep wolves from the door, and then, when lockdown eased, carried on his business, after a fashion. But as his business is seasonal and dependent on international tourists and students he knew his usually high summer season was going to be bleak, with restricted air travel and border movement confidence low.
One Sunday in late June, as the weight of this reality slowly took root, and possibly after a drink or two, my husband said that he should probably just forget it this summer: close the shop and go off travelling. I don’t think I replied. I held on to the thought, turned it around, to see how it might work. Could it work? Later that evening I said, I am in. It took us two days to work out the logistics and another ten days to research and secure purchase of a motorhome. We collected it seven days before we were due to leave with money we’d saved for an extension which we were having to shelve until next year (we’d sell it early next spring to recoup the spend). We were doing it. Instead of feeling frustrated or worried about a failed summer, with bored kids, worried about Covid safety in over-crowded campsites of Britain as everyone else staycated, we were going to realise a dream.
France seemed the obvious choice. From our research, it was set up for motorhome travelling with thousands of aires (parking spots with varying levels of services) and serviced campsites, all located on an App (we used Park4Nite as it offered a good free level service but there are others). France was near, and we could be flexible about where we went and avoid local lockdowns if necessary. We’d be in our own motorhome family bubble. We had hand sanitiser, masks and adrenaline as we packed for a family adventure that seemed almost instantly to dissolve the stress and suffocation of the past few months. So, why would someone who confessed to feeling caged in with family in lockdown want to put themselves in an even smaller space with same? Well because it wasn’t. The same. We were travelling. New places, new horizons every day. Or as one of my friends put it ‘Oh, the freedom of it! Just going where you like! How wonderful!’ And that is exactly what it was. Wonderful and free.
We took the ferry to Dieppe and travelled down the Atlantic coast visiting all the places we’d heard of but never been: Normandy, Brittany, then Aquitaine (La Rochelle, Ile de Re standing as firm favourites), then we headed inland to the Dordogne and to a boutique campsite at Beynac to meet friends for 3 days that turned into 7, surviving 39 degrees C by the river building dams and then on to the French Basque region around Biarritz for ocean coast, via never-to-be-forgotten Cahors. We wild-camped and budget camped in various places culminating in 3 days near charming if busy Saint Jean de Luz where my eldest properly surfed for the first time and my youngest improved his open water confidence by boogie boarding and rock pool adventuring. Then we headed inland again, to the Pyrenees this time, happy to say hello to mountains and trees and cooler nights. We marvelled at spectacular peaks and bathed in crystal clear mountain water, breathed in rejuvenating sweet pine air and looked down on mists as we travelled over the narrow and steep roads of the Tour de France stage peaks of Col D’Aubisque and Col Tourmalet. We ate in a hail storm in a ski resort, took in prehistory in the caves and museums around Foix, rediscovered childhood holidays in the Gorge du Tarn and explored many woods, forests and beautiful lakes (Annecy, Settons, to name two). A veritable kaleidoscope of sights and experiences.
Now, as Autumn strolls in, and while some parents look for ways to alleviate back to school anxiety due to having spent too long away, our kids’ minds are full of memorable experiences from a once in a life-time trip. A list of firsts. A time they will hopefully remember for their whole lives. Of course my kids were challenging, my husband and I argued about navigation and sometimes we were so tired we all wanted to go home, but the feeling of accomplishment and renewed energy to face whatever difficulties might beset our family over the coming year, as the threat of Covid continues to lurk, and with no real promise of a vaccine any time soon, I can honestly say that I personally feel renewed and our family feels stronger. Proud that we managed as a family to put some silver lining into this otherwise dark and heavy time.