Today we officially hit the road as campervaners! Actually, it was not very official as we were not sleeping in it yet, but we did drive several hours in the Prince. We still needed to figure out how the electrics worked (e.g. fridge, power points) but otherwise he drove perfectly (so Danny says - I haven't driven him yet). This was our first experience with TomTom and we were fans from the first minute. Honestly, it was the best present we could have received.
Our first stop was Axminster, where celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall owned a cafe and ran cooking courses. We drove to the River Cottage HQ and took a looong walk down from the car park, only to find that the cafe we were after was actually located in the main town, not at their headquarters (only cooking courses were found here). So it was a looong walk back up the hill to the van, to drive into town to find the "Canteen", as it's known. The cafe itself looked great, very rustic, full of cheese, cold pies and local products. Unfortunately we did not come on the right day, as they were having significant trouble with their smoke detectors. In the 45 minutes we were there, they went off eight times. And they were the loudest smoke detectors in existence. The incessant noise coupled with the fact that our meals seemed to take a lifetime to arrive (how hard was it to toast a sandwich and put a cold pie on a plate?) meant we didn't have the most memorable experience. In the end the food was nice but we didn't stick around long as we were quickly going deaf.
From Axminster we drove to Cornwall and headed straight for Falmouth, where Danny's Aunt Jane and Uncle Alastair live and were kindly putting us up for the next few days (so we could put off sleeping in our metal box). They live in a cute but large cottage, with a huge kitchen and quaint backyard (complete with pond). There were freshly baked scones waiting for us on arrival, served with jam THEN clotted cream (Cornish style). Of course I did it wrong and was chastised yet again. The whole scene couldn't have been more British if it tried.
Jane and Alastair then gave us a guided tour around Falmouth and the coastline, before leading us to a pub for a drink (they obviously know Danny quite well). Back at the cottage Jane cooked a fantastic chicken casserole for dinner. We really can't get enough of home-cooked meals. The night was spent listening to stories about the Grimshaw family (Danny's paternal side), which were all fascinating and demonstrated how different the Grimshaws were to my own family.
The next day we were given a comprehensive guided tour of Falmouth. It was hard to believe when we were sitting in the cottage, surrounded by countryside, that the ocean was just a few hundred metres away. Falmouth appeared to be a typical English country town: picturesque, relaxing, charming. We had a chance to stock up on cheap, essential supplies for the van, such as a small TV ("essential" for Danny more than me), a duvet (or doona as we more commonly call it), saucepans, travel guides and coat hangers. Jane and Alastair also kindly loaned us some outdoor chairs, more travel guides and a mini tool kit. We would be lost without Danny's family.
The highlight of the day was trying my first Cornish pasty. Danny had raved about these for the last few months and I knew there was no way I could leave Cornwall without tasting one. I was pretty hungry so I went for the giant-sized pasty. It turned out that pasties were more filling than I thought. It took me about half an hour to finish it and I was full for the rest of the day. Slightly different to Australian pasties: they liked to layer their meat and veggies (instead of mixing it all together) and the veggies were sitting in a peppery sauce that leaked out when I bit into it. Overall it was pretty tasty; I can see why Danny loves them so much.
When we arrived back at Jane and Alastair's we tested out the £10 TV. We were not successful. After about 30 minutes of tinkering we came to the realisation that Cornwall had converted to digital TV, which was not compatible with our 1990's, old school analogue TV. Tomorrow's job was to find an equally cheap set-top box.
Danny joined Jane and Alastair for a night out at the local theatre to see a pantomime. It didn't sound like my cup of tea, so I stayed back and researched France, with several guide books on the go at once. Knowing we would soon be in continental Europe I wanted to have some sort of itinerary organised, at least for the first week or so. We really hadn't done any planning before now, conscious that our dreams of acquiring a campervan and managing the logistics may not come to fruition. Now nothing was standing in our way.
Our last day was spent purchasing a set-top box (the TV now works perfectly), eagerly accepting Jane and Alastair's donation of a sandwich toaster (Danny would be lost without cheese and Vegemite toasted sandwiches), eating a gigantic traditional roast lunch with yet another of Danny's aunts and uncles, gorging (and paying for it later) on giant dinner with even more relatives, and packing up the last of the van. As sick as we felt from all the food, we weren't really complaining as we knew we wouldn't be seeing meals like these again for quite some time.
First destination: Dover, a 6.5 hour drive away (so TomTom tells us) and the start of our incredible journey. To break up the drive we stopped in Maidstone, where we ate our first meal in Prince Albert: Vegemite sandwiches in a supermarket parking lot. Classy. No doubt it will set the tone for the rest of our holiday.
It is hard to comprehend that we are actually on our way to France in a campervan that we own. It feels as though everything has happened so fast, but it couldn't have worked out better. Hopefully in a couple of days we will be in the Champagne region, which will be the first serious test of our budgeting skills. It may end up being a significantly shorter holiday...