If you have followed our earlier blogs you will have seen that we went camping at Le Mans this year. Our journey began as usual in West Wales and after an overnight stopover we made the 08h15 sailing time for our ferry from Portsmouth to Caen on the Brittany Ferries’ vessel, Mont St. Michel. This was the very same vessel that had carried the 89-year old veteran Bernard Jordan, who earlier this year ‘escaped’ from his care home in Hove, East Sussex, determined to attend the D-Day commemorative services in Normandy. Brittany Ferries welcomed him onto the Mont St. Michel for the return journey to England, only to face the battalion of reporters who awaited his return. For Le Mans travellers though, the Portsmouth-Caen crossing is the most practical route to the famed French circuit, as the road trip on the French side is only 160 km (about an hour and three-quarters).
Upon arrival at the circuit we made our way to the Beauséjour campsite, along with tens of thousands of other hopefuls. That Tuesday evening we pitched our tent, a snazzy Vango Genesis 500, which is one of these high-tech air beam tents (no poles for us novice campers). It has three main air beams that support the whole tent, and pumped to the right pressure, they keep the tent ship-shape. Internal support straps ensure that the tent stays in good shape. Divided into two separate sections, the one area can sleep five adults or two pairs of sleeping bags with a dividing panel in between, while the other section serves as the living area. By the way, the tent went up in no time at all (6 minutes to be exact as practiced in our garden beforehand).
After unpacking our gear we could eventually relax with a glass of grape juice and meet our Australian neighbour. The first night offered a foretaste of what camping at a large, international event like Le Mans would hold for us over the ensuing nights. The revellers partied on well into the small hours of the morning. Nevertheless, our Vango deluxe airbeds, which had proved a doddle to inflate with either our two-way foot pump or the electric pump, were superbly comfortable. The little electric pump served us well as we did need to top up the mattresses from time to time, and the pump kept its charge throughout our 10-day adventure.
Each morning at Le Mans began with a very welcome cup of coffee. We set up our little storm-proof stove from Trangia that was fitted with a spirit burner, although the water took a little while to heat up in the kettle due to our choice of burner. But then what do we know?! The days were filled with interviews, photographing and of course the evening practice and qualifying rounds. And so we returned to our tent each evening late expecting to be able to crash down and get several hours of much-needed shut-eye. However, there was absolutely no chance, as a group of revellers nearby made every effort to keep the entire campsite awake. But I was so snug and comfy in my Vango Serenity Grande sleeping bag (suggested usage -2 to +18ºC) that it did not take me long to add my snore to the music around me. In fact it felt as if I was sleeping under my own duvet at home. Elke had decided that she would take two of our old sleeping bags but regretted it once she had tried mine…
With our time at Le Mans being dictated by events at the circuit, the joys of the large campsite could not be fully appreciated, and so with the dreadful din emanating from those speakers at volume ‘10’ for one last time, we endured our last night at Beauséjour that Sunday night. Under clear skies on Monday morning, we departed the circuit and made our way west towards the coast of Brittany. We enjoyed the camping much more in the tranquillity of a ‘proper’ campsite, where the only sound in the evening were singing birds and the chirping of crickets. Here we could set ourselves up in comfort, again the superb air beam tent proving so easy to erect in no time at all. This is where we were able to properly experiment with our Trangia camping stove cooking a few delicious one-pot meals (it just proves, we don’t always need all the mod cons). The late evenings were enjoyed reading in our sleeping bags in peace, thanks to those nifty little Vango eye lights. These award-winning, flexible lights can be coiled to stand up like a cobra snake, or be bent into a hook shape and suspended from above, very practical and inexpensive.
All too soon our French adventure came to an end, and we packed up everything into the trusty family steed, and headed for the ferry port at Ouistreham/Caen where the Normandie awaited us. We have found the use of a cabin on our outward and return journey so very convenient, and you don’t have to share your space with hundreds of others. One can unwind, shower, sleep or catch up on some writing should you have a feature deadline looming…
In closing, we still need to mention one little gadget that has been really handy to have while travelling in the car and that was the Innergie 21W Auto USB adaptor. It fits into the 12V socket of a car and can charge, apart from our smartphone, iPads, iPhones, and many other USB-rechargeable portable devices, like iPods, cameras, game consoles and media players. It was great to have because my phone loses charge quite quickly. Would not want to be without it!
Can’t wait for next year’s Le Mans 24-hour race and we might consider camping at Le Mans again, but might choose a different camp site. Vango really convinced us that this could be a definite option even for us inexperienced campers.
Written by Glen and Elke Smale
Pim van der Veer says
I have camped since about 1950, first ith my parents, and later with my family. Since about 1955 with a flat trailer folding out to a large living. It meant a bit of hard work, but if you required the routine, life was delightfully simple. Your camping experience sounds like those happy holidays. Although you had to spend a lot of time reporting about the Le Mans event. I am looking forward to your expert reports on motor sport subjects!