It’s the natural choice. Such a great country to travel in, is set up really well for motorhomes and has a booming tourism industry. Plus, lots of great roads and space. No brainer really. And my French is quite good, which helps, as well as the fact I have spent a lot of time in France in my life.
Environmentalism is a huge part of your books: the 2-minute beach clean has really taken off, particularly with younger people. What single thing would you like to see everyone doing to reduce our environmental impact?
There’s no single one answer to our environmental problems, sadly. We need to do everything we can at every level (from personal to governmental) to be good planetary citizens. I don’t fly, avoid man-made fibres, try not to eat too much meat, avoid plastic (if I can), clean up and consider everything from a planetary perspective. But sometimes it still feels like I could still do more.
That said, everything that you do does make a difference, even though you may not see it. Perhaps we should all consider the question: “what happens to it when you’ve finished with it?” The journey to answering that – in a truly satisfactory way - will lead you down some terrific paths.
And to bring it back to travelling in France that means stopping, turning the engine off, appreciating and supporting nature, taking time, shopping locally, supporting local growers and producers, visiting markets and contributing to the local economy.
What changes would you like to see made in the tourism industry when things start to open up again?
I would like to see a change in attitude towards motorhomes. Too many local councils try and push them into campsites when, really, motorhomes don’t need campsites, or at least not all the time. All over the UK there are car parks standing empty overnight not earning money for local councils. It wouldn’t be hard to relax the rules.
Last summer turned into a bit of a free-for all for motorhomes here in Cornwall. With proper control – to stop motorhomes parking anywhere they like - the local councils could regulate it and earn money.
How much do you think your books have contributed to the growth in slow tourism and camper van holidays?
That’s a tough one because I never really see it other than posts on Instagram using #taketheslowroad. But I know that people use my books to plan adventures and routes and so I guess it does have some kind of effect. I think there are a lot of factors in the popularity of motorhomes – not least of which is COVID.
I’m lucky to have been doing this for a long time, which means I am established as an author, have nice publishers who like what I do and who have enabled me to write books at the right time. That said, I would hate to be blamed for motorhome overcrowding!!!!
How did you decide on the routes through France, and which was your favourite?
I did a lot of planning to find routes that would take me on nice loops to and from the UK, so there was always a reason for travelling. I started by spreading out a map of France on the floor so see where I needed to cover. I didn’t want to do loads of motorway miles in between trips or routes so tried to join them up. Plus, there was no point in driving to the Med to do a route and not doing something on the way!!!
I spent a minimum of two weeks at a time in France travelling all across the country at the times of year I could (in between lockdowns and COVID restrictions) but also where I felt we’d get the best value.
Some of the routes I found by accident or changed at the last minute, simply because opportunities presented themselves. The route through the Pyrenees was one. The story of how we found it is in the book. It turned out to be one of the best routes too and I loved being in the mountains and going to the spa towns on hot days. It was really magical.
Do you think it’s essential that travellers should be able to speak the language whenever they travel abroad, or is it particularly France where this applies?
What I think is essential is trying. That’s how you make friends, have fun, learn to get over yourself and find things out. People appreciate it if you at least try to speak any language and it’s respectful to do so. It’s their country and their language.
What do you think is the best time of year to travel in France?
I loved travelling all through the year. Winter is great because you get snow… summer it’s hot. Spring and autumn are great because it’s quieter… can’t really fault any of it!!! That said, I used to travel to the west coast in September regularly. It’s a great time to be there.
What one essential thing do you always have to take with you on your travels?
You also wrote the Camper Van Cookbook – what’s your favourite go-to recipe when you’re on the road, and what French delicacies are best suited for camper van cooking?
It’s hard to beat a lunch of traditional bread and locally made pate or cheese. I like to cook rice with lots of fresh vegetables. Simple stuff really. There’s so much great food in the local markets. Even in the supermarkets they care about having local produce, which is refreshing.
Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?
I don’t know! Someone who likes to get off the sofa and draw their own lines I guess, who would take a book like mine and use it as the starting point for their own story. I just hope my books speak to them and inspire them to try something or somewhere new.
Do you have a favourite genre or author? What books or authors would you say were significant influences on you?
I love Tim Moore. He’s funny, masochistic and his books are a joy for me. I like books about travel and quests, no matter how silly they are. I always liked stuff like ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge’ and Danny Wallace’s ‘Join us’ and that has influenced me a lot. I wanted to write about travel in a way that’s not just ‘go here do this’ but is accessible too.
The COVID-19 situation has affected us all in different ways. How have you been managing in the lockdowns?
It’s been frustrating and plans have changed a lot. We’ve put Spain and Portugal on hold for a year while I travel in the UK, which will be interesting. So it’s been confusing and difficult, but not as difficult as it has been for some, as I live in a lovely place where I can walk, cycle, surf and swim in the sea (weather permitting).
What would your perfect day look like, and what’s the first place you want to visit after lockdown?
Perfect days are all about food, fun, swimming or surfing and spending time with Lizzy and our families. Failing that a nice breakfast, clear skies and a bit of time in the sea. I have so many plans after lockdown that I can’t wait to do them all. I’m looking forward to waking up in a field again. The last time was in France in November.
What are you reading at the moment?
Tom Cox’s Ring the Hill, which is a bit of a meander through Somerset and any other place he fancies taking me. I found out yesterday that he used to swim at a place we ended up when we drove one of the routes in England and Wales.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I don’t remember. Terrible isn’t it? I remember the books we had, but don’t really remember being particularly inspired by any of them. When I was a teenager I wrote silly poems and songs that were influenced by the modern poetry and the poets and authors I studied in O and A level English. It was such fun playing with language and it was really the start for me. Every sentence, if it can, still has to have some kind of rhythm or beat or poetry to it. I guess it’s why I liked writing copy as I had to be short and sweet and get the point across, even if it was for some beauty product rather than expressing Yeats’ undying love for Maud Gonne.
Thank you very much for speaking to us, we wish you every success with the book.
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