Destination Viaduc: restoring a classic Volkswagen campervan (Part Two)

Join us on the second part of Simon Thompson's epic journey across France

Last week we traced the first steps of petrolhead Simon Thompson’s quest to restore his classic 1967 VW split screen. After four months of hard graft Simon achieved what had seemed impossible – to complete a full interior restoration in time for the van’s maiden voyage to the heart of France. In this second part we follow the couple as they head across the Channel.

Words and pictures by Simon Thompson

The journey begins

The hours of poring over maps and routes had finally come to an end, and my wife Louise, small bump and I set off from Guildford on Saturday 23rd of August at 9am. Accompanied by Doris (the satellite navigation device belonging to Louise’s parents) we headed for Dover in our trusty VW campervan, with only 92,681 miles on the clock. That mileage was at the forefront of our minds as we set off towards Dover, and thankfully we reached it with ease. It was a great relief, as frankly it would have been very embarrassing if we never made it across the channel!

While waiting in Dover for the ferry on a gorgeous sunny day, our Volkswagen created a lot of interest from passers by. All eager to peer inside the camper and ask questions as Louise and I relaxed in the back with food and drink and the fresh aroma of new leather. Amongst the interested spectators were four Americans who stopped to warmly appreciate the work put in. As we got chatting it turned out they were a US rock band called ‘Ruth’ on tour in Europe. Bonding with a vehicle which was once the choice of 60’s surf rockers, they gave us a signed copy of their latest album before we set sail towards Calais.

Champagne and camping

Once we reached Calais the next few days were mapped out to make maximum progress using toll roads. Rather than take a scenic route and risk the health of our untested camper, we decided to reach the Millau viaduct as quickly as possible. First stop was Reims, the home of champagne.

The gentle rolling hills proved the perfect nursery for our baby, featuring only one toll road which cost twenty euros. Our first problem on the journey appeared as it got dark. My wife realised that I had put the new headlights on upside down and the wrong way around. It was originally done to make them Euro compliant, yet they were fine under their original deployment – so off came the temporary tape!

The long and winding road

The next day was a Sunday and saw us head further south on some very windy roads. Our destination was Magny Cours, the historic Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit and on this day home to some motorcycle racing. A lovely run through winding roads saw our little van get plenty of ‘thumbs up’, smiles and tooting from passers by. The plucky camper managed to craw up some immense long hills, at times reaching peaks over 1100 meters. Yet the magnificent views were ours to enjoy.

The first night

The day came to an end in a little town called Sazeret, where we located a recommended camping site called ‘Le Petite Vallette’. There we settled, cooking our prize of super noodles on the stove for dinner, and the promise of sleeping inside the camper for the first time.

It wasn’t very comfortable – with my wife five months pregnant, I had to be gallant and settle for a third of the bed space. We settled down easily enough, and them something magical happened. The heavens opened overnight and the huge downpour made us feel well protected inside our sturdy VW campervan. After the rain storm we awoke to a lovely and fresh Monday morning, and we left as soon as I could get Louise out of bed…which was about 9:30am. And with nothing to pack away, and the country in front of us, we set off with hope for the final leg of our journey to the Viaduc.

Simon Thompson.

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