Tuesday, 22 August 2017
Monday, 21 August 2017
Wissant to Walsall Monday 11 09.
Embry to Wissant. Sunday 10 09.
Brimeaux to Embry. Saturday 09 09.
Val de Saane to Brimeaux. Friday 08 09
Time to head North. It's raining heavily while we get breakfast. A couple of other moto homers get going before us. A Britishvan reverses quickly over the guArd protecting the grey water drain and there is an almighty crack.
He had hit the steel bar so hard it had a huge hole and had torn out of it's screws. No idea how his mh had fared. Not the best start to their day.
Eventually we get going and thankfully have a remarkable journey North.
It's shopping day so we find a Super U. Alastair finally find a wine from Maury which is where one of our favourite wines Cabalie hails from. We treat ourselves, well we have been so frugal all month.
Then we carry on to our planned overnight. Initially we had headed North so early because we were planing a couple of chilled nights in Embry but then we decided to sneak another couple of free nights. Bad planning. Today is Friday and the aire is full of British vans that we assume are catching a weekend train/ferry, we should have forseen that. We could squeeze onto the overspill car park but Hamish really doesn't want 2 nights of being crammed in amongst other mh's.
We identify another spot about 15 minutes away. We pull up between 2 lakes and park beside a picnic table, no other mhs in sight.
Alastair immediately needs to nip for a cheeky kip. Lisa is listening to TMS and Swanny states that according to the weather forecast the biblical rain that had been predicted is instead passing across 'our friends in Northern France'. As the rain beat down on Hamish Lisa acknowledged that he was indeed correct. The ducks and coots needed respite and snuggled down on the road.
Val de Saane all day. Thursday 07 09
One of the things we have learnt about ourselves this trip is that we are capable of chilling, staying in one place for more than one night and the benefits that provides. So we have given ourselves enough time to have a second night here.
We walk into the village so Alastair can pick up a croissant and pain au chocolate for breakfast, only the second time in a month.
Then we have an incredibly lazy morning!!! It's worth noting because we don't do this.
Most importantly it is Blowers last Test so we listen until after lunch when he is given the opportunity to share his TMS highlights.
After lunch we are ready for a challenge. We head out on the yellow walk determined to crack it.
We get to the point that we went wrong last time, Lisa points out that we would be repeating our mistake if we follow Alastair's suggested route and she backtracks to find a different option.
As she gets back to Alastair he has his map out looking confused and she can see a minibus of French ramblers approaching him, she holds back and watches.
Alastair does NOT ask for directions but uninvited this lovely group of French walkers see a fellow in distress and descend upon him.
A flummoxed Alastair and a highly amused Lisa follow the direction we were sent in. And they were right! Sorry, Alastair knew this was the right way.
So despite us thinking we have walked every path around here we find a whole new route with new attractions. Most startlingly we saw a bull 'attending' on 3 occasions to a female cow, 'it's not even dark' was Alastair's prudish response.
Saint Romaine de Colbosc To Val de Saane. Wednesday 06 09 All Day
Oh joy, for the first time we have an electric hook up (free) so Lisa can dig her hairdryer out, the luxury.
An uneventful day. After shopping we head back to Val de Sane. We pull up in our little spot and Alastair's walking stick is still in the hedge where we left it.
This aire is not only a convenient hop on our way home but it has been the only place we have found Le Clappe, a red wine that we found on our last trip and the best rec we have found on this one. We walk to the little shop and Lisa panics 'they have sold out!', thankfully Alastair is less anxious and finds it. We buy 6 bottles to take home.
It's gettingto that point in our travels, we have a night of reflecting on what we have learnt from this month away. The wonderful thing about travelling is that there is always something to learn, usually about ourselves.
Quillbeuf sur Seine via Le Havre to Saint Romaine de Colbosc, Tuesday 05 09.
Lisa slept like a baby and is ready for the day, Alastair less so but we stick to our plan.
So just before 10am Hamish is on a little car ferry which is free to cross the Seine, how very exciting. On the other side we head for Le Have. Destroyed in WWII the town is supposed to be a beacon of modern architecture, our reason for coming here is art.
We find a parking spot on the side of a busy road, Lisa is worried about getting blocked in but as the bikes are half way into the parking spot behind us Alastair reassure Lisa that we will be fine.
We get on our bikes and cycle along the front to the Musee Malraux, according to or guide books the entrance fee is €5 which we can easily afford this week and it houses the biggest collection of impressionist art outside Paris.
When we arrive we were initially worried it was closed as there seemed to be a lot of building work taking place but it turns out that a new exhibition is being installed on the ground floor so the charge is only €3 as only the first floor is accessible. Bloody typical, we come to see some of the Monet we didn’t see in the Musee D’Orsay but we can’t.
To be fair there what we do see is an impressive wall of art by Boudin, the father of impressionism who was from The Havre, a couple of Renoirs, work by Pissario, a Degas, one Monet and some ship paintings which intrigue Alastair. According to the posters it looks like they will have ‘Impressionism, Sunrise’ on display and we contort ourselves over the balcony but can’t see it although we do spot a waterlilies painting.
Back outside we cycle further along the front before heading back to H for lunch. Impressively a car had squeezed itself between Hamish and the car infront, his tow bar gave us 2 inches of space but that didn’t matter because of the space at the back.....famous last words. A car had parked in the half of our bay and half of the one behind, taking up more space than us and giving us very little room to manoeuvre. We get lunch and at some point the car behind leaves, another one parks more appropriately and we get out while we can.
We head inland to an aire that we wouldn’t normally choose but has plenty of space, is described as quiet and calm and after yesterday isn’t too far which is exactly what we need.
We arrive around 3pm and get the last space! !?? We seem to be surrounded by a ring road so hardly quiet and calm either.
The previous day has taken its toll on Alastair and as soon as we arrive he announces he needs to lie down and is immediately asleep.
Once he wakes we go gor a walk and amongst the fieldsculptures that surround us there are some offices, a huge creche, paths, a Chateau that can be hired and the most amazing yew trees. Someone clearly has time to potter around these gardens putting up sculptures and generally tending an ancient space.
Alastair reflects on how France as a Republic seems to benefit from the money that is spent on making people's lives more pleasant.
Back at H we have a lovely evening planning our priorities for the next few days and, reflecting on The Archers and poor Oliver, we end up deciding that we need to plan our funerals. Obviously too much whisky!
Longues sur Mer German Battery to Quillebeef sur Seine. Monday 04 09.
Shopping is next before heading to an aire we have picked free water up from in the past, this time we are successful in filling up but worringly, the aire, which is inland, is busier than last time we were here.
We find a little spot for lunch where 30 royal Marines lost their lives in 1944.
We arrive in Deauville around 2pm. A Victorian seaside resort with beautifully ornate buildings. Unfortunately the parking restrictions have changed, there is a free bit but it’s not until October and we never spot it so we can’t stay here, or rather we choose not too. About 3 hours in an city is enough for us.
So we have to move on. Although grey the weather is humid, not ideal for a long days drive which was never the plan.
As we have said before there is a dearth of overnight stops around here but we head to the next one that sounds pretty.
We soon find ourselves on a single track lane and after a lapse in navigation concentration by Lisa H is then bouncing along a farm track complete with pot holes. Alastair is really sweating now.
We arrive at the identified parking spot, if it ever was one it isn’t now, it’s private land, after all that!
We find a spot to regroup and replan. About 20 minutes further on is another spot so we head there. When we arrive there is a beautiful house surrounded by a high wall with CCTV, the ‘parking spot’ is on the grass verge on the opposite side of the lane from the house. We parked up but none of us felt comfortable.
By now we had had enough and studied the map again. We decided to cut our losses and head for somewhere we knew, in just under an hour we could be in Quillebeuf on the Seine, by far from our favourite place but we knew it and could relax.
We put on an episode of The Archers, (we are trying so hard to catch up but we have only just discovered that Caroline is dead!) grit our teeth and get going.
As we arrive there is only one space left, it is busier than before!? As Alastair switches off the engine Lisa flicks the fridge to gas, grabs 2 beers from the fridge and within 2 minutes we are on a bench drying out.
Refreshed we head to the bench outside the library for free wifi then snuggle down to watch passing container ships and plan tomorrow. Lisa is knackered and wants a day off but Alastair comes up with a good plan so we get to bed early.
St Germain du Pert to Longues sur Mer German Battery. Sunday 03 09.
After showers we head off. First stop is Omaha beach the D Day landing beach where about a 1000 US soldiers lost their lives. On that day in June 1944 a huge storm caused chaos and the men were blown off course, they were like cannon fodder attacked from the German batteries that remain as concrete shells; one containing a gun that was eventually captured on that day, the troops then made it over the cliffs and the rest is history.
Second stop is slightly further along where a beautiful memorial has been erected on the beach. Black and white photos show the huge number of battleships and gear the US army bought into this bay. Poignantly there is a photo of a French Father in his swimming costume with his picnic basket enjoying a bottle of wine, his 3 daughters sat close by, all of them resting against half sunk US boats.
Next stop is the American military cemetery. We decide to go into the visitors centre first but when Lisa spots the G4S security guards, bag scanners and X ray machines we nip back to H to drop off her handbag which of course contains her penknife.
Back in the queue we are at the front ready to be called forward and searched when a guy in a wheelchair with his companion is called forward. Some intense conversation appears to be taking place then the guy in the wheelchair is stood up! And his bag removed. The G4S guard turns to Lisa and says ‘strange reaction’. Lisa replies ‘I am not surprised’, but didn’t add, like should he even be forced to stand up? Then the G4S guy turns to Lisa and says ‘something not right here’ and puts his glasses on and adopts a legs apart hands by his side stance. Mr wheelchair ‘obviously a terrorist in disguise’ man and his mate clear the checks and are through. Sneaky, obviously we need to watch them!!!
The visitors centre is a mixture of photographs, film and effects that tell the story of Eisenhowers decision to launch Operation Overlord, the details of the day and some of the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice. A very good exhibition for free.
Then we walk into the Cemetery. It is breathtaking and heartbreaking in its scale, there are 33 sets of brothers here and was filmed at the start of Band of Brothers. The rain seems apt as we wander around. There are several graves of unknown soldiers, their name is on a huge memorial as you enter the cemetery and each of their graves is adopted by a different Norman family who visit once a year to place flowers.
Hauntingly at one point the American anthem breaks out across the cemetery followed by the Last Post.
Next stop is for lunch with views across Omaha bay before stopping at an aire for services and moving onto our planned overnight stop.
We arrive at another Day Day site, Longues Sur Mer
We pull up in the main car park which is a field and head out into the ceaseless rain to check out another possible howff overlooking the bay. In the bay off Arromanches there remains an impressive number of structures from the Mulberry Harbours created by the Allies. The ground is sloping though and due to the rain there is a constant stream of cars coming to look at the harbour before racing off again, we decide to stay where we are.
We walk back up the track to 4, now listed, German gun batteries. In the first the gun had been blown apart with the barrel in bits embedded in the ground. The second guns barrel is intact.
although the machine part is blown apart and a plaque gives the date it was taken by the Devonshire regiment. The third and fourth are largely intact, very scary, these guys could hit targets 12 miles away.
Sodden we splash back to Hamish carrying rain, mud and grass in with us.
Most campers have left so we carefully choose a flat part of the field with views across the fields both sides. Within 5 minutes our left side hoes dark as a motorhome pulls in next to us, never mind we still have a view on one side. Then a MH parks behind us. Finally a mh races in, drives around the other 2 and parks on our right completely blocking our view, unbelievable.
The Dad and his daughter in the last MH seem in a hurry so we imagine they will be off after seeing the guns so we wait. They return and we imagine they will want go get dry so we wait. Eventually we concede they are staying so we move H to the other side of the field. We know this doesn’t help our campaign to convince the French we are not all Brexshitters but it’s worth it for a pleasant night.
Lingreville to near St Germain du Pert. Saturday 02 09
This has been a brilliant spot for 2 nights but we don’t like to outstay our welcome so sadly we head off. First stop is the little aire from a couple of nights ago to get shower, water etc then food shop and onwards .
Effectively we are beginning our journey home now so we head to the North coast of Normandy. En route we notice an alarming increase in the numbers of MH’s and indeed when we get to our first choice for an overnight on the coast it is packed so H hightails it out of there.
We find a church car park to get lunch and reconsider. Its Saturday so maybe the French have come out to play for the weekend? We decide to head inland again.
We arrive at a charming roadside aire with what initially looks like a climbing frame and a couple of picnic tables. As we pull up a kestrel flies above Hamish’s rooftop window, a good sign.
The wooden climbing frame turns out to be a viewing platform explaining how the valley below us is a flood plain, which in winter is flooded to form a big shallow lake. There is a walk, green arrows this time, as we are professionals at this game now we set off.
Information boards tell us to look for heron nests and indeed Alastair spots one as soon as we are in the valley. Some dead trees are chopped off and an artificial platform added to the top on which herons can add big bunches of branches to create a massive untidy nest. There is a bird of prey sitting in the nest. Obviously worried we are after his lunch he picks up his mouse and takes it underneath the nest to eat. Lisa thinks it is another kestrel, Alastair later checks our bird book and believes we have seen our first ‘Hobby’.
We continue our walk past a very handsome donkey and startle a buzzard.
As we cross a rather rickety bridge we see a sparrow hawk bobbing around in the fields. This is amazing, every field hosts a bird of prey! Even the sun has come out and we have a gorgeous walk waving at the neighbours driving around in their 30 year old Renault 4.
Back at Hamish we enjoyed the last of the sunshine with a g and t. Wine tonight, there is a new idea. Alastair said a box of French red will be delicious and cheap enabling us to spend a couple more quid on a couple of bottles to take home and try. After the first glass of box vin rouge Alastair wants to go back to Lisa’s idea.
Lingreville All Day Friday 01 09
After a far too late night playing music and dancing we are up far too early. As we lie in bed preparing to face the day one of those heavy rain showers thunders down on H.
Today should be shopping day but we have plenty of supplies and are reluctant to leave our little spot with our beautiful view so we decide to stay another day.
After breakfast we set off along the beach heading the other way. The tide is out and we can see a mussel farm and a dumping ground for unwanted mussels which is keeping all of the gulls fed.
Back at H for lunch we expect today to be busier because it's Friday but it is MUCH quieter, we don't understand, maybe they have all gone to a supermarket? Ever the white dog doesn't make an appearance. However cars don't disappoint us and continue to charge onto the slipway and reverse providing us with endless entertainment throughout the day, small things.
The weather is grey and gloomy and threatening rain. As we have no signal in H we take our chairs onto the beach to get wifi to enable us to plan tomorrow. The sea is aquamarine, in one direction the sky is blue, in another it is grey and heavy.
After a few minutes the wind increases and we give up heading back into H to hide from the coming rain. The grey cloud skirts along the sea and we don't get rain.
As blue sky appears we grab our chairs and go back on the beach. Within half an hour we are back in H, this time the rain buckets down. And that's how we spend our afternoon, backwards and forwards between showers.
As we were setting off for our second sunset we met a woman who worked in London but had a housing the village,she congratulated us on our musical taste the previous evening, oops. To be fair she had been walking past H, she didnt hear us from her house.
Tonight was a more magical sunset followed by an early night, no music.
Cerences to Lingreville. Thursday 31 08
The day begins with a heavy rain shower which batters down on H so loudly we cant hear the radio. Then it clears and we get going.
We head back to the coast but try slightly further North where we find a lovely little car park between the dunes with a slip road running through the middle of it meaning our view of the sea is not blocked by sandy or grassy banks. Finally on this trip H has a sea view!
We head off for a walk along the beach, picking up shells and playing. Apart from the tractors that tow boats down the slip road and into the sea we see about 2 other people on the vast expanse of beach.
Back at Hamish for lunch we watch as a car races past us onto the slip road then obviously has to reverse. A couple of minutes later another car does the same thing, can they not see it's a slip road? Then more cars do the same thing. Alastair is incredulous and everytime a car drives onto the slip road asks 'why are they doing that?" By the time this happens for the 40th time it's getting boring so we start to cheer instead everytime a car appears and follows the predictable route . Some cars don't even wait until the car infront is out of the way before launching onto the slip route . Reversing is the most 'interesting' bit as some of the drivers ribbon from side to side and we watch the front of H anxiously.
Dodging the cars we take the kite onto the beach, well 2 kites as we realise we have lost a connector for one of them.
As school finishes the beach begins to get a little busier. Although it has been dry all day it has been grey and chilly but the sun now makes an appearance. Mostly it feels like locals on the beach as they all stop for a chat as they walk their dogs. We are beginning to recognise some already, a big wti dog is bought down twice.
We take our chairs onto the sand and watch as people arrive, go for a dip then leave again. It is raining on both ends of the beach but amazingly we stay dry.
Tonights wine is very special. We chose it following a degustation at Soave and have been waiting for a special enough occasion, tonight with our sea view feels special.
Around 8 pm most people have wandered off and we take our chairs and wine and park them next to the slipway. Once- last tractor has taken the last boat home, giving us a wave, we sit on the slipway and suddenly this beach, this sea, this sunset belong to us.
After wine we continue to celebrate with whisky and as it becomes dark we retreat back to H and enjoy the unusual opportunity to play our music loudly without upsetting anyone and continue to drink for too much whisky.
Abbey de La Lucerne d'Outremer to Cerences. Wednesday 30 08
During breakfast the rain arrives and as we are feeling shattered after yesterday we decide to have a quiet day.
After a supermarket and collecting LP.G. we head back to the coast. Further North and in the rain we find a spot where we are alone, the sea just behind the grass bank.
Unfortunately we can't stay as we need services so after 20 minutes back inland we find a lovely aire in a little village. As the rain continues to fall we snuggle down with books, tea and hot chocolate.
Regneville sur Merville to Abbey de La Lucerne d'Outremer. Tuesday 29 08
A full on day today, planned with military precision.
We set the alarm for 7 am although Alastair has a slightly rude awakening as shortly after going to sleep Lisa sits bolt upright waving at Alastair saying 'hi, hi, hi '.
We are both properly awake by 6am and just waiting for the alarm to sound, and the church bells which finish with a flourish at 7pm and start again at 7 am. We are getting good at sleeping through them now though. It's the start of another scorching day with the orange light of sunrise bathing the sky.
We are showered and heading off by 8:30am as we have a 90 minute journey.
We need supplies for the day but supermarkets don't open until 9an so just crack on. After 9am Lisa is given the great honour of using google maps to find a supermarket and direct us to it. She does such a good job she is promoted to Assistant Navigator.
By 10am we are arriving at the tourist melee that will enable us to reach Mont St. Michel. This is the farthest South and West we will come on this trip and we have left it as long as possible in the hope that the crowds will be smaller.
We are only the third vehicle on our planned car park spot so our plan seems to be working. Bikes off, lunch packed we are soon on the cycle path as our car park fills up.
The view of the Mont is magical in the shimmering heat. At the dam that now protects the Mont we are instructed to leave our bikes and we complete our journey on the causeway by foot.
Free buses drive past us every minute or so and horse pulled carriages which are completely unnecessary and cruel especially in this heat.
Eventually we arrive at the gates of the Mont guarded by a few very bored looking Gendarmerie. The Mont looks like the template of a Disney castle. A walled fortress built around a hill with the Abbey sitting at the peak of the hill.
We were immediatly hit by the vulgar consumerism of tacky tourist shops, the cost of tickets for the Abbey, the cost of a map, the cost of the loo. Slightly shell shocked we wander through the mediaeval gates and begin to climb the steps and wander through the alleys.
It is very beautiful and unique although without paying to see the Abbey you are restricted in the streets you can visit.
It is SO hot we find a welcome breeze through a crenelation and dry out our t-shirts. We are surrounded by sweaty bodies, it's disgusting.
We wander along the beach that surrounds the Mont. Apparently the tide here comes in faster than a galloping horse. Back at the entrance to the Mont we find a spot overlooking the sea to eat our lunch before we start the long walk back.
The tide has come in and there is an interesting whiff of dog shit.
Back at the car park it is chaos with motor homes pulling on without waiting for others to leave. Our original plan had been to stay here but no chance. We quickly develop a new plan, squeeze out of the car park and get going.
After about an hour we arrive at the coast. Unfortunaly we haven't left it long enough or maybe people are enjoying the last of the sun, either way there are far too many mh's and we need some quiet.
We pull up to make a plan C next to a mh with 8 husky dogs.
We set off again this time inland. We arrive at the location but it looks nothing like it does on the photo so we wander around then realise sat nav has bought us to the wrong place. By now we are over heating and over tierd but have no choice but to get going again.
Eventually we arrive in the car park of an Abbey. We sit at the picnic table drying out, recovering and watching a kestrel hunting as the car park emptys.
A couple of days ago Alastair spotted an ' interesting ' creature in H that he didn't manage to remove. A large, green insect had appeared on the window net in H, thankfully it was on the right side of the net so after journeying with us for a couple of days the creature was returned to a similar ecosystem.
Before bed we sit at the picnic table supping whisky. Another mh arrives as we are snuggling down.
Cerisy la Foret to Regneville sur Merville, Monday 28 08
It's time to leave our perfect little spot and more on. French schools go back this week so we must have ridden out most of the holiday crowd.
Alastair finds a laundrette in X which is on our route so we head there. It's amazingly straightforward. Not the best wash over but better than we could manage in our box and within an hour for €15 we have two fresh lots of bedding and a bunch of clean towels, parts etc.
Very pleased with ourselves we head towards our overnight stop planning to stop for lunch en route but we do so well we arrive at our overnight.
We are parked on a grassed car park a few metres away from the sea although we can't see it as the 14th century remains of a castle is our view. To our- a beautiful church that has lost it's spire and a wall behind us, very beautiful.
The temperature has risen to a sticky 28 degrees and our newly washed clothes are soon dripping . We had a cheeky beer with lunch to cool us down.
After lunch we meander to the ruins. While it is being restored there is an exhibition space. Inside, the mediaeval walls keep the space cool.
There is a retrospective of X. The Curator begins to explain the exhibition to us in French then very helpfully switches to English.
We walk into town, one road that runs around the coast. It is incredibly quiet as people are trying to hide from the heat. There is a municipal campsite with no more than a dozen tents and caravans, a good sign! We wander on. The sea is out and boats lie sleepily in the mud.
With nothing else to see we wander back. The church by Hamish is cool and lovely with original paint and stone work left exposed.
Tea tonight is a veggie chilli from home. For the first time in a very, vey long time we eat outside at our table. The Le Clappe wine Lisa spotted at a little supermarket in Val de Saane is a complete hit and is in the bag.
We have our little area to ourselves as other mh's left during the day.
Cerisy-la-Foret Sun 27 08
We love our little spot so much we decide to stay another day. Hiding away for the weekend has worked well for us so far, it's costing us nothing and we are not using petrol so why move on?
We start by doing a few jobs. We need water so for €2 we fill up, we walk into the little village to do our recycling and that's about it for Lisa. Alastair has a bit of a cleaning spree as we have the time, the water and we are halfway through our break. Hamish is soon looking spick and span.
Otherwise we have another lazy day, delicious.
The Sculpture Park is quiet with a few people wandering around until about 4 pm when a trickle becomes more of a torrent, don't they know this is our sculpture park!
While cooking the risotto Lisa gets a text from the woman who came to collect the cats. Mommy cat has been reserved so once she is spayed.she has a new home. Lisa burst into tears, poor Alastair thought someone had died and tried to console her as she was racked by sobs. Such a huge relief.
Another quiet night, apart from the owls.
Cerisy-la-Foret Sat 26 08
Hazy sunshine but it looks like it will be another lovely day. We treat ourselves to veggie sausage sarnies for breakfast; our first on this trip. The MH leaves early so we are alone again until the first coach load arrives for their 10am Abbey tour.
After breakfast we get our walking boots and gamely decide to follow a circular walk for 8km marked by yellow dots! Yeah we know!
Our prior experience paid off. If there is a yellow arrow directing us in one direction we ignore it and choose the other path. A few trees down we would spot a yellow stripe painted on the bark. We now know what we are doing. Consequently the route is fairly straight forward. It takes us through the forest and along little paths, covered by foilage so you feel like you are walking along a green tunnel.
We spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sunshine, listening to TMS and reading. Alastair replaces Lisa's inner tube with a new one we bought in L'Eden and it seems fine now.
Last time we were in France we took home a couple of bottles of wine that for us were expensive (€10 and 12) and we new found a special enough occasion to drink it so we bought it back with us. Tonight in the grounds of our Abbey, with our my own private sculpture park feels like a very special occasion so we cork it.
It's been quiet today and as we eat the last stragglers leave. So we go and play in amongst the sculptures. Alastair poses in various positions to 'enhance'the natural beauty of the shapes. We titter our way around the statues.
As we close the blinds another mh quietly arrives, brilliant timing. Then a rain shower arrives, even better timing.
Around 1am a cow is mooing loudly and insistently and sounds in huge distress, after about an hour she quietens... or dies.
The owls arrive about 4am. The joys of the countyside.
Bayeux to Cerisy-la-Foret, Friday 25 08.
We wake to cloudy skies and drive 5 minutes to the local L' Eclerc. The car park is largely empty and we get into a bay out of the way and get showers. By the time we are finished and ready to go shopping the car park is full, attendents are directing people to empty spaces. Alastair insists it must be a bank holiday here aswell but Lisa checks all of the sites and it is not. Alastair refuses to believe it, it must be a Saints Day. Lisa checks the internet, it is not. Alastair refuses to believe it. lt's just Friday.
As always shopping takes an age as we try to find lovely things to eat that are vegan; not the easiest in France. We also try to find one of the wines we have enjoyed, Saumer. No chance.
Eventually we escape. Next petrol and onto the next supermarket to loose grey water etc.
By now its 12pm and we haven't done anything.
We head to our planned overnight stop. We arrive at a cidre farm with MH parking. There is a tiny shed welcoming members of Passion France. This is a scheme whose membership enobles you to stay at a variety of farms across France however we are not members, so can we still stay? We walk to the Cave, it is deserted. No people, no cars, nothing. We are scardey cats. We arent sure how this works, we don't know if we can stay and they dont seem to do Calvados. We deliberate, do we wait only to be told we can't stay? Do we just stay anyway? Do we leave and try this again not at lunchtime?
We decide to leave finding a little countryside spot for lunch .
We head on to our proposed overnight stop but there are only spaces for 2 MHs. We arrive and are incredibly lucky, no other MHs.
The aire is set in the grounds of an Abbey's remains and a huge beautiful church. Next to Hamish is a sculpture park with amazing sculptures carved from stone, across the lane is a lake complete with ducks and we are surrounded by fields with 2 very healthy donkeys. Does it sound idyllic? It is!
We spend a lazy afternoon by the lake with a couple of beers listening to TMS. The sun has got his hat on now. Alastair sits in the shade.
When we saunter back H. has company. A German MH who has thoughtfully parked away from us so we still have our beautiful view.
The time we invested in the supermarket paid off and we have a delicious tea with lots of different flavours. Alastair's choice of wine tonight and it wont make the bag. It is a new grape Folle Blanc. I think usually reserved for armagnac.
We crack on listening to our audio tape (Stuart McBride) as Alastair loaned it from the library and it runs out in 3 days.
The bells of the church stop peeling during the evening and we settle down for a quiet night.
Around 1am there was a distant and gentle 'twoooo'; atmospheric. Then, directly above H., there was an incredibly loud and screechy 'TWEEET' and again 'TWEET' and again . This tawny owl screeched around H for about on hour and a half. Well it beats traffic noise.
Merville Franceville Plage to Bayeux. Thursday 24 08.
Around 1am a motor home arrived and parked in the bay behind us. Arriving at that time you would Imagine they would be considerate of their neighbours but no they drove up and down waking Alastair up and keeping him awake for the next hour. Then at 3 am a couple were walking their dog, as you do, the dog was playing 'chase me' around H. so they woke us both up for another hour. Then 2 cats started scrapping, not the best nights sleep.
We woke to a beautiful day and for the first time we put some washing in the boot. It's been hard to predict which day is going to be warm enough to dry the washing although most days and up dry and warm. We get going early as we planned a busy day.
First stop was to the museum of the Pegasus Bridge, we didn't pay to go in but read the information in the foyer. The bridge was a key target for the allies immediately after landing in Normandy and was secured by a paratroop regiment Reading the dedications was enough for Lisa and she soon had to go and wait outside while she pulled herself together.
The original bridge is on display outside the museum and our route took us over the replacement, almost identical but larger. Very excitingly as we approached the traffic was stopped as the bridge had to do it's thing and rotate upwards to allow 2 yachts to pass.
Then onto a air with free services so we can rinse the washing and top up with water.
Our next stop was Bayeux. The aire was free during the day so we parked upg made ourselves some salad and got on our bikes. Slight problem, Lisa has a flat tyre. A lifetime of repairing bikes under his belt Alastair soon had the tyre off, found the problem and patched it up. Tyre was soon back on ssssssss. Lisa's inner tube is so old it has deteriorated around the valve and patching up wasn't going to help. We put the bikes back on the rack and walked.
We walked through the park into town. The allies arrived here within a day of landing on the beaches which seems incredible and shortly afterwards De Gualle was bought here from the U.K. to address the crowds and declare liberation.
Bayeux survived the war intact and is a pretty town with watermills complete with wheels and medieval buildings. We bought a baguette and ate our lunch in the courtyard of the cathedral at the centre of which stood a magnificent tree over 200 years old.
We headed to the tapestry museum. We are so tight we are rarely prepared to pay entrance fees but this felt like a lifer. €19 for 2.
We were each given a handheld phone type thing with audio commentary that started as soon as you entered the darkened space that ran alongside the tapestry, it couldn't be paused or reset. The commentary whizzed along at a pace and ours seemed to be going faster than everyone elses as we needed to be at the next number before other people had moved on. Obviously you focus on the tapestry not where you are going so consequently Alastair nicked one bloke...twice . At the end instead of leaving we just walked back through the darkness to the beginning and finding spaces between people who were slaves to the commentary we studied the tapestry.
It is incredible, one of those things you feel you have known all of your life, part of your heritage but it still blows you away. It's incredibly long and very, very beautiful. The commentary didn't do justice to the intricacy of the detail and even after going back we missed so much.
After the tapestry there is a little museum giving some further detail and suddenly the world felt so much smaller. Viking boats that bought them to Normandy and then a statue of the Tower of London built by William the Conqueror and a copy of the Doomsday Book.
Back out in daylight we decided to stay in Bayeux for the night as we had had enough for one day. We moved H about 2 streets to a free car park and listened to the 60th anniversary TMS match.
Lisa's wine tonight, it's in the bag! A full house for Lisa's choices so far.
It's the end of our budget week and we are €32.25 in credit , despite going to a museum. That will help hugely for petrol on the journey home.
La Riviere Saint Sauveur to Merville Franceville Plage, Wednesday 23 08
We are up early and head straight to the supermarket for 8 pm, unfortunately it doesn't open until 9am. We drive around the corner to get L.P.G., the first we have seen since we arrived, then back in the supermarket carpark we get showers and are ready for 9am.
Stocked up we head towards our overnight and find another supermarket with wifi. Advised that a' text chat' is faster than a call Alastair sends in an initial request. A message appears saying a spare operator will respond within 4.58 seconds.- - - . he waits, 2.20 seconds. . . 58 seconds ... 19 seconds ... 58 seconds?? We hang up and head to Cabourg.
This is our first foray to the coast, the aire is for 6mh's who are only allowed to stay for 48 hours, the aire is full and everyone looks far more comfortable than a 2 day stopover would suggest.
On the road that led to the aire there are a number of parking bays and we snuggled Hamish into one. We had a few of trees and no motor homes so a much better view than in aire squashed between other mh's. We get our bikes off and check both ends of the road for parking restrictions, we are just on the border of the length of vehicle that risks being towed, we risk it.
We check out the beach and cycle on to the end of this bit of land. From there West we can effectively see the length of the coast which is where the D-Day landings took place.
Dropping the bikes back at H. we head onto our beach. We are sandblasted as we fail to find anything other than a few tufts of grass to hide behind the wind is lethal. Alastair heads off to watch the kite surfing lesson,. Lisa dithers in her waterproof pretending to enjoy herself.
After an hour we give in and head back to H. for the rest of the evening.
While we were at home we were in the garden when a stray cat walked past a carrying a very new ginger kitten in her mouth. Within a day we realised she had taken it into our little brick outhouse. Lisa started leaving food and a fleece lined box on the floor to save her balancing on the shelves between our gardening tools. Within 24 hours 2 kittens and Mommy cat were in the box, Lisa fed them 4 times a day.
After 2 weeks Mommy cat built up a trusting relationship with Lisa and because this situation was untenable we contacted a rescue who were brilliant and came to collect the family that evening with the plan that they hopefully would be rehomed.
Tonight a text came to say the kittens had gone to their new home. We went for a walk along the beach and Lisa cried all the way. Mommy cat was beautiful and it knowing the kittens would be fine it was her Lisa worried about.
Tonights choice of wine tonight and he has one in the bag!
Quillebeuf sur Seine to La Riviere Saint Sauveur, Tuesday 22 08
After a great night sleep only, slightly disrupted by a flashing light, which Alastair eventually realises is the lighthouse, we wake to thick fog. We can hardly see the Seine just a few metres from H.
We are planning an expedition today so have our usual breakfast of meusli and banana and get on the road. Within an hour we are at the aire at La Riviere, a practical aire for 20 MHs underneath a motorway flyover. Not ideal but necessary and free.
We have a chat with a lovely couple from the Gower. We have already spoken to more Brits in in a week than we did in 4 months last year.
We get the bikes off and are soon cycling the 4km into Honfleur: a picturesque, historic town set around the old harbour with taper thin houses covered in grey slate. Some of the buildings date to 15th + 16th century, a bit like Quillebeuf . However, unlike Quillebeuf, this town has been cared for and it is absolutely rammed with tourists. We see coaches from Slovenia, Latvia and the UK amongst others. Having avoided people for as long as possible this is an assault on the senses for us. Restaurants line the harbour and are packed.
We wander around the tourist bit then find a supermarket for lunch. We find houmous, (for €3), bread, crisps and half a bottle of wine (we are doing well on our budget so far this week).
Grabbing our bikes we head out to the park and find a bench overlooking the Seine to enjoy our picnic. The skies had cleared but are now threatening rain so we get going.
The park has created 'boats' from hedges and within each is a bust of a person famous to Honfleur with a narrative. Alastair was just explaining a significant person to Lisa when a rabbit ran past her hell for leather, a few seconds later the pursuing terrier appeared. Thankfully the terrier Iost valuable time by going the wrong way but it was soon back and Lisa was up, trying to recall her hunt sab tactics to divert the dog. The owner was nowhere to be seen, probably gone shooting something . As far as we could tell the rabbit ran free.
At the end of the park we found a stretch of beach packed with bodies. We cycled back to H.
By now, 3pm, the sun had appeared and it was heating up everything to an unbearable 33°C. We dropped the bikes and walked into La Riviere collecting a bottle of Normandy farm cider.
The rest of the evening was spent trying to keep as cool as possible as the sun baked down. Tonight's wine a Touraine, probably not coming home with us (Alastair's choice).
Val de Saane to Quillebeuf sur Seine, Monday 21 08
Thankfully no histrionics from Lisa overnight.
We chose a good day to move on, it started raining about 9pm last night and the morning is grey and mizzly.
Even worse our quiet little aire has suddenly become full, the 6th MH arriving just before midnight. We use the services with the jeton we purchased at the Mairie. Three nights in a great little aire has cost us €2, Fabalass.
Alastair wants to be near water but we still don't want to risk the coast so we head to the Seine.
We arrive at a free aire in Quillebeuf sur Seine in just over an hour. Hamish no longer has a pretty view. Don't think romantic walks along the river, imagine heavy industry, the smell of an oil refinery, the only saving grace an automatic lighthouse. It'll be ok for a night so we park up and walk into town.
As before many of the shops are closed during August so the only activity is around the car ferry which regularly makes the short hop across the Seine. Outside the library there is 45 minutes of free wifi. Oh joy! ln the UK Alastair invests days uploading information to make our lives easier only to get here and find we can't access any of it because we can't get data on his phone! So much for better data roaming in the EU.
We walk along the street parallel to the front and make a startling discovery. The lane is lined with houses that the information signs tell us were built in the 15th and 16th century. Beautiful, detailed wood carvings, tiny wooden doors, stunning. Sadly though some are 'condemned', others have smashed glass and almost all are neglected. It doesn't make sense, with some care this street would resemble the Shambles in York, instead it is, not a shambles but more completely neglected elegance. A sign of France's economic woes maybe? Or a town that once thrived due to its maritime position now forgotten?
We wander along the Seine but with completely uninspiring views we find ourselves back at H. planning tomorrow. The sky is leaden but it's sticky and humid.
Val de Saane, Normandy. All Day. Sunday 20 08
It was still dark, Lisa was waking up to Alastair stood beside the bed looking very bemused, she heard herself shouting at him to 'get out'! Realising she had disgraced herself Lisa snuggled back down, Alastair, realising there was no emergency and he didnt really have to 'get out, get OUT!' crawled back into bed.
We had both hoped the drugs would have sorted this out.
We had an unusually lazy start to the day. We have decided to stay in our little bolthole until Monday to give the French chance to go home after the weekend and more people time to head back North to the U.K. The sky was blue but as we made our sandwiches and put on our walking boots it clouded over and we could feel the rain in the air.
We headed off on a new walking route, to be fair we would have been hard pressed to do the same one twice, these walks feel like the stairs in Hogwarts, a moveable feast.
Immediately on the wrong track we pass an interesting looking building and take a closer look. A quick check on Google translate confirms its the local headquarters of the hunting brigade. So no hares today then, or anything else that fIys, walks or breathes.
As we continue along the road we notice a French road nuance. When a side road comes onto a main road both drivers are faced with a stop sign and a stop line in the road. So who has priority? From observation we think it's the driver leaving the side road, interesting. We make a note to check for ST0P signs along the main road.
We are soon back into woodland and have a lovely but shorter walk only 17,000 steps today . We find the route we should have taken on the first evening... after 2 attempts. We suspect the guy drank several litres of vin rouge then wandered round the Normandy countryside randomly splodging paint on some trees, deliberately avoiding others.
We get back to Hamish feeling refreshed by Val de Saane and ready to plan the next part of our gentle adventure.
Tonight the wine choice is a sparkling white, this one is going home. (Not that its a competition or anything but this is Lisa's choice so l-0).
Val de Saane all day. Saturday 19 08
Lisa is relieved to hear she slept soundly last night.
Luxury, no driving to day. We walk into town to the Marie to purchase a token for drinking water. Emptying the loo is free and most French seem to use the water linked to the loo as drinking water. As this is such a quiet aire we risk grabbing some free water but only for the shower and only after disinfecting the tap. When we later see 2 French lads drinking directly from that tap we assume the French think us over cautious.
During breakfast heavy showers sweep over H so we wait until 11am before setting off on a walk. This area of the Seine-Mariteme in Normandy has many marked walks and cycle paths. The local Marie has tourist maps.
Alastair gets his map out and we set off. Within 5 minutes Alastair is frustrated again and everytime the map appears Lisa whispers 'que chuntering! It is hopeless, the map in no way corresponds to the paths and roads, we spot some yellow stops with clear direction arrows then at other decision points we have to search posts and trees for the faded yellow dot and at others there is nothing. Further on we may find a yellow dot so if you knew where you were supposed to go you could find your way back. Crazy.
Ignoring how easy it is for the marked route to disappear then the walk is lovely. We ramble through: pretty woodland, around fields, past half timbered houses, beautiful huge houses. It suggests wealth around here and Chateau lmbevilIe.
The walk is dotted with information boards telling us to look out for little le chevreuil (a cross between a goat and a roe deer) and hares. We spot a red squirrel scurrying along the path infront of us, his tail glowing red in the reflection of the sun.
Then we come to a curious bank surrounding a field, helpfully there is an information board. It's for hare coursing!
Not only is it legal here, they are SO proud of it they provide an information board with photos of dogs ripping hares to pieces, gruesome. Unsurprisingly we didn't spot any hares. They are probably caged ready to run in terror until they are ripped apart.
Despite the map-writers very best attempts, Alastair did an amazing job of finding a planned picnic spot for lunch.
This is the only point in the day a shower arrives. Lisa picks up everything she can grab, finds the nearest shelter, sits on the floor and carrys on munching. Alastair is prissying around. He doesn't want to get his shorts dirty. Herein lies our difference of approach to packing. Alastair sees it as an ongoing challenge to himself, that he chooses to accept, to pack as few clothes as is humanly possible for travelling (washing being a part of travelling) and consequently he can fit all his clothes for 4 weeks in a sock bag. Lisa's philosophy is that the less washing the better and we have the space so she has packed 4 months of travelling clothes for 4 weeks, which is why she is now quite happy to get dirty on the floor.
We arrive home having walked 23,000 steps, or about 11 miles in old money, it makes a lovely change to be using calories rather than consuming them. Alastair takes his book to the stream and dangles his feet in the icy water for as long as he can stand it to minimise the inevitable pain of his plantar fascitis.
A bottle of French Languedoc red, called Cecilia, with tea. Lisa has proposed that everytime we choose a bottle we buy two the same. If we like it we take the second bottle home and we at least have a chance of knowing what we enjoy so have a slim chance of buying more (France is so regional we rarely see the same bottles in supermarkets in different areas). If we aren't bothered we drink the second bottle on this trip. This bottle isn't making it home.
We stay up till after IOpm listening to England bowl out the West Indies on TMS. Unfortunately we are unable to tear ourselves away from listening to the parlous state of Windies cricket, losing 19 wickets in just one day.
Nicolas-d 'Aliermont to Val de Saane, Normandy. Friday 18 08
In the early hours Lisa wakes to find herself standing up in H. shouting that she needs her jacket. A bemused looking Alastair is in a seat. As she wakes up a horrified Lisa recognises the scene. She scuttles back to bed as Alastair explains this was the second 'occurrence' of the night. About 15 minutes after falling asleep Lisa had sat bolt upright. Being familar with these symptoms Alastair trys to encourage her to lie down again but no, she needs her jacket, because 'people' may see her. It's reassuring to know that even fast asleep Lisa retains her dignity. It is not so reassuring that the night traumas have returned.
For breakfast Alastair heads to the local artisan boulangerie and returns to devour a pain au chocolate and a croissant; the butter dripping down his chin. He needs it to recover from the night time activity.
It's Friday so new budget day, we are €28 under budget, hooray!
We head back to the lntermarche and stock up on food (local unpasteurised cheese from Neufchatel), wine, local beer and petrol and set off again.
Some challenges remain familiar: Alastair can't get wifi on his Samsung phone! Thankfully Lisa's Huaweii phone is picking up enough to enable us to get by.
We only drive for 45 minutes to Val de Saane. The free aire is in a pretty spot next to the river surrounded by greenery. It's quiet and Hamish is alone. We immediately decide that we will stay here for a couple of nights.
We wander around town dodging into shelter when the heavy showers sweep in. We pick up a map of walks around the local countryside and head back to H.
As we have been walking around we realise that a lot of shops are closed in July and August as the owners have gone away, presumably on holiday. Its ideal for us, a little village where half the villagers are away and the tourists haven't discovered it!
We have had a few soporific days and as the showers ease we decide to go for a walk.
At the top of the road Alastair is already frustrated by the map and lack of signage as we cross the bridge 3 times trying to find our starting point.
We soon find ourselves in pretty woodland, alongside streams, bucolic. Alastair spots a kingfisher but as he turns to tell Lisa he trips over a tree root and cries out in pain and anguish so by the time Lisa finds out what the commotion is about the bird has gone .
We find the source of the Saane marked by a statue of Saint Sulpice. Saane's answer to Lourdes. In the excitement we lost the yellow spots on trees and soon realised we were in completely the wrong place.
An hour and half later we arrived back at H having walked 18,000 steps which makes a lovely change from driving around.
As we enjoyed beer and tea and dusk fell the ducks waddled out of the stream and snuggled up on the river bank .
Embry to St Nicolas-d'Aliermont, Normandy, Thursday 17 08
We decide to tear ourselves away from our comfy little aire and be a little more adventurous. For €7 a night this has been excellent value for money and we are already complaining that we don't have anything similar in the U.K.
We drive for about 2 hours heading south west into Normandy.
We stop for lunch in a pretty layby and head towards St. Nicolas.
As the rain pours down we entertain ourselves by inspecting French produce in an Intermarche.
Our overnight is in a free aire in a small town carpark, not the prettiest spot but fairly quiet, free and functional. We wander round but are reluctant to pay for the clock museum. There isn't much to see and we retreat to Harish to listen to T.M.S. and the first day /night test at Edgbaston v the West Indies. A consequence of Hamish's theft is that we have had new electronics and a digital radio increasing our chances of receiving T.M.S. across Europe.
Embry to Embry Wednesday 16 08
We are loving this little aire and don't yet feel ready to more on but do feel ready to explore a little farther afield so we save Hamish a spot and head out.
First stop is a supermarket, this all feels so much more familiar and easy than it did on our first travels.
Then we head to Azincourt, home of the famous battle of 1415.
En route Alastair gives Lisa a brief history of the 100 years war. Lisa reads the full speech 'once more unto the breach'. So by the time we arrive we have tears rolling down our cheeks. While the the french haven't exactly buried this battle they basically ignored it for 100's of years.
In 1963 a less than impressive monument was erected at the head of the battlefield. Alastair grumbled that the 'interpretation' had a very French perspective, failing to mention the British won with a much smaller contingent of men. Lisa was horrified that 6,000 French were buried here but apparently she was missing the point. It was a reminder that the whole of Northern France seems saturated by the blood of young men. Meanwhile Alastair practised his archery pose, the infamous double finger salute towards passing lorry drivers and motorists undermining our attempts at positive Anglo French relations in the shadow of Brexshit.
Enough excitement for today. We head home to enjoy the emerging sunshine.
Embry All Day. Tuesday 15 08
5am we are woken by the deep rumble and load cracks of an electric storm overhead. We get up and watch the sky light up around us, magical!
Eventually we drift off again and slumber hearing our companions of the night before leaving. By 11am Hamish only has one other MH for company.
We have a lazy day. Whilst at home this time Lisa has been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid. Alastair feels justified that his complaints last year about being dragged around numerous Italian cities so fast he could feel the G-force on his face, were not completely unreasonable.
Now Lisa is taking the tablets and knowing we only have 4 weeks on this trip we are determined to experiment with a more leisurely pace.
Around 5pm we manage a saunter along the villages main road. Sadly a hailstorm in July caused significant damage to a number of buildings and especially their rooves.
Walsall to Embry Monday 14 08
Now where were we at the end of November? Oh yes, looking forward to our next trip. Sadly things didn't quite go to plan and for a multitude of reasons it has taken us until now to head off again. We nearly lost Hamish in the interim as he was stolen but we outwitted Thomas the Tealeaf, recovered our beloved boy and are VERY excited to be heading off again.
Packing is relatively easy as most things have been in a box for 8 long months waiting to go. We even have travel sweets that were bought as Christmas presents that we can finally pack.
We are so excited we set off early which was fortunate, the less said about the journey on the M1 the better. As we glimpse the white cliffs we spot the impressive Banksy with a guy chipping away at one of the E. U. stars. Our views on Brexshit have only hardened as our economy has continued to freefall.
The ferry is only costing £60 one way through C + C club and is a painless experience especially as they squeeze us onto the 3:40pm, an earlier crossing.
We are soon driving though pretty French countryside to our planned stop. We arrive at a pretty little aire in the village of Embry around 7:30pm.
The aire is populated by English vans heading home. Unluckily for them Alastair picks on a particular couple to entertain us. They were very gracious and proved lovely hosts helping us to celebrate our arrival in France. Exhausted by our excitement and the prospect of a very long journey home the next day they eventually managed to get rid of us and we retreated to Hamish for a night cap.
Thursday, 17 November 2016
HOME IN WALSALL
Thursday 24th November. Hometime 😥
We sleep till 5am, Lisa is too excited to go back to sleep, Alastair manages 10 minutes.
Just before 7am using a head torch we get up and empty our grey water. There is one other Moho here so we try to be as quick and quiet as we can then we are off.
We choose the motorway today and at €1.80 it's worth it. We pass an aire but it's closed, for obvious reasons, so we arrive 45 minutes later at Le Manche and are given the opportunity to take the 8:50 train instead of the 9:50 for free, fabalass.
The crossing costs us £96. Pretty good value. We paid in advance over the internet.
We drive to the security check and a guard asks us where we have been, we imagine he isn't making polite conversation. He then passes a black wand thing over the drivers window and steering wheel telling us we need to wait for the results. A couple of minutes later we are on our way. Lisa wants to ask what the wand thing does but Alastair is not having any of it telling Lisa 'you don't mess around with those guys'.
We manage to find our way to passport control, usually we are following a line of cars but there is no one else to follow and it's dark.
As we pull up Lisa says bonjour, a broad English Southern accent replies, none of that bonjour stuff here! Lisa apologies explaining we have been away for a while. He asks where we have been and this feels like polite conversation, he asks about work and we all shake our heads at 'bloody brexit'.
We have 10 minutes to get a quick cuppa and a bowl of cereal before we are off again. We then have to pass through the check to make sure our gas is turned off, Alastair is thanked for speaking French.
Once the chocks are down and the gates are closed on the train we clean our teeth, get washed and changed. We will come out the other end transformed. At least Lisa will, until you try putting eyeliner on you don't realise how wobbly this train is so she'll probably look like Morticia.
Off and straight onto the motorway north, passing London via the Dartford Tunnel. It isn't until we are up onto the M1 that we can get a Motorway Service station- about 2.5 hours into our journey. Crazy. Obviously now we are back in the UK there are no sevice points.
Home around 1.00. What an anti-climax.
Watten, Wednesbury 23rd November
|Watten with Barge|
Our route takes us on a free motorway around a city and the sky becomes gun metal grey. On the opposite carriageway a car is facing the wrong way and the traffic has stopped, it's the first of 2 accidents we see.
Alastair uses the tablet to try to find an aire on route just incase tonight's aire isn't operational.
As before we have to get off the route to find a supermarket and towards the end of the journey we went to an Auchan to get wifi.
|H in Watten Aire|
Our aire was next to a canal. To operate the services a Jeton was needed that cost €4. Thanks to our earlier stop we did need anything.
We walked into town, another post WWII town, uninspiring. We found Tourist Information, our first in weeks. Most of the local sights were War related, Wilfred Owen died near here.
Obviously because things weren't depressing enough we went to have a look around the graveyard. It was a busy and chaotic graveyard.
|We think this is the River Aa. But it might not be.|
Three plots were up for sale, complete with current occupants who have obviously been there a while. Some headstones were obviously for a whole family. The dead persons name, year of birth and death were inscribed. Underneath were their relatives name, year of birth then a hyphen!!!! So every time you go and visit your partners, sisters grave your name is on there with that hyphen just waiting for a date??
Some of the headstones simply said 'Regrets'. Lisa started to sing 'I've had a few', time to go home.
Trepail to Marcoing, Tuesday 22nd November
We wake to dry skies and walk to the boulangerie for breakfast bread. Sadly it's no longer warm from the oven but it may be the last time we get the opportunity of this treat.
It's a very small village with various signs indicating different champagne houses. There is also a walk through the vines with boards explaining how champagne is created. It's a shame we don't have time to spend another day here. Another time hopefully.
As we are doing our services a huge flock of starlings are startled out of the vines. There are thousands of them flying over our heads making the sky go dark. Lisa has been desperately hoping for a mumeration having never seen one but they just settle in the next field of vines.
We need petrol today and through Lisa's drive of almost an hour and a half we see nothing so when we get to a little town we take a detour. The first petrol station we stop at is too expensive so we travel slightly down the road to a second, that will not take Alastair's credit card.
We put in sat nav a petrol station on the route and we soon realise that it is taking us back to the first one. We give in, get enough petrol to get us through the next couple of days and carry on.
This dual carriageway is popular with lorries, we imagine for the same reason as us, because it's cheap. Consequently every lay by has a lorry in it.
We pull into a little village and park on waste ground for lunch. This little village in the middle of nowhere has video surveillance. France feels scared, cameras, big dogs barking behind high fences, shutters over windows.
The scenery changes from hillsides with vines to large expanses of flat agricultural land. Then we start to see signposts to Commonwealth war graves. We are travelling along the line of the Western Front.
We carry on to our overnight stop and arrive at 2pm which makes a lovely change. Nothing works on the aire which is fine, we don't need anything and there is nowhere else to go.
We walk into town, it is functional rather than attractive. Most houses having been built after WWII. The streets are named things like Rue Charles de Gaulle, Rue 6th May 1945, which we imagine was when the town was liberated.
We find an information board that explains the town was occupied in WWII and used to house troops. Henry Tandy won the VC for liberating the town. Apparently when Hitler saw Tandy's photo he remarked that Tandy had saved his life as he once had a gun pointed at Hitler but didn't shoot.
The town feels depressing, it's whole being shaped by WWI and II. We walk back towards Hamish to a little park around a canal basin where men are fishing then see a sign pointing to some British commonwealth graves.
It's good to be out walking so we follow the sign. A track veers off and we are on a lane that cuts through agricultural land. Alastair spots deer, there are 4 deer on the grass verge of the field watching us. As we quietly continue walking they bounce off, their white tails bobbing behind them.
|Deer centre of photo.|
The graves are situated next to the lane in an expanse of flat ground that spreads for acres. No car came up the lane and it felt incredibly peaceful.
The graves are all from September and October 1918 when the offensive on the Western Front took place. The graves are for soldiers of regiments from West Yorkshire, Northumberland, Liverpool, the Gordon Highlanders and other regiments. Every so often a grave is simply marked 'A soldier of the Great War' and underneath 'known unto God'. Some men were in their 30s but most were 19, 20 and 21. A number of the graves are for New Zealanders.
Against the wall are graves of German soldiers, most of them unknown. All these young men came here, some of them from the other side of the globe to die and in less than 20 years we were at war again fighting in the same fields.
Against the wall are graves of German soldiers, most of them unknown. All these young men came here, some of them from the other side of the globe to die and in less than 20 years we were at war again fighting in the same fields.
A guy called Peevey from Walton in Liverpool had been awarded the VC and we find the registration book that outlines his bravery to receive it. It is an incredibly moving space.
We walk back down the lane, along a railway embankment that is now a green space and back to H. It's the first time in 3 days that we have walked more than our 6,000 steps and it is great to straighten our backs for a bit.
Villegusien to Trepail in Champagne, Monday 21st November
Rain today for the first time in a while, another sign we are heading North. On a positive note we can usually get Radio 4 now and listen to TMS. Sadly we hear England lose their second test with India.
We head off and it chucks it down for most of the journey. We need shopping so stop at a Geant we spot but it doesn't have wifi so we take the trolley back and move on to eventually find a LeClerc.
The rain has eased. We get lunch, swap drivers and carry on. Most of today's journey is on dual carriageway so the scenery is pretty boring. It has made a marked change to a plain of large hedgeless fields of crops and ploughed earth.
Eventually we reach our turn off and as soon as we are off the dual carriageway we are in the middle of field after field of vines which are being tended by lots of people in vans and 4x4s. All the vines we have seen so far have already been prepared for Winter. As we are so far North we imagine these vines flowered later. Then we are in the village and understand how the vineyards can afford to employ so many staff. We are in Champagne.
We drive through tiny streets with no sign of the aire so we switch sat nav off and Lisa uses our map to guide us slightly South.
To find the aire we drive up another narrow, steep street and up a steep slope to the little aire which is on a small plateau with views across the vines of Champagne. Well we think there's a view, the rain is torrential again so we stay cooped up in Hamish.
We are already getting tired, long days of mostly driving. It needs to be done, this time next week we will have been home for 3 days.
Last night we said how wierd it will be once we are home not to be in each other's space. 24/7, we'll miss each other!!! We have had words less than a handful of times in 4 months of living on top of each other and have become closer, literally and emotionally.
Vinzelles to Villeguisen a Percey. Sunday 20th November
Our leisure battery seems to be working fine now so we think the earlier problems were our fault. Every so often we should charge the battery on a hook up and, because we are so tight, we hadn't done it for weeks. Now we have everything seems OK.
We get showers and are still off before 9:30am.
Because we have chosen to avoid the autoroute we are saving ourselves over €100 in tolls and we are becoming intimate with the French countryside.
We are loosing vines around here and the ground is becoming more agricultural with beautiful Charolais cows. We drive through a little village and Alastair spots a boulangerie, Lisa pulls over so he can buy a baguette. If we lived in France Lisa would look like ten tonne Tessy with all this amazing bread.
|No idea where this is, just typical of the area|
We carry on and drive through beautiful mediaeval towns with gorgeous chateaus. Around 11am we stop for coffee in the grounds of a monastery. We are now on the Cistercian route.
|Another unknown but beautiful chateau|
For lunch we find a little marina, the wind is fierce although it's still dry and reasonably warm.
Around 2:30am we arrive at our planned overnight stop. It's down a little track by a small fishing lake and it just doesn't feel very nice. We look at our map and there are very few places to stop around here. We choose a spot just over an hour away and get going again.
Eventually we arrive at a large car park beside a lake. That'll do. We put into sat nav our next stop tomorrow, another long driving day, only 4 more to go.
We go for a walk through the leaves.
|The Lake on a grey afternoon- the further north the greyer the weather.|
Boulieau to Pouilly Vinzelles, Saturday 19th November
We are woken at 7am by a beautiful peel of bells. There are worse ways to be woken up but we have no time to fit in a rest day so could have done with some more sleep.
The electricity has held its charge enough for us to put on heating, shame we would be quite happy to have run the engine very early this morning just to support our partying neighbours who were less than considerate last night.
It's another grey day.
We walk to the boulangerie to get bread for lunch. The baguette we buy is warm, soft and irresistible. Lisa looks like the woman from the Malteser advert, cheeks full of lovely bread. We manage not to eat it all before getting back to H.
We are on the road by 9:15am, the sky clears to blue. We should arrive by 1pm, what could possibly go wrong?
Lisa drives for the first hour or so with no problems, we even found LPG on a bypass around Lyon.
Then Alastair starts to drive and we arrive in Villefrance. The traffic becomes very heavy and it gradually dawns on us that the Beaujolais marathon is on today and every route we try to take is blocked. Initially it was entertaining with people wandering past us dressed as chickens and other things. We see a group of guys in kilts with tam o shanters on top of ginger wigs, we give them a pap and a wave.
|Such stunning Countryside|
Then it's not funny we just can't get through the town. We arrive at a roadblock with a guy chatting and helping people. When it came to our turn we told him where we needed to get too. He slowly shook his head and exhaled. On our tablet which, much to a Alastair's excitement now has a proper map thanks to wifi, he showed how we would have to drive South again to circuit the town, what!!!!????
With Lisa using the tablet map for directions we circumnavigate the town to get back on a road heading North. Once we are out of the madness we rise to a plateau overlooking the Rhone valley and stop for lunch. Avocado and what was left of the baguette. As a special treat Lisa crashes one of our last vegan ice creams from Italy.
The rest of the drive is fine but we arrive the same time as we did yesterday having set off 2 hours earlier and not having driven as far.
We are in Vinzelles, Beaujolais and on the edge of tiny Pouilly Fuisse. We find the aire overlooking the valley and go for a walk.
The rest of the drive is fine but we arrive the same time as we did yesterday having set off 2 hours earlier and not having driven as far.
We are in Vinzelles, Beaujolais and on the edge of tiny Pouilly Fuisse. We find the aire overlooking the valley and go for a walk.
|Vines around Vinzelles.|
|older part of the Chateau at the top of the hill.|
|View from the Chateau- across the Rhone Valley|
|Gates to the Chateau, which still makes wine and is lived in.|
We are surrounded by vines and there is a very beautiful and probably exclusive little village with a chateau at the top of the hill next to the remains of the original chateau from the 11th century.
|the washing trough|
The houses are mainly built in limestone and we find an original trough used for washing clothes. It's lovely to be out walking in the lukewarm sunshine. Having checked out the village we head back to H for an Italian gin and tonic.
|Gothic extravagance, now flats.|
It's such a lovely evening we crash the 2002 Vouvray that has travelled around Europe with us. It is simply delicious.
Boulieau, Friday 18th November
We wake to our first grey and cloudy day in a while. This aire has wifi but only if you are standing next to the box so Alastair makes regular trips to the box as he continues to update FAcebook with our adventures since the end of October, which is the last time we had wifi.
As it's shower day and A continues to update FB we don't get off until 11am. This was a lovely little aire that we had to ourselves. Time to move North.
It's a big driving day as we have to crunch the miles. We share the driving and thank goodness we got wifi to download podcasts to keep us entertained.
Lisa chose tonight's aire as it is directly North and looks fine. It turns out we are driving the tourist Cote de Rhone wine route. Shame we don't have another month.....this time around.
The road is easy and we drive through rolling countryside packed with ruddy orange vines and roads lined with avenues of trees in their Autumn finery of red and orange and yellow.
We get to the aire just after 3pm. We are the only van. The aire has beautiful hedges in between the spaces but that stops the magnificent view across the countryside. As we are alone we park on the side of the aire; opposite and slightly up from the bays. We are very anxious that we aren't in anyone's way and will move later if we are but the aire has plenty of room. We go for a wander.
Completely by accident we are in a small but very beautiful fortified medieval town. The walls are the actual houses which connect nine stumpy round stone towers just the same height as the houses, about four stories high (6 of which still exist). Behind the walls are a maze of tiny narrow streets. This is not a big town, more like a village which can be walked around in about 15 minutes.
Lisa spots through a window some statuesque figures and moves in for a closer look. A light comes on to illuminate a scene of women washing clothes in a medieval launderette: basically a huge trough.
We carry on and find a little museum with photos of the town and the family dynasty's that are its foundation, Louis II sister is involved. The guy was closing but at our request gives us 2 minutes to look around. We then find a proper small craft boulangerie for tomorrow morning's bread and then wander back to H.
We have company: a caravan on the back of a truck is parked in one of the bays. We settle down then hear them moving. They park in front of us along the side of the aire at the bottom, pinched our idea and our view!
We are just about to get out our Cidre when another van arrives, turns and slots itself in between us and the caravan facing towards us. So we have gone from having a beautiful view to only being able to look into the cab of another van. We try so hard not to inconvenience others. We try to get our own little space then occasionally other people are so inconsiderate and mess it all up for us. We move into one of the bays which is when we realise the caravan is running a generator???!!!
We listen to a Radio 4 Front Row podcast featuring the proposed closure of New Walsall Art Gallery as Walsall Council in their short sightedness are withdrawing funding. We are very proud of our art gallery and until she lost her job Lisa was a 'friend' and financial supporter and had been since we were at its opening, (not the one when Liz popped up and cut the ribbon). It's a pile of pants and cultural slaughter. Absolutely outrageous!!!
We get ready to go to bed when a van pulls up, drives around, leaves their engine running, there is some banging and talking. Alastair goes outside to see what's going on. Some friends are meeting up in their mohos and parking at 90 degrees to each other, getting their ramps out etc. Three vans eventually form a social gathering and erect a communal awning so they can sit outside and have a rather loud party.
We get into bed and try to sleep. The generator is too loud, Alastair announces if they haven't turned it off by 10:05 he's going over to ask them too. At 10am it is turned off. The group settle down and just sit chatting. Eventually Lisa gets off to sleep, with A dosing fitfully. The party finishes at around 1.00 am.
La Roque Sur Ceze, Thursday 17th November
Wired by the days excitement Lisa doesn't get to sleep until late so sleeps in till nearly 8am.
Whether the sun has already made its mark or some connection has tripped back into place, who knows, but our electricity is working again.
We have heating, water and electricity, hooray!!
As it's such a beautiful day today we get some washing done. Enough pants and socks to get us home, a couple of lightweight trousers and chuck them on the front to dry.
All of this is hard work so by 10am we are sweaty and tired already but we have jobs to do today.
We drive towards the services slightly further up the street and when Lisa goes to collect our hose notices the garage door is open. We have driven off leaving our washing box to dry in the sun. Lisa starts to walk back to collect it and a French guy drives up shouting that we had left stuff behind which is very sweet of him. Lisa tries to explain she knows but he keeps shouting. Lisa lets Alastair explain.
We drive to the Geant Superstore we walked to yesterday. To get wifi in Hamish we have to park reasonably close and unlike Italy we are given space for the good hour that we are there.
Alastair's laptop has little charge left as we haven't had a hook up for days so Lisa gets organised posting the blogs to him which he uploads. Finally we are published!!! We contact a few people who we know read the blog and a few who don't just because we can.
We then drive Hamish further away from Geant and go shopping in the Casino supermarket. We don't need anything but it seems pointless to be so close for so long, not shop and have to take time out to find somewhere but this is going on tomorrow's budget.
It's 12:30 by the time we get back to Hamish. The sun is beating down drying our washing, shame we can't enjoy it. We eat lunch of baguette and avocado. Then begin to head North.
It takes about an hour and three quarters to arrive at our aire; chosen only because it was the right distance and had electricity.
The aire is brand new and has a very modern barrier. We have to buy a card that can be used forever in similar aires. We follow the complicated process of providing our details then credit card and it starts to produce our card that will let us in. We wait and wait. Non carte ex machina. (A philosophical Descartes joke.)
Eventually Alastair calls the number on the box. Rina is incredibly helpful, lifts the barrier remotely and says she will call us back when she can get our card. We drive through the barrier and are just deciding on our pitch when a van arrives with 2 guys to sort the machine. They unblock it and hand A his card. We are gobsmacked by the speed of the service. On the whole the French have been overwhelmingly helpful.
We park up and plug everything in and go for a walk.
It turns out this place has France's answer to Niagra Falls. Well slight exaggeration. There are signs warning that this is Dangereux and 30 people have died, since 1960.
We scramble around enjoying the waterfalls and amazing shapes gorged out of the rock before wandering back. We have had 2 full on days and are shattered.
Alastair reads the papers while Lisa cooks the risotto. Every now he huffs and puffs and declares about Brexit 'we are in a right mess'.
Budget done, we are €17 under.
Lisa ferrets around in a cupboard looking for a book and innocently produces 'the aires of France'. Aaaagh was Alastair's reaction, now you tell me. Lisa thinks that's a positive outcome.
We are drinking French Cidre, when in Rome.....
Arles, Wednesday 16th November
At 5:30am we wake needing a wee and Alastair checks the leisure battery, its red. So we really do have a problem. We lie in bed till almost 7, neither of us sleeping. Lisa comes up with a plan.
We'll visit the Carmargue today as planned, tonight we'll find an aire with electricity and pay for it. Tomorrow we find internet and book our train home then we plan a route via aires with electricity. We also phone the garage back home as there will be a guarantee on this battery and we are still within the limit.
Alastair agrees with the plan but he did buy some data so uses it to book our train, a week earlier than planned is fine, at least this didn't happen at the start of the trip.
It's a beautiful morning with a red sunrise and the full moon low in the sky behind Hamish. As we have no neighbours and we need a shower today we run the engine to charge the battery which we have to do twice to enable us to get sorted.
After showers we head towards services, we plan an aire tonight but it's best to be prepared and having one thing wrong is more than enough!!
The services are just around the lake, we get a ticket and a set of bollards lower, we drive over them and have to wait for another set to lower, Fort Knox.
It's supposed to be €3 for 2 hours but we are obviously very quick and when we put the card in with our money ready it tells us we got this free and we are allowed over the bollards and out.
We head South to the Carmargue, a flat area of sea, marshes and various vegetation, we spot a couple of raptors as we drive in. We see a group of white horses who look like they are being fed.
We head West and park where we were told flamingos can be seen. There are none. We scan the horizon with our binoculars and in the distance Lisa spots a line of pinkness.
We leave Hamish and start walking along a track, we spot a large bird of prey with a white head, too far away to work out what it is. The track started to move away from the sea so we retrace our steps and walk across a flat Bank of mud completely covered in horse hoove prints.
Eventually we get to the beach and can see the flamingos in their pink fluffiness, fast asleep, standing on one leg, their heads tucked underneath their wings.
We see several other groups in the distance, Lisa is amazed, she had never heard of he white horses of the Carmargue or the flamingos.
We walk towards another group and one flamingo is walking gracefully across the bay to the sleeping group, his knees bend the wrong way!! An amazing experience.
We head back towards Hamish and drive South to the main town where we grab a baguette for lunch. Driving North to find somewhere to spot we spot 3 small groups of white horses, sadly they are not galloping through the waves but we can't be too greedy.
We eat our baguette and as it's still early we decide to try to get Arles and wifi sorted today before heading to the aire with leccy. We are effectively now starting our journey home as we are heading North.
We arrive at the aire in Arles and are parked next to a British van!!! Alastair goes off to find out if we need to pay the €5 requested at this time of year, we were advised we didn't need too.
Alastair is missing for a while so Lisa goes to find him and we have a conversation with a lovely English couple, how exciting. We swapped stories and advice.
It was around 3:30pm so eventually we had to tear ourselves away, grab all of our IT kit and get going.
As we walk beside the bridge several pigeons are in different states of dying and 1 is alive, floating helplessly away on the river, it was very distressing.
We walked through Arles to tourist information, they have free wifi however it's currently not strong enough to even get our what's app messages, useless.
We pick up the laptop and tablets and ask for a mobile phone shop, there is one across the road. The guy is very helpful, he can't help us but signposts us to a huge store that may be able to help.
We set off and with the help of a young French man who is suitably horrified by our lack of wifi we arrive at the store after about half an hours walk.
By default we find the first shop that had been recommended to us. The guy is incredibly helpful and takes time with us. Without a French bank account he isn't able to help. We do buy a SIM for our tablet as Alastair wants to update FB.
Not expecting a positive outcome we try our last shop Orange. Again the service we received was exemplary. The guy explained again a deal we could get with a French address and bank account that would be the answer to all of our problems. Sadly he couldn't help either but was good company as we chatted about the disaster that is Brexit.
The positive news is that the shopping centre has excellent wifi and while we are wandering around sorting all of this Lisa downloads The Independent and Alastair downloads the podcasts we have missed.
As we walk out it's starting to get dark, we have given it all with wifi and we resolve to just use wifi we can find in supermarkets and cafes.
On our walk back Alastair notes how good we are at finding our way home from a variety of city's. As we cross the bridge the remains of the sunset means the twilight is strikingly beautiful.
It's almost 6pm by the time we get back, we are going nowhere tonight and will manage stuff in the morning. Lisa cracks on with tea while Alastair gets first dibs at he newspaper.
Corro to Port of Istres, Tuesday 15th November
We are awake but not braving getting into the cold yet and someone is running their motorhome engine to charge the battery. Lisa comments that he needs a solar panel like us, fatal!!
Alastair gets up to put some heating on, we have no electricity meaning that nothing works.
Alastair has a lighter for emergencies so Lisa puts the kettle on to give us some heat.
Alastair scrambles through the window to clean the solar panels off. We have no idea why they have stopped working, since we had them 12 months ago. We usually go days without needing to run the engine and there was plenty of sun yesterday.
We get breakfast and wash up using kettle water. We also use it to get a wash and cold water from our drinking water container is used to clean our teeth. Without leccy we can't run the water, flush the loo etc.
Unsurprisingly we are ready to go by 9am. Hamish starts beautifully and we use the services before waving goodbye to the English couple. It was so lovely to meet them. We feel so much better than when we arrived having done loads of travelling over the last few days.
We need a supermarket today and follow signs for an Auchan but can't find it and en route to our overnight stop find a small Carrefour. Amazingly for France we find felafel and houmous.
We drive on to our overnight stop which is less than an hour away from Carro. We are still trying to chill. Our car park is just past a tiny marina on a piece of waste ground overlooking the inland lake, an amazing spot.
We watch some little ones having a sailing lesson.
As we arrive so early we decide to walk into Istres to see if we can do something about our wifi problem.
We climb the steep hill out of the port, a woman passing us in a car. We walk past a school, along a dual carriageway and then turn left towards the town. The woman who passed us in the car is walking along the pavement and recognises us.
Eventually we arrive in the town and walk through to the other end where we find tourist information. They have wifi and pass us a special bit of paper with the password. It's useless, not fast enough to allow us to do any of the jobs we need to do.
There is a photo reel of the annual fete where billions of sheep, goats and dressed up horses are paraded through the streets.
We walk back through town and spot an Orange shop. Alastair's idea is that we buy a French data SIM. The shop is closed but do are a number around here. We decide to walk for a bit.
We head back the other way again and find a huge fountain of water jetting up in the sky. By now it's 3pm so we walk back to the shop which is still closed. We hang around.
Finally the shop opens and we are in. In his best French Alastair starts to explain our predicament, the guy suggests we try English. He can't help us but is very lovely and tells us we need a Bouguet shop, 50 metres up the road.
When we arrive there is one woman serving. She is dealing with a customer and has 2 more waiting, one with a bored child, us and another man.
Eventually it's our turn and Alastair explains what we need. "Non". she doesn't have one. Does she know where we can get one? "Non". Perhaps she is French Bavarian?
We leave completely bloody frustrated again. We know she was hassled but to be so dismissive? We are no further forward. It looks like we'll be home before you can read this blog which wasn't the point!!!
It takes us about 45 minutes to walk back and as we arrive in the port the woman in the car is there waving furiously at us. A new friend.
We crash in H enjoying our view.
We are having the falafel for tea. As we have time now we bought veggies today so Lisa could use the sauce we bought in Italy and freeze the meals for our journey home.
Everything is ready and Lisa was just about to pour the pasta sauce in but something made her hesitate. She hands the jar to Alastair to double check, using the Italian translation we realise it's got anchovies in. Oooops. The veggies get frozen and will have to wait for a pasta sauce!!!
Corro, Monday 14th November
We have both had the best nights sleep in ages. It's a cloudy day with a line of orange on the horizon.
Radio 4 works although we are dismayed to hear its warmer over the next couple of days in the UK than it is here!! Then, because it's Charlie's birthday, we get the national anthem. We cringe imagining the French wondering if this is something the Brits do every morning.
For breakfast we walk to the boulangerie to get a fresh baguette and a pain au chocolate for A. Delicious.
It's chilly again today and we are beginning to think we'll b e heading a North soon. We start to look at calendars when Alastair sees an alert. Hamish's tax was due last week!! Alastair gets back on line to pay it off. Again lack of wifi has proved a problem.
We need a couple of things from the shop and head out. There is a British van on the aire!!! We go over to say hello and have a proper conversation. Our first in ages.
We get back from the supermarket and walk around the coastline towards the lighthouse. The clouds begin to clear and it starts to warm up.
We walk around a beautiful cove, with a deserted beach. Then pick our way over a big rock ledge beside the cove and up some stone steps to the rocks that lead around a promentary to the lighthouse.
The rocks are volcanic in nature: sometimes pink smooth doughy rounds, sometimes like white pizza bread piled in layers. Nearer the sea, where erosion has occurred, it becomes sharp edged whorls revealing hundreds of fossilised shells. Fascinating.
We wander back across the rocks, across the beach and as we walk towards town we spot the yellow trailer box of our neighbour being towed. The motorhome is on a low loader, ooops.
We already have a new neighbour. A huge van that has come one step closer and completely blocks our sun. We get our chairs out and sit in the sun but subject to the cold Mistral wind.
The English couple come over on their way for a walk. Two conversations on one day. We had worried we wouldn't know how having only spoken to each other for 3 months.
Eventually we are forced inside by the cold.
We are keeping our eye open as we are due a Super Moon tonight. Lisa finishes her tea and spots it making its climb over the lighthouse. It's a beautiful, huge, orange moon. The closest since 1948. Lisa helps Alastair finish his tea then runs over to let the English couple know. The four of us watch the moon and have another conversation!!!
Lisa persuades Alastair to play cards and she is in the lead until the third hand. Then she looses.
Saints Baume to Corro, Sunday 13th November
We wake to another chilly morning and are looking forward to getting down to sea level. Two men are talking loudly outside H. When we open the blinds we realise it's one man talking to himself?
Several people are arriving and starting the pilgrimage up to the grotto. We listen to TMS, a draw for the first match against India.
We are away just after 9am. Another harem scarum journey down the mountain. As we travel we listen to a 6 music podcast about Fela Kuti, what a man. We make a note to get his albums when we get home.
We arrive just before 12 in the seaside village of Corro. We park in the car park to check things out. We debate staying here for a night before moving to the aire but we need water and signs say 'no parking for motorhomes', so we drive in.
It costs just €13.70 for 2 nights and we are at the end of the harbour with great sea views.
We fill up with water and park up. Hamish needs a proper clean. Living in him 24/7 he soon gets grubby and Sainte Baume was muddy so the cab is filthy. Carpets are out, cab, kitchen, bathroom and floor are all cleaned and it is just so lovely to have a clean home.
We go for a walk around the harbour to find a boulangerie and a little supermarket. We wander on around the coast then back along the other coast to H.
We have new neighbors who have a huge trailer covered in an unattractive yellow tarp. They have parked it at the front of their van, so much for our sea view!!! To be fair once inside Hamish it isn't too bad and the other side of the harbour wall is rammed with vans, we stay put.
We are shattered after several full on days. Alastair frustrated by lack of connection with home and buys some wifi which is when he found out that his Senplus website has been cancelled because several attempts to contact him for payment have resulted in no reply.
Sainte-Baume, Saturday 12th November
A noisy night and Alastair in particular has a poor night's sleep. For the first time this trip there is ice on the outside of windows when we awake. Alastair puts the heating on and does a lot of chuntering about how cold he is. We'll be going home sooner if this keeps up.
We have no radio and of course wifi doesn't work. While Lisa gets a shower Alastair spreads out all of the information about the wifi to give them a call.....again. He phones at 8am but as it's Saturday they don't open until 9am which is 10am our time and we want to be on the road by then. Reluctantly Alastair also gets a shower despite saying he was going to wait till later so it isn't so chilly. He's always been a bit nesh.
We set off for our first stop: Lidls for muesli. It's absolute chaos at 9.30 with huge queues at the checkout and only two people serving. One guy behind us in the queue asks a third woman who is near a till if she is opening it. Her response is less than professional. He questions the way she has spoken to him and a shouting match ensues across the shop. Everyone feels embarrassed.
They don't sell fresh cows milk so we have to nip to the small Carrefour next door. It's quiet with no queues and no shouting. You get what you pay for.
We visit the service around the corner and fill up with water for €2 then we are off. We have identified an aire by the sea where we want to spend a couple of nights, it's not free but we deserve a break. So to get 2/3s of the drive done today without paying for autoroute we are heading to the Sainte-Baume plateau, whatever that might be. No internet so no information.
The drive through the countryside will obviously take more time however after Italy the French roads are a dream: no pot holes (road moles) so we can drive at a reasonable speed, no tail gaters, people getting into their own lane before overtaking, bliss. Alastair relaxes into the driving and begins to enjoy himself. It is so less stressful when H isn't juddering over unprepared roads. France is obviously so much wealthier.
Provence is beautiful and green and, unlike where we stayed last night, the trees are turning Autumnal shades of copper.
Around 12:30 we find a layby and pull in for lunch and a break. Alastair gets ready to make the call regarding wifi. It's busy so we have to wait for a few minutes then Alastair speaks to a woman who helpfully explains that we have reached the limit of the data we can use in Europe for the next 12 months!!!!!!
When Alastair called 2 days ago and we were told everything was fine and that we haven't used our 20GB, it clearly wasn't and we have had to call again to discover this. When Alastair increased his allowance they took the money and didn't say ' oh but you are limited to X'. Apparently with 3Mobile the max data per month is 12GB (if you buy 20GB you can only use 8GB in the U.K.). AND you can only use the data sim in Europe for a max of 60 days per year. When we topped up with another £15 after the data ran out last month they took the money but you can only use the top up in the U.K. So we were unable to use that as well. There is nothing on the website, as far as Alastair who spent hours researching this, could see. Apparently it is in the small print of the contract.
Alastair gets put through to complaints. A lovely guy from Glasgow refunds the £15, reduces our usage to the original amount and at Alastair's request closes the account. So when we get back to the UK we have to use our months allowance on the journey home because we can't use it here and the contract ends on the 12th December.
It looks as if we will have to buy data sims for the country we are in.
Wifi has been a huge learning curve, we need to find a different solution. It has been infuriating. In some ways this feels like a relief. We no longer have the anxiety of wondering why it won't work and wondering if it will. We can take control now and do something about sorting something out to at least be able to publish our blog.
We get going again and with the last 20 minutes there is a warning about a bendy road. We stop and discuss it. It's not Norway so we go for it. The road is narrow, twisty and steep but we make it.
On the plateau at the top half of France is parked. We are obviously missing something. As we were driving up Lisa wondered if this was a place of pilgrimage? It is! For French Kings!!!! Apparently in the cliffs above us Mary Magdalane lived towards the end of her life. On the cliff above the plateau is a cave which looks from the photos right tacky. Every French king has made the pilgrimage to her chapel. The path up is called the path of Kings.
We don't take the Pilgrims route. We wander around the field through wild thyme then read our book in the sunshine for a few minutes although the chill up here soon sends us back to Hamish.
Around 5pm we move to a less muddy spot although the car park is still busy. After tea we snuggle down with blankets as the temperature plunges. We take the blanket to bed for extra warmth. We are hoping it'll be warmer at sea level.
San Remo, Italy to Lac de Saint Cassie, France, Friday 11th November
A lovely goodbye to Italy. We wake to another blue cloudless sky and deep blue Mediterranean Sea. Another free night.
We eat breakfast overlooking the sea: stunning!
We get going about 9:30 and travel along the coast road. We drive for about an hour without travelling far. There seems to be one long queue of traffic through the Riviera. We dread to think what it would be like in the height of the season. We are so bored we swap notes on what kind of motor scooter we'd have if we lived here.
Eventually we get going surrounded by cars with a Monaco license plate.
We shed a tear as we drive along the last km of Italian coast road and then we are at the border. We are pulled over by the border police, with big guns.
Since we left the Uk we have not once been asked for our passports. It's been amazing. No doubt that will change with Brexit! The advantage we have with French is the amount of French Alastair can read, understand and speak.
We are still not asked for our passport. The police guy asks Alastair to open Hamish's door and puts his head inside to check we don't have any 'additional passengers'. Satisfied he waves us on.
It is very windy but an otherwise beautiful day. Alastair thought he had instructed satnav to avoid motorways but as soon as we are in France we are paying tolls. Looking at our mountainous surroundings it seems a fair deal.
We stop at a services to give Alastair a break. We have to nestle in amongst the lorries and walk to the shop to stretch our legs. Free toilets!
We are approached by a Frenchman who asks: 'Are you English and in zee Camper?" We confirm we are and he tells us we need to move and park right by the services because where we were is 'darnjeruss'. It is very nice of him to warn us. We go straight back to find out that, after Lisa locked the side door, Alastair had unlocked it. There are no 'additional passengers' in the bathroom or anywhere else.
We get back on the road but within an hour of arriving in France have had two reminders about how things have changed here, since the atrocities in Nice and Paris.
We stop for lunch at another services but don't leave Hamish. We get 30 minutes of free wifi. Oh the luxury. We discover Leonard Cohen has died. He has been a regular companion on our journey and on our lives. Another monumental talent taken from us this year.
We leave the motorway and are soon driving across a lake with some suitable car parks around it. We find a services stop and after picking up the cheapest diesel (1.14€) we have seen in a while we return to the lake.
We find a car park near the lake. It's a bit near the road but when travelling we don't have the luxury of searching for the best stop.
We go for a scramble through the trees to the Lake and have 5 minutes in the sun.
Back at H we try the wifi, of course it doesn't work. Then we try the radio, it's GQT (Gardeners Question Time). It works! How delicious.
We manage the news and the Leonard Cohen feature on last doors then the radio becomes white noise. Lisa has her head in her hands in despair but we turn it around. As our mark of respect it's a Leonard Cohen night.