Tuesday, 26 January 2016

wandering about in Brittany

June 2015

Mont St Michel

Our route took us onward & westward aiming to stop overnight at the aire at Mont St Michel. Wrong. 

We had last visited Mont St Michel back in the early 1990s.  We had driven along the causeway & parked in the car park & then proceeded to explore.  

On approaching the tourist honey pot, things were somewhat changed.  Roads barred, new signs, swish buses & huge car parks.  You can no longer drive up to Mont St Michel.  It has been 'themed'. Yes there is still an aire in the new car park but at 20 euros l don't think so.

A quick check in our Vicarious Books French Aires book,  suggested [ as did some signage] a new aire at Beauvoir [ GPS: N 48.59429, W -1.51206 N 48°35'39", W -1°30'43"].  The site costs 12.5 euros which includes electrics, water & wifi.  It is spacious & has direct access to the myriad of cycleways which include the route to Mont St Michel itself. 

Mont St Michel is undergoing mammoth transformations, the rock is set to once again become an island,  an elevated causeway, environmentally friendly buses and wooden board walks are turning the place into something more akin to Disneyland.  It all seems very un-French.  You are not even permitted to cycle along the board walk between the hours of 10 am & 6 pm.


Once inside the walls, the place hadn't changed much in the intervening years.  Loads of eateries. Loads of tourists.  Loads of 'tat' shops.

Large earth movers were busy in the bay excavating tonnes of sand & mud, making way for the sea to once again reclaim the shallow bay.

Views from the walls gave an excellent viewpoint to watch the engineering challenges.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

It's June so we're off via Hull

June 2015

As May passed & we merged into June, the weather started to improve, longer days, sunshine & time to travel.  The two week tour was planned to see us heading across the North Sea then northern France to spend time exploring Brittany & visiting old sailing haunts from BH [before husband].

As is usually, well, always, the case we drove the 20 miles or so to Hull & the P & O ferry terminal.  All very civilised nothing too stressful, a lovely evening with a calm crossing forecast.

I think that the crossing was perhaps one of the best so far, not exactly cruising, bearing in mind this is a ferry not the Canberra, but it was fascinating watching the banks of the Humber slipping by as we tucked into our evening meal in the Pride of Bruges Brasserie & washed down with a glass or 3 of Pinot Noir.

Disembarking the ferry the following morning at Zeebrugge, the main port for Belgium, saw us speeding along the autoroutes heading westward to Heurteauville, Normandy via the amazing Pont du Brotonne.   This is an  architecturally amazing suspension bridge crossing the River Seine, probably best photographed from the side view as opposed to just starting to cross?

Once across the bridge, the pace slows considerably as you enter the  unspoilt countryside of the Boucles de la Seine Normande National Park.

So for our first night in France we returned to one of our regular overnight stops at the privately owned Aire Camping-cars Les Cerisiers, Heurteauville situated on the banks of the river seine west of Rouen.  We find this a pretty good spot to stay for our 1st night away as there are electric hook ups so that if there is a problem with anything we have back-up.  The price per night is 11 euros which includes a large punnet of fresh cherries.   Nice.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Moving Fast Forward

Look, I'm catching up, we're almost up to date!

Fast forward, April 2015.  Spring felt as though it was in full flood as we headed down to Cambridge for a few nights at the Caravan Club site.  The reason behind the trip out was to go & have a nose around the Imperial War Museum, Duxford which was also hosting a classic car auction.

I must confess to having plenty of time for classic aircraft AND motorbikes, thanks to my late father who was a keen private pilot & a former 'ton-up-kid' well into middle age.  So l grew up surrounded by DH chipmunks, Austers, Norton & Scott motorbikes.

The aircraft museum itself was stuffed to the gunnels with aircraft of all ages & types, dust as well l noted.  Concorde was fascinating, l can remember it flying over Cheltenham on test runs as a child, everyone running out into the road pointing to the heavens gasping 'look, it's CONCORDE'.

The car & motorbike auctions could have been slightly boring, but all l did was annoy husband by pointing to this marque or that explaining 'dad had one of those & one of those'.

One of my father's last bikes was a Manx Norton, he bought this just as the law changed & helmets became compulsory, much to his displeasure.  He purchased a helmet disguised as a flat cap & greatly enjoyed thumbing his nose whenever he was pulled over by the boys in blue for not wearing a helmet.

I was quiet emotional when l saw this aircraft, beautifully restored by the way, l learnt to fly in this, a de Havilland Chipmunk.   I remember doing a 'wing-over' above Newent Parish Church!  I think l wrote in my  log book, 'don't fly upside down as money will fall out of your pocket'.  Whilst reminiscing,  l can remember flying in the front seat to Le Touguet via Gatwick, where we put on life jackets, & somehow l had managed to turn off the RT, so here we were coming in on finals, with no radio contact with the control tower, dad completely unaware that the radio was turned off, that is until a Boeing 707 cracked through telling us to turn our radio ON!  I really enjoyed my large bowl of shrimps at Le Touquet airport!

Dad's first plane was an Auster, and there was a lovely concours condition one here.  It was really something to chat to the owner discussing planes with tail wheels.

I'm always confused by April's weather, you always expect the worst but more often than not are pleasantly surprised.  Here it was then, blue skies & almost tee shirt weather, almost but not quiet!

Whilst in the area, we also visited Audley End having to enter the grounds via the exit as the impressive gate house was built long before the days of motorhomes & coaches!

Not liking to stay too long in one place, we headed eastwards visiting historic sites en-route to the coast..  Framlingham Castle was gloriously spooky despite the lovely spring day & blossom loaded trees.

The night's stop was right on the coast at the CC site at the interestingly named Kessingland.  Out of season this had the feel of a remote & desolate place, but in fact was as fascinating one.  A wide shingle  beach, nature reserves & wide open skies makes this place truly magical, though, perhaps not in high season.

Onwards now, towards home.  There are so many historical & archaeological sites in East Anglia. New day, new experience.

This time to one of the most fascinating neolithic sites in England, Grimes Graves.  The long drive through the forest then across the heath, building up to an area of humps, bumps & craters.

Grimes Graves are not some vast burial ground but are in fact neolithic flint mines, where you can go don hard hats then zip down into one of the larger holes.  It is mind blowing to think that these ancient miners worked by hand with reindeer antler picks.   Fascinating.

So, after a night at the Thetford Forest CC site, very nice, lots of squirrels plus a few newbie motorhomers trying out their vehicles for the first time, we headed north for the A1 & home.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Change of Plan - route 2

After a peaceful overnight stop parked in a walnut orchard, followed by hasty scrambling through maps, guide books & where-to-stop books, our route was radically changed.  Instead of heading south from Grenoble, and the Route de Napoleon, we would skirt mountains and head, via the auto route to Valence then head south, aiming for Vaison-La-Romaine.

Getting back onto the motorway was a bit of a nasty, there were major roads works & road closures in Varces which was somewhat grisly, narrow roads, no diversion signs & a sat-nav that was having a serious breakdown as we tried to locate the way out!

Eventually, success, autoroute rejoined, dirty water emptied at an amazing motorway aires at a service station near Valences, so amazing in fact a photo was required showing the automatic water spray in actions.

The scenery was pretty dramatic, lots of rivers & towns with the name Roman in them.  Soaring peaks & wooded slopes.

The evening stop was to be the aires de camping cars at Vaison.  Lovely drive through the vineyards passing imposing wine Châteaux.   The scenery just kept getting better, if that was possible, however, once at our destination, the aires was full, no room.  Plan 2B.  Get out the Caravan Club continental sites handbook.  Not being one to ring & pre-book, it was a case of seeing where we could get in that was nice as in nice nice with good access for motorhomes.   The eventual resting place was Camping de l'Aguette, a rather pleasant wooded site in a rural location close to the bastide village of Faucon.

The choice was a good one, if l say so myself, the staff were pleasant, the facilities good, there was free wifi & finally it was central to visiting the site of the area.

We stayed here long enough to explore the region's historic sites.  The Roman city of Vaison-la-Romaine, Mont Ventoux were just breathtaking.

The countryside was awe-inspiring,  jagged peaks, fields of lavender, vineyards, picturesque hill top villages, pine forests and wonderful foodie food.

The tourist season was almost over in the area, so everywhere was fairly quiet, locals chatty & even the odd American seemed to have time to chat over a glass of pastis.

The weather during our stay was warm & dry, except for the day we drove into Orange to explore the Roman Amphitheatre which was seriously wet with huge puddles everywhere.   Thankfully, l always travel with wellingtons & an Aussie stockman's coat, so l was OK Jack!  Did feel sorry for those tourists who had not even got an umbrella.

One of the highlights was the trip to the summit of Mont Ventoux, a scenic drive through  the world famous lavender fields of Provence followed by a steep climb up, up through forests then out onto the white stone upper slopes & peak.  It was amazing to watch keen cyclists straining muscles & fighting exhaustion to reach the summit, equally amazing was the sight of motorhomes driving the route.

We had planned to continue our stay by heading down to the Mediterranean, however, by the time it came to leave, the site closed at the end of September,  the weather was starting to look decidedly 'iffy'.  Time for Plan 3 - head home.

So, with much reluctance on my part, we said 'goodbye' to our new found Dutch friends, hooked the car onto the motorhome & began the drive home.

We followed the route of previous trips, straight up the A7, overnight stop at Beaune overlooking the vineyards, where, incidentally, we were charged extra for our car, then off again next day with an overnight stop at Chalon-en-Champagne.  We rather like Chalon, the site is a municipal one, its has crap facilities, but it is well laid out, has hard standing plus the added advantage of a local chap who comes round every evening selling his own honey which is delicious.

From Chalon it is an easy drive straight through to Belgium & Zeebrugge via Lille which is always busy.  

We enjoyed the trip as this was an area of France that l hadn't visited before.  I loved the food shops & markets, the lovely fruity fragrances seeping through narrow streets coming from the open doors of parfumeries & then finally there was the wonderfully delicious Cotes de Rhone wine.

All in all, this is an area l would very much like to return to, especially as the wine has now all be drunk & the stock of l'occitane desperately needs topping up at French prices! 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Fast Forward - Provence 2014

So where next?  Summer came & went, 'head south young man', so we dutifully did.  The plan, my plan you understand [more of that later], was to head down to southern France via the 'cheap' route, ie] autoroute toll free, read also 'it will take longer' and more 'scenic'.  The route, l had discussed this with several of our visiting motorhomers - we have a CL Site - was to head through Belgium then turn right in Luxembourg city, then on down eastern France to Gap then over the mountains following the Route de Napoleon to the Gorges du Gordon.  Good plan.

As you can see, to make the job of exploring narrow & bendy roads, we decided to take my smart car, which is attached via an 'a frame', along with us.  

Our route to Europe, we live close to the Port of Hull, was via the P & O ferries overnight service to Zeebrugge.    Often when travelling this route there are various interesting sights to gawk at, this time was no exception, there was this wonderful motor parked alongside us at customs in Zeebrugge. Only a classic gull wing mercedes! 

Every year the road connections from Zeebrugge improve, thanks to ongoing upgrades, fast dual carriageways & toll-free motorway speed you on your journey.  All pretty easy driving, little traffic, except round Brussels & no tolls.  Our overnight stop was to be at a municipal site to the south of the city of Luxembourg which was easy to locate, although we did have to wait an hour or so until the warden returned from an extended lunch break.

If was at this point that we had our first inquisitive inspection of the A frame.  This came from a German motohomer who had never seen anything like this before.  Yes he'd seen cars pulled on low trailers but, as he said, 'this is so much better, l want one!'.  We duly passed on details of suppliers in the UK.  Keen to practise his English & in no hurry to return to his 'van, he also very helpfully recommended the very useful app, Camper Contact which has details of motorhome stops, including photos & reviews [often in Dutch].

Day number 2 saw us heading into France, down A31 then branching eastwards along the E23 finally coming to an overnight halt at the almost deserted  municipal camp site at Le Val-d'Ajol, a really pretty village set in a valley surrounded by the dense forests of the Vosages region.  

This gave us an opportunity to take the smart car for a quick spin, it was great fun bouncing along the heavily-forested, winding mountain lanes. You could imagine  ancient Celts launching attacks guerilla upon unsuspecting Roman legions very easily here! 

Another long drive on day 3, the roads, well they are main roads & dual carriageways, are certainly cheaper to travel along, but, a lot of rounding of roundabouts & slowing down & breaking - so could this not be such a good idea? 

Anyway, by the time we reached Gap, the driver, my husband, had had enough:  'autoroutes are much easier to get from A - B fast'.  OK, revert to Plan 2.  We stopped at a small site to the south of Gap set amongst walnut trees & fruit trees, with views up the sides of the vertical mountain side, a little claustrophobic if l am brutally honest.  The host was as mad as a hatter too, certainly what you could possible term, 'a bit of a character'!

So, what next? What is Plan 2? Is there a Plan 2?

Monday, 19 October 2015

ok what has happened to my timing then?

Nothing like returning to a long lost blog, l ask myself, 'can l remember?', 'where did we go / stop / see?'  Normally, l complete a log of where, how & when, l'm afraid l didn't do one for this trip, but, it's amazing what you can remember by just looking at photos isn't it?

Anyway, if my memory serves me well, from the rain soaked aires de camping car at Pont d'Ouilly, we continued our journey through Normandy, stopping overnight near Mortain, then westwards heading to the Brittany coast where according to BBC weather, was going to be warm, dry & sunny!

As a youngster, l had visited Carnac & Quiberon with parents and, what with me being 'tour guide', decided that it would be an interesting re-visit to the standing stones & dolman of the area.

There is something about Brittany that is timeless, the brilliant light, the blue of the sea, the fine sandy beaches.   The ideal place for rockpooling, bird watching & eating fruits de mer!

So with the sat nav set to Carnac, that is where we went.  Deciding to spend a few days in the sun, we booked onto a site next to the beach, watched the locals prise limpets off rocks & rake for cockles, sat in the sun & tucked in to moules frites and ice cream.

The amazing megaliths, well, these were pretty much unchanged, but, and a big but too,  you can't go up to them to huge / touch / chant [?], they are fenced off, signs saying keep out & protect the wild flowers, big disappointment that.  After all those millennia of people getting up close, to now being kept at arms length, tragic, mind you, the wild flowers did look nice, probably the first time ever that they had had a chance to bloom!

Out return journey took us through the centre of rural Brittany, empty roads, forest, small villages. We broke our journey at Dinan, the aires just under the viaduct, chatted an English couple who ran a small cafe & gift shop half way up a steeply cobbled road, & who took great pleasure in telling us tales of motorhomers who, on leaving the aires, proceeded to turn left UP the steep, narrow road only to find half way up they came to a grinding halt ................ it was a regular occurrence apparently, something to do with blindly following your sat nav & forgetting common sense together good old fashioned map reading!

So, that brings to a close, the first trip in the IH.  Great fun, it does so help to be spontaneous. Everything more or less worked & the bits that needed fine turning or sorting out were added to the 'to do list'.  

Happy Days!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A 'new' motorhome & we're off

May 2014

France - Normandy

Never one to stand still for long, over the winter months & much scanning of the internet, a change in motorhome was deemed necessary, a possible downsize after seriously looking at the Shire Conversions demonstrator, Phoenix M Studio at the Harrogate Motorhome Show, then finally deciding that perhaps we would rather have a bit more space for storage in the BBQ & the other outdoor living stuff, moved onto another Yorkshire van conversion firm, IH Motorhomes, finally settling upon a 60 plate IH J500 on a mercedes base. 

So that was May, now what? Ok, all essential items transferred to new machine, tow bar fitted a quick service booked in, we were ready to go somewhere.  Ok, so we do 'spur of the moment' things, being only 30 minutes from the PO Ferries Terminal in Hull, a quick internet booking 2 hours before sailing saw us sitting waiting to board for the saturday evening  crossing with little thought to the gale warnings being given out for the North Sea.

Boy it was winding, thump-crash-splash as the Pride of Bruges cut is way through Storm Force 10 heading to Zeebrugge.  Breakfast saw only myself & a few others who were in a fit state to face the full english!

From Zeebrugge, we headed westwards hugging the coastal autoroute towards Rouen, from the hills bordering the English Channel large waves could be seen crashing onto the beaches at Boulogne.  

Our ultimate goal was Brittany, so the first night's overnighter was the aires de camping car at Heurteauville, Les Cherisiers, on the banks of the river Seine.  

Hmn, not always a good idea to set off without a full check of the on board equipment, TV not working properly then the onboard gas tank gauge showed 'empty' having been 'full' on leaving the UK.  The TV wasn't a problem but the gauge was.  

We had purchased the European adaptors, watched how to fill up your tank on youtube, but in reality we decided that after several attempts, the gauge must be faulty.  So that took up 24 hours trying to work out what was wrong or not.  The weather was rather wet too, a very wet night was spent on the municipale site at Vimoutiers parked not on the grass pitches but on the access road, a sensible decision as another UK motorhome on deciding to park on the grass pitch, sank in the saturated lawned area.  The site itself was very tidy with the warden being somewhat stressed with the thought of damaged pitches!

Moving onwards to a slightly brighter morning, we battled on towards Falaise where a lull in the weather allowed us to revisit William the Conqueror's castle, which is still undergoing heavy restoration from the WW2 D-Day battle.

The evening's night stop was on the Aires at Pont d'Ouilly,with its hedge d, hard standing pitches on the banks of the possibly rising waters of the River Orne.

Due to the weather we didn't explore the small town, but the drive from Falaise through the the Suisse Normande was rather scenic when breaks in the weather allowed the sun to shine!

So our first 3 nights were spent in Normandy, an area we had last visited back in the early 1990s & it was interesting how the French infrastructure has developed at an alarming rate in those intervening years, high speed road access with motorways & dual carriageways linking most towns in the Calvados region, by-passing the half-timbered villages.