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!