Month: December 2016

28 to 31 August – time to go home

Travelling strategically
route-map-august-2106We had roughly planned a meandering trip back north taking a week or more to reach the Tunnel for a crossing on 1 September but the continuing heat made us revise our plans.  Portia has air-con in the cab which is great for driving, but the prospect of spending the rest of the time in a hot tin can in a sun blasted car park did not appeal.  Thirty six degrees falling to only 22 at night was still being forecast until Sunday 28th.  So we put our departure-from-the-fermette date back accordingly. We still wanted to take a route that avoided toll roads and needed a maximum of three or four hours driving a day, so the journey would still involve a few overnight stops.  Ideally there would be a swim or two en route and, crucially, we wanted to get to our final stop, just outside Calais, early enough to be sure of getting a place.  It is bank holiday week and still in school holiday time so likely to be BUSY at the coast.

The weather forecast was accurate and the plan worked –  we started packing up the evening before then a little cloud let us finish our preparations the next morning in tolerable temperatures. Phew!   Even though the barn was not quite big enough for Portia it was fine for Trudi so vehicles were shuffled around and both house and van sorted out – quite a job after three months.

closed-fermetteAll closed up:-( but still blooming

First stop was three hours drive across Centre to the north-west in the free aire in Chateaudun.  Here the parking is at the foot of the cliff where the eponymous chateau perches.chateaudun Amazing! Down at parking level is a complex of canals on the river Loir and a watermill together with a peaceful park. Climbing a mere 100 steep stone steps up to the town there is the main square with all the cafés you could die of thirst before reaching. The aire was recommended by Ju and Jay in their blog. See for lots more and better pictures!

After a beer in the square and just as we passed a fragrant kebab shop we realised it must be about time to eat! We had had an early start and a long day so we forked out for donners and chips all round even though the fridge was groaning with all the food transferred from the fermette!  Also felt slightly guilty at staying in this historic place and only taking a passing look at the monuments and buildings all around.  It’s easily done when your travelling is destination focussed. One day we will come back with a plan and absorb it all more thoroughly.  I hope.

Next stop was another three hour drive north and back on the route we had taken south three months ago. We were heading for the coast at Boulogne (and a swim) but needed another night to get there.  Montville was in the right place but, as we got closer and I squinted more closely at the map, the wrong side of the tracks.  All the roads leading to it from our side of the railway line were marked with low bridges.  We are 3.09m (including 45cm satellite dome) and the bridges are all between 2.60 and 2.80.  What to do?  There did not seem to be a way around without doubling back nearly all the way to Rouen.  We followed the road that had the highest low bridge just to have a look.  It was certainly a narrow bridge – no scope for on-coming vehicles – but looked a lot higher than its claimed 2.80m.  We crept under with room to spare (fingers crossed, breath held and ears alert for crunching noises). The bridge is a very narrow high arch and I think the 2.80 must be its height at the point where it starts to narrow as the arch curves in.  We got through easily with our pointy, central dome but the corners on a high, square vehicle would not make it.

The Montville aire is well placed – adjacent to a leisure lake (no swimming – boo) with a health circuit around it and only five minutes from at least three bakers in the other direction!

robina-at-montvilleHere I am taking advantage of the parcours de santé. Neil clicked just to soon to catch the amazing double back-flip I was warming up for.

I would put more pictures up except I didn’t take any and Neil’s all seem to have got lost somewhere between his camera and one of the computers he downloads them onto. They are probably on the desktop in York and we are currently back in France. Same goes for the next place so I will try and borrow some online ones for the time being.

Moving on…. Le Portel is close to Boulogne, which is close to the aire which is close to Calais and the Tunnel.  We seem to be proceeding in ever diminishing steps as we get nearer. The aire at Le Portel is a neat and tidy affair on the cliffs overlooking the now defunct Hoverport. Apparently hovercraft are very heavy on fuel and fell from favour as more efficient and higher speed ferries developed.  Noisy as well as I recall.hoverport

You can see the aire on the cliffs/dunes above the hoverport in this photograph (found on the internet). It is guarded by a barrier that demands your bank card for entry and requires an advance decision on water, electricity etc.  We were full of water from Montville  so didn’t select it and this turned out to be a mistake. You could not go back and buy it later without going out and coming back in again and it was not clear if that meant paying all over again:-(

Our spot was good though, alongside a grassy patch perfect for spreading out the chairs and table in our own shade.  That is one of the things you learn when the weather gets hot and trees are scarce – park with your habitation door facing eastish if you can.  Then, as the day heats up you can relax conveniently in the more substantial shade offered by the van instead of the flimsier shade provided by the awning. A sandy scramble down the dunes could have meant a swim but the water was waaaay out over half a mile of hot, flat sand and we decided against it.

Two more overnight stops before getting home and this has grown a bit too long so I’ll stop here for now and write a third Autumn catch up blog. Before I start the December catch-up blog:-)  cropped-snails-poor.jpg

…so where was I?

cropped-snails-poor.jpgA couple of short blogs follow intended as a catch-up to glide seamlessly through the last two weeks of August and get us back across the Channel on 2 September – the last day of validity of our travel insurance.  Having shamefully neglected this time-consuming blog I had, amazingly, had the foresight to write some notes before I forgot everything! If all else fails there is always the metadata on the photos to help get the timeline straight!

16-28 August – canicule cowering

Get the shutters closed…..
We enter an extended period of scorching hot dog days – la canicule – it sounds so much more fearsome in french.  Either way, it is upon us and it can be dangerous to the susceptible.  Our fermette faces west and is blissfully cool all morning gradually going up by degrees until about 2pm when the sun gets its head around the side of the barn and gets nasty.  Shutters are closed, curtains drawn, fans turned on – a perfect time to sit  in a soft chair with something relaxing on the hifi and read a book. Maybe with closed eyelids.

Coming to at about 18:00, maybe feeling a bit sticky, it is cool enough to venture out for a swim. This moves to 18:30 and even 19:00 as the canicule persists. Being an old stone cottage with walls half a metre thick we manage quite well for several days.  Little by little the heat soaks into the stone and the relative cool lessens.  Nighttime offers little relief but the evening light and the sunsets are wonderful from the terrace.

A new diversion presented itself – the wine man came.  He was a charming young man from a vigneron in the Loire valley with a cool-bag of wines for sampling in the boot of his car.  He was offering an at-home dégustation and set up in the shade on the terrace (it was the morning) where we sipped, but did not spit, the red, white and rosé.  The prices were OK so we ordered a mixed case of white and rosé and he delivered the following week.  A nice way to buy some gifts to take home even though it involved lengthy order forms in triplicate!

The main chore of the period however was to sort out Trudi’s strange behaviour. Time to learn a  whole new technical vocabulary:-(  I have mostly forgotten the house renovation vocabulary of a few years back, so there should be brain space for car parts and faults.  trudiTrudi had developed a tendency to twerk her rear end about a bit when on rough roads or at about 60mph.  It did not seem to affect the steering but was slightly unsettling when facing an oncoming hay wagon on a tight bend on a narrow road.  Suspension?  On a test drive the, rather surly, local mechanic thought so but Neil thought he had had all those parts thoroughly gone over and replaced in April in the UK so it seemed unlikely. She also had a slight metallic rattle which stopped on braking.  Nothing for it but to bite the bullet, get to an Audi dealer, apply for a small mortgage, and get the work done.

Much hanging about on an industrial estate in Nevers in 30+ degrees was required to get the definitive diagnosis – the shockers were shot. Parts would need ordering but, being August, would not arrive in time for the work to be done before we left.  She was still safe enough for local trips if driven sedately and not on motorways.  A quick call to the mechanic in York who had replaced the shockers in April revealed they had not actually been replaced.  Now we need to check the invoice and see if they were actually paid for!  A local and very friendly kwik-fit type garage will do the work next time we are back in, hopefully, a few weeks time.  Trudi is eighteen years old so will enjoy resting quietly with the bats in the barn in the meantime.