We 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.
All 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. 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 http://ourtour.co.uk/home/chateaudun-loir-not-loire/ 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!
Here 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.
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:-)