Month: August 2018

9 March to 9 April 2018 – fermette, Folkestone, fermette, Cherbourg….

I once again find myself in despairing catch-up mode with the blog. At the time of writing (August 2018) we are well into our summer trip but the blog is still mired in the depths of  winter 2018:-( This edition is therefore a race back to the UK covering nearly a month of actual travel.

First stop on leaving the olive farm was the Orange shop in Perpignan to get our phone and mifi fettled for France. Orange offer really bad value per gigabyte compared to other providers but we no longer have internet via a landline so are reliant on the mifi and a poor rural signal. Louisa is heading off for the south of France but accompanies us to the shop before the parting of the ways:-(

We stick to the motorway across the south-west corner of France and join the magnificent and free A75 that swoops northwards across the Massif Central and curves gracefully across the Millau Viaduct (12€). We stop for the night before the viaduct at a small place with the curious name of La Cavalerie.  Expecting a typical village we find instead a fortified medieval village complete with massive walls and ancient stone buildings. It is wonderful. It was established early in the time of the crusades by the Knights Templar and fortified three hundred years later by the Knights Hospitaller.  And still a living town today. Amazing what fabulous places are littered across the countryside.

cav barn

The aire is less appealing, being of the commercial sort that are apparently springing up in communes across France. Shame – we like the free ones. But don’t really mind paying a bob or two for an overnight. This one is poorly designed: the barrier across the entrance offers confusing instructions on an almost illegible, tiny, faded  computer screen facing directly into the low winter sun.  It transpires that your credit card is not enough – you have to pay a sum on your credit card which is loaded onto another plastic card that you then use to open the barrier.  The charges were not comprehensible so I now have a card with a couple of left-over euros in case we come across another aire of this sort. Ah well.

Next day we detour briefly off the motorway and stop promptly at noon to take our seats in a village auberge offering a 12€ Menu du Jour. We have learned from past experience that you need to take your seat on the dot or risk not getting one at all. From being empty at 12.00 a local restaurant can be full at ten past. This happens here – a whole gang of workmen taking up half the tables and passing travellers the rest. Then onto a familiar aire at St Pourçain-sur-Sioule where we get a riverside spot and nab one of the few electric outlets. St PourcainNot so full at this time of year but several other vans roll up as the afternoon turns to evening. This aire has the most off-putting service point where the clean water hose hangs inside a rather smelly coin-operated locker which also houses the black water drain.  True, there is a separate cassette-cleaning hose but the proximity of the one to the other and the smell – forget it!

Back at the fermette to find the area has experienced more rain this year than in living memory and we battle to heat it up after four months of winter lock-up  The tiled floors get slick with condensation as the wood burner heats the air and the old stone walls. It takes four days to get toasty throughout.  In the meantime I slip on the steep tiled steps inside and scrape the skin off my forearm in a rather nasty way:-(((( What’s more, I landed right on the corner of a step right on my hip bone but it did not break! I take this as good news! The purple bruise fades but a purple scar remains. Must get anti-slip strips for the stairs – such things do exist it seems.

A tunnel crossing to Folkestone is booked to get the car MOTed. It fails – master brake cylinder seized – work can’t be done until next day:-( My optimistic overnight ticket is void and we need a second night in a hotel. If there is a next time I will …. do it differently. The weather is nice though and Folkestone beach is well worth a wander.

After a successful re-test we are late away and once back in France book a night in a budget Ibis half way home – cheap, clean, comfortable, efficient – and treat ourselves to moules-frites in the Belgian restaurant opposite.

Another couple of weeks at the fermette sitting in front of the fire while it rains and rains and rains some more. The critters skype with friends from Guernsey while a comforting boeuf bourguignon gently stews on the fire.

Crits skype

Third of April and fully packed up we are off again to catch a ferry in Cherbourg heading homewards.  The crossing to Poole is rapidly becoming our favoured route home as it means we can call into Bristol to see the aged parent. We stop first in the Loire valley in a little car park in the centre of Amboise and walk down the winding streets to see the magnificent chateau beside the river. Slightly unnerving narrow streets in the van but manageable.

Amboise chateau

It was a bit of a grey day….

Amboise streetThen we move onto the Normandy coast at a barely-open campsite which promises a heated, covered swimming pool from the first of April.  They lied of course. And the wifi did not work either. And the woman on reception was decidedly on the grumpy side – probably fed up with all the complaints! Did not stop them charging full price though. Boo. The walk down to the beach was nice though.

Normandy neil

Finally onto the free parking near the ferry port and straight into the market to find some nice goodies to take home. We got a big, round, bright orange Mimolette cheese last time but that stall was not there this time, sadly. There was a cheerful marketside café though with a tasty pork fillet in sauce with chips on the lunch menu.

Cherbourg luncg

It is a late afternoon sailing from Cherbourg meaning we don’t disembark until nearly ten at night – dark in April. I have now confirmed that you can park overnight on the dockside for five pounds. Toilet and shower available! Handy. After only one wrong turn off the ferry (bad signage) resulting in an awkward, bendy reversing operation between concrete barriers, we find the spot and pull into the lee of a huge terminal building where we share the night with a couple of other vans. The warden bangs on the door next morning to get the money – no danger of sleeping through that request. Hordes of vehicles had arrived, queued, embarked and sailed on the early ferry before we emerged to find the little café offering bacon sandwiches had closed:-(  Lovely view though!

Poole view

Then a night in the road outside my mother’s home in Bristol and a couple more in the CL near my sister for some family time. Back up to York and after three months away we decide to park outside the house for a night for a thorough unpack and clean of the van before returning her to storage. The road is not great for a van this size and requires a visitor’s parking permit but once in a while we think it is OK. We are unloading after all.

That’s it for the next three months. We need to spend some serious gardening time at the house – the last couple of springs/summers away have wrought havoc in the borders and on the lawn – there is only so much you can expect of house-sitters and passing guests!

 

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4 to 8 March 2018 – hop, skip and jump back into France.

Taking a site plan of the pitches at Los Pinos so we could book a good spot for next year, we left the campsite and headed north. About this time last year we had followed much the same route south in a dash to find some heat which meant we missed a lot of interesting things. Not far north of Denia is an interesting-looking delta, famed for rice growing and flamingos – two good reasons to call in this time. The Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre stretches flatly and wetly out into the Mediterranean having been built up on soil washed-down over the centuries. It is crossed by branches of the Ebro draining into the sea (dis-tributaries?) and man-made irrigation ditches. There are apparently two moho aires on the delta, one a long way out in the sea, nicely placed adjacent to a fish restaurant and free to park. No brainer! We bounce down the rather rough roads which are also rather narrow but, given the nature of the terrain, you can see anything coming for miles. IMGEbro flatEbro flatness

The aire is large and nicely laid out. There are services which are chained off and you need to get a key from the restaurant to use them. For a few euros. They are badly placed so that anyone queuing to use them blocks the exit for everyone else – a problem that only becomes apparent the next morning. We go for a flamingo-spotting walk which is a success, but only with the eye of faith!flamingo

The white spots across the middle of the photo really are flamingos – with binoculars they look a very pale pink. Obviously they are not getting enough prawn cocktails:-( This prompts thoughts of seafood and we make a reservation at the restaurant – it is not big and several more vans have turned up! In the event there are only half-a-dozen tables taken when we eat the most delicious fish supper later on – charcuterie and salad is followed by a platter two different fish, the catch of the day. We are also given a tiny packet of rice and bottle of oil to take away as a taster of the region – amazing how much pleasure such a small gesture gives.

The threatening skies of the evening do not develop into a storm and after a peaceful night and a bit of a wait to get out (without using the services) we continue an hour or so north to Camping Miramar at Mont Roig del Camp – on the sea. The ACSI card proves its value here as it seems to be quite an expensive site even though half closed, and it charges the exorbitant sum of €6.00 per day for a wifi connection on top! Enough moaning! Our pitch is one of several right behind the small sea dune with crashing waves a few metres away.

mont roig dune

Too cold and windy for a swim unfortunately, even though sunny.

IMG_1603

The rental caravan opposite which clearly has not moved for several decades is painted a cheery pink with white spots reminding Neil of Mr Blobby.  Not a colour scheme we have encountered before on a van but clearly a favourite around here –  the adjacent one was red and was in process of being adorned with white spots. Forgot to take a photo sadly:-(

It gets even windier and we are buffeted a bit in the night – grateful there is a bit of a dune between us and what sounds like the raging sea. We had been expecting Louisa to catch us up after she had made a detour to see friends in Valencia, but she had been held up by van problems that could not be sorted out on the Sunday. She rolled in on our second evening and learned the benefits of ACSI the hard way – especially galling when you arrive late and leave early:-( My fault really – I had chosen the site without realising she was not a member.

This was our last night in Spain. We knew from last year that most of the little resorts further up the coast were battened down for the winter. Many paying aires are open but the associated towns tend to be tourist type high rise developments waiting for the summer hordes.  I am  sure there are some delightful places to be found – the beaches we saw are lovely and the promenades elegantly paved and lined with palm trees.

We had stayed in one or two very satisfactory aires tucked in the back streets of such places last year as we got our bearings in a new country but, at this time of year, they are not quite appealing enough to go back to. Accordingly I had planned a three hour motorway trip over the Pyrenees and back into la belle France to a spot we know just south of Perpignan.

The journey has some nice views which I cannot remember in detail apart from the series of twists and turns to get off the motorway once in France and onto the side roads to Trouillas. Here at Les Oliviers de La Canterrane, just below the Pyrenees, is a business-scale olive farm with many ramshackle outbuildings alongside which you can park up and make use of the facilities. How does France manage to be so casually welcoming to motorhomes? (And why can the UK not be the same?) One of the buildings is a barn of a place that is obviously used for local gatherings whenever the need arises.

TrouillasIt is equipped with many trestle tables and chairs and a dart board, with blunt darts, hangs tiredly on the wall next to a mammoth scale paella pan. At one end is a tattyish kitchen area with microwave ovens, much appreciated by me, and various other handy facilitites – such as a sink with hot water, much appreciated by Neil. Everything works. There is a free shower and toilet in another building close to some washing machines. This place is wonderful.

Louisa had texted that she was en route having loyally followed her sat nav on the goat track route over the Pyrenees for several hours – not altogether intentionally! I find the man who seems to belong to the place and say we are expecting a friend after barrier-closing time. He says not to worry, I live right by the barrier and will listen out for her and let her in when she arrives. He does so. What a nice place this is. We show our gratitude in the beautiful on-site farm shop by buying some speciality olive oil.Trouillas shopWe also buy a sticky-back plastic donkey to start our collection of animal silhouettes on the back of the van. We neglected to get a cockerel in Portugal, or a bull in Spain this time round. Some intrepid people even have a camel! I wonder if there is a country that has a snail as an emblematic critter?image