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.
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. Not 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.
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.
It was a bit of a grey day….
Then 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.
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.
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!
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!