Month: February 2022

August to December 2019 – to the Mediterranean and back

It is now February 2022 as I write and, having intended to write a quick list of travels and doings in 2019 in order to catch up, I seem to have expanded into a fourth blog for the year. Scrolling through old photos prompts memories and I am reluctant to miss them:-( But this time – much more of a list with photos.

Back in York after my neice’s wedding we had several weeks to idle away while waiting for dental and other medical-type appointments. We were fondly greeted by Sean who had suffered a distressing fate: having got his back fur covered in oil he had let it get lumpy and had had to have quite a lot shorn off. Poor baby needed a lot of cuddling:-(

I must mention in passing the highlight of the sporting year – The Ashes third test at Headingly. That last innings by Ben Stokes was the most remarkable episode of cricket most fans would ever witness – stressful! Now regarded as the innings of the decade, BBC 5 live sports replayed the commentary on a loop all afternoon just to make sure it was real.

We spent some time went walking – where you can get up close and personal with steam trains (Pickering) with scones,

by canals (Selby) with deeeep scary locks,

through town streets with Morris dancing (York). Spotting a beribboned Cindy in her clogs, together with winning Best Jam at the street fête with my own recipe (plum:-), made the delay worthwhile.

Finally – after appointment delays we packed Portia and got away to Portsmouth several days later than wanted. We were heading for a beachside municipal campsite on the southern Brittany coast at Locmariaquer. It stays open until mid October, unlike most campsites. There must be a micro-climate here but I had watched the sunny weather window closing online as we waited. We had seen this place when we took a swift look at Carnac last year and loved the wildness of the site and the proximity of so many pehistoric structures. Our pitch was at the far end of the site – nice for beach access and privacy but a long walk for the facilities.

We swam and got the bikes down for a little tour of local menhirs, megaliths and tumuli. They are dotted all over the little town.

Locmariaquer is renowned for its production of the best quality oysters (since Roman times apparently) and our site had a nice little restaurant so it had to be…. moules frites! Neil seems to have gone turf to my surf.

The coast path from the site ran along the sandy beaches and rocky coves of the Bay of Quiberon around the corner to the opening of the Gulf of Morbihan. It is a beautiful walk and at one point has a hedgerow of blackthorn bushes which at this time of year are covered in sloes! A couple of kilos went into bags for use later:-)

The sunny window came to an end after four days so we packed up again to get back to the fermette. We seem to have made only one stop – at Gennes, a town we know from camping days, on the banks of the Loire. The campsite spreads under tall trees right on the banks of the river just beside the town. This town is the scene of a heroic defensive action by the officer cadets of the Saumur Cavalry school. Although it was the last day of the Battle of France in World War ll and Pétain had called for the end of the fighting with the Germans, it is thought the students did not want to retreat. They held off the German advance for two days and, to the French public, the cadets’ resistance formed a seed for the rebuilding of French honour and the town became a centre for resistance. Many of the students killed in the battle are buried in the church here.

The next fixed point in our itinerary is a visit from an old friend from university and his wife. I forget how we initially got in touch again after forty odd years, but he too had bought a house in France many years ago. They were passing near our area to a holiday elsewhere but could pop in for lunch to say ‘Hello’. John and his wife Jan were scheduled for 15 October so we had two or three weeks to travel some more beforehand. The fermette benefitted from several days general fettling before we took off due south. The weather was showng as hot and sunny on the Mediterranean – well, fairly hot – just how I like it! This is probably when we first realised that we had a direct route south, mostly down a free motorway, to the Med. I guess the timing had just never been right before, but this time, we packed up and set off. Only one stop – just south of Clermont Ferrand at Montpeyroux, un des plus beaux villages in France. Of which there are many – there really are.

There is free parking which looks as if it caters for many visitors but is largely empty at the moment. Next day – the coast at Marseillan Plage. And it is lovely. The campsite is quite full. We are few few lines back from the dune and there is a café right on the beach for a sundowner. Or moules:-)

A cycle ride takes you along purpose built cycle paths beside the Canal du Midi to the town of Marseillan itself.

This very attractive little port sits on the Etang de Thau which is the starting point of the Canal du Midi. It is another renowned oyster producing area. Hmm.. may need to try some one day, but just tea for now then a bit of beach time.

Marseillan Plage itself is really just a beachside holiday townlet servicing the many campsites along the sea, so, at this far end of the season, many shops and restuarants are closed or open only minimally. In high season it would be a nightmare of tourist tat shops, loud bars and families crammed into every nook and cranny on the seafront. Now it is just peaceful and populated by people with motorhomes or caravans riding around on ebikes. Our tribe I guess. This may well become our regular October sunny break – everything else permitting:-(

A snatched few days of sun and sea and we head back up the A75 to home. This time we make two stops: the first at another medieval town with interesting corners and alleys, and the second at a regular stop at St Pourçain sur Sioule.

The walled town centre of Marvejols provides an interesting stroll but the aire is really just a normal quite busy car park on a town street. Cars seem to think the moho service point is just another parking place which could be awkward. But, it is free so no real complaints. Saint Pourçain by contrast large and purpose-built – behind the town sports area and alongside a river. A short stroll takes you to the high street and more than one traiteur offering the possibility of something tasty to take away for supper. A shame that the fresh water tap hangs inside a smelly locker that also houses the black water emptying place. Off-putting, in fact, disgusting. I wonder if the municipality is surprised at how little fresh water motorhomes seem to need?

Home again the next day and waiting for guests I enter repair and renovation mode. A fierce wind had knocked Duckie off her perch outside. Much fettling needed.

I showed her off to John and Jan along with the chair I had renovated. The second chair is more challenging and may call for dowelling!

We stayed on in France another four weeks. Why? Because we could. What did we do? Replenished the log supply, attended the Red Cross autumn meal, said Hello to Ned,

had a Halloween meal and bought some more pots from the Potier on the canal,

bought flowers for Toussaint, made sloe gin,

went to the tractor exhibition where they were making and cooking black pudding (yuk),

went to see a big tree,

and then….12th November, back in the van to make a late sailing from Caen to Portsmouth. We always make the first stop fairly close, or at least fairly familiar, to allow for a late getaway. Can’t cope with a hurried journey to an unknown destination – too many possibilities for things to go pear-shaped. So it was back to the car park at the foot of the chateau in the eponymous Chateaudun. Racing on the next day to a rather soggy, and not overcrowded, site at the lively little town of Pont D’Ouilly.

We had a short overnight crossing from Caen to Portsmouth meaning we could detour sllightly and pay another visit to my mother. This meant we had a day to kill near the port so chose the seaside town of Hermanville. It has a complicated pay-by-app car park which, after some frustrating time spent tangling with the technology, turned out to be free out of season! Hermanville had played an active role in the D-Day landings and there are plenty of things to see and do for a few hours. Not to mention dodging the waves.

We either stayed a couple of nights outside my mother’s home or we spent one there and another in a little CL a few hundred metres from Helen’s. Although it is a nice spot in a field with services available, the lanes to get there are dauntingly narrow. I guess that is the norm the further south west you get.

The only picture I have of that visit is of a family meal out a couple of days later. I know we did more than just eat when we were there over the years! There were definitely some shopping trips and outings to concerts etc. I can only assume they were not really very photo-worthy. So, rather than another picture of people tucking into food, I’ve put in a bonus wedding picture from August with the women of the three generations all looking rather splendid.

Back home, being mid-november, York was in full pre-mature festive mood. We joined in with a couple of pre-Christmas meals with friends and family – not only in York, but more distant relatives in North Linclonshire.

Four weeks later we were back in Bristol for the regular family admin meeting in mid-December, but we went on the train this time. As has become something of a tradition, we managed to attend a christmas carol concert by the choir Helen sings with – the Gert Lush choir .

On Christmas day we decided to take a walk through town to see if it actually quietened down on at least one day a year. It did! The station was isolated, the Christmas market resembled a shanty town, and we had the city to ourselves – what can I say except, be careful what you wish for 😦

So that was about it for 2019. The UK would be leaving the EU on 31 January 2020 after a tumultuous few years of to-ing and fro-ing. We now had an unexpected transitional year during which we could still travel as if we were proper europeans and we were intent of taking full advantage of it. There was a lot of double-checking to do as decisions about what rules would apply were in flux. It transpired our passports were still OK, the EHICs were still OK but, I think the driving licences were OK but maybe we needed a green card for the insurance. I can’t quite remember now – I know at some point we had to get two additional driving licences each because Spain and France apply different treaties.

Ending on a happier note – Sean’s fur is making a good recovery:-) Still likes a lot of cuddling.

June to August 2019 – two ferry journeys and a wedding.

It’s still January 2022 as I write, and I am still hoping to catch up to a more respectable gap between events and blog. So I am still in list-and-photo mode. Although I may linger over the trip to Ireland.

We had been comparing dates and holiday availability with Erica, Neil’s daughter, and Tom, her husband, with a view to them visiting us in the fermette in France. Pretty much at the last minute we managed to find a window in late June when they could both get a week off at the same time and we could all travel out together. They came up to York and we all went in the car on the Hull ferry – we would stay on for a few weeks while they got the train back. Good plan! And here they are under the apple tree. The weather was heading for very hot so we went and found some cool spots in the woods among the roman remains at Champallement, and at the quirky café beside the canal de Nievre.

Of course there were a few brocantes as well – just to get the local flavour (not just the chips, honest:-). Erica and Tom had a week before getting back to work – such is the downside of being young and employed:-( We oldies stayed on a couple more weeks in order to take part in the communal summer meal. This started out well with all our neighbours forgathered – and then the skies just opened! A summer storm and a half!

The meal is held under canvas in the road outside the Mairie. It came down so hard that having the lights and music equipment out on electrical extension leads was beginning to look rather dangerous. The event was hurriedly packed up and abandoned – we had finished eating so the evening was not a total wash out. Generally the hardened party-goers stay on dancing and drinking until the middle of the night so they missed out this year:-(

Holidaying with Erica and Tom was not the only window we had fixed in our calendar. Coming up was a July trip to Limerick in Ireland to catch up with Jill and Friso, then another Bristol trip to celebrate Lydia’s wedding in August. After that was a string of dentist appointments for me and a plan to get back to Loqmariaquer in Brittany for some late beach time in September.

We were in the car in France ,not the van so headed up the tried and tested route via a hotel in Sezanne to Zeebrugge and bid a fond farewell to the Belgian coast from our cabin window.

This was 10 July. Once home, we greeted the large and ever-faithful Shorn, who regularly pops round for a few biscuits. I think the problem is that he pops round to all the other neighbours as well. Eventually we had to limit his biscuits to very few:-(

We had six days days before our Fishguard to Rosslare ferry crossing to spend two weeks in Ireland. Pausing only to watch the historic final of the Cricket World Cup …

….which England won in an amazing finish, we packed the van up to set off for Ireland. Again, I know we must have stopped somewhere en route from York to the extreme southwest of Wales, but neither of us took a picture, so until I can do some hunting around, it will have to remain a mystery. You can park close to the water in Fishguard, just moments from the ferry terminal. It is very laid back down there and there’s a really good garage where you can fill up with LPG.

The plan was to sidle up to Limerick and park in the drive outside Jill’s granny annexe on 18th ready for a tour of the Hunt Museum, where she is now Director, on 19th, then spend the weekend messing about in the boat – Friso. Yay! We had only one stop, at the lovely town of Cahir where we strolled around the castle in the sun and admired the geese. Then onto Jill’s where Pepper, the neighbours’ kitten, made us feel at home.

We cycled into Limerick the next day and spent time exploring both the city and the Hunt Museum. The museum is perfectly sized for a few hours interesting wander without being overwhelmed. Plus it has a really nice café leading out to a lovely garden overlooking the river. Cycling back, Ireland’s weather caught up with us and we needed to use the tumble dryer once we got back to Jill’s. Although still threatening, it had dried up by the next day when we drove to up to the marina on Lough Derg where Friso was now moored – in a secluded, green spot at the side of the marina.

Last time we met Friso in this blog she was moored in Paris awaiting onward travel to Rouen. Once there she was to lifted onto a low-loader for overland transport to Ireland. It was not seamless! The wrong low-loader arrived – it was not low enough to enable Friso to pass under road bridges – even though measurements had been taken and agreed. This left Jill with a choice of paying a lot of money and wasting a lot of time (days rather than hours) waiting for the right vehicle or – nightmare – cutting the top of the wheelhouse off to make Friso shorter:-( She opted for the latter:-(( The good news is that Friso made it to Ireland, had her top welded back on, had a thorough refit and is altogether lovely again:-) The kitchen is amazing.

Pausing only for the regular domestic fettling we adopted our normal sailing roles and crossed the Lough: Jill drove, I navigated and Neil stood by to repel boarders.

Our first objective was lunch in Terryglass, the village on the other side of the water. Mission accomplished.

Our second objective – a familiarisation tour of the northern end of the lough. Strange sailing for me, no tricky locks, no smoke from the engine. I can cope with more of this. We slept on board even though we had driven there in Portia – not sure why we did now, as Jill had driven in her car. But we parked up at the marina where the club house offers showers for visitors. Marinas are handy places for motorhomes – they provide all the services boats need, many of which are the same as for vans, and usually have acres of parking space.

We drove back on Sunday as Jill had a social engagement that evening – a midsummer piano recital followed by champagne and strawberries. The host had graciously extended the invitation to us as well – what a treat!

Then we were back on the road – with a plan. The Wild Atlantic Way is a defined route that follows, as its name suggests, the Atlantic coast all the way down the west coast of Ireland and little way around the south. Geographically we were half way down and had nine days to get back to Rosslare for our ferry home, so we could only do the southern half, and then had to cut a couple of peninsulas. Limerick is in the top right corner of the map and the Dingle Peninsula is the topmost long skinny peninsula to the south west. The extreme western end of that is Slea Head – famous for views of crashing Atlantic cliffs and its abundant prehistoric remains. So, first stop Dingle itself where a patch of rough land alongside the harbour is available for half a dozen vans to park up for five euros. This should go in an honesty box which is always broken apparently and has a scribbled note underneath saying if you don’t have the money enjoy your stay anyway. We had the money but the box was just hanging brokenly open so we had a freebie. After a windy harbour walk we spent our savings very locally to ease our consciences:-)

Next day I wanted to do a quick circuit of the Slea Head road. Quick may have been a bit optimistic given that it is a very narrow road. So narrow that visitors are advised to only follow it in a clockwise direction to avoid causing a road block by assuming you can pass anywhere!

The cliffs are high and wild. The prehistoric buildings are amazing. Each one has a small car park and a hut with someone in to take your five euros each. After the first few the five euroses start adding up and you can see from the guide that there are many more to come. In the interest of not running out of cash nor taking all day to do the 55 minute drive, we became more selective and spent more time enjoying the view and the natural landscape.

Roads as narrow as that tend to shred Neil’s nerves a bit l so we were happy to get back to the coast road and a motorhome parking place near the incomparable Inch Beach. The site is calls itself a campsite but is more of a cross between a car park and a field with a half-functioning sanitary block. Steep at €20 with shower extra. But the location is what it is all about. Just across the road from the beach entrance with eateries. If you are brave you can actually park on the beach but be warned – the tide comes in very fast. The local farmer has a lucrative side hustle towing people out. You can see the parked cars in the image on the left.

The beach stretches four miles along the seaward side of a sand peninsula backed by grassy dunes, the whole bay surrounded by the mountains of Kerry. Despite its popularity you still feel you have found a secret, isolated spot.

Next day we left the Dingle peninsula and moved along to the next one – now we are joining the route known as the ring of Kerry. We got to the far end at the bottom of the map to the little harbour of Port Magee. Here we parked in the church car park and had a free and peaceful night next to the graveyard – thank you people of Port Magee. No photo really worth it from here. So moving speedily on we rounded the end and skirted along the bottom of the peninsula to the next harbour.

The views were amazing, not only over the ocean but the vegetation at the sides of the roads. The hedgerows comprised of fuschias in full bloom often with crocosmia montbretia below. Hydrangeas too flourish in every garden and stay a beautiful blue. The main problem with the hedgerows was their proximity to the sides of the van. Neil did not find it a relaxing drive:-(

The parking at Kenmare was a treat – right on the harbour wall just up from a row of charming cottages. I think you can see that the weather was looking a bit grim – but Neil is just in a short sleeved tee-shirt so it must have been warm as well. I seem to remember the skies opened later on.

Instead of clinging to the coast and going all around the next peninsula we cut straight across to save a day and arrived at a campsite at Ballyllickey – terraced hard standing directly overlooking Bantry Bay. And it was warm enough to swim!

Campsites in Ireland are expensive – in fact, Ireland is quite expensive generally. This one cost €30 a night which now (two-and-a-half years later) doesn’t seem so bad. And I guess it was high season although it did not seem so from the lack of crowds. It was a relaxing afternoon – enhanced by the scattered wildflower planting on the banks.

Staying on the main road we followed it around the south west corner of the Emerald Isle and dropped back down to the coast at Garrettstown Beach. This is outside the town and there is a wide beach-side road where vans are allowed to overnight. There are even fresh water taps along the sea wall and public toilets. Great spot for a night with a laid back vibe. A young spanish woman in a food van sold us two portions of vegetarian paella so that was supper fettled. I could have gone in for a swim but – all that sand and only a minimal shower to get it off? I didn’t, and do regret it.

This is definitely a place to return with more time.

Next day we had a choice: take a big inland loop through Cork to get to Cobh, or take a short cut and chance a small ferry across the River Lee.The web site said it was running so we took the chance. It was indeed running but was a bit smaller than expected. We seriously scraped our bottom getting up the ramp but at the other end the crew ran the ferry further up the bank to avoid the same thing getting off. Phew.

We loved Cobh! It has a purpose built motorhome parking spot right on the waterfront opposite a naval base. It costs only €10 a night and is but a short walk to the main attractions of the town, notably the very moving Cobh Heritage Centre. This museum covers the history of emigration, voluntary or not, of millions of Irish people seeking a better life in the Americas or in shackles to Australia amongst other destinations. Cobh was, of course also the last port of call for the Titanic in April 1912 and this tragedy is presented in here as well.

The Cathedral has something I have never come across before – a carillon. That is, a set of church bells which are played like a musical instrument. It is eerie to walk the flowery streets and hear well known tunes drifting down from the church tower played on 49 church bells weighing up to 3.6 tons each.

Next stop and final night in Ireland was in Ireland’s first city – the port of Waterford. Our overnight spot was a town parking lot down a very narrow road and with a complicated payment system that confused us and the people behind us. Right in the middle of town it was a great spot for an afternoon look around. Plenty to look at and plenty to do – we treated ourselves to a bacon blaa (bread bun) from a street stall, a final Guiness and a present-buying visit to the Waterford glass shop.

There are museums I would like to visit another day but we had to make our evening sailing on 30th. A mere couple of hours drive away we arrived at Rosslare, the town on the south east corner of Ireland – the Irish Riviera. We parked by the sea in the ferry car park and enjoyed the sun and the sea for a few hours before sailing.

It was almost dark by the time we got back to Fishguard ferry terminal so we must have passed another night in the big lorry park nearby.

On the way down two weeks ago (felt longer!) we had driven cross-country to the south of Wales before turning west to Fishguard. Going back we chose to drive up the west coast of Wales then turn east and head back on the M62. This was a better route scenically – that coast is a definite for another visit. As is Ireland – we whizzed past too many things that deserve a slower pace. And, time in Schengen will be limited after we properly leave the EU.

Racing on…two weeks at home that seem to have been full of local summer activities, highlights being the Festival of York Walls and some kind of open day of York Theatre Royal costume department.

Then… back to Bristol for the main event of the year: the wedding of Lydia and George. A big get together with all family members present and many friends. A beautiful bride in a fabulous dress and her handsome groom – a great day, a great party!

It was especially lovely that my mother was able to don her best bib and tucker and join in the festivities.