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.

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