Author: rob1na

September and October 2018 – an interesting route home

Back at the fermette Monsieur Laplace called at 10:30 at night to send noxious smoke up the chimney to ensure our unwelcome visitors died peacefully in their sleep:-( He will only come at ten-thirty at night or five in the morning to be sure of catching the little stingers while they are all at home. Then he came back a few days later to dislodge the nest and sweep the chimney. Its dangerous if you light a fire while the nest is still up there – they are highly flammable, and the house has big old wooden beams:-((

We spent the next couple of weeks enjoying local rural activities: the apple fair, jam and chutney making,

the exotic local wildlife, gardening,

walking in the woods, getting the aircon fixed on the car. Again. It had continued very hot and dry.


And deciding, having missed the adventure of travelling to Croatia, to make a proper tour of the route home via Brittany to Cherbourg.

I had long wanted to see the standing stones littered across Brittany so we headed east-north-east to the banks of the Cher and the Loire.  First stop was on the banks of the Cher where we had our first experience of being moved on.  The long, wide, flat and totally empty river bank, complete with motorhome service point, was out of bounds for overnight parking! Strange. The official lady was not one to be argued with but had the grace to point us to a tiny lay-by in the approach road and said we could park there. This was about ten paces back from where we had originally parked. Ah well – c’est le reglement.

Last stop before the ancient stones of Carnac was at Montoir-de-Bretagne at the mouth of the Loire. Here there is a gravestone marking the one lone WWII grave set in the corner of the communal cemetery.  David Murphy was an air bomber who died when his bomber crashed on 25 July 1944.  His body was found at sea, the assumption being he had escaped by parachute before the actual crash on land which killed the other members of the crew.

I find this solitary grave so sad.  I followed the story up later – his brother had been killed shortly before – both so young! There is a Canadian memorial site where I found pictures of his nieces visiting the grave – he was fondly remembered.

Leaving this sad story behind we moved on to the even older stones at Carnac. Its a small town and the small town centre car park allows mohos to park overnight – thank you! It is also full of trees, very welcome for shade but difficult to find a spot where protruding roots and broken tarmac won’t damage your sump!

The stones are remarkable – hundreds of yards of parallel lines of them. Apparently the major lines continue right out under the sea thereby demonstrating how much the land has sunk towards the south east. We walked around some of them and then read up in the old Rough Guide about other menhirs, dolmen and tumuli in the surroundings, determining to visit a few of them tomorrow en route to the sea. The range is fascinating – some stone-lined burial chambers, some huge brooding stones deep in the woods. A longer trip is needed to absorb all this.

Moving on a few miles: a patch of rough ground behind the dunes had been designated a free aire 30 miles south east of Carnac, just outside the little fishing harbour of Locmariaquer. (Takes a while to get your head around some of the names hereabouts!) No services provided but with full sun and a full tank of water we could cope with that. We drove there detouring to see some of the individual megalithic sites en route

and took one of the last few places for the night.

Loq aire

Another burial chamber with a standing stone is just along the beach. Its tunnel faces straight out over the sea and, if you can summon the courage, it is quite long, low and spooky inside!

The beach is long and sandy, the sea tempting, but not enough to overcome the slight, cooling breeze! There is a perfectly positioned municipal campsite just a bit further along the dune. I noted this for a longer visit next year. Idyllic for a quiet early autumn stay.

Alas, we could not tarry amongst the dunes and megaliths – we now had a schedule to keep if we were to catch half-term in Swanage. The Cherbourg to Poole ferry was booked for a couple of days time so we headed north to Dinan for one last overnight stop. We had been tempted to try the aire at St Malo as we remembered that captivating walled city from a previous visit. Like the city, it is very popular so Dinan appealed rather more. What a good choice that proved to be! Dinan is like a miniature, well-heeled version of St Malo. A medieval town sits atop the cliffs above the River Rance, protected by huge ramparts. The downside? the moho aire nestles at the foot of the walls by the river – a lovely spot almost under the towering viaduct. We zigzagged up the steep stairs into the old town and perambulated the charming streets going slightly snap-happy at the well preserved timber buildings the huge ramparts

and the stunnning Basilque Saint-Sauveur. Definitely a stop to remember for future travels in this direction.

A leisurely drive next day got us to St-Vaast-la-Hougue – a motorhome aire in a small fishing harbour a few miles from Cherbourg. We like to go early to the port and spend a few hours in Cherbourg market (if open) and have a final French lunch. The good citizens of Cherbourg have provided an  aire adjacent to the port to make life easy for voyagers, and an afternoon sailing took us to Poole by 9:15. This is just too late to try and get to a campsite near Swanage before dark at this time of year. We are visiting old friends thereabouts again – a different campsite this time – but we have discovered we can stay at the port for a fiver with toilet and shower available. And bacon sandwiches if you are awake early enough. We never are:-(

This time we walked on the sandy beaches by day and over to the local pub later on. The sunset was memorable.

Then onward to Bristol for a couple of nights outside my mother’s care home and in the CL near my sister’s house. My mother was up to lunch out on the first day and an outing to a local bird sanctuary the next. Good going! The weather had not followed us over the channel however and we all got comprehensively rained on beside the otter enclosure. Retreating to the café as fast as the electric wheelchair would allow was a good move though, and the flamingos massed to greet us! I wonder what they feed them to get that colour. The family photograph is not particularly flattering (and has convinced me to abandon short hair – however convenient!) but it’s a great composition.

Since it was now very close to Hallowe’en we also got to team up to participate in my sister’s Hallowe’en quiz with her gym friends and attend a performance her choir’s moving tribute to the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war – the Gurt Lush choir. Busy life, Helen!

As far as I can tell from the photographs on my phone, we drove straight back to York, disgorged the van contents onto the dining room floor and, being too late to get back to storage, let Portia stay the night outside the house. Then – back into her hangar until next time – probably to Spain and Portugal for the winter months.cropped-snails-poor.jpg




6 – 23 September 2018 ….. Back from Paris and off again.

It is nearly two years since I put a page up on this blog.  The last entry cropped-snails-poor.jpgcovered up to September 2018 and as I write it is July 2020.  We’ve navigated the lockdowns in France and the UK and are currently in France for another month or so.  To cover two years’ travels means the next few blogs will be a fairly compressed catch-up!

Confusing times

Two years ago we thought 2018 would be our last year of freedom to roam Europe for Europe 2unspecified periods of time. Brexit was scheduled for January 2019 and there was a lot of confusion about what rules would apply in the transition period – if it happened. To make the most of this possible final year as full Europeans we found house sitters and bought insurances that would cover us for longer than our usual three months, up to a possible six. We had set off in July planning to spend the heat of the summer based mostly at the fermette and then try to go further afield to Germany and maybe even right across to Croatia in the late summer and autumn. Our discount camping card (ACSI) is only valid out of high season and the weather is usually still great, so this would be a good chance to use it to the full.

Water, water…..

On 5th September 2018 we arrived back at the fermette having spent a week or so on the water with ne’er a drop to swim in. Such is the nature of the canals and navigable rivers in France where the boats don’t use on-board tanks for effluent. The on-going heatwave made us nervous of heading for unknown, inland places and we just wanted guaranteed shade and water for a plunge. We shelved the idea of Germany, Austria, Croatia and came up with a straight two way choice – straight south to the Mediterranean or south-west to the Atlantic. South-west won with several tempting sites on the coast near St Jean de Luz.  Pausing only a day or two to do laundry and generally sort the van out we got back on the road

First stop, a favourite riverside campsite for over twenty years, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. This time we chose the cheaper option of one line back from the riverfront – can’t quite remember why now. It was a good pitch with reasonable shade and an ever-changing river view as occupants of the riverside plot opposite came and went over the next several days.

We just relaxed for the next few days: river swims, walks in the medieval town, meals in the shady town squares, dips in the newish but shade-free pool in the evenings.

Chilled and ready to go we headed off again in a southwesterly direction across bastide country. We were alone in the car park just outside the town walls of Monflanquin and walked up to the town itself. It is a beautiful thirteenth century fortified town: a deeply shaded,  arcaded central square lined with artisan shops and pots of geraniums; magnificent views of the surrounding countryside from the ramparts. France is full of these unsung, but not unknown, gems – so many that each has only a few tourists at any one time. This was just a one night stop though as we headed for the sea.

We reached the Atlantic just north of St Jean de Luz on 14 September. It was fabulous. Camping Tamaris is just above the sea – a short access road with a couple of shacks selling surf boards or seafood tapas. We were definitely in the territory of the sun-streaked, slender, bronzed, beautiful people. Most of them were back at work though so we older, but still beautiful, people could hold our own! The beach was a sandy bay with a natural sand bar visible at low tide across most of its opening, breaking the full force of the Atlantic and providing a wonderful swimming lagoon.

The campsite had the most appealing swimming pool I have ever been in. A large pool with tapering depth, lined with blue-brown-green multicoloured tiles that made it look aquatic rather than clinical.  It had huge glass covers on runners for out-of-season use. I wonder it if opens for Christmas?

A short walk along the coast was the next bay – this one much longer and with bigger waves. This is where the remaining beautiful people hung out with their surf boards, bandanas and insouciance.

Highlights of the next few days: a cycle ride along the littoral to St Jean de Luz which still retains some turn of the century glamour. A line of concrete wartime bunkers staring out to sea, an arts and crafts exhibition (of hugely varied talents) all along the promenade in town, fish restaurants as far as the eye could see, sun, swimming, beach bumming, beers and tapas. Neil loved the leisurely morning walk to the nearby grocery store for fresh bread each day. It was a stay that we will remember with nostalgia for the carefree beach life and we will be back. We hope.

We were reluctant to leave the sea and head back the way we had come, so after five magic days I plotted a route north along the coast then due east. There are many campsites and moho stop-overs available on the Atlantic coast. We trundled from one to the next failing to find one that met our, fairly minimal, criteria – plenty of shade and immediate access to sea (and not big “family friendly” all singing, all dancing sites). The one we found at Biscarosse was laid out expansively under the pine trees that cover the land all the way up the atlantic coast in this part of France. No rocky bays here – just miles and miles of high tussocky dunes and crashing waves. It is a bigger, more corporate  site than we usually choose but seemed pretty relaxed and only sparsely occupied.  It was a short stroll to the beach down a shady path.  At high tide the sea was quite close, but it went out an awful long way. It was too far for me to want to stroll in the heat of the day in swimsuit and flip-flops, so we were grateful for the large multi-pooled pool with sun loungers and parasols.

We had only four days left and, right on cue, the weather was threatening to break.  So we felt OK about heading inland.  Our route went via historic Brantôme (8th century cathedral!) in what used to be the Dordogne before they reorganised the boundaries. It’s now Périgord and it was definitely clooudy. Then the spa town (since Roman times) of Neris-les-Bains.

This got us home in the morning of 23rd September – our deadline for the appointment with the désinsectisateur who was coming to rid our chimney of a wasps’ nest:-(

2 to 5 September 2018 – Friso goes to Paris. Part 3, the end of the epic.

So there we were – tied up alongside a huge working barge, which was itself tethered to an absolutely monstrous working barge, which was waiting beneath the loading gantry of a gravel depot for several million tons of the stuff to come aboard in the morning.

Big barge moored

It was the first working day after the Summer holidays the next day and all the working barges would be back ploughing through the waters of the Seine, bearing remorselessly down on the smaller, helplessly drifting craft as they floated powerlessly towards the thundering weir……..  and so on……

There is no AA for barges as far as we knew. And we could not turn the engine on to try and get somewhere for fear of seizing it up completely and did not know where we would take her in any case. I think I can safely say that Jill was fretting a bit at this point. My nerves were shredded. Neil seemed to think it would all be OK in the end. What to do? No easy solutions seemed to present themselves as we considered various sources of information and help.  Eventually Neil remembered the card that John and Rosemary, the other tjalk owners, had given Jill a couple of nights ago in case we needed help. How prescient of them! Jill rang. John was solicitude itself and said he would ring a man he knew in Paris who may be able to help.

And that is how we came to be rescued by George. Known as Saint George to all who know him, and especially me. He lived on his boat in Arsenal, the canal basin marina in the middle of Paris, just by the Place de la Bastille, where we had hoped to moor. He offered to take the train to where we were and bring the necessary tools with him to replace the fan belt and check things over as far as he could.  Simon Evans had, fortunately, brought two fan belts when he came out to replace it last time, so we had a spare. We had some tools with us but none of the size and weight needed to work on that type of engine.

We were told that the mega barges would not be loaded and ready to go until about 11.00 on Monday so we could have a leisurely night and wait for George to find us. At 08.00 however the bargee hailed us and said he was about to leave to take the children to school. His whole family lived on board it seemed. With casual speed he tried to pass our lines up to the other mega barge but it towered so high above us that we had to dig out more lines and tie them together to reach reach the bollards on its deck. (I used a reef knot in case you are interested and finally realised that learning knots at Brownies many decades ago was actually a useful life skill.)

We waited. The bargee returned and parked his barge as if it were a mini a bit further up the mega barge. We dug out ladders so that when George arrived he would be able to clamber down to us. Jill chatted to the owners of both the barges, who turned out to be brothers who had one inherited barge and one they had bought to expand the family business. Sums of millions of euros were involved. They lived aboard and one of the familys’ mothers looked after the children during term time as their wives also worked on the barges.

To cut a long story a bit shorter. George arrived – a nicer, more reassuring man you could not meet. He was retired and, very sadly, had lost his wife a year ago so now lived alone in the community of boat-dwellers in Paris.  He regularly went out of his way to help sailors in distress and it transpired he already knew Friso. Domestic chaos ensued again while he replaced the shredded fan belt.

He thought there was some misalignment amongst the cogs and wheels that was causing the problem.  This was not something he could fix there and then and I was not happy about proceeding all the way to Paris in its current state – not to mention the need for fuel and a fuel filter. There was a marina up ahead where Friso could possibly safely stay, but doing that would make the whole exercise more difficult for Jill – who had to get back to work and still sort the boat out.  I voiced my very real fears to Jill while George was still there – I’m not sure if he was planning on sailing back with us but he said he would. I felt guilty at applying the emotional pressure:-( George did want to check the fuel and filter situation before heading into Paris though. His presence restored my nerve enough to not abandon ship!

We sailed away. I was freed of all rope and lock duties by George who stayed at the back with Jill and offered her much very useful instruction on things related to barge handling. Jill now brought Friso to a complete standstill in the locks before ropes were deployed. George chatted knowledgeably to the remote lock keepers on the VHF radio.

big lockLife became relaxed.

chatting to george

A quick stop at the nearby marina and Neil and George figured out how the fuel gauge worked (it’s a manometer if you are interested in that kind of thing and a button needed pressing and holding), that we actually had plenty of fuel, and that the fuel filter was, in fact, as clean as a whistle.

So – next stop Paris Arsenal. George had phoned ahead to arrange for us to use a temporarily vacant berth – the Arsenal marina is always full to bursting and short stays need careful advance planning. Thanks again George! It was a restful trip down the river – I made tea and chatted to George mostly. The huge barges wove between the other craft and water skiers, swerving away at the last minute – they seemed to be surprisingly manoeuverable as they sped along!

barge videoshot

There were signs of last year’s flood damage along the banks of the Seine. And some familiar buildings.It’s not a great picture of the Bibliotheque:-(

Manoeuvering Friso into the very narrow and deep lock entrance cut into in the embankment of the Seine was a challenge for Jill as it meant cutting at right angles across the full force of the river.  With George’s advice she edged us in perfectly.

Arsenal entrance

The marina is located where a tributary joins the Seine so it was upstream to to us and we came in three metres below the bank – the water came in with some force! Fortunately the lock had rising bollards so you only had to hook around one on the level and it rose with you – no need to climb any slimy lockside ladders!

Neil in Arsenal 2

Once inside Jill had a crash course in precision manoeuvering in a very tight space in the crowded basin, handled admirably,  and we nosed between two regular Arsenal dwellers without so much as a neighbourly bump.


If you were walking through La Place de la Bastille in Paris you would probably not realise that there was a whole neighbourhood of boats twenty feet below, gently nudging the pontoons of the narrow canal basin.

Bastille 1

There are families who live there year round. There are winter people who stay through the winter then sail elsewhere for the summer months and let their berths lucratively to summer visitors. Then there are those who are passing through – like us.  Climb the stairs and there you are – right in the heart of the city. Magic!

N and J bastille

Going out for dinner was the only payment George would countenance and Jill was very  happy to treat us all. He took us to his favourite local Vietnamese restaurant where three of us had a Bo Bun Nem – probably the most delicious combination of foods I have ever eaten.

Bo bun nem

The next morning we climbed the stairs again and went for coffee and croissant in a nearby pavement café. Feel so privileged to be able to do such typical Parisian things.

breakfast all

Jill had to leave in two days and Neil and I could have stayed on since Friso would be there anyway.  We needed to get back to Portia in her campsite though – although it was secure, leaving her unattended is always slightly worrying. With just our elegant supermarket bags-for-life as luggage we headed for the fast train back to Migennes, missed it and caught the slow one. Three hours later we were back in the van and then straight into the lifesaving campsite pool – it was still very hot.

It was certainly an adventure. And, in retrospect, very enjoyable!

As a follow-up: a plan had been hatched for Friso’s onward journey.  The berth at Arsenal was only available for a few days but George and his friend Bruno could move her around as other boats came and went. This would give them a chance to carry out some necessary fixes and they would then take her down to Rouen – a journey of one or two nights I think.  Jill would visit her there and make plans for her to be taken overland to Ireland. This did actually happen over the next couple of months and Jill has said she will write the story of the final, difficult, leg of the journey. Bon courage Jill and go Friso!

Friso exterior 2


1 to 2 September 2018 Friso goes to Paris. Part 2

Saturday, the third day of our voyage to Paris, started with a beautiful dawn and a visit from some beautiful fellow water creatures.  There is a lot to be said for this boating life.

Freshly stocked with baguette and croissants we set off .  Just a few locks before we meet the Seine now.  All of the locks are manned which makes life easier although, as we found yesterday,  no amount of knocking will rouse the lock keeper between 12:00 and 14:00.

Today we reached our first lock  and idled past succeeding bollards before successfully lassoing a couple, mooring up loosely and descending.  All seemed well as Jill took us gently out the other side before realising that although the engine was making all the right noises it was giving out no power – we were just drifting with the flow! Again. Within a few yards Neil managed to hook a huge bollard providently standing near the water’s edge and the back of the barge crunched against the rocky bottom of the river stopping us drifting further downstream. The lock keeper came to see why we had tied up so ungracefully to the bollard provided for boats coming upstream awaiting their turn in the lock. Once he understood the problem he said it was OK for a bit. Adopting a sophisticated solution from the world of computing, Jill turned the engine off and turned it on again.  It worked – we had power.  It transpired that a particular small button on the throttle needed to be pushed in (or was it, pulled out?) before the engine was started or the gears would not engage when throttle was applied. Or something like that. OK – equanimity shaken still further (mine) we had learned another lesson and continued gently downstream.

We were trying to make up lost time now. Jill had to be back at work in a few days and other friends were supposed to be coming to take our places to crew the boat with her the rest of the way from Paris to Rouen. The original plan, of sailing it all the way to Limerick in Ireland, had been modified.  Sailing from the Channel port of Le Havre  around Cornwall to a river mouth in Ireland where she could enter the Irish canal network had proved problematic. In the extreme.  Quite apart from the lack of a keel, it would have involved a professional pilot, mandatory for those for busy sea lanes, and the need for sustained calm weather. Even getting it to Le Havre and putting it on a bigger boat was not recommended – the Seine becomes tidal after Rouen and not easy for a keel-less barge to navigate. Historically Friso had big fins that could be swung down at either side to provide a keel, but these were long gone. So the plan now was to get her to Rouen, a couple of days sailing beyond Paris,  where she could be lifted onto a low loader and driven to Calais, across the channel, across England, Wales and part of Ireland to Lough Derg.

The rest of Saturday went without incident. Friso glided serenely into the Seine at Montereau and, surprisingly, we found it more relaxing than the Yonne.

Friso serene sailing 2It is much wider and has many fewer locks. People were enjoying the weekend in houses alongside the river and swimming and generally having a good time in the summer heat. Not sure I would be in the water knowing what I now know about all these boats and their effluent!

As evening fell we headed for the pontoons at St Mammes. There was no space and we passed back and forth hoping someone would invite us moor to alongside.  Everyone managed to avoid our eye so we could not tie up:-( We learned later that a moored vessel is legally obliged to let another vessel tie up alongside. Anyway – the charts showed a marina just around the corner in a tributary – Moret-sur-Loing. It is a narrow, shallow river and boats are moored in every conceivable space.

Moret 2

The marina itself is over-full but this time the sailors in the outer barge beckon us to tie up alongside. Thank you! It is a tight manouevre in shallow water and one boat-owner freaks a bit at our approach – it seems they are moored unofficially on rather a shaky pole that would snap if we so much as nudged them. Jill manoeuvred to perfection and we tied up, hooked up the electricity and breathed a sigh of relief – it has been a long day. The nervous boat-owners were keen to apologise and explain about the shaky pole and their seeming rudeness. Janine and Bruce were here too and beers were drunk. It was a peaceful evening at a lovely little marina where herbs are grown in containers for you to help yourself.

Moret balloon

It was Saturday night and we expected to arrive in Paris on Monday – only one day late!  Having failed to find fuel all day we still have a day in hand to fill up with fuel and replace the filter before we hit the expected turbulence. The charts show a boatyard with all we need just around the corner back on the Seine. Phew.  It was a nice walk for me to the bread shop next morning too while Neil and Jill replenished the water.

Would it occur to you that boatyards serving pleasure craft on a sunny summer weekend would close on a Sunday? Well – they do in this neck of the woods – no fuel or change of filter for us today:-(  For better or worse we had to go as we were and I was feeling more than slightly anxious. The engine had let us down one way or another twice already and I had visions of it cutting out at a critical point.  The Seine is a fast, wide river and the locks are big industrial sized things with airport-style control towers to manage all the barge traffic – no helpful lock keepers running around with poles and ropes here!

Friso big lock 2

The locks are at one side of the river and on the other side it flows over a big weir with a metal superstructure and a drop of up to three metres. (Shown in the borrowed picture below.) I really did not want to be approaching one of these with without power and risk being swept over the weir:-(

Lock and weir

To communicate with the control towers there was a VHF radio on board and we did get the hang of it once we had realised which knobs to twiddle and buttons to press – although it failed to work later on for some inexplicable reason and we to resort to telephoning ahead.  Basically you  called up on the frequency shown on the charts and the control tower told you what to do – in a rather brief and crackling french. Often this meant hanging around upstream until some monstrous working barge had cleared the lock. Then they called all the waiting vessels in in optimum order to fill the mega-sized lock. Sometimes there were two or three locks beside each other and you had to use the binoculars so you could peer ahead and see which lock was showing what colour light.

All went pretty well actually – there are far fewer locks on the Seine. We had been battling with eight or nine a day up until now.  It was another hot sunny day – Jill relaxed at the wheel – increasingly as time went on……

Friso early steering

First day out….bit of a battle

Friso middle steering

Second and third days…….cool

Friso relaxed steering

Last day…..totally chilled

and occasionally……

when I plucked up courage to take the wheel for a short spell so Jill could rest her back!

Neil sat up front and took pictures and I sat in the wheelhouse helping to mind the charts, taking the very occasional turn on the wheel, and avoiding the sun.

We started looking for a berth for the night. Each opportunity seemed not to be what we expected – black dots on the charts indicate somewhere to tie up but for one reason or another none were doable for Friso. And then my worst fear was realised: a grinding shriek came up from the engine, the oil pressure plummeted, the engine temperature soared and a burning smell wafted up from below decks. Again! The fan belt had gone.  Again! We were pretty much drifting down the wide, wide Seine and there was no place to even try to moor on a bank.  We were drifting slightly to port and ahead, if we could get there on minimum revs to avoid seizing the engine up completely,  were two scarily huge sand barges moored below a loading gantry. Maybe we could get alongside and tie up. How we would manage this was not clear as, being unladen, they towered above us putting anything useful to grab hold of out of reach.  As we drifted closer a dog appeared running around on deck and, just possibly, the barge may be inhabited.  I blasted the air horn to signal our distress to anyone who may hear and, mercifully, a young man appeared on deck and realised we were in trouble. He managed to catch our lines and make us fast alongside. He seemed reasonably matter-of-fact about it. Which is more than I was!

Feeling safe again we started to figure out what to do next. But that was enough for the day so far.









26 to 31 August 2018 – Friso goes to Paris. Part One.

Friso exterior 2Remember Friso the tjalk we had looked at two or three weeks ago and that Jill subsequently bought? Well – back at the fermette we get the news that she has mostly passed the survey needing only a few fixes before she can start her journey to Limerick. There needs to be a safety rail fitted all around the back and the oil needs changing amongst other things. Friso has been moved up-river by the surveyor to a boatyard at Migennes on the Yonne – only a couple of hours away from the fermette. We are going as far as Paris and an approximate date for leaving is given as Wednesday 29th. We will take the van up to the handily-placed campsite near the boatyard and help prepare the barge until it’s time to go. Portia will stay in the secured parking of the campsite while we sail up to Paris then get the train back to the, equally handily-placed, station. Things seem to be falling nicely into place.

We get to Camping Les Confluents in Migennes on Monday 27th. It’s a municipal so only 11€ a night with electricity, nicely kept and it has a small swimming pool – ideal for a quick cool down on a red hot day! Evans Boatyard International is a ten minute walk away and we wander over to find Jill and Friso. boatyard1What a place of wonder the boatyard is! Apart from all the boats standing high and dry having their bottoms scraped or repainted, the quay is cheek-by-jowl with rusting hulks awaiting goodness knows what, and ancient craft that Simon Evans collects. Friso is moored three deep alongside two huge rusting barges that have to be climbed across to gain access. Worth remembering not to push too hard with your feet on the deck of one boat while heaving yourself up onto another – the gap widens as you struggle:-( boarding friso

Friso is a real beauty – high at the front and wide bodied with elegant lines. A beauty in need of some tender loving care and not a little updating however. The wheel house is airy, the living area and galley are one large living space beautifully panelled and with made to measure persian carpets and runners.

There are two cabins with double beds – one at the side and one at the front. Our cabin was the size of a double bed with a couple of feet spare down one side – small but adequate – and adjacent to the loo. The loo is a throne-like construction to keep it above the water level outside and with a hose for flushing. Bizarre but functional (and normal for old tjalks).

All Friso’s systems need de-winterising, rooms and bedding need airing and everywhere needs cleaning. Jill masters the water, battery and electrical aspects of the process – some lights and sockets come on and all taps run. The gas water heater could not be persuaded to light but the immersion heater will work when on hook up – not otherwise or it will drain the batteries. Cooker works, fridge works, shower works, pump for the shower tray works (it is below water level) and the toilet works – hurrah! I sort and air bedding and degrease the kitchen while and Neil carries out various handyman fixes.

There are three bikes on board which, once pumped up, prove handy for coming and going to shops, campsite etc.  Feeling pretty chuffed we eat at Jill’s nearby air bnb flatlet and look at maps and charts. The next day – more of the same plus stocking the fridge and cupboards ready for the trip.

Friso jills bnb dinner

By Wednesday the date for leaving had been put back to Thursday but we secured the van and moved aboard  anyway ready for an early departure.  Jill was hoping for another hour or two handling instruction from the surveyor but, unfortunately, this did not materialise. The stick for the throttle/gears is small and the wheel is huge – it takes a lot of turning to manoeuvre 35 tons at the slow speeds needed for locks and docking generally. Use of the bow thruster in conjunction with the forward and reverse thrust is an art form in it’s own right. We celebrate in optimistic mood with dinner aboard.

Friso first drinks poot

Finally, on Thursday 30th, safety rail firmly welded in place, we got away and did a few graceful but unexpected pirouettes down the Yonne while Jill got the hang of the handling the barge. The sun was shining, Friso was purring and Jill steered us beautifully, if a little too fast,  into the first lock. Three hundred metres out the other side and the engine temperature soared to 190, the oil pressure dropped to zero and wispy smoke issued from below the wheelhouse deck. On about zero revs Jill steered/drifted us to the bank and made a controlled collision with a tiny, leafy fishing jetty. Fortunately it was made of concrete rather than being the more fragile, rotten wood structures you usually see tottering at the side of fishing lakes, and withstood the impact. As did Friso. All slightly unnerving:-(

Friso crash landing

We secured ourselves to the jetty and phoned the incomparable Simon Evans from the boatyard who turned up and took the relevant panels of the boat off to get at the fan belt on the front of the 1967 Mercedes truck engine.

The fan belt had snapped, the engine had overheated and the coolant had burst out into the bilges under the heat. Strangely, none of the several spare fan belts on board was the right size and one of Simon’s lads from the yard would need to go and get one. We just had to wait and smile apologetically at the hopeful fishermen who came along hoping for a quiet fish from the jetty. The sun shone, we read and looked at charts.  Six hours later, with much relief and good cheer we got away again – the worst had happened – drifting without power – and all was well again……

We made for the marina at Joigny. It turned out to be a few pontoons extending out into the water and there was more heart-in-mouth turning and priouetting in the river attempting to reverse into a narrow empty berth. After a few attempts we were directed to moor on the end of the jetty in the river alongside an empty boat and several people abandoned dinners to come out and catch ropes and fasten us alongside. Thank you fellow boating people! Ten hours, two locks and only a sorry eight kilometres. Slow beginnings. Jill has sailing experience but of sailing boats rather than barges,  Neil and I have some experience of barge holidays on English canals – not a whole lot of expertise between us.  The kitchen sink would not drain either:-(

Friso blocked drain

Friday 31st – day two of the voyage.

The advantage of going downstream is that you enter all the locks when they are full so no need to climb up slimey ladders to fasten your line to a bollard several feet above your head and set back from the edge where you can’t see it anyway. In theory you just come to a gentle stop beside the quay and loop your line loosely around a handy bollard. Coming to a standstill close enough to the bollards was not proving so easy. Neil had adopted fore and I was aft and depending which side we moored we had to rush across with ropes and fasten them around the cleats on the boat in the approved non-slip fashion before trying to lasso a bollard as we motored gently past it. All a bit heart-in-mouth.

We had several locks ahead of us that day. Some were a slope-sided lock of a type with which none of us are familiar. You have to stay in the middle of the channel to avoid bashing your rudder on the stone banks as the water goes down. Some of these have floating pontoons at the side which you moor to and they slide down with the water thus keeping you and your rudder safely away from the edges.  We approached the first one and a slight miscommunication as to  whether it was port or starboard mooring resulted in a last minute change of direction and caused Jill to end up taking it sideways whilst battling with the wheel to rectify it. This alarmed the couple in the fibre glass boat already moored there – our thirty five tons of steel would fare better in this encounter. They and the lock keeper rushed to catch our lines and brought us alongside the pontoon safely.

Friso slope sided neil

Janine and Bruce were friendliness itself and we tailed them through the next few locks although they managed to get behind us at one point – maybe did not fancy being crushed after all. At each succeeding lock either they went in first and took our lines or, for odd ones too short for going end to end, we went first and they came alongside and tethered to us. In one particularly nerve-wracking lock, without sliding pontoons, the lock keeper came along and handed us long poles to use to keep the barge away from the edges. We had our own boat hooks of the telescoping variety – and they telescoped unhelpfully under pressure:-( Jill used the bow thruster judiciously and rudder and lockside did not collide. 

At the end of a day of many stressful locks, a few burst fenders from heavy moorings and peaceful gliding through beautiful countryside in glorious sunshine we reached the marina at Pont sur Yonne and found Janine and Bruce moored there already.

They introduced us to another long term bargeing couple (John and Rosemary) moored nearby in another tjalk who commented casually, over a bottle of wine, how brave we were to be taking the boat along the Seine into Paris with an inexperienced  captain with a new-to-her boat and a novice crew. Brave? Really? Gulp. John gave us a card and said to get in touch if we needed any help. They advised we should ensure the tank was full of fuel to minimise the churn caused by the passing (massive, heavy, fast) working barges and tourist boats in Paris. Churn could stir up all the debris at the bottom of the tank and block the fuel filter causing the engine to fail. Gulp. In fact, we should change the fuel filter anyway as we did not know the condition of the current one. Gulp again. We were unsure as to how much fuel we had as the fuel gauge was some kind of primitive glass tube affair which neither Neil nor Jill had fully fathomed – but it seemed to show there was some.  We would be joining the Seine tomorrow and I was feeling apprehensive.

We had decided to eat out that night and I used my phone app to find a restaurant and ring to book a table. The proprietor seemed bemused at my request but said ‘bien sur’ and took my name. It turned out to be a take away kebab shop with a couple of formica tables for those eating in! I felt slightly foolish. Ah well. The kebabs were large and tasty:-)



16 to 25 August 2018 – a little tour of municipal campsites

Anyone who has experienced it (me included) can tell you that a tin can on wheels is not the best place to be in a heatwave. This year’s canicule seemed to have no end and the thermometer pushed over thirty on and off every day for weeks.  Mooching around the fermette with the shutters closed and fans whirring was beginning to pall – even with a late afternoon swim in the lake.image

The local paper had featured a riverside municipal  campsite only an hour’s drive away – on the edge of the rolling, wooded Morvan national park, famed for its lakes. This sparked an idea – we could shake ourselves out of our indolence with a fairly local tour of those lakes – close enough to dash for the cool of home if need be. camping guideMunicipal sites are great – they tend to be nicely located and pretty cheap and a flick through the official french campsite guide revealed several sited on the banks of the lakes –  so we headed off. (The link is to Vicarious Books who specialise in camping and motorhoming guides and from whom we have received very good service in the past.)

First Brèves, on the banks of the Yonne upriver of navigation. I add that qualification because in the course of looking at barges with Jill the month before we now had inside knowledge of how the toilets worked. They empty straight into the water. Bleurrgh. This applies to all living-in sized boats on the inland waterways, not just the barges. Apparently they do all have big tanks to hold the waste but there is no national infrastructure to pump them out. So needs must and the tanks are by-passed:-( Never be tempted to swim in a canal!

Anyway. Brèves is a tiny town with a campsite in a big field next to the river.  I had taken the precaution of making a reservation at the campsite thinking it would be full after featuring in the paper and it still being holiday season. There were four other campers in the big field.  Being very hot we parked under a tree which is problematic if we also want a satellite signal. Having a roof-mounted satellite means we need to park the van so the dome on the rear end has a clear view of the south-south-eastern sky (28.2 degrees east of south to be precise, for Astra 2). With care we can get shade and satellite but it calls for some precision-manoeuvering between the branches and careful use of the compass. A free-standing satellite would be easier to position but more difficult to store. And expensive considering we already have one. We did get a signal and went off to the river for a swim. I started rehearsing for this year’s summer series of Ophelia poses.

Ophelia breves

Neil continued his retirement-snooze poses.

snooze breves

In the late afternoon groups of cyclists turned up by twos and threes and pitched tiny tents around the field. Chatting to one of them it transpired that they are on canal cycling holidays and the Canal de Nivernais runs parallel to the Yonne here just over the bridge. Burgundy is crossed by many canals and waterways and the towpaths are well maintained for precisely this kind of use. Together with France’s abundance of local campsites they make for a great and not-too-strenuous outdoor holiday.  One group is a fit looking young couple with two toddlers, two bikes and two heavily packed trailers. I know canals are flattish but, in this heat?

Next day we follow the example of our fellow campers, get the bikes down and pedal (in an electronically-assisted fashion:-) along the banks of the canal to the next little town. It’s a town where we nearly bought a house when we were looking back in 2005, so we go and see what became of it. Clearly it sold because it has been done up a bit and looks rather nice. Still too isolated for what we wanted – a local glazier had been repairing a window pane  following an attempted break in when we first viewed it:-(

The campsite is managed by a cheerful young man, Gregory, who arranges events for campers. Tonight there is an outdoor screening of Tintin – Le Secret de La Licorne (Unicorn), in French but with English sub-titles.  It’s free but with optional salad platter and dessert for €5.00.  Not to be missed! It was fun – the screen itself in a bit of a makeshift shelter. A crowd of about 12 turned up to join in and we sat around tables with food and beers. Not quite high definition or surround sound, but a great way to spend a Friday evening in summer.

Tintin breves

The next site, Camping de la Chateau in St Agnan, is not a municipal but has good reviews and borders a lake. It’s in the north-east of the Morvan hills but turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. The location is appealing, on a wooded slope down to a lake below a large old building housing a bar.

It’s more expensive though and the sanitaires are tatty in a rather unappetising way – cracked and stained.  To add to that, the lake remains very shallow a long way out and is very muddy at the edges – a soft, silty sort of mud that your feet sink into in a deeply disconcerting way.  Only a couple of brave souls are swimming and, retrieving our crocs from the mud, we decide to pass on this one.

Leaving swiftly the next day we make for a lake we know will offer a good swim – the Lac de Pannecière. This is a huge reservoir we parked near for free a couple of years ago. This time we will shelter in the municipal site at Chaumard – right by the water, with tree-lined pitches. It is very hot still.  The site is cheap enough but you have to buy tokens at €1.50 for a shower:-( The manager appears in reception from time to time and is not chatty.  She says you get a long time in the shower but does not give an actual number of minutes. (It was long enough but not what I would call a long time.)

After a swelter up the slope next day to find Chaumard used to have a grocery store, we spend a second night then leave to stock up in Lidl in Chateau Chinon. Beautiful countryside around here – roads hair-pinning through woods giving splendid panoramiques over the lake. The Guide Officiel lets us down though and we end up following a very narrow road along the south end of the lake where every man and his dog and extended family has come to dawdle away the afternoon beside the lake. The promised campsite (Cabane Vert) has been converted into a holiday village of private bungalows and fences:-( We continue hopefully up the western shore to the last-but-one site on the lake – the Camp Municipal at Montigny-en-Morvan. Here we find our favourite kind of camping – in a cool, cool wood, by a lake, an informal layout with no marked pitches, the boulangère calls every morning announcing himself with a blast on his horn. And we are newly loaded with provisions – so this could be a long stay!

Portia is parked just at the top of this path in the trees….

Montigny path

…and the lake is at the bottom.

Montigny path lake

Neil gets into the Ophelia act…

Montigny Neil Ophelia

… and sinister lights show across the water in the night.

Montigny night barrage(It’s the barrage at the end of the reservoir.)

We swim, we lounge, we chat and we keep an eye on the weather. This is a beautiful old deciduous wood and we don’t want to be under the branches when the forecast storm comes through! That is the only downside of these long hot days – periodically they cumlminate in a blinding thunderstorm. We are also waiting to hear from Jill about the next stage of Project Friso – it should be happening at the end of August but things move slowly in rural France. If Friso has passed her survey and the negotiations have gone well we could be sailing to Paris soon!




10 July to 15 August 2018 – over to France and sitting out a heatwave

Despite our inclination to be economical we decided, as usual, to take the easy way over to France on the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry. Weighing up the cost, with my thumb only lightly on the scales, there seems to be a saving of about £50.00 between the expense of the ferry from Hull versus the Tunnel from Ashford  once you have allowed for an overnight somewhere down south and the diesel.  The sheer pleasure of not having six or seven hours driving on English motorways and of waking up on the continent after an all-you-can-eat buffet the night before is worth more than that – so the rationalisation is not hard!

Portia follows a now-familiar route through Belgium into France taking a short stretch of A1 and A26 before turning south onto small roads and finding the free aire in the middle of Sezanne. There is free hook up too as electricity is provided for the market stalls on Saturdays – so no parking on Friday night unless you are a very early riser. This is a little town where we have stayed several times over the years in hotels – it has some charm. It has old ramparts for historic safety and the shops nestle closely up to the church – to the point of sharing a wall.


It is an auspicious night: the bartender in sports bar opposite the church has a big screen and says he will be showing the England-Croatia semi-final of the world cup that night. We walk in optimistically and are offered the best seats in the house. We walk away disappointed some time later  followed by only a modest degree of sympathy from France supporters in the bar:-(

All is pretty much OK at the fermette and the weather is hot.  One problem – the air con on Trudi is not working. Arrangements are made with Extreme Cars where the amiable petrolhead owner thinks twenty years is a bit young for the vintage of cars he deals in, and an Audi saloon a bit tame for the other four-wheel drive monsters he favours. He has looked after her before though and inspires confidence. He regasses the system and refuses payment until we have run the car for a week or two to see if it stays full. It works so we dutifully go back to pay two weeks later when he claims not to have made up the bill and to wait a bit longer. There is a chance we may forget altogether if he does not charge us soon!

We will be having visitors in the next week or two so I am hoping the heatwave stays away for a bit as the spare bedroom gets quite hot up there under the roof.  Jill is the first to arrive for a couple of nights.


She has recently moved to Ireland is searching for a barge to live on.  It seems barges for sale are more plentiful in Burgundy and considerably cheaper.  The plan is to buy one in Burgundy and  sail it up the canals and rivers via Paris to Le Havre then hire a qualified pilot to sail it over to Ireland.  The idea of a barge wallowing its way across the channel, let alone tackling full exposure to the Atlantic in Fastnet, is scary to say the least.  But apparently these thirty to forty ton barges can do it given the right sort of weather.  I will definitely not be crewing for that leg of the journey.

Barges are available at several locations near us so we all drive (with working air-con) to the canal ports of Decize, Nevers and Briare to view tjalks (pronounced cholk). These are relatively small as Dutch  barges go, with elegant lines – high at the front and wide in the body. None of them are quite right but there is another further away between us and Charles De Gaulle airport.  Jill views it externally on her way back to get her flight and we go for an inspection with the agent the following week.  The Friso is an appealing boat to look at. Tatty and in need of a lot of love and attention internally, but the price is both good and negotiable.


Jill starts the negotiating process and we casually agree to man the boat with her as far as Paris in a few  weeks when other friends can take over. Things go quiet for a few weeks while plans are put in place.

The heatwave starts getting serious. We continue mooching around in the cool of the house and going to the lake for a swim every afternoon or evening.


The following week Caroline and Hugh turn up en route to a holiday in the french alps. Caroline has recently retired and they are thinking of buying a campervan.  I am trying to persuade them to go up a step and get a motorhome. You really do need full bathroom functionality whether you are parked overnight down a country lane or in a city centre car park. So they are coming to see Portia and talk motorhome. It looks as if a panel van conversion might be the ideal compromise for them.  Good luck in the search – it is good fun. Caroline was my boss at the British Library and Jill was my boss in my last job at Europeana. My last two bosses, by chance, in one week? Good job I am not a paranoid sort or person!

The village summer meal and dance arrive a week later than expected and we go along to sit with half-a-dozen Dutch neighbours who have all turned up for the event. There is a raffle at the event and I win the main prize! A hamper with bottles of wine, jars of pâté, honey sweets and a whole jambon!


To serve the jambon a stand and a thin, sharp knife are needed. These cost many times more than the raffle ticket but Amazon swiftly provides and we have a ham-eating apero under the apple tree. The eating, drinking and talking extend into the night. Another great evening.


The days continue hot, the plants start to wilt despite watering, we continue mooching and the car air-con gradually stops working:-( Mr Extreme Cars cannot help immediately as he is about to go on holiday until 3 September so it is clearly time for us to take to the roads in the van and find cool beside some lakes. The Morvan with all its waterways is a mere half hour away so we decide on a little tour of municipal campsites bordering a lake or river.


9 April to 9 July 2018 – At home most of the time…

We spent the next three months sorting out house and garden – the latter which had been sadly neglected over the better part of the last two springs and summers and was looking very unloved. Everything had grown magnificently however, almost as if it preferred being left to its own devices:-( But we did at least need to be able to get into the shed and hang out the washing, so serious hacking back was called for.

We had a great day out to Barton on Humber with Corine to walk the southern banks of the estuary (in the blazing hot sunshine with no shade).


We ended up at Alkborough, birthplace of my father, where we trod the grassy outlines of the ancient labyrinth at Julian’s Bower.


This led to our next outing in Portia: to Spurn Head at the end of June with both Corine and Juha to experience the Yorkshire Wildlife Unimog Safari. This runs all the way down the peninsula to the lighthouse and beyond where the Humber joins the North Sea.


We have been a couple of times before when you could still drive the three miles down the sandy, shingly, scrubby spit of land on a rather questionable road. That question was finally settled in 2013 when a tidal surge raging down the North Sea broke through the neck of the peninsula and washed the road away. There is still a stretch of dry land linking to what is officially now classed as an island, except when the tides are particularly high, but you must either walk or take the Unimog. And be sure to get your timings right!


We stayed at the Blue Bell Pond Campsite close to the old Blue Bell café at the start of the peninsula. It is a nice site but the facilities are housed in some kind of old metal container and kept locked.  You are given a key but it is so stiff I can only just manage to get into the toilet and not at all  into the shower room. The shower costs a pound on top of the £18.00 per night, which is a bit steep, and the machine only takes old pound coins! The site owner has a stash of these apparently – if you can find him. But – it is a great location in this out-of-the-way place that feels like stepping back in time 50 years.

Corine and Juha are staying in a B&B up the road and we arrive a day earlier.  This gives us a chance to cycle electronically around the area to see what there is to see.  There is plenty! This whole area has a complex history for somewhere so isolated. Being at the mouth of a main river inlet to the country has made it an important strategic site at various points in history.  Henry Bolingbroke landed here in 1399 when he returned to dethrone Richard II and, a mere hundred years later, Edward IV made landfall after his exile. Napoleon threatened as well. The most interesting history is in the 20th century when the whole area was pressed into military service for the world wars – it was again seen as a potential entry point to England. Forts were built at either side of the river mouth for the first world war and refurbished for the second. Barracks were built at the point, a light railway serviced both them and the coastguard station.


In fact there was a whole community with a school down there for a large part of the century. All long gone now – partly claimed by the sea as the North Sea tears the sand off all the way down the east coast side and deposits it at the southern tip. A few old wartime buildings remain and, of course, the coastguard station – one of only two paid coastguard services in the UK. There has been a lighthouse here since time immemorial although the first one is now some way into the sea. Now even the second one is disused as a lighthouse but available to climb for a modest fee. (Included if you are on the Unimog Safari.)


An unusual monument stands in a field a short walk from the road. It is one of the last extant sound mirrors built during the first World War as an early warning system to detect for approaching Zeppelins and other early German aircraft. This bizarre concrete dish construction would focus the noise of aircraft engines onto a microphone thereby amplifying the sound. The relatively slow aircraft of the time could be heard and located before they came into view. This one is reputed to have been manned by J R Tolkein in 1917 when he was convalescing from Trench Fever.


Other than that we spent time enjoying all the activities York has to offer the lucky retiree – and they are many.  A programme of Free lunchtime organ recitals at different local churches for a start. The beautiful Central Methodist Church has a truly magnificent old organ with 2,500 pipes (!) suspended on the wall and the organist sits in a console sunk in the middle of the room as if accompanying a silent  movie. St Martin Le Grand is not so lucky: having been bombed out in the war only half the ancient building remains and it now has only a small modern organ “..with only 170 pipes and three stops”.  The organ was the gift of the West German Government and Evangelical Church so you can’t get nasty at that. It definitely, and perhaps unsurprisingly, had a  rather thinner sound.

I had no idea one could so quickly learn to differentiate one church organ from another! Or that we would spend some of our retirement time in several of York’s historic churches. It turns out there are concerts and not-especially-religious festivals in them all the time. A beautiful flower festival and choral performance in Holy Trinity on Micklegate and, later, a celebratory Norwegian event with a requiem by Iver Kleive in our local ancient church, St Olave’s. Our most amazing church experience however had to be the incredible light show at York Minster. Emptied of 1,400 seats, the whole length of the cavernous ceiling and great west wall were blasted with light and sound taking us from creation to both heaven and hell.

Then there was the wonderful Festival of Ideas run by the University offering dozens of talks and films and workshops at locations all over town on a huge variety of subjects – some very obscure (Gilgamesh anybody?) but nonetheless engaging. The launch was truly amazing – a performance of The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo live in the Minster. This and most of the talks were free and given by experts in their field. We went to some held in King’s Manor which is a short walk from chez nous and felt hugely privileged to be able to benefit from it.  I could go on but this is turning into a bit of a personal reminisce – it is easy to forget though so I am glad to get it written down. There were many more summer activities coming up and I felt a bit sorry to be missing them. However, Europe was beckoning and Portia was getting restless.





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!


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.


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