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5 to 28 February 2019 – along the coast and back again

Some of Mikki’s ceramics

So there we were, back in our favourite Portuguese stopping place, remembering our friends from last year and looking forward to enjoying the same relaxed and friendly lifestyle as before. Chairs were arranged on our patch of artificial turf, out came the barbeque and we melted into the charm of the place. We booked in for chicken peri peri at the extended eating barn. It is a restaurant of course but the walls are a just a panelled framework and the floor just the flattened earth with a covering of gravel. The tables are all long communal trestles where you get to meet you fellow campers – you can see it over Neil’s shoulder in a picture I put up in the last post. It’s a good arrangement. Generally there is one thing on the menu on the same day each week and the servers just come out with laden plates and plonk

them down table by table with every eye watching and silently hoping to be the next lucky table! You can select something else if you really want but most people just sign up for the dish of the day, usually a salad type starter, dish of the day, dessert some kind of pastry or frozen confection – €10.00. The fish and chips on Sunday are fantastic,

But there were changes to the site and, to some extent, the atmosphere. Certainly the place was just as attractive and the food and dining arrangements just as appealing. Arno, the eponymous Mikki’s husband, never stops developing the place. He had levelled a large new area behind the main building and planted the pitches up with young plants. It will be great in a year or two but a bit dry and dusty at the moment. It also meant the facilities were under some pressure and did not seem to be keeping up with the demand of the number of pitches. There was no problem finding an empty shower when you wanted but the septic tank system seemed to have a problem. We both came down with a pretty grim gastro-intestinal attack which seemed to be doing the rounds. Whether it was the plumbing or the new kitchen (or something else entirely) I don’t know, but it laid us low for a day or two:-(

The weather was fine and we made good use of the bikes, pedalling the few kilometres to the beach at Armacao de Pera. The map app showed us a path that avoided the “main” road and cut across the fields. It was great even though some of the fields were already occupied! I was worried that an alarmed sheep might make a dash for it and end up tangling with my wheels – but they seemed unfazed by it! I let Neil go first nonetheless:-)

Happy to arrive sans shreds of wool adhering to the spokes we found the beach just glorious and just as busy as we remembered it.

Cycling into Armacao itself we checked out the local shops and banks and meandered the streets just loving the sun and the enjoying the buildings. I lined up an artistic shot from inside the picturesque beachside fishermens’ chapel but it was ruined by some passing tourist!

Other outings included a ride up to the little hill town of Alcantarilha with its spooky ossuary – human bones lining the walls of a small back room of the church.

Yes – that is a wall of real human bones!

Less gruesome was the old wash house ornamented with blue azuelejos panels showing how it was done.

Back in the local village, Pera, the local restaurants still offered huge lunches complete with beer or wine for a few euros. Probably should have taken the photo before consuming the fish!

We stayed about two weeks in the end. The atmosphere had subtly changed – was there some tension in the air from our hosts that had spread to the assembled campers? Maybe it was because we missed our two friends, Hannekke and Louisa, from last year and did not make new connections other than casual chats with neighbouring vans. In fact there seemed to be a bit of cliqueyness that precluded the general relaxed friendliness of before. Also some loud drinking in the bar late at night. We decided not to stay again next year (2020) but, reading more recent reviews, it seems that the atmosphere is once again buoyant and welcoming. So – who knows? It is such a wonderful place to stay it is probably worth another go.

The east end of the Algarve is popular at this time of year with many over-wintering moho owners filling the prime beachside spots for months on end. We decided on a circuit further west to see what it was like – windier for sure as you head further out into the Atlantic, but also wilder and emptier.

First stop was the little fishing village of Salema where mohos were allowed to stay in a leafy glade almost in the middle of town. Not an aire as such but there were public toilets and water could be had if needed. Plus a handy little shop.

Portia nestles

We walked to the sea front – what a captivating little town! Cats had taken over the entire place and the locals seem to cater for them. We had lost the sun and the wind was whipping the sea up a bit – is this what happens when you go west?

Apart from just enjoying being there there was not a lot to do in this tiny spot so we stayed just one night and continued a few miles west next day.

Camping Ingrina is not so much a campsite as a stretch of nature park inhabited by various people favouring an alternative, eco lifestyle. Having said that you could hunt down a 6 amp electric connection in the undergrowth and pitch up wherever you chose within the length of your cable. And there was a bar, there were toilets that had seen much better days and rather primitive showers. We did both shower nonetheless – we try to go with the flow, even when it is a very feeble flow! Neil prefers not to think about the state of the black waste service point.

In fact I loved the place. The shrubby, scrubby headland was crisscrossed with pathways and a fifteen minute walk across it brought you to Praia Ingrina – another rocky cove and beach with nothing but a largely empty car park and closed beach café.

We chatted to a fellow camper who had a remarkable coffin-like trailer that seemed to be constructed of tin foil. He slept in this to protect himself from electronic emissions from phone masts which disturbed the wiring of his brain. A quick google search shows that this is something that has been much researched and the results are inconclusive. He had selected this site as it seemed remote from any telephone masts, although I’m not sure it was. Although there was no village by the beach there were a few luxurious villas on the road down to it and I expect they all had good connectivity! This area is now a nature reserve so there should be no further building or extension to the campsite.

It was still too rough to even contemplate going in but we live in hope! The night was as dark and quiet as you would expect in a Nature Reserve.

We packed up and continued west the next day aiming for the fort at Sagres. It must be quite a popular tourist site as it has a huge car park which has designated moho spots and, at this time of year, more space than you could shake a stick at. Nonetheless, you are not officially allowed to stay the night:-( Apparently, people do in the low season and mostly they get away with it so we thought we would give it a go. It is a mere 16 kilometres from Ingrina so we got there pretty early. For us:-)

The fort is the whole of the peninsula beyond the impressive walls that can be seen straddling the neck of the peninsula. It was originally built in the early 16th century by Henry the Navigator who used it as base for his voyages of discovery. Little remains of the old buildings following an earthquake in 1755 and the subsequent tsunami which apparently swept over the 60 metre cliffs bringing near total destruction. It’s hard to imagine a tsunami that high and powerful.

The massive front walls are mostly all that remains, and even they have been restored, but the landscape beyond is worth the entry fee. This is €3 from memory and is excellent value.

The cliffs are crumbling and dangerous. Signs warn you to stay back. Does everyone take that sage advice?

The sea has eaten into the limestone and eroded many sea caves, some of which open to the surface and, mercifully, are fenced off. A anomalous flying saucer structure turns out to be a sound chamber. This consists of maze-like corridors leading to a chamber in the centre which is positioned over the fissure opening to one such cave. As the waves roll in below the noise is magnified into a thunderous roar and air is forced up the chimney of rock as a howling wind.

We walked all over the broken limestone surface in amongst the scrubby plants making a circuit of the peninsula. The view across the bay shows Cape St Vincent, usually taken to be most south-westerly point in Europe.

For all the windswept beauty of the cape we were still back at the van with many hours to spare before nightfall. Rather than stay in the rather sterile car park where we were not sure we were welcome overnight we decided to drive back inland and find a legitimate spot. The aire at Silves had been recommended, being on a nice riverside site, having all facilities and being handy for the pretty and historic town. This far west the towns are much less touristified and the traditional, unhurried way of life is very appealing to overwintering motorhomers. Rather too appealing as it happens as the aire was full to bursting:-( There was a public car park just outside where we could overnight and see if a space opened up the next day. Others were doing the same and opinion was divided as to whether it was allowed or not. The Portuguese police (GNR) are apparently quite handy with the on the spot fines when they feel so moved. Given that there was only a small chance of a free place the next day we decided to cut our losses and head back to a place we liked and were confident of finding space – the old football ground at Armacao de Pera.

This is a large open area just beside the beach and behind the old fishermen’s huts in Armacao. This hard packed sandy expanse is not itself beautiful. It is a prime position for spending time on the beach though, and in the little town with its beach bars and cafes but one minute’s walk away around the boat on the roundabout.

The rules are strict, NO CAMPING. This means you can put nothing but four wheels on the ground: no chairs, no awnings, no barbeques etc. Apparently its use as a moho parking is not liked by the campsite owners a mere ten minutes walk away and they ensure the rules are adhered to courtesy of the GNR and, more scarily, the old lady at the gate. I think she fears for her licence if people take advantage. Her little hut has grey and black disposal points at the back and a hose for fresh water. What more do you need when the sun is shining on the solar panel and charging the batteries for free! For €4 a night you cannot really complain.

We parked up and treated ourselves to a meal in one of the beachfront cafes as the sun went down. The sun rose full and warm again the next day and, after considering the temperature over breakfast at a beach bar, Neil went in for a dip! I would have too but I like to rinse the salt and sand off after a sea swim and didn’t want to disturb the rather fully stuffed shower cubicle. Or something like that:-)

By now it was getting on towards the end of February and we wanted to be back in France by mid-March. Before then we really wanted to spend some time in our favourite campsite at Denia on the mediterranean coast half way up Spain. So it was time to be making tracks out of Portugal:-( Reluctant as ever to leave the coast I book a campsite just over the Rio Guadiana on the Spanish coast. Camping Playa Taray nestles in the trees just over the road, through the trees and across the dune from another fabulous beach.

We stayed two nights to enjoy the sun and sea and the walk under the trees.

Then it was a cut across inland to bypass the pointy bit of southern Spain that culminates in Gibralter to reach the sea again but on the Mediterranean side. Once past Seville we looked for a place to stay for a quick overnight before dropping back down to the coast. The stop itself was uninspiring, a supermarket car park, but they provided a full service point for motorhomes and let you sleep the night undisturbed! Thank you! It had quite a view as well. The town was Osuna and was an entrancing old town once you walked past the modern outskirts. Most attractive was the 16th century University perched on the top of the hill. Austere on the outside, a grand entrance way leads to a beautiful, cool tiled and arcaded courtyard inside.

And the little cafe in the corner was happy to offer cups of tea and coffee to passing travellers. We did our usual wander around the ancient streets admiring the nooks and crannies. I always wish I knew more about these places as we whisk through but I guess that would be a different kind of holiday.

Having enjoyed our visit to Seville so much last year I had half a plan to visit Granada this year. Searching Park4Night did not show up any overnight places both convenient and salubrious. Car park around the back of the station with discarded mattresses anyone? No thanks. Since the nearest campsite was a bus ride away and tickets for the Alhambra needed advance booking we felt a bit squeezed in terms of timings. As it was now the last day of February we decided to just drop down to a seaside campsite and plough on to Denia without a seriously cultural break.

This led us to the little town of Motril and Camping Poniente, a campsite we were told was very ‘Spanish’. Apparently this means ‘packed in cheek by jowl’. Which it was – no six metre apart rule here! I can see that when it is full of families in the school holidays it would feel a trifle overcrowded. It was only a short walk under the palms and cross the grey sand into the sea though. So, no real complaints:-)

It looks as if I went in for a swim but I cannot remember if I actually did. A couple more nights inland and we would be at the rocky beach where we do swim though.

25 January to 5 February 2019 – road trip time!

It is November 2020 as I write and I know, from looking at old emails, that our departure for Portugal was delayed. Why? I cannot remember – probably a dentist appointment for me – but we did not get away until 25 January 2019.

Stratton Arms

The route this year was Portsmouth to Santander – only one night on the ferry but a late-ish arrival to Spain the next day. We can’t happily make it to Portsmouth from York the same day so had another night in the car park of the Stratton Arms just north or Oxford (free if you eat there – so we did:-) and reached Portsmouth in a leisurely fashion the next day. Yet another storm was due in from the Atlantic so we had fingers crossed to reach Santander before it hit:-(

We did – but only just – the return sailing of the ferry we arrived in was cancelled! We hurried straight for the Aire in Santander with hearts in mouths that there would be a space. It is situated on a one way street which we only discovered as we tried to steer into the oncoming traffic – someone had forgotten to mention it Stella – so, with even higher anxiety we had to manually negotiate a long way around a park in the rush hour traffic. There was plenty of space when we got there but we did not choose our spot well. The storm hit us hard and battered us most of the night – amazingly noisy in a moho when it the wind hurls the rain at you. A lesson for next time – we should tuck in on the other side of a big van for shelter.

The next day, bleary-eyed with lack of sleep, we headed for the hills to get across to Leon for the next night. Leon is a city that likes bold architecture – some of it more pleasing to the eye than the rest.

But it offers a large flat motorhome aire, that we had used before actually, handy for a supermarket and a gentle stroll into town. So we managed to get organised and catch up on the sleep we had been deprived of the night before.

We had a plan. Knowing the Atlantic coast is not such a welcoming place in January we had decided to cut our losses and travel south on the inland route the N2. Since the development of newer straighter motorways to the west, this road has been left straggling down the rugged centre of Portugal, wending through historic villages and wild mountains. Hmm – sounds about right for a stately, full bodied motorhome.

The N2 – Portugal’s Route 66

The N2 is now being touted as Portugal’s Route 66 for tourist purposes – the ultimate road trip. Its claim to fame and its similarity to the US version is that it is one of only three roads in the world that cross the entire country to which they belong.

And it had been forgotten by time until the marketeers made a thing of it – as demonstrated by the evolution of the mile zero marker in Chaves!

We crossed the plain in Spain to reach Chaves, just inside the Portuguese border, early enough to park up and have a walk around the old town. The parking spot (which offers electricity) is near the river and a hop and a skip takes you into the centre over some iffy-looking stepping stones. Well, it would have, but I chickened out and took the modern footbridge a bit further up!

The walk turned out to be quite energetic as the old town spreads up the hill and is crowned with the remains of a castle in the shape of the keep tower. I think it was only one euro to climb – with the promise of a magnificent panorama at the top – so it had to be done. And there was a good display of historic militaria on each of the five floors on the way up. Good value!

The next day dawned a bit grey and become even greyer and a bit drizzly as we headed south into the mountains. This meant there was wonderful scenery of terraced slopes and deep valleys but also meant Neil had his work cut out wrangling the steering wheel most of the day! Our destination is the spiritual home of Port Wine – the third oldest official appellation in the world (1756) – and actual the home of Sandeman Port – Pesua da Regua.

Regua sits on the banks of the Douro River and ships the fortified wine downstream to Porto and the world. The aire is right beside the river – immaculately laid out for motorhomes and only €3 euros the night – with electricity.

The Aire at Regua

We had the obligatory walk around town and found the off-licences were open and, after a bit of a tasting, bagged a dark and sweet bottle of port to see us through the winter nights:-) I case you were unaware of the importance of port to the town it is celebrated in tiled panels on the walk up from the river.

We leave Regua in the morning of 30 January and reappear in Tomar, some way south on 1st February. What we did in between is lost in the mists of time! If you don’t take a picture or make a note time will steal your memories:-( Scouring the map I can see where we must have gone, but neither of us can summon up a memory of where we spent that night. We both remember some dramatic landscapes, winding roads, pot holes, tiny old villages with tiny old corners to navigate. Maybe it is trauma that has wiped our memories! We do both remember thinking the rain and the mist was making the effort of the driving rather pointless and we were regularly taunted by the nearby motorway that we crossed and recrossed as it bounded effortlessly over the valleys that we contoured. At some point we may have sneaked a couple of hours of easy riding.

Anyway, Tomar is a true delight – a historic jewel no less, showing its evolution from Roman town via the Moors and Knights Templar to modern town. The photos do not do it justice. Winding old streets, magnificent squares, a crowning castle and many many restaurants awaiting passers by.

And just across the river the former municipal campsite has been turned into a motorhome aire. Some towns and villages are doing this now, saving costs by letting motorhomes do their own thing for free. Just what we like to see! It looked a bit drab and soggy in this grey weather but was spot on for what we wanted. Water, toilets and waste disposal are available but there is no hook up and the showers are cold. Apparently.

This would be a place to linger if the weather were nice. Our minds were definitely turning sun and beach-wards though so more in-depth exploration took a back seat to moving on south.

Next stop was an even more historic jewel of a town – you can’t move for towns and villages dating back twenty centuries or more hereabouts. Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage site and really deserves more than a one night stop and certainly deserves better photographs than we managed:-( Our overnight spot was a nicely terraced purpose built aire. Go through the gate in the medieval walls, follow the narrow streets uphill, cross the picturesque square and you find the the town’s most conspicuous monument – the roman temple.

The magnificent university was founded in the sixteenth century by Jesuits and although closed 200 years later has been reopened and is used by students again. What a joy to study in one of the rooms off this intricately tiled arcade.

There was so much more we could have looked at but we could always come back next year, or the one after that…… 😦

The eponymous Sky

Heading ever southwards I had identified a small aire, Sky’s Place, in the countryside, not far from the sea, that sounded perfect for a couple of days acclimation to the warm south. Just south of Almancil it was a work in progress being undertaken by a young couple. It was still a little rough around the edges but very acceptable nonetheless with pitches arranged around a large central, shady tree. Imaginative use had been made of old shipping containers to provide a structure that would in future accommodate a variety of utilities. The young couple envisaged it as being a sociable place so maybe a container bar would materialise as well. At the time the place looked a bit like a, very laid back, building site.

The stacked containers provided shelter for the toilets and showers which nestled between and behind. I would have preferred a door on the shower, as on the two toilets, instead of the flimsy white curtain provided which was susceptible to the breeze. You can just about see it right at the back in the left-hand picture. Plenty of hot water though and easy enough to see if it was occupied!

We settled lazily into our sunny spot only once disturbed by a proccessionary caterpillar plopping from an overhanging branch onto my lap! Toxic things these caterpillars – the hairs provoke a nasty reaction. There were only one or two nests in evidence here. Sky beware! Bad for dogs:-(

This marked the end of our N2 road trip. We had actually diverged from it earlier but I cannot now remember where exactly – Evora is not on it. We may have rejoined it for the last leg but it was not the easiest road to follow, often being the almost unmarked one at a junction with well marked others heading the same way that looked rather more manageable. It had certainly been scenic with its wild mountains and historic towns but maybe it should be tackled when the weather is better and the travellers are not so eager for the sun and warmth of the Algarve!

After a few days at Sky’s we were pining for the sea and atmosphere of Mikkis Place. There had been a communal barbeque here at Sky’s which we joined in with but this aire has some way to go to match the easy sociability we had found at Mikki’s Place last year. It is only a few kilometres east, closer to the sea, with a bizarre onsite bar and restaurant and a bohemian vibe, not fully subscribed to by the attitudes of some of the fellow campers, but nonetheless a totally relaxed place to stay. So, noting Sky’s as a place to revisit as it evolves, we got a friendly push up the slope out of the gravel we had sunk into and headed east.

Being now familiar with the area we filled up with LPG at the handy garage (without turning left on a no left-turn road) in anticipation of a lengthy stay and crossed our fingers that Mikki’ would have a free spot. It did! A choice pitch nestled behind the embankment adjacent to the swimming pond, surrounded by the vegetation lovingly planted by Mikki and Arno.

The view from our pitch at sunset

The bar is as quirky as before and a purpose built restaurant has been added at the back. The building is basic but the menu has expanded, not much and, thank goodness, they still have peri peri chicken and chips!

I can’t insert enough pictures to do justice to the charm of this place but will add a few more….

The aviary

November 2018 to January 2019. Staying fairly local.

As indicated in the title, this post is not mostly about travels in the van, just something to record the months at home before setting off for winter 2019 in the sun again:-)

We had not managed the full six months we had wanted in Europe but by October 2018 we’d been away for the best part of four months. The garden needed beating into submission. Again! Housesitters are happy to water and occasionally mow but more than that is too much to ask with a garden as full and busy as ours. The house desperately needs decluttering so maybe we should apply it to the garden as well.

We caught up on doctor and dentist visits and walked around our home city reminding ourselves of the beautiful historic place we live in. Public buildings are decorated for the upcoming 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war. All Saints bleeds poppies from its roof and is quite moving.

It seems to have been inspired by the weeping window at the truly remarkable Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of poppies at the Tower of London four years previously. That huge work of art was to commemorate the start of that war.

To continue….I’m not sticking to chronological order here – more a grouping by theme. Maybe just randomly associated thoughts. As well as town walks we went for a wander around Askham Bog – of one Yorkshire Wildlife Trust open spaces. We had signed petitions to safeguard this historic spot from nearby housing development which threatened to disrupt the water flows that sustain the ecosystem of this unique area. The campaign had been supported by none other than David Attenborough who regards it as a “treasure”. (The developer fought succeeding planning refusals all the way up to Government level but finally lost in May 2020. Hurrah!) “Askham Bog is remarkable survivor of the ancient fenlands of Yorkshire. It occupies the site of an ancient lake, left behind by a retreating glacier 15,000 years ago…” Well worth saving.

Other outings included a brief stay in Portia in a farm yard in Alkborough in order to walk to Kell Well. Alkborough is the village in north Linconshire where my father was born in 1925. The little school there had a Schoolmaster’s house adjacent and, since his father was the Schoolmaster, my father was born there and lived in it until the age of 12. He also attended the school for all his junior schooling. He retained a real attachment to the place all his life and I too have a fondness for it both for this reason and from childhood visits. I had left it too late to organise a visit to the tree we had planted in memory of my father in the school garden there –  you cannot just walk into school grounds these days!

I really wanted this time was to check out another childhood memory at the far end of the village – little star shaped stones in a stream. Alkborough is on an escarpment that slopes steeply down to the south bank of the Humber Estuary. There is a path that runs along the escarpment from the turf maze at Jacob’s Bower to the west and south. 

Jacob’s Bower overlooking the confluence of the Trent and the Ouse.

A mile or so along a small stream issues from a stone fountainhead beneath the path and trickles down the slope to the Humber below. I have a distant memory of walking along this path with  my father and finding magical little star shaped stones. I could not be sure if it was a real memory as my sister did not recall it. The path to the Well is a pleasant walk with wonderful views. In January 2019 the snowdrops were already showing through. Definitely worth another visit in summer weather.

Kell Well itself is not a particularly attractive spot on a cold day when it is wet underfoot. We fossicked about in the mud and undergrowth nonetheless hoping a speck of white would prove to be a little star.

I had done some research and the little stars do exist! They are the fossil remains of ancient crinoids. These are marine animals related to the starfish with stalk-like fronds that separate into little star-shaped segments. Their fossilised remains used to be found in abundance at Kell Well (so my memory was true) but none have been found recently. The farmer whose yard we were staying in said he knew of them and his mother had a jarful on the windowsill. Despite my obvious eagerness he did not offer me any and I did not like to ask:-(  Amazingly they are available for sale from geological interest sites on the internet and I bought a few when we got back just to have one in my hand again and confirm the memory.

Google maps shows the village has pub but it is not evident to the casual observer. In fact it is a club, a co-op actually, but non-members are allowed to use the bar and it seems well loved by the villagers. The beer is remarkably cheap and food is available. Had I known we would have eaten there but instead we picked our way back across the mud in the farmyard and spent a quiet night near the chickens.

Back home there were travel matters to take care of. National preparation for Brexit was in a state of chaos and acrimony and our personal preparation needed to keep up. I forget the exact nature of all the different cliff-edge political deadlines now but a stream of them came and went and others were still ahead – depending on negotiations and so on. I think there was one possibly due to happen while we were away in the winter. I have forgotten the actual sequence but we had ended up in a Catch-22 situation of needing separate international driving licences for Spain and France before we left, due to them being agreed under different treaties, but couldn’t get them as they would only become available after we had left the UK, and you had to get them in person at a UK Post Office. Or something like that. So, for this trip we figured we would be out of Spain by the critical date but had to have our licences translated into french – at some cost.

The only other admin-type activity was the regular pre-Christmas visit to Bristol to deal with family matters for my mother. We managed a pre-christmas meal out with her and, as a bonus, there was a carol concert by Helen’s choir in a Bristol church. It was a good visit.

Back home, St Nicholas market was in full swing in the middle of town and the lights went up around the streets.

Bootham Bar gets its coat of lights

And I went carol singing with the ad hoc choir that gathers from the streets around here every year. Nice to catch the full moon!

Christmas came and went and we saw the New Year in sitting around the chimenea in next door’s back garden. Surprisingly warm considering! But not as warm as we were hoping to be in a few weeks in Portugal:-)

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.

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.

Phew.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.