August to December 2019 – to the Mediterranean and back

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

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

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

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

by canals (Selby) with deeeep scary locks,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bought flowers for Toussaint, made sloe gin,

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

went to see a big tree,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is definitely a place to return with more time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


March to June 2019

The title of this post is March to June 2019 but the date of typing is January 2022. I’ve slipped a bit:-( What follows is more a list with photos than any kind of detailed blog. To remember that far back we have to scroll through our photos and see where we actually went that year. Because we often visit the same favourite places each year it all becomes a bit of a blur!

So there we were on the Costa Del Sol at the end of February 2019 with one month ahead of us to enjoy the Spanish littoral, cross into France, get back to the fermette to pick up the car and take it to Folkestone for its MOT before 4 April. All very doable.

I picked as direct a route as possible to get to Denia on the east coast in a day or two. This took us a bit inland and up the mountains to a lovely aire at Totana. We whizzed (relatively speaking) on the motorway past the ancient city of Lorca which I noted for a return visit. Totana is also a historic town but we did not see it as the aire is a bit outside and we arrived too late to wander in. It is constructed on terraces with view points over mountains and trees.

The alley of trees led down to the viewing and al fresco dinng area and…

…the sunset was magnificent.

Charging on the next day we reached Los Pinos in Denia – one of our favourite places to spend time. We settled into a reasonably sunny spot and took advantage of the comprehensive on-site facilities to launder everything we had used in the past several weeks and dry it under the clear blue sky.

The sea was as cool and clear as ever

We had our ebikes on board so whipped along the 4 kilometre fabulous but slightly bumpy coastal path into town. I discovered some time ago that the saddles on our Gtech ebikes are on the hard side so had bought a gel-filled saddle topper. This helped but only just enough for adequate comfort. We probably should get off-road bikes rather than city bikes as more often than not we are on paths rather than roads. Nonetheless we shopped and enjoyed lunch in one of the many, many cafés that line the streets. The fish was delicious, if a bit bony.

We had an exciting visitor on site! A magical and colourful pigeon that could only be a cross between a local pigeon and an exotic parrot wafted here from foreign shores!

Talking to others we discovered it was not a wierd and wondeful new species but simply an ordinary pigeon got up in its racing colours by a local pigeon fancier:-( It makes them easier to pick out of a crowd when out and about. Ah well – it was exciting for a few minutes.

We’d made an appointment on with our regular mechanic in France to get the car serviced before we took it up to Folkestone for its MOT. So now we were counting down. In fact we were getting a bit tired of this fixed MOT commitment in late March that curtails our winter break in the south. Now we were on countdown to being right out of the EU as well so things were about to change anyway. We left Denia on 9th March and started back north. A shortish drive the first day to Peniscola to a typical town-type motorhome park – nice enough but a bit drear in winter and not on the beach. I have no photographs so it looks as if we did not leave the van:-( The next day a much longer drive on the motorway up to Girona, which suprprised me as I had always thought it was in Italy. (There is another one in Italy apparently but the Spanish one is just as historic.) We parked in a large, not unattractive, car park that allowed motorhomes to stay and walked in.

It is an attractive old city – worth more than the hour or so we had the time and energy for after a long day on the motorway.

Next day was another day on the motorway that would take us north over the Spanish border, bear right a bit and onto the French mediterranean. Vias Plage is a site that is part of a big campsite in season but opens only basic facilities for over-winterers. It’s a lovely spot right on the beach but a shame the toilets and showers are not open. And to fill with water you have to take the van right up to the metered tap due to the way you have to pay and the timings. Not a problem if you are just passing but a real pain if you wanted to stay and get set up for a few days.

Hard to believe that with such a prime sea front position we only stayed one night. But we did, obviously noting it for a return trip. In fact I had found it from a post on the ourtour blog. Thanks Ju and Jay!

Onwards and upwards on the magnificent and free A75 – although there is a fee to cross the splendid viaduct at Millau. We are lucky that this motorway is the direct route to the Med from our fermette in south-west Burgundy – it has become our regular escape to the sun when the weather looks warmer down south.

A quick overnight at charming spot in Massiac in the Massif Central with enough time for a quick beer.

And the next day…. ensconced at home with the fire blazing, Frasier on the TV and a nice chilli with a bottle of red. Lovely:-)

The tunnel was booked for Sunday 24th March, returning Monday 25th fully MOT’d. Fingers crossed! So we had ten days or so for Neil to fettle the car and beat the lawn into submission while I painted the upstairs and tangled with unruly trees. Together with visiting neighbours this constitutes the full range of Fermette low season activities.

It looks like it was lovely weather. The main cloud on the horizon was the imminent departure of the UK from the EU. There were desperate last minute attempts to reverse the decision – I have copies of petitions etc. – but, as we now know, the disaster could not be stopped.

Smooth trip up to Folkestone, fish and chips for dinner, full English for breakfast. Can’t get nasty at that! A nice day wandering the beach on the new boardwalk and around the harbour with pop-up tea and cake thrown in.

A successful MOT and smooth journey back. Hurrah! I have no record of where we stayed on the way back, but it was a lateish crossing so we would have had to stay in a hotel somewhere.

We seem to have remained in France for another month and stayed pretty local to the fermette. All my photos of the time show a lot of gardening, some furniture renovation and canal walks. There were also a few brocantes with the regulation saucisses frites.

We were delighted to get a surprise visit from an old friend from Portugal in 2018 – Louisa. Louisa had overwintered in Sicily – I so want to do that. We still want to get to Guernsey to pay her a visit as well but things have conspired against us for the past two years! And we were lucky enough to be at the Fermette for the Easter meal the commune was holding in the salle des fêtes.

Speeding along hoping to get to the end of this blog before the end of winter (reminder – I’m writing in January 2022) we plotted a route home that took a detour to Bristol to visit my mother. 2019 was an atypical travel year for us as we wanted to be in the UK in August for the wedding of my niece Lydia and her fiancé George. We normally aim to be overseas in the high season as our home city becomes impossibly full of tourists and we prefer to seek out lesser known places. In any event, this gives us a chance to do some touring closer to home in the summer.

Our route home takes us along the Val du Cher, across the Loire and up into Normandy to the port at Cherbourg. We do this with two overnight stops – we prefer to drive only about three hours a day and have time for a bit of a wander around. Our first stop is the charming little town of Montrichard-sur-Cher where a stroll along the river brings us into the town.

The second is in a nicely laid out aire in Saint-Friambault, Normandy – a town very proud of its four star fleuri status. We did not have to jostle for space in the aire:-)

The final night before sailing was in car park next to the ferry port in Cherbourg where we had a tour of the submarine museum. That’s an early wooden submarine in the picture – who knew? Well worth a visit. Neil paid extra to go on the tour of the nuclear submarine.

Then a drive up to Bristol from Poole and a sneaky park on the road opposite my mother’s flat beside Frenchay Common. Very handy! At the time this spot appeared as a legitimate overnight place on Park4night, and we have used it many times, but recently a comment has been added indicating that local by-laws prohibit sleeping between 12pm and 6am. We will see next time.

Once back in York we were delighted to find that our local footbridge over the Ouse had finally been upgraded to a pedestrian and bicycle super-highway after decades of having to struggle up and down steep, narrow steps with suitcases or bicycles. It now takes you straight into the station cutting several minutes off the walk.

We spent the late spring walking, cycling, gardening and generally enjoying our home city.

Along the river, over the quirky bridge …

…down country lanes…

…and back alogside the racecourse where beautiful, glossy horses were running for their lives:-(

Helen paid a visit to see if York’s range of independent shops could provide a suitable dress for her daughter’s wedding and to visit old north Linclonshire haunts. We visited the tree I had planted for my father in the school garden at Alkborough. It had failed to thrive here as it had failed to thrive in his former vegetable garden, but for different reasons. I suspect the play area has encroached upon it here – it looked a little broken:-( I think a new fruit tree may be in order for the school. Helen enthusiastically trod the Jacob’s Bower labyrinth right to the middle in keeping with family tradition.

Then in June was the incomparable Festival of Ideas run by the University. Many events, installations performances are held in city centre venues – and they are free for the most part!

I think I have run out of steam on this blog. Later in June we were back on our travels which I think will make a good starting place for the next one.

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.


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.