Anyone who has experienced it (me included) can tell you that a tin can on wheels is not the best place to be in a heatwave. This year’s canicule seemed to have no end and the thermometer pushed over thirty on and off every day for weeks. Mooching around the fermette with the shutters closed and fans whirring was beginning to pall – even with a late afternoon swim in the lake.
The local paper had featured a riverside municipal campsite only an hour’s drive away – on the edge of the rolling, wooded Morvan national park, famed for its lakes. This sparked an idea – we could shake ourselves out of our indolence with a fairly local tour of those lakes – close enough to dash for the cool of home if need be. Municipal sites are great – they tend to be nicely located and pretty cheap and a flick through the official french campsite guide revealed several sited on the banks of the lakes – so we headed off. (The link is to Vicarious Books who specialise in camping and motorhoming guides and from whom we have received very good service in the past.)
First Brèves, on the banks of the Yonne upriver of navigation. I add that qualification because in the course of looking at barges with Jill the month before we now had inside knowledge of how the toilets worked. They empty straight into the water. Bleurrgh. This applies to all living-in sized boats on the inland waterways, not just the barges. Apparently they do all have big tanks to hold the waste but there is no national infrastructure to pump them out. So needs must and the tanks are by-passed:-( Never be tempted to swim in a canal!
Anyway. Brèves is a tiny town with a campsite in a big field next to the river. I had taken the precaution of making a reservation at the campsite thinking it would be full after featuring in the paper and it still being holiday season. There were four other campers in the big field. Being very hot we parked under a tree which is problematic if we also want a satellite signal. Having a roof-mounted satellite means we need to park the van so the dome on the rear end has a clear view of the south-south-eastern sky (28.2 degrees east of south to be precise, for Astra 2). With care we can get shade and satellite but it calls for some precision-manoeuvering between the branches and careful use of the compass. A free-standing satellite would be easier to position but more difficult to store. And expensive considering we already have one. We did get a signal and went off to the river for a swim. I started rehearsing for this year’s summer series of Ophelia poses.
Neil continued his retirement-snooze poses.
In the late afternoon groups of cyclists turned up by twos and threes and pitched tiny tents around the field. Chatting to one of them it transpired that they are on canal cycling holidays and the Canal de Nivernais runs parallel to the Yonne here just over the bridge. Burgundy is crossed by many canals and waterways and the towpaths are well maintained for precisely this kind of use. Together with France’s abundance of local campsites they make for a great and not-too-strenuous outdoor holiday. One group is a fit looking young couple with two toddlers, two bikes and two heavily packed trailers. I know canals are flattish but, in this heat?
Next day we follow the example of our fellow campers, get the bikes down and pedal (in an electronically-assisted fashion:-) along the banks of the canal to the next little town. It’s a town where we nearly bought a house when we were looking back in 2005, so we go and see what became of it. Clearly it sold because it has been done up a bit and looks rather nice. Still too isolated for what we wanted – a local glazier had been repairing a window pane following an attempted break in when we first viewed it:-(
The campsite is managed by a cheerful young man, Gregory, who arranges events for campers. Tonight there is an outdoor screening of Tintin – Le Secret de La Licorne (Unicorn), in French but with English sub-titles. It’s free but with optional salad platter and dessert for €5.00. Not to be missed! It was fun – the screen itself in a bit of a makeshift shelter. A crowd of about 12 turned up to join in and we sat around tables with food and beers. Not quite high definition or surround sound, but a great way to spend a Friday evening in summer.
The next site, Camping de la Chateau in St Agnan, is not a municipal but has good reviews and borders a lake. It’s in the north-east of the Morvan hills but turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. The location is appealing, on a wooded slope down to a lake below a large old building housing a bar.
It’s more expensive though and the sanitaires are tatty in a rather unappetising way – cracked and stained. To add to that, the lake remains very shallow a long way out and is very muddy at the edges – a soft, silty sort of mud that your feet sink into in a deeply disconcerting way. Only a couple of brave souls are swimming and, retrieving our crocs from the mud, we decide to pass on this one.
Leaving swiftly the next day we make for a lake we know will offer a good swim – the Lac de Pannecière. This is a huge reservoir we parked near for free a couple of years ago. This time we will shelter in the municipal site at Chaumard – right by the water, with tree-lined pitches. It is very hot still. The site is cheap enough but you have to buy tokens at €1.50 for a shower:-( The manager appears in reception from time to time and is not chatty. She says you get a long time in the shower but does not give an actual number of minutes. (It was long enough but not what I would call a long time.)
After a swelter up the slope next day to find Chaumard used to have a grocery store, we spend a second night then leave to stock up in Lidl in Chateau Chinon. Beautiful countryside around here – roads hair-pinning through woods giving splendid panoramiques over the lake. The Guide Officiel lets us down though and we end up following a very narrow road along the south end of the lake where every man and his dog and extended family has come to dawdle away the afternoon beside the lake. The promised campsite (Cabane Vert) has been converted into a holiday village of private bungalows and fences:-( We continue hopefully up the western shore to the last-but-one site on the lake – the Camp Municipal at Montigny-en-Morvan. Here we find our favourite kind of camping – in a cool, cool wood, by a lake, an informal layout with no marked pitches, the boulangère calls every morning announcing himself with a blast on his horn. And we are newly loaded with provisions – so this could be a long stay!
Portia is parked just at the top of this path in the trees….
…and the lake is at the bottom.
Neil gets into the Ophelia act…
… and sinister lights show across the water in the night.
(It’s the barrage at the end of the reservoir.)
We swim, we lounge, we chat and we keep an eye on the weather. This is a beautiful old deciduous wood and we don’t want to be under the branches when the forecast storm comes through! That is the only downside of these long hot days – periodically they cumlminate in a blinding thunderstorm. We are also waiting to hear from Jill about the next stage of Project Friso – it should be happening at the end of August but things move slowly in rural France. If Friso has passed her survey and the negotiations have gone well we could be sailing to Paris soon!