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  • Come on our Adventure with Us

    Now in from start to finish order. Please read on. "an inspiration"

  • Turn Left at Calais

    People would ask where are you going on your 6 month tour of France? To Calais and turn left, was my reply. and that truly was as far as would allow the planning to go.

    We spend our lives being organised and keeping schedules, even our annual holidays are meticulously planned and timed. We may go away for 2 weeks, one day is probably devoted to travelling there, another to our return. Often these travel arrangements are quite intense on timing and tiring, we get on vacation and boy do we need it. Upon our return we need time to get over it.

    This trip was to be opposite to all this, intense relaxation was the priority as I was suffering from a chronic overactive thyroid which had run me into the ground.

    The 'van is the approved short term for our home on wheels, in the UK it is usually called a Motor Home, when you get on to the continent that term will not be understood, to our EU friends it is a CampingCar. That is now my prefered name. In all Languages it comes out the same.

    Our Grand Tour de France stated right at the end of April just as the weather was beginning to warm up. It was actually to Cherbourg and turn right, hmm thats the way we mean to go on.

    Today I would probably not go via Poole Cherbourg, the Dover Calais prices have fallen so much. For a tour there is no time nor distance savings needed.

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  • Crossing the Channel

    We left home with plenty of time to travel to Poole, 24 hours in fact before the ferry time. With a Campingcar the holiday starts the minute you leave home, a nights stay in the UK before the ferry trip sees you fresh for the journey.

    I had a final pay cheque that I needed to bank, I needed a branch of Nat West, the Far Cotton branch was on the way, when we got there it was gone. On to Towcester, no, Brackley, no, Abingdon couldn't find one, finally Newbury we parked, paid £1 and walked a short distance to the branch.

    This must influence the choice for the traveler of a banker for travel funds. I had an Abbey National BS card, the monthly bill always seemed to need to be paid when we were away, and must be paid at a branch counter. A feature of our holidays became a search around what ever county we were in for a branch, no fun.

    My final favorite that has seen me well is Nationwide BS there are branches everywhere and no fee for European withdrawals. Internet transfers of funds are possible also.

    In the queue for the ferry I looked in the safe, a solid steel job bolted through the floor of the van and to the wall, in a concealed place, an essential item I believe.

    Despite meticulous packing and checks. I found the passports in the safe, but no ferry tickets, imagine the panic. 'All' documents in the safe were removed by both of us and examined more than once. Then I found them stuck verticaly to the side hidden under the lip.

    For many the ferry trip is merely a slow part of the journey to be suffered, to us it is a boat trip. After a time the sun got warm enough to sit out on deck and have our lunch, a mini cruise holiday.

    If you turn right at Cherbourg you get to the Cap de Flamanville, we parked for lunch at a viewpoint near a power station the weather was variable but bright with sun and some showers. From here you could see Jersey, Alderney and Sark.
    I thought it would be a good idea to look for somewhere to empty the cassette toilet. In Le Pieux in a car park was a toilet excellent for the purpose with a double size utility trough for rinsing.

    Here was my first encouter of how different the French people are when you get away from the Ports and Cities. We had, our car broken into in Calais several years ago but we were always intrigued by the courtesy of car drivers there.

    It was raining outside, I hesitate at the door of the toilet building. A lad 15 years old 'ish nipped in to shelter. He spoke to me, a sentence including rain. English I said. He spoke no English but persisted with my limited French to hold a conversation, his advice, Normandie is not the best vacation spot in France and this rain is typical.

    "Camping Car "? he asked, yes I said round there. The rain stopped we said goobye and went our way. In England a lad would not strike up a conversation in a loo with an older stranger.

    We headed in land to stay the night at Saint Germain Le Gaillard by lake with geese, ducks, a mare and foal in the next field very nice and much like England.

    Brittany

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  • Brittany Coast

    Next day, the first of May we moved on to Carteret, a fishing harbour, fish crabs lobsters are sold on quay, there is large sandy beach. A navigation  light on a long breakwater, would be exiting at high tide. There is an adjacent car park for motor homes overnight stays are allowed.

    We continued on to Granville. It was a Holiday our deisel was low, the  service stations were closed, a Hypermache on the way nearly saved  the day but an auot pay machine rejected all my cards.

    We made it to Granville here we must stay. It is a very busy resort, at the top siide of town is a large car park with many motorhomes, at the  lower,  le Fourneau side we find a small hardstanding under the cliff,  many French motorhomes are setttled in for the night. The first time we have been beside the sea for the night we wake up to the rising tide..

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  • Mont St Michael

    It is the second of May, weather blowy and showery, we are going to travel on around the coast and 'round the corner' to St Michael's mount. The petrol stations were open so we filled up and we were off. St Michael's Mount was bleak, horizontal rain was driving accross the causeway.

    St Michaels Mount

    After lunch we carried on to St Malo it was very busy with little chance of parking. Around the coast was Rothenauf point, a great beach, too windy and showery to apreciate.

    We pitch for night round coast at la Guimorais Ile Du Guesclin by wonderfull beach, in the car park between sea and harbour. This was down a road with a unique no waiting system, 1ft high 2in dia posts down the middle of the track. Access required at all times for the Pompieres in case of forest fires.

    We awake next day to glorious sunshine, the beach is quickly exposed by the tide. Why should we go from this spot. Well there is a breeze blowing, it's jumpers on on the beach, the toilet needs emptying and we need water. Perhaps there is more paradise further on, if we head South now we can always come back later.
    We head for Rennes making very good progress it is noticeably warmer in land. Can we make the Loire valley if we press on. We headed towards Nantes, off the N137 at Nozey, cross the Loire at Champtoceaux to stay at Domaine des Galloires near Drain. We arrived by 6.30pm, dined outside, the sun is now going down around 9.30pm. The van door was still wide open at 10.30pm.

    Loire Vineyard

    I told the lady that up North in Brittany I had been cold, Sue says I told her 'I am a strawberry,' Hmm, must polish up the French.

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  • Along the Loire

    The vines are into second bunch stage and have not been pinched out. My vine at home will be showing some shoots. The view below shows the vines sloping down toward the Loire river.

    Vines

    We headed off along the Loire south bank there were several viewpoints at comanding high spots, there is parking provided to savour the spectacle. It was Sunday and hardly a soul about. Our next night stop was at Domain des Calcaires parked among the vines near Montjean.

    May 5th. We are off to Angiers.

    We need to go French soon regarding our gas cylinders. I had decided on the new fixed regulator system which hopefully will be standard for all Europe, only needing the connector for the country of use cylinder type.
    I found a CampingCar dealer a small man and wife concern they were very helpful, Actually a Pilote dealer but they had spares compatible with Hymer so a new door catch was added to the list of purchases. In England such help was not provided by the Abbey dealer on my caravan under warranty. The poor chap spoke no English so had to put up with my French his wife was delighted to practice English with Sue.
    He didn't have a simple fixed regulator but fitted one with an automatic change over, trying varoius cylinder sizes and combinations to find the best position to fix.

    We took a quiet drive alongside the Loire north bank, stopping for lunch at Dagueniere where I took the opportunity of using the river wall to stand on to reach the door catch and replace it. We carried on to St Martin de La Place for an overnight stop on the banks of the Loire.

    Loire

    Here we met 'Marseilles' a lovely Frenchman from Brittany with his trailer and many 20ltr containers on the rear of his CampingCar, he was on the wine run. He gave us lots of tips on wine buying and tasting. Do not be afraid to walk away after a tasting without buying. Make it clear from the start how much you wish to buy, the producers will often want you to taste even if you only want one or two bottles. Do not pay more than 1 Euro per Litre.

    He gave us many places to visit, one of these was Marseiles, "you will get there in the time you have, Marseilles oh Marseilles you must see Marseilles." I gave him his nickname he could have been Sauterne but Marsilles has stuck..

     A Dutch van joined us. Hello he said, in fine English, phew, you speak English, I said, I thought I was going to have to try Dutch. Oh yes, we do. We conversed in English his, very very good, we need it for business he explained.

    May 6th

    We set of on the Chateaux run. Saumer, Chinon, Rigny-Ussey like a fairytale castle, then Azay-Rideux.

    Saumer

    Further south is a very interesting area. The limestone hills were quarried for the stone to build the big houses, and Paris. The caves resulting from the quarrying were lived in by the workers. The troglodite village of Villain has houses and a church which are facias on caves. The homes are still dwelt in, some minimal, some posh. Many homes are part of a Co Operative which weaves cane and basket ware. The cane being grown locally.

    Just south of here our next night stop was in Chinon, red wine, country, in a vineyard at Lille-Bouchard we tried a sample of wine in the cave from new bottle, the owner gave us the rest of the bottle, 'for your dinner Mssr.' We filled up our container with 2001 vintage, cost 2.8 Euro per ltr.
     
    The sun went down over the vines. We slept in the yard within reach of 6000 ltrs of 2001 on tap.

    Chinon

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  • The best four letter word

    I wonder if anyone has noticed that I have not mentioned the cost of our overnight stays yet, or the facilities provided.
    The answer to both of these is nothing.
    I researched the experiences of others who had toured in France. Particularly an Australian couple who did a long stay, boon docking.

    With the campingcar we have all we need in the way of facilities, fresh water 100 ltrs. Gas. Electricity 12 volts 170 Amp hours stored in Leisure batteries, charged by a 4 Amp solar panel and a wind generator capable of 20 Amps in a gale but around 5 Amps in a decent breeze.

    The shower is more efficient than many a hotel bathroom.

    In England we use the CL's of the Caravan Club, there is a an unfortunate trend for these sites to provide electric hook up and charge whether you use it or not. The story goes that EU law dictates that electricity cannot be resold so the price must be inclusive. Electricity is thereby not being sold at a profit. Oh yes, so how come some sites now increase prices in the winter when more electricity gets used.

    The French have a wonderful attitude, enjoying life is the most important factor and facilities will be provided. It seems that a French Campingcariste will stay the night somewhere as long as it does not say its forbidden.

    Aires de Camping Car are provided, by communities to attract trade to the region, water and waste facilities are provided, sometimes free, if they want to provide electricity they provide a coin in the slot system and sell as much as they want at what ever price they wish. Some times they provide electricity FREE, yep that is my favourite word.

    We discovered a brand new Aire in Normandy last year. It had neat stone walls with a window like opening to provide a river view, tarmac hardstanidng, grassed areas, tree plantings and flower beds. This provided by the locals for me, a stranger to use for free.
    Not many days prior to this, before leaving home in the UK the road outside my home was re tarmac'd.
    A previous burst pipe repair had left a chasm full of rubble which swam arround on top of clay. The contractors considered it needed re concreting, the council inspector confirmed, but each party also agreed that it could not be done properly as no one will want to pay.

    Many Farms, Vineyards and other concerns are members of organisations that encourage camping and in particular CampingCars, that, being self contained need nothing other than a quiet,safe, secure place to stay the night.

    Sheer numbers have caused problems in some places, hence hight barriers are being fitted to keep larger 'vans out of some parking places. In 2003 barriers were being fitted to some beachside parking places whilst we were there.
    I decided to see how much free we could make use of, by so doing you meet the real people of France.

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  • South Again

    7th May Day 8

    There are many more sights and Chateux to see along the Loire, but rather than suffer from chateuration we decide to head south for more sun and warmth. It has been overcast for a couple of days and still spring like. We decide to get the south done before the peak of heat and people. A warm day was spent on the road, past Richelieu and Chatagneraie making it to Vix to stay the night at a melon farm. The owner arrived home to find us in her drive waiting for her, she was clearly shocked, we were very early for her season and the site not prepared, long grass amoung trees by a lake, still very pleasant.

    http://i138.photobucket.com/albums/q269/campingcar/0009char.jpg

    Later in the year there will be a stall here and Charente Melons by the hundred will be sold. At the moment the is not a lot to see in the fields.
    Little did I know that further in land was an old friend I did not see much of, preparing to move to the Charente region having just retired. Once I found out there was only one question I needed answering. "How big is your drive."

    Next day off further south to La Rochele. North of the town is the industry and port. Ile de Rai is reached over a toll bridge too expensive just to go for a look so we headed up coast to Marsilly.A huge tidal bay with much mud, mussel and oyster rearing also carrelets, Large pocket nets dipped into the sea at the end of a jetty owned by the fisherman, with a shed at the end.

    Carrelet

    A long causeway of pebbles leading out into the bay gives access at low tide across the mud to oyster poles and mussel baskets on structures.
    Up the coast a little further we stay night at a honey producers. A very helpful lady, with the now customary, red hair, (dyed). The red hair must be in fashion, we had already noticed the prevalence. Sometimes we would see 3 French families all friends, the women all had same shade red hair.
    I think there is no foundation for my theory that red hair dye was a by product of Sadam's chemical weapon program.

    9th May, we visit the south side of La Rochele there is free parking by the marina for Camping cars, they are restricted in town, ample signposting gets you to a huge area where you can stay the night. We biked into the old town by the fort. It is lively a with market, an artist drawing charactatures etc.

    La Rochelle

    We needed loo emptying and water so we moved on to Foras where a finger of land extends into the bay, good beaches but the local characteristic of far retreating sea would restrict bathing were it warm enough.
     
    Foras

    Here we experienced our first wedding procession. The happy couple head the fleet of hooting cars driving slowly to the reception. The rear of one carried a gallows an effigy of the groom dangling from a rope. Hmm, I have never found it quite that bad. 

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  • Drive on the Right

    I find humour in all sorts of situations, I will say sorry to our French cousins if the comedy does'nt cross the channel well

    It is said that the French drive on the right. This is a mis-translation of dive to the right. They actually drive in the middle of the road. The motorist who is a coward dives to the right.

    I am amazed by the young, middle aged and even old grannies who 'lose it' on an inside bend. So often a car will come round a corner toward you, the driver hanging on for dear life as the vehicle drifts across the white line into your lane. Is this oversteer or understeer, come in Jeremy Clarkson. I can uderstand the car drifting wide when taking a bend, I have done it in my youth, the vehicle being flug out as if by centrifugal force. How do they do this one though? They can even do it up hill on moutain passes.

    As you get further south another characteristic comes out. The driver has one very brown arm hanging out of the window the other hand on the wheel as he streaks down the the middle of the road.

    My most exiting moment was meeting a Smart Car in the middle of the road, as I descended a hill, round a 90 degree bend. There was no room for me, thankfully I was going very carefully, stopped and this time he had to dive to the right.

    RH Drve

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  • Overseas Territories - the independent state of Oleron

    That is mainland France over there.

    Oleron

    .
    Oyster and Mussel culture abounds in the shallow waters of the coast, we travel further south filling up with water south of Rochfort, in a little village. We were caught by the toll across the river out of Rochfort, 6 Euro not a cheap bridge. I vowed not to use toll roads or bridges on our trip. Again the holiday maker needs those to get to the sun quickly, we dont. The motorways speed you past real France to meet your Brummie campsite owner who will have a nice Fish and Chip shop on site.

    The next bridge is nigh on 2 miles long over to Ile de Oleron. Again the oyster and mussel beds dominate on the east and south sides of the island. Not on the west where the Atlantic ocean thunders in. For the first time in France we spend two nights in the same place, at St Trojan on the promenade. French campingcaristes assured us it was OK despite there being an allocated area. The allocated area has no sea view and it is out of season and this is France. Gendarmes on motorcycles do a late night patrol and we may as well not exist.

    Around the coast to the south west. in walking distance is point Gatseau where the Atlantic breaks through preserving the island status it is beautiful but the winds off the sea made the eyes run.

    13th May
    Time to investgate the Island, at the north end are cliffs and lighthouse. The Grand Plage, on the west has giant sand dunes and golden beaches as far as the eye can see. There are several access roads through the forests. One I call Hitlers Road, it is as straight as a die from the port to the Atlanic, several kilometers. At the dunes are concrete bunkers and gun emplacements, 100 meters before that roadside pillboxes and more AA instalations.
    Apparently there are 30 miles of sandy beaches around the island.

    Grand Plage

    Our next night stop was in a designated area, overlooking the Atlantic with lots of French, one German van. Here the sound of the ocean is the background and the skylarks are deafening.

    !4th May
    We visit the capital of Oleron, St Pierre, it is a large village realy with narrow streets just off the center. We spend the night at a vineyard only a few hundred meters from the city center, a producer of Pineau des Charentes, after a degustation of White and Rose we opt for a bottle of Rose, supplied from the fridge ready to drink. If you are not familiar with Pineau it is wine that has had its fermentation stopped by the addition of brandy from the same grape. It is 'a bit nice'.

    Next day we cycle into town, the market square has internet access available, my first chance to get e-mails, closed on Thursdays ah well.
     The  laundry bag in the 'van was bulging and the Lavarie was open. We didn't know the system but returned with the van, parked in a small supermarket car park and while we shopped our laundry is washed and spun dry by a helpful lady. She spoke no English but was used to the international point and say it again language so with our French we understood everything  that was going to happen to our varied and unusual load. Cost 7.5Euro.

    When we returned the local Gendarmerie were out on the corners near their station handing out bags to blow into. One fellow with passengers a bit hippy looking did'nt stop too happily, blew in the bag and was out of the car round the corner to the station before we had walked past. This was about 5 pm on a nice sunny day and the third time we have seen a group of Gendarmes lurking at this time.
    Another occasion saw them at the entrance of a holiday park on a Friday evening as the campers arrived. A grand operation with police arriving in a 40 seater coach. Tyre checks, towing wieghts, vehicle searches and documemt checks were the last thing the arrivals wanted, but what a captive audience, all queuing up for it.
    I went to fill up with water just outside the camp, the coach was blocking my escape when I had finnished. A young lady in a bikini gave me 'dont get involved looks', she was driven off in her car, caravan behind, by a policeman. A policeman appeared from behind the coach and looked at me, I signalled that I would reverse out, he dissapeared, so did I as fast as possible. Would you like a policeman looking through everything you need for 6 months on the road.

    Tough when they need to be, but fair, is how they have been described, apparently they have far reaching powers.

    Otherwise the police do not show much.  The local van does an evening run down the prom at St. Pierre as do the motor cycle cops enjoying the evening air.
    It reminds me of the Southwold chief constable who said if he dies and goes to heaven it might be a bit busier.

    La Continerier is a fishing port. A fish seller did some animated Franglais to describe the cooking of Lagustines we all understand each other 100%.

    La Cotinerier

    We decided to spend the night, possibly the weekend at St Trojan with Langustines for dinner. I tried fishing as the tide swept in, I landed 2 School Bass the biggest got away at surf level, other good bites took the bait, local lug from the beach.

    An 8Km each way bike ride to Le Chateux across salt beds was spoilt by rain which started when we arrived. They still produce salt by evaporation of sea water here. The Chateaux area by the harbour was being used for a horse jumping event, there were more horses than spectators.

    Back for the night by the bay. It was a big low tide time so at night torch fishers arrived, even if low tide is at midnight they come. They spend hours wading out and combing the shallows for shellfish the chatter when they returned was energetic. It is a family weekend thing.

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