Summer 2013: Week 1 – Driving north through France
Friday 14th June 2013
We’re off again but not the first time since our last blog at Easter when we went up to Andorra on a skiing expedition.
About a month ago we were invited to join neighbour Alix and her local geocaching group to visit a cave in France. We got everything ready in the van and then I read that we were not allowed into the cave between November and May for fear of disturbing the residents; the bats. However, we never waste an opportunity and as we were all loaded up we headed across the border to Ceret to buy some cherries. Spring is so late this year there were none to be bought so after one night in the wild we headed towards the coast. We never got quite to the coast; a lot of the beaches have height barriers, so collected a few geocaches placed by French expert Philovelo (pillowcase to Jo).
A night within a mile of two of the sea and Sunday spent drifting home along the coast road.
We have since been to the cave and found the cache.
Now, once again we are leaving Spain for about three months. The initial plan was to visit Scotland and to attend a wedding at a Scottish castle. The plan was changed when the wedding venue was changed and Scotland is not on the list for this year. Still, we will get as far as Holy Island in Northumbria. Also on the agenda is Cornwall, Suffolk, Wales and Surrey and all points in between. We will make a detour to Florence on the way home to catch another wedding.
Leaving home is always a bit traumatic for me. Jo just turns the key on her flat and walks out. (oh yeah!! -Jo) I let my house to summer visitors so it has to be left in an immaculate state, all the linen washed and stored ready for the agents and all my private stuff has to be put away in the garage. There is so much to do and to remember and of course, I always manage to forget something plus I am trying to sell my villa by the Med. any takers?
We were going to leave last Wednesday night to meet long standing friends Ken & Carol at a campsite near Biarritz but a last minute change of car meant that they were unable to leave until 18th June and by that time we had planned to be at Jo’s brother’s summer place near Chinon. Just as well, because we didn’t manage to get away until 6:30 in the evening on Friday and then we had to go into Empuriabrava to get some cash and then back home as yours truly had forgotten to hand the keys to the swimming pool room to a neighbour who is going to look after things waterwise whilst I am away. 7:30 and at last we were on our way. After our trip to Ceret when we eschewed the motorway and took the road up to Le Perthus and spent a couple of hours doing ten miles we hit the toll road. We were in Le Bancares in no time and pulled onto one of the side roads near to the salt lakes and a chance at last to wind down watching the stilts and terns in front of the setting sun.
Saturday 15th June 2013
We needed an early start as this was going to be a long day in the saddle but first a geocache, just 125 metres away and an easy find for she who speaks French. The second was not so easy and as we were on a steep scree slope in flip flops we gave up. That reminds me of a joke that Steve’s son Jamie told me. “What do you call a French man who wears flips flops?” “Felipe Felope, of course!”
We joined the motorway to get round Narbonne and Beziers; we have got lost circumnavigating these cities in the past and then joined the A75 going north and free at least until the Millau bridge where they relieve us of about ten euros. We did not stop but have some pictures of this magnificent, British designed mega structure in last year’s summer holiday blog. Onto another magnificent structure the Eiffel bridge. Again more pictures in last year’s blog. I was more concerned about getting some air in the tyres. These special campervan tyres run at 5.7 bar, about 87 lbs/sq in and if you plug into most inflaters the air goes the wrong way or you have to keep feeding them with coins until they get up to pressure or you have to find a garage that services lorries and there is one here and the air is free.
With the Puy de Dome in sight we knew we were near the aire at Champeix. Maybe I’ll get a look at that road up the Puy well known to all racing cyclists of a certain age who remember the great battle between Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor. If only Pou Pou had attacked earlier!
As usual we have brought our bikes with us but not used them yet.
We met an English couple from Leek at the aire. They were heading south for the sun in their very new Chausson.
Supper was interesting as we empty our houses of all food when we go away so we are eating a variety of odds and ends, partly drunk bottles of this and that, old jars of pate, jam, marmalade and the occasional treat we have bought and not consumed including my favourite tipple Crabbie’s ginger beer.
Sunday 16th June 2013
We had a bit of a lie in and were last out of the aire this morning. Tanks emptied we headed up towards Clermont Ferrand. I was going to shout “Dunlop”* as we drove through the city but there were too many sets of traffic lights! I did not realise we had to go right through the city to get there but sat nav told us we must. We arrived at a huge car park with a dedicated area for motorhomes and there were plenty of them. We took a saunter over to a new building which turned out to be the terminal for a rack railway to the summit. We had not considered going to the top; well, I had visions of me emulating Poulidor and riding up there but I have seen the photos and know how steep it is! The “zipper” was only about ten euros each so we hopped on. The railway was only built a couple of years ago at huge cost to local taxpayers, the French government and the EU but it is a superb attraction, one of the “Grand Sites de France”
Michelin *(whose home is in Clermont Ferrand) put up a prize at the beginning of the last century for the first pilot to take of in Paris, circle the cathedral twice and land on the Puy de Dome. The prize of 100,000 Ffrs was won by Eugene Renault. Was he one of the two brothers who built a certain 2 horse power car, the 2cv? (See later for a photo).
The site is an ideal place for an antenna and of those there are plenty for radio, television, the French air force etc. The huge main antenna was built on the site of the Temple of Mercury. The authorities are restoring what remains of it in their usual style – with concrete blocks!
We decided to walk down but having started we remembered an earlier discussion having seen people doing the “Lapland wave” trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Here they were only flies so we decided to brave it. We just had to keep our mouths closed! I went first to plough a furrow.
The path down was longer than the road and down a kilometre of wooden steps, very hard on the toes and probably a million of the fifty or so millions cost. We were hot and tired at the bottom. Cold showers in the van and table and chairs out to enjoy the rest of the day, supper with some left over wine and now, at 9pm I am writing this blog and Jo has retired to the van with her Kindle.
I have made a mental note to read up on the Anquetil/Poulidor battle from the early sixties. I might also get to reading “Sex, lies and handlebar tape”, the story of Jacques Anquetil which I have on my tablet. He led a very colourful life for a racing cyclist.
Monday 17th June 2013
We made a very early start for us, had a walk around the site and were emptied and on the road well before nine.
We had quite a long way to travel if we were to get to the lakes area near Mezieres en Brenne. We stayed here last year and had a bit of difficulty finding it this time amongst the myriad lakes there are in the area. The satnav proved useful as it gave us a list of nearby restaurants and Jo recognised one. It has become quite clouded over and has started to rain but we have pitched up in an almost deserted field overlooking the lake, the Etang de la Gabriere.
The lakes are huge, several acres, but quite shallow and there are ducks, swans etc all with their heads on the bottom and their tails in the air.
Last year the toilet block was occupied by a flock of swallows who were using the toilet as a… well, toilet! So far they have been conspicuous by their absence but we noticed as we left that there is a cleaning lady. Cleanliness obviously comes before providing housing for swallows here. Still there are many barns round here so I doubt the poor things will be homeless for long.
Can’t get through to our first hosts Robin and Pippa on any of our mobiles although we seem to have a good signal so, no prior warning, guys, we are just going to turn up. I hope you’ve got the coffee on!
My new bike is getting wet!
Tuesday 18th June 2013
The rain continued all through the night with occasional interruptions which allowed us to sleep. We were not expected at Robin and Pippa’s until late afternoon so we had all day to do about 150kms.
We pottered along looking at the scenery and collected a geocache or two along the way. Well, seven actually. We walked in the rain down to the river in Chatellerault me in a modern day pacamac and Jo in a poncho both in shorts/cut offs and crocks. Ideal wear really as you don’t end up with sodden trainers, wet socks and soggy trouser legs.
A couple more and we entered the Bois de Cuismes and a trail through the woods. Outfitted as before the path was over ankle deep most of the way but all the caches were found to be dry.
Time to push on a bit and a van stop at L’ile Bouchard to empty tanks as we would be stopping at R&P’s for a few days. We ate supper outside as the rain had relented but not for long and the strawberry dessert was eaten indoors.
Later; A cracking thunderstorm and continual torrential rain. The gutters could not cope and the river level was visibly rising.
Wednesday 19th June 2013
It’s STILL raining, the river keeps on rising so I am indoors. Jo has gone to LeClerc to get some supplies and I am writing this blog amongst other things.
It clears up briefly during late afternoon so we set the table on the terrace for eight. Citronella candles lit to ward off the mossies and first two courses enjoyed amid witty banter and laughter and much beating of each other as mossies landed looking for some tasty blood.
We dived indoors for the final course. The mossies did not win, the rain did.
A wonderful evening of stories from long ago and more recent ones from Dick and Patricia from Connecticut, John and Barbara from the UK and from our hosts, Robin and Pippa. The river rose even higher and if I can copy the photo off Jo’s iPad I will post it here. Suffice to say it was dirty brown and I for one will not be swimming in it!
Thursday 20th June 2013
Will summer ever arrive?
More rain but it dried up for the afternoon so Robin and I set about repairing the front gates or at least rehanging them. The old hinges had to be dug out of the stone portals, a trip to the local hardware store in the 2cv for rapid drying cement and the gate on the left was soon fixed. That was enough work for one day as the rain was keeping off and the annual game of boules had to take place. Now the first time I came here I was led astray. Whenever it was my turn to play my glass was filled with an ever stronger concoction of drink so at the end I was completely unable to focus on the cochinette. The girls won! Last year I was a bit more careful about leaving my glass on the table and the men just scraped a win. This time I remained stone cold sober and the men whitewashed the girls 13-0.
Friday 21st June 2013
Robin stayed at the house in case the builders needed any guidance or information so Pippa took Jo and I to Richelieu to visit the market and have a look round the town designed and built by the cardinal of that name. There were three caches in the town; the first eluded us, the other two were in the park. That was closed due to floodwater so we headed for home.
After lunch Robin and I got on with the gates. Hinges cemented in place it was time to check if they would swing, which they did. Next was the lock which was an antique. After carefully removing it it was patently obvious the spring was well past its sell by date but Robin said he would ask Hubert, the neighbour, if he could help. He wasn’t in so a jury locking system was developed and installed.
A shower and we set off for the music festival in Chinon. It was a bit cold so we ate indoors. We declined the coffee and desserts opting to find a street café near a jazz band. We checked out a couple and then it started to rain. We headed for the nearest café but it was full so we sat outside under the parasols but despite that we got soaked during a heavy downpour. After half an hour it stopped but the various musicians decided they had had enough and were packing up so we headed