French second helpings 2012
Baldrick would be so proud.
My latest plan was so cunning that even I didn’t know what it was.
You see, the cunning part of our latest travel plan was that there wasn’t a plan at all.
Just how cunning is that then?
The non-existent plan, which of course wasn’t really a plan, was to head towards the sun and some warm weather after the appalling summer we had just endured in the UK, but first much depended on what the NHS decided to do about Kate’s dodgy hip.
The airshow season finished at RAF Leuchars on the 15th September and our last show had been the previous weekend at Duxford. The Pettaugh History Society AGM was held on the 12th so all that delayed us now was Kate’s hip assessment at Stow Lodge on the 17th. We were going to await the decision of that before booking a ferry or train but then I realised that the lower ferry fares need to be booked at least 48hrs before travelling. After some thought we came to the conclusion that the outcome of the assessment was likely to have one of two outcomes; either ‘more exercises and come back in four or five weeks’ or ‘we will refer you to the orthopaedic department and you will hear from them in four or five weeks’. Either way it seemed safe to book a holiday for four weeks so I went on-line and booked. Kate rather wanted to go via the tunnel but the cost was more than twice the ferry crossing. In the end I booked P&O for £88 return but, following a couple of noisy and crowded crossings, also added the Club Lounge at £24 for the return trip.
Day 1 & 2 Tuesday 18th – Wednesday 19th September
Left home just after 8am and after a stop at Morrisons to fill with fuel and top up the gas we were off on the haul to Dover. A lovely sunny morning with no traffic problems, even the M25 to the Dartford crossing was the lightest that I can remember.
I have said elsewhere that I use two sat-navs which some would think a bit OTT. One is built in to the in-dash entertainment system of our new motorhome and is set up to give us sensible routes for a large vehicle, sticking to main roads as much as possible. The problem is, in the cab of a motorhome you are sitting up high and the sat-nav it is low down in the centre of the dash, out of direct vision and often has the sun shining on it, all of which makes it difficult to see. My small portable Garmin sits on top of the dash, almost in line of sight and with a very bright screen, which makes it much easier to see when following a complicated route and for checking ones speed. The big problem with the bonkers Mrs. Garmin is that she seems to have a preference for goat tracks and narrow alleys no matter how I set her up. None of these options are healthy for 26ft and over four tons of motorhome or my sanity.
Once off the M25 we had the first argument with Mrs Garmin as one sat-nav said to take the M20 the other the M2. The M20 route always looks further on the map so we went on the M2 but watching the distance on the Garmin as it re-programmed it looked the same. The on-board sat-nav decided to lose its GPS signal on the M2 and so when we got to Dover I extracted the radio unit to investigate. I had had the unit out the previous day to check that the radio aerial was secure and must have disturbed the connector, despite the tape wound round it. It still refused to find a satellite until I removed the SIM card and replaced it so forcing it to re-boot. It then behaved all the way to our overnight stop.
The Club Lounge was excellent and well worth the extra £6 each. Well appointed and very comfortable with armchairs and low tables and it’s own outside deck with teak tables and chairs over the stern of the ship out of the wind. We were offered Champagne when we arrived and there was coffee, tea and fruit juice on tap plus newspapers. We ordered sandwiches which were brought to us and were delicious and served with a salad at a total cost of £10.50. It was quiet, peaceful and our fellow passengers seemed a like minded bunch.
We sat outside Calais for some time and when we finally went into port there was more delay as we waited for a berth. It seemed that lots of work was being done out of the peak season to make improvements. Having unloaded we had more delays as there were diversions due to road works and we had to trail around industrial areas and eventually joined the motorway.
So, now we were at last heading south with a long drive to our aire on the Seine. We arrived at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine (GPS N49°29’00.65” E0°46’25.91”) a few minutes before seven pm, just in time to pay ‘Monsieur’ his €5 for the night. Fortunately there were plenty of pitches empty so we were able to chose one nearest to the village.
We covered 297 miles @ 22.8mpg.
We had intended to eat in the restaurant next to the aire but were so tired after a long day that I was afraid I would go to sleep at the table and end up with my head in the soup bowl, so we opted for a pizza instead. Two huge pizzas, a couple of glasses of wine and in bed by 9pm. Both slept like logs.
Wednesday morning was cold, 3° outside, with thick mist over the river. Above the mist was a sparkling blue sky with not a cloud in sight. Barges looked ghostly as they loomed out of the mist and into the sunlight but it had all the signs of being a good day. As usual I toddled up to the boulangerie for our breakfast croissants and after breakfast it was chairs out and a natter with the neighbours.
On Wednesday evening we wandered along to the restaurant for dinner and very good it was too. Kate had smoked salmon starter followed by a sort of fish stew which she enjoyed, while I started with pâté and charcuterie followed by a lovely steak. The frites were to die for. With a couple of beers, wine and coffee the bill came to €72.
Day 3 Thursday 20th September
A slow start to Thursday morning and after breakfast and a natter to neighbours we were back on the road and heading south. I noticed an engine warning light was on but didn’t know what it was supposed to indicate and as everything seemed to be working OK we carried on to the next town where we were stopping for fuel. After filling up the light was still on so I pulled over to consult the manual. The light indicates a possible problem with the fuel injector system that might affect performance or economy. I opened up the bonnet and jiggled some of the cables and connectors that might have some bearing on that area of the engine and when I re-started the light had gone out. Result! The engine didn’t feel as free and eager as usual and I had commented on that as we were driving on Tuesday. The fuel consumption was not quite as good as usual either but I had put that down to head winds and fast motorway driving. The fuel consumption still seemed poor as we carried on driving south….around 21mpg.
We were heading to Le Chant d’ Oiseau at Mouliherne (GPS N47°25’50.22” E0°02’20.79’ www.loire-gites.com) and our friends Stu & Syb Bradley. I am always surprised by the long distances when touring in France. I really shouldn’t be after the number of times we have done it but looking at a map the Loire doesn’t seem far down south until you are driving. The fuel problem
seemed to clear towards the end of our drive and the engine felt much livelier and ended the day on a decent mpg figure. I reckon there was a bit of ‘crud’ in the diesel that partly blocked an injector and then cleared. We arrived at Le Chant to the usual warm welcome, not least from Bracken the dog, at about 4:45 after driving for 172 miles @ 23.7mpg. Total distance from home 470 miles.
Day 4 Friday 21st September
A really cold start to the day with a touch of frost but wall to wall blue sky. When I got up at 8am it was 0° outside and didn’t seem much higher inside. I put the heating on and went back to bed for a while. By the time I went over to get our croissants there was some cloud building and by mid morning it was raining. Instead of sitting out on our loungers in the sun we stayed inside for the day on our laptop and iPad, listening to the rain pitter pattering on the roof. The BBC lunchtime weather forecast talked about glorious days in East Anglia. Bugger!
As the evening wasn’t very warm Stu closed the curtains around the barn and lit the candles and so we had a cosy atmosphere for our communal supper. There were nine of us plus Stu & Syb and, as always, the conversation flowed all evening, as did the wine. Got back to a lovely warm motor home at about 10pm, watched some news on TV and in bed for eleven.
Day 5 Saturday 22nd September
A cloudy but warmer start to the day with a few patches of blue sky. We had some sun and sat outside for quite a while but when a cloud covered the sun it was a tad chilly. Cooked bangers on the BBQ but we ate inside as it was quite cool.
Day 6 Sunday 23rd September
After three very peaceful nights at Le Chant we headed south towards the Dordogne. No great rush though, so we split the drive in half with an overnight stop. First a stop at SuperU for fuel and to top up food and booze and then on through Saumur and on to the D 347, past Loudun and south to Poitiers where we joined the N10 to just past Ruffec. A left turn and into the pretty village of Verteuil-sur-Charente, dominated by its enormous chateau. We gingerly threaded our way through the narrow streets to our aire (GPS N45°58’48.01” E0°14’06.97”)which was small but very pleasant, situated on the edge of a park and, best of all, free. As we came south the weather warmed up and the cloud thinned to just an overcast with large clear patches of blue. After a walk round the village we got the chairs out and sat in the shade, it was still 29.9° at 5:30pm. We drove 123 miles @ 22.8mpg (strong headwind all day) 593 miles total.
Day 7 Monday 23rd September
What a noisy night! Cloud had started to build up as we sat out the previous evening and there were a few spits and spots of rain. I spent some time outside being instructed on the multiple faults of Auto-Trail motorhomes by our English neighbour; a man, in his eyes, of many talents and a thorough knowledge of everything that moved. One of the loud voice and bigoted opinions brigade, complete with singlet, tattoos, fag and large beer gut, he loudly informed me that the Vulcan always broke down and that Auto-Trails were a heap is SH one T. His long suffering wife, who countered that their Auto-Trail was the best motorhome they had ever owned, eventually called him in for his dinner.
Rumbles of thunder and the odd flash of lightning accompanied supper with occasional light rain. We went to bed with roof lights wide open to try and keep cool but soon there was a downpour and I had to leap out of bed to batten down the hatches. High wind and heavy showers all night but it was still warm in the morning @ 22°. I went off in search of breakfast to find that most of the few shops were closed. However, the butcher had a ‘pain’ sign outside so I managed to at least get a baguette.
Patchy cloud and some sun as we carried on south. At one stage we drove through heavy rain but it only lasted for a few miles. We arrived at our camp site, Le Port de Limeuil, (GPS N44°52’46.76” E0°53’10.11” www.leportdelimeuil.com) at around 3pm and chose a pitch with some views of the River Dordogne. As with most pitches in these parts we were surrounded by trees so no satellite signal but we had hook up, water at the pitch and free wi-fi if I walked up to reception. There was not a sound at the site and we could just see the river and part of the ancient village of Limeuil across the water, it was a lovely spot to thoroughly chill out.
Day 8 & 9
After a BBQ supper of steak and salmon we were in bed early and there was hardly a sound all night. I woke at 8am to the distant church bells calling the faithful to mass. It was quite dark because we were under the trees but is was also cloudy. The forecast had not been brilliant but, as always, we lived in hope that we might get a sunny day……it was not to be.
After lunch I went off to explore Limeuil with the camera and having reached the furthest and highest point from base it started to rain. After sheltering a couple of times the shower passed and I continued my decent of the steep streets. It was the most photogenic little place and almost deserted save for a few hardy souls like me wandering around taking pictures. I had hoped to find a shop where I could get some ingredients for lunch the following day but everything was geared up to serving the tourists with jewellery, clothes, and pottery.
By the evening it was raining again and it kept it up, non stop, all night and into Wednesday morning. By lunch time we just had a drip, drip from the trees and, although there was a little more brightness in the sky, there was no sign of the sun. The site was due to close on Friday and was very quiet with everything being run down. Map and books out and I decided that we head south east on Thursday to Rodez. In the mean time we watched red squirrels playing and chasing and burying nuts ready for the winter.
Day 10 Thursday 27th September
A few sharp showers early in the morning but there was blue sky when we got up. No croissants at the campsite shop for the second day but their bread was delicious. Still warm when I collected it and very crusty and airy, it also lasted better than most French bread. There were a few spits and spots of rain as we drove but when the sun appeared it was very warm. We stopped in a lay-by and both changed into tee shirts.
At Cahors we diverted into eLeclerk for supplies but they had 3m height barriers on the car park so after filling up with fuel we went just along to Intermarche and gave them our business instead. On leaving I followed the sat-nav towards the centre-ville but there was a height warning on the narrow street indicated so I kept straight on and we ended up with a huge detour out of the town and through the hills. We drove through the vineyards and over the hills in a circle to come back into Cahors from the other side and find our correct route.
The drive was over hilly and twisty roads which were quite rough and bumpy by the usual French standards until we crossed into the Aveyron Department where the smooth and well engineered roads were a treat. We found our aire at Rodez (GPS N44°21’28.45” E2°35’39.48”) without any dramas but there are only seven places and they were all full. I pulled in across the front and then decided that it would be difficult for anyone wanting to leave so I reversed out and into the ‘dump’ area while we worked on a plan. A British chap walked over to tell us that others in large vans had parked where we had been the previous evening as well as on the grass beside the dump and nobody worried. With some care I manoeuvred in between two small trees and on to the grass where we stayed for the night. Not only did we have a free aire, there were no large trees so I could get decent satellite reception, but I found a wi-fi router that was giving us a strong and fast Internet link. The router must have been in one of the factories or warehouses across the road because at 5:30 it got switched off. We also had some free entertainment when, with much hooting and honking crowds of young people started to arrive in a nearby car park. Tarpaulins had been laid out in the field opposite and they gathered there with a some of their number sitting in the middle. Bags of flour were thrown followed by water and chaos seemed to ensue. It turned out that they were first year student nurses going through a sort of initiation. They finished covered in a porridge of flour and coloured dyes and came over to the aire to try and wash off the worst under the water taps. They approached from the field like an invasion of zombies. It certainly kept us amused for a while and they seemed to have a good time too. Our days drive was 133 miles @ 24.2 mpg. Total miles for this trip are 837.
Day 11 Friday 28th September
After an excellent night on the aire, or should that be adjacent to the aire, because we were on a wide grassy verge beside the approach road, we moved south. We had contemplated drifting down the winding roads, through villages and having a look at aires until we found one we liked. It looked as though the weather might be about to improve and being Friday, when every camping-car in France seems to come out to play, we decided that a camp site might be a better option. Most aires are small and get crowded, there were thirteen on the Rodez one with seven marked pitches, and so one can’t get BBQ’s, awnings and loungers out to really enjoy the sun. Problem was, almost every site in that part of France had either closed or was about to close that weekend. A search of the ASCi book turned up a site at St-Pons-de-Thomièrs in the hills of the Monts de L’Espinouse in the Hérault region.
We left Rodez on the N88 heading south around Albi then joined the D612 down past Castres, then east to St-Pons which is roughly half way between Castres and Béziers. It was warm with hazy sun and a few patches of cloud as we climbed and climbed out of Rodez. We had already been at over 500 metres high but we reached 780 metres at the top of the ridge. The views were wonderful with mist lying in some of the valleys and ranges of hazy hills in the distance. The road was very good and we seemed to be going downhill for ever. It does wonders for the fuel consumption, at one stage we were showing 30.2mpg for the day.
It was lunch time when we arrived at Les Cerisiers du Jaur (GPS N43°29’23.88 E2°47’05.31 www.cerisierdujaur.com) and the office was closed so we found a pitch, no 42, and made ourselves at home. First of all lunch with a couple of glasses of rosé then the loungers out for a snooze. By this time the sun had almost disappeared behind the haze, although it was still bright. By 6pm it had started to rain gently but the BBQ was put together and, being a true Brit, a little shower was not going to put me off. The few spots of rain soon cleared off and the evening was quite warm as I cooked the most enormous Tolouse sausage outside while Kate heated rosti’s and beans inside.
We had covered 108 miles @ 27.9mpg. A total of 946 miles.
Day 12-13 Le weekend
The weather forecast for the weekend was not good with rain on Saturday but a gradual improvement on Sunday and through the following week. Friday night was surprisingly warm considering we were high in the hills but we had a couple of light showers during the night. Saturday morning was cloudy but with lots of blue patches so I tempted fate by pulling on shorts and tee shirt. After breakfast we took our coffee’s outside and sat in the sun………..for five minutes, when it started to rain. Unfortunately the forecast was correct as it poured down for the rest of the day. What is it with rain and weekends in this part of France? Earlier in the year we sat inside, in the rain, for the entire weekend at Carcassonne. The rain continued for most of the night, it was so heavy at times that we had lost the satellite signal, although Sky News got through the clag most of the time. We spent the evening listening to Radio 4 extra as we had exhausted the TV news.
Sunday started cloudy with a little drizzle in the air. I cooked bacon and tomatoes on the BBQ for breakfast and very slowly the clouds thinned. By mid afternoon there were small patches of blue sky which spread until at last the sun appeared……..briefly. BBQ steak and chicken for supper washed down with a bottle of Bergerac.
Day 14 Monday 1st October
Hooray! Blue sky and sun. This was forecast for the next few days and, so far, had been correct. After breakfast I put the bike together and cycled into town along the ‘green way’ an old railway track that has been converted for walkers and cyclists. It has the benefit of being nice and flat although it is a real bugger trying to stay upright while balancing on those narrow rails. I found the Intermarche at the top of the old town, got a few supplies and cycled back. Shorts on and out to enjoy the sun. Another Brit couple, Graham and Doreen, arrived with a caravan and pitched next to us. They were going into town for supplies and would we like to go with them? We took the opportunity, which saved us having to go in with the M/H in a couple of days. The rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun and another BBQ in the evening.
Days 15-16-17-18-19-20 Tuesday 2nd – Sunday 7th October
Lovely weather right through the week so we decided to stay where we were. Les Cerisiers really is quite a pleasant site, surrounded by wooded hills and quiet for most of the time. There is a little noise from the road at times but at night we are not aware of it at all. The pitches are large and open and equipped with water and grey waste drains, we can order bread and croissants for the morning and there is free wi-fi close to the office. The pool complex is good but unheated this time of year.
On Wednesday I unleashed my trusty bike and took off along the ‘green way’ (La Voie Verte) heading north east. I went as far as the old village of Olargues, about 16k, and had a wander round the steep streets and alleyways.
The village is listed as ‘Plus beaux villages de France’ and, although is is very ancient and rustic, I would not describe it as particularly beautiful in the way that some of the Dordogne villages are. Perhaps it is due to the lack of wealth on this part of southern France that the towns and villages are not ‘prettied up’ as they are in the more affluent areas. By the time I got back to base I was getting ‘cream crackered’ (why does it always seem to be uphill all the way back from a ride?) but it was just in time for lunch. After lunch we went into St-Pons with Graham and Doreen again for more supplies.
Thursday was just a lazy day enjoying the sun. Although the sun was hot the air was dry so it was quite comfortable lying on a lounger in swimming trunks. By Friday it had started to get a little hazy and more humid so one started to feel more sticky and uncomfortable. In the morning I set out on my bike again, this time heading west, until I reached the end of the green way. I had been correct in thinking that it seemed uphill on the way back from my previous trip as it was indeed slightly uphill going west, which meant that this time it was mostly downhill on the way back.
Saturday was cloudy all day and we spent some time inside watching the qualifying for the Japanese GP. BBQ supper of steak and salmon.
Sunday started cloudy again but warm with the sun poking through every now and again. Despite my cunning plan in not having a plan I spent part of the morning planning our next weeks itinerary………we now had a pl. ie. half a plan.
Head for the Med
Day 21 Monday 8th October
We left our nice comfortable site at Les Cerisiers to head a little further south to the Canal du Midi. There are two good and popular aires listed on the banks and I have fancied staying there for ages. It is another spectacular drive up and over a range of hills in the Haut-Languedoc crossing the top at 634 mtrs. at Col St-Colombe. Down the other side and there are distant hazy views of the Pyrénées and the dark dense oak woods change to more scrubby vegetation and the vineyards of Minervois. I had programmed the Garmin to take us to the nearest aire at La Redorte then on the the Intermarche at Trèbes for fuel and food and finally to the aire in the town from where we would decide which aire to stay on. When we reached La Redorte the signs were covered over and the aire was closed with building going on. Onwards to Trèbes and the supermarket then into the town to find that aire. Oh dear! No sign of that one either. Looks to have been closed and the area ‘prettied up’. Never mind, there is another aire in Puichéric, back along the D610 where we have just come from. When we get to the edge of the village there are signs to ‘Aire de Camping Car’ but not the one in the book. We follow the signs towards the canal, then way past and into the countryside, eventually turning up a narrow track and up the hillside. This is obviously a private enterprise and it all looks a little tatty so we think better of it and turn round. What I didn’t spot was a steepish drop on my blind side as I reversed and we went aground as the rear wheel went down the bank. Panic was rife for a moment as the wheels spun when I tried to go forwards and there was graunching noises when I tried to go back. All out for an inspection and it seemed that just the step was in the dirt so I gently went backwards and we were extricated with no visible damage done. After all that we went back to the village to find that the aire listed in the book had also closed and been built on. By now we were on to Plan E and decided a safe bet was to go east to Gruissan where we had stopped the previous year. There are two aires there, one at the port and one at Gruissan-Plage. We thought we would have a look at the plage as we hadn’t been there before so, sat-nav set, that is where we headed only to find it closed. One hundred percent failure rate, four out of four aires closed in one day. Must be some sort of record. So, now on Plan F, we made for the port (GPS N43°06’15.12 E3°05’58.80”)which was, thank god, open. Phew!!!
We drove for 91 miles @ 24.2mpg and our total to date was 1037 miles.
It was a lovely warm afternoon with a very Mediterranean feel to it. We sat and watched the world go by then, as the sun moved round, sat outside and read our books. There was a very intense game of boules going on and a group of French were starting a noisy supper between two motorhomes. We went early to bed and read our books with all the roof lights wide open to keep cool. We didn’t seem to be in bed very long when there was the sound of rain, out of bed and close all the vents, only for the rain to stop after 5-10 minutes. Open the big roof light wide again and try to get back to sleep when the wind started to get up and the rigging on the boats started to clatter and clank. Close the roof light a bit because of the wind. Finally I got a reasonable nights sleep.
Day22 Tuesday 9th October
A lovely morning with sun and blue sky and so we decided to stay where we were. We were parked in the middle of the aire but moved to the edge overlooking the marina with a fine view of the boats. We were also clear of any dust that might get blown up by the wind later and the side door was facing south into the sun.
We spent most of the day sitting in the sun until it got too hot after lunch and we retreated to the cool of the motorhome. I had put a bottle of ‘bubbly’ in the fridge before we left home, intending to open it on our first evening or for a special occasion. The special occasion never seemed to present itself so, as this might be our last warm and sunny day, the cork was popped at lunchtime. A couple of small glasses with lunch and the rest before supper that evening. As the heat cooled at the end of the afternoon we took a stroll around the marina and sat on a bench looking at the boats and the lovely blue water. At almost 6pm it was lovely and warm and the sun still had a little heat in it.
Very tasty pork chops for supper and we watched some news on TV then found that ‘Mama Mia’ was on so we watched that until the end. It seems the French Air Force (FAF, those initials seem somehow appropriate) were on low level night flying exercises as we had jets screaming over us for an hour or so early in the night.
Day 23 Wednesday 10th October
Sun and blue sky again so we stayed put. Got to make the best of the weather because it didn’t look too good from Thursday onwards, so we delayed our drive north by another day. A little high cloud during the day but it was warm and in the afternoon it was positively hot. Swimming trunks on and lap up what might be the last of the sun for this year. At 7:30pm we were still sitting outside with a cold drink and nibbles watching the evening boules session. Turned the hot water heater off to help keep the bedroom cooler at night and had the roof wide open.
Heading north and home
Day 24 Thursday 11th October
On the road again as we head north on the start of our long haul home. We were away sharpish from the aire after filling up and dumping water. Into Narbonne to get food at Carrefour only to realise when we get there that they have height barriers all round there car park. On to Intermarche instead then off towards Béziers then north on the A75 to our planned overnight stop at St-Flour where our book lists two separate aires. It was a fantastic road with very light traffic and we were heading for the hills of the Massif Central. We climbed up and up and up, our highest point was 1121mtrs (over 3600 feet). We detoured off the motorway to avoid the high level viaduct and its even higher level tolls at Millau. We made good time on the motorway and arrived at St-Flour just after 2pm. Plan A was abandoned when we reached the aire at the bottom of the town and thought it had nothing to offer so went on the the other aire at the top of the town. That was in a large and busy car park under trees where we stopped for a quick lunch and a coffee. Kate was not impressed so Plan B was dumped and Plan C was hatched. St-Flour was to be a stopover on the way to the lovely lakeside stop near Roanne so we decided to press on and get there in one day rather than two.
The second half of the drive, after we turned off of the motorway, was over hills and steep valleys on tortuous roads made more difficult by showers that turned to heavy rain and thunder. Up and down, round and round, the route was hard work and the roads often bumpy. On the motorway one can click off the km’s in no time but this was slow going. We finally arrived at Lac de Villerest (GPS N45°59’11.25” E4°02’34.64”) at 5:45 to light rain and lots of cloud. There was just one other M/H there and it seemed so different from that sunny June day when we were last there.
We had covered 301 miles @ 24mpg. 7355 miles on the clock.
Day 25 Friday 12th October
More cloud when we got up, although there were small patches of blue, so we moved north again. No point sitting in the van looking out at the murk. A quick fill with fuel and on to Roanne to join the N7.
Some of the N7 is ordinary road and some motorway so we made good time to our overnight stop at Camping Touristique de Gien (GPS N47°40’55.90 E2°37’23.32” www.camping-Gien.com). It was on the banks of the Loire overlooking the old town of Gien with its church, castle and ancient bridge. The sun was now out and the river and town looked a picture.
I paid an extra €3 for 24 hours Internet access because we were waiting for the Vulcan newsletter ( www.vulcantothesky.org ) which was to contain a statement on XH558’s future. It was the news that we half expected…….2013 would be her last flying year. Quite a bit of sadness in our thoughts that evening as we wondered what we would be doing with ourselves in 2014.
It had been an easy days drive at 168 miles @ 24.2 mpg. Not a bad mpg figure considering we had a strong head/cross wind. Distance for the trip was now 1506 miles.
Day 26 Saturday 13th October
A chilly start as I once more turned the heating on……we must be getting closer to England. As we were getting ready for breakfast we thought we could hear cow/sheep bells clanking. Kate opened the blind and there were a flock of sheep and goats coming through the site and along the river bank, accompanied by several dogs and one rather ancient looking shepherd. They nibbled and browsed as they went, the larger billy goats standing upright on their back legs to reach the young shoots on the willow trees. It was a magical sight and sound to start the day. After topping up the water and dumping the waste we were back on the road north. As it was Saturday there were few HGV’s on the roads and traffic was light. Rain and thunder had been forecast and sure enough we started to run into showers and then really heavy rain. The road round Chartres was awash and the visibility was awful. Still, we made good time and reached Le Mailleraye (GPS N49°29’00.65” E0°46’25.91”) at 2:40, just in time for lunch. The grass on the river bank looked pretty soggy and the few motorhomes were all parked up under the wall, well away from the river. Not wanting to risk getting stuck or the rising river level following all the rain we joined them at the slightly higher level.
We did 183 miles @ 24.5mpg with 7708 miles now on the clock.
Day 27 Sunday 14th October
We went along to the restaurant for dinner on Saturday evening and had a very pleasant meal. We were lucky to get a table, the last one that was unreserved, as others that followed us in were turned away. A chilly start again on Sunday morning so I put the heating on and returned to bed for a while. We spent a quiet day watching the river in the sunshine which was punctuated by one or two showers. Watched the Korean GP highlights in the afternoon, won by Vettel with Button being forced out in a first lap shunt and Hamilton struggling with a badly handling car to finish ninth.
Day 28 Monday 15th October
After our quiet and restful day watching the river we were back on the road and heading for the channel. As we were about to leave I wandered along to where another couple of motorhomes were talking as one of them also had an Auto-Trail. As we started to talk I realised we had chatted before, we had met at Rosemarkie in Scotland in July when he was out for a stroll from his home in the village. How strange to meet him again in France.
We left Le Mailleraye and after crossing the river stopped at E.Leclerk at Yvetot for some supplies, both food and booze, to help us through the winter. Onwards to Calais, this time keeping off the peage and taking the D1001. A stop at Majestic for more winter warmers and a top up of fuel and we went to the aire by the port (GPS N50°57’57.50” E1°50’37.67”) for the night. I had often thought it was in a great position, overlooking the beach and port, but was concerned by the amount of noise there would be. Some people say that it is no noisier than the ships on the Seine. We arrived there at 5pm and had almost a day to chill out before our crossing the next day.
We did 156 miles @ 25.9mpg. The total on the clock was 7864.
Day 29 Tuesday 16th October
We spent a fairly peaceful night on the Calais aire. There was some engine noise from ships but it went quiet for most of the night. We had parked quite close to the harbour entrance so had to expect more noise, had we kept closer to the aire entrance or further back near the high wall I’m sure it would have been quieter. There was quite a strong wind and although we were sheltered by the other vans beside us our van was still rocking at times. We had a snack for lunch and after dumping waste we made our way to the port, arriving there rather early. They put us on an earlier ferry, Pride of France, which was due to leave at 15:20, 45 minutes earlier. We were parked on the car deck right beside the lift which took us straight up to the Club Lounge where we spent a very comfortable crossing despite the force 6-7 conditions.
A very uneventful drive home via the M20 with light traffic, even the Dartford Crossing was queue free. It was dark by the time we got home at just after 7pm but also very cold after our time ‘down south’.
Miles for the day were 146 @ 24mpg. Total for the whole trip were 1994 @ 24.2mpg with 8011 miles total now on the clock.