Trip one, four weeks in May & June
Day 1 & 2, May 10th – 11th
We took the 12:05 P & O ferry from Dover to Calais after a windy and damp morning.
This is our first full trip in our brand new Auto-Trail Delaware.
The forecast was for rain and strong winds in the channel, 24mph, gusting to 38mph. I started to think that we should have booked the tunnel instead. Despite my fears the crossing was very smooth and the rain had disappeared.
The drive, on both sides of the channel was smooth and uninterrupted, and we made good time to our first overnight spot at Le Mailleraye-sur-Seine. As we drove into the town there was bunting stretched high across the road which should have alerted us to a problem. Sure enough the main street was filled with a fairground and a diversion round to the aire just took us to more fairground rides and caravans. The aire was jam packed with the show men’s vans and trailers and it was quite obvious that we weren’t going to be spending the night in our favourite spot. Bugger!
Revert to Plan B. Except that we hadn’t made a Plan B. A quick look at the campsite guides found a site near Caudebec, Barre-y-Va, (GPS N49°31’17.83” E0°42’07.77”) which sounded OK. We retreated back over the Pont de Brotonne and followed the road beside the river to the site just west of Coudebec. There were four pitches for camping cars on hardstandings near the entrance and with good views of the river and the Pont in the distance. The only fly in the ointment was that the road ran between the site and the river and was just feet away over the hedge. The traffic reduced during the evening and it was fairly quiet during the night but got really busy early in the morning. Had it not been for the busy road we might have stopped for a further night but we decided to head south towards the Loire.
The town of Gacé sounded interesting and there is an aire right in the centre beside the chateau (GPS N48°47’44.76” E0°17’45.88”). We arrived in time for lunch and although the signs said that parking for camping cars was authorised from 17:00 to 10:00 we joined another British van and straddled half a dozen parking places. After lunch and coffee we strolled around the very pleasant little town. The chateau is certainly impressive and the whole area is quite smart and well looked after.
We spent a quiet night despite being in the centre of town. Fortunately the bells on the clock tower were silenced at night although they made a very pleasant sound during the day. There was a bit of traffic noise as people started their day but little to disturb the peace. The front of the chateau was lit up by the sun and the main part of the car park in front was closed off by barriers. It was soon obvious why as a stream of Lotus cars started to arrive. All were pristine and polished to within an inch of their lives. There was one lonely Alfa and several Caterhams. A small table was set up and croissants were eaten as the owners chatted and compared notes in the morning sun. After a while engines were started and they all drove off in convoy for a ‘jolly’ through the countryside.
For us it was also croissants from the boulangerie just across the road then we were on our way south. We are heading for the Loire and our friends, Stu &Syb at Le Chant d’Oiseau.
Not only did we receive our usual warm welcome when we arrived at Le Chant but the sun shone for the whole day.
Le Chant d’Oiseau
Possibly our favourite site. (GPS N47°25’50.22” E0°02’20.79’ www.loire-gites.com )
We have been to Le Chant several times before and always enjoy the peace and quiet and laid back lifestyle there. Le Chant d’Oiseau means “the song of the birds” and that is just about all one hears there, set in unspoilt countryside of forests and fields above the valley of the River Loire.
Lots to talk about with Stu & Syb, so after supper on Saturday they came over and shared some wine and beer with us.
Sunday and Monday were just spent sitting in the sun reading and generally chilling out, the usual mode of life here. It is just so peaceful, no traffic noise and just an occasional aircraft. The noisiest things are the birds, followed by the sound of the wind in the trees. Perfect!
We did watch the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday which was won by Pastor Maldonado for Williams. A very popular victory to add to Sir Frank’s seventieth birthday celebrations.
On Tuesday we needed to stock up on food and booze so drove to Super U. We had told Stu we would move to another pitch as another regular was due to arrive later and he had requested pitch 3 when he booked. When we came back from shopping we repositioned and checked for a satellite signal. It was poor and broken on pitch 2 so I pulled further forward on to pitch 1. After a lovely start to the day it clouded up, then we had some short, sharp showers and a blustery wind interspersed with short flashes of sun.
We had intended to move on from Le Chant after 3-4 days but Stu threw a spanner in the works by asking if we would be up for pizzas on Wednesday evening…..well, what could we say. So, we all met around the tables in the barn and Stu did his magic at the pizza oven. Joining us was a Dutch couple and two couples from Suffolk. Phil & Linda come from Needham Market and Roz and mother, Sarah, came from Orford & Walberswick. To add to the coincidence Phil worked for Dixons for several years. The pizzas were the best yet and we all had an excellent evening.
Thursday morning started grey and showery as we packed up to go. We were intending to go to the Dordogne but our first choice of site isn’t open until 1st June. Our second choice is out in the wilds and the weather forecast for the weekend isn’t good so we decided to drive a shorter distance and stop north of Limoges. We made very good time with light traffic and, as it was a public holiday, there were no trucks on the roads. When we stopped for lunch we decided to press on to Souillac and stay on the aire overnight. (GPS N 44°53’29.30” E 1°28’35.56”) We arrived at about 5.30 to find plenty of space although it quickly filled up during the evening. A lovely warm evening with hazy sun and the song of blackbirds.
230 miles today @ 24.2 mpg. 724 miles for this trip.
Day 9. Friday 18th May.
A cloudy and murky morning with cloud hanging round the tops of the hills. There is a market in Souillac so I bought our croissants and bread there. Once packed and ready to hit the road we drove along to the supermarket to fill up with fuel and get some supplies, then headed south on the D820. The previous day plans A-B and C had been abandoned in favour of plan D so why do things differently today? After a few miles driving through heavy drizzle I thought ‘why not just keep heading south?’ So we did. All the way down the D820 to Toulouse then east on the D813 to Carcassonne and Camping de la Cite. (GPS N43°12’00.70” E1°28’35.56” www.campingcitecarcassonne.com)
So, here we are at 18:00 pitched up and looking out on cloud and a few spots of drizzle. Not quite what we hoped for after a 900 miles drive south. The whole of France seems to be much the same for the next couple of days so I guess we will just have to sit it out.
170 miles today @ 23.7mpg. Total for this trip is 897 miles.
Day 10 & 11.
Had supper in the site restaurant that night. Kate had salmon and pasta and I had steak and frites. My steak was rather poor but everything else was super including a very good bottle of Minervois.
Saturday and there is lots of blue sky when we first wake up but the cloud steadily builds during the morning and by lunchtime there is a little drizzle. We moved pitches so that we were away from the trees a little with the hope that we might get a satellite signal as well as more sun. It seems we are right on the edge of the satellite footprint as it can’t quite get enough signal to hold on to. By the afternoon it is thoroughly wet, wet, wet. Small groups of cyclists arrive looking sodden and then start to erect their tiny tents in the pouring rain. We look on from our warm, dry and comfortable motorhome. It rains on and off during the night and for some of the day on Sunday. Tomorrow we will move on to the Cote d’ Azure in the hope of finding better weather in the shelter of the mountains.
What an ‘orrible day!
Rain, traffic, lost in the city and crunch.
Day 12. Monday 21st May.
We left Carcassonne in between showers and as we drove through the miles of Minervois vineyards the sky looked brighter. We were optimistic that the weather was about to improve…….wrong. We made good time on decent N & D roads (we try not to use peage motorways) and even Montpellier was easy to navigate. Most of the time we drove through light rain as we crossed the Camargue to Arles with a stop en-route for lunch and then south east towards Marseille. That was when the problems started.
Our trusty built in sat-nav had kept us on the straight and narrow even when the portable Mrs. Garmin (I use two sat-navs) wanted us to go down goat tracks, so we followed it into the city. Unfortunately the junction where we should have turned left was closed due to roadworks so we took the next available left. That all seemed to be working, even though we were right in the centre of the busy city streets, until half way down a long straight road there was a bridge with a 3.2 mtr height warning. Our safe height is 3.3 although I think we can get through 3.2 but I wasn’t going to take the risk. So, a rapid detour left, up quite a narrow street with cars and vans parked and double parked, and follow Garmin through the back streets until we eventually came to a thoroughfare. We reached a turn to the motorway but I took the wrong slip and ended up going under instead of over. A quick left turn under the motorway, thank goodness the height was OK and blow me, carefully following the sat-nav we took the wrong slip again. We found ourselves going back up the thoroughfare we had just come down with the sat-nav telling us to do a U turn where there were ‘No left turn’ signs. Eventually I spotted a slip road to enable us to cross the traffic flow and turn round so pushed my way over three lanes of busy traffic and into the slip. Back down the thoroughfare and this time took the correct slip onto the motorway. Phew!
Now it was over the mountains, past Circuit Paul-Ricard, and down the other side. It was a good road but steep and winding with some quite tight bends. Through the Gorge d’Ollioles and on to Toulon.
On the motorway into Toulon the traffic was at a standstill. We crept forward slowly and eventually got into the centre only to be held up in another jam. After an age we got through and got caught again when we reached Hyeres. Once past that we were on the last leg and we were tired and it was getting late. Added to that it was still bloody well raining. We took a wrong turn again when we reached La Faviere and ended up down by the marina with the sat-nav trying to take us up a narrow lane. With height barriers everywhere I turned around and we eventually found our way back to the road we had come down. At last we arrived at La Lavandou and Camp du Domaine (www.campdudomaine.com) and as I checked in the heavens opened yet again.
We were allocated pitch J8, right on the junction of two roads, overlooking the sea. It is a huge site and we had to follow the map round the winding roads until we found the pitch. It was still pouring with rain as I drove on but I then decided that we should have the door facing the sea and needed to turn round. With mirrors covered in rain and a misted up reversing camera I reversed back onto what I thought was the road. A sickening crunch and the sound of things smashing, I pulled forward and we both got out to find that I had hit a low ridge of rock and broken the plastic trim panel below the rear lights. I abandoned the turn around and just drove onto the pitch, hooked up the electric and beat myself up for being so stupid.
We had driven for 281 miles @ 25.1mpg.
We had intended to eat in the site restaurant but Kate suggested corned beef hash instead as good comfort food. Next morning still more bloody rain. At least we have a nice view of the sea and it seems to be a very pleasant site. The neighbours, all German, Swiss or Dutch, seem friendly and offer sympathy for our little mishap. It is only a plastic trim that is easily replaced they tell me. As things start to dry out a little I get the ‘bodge’ tape out, luckily the same silver as the damaged parts, and put the jigsaw puzzle of plastic back together. It all fits quite well and our lovely new motorhome looks fairly respectable again.
I decide to have another shot at turning round and this time am successful with Kate seeing me back. Now we can set up camp.
Camp du Domaine.
This is the life!
By Tuesday evening the weather is improving along with my mood. We walk to the restaurant/bar and order takeaway pizzas. They are huge and delicious and we can’t finish them so they are cling filmed and put into the fridge for lunch the next day.
Wednesday morning and we have blue sky and sunshine…..at last. Ground sheet and chairs come out of storage and after doing our chores the rest of the day is spent sitting and reading and just looking at the lovely views. Lunch outside with a gin & tonic to start and just move between sun and shade for the afternoon. The BBQ is put together to cook sausages for supper but just as we about to start cooking we have a shower of rain. It’s nowt but a few drops but we have moved inside so that’s where we stay.
After a warm night Thursday is wall to wall blue sky and sunshine when we get up. I get the bike out and go to the shop for tomatoes to grill with bacon for breakfast. A lazy day sitting and reading….again. It is the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend and practice is shown on BBC red button channels, which along with Sky News are about all I can get on the satellite, so we sit and watch while we have lunch. Chicken and steak on the BBQ for supper and this time there is no rain to send us inside.
Friday is a repeat of Thursday with sun and blue skies. After doing our chores we sit out, alternating between sun and shade. For supper we go down to the restaurant where Kate has chicken and I have duck breast, both with frites. Delicious! Back to base for a nightcap.
When we booked in at the site I had told the receptionist that I didn’t know how long we would stay and so he put five nights on the invoice. I just assumed that we could stay longer if we wished but while we sipped our nightcap there was a knock at the door and we were handed a slip that said our pitch was reserved after 10am the next day. When reception opened at 8am I asked if we could stay until Monday but was told that our pitch was reserved and they could only offer us a choice of three others. I cycled off to check them out but they were pretty grotty so decided that we would go. A quick look at the ACSI book and I found a site that sounded OK in the hills heading north. We were packed and gone by just after 9am and after stopping near the site exit for breakfast we hit the road.
A stop for fuel at e.leClerc in Hyers, where we took the opportunity to get some more food and booze, and then into the hills. It was a pretty drive with great views and the roadsides full of wild flowers. We headed north west on A57, D43, DN7, D3,D554 and D4 to our site, Camping les Oliviers, on the edge of Oraison.(GPS N43°55’23.78” E5°55’25.57” www.camping-oraison.com) It seems a pleasant, friendly small site and as we looked for a pitch we were welcomed by another English couple who are full timers.
We did 99 miles @ 23.4mpg. Total for this trip is 1280 miles so far.
We were told that they had a horrendous thunder storm the previous afternoon and the same was forecast for Saturday. It grumbled and rumbled around the hills for most of the evening but just went round us, which meant we could have a BBQ and eat outside. I sat out in just shorts until about 8:30.
Sunday started bright but started to cloud over. I cycled into the village to find breakfast. When we arrived I was delighted to find that the satellite system immediately locked on and I could get all my favourite channels, including F1 qualifying. On Sunday morning I seemed to have lost the BBC channels so tried re-setting the box. Nowt! Not a thing. We even drove to the end of the site so that we weren’t right under the power lines but it made no difference. So, no Monaco G P for us this year. Still, we had lunch, with a glass of wine, in the sun as the thunder again rumbled ominously across the valley. More thunder later in the afternoon and a full blown storm with the rain hammering down. It carried on like that into the evening while we watched a Smiley video over supper. The rain made such a racket on the roof that I had to run the DVD back because we couldn’t hear the dialogue…fateful if you want to try to keep up with George Smiley.
Take to the hills.
Monday 28th May. Day 19.
Monday dawns bright and sunny and we are continuing our migration north. It is a stunning day as we drive towards the higher hills and mountains of the Rhone Alps. We climb and climb with a brief rest to gather supplies from Intermarche en-route. A spectacular and well engineered road up over the hills towards Grenoble with snow covered mountains ahead. At Monestier-de-Clermont we turn onto the D8 and higher into the mountains to our destination at Camping les 4 Saisons at Gresse-en-Vercors. (GPS N44°53’48.21” E5°33’20.84” www.camping-les4saisons.com)
Wow! What a site. Panoramic views of the mountains and total peace and quiet. We are at just over 4000ft and the mountain we look up at, Le Grand Veymont, is around 8000ft. There is one caravan pitched close to us, a motorhome the other side of the site and out of view and one tent, also out of view. The only sounds are the birds, crickets, and the buzz of hover flies and other insects.
99 miles today @ 22mpg. Total miles for the trip now 1380.
After sleeping like logs we woke to another perfect morning. The sun was now lighting up the mountains that had been in partial shade when we arrived the previous day. I assembled the bike and went in search of breakfast to find that the boulangerie was just a few yards from the site entrance….perfect. Looks like another lazy day in the sun.
Peace is shattered at lunchtime when a Dutch couple arrive with their caravan and, despite the site being almost empty, decide to pitch next to us. Not a problem usually but their pitch was between us and our lovely view. Fortunately their van was fairly small and they kept to the front of the pitch which didn’t block out too much of the mountains. Like the previous day the cloud built up over the mountains but miraculously we stayed in sunshine for most of the time. Another BBQ supper and fairly early to bed.
Day 21. Wednesday 30th May.
A repeat of day 20 except that we walked to the village to try to find some fruit and veg. A very quiet, sleepy place with several hotels and just one shop that sold a few items of food and loads of tourist odds and sods. We bought tomatoes, apples and bread and plodded slowly back to base. This was really a ski resort and must be humming in winter but that time of year it was just a lovely peaceful backwater. The Dutch couple were much quieter and a few other people had arrived at the site. In the main it was peace that reigned although the sound of distant chain saws had been heard as the locals worked in the forests.
We were now trying to run down the freezer full of food we brought with us in case we couldn’t get the supplies that we wanted so it was John’s bangers on the barbie that evening plus chips and beans….lovely.
I woke up in the night to the all too familiar sound of rain pitter pattering on the roof. I fumbled around in the dark trying to close roof vents without waking Kate but, of course, ended up making enough of a racket to wake the dead. Fortunately it was just a shower and by morning the sun was shining again. There was a bit more cloud around and so the decision was made to move on the next day, Friday.
Despite a little more cloud we had yet another lovely and relaxing day, most of it sitting outside in our cozzies. Steak and chicken on the barbie plus beer for me, G&T for herself, then a glass or three of red…perfect.
Heading towards home.
Day 23. Friday 1st June.
We reluctantly left the mountains and headed north west in the general direction of home. First though there was a spectacular drive down from our eyrie on the mountain to the valley floor and then on to Grenoble, downhill most of the way. There was low cloud hanging around the mountain tops and it was very hazy but sunny. Good roads all the way to Lyons but slow moving through the centre as lots of traffic lanes merged to go through two tunnels. Once clear of the city everything got moving again and we made good time through lovely countryside. By now we had left the haze behind and the hills were lit up by a hot sun.
We were heading to an aire that is highly recommended and is overlooking Lac de Villerest in the Gorges de la Loire. (GPS N45°59’11.25” E4°02’34.64”) Because it was the weekend and the weather was good we quite expected it to be full unless we arrived early. A quick lunch stop overlooking yet another lovely view and we pressed on. Our only navigation problem was when we turned onto back roads to get to the Lac and found a 3m height warning for the road ahead. A quick about turn and carry on along the main road and into the edge of Roanne. No problem and we easily find our way to the Lac.
Wow! What a spot. Only four other camping cars here when we arrive at about 3:45 and wonderful views over the Lac. The aire is on two levels with pitches marked out by bricks embedded into the surface. We sit and just enjoy the view before opening a beer or two.
Miles were 160 @ 25.1mpg. Total for the trip 1540 miles.
After a stop for a little food and lots of booze and coffee to take home plus a fuel top up we head north west again making for Salbris. We had stopped there for one night the previous year and very much liked the campsite which looks over a lake. (GPS N47°25’48.90” E2°03’16.50” www.campingdesologne.fr)
It is another beautiful sunny day and an easy drive on good and quiet roads. Very few HGV’s as it is the weekend, which always makes a difference. We arrive at Salbris at around 4:30 and are given a great pitch beside the lake and close to the office, which means I can get a little bit of free wi-fi.
We have covered 168 miles @ 25.1mpg. Total miles now 1707.
It was very warm with hardly any breeze so we eat outside. The van was hot and airless so we go to bed with every roof light wide open. During the night it pours with rain so there is a scramble to close everything.
Day 25. Sunday 2nd June.
We wake to dark clouds and intermittent light rain and head north again towards La Mailleraye sur Seine. Another day of good roads and light traffic but the showers follow us north. A late stop for lunch and we watch the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant preparing to set off. The weather is brighter as we reach our aire and we are pleased to see that there are several clear spaces.
We have done miles 182 miles @22.8 mpg. Total for the trip is 1889 miles @ 23.7 mpg.
We sit and watch the rest of the pageant which is quite magnificent despite the rain, while here on the Seine the sun is shining and it is a very pleasant evening.
Our favourite aire.
Back beside the river at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine (GPS N49°29’00.65” E0°46’25.91”) and as seems to be usual when we go there it was grey and damp. The previous evening had been very pleasant but by morning the cloud and clag had rolled in and seemed to be covering most of northern France. We just spent the day chilling and watching the river traffic.
We had hoped to go and eat at the restaurant next to the aire but it was closed both on Sunday and Monday evening. Plan B was to get a pizza in the village but that was also closed so once again we went to Plan C. The old standby of corned beef hash was wheeled out followed with pastries from the boulangerie. By the evening the weather had cleared and the sun lit up the hills again. A huge full moon rose and was reflected off the river which had suddenly become busy.
We watched the excellent Jubilee concert and even danced a little while huge ships loomed up out of the darkness and slid quietly by.
Day 27. Tuesday 5th June.
We leave the Seine and drive north towards the channel. A ‘splash & dash’ of fuel to make sure we don’t run too low and we indulge in a few miles of peage to miss out the slow bits up the coast. We go direct to Auchan where we have a beer and croc monsieur before taking on more supplies. Then on to our campsite, Les Arables at Escalles. (GPS N50°54’44.13″ E1°43’14.00″ http://www.camping-les-erables.fr) We had been there in 2010 and it is a pleasant site with great views over the channel to Dover.
153 miles today @ 24.8 mpg. 2044 miles total.
Day 28. Wednesday 6th June.
A wet start to the day but by the time we left our site the sun was trying its best to push through the clouds. We trundled through to Majestic for yet more booze, topped up the fuel tank and made our way to the port with loads of time to spare.
We were offered the next ferry, almost an hour earlier than the one we booked, which we happily accepted. There were loads of coaches loading which meant loads of people on board and each group that decided to sit near us tried to outdo each other in the loudest voice competition. We sat and tried to read and ignore the general hubbub around us. Despite a strong wind and choppy sea it was a remarkably smooth crossing thanks to the size of ship and the stabilisers fitted.
The inevitable queue at the Dartford crossing but we were home by around 4 pm. Now I just needed to clean the filthy motorhome ready for our next adventure.
158 miles @ 24.2 mpg. 2202 miles for the trip @ 24 mpg with 2835 total miles on the clock.