Sunday 14th September 2014.
The sun is shining from an unbroken deep blue sky and sparkling like a million diamonds on the sea. To the south, beyond the distant buildings of Perpignan, are the hazy outlines of the Pyranees. We must be back at Gruissan and we have already been away for ten days.
After dashing home from Dunsfold and Shoreham Airshow’s we turned the motorhome round, restocked our provisions and left home three days later for the return trip down the A12,
this time turning east and taking the M20 to Dover. It had been another early start and we reached Dover in plenty of time for our 11:10 crossing, had we been a few minutes earlier we could have taken an earlier ferry but the usual hold ups at the Dartford Crossing put paid to that. From Calais it was direct to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine and an almost full Aire de Camping Car. Fortunately there were just a couple of pitches unoccupied and, although not right on the river bank, we grabbed one for the night. For once the weather on the Seine was warm and dry and we proposed staying for a few days, moving over to the river bank the next morning as others left. Each day the sun appeared a little more until after five nights there we left on a glorious morning.
We had endlessly discussed alternatives for this trip and had narrowed it down to Germany, where we would tour slowly up the Mosel, down the Rhine and perhaps then go south to Baveria or back to France…..yet again. Before we left home the weather forecasts all pointed to better weather in France so, guess what?? Here we are again.
After leaving La Mailleraye we took our usual route south east round Chartres, south to cross the River Loire at Orleans and continue south on the D2020 to the small town of Lamotte-Beuvron. There we found an aire, (GPS 47.598160° 2.024147°) just off the main road and beside the basin of a disused canal. The area, once no doubt industrial in nature, is now a parkland with fountains, flower beds and seats. The aire is free and has basic water, waste and loo emptying facilities and we found it a very pleasant place to stop for the night.
A fairly early start the next day and after a few miles we stopped at Carrefour in Salbris for fuel and pain au chocolate for breakfast. After breakfast in a lay bye we hit the A20 (peage free) motorway for the long drive to the Dordogne and our planned night stop at another free aire at Souillac.
Every time we have stopped at the Souillac aire previously (GPS 44.891550° 1.476670°) it has been packed and we have had to squeeze in where we could. This time we arrived to an almost empty expanse of parking space, we needn’t have rushed. A large additional area seems to have been opened up and many vans were parked there relieving the pressure on the original site. Although the parking is free the services, apart from the grey water dump, have to be paid for via a credit card operated bourne.
After a peaceful night we once again hit the road south and the steep climb up and out of the Dordogne valley. Over the Causses du Quercy with its twisty road winding over rocky hills covered in scrubby oak, then down into the valley of the River Lot at Cahors before the long drive south to Toulouse. Seemingly endless miles of scruffy industrial areas before some decent motorway around the city centre and then narrow traffic lanes to the south east of the city as the main road is taken over by wide bus lanes. Soon though we are through the dross and now heading east for Carcassonne and it’s ring road with the occasional glimpses of the Canal du Midi on our right.
We arrive in Gruissan on a hot, sunny afternoon and go straight to the aire at the Plage des Chalets (GPS 43.095817° 3.109954°)
As usual the aire is fairly full and the only spaces are at the end of rows but we find a spot that gives us a bit of a view out to sea and over the huge beach to the south. The next morning a prime spot becomes available and we jump straight in as soon as the previous occupants drive out……he who hesitates loses out!
So now we have a pleasant pitch, right on the edge of the aire looking out to sand, sea and distant mountains to the south, a couple of pine trees to give us shade and boats plodding past on the canal that links part of the marina with the sea. We might be here for a while!
Tuesday 23rd September.
I said we might be at Gruissan for a while and we are still here nine days later.
Although we are now at the other aire in the marina, the ‘Aire des 4 Vents’ (GPS 43.104193° 3.099648°) Following beautiful weather by the beach the weather became quite stormy with a stiff on-shore wind pushing the sea into large waves which in turn pushed up over the enormous expanse of sand which became a shallow lake. It was still warm and mostly sunny but the continuous roar of sea and wind became a bit much so we moved the huge distance of a mile to the port. There peace reigned, apart from the occasional slapping of rigging against masts or the nattering of a French woman with verbal diarrhoea who inhabited a nearby motorhome.
We enjoyed our stay at Les Chalets, a rather different sort of seaside resort. It began at the end of the 19thC when sea bathing became fashionable and people started to erect wooden chalets on stilts on what was probably not much more than a sand bank. In stormy weather the encroaching sea could just sweep underneath the buildings. Now it is an extensive community set out in a grid plan of streets with a couple of hotels and a few shops and bars. The buildings are still on stilts but are now mainly made of concrete rather than wood. Its crowning glory though is the huge sandy beach that just seems to go on forever.
For the first time in nearly three weeks there is the pitter, patter of rain on the roof this afternoon so we have decided that it is probably time to move on. Tomorrow we start a leisurely trundle north with the weather forecast looking good after the next day or two, we shall see.
Sunday 28th September.
We reluctantly left Gruissan last Wednesday and after taking on supplies at Narbonne we headed towards Beziers and joined the A75 motorway, driving north and climbing into the Cevennes.
Some way before Millau we left the A75 and took to minor roads and the ancient village of La Couvertoirade (GPS 43.909989° 3.312589°) After some aggravation trying to reach the car park, caused by three daft French drivers who, in an effort to save €3 car park fee, had effectively blocked the entrance to the town to anything larger than a car. With the help of a local we eventually managed to get in through the ‘out’ barrier and parked in a large area dedicated to motorhomes. As far as we could tell the €3 parking ticket covers the vehicle for as long as you stay there, which could be several days, and when leaving we didn’t even have to produce it to get through the automatic barrier.
The town is an absolute gem. Think La Cite at Carcassonne but on a much smaller scale and without crowds of tourists and the tat shops and bars. It is a defensive town built by the Knights Templar complete with walls and towers, narrow cobbled streets, rickety roofs and doors and wooden shutters worn by centuries of wild weather.
The tiny town is situated in wild, rocky country and 2,500ft above sea level. There are few concessions to modern tourism as, apart from the very reasonable parking charge, there are just a few artisan craftsmen and women selling pottery, carvings and various handicrafts. If this town was in GB it would be more like a Disney resort but in the depths of France it is somewhere very few people seem to know about. We spent a quiet hour wandering round with just a handful of other people and the occasional cat for company. We ducked into one or two small shops to browse at the wares, some of the back rooms more like caves cut into the rock. A short climb up uneven stone steps brought us to the small church, dark inside but beautifully lit by well positioned lights and the sun streaming in through a small stained glass window. With just a little imagination you could easily be back in the 12th or13th century.
We spent a very quiet night in the car park in company with two other motorhomes and woke the next morning to an unaccustomed chill. After two weeks by the Med. the chill air of the hills was a shock to the system.
On the road again and back to the A75 towards Millau, turning off the motorway to avoid the peage section over the viaduct. It is a spectacular drive down into Millau, round the town and back up the other side of the valley. In fact the whole A75 is spectacular as it climbs and climbs to over 1000m then drops down again to cross the river valley of the Lot before climbing again to over 1100m and then doing it all again to cross the Allier. Although motorways can be boring to drive on, just staring at the ribbon of tarmac ahead, this is the land of the volcanoes and there are peak after peak wherever you look.
Just before reaching Issoire we went onto local roads and into more wild country, although this time much more agricultural in nature, and a steep climb to the hilltop village of Tourzell-Ronzieres.
There we found an aire (GPS 45.529473° 3.134942°) with the most spectacular view imaginable, 180º birds-eye views over the surrounding countryside and the distant hills from our perch at over 2000ft.The sun was shining, the aire was free with free water and dump facilities and we had the place completely to ourselves…..magic.
Another chilly morning but the heating softened the blow and after breakfast we retreated back down the hill and into the mist that was laying through the valleys. Back to the A75 and north to Clermont Ferrand where we joined the D2009 north to Moulins and then the D13 and D1 to our next stop at Lurcy-Levis. A rather nondescript little town with very few shops still open but just on the edge of town a magnificent park with lake and a free Aire de Camping Car (GPS 46.738173° 2.938874°)
The whole park is really well maintained with paths round the lake, picnic tables, keep fit equipment for the joggers and the grass was newly mown making the whole place look very smart.
There are six hard standings for motorhomes on the lake edge plus toilets and dump facilities. Water and an hours hook up are available for a €2.50 jetton. It is a lovely spot to do nothing other than watch the ducks and look for the occasional fish to flop out of the water.
Unfortunately we were unlucky to have a ‘family from hell’ descend on us on Friday evening, complete with large unruly dog that continually barked at anything and everything. Another pitch became available on Saturday morning so we moved further away but still had to put up with ‘mad dog’.
Not only did we have ‘Mad Dog’ to put up with but had another ‘Frantic Frog’, although perhaps we should name this one ‘Mad Frog’, (see our blog from Gruissan in June 2014 https://motorhomemoments.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/the-frantic-frog/) On the two pitches adjacent to us were two large French motorhomes that we understood had been there for some considerable time, we think the two couples were full timing and were obviously friends. On the morning in question one of the motorhomes had gone on a trip somewhere but was expected back as they had left table and chairs on the hardstanding and the other couple would make sure that no one else sneaked in. Another large French A Class motorhome arrived and seeing the vacant pitch started to turn onto it, despite the table,chairs, groundsheet and scooter covering most of the available space. The woman from the other motorhome dashed out and explained that the pitch was taken with the result there was much revving of engine and obvious annoyance. Mad Frog reversed with some vigour, braked hard, revved again, reversed and with a loud ‘crunch’ partly demolished a lamp post and the protective timber frame around it. After inspecting the damage to his rear quarter, splits in the moulded skirt were evident, he drove over a grass bank, did a circuit of the adjoining car park and roared off, leaving the local commune to pay for the lamp post that was now leaning at a 45º angle. ‘Mad Frog’ was last seen in a nearby car park bodging up the damage to his pride and joy and licking his wounds. We, of course, couldn’t possibly have even smiled at his bad fortune………much.
On Sunday (today) we decided that another day of barking ruining the tranquility of the lake was too much so we moved to the next town and another highly recommended aire at Sancoins.
The aire is stretched alongside a canal on the edge of town (GPS 46.834039° 2.915749°) and as an extra bonus is free again. There are free dump facilities but water and hook up once again require a jetton for €2.50. The town has a lot more shops and businesses than Lurcy-Levis and has a much more affluent feel about it. All in all a most pleasant place to spend a day or two.
Wednesday 1st October.
After a very pleasant Sunday at Sancoins, just sitting in the sun and enjoying the tranquility of the canal bank, it rained for most of the night, the first real rain of our month away. We left in light rain but after a few miles it was dry and the sky looked brighter. We had intended to stop for the night at Lamotte-Bouvron where we had stopped on the way south but when we stopped for bread and diesel just a few miles short of our destination it wasn’t even mid-day so we decided to press on to La Mailleraye. So, here we are back on the riverbank just watching the world go slowly by. When we stopped here on the way out there were four new residents on the aire, three chickens and a duck. This time there were loads of feathers and just one chicken in evidence, perhaps Monsieur Reynard had paid a visit.
Tomorrow it is off to Calais, hopefully avoiding the loads of migrants who try to get in, on or under any large vehicle that stops in the town and after the doubtful joys of the M25 and the Dartford Crossing we should be back home to Suffolk by early evening. Then there will be photos to sort and this blog to be uploaded together with videos of some of the aires we have visited.
For the first time I think we qualify as ‘proper’ motor homers as we have survived four weeks without the comfort blanket of campsites and electric hookup, relying on our batteries and the sun to keep us powered and all our gizmos charged. After five years I think we must be getting the hang of this motor homing lark.
Friday 3rd October.
Well, we made it home in one piece. After the continuing joys of the Dartford Crossing with its 30 minute queue plus a very busy A12 we arrived back in Suffolk just after dark. The P&O ferry was crowded with coach loads of school children and according to one fellow passenger it was chaos. Up in the Club Lounge on Deck 9 all was peace and quiet as we sipped a glass of cold champagne and read the papers. Definitely the way to travel particularly if there is a long drive either side of the crossing.
Our last days drive was 306 miles and the total for the trip was 1864 miles at 25.1mpg.
We spent 21 nights on paid aires, 8 at La Mailleraye at €5 per night and 13 on the two aires at Gruissan at €8.50 per night, with 7 nights on free aires. Total cost of aires was €150.50 which works out at an average of aprox £4.20 per night for 28 nights. Try staying in the UK for that sort of price.
Apologies if this post is rather long but due to the infrequent, slow and rather flaky internet access on this trip I thought it better to wait until I got home to my own slow and flaky BT internet service and load it all at once rather than post it in smaller chunks. R.