After much indecision, mostly brought about by two cancelled appointments at Ipswich Hospital, we made a last minute decision to spend a few days in France.
On Tuesday it was ‘no go’ as the weather continued to be wet and miserable but on Wednesday morning there was just a small patch of blue sky. That was enough to encourage a bit of bravado so I went on-line and booked a tunnel crossing for Thursday morning. Not enough bravado you notice to book a ferry, oh no, the boss decided it was tunnel or nothing so being true landlubbers we took the cautious route and kept under the stormy winter channel rather than rocking and rolling over it. A dash to Waitrose to stock up and the motorhome was loaded in double quick time ready for an early start on Thursday.
Thursday 3rd December.
What were we thinking; it was still blooming dark and it was starting to rain, yet again, and we were up and almost ready to leave. Last minute things loaded and we were away as it started to get light. The A12 was its usual grizzly self at that early hour with lots of stop-start driving made worse by drizzle and occasionally heavy showers. At least the Dartford Crossing was straight forward with no delays or even the need to stop, as the barriers are being removed and I had set up an account to pay the toll automatically. We arrived at Eurotunnel well in time and with no dramas….phew.
For some unknown reason there was a delay of 40 minutes in our shuttle but it was the usual smooth crossing and as we drove out of the terminal in France we watched the local Gendarmes playing their latest sport of chasing off groups of asylum seekers.
We didn’t intend to drive too far into France before our first stop and so it was a fairly easy drive down the coast to Le Crotoy. The aire, which is €5 paid at a machine, overlooks the small harbour and the Baie de Somme (GPS. 50.21814°N 1.63314°E). We have been there a couple of times before and the weather always seems to be a bit grotty and wet, this time it was just very misty and murky so it seems to be improving with every visit.
On Friday we headed south and yet again ended up at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine. Usually when we arrive there it is a case of look for a gap to slot into, this time there are three other vans there and one of those was not occupied.
Saturday was a lovely winters day, cold but crisp and sunny. After croissants and peach jam for breakfast we walked up into the village to get some supplies from the little supermarket but when we arrived it was all shut up and abandoned. We were about to walk back when we noticed that the signs at the end of the road had changed so we retraced our steps past the old store and just around the corner was a brand new shiny Carrefour mini supermarket. It was obviously brand new as the locals appeared to be trying to find their way around but it was super smart and seemed to have all the essentials. We bought some essentials ie. wine and chocolate eclairs.
As usual the days at La Mailleraye are mostly spent watching the river with its ever changing patterns, tides and light plus the ships and barges that ply up and down constantly. It is a lovely spot and in winter the aire is free of charge…..even better.
Monday 8th December.
Time to move on and we headed west towards Caen and a stop at the village of Herouvillette. The aires book tells us that it is a ‘pleasant location’ and the photo looks good so we easily found the free aire on the edge of the village (GPS. 49.21983°N 0.24497°W). There were eight marked bays for Camping-Cars, four of them with low hedges to delineate them and hard stony tracks for the wheels. Unfortunately the ground was sodden each side of the tracks so it turned to mud when walked on and the hedges were so tight to the sides of the van that it was difficult to open hatches and doors. There were four other vans that seemed to be full timing there and they frequently ran noisy generators or their engines. Fortunately it was peaceful at night, apart from the hooting of owls, but who minds that?
Tuesday 9th December.
Just a few kilometres north of Herouvillette was Pegasus Bridge, made famous for all time by being among the first points in France to be captured by the Allies on 6th June 1944, D Day. Horsa gliders were cast off from their towing aircraft and in the dark had to find their way to the small swampy area between the River Orne and the Orne Canal. We had visited a few years ago so this time didn’t go into the museum but had a walk and looked at the memorials to the brave feats of our forebears.
From there we set out along the coast towards our planned stop at Courseulles-sur-Mer where there is a parking place for motorhomes right by the beach and the ‘Centre Juno Beach’. I remembered the spot from our last visit, well before we had considered a motorhome, when I was impressed by the number of camping-cars parked and the wonderful situation by the sea. When we arrived there it was just as I had remembered it but the marked bays for camping-cars were so short that we would have been blocking the road. The local authority had erected a stout fence along the back so that the back of the van couldn’t overhang and put concrete kerb stones between every other bay to stop one parking aligned to the road. The bays might have taken a VDub or a small camper van but not an eight metre bus like ours. Needless to say the place was deserted.
So, Plan B was required and we drove on towards the west to our next choice of aire which was at Port-en-Bessin-Huppain. On the way we stopped at a wonderful viewpoint just east of Arromanches. High on a hill overlooking the town and the remains of the Mulberry Harbour there is a large carpark with an orientation platform to climb and look over the landing beaches and the sea. Of interest to us was a memorial to the Royal Engineers who in so many different ways helped the success of the invasion. Kate’s father had been a ‘Sapper’ and like my father, had landed in Normandy a short time after the initial landings.
We had lunch and watched the lovely view and considered whether we should stay there overnight but as we might be on our own, well away from other people and very visible from the coast road thought it might be a little risky. Had there been one or two other motorhomes there we would have felt safer and stayed but it’s no good the alarm bellowing away in the middle of the night if there is no one else to hear it.
Back onto the D514 and on to Port-en-Bessin. It seemed there were construction works everywhere as we entered the town. Most of the roads seemed to have mud on them from all the digging and when we arrived at the aire it was much the same. The picture in the aires book made it look quite pleasant and it was reputed to look out over the local golf course. The reality was of a scruffy bit of waste land with more muddy tracks from some earth moving going on next-door, inhabited by more full timers who looked as though they had set up camp for the winter. We never did notice the golf course as we about turned round and went back to the D514 and Plan C.
Also in our aires book was an aire on a farm just a short distance west at Englesqueville (GPS. 49.38771°N -0.94875°W). This one was very different. We drove through an impressive archway into the large forecourt in front of an even more impressive large farmhouse. Following the signs we went through the farmyard and accompanied by a small and excited dog we were led around the back of the house to a beautifully laid out parking area. There were six hard standing pitches with an area of grass beside each and separated by low hedges of shrubs. In front was an elevated view across the fields to church spires beyond and behind us the very attractive house and garden. To one side were barns full of the winters fodder and a herd of cows grazed just over the fence. There were a number of electric hook up points which were unmetered and included in the €5 charge and everything looked extremely well cared for and tidy…..what a bargain.
Wednesday 10th December.
After a very comfortable and peaceful night at the farm we continued west and then north up the Cherbourge Peninsular.
After a quick stop and walk around Ste-Mere-Eglise, famous as the landing area for paratroopers during Operation Overlord, we went on to our planned stop at the old town of Bricquebec. There was a weight limit which meant we couldn’t drive into the town centre and with no obvious parking place close to the old town we drove on to the aire which was just outside and beside a lake. Over a coffee we decided that the aire didn’t look very exciting so we would go on. It was a blustery and showery day and the north west of the UK was being battered by severe gales so where better to head for than an aire right at the tip on the peninsular described as ‘windswept’. It was a bit like the end of the world, the French version of Lands End but without all the razzmatazz and tourist tat. A small parking area off a narrow lane (GPS. 49.71465°N -1.93470°W) with just a couple of rubbish bins and nothing else…..except the most wonderful view across a raging sea with the Channel Island of Alderney in the distance and a lighthouse perched on rocks just offshore. The wind blew non stop and the rain showers came in horizontally but it was a magical spot with just us and one other motorhome for company.
Thursday 11th December.
When our aires book described the Auderville aire as ‘windswept’ they were not joking. It could have been described as bracing when we arrived on Wednasday afternoon, with a brisk breeze coming off the sea but during the night the breeze took on all the characteristics of a full blown gale. There is a popular little rhyme among motorhomers:
‘When the van’s a rocking, don’t come a knocking”.
Well our van was certainly rocking for most of the night but not because of any internal shenanigans, the wind roared around the motorhome shaking and rattling the blinds and roof vents. It was even a battle to open the door against the blast.
We had planned to spend another night at that remote spot then make our way back to La Mailleraye and then north to Calais but with winds forecast to increase even more we ‘hot footed’ it out of there, not even stopping for breakfast. After a stop for fuel, bread and our breakfast in the car park of Super U we headed south off the peninsular, driving through showers and strong winds until we reached tranquility base, back at La Mailleraye. There all was peace and quiet and we were sheltered from even a slight breeze.
Saturday 13th December.
On Friday morning it stopped raining for a while and we took the opportunity for a brisk walk up into the village for supplies. As we walked back it started to rain gently and once we were back in the dry the heavens opened yet again. It rained non stop until Saturday morning and as we were getting ready to leave it had reduced to a drizzle again.
We left La Mailleraye and after a stop at a manic supermarket at Yvetot for essential supplies, beer and wine, we drove north to Le Crotoy for our last night.
When we left the supermarket it had finally stopped raining and as we neared the coast again there was blue sky ahead. Typical, now we were heading home the weather was improving.
By the time we reached Le Crotoy it was a chilly but pleasant day and we set off on a long walk to explore the town. The sunset that evening was dramatic heralding a cold clear night to come.
Sunday 14th December.
We woke to a sharp frost but a lovely sunrise and as soon as it was fully light we were on our way to Calais. It was a cracking winters day and as we moved away from the sea the temperature must have dropped as in some places everything was white with a heavy frost. The roads were quiet and it was a lovely drive with the sun lighting up the countryside.
We arrived at the Eurotunnel terminal with lots of time to spare and got an earlier crossing.
Back in the UK to much busier roads but at least the dreaded Dartford Crossing was clear and we drove straight through although you still have to stop at the barrier which then opens automatically.
Why don’t they just remove the barriers so that you don’t have to stop and start??
We ended the trip having covered 944 miles at an average of 24mpg. The vehicle has now done 23,200 miles from new and is just about run in.
We have also beaten our record of 109 nights away, set in 2012, having done 119 nights this year.
Reminder to self: Must do better!
Despite the weather we enjoyed our short break in France which will probably be our last in the Auto-Trail. Our new Cathago is due to be completed on 20th January although we have no idea how long it will take to get it to the UK and made ready for us to collect. We just hope that the Germans keep to their reputation for efficiency and being on time. To say we are excited would be the understatement of the year.