After Shoreham and Dunsfold airshows is the time we usually go off to France for a long trip. We didn’t get our usual four week trip in May/June this year so we really were looking forward to this autumn jaunt. The biggest fly in the ointment was that Vulcan to the Sky Club had organised a ‘Members Day’ at Coventry Airport right in the middle of September. With so many friends going it was a day that we knew we would really enjoy, particularly as XH558 was going to give the members their very own display.
Despite being told that ‘You just have to be there’ we decided that France called as it would be a chance for some late sun before the long winter. It also meant we would be back in time to try and witness the final flight of ‘our’ Vulcan……provided we got an invitation of course.
So, after returning home from Dunsfold on Monday the airshow clobber was unloaded and holiday gear stowed. The lawn was given a quick mow, hairs cut, fridge and freezer stocked up and on Thursday we were ready to go. We had an afternoon tunnel crossing booked and left in plenty of time in the hope that we might get put on an earlier shuttle. We arrived early at Folkestone to find a 60 minute delay. No problem for us, kettle on and have a coffee and sandwich while we waited to be called. In the end the delay was only about 45 minutes so it was no big deal.
Once in France we went straight to Escalles, just outside Calais, and Les Erables campsite for our first night. At €9.90 per night for a pitch with a lovely view over the channel and peace and quiet it is great value plus one can order croissants and bread for the next morning.
After a leisurely breakfast we joined the A16 to Boulogne and then the D901 south towards our usual stop at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine. La Mailleraye has become home from home for us in France as we just love it there, if only the weather was better in the north!
After two nights it was back on the road south heading for Sancoins, a small town in central France that we found last year and has quickly become another favourite. The aire, which is free, is situated beside a disused canal with plenty of room to put out awnings, table and chairs to enjoy the view across the water. It is a great place to relax.
Wednesday 8th September.
After three nights at Sancoins it was south again, this time up into the Massif Central and through the Auvergne. We joined the excellent A75 free motorway at Clermont Ferrand turning off at Junction 33 and making our way back under the motorway to the small and remote town of Le Malzieu-Ville. Another free aire (GPS N 44,85509º E 3.33353º) on the edge of the old town overlooking a small park and the river beyond with room for eight or nine motorhomes at a squeeze and free services.
The old town is an absolute gem. Another of those fortified ancient towns that are scattered across France, this one has been well restored and is beautifully looked after. We wandered, in the late afternoon, through the old town gates and into deserted squares and streets full of flowers, statues and ancient stone doorways. The sun shone from a perfect blue sky, lighting up the mellow stone of the buildings. We saw one other couple with a camera who, like us, were obviously tourists. The town was almost deserted which made it wonderful to be able to just stroll and look without being jostled or having to watch out for traffic.
The town is situated at around 3000ft so it got a tad chilly at night but we were snug as bugs and the heating came on automatically in the morning. Despite the aire being on the road side there was not a sound all night and even in the morning there was no noise until a decent hour. We drove back to the A75 and continued south through Millau to rejoin the motorway and continue on to Béziers then the D609 to Narbonne.
The weather forecast for the whole of France was looking a bit dodgy for the next week but I thought that the best way to avoid the rain would be to keep on the coast so guess what……we were going back to Gruissan. When we arrived on Thursday there was hardly a breath of wind, highly unusual, but we kept away from the plage aire as we know from previous visits it can get a bit rough in bad weather. The aire at the marina was busy but we managed to find a fairly decent spot backing onto the boats.
As predicted the weather started to break with some cloud and the wind increasing. The good news was that it was still very warm and the rain kept away. The black clouds over the hills in the distance looked menacing though and we later heard that there had been severe flooding in towns in the hills just a few miles north that we had passed by a few days before.
Wednesday 16th September.
After almost a week at Gruissan the weather was still mixed. Plenty of cloud and wind with some sun in between but apart from a small shower at night, no rain. Meteo France showed that the whole country was unsettled and that our corner of the south east was probably better than the rest of the country. Local TV was showing pictures of devastation in towns at the bottom of the hills north of us. Cars and roads had been swept away in floods and motorways were disrupted. All that weather had passed us by and despite the strong winds that sprang up from time to time, the name of the aire is Les Quartre Vents (Four Winds), it was warm and pleasant to walk around the marina and into the old town. By Thursday night the French TV news had scenes of cars crushed by trees in and around Lyon and pictures of a tornado in western France. Although it was breezy we had escaped all that chaos.
Friday 18th September.
Hooray, hooray! The sun is back. A glorious day with full sun and just a gentle breeze to keep the air and us fresh and cool. The BBQ was put together to cook supper but most of the day was spent lazing in the sun with the occasional move into shade to cool down.
The weather stayed sunny for the next few days although the wind direction changed and the air from the mountains was cooler.