Over the Hills and Far Away.

After several days of warm sunshine and cool mountain air we tore ourselves away from the lovely views of the Vercors mountains to head west to the high hills of the Aveyron.

We retraced our route down the mountain and back to Grenoble, this time keeping to the west of the city and through the valley to Valence and the bank of the mighty River Rhone. We left the Rhone south of Valence and took to the hills of the Ardeche, driving through Privas to our intended night stop on the aire at Aubenas.

We arrived in time for lunch at a very hot and rather dusty car park (GPS 44.62585º 4.39713º no services) on the bank of the Ardeche river. The pictures in our aire guide showed plenty of trees for shade but in the middle of the day all the shady spots were filled by cars. We has some lunch and then decided, as it was so hot and the old town was a fair climb up the hill on the other side of the river, to go on and find another aire that might be a little more shady.

We continued west along the N102 to the small town of Thueyts where there is a quiet and shady aire tucked away down a side road (GPS 44.67247º 4.21912), beside tennis courts and football pitches. Access to the aire is down one of two roads, one little more than an alleyway and a very tight turn if arriving from the west but OK’ish if coming from the East. Far better to use Chemin de la Condamine (set GPS 44.67468º 4,22003º into the sat-nav for the junction) which is a few hundred metres to the East.

Devils Bridge

A short stroll from the aire is a viewpoint looking down on the Ardeche river far below and the famous Pont du Diable, the Devils Bridge. On a hot afternoon people were jumping off high rocks into the river and swimming across to a small stony beach.

 

Pont Diable

Pont du Diable (Devils Bridge) from the viewpoint.

 

The following day, 21st June, we continued West on the N102 following the Ardeche on a spectacular and twisty road high over the hills. The scenery is dramatic, wild and lovely as you climb and climb before crossing the River Ardeche where it is little more than a rushing stream.

Through Pradelles and then follow the N88 to Mende and eventually the A75 motorway. Turning off the A75 we went down some rather narrow and winding lanes to go cross-country to Salles-Curan and Lac de Pareloup.

We found the aire at Lac de Pareloup (GPS 44.20027º 2.77601º) in September 2016 and loved it (more pictures and description here:- https://motorhomemoments.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/simply-sublime/). This time we spent almost a week just lazing in the sun, enjoying the views across the water and the sunsets.

Sunny pitch

Our sunny pitch

Lunchtime snifter

Lunchtime refreshment

Sunset

Sunset over the lake

The end of our trip was by now fast approaching so we left our lake and started the journey north. After stocking up with food and fuel at Pont-de-Salars we headed to Rodez, then North West towards the Dordogne and our overnight stop at Souillac.

There had been mutterings on Motorhome Fun forum that there was now a charge for stopping on the aire (GPS 44.89152º 1.47653º) that has always been free. Although there is a charge, by credit card, for water and toilet disposal, the aire is still free and shows every sign of staying that way.

We have stopped at Souillac many times and the aire is usually very busy and can be packed tight by evening but this time there was stacks of room. It is still a lovely town to wander round with lots of narrow streets as well as the famous domed Abbey Sainte-Marie which dates back to the 12th Century.

Abbey Sainte-Marie

Abbey Sainte-Marie

Continuing north the next day we hit the free A20 motorway which took us round Limoges and on to Vierzon where we joined the D2020 as far as Salbris and another regular stop-over. There is always a cheerful welcome at Camping de Sologne (GPS 47.43025º 2.05457º) and although there are a couple of free aires just a few km up the road we just like it there. With a good view over the lake with its ducks and resident goose and a reasonable meal in the restaurant plus bread in the morning it makes a first class nights stop.

Camping de Sologne across the lake

Camping de Sologne from across the lake

 

River Sauldre at Salbris

River Sauldre at Salbris

More driving the next day, through Orléans, round Chartres & Dreux then South of Rouen to make our way to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine for a couple of nights on the river bank.

The Seine

By this time the weather forecast wasn’t looking good, with rain forecast for several days. Rather than sit and look out at miserable weather I got on-line and brought our tunnel crossing forward by a day. Sure enough, on Sunday as we left La Mailleraye the rain started and didn’t stop until we were past Bologne. We drove to Cite Europe and after filling with fuel and stocking up on essentials (beer) spent the night on the aire/carpark (GPS 50.93282º 1.81111º) before crossing for home the next morning.

Considering we had started out on the trip with the intention of going to a wet and windy Scotland it had been quite a contrast. We had certainly seen our share of hills and mountains although they were a fair bit higher than the Scottish ones. Without doubt the weather had been a lot warmer and sunnier and we had had the good company of Jenny and John for part of the time. As trips go it was 10/10.

The Rhone Alps.

Several years ago we found a small campsite high in the mountains on our way back north from the Med. We remembered it as being sunny but the air was cool and fresh because of the altitude.

My pilot friends tell me that the temperature drops by 2ºC per 1000ft of altitude so at 4000ft our destination was bound to be a bit more comfortable.

The excellent roads from the lake took us south of Grenoble and then on to the steep, winding assent to Gresse-en-Vercors.

Gresse is a tiny village of the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ variety but has expanded with apartments and houses for the ski season. At the end of the road there are a number of ski lifts and lots of parking space with a small area reserved for camping-cars. Apart from a dump for waste water there are no other facilities for motorhomes.

Just a few hundred yards away though is Camping Les 4 Saisons (GPS 44.89665º 5.55573º), another ACSI site at €17 per night. With loos, showers, 6a hook-up, very friendly owners and wonderful views it is worth every penny.

Pitch with a view

Don’t expect the manicured Caravan Club type pitches, with the grass mown to within an inch of its life. Here the banks between pitches are left so that the wild flowers can grow and seed.

Wild flowers

Wild flowers by the pitches

The place literally buzzes with life and is full of butterflies, one seemed to have a foot fetish as it kept returning and landing on our feet. Most of the time the buzzing of insects is the loudest noise.

Butterfly

The butterfly that loves feet

After the heat and humidity of Annecy the fresh, cool mountain air was a treat.

Le Grand Veymont

Le Grand Veymont

Lake Annecy.

In a recent thread on the Motorhome Fun, forum members listed their favourite places to stay, Lake Annecy rated highly in that varied list. Over several years I have read glowing reports so it was about time we visited to see what all the fuss was about.

Our initial impressions as we drove out of the mountains weren’t good. A big and very busy town, lots of traffic and the road beside the lake was a constant stream of vehicles. Not our sort of place but we were meeting up with friends so would give it a go.

We turned off the busy main road and on to a narrow and quiet lane to arrive at Camping Le Solitaire du Lac, appropriately named as it was very quiet and well away from traffic noise.

We even had a view of the lake from our pitch, although it was just a glimpse of blue through a small gap in the trees.

A glimpse of the lake

Our glimpse of the lake

The site was fairly basic, no restaurant, swimming pool or any of the fripperies that many sites offer these days but at an ACSI price of €17 it was not bad value. Although it was busy there were empty pitches every night. The pitches were not the largest, our friends with caravan, awning and car had difficulty squeezing everything on, but for our motorhome there was adequate space and a bit of shade from the trees. As usual we didn’t check out the toilets and shower block but the water points were few and far between and the water pressure was often a trickle. To fill a motorhome tank by hose you needed to pay extra at the service point which was a bit of a cheek.

Poppies

A field beside the cycle track

I went out on my bike for a bimble along the cycle path that runs beside the lake. My goodness it was a busy cycle track. It was well surfaced and marked out into two lanes by a central white line but you needed to keep your wits about you as there was an assortment of users and speeds. People pushing elderly folk in wheel chairs, girls on roller blades, one young woman pushing baby in a push chair as she belted along at speed, guys on road bikes who thought they were on a Tour de France time trial, and French ladies tootling slowly on their ‘sit up and beg’ bikes who favoured weaving along the central white line. Added to that assortment were the occasional large group of school children and you can see that one needed to concentrate if you were keeping up a decent speed.

A couple of deviations off the track did give me some nice views of the lake though.

Fishing

Fishing

Cool, clear water

Cool, clear water

Boats

Boats and mountains

Lake view

Lakeside peace

We spent four nights by the lake and although it was very hot and humid we very much enjoyed the company of Jenny and John. The world and its ills were very much put to rights, much wine was consumed in the process and we had a lovely drive high into the hills to look down on the lake from above.

Friends

Hanging around with friends

Lake Annecy

Lake Annecy from the hills

Mountain view

The hills are alive……

Although the lake is very attractive, with its surrounding mountains giving it a spectacular background, it was just a bit too busy and crowded for us, Also, being surrounded by hills the heat and humidity seemed to get trapped in and made it uncomfortable to do anything except sit in the shade. We said our goodbyes and headed for the higher hills and some cooler and fresher air.

Keeping cool

Keeping cool

Scotland: Nil. Weather: One.

For a couple of years we have been intending to return to Scotland, having really enjoyed our last trip there four or five years ago.

I thought the ideal time would be June when the days are long and the weather should be good.

Plans (of a very rough sort) were drawn and a few stops pencilled in with the intention of leaving home on Monday 5th June.

Celine, our Carthago motorhome, needed to go to the dealers in Staffordshire to have one last warranty job completed after a part had to be ordered from Germany and my new bike needed to go to the importers in Loughborough to have a check and adjustment session. Both jobs were arranged for the Monday so they could be done in a rather roundabout en-route fashion.

First night stop was booked at the C&MHC Poolsbrook site, just off the M1 south of Sheffield and then another two nights at the Old Hartley site just north of Newcastle.

We left home bright and early to join the Monday morning fun on the A14 and M6. After driving for less that two hours we ran into rain which didn’t stop for another forty five hours.

With both maintenance jobs quickly done we spent a damp night at Poolsbrook where our intended walk around the park was abandoned. Next day, still in the gentle rain, we continued north until just south of Durham, when the rain became torrential reducing the A1M to a crawl. We reached Old Hartley site in drizzle but the torrent was following close behind.

Old Hartley

The lighthouse and St Mary’s Island from Old Hartley site

Early on Wednesday morning the rain finally stopped and the sun appeared, although there was a strong wind from the north.

For some years I’ve fancied staying at Old Hartley with its lovely views over the sea and the lighthouse on St Mary’s Island. Despite the weather the site was full and although it’s difficult to get completely level with a long MoHo, it does mean that all pitches get a good sea view.

Despite the sun that day the Met Office long range weather forecast was looking more and more grim for the north of Scotland, so a decision needed to be taken.

Do we press on regardless or give the weather best and turn around and head south?

We are not the intrepid hill walker types who will don their wet weather gear and enjoy whatever is thrown at them. We are southern softies who enjoy the sun and warmth.

No contest! On Thursday morning we turned tail and headed for home to collect passports.

One nil to the weather!

Give me Sunshine.

After our dash home the passports, currency and papers were collected, thick sweaters, coats and boots unloaded and more shorts, tee shirts and sun goo loaded.

With a new Frequent Traveller package booked on-line with Eurotunnel, at lunchtime Friday we set off to Folkestone for the shuttle to France.

With no clear plan for a destination we stopped for our first night at Escalles, just south of Calais. For €11 Camping les Erables (GPS 50.91224º 1.72058º) is good value for a safe and peaceful night stop with lovely views across the channel to Dover.

Our original thoughts were to head south and make for the Lac de Pareloup in the hills of southern France. We also had friends at Lake Annecy and since it was somewhere we had never visited we decided to head for there.

Saturday morning saw us heading north to Dunkerque, then south east on the A25, past Lille, Valenciennes, Laon, Reims to our night stop at an aire beside Lac du Der Chantecoq (Camper Contact 1176). Except that the aire wasn’t there when we arrived. The aire is being redeveloped with pay barriers being installed and all re-landscaped. However, tucked away behind trees just across the road, is a car park that had now been taken over by motorhomes as a temporary aire. Very pleasant it was too, with nice views over the farmland with its resident cows.

Temporary aire

Temporary aire

Lac du Der Chantecoq

Lac du Der Chantecoq

After a quiet night we continued south east through St-Dizier, Chaumont, Vessel and Besançon to the small village of Mesnay in the foothills of the Jura.

Another free aire on the village edge, (Camper Contact 15889. GPS 46.89790º 5.80066º) this time outside an old cardboard factory that is now a museum. It was a peaceful spot with just the sound of rushing water from the stream that must have once provided the motive power for the factory.

Mesnay aire

Parked in the evening shade

Factory:museum

Mesnay cardboard factory and museum

Leaving the next morning we had a choice of retracing our route through two villages with their narrow streets and parked cars or taking a shorter but more twisty route back to the main road.

The twisty route proved to be just that, as well as extremely narrow and steep. Had anything wider than a wheelbarrow come the other way we would have had fun trying to pass. Fortune was on our side and nothing else was venturing down that few kilometres of road and we emerged safely on to the main road. I call it the ‘main road’ as, compared to the track we emerged from it was much wider, but it was still rather narrow and very twisty with sheer rock walls on our side, a narrow rock arch, trucks tearing round the blind bends in the opposite direction making me hug the rock face and, just to add to the fun, a team of workers cutting trees down above the road.

We were now following the route of the upcoming Tour de France so there was much patching of road surfaces going on and as we arrived at Champagnole the route was sent off in a great long diversion to avoid a road closure ahead.

Eventually we returned to our planned route and ran beside the Swiss border for a while, up over the Jura mountains before the steep plunge down to Annecy and its lake. Had it not been for the thick haze some of the views from the top of the Jura would have been spectacular. Lake Geneva could just about be seen through the murk but it really wasn’t worth stopping to try and take photos.

After a long hot and twisty drive we arrived safely at Camping Le Solitaire du Lac (GPS 45.84063º 6.16468º) and parked beside John and Jenny and their smart new Coachman caravan. (https://jennyandjohngocaravanning.wordpress.com/)

 

Pitched together

Pitched together

All set up

All set up

Mañana

ADVERB
In the indefinite future (used to indicate procrastination)

Mañanaitis.

A condition endemic in southern Europe, particularly on the Spanish mainland, where it can become highly contagious after  a few weeks holiday.

I really should apologise to regular readers of this blog, all 3 of you, for my lack of updates over the last few months.

I appear to have been struck down by a chronic case of Mañanaitis after foolishly spending several weeks lolling in the Spanish sun earlier this year. The blog was to have been regularly updated on an almost daily basis………………………but always tomorrow.

My last post was on our return from Spain in December after a very pleasant trip to try and ward off some of the UK winter.

Our motorhome, Celine, was fast approaching two years old and would soon require her first mechanical service on the engine and chassis. She was booked in to Simpsons of Great Yarmouth who are motorhome dealers but also a Fiat Professional garage, who, to my surprise, were able to carry out the work within a few days. A couple of days before Christmas I took a pleasant drive to Yarmouth where I drank coffee and read the paper while they carried out the work. We had purchased our previous motorhome from Simpsons and their service has always been first class.

At the end of January we fancied a short break so went to Devizes for a few nights at the C&CC site beside the Kennet and Avon Canal. The plan was to walk along the canal for pub lunches and to try the pub next door to the site in the evening. The weather had other ideas though.

The long drive down was through rain and drizzle which made the M25 and M4 particularly dreary. Not much fun to be had that day.

The weather forecast got even worse though. Storm force winds and heavy rain were on their way in the next couple of days so after just two nights away we returned home before the storm broke.

There was just no point in spending several days closeted in the van with wind howling round and rain lashing down.

Two weeks later Celine had to be returned to the dealer in Staffordshire for her habitation service and annual damp check. As there were also a few final warranty jobs to be completed they wanted her for a couple of days so loaned us a very smart van to get home in. After a couple of days all was complete so off we went again, up the M6 to collect her and spend a night at the C&CC Kingsbury Water Park site.

With all servicing up to date and the small bugs in Celine’s systems squashed it was again time to escape the winter weather and head for the sun. Our plan, if you could call it a plan, was to head for Spain and Portugal for six weeks.

South towards the sun.

In the late afternoon of 22nd February we went through the Channel Tunnel yet again and back to Cite Europe (GPS 50.93282º 1.81111º) for our first night in France. Storm Doris was making her voice heard as we left home and drove down the A12, which caused Celine to sway a fair bit as the gusts hit her off side. Once we turned east on the M20 the wind was on our tail so things calmed down and it did wonders for our fuel consumption. At Cite Europe the wind howled all night and even with our hydraulic jacks the van swayed a little.

Next morning it was over the road to Carrefour to stock up on a few essentials, beer, wine and even a little food, before topping up the fuel tank and heading south. Just over three hours drive and we arrived at La Mailleraye-sur-Seine (GPS 49.48334º 0.77386º) for two nights at one of our favourite French aires.

The tail end of Storm Doris gave us a bit of a sideways bashing on our drive but at La Mailleraye, tucked down behind the shelter of the high wall and trees, all was peace and calm.

Finnstraum

The Seine at La Mailleraye

After two pleasant days by the river we continued south and crossed the River Loire at Saumur and on to our night stop at Montreuil-Bellay. Another aire (GPS 47.13255º -0.15815º) we have been to before and one with a lovely historic feel about it. Towering above is the chateau with its pinnacles and towers while beside the aire are old walls and buildings that were part of a monastery.

Montreul Bellay

Montreuil Bellay

The Chateau

The Chateau

More information on the history of the chateau can be found at:- https://travelfranceonline.com/chateau-de-montreuil-bellay-walled-city/

River Thouet

River Thouet

We went for a walk beside the river and up onto the road bridge where, looking down at the water, we watched otters hunting for their supper. In the morning a brisk walk up the very steep hill into the town for breakfast croissants got the circulation moving before our days drive.

In a change of plan (actually we don’t really have any fixed plan) we decided to head south east and make for Limoges and the nearby Park Verger site. The forecast was not looking particularly good so a couple of days with the luxury of mains hookup and proper site facilities appealed. Owned by a very pleasant British couple, Park Verger (GPS 45.71627º 0.91828º)  is one of the few sites open all year round and with its hard standings is a safe bet in bad weather. As it was wet and windy we stayed for three nights rather than a joyless drive in wind and rain.

Caumont sur Garonne

Canal Lateral à la Garonne

Canal lateral à la Garonne

Our next stop was a small aire beside the Garonne Canal, south of Marmande, at the small village of Caumont-sur-Garonne. A lovely spot under trees (GPS 44.44189º 0.17939º) with pleasant walks along the tow path on both sides of the canal and a pleasant peaceful village to wander round. There are no shops in the village although there is a vending machine for bread.

We had been away a week and still hadn’t reached Spain, just as well there was no rush.

A long flat drive over the Landes area took us towards the Atlantic coast for our next stop.

We arrived at my first choice of aire at Labenne-Ocean to find that it had been closed and hefty wooden posts surrounded the parking area. Just up the road was Capbreton, where we had stopped before, so we made for there instead. The aire (GPS 43.63560º -1.44683º) was also closed as we expected but there is a large empty carpark next to it that has been used in the winter for years. For some reason that was also closed by height barriers but there was just room for us to squeeze in between some other vans in the small area outside. We stretched our legs with a walk over the low cliff and down onto the huge sandy beach.

The Atlantic

The Atlantic 

Footsteps and vapour trails

Trails in sand and sky

Spain at last.

Next morning I bit the bullet and paid for the toll charges to cross into Spain. The alternative is a heavily built up area with lots of stops and starts and we needed to make headway to get to our planned overnight stop. Crossing the border at Irun we took the A15 motorway towards Pamplona and then south to Marcilla where there was an aire close to the motorway. The Spanish tolls are much cheaper than the French and the roads are usually very well surfaced and engineered. One thing to watch though is that the speed limit on motorways is only 90kph if you are over 3.5 tonnes. Motorhomes over that weight are classed the same as trucks in Spain.

Our aire (GPS 42.32071º -1.73158º) was tucked away beside tennis courts at a sports centre and the €3 charge was paid at the small bar, wi-fi was included although the signal strength away from the bar was very poor.

We didn’t get to see anything of the small town as it thundered and lightened and the rain hammered down for ages. Our car park was almost under water. It all cleared by bed time and we had a very quiet night.

The next day, Saturday, it was back on to the AP15 towards Zaragoza, then south east to the coast and our next stop at Valencia Camperstop (GPS 39.57963º -0.44475º),just outside of Betera.

We stopped there the previous year and rather liked it. It is a bit of a hybrid site, part aire and part campsite. There is a cafe/bar that does very good but simple food. You can order a paella in advance and their ham, eggs and chips are just perfect. If you want to explore Valencia they will sell you tickets for the metro station which is just around the corner.

Huston, we have a problem.

We stayed at Valencia Camperstop for two nights but on Monday morning, just as I was coming round from my usual sleepy haze, I was jolted awake by a loud bang and the sound of the water pump running. I guessed immediately what was wrong as the same thing had happened over a year previously.

I leapt out of bed and turned the pump off then removed the panel under the fridge to peer at the Alde heating unit. Sure enough the hot water pipe, where it exits the boiler, had burst and water had been pumped out and into the battery compartment below. The offending pipe, which had a fair sized hole in it, is almost impossible to reach and means that we had no water supply at all.

Fortunately there is a Carthago dealer just outside Valencia and not too far from where we were. After sorting ourselves out, we made our way there.

Autocaravanas Osito was jam packed with caravans and motorhomes so we were directed to park in the street outside while I went to find the reception and see if they would help us. Although Carthago have a European wide warranty the previous time we tried to obtain help at Caen it was refused as they were far too busy. I didn’t hold out much hope here either but the chap in reception spoke good English and seemed sympathetic. If only he could persuade the boss, a young but rather stressed, cold and unsympathetic looking woman. It appeared that they were fully booked for weeks in advance and couldn’t possibly spare a technician to try and help. With much persuasion and a little pleading on my part she finally relented and said that if it could be dealt with quickly they would try. On the side of the street their technician got stuck in and with some difficulty managed to shorten the hose and reconnect it with a modification to hopefully prevent it happening again.

Oops!

Ooops!

As you can imagine we were extremely grateful and the boss, previously rather dour, was quite pleasant and smiley as I paid the bill. The charge for well over an hours labour and a bit of hose was about €26, somewhat less than UK dealers would charge.

Totana.

As we now seemed to have a fully functioning motorhome, complete with water supply, we headed south from Valencia on the A7, then the A35, A31 and back on the A7 towards Mercia. A few km south west of Mercia we turned off the motorway and on to the RM502, past Totana, and on to Camperstop Sierra Espuña.

Camperstop Sierra Espuña

Set in the hills above Totana the camperstop (GPS 37.79397º -1.51099º) is run by Paula and her husband Angel on a piece of land next to their house. Paula is a junior school teacher and Angel an electrician who looks after the technical equipment in the local hospital. When the land overlooking their house came up for sale they were concerned about what might be built there so bought the plot themselves. A British couple who rent a house from them and are keen motorhomers suggested a camperstop and so it came to be. Martin and Judith are members of Motorhome Fun forum and have frequently written about the area, so it has become a favourite with other forum members and is how we knew about it.

The camperstop

It is just a flat parking area, on two levels, with space for about 30 vans. 6amp hookup is available if required plus the usual water and dump facilities plus free wi-fi. There is a small building with showers, paid by a slot meter, plus local info and books to borrow. It is all very simple but is in pleasant countryside with views over the hills and mountains.

The shower block

Shower, library and information block

View from our pitch

The view from our pitch

It must be the friendliest place we have ever stopped. There was lots of chat and banter and in a very short time we made friends with a number of people.

G&T anyone?

Anyone for a G&T?

We intended to stop for a couple of days but ended up staying for two weeks, it is just that sort of place.

Evening sky

Evening sky

Moving on.

After two very pleasant weeks of doing very little we tore ourselves away from Totana and headed down to the sea.

We had been recommended a wild camping spot by the sea at La Azohia, not far from Cartagena, but when we arrived there we quickly decided it wasn’t our ‘cup of tea’, so after a bit of lunch we moved on.

Taray Camper Park

At Calnegre there is a large aire, Taray Camperstop (GPS 37.51512º -1.39853º), right by the sea and in the middle of countryside. It has to be said that the countryside is mostly covered in poly tunnels as this is prize fruit and veg growing land but it is a peaceful spot for a couple of days. Like Totana, you just drive in and park where you want in the marked out bays and the owner collects the money, €6 per night, in the evening.

Taray Camper Park 2

As we had been away for four weeks it was time to start slowly heading north again so we retraced our steps back to Valencia and the camper park for a nights stop.

From Valencia it was north again to Amposta and the Delta de L’Ebre.

Centre de serveis Tourístics

Free aire at Delta de L'Ebre

A flat wild place of rice paddies, canals, wildlife and birds of all kinds. A large free aire (GPS 40.65877º 0.67486º) is situated next to a restaurant and tourist centre with bird hides and plenty of walks and cycle trails.

Delta de L'Ebre

Water, water everywhere.

The delta

Hitting the road again we were now heading back to France. To keep well away from built up areas, particularly Barcelona, we took the AP7 motorway all the way to Perpignan. Leaving the motorway just north of Perpignan airport we carried on north on the D900 to Narbonne where we turned towards the sea and Gruissan.

Back in France.

Gruissan marina

Gruissan marina (GPS 43.10417º 3.09964º) is another of our favourite stops when the weather is good, but it can be extremely windy at times. This time it was glorious, almost cloudless sky and just enough breeze to keep it comfortable, perfect. It was so pleasant that we stayed for three nights.

Enjoying the sun

Gruissan

Distant snow

Distant snow

Leaving Gruissan, we planned to stop at the aire at Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, famous for its cheese.

When we arrived at this small village, high in the hills and almost in the middle of nowhere, the car park and aire (GPS 43.98296º 2.98108º) was jam packed with cars. There wasn’t room to park a bike let alone 25ft of motorhome. It must have been a free cheese day or something but we couldn’t understand why it would be so busy in the middle of the week.

A quick recalculation and, after gingerly reversing out and turning round, we carried on through the hills to the Lac de Pareloup.

Looking over the Lac

We found the aire at the Lac (GPS 44.20027º 2.77601º) last summer and loved it and when we arrived this time the barriers were wide open which meant free parking. Whoopee! It’s such a lovely spot that I have absolutely no objection to paying but a freebie is always a bonus.

Lac de Pareloup

We would have liked to stay for an extra day but next morning it had clouded up so we headed for the hills once more and a long drive, passing Rodez, Figeac, Souillac and on to the A20 north. The miles were gobbled up on the motorway as we passed Limoges and on to Vierzon where we took the D2020 and eventually arrived at Lamotte-Beuvron (GPS 47.59816º 2.02415º) for our overnight stop.

On April Fools Day we continued north and another fairly long drive to return to La Mailleraye.

After two or three long runs we were now well ahead of schedule as our return tunnel crossing was still four days away so we could catch our breath and just chill for a few days on the riverbank. The weather was still lovely so the chairs were out and we made the best of the sun to top up our tans before heading back home and reality once more.

Elma

Elma

North Sea Giant

North Sea Giant 

Busy River Seine

Braemar

Braemar

2016 – A Record Year.

At least for us it has been a record with 165 nights spent in the motorhome, well over our previous total of 119 in 2014. Gosh, that’s five and a half months!

It was a very different year for us as our lovely aeroplane, Vulcan XH558, stopped flying at the end of October 2015. That meant an end to our regular airshow attendance as part of the Vulcan to the Sky Events Team which had taken up a chunk of our summers since we started volunteering in 2008. There was no doubt that we were going to miss the airshows and the company of the excellent team of volunteers plus engineers and air crew.

However, that door closing meant fewer commitments and left another door wide open – more travel in Celine, our one year old Carthago.

Before we could go too far there was the first annual check over and some warranty jobs to be carried out on Celine by our dealer in Staffordshire. Once they were done in February we had a couple of nights at Kingsbury Water Park C&CC site, just to make sure there were no problems or work not done.

Back home we had a new central heating boiler fitted but the dark, dank days of winter were getting to us. After less than two weeks at home we were back in Celine and heading south on our first winter sun holiday.

A slow drive through France in decent weather took us to the Spanish border close to Biarritz and heavy rain and warnings of snow. It was amazing to see Spanish snow ploughs on every motorway slip road with engines running and lights flashing, just waiting for the snow to arrive. Puts the UK snow preparation to shame!

The Portuguese hill towns near the border with Spain fairly ‘blew us away’. Marvão and Monsaraz were just stunning and the few days we spent ‘wilding’ beside a huge man made lake were just beautiful.

wild-camping-by-the-lake

Wild camping by the lake.

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Marvelous Marvão.

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The convent beside Marvão aire

Moving further south to the Algarve we were disappointed to find the amount that it had been built up since we were regular visitors there, probably more that 20 years previously. Keeping a little inland we had fun and laughs when we stayed at ‘Pedro’s’ aka Motorhome Friends.

Making our way slowly east we spent a couple more nights in Portugal before crossing back into Spain again and then heading north and back across France.

Our first proper winter trip was a great success. Six weeks and 3000 miles and we will definitely be doing something similar again.

We were only home for about 10 days before we were off again, this time just a few days in Lincolnshire to get some much needed jet noise at RAF Coningsby.

After 10 more days at home it was back to France again in May for a month. This time the weather and the French unions tried to spoil our fun and although we had to change plans a little, they didn’t succeed in wrecking the trip. Shortages of fuel were being reported in many ares and heavy rain caused a lot of flooding but we managed to keep away from both. A planned meet up with friends had to be put on hold but we will get together soon I’m sure. Having spent a lot of time in the south we came home via the Champagne region to avoid floods and found a wonderful aire at Mutigny, surrounded by vineyards and with lovely views.

growing-champagne

Growing Champagne.

Home from France and there were loads of jobs to catch up with in the house and garden and we actually stayed around for nearly a month.

July meant more jet noise as we went to the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford in Gloucestershire. We were booked into the Caravan Club’s rally field just across the road from the airfield and instead of working our socks off at the Vulcan stand, we spent a week sitting in the sun and watching the aircraft fly above us. Another brilliant week which we intend to repeat.

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The ‘Reds’ at RIAT

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Colours of Italy – at RIAT.

We had intended to take a trip to Scotland after RIAT but household matters had to take priority as we had decorators booked to paint the house exterior.

Another month at home and we were off again, this time to Sussex and our niece’s 18th birthday celebrations. After a weekend at Fairlight Woods CC site we headed once again towards Folkestone and the tunnel.

As it was the middle of August the weather was brilliant, sun and high temperatures for day after day. We chose places to stop that were close to water and had grass to sit out on to help with the cooling. Using mostly aires as usual we did spend a few days on campsites including Camping Champ de La Chapelle, that had recently been taken over by a English chap who was very good company.

Moving south we eventually reached the Pyrenees and a memorable few days wild camping high in the mountains. It was our second time at Lac d’Estaing and it was as lovely as ever.

lac-destaing

The incredibly beautiful Lac d’Estaing.

After driving east and some time beside the Mediterranean we started to head north and found a stunning new aire beside a huge lake, high in the hills. Lac de Pareloup was just heaven for us. Quiet, peaceful and uncrowded ,it had wonderful views and good walks. Another favourite to add to the list of places that we must return to.

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Surveying the Lac.

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A peaceful pitch beside the Lac.

After six weeks we returned home at the end of September to another list of jobs that needed sorting but soon the itchy feet were raring to go again.

After only 10 days at home it was off for a few days in Lincolnshire for more jet noise, followed by nearly a month at home.

The jobs list was getting longer but with a concentrated effort quite a lot got done outside. A new timber log store was ordered, assembled and put in place to get rid of the scruffy heaps of assorted wood that were scattered around. Much sawing and chopping was done as we amazed ourselves at the amount of wood we had accumulated. The wood burner will be much used this winter I think.

Internet forums are dangerous places, particularly motorhome forums!

A thread on Motorhome Fun spoke of campsites in northern Spain and folk wearing shorts and tee shirts, walking beside the sea, while we were cold and wet with mid November weather in the UK. Kate said that with Christmas soon upon us there was far too much to do to even think about going all that way.

Another wet, cold November day and minds were slowly beginning to change. By Tuesday evening the decision was made. Bugger it, why not! Let’s just do it!

Celine was packed, fridge switched on, tanks filled and a trip to Ipswich to stock up with food. On Friday morning in mid November we were off down the A12 again towards Folkestone.

Another slow-ish drive through France on wonderfully empty roads and free aires at night. The weather wasn’t kind at first as we managed to coincide our trip with an ‘Arctic Plunge’ and storms in the Mediterranean. We arrived in Spain to sunshine though and got settled in to Camping Les Medes just outside the small town of L’Estartit on the Costa Brava.

lestartit

L’Estartit.

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Camping Les Medes.

The mixed weather eventually settled down to cool nights and sunny days, just about warm enough for those tee shirts.

After a little over two weeks in Spain it was time to drive back home. What a drive it was. Every day was sunny and with the low winter sun behind us the scenery was lit to perfection. Houses and villages with their mellow stone glowed in the sunlight. Almost every town and village we passed through or stopped at was dressed for Christmas with trees, lights and silver and gold wrapped parcels strung along the streets. We have had many memorable drives through France but that one must be top of the list.

We have done around 12,000 miles in Celine this year and she has done 25.7mpg from new, not bad for a 4.5 tonne truck.

I’m still loving the auto gear box and the expensive levelling jacks we had fitted have been brilliant. Celine has been a real pleasure to drive.

Mechanically she has performed perfectly with the only problem being a split windscreen, caused by a stone chip. The windscreen was eventually replaced after we had driven over 3500 miles with the crack slowly getting longer.

There have been a couple of internal problems that have to be sorted under the warranty when she goes in for service but nothing to stop us using the van.

Plans for 2017?

So far we are booked in for a Carthago Owners rally in the Dordogne in September and we will book a place on the rally field for RIAT at RAF Fairford for July.

Other than those we have nothing firm planned. We would like to go back to Scotland in early summer and the hill villages of Portugal plus more time in Spain seem attractive on a dark winter’s night as I write this.

Watch this space.

A Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

cheers

Cheers!

Heading Home.

Leaving ourselves a comfortable six days to get back to northern France we set off on a cool but sunny Sunday morning. After a stop for supplies at Lidl then gas and diesel it was good bye to the Costa’s and out on to the excellent Spanish roads and northwards. Once again breaking my usual rules we took the toll road over the hills and across the French border, leaving just past Perpignan. The motorway was quiet and an easy drive and well worth the few Euros it cost in tolls. The rest of our route would be free of tolls.

With the low winter sun behind us lighting up the hills and villages the drive was just beautiful. The quality of light was completely different to the harsh, bright, overhead sun of summer. Everything looked softer with the buildings reflecting the sunlight from their mellow stones.

Through the low lying plain around Béziers then on to the excellent and toll free A75 towards the high hills in the distance. Then the start of the steep climb up, up, up, and into the Massif Central with its spectacular scenery. As we approached Millau we left the motorway and dived down into the town and back up the other side, avoiding the toll section across the viaduct. As we are 4.5 Tonnes and over 3 metres high we are likely to get stung with high charges and as the drive through the town only takes about 15 minutes longer and is very scenic we always take that route. You also get to see more of the viaduct than you would driving over it.

Back onto the A75 for a few km and we exit where the motorway drops steeply into the Lot valley and to our overnight stop at La Canourgue.

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No raves allowed here…….even for dogs.

We previously stopped at the free aire at La Canourgue (GPS 44.43339° 3.21173°) earlier in the year and were very taken with the village. This time, although it was getting late in the afternoon, we went for a stroll round the narrow back streets and alleys with water rushing and gurgling through streams and gullies everywhere.

la-canourgue

 

The streams disappear under buildings, houses bridge some of the alleys and you feel that you could be back in medieval times. Everywhere was dressed with Christmas decorations and the whole place had a Christmassy and wintery feel about it.

no-el

No el. Look closely…………gedit?

 

After a very cold night with a hard frost we set off again and back on the A75 north to Clermont- Ferrand. Leaving the motorway we took the D2009, driving through pleasant countryside on another sunny day. Our destination this time was yet another stopover at Sancoins, one of our favourite aires (GPS 46.83402° 2.91576°).

winter-sunrise-over-the-canal

Winter sunrise over the canal.

On Tuesday it was a ‘cross country’ day as we took to more minor roads, crossing the River Loire at Beaugency, heading towards Chateaudun. Bypassing the old town we joined the N10 north to Bonneval. Sitting beside the Loire, Bonneval is another very old town with lots of history. The free aire (GPS 48.17943° 1.38827°) is in a car park beside the ancient walls of a Benedictine abbey dating back to 800 and something. It is now a mental hospital but the magnificent gate house and walls are impressive.

hospital-entrance

Hospital entrance.

A stream, complete with a good population of ducks, forms a sort of moat around the old town, crossed by narrow stone bridges. It is all a very attractive setting to spend some time in and wander around. We arrived with some trepidation as half of the large car park had been taken over by a travelling fair who seemed to be making it their winter quarters. When we arrived we were the only motorhome there but by evening there were 7 of us squeezed in. The water was still turned on and as there was no jetton required we made the most of it and topped up the tank.

On Wednesday we skirted round Chartres and continued north to possibly our favourite aire in France…..if only the weather were warmer, then it would definitely be favourite.

We arrived at an almost deserted La Mailleraye-sur-Seine aire (GPS 49.48334° 0.77386°) in more lovely winter weather, cold but sunny. After lunch we set out for a short walk along the towpath, which turned into a much longer walk as we went round in a large circle and arrived back from the opposite direction.

I’ve just totted up the number of nights we have spent at La Mailleraye this year and it is an amazing 21 nights………….do you get the impression that we might rather like it there?

After a second lazy day by the Seine we set the sat-nag to take us to Calais and the aire at Cite Europe (GPS 50.93282° 1.81111°). Arriving in the early afternoon we has lunch then set out to empty Carrefour of wine, beer and frozen sauté potatoes. If, like me, you like sauté potatoes you really must try Carrefour’s own brand, cooked in duck fat. They are to die for!

So, that is just about the end of our un-planned, last minute dash to the sun.

It has been a good trip despite the weather at the start. The thing that I think we will both remember most though is the drive back north. The sun shone the whole way back, the views were just stunning in the winter light and we stopped at some lovely places.

Before our next long trip Celine has to have a new windscreen fitted and needs the engine serviced for the first time. In February she is booked in for her second habitation service and check and has a few warranty issues to be sorted. Once that is all done we can start planning the next adventure. Bring it on!