Monday 27 September 2010

Leaking in Lot-et-Garrone

From Bergerac we followed the river upstream. It was ten years ago when we last stopped in this part of France. Then we were in a 2CV with our two teenage daughters, all our camping gear and an inflatable dinghy, packing it was a work of art. We had a fortnight in France, staying on Isle d’Oleron for the first week followed by a lovely peaceful site right on the edge of the Dordogne for the second. We couldn’t remember what it was called but we remembered more or less where it was. On Tuesday afternoon as we drove over the bridge at La Buisson-de-Cadouin we both said “That’s it!”and pointed behind us. Dave turned the van round and after ten years we drove back into Camping du Pont de Vicq. It was just as we remembered it; pine trees, grassy bank leading down to a gravel beach and a pitch looking out over the big Dordogne with a high arched bridge to complete the view.
We only meant to stay for one night but a quick look under the front of the van confirmed Dave’s increasing suspicions. We’d been losing coolant for a few days and now we knew why; an alarmingly fast drip was coming from the base of the radiator where the rusty fringe that used to be the bottom seam had finally given up. A quick search of the van for something to bodge it with turned up a cartridge of silicone sealant, so we drained what was left of the coolant, took the radiator out and applied a goodly dose of white goo into and around the hole. On Wednesday morning it still hadn’t set so we booked ourselves in for another night. Apart from cycling into the town and posting some cards, our time was mainly spent floating down the river in our new inflatable dinghy (the old one didn’t last ten years :( ) and then towing it back up to have another go. On Thursday morning Dave put some aluminium tape over the bodge and with fingers crossed, put it all back together. It dripped. Not a lot, so we decided to press on. We filled everything capable of holding water and headed upstream again to explore some more of the region. 20km and a litre of water up the road we got to Beynac-et-Cazenac and parked in the campervan car park. We were just going to have a look round but it was level and quiet and there were no restrictions so we decided to stop for the night and go sightseeing on foot. Beynac and its surrounding area is one of many jewels in the sparkling crown of the Dordogne; the road clinging to the steep river bank, no pavement, just houses built into the rock under towering cliffs dotted with caves and the odd fortified Chateaux perched on top.
The views are spectacular.

We got the bikes out and cycled the 7km to Le Roque de Gageac, the next town along the river. We clambered up the narrow alleyways through the impossibly perched houses and looked up at a wooden staircase hanging off the sheer cliff-face leading to a series of caves. It looks as if it might fall down at any moment and it’s all closed off, but it made us wonder how bad it got before somebody shut it!

Back in Beynac we had another climb, first to push the bikes back up to the van, then up to the fortified Chateau; a very impressive and almost intact 13th century castle with a small town surrounding it. It’s a hike up to the top (well everything around here is a hike!) but the view is worth it.
On Friday morning we had a re-assessment. Silicone sealant was never designed to hold hot water under pressure and a little white volcano was spraying the inside of the front bumper at the rate of two litres an hour. It was becoming very obvious that a new radiator was the only solution. The next place where we would be stopping long enough to have any hope of that happening was at Jacqui & Al’s in Tarn et Garonne. So, after an hour in a village car park where Dave took it all apart again and re-did the bodge, we picked the most direct route to their house. This time he used Caravan Seam Sealer (chewing gum on a roll) to plug the hole. A lot better, should have done that first time! Unfortunately it means we didn’t get to revisit Sarlat or see Rocamadour and some other lovely places but needs must...

Keeping a close eye on the temperature gauge and checking the water level every half hour revealed that this time the bodge had been fairly successful and we got to Cotures around 3pm to be met by lots of animals, but no Jacqui or Al. By the time they came home we’d made friends with the geese and were sitting in deck chairs on their front lawn with cups of tea and a book each. We’re going to be here for a while; obtaining a new radiator locally was going to be extortionate even if it were possible, which it isn’t, so we’ve ordered one online for a quarter of the price. While we’re waiting for it we might borrow a car and go back to see the bits of the Dordogne we missed. Also these guys would quite like to go for a visit to the UK to see family so we’ve agreed to house sit for them while they do. They really had to twist our arms...Not!

Next week we will be mostly learning all about goats, geese, guinea fowls, chucks & ducks.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Dawdling in the Dordogne

We were waved off from Chatenet by our fabulous hosts Paul & Janice on Monday morning and headed towards Bergerac. We’ve had 3 very relaxing days R&R with them, (not that we needed it really, this whole trip is rest and relaxation) but it was lovely to stop and do very little for a while. Sunday was the exception though, that’s when 8 of us took 2 2CVs to Angouleme for the Circuits des Ramparts. For one week a year this fortified French town is invaded by thousands of petrol-heads from all over Europe to celebrate the gods of historic internal combustion. Half the town is closed off for three days, Armco is erected across the front doors of houses, and blatently insane speed freaks race through the streets with complete abandon in cars that would usually be found behind a length of red rope in a stately home.
And they don’t take prisoners; there were plenty of tyres squealing round all three hairpins and the afternoon was regularly punctuated by the sound of highly polished engines being pushed beyond the red line. The whole day was, in a word, thrilling. We walked round the static displays in the morning, had a very French Entrecot & Frites (with extra car & people watching) and an afternoon spectating. Thank you Janice & Paul for a wonderful relaxing time.

Monday night was spent at the side of the road between Montpon and Mussidan after a lunch stop and a walk round a little park in Menesterol on the river Isle.
On Tuesday we went on to Bergerac. Everyone has told us how beautiful this city is but you have to come here to really know what they mean. We parked the van quite away out and cycled in, locking the bikes to a post near the bridge over the Dordogne, then had a picnic overlooking the old wharf and the pleasure boats. The old part from the river up to the statue of Cerano outside the church is not that big, perhaps a dozen little winding streets or so, but every turn round every building has you reaching for your camera.
Oddly shaped timber frames with tile infill abound and there doesn’t appear to be a truly vertical piece of masonry anywhere. Add to that pavement cafes, abundant flowers and the whole place scrupulously clean, and you get some idea. Cameras don’t do it justice and neither - of course - do words.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Pausing in Paradise

After leaving the Ile d’Oleron we followed the coast for a while through the lovely Foret de Coubre, through La Palmyre to Royan. There’s a big zoo in the forest at La Palmyre, we took some photos through the fence.
From Royan we carried on down the coast, finally turning away from the Atlantic at Mortagne. We are now at the home of our friends Paul and Janice. They have a beautiful house and 3 holiday gites in Chatenet, and they are perfect hosts. Altogether there are 8 of us here at the moment and it’s a lovely place to be. We’re staying till Monday, chilling out by the pool, walking the dog, sampling local produce (mostly wine & cake) and on Sunday we’re all going to Angouleme for the Circuit des Remparts; a vitage car race through the streets of the town. We’ve heard about it from various people; when Paul & Janice said they were going we jumped at the chance.
This trip is so different to anything we’ve done before; we’ve had 9 days of mostly driving on small yellow roads, stopping whenever we feel like it and not having to be anywhere in particular each night. Any previous jaunt across France has usually involved a high speed dash from the ferry to as far as possible in one go. We have decided, by a process of elimination that the 16th of Dec would be the best day to sail back to the UK. We reckon we’ll go from here via the Dordogne to Toulouse where some more of our friends live, spend October travelling down to the bottom of Spain and November travelling back up to Toulouse, then do a run up to Calais as late as possible so we don’t get cold.

Chillin' in Charente-Maritime

We’re still alive!
On Tuesday morning there was still no-one in the reception so we got on our bikes and went exploring. When we found we were about 5 minutes from a fabulous beach we decided not moving the van was the best bet and rode back to the site to get a book each and our swimming togs.
Half the afternoon was spent getting bashed about by the Atlantic until we were both knackered and Dave had turned blue, the other half was spent lying in the sun reading or collecting some more mussels. Dave cooked them the same way as the previous evening (fried onions, splash of red, salt & pepper, chuck ‘em in and put the lid on till they open up) but for some reason half of them didn’t open. Still, the ones that did were yummy! Later on we went for a stroll into the village, posted some cards and almost got back to the van before the mozzies came out in force.
On Wednesday morning we still couldn’t find anyone to pay for camping, so with full water tanks, charged batteries and feeling very guilty but clean, we drove off towards La Rochelle.
We stopped at a boulangerie for croissants on the way, but ended up with pain au raisin instead; the greedy Frenchman in front of us had all the croissants. Then we went to two different McDonald’s in La Rochelle; the wifi didn’t work at the first one, but the chips were nice and, although the wifi was fine in the second one, Dave managed to order two McFlurries by mistake. We seem to have managed to find free camping, however free wifi is proving rather expensive!
After leaving La Rochelle we headed for the Ile d’Oleron.
We came here 10 years ago with Chloe and Frankie and we thought it would be fun to re-visit for the night. It was about lunchtime when we drove over the bridge onto the island and we stopped at a sea salt museum which happened to have a weekly market outside. When you walk round the drying beds you can see the salt crystals glistening on the surface of the water.
The market stalls were all selling lovely looking homemade and/or local produce and we bought some delicious quiche for lunch.
About half way up the island we found a nice wide lay-by to stop in, on a fairly quiet road with the beach just over the dunes on the other side, then we cycled into La Cotiniere for a look round and some post cards. When we got back to the van we went for a walk along the beach and a bit of rock-pool hopping before tea. There isn’t much spare space when you’re living in a van, but we seem to have found some. The trouble is we’ve filled it with shells.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

A Van in Vendee

With our step safely back on board we drove to Locmariaquer at the end of one of the arms that form the Golf Du Morbihan.
After a look round and a walk along the beach we went back to Auray, then on to Vannes, dodging round the “Route BarrĂ©” signs for the half marathon that was being run that afternoon. We ate our lunch overlooking the river in Vannes then went down the other arm to Port de Crouesly.
We looked at the hundreds of gorgeous sailing boats moored in the marina then walked past the harbour entrance round the headland to Port-Navalo; fewer, less posh boats.
We took photos across the entrance of where we’d been in the morning and then, due to the fact that Ann-Marie had stubbed her little toe on a tree root and needed some sympathy, we had an ice-cream on the way back.

We then set of westward again looking for a night stop. Ann-Marie came up trumps on the navigation department by picking out the perfect spot.
We were on the Vilaine estuary, pulled off the road on the river bank, with the gentlest of waves lapping the shore about 20’ from our door. Dave made a little camp fire on the shore and we watched the sun set into the sea then ate campfire toast and chocolate digestives while the stars came out.
The next morning, Monday, dawned with a mist over the river and a Cormorant flying display. We gave marks out of ten for pairs synchronisation and wave skimming.

A quick breakfast then off again, leaving Brittany behind and heading south into the Pays De La Loire. Round the headland at Piriac and through the salt marshes surrounding Guerande; colourful wheelbarrows and heaps of drying salt around the tidy productive ones, egrets and wading birds picking through others. Through La Baule with its fantastic beach that Ann-Marie remembered from a childhood holiday; then it had big crashing waves, on Monday it was like a mill pond. On to St-Nazaire where we turned south across the spectacular suspension bridge over the mouth of the Loire.
We stopped for lunch at L’Ermitage on the Cote de Jade. The tide was right out so we walked down the long flat beach out to the sea and picked some mussles for tea. (If this is the last post, you’ll know why!)
We carried on down the Atlantic coast through Pornic, Bourgneuf, Fromentine and St-Jean-de-Monts, finally stopping at St-Giles-Croix-de-Vie where, thanks to three different supermarkets, we finally managed to get our gas supply sorted out. If anyone is thinking of going abroad for an extended period and is relying on bottled gas it’s worth knowing that the (commonly available in the UK) Calor Gas 7kg blue butaine bottles don’t exist. In fact Calor Gas doesn’t exist. You need to get a contract with a French gas company, hire a bottle and change your regulator. (And find a little gubbins adaptor-thingy; hence the supermarkets.) Then you have to carry the French bottle around inside the van ‘cos it won’t fit in the gas locker and you’ve got two empty Calor Gas bottles in there anyway. More stuff cluttering the place up.

We decided that after three nights on the side of the road it was time for a campsite so after a walk round the town and another ice cream (Ann-Marie’s toe still hurt) we set off again. We stopped at one or two closed sites before finding one that looked open at Brem-sur-Mer. The barriers were up but the reception was closed. It was getting late, so we drove in, found a pitch and set up, closely followed by a French van doing the same thing.

It’s a very pleasant site, lovely showers, electric, water and very quiet. It should be 17 euros a night. The mussels were delicious; if we’re still here in the morning and we see someone we’ll pay them.

Monday 13 September 2010

Brits in Brittany

Friday morning saw us staying put on site near Le Mont Saint-Michel. We did some laundry and housework then found out how to use the “service pour Camping Cars” (the filling and emptying station). Around 2pm, when the washing was just about dry, we set off south west to Brittany. We had a night on the side of the road overlooking the Atlantic at the end of the Quiberon peninsula.
We loved Quiberon; another “almost” island joined to mainland France by a road and railway line on a strip of sand.  On Saturday morning it was alive with a massive street market; all the things you’ve ever seen in a French market and at least two stalls of each. Huge pans of paella, 8’ high chicken rotisseries and mountains of glistening olives jostling for space between beautiful handmade shoes, lace & jewellery. Quiberon itself is our idea of the perfect seaside town. It’s just touristy enough to be fun without being tacky, in fact some of the clothes shops were very up market indeed.
After lunch we drove back to the mainland and round the corner to Auray which we’d heard good things about. On the edge of town we stopped at McDonalds and checked out McFlurries and WIFI. Verdict; Pretty Dammed Good. We parked in the rather unremarkable newer part of town and walked down towards the river. Auray changes quite suddenly and, almost like walking onto a film set, we found ourselves down by the river in the old part. We sat in the sun drinking coffee and lemonade surrounded by moored yachts, timber framed buildings and a beautiful 17th century stone bridge.
We walked along the river for a while before climbing back up the hill and realising that neither of us could remember exactly where we’d parked the van. We managed to find it after a small detour; we like to keep a low profile and had tucked it away in the corner of a car park. As it was quiet and level we decided to stay the night.When we packed up in the morning we couldn’t find our step. A quick re-trace turned it up. It was neatly placed on the grass outside McDonald’s, just where we’d left it.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Landing in Normandy

Here we are then, driving on the wrong side of the road and feeling stupid in shops. Because we’re us, we managed to get a new phone and a cheaper contract in Dover with about 15 minutes to spare before we sailed, then sorted out our European vehicle recovery over the phone while sat in the queue for the ferry. The crossing was happily uneventful; drove on, ate sarnies, read book, drove off. On our first night abroad we met up with Carole and Alastair, friends of ours from Lincolnshire. They were on their way home and parked up in a lovely campsite at St Vallerie sur Somme, near Abbeville. We pulled up outside the gate, walked in and had a very enjoyable evening with them. After two or three glasses of red it would have been irresponsible to have driven anywhere so our first night outside the UK was spent in the visitor’s car park. A bit cheeky but definitely the way to go. On Wednesday morning it threw it down from about 2am. There seemed little point doing anything apart from driving, so that’s what we did. It didn’t stop raining till we were the other side of Caen, from where we headed to Bayeux.
Bayeux Cathedral is breathtaking - sort of Gothic Disney - and huge! We’ve never seen so many stained glass windows. There is restoration work going on and one of the windows has recently been renovated. We were wandering round inside with our mouths open as the sun was streaming through the new glass, lighting up the wall next to it.

Of course you can’t go to Bayeux without visiting the Tapestry. Neither of us was quite prepared for was how big it is; 70 meters long! It’s beautifully displayed in a protective environment in a dedicated museum. You get an audio handset which explains the story the Tapestry depicts as you slowly walk from scene to scene alongside it. There’s lots of other stuff to see in the city and we thought it was well worth visiting.

When we left we headed north to the coast and found a campervan site near Omaha Beach. 6 euros a night with electric; can’t be bad! We had a walk down to the sea after tea, but a combination of cliff erosion, dusk and a high tide meant we never reached it.

On Thursday we carried on along the coast for a bit and drove down to Omaha Beach.
At first it looks very ordinary; grassland leading down to the sea, a cafĂ© and some dinghies in the dunes, a few tourist wandering about. But then you notice that the tourists aren’t actually wandering anywhere, they’re standing still, and you know that they’re thinking what you’re thinking. Sadness, gratitude, guilt, relief all rolled up together. It’s a very moving place, long may it remain so.

We drove down to Granville, then followed the Rue De Baie, which hugs the coast round to Le Mont Saint-Michel. After finding a site and having an early tea we walked the 2km along the access road.
Mont Saint-Michel is very different from it’s English counterpart; it’s a lot bigger for one thing, and it doesn’t get cut off by the tide. It’s also far more commercial with souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, even a cash machine. The view from the ramparts is amazing; we were there at low tide and there was nothing but sand for miles. It was strange to think that only 6 weeks ago we were looking out of the van windows towards St Michael’s mount.

Monday 6 September 2010

The last final ultimate farewell

If you ever buy a 26 year-old camper you’ll soon discover that you need to carry a serious tool box and a good selection of quick-fix items; cable ties, jubilee clips, gaffa tape etc. Just as we turned off the A1 towards Wisbech we noticed that the temperature gauge was heading rapidly for the red line. We pulled and had a look under the front to find a steady dribble of water. Dave’s first thought was a holed radiator or a burst hose, but it turned out to be the bottom hose clip that had rusted through. We didn’t have a spare one and all the cable ties had been foolishly used constructing the rocker cover racer, so a length of shock cord was put to use holding the hose back on. After refilling with 10 litres of water (it’s handy having a fresh water tank) we were off again. We got to Glen and Steve’s only a bit later than planned to a brilliant welcome,
and a delicious tea. Later, we all sat on the sofa and watched Avatar; Fab!

On Thursday we went over to Janet and Steve’s (yes, we know lots of Steves). Dave had a day doing all the little outstanding jobs in the van, (including a new hose clip) while Ann-Marie and Janet went to sunny Hunstanton with Rowan & Ruby; Janet’s Children and Ann-Marie’s God-children. Ann-Marie and the kids went swimming in the sea despite the fact (according to Janet) that it was minus three and threatening snow.
We went back to Glen’s on Thursday night, and left for Sherringham on Friday morning via a day in King’s Lynn, most of which was spent in a Wetherspoon’s; good cheap coffee, free wifi and everything charged up. We’re getting better at this mobile life.

We got to Breck Farm camp site at teatime to find Mandy, Chas, Debbie and Mark already set up. Mandy and Chas were celebrating their wedding anniversary and had invited us and other Pig Dyke Molly friends to join them. Glen, Steve & Holly and Janet & Katie turned up on Saturday so we had a lovely evening sitting round a campfire.
On Sunday we all went to the Lobster at Sherringham where we bid everyone goodbye and set off for the south coast. We decided that Herne Bay sounded like a nice place to spend the night - Ann-Marie’s parents used to go there in their courting days - and it is.
We arrived with a barely working clutch and found we had no juice in the leisure battery; not the best way to do it, but we parked in a back street overlooking the sea, had a romantic candlelit dinner, and this morning adjusted the clutch and replaced a blown fuse. (see above re. Tools etc.)

While Dave had the bonnet up a chap came out of the house opposite, not with the “Get orf moi larnd!” that he was expecting but with a “Do you need any help? We’re looking for a van like this”. So we invited them in, showed them all around and told them what we’re up to. Lovely people with a son who’s into narrowboats. What’s not to like?

This is our last night in the UK. Tomorrow, after two months driving round the country saying goodbye to everyone, we’re off to Dover and the continent. We’ve only got a vague plan about where to go, no doubt it’ll develop as we go. We’re going into the Vodafone shop in Dover in the morning to try and reduce our monthly outgoings. Nothing like leaving it till the last minute!

The next Blog entry will be from foreign parts.

Friday 3 September 2010

Romanes Eunt Domus

We got to Sparsholt College on Tuesday morning. We all knuckled down and got well ahead of Carol’s schedule for setting up for the 2CVGB National Meeting. Just as well; it rained constantly on Wednesday. The set-up crew sat in the information tent watching the fire buckets fill themselves, dashing out whenever it looked as if it might brighten up to bang another sign into the increasingly muddy ground. On Thursday morning there was still the odd shower but by opening time at 2pm we were ready. We’d had rubble laid on the entrance and exit gates, and a bark chip roadway spread across the main drag through the site. A steady flow of club members started arriving, and barring having to push the odd one through a gateway, two days of rain had very little adverse effect on what turned into a thoroughly enjoyable meeting. The weather got better through the Bank Holiday and most people went home with dry tents. On Saturday we had a little stall in the flea market; Citroen paraphernalia at incredible prices. We now don’t have anything in the van that doesn’t belong in it. For Dave the highlight of the meeting was the Rocker Cover Racing; a just-a-bit-of-fun-but-can-get-intensely-competitive contest where home made vehicles, constructed from at least one 2CV valve cover and powered solely by gravity, race each other down a sloping track. Dave’s started off as a simple three wheeler, but then Heath-Robinson took over; he thought it would be fun to have a video record of the descent so he mounted his camera on it. The bad news is he got knocked out in the first round, for the good news click here.

Ann-Marie’s favourite was a tour round the college farm on a tractor & trailer where she got to see piglets being born and held a day-old one, and had her finger suckled by a calf.

On the Saturday night there was a toga party; we put a couple of bed sheets to good use, made head-dresses out of a nearby hedge and were thoroughly overshadowed by a lot of people who’d put far more effort in. We do, however, claim kudos for not wimping out and wearing a T shirt underneath.
The Meeting ended on Monday; it was all over so quickly. Coops & Carol did a fantastic organisation job and we were proud to be part of their crew. By Tuesday afternoon the site was spick and span and Dave and Coops were in a big Transit heading for Lincolnshire to put all the equipment back in the club’s lock-up. We stayed on their driveway that night and on Wednesday morning headed back up north via Ann-Marie’s parents house to say goodbye; we’re at a party near Sherringham this weekend, then down to Dover and on a ferry on Tuesday.

Of course being at the National meant we also got chance to see loads of our mates from the 2CV club and let them know what we’re up to. Talking of which; we’ve had a change of plan. What – us? Who’d have guessed?

Before buying our boat we were going to take five months going round the world; Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, America, home. We’d talked to a couple of travel firms who put trips like this together and finally picked Trailfinders as the most helpful and intuitive. They’d found us some fantastic hotels and fly-drive packages, tours, train journeys and all the flights; all the things we’d asked for. We knew it was going to be a lot of money, but we’d told ourselves that it was going to be the trip of our lifetime; we’d never again be in this position. On Wednesday night we went online and transferred the money for the trip out of our savings and into our current account. At 3am we were both still wide awake.


We’re still going to go to New Zealand and Australia, where a lot of Dave’s Cousins live, but for a much shorter time and not until after the height of the tourist season at Christmas. We’ve never had a holiday longer than two weeks before; a round the world trip would just merge into a blur, and when it came down to the wire we simply couldn’t justify spending what amounts to half a narrowboat on a five month jolly. We wrote an apologetic email to Trailfinders and transferred the money back. We’ve been invited to Frankie and Harry’s for Christmas in their new house, so we’ll probably be flying out around the 4th of January and getting back to go boat hunting sometime in March or April. From now until the end of December we’re going to swan about in the warmer end of Europe; we’ve got friends in Toulouse, Malaga and Bordeaux, so that gives us somewhere to aim at.

Lists - Dave’s got a Day in the van on his own on Thursday, so he’s got a little list of outstanding things to do. Nothing has been added for quite a while though.

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...