Thursday, 25 August 2016

France 2016 Again Part 1

Off again for our longest trip to France. We had decided to try a bit more "touring" and for us, we were pretty chilled  out as we set off. We decided to go from Dover and worked out that an 8 pm sailing would give us loads of time to get to Dover. Little did we know! So 24 hours after leaving home we finally arrived at the ramp of the ferry and collapsed on board for the 2.5 hour sailing to Dunkirk. Gosh, we were so pleased we had a camper with toilet and loads of food and water on board. 

Chaos on the way to Dover

We felt really sorry for people especially those with small children. I think the worst part was not really knowing what was going on. Thanks to social media we soon worked it out. Surprisingly, when we finally arrived at the port not a customs official was in sight and we were waved through. So what was that all about ? Certainly we will think twice about when and which route we use next time. On a positive note it did enable me to take some interesting pictures of the motorway.

Standing on the motorway near Folkestone. People were actually wandering into the town for food! The motorway was closed on one side for emergency vehicles only.

The spirit of Dunkirk was alive and well. Cars kept breaking down, but friendly lorry drivers helped out.

Here we are!

I may never stand on this spot again. I HOPE I NEVER STAND ON THIS SPOT AGAIN.

Just when we thought we were moving we stopped.

Finally we arrived in France and drove to Les Erables , otherwise fondly called "The Farmers Field" at Escalles, 16 Euros a night.  Monsieur Le Camping was happy to see us and as it was mid morning he had loads of spaces. We settled April our van in and later strolled down to the village for a meal. To say we slept soundly that night would be an understatement. We thought about staying another night as the weather was glorious but decided we had better come up with a plan that involved a bit more movement. 

A distant view of home. Where are the bluebirds?

Seriously, Les Erables is a lovely spot.

Looking at the maps we decided a 2 hour hop would be good the next day, so off to the next stop Neufchatel En Bray and Camping St Claire.

We had been looking for a nice site around 2 hours from Calais for a few years. Camping St Claire certainly came up to the mark. Beautifully maintained site with excellent toilet facilities, on the edge of a town by a large Le Clerc Supermarket. There was also a restaurant on site. We had a huge pitch on close cut grass, surrounded by lovely flower beds. If you do intend to use this site it only opens at 1 pm for new arrivals. Lots of really nice pitches here and hard standings. There was also an Aire next door,run by the same site, a tad expensive at 12 Euros a night we thought. The campsite at 21 Euros a night was not too bad considering the facilities and the area. It is a very busy site with lots of comings and goings, though quiet at night.

The nearby village, a 10 minute stroll from the campsite.

The icing on the cake was the cycle path which went passed the site. We could have ridden from Dieppe to Paris but settled for a few miles to a nearby chateau and back. A good achievement for us! Seriously, it was a lovely ride,a pretty flat tarmac road in both directions, through lovely countryside. The walk into town along the same track took about 10 minutes

The Cycle Track

Along the cycle track to the nearby chateau de Mesnieres en Bray. Of course closed on a Monday.

Two nights at St Claire, a meal in the restaurant, a walk, a bike ride and a bit of shopping, we were ready to move on. 

Next stop, our old favourite haunt Beaumont Sur Sarthe, just north of Le Mans. This is another site we have travelled to for many years. Recently it has had a change of warden who sadly thinks that a 3 hour lunch break is a good idea in the peak season, with no new arrivals between 12 and 3 pm. At 15 Euros, not expensive, just not as convenient as it used to be and sadly the town of Beaumont is also on the decline. On the positive side, the site is impeccably maintained,has free wifi and is handy for shopping and fuel. We are still looking for a replacement stop off. The site used to be teeming, now sadly we think the new hours have put people off, as they now close at 8 pm when they used to be open till 10 pm. Still, life moves on!

 Feeling much better and getting into the groove of life on the move, we set off early for Parc Verger in Champagnac La Riviere. The main attraction of this site is the lovely countryside and the close proximity to the Voie Verte a great bike track that links Chalus with Ordour Sur Vayres. We must be improving, as we managed the whole bike track with the bit to Chalus done in 45 mins. Good for us, as a ride into Chalus, a biere pression and then a ride home, made us feel like we were trying to be fit and healthy. Parc Verger was quiet for August, which was just as well, as toilet facilities can be under pressure when the site is full. The new owners have development plans for the site, let's hope it includes tree planting as it can be very hot in the summer in the main field, with little shade in the middle!  We were lucky to get a space around the edge of the field with a bit of shade. We were pleased we had our awning which worked perfectly and gave great extra outdoors living space. We loved our new fairy lights too, except so did the buzzy things and they also love me! As it was the weekend we decided to spend 4 days here and even managed a great meal at Dino's in the village (advanced booking required) at 70 euros not the cheapest, but we did have an aperitif, wine, coffee and cognac! A stroll back to the van then for a little snooze.

 The village fair at Ordour was on this weekend too, so we went for a stroll down the bike path for a look. The travellers camp was at the end of the path by the village. Strangely we did not feel uncomfortable picking our way through it and we had a few "bonjours" from the people. We certainly would not have ventured into a travellers camp at home. All the travelling show people live in an assortment of vans including special vehicles for washing machines. It must be a hard life. Raw sewage pumping out onto the road was not the most appealing or healthy thing we saw from the traveller's camp. Hopefully, super French cleaning abilities would sort it out at the end when they left. This local fair was one of the largest in the area, usual side shows, food stalls and the like, we didn't bother to go back when it was in full swing. We grabbed an uninspiring expresso in the local cafe and strolled back. We enjoyed our 4 days at Parc Verger and caught up with Ken & Steph (otherwise known as The Munchies). We looked over their latest baby, the new van, shared a few glasses of wine with them and caught up on their latest adventures. We had hoped to move on to a St Mathieu lake from here for a few days and catch up with our stay from last year. Sadly, the lake had sprung a leak, so that was not to be.Perhaps next year.

Ever on wards, after 4 days we were ready to move on. Towards the coast, via Mont de Marsan. We ambled through the countryside and made for the next stop  Le Pins at St Justin. We had stayed here many years ago and had a memorable meal in the campsite restaurant for our anniversary. The plan was to spend a couple of nights here and then head to the Atlantic coast and find the sea.

A great little pool at Le Pins. Just what you need on a hot day.

A little amble into the village of St Justin, just what we needed to burn off a few calories, all those French pastries were adding up. St Justin, one of the bastide towns of France, slightly off the main tourist route so a bit quieter. One of those sleepy French places. A typical French town with fortified buildings, loads of arches and flowers everywhere.

This was an interesting little attic near the old church.

The local "lock up". Bet it was comfy in there.

The heart of the town. Quite a climb up on a very hot day.

We ate at the restaurant on the camp site, not our best French meal but cheap and cheerful. Le Pins has changed ownership since our last visit and the previous Dutch owners ran an excellent restaurant which has taken a bit of a down turn since they left. We had enjoyed the shade of the pine trees, the facilities were good with loads of hot water but there are probably better places to stay. A bit of road noise, but Le Pins could be a good one night stop when needed, it's a family run site and the owners were very friendly. Next time we would try the municipal campsite in Roquefort a bit further down the road.

Next morning we were on the move again.