Wednesday 31 August 2022

Back to Trégastel

Wednesday 31 August 2022

Nido's parked up at yet another free aire at Pleumur-Bodou.  Today's been almost a carbon copy of a day on our last trip in 2019.

Waking to overcast skies and a strong breeze, we had a lazy morning; walked the dog, showers and breakfast before heading off at about 1130.  First stop was some food shopping then on to Guingamp to use the free service point. After two days off-grid with no facilities, we needed to top up with fresh water and dump grey and black waste.  Although our plan is to head a little further west but inland, we still wanted to return to Trégastel (or Trégastell in Breton, which is the same spelling in Welsh), as it's such a beautiful place, in fact one of our most favourite beaches. 

The weather had improved with some strong sunny spells but still with a brisk onshore breeze. We again parked up in the large free car park near the sailing club.  Salty is banned from the beaches (he doesn't know why!) so he stayed in the van.  All the blinds were closed but with the skylights cracked open, so it was cool inside, plus he had plenty of water and his cooling mat.  It was only a short walk to the beach, which is white sand and crushed sea shells - idyllic.  Although the tide was quite a way out already, there was enough water for us to enjoy a deliciously cool swim in crystal clear water, swimming around the large pink granite rocks, carved into smooth shapes by the fierce winter storms.  We loved this place last time and we still do.  We only spent about an hour away from the van and Salty was absolutely fine when we returned.  We had a quick cup of tea and a sandwich before driving the short 7km to our current stop.  

We've stayed before. It's a free aire without about 20 spaces.  It's next to the Gaulois Village and over the road from the PlanetariumLe Radôme - Cité des Télécoms is visible as a huge white dome above the trees.  We're surrounded by forest and now the day visitors have left, it's a quiet spot to spend the night. Once set up, we took Salty for a good walk through the forest and along some country lanes, ending up at Le Menir de Saint Uzec, a block of granite weighing about 80 tons 7.4m above the ground (with about another 2m underground.  It was erected in the Neolithic period and 'christianised' in 1674, when a number of carvings were made into the grant.   We ate outside, moving back into the van for our cup of tea and pâtisserie. Today it's Carte au Citron, again from Super U.  The pastry looks a bit pale but it's actually crunchy and the filling is delicious.  Overall a lovely texture and flavour. So this earns a good 8/10!

We swam around those rocks to the far left

Menhir de Saint-Uzec

Beach Park Ups

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Nido's parked up at another free stopover at Plage du Palus, not far from Plouha.  There's about 20 marked motorhome pitches with a large car park that I guess could also be used.  There's no services here except for waste bins, but there are a couple of bars and restaurants, plus the usual pétanque courts and a children's play area.  

We left the Camping Car Park aire at Hirel yesterday morning having used the facilities to fill up with fresh water and dump waste.  Leaving the site was easy - just offered up our CCP card to the keyboard and the barrier lifted.  The app shows exactly what time we entered and left and the €12 charge - overall very impressed with our first stop with them.  Next stop was a Super U for food and diesel.  I'd bought a couple of extra USB-C cables for our phones and tablet before we left home, but I think they're Chinese specials as they charge very slowly compared to the ones we left at home and seem to get a bit warm. So I bought another from Super U which seems to be working much better; I'll get another the next time I'm in there are put the Amazon purchase down to experience.

Fully-provisioned up, we drove to a parking area at Saint-Cast-le-Guildo, high above the harbour and marina and on the coastal path.  Overnight stays (no services or bins) are allowed, but we just wanted somewhere with a view to enjoy our lunch.  Refuelled, we took a walk along the GR34 coastal path finishing up at a lovely looking beach - Plage de la Mare.  Unfortunately dogs aren't allowed on most of the beaches between 15 July - 15 September, so we didn't get to explore it or have a paddle.  I guess it's understandable wanting to keep their beaches dog-free during the summer season, but it's disappointing all the same. Salty was again very miffed that he could see the sea, he could smell the sea but he wasn't allowed in the sea!  We retraced our steps back to the car park and carried on, passing through lovely Breton villages with honey-coloured stone cottages, lovely gardens and hollyhocks out front.

Our stop for the night was a large car park at Plage de Saint-Maurice.  There's no facilities or bins, so all vans need to be self-sufficient.  There were several vans here already but plenty of space for use to park.  It appears in Search for Sites as an aire, but really it's more of a free overnight park-up, so was also in the Park4Night app.  I've tried to get on with Park4Night but to be honest I'm often disappointed by the park-ups on offer.  Many seem to be down a narrow, rutted track or in a lay-by and it's just not how we like to camp.  In the UK, it recommends lots of stops that have 'no overnight camping' signs, yet people still stay and recommend it.  This seems to go against the spirit of 'free-camping' and I'd prefer not to get the 'knock on the door' in the early hours being told to move on. Horses for courses I guess.

We parked side-on with a great view of the bay.  The tide was out but on the turn and high water was 9.30pm.  So after dinner we wandered down with Salty to check out the small church above the estuary (it was closed) and explore the beach - he's allowed on this one!  There's large areas of the beach by the estuary that are currently out of bounds due to dangerous blue and green algae, so we steered clear and headed in the opposite direction, keeping a close eye on the racing incoming tide to make sure we didn't get cut off.  Salty really enjoyed his first paddle, even racing into the sea and jumping the waves; he normally doesn't like a sea that fights back!  After plenty of zoomies and covered in sand, he looked a much happier dog.  Back at the van he needed a good brush down outside - a rawhide treat was sufficient bribery to keep him still for a while.

We sat outside to watch the sunset, with a cup of tea and the day's patisserie.  This time it was two coffee eclairs from the Super U at Matignon.  Good value for money, firm and not droopy but a bit skimpy on the icing and a good coffee taste - 6/10 on the Patt Scoreboard!  The night was very dark with a great view of the stars and we all drifted off to sleep listening to the sea. Salty was shattered and quickly drifted off, soon dreaming of his time on the beach; when dreaming he makes little high-pitched yelping noises, not in pain but I guess sleepy barks of happiness!

This morning I woke first and took Salty for a walk on the beach, before cooking some breakfast which we ate sat outside watching the tide roll in.  The journey here was only about half an hour. I'm enjoying these short hops as we're not in a hurry and the drive generally takes us through some lovely Breton villages.  There were a couple of spaces available when we arrived.  The pitches are on grass and fairly level, facing towards the sea.  

We had melon for lunch (sometimes a baguette free lunch is needed!) before having a bit of a wander.  One of the challenges we've found when travelling with a dog is the beach ban, which makes it harder to find a suitable park-up.  Ideally, we like somewhere where we can take him for a good walk but this isn't always easy to find.  Here they allow dogs on the beach between 7pm and 10am.  This afternoon I took him for a walk along the coastal path while Cathy had a snooze (she's not been feeling great again today), which gave him some exercise and this evening we took him down to the beach for a run around and a play in the surf, followed by a cup of tea sat on our chairs watching the swimmers and the tide coming in (like the oldies that we now are!). So we may start to head inland soon, to find some forest and river walks.  There's still plenty of Brittany to explore.

Lunch park-up at Saint Cast Le Guildo

Chateau de la Roche Goyon, Latte Fort on the headland

View from the galley door - Plage de Saint-Maurice

Quiet beach as the tide raced in 

Chapelle Saint-Maurice, on the cliff top by the park up (photo by Cathy)

Photo by Cathy

Sunset from our seats outside the van (photo by Cathy)

Plage du Palus

We like a free park-up!

Sunday 28 August 2022

Arrived in Brittany

Sunday 30 August 2022

Nido's parked up in a Camping and Car Park Aire near the coastal village of Hirel, between Mont St Michel and St Malo.  From the beach we can see Mont St Michel, standing proud over a huge estuary that completely empties of sea twice a day, then comes galloping in - don't get caught out!

The Camping Car Park (CCP) concept provides access to aires managed by the company.  I've watched their site numbers increase over the years and now they have a network of over 300 sites, mainly in France but increasingly throughout Europe.  I've also seen their news articles about hoping to break into the UK market; I really hope they do but sadly suspect they will hit the usual 'red-tape' barriers thrown up by local councils and those who own private campsites (not forgetting the big two clubs mafia in the UK).  You need a membership card which you have to preload with Euros in order to use the sites.  You can obtain one at any CCP site, but I would imagine this is quite difficult to do on their automated system at the entrance, where you need to provide your full contact details in order to register.  Or you can register online in the comfort of your home (or van) and have the card delivered to your home address, which is what I did, with the card arriving within a week.  The card costs €5 and is valid for life, but then you need to upload Euros (which you do with a UK sterling debit card) in order to pre-pay for stopovers.  As long as you have enough credit, all you need to do is touch your card to the keypad at the entrance and the barrier opens then do the same when you leave.  Your total stay time is calculated and the costs automatically deducted from your card's balance.  We're paying €12 for tonight, which includes all services (10A electric, water refill and waste disposal).  Some look like traditional aires but others - like this one - are old municipal campsites.  So we drove in, picked a spot on the grass amongst the trees and plugged into the electric to charge up all the things!  I understand it's possible to pre-book a site if you wish.  This is the first one we've used and I'm in no way saying you should get or even need a card, but first impressions are very positive.  They have an excellent smartphone app which shows all the sites, how many spaces are available in them in real time, an easy way to add money to your card and your balance.  

Yesterday we stopped off at the small Lidl in Broglie before heading further west, stopping again at a Carrefour in Argentan as I needed some cash.  Our plan was to have lunch at a free aire in the village of Écouché before carrying to another park-up.  But the aire and village were so nice we decided to make it a 'slow' day and stay there for the night.  The aire's big enough to fit four vans comfortably and is surrounded by grass areas with a couple of picnic benches, which we used for our lunch.  The village was typically French - the church holds sway with lots of small lanes and quiet squares.  I'm always surprised how many facilities these villages have: sports grounds, a couple of schools, library and several independent shops. My favourite facility was the hole in the wall pizza oven; select your pizza from a touch screen, pay with a card and a few minutes later out pops your pizza!  I've no idea what it's like but it's certainly novel.  A few people on Twitter have suggested we give it a try, so if we see one later on in the trip perhaps we'll risk it!

The rest of the day was spent reading and snoozing in the shade of a tree, listening to the church bells, before dinner at the picnic bench and a walk for Salty along some grass lanes by fields of corn.  We'd had the aire all to ourselves all day but on our return had French neighbours, who shared a 'Bonsoir' as they cooked their evening meal.  We sat outside in the warm shade and enjoyed a cup of tea and shared piece of patisserie bought from the Broglie boulangerie that morning.

This morning we had a leisurely breakfast and after emptying waste tanks, drove straight here.  With it being the last weekend in August, there was a heavy stream of traffic leaving Brittany as we entered; it must be the end of the holidays for France which, selfishly, means more room for us!  I waved our CCP card at the barrier keyboard and we drove around a couple of times before deciding where to pitch. Lunch done, we walked through the site, over the road and onto the beach.  The tide was out - way, way out, further than we could see and a few people were on the horizon I guess scraping for cockles or parlourds (clams); I hope they know the tide times!  Mont St Michel was off to the right in the distance and we turned left to walk along the beach.  This area is well known for farmed oysters and the oyster frames and bags could be seen in the distance.  There were hundreds of thousands of oyster shells of various sizes and colours on the beach and Cathy collected a few to take home for the garden.  Salty enjoyed a roll around in the shells and sand but I think was a bit miffed that he could smell the sea but it wasn't there!  

Back at the van we had a lazy couple of hours before Cathy cooked a delicious dinner. I took Salty off for a bit of beach walk so she could scrub out the van and take a shower.  We're now sat outside, bodies and clothes clean, enjoying a cup of tea and the second piece of patisserie I bought yesterday.  Both cakes weren't the best we've had and only scored 3/10 on the Patt scoreboard!  Whereas the coffee eclairs from Le Clerc were about a 7/10 (if they weren't so droopy they would have scored an 8!). The sun's just dropping behind the trees and a stiff but warm breeze is coming off the sea, but we're sheltered by the van, so it's still warm enough to sit out in t-shirt and shorts at 8.30pm.

Tomorrow I need to fill up with diesel, particularly as we plan to head towards the more remote parts of Brittany to the west. I also need to buy some more food.  I really enjoy going around French supermarkets, although the prices have increased quite a lot since out last trip.  So Lidl is getting well used and tomorrow I'll be popping into a Super U supermarket, which I remember as good value in the past.  After that we'll probably follow the northern coast heading west, staying in Brittany for a week or so before heading south.  Or we may just mooch around here for several weeks!

On the health side, we're both feeling a lot better.  The coughs and sore-throats have diminished, but we are quite tired by late afternoon and we're sleeping like logs in the van.  The temperature is a very comfortable low to mid 20s during the day and drops at night to the point that we made need to add a blanket to our sheet and single cover; the duvet is stowed away under the bench seat.

Free aire in Écouché

Hole in the wall pizza machine!

Plenty of room on the CCP aire near Hirel

Ou est la mer!?

The pimple on the horizon is Mont St Michel

Friday 26 August 2022

Heading West

Friday 26 August 2022

Nido's parked up on a lovely aire in the small town of Broglie, about 80km south-east of Le Havre.  The aire's more like a small campsite, with huge hardstanding pitches and a large area of grass alongside.  It's €6.80 which includes all services, although the electricity can only be reached by the couple of vans closest to the service point.  There's about eight vans here, a mix of French, Dutch and Brits.

We had a change of plan yesterday.  Originally we were aiming to stay further inland as we head towards Brittany.  Our park-up on Wednesday night was pleasant, but it was very hot and we were struggling, as was Salty.  Also, it's huntin', shootin', fishin' season in France and the huntin' was going on right through the night; it sounded like full-bore rifles perhaps hunting wild boar or deer.  Salty is terrified of gunfire so it was an easy decision to head north to the coast to avoid this and find some cooler temperatures.

So yesterday we stayed at a large aire right on the coast at Vuelettes-sur-Mer.  We've stayed here a couple of times before, including on my birthday in 2015, after I'd watched a stage of the Tour de France.  On the way there I stopped off at a Lidl to buy a couple of things.  I use Lidl at home a lot and was interested to see the French version, but didn't take the time to have a good look around - something to look forward to tomorrow! It's not the prettiest resort, but we had enough room to get the table and chairs out.  Salty enjoyed a quick sea paddle on a stony beach and watched a group of children having a SUP lesson, before we walked down the promenade to take a look at the crumbling cliffs.  After a very hot night before with little sleep due to the shooting, we slept well in the relative peace and cool sea air.

This morning the local boulangerie van came round, tooting his horn to bring us all out, bleary-eyed but ready for what he was selling from the back of his little white van.  All the croissants and pain au chocolate you could want, plus several types of baguette; I bought a couple of baguettes and we enjoyed one with a couple of fried eggs each for breakfast.

Today's drive was a couple of hours, which is long enough as we're in no rush and it means we get to enjoy lunch on the road or at our next stop, then the afternoon to explore and the evening to chill out.  Far too many times in the past I've underestimated the size of France and spent too long behind the wheel.  So we're determined this time to pootle along!  It also included the free ferry crossing at Quillebeuf-sur-Seine which, no matter the route we take, we always seem to end up at! Salty was fascinated to see Nido was moving over the water! Lunch today was sat under the awning, then a mid-afternoon walk.  Broglie town centre is relatively small, built around a large church and square, with lots of small lanes leading off, including some lovely old medieval buildings.  There's also a pleasant walk along the river, with some pretty houses and gardens leading down to the water.  We followed a grass track on the other side of the river that ran along the bottom of the aire and followed the river before cutting through a deciduous forest and looping round on a quiet road back to the van.

We've both been unwell for a couple of days with symptoms of CV19, but testing negative with Lateral Flow Tests.  As a result and just in case, we're keeping to ourselves and I mask up when I need to shop.  The timing's not great but we're starting to feel better already, although both are exhausted by mid-afternoon. It's a shame as today we're parked up right next to the Voie Verte cycle path, which would have been fun to explore, but I don't have the energy right now.  I also gave up alcohol before we left the UK; what a time to stop when there's so much fantastic wine and beer to enjoy here!  As a result I have a bit of sugar craving so the odd piece of pâtisserie is called for!

Tomorrow we continue drifting west, through flat countryside and small towns and villages.  It's clear France is suffering from this drought too, as the fields are dusty and the hedges and trees are drooping.  Walking along the lanes, it's clear to see the apple harvest this year will be poor as they're all so small.  With all this and today's announcement of massive fuel price increases, I think there are difficult times ahead. Time for a cuppa and a biscuit and ignore the news!


SUP lesson - challenging in the waves!

Today we will mostly be eating baguette!

Broglie aire - highly recommended 

Broglie riverside

Old laverie - clothes washing area

On this ferry again!

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Alongside the River Somme

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Nido's parked up on an aire in the village of Long, next to the river Somme.  The aire's managed by the adjacent municipal campsite. The pitches are grass, separated by small hedges and there's plenty of room to have the awning out for shade and the table and chairs.  'Camping behaviour' isn't always allowed on aires, but it's clearly tolerated here and everyone is doing it.  It's been a very hot day - up to 33ºC - and only now at 8.30pm is it starting to cool down.  Having come from North Wales, we're not acclimatised so are suffering a bit - cold water showers in the van and plenty of water are the order of the day!

Salty's Irish EU Pet Passport was accepted at the Eurotunnel Pet Reception; it's good to know one member of the family still has full Freedom of Movement!  Our crossing was delayed by an hour or so due to a broken down train in the tunnel, so we didn't get to last night's park-up until about 10pm.  It was just a large but quiet parking area alongside a canal in Ardres, about 30 minutes drive from Calais.  Having eaten our meal in the Eurotunnel car park, it was a quick dog-walk then sleep. We were all shattered after two days of travelling.

This morning, after a welcome shower and a cup of tea, we walked along the lakes behind our park up before heading off to a nearby Le Clerc supermarket for some groceries, diesel and to use the onsite motorhome service point - free fresh water and loo emptying. Breakfast was some watermelon as we drove to this aire. The drive down was through small hamlets, rolling countryside and arable fields.  Everywhere is dry and dusty as expected, but the forests seem to be holding up.

We enjoyed our afternoon meal sat under the awning before taking an evening walk along the river Somme. The water was very clear with lots healthy weeds and Salty enjoyed several cooling swims! It was still very hot on the walk so we're now enjoying the cooling air as we sit outside this evening.  Today was really just refuelling (food and diesel) and trying to get back into the routine of van life in France.  The next few days are forecast hot and sunny so the challenge is to find somewhere relatively shady to stay if we can.  The plan is to keep heading West, tracking south of Rouen, towards Brittany.  This area doesn't have too many aires (lots of campsites though) so we may head a little further north to increase our options and benefit from coastal breeze.

Making shade

River Somme

Monday 22 August 2022

Bicester - en-route to the Eurotunnel

Monday 22 August 2022 

Nido's parked up on a basic but spacious CL on a farm just outside Bicester and right next to the MOD Depot. For £5 a night it's perfect for us - peaceful, quiet (just a faint background hum of the M40) and surrounded by sheep and arable fields. 
Anglesey to Folkestone is a long haul at the best of times, so we decided to break our journey here, before carrying on tomorrow to catch the 1820 crossing to Calais. It's over three years since we visited France so, despite the fact we've done this journey many times, I must admit to feeling a little nervous after such a long break. It's also the first time we've travelled to France with a dog, so the process of getting him ready to travel and the concern that his 'papers' might not be in order has made it a little more unnerving this time. Salty actually has an Irish EU Pet Passport which, in theory, should be fine but I wanted an insurance policy so also obtained an Animal Health Certificate (AHC). If his EU Passport is accepted, then I'd have lost the cost of the AHC, but if there's any problems, I won't be faced with postponing our crossing and finding a local vet to get another AHC - hope for the best but prepare for the worst is a method I've used many times in the past! 

Pet travel is not the only obstacle post-Brexit. Aside from the 90 day rule (something that won't affect us as we never travel in the EU for that long), mobile data roaming charges are something we've also had to consider. We both had GiffGaff SIMs in our phones but a couple of months ago they introduced a 5Gb per month cap on EU data roaming, charging for any usage above that level. 5Gb is now where near enough for us so we moved to a Tesco Mobile contract. For our Mifi, I bought a Smarty data-only SIM - 15Gb for £9 per month, which I can freeze at any time. This is capped at 12Gb per month in the EU but, combined with our phones, this will be plenty for our needs. Data is mainly used for checking emails, posting this blog and researching places to visit and stay. I also need some additional access for online banking (as the Treasurer of a charity) plus the odd online evening meeting and Cathy will need it later in our trip for her weekly Welsh language lesson. 

We're in France for about six weeks. Our plans are fluid and we'll probably spend some time in Normandy and Brittany before heading further south, mostly likely down the Atlantic coast before heading towards the Dordogne. We hope to only have short daily hops and this is enforced a little by the price of diesel, although this has reduced a little in the past couple of weeks. Whilst there aren't any Covid-related checks needed either way at the moment, we both have our Covid vaccination certificates printed off and saved online and the QR codes have been used to add these to the French Tous Anti-Covid app in case we need that in the future. 

So day one of our France 2022 trip and an early night after a tiring journey. Anglesey is so quiet that the heavy traffic and noise of the motorways has been a bit of a shock to the system. Hopefully we'll see you on the other side of La Manche tomorrow evening if we survive the M25 and Pet Reception!

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