Thursday 29 September 2022

Getting ready to return home

 Thursday 29 September 2022

Nido's parked up on the aire at Forges-les-Eaux, which is run by the campsite opposite - Camping de la Miniere. Although €9, which includes EHU, it made sense to come here as it's mid-way between last night's stop and the vets in Buchy, where Salty has an appointment tomorrow for his pre-UK worming tablet.  It's a calm, peaceful evening with a nice sunset; probably set to turn quite chilly tonight.  We've stopped here a couple of times before, first in 2013 on our first ever trip to France in a motorhome and again in March 2018, on the first day of our  three-month trip to France, Spain and Portugal.

After leaving Honfleur we had a fairly long drive to Saint Romain de Colsbosc to service the van for free (the aire also had free electricity), before stopping off at the nearby Hyper-U to do some food shopping.  We both went around as we had a list of items we wanted to take home - all foodie stuff.  We don't bother taking alcohol back as we don't drink much and it takes up too much room in the van.  Our stop for the night was a wild-camp by the beach at Saint Jouin Bruneval.  The approach is down a steep series of hairpins from the top of the high cliffs, dropping down to quite a rough parking area, backing on to trees at the base of the cliff.  There were already a few vans parked up, including some surfing dudes as the waves here are quite wild; it must get very busy in the summer.  The area between the cliffs and the high-tide mark was large pebbles and other types of rocks, with a sandy base as the tide receded.  There's a restaurant (closed which was a shame as we could have enjoyed some moules-frites!), a cafe, lifeguard station with first aid post and toilets. All except the toilets were closed.  On the other side was a very large supertanker jetty with oil or gas storage tanks.  We took a good long walk along the beach, with Salty enjoying the opportunity to have a good run-around.  It was very windy although quite sheltered back at the van as we were tucked behind a raised levee which protected us from the onshore wind.  It was a quiet evening.

The next morning we left to head for a park-up I'd seen in some woods on Google Maps, not for an overnight stay, but for somewhere to stop for lunch then head out for a walk in the forest.  Long walks this far north have been few and far between.  The stop turned out to be one of over 140 World War 2 sites where the Germans prepared and then launched V1 rockets towards London - at a place called Val Ygot.  Most of the concrete bunkers had been blown apart in a number of allied air raids and there were plenty of huge bomb craters still around the site and trees. But enough remained to provide a feel for what it would have been like and there was a mock V1 rocket on rails, looking ready to launch.

Our stop last night was a Camping Car Park site in the town of Formerie.  It's only small with six pitches on tarmac.  It's very new and the facilities were immaculate and well designed.  The included wifi signal was also good, so we were able to catch up on some YouTube videos.  It also allowed Cathy to use it for her weekly online Welsh course lesson, while Salty and I had a wander around the lanes and town in warm sunshine.

Van serviced, we drove the 30 minutes to Forges-les-Eaux, parked up, EHU plugged in and a quick lunch before taking Salty out for a walk.  I had some charity work and accounts to do, so made use of the data remaining on our MiFi, before we closed up the van for the evening for dinner and a bit more YouTube.

Tomorrow we'll head for Buchy for Salty to take his worming tablet and get it recorded in his EU Pet Passport, which is a requirement for returning to the UK.  We'll also be meeting up with a friend who lives in the next village to us (also a member of Mon SAR), who's been in France for two weeks in his A Class motorhome and his two dogs.  They're both also booked into the vets, then we plan to find an aire to stop at together tomorrow night, hopefully with a pizza machine, so we can have a lazy dinner with a glass of wine!

We've brought our Shuttle crossing forward by a couple of days.  We've done all we wanted so we'd only be hanging around for the remaining days just to kill time.  So we'll be heading towards Calais on Saturday, finding a park-up for the night close enough to allow a short drive to the Eurotunnel Terminal very early on Sunday morning.

Beach at Saint Jouin Bruneval

Salty looking longingly at the sea - he's missed it!

Camping Car Park - Formerie

Forges-les-Eaux aire

Monday 26 September 2022

Autumn arrives in Honfleur

Monday 26 September 2022

Nido's parked up on the very large aire in the fishing port of Honfleur.  There's probably over 100 motorhomes here.  It costs €12 for 24 hours which includes electricity.  It wasn't that busy when we arrived, so were able to grab a pitch in the front row with a view of the marina.  It was raining hard on the way here and when we arrived, but it brightened up into the afternoon although now, as the light starts to fade, the clouds still look threatening with the chance of more rain.  We can't complain; apart from this, we've only had a couple of days rain in five weeks away.

After leaving Écouché yesterday morning, we broke our journey with a stop at a basic aire by a road in Saint Julien le Faucon, which had a free service point, so we were able to fill and empty the tanks again.  This service point had one of the water fittings that, as soon as you attach a male connector, it starts gushing water at a huge rate of knots. I've been caught out by this on an aire in a previous trip, when my trousers and shoes took a right soaking!  On that occasion I stopped off at a Leroy Merlin (French equivalent of B&Q) to buy a double-male fitting with an on/off switch.  This meant next time I could plug into one of these weird fittings with the connector in the off position and not get soaked.  So this came in handy for this trip and we stayed dry!  This aire, although by the side of busy road, did have one redeeming feature - another pizza machine!  

Moving on, I had a small aire plugged in at Merville-Franceville plage which was right by a large sandy beach.  However, it being Sunday and as we were a bit late in the day, it was rammed, so instead I found a place a few minutes away at Sallenelles.  There were only two spaces available and one was already taken, so we bagged the other and had lunch looking out at the estuary.  The sun was shining and it felt warm so we all went for a walk around the estuary, which was now showing muddy sides as the tide receded.  We saw plenty of birdlife and listened to the curlews.  Although the aire was fairly quiet, it wasn't really a decent night stop, so we back-tracked about 17km and pulled into the aire in Beuvron-en-Auge, another 'beautiful village' of France.  We almost stayed here before in 2014, lunching in the lovely Creperie in the village square before moving on as we couldn't buy a token to pay for the aire.  This time a man came around later to collect the money.

We left Salty in the van and had a short walk around the old part of the village, buying a 'chicken roti', turning and cooking outside the boulangerie.  With this Cathy made a delicious Sunday chicken dinner, with boiled new potatoes, carrots, green beans and gravy - something we've been craving!  Salty had a good pile of chicken too and was soon fast asleep on the bed with a belly larger than it was about half an hour before!  Well fed and watered, I took him for a walk as the sun was setting.

The wind outside increased during the night and by morning we had the first spots of rain which became torrential as we drove towards Honfleur.  This is the first proper rain we've seen in months.  We stopped off at Deauville so I could do some shopping at the Le Clerc supermarket and Cathy could get online to do her Welsh language course homework.

Once settled at Honfleur, we took Salty for a walk along the quieter end of the harbour before dropping him off back at the van and wandering into the town, which is only about 10 minutes walk from the aire.  It hadn't changed all that much since our last visit (why would it - most of the buildings are hundreds of years old!), but it was certainly busier, with many more cars driving around and loads more people.  The vast majority of them were off a cruise ship berthed nearby (maybe Le Havre?) and almost all were English or Scottish.  After weeks of being the only UK van in most of the aires and campsites, it was very strange to be able to clearly understand what was being said; I had to be careful what I was saying too!  We mooched in and out of the tat shops just for something to do and looked at the menus of the various restaurants as we had hoped to have some moules-frites.  But the prices were much higher than some places we'd seen elsewhere and the crowds kind of put us off.  So we returned to the van to relax and people watch as the motorhome owners walked past the front of our van on the way into and back from town.  Our licence plate had the old GB and EU stars on the left-hand side and we've replaced with the the Welsh flag and the words 'CYMRU'.  All through France this has really confused people and they've struggled to understand where our van is from.  Honfleur was no different; nearly all the passers-by stopped and stared hard at our licence plate then up at the van, taking no notice of us sat in the cab seats looking right back at them!  

Tomorrow we're going to try and find a beach park-up for the day so Salty can have a well-needed run-out; we could do with a walk too after our massive chicken dinner yesterday!

Top tip - get one of these to avoid wet shoes!



We had lunch in this Creperie in October 2014

Beuvron-en-Auge aire

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

This is what a little dog full of chicken looks like!

View at Honfleur

Still a working fishing port

Saturday 24 September 2022

Pizza Night!

Saturday 24 September 2022

Nido's parked up on a free aire in the village of Écouché.  Now if you've paid attention or have been sad enough to read all of my blogs, you'll know that we've stayed on the Écouché aire already this trip.  The thing is, I didn't know - I'd forgotten!  I picked this aire because it said there's a great pizza van with a wood oven that's in the village on a Saturday night.  I'd completely forgotten that this is the village where we found the 'pizza from the hole in the wall' machine.  It wasn't until we started to pull in to the aire this afternoon that I realised where we were - old age and poor short-term memory is really hitting home right now!  Still, it's a lovely spot and we liked it last time in the hot sunshine; it's not so bad today even in heavy rain.

When I last blogged we were staying in the small village of Le Guédeniau. We liked it so much the decision was made to stop for a little longer, before moving on.  So yesterday morning, I went off for a bike ride whilst Cathy had a bit of a lie-in and a relaxed breakfast before giving the van a really good internal clean, repacking the bench storage and cupboards, ready for a bit of shopping before we return home.

I had no real plan for my bike ride, apart from perhaps an 18-20 mile loop, hopefully with a café stop on the way.  All started well, although the café I wanted to use was inaccessible due to market day and I didn't find another.  About an hour or so into the ride I consulted Google Maps and started on my route back to the van, or so I thought.  After another half an hour I started to suspect I wasn't heading in the right direction; I'd been cycling through thick forest for some time and the road signs weren't what I expected. So I consulted Google Maps again, clicked on the aire and found I had been heading in completely the wrong direction.  I was about 1.5 hours cycling from the van.  There wasn't much I could do about it apart from turn around and follow the Google Maps voice on the phone.  On the return trip I came across a very large field of what looked like cannabis, but was no doubt hemp (I've no idea how to tell them apart though!). With about 10km to go, I was starting to bonk - I hadn't eaten since breakfast and only had a bottle of water, so the cycle back to the van was a bit slow!  In the end I cycled for just over 3 hours, covering 40 miles.  Still, I enjoyed the spin and saw some lovely places in the countryside.  Cathy had some lunch waiting for me and we sat outside enjoying the warm sunshine.  Bike stowed, me washed and changed, we headed off - albeit later in the day then usual - to our next stop.

This brought us to the town of Noyen-sur-Sarthe and a free park-up at 'Le Port' essentially a small marina on the river Sarthe, just below a railway bridge carrying the fast SCNF trains.  On the way in we spied a pizza shop, so at the allotted opening time I walked up to order.  We've not eaten out at all so far on this trip - not even a bag of chips.  So it was with a sad heart that I walked back to let Cathy know the pizza joint was closed until the end of the month!  Junk food will have to wait for another day.

This morning it was overcast with spit-spots of rain but still quite warm.  The 122km journey to Écouché went quickly enough, including a stop at a Total fuel station that was actually open; they've had a sale on fuel for a couple of weeks, pricing 20c per litre lower than other garages, but have been sold out and closed, so haven't sold any fuel at a all!  But this one was open so even though I had just over half a tank of diesel, I brimmed it up with cheap fuel.

We parked up in the aire at one end with our door facing the grass and were soon joined by a couple of other vans.  Later three huge French motorhomes turned up, all getting out to - one at a time - try and direct each other into the remaining spaces - lots of handwaving and arm spinning to the poor unfortunate driver! One A class (double our length) parked so close to us that they couldn't open their habitation door!  I had a little room to my left so I shuffled my van over as much as I could (ie not by much!), still they were grateful and smiles all around. 

The rain continued and I didn't fancy a wet walk out along the main road to find a pizza van that might not be there. So it was time to try out the pizza in the wall machine.  There were eighteen different types.  I chose two from the touchscreen, paid with a contactless card and three minutes later they popped out of the 'letter' pizza box!  To celebrate I bought a bottle of red wine from the boucherie (a butcher that sells wine - winner!) and enjoyed my first glass for about two months.  The pizzas were actually very good - hot and tasty - and we enjoyed our takeaway treat as the rain continued to fall.  There's warning of heavy rain on the north French coast tonight.  We have a couple of days until we arrive there, but I suspect our extended summer is done...but the shorts are staying on!

I was only supposed to do 18 miles!

Cannabis or hemp....?

Le Port at Noyen-sur-Sarthe

This was after I moved left 4 feet!

Les pizzas sont arrivées!

Thursday 22 September 2022

Messing about by the river

Thursday 22 September 2022

Nido's parked up on a free aire in the small village of Le Guédeniau, about 30km north of Saumur.  It was a short hop today as Cathy had her online Welsh lesson until 2pm, so we didn't want to drive too far after that.

Leaving Dampierre yesterday, we drove about 7 minutes along the road and parked up in the Troglodyte village of TurquantWe'd stayed on the aire here on a previous trip, but for today we stopped in a large car park a bit further on for the day, although it can also be used as an overnight park-up.  We had a good wander around the narrow lane before walking up to the high-point with a well-marked route taking us around the vines, which I'd guess are very close to being ready to harvest. The regular information boards told us the history of the village, how the caves were used to store goods from the ships moored along the Loire and that Turquant was once a port, until the river silted up and receded from the dockside.  The caves were also used to grow mushrooms as the dark, dry atmosphere with an all year round temperature of 14'C made for perfect growing conditions.  Small chimneys on the surface by the vines were ventilation shafts down to the growing caves and it was even possible to reach them from the vines on the surface via steep steps (now firmly closed up).  We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out before moving to our next stop which was only about 7km away - a Camping Car Park site at Villebernier, across on the northern bank of the Loire.  There were forty pitches but we joined only five other vans, so there was plenty of room to spread out and hook up to the electric.  It also came with free wifi, which saved some of our own mobile data.  After dinner we took a walk along the riverbank towards Saumur as the sun was dipping.  We watched hundreds of white egrets fly in to roost in the trees on the opposite bank, looking like white handkerchiefs draped on the boughs. 

This morning after showers and breakfast, Cathy set up for her online Welsh lesson, so Salty and I had a walk in the opposite direction along the river, watching the shoals of small fish darting around much larger ones cruising in the clear water.  We crossed the road and had a wander around the small village of Villebernier.  The kindergarten school was displaying its weekly menu on a board outside, something we've seen in other French villages.  The choice of food given to these young 'uns puts the UK (with their dinosaur nuggets and processed plastic food) to shame.

Cathy was done by 2pm and the van serviced, so off we went, via a food shop at a huge Intermarché.  I stopped at the garage to get some LPG but it's only available when someone is in the payment booth, so not today. We're not desperate but if I see somewhere to fill up I will.  We pulled into the aire here and had the place to ourselves.  The sun was beaming down; yet another clear blue sky with uninterrupted sunshine, very little breeze and a comfortable 23-25'C.  After tea and cake (why not!), I had a little wander around the immediate area - the small fishing lake and the outdoor village hall with BBQ (the French are very civilised when it comes to socialising outdoors), whilst Cathy had a nap after the academic rigours of her first Welsh lesson of the new term after a three month break!

We had a good pre-dinner walk around the village.  It has a very homely feel; bar/restaurant next to the church, a boulangerie and the houses made of the light coloured sandstone so common in this area.  Many of the houses had cave-like basements, some open to the road, showing stacks of old wine bottles, demijohns and jam jars on the floor.  We'll probably stay on tomorrow morning, so I can get a bike ride in and Cathy can have a lie-in then give the inside of the van a good clean without me under her feet!

Turquant caves - now shops and artist studios

Evening walk

Saumur chateau

Roosting white egrets

Morning walk

The small fry are doing well

Where do I sign up for school dinners!

Billy no mates

Small fishing lake in the village close next to the aire

Outdoor village hall


If it rains....