Thursday 8 September 2022

River Charente Wild Camp

Thursday 8 September 2022

Since we were last here three years ago, France seems to have become a lot busier. On previous trips I can remember driving around and hardly seeing another vehicle, never mind  people walking about. But now everywhere seems so busy.  I realise we've been staying in mainly tourist areas - so they will be busier - but even allowing for that I've been surprised at the increase.  Having left Ile d'Oléron this morning, we crawled through 13km of traffic to get off the island, an almost constant flow of vehicles going both ways. It was never like this before. The last time we visited St Denis, we walked along the narrow roads mainly undisturbed, but this time car after car passed us.  The bars, shops and restaurants have been really busy too.  Perhaps it's the same everywhere since the Covid Pandemic; people are staying and holidaying closer to home.  Certainly on the campsite, it was almost full, mostly with French motorhomes and the odd Brit and German van (very few Dutch vans have been on the road, which is unusual).

Nido's parked up in the shade of healthy looking ash trees right on the bank of the river Charente, in the pretty village of Dompierre-sur-Charente.  There's a small aire and a campsite a little distance behind us, but we've pulled up in a wild-camping spot, next to the tiny ferry that crosses the river when hailed.  It runs on chains and moved by human power, with the ferryman turning a huge handle, not unlike those you find at canal locks, to move the ferry across the river.  We sat in the sunshine to eat our chicken sandwich lunch before taking a walk along the riverside track.  This river seems to be busting with wildlife and is clearly popular with fishermen; there were several parked up or camping alongside the river.  When I chatted with them, they seem to be after carp; I wished them 'bon chance'.  We're fully topped up with fresh water and the black and grey waste are empty, so we can last 2 or 3 days off-grid.  But there are plenty of aires with free servicing around these parts, so fettling the van will be an easy task.

On the way out we stopped at the Super U in the town of St Pierre on the island. I popped in to top up our victuals.  Another change I've seen in France (apart from price - the same everywhere) is the quality of fruit and vegetables doesn't seem to be as good as it was.  For example, I wanted some red peppers but they were all wrinkled, soft and showing their age.  There were only a couple of sad looking melons.  This isn't a criticism and perhaps I'm remembering all the wonderful produce on past visits through rose-tinted spectacles.  Or perhaps it's because we always used to holiday in France in June or July, when produce was at its best.  I think Covid, the current cost of living crisis and this year's drought are really starting to bite.  We've read in the news that many French farmers are on suicide watch due to a dreadful wheat harvest.  Everywhere there are huge fields of corn, but all is stunted, burnt to a crisp, the cobs hard and shrivelled.  I don't know if there's been a national push to grown corn, perhaps to turn into maize oil to replace the sunflower oil normally imported from Ukraine.  Or perhaps it's for animal feed or even bio-fuels for vehicles, but it's everywhere, from the northern coasts all the way down to this region.  Similarly the sunflower fields are devastated.  I think it's going to be a hard winter and a very difficult food-production year in 2023.

Prices in the supermarkets seem similar to home, although I am buying the same types of food, with the odd weekly treat of Crevettes, plus the more than weekly treat of patisserie!  I shop for food every two or three days and we're averaging about €15 per day, which seems a lot but storage is limited so I can't buy in bulk.  Our grocery cost is also lower than previous trips because I'm not drinking alcohol, although I buy a bottle of wine for Cathy, which lasts her about four days.  Having said that, I've veep enjoying the myriad non-alcoholic beers now on sale.  In France, Grimbergen 00 is my favourite. 

Diesel prices are fluctuating almost daily. When we arrived on Oléron on Monday, we found it at €1.66 per litre; today the cheapest was €1.74.  I use a French app on my phone to track diesel and LPG prices called Gaspal, which was mentioned in a blog post by Jay from Our Tour.  It's pretty good although not always up to speed with the latest price changes.

We're still in the Charente area but slowly making our down towards the Dordogne.  The weather's very pleasant; warm sunshine, some clouds and a cooling breeze. I'm now in the habit of only planning a day ahead, looking at a rough direction of travel and finding two or three possible park-ups about 1 - 2 hours drive from our current stop.  This is being much easier as we move inland, with many of the lovely villages providing small, quiet aires, many with free services.  We need to thank the Marie and community for that and can repay by using the local shops to buy our groceries from now on; I'll certainly try to do that.

One Ferryman Power

One cool Patterdale


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