Friday 2 September 2022

South to the Vendée

Friday 2 September 2022

Our plan after Trégastel was to head further west towards Brest, then follow the Brest to Nantes canal heading east, stopping off at a few canal-side aires along the way so we could explore the adjacent small villages.  We had quite a bit of rain yesterday morning though and looking at the forecast, it was sticking around for a few days.  Brittany is a beautiful area and there's more to see than we could ever cover in this one trip. But the beauty of van life is that we're mobile and can change our plans on a whim. So we decided that instead we'd start to head south a little earlier than planned, as the weather further down the Atlantic coast was looking calmer, sunnier and warmer.

After leaving Pleumeur-Bodou in the rain yesterday, we made our way to a lunch-time stop in Josselin. This is a lovely old town alongside the canal, with a large three-turreted chateau which is part of the old medieval centre.  We parked in the large free aire close to the historic centre for lunch.  By now it was sunny and very warm. We were in no rush so took a walk down the hill to enjoy a stroll along the canal, before walking up through the old medieval part of town, with high walls and wooden-beamed houses.  I stopped off at a grockle shop to buy a couple of Breton egg-cups (probably made in China!).  We used to have a couple in the van but took them out a while ago because we hadn't used them. Guess what we fancied for breakfast!  Cathy improvised a couple out of the old egg-box; they were clearly single use but did the job. At least now we can enjoy some boiled eggs and be reminded of our time in Brittany.

Our park-up last night was another 20km down the road in a small village called Montertelot.  Again shown in the guides as an aire, it's in fact just a very big flat, grass field.  There's no services, but there are plenty of bins in the village.  On arrival it started to rain heavily, despite us trying to outrun it!  So we sat under the awning with a cup of tea as it was still very warm and humid; plenty of thunder but no lighting.  Dinner was some chips cooked in the Ridge Monkey and a couple of small bavette steaks (I think the cut is called flank at home), with some tinned veg.  To walk it off we had a wander around the village before taking a walk half an hour up the canal and back.  The village is small but has a lovely feel, with some very quaint cottages and outbuildings. Despite it's small size, it still had a bar/tabac and a restaurant (closed for all August for the holidays - open again on 5 September!).  There were lots of quirky art sculptures dotted around , mainly made of old pots and pans.  It wasn't difficult to imagine this place during the canal's heyday, with shops and artisans selling their wares to the barges as they passed up and down this very wide canal.  We saw plenty of wildlife including a mink or coypu swimming in the canal and when sat outside for our cup of tea later, a flock of about 12 large birds (possibly cranes or storks) flew overhead.  It was a very quiet, very dark park-up and recommended if you want some peace.

Now ten days into the trip, we're into the vanlife routine.  We're sleeping really well and waking up quite late for us - about 0800.  Then it's dog walk, shower, breakfast, wash up, tidy up and prepare to leave.  The journey to the next place may be broken up by servicing the van, food shopping or filling with diesel.  We've had some lazy starts to the day, not leaving until 1100, so haven't bothered with lunch.  I think we may try to get up and about a bit earlier to make the most of the day, particularly as sunset at the moment isn't until about 2030.

Today's transit was longer than we like, to get us past Nantes and St Nazaire and into the Vendée department. Tonight Nido's in a car park at Pointe des Poloux close the village of Bouin and right next to a very wide estuary, with St Nazaire to the north and Noirmoutier en Ile to the south.  We're separated from the sea by a long dyke which was built to protect the marshes from storm surges.  Behind us are miles of wetlands; it reminds me of the Fen Drains where I grew up. There are several French vans here and I have the feeling they're all friends and perhaps meet up every weekend to dig for poulardes (clams) and cockles when the tide is out, then shoot the breeze with an apero and a meal in the evening.  The temperature here is wonderful; warm but with low humidity and it stays warm enough at night to sit out in shorts and t-shirt.  

The drive here was interesting through miles of low-lying marsh and wetland.  Apparently this area used to be an island but has silted up over time, over which the roads were built.  After dinner we walked along the dyke to the small harbour - Port des Brochets - where the small fishing boats and small, family-run oyster processors are clustered.  There's a small and very cool-looking bar/restaurant called Gratt'huitres on the dockside, which serves the local oysters and mussels to its customers; we haven't had moules frîtes yet!. There are very few houses around this area, so their clientele must come from far and wide.  We watched the sunset from this tiny port before walking back along the road, listening to the curlews flying over the sea and the frogs in the marshy wetlands on the other side.  It's lovely being back in this part of France.

Chateau in Josselin from the canal

Beautiful streets

Josselin aire

Quirky art sculptures made of pots and pans in Montertelot

Park up at Pointe des Poloux

Ou est la mer!?


Oyster processors

Port des Brochets

I want one of these!

Sunset towards Noirmoutier en Ile