This Trip took us to the Doubs Region of Eastern France before making our way down to the Mediterranean at Le Grau du Roi before making our way slowly back to Calais.
Isn't funny how work gets to you. Working in retailing I have always worked on a Saturday, it's almost a sacred day, mind you since the advent of open all hours policy this mantra has become somewhat diluted. Normally we have Mondays off which if we were truthful we would not swap for a Saturday. So where is all this nonsense leading to? Well I wish to tell the world that I had Saturday 16th August off, because I worked the previous Monday, so there!
So what did I do to make the most of my sacred time, well at least after I had taken Margaret to work! Get the caravan ready for the holiday. New Gaz bottle, wash the caravan, get it out of the garden and onto the road. Well surely I had to get it out of the garden before I could actually go on holiday. Absolutely right but not easy to achieve. We live on an estate of 35 houses which are grouped around three cul-de-sacs. We are on a corner with access to our garage and Garden at the back of the house. Pat our previous neighbour, who lived on her own and kept her car on her drive, and was a lady of a certain age decided that she would much prefer to go and live back in Wales. I did not mention Anne Robinson! She was replaced by an older couple with two sons in their mid thirties, is there no hope! Obviously they have to park their vehicles somewhere but this has turned a quite easy exercise into a difficult one. Why? Well they don't seem to be overly approachable and I have this uneasy feeling I might not get the response I would expect if I asked them to move their cars . So when we go away on holiday or just for the weekend this is a worry in the back of our minds. Anyway an opportunity arose so I took it. No cars, so my car moved and the caravan quickly connected to the car, the parking place was won!!
Simon picked Margaret up from work just after 1.00pm and after some lunch we were heading down the M1 by 2.30pm. Traffic OK but from time to time it seemed to grind to a halt but fortunately only briefly. Same thing on the M25 but nothing serious. Is it my imagination but do caravans feel more stable when they have more in them? Just over 3 hours, including a comfort break, from MK to Black Horse Farm near Folkestone.
A little bit of de-ja-vu as this is the site from which we started our ten week trip last year. I was intrigued by the notice outside the office when we arrived. There was a message for Mr Blair. You know, I had no idea he was a member of the Caravan Club!
Up bright and early on Sunday morning in order to catch 8.15am ferry. The Docks are only a 20 minute drive from Black Horse Farm and in fact we got there in time to be whisked onto the earlier ferry. You imagine that all ferries in mid August would be full to the gunwales but the Pride of Canterbury was comfortable. Perhaps it was lack of school parties and day trippers that made the difference. I was also surprised at some of the offers in the 'Duty Free' 3 boxes of wine for the price of two and one offer I really like but was frowned on that I should take part in was buy two bottles of Courvoisier and get the second one at half price, perhaps on the way back!
The first main stay site of the holiday is Val de Bonnal near Rougemont. It had been our original plan to reach Bonnal on the Sunday but when we realised how far and how long we decided to arrive a day late and stop somewhere a little over half way. This is an interesting object lesson. It is one thing to plan a trip in the middle of winter when you are dreaming of your holidays and an entirely different thing when you have to put the plans into action. As a result we have lost one nights expensive campsite fee and had to pay for another site en route. Oh well you need experience to save making the same mistakes twice!!!
The journey South from Calais was uneventful, roads were quiet and good progress was made, mind you it did rain which was quite an experience!. I don't think I have ever driven through Reims with so little traffic on the road. Our intention was to stop at Chalons sur Marne or Chalons en Champagne as it is now called. Having heard so many good opinions of the municipal site this was our chosen site for the night. As with all municipal sites it is finding them that is generally the problem. The answer is to look out for the signs both on the main roads and the local ones. Anyway at around 2.30pm we arrived at the site, paid our €18.80 and made our way to our allocated pitch. The site was fairly empty when we arrived but it became much fuller as the afternoon went on. By nightfall there were still some pitches available but not many. For further details of the site see the Campsite Report.
I don't know how many of you have seen that play where the waiter wanders between tables in a restaurant, you only hear the conversation at the table he stops at. Well it is a little like that walking around a campsite, you catch bits of conversations. This site has a small takeaway/outdoor eating area. It would be too grand to call it a restaurant. I was there to buy a bottle of mineral water, apart from seeing me coming, €2.30, it was interesting to observe the couple running the kitchen. If they had not been busy cooking and cleaning I think they may have killed each other! Perhaps it was their way of expressing their love for each other!! As I wandered around the was this awful noise, the perpetrators soon becoming clear. Three geese, often walking in a straight line, male, female, mail seemed to be terrorising the campsite.
Overnight we had the most enormous rain storm, almost like machine gun bullets hitting the van. I was woken at just after three in the morning and immediately had to close hatches. It was still quite muggy so I had to leave the windows open otherwise we would have roasted. Not only was it very heavy rain we awoke to no electricity, the damp must have got the circuits.
Monday has been an interesting day as we have not, in 174 miles, used one yard of motorway, at least Margaret's credit card was safe as there were no tolls! Despite heading out of Chalons in the continuing rain it was quite nice as we heading off across country on good roads and very little traffic. Our route took us from Chalons to Vitry-le-Francois and St Dizier and then onto Chaumont and Langres. As we went round Langres we could see the town walls towering above us. The next major town was Vesoul and then onto Espreis where we turn off for Bonnal arriving at the campsite at about 2.00pm. Given that we are supposed to be in the middle of the French holidays there was very little traffic on the roads, perhaps I have just come to the right part of France! There were no problems with my change of arrival day and we were shown to our pitch which must be one of the largest we have ever occupied. A little early to comment on the site but I will form an opinion over the next few days. I often find you need to settle into a campsite before commenting.
After an exhausting couple of days on the move it was nice not to have to rush to get up. It was also good to see clear blue skies above us. We needed to go to a supermarket as stocks were running low. Vesoul seemed to be the best option despite being over 15 miles away. It was such a palaver trying to get to the supermarket, despite the fact that we could clearly see it from the by-pass. Anyway we managed to turn round in the car park in the centre of Vesoul and make our way out of town! The supermarket in question was a CORA one we had not heard of before, it seemed much the same inside as any other.
A pretty lazy afternoon, well for Margaret anyway-too much white wine for lunch! I had a walk round the outside of the site and also around the camping areas. Val de Bonnal is a big complex with several lakes, each one being used for a different reason, swimming, fishing or water sports. Access to this is either by way of the campsite of from outside. There is also a restaurant. The campsite is large with pitches running a fair distance from the Reception. It certainly is an excellent site for anyone with youngsters as there is so much for them to do particularly where young minds can run wild in a safe environment.
Next to us on one side we have charming family who, although they have caravanned for some years, this is the first time they have been abroad with their van. Their enthusiasm is quite infectious, they have been away nearly a month and seemed to have enjoyed every minute. Already they are planning new adventures for next year. They are the complete antidote to those that turn their noses up at the idea of caravanning, it can only be jealousy! Our new chums start their journey back home on Wednesday morning taking it easy by not making the days too long particularly for the kids. I suppose this will be a similar pattern over the next weeks as families have to return home as the new school term beckons.
Wednesday turned out to be a funny old day. We could hear the pitter patter of rain on the roof of the van but it did not sound very serious. This went on all morning and it was difficult to decide what to do. Eventually, after lunch, it cleared up enough for us to risk a trip out. First to Rougemont which is only a couple of kms from the site. We found a nice Casino Supermarket, so no need to return to Vesoul. As we wandered around an older gentleman approached us and asked if we were English. We were not quite sure why he asked but I am sure it was only from a help point of view. I was surprised that I was able to have, a sort of, conversation with him. It seems that he was pointing us in the direction of the local information bureau where they spoke English! It was all a little surreal!
From Rougemont we moved on to Villersexel, now there's a name to conjure with! I think it should be called Villersexy but perhaps that's just the way my mind works! It seemed quite difficult to find 'Centre Ville' so in the end we ended up just driving through. From what we saw I am not convinced we missed a lot. When we got back to the van we decide to walk around the lakes in the park opposite the camping. We got so far but decided to call it a day as it was getting increasingly muggy. We have some new neighbours now, a young Dutch couple with a small son. I was surprised when she asked me if the water from the tap was suitable for drinking. We told her most of the water we used is boiled but we have been cleaning our teeth in the water since we arrived with no apparent side effects. Another friendly service to our fellow campers, until that is, I witnessed the husband filling his toilet header tank from the drinking water tap!!!
Today is the 21st August, I have been at work 42 years today! It dawned much brighter today so time to explore the surrounding countryside. We decided that first of all we should look at the Doubs Valley so made our way down to Baume les Dames and then gradually worked our way along the river towards Isle le Doubs. We had a couple of surprises in store. Firstly we discovered that the river is navigable and secondly I was, after many years of visiting France, able to see my first French barge enter a lock. All this will be meaningless to those not interested in Inland Waterways. The River Doubs seems quite a gentle river, a little like the Thames.
Time to move inland and across country via minor roads to Lure and then onto Ronchamp. It is high above this town that Charles Edouard Jeanneret, otherwise known as Le Corbusier built the Chapelle of Notre-Dame Du Haut. Le Corbusier was one of the foremost 20th century architects noted for his modern designs. When you see the design you can see how it has influenced other church (see title picture) designs in the later half of the twentieth century. It costs €2 as an entrance fee. It is the overall design which is outstanding, inside there are some interesting features but it is the outside that is most striking. So often on holiday we find ourselves searching for the old but it is equally refreshing looking at the new.
On the way back to the campsite I comment to Margaret how empty we have found the roads. Now this may be something to do with the French summer holidays or it could be to do with relatively little tourist traffic but if you have a car behind you and one in front it is busy!
Market Day in Rougemont happens on the first and third Friday of the month. It is not a grand affair but adds colour to this little town. Car parking is of course at a premium on market day but we did manage to squeeze in behind a Dutch car on one of the roads of the market square. Our aim of being there was to visit the Casino Supermarket which was of course much busier than normal. It is amazing what they fit into such a small space and trying to navigate with the trolley was a bit like the dodgems at the fairground!
After returning to the campsite we prepared for a lazy afternoon before packing everything up for our long journey tomorrow. One last walk around the campsite, its still very busy with not many free pitches. Odd that there are so few French people on site, mainly German and Dutch with a smaller number of Brits. As we wandered I noticed a group of youngsters setting up a badminton court on and empty pitch. To my surprise they were even laying out string to form the outer limits of the court. It occurred to me that they must be German, just as well they don't play cricket!!!
Just before 8.00am on Saturday morning we were heading out of Val du Bonnal and heading for the motorway. At this time of day there was little traffic on the roads. Past Besancon and on towards Lyon. From this direction you are taken down a new section of motorway that goes past the Airport for Lyon and this cuts out quite a bit of the Lyon eastern by-pass. Traffic is now quite heavy and remains so all the way to Orange. Although our side slows to a crawl now and then the other side seems just one long jam. It was a hot day with outside temperatures up to 38 degrees.
Our destination is a campsite called Camping le Boucanet at Le Grau du Roi in the Camargue. After a journey of 402 miles we got to the campsite at around 3.30pm. We signed in and paid the fess for the entire stay, less the 99 Euro deposit we had already sent. Imagine our disappointment when we got to our pitch, just one row back from the sea, to find that the pitch was deep rutted sand and almost impossible to get on with an ordinary car. There was the sickening smell of a burning clutch as I tried to reverse the van into the sand. There is a point soon reached when you know it would be folly to go on. Even with the help of several strong men organised by an elderly Frenchman could not move us onto the pitch. If we had got on there was always the question of getting off again at the end of our stay. We had to have another pitch and someone to help us out of the sand. Reception managed to find us another pitch but being peak season it was right at the back of the site but beggars can't be choosers. A man and 4X4 arrived to tow us out of the sand and took us to our new pitch. In the hope that Andy G won't read this I have to say this is the first time in 20 years of towing that I wished I had a 4X4 towcar. Our new pitch was not exactly what we were expecting from our stay at Le Grau du Roi. It was terribly hot and we were both dripping and exhausted, not the best start to a stay on a campsite. However as I have said before best not always to judge by first impressions. The oppressive heat through the night did not help either.
Sunday is another day and the sky dawned bright and blue. We were joined by a new neighbour to one side. The reality of where we are pitched is that we are nearer the sea than we often were at Prairies de la Mer at Port Grimaud so perhaps its not all bad news. Margaret did some washing in one of the site machines which at 5 Euros we thought was a bit steep. We then had a look around the site to check out the facilities, particularly the shop-yet again no fresh milk! After a small lunch we wandered down to the beach. It is not particularly wide but there is plenty of room and you get a good view round the bay. I am not a swimmer but I can be coaxed into a paddle. I was absolutely amazed at how warm the sea was. Usually to have to approach the water tentatively as is usually so cold, but not here, just like stepping into a warm bath.
Heavy rain overnight and thunder, apparently! Off in search of a supermarket today. We had passed a Super-U on the way to the site. Trouble was when we approached it I took a right and ended up heading for the motorway! Got there in the end, thank goodness for the air conditioning in the Centre Commercial.
Back to the beach in the afternoon, lovely warm breeze. Not quite as busy today as its not a Bank Holiday here. A couple of hours on a beach is enough for me. Phoned Simon from the beach (show off) good news from Jaguar, another 3 points for Mark Webber. Not sure there was anywhere to watch the Grand Prix here so missed it all.
Back to the van for a peaceful afternoon's relaxation. Some hope! Immediately behind us is a group of sullen French youths of about 17/18 years of age, about 7 in total. They have been there since we arrived but have only just discovered that if they plug their CD player into the mains supply they, and the rest of the site, can enjoy their excuse for music which contains a fair amount of foul language. I try to be a tolerant person but there is a limit of how many hours of Rap music I can listen to. Even at a low volume it has a moronic beat which is a bit like Chinese water torture. It had been on the go most of the time we were at the van today. I fail to fathom our fellow French campers who seem to be much more accepting of this type of behaviour or perhaps are less inclined to take action. When it got to 9.30 and a new variation started outside our window I lost my temper, a pretty infrequent occurrence. Tomorrow I will test the site management's resolve to sort it out. There is no way we want to move to yet another pitch. Now I know why I don't like to come in August.
I decided to ask at reception how long our neighbours were staying for. A very helpful chap at reception, who looked a little more senior than the rest was very sympathetic and did offer to send a guard round at night to check the noise but as I explained it went on all day and that is a little more difficult to deal with. Despite not wanting to change pitches it seemed the only option if we wanted to have peace of mind as our neighbours were there until Saturday. He agreed that there would be no problem doing this as the site begins to thin out. Margaret and I wandered round the site and found a couple of pitches that would do. I confirmed this with reception and off we went to pack up. I think the group of youngsters were a bit surprised to see us take the awning down and be off so quickly. Perhaps there was a slight hint of conscience or perhaps they just thought silly old English fools, who knows.
It took us half an hour to take everything down and loosely pack it away and about two hours to put it up again. Not the best of jobs in blistering Mediterranean heat. Our new pitch is not quite as large but it is open and we only have neighbours on two sides, one being a Mobile Home. Margaret seems much happier with our position and if she is happy so am I. Is it too much to hope that we can know start to enjoy Camping Boucanet? Next to us on a proper pitch is a French Motorhome, parents plus two little girls of about 3 and 5 who were absolutely charming and none of the inhibitions that a lot of other French children seem to have. The youngest one even came round to talk to us, I am sure none of us knew what we were talking about but it was a charming conversation. Both of them were a delight to watch as they made friends and included them in their games.
At least a good nights sleep. Wednesday seemed to deserve a day out and we decided to make our way to Saintes Maries de la Mer as I had heard so much about it being the spiritual home of the Camargue gypsies. To get there from Le Grau du Roi you have to drive a fair distance across the Camargue. In some ways it is very much like the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Fens but with exceptionally hot weather. Every couple of kilometres there seemed to be a place where you could hire a White Camargue horse for an hour or two. The horses stood forlornly under shelters to protect them from the sun but they were already saddled and ready for action. The Camargue is not only famous for its White Horses but also its Bulls. We were driving down a road when we noticed that cars ahead had stopped, as we approached a herd of bulls raced across the road into another field, they looked happy as they expended their energy. My fear would be that the happiness they expressed could soon be ended at the local bull ring!
Saintes Maries de la Mer was a complete surprise. I had expected a gypsy on every corner selling basket ware or lucky charms. What we got was a sophisticated Mediterranean resort complete with gift shops and restaurants. You have to be here in late May to witness the 'Pèlerinages gitans et des Saintes Maries' or Traditional Gypsies Pilgrimage. Parking was a nightmare but eventually we found a car park with space and it was free. The church is the centre piece of the town. You can climb up on the roof for 2 Euros each. As the heat gradually got to us we decided to return to the campsite but not without first stopping at a supermarket to buy even more Volvic.
After a pleasant day out we returned to our caravan for something to eat, although in all honesty it is difficult to build up an appetite in this heat. At least the beer tasted good! We were at the point where we were reflecting on what a good move it was to change pitches, despite all the work needed to achieve the move. Low and behold, from a pitch not 50 metres away the sound of load music. The guy on the pitch was listening to his car radio with the rear door of his car open so it was blasting directly towards us. I don't know what processed me but I was immediately on my feet and went over to the poor chap, who was at least in his fifties, telling him I did not want to listen to his radio. He was obviously so shocked that he immediately closed the rear door of his car, peace was restored and I felt guilty just in case I had spoiled his holiday. Interestingly this did not go down very well with a French family in a mobile home the other side of him. They seemed to be outraged that a mere Englishman should tell someone to turn their radio down! Madam Fagashlil made it very clear that she disapproved and must have been laughing her socks off when that nights disco went on to past 12.30am!
Thursday was not quite as bright but still very hot. We went down to the beach in the morning. We both felt drained as we were kept awake by the noise of the disco and the heat. This was not helped when at around 2.00am in the morning I decided to try and bend the electric fan down to provide a better supply of cooling air. The trouble was that I broke it in the process! So at 2.00am in the morning I was putting the dratted item back together!
As we surveyed our fellow beach dwellers a water scooter arrived from out at sea. The guy on it looked very official. He began talking to a couple near where he had landed. I thought they must have a problem but it turned out that he was warning people of a severe weather warning. He even told us, although all I could make out was that the problem would start at 4.00pm! When we got back to the site they were posting notices warning campers of a weather risk, including high winds, rain and hail. I am writing this at 10.30pm and as yet it has not materialised, although it has threatened from time to time.
Well, what a disappointment - no storm. All that hype and not a drop of rain or even a single hail stone, mind you it has been a little cooler today which is a blessing. We spent the morning planning our route and campsites for our return journey. Despite our difficulties it was even suggested that we spend one further night here!
After lunch it was off to the supermarket, yet again. It is interesting looking at prices as we have noticed they seem more expensive. All prices are still shown in French Francs as well as Euros. When you convert the FF prices to £ it still seems to suggest a rate of 10FF to the £. Obviously more importantly is the current £/Euro exchange rate which is much lower this year. If you look carefully enough you can still buy a bottle of wine for under a £. This leads me neatly to buying wine. I once asked the main wine buyer for a large supermarket group what he bought when he was on holiday. To my surprise he said that he always purchase the cheap local wine. I have always followed this mantra albeit that you have to allow for disasters but at the price you pay its not really a problem. Take the other day, we purchased a one litre bottle of white wine and a one and a half litre bottle of rose wine, both in plastic containers which I think is always a bit of a risk. The white was awful and was tipped down the sink but the rose was fine a Margaret and I polished off the whole litre and a half in one evening. We are both disgusted with ourselves but you know how it is, one glass to test that its OK, a second, and perhaps a third glass whilst cooking the food and then you need something to wash the food down! I do find Rosé very easy to drink and the alcohol catches up with you later.
Obviously the wine, which incidentally was an accompaniment to two of the largest salmon fillets you have ever seen, put paid to any other excursions. Fortunately we had decided, when we were in a perfectly sober state, to visit Le Grand Motte which is next door to Le Grau du Roi. Now opinions will differ from one extreme to the other about the design of Le Grand Motte. No doubt it will be either love or hate. I would encourage you not to see things in those terms. Just because something is different does not make it bad. From and architectural point of view it is most interesting, mainly because of its use of concrete as its main building material and I accept that if it was built anywhere else it would be out of place. Its all very well me trying to get you to think about the place on a higher plain but no doubt it will boil down to the same thought process that makes people decide whether they like Milton Keynes or not. Prejudice is difficult to get over where ever you are!
Saturday, what a difference a week makes. The site is no longer full, with many of the long term French campers packed up and gone. There seemed quite an influx of tent campers for the weekend and I have noticed more Motor Homes arriving. Also arriving in modest numbers are the Dutch. There are not many Brits here, I have counted up to 4 and that includes one caravan with an NI plate which at first I read as NL! I thought all the Irish used IRL plates as the thinking was that it was less of a hindrance with the French police than GB plates!
Spent a couple of hours on the beach which was surprisingly quiet, although later it got much busier. One thing we have noticed about this part of the Mediterranean coast is that the roads around and about are much quieter than say around Port Grimaud. There has also been the very smallest change in temperature both during the day and night although still a long way short of being comfortable for someone like me that suffers in the heat.
After lunch and a few more drops of Rosé we decided that we should try and walk to Le Grau du Roi. I should explain that whilst the address of the site on which we are staying states Le Grau du Roi it is several kilometres from the centre of the town. The quickest route was along the beach. It was quite pleasant strolling along the beach with the breeze beating against us
We don't seem to avoid weddings, in several places we have stayed or visited they seem to coincide with our arrival. The same was true as we climbed off the beach 'Centre Ville' at Le Grau du Roi. Noting the interesting costumes the bride and groom were wearing we moved on. Le Grau du Roi is obviously a fishing town with fishing boats lining the quays. It is, as would be expected, very much a tourist town with all that this entails. It was quite a hike on a hot afternoon to and from the town but we felt that it did us good, even if it did exhaust us! On the way back the sky darkened but came to nothing.
Today is the start of our third week away. Time does not seem to have gone particularly quickly but of course the next week will be spent getting back towards the UK. It does seem to be getting a little cooler, more noticeable in the evening that the day. The real measurement will be when we do not have to have the electric fan on all night.
Today, Sunday, was really our last opportunity to have a day out as tomorrow will be taken up with getting ready to leave. Our outing today took us to Nimes, about 30 miles away. I always reckon Sunday is a good day for an excursion to a town or city as all the shops are closed. We followed the 'Centre Ville' signs and got onto what is a one way system around the centre. All the parking seemed to be underground so round we went. Realising that I could not move over to the lane I wanted I was shot down a road out of the Centre! But, as luck would have, it there was some roadside parking. I pulled in and went to look at the parking meter when a Frenchman was trying to explain to me that you don't pay on Sunday. It was one of those occasions when I could not make my self understood but realised why and was able to change what I said to make sense to my new chum. I asked if the parking was free which in the literal sense it is not it is just on Sundays you don't pay. If it was free it would be all the time. Re-phrasing what I asked if it was par payant sur Dimanch he agreed. So sometimes we make our own problems. A similar thing happened the other night. Someone who had just arrived on site was washing up on the side of the toilet block which had cold water only. I pointed out that on the other side of the block the water was hot. My facts were not disputed but what I had failed to do was to establish whether hot water would have been more use to her. So many faux amies! If the French people I speak to don't learn anything from me then I learn a lot from them.
Back to the City of Nimes, famous for its Roman Amphitheatre built around the end of the first century A.D. and reputed to be one of the best preserved of any in the Roman world. It is still being used to this day although thankfully not for its original purpose! However concerts and sports events are held there as well as Camargue Bullfights. When it is not being used for such events the public have access to it for the cost of 4.55 Euros per person. It is quite fascinating being able to access all parts of the seating and walls. Nimes is also a grand city with lots of narrow shopping streets and endless restaurants.
On the way to Nimes we passed numerous caravan and motor caravan showrooms, but being Sunday none of them were open. This contrasted with a supermarket that opened until 12.30pm and was completely packed.
Today is Monday 1st September. You would hardly believe it was September with temperatures at 30 degrees, obviously it cools down a bit in the evening but not that much. Boucanet now has a totally different complexion to a week ago. Almost all the long stay French have gone and the campsite is being reclaimed by real campers. Most of these are Dutch but there are one or two Brits as well. I helped one elderly Dutch couple push their van onto the pitch as a car was parked awkwardly which prevented them reversing into their pitch. Later on a German camper was having difficulty getting their van off their pitch because of a tree branch. A Frenchman was using a short length of wood to try and push the branch up but he did not have enough purchase. I remembered that behind our van we had a tree support so I took that over and we managed to move the branch enough to get the van free.
As this is our last day at Boucanet before moving north we needed a bit more shopping but on the way stopped at Aigues Mortes which is a walled town in the Camargue. King Louis 1X initiated the building of the town as a springboard to leading the Seventh Crusade. Some time after his death he was created a saint and statute in the middle of Aigues Mortes celebrates his contribution to the town and to France. We only spent a short time at Aigues Mortes as we had more fully explored it a few years ago but it was well worth a return visit and for anyone in this region it should be near the top of your list as a place to visit.
The last day on a campsite is always a bit sad. Despite our difficulties at the beginning of our stay at Boucanet we have softened our view of the campsite as time has gone by. There are still some caveats but on balance it is quite a nice location. For those used to the campsites around St Tropez you welcome the relative freedom of traffic which makes a change.
After 10 days at Le Grau du Roi we are on the move north today. We have five days in which to get to our ferry at Calais on Sunday morning. The trip from the Med to Calais can be done in two days, some may even be mad enough to do it in one, but we have decided on three easy stages. Today's journey was 165 miles, the shortest of the three days. We are staying Bourgé Chambalud, which is about 6 miles off the Autoroute, at a campsite called Le Temps Libre where our intention is the stay for 2 days. The site is very quiet, with only about 6 or 7 touring units on site. There are some French people here who are using their static caravans.
The journey was reasonably uneventful except for the wind, particularly on the A9, which made towing uncomfortable. When we turned north on the A7 it became a little easier as we were heading into the wind. I have noticed this phenomenon before with the coastal breeze causing problems to what was previously a perfectly stable outfit. There has been a noticeable drop in temperature today, 23 degrees compared to 30 degrees yesterday.
Le Temps Libre has proved to be a very peaceful site and one I would certainly recommend. Mind you we had a slight crisis this morning as we discovered that one of our Camping Gaz bottles had run out and we were not certain how much we had left in the other bottle. It was a crisis because Margaret was in the process of cooking our last lot of bacon! I went to reception, no one there, barrier down-how was I going to get out as I had confidently told Madam that I would not need a barrier card! An older gentleman was dead heading some flowers across the road, he came across and asked if he could help. They did not sell gaz on site but he gave me directions to the nearest supermarket and hired me a barrier card. We enjoyed our bacon, eggs and tomato but were on a mission. We got to the supermarket 10 minutes before they closed for lunch. Now I am not much of a one for quiz shows but I understand there is one called 'Supermarket Dash' or some such name-that was us. First find the gaz, minutes ticking away, get to cash desk when Margaret says should I buy some more milk, minutes ticking away and cashiers looking at their watches. Has Margaret gone to milk the cows as she seems to be away so long? With minutes to spare we pay for our gaz, milk and puddings, now they were not on the agenda!
Decide to fill up with diesel to save buying it on the Autoroute tomorrow. Then head south to Anneyron to visit the La Fuma factory shop. Car park full, even two towed caravans parked. Guess what - the blessed shop is closed for re-merchandising. At least it was a cheap visit! Back to the van for a well earned drink. In the afternoon we walked into the village and 'Madam' gave us a map of a little garden to visit. Not much in the village and from a commercial point of view it has seen better days although there is still a bakers and a bar/tabac. Walked back via the garden which had been nicely done and was part of the village recreation area.
Thursday and time to leave Le Temps Libre after a very nice two days. Back on the Autoroute and heading for Lyon. We look forward to this as much as the M25! Today not to bad, still busy but not quite as busy as we have known it in the past. North of Lyon it is not very busy except for lorries which we seem to sail by. We leave the Autoroute at junction 24 and head towards Chaumont.
This is our first visit to the Chaumont Municipal Site. Its not particularly large with only 57 pitches. All the books say arrive early, but this is September and at just after 2.00pm it is almost empty except for some Travellers. This is something that you do get from time to time on municipal sites in France and not necessarily something to be concerned about. Apart from ourselves and a Dutch couple behind us we seemed to be the only tourist. As the afternoon and evening proceeded we were joined by a few more fellow campers but there is still plenty of room left.
The last Friday of our holiday. We seem to have survived sharing the campsite with our Traveller chums, in fact they were no trouble at all and I would have happily swapped them for some of the company we have had on other campsites. On a French campsite early in the morning you always know that the toot, toot, toot means - bread. Just after 9.00am we left Chaumont and headed across country to pick up the Autoroute near Troyes. En route we stopped at Colombey-les-deux-Églises which was the birth place of Charles de Gaulle and there is a massive memorial to him on the hillside outside the town. Margaret reckoned it was like the Angel of the North but I don't think the French would agree with her! It was a nice journey across country and as I complete more non motorway sections I may well add a page on avoiding the Autoroute to the web site. The downside is that it is pretty slow, we averaged about 40 mph. As we had a long journey ahead of ourselves we needed to get back on the Autoroute, which we did at Troyes. The journey north was uneventful and good progress was made, even Reims in the middle of lunchtime was OK. We left the A26 at junction 3 and followed the N42 towards Boulogne. We were looking for Manoir Senlecques. Both the instructions in the Caravan Club Guide and those on the site web page were not the easiest to follow but eventually we did manage to find it. The roads leading to the site are quite narrow so it was a bit nerve racking as we made our way to the site.
This is the point that I start to offend people. My ideal for the best type of site that I would like to stay on in France is Chateau du Gandspette near St Omer, it gets everything just about right. And Manoir Senlecques is the complete opposite. Margaret was horrified when we got to our pitch and had a chance to look round. I suppose a generous interpretation would be quaint. Margaret remains unconvinced although I have to admit to having a liking for the site, not least for the excellent welcome you receive. More details, see site report.
In view of the narrowness of the roads we had received several bits of advice from fellow campers on which was the best route out from the site. We took the opportunity on Saturday morning to explore some of these routes. If one was better than another the difference was only marginal. Before going to the massive Auchen Hypermarket we drove down to Wimereux, what a pretty seaside town-it even has beach huts. We also took a detour to have a look at the municipal campsite which looked OK and within easy walking distance of the beach. On the way back we noticed a large war cemetery which we stopped to look at. It mainly contained the graves of those killed in the 1st World War although there are some graves from the 2nd World War. I had no idea that the 'Western Front' extended so far west. As always a sad place but as someone who has always lived in relatively peaceful times as far as nations against nations I feel it is an obligation on my part to spend a few moments with those that gave their lives so that I might have that peace.
By the time we got to the Hypermarket we were a bit hungry so Margaret dragged me into a pizza restaurant for something to eat! The Auchen is still very popular with visiting Brits. Not only were there lots of UK registered cars but there were several coaches. Whilst alcohol is still the main source of purchases, washing powder seems to be coming a close second! Time to get back to the caravan, well we got lost! Eventually we got back on the right road and back to the van. Before we packed up I had a chance to talk to the Aylesbury Ducklings, or at least a couple who came from Aylesbury, just down the road from us. They had been at Senlecques for three weeks and as they used their own facilities found the site OK. Mrs Aylesbury Duckling had an amazing knowledge of all things caravanning, I was most impressed, perhaps Margaret should have a few lessons! Packing up is always a serious business when you are about to leave France for home. Every nook and cranny seems to be filled with something alcoholic, how does that happen!!! It was quite difficult to pay my site fees at this campsite. Monsieur told me to come about 7.00pm, which I did. He took me off to this lovely room where we sat at a long table sorting out what I owed. The pricing of this site is quite odd as he offers large discounts for holders of Camping Carnets, Caravan Clubs, and Caravan Owners Clubs. You do get the impression that he does not want the site full of just anyone! I told him that I had found his web site and he asked me what I thought. I was polite and said that I found the pricing difficult to understand, he nodded sagely in agreement.
Early Sunday morning we were creeping around trying not to make any noise as we hitched up the van. The night before a tent had pitched next to us and I was concerned about waking them up. We had been debating which would be the best route out to the main road having explored them the day before. We eventually went the long way round but it did not add a lot to the journey, I reckon it is about 37 miles to Calais from the campsite. As we head out onto the N42 a big red sun was rising on the horizon, no point looking in the rear mirrors as they were a sea of red. We managed to get on the earlier ferry and this time it left on time.
The journey home was quite good except as we hit the M1 when we ground to a halt, but we were soon moving again. It did cross my mind that we should cross over on the Saturday afternoon and stay somewhere off the M20 overnight and get an early start home on the Sunday, perhaps we will next year!
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