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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Good holidays

Waking up without the alarm is the first treat of being on holiday and in the Blue Bus it is easy to enjoy our first mug of tea while gradually waking up, as the kettle is almost within arms reach of the beds.

Here in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, after washing a few clothes out and emptying the waste tank of the toilet, we popped into the town to buy bread and had a leisurely breakfast back at the camp site in the sunshine.

We slipped in to our cycling shorts and after a couple of hours are ready to set off on the days cycle ride; Saturday was Argentat and back, a 50 kms ride along the Dordogne, returning on the opposite bank, Sunday was to Carennac, only around 35 kms.

We feel like we have been the stars in a French cycling advert; highlights of the last two days included:
  • Standing on the different bridges over the Dordogne watching scores of House Martins catching insects on the wing and having time to watch the Crag Martins swoop in and feed their young, who were using the very ornate carvings on the doorway of the church in Carennac as useful resting posts as they learned to fly.
  • Stopping to inhale the scent from the many fields of walnut trees.
  • Chatting to an amiable French man about dams and water, who made no allowance for our poor language skills and understanding about one word in three.
  • Eating ice creams in a cafe in Argentat with a view over the river to egg-shell blue shuttered stone houses with balconies laden with red geraniums.
  • Cycling through tiny villages of pretty houses, all built from local stone, with wooden shutters, attic windows in the roof and deep pink roses growing around the door.
  • Surrounded by fields of wheat, watching the Black Kites circle slowly overhead.
  • Stumbling upon a Brocante, a French car boot sale; we resisted buying any of the stuff, including old metal tractor seats and chipped Pernod jugs.
On Saturday evening we found a bar in town to watch Manchester United be beaten very convincingly by Barcelona.

On Sunday it was hot enough to use the camp site swimming pool before planning the next few days; its time to move on and it is forecast to be sunny around the Loire, so we'll point the Blue Bus in that direction.

Friday, 27 May 2011

What a shower part two

The fantastic bread in France is worth the ferry costs alone, you have no sooner crossed the channel and you can buy a decent baguette worthy of spreading good butter on in any small town Boulangerie, if only this were possible back home. Move to Chorlton, we hear you cry; a big win on the premium bonds would be the only way this could happen and then a terrace within spitting distance of Barbakan would have to compete with a chalet with a view of the alps, geraniums on the balcony and a choice of excellent Backerei around the corner - all just a dream.

We are feeling good after a week of good bread, good red wine and lots of physical activity; on a campsite everything takes more human-energy than home. We enjoy doing all these things and they never seem like chores, but even walking to the sanitary block, hand washing clothes, filling up the van's water tanks and emptying the on-board loo all take more exertion and that's all before we've spent the day walking or cycling.

Those of you who have read Carol's 'What a Shower' article in MMM and in previous blogs will know that we have enjoyed and endured many different types of showers. The campsite at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne has taken the shower experience to a new high-tech level. The shower and toilet cubicles have movement sensor lights; the lights come on when you enter a cubicle and we approve of this effort to save energy. Unfortunately, in the showers the sensor is in the section of the shower for hanging your towel and dry clothes, this combined with a push button shower keeps us very active when showering - sashaying between pushing on the shower and waving at the sensor!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Teapots, Dolmens and Waterfalls in Limousin

Regular readers will know that we take the mobile, in mobile home, seriously and after three nights we left Airvault and headed off for the Plateau de Millevache. We planned to get to Meymac, but are easily distracted and a charming municipal site next to a large pond in Lacelle took our fancy. The facilities were limited, but as no one came to ask for payment we couldn't really complain. We ate in the sunshine listening to the frogs in the pond, using our very stylish and bargain Ebay buy teapot; while window shopping in a small French town, we had spotted the same teapot in a shop for 33 Euro, we had found it on Ebay for £9.

We enjoy days when we travel and stop to see sites along the way; the Blue Bus means we can have lunch or a brew whenever we please. The photos show we had a brief stop at a Dolmen and detoured into Gimel-les-Cascades on the way to the Dordogne to walk along the waterfalls.

Anthony success as a chick magnet has been somewhat limited, but he can console himself by being a very successful tick magnet; we had spent the not insubstantial sum of £11 on a tick lasso to deal with these tiny pests and were therefore moderately excited when he found a tick on his leg minutes after our arrival in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne - that £11 was not wasted!

France: farming and cycling

As we drive and cycle through lowland France, it is agriculture that dominates the landscape. The importance of farming to France and the French is shown clearly on our excellent Michelin road atlas of France, at 1:200,000 this is a good scale showing all the country lanes; annoyingly it doesn’t show campsites, but it does mark silos! It is no surprise that farmer-power predominates in France, the whole country is involved in growing things, we pass fields of cereals, vegetables and of course grapes, neat allotments and gardens, even the industry we see is often agricultural-related; food and wine production and agricultural services etc. Other industrial sites we observe are also close to the land, such as quarrying and cement works. Although the fields of cereals and vegetables are often vast and we assume every weed is sprayed to within an inch of its life, the verges are full of wild flowers; at this time of year poppies and cornflowers provide so much colour, cycling along the quiet lanes between these field is never boring and what I really want to do is throw down a metre square quadrant and spend an hour recording the different species (you can take the woman out of geography, but you can never take the geography out of the woman).

Peaceful lanes with a small village every four or five kilometres is dream cycling for us; as well as the wild flowers, we enjoy spotting the Harriers (Hen or Montagu’s?) overhead, dodging the butterflies and stopping in small cafes for coffee.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Airvault, Poitou province, France

Drive 370 kms from Le Havre and you can be south of The Loire; a good enough reason for us to spend our first day in France getting to the intriguingly named town of Airvault. We used the gloriously empty French motorways for about half of the kilometres and paid around 30 Euro for the privilege (this makes our £210 road tax seem very reasonable); arriving at a campsite that is English owned, English run and English occupied, although the mixed sex sanitary block is very un-English.
The sun is shining and the good people of the Thouet valley have put together a cycle route along this beautiful tributary of the Loire, so it seemed rude not to make use of it. The route took us past a Franco-Roman Hypogee, thought to be an underground burial place, ancient fords on the river, a grand chateau, a large reservoir and pretty villages. Our picnic by the river gave us chance to watch a Kingfisher going back and forth and we spotted a large, green snake swimming at quite a pace across the river, which certainly put Anthony off any ideas of paddling.
Back in Airvault the town was sleepy, but the park was where all the activity was; around 20 men (yes, all men) were playing boules.
It feels so good to be back on the road again, moving at our own pace, learning about new places, sitting by the van listening to the bird song, relaxing and meeting new people. It may only be for 18 nights, but we will enjoy every one of them.

Camp sites in France May and June 2011

Camp site details for our France trip:
List of sites
List of sites
I Camp site name Country Arrival date Number of nights Cost per night Description
180 Camping de Courte Vallee, Airvault France 22/05/2011 3 £15.00
ACSI price. Pretty site with trees, grass, gravel paths, bar and bread. Toilts clean and loo paper, showers hot, but poor flow, English run.
181 Municipal campsite, Lacelle, SE Limoges France 25/05/2011 1 £0.00
Cleanish facilities, grassy, pleasant village, no hot water for our stay, by municipal pond. Should have been about 10 euro.
182 Camping des Iles, Beaulieu sur Dordogne France 26/05/2011 4 £11.00
ACSI price. Clean toilets, no loo paper or seats, very hot water everywhere. Annoying light sensors in showers and toilets. Grassy with trees by river and 5 mins from town.
183 Soubise Aire, Soubise Port, opposite Rochefort France 30/05/2011 1 £6.50
Warm showers and couple of toilets. Pleasant quiet spot and had lovely view over fields. Busy.
184 Camping de la Venise Verte, Coulon France 31/05/2011 3 £15.00
ACSI price. Grassy, flat side with laid out pitches and pleasant rural situation. Good cyclng from site. Toilets clean, hot water and washing up sinks indoors.
185 Parc de Monsabert, Couture France 03/06/2011 2 £15.00
Wifi 6 euro for 24 hours and had some difficulties accessing. Facilities dated, but clean. Well run site with plenty of shade. Grassy marked pitches, pool, bar and activities.
186 L'isle aux Moulins, Jargeau France 05/06/2011 1 £13.00
ACSI price. Grassy, slightly uneven site wth trees and natural feel. Facilities very clean and good and near the town and the river Loire.
187 Mont Olympe, Camping Municipal, Charleville-Mezieres France 06/06/2011 1 £18.21
As nice as we remembered. Showers cleaner than before, some pitches not very level.