First trip to France with 2yr old Adria Coral (3lt) John & Jennifer
CAMPING-CAR TO CAEN
And perhaps a little further
23rd April 2009
Look out Frenchie you are about to be invaded! Put down your cheese, wine and women and man the walls for the Brit’s are coming. The Crusade is afoot with firstly a pilgrimage to Canterbury, not so much for ecclesiastical approval but because the Camping Club has a site there, for 15 groats a night, which is only a sling shot from the port. Set the guard and brighten the fires we shall have an early night for the armada leaves the morrow on the morning tide and we need to rest the horses.
24th April 2009
Awake just after cock-crow for the short ride to Dover to meet the armadas that will storm the French coast not eight leagues a distance. Here at the docks we are met by the Yellowcoats, a coastal village group responsible for protecting our shores from invasion. Their main armament to counter an enemy sweeping up the beaches is to confuse them by misdirection, an acquired skill they practice continuously on passing travellers. It is said that if any two Yellowcoats give you identical instructions the second one is taken out and publicly flogged.
The other village group protecting our shores is the Customs and Exercise people who have to be admired for protecting our ancient customs such as Morris Dancing and Welly throwing from being purloined by a foreign nation. It is more difficult to understand their remit on exercise, which must be directed by the health service, but completely unloading our transport of all personal possessions and reloading it certainly went a long way to my avoiding obesity. I’m only too pleased that I managed, with some disagreement, to persuade the Camp Commander to leave behind some ‘essential’ things such as the lawnmower, washing machine and vacuum cleaner, although the latter took some clever talking.
‘Gas’, the Yellowcoat said. Well, ‘no’ I thought, perhaps a little hop-water retention, but this is my normal shape. As he strode off to the rear of the van I realized he was referring to the inboard propane tanks which I try to ignore until the red marker signifies ‘panic now’. These tanks had already been signed as WMD’s at the ticket booth as we entered the port. The crossing was the famous 'mill pond' type with brilliant sunshine and 18C in the shade spilling us out onto French soil about midday and the first sight of the motorways. Smooth, manicured edges, litter free and just Francios and Pierre keeping me company as we head south. This ain't the M6 at 5pm, it's heaven and a relaxed drive.
That's it. The Crusade is off, this is now a recce' just in case any of this comes up on E-bay in the near future. By dinner time we are 180 miles south sitting on the banks of the River Seine at Honfleur sipping the home-made, for just 7 of those foreign pounds a night (eat your heart out Caravan Club), and getting a tan as the glorious sunshine goes well on into the evening. I might never come back.
25h April 2009
Having spent the night with about 120 other camping cars, some just a few inches from my front bumper, we awoke to another day of brilliant sunshine. We are sharing the camping-car aire with the circus who have parked a couple of camels on the green, left a trailer outside with two lions on it and tied up ponies to every available tree. It's like a camp site designed by Salvador Dalli on one of his better days. Honfleur is the most beautiful mix of old, some very old, houses around an idyllic harbour fronted by open air restaurants, bars and art gallery's and today is market day. Tourist heaven! I'm going to try and get the town moved to Norfolk to replace Cromer, I'm sure the French would agree if I threw in an agricultural grant. Walked our feet off – back to the van for some home-made.
26th April 2009
Another day of brilliant sunshine. This will be the 3rd day of a constant 20 deg C in the van day and night without the heating on. With no heating on for so long I feel so tough I'm thinking of making an application to join the Marines. A gentle drive through the countryside to Deauville to join the coast road and a stop/start progress south west as we meander along the coast before turning south to Pegasus bridge and explore the exploits of Major John Howard and his merry band of Para's. Boy, did they put up a good show. They all must have had 10 inch vasectomy scars.
By mid-afternoon we are parked in a (free – parked in the car park behind the official aire which was full up) aire at Ouistreham over looking the port watching the huge boats load lorries while we stroll down our first D-Day beach, Sword Beach. Took the opportunity to look round a 5 storey ex-German (very ex') blockhouse with a wonderful view from the top and stuffed with war souvenirs. Then back to the van for some home-made.
Early morning for us. These boats run all night and the 6 a.m. one had a whistle fetish. It's raining so it's time to get on the road and go sight-seeing. First stop Douvres-la-Delivrande, which has more letters in it than people, to visit a British War Cemetery. Always a sobering moment when you see the age of the lads and the number of them. Next stop The American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach for the grand tour, visitor centre, film show, slides and all this after a body search on the way in. Being searched and put through a metal detector just to go into a cemetery, are these Yanks paranoid, or what? Tried to stop at Arromanche-le-Bains to look at the new D-Day museum but only one very small car park (and an aire that was full up) so had to move on coming to rest on the top of the cliffs at the Cinema 360 where you park your camping car for 4 foreign pounds (the French come in after the car park attendant goes off-duty). We are looking out over Juno Beach, with a glass of home-made in our hands, at the remains of the Mulberry Harbour which still litters the beach 65 years on but the rain is starting to ease so there's hope for a better day tomorrow.
Off to an early start, not just to avoid the man who collects the fees in the morning for the next days parking but to have breakfast in a 'prettier' place, honest. No rain yet but looks 'iffy.
A short run into Bayeux to a car park in the middle of town that has a free service point for camping cars and we swing into action replenishing the life support system. Still dry and sunny so it's off to see the famous tapestry which is on our 'bucket list' (things to do before you kick ….) It's an impressive thing, either a great work of art or someone's table runner got away with them. Lunch in the van and then on to the Cathedral which is most imposing, towering over the town and its visitors. Rains started up again so it’s back to the van for a glass of home-made and to join the other eight camping cars that are going to stay for the night.
A dry morning as we drop into town for bread, that needs strips of C4 to cut it if it's more than 2 hours old, and then on the road to go north to Utah Beach on the Cherbourg Peninsular. Utah beach is a great wide strip of sand fronted by barbed wire, Sherman tanks, gun emplacements and Americans. I'm sure there was less activity in June 1944. The car park here is obviously used overnight by camping-cars.
A wander up the coast to Quettehou and out to the fort at St-Vaast-la-Hougue where we walk right round the place enjoying the brilliant sunshine and dead calm sea. But enough of this kicking-back it's time to grab a parking spot and believe me, the free ones goes fast. 15 km up the road to St-Pierre-Eglise we find a free camping car space, provided by the community with servicing facilities, just off the town square. It's on a 1:10 slope and the church
clock, 150m away, sounds every 15 minutes but eh! it's free. Time for a glass of HM and dinner. Bon appetite.
For the anoraks – 544 miles so far at 27 mpg.
7.am. (6am in England) Some demented French hunch-back is trying to play his version of the Hallelujah Chorus on a very big bell in the church tower. A quick shop for bread and we are on the road to Barfleur, a fishing town on the top right hand corner of the Cherbourg Peninsular, where he stop for a look round and lunch. (Looks like another unofficial aire facing the harbour wall) The weather deteriorated from dry and part sun to total black, monsoon, can't see the end on the bonnet type rain. As it looks like it's set in for the rest of the day we decided to go for a mileage jump and head down through Valogne, Clarteret and Carteret to Pirou a non-descript huddle of closed-up bungalow's hugging the shore line. The only thing going for this place is the free camping-car aire even if you do have to go to the local camp site (13 foreign pounds a night) to get a token for the water supply. As we sink slowly into a good book and the HM the sun is starting to come out again and the rain eases to just torrential.
Ce la vie.
1st May 2009
Please Ernie make this my day. Wake up to a village of closed up houses, nobody about and everything soaking wet. It's a bit like being in Wales. Today we are on a mission to tick another box on the 'bucket list' and head south for Le Mont St Michel. The weather improves as we drive and by the time we reach the mount it is very hot. This is a serious lump of rock with an abbey perched on the top. You know you are going to need a prayer or two just to get to the top. Unfortunately it's Mayday. This means that every Frenchman in a 200 mile radius has descended on the Mount bringing with him his elderly parents, dog and a
dozen screaming children to stand gasping on the steep steps of the mount throwing rapid instructions to the family to leave him to die and go on without him.
The abbey is closed today so we take in the lower walks and plan an early night for an assault on the top tomorrow. Back to the van, amongst the other 150 camping-cars, for HM and dinner.
2nd May 2009
Ouch. Managed to get a sun burnt head yesterday and now I'm standing here looking like a Swan Vesta waiting for a piece of sandpaper. Today is the assault to the top of Mont St Michel something the Brit's failed to do in the 14th century. Lost count of the number of steps as we jostled with hundreds of people to clamber to the top. Only the orientals remind you of the swine fever pandemic as they all wear face masks but my only concern is can I catch Frog Flu? It's busy, noisy and crowded but worth the journey to see nearly 1400 years of history. The most holly place on the mount is the second souvenir shop on the left as you enter. I saw people browsing the price tickets declaring 'Jesus', 'O' my Good God' and other religious chants to placate their gods.
HM, dinner, bed another bon jour.
3rd May 2009
Moving round the corner today into Brittany (One more time) to Cherrueix for a 2 foreign pound service of the vans' life support and laundry. It's that or go commando. We dribble along the coast with lunch in the oyster yards of Le Vivier-s-mer and into St. Malo. When I say 'into St. Malo' I mean 24ft of camping car into cosmopolitan town and port, its one-way streets and swing bridge. I enjoyed it. Lovely, affluent, well heeled place with luxury boats smart people and roads cluttered up with camping-car. Looked like Westcliffe on a good day.
Stopped at their barrier to the harbour where they have an electricity generating station set into the floor of the dam and a massive sea lock.
A trip out to St Cast-le-Guildo reveals a new height barrier on the camping car aire and we follow all the others to St.Jacut De La Mer where we find the same. Next stop is Dinan where we find the aire under a massive viaduct and next to the river Rance. Not a good day with barriers which comes as a bit of a shock after the welcome Normandy gave us. Even here they are developing the area and I suspect we will have workmen in early.
Time to study the maps over some HM and review the routing.
4th May 2009
7am the workman are in, JCB, lorry and plumes of cigarette smoke. Time to make an early start and get sorted out in another aire. The things I do for a free night. A few km's up the road we drop into a service aire just off the main road and find we can fill up with water for free! The god of travel is on my side, we have saved another 2 foreign pounds.
Next stop Binic up on the peninsular at a Super U market for food, fuel and van service. Wow, their water is free, someone up there is pulling my chain. A short cruise along the coast past St Quay Portrieux takes us to a hidden bay at Pont de Plouha where we join a dozen other camping-cars at an aire overlooking the sea. Rocky bay between high cliffs, sandy beach surrounded by scrub-land.
It's like Cornwell without the local accent, litter or cream teas. A long walk out to the point in brilliant sun shine just to work up an appetite for dinner and then back to the van to put our feet up.
This'll do for the night, get the bottle out the fridge.
5th May 2009
Dull morning but serviced, for 1 foreign pound, and away north by 10 o' clock. Took the pretty route, not because I like alley driving, but the small French villages are a delight to see. By lunch time we are in Paimpol parked next to the harbour. Lunch is delayed as we hit the market before it folds up. Another town clustered around a harbour enticing you to sit and watch the boats go and come via the huge lock. We manage to spend the whole day absorbed in the town and only return to the van in time for dinner to find we have neighbours. The aire is designed for 15 camping-cars, free of course, and there are currently just over 20 with new ones arriving every minute. My neighbours’ phone rang and I opened mine! As long as you can get your door open it's OK.
Running low on Home Made. Desperate times.
6th May 2009
Short run west on the Cotes d'Armor to Treguier a very old town on a hill next to a sea inlet. Market day again which seems to be only place you can buy food without having had a lottery win. The camping-car aire is down by the river, sun shining through the trees, as all 10 vans sit facing the tidal river in a tree lined dead-end road with the town just a couple of minutes walk behind us and all for free. The only thing missing to make you feel at home is a burnt out car and an abandoned fridge. The sun is shinning on the rippling water and the birds are in full song all around us.
Running low on gas, HM and water …......... major replenish due.
7th May 2009
A bright morning and we are off to Lannion with a stop at a Super U for water, another supermarket for gas and McDonalds for emails to annoy the kids. Cruising round the Corniche Bretonne the Cote de Granit Rose where the views are spectacular. Large sandy bays, great lumps of red granite and beaches to die for. We have come to rest at Locquirec parked on a concrete apron with the front wheels resting on the sea wall. A view you could not buy and a service point with free water.
This'll do us for the night. Break out the HM
8th May 2009
A school boys dream, I've arrived at Brest, that bit that sticks out just above La Gran Grotto. (honest, is a real place) You just can't resist it can you! Rained all morning but now 20c in the shade, as if I'm not confused enough.
Parked in the car park of Oceanopolis next to the harbour looking at a trillion pounds worth of private yachts and spent the whole afternoon in Oceanopolis looking at the fish. It's a bit like a Sea World but a hundred times better. Plan is to stay the night and taxi into Brest tomorrow to have a look round, it's a big town (44DD) and I understand it has it good points. Enough puns, time for dinner and French wine as we have run out of the moonshine.
9th May 2009
Change of plan. It's a brilliant day and already very hot by 8am (French time) so we are off to Camaret on the sticky out bit just below Brest. No, I'm going to resist this opportunity! The area of Finistere had Napoleon defending it and WW2 giving it a right bashing so the area is strewn with forts and ex-German fortifications all of which are built on beautiful spots over looking sandy bays. The views are great and after a day exploring we are only torn away by a poster we saw advertising an antique market tomorrow.
So it's back to Crozon to stop for the night ready for the market in the morning. Problem. They are holding the antique market on the camping-car aire so there is nowhere to stay. It is more efficient to stay on a local camp site within walking distance of the market then drive miles to a free aire and return the next morning so its 'put your hand in your pocket time and show me the money'
Last job of the day is to decant some French wine into an acceptable container for the table. A 10 litre box on the table looks so ungainly.
10th May 2009
The antique market is advertised from 9am so we arrive at the appointed time. The problem is the French have a completely different idea of time and it's nearer 10.30am before they are stalled out. The goods are poor, the prices very high and the market is not that large. We leave disappointed.
Decided to move south to the sticky-out-bit and explore the coast line. Back roads all the way to Pointe du Van, well, you couldn't not park there could you? Beautiful coast line round the Bai of Trepasses and Pointe du Raz which takes up out our whole day until we fall into the camping-car aire at Plogoff. I know, but I will resist.
5pm and it's 28 C. I need liquids. Special liquids!
For those with bobble hats: 1047 miles at 28mpg
Spent some time cleaning off fly splats from the front of the van but I suspect some of them were French cyclists!
11th May 2009
Rained hard all night but already 16C this morning and the humidity is rising as we make our way into the village aire and its service point for water etc. Start of the journey home today and we may be out of Brittany by tonight. The road signs here are in French and Breton. It's a bit like Wales but instead of not being able to read the bottom name here you can't read either of them!
Sixty miles east and we hit a very pleasant area around the Brest-Nantes canal. (sounds like a medical complaint) Derelict abbey, canal, hydro electric dam and great countryside. Fly on to Merdrignac for a free stay outside the local camp site ready for a major jump tomorrow. Plan 'A' is do 200 miles and make Le Harve and the dawdle up the coast to Calais. Plan 'B' is make another plan if 'A' fails.
Take my advice don't drink and type
12th May 2009
It has rained all night and does not look good today so to spend all day travelling will not go a miss. 200 miles of mixing it with Pierre in his Citroen is an experience. The French may have the reputation of being great lovers but their driving leaves a little to be desired. God, I wish I was French!
The free camping aire on the docks at Le Havre is great. Getting to it is hell. It's a bit like doing central London in the rush hour while trying to spot a sign for camping that has been chalked on the pavement. That's besides the sat' nav' trying to send me down a tunnel that's 2 feet lower than our van!!
I need a drink.
13th May 2009
We move along the coast, or should that be 'cost', for as we get closer to the various ports prices of stopping sites, diesel and just about everything else has gone up. Dropped into St Valery-en-Caux for lunch, and to smell the money, but moved on finally coming to rest at Ault Onival for a free night having replenished the van on a free aire at Hautot Sur Mer. You can't let the French beat you, can you?
Poor day. Boring scenery, heavy traffic. Studying map through the bottom of wine glass.
14th May 2009
A move into another universe as we hit Le Touquet-Paris-plage. You can just smell the money. Clean, sophisticated and buzzing with not an onion seller in sight. It's market day and we spend hours round the town before alighting at the camping aire outside the yacht club where we are park with a terrific view over the estuary. One more travel day and we will be back in the land of Brown depression, Bon Riddance.
The final, well nearly final, I usually forget the last day tally, in foreign pounds, is
Camp sites, water etc. 56 (a little over 2 a day), Road Tolls 38 , Gas 17, Diesel (92 cents/ltr) so it has been very economical to tour 1550 miles through France for three weeks.
15h May 2009
Three searches by the border bandits as we go through the port and onto the ferry. The end of the French Flight of Fancy. I would like to thank my sponsors, Fiat for their reliability, Garmin for not getting me too lost, my publicist, production team and the French towns and villages who provide all those wonderful free camp sites. It's back to reality, the 3 week old grass and time to plan the next one.