Meander through Western France

This will be our first trip outside the UK for a year and only our fifth trip away in the van in 2010. Normally we would have been much more active but a hip replacement in March rather dictated what I could do, or not do as the case may be! Although having the hip done has meant I still need to be careful it has been very liberating in other ways particularly the absence of pain I previously suffered and much more improved mobility. Should anyone need it done and are concerned all I can say is that for me it has been well worth the natural concerns. One thing we did make a decision on was not to bring the bikes with us on this trip as we had not really had the opportunity to ride them this year and we were concerned, at only 5 months after the operation it could be risky.

As the date approach we did have some trepidation as it seemed so long since we last visited France. This was not based on any known concerns but just wondering how we would cope. Half the problem when you are retired is that you have too much time to get ready, where as when we worked it was a case of getting the van ready in hours rather than days.

Wednesday 25th August dawned reasonably bright but the forecast was for very heavy rain coming in from the south/west. We were well south of the Dartford crossing before we had a few spots of rain. We have often left a damp Kent on the UK side only to find France bathed in sunshine but as we emerged from Eurotunnel it was till wet. It was wet all along the switchback of a motorway called the A16 from Calais, past Boulogne and beyond. We were heading for a campsite called Le Val d’Authie which is deep in the countryside that backs inland from the Somme Bay coast. Having initially ignored TomTom we gave in eventually as he led us across some narrow roads to the campsite. As we pulled into the campsite we were concerned to see a ‘Complete’ sign, the last thing we imagined was that we would find the site full. However Madam said she had a spot we could use which turned out to be a lovely pitch in a corner under a very large Willow tree. There still seems to be a lot of children here so maybe people should consider that French children don’t go back to school in the middle of August!

Thursday was not a lot better than the day before weather wise as we made our way back to a wet A16 and it did not start to really clear until south of Rouen. We filled up with diesel on the autoroute, not the most economic way of doing it but I sometimes wonder whether it makes sense to drive several miles just to find a supermarket. Answers on a postcard! Its been a few years since we last used the A28 but it still seems very quiet as motorways go but none the less nice to tow along. We were heading for the Municipal at Sees called Le Clos Normand. We decided to ignore TomTom and just follow the signs to the campsite but these seemed fairly narrow and twisty but we got there with no incidents. There was nobody on reception but there was a note saying to find a pitch and return at 4.00pm to complete the paperwork. As we arrived it started to rain again. We found a pitch which was very large and thought that it must be two pitches together but it was just one. Even managed to tune in the satellite reasonably easy despite not having any other fellow Brits with a dish to copy! Went off to pay the very nice young lady on reception who spoke excellent English. Not bad for £10.50 a night! Le Clos Normand is a very nice little site with a supermarket just across the road and the town centre is only a short walk away.

Friday dawned a lot brighter although there was quite a lot of dark cloud around and that was how it continued all day alternating between sunshine and light showers. Our first port of call was the supermarket just across the road. I did feel somewhat embarrassed driving such a short distance but my excuse was that I needed to fill up with diesel. We did not need much in the way of shopping but this was our first French supermarket visit for a year and it seems many things are higher in price than we remember, despite the slight improvement in the value of Sterling. Its not so much reflected in the fresh products but simple things like milk and coffee even the humble cooked chicken is 50% dearer than what we pay in Waitrose at home. The saving grace is that wine is still good value!

Back at the van I thought I should check the internet. There is no WiFi on site so I decided to try the Vodafone dongle. I could connect to SFR but it was very slow and kept losing the signal so I gave up after a while. Given that we are situated in a town I was rather disappointed that the signal was so poor. As it turned out it was the last time I had to use Vodafone on the holidays as all other stops had WiFi. After lunch we walked into the pleasant little town of Sées. It seems strange that such a relatively small town has such a big Cathedral! Its an interesting contrast with Ely where we were not that many weeks ago, where we would have been charged an entrance fee but in Sées we were free to walk in and look around. The campsite is much busier today. Always fascinates me the trouble people take to select the right pitch even if it means changing once the have unhitched. Perhaps understandable if their stay was going to be more than an overnighter but most will be off just after dawn tomorrow!

Saturday and surprise, surprise a clear blue sky. By the time we were up others had started to make a move. First job was to walk over to the supermarket for a baguette. The last time I queued to get into a supermarket on a Saturday morning was when Margaret was still at work and I used to do the shopping after dropping her off at work. We were on the road by 10.15 and headed south towards Alencon on the N road rather than return to the motorway. Thereafter we did use the autoroute, despite the tolls. We arrived at the Ile d’Offard campsite in Saumur just before 1.00pm and were pleased to find the Reception open. When the young lady was taking my details she told me that she had visited Milton Keynes and was clearly impressed with the Shopping Centre, small world! Unfortunately this site likes to allocate pitches and quite frankly the one given to us was quite poor and it would have been impossible to have got satellite reception. We found another more suitable pitch and it was agreed that we change. As a bonus the new pitch was fully serviced. A little while later another English couple arrived looking for a different pitch to the one allocated. The lower end of the site was closed off and it seemed a bit strange, when we walked round, that this was the part with the best pitches! Anyway our new pitch suits us and more by luck than judgement it can also get the site WiFi which was supposed to have limited cover.

Sunday was another sunny day although because of the Belgium Grand Prix most of the afternoon was spoken for. Good result for Mark Webber who came second for Red Bull. Monday and another lovely day. Seem to be in the grip of some sort of bug. but we did manage to get to the supermarket in the afternoon.

Tuesday and our last planned day at Saumur and we decided to walk into the town which was a greater distance than as the crow fly’s but without a boat we had no choice! Saumur is one of those Grand French towns that so much impresses you on initial journeys to France. We walked up to the Chateau which was quite a hike and uphill all the way! Two things missing compared to a year ago, a walking stick and pain! Near to the Chateau is a view point which looks out over the town and the Loire, the title picture gives an impression of the panorama. You can also see the campsite from the view point. Although it was a bright sunny day we were lucky enough to have a cooling breeze. The baguette purchased en route back to the campsite went down well with the Pate.

Wednesday 1st September and time to move further south to our next stop on the Ile d’Oleron. The first leg of the journey to Niort was on what we used to call ‘Route Nationals’ but now have been converted to D roads. I assume the reason for this is the rapid development of the Autoroute network in France making it less necessary to have centrally controlled road network. Margaret likes ordinary roads as it saves damage to her credit card as she does not have to pay tolls. I have told her I am happy to pay when the French build the toll booth on my side of the road! Near Saintes we returned to non toll roads across country to the Island which you get to by a long viaduct, strangely called 'Le Viaduc'. Immediate impressions of the Ile d’Oleron are not of charm and quaintness as the area is a major harvester of Oysters if that is the correct term and it has a shanty town look! Navigating to our campsite, La Brande, was not without the odd wrong turning but we got there eventually but reception was closed. We had to wait for about 10 minutes and by that time a few more vans had arrive. I was advised by a member of an internet forum to try and get close to the swimming pool as I would be able to make use of the free WiFi from our pitch. Unfortunately we also wanted to get satellite reception which would have been difficult as that part of the site was quite wooded.

Thursday was our first full day on site so we felt that we should go out and explore. The Ile d’Oleron is a secretive place, maybe not to the locals but to us visitors who are unfamiliar with the network of little roads that wind between the oyster beds. Peggotty from David Copperfield would feel quite at home here. More by luck than judgement we somehow made our way to a place called Boyardville. Its built on a small creek and is the base for fishermen. Ferries also leave from here for the mainland. There was also a nice sandy beach and a fairly large Marina. We found a car park and typically French they charge a lower rate out of the high season. This coupled with the fact that they don’t charge during the normal midday to 2.00pm lunch break so you put 20 cents in the machine which seems to pay for more than half a days parking! We had a look around the marina area before trying to make our way back to the campsite. Just in case we were going round in circles we did switch TomTom on and he got us back safely, even if he take us down some doggy narrow roads, one of them was even pointing to another campsite, could be fun with a twin axle! When we got back I went off to check the internet only to receive some sad news by e-mail that a former colleague had died after a long battle with cancer. Friday was a bit of a lazy day although in the afternoon we did go out to the supermarket at St Pierre d’Oleron.

On Saturday we explored a bit around Le Chateau d’Oleron including the Citadelle a massive fortification dating from the 1600’s. We were able to walk around a fair proportion of the walls which had good views across to the mainland and of ’Le Viaduc’ Alongside the Citadelle is a small harbour which was full of fishing boats and not a gin palace in sight! We wanted to get a better view of the Viaduct and to do so risked life and limb crossing two very busy roads as weekend traffic flowed onto the island. Unfortunately the view, from a photographic point of view was not so good. We then drove onto St Trojan les Bains which is on the south side of the island. It was interesting to see a more wooded appearance and when we arrived we found a sandy beach and from here a better view of the Viaduc. We made our way back to the van and we think that we have discovered, by accident, a better approach to our campsite. Sunday dawned bright and sunny, if a bit muggy. We spent a lazy at the campsite. The site is reasonably full with about half the pitches taken.

Monday 6th September, We explored a little further today. First to the view point at La Remigeasse. It seems that it’s the western side of the island that has the most sandy beaches. From here we went onto the fishing port of La Cotiniere which is France’s 12th largest fishing port. Back at the site it is interesting to observe the number of French caravans and motorhomes on site. In the past it seemed quite unusual to have the same numbers. Rain started in the evening and seem to continue through the night.

It was still damp on Tuesday morning although it did clear up later in the day but rain did return in the late evening. It was our intention to leave the site after a week but we felt there was more of the island to explore and as a place it has grown on us so we have decided to stay another 5 nights. We did go shopping in the afternoon but a fair bit of the day was taken up with arranging for a condolence card to be sent to the family of our former colleague. Thank goodness for the internet as once we had received the address we were able to use Moonpig. Perhaps not as personal as a hand written card but the best we could do in the circumstances. Well, what a night. As we were sitting having dinner we noticed the wind was starting to get up. By the time it was dark it was even stronger but we thought that it would not get any worse, wrong! At around midnight we were outside taking the canopy down as we were concerned it would be blown down. A Scottish couple from a motorhome opposite kindly offered to help but we were nearly there and, as I am sure do others, we have a routine. The trees were bending under the strength of the wind. We did manage to get to sleep eventually.


When we got up it was a bit brighter but still windy. After lunch we drove out across the Viaduc Pointe du Chapus which must have been a place of embarkation to the island in the past. There was even some evidence that a railway may have originally terminated at the small port. Most of the activity these days seems to revolve around the harvesting of oysters and the small harbour was busy with strange flat bottomed boats, which looked like small landing craft, used for this purpose. Just off shore is Fort Louvios an imposing fortification which can be visited at low tide by means of a causeway. We returned across the Viaduc to visit Le Chateau d’Oleron which has an imposing central area which contains parking and the Tourist Information Office. Just across the road is a covered Market building. Now talking of parking, I came across another variation of French parking methods. The parking was free for one hour but you had to have a ticket from the machine. Cash was not an alternative. A gentleman came up to use the machine and he typed in a number in but no ticket. As a result we struck up a kind of conversation and I asked if there was an alternative machine. He beckoned me to follow him. When we got to the other machine he keyed a number in and hey presto he got a ticket. I pointed to the instructions and asked what number he use and he explained that it was the 4 numbers of his car registration. I said that mine only had two numbers and he said just key those numbers in, which I did and it produced a ticket. Once I understood the procedure it all seemed so simple! The number, by the way, appears on the ticket so cars can be easily identified, simples! Back at the site I noticed a large 5th wheeler had arrived and had been reversed onto its pitch at an angle. Not sure I would like to have to rely on reversing something of that size onto a confined camping pitch but the owner did point out that reversing that type of outfit is more responsive than doing the same thing with a caravan, which is just as well as they can’t be fitted with movers!


Thursday dawned a lot calmer so we felt confident enough to put the canopy back up. I got chatting to the owner of the Fifth wheel outfit as he seemed to be a bit unsettled where he was and I suggested he have a look at the new part of the site where there are some larger pitches with easier access. He went to have a look and subsequently moved pitch. After lunch we drove right to the end of the island to the Phare de Chassiron. You can, if you wish, climb the 224 steps to lantern balcony. We passed on that one! Around the base of the lighthouse there are some nice gardens. You can also stroll around the grounds and up to the cliff edge to get nice views across to the mainland. On the horizon I noticed a high level bridge and realised it was the bridge over to the Ile de Re. From the lighthouse there is a nice drive along the coast. One thing I have noticed on our wanders around the island is the number of parking places near to the sea and most seem to be free. I appreciate that motorhomes are very popular in Europe and France in particular but I have never seen them in the quantities that we have on the Ile d’Oleron. Even the supermarket car parks seem full of them!

Friday, after lunch we drove up the landward coast of the island. It is quite fascinating to see how much of this part of the island is taken up with oyster production. It’s a shame there is not a comprehensive museum on the subject as I am sure it would create a lot of interest. In our effort to get a bit nearer the action we went down one road but chickened out when it got a bit extreme! We could see on the map another Fort but could not find road access to it. Although roads appear on the map they are actually only open to cyclists. Near to La Gautrelle we did find access to a nice beach which for some reason seemed very popular with pensioners, so we were in good company! We continued up the coast to Port du Douhet which has a sizable marina which was pretty full of boats. All along the coast the are channels, creeks (Chenal, being the French term) that flow in and out of the island. Its quite surprising to see the sheer speed of the tide as it ebbs and flows. Many of these channels are not particularly wide but accommodate a surprising variety of boats.


Saturday, a lazy day watching the quali, although we did go shopping in the morning. Ever since we have been at this site we have been searching for the sea which is supposed to be 300 yards from the site. We can see the sea but can’t find the access but on a walk this afternoon we did find that access and found the sea shore which did have a sandy edge. I think the problem is that it is difficult to know if roads towards the sea are in fact access roads to the shore or access roads to the numerous oyster preparation plants.

Sunday and unusually for us we have stayed at a campsite longer than initially intended. At least we are lucky that we have that flexibility. The extra stay has meant that we need to make a few changes to our original plans. For a start we have now used most of our Camping Cheques so we will need to use the ACSI Card for all but one site. Otherwise the day was spent watching the GP and taking everything down.

Monday, we left La Brande and the Ile d’Oleron this morning. It was not a particularly long journey but the early part was a bit slow. We had stopped in an Aire for a toilet stop. I noticed a car parked next to us with two small boys and mum and dad. Whilst mum went off to the loo the two lads were marched off by their dad to an adjacent patch of ground where they stood in a line having a pee. I had no idea that whole families had special training in this strange French custom! Part of our route skirted around the corner of Bordeaux which included a junction with traffic lights. I was aware that in some parts of France you get windscreen washers waiting for the lights to change to red. However there seemed to be a whole army of them and I imagine they would start fighting over who would clean a windscreen! I got to the lights as they were changing to amber but I was not stopping! As you leave the Libourne bypass you pass many famous name wine producers, it’s a bit like driving past a Waitrose wine list!

Domaine de la Barbanne, our new site,  allocate pitches which is not something we like but the young lady on reception did offer a couple of locations and when I said we wanted to use the satellite she gave us a pitch that was south facing. Later on whilst walking around the site we saw a couple talking to some other caravanners. As we approached it was clear that we had been recognised! They had been on a couple of sites we had stayed on last Autumn and had a Sterling caravan sporting a Nene Court Caravans hitch cover. Small world, especially as they told us the were thinking of heading for the site we had just left!

Tuesday dawned another lovely day. It seems so peaceful here, but as Margaret said I like more to be going on. However you do have to be careful what you wish for! Around lunchtime a Transit van turned up opposite and started to disgorge luggage and equipment on at least 4 of the pitches opposite us. Then people started to arrive by bike. Apparently they are on an organised cycling holiday riding from Barcelona back to Holland and they will be off again in the morning. Rather them than me! If there is any justice they will be so tired they won’t want to make a noise all night. Lets just hope its not a repeat of Vienna 1992! On site there is a nice wooded lake with a path all the way round which we walked around in the afternoon. Just because we are on holiday it does not mean the DIY stops. For a few days now the water tap in the kitchen had become very loose. I tried to tighten it from under the cupboard but there was not enough room to get the spanner to connect and tighten. I then had the bright idea that if I removed the sink it would make it easier to get some purchase on the nut holding the tap in place. The gamble worked and the tap is no longer moving and the sink has gone back in place without any problems, so far!

It’s the middle of September and although the mornings and evenings are cooler it can be surprisingly hot during the day. In the morning we went off to so some shopping to a place called Castillion which sounds more Spanish than French. The journey out was across country and as far as the eye could see there were vineyards. Everything is also so very neat and tidy, no doubt a reflection of the price of the wines produced and the creation of that image. On the way back we drove through St Emilion whose roads are very narrow and you can understand why caravans are banned!

After lunch we drove back into St Emilion to explore further. Its rather an interesting place. Obviously the emphasis is on the importance of the wine trade and this is supported by the many shops actually selling the wine. In some ways the influence of the wine trade tends to diminish other aspects of the old fortified town as there is little evidence of the history of the place. Perhaps I should have looked more closely. One church we went in was clearly built in two different periods with the older part hinting of a Roman past where as the other half was more middle ages. St Emilion is a World Heritage site although the English translation does not quite get the wording correct. Whilst fascinating to explore I should add a health warning to anyone with mobility difficulties as there are some very steep cobbled declines where great care is required.

Who was silly enough to mention how hot it was yesterday? Thursday dawned dull and drizzly and it did not brighten up all day. We spent a fairly lazy morning but after lunch decided to have a walk around the site so that we could give our site plan of the previous campsite to Mike and Jenny, the couple we met last year who were heading for the Ile d’Oleron. We then decided to explore further outside the campsite and set off on a circular route around the nearby vineyards. It was interesting to see the vines at close quarters and most were heavy with grapes which I assumed will be harvested within the next month. The campsite sells wine from the local vineyards so we thought that we should at least try a bottle. I selected a 2002 Grand Cru which cost €10.50 which I suspect in the scheme of things is at the cheaper end of the market. I suppose as a generality in the UK we have access to a far wider range of different wines from far more countries than you will find in the average French supermarket. As a result we are spoilt for choice of quality wines. For the money I invested today I could quite honestly get are far better wine in Waitrose from either Australia of Chile for the same money or a little less.

Friday dawned a bit brighter but by 11.00am it was still only 14 degrees. The temperature drop in just two days has been surprising. It did warm up a bit in the afternoon. We plan to leave this site on Monday but needed to fill up with diesel before then so chose today as it will be quieter than during the weekend. Also there is not anywhere really local so there is always a drive involved. It did gives us the opportunity to see a little more of the countryside as we select a different route each time we venture out. We went via St Emilion using the other side of the one way system which was as equally narrow as the opposite direction. We headed out to St Jean de Blaignac, on the Dordogne River and drove to Castillion la Batialle on a road adjacent to the river. Two surprising things, firstly the river is surprising wide although its not far from where it joins the Gironde estuary and secondly it was clearly tidal at that point. One the way back from Castillion we cut across country to avoid going back through St Emilion. In the afternoon I went over the restaurant area to use the internet. As usual it was very slow and it proved impossible to download two documents, the largest being just over 4 MB. When I mentioned to reception the day before that it was slow I did not get a very sympatric response, I was just told too many people were using it! Clearly the system is not up to the standard require, if it were free there might be some excuse.

Saturday dawned bright but there was a chilly breeze. After lunch we went back into St Emilion as they have a special celebration called the Patrimoine Although it does not get into full swing until the evening. It was certainly very busy and parking was at a premium as they close most of the car parks so we had to find a spot on the road into the town. We managed to slot in somewhere. Whilst we were there most activities seemed to involve the preparation for the evening's entertainment. After exploring a bit more we decided to head back to the van but not before we had a drive through some of the nearby villages. Our neighbours cycled into the town this evening but were back well before the fireworks. Just as well really as Margaret had noticed a strange noise coming from the rear of their van. When I investigated their water pump was running continuously and had emptied their Aquaroll. They had a second full one so I swapped the pump over but it continued to run so in the end I disconnected it and left a note on their door. Its always difficult to know what to do for the best. Instinctively you want to take action but you are never sure whether such action will be appreciated or approved of. Owning to some issues where we live I had resolved that my days of being a good Samaritan were over and in future I would walk on the other side of the road, however I find that quite difficult and will have to risk getting into trouble! Fortunately when our neighbours returned they seemed quite grateful that I had intervened.

This is our last day at St Emilion. It has been a very pleasant location and a nice site, with the exception of the WiFi. There have been a lot of Brits here during our stay and those that we have spoken to seem to be returning to the UK at around the same time as us. Overnight it had been quite chilly and so perhaps time to start shutting down hatches overnight. That changeover from summer to autumn tends to creep up on you. Fortunately during the day we had brilliant blue skies and again autumn was hiding under the guise of summer. The campsite closes in a couple of days but is still almost half full. No doubt, like us, many will be leaving tomorrow. It does make you wonder whether campsites such as this are turning away business by closing so early but I suppose they know their own business!

Monday 20th September and time to move onto our next site in the Dordogne, Le Port de Limeuil. When we left, not long after 10.00am it was only showing and outside temperature of 7 degrees! It was only 69 miles but it was a slow journey as we had to go through many towns and villages along the route. We got to the site just after midday. Le Port de Limeuil is right on the Dordogne River where the Vezere joins the river. There are only about 11 units on site compared to St Emilion which must have been more than half full. After setting up and some lunch we walked across the bridges to the village of Limeuil. In contrast to the previous site the WiFi is free and I can get a reasonable signal at the caravan.

It has been many years since we last visited Domme so today we set off to rediscover the ancient Bastide town. We ended up right inside the walled town but fortunately found a parking space. We walked to the other side of the town where there is a terrace with a magnificent view over the Dordogne Valley. We then wandered around the narrow streets and alleyways before returning to the car. We exited the town a different way from the one we arrived and it took us a while to realise where we were! Eventually we made our way to La Roque Gageac where the Dordogne runs around the edge of a giant rock outcrop and some of the houses back right up to the rock. We sat by the river eating our picnic but unlike the French couple a few yards away we did not have our own picnic table or were we eating with a knife and fork! After our modest picnic we walked along and followed a path up behind the houses and nearer the rock face. It allowed some nice higher views over the river but we had to retrace our steps as the path was blocked because of the danger of rock falls. The temperature today has been in the mid twenties although a little muggy.


Wednesday we had a bit of a late start. Firstly we drove out to La Bugue to see if it had a supermarket. It seems a nice town and hopefully we can get back for a look around. We did find an Intermarche. At first it looked as if it had closed down but then we realised they had built a new one next door. On the way back we drove into Limeuil in search of a Garden but failed to find it. We returned to the van for lunch with the intention of walking back to search for it but it was so hot that we stayed where we were. We did manage a walk down by the river but that was it. A few units left today and a few more arrived.


Given that the previous afternoon had been very hot we thought that if we wanted to visit Les Jardins Panoramiques de Limeuil we best do it in the morning when it was a bit cooler! As it turned out there was more cloud around but still sunny as we walked across the two bridges in order to reach Limeuil. We knew the Gardens were situated high up in the village but had not quite appreciated how steep the climb would be. We eventually made it! The entrance fee was €6 each which I felt was a bit steep for what you got and clearly this was not the best season to see the garden. There were however some impressive views from the terraces. When we left the Garden we continued to explore the higher reaches of the village, topped by it’s church. Limeuil is an attractive place to explore although not particularly suitable for anyone with a mobility issue. We did discover that there was a back way into the higher reaches by car which would help overcome that difficulty.

Overnight we had heavy rain and initially some thunder. As a result the days weather was changeable to say the least. We needed some shopping and fill up with fuel so we made our way to La Bugue. First off we had a look around the town which lies on the banks of the Vézère. it’s a fairly big town as far as the Dordogne is concerned but small by most measurements.

Back at the site the number of units still here has now gone down to 3 including ourselves. There have been no new arrivals today so no weekend rush that you might expect at home. I am sure over the next week until the site closes for the season that the situation is unlikely to change. There is a certain puzzlement in the UK that French sites don’t open for longer but based on the reality it would not be worthwhile for this site, and many others to do so. Unusually unlike many campsites this one, with the exception of the takeaway, keeps all its facilities open throughout the year.

Saturday did not dawn very promising weather wise with rain early on but the sun did break through later on. It was the Singapore Grand Prix qualifying today but it was not until the afternoon so we decided to have a trip out to explore a little further along the river. We drove out to Tremolat which is a nice village. We came back via the main road and via the instructions to the site that TomTom originally gave us and decided that we were right to use the route we did. A few more units arrive today, all motorhomes.


Sunday dawned quite cold be at least the sun was out. The weather conditions created mist on the river which hopefully has led to some nice photographs. We even had the heating on! After breakfast we walked into Limeuil as we had heard there was a ‘Petit Marché’. When we arrived it seemed the same chap who was there a few days before. He sold ‘Bio’ products or organic as we would say. After walking around the lower part of the village we made our way back to the van. Before watching the Grand Prix we decided to take the canopy down in readiness for our move north tomorrow.

Monday 27th September and a very misty start to the day. We left the site by 9.30am with the temperature at 4 degrees C. It was to be a long journey, almost 300 miles! TomTom reckoned it was quicker to do 288 miles compared to 237 by another route which may be true. The route we took started at Limeuil to the A89 near Perigueux, from here to Brive before joining the A20 north to Vierzon and then west on the A85. We arrived at Camping Le Moulin Fort at Chenonceaux at just after 4.00pm, so a long day indeed. Perhaps more surprisingly we joined a queue to book in and it was interesting to see that the site was reasonably full. This was in complete contrast to the site we had just left. We found a spot and set up and even had a TV picture within seconds!

We did not rush in the morning as we were recovering from the long journey of the day before. After breakfast I did try the site WiFi but found it pretty useless as it seemed unable to maintain a constant signal, often dropping the connecting. This is the second site that we have stayed on this trip which has a system which is not up to the mark. Later we went for walk around the site and had a look at the river. Just beyond the bridge near the campsite you can just see a corner of famous Chateau at Chenonceaux. Weather has been a bit changeable although we have had some nice sunny periods. In the afternoon we went shopping and I have started to gather some wine boxes for when we go home. We went to what was obviously a fairly new E Le Clerc supermarket. When Margaret picked up the trolley she commented it had a scanner holder. Once inside we saw the bank of scanners. We have been using the Quick Check system in Waitrose for several years but this is the first time we have seen it in France. I did not see anyone using it which is a pity, perhaps it was very new.


Wednesday dawned a bit brighter, although chilly. This was ideal as we wanted to visit Chateau de Chenonceaux. For us we were away quite early. We could have walked but that would have added to our few hours at the Chateau. In the end we decided to take the car. Its 22 years since we were last here. Like many historic buildings Chenonceaux has replaced previous structures. Although there is still one remaining structure that survives from the previous buildings and that is what is referred to as the Marques Tower which is the tower just in front of the Chateau. The Chenonceaux as we now know it dates from the mid 1500’s and was initially a bridge with a house at one end and gradually over the ensuing years had galleries built on top of the bridge forming the current structure. Chenonceaux is noted for it’s famous female residents including Diane de Poitiers who started the initial reconstruction and of particular note was Catherine de Medici who came from the well known Italian banking family and who continued the work of reconstruction into the building we see today. More recently during the First World War it was used as a Field Hospital for injured soldiers.


You are able to wander around the various apartments and the two galleries plus of course the kitchens which seem to take up a lot of space. The French enjoyment of food is obviously not a new thing! There is also a wax works depicting various scenes. Although perhaps it can’t be compared to Madam Tousards it does give a representation of the costumes and interestingly samples of the type of materials used in the making of those costumes. Part of the Estate is taken up with a 16th century farm and flower and vegetable gardens, the latter being well worth the diversion.

Back at the campsite we had a lazy afternoon and it was nice that it was a bit warmer. I tried the internet again and this time it seemed to be working OK so perhaps the time of day has some influence on the performance. The site owners have been spending time trimming back greenery in readiness for the close down. Talking to Sarah this morning she reckons it takes a month to close down and tidy up before they can start any out of season projects they may have. It also seemed clear from what she was saying that they have a predomitable English clientele.

Thursday and the last day of September. It started wet and grey but by midday the sun was breaking through. We drove out to fill up with fuel and came back along the other side of the river. I was not sure whether the Cher was navigable but we did discover a lock and details of a trip boat. This is that last day the campsite is open so we will all have to be away in the morning. Perhaps using the work ’all’ gives a slightly inflated impression of the number of units still on site! However there are still about half a dozen of us still here. It seems that some of them actually store their caravans on site as we have seen owners disappear and vans towed away by the campsite owner.

1st October and we are moving further north to near Rouen. I am not sure we have ever left a site on the actual day it closes! Rather than go into Tours and round on the various motorways we went on main roads via Amboise, Chateau Renault and Beaumont la Ronce, joining the A28 at junction 27. It might seem a long way round but its shorter than going towards Tours and the ordinary roads we took were good and pleasant driving with little traffic. As we were navigating around Le Mans it started to rain and it stayed with us for the rest of the journey. It was an expensive day in tolls, around €45. Although we thought it a bit of a cheek to be charged €1.90 to literally cross the A13, from the A28, to get onto the non toll road. We tend to use the autoroutes if long journeys are involve otherwise it can take much longer to get to your destination. Not so much a problem in the summer months but its getting darker earlier now and we would rather set up in daylight, or should that be rain light! We experienced a problem with TomTom that we had come across before. We were heading for a site at Jumieges, Camping de la Foret. The campsite is on a loop in the Seine and the quickest route is via a ferry which is fine for a car but not with a car and caravan. We therefore decided to use the Pont de Brotonne and get into the loop that way. Firstly I could not find a way of removing the ferry from the route and when we drove past the exit for the ferry TomTom would not/could not pickup the alternative route of the Brotonne Bridge! We eventually got to the campsite in the pouring rain. We were allocated a pitch, although I was asked if I wanted a shady or sunny pitch, clearly we had a comedian on Reception! Margaret was unhappy that the pitch was very wet and muddy but then so were most of the others! We parked the van across the best bit of grass so we did not have to step out onto mud but there was nothing we could do about the wet under and over foot! I was pretty wet by the time we had set up and I could not get the satellite to work so I had a doubly unhappy Margaret! On the bright side there is a good internet connection right across the site.

Saturday dawned just as wet. Chatted to a couple of fellow Brits who were making there way back to the UK. After breakfast we went to the supermarket at Le Trait for fuel and a bit of shopping, I have been buying the odd few boxes of wine as we go along in the last week or so. TomTom was left in the naughty cupboard in the van, surely we would not get lost in such a small area! Not far from the supermarket we dropped down to the river to look at one of the ferries that transport cars across the Seine to save a long detour. On the way back, yes you’ve guessed it we missed our turning and followed the next one to Jumieges Abbey. This was certainly a long way round but it took us right along the shore of the River Seine which on a better day would have been very pretty. Last year when we were in the Dordogne we discovered that the site had lots of Walnut trees, well this site seems to have many Chestnut trees and they are just blowing off the trees. You do have to be a bit more careful about picking them up if still in their cases as the are very prickly!


Sunday our last full day onsite so our last opportunity to get out and about. Initially it dawned quite bright but the grey sky soon returned. Fortunately the rain stayed away until the early afternoon. After breakfast we walked into Jumieges to visit the Jumieges Abbey. The Abbey is a ruin although the main features are still standing. For good measure one part of the front facia was encased in scaffolding! At least I had a bit more sympathy with this as they have a major restoration project going on. The purpose, as far as I am aware, is not to rebuild the Abbey but to restore some features, this is all explained onsite. The Abbey was founded in 654 by Saint Philibert. When it was in its complete form it must have been a magnificent structure. Unfortunately history is often so unkind to such buildings and the final fall from grace I was surprised to learn was the French Revolution! On leaving the Abbey grounds we spied a sign pointing towards the Jumieges Ferry so we walked down the long road. When we got there the ferry was turning to disembark on the other side of the river and its interesting to see the strength of the tidal flow. The ferries seem to run every 15 minutes although I noticed on the information board that they run as required at less busy times. They can take about 8 cars. Not so sure I would take a caravan on one of these ferries as the angle to get on the deck from the ramp is quite steep and you could imagine there could be a problem with the caravan hitch. Perhaps at certain state of tide it would not be a problem. Back at the site there is a daily turnover of units. Whilst many, particularly motorhomes, are only here overnight some of the caravans stay a few days. Certainly more Brits than any other nationality.


Monday and we wake up to heavy rain. It did abate a bit by the time we were packing up. I think TomTom does not like the Pont de Brotonne! However much I changed things in the settings he would not take us via the bridge, albeit we did not want to cross the bridge just join the road by the bridge. In the end we put him in the glove compartment until later in the journey. The trip across country to the A28 was very pleasant with good roads and not much traffic. At least across country saved a bit in tolls. En route we stopped at the Baie de Somme Service Station. Many caravanners on internet forums seem to rave about this place as an overnight stop. Personally I don’t see the attraction. As nice a service station as it might be you still have the noise of the motorway traffic and it is still a service station! I appreciate that many of the users arrive in France too late to book into a campsite, I know it’s a personal thing but I would just make different plans.

In parts the weather did improve and after the damp start. We reinstated TomTom at the service station as we felt the route would not be too taxing for him! On our approach to Montreuil the road we needed to take was being dug up. We went a couple of miles further on before finding a suitable place to turn around. When we took the road for Montreuil, not possible from our original direction of travel, we found new signs pointing the way. The final approach is quite narrow. This site has hard standings which with all the recent wet weather was a welcome sight. We set up right opposite the reception which is only open at certain times of day. Even the satellite was set up in seconds!

We were talking to another couple who had stayed several times at the campsite and they mentioned that you could access the walled town of Montreuil by climbing to the top of the site. It was some climb and the site is very terraced up the side of the hill. Trouble was they were doing some work around the base of the walls so access was restricted but we eventually found a way into the walled town. It’s a very interesting place with cobbled streets and is well worth the trouble to visit. Although we did not do it you can apparently walk around the walls. It just happened that where we entered the town there was the Tourist Office so we bagged a ’Plan de Ville’ which was just as well as we could still be looking for the campsite now!

Tuesday and this is our last full day in France. Unfortunately the weather continues not to be very good although still not cold. We drove out to the supermarket to pick up some wine and other bits to take home. On the way back to the van we passed a motorhome and caravan going the other way and we wondered if they had been caught out with the road works. Once we were back at the van the rain set in for the rest of the day.

6th October and its time to go home. The idea of going home a week early had not worked in our favour weather wise, the final week was still wet. Overall the weather had not been as good as the previous year but not really bad. It was still raining as we left the campsite and it could have been as far as we got because no sooner had we left when somebody decided that they would exit a side road. Fortunately we both realised in time and no harm done. We avoid tolls by joining the autoroute just the other side of Boulogne and got to the Tunnel in time to get an earlier crossing. Once north of the Thames the sun came out! We stopped at South Mimms and in my eagerness to get to the caravan parking area I went over a high V shaped kerb. After we got home I discovered that the tyre had a slight split in the tread, perhaps luck was on my side.

Above is a map representation of where we went on this trip but not an exact route. In total it was 1938 miles door to door. We used 9 campsites staying a total of 42 days. Apart from the Municipal at Sées and our final stop all other sites we used either  Camping Cheques or the ACSI Card both of which are low season discount schemes which offer good savings over the normal campsite fees.  The only campsite that was bordering on full was the first one we stayed at, Camping Val d'Authie.  It is one of the beauties of going at this time of year that you can maintain flexibility as sites always have space and certainly no need to book.

I mentioned earlier that a former colleague had died whilst we were away. As a tribute I would like to dedicate this Blog to Sue who was always an avid reader of our travels. We both had known Sue for many years and later I worked quite closely with her. God Bless.