Sunday, 19 June 2011

Nothing to do with France

Ok, not much time here folks. It's 2011 & I've just realised my blog is called "Nutgone goes camping" NOT "nutgone goes to France".

So, I've decided to continue my exploits into this year. I will try my best to complete what happened last year & (quite rapidly, I expect) get on to what's happening his year.

Quickly; I got myself a job, which ended through no fault of my own, I've changed cars, but still driving something classic (well sort of) & although I've got virtually no money I'm still going to be doing some camping this year!

There's new tents & equipment, & old hobbies re-visited.

So, keep in touch. I'll be back soon.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Champagne; drink or region, you're welcome to it! (Rhóne to Champagne continued)

It was an all day drive again, only on 3 brakes this time, but I'm not a fast driver anyway & the car seemed to stop as well as it always has.

This drive from Rhóne to Champagne takes me right through the Borgogne region, another beautiful area, where I stopped before (remember "Lakeside & down to earth" post?) It was somewhere towards the north of this region where the weather changed, black clouds, howling wind & relentless rain were here to stay, all the way to Dunkirk actually, although I wasn't to know that, obviously.

So I was back up north, with wheat fields as far as the eye can see, criss-crossed by undulating, arrow straight roads. Would've been lovely without the wind & rain, but I had a job to do, a ferry to catch in fact. One more night of camping, in the Champagne region, that was all that was left of my holiday, the following night would most likely be a couple of hours sleep, snatched in the car, somewhere near Dunkirk ferry terminal.

I eventually found the village I was looking for, a little place called Lusigny-Sur-Barse (in the Aube area of the Champagne-Ardenne region), which was supposed to have a municipal site. Well, it had lots of new houses springing up all over the place, I eventually found a map in the village centre, showing the municipal site next to the sports stadium. When I got there they both looked derelict, all the fixtures & fittings of the site had gone, leaving a couple of rows of pitches, with well over-grown grass & empty concrete bollards separating them & an empty shell at the end which had once been a shower block. What a shame.

There was another site not too far away, which was also indicated on a newer town map in the centre, it was another 2 star, a few km out of town, only 8€50 this time, still a bit over the top in my opinion, but a good site nonetheless.

It was still blowing a gale & absolutely pissing it down when I got there, so I picked a pitch & sat in the car for the obligatory half hour waiting for it to stop. Then remembered the previous trend in these situations was to get the tent up, getting both myself & the tent very wet in the process, then the rain would stop as I was banging the final peg in. That's what had happened the other 3 times I'd been forced to set up in the rain, not this time though, this time it was so persistent I had to bring the cooker into the porch & zip the door shut just to make myself a coffee! Which was a bit of a fire risk, but I was being careful & enjoyed the extra warmth.

I also had no need to get the maps out for the following day, as I knew I had to go to Dunkirk, via Adinkerque, the first town across the Belgian border, where tobacco was almost half the price it was in France.

So, after a rainy dash to the shower block, I settled in for the evening. I cooked myself something unexciting, got my latest book out & laid there on my slowly deflating readybed (no, the tenacious tape didn't work & I was getting fed up with trying) listening to the wind & rain, convincing myself it would be nice & sunny the following morning, & wondering where I was going to dry the tent out when I got back home.

I didn't care much for the Champagne region, I feel that it's a bit over-rated, just like the drink. But I did like the roads, they were nice & grippy in the wet, unlike most of the other French roads, which are nice & quiet to drive on, but seem to hold a lot of water when it rains, making them quite greasy.

Anyway, here's a pic of the river Sein, which ran through the town. A very ornate & strange looking weir, which I simply had to get a shot of....

Rhóne to Champagne, first major car problem!

Oh dear, my head hurts. It's about half past nine & I need to get up, get some coffee & cereals down me, get everything packed away & get my arse out of here & up to Champagne country.

Well, I achieved all of that & with a bit of a spring in my step as well. I jumped in the car & headed out, stopping at the site office on my way to pay the extortionate bill. Only I almost missed the office altogether, when the brake pedal hit the floor boards with minimal stopping effect!

By now I'd become quite accustomed to talking to myself, I've always done it to a certain extent, but during this holiday, especially whilst in the car, it seems like every thought has been broadcast. I heard myself say "ere, what's happened to my brakes?" I jumped out & for some reason went straight to the drivers side rear first, which was wet, telling me that this particular brake slave cylinder had obviously sprung a leak & had even sprayed brake fluid up into the wheel arch. The other wheels were all fine though, thank god!

I've had it happen before, it's usually a rear one that goes, which is slightly better as the rear brakes do far less work than the fronts. I knew it was either time to try out my breakdown cover or find some replacement brake fluid & use the tried & tested "get me home" solution. I only wish I had checked my breakdown cover more thoroughly before I left, the wording seemed quite contradictory & at worst I reckon I was going to be left at a French garage with a huge bill or was entitled to about £500 worth of tow. Either way I thought I would try my best to get myself out of trouble.

First of all, I had "some" brakes, but stopping accurately required a certain degree of "thinking ahead", which would be fine for a 10mile trip, but not 800km of French roads. I thought I would take a short drive down the road anyway, just to see how bad the situation really was, all the time thinking over my possibilities.

What I needed was; some brake fluid, some kind of clamp (the stronger the better) & some hard, level ground to jack the car up & do the job. For some reason I had decided not to pack brake fluid before setting off. I had taken plenty of tools, oil & water, & my dad had offered me a small pot of brake fluid, which I had declined, saying how unlikely it would be to need any. I did have a reasonable tool kit, but wasn't sure if I'd packed my "mole grips", the ideal tool for clamping brake hoses. My particular pair of grips weren't the best & I had a distinct feeling I'd left them behind.

Hang on, what's that over there??!!! A large supermarket, open, on a sunday? (oh yes, it was a sunday as well, & I needed petrol, when I do these things, I do them properly!). Sure enough there was an "Atac" supermarket, open until 12:00 noon, which sold brake fluid & had a nice level car park, perfect for jacking the car up & crawling underneath.

So I purchased the brake fluid, filled up the reservoir, pumped the pedal until I was sure I'd got as much of the air out of the line as possible, jacked the car up, secured it on an axle stand (I had a pair of fold-up ones, purchased from Lidl, which sit nicely under the rear seat) I even got my warning triangle out to make sure nobody ran over me when I was under the car. By this time I had got myself quite an audience as well, I'm sure one guy knew exactly what I was doing, & was probably hoping I wasn't going to drive all the way back to England with only 3 brakes. Anyway, I found my mole grips & managed to locate & securely clamp the correct rubber hose. I secured the grips to the car (wouldn't want those falling off now, would we?) & was on my way, with 3 out of 4 brakes working perfectly. The car seemed to handle no better or worse than before, although I was in no mood to push it, I found a petrol station as well (lucky old me) & just hoped the weather would hold up, which it didn't........

P.S. please don't try this at home folks. I have a reasonable knowledge of mechanics & it's a job I've done before. I'm guessing most "normal" people would have adequate breakdown cover, & who knows, maybe I did as well, I just chose not to use it & everything worked out fine.

P.P.S. I have to apologise for the lack of photos from here onwards. The weather wasn't up to much, I was running out of time & had other things on my mind. I will do my best though. Here's a couple of the French Italian restaurant I went to, very decadent for someone on my budget, & boy did I regret it the following morning.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Cantal to Rhóne

I got myself up at a reasonable hour, had some breakfast, including the obligatory cup of real coffee, & packed everything up, not something I enjoyed when I only unpacked it all the previous bloody night!

After one last look at the fantastic views I decided it was time to head for the stop I had planned the previous night. This is where I get the road atlas, sat-nav & “Le Guide” out on the roof or bonnet of the car & decide where is best to head for. I usually try to look for an area with a few sites, just in case the cheap municipal I happen to choose has closed down. This time it was a small town called Chavannes-Sur-Reyssouze in the Ain area of the Rhóne-Alpes region, pretty much in the Rhóne valley, about 30km north of Mácon. The cheapest looking site I could find in the area was a 2 star, & I figured it was only for one night, although I could possibly stay for two & have a days rest. Although this would mean driving like a mad man for all of Monday day & night in order to catch my early ferry Tuesday morning. Not a good idea, especially as I had no idea what kind of roads, weather or problems I was up against, & I was hoping to pop into Belgium to spend the last of my money on cheap tobacco.

So, off to the Rhóne valley. The weather, once again, was glorious. I asked the sat-nav to find me a petrol station, (I always choose one with a supermarket name attached, as I can get some supplies & get the best price on my fuel) which was promised to be only 25km away, any more & I think I would've been using the fuel reserved for my cooker, fortunately I had a full 5 litre can in the boot, as the cooker had finished the last lot off during its last refill. This was perhaps the most remote area I had been to & also the lowest I'd let the fuel get, but the warning light was yet to flash on, although that didn't take long to happen! I took a quick pic of where I was when this happened; enough to worry most sane people, just another part of the adventure for me.

I found the supermarket, got some petrol & the last of my supplies. I also managed to break the window winding mechanism on the passenger side window, but still had the opening quarterlight for ventilation, I was glad to be hot again anyway, after another cold night half way up a mountain, I think the hot weather over here has turned me into a bit of a softie after all.

The twisty turny roads soon ended & gave way to a few short lengths of motorway, another stretch of which was newly turned into a payage route, I think this one cost me about 80 cents, & soon enough I was passing through small towns once again, only now I was back on the long straight roads. Eventually, after passing through towns of varying quality, I found the town I was looking for, with no camping in sight! Eventually I found a sign, headed out into the wilderness, made a few lucky guesses at a few different junctions & stumbled on the site.

It was a nice site, obviously equipped more for Dutch & English campers, not like the municipals I'd become accustomed to. The facilities were no better, just a bit newer & a bit better trimmed, & at 10€50 per night I said one night would be enough, it wasn't worth looking for anything cheaper, it's hardly “expensive” & money wasn't that tight! Although when I found my pitch, I wasn't impressed. I was sited on a small pitch, number 16a, right in the corner with a hedge between me & the road & a nice long walk to the shower block, but it would do.

I set up camp, poured myself a glass & got all my navigation equipment out onto the bonnet once again. I decided tomorrow I would push all the way to the Champagne Ardenne region, right through the Bourgogne region. Another long drive, this is fast becoming a bit too much, I was certainly in no mood to cook, so I took myself into the nearest town for a cheap Plat-de-Jour, which I never found. All I got was a pizza, in the most French looking Italian restaurant I've ever known, & another hang-over for my troubles. I definitely wasn't making life easy for myself, & had even more trouble to come the following morning.......

Here's a few pics of the beautiful scenery, which surrounded me while my low fuel warning light was on!

Dordogne to Cantal

So starts the mad dash back north, so why am I heading east? Partly because I don't want to re-trace any of my original route down, if I can possibly avoid it, & partly because I wanted to see as much of “Le Massif Central” as I possibly could. This is a part of France that has always attracted me, ever since I first learned about it at school.

From what I understand it's one of those big “green bits” on the map (I've mentioned those before) only this one is the size of a small country and, I've been lead to believe, a kind of mountainous, forested area dotted with tiny little villages. I never gave much thought as to how these little settlements would be connected though.......

So, I filled the tank again (well, almost filled), which is usually more than enough for the days drive between sites, & off I went.

I did end up re-tracing some of my original journey down, which took me nicely past a garage which restores older cars that I'd wanted to stop at on my way down but didn't have time. They had a rather tasty 1976 BMW 635csi, among some other tasty stuff, all at various in their restoration. Needless to say, some time was spent taking pictures.

I also re-traced some of my last leg towards the Auvergne mountains, as far as the hydro-electric dam, which I believe is on the Dordogne river, so I took some more pics of that as well, although I didn't get a chance to drive over it again this time.

Then I was heading into the thick of “Massif Central” country, full of beautiful tree lined valleys, peppered with tiny villages, any inhabitants who managed to catch a glimpse of me were looking very interested indeed.

Most of these little villages, precariously perched on mountain sides, were connected by equally tiny roads, also perched on mountain sides. The journey was all switch-backs & hair-pin bends, up & down steep valley sides, in & out of heavily stuffed forests & barren grazing plains. My little old sports car was in its' element, and so was I. In fact, it was the only time the French drivers weren't tailgating me, waiting to overtake! Quite the opposite this time, although there was actually very little traffic on these roads, which made the journey even more enjoyable.

So there I was, doing my Colin McRae rally driver bit, when I suddenly realised what it was doing to my fuel consumption! I still had enough left to get me to the village I was heading for, which was a small place called Laurie, about 50km north of Saint-Flour, in the Cantal area of the Auvergne region, which was supposed to have a small municipal.

Well, after going down a few dead ends & peoples driveways I stopped to ask for some directions. Two women, neither of whom spoke any English, managed to make themselves understood & within 5 minutes I was driving round a beautiful little municipal site, with its pitches nicely terraced onto the hillside, picking my pitch for the night.

The site was all very nice, the whole thing was tastefully terraced onto the hillside & nicely landscaped, with all the usual facilities, which were all nice & clean, as usual, the only problem was that the Mairie had decided to leave it late in the day to come round & collect the money!

And the price I had to pay for this very quiet, tidy little site with its fantastic views from all sides?.... 6€40 can't say fairer than that. I would recommend some rock pegs though, but I was only there for one night, so pegs half way in would do me fine.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

So little time & so little money

Sorry guys, I've been in such a rush these last few days to get back to Dunkirk I simply haven't had time to update, I haven't even had time to write something on open-office & paste it up here. I'm sat on the ferry now, it's about 2:00am local time, I managed to jump the queue from my original 4:00am booking, although I can't think why, as I've no money & none of my family (in Sussex) will be up when I get back, but the car's falling to bits & I'm ready for home now.

The last few days will be reported in my usual detail, all in due course. But I've done about 450km today & had no sleep yet, I'm not likely to sleep until at least this afternoon either, as I've got a very wet tent to dry out somewhere & plenty to do besides. The trouble is I still think I'm about 21 & can still go for days, which I can't. Camping's hard work, but has its' rewards.
I've taken plenty of pics though & have a few good stories left to tell, including a piece about all the little bits I forgot along the way, which is already started & has been slowly added to.
All in good time folks, I'm off for another coffee

Friday, 13 August 2010

Finally, I'm leaving the Dordogne

Well,I phoned my English contact, I actually ended up getting on with him quite well, I gave him a hand a few times, packing up canoes in the evenings, & he gave me some petrol money & bought me dinner & a few drinks. The consensus of opinion is that I would be better coming over in the early spring time, preferably with some money, & take on a job in order to build up some contacts. He was lucky enough to have family over here, so he stayed with them until he got on his feet, which is a luxury I don't have. Who knows what'll happen between now & the spring, time alone will tell, I guess.

Anyway, it's now friday, the 13th, of august & I'm very quickly running out of time, & money. My ferry sails from Dunkirk at 04:00am on wednesday the 17th, & to put it bluntly "I'm a fucking long way away!" I've still got a feeling the intermarche petrol pump has yet to release my 100€, but this will soon be confirmed with a quick look at my bank balance on line, the cash points over here don't let you do anything but take out cash, so I've no idea what's in each of my accounts, but I know it 'aint much!

So, I've left it very late but I'm now on my way east & slightly north, into the Massife Central, my excuse is I've gotta go where the camp sites are, although this next one is likely to be a one night stop, I've got far too much ground to cover to be staying any longer.

Anyway, I've not got much else to say,except I'm feeling a bit depressed that it's almost over & I've got to return to a country I'm not very fond of. My battery's running a bit low & I've got another 200km of twisty country/mountain roads to go before the next site. I'll have a quick look & see if I can find some good photos of the Dordogne before I sign off & bugger off.....

Here you go, make of them what you will.