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.

Contemplation & Confit De Cannard

I'm now in the Dordogne, only about 200 miles away from Spain, which is a pitty, as I've got very little inclination to visit, I've never cared much for the spanish, especially their disgustingly brutal treatment of our bovine friends. I like a good steak as much as the next man, but I fail to see what good comes from tormenting it for hours first & then peppering it with painful, lead tipped paper darts shot from blow-pipes. Anyway, I'm going off on a massive tangent, that's enough of that. This area is beautiful, there's a few too many English tourists, but I'm ok, I haven't actually talked to any of them.
I followed my lead, given to me by the 2 guys at Montrichard, & found my British contact. He's been over here for about 20 years now, his circumstances were similar to mine when he fell in love with the place, & he certainly has some very promising sounding work contacts in the area. He was busy working when I saw him, but he made time for a quick chat & gave me his number & told me to call, which I have yet to do. I'm being a bit of a chicken, there's a big part of me that thinks I should leave well enough alone, continue the last week or so of my holiday & go home, completely broke, single & jobless, to a city I don't very much like, in a country I'm not too keen on as well, & continue with what I was doing, which was struggling & yearning for change!
I'm going to call the guy tonight, it'll cost me a fortune but the least I owe him is a few minutes friendly conversation & at least find out what my prospects would've been like, or weather I should think about trying to get a better grasp of the language & return next year, we will see, maybe he will convince me to give it a try for a few weeks, maybe he will tell me to go away, learn some French & come back when I know what I want.

Anyway, back to the camping holiday; it's lovely here, I'm perched on the side of a valley, on a farm. I'm so glad I finally got to try “Camping a la Ferme” (as they call it in “Le Guide”). It's all a bit wild here, the shower/toilet block is in an old barn & the road (or track) is a bit wobbly, but there's electric hook-up available at each pitch (for an extra 3€, so I haven't bothered) & plenty of hot water, so it's not all “back to the stone-age”. There are also plenty of fruit trees (not sure what's growing on them, they're either small plums or golden gauges, but they're very tasty) & plenty of animals, both domesticated & wild. There's 2 donkeys in the field below me, geese & chickens next to the shower block & I'm certain there was a wild pig of some kind sniffing round the tents last night, eating the fruit that had fallen from the surrounding trees, & making plenty of noise about it. This was at about 2:00am, then, a little later, something else came sniffing around my tent, & this time it wasn't scared away by my movement, it was much smaller, it sounded like a big shrew or something like that, I can't remember what they're called, but I'm sure there's something, common in France, that fits that description. There's probably a few of them, as there's lots of little holes in the ground, only a few feet away from my tent, there's also lots of those little lizards you see in France, they're scampering about all day, in the undergrowth, catching insects.

So, it looks like I'm off again tomorrow, unless tonight's phone call yields anything special. I've already been here a day longer than I had planned, all because I couldn't remember the international dialling code for France, so never made the call, I also spent the entire day on site, contemplating what I was going to do. When I went to bed I was sure I was going to make a go for it, try & find some work & see what happened, but I had drunk half a bottle by then. When I woke up I thought “who are you kidding?” but was up too late to leave today, so asked weather another night would be ok, which it was. The sites round here are very busy, on my way down I tried 4, one was full & the other 2 were very expensive, & their facilities were no better than here, in fact one of them was also “a la ferme” & they wanted about 15€ per night, plus the usual expenses, they usually charge separately for the pitch, tent/caravan, person(s) & accompanying vehicle, which hasn't worked out badly at all, with most municipals still working out around the 6€ per night mark, which is exactly what this site charges, a simple charge per person, dependant on age for children, very fair indeed, for this area.
I suppose I should tell you where I am, it's difficult as I'm not exactly sure myself, this site isn't in the book, it was just signposted from the road. According to the sat-nav I'm somewhere near a town called Les Eyzies-De-Tayac-Sireuil, about 56km east of Bergerac, on the road to Le Bugue, which was where I was headed, but the sites listed there were far too expensive, so I was trying my luck wherever I saw a sign & chanced upon this place, which honestly had only one pitch left, & it was raining, so I was just glad to stop & set up camp.
Anyhow, I'd better get off & make this call, it's also almost time for dinner, probably followed by yet another beautiful sunset over the valley, I have tried my best to catch this & will post the pics, although I'm sure they won't do it justice......

Oh yes, the “Confit de Cannard” bit in the title, I've discovered a taste for the stuff. I thought I would treat myself to a tin, for about 6€50, which I thought was expensive until I realised how many dinners it would do.
Well, I've had it 3 out of the last 5 dinners & thought that was it, until I spotted it in the local Aldi, an even bigger tin this time, & only 5€99! Couldn't believe my luck, as everything seems more expensive down here, not just the camping! I even spotted the very same tin I purchased last time (for around 6€50) for well over 10€ in Inter-Marché (I don't mind bad-mouthing them, as it was one of their petrolpumps I had an argument with & am still seething about). I will let you know if it's any good, & if it is, my family can expect some when I get back.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Erm... I'm up a mountain (& it's cold!)

OK, I'm on my way towards Bergerac & I've found a McDonalds, I think I'm in a place called Malemort, but I can't be certain. This post & the following 2 have all been written at various points on my journey, just waiting for that elusive wifi connection, so they can be unleashed onto the web, enjoy....

So, off I went, leaving Montapas & I never did get in touch with that English Boat owner in Chatillon-en-Bazois, “never mind” I thought, I'm off on a different track now, in search of an English contact, somewhere on the Dordogne river, who rents canoes, sounds like a mission.
I had a reasonable journey ahead of me, about 220km, which is about as long as I intend any of my journey legs to be. The sun was shining & the roads were reasonably quiet, I was in complete agreement with the sat-nav for most of the trip (for once), & I was heading towards Clearmont Ferrand in the Auvergne region. I couldn't help thinking I'd heard that somewhere before, “the Auvergne region” but couldn't place it, whatever, it was south & sounded sunny.
I was just passing through about my third major town (remember, I'm staying off the toll roads) when in front of me I saw a huge mountain range, with some very angry looking black clouds all over it, I even said to myself (remember, I'm travelling alone here, sometimes my best conversations are with myself) “that sky looks angry up there, I bet that's where I'm heading”, & sure enough, I was absolutely correct. This was the Auvergne mountains & the Auvergne volcanoes, & very dramatic they look too, it's a shame my phone camera (the only camera I have with me) doesn't do very good shots of landscapes, but I will try & get a few before I move on.
So, I continued on, following the commanding female voice of the sat-nav (she's not the best conversationalist I've ever travelled with) & we hit the mountains. The roads are all pretty small & very winding, the rain was treacherous & most of the other drivers seemed oblivious to this, this is another thing I have found in France, they drive like maniacs in the wet, most of them are now driving modern cars, thanks to the scrappage scheme, & as I've always said, these modern cars just don't give you the “feel” of the road & just how little traction you've actually got, but hey, if they wanna kill themselves, who am I to stop them? So I went up & up & up, then down a bit, then up some more, passing many ski shops (all closed at this time of year obviously), & all this time thinking to myself “I'll come down the other side any moment & it'll be bright sunshine”, well, this didn't happen. I'm now camped on a small municipal site in the village of Saint Donat, the surrounding scenery is breathtaking, & some of the small surrounding towns & villages are beautiful. My only problem now is it seems to rain a lot round here, & compared with the other places I've been it's pretty cold, but, apart from all the cows in the surrounding fields having bells on, it would appear I've finally found my peace & quiet I've been looking for these past few days.
The nearest McDonalds is over 50km away, so I won't be going there. My previous 2 posts were written sat in the car in a picturesque aire (layby) & this one is being written sat outside a bar in the skiing village of Besse, just waiting for my Croque Monsieur & coffee for lunch.
My next stop will be the Dordogne river (which I've already seen as a small mountain stream up here), hopefully I will be back down in the sunshine, although this has been a welcome break from the wasps, if nothing else.

Ah, “Auvergne!” Isn't that where the volvic mineral water comes from? No wonder it's so cheap, all is seems to do is rain up here! To be honest, the tap water tastes the same round these parts, & probably is!

These are just a few of the many shots I got of this region, some of which I actually took while I was driving (naughty-naughty!), but everywhere you looked, every little gap in the hedge simply yielded another fantastic, breathtaking view. It might have been cold & it may have rained a lot, but this has to be one of my favourite areas yet! Enjoy.....

Lake-side site & down to earth

So, the guys at Montrichard camp site told me about an English friend of theirs in the Dordogne area, they said that if I had intentions of perhaps staying on in France, maybe even a future over here, then my original plans to go to Provence would most likely prove fruitless. They informed me that it's a very long way & there aren't many English people down there. So I thought “what the hell” I'll go down the Dordogne instead.
But first, I felt I needed to re-visit a small town called Chatillon-en-Bazois, near Nevers, in the Nievre area of the Bourgogne region. This is where my parents boat was moored until last year, when my dad & me bought it back to England (another long trip I should've blogged). There's an English boat owner down there who may be able to get me some free camping for a few nights. So that's where I headed.
On arrival, I found the boat-stop area on the canal, stopped there for about 20 mins to stretch my legs & get my head together (still feeling the ill effects of Montrichard). I failed to find the English boat owner & remembered he likes a drink as well, so decided to consult my copy of “Le Guide” to find a camp site. It informed me there was a small town called Montapas with a small municipal, just up the road (about 7km away).
When I got there I found a small, man made, lake with a kind of beach area (quite popular in France, for families & young adults with loud car stereos!). There was indeed camping facilities, some pitches up the top, separated by hedges, & an area down a small track on the lake-side, right down the other end of the lake. This looked very nice, there was already a couple of Dutch camper-vans down there, so I picked a nice shaded spot by the waters edge & set up camp. I really needed some supplies but figured I had enough for a couple of nights & would get all I needed en-route to my next destination.
I still wasn't up to eating much, & was beginning to wonder if I was actually ill, Bernard had said something about the water at Montrichard, & blamed it for him being ill every morning (“likely story” I thought), it had all left me feeling a bit depressed as well, & I felt a couple of days of peace & quiet would hopefully sort me out.
So, just as it was getting dark, 2 cars turned up, stereos blasting, & out got 2 lads & 2 girls (& a dog). They set up their tent & although a bit noisy, proved to be no trouble really. Then another 2 cars drew up, with 2 blokes, a young woman & her 2 or 3 little kids. They proceded to go into the woods, find as many logs as they could, get the bottles out, get the radio out, use the shower/toilet facilities & have a big campfire party until about 4:30am the next morning! During this time my air bed decided it would be a good time to spring a leak! Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night, when I really needed it most.
The next night wasn't so bad, I made an attempt to repair the bed with some Tenacious Tape (which kind of held, but didn't really have enough time to cure).
Then it was time to move on again, I found the small village in the Dordogne that the guys in Montrichard had told me about, it was over 400km away, so I managed to find somewhere in between, in a small village called Saint-Donat, that was my destination.
My journey, therefore, was on a Sunday, I left the site at Montapas, the manager wasn't there so I handed the boy (helper) an envelope with my pass-key & 10€ in it & told him I wasn't happy, it was too noisy & I wasn't prepared to wait for the manager. I have no idea if he ever got his 10€, the boy looked at me like I was a mad-man for leaving this envelope, I couldn't really care less, I had bigger things on my mind, like where was I going to get some tobacco & find a petrol station that was open (to take cash) on a sunday?
I found a bar-tabac in a small village I passed through & got my baccy, then I spotted a cheap petrol station which took cards. Now, in France, the card operated petrol pumps automatically take about 100€-120€ as a deposit from your account, I knew I had about 150€-200€ in that account, so only had one try. I did all the right things, it was all going well, I had asked for “sans-plomb 95” regular unleaded, it said to start filling, when I lifted the nozzle (light green with 95 written on it) an american voice told me I had picked up the wrong nozzle! The screen then flashed up “DECLINED” & it spat out a receipt for 0.00€! That was it, I was fucked! I tried again & it said declined before I even got to say which type of petrol I wanted.
I had about 60€ in cash on me, but on a sunday, in France that usually won't be any good. I got as far as Decize (a very pretty little town on the Loire river & also on a canal, I think it's the Canal De Nivernais). I found a petrol station, not as cheap as the other one, but it looked open. It was one of those old fashioned ones on the pavement, & it was on the wrong side of the road but I pulled in anyway. Out came a rather stocky biker type, who turned out to be Dutch, he spoke perfect English, loved my car & told me he was off to England (Birmingham) in 2 days for a biker rally. He also asked where I was going, I told him “the Dordogne, near Bergerac” & he said it's nice there & the food is very good.
Thankfully, the 40€ I put in the tank there took me to my next site, at St-Donat, & boy was I in for a shock there.....

These are a couple of choice shots of the picturesque lakeside site

Montrichard & the "Gueule de Bois"

Well, it must've been over a week since I last updated this blog & that's not because nothing's happened, I've either been too ill or too far away from a wifi connection.
I believe I had just landed at Montrichard last time I wrote, after leaving Stu & Syb at Le Chant D'Oiseau. The site at Montrichard was quite a big one, & had a few English campers as well. I think it was my second day there when I met another lone English traveller called Bernard, he wasn't so much a traveller but had some connections with Montrichard & a small amount of work to do there for another English family.
I was still doing really well, keeping my camp clean & tidy, keeping up with all my washing-up & laundry & cooking myself some decent meals. I even got round to visiting a small museum in Montrichard, it was devoted to heavy vehicles, only cost 4€ & proved to be quite interesting.
Anyway, one night, Bernard came over with a bottle of pink champagne & asked if I fancied a drink, I'd just eaten a good meal & had some red so didn't see a problem. Once that was gone he spotted my other 2 bottles, bought that day in Netto, so nothing special. Once I had tried to keep up with him in drinking those he went off to the site office to buy another bottle (most site offices sell the local plonk for about 5€/bottle), he came back over half an hour later, he'd been drinking with the 2 guys who run the site & said we should go up there, I'd had enough by then but went along anyway. The 4 of us polished off another bottle then out came the calvados, coffee & some other rocket-fuel that appeared to come out of the freezer.
Needless to say a good night was had by all, Bernard passed out just outside his tent with his cooker on full blast (which I managed to turn off on my way past & convince him to get into his tent). The next morning I woke up with a “Gueule de Bois” (look it up) to rival all past ill-mornings. I managed to make myself a coffee, had a chat with Bernard & told him I was off back to bed. As soon as I laid down I knew a very fast trip to the toilet was in order, where the remains of last nights dinner & my morning coffee made a brief re-appearance. I spent the rest of the day in bed, when I was supposed to be moving on, managed to eat some malt loaf (another British delicacy I managed to smuggle over) & drank plenty of water, none of which stopped me throwing up again in the afternoon, this time I was delayed by Bernard, chatting away, & only made it to a hedge, just in time for one of the site managers to drive past! (very embarrassing).
The whole situation left me feeling very unwell for days, & I was ready to pack it all in & head back to Dunkirk. The following day I apologised to the site managers, paid up & left. I think they felt guilty as they knocked nearly 6€ off my bill!
I managed to explain to them that I hadn't come to France to drink with English people, I can do that at home & usually avoid it like the plague. They were kind enough to convince me to continue with my travels & even convinced me to change my plans, more of that on my next post.
Until then, if you want to enjoy a holiday in France, stay away from boozy English folk. Even now, a week later, the most I've managed is a glass or two with my dinner, & I feel so much better for it.

Here's a few pics of the walk into the town of Montrichard, along the river Cher, from the camp site.

And here's a couple of choice shots from the Museum of Heavy Vehicles, in Montrichard

And, finally, a couple of the site itself, my pitch to be exact.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Site number 5, Montrichard, Val de Cher

So, yesterday I left Stu & Syb's wonderful hospitality, feeling ever so slightly the worse for wear, but ready for the simple 110km drive to Montrichard, on the banks of the river Cher, which I believe is in an area called Loire et Cher, in the Loire Valley (Val-de-Loire).
So, this simple, yet beautiful 110km journey looked like it had one tricky spot, I would have to drive through Tours to avoid going on the payage motorways (toll roads). Not all the motorways are toll roads here, but it seems the further south you go, the more there are. Anyway, the sat-nav informed me we were going on to a motorway, & as I took the entry slip & made a 50/50 decision on which way to go (it all looked pretty new) I realised the sat-nav thought I was driving across a field, so I managed to do a U turn across the central barrier (there was nothing about) & get on my correct bit of road. I had about 10km of motorway to go when it suddenly left the blue line on the sat-nav & once again showed that I was driving across a field! I thought this was quite funny & was sure I was heading in the right direction nonetheless, until I ran out of exits & found myself at a "payage" barrier, with absolutely no idea what to do! I've been deliberately avoiding these as they nearly all involve getting out of the car & wrestling with a ticket machine or some sort of payment machine, also I really don't have the budget. Well, I didn't have a clue, & I had also almost run my budget for the first 2 weeks completely out, waiting til I got here to look for a cash-point, I had about 12€ in loose change on me.
Anyway, after a considerable queue had built up behind me, a lad in a hi-viz vest came over & pressed the big yellow button on the machine, a ticket came out & the barrier went up, he handed me the ticket & off I went, extremely embarrassed. I took the next exit, which was just far enough down the motorway to have all of my captive audience from the previous payage point overtake me, I never even looked over to see what kind of reactions I was getting, I blame the sat-nav entirely!

Anyway, I eventually made it, & got charged the outrageous sum of 1.20€ for about 6km of motorway! But once that living hell was over I was back on the country roads, & somehow managed to miss out Tours altogether, which apparently can be a bit of a shit to drive round. Once I was drawing closer to Montrichard there just seemed to be small town after small town, each one as picturesque as the last. I had no idea where the camp site was in Montrichard, but I knew it was a municipal & therefore should be adequately sign-posted, & it was. It turned out to be just on the outskirts of the town, on my route in, which was fantastic.

So, the site is fantastic, it has an automatic barrier at the entrance, has about 90 spaces, plenty of shade, good toilet/shower facilities & all for 6.40€ per night (+ deposit for electronic key for the barrier). It also has a small gate at the bottom which opens out onto a riverside path (pictured), it's then only a 10min walk into town, that's what the other pictures are, just a couple of spots along the walk into town. The town is also very nice, typically French, with the beautiful stone bridge across the river. There's also a museum of heavy vehicles, which I intend to visit this afternoon.

The other thing I've noticed round here is the amount of interest my car is attracting. When I was further north I would be lucky to get one person look at it per day, they just didn't seem to care less. But the further south, & east, I head, the more people seem to look. All through the little villages on my way here I had people stopping & staring, the site manager said "nice car" when he let me in, & when I took it out for a spin around the town yesterday I had blokes standing outside bars pointing a watching, & even van drivers, stuck in traffic, hanging out of their windows to have a good look as I went past. It really seems they are much more enthusiastic about their cars the further south I go. And it's not just the men either, I had women having a good look round it when I went to the supermarket yesterday. I'm sure sometime soon enough it will start a conversation & maybe I will have someone, other than the sat-nav, to talk to!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Amost time to move on, again!

Well, it's my last day at Le Chant D'Oiseau (which, I've learned means The Song of the Birds). I've completed all the work that Syb & Stu had planned for me, & they couldn't have made me feel more welcome if they'd tried. I was even chatting to their son this morning about what it's like to live & work in France, & it sounds like they've got it just about right over here, where the work ethic is concerned. It strikes me the French "work to live", whereas it appears more & more these days that us Brits "live to work", which is all wrong in my mind.

Anyway, there's not too much to say today, & it's almost time for my lunch, so here's a few pics of Le Chant...
Here's my pitch, right in the bottom corner, nicely shaded at the right times of the day.

And this is what I see from my pitch, I think it's a nice view, but for anyone who doesn't like trees, look away now...

And here's a few choice shots of the place, it's a really nice spot to just sit & spend some time in....

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Never mind the car, what about me?!!

Ah well, here goes. I wrote this a few nights ago, when I was on the lonely campsite, with nothing better to do, I'm not going to re-read it, I will just post it & you can make of it what you will, happy reading.

So, what about me?.....
Well, it all started on a wednesday afternoon, wednesday the 4th of July 1979 at 3:20pm to be exact, when the first of a pair of twin boys was born, to be named Matthew, congratulations, it's a boy, & so was the next one, my brother Ian (hi Ian!)
During my childhood we went on camping holidays, at first in a “Nimrod” trailer tent, then in an antique Sprite Major caravan, later on in my early teens we had a slightly newer Sprite Musketeer caravan, & my brother & I both had various tents. We were lucky enough to spend much of our growing up in the country-side, where we could simply cycle up to the South Downs close to our home village of Ringmer, in East Sussex, & camp out for the night.
Both my twin brother, Ian, & me were interested in anything mechanical, & we soon got into collecting vintage stationary engines & associated equipment, this included things like world war 2 generating sets, pumping engines & the like, which we used to show at vintage steam fairs, with our parents & the caravan. My dad was a mechanic all the time we were growing up, & his interest in vintage & classic motorbikes got us keenly involved in all things mechanical.
I also have an older brother & sister (hi Martin & Jane), & whilst neither of them has been interested in the mechanical or camping side of things, they have still remained supportive nonetheless, & apart from the odd family argument (usually started by my sister winding one of us boys up!) we've all got along pretty well as a family, my parents are still together, which is also becoming something of a rarity these days.
So, back to me. I'm now a 31 year old man, who still believes he's somewhere in his 20's. My life has had its' ups & downs, as has everybody's. I'm not going to go into too much detail here, the people who are most important to me will know all about my struggles. I'm currently off work due to long term illness, which could easily be considered as “self induced”, but an illness nonetheless, which requires a period of recovery, which is currently where I'm at with that.
I'm also in a minority where my sexual preferences lie, I hate the term but I suppose I would have to classify myself as gay, which is strange when I consider my general appearance & the things I'm in to, like fixing cars & working on building sites etc, but it's not something that dominates my life, & should be of no consequence to the people I meet. Although I have been single for over 5 years now, but what the fuck does that say!
So, I mentioned above that I work on building sites, well I did work on sites, I'm a qualified electrician, & a very good one by all accounts. It's been an interest of mine since childhood, but I haven't traded properly for a couple of years now. A part of me feels like a change in career, which is why I have lately been engaged in some voluntary work with Bristol city council, linked with drug & alcohol addiction services & mental health, I'm still unsure weather or not this is a true career path for me or just something to fill the time??? We will see, no doubt.
So, here I am, on a deserted site near Alencon in France, on a beautiful summers evening, watching the sun go down, listening to the French version of Virgin Radio. I've been on this site all day! I've decided I'm spending my budget far too quickly, & at this rate I will run out of money somewhere in week 4, but my return ferry is booked at the end of week 5, so I figured a few days of taking it easy, on site, wouldn't do any harm. It's been nice really. I didn't feel much like doing anything today anyway. Let's just hope I find a wifi connection soon, so I can upload this before I change my mind & edit the fuck out of it!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Bit cooler today, only 28 degrees in the shade!

Well, here I am, at Le Chant, another lazy day spent on site, saving fuel. Another load of washing done & on the line, & another plate of tinned ham, eggs & chips made from tinned potatoes for lunch.
Another camper here went out this morning to a local market in a small town. He came back with the usual stories of stall-holders attempting to sell him a small piece of cheese for 35€ (woo hoo, I found the euro symbol!) I've heard it all before on the camping forums. I also seem to have started a rather contentious thread on UKcampsite about the lack of customers on the small municipal sites here in France. It seems a shame that the last one I stayed at will probably be forced to close, & the reasons for this are broad & varied, some say it's all the people in motor homes, camping for free in the aires, others say it's the autoroutes bypassing all the small local villages, I'm not too interested in the reasons, I just think it's a bit sad, although it was very peaceful at that last one.
Anyway, back to me & my trip. I think I'm turning into a bit of a softie. I must be getting used to the heat, I always tell people I don't feel the cold, & have also denied the need for heaters in tents during the summer, but just lately, after the sun goes down, I've been really feeling the cold. The last site I was at I slept in my clothes, with various valuables in my sleeping bag & various weapons nearby (I was all on my own remember), despite this I was actually cold! Now, my bed is a "ReadyBed" from argos, it's a blow-up mattress with a fitted sleeping bag, & it's a double (hopeful, I know), the sleeping bag part is quite thin, but then I suppose it's meant to have 2 people in it. I also carry a single, rather old & rather cheap sleeping bag, & at one point I actually took it off the top of my bed (it was being used as an extra blanket), zipped it up & got inside it, then got inside the ReadyBed! & I was still cold! In the morning though, the sun hit the tent & I thought I was in a sauna! Some people are never happy! Anyway, I hereby apologise to anyone I may have mocked for asking questions about heaters in tents for summer nights. I'm not saying I want a heater, just some warmer bedding, (or something warm in my bed!). I've even taken to putting on a shirt, or thin jumper, in the evenings when the sun goes down, god knows what I'll be like when I get back to the UK?

Well, I'm getting fed up with chasing the wasps away now, so I will leave you with some sexy pics of my car, taken last night just as the sun was going down, enjoy....

Ooooh, SEXY!!!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Site number 4, finally made the Loire Valley.

Well, I've just arrived at site number 4, which is a small place called "Le Chant D'Oiseau" Just outside the small French village of "Mouliherne" about 70km south of Le Mans.
This small but perfectly formed site is run by an English couple called Stu & Syb, who have been very kind & welcoming, & even bought me a cup of coffee whilst I set up camp.
I'm booked in here for 4 nights & have also agreed to do some electrical work for them, in return for some good hospitality.
It took me ages to find the place, I spent a long time driving around, burning up valuable fuel resources, which I can ill-afford. I would happily recommend this site to anybody, they also have Gites (like challets) & I believe they do B&B as well. The only recommendation I would make to anyone wishing to stay here is to get some proper directions, or stop in town & ask someone, don't do what I did & drive around getting lost for hours (entirely my own fault).

The budget is fast disappearing, I took out roughly half my spending money before I left, that's now almost spent. Most of it has gone on fuel, so I'm going to make an effort to stop using the car unless it's absolutely necessary, & try my best to find a few nights free camping, which may be possible at my next stop, we will see.

Anyway, I've already written a small bit about myself, & I aim to post this in the next few days, wouldn't want to use up all my material at once would I?

So, until the next time.......

P.S. Pics to follow shortly, I will try & get some of myself as well.

Never mind this camping lark, what about the car?!!

So, what about the car? Well, it's my current pride & joy, it's a 1973 BMW 2002 touring, the “original” Hot Hatch (NOT the golf GTI!) It weighs about 1 metric tonne & has a 2 litre engine.
My previous pride & joy was a 1985 BMW 525e, but this wanted too much work for the ultimate value of the vehicle, so I got rid of it, solid though it was, it was also just a bit too big for me, which is a shame as I love big cars, but most of my driving is around the city of Bristol, & a big, automatic, 2.7 litre saloon car was just too impractical.
So, when my injury claim came through, back in April, I decided to buy another car & eventually sell the big red 5 series. That's where my friend Mark comes in, he's a hopeless BMW addict, it's his fault I bought the first one, & I was trying to keep my options open when he persuaded me, once again, to go for another BMW. He also assures me I will “never” lose money on this car, mind you, I never lost anything on the last one either.
So, you may be expecting me to present some shining, concours example of a 37 year old BMW? Well, you would be sadly mistaken. My car is, to put it kindly, solid where it counts. Which means the chassis is solid & the engine, transmission & drive train are also good. What my car needs is some “cosmetic” work, which is fine for someone who likes to do car body repairs in his spare time, unfortunately my expertise is more with the engine, drive train, transmission & electrics, which are all fine, but I'm always willing to learn new skills when it comes to repairing cars.
I love my old '02 (that's what they're called to the enthusiasts, it's pronounced two-double-”O”-two, NOT two thousand & two, hence the abbreviation to just “'02”). I've been warned that this car will need some money thrown at it, but I will find it somewhere, for now my money's being spent on this French adventure.
I prepared the car for this holiday by flushing the cooling system, replacing 6 of the 9 coolant hoses, replacing the plugs, points, distributor cap, rotor arm & air filter. I also took the exhaust apart & re-aligned it so it no longer rattles against the body-work. All of this was done in the final 4 days before I set off on this adventure, so I do have some faith in my skills, & I had my dad there to supervise where necessary (& teach me how to replace the points!) I had one leaky hose the day before I left, which was soon rectified.
Anyway, I'm sure you'll notice her in the pictures, & maybe I will take some of just the car, for the enthusiasts who are following this. Some may think I'm mad taking a classic car on a trip of this length, but I know how simple this car is, & I have enough tools to do most rudimentary repairs so I'm not fussed. I also have as many spares as I could carry, & know enough to keep a keen eye on the temperature gauge.
If anyone has any further questions about this car, feel free to leave them in the comments section.
Also, Mark's girlfriend, Claire (also a friend of mine), usually insists on cars being named, & as yet this little beast has no name, so feel free to throw in your suggestions for that as well.
Let's just hope she stays as reliable during the remainder of this holiday as she has proved already, she really hasn't missed a beat, even in this relentless heat, not bad for 37 years old (I'm not telling you her mileage, a lady should never have to reveal such things).

Fingers crossed.........

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Small place, Empty site?

OK, I've gotta be reasonably quick here, as I've just driven 34km to the nearest McDonalds & didn't even think to charge the netbook whilst I was going along!
Here's a few pics of the last site (La Mailleraye-Sur-Seine) as promised in the last post. See if you can spot Alfie, he's a friend of my mothers, she sent him along to keep me company....

& here's one of the River Seine, just a short walk from the site...

So, I left that site (I'm not spelling it again!) & headed towards Alencon, which is between Le Mans & Caen, the actual place I was headed for was a small town called Essay (much easier to spell), about 18km north east of Alencon, where a municipal site was listed, but no address was included in the listing, or at least no address the sat-nav could find, this is where the sat-nav & myself had our first argument.
I thought "bugger it!" & just programmed in "Essay" & figured I would find the site from there.
When I got there it was about lunch time, so the small town of Essay, which actually turns out to be a small village, was deserted, I simply followed signs for the camp site & found it, no trouble at all. When I got there it appeared to be another case of; no manager, just pick a spot & pitch up, so I had a good look around the 30 or so pitches, all divided by hedges, & found every single one to be vacant! I tested the tap at the water point, which worked, & had a look at the toilet & shower block, which was all very basic but fully functional, it all seemed very strange & a bit eerie to be honest, but I liked the look of the town & was more than ready for lunch, so I pitched up & had something to eat.
I tried my best to read the posters on the small hut, & found one for a local guest house, so off I went for some information, only to find all residents were German & only the teenage boy among them spoke any English. He managed to tell me the camp site had nothing to do with them, but that I should check in with the local tourist information office, which I did.
So, here I am, on a completely empty site on the outskirts of a tiny little village in north west France. I'm almost out of tobacco & completely out of wine, so now lunchtime is almost over (which is difficult to tell over here, except that McDonalds has almost emptied) I'm going to look for a "Tabac" & a supermarket on my drive back to the lonely site, just hoping that someone else comes to join me there (but no noisy German caravanners like last time!).
Anyway, here's a couple of pics....

I suppose I should also take this opportunity to thank all of my family (who thought I would never actually make it out here in the first place) especially my sister in law, Rhiannon, who woke me up last wednesday morning with a cup of coffee (instant) & some toast & made sure I was up in time to catch my ferry.

Also, I will soon be writing a bit about myself, as some of you know me from the camping forum (, some of you will know me from the car forum (, some from facebook & others will be friends & family.
My aim will be to try & mix it up as much as possible, with a bit about me, a bit about the camping & camp sites & a bit about the car (which has been absolutely faultless up to now, fingers crossed).

I hope you're enjoying it so far, until the next time.....