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 (ukcampsite.co.uk), some of you will know me from the car forum (02forum.co.uk), 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.....

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Municipal Sites & Sat-Navs

Ok, so after leaving the site at Cambrai, not very happy at paying almost 30 euros for just 2 nights, & unable to see where a municipal town site gets its' 3 stars from, I decided to head for a big green bit on the map, & as luck would have it there was just such a green bit to the west of Rouen. So I looked in my book, "Le Guide Officiel" (which I shall refer to as just "Le Guide" from now on) for a suitable site & found one in a place called La Mailleraye-Sur-Seine, which is on the river Seine, about 30km west of Rouen.
I feel I should say a brief bit about "Le Guide", it is by far the most comprehensive guide of French campsites, & claims to list all 11'000, although I haven't counted them. Although written in French, it does have a small multi-language bit to explain how to read the listings. I only wish I hadn't wasted my money on the Alan Rogers guide, which is more for those wishing to stay on the 4 star super sites, full of noisy families, not my kind of thing. I purchased my "Le Guide" on Amazon, for under a tenner, & so far it has proved indispensable, as has my parents' cheapo sat-nav.
This sat-nav (I believe it's called a Nav-Tec, or something like that, is not the easiest to use, has trouble keeping up with my driving & doesn't list campsites! But, as a lone traveller, I have found it just as indispensable as "Le Guide", they kind of go hand in hand, as the sat-nav doesn't list campsites, but will find addresses (& McDonalds!). I hadn't planned on using it all the time, but when you're on your own it's handy having someone shouting directions at you.

So here I am, at another McDonalds on the outskirts of a town called Yvetot, about 15km from my site. The site at La Mailleraye-Sur-Seine is another municipal, but this time it's much more rural. I turned up to find a large enclosure with a basic, unisex shower block, with normal toilets, sinks for laundry & sinks for washing-up. There is roughly 50 pitches, mostly separated by hedges, electricity for at least half of them & water points dotted at various places. I pulled in & stopped the car, got out & had a gaze at some posters written in French, when I eventually realised I was looking at a bus timetable (I think), a Dutch man walked past & said "hello", so I asked him what to do, he said you just pick a pitch & get on with it, someone will be along in the morning to collect the money, brilliant.
At around the same time a young Dutch couple with 2 children came & pitched-up next to me, I had pitched my tent, had a sandwich & a coffee & gone up to the sinks & done a load of washing & when I returned they were still setting up! I must be getting good at this camping lark!

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoying going out for a drive in the day time, but I'm going to have to find more things to do with my time, as all this driving around & eating McDonalds is not doing my budget any good.
My next move will be down towards Alencon, a shorter drive than last time, I didn't want to be doing 220km in one go, & hopefully it will be the last time I have to do so.
I will leave you with some pics of the latest site, & until the next McDonalds will bid you all fair-well. (pics will have to wait til next time, I've left my phone either in the car or back at the tent! Never mind)

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Here I am, what to do now?

Ok, so here I am, I didn't wake up until about 10:00 this morning. I figured I would have a lazy day today, I've had some breakfast, a couple of pots of coffee & then I thought I would see if the sat-nav would find the local McDonalds. It was listed in the POIs so I thought I would come along, write a bit on here, read my emails & generally take the piss by sitting here for ages using the wifi.

The weather is much better today, but up here in the north it always seems to be windy.
I plan to leave Cambrai tomorrow morning, I'm heading towards Rouen. It's going to be a long leg to my overall journey, but I've promised some English camp-site owners in the Loire Valley that I will do some electrical work for them in return for a couple of nights camping. I've figured I've got 6 nights before I've got to be there, so tonight in Cambrai, then either 2 or 3 nights in a site near Rouen, then another 3 or 2 nights on another site near some place I've forgotten right now, but I will obviously update whenever I can.

I must say, the site here at Cambrai is very nice, but it's a town site, so there's traffic noise all night. My next site is more rural, which will suit me better. But the Cambrai Municipal site would make a very good overnight stop-over for anyone on their way to or from either Calais or Dunkirk, there's even a vet nearby, for those with pets that require the pet passport treatment.

So it's off to Rouen tomorrow, I just hope the weather gets better, it hasn't rained yet today, but the sky's been threatening this afternoon & I wouldn't be surprised if we have some by nightfall.

Let's hope I have a bit more to report the next time I update this blog, for now; here's another picture, take care.

The journey begins

Well, I made it! I'm currently sitting in a McDonalds, using the free wifi, in a town Called Cambrai in northern France, the date is July 15th 2010 & it's around lunch time.
My journey began yesterday morning at around 7:00am, this is a painful time of day for me, I don't much like mornings, but I had to be in Dover by 9:15 to sail at 10:00, I actually got there soon after 8:15 & had to wait, but this I can handle.

I never did get round to doing my test run in England, all I managed was to take the tent out of the bag & make sure it was all there with no holes in it. The rest of my kit I just had to have faith in.
So, I boarded the ferry just before 10:00am, this is a first for me as well, I've been on ferries before plenty of times, but never in my own car & never on my own. The 2 hour crossing went well, weather was good & in no time at all I was driving off the other end in Dunkirk. The sun was shining, the roads were very good & I quickly got used to driving on the wrong side. I was happy to be there, driving along the long, straight, tree-lined roads. It was going so well I decided to re-program the sat-nav to take me on the motorway, but keep off the toll routes.
Well, then the heavens opened, the rain came down as bad as I've ever seen it. My car's getting on a bit now, the ventilation isn't up to modern standards & my heater was stuck on cold. The whole car soon fogged up & I couldn't see a thing! The cheapo sat-nav I borrowed off my parents is a bit slow keeping up & I missed a junction or two. So I pulled over, popped the bonnet & managed to get some heat into the heater matrix, put the blower on full & continued my journey.
Eventually I ended up in Cambrai, found the municipal camp site & picked a pitch. It was still pissing it down so I waited in the car for half an hour, listening to French radio & smoking roll-ups. I decided it was unlikely to stop raining & I'd better get on with it.
My tent pitches up inner first, so if it's raining the inside gets wet. I got the inner & poles up as quick as possible & threw the fly sheet over. I would say the whole pitching process took no longer than half an hour, pretty good for a first attempt. Just as I finished pegging the last guy rope, the rain stopped! That's just typical, & I sincerely hope this isn't the way the rest of my holiday is going to go!
I'm still learning my particular camping kit, but I'm learning fast. In no time at all I had the important stuff out & got the stove lit & the coffee pot on (no instant crap for me!).
I spent the rest of the afternoon giving the car a once over, checking fluids & pressures etc. Had some dinner, more coffee & a bottle of cheap red wine I bought from Tesco the previous day. There wasn't much to do as it was Bastille day & everything was closed. I also decided to change all my clocks & watch to French time so I would get used to it.
I must've been in bed for about 10:30pm, just before all the fireworks started, I read a few pages of murder mystery, had a last glass of red then put the light out & soon dropped off.