Monthly Archives: September 2018

France 2018 – to the Auvergne (maybe) – days 8 & 9

17th September (Day 8)
Journey to the centre of the Earth (well France)

A good night’s sleep at Sury – waking to glorious sunshine we watched a pair of red squirrels attacking the walnut tree (and then Janette had a go and retrieved a bag full of walnuts). Within 15 mins we also saw a Kestrel, a Woodpecker, a Nuthatch and plenty of tits. Walking down the road and saw at least 3 Great White Egrets and numerous Grey Herons – a beautiful walk.

Gourds on a garden fence – a walk from Chateau Sury

We plan our route by looking at the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness book of France looking for interesting places to visit. We then look at which aire’s / passion sites / or camp sites are in the area and hava plan A & B just in case we can’t get in. We then look at the maps and highlight a route and put key parts of the drive into Mrs. Garmin – if we just put the final destination I guarantee she will take us down some narrow farm track with no places to turn – she’s a bit of a meany like that and I don’t know why we employ her. Janette is the voice of reason and will quite often admonish Mrs. Garmin for her stupid suggestions.
Onward we go as the France Passion stopovers are only for 24 hrs – we don’t need to chase the sun as it’s all around us. We are still heading for the Auvergne and tonight’s stop will be at St.Amand-Montrond. We arrive in the late afternoon and don’t like the look of the aire and decide to move on to a camp site in Bruere Allichamps which is the very centre of France – I’ve yet to get my compass on the map to test this – I’ll just have to trust the French they have their measurements correct. The site was unmanned and barriered and we had to purchase a Camping-Car card from the machine (€4) at the entry and load it with €8 for one night’s stay. Toilet block was closed but a bonus was free wi-fi which allowed me to top up the sim card to get online and write the blog (I had been without wi-fi for 4 days so much of this is catch-up).

18th September (Day 9)
Abbeye Noirlac

We had identified Noirlac Abbey as a place to visit en-route to our next stop. We are getting into a rhythm with traveling now – we try and get some walking or cycling in the morning and move on before midday or, if we have a longer drive, try and get away before 10:00am (never happens!). The Abbey was literally only 5km away and the area near the camp site was uninspiring for a walk or cycle so we headed off to the Abbey. This place had massive car parks but very few cars – the time of year was on our side.

Noirlac Abbey – contemporary logo

Noirlac Abbey was home to two communities in the 12th Century; choir monks and their lay brothers. The way I saw it the lay brothers were the go fetch people for the monks – basically servants to the choir monks making sure the Abbey ran smoothly and letting the monks get on with prayers and singing.
The Abbey itself had been in restoration since 1959 and continues to this day. What I took away from this was the sheer beauty of the light within, no darkened stained-glass windows here, as you can see from the pictures.

The Abbey Church

Beautiful windows in the Abbey Refrectory

The building does not hold any special religious meaning for me, rather I am more interested in the historical aspect of medieval times and the architectural wonder and how this must have been a very imposing building. My mind tries to comprehend how people lived in those times and just how much effort went into building such a place. Interesting how in contemporary times the building is being used for choral and music concerts and I imagine would be magnificently lit for those evening soirées.

Cloisters – imagine walking through these in your habit

Not quite as old as the Abbey – these 100yr old Lime trees brought some welcome shade to the garden

We left Noirlac with a sense of well being and motored on towards a campsite (La Perle) near Aubusson. Having eventually found it (the Lat/Long co-ords in the Touring France book published by the UK Caravan and Motorhome Club book take you down some very tiny roads which if you did have a caravan on the back would be very scary and impractical) we had a look around before deciding to put our feet up for 2 nights. Their were two places we wanted to visit nearby – Aubusson (home of French Tapistry artisans) and Moutier d’Ahun.

France 2018 – to the Auvergne (maybe) – days 6 & 7

15th September (Day 6)
A day by the River Yonne – Gurgy

Such a beautiful spot we had decided to put our feet down for another day at Gurgy. Awaking early(ish) the mist was hanging on the river and looking out of Hilma’s windscreen we were treated to a wonderful display by a local Kingfisher – not 20ft from us, we were able to view it. diving into the Yonne for his it’s breakfast.

The Gurgy aire – morning on the River Yonne

It is hard to believe that such a vibrant colour of iridescent blue can exist in nature. Talking of nature, we decide to go on the local rondonée marked on a board in the village. This would take us along the river and back through some what appeared to be man-made ponds. Off we trot and I take my (new to me) bird spotting scope hoping to see some close ups of interesting oiseau. We were not disappointed, along the river we were treated to another Kingfisher display, moving away from the river and walking along the canal we came across some birds flitting around some scrub. On closer inspection we saw what I have now identified as a Subalpine Warbler and then a young male Black Redstart was very obliging in the scope for a good 5 mins or more (which for a bird is a long time).
The second section of the walk was less enjoyable – all the ponds were fenced off and surrounded by trees so nothing could be discerned. The only open small lake had those very rare plastic ducks again!

Sculptures at Gurgy over a stream entering the River Yonne

In the evening we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in the local restaurant – a bottle of Burgundy Aligoté and all was well in the world of Hilma and her occupants. A quick word about Hilma – she has been performing admirably. At the start of this trip I mentioned trying to stay off-grid as much as possible – well at Gurgy we were under some trees so I decided to use hook up (which was included in the €7) – a strange thing though, after a couple of days although the batteries are showing a healthy voltage the water pumps seem to slow down. Who knows?

16th September (Day 7)
One of life’s little moments

Sometimes in life there are moments that you will never forget. It doesn’t need to be a life changing event or an expensive gift or holiday – it can be something very simple and moving. That’s what happened to me today – something simple and moving, but more of that later.
Today we have decided to try another France Passion but first we are off on a cycle ride in the opposite direction along the Yonne. Similar to Holland – the cycling was easy – I’m not so sure the French drivers have quite as much respect regarding cyclists as the Dutch – one or two interesting moments but nothing dangerous – they just seem to think they own the road. We arrived in Monetau the next town along, had a quick shufty around, found a beautiful bridge adorned with flowers and continued on our way. Coming to a barrage we turned and headed back – a lovely cycle along a beautiful French river – mon dieu c’set magnifique – that’s all your getting of my schoolboy French for the time being!
Onward we travel heading for a ‘fromagerie’ using our France Passion book. When we arrived we found the places where would be parking were amongst old broken down machinery and vans along with a dung heap. Not our cup tea so we turned around and headed for our 2nd option – Chateau Sury.

Winding through some beautiful countryside on our way to Chateau Sury

Winding through some beautiful countryside we eventually arrive in Sury and find the chateau. Driving through the gates into the farmyard section and park up we see an elderly gentleman shuffling through the yard. I walk over with the France Passion book in hand, he immediately smiles and shakes my hand and pulls me into the shade to talk. He is doing all the talking and I am not understanding – he hands me a piece of twine and starts talking about ‘escabeau’ – me, not a clue. Escabeau, escabeau – I drag the shallows of my French diction and give a galic shrug – “je ne comprends pas monsieur”. M. Hubert de Fallerges hooked his arm through mine, gave me the piece of twine and walking stick in hand he shuffles towards a rear door. He unlocks, beckons me in – I mange to understand this was his brother’s part of the house but he was away. Finally, I find out what Escabeau are – ‘step ladders’! He wants me to carry them somewhere – so now I have the twine and some step ladders, by this time Janette my ‘femme jollie’ – christened by M.Fallerges had caught u with us and was looking every bit as bemused as I was. M.Fallerges however knew exactly what he wanted of me and so continued to take me to another part of the chateau. Unlocking 2 doors we entered his ground floor living quarters, into his bedroom and he pointed at his curtain – one of the curtain rings was missing and he wanted me to tie the twine onto the hook and over the curtain rail – aaahhhh – “je comprends” – so off I popped up the Escabeau and fixed said curtain.

Lunch – before arriving at Chateau sury

Next on M.Fallerges’ agenda was coffee – at this point we were introduced to Kinox (I think that’s how it’s spelt) his lovely curly dog which was just a bundle of fun. Drinking our coffee, we explained with drawings of the UK where we were from and what day had we arrived in France. He was obsessed with asking us if we were going to the Mer – we said, no we were staying ‘dans le centre’ – he seemed bemused as if that was not normal. We then somehow managed to communicate to our host that we wanted to park somewhere so he put Kinox on the lead, chose a different walking stick and off we went again on another journey. He was very interested in Hilma and Ecinox decidde he liked it and jumped in getting in a right tangle with his lead. After the tour of Hilma he showed us the old garden where we were to park and with that shuffled off back to his rooms.

Chateau Sury

M.Fallerge did not speak a word of English – he was about 80 yrs old I reckon but the very fact that we had managed to do all of that with him seemed like a very humanitarian thing. He needed some help, we needed a place to stay and so life goes on. He seems to be a gentle man in the very sense of the word – he did not get frustrated with me for not understanding his language but simply accepted the situation.
The next morning I went to say “au revoir” and “merci” to M.Fallerge for his hospitality, his home help was with him, his face lit up and he invited me in and shook my hand, I said au revour to Kinox and was just about to leave when he grabbed my arm and said “Vous connaissez, vous connaissez” – “You know, you know”. I’m not sure what he meant but it touched me deeply – I can’t really describe why but it brought a tear to my eye thinking that this old boy’s life is in the twilight and although he may not remember our encounter it will stay with me as a very fond memory for a very long time.
The simple things in life.

France 2018 – to the Auvergne (maybe) – days 4 & 5

13th September (Day 4)
Where are we going? What are we doing? What is life all about?

Decision time – no, not about our life, just about the next day or two. That’s what traveling in Hilma does – relaxes us, disengages us from the real world and we enter this world of not wanting to make a decision because that’s what we do in the real world. This is the first time that I haven’t planned a holiday to the nth degree. Quite liberating and if you are an anal retentive person about wanting to know what’s happening next, quite scary. So here we go, a little planning just to keep me happy.
We have decided to visit Chateau Pierrefonds – those of you that followed the ‘Merlin’ TV series will recognise the splendour of the building. Originally built in the 14th Century it became ruined but restored in the 19th Century – it has a faux feel about it as a fortified castle. Fascinating stonemason work and huge – a good 2hours spent wandering and wondering about medieval life in France. It dwarfs the town and must have been an impressive site during those early years (and may I add is still an impressive site).

Chateau Pierrefonds – Entrance, Courtyard & Grand Hall

Pierrefonds – Sculptures & Carvings

Onward to our second Passion France stay – the Champagne producer Mme Leguillette. A very warm welcome from the owner and in no time at all we were parked alongside some of the vines that had already been harvested for this year. We were told we could wander through the vineyards at our leisure – 8 Hectares of them – so we did.

Walking through the vineyards – courtesy of Mme Leguillette

14th September (Day 5)
It’s all about the bubbles!

In the morning we decide to seek out the owner and purchase some Champagne and Ratafia – a particular type of fortified wine like a sherry. Mme, we were told by Bridget, was on a ‘rendezvous’ (sounds cheeky) so we asked Bridget to sell us some. Before we bought we were treated to a tour of the cellars and production areas of the vineyard. Fantastic – in our broken French and her very good English we managed to find out about the different processes and timescale involved with making the Champagne. We reckon their must have been about 20,000 bottles at various different stage – and that’s a small producer (too many to sample).

Fermentation vats, 2nd stage fermenting in the bottles and a sealed bottle for the experts to taste and award their verdict.

The France Passion is really an eye opener for us – you can stay at some wonderful places and this is only our second visit to one of the listings.
Next stop Gurgy on the River Yonne – an aire next to the river that had a great write up in the ‘All the Aires North’ book. We were not disappointed – a beautiful spot. Straight away we decided to stay 2 nights and put our feet up – treat ourselves to a Restaurant meal and chill. At €7 a night we didn’t mind paying for a bit of paradise.
Some unusual sculptures were hung over the stream going through the village – I must admit to rather liking them. A definite talking point with people pointing, talking, shaking heads and generally confused – just what art should be all about!

France 2018 – to the Auvergne (maybe)

10th September (Day 1)
Off to the Ferry

And so we depart for France once again mes amis. Pardon my schoolboy French, I’m probably not even at schoolboy level having departed that beloved institution more than 40+ years ago.
Why the Auvergne? Well this is an area we have never been to before and we liked what we saw when we did some research – having said that we like what we see in France, full stop. Why maybe? This is the first time we have not really done any planning apart from thinking of the area – I did start to plan and realised that we could end up rushing down there and rushing back – ‘rushing’ is not what we want so we are being flexible with our journey. For our Dutch trip we borrowed an ‘Eyewitness’ book which we found so informative we thought we would buy one for France, this could be one reason we don’t get to the Auvergne. The second reason is we have joined ‘France Passion’ – places like vineyards (why not), farms, cheese makers, market gardeners, etc. where you can stop overnight, sample their wares with no obligation to buy. So, there is plenty ‘getting in the way’ of us getting to the Auvergne. We’ll see – follow us and you’ll find out.

11th September (Day 2)
Off to the Ferry (again)

An overnight stop just inside the M25 about 60 miles from Dover and a lunch time ferry meant we were not like chewed cardboard making a 6 hour dash (which we have done once before). A tad windy (no schoolboy jokes please) but the crossing was not too bad. A quick sprint through the Pays de Calais brought us to our favourite Calais ferry stop (in and outbound) – Embry (see here). I had e-mailed in advance to reserve a ‘spot’ – when we arrived there it was – our spot ‘Reserved for Ian’ – but I didn’t see the sign until the next morning – what a wally. A small beer in the sunshine before a quick walk down into the sleepy village (lots of property for sale) and back for supper and then a quick look at what to do tomorrow and off to bed.
Pre-ordered croissants and pain arrived at 8:00am – fantastic service from the owners. This little (posh) Aire is more like a mini campsite. Today we are going to try our first France passion stop at Cappy which is a market garden. Before that a lunch in a layby with a short walk to a view above a magnificent lake – as soon a I saw it with lots of birds on I decided to go back for the scope. A large group of dark ducks were on the lake – so scope on tripod I slowly focused on them – I thought these were a rarity – they were, what a find – a whole group of plastic ducks! A first for me. We did however spot at least 6 grebes dipping, diving and preening themselves – a glorious site in the scope.

This is the site of the very rare Plastic Duck – every twitchers dream

All who read the ‘It’s all about the hair’ blog will be pleased to know Janette’s hair has survived the lack of hairdryer / styler so far – she has gone for the Carol Klein (gardening guru) look.
We motored on to Cappy having fed the co-ords in to Mrs Garmin. She got us there easily (although once she did try to take us down a very small lane which is why we always have the map as a back-up). A warm welcome (remember these are working people not tourist guides) – some broken French from me and some broken English from Mme Degrendel and we were settled in. We bought some veg, got the cycles off Hilma and went down the Valle Somme along a canal – very pleasant.
Tomorrow off to Chateau Pierrefonds. Something else delaying us getting to the Auvergne!

Cappy locks looking back to the town

English couple (boat at rear) travelling France by boat. Like us their home is on their back! They are on the way to their winter moorings in Bruge – they also have a car so they are sorted!

The hair is important

Nice title – but if you’ve seen the pics of my head you will know this is not about me!
I love the idea of going off-grid and using less of the hook-ups. Not because I’m a meany but I’m trying to save the planet in my own little way (see Solar Panel Installation) and use nature’s resources. Now that might sound a little cheesy when I’ve got a 2.8td engine doing 24 miles per gallon but did you know that Batteries are the most recycled product IN THE WORLD at 98%! No – nor did I, so you see we motorhomers are doing our bit for the environment.
The problem with not using hook-ups is my good lady Janette struggles to get the beauty look that is much needed when tramping across the field to the washrooms! I suggested a short back and sides but was met with a cold (and I mean cold) stare – only one thing for it – fit an inverter. Some might argue that the ‘essence’ of camping / motorhoming is to leave our home comforts behind and get back to basics – I do think there is an element in me that supports that – but I’m not 18 any more and neither am I doing a Duke of Edinburgh award!
In my (current) line of work I’m selling small off-grid hybrid DC power systems primarily for small power loads so I do have a little experience in this field. We use and recommend a lot of Victron Energy kit and so it was a no brainer for me to install a product I know will work.
Fitting looks easy (famous last words) – however it was not too troublesome. I had previously downloaded the manual, bought the necessary cable (10mm² it said if the cable run was over 1.5m), fuses and cable protector tubing. I wanted it as close to the batteries as possible but the two 12v 105Ah batteries (connected in parallel to give 210Ah) are under the front passenger seat and driver seat respectively. This meant at least one of the cables would have to be longer than the other (not ideal but we are not using huge loads). Out of the box and it was clear that the inverter could not be fitted flush to the floor – the UK outlet is fitted in such a way that the cable coming from the plug would foul on whatever it was mounted on.

Cable on the plug would foul if mounted on the floor and you could not plug anything in (why not mount the socket sideways?)

OK – first hurdle to get over – idea – mount it on 2 blocks of wood to give it ground clearance.
Hurdle 2 – where to fit it? I originally though we could hide it in one of the seat storage cupboards and have a socket outlet on the outside. I quickly realised I was going to run out of time if I attempted that and my DIY skills would be severely tested. Decision time – behind the drivers seat.
Cracking on, apart from the slight tight space (‘twas ever thus in a motorhome when DIY’ing) it all went relatively smoothly. The supply was going to come direct from the batteries so I needed an inline fuse on the positive cable (I decided on 60Amp). Cables measured (twice) and cut, terminal connectors crimped on (boy this was going well) cable protector cut, wooden blocks screwed to floor (a bit dodgy but no real weight on them and they won’t be kicked), holes drilled for the inverter mounting and bob’s your uncle before anything disastrous can happen I’m ready to connect up. Janette will be so pleased and oh so proud, dreaming of flowing locks in the wind when she goes to the toilet block, oh how jealous all the other campers will be!

Inverter in position behind driver seat – passenger seat removed for battery access

Connection time – all done, fused ready to go. Computer ready to connect the VE Direct cable to find out what the Inverter is doing and make any adjustments (low battery cut off, etc.). Computer say NO! it can’t see my beloved inverter. Not to worry, let’s see if it works – radio connected – yippee, on comes the cricket, let’s try a light – yep, no issues there, what about the laptop – yep again all OK.
The all important hair styler for Janette, a 300W affair – 500VA inverter copes with 400W (at 25°C) and a 900W initial power draw – oooopps – overload. Try again – ooopps – overload. Clearly this was not going to work. I tried to get the computer to see it again but it was having none of it. I referred to the Victron site and found I needed to download some drivers – duly done, it still wouldn’t see the inverter (I refer the reader back to my “fitting looks easy statement”). It was at this point that even the lights on the inverter refused to come on – I tested the input voltage – 13.5V – no problem with the supply the inline fuse had not blown. Time ran out, I had to get Hilma back in to storage and leave this for another day. I disconnected said (no not so beloved) inverter and the next day referred the issues to the supplier. Time to tell Janette.
1 week later and I had a replacement – slightly nervous I fitted the new inverter – tested the computer connection – yippee – I could see what it was doing this time. Connected various low wattage items as before but was not about to connect the dreaded 300W hair styler. Bought a 25W heated brush instead, tried that – oooooopps – overload!! How can that be? I’m starting to get annoyed with ‘hair’ things now – the manufacturers need to start telling the truth – my guess is anything heated with or without a fan motor is just not going to cut it with this inverter size. Bigger is better – hey ho, maybe I’ll sell it on ebay and move up a size?
It is staying on for our forthcoming trip to France as it does a wonderful job of charging phones, laptops, radios, etc. and we can stay off-grid a bit longer, but Janette’s hair will have to wait for the beauty treatment for the time being – hair scrunches it is then! Very 80’s student look.