Monthly Archives: September 2018

And so it ends (day 18)

27th September (Day 18)
Spoonbills and Avocets

This will be our final full day in France for 2018 – I’m sure we will be back next year (I feel Brittany calling – out of season).
Janette has identified a nature reserve on the North Coast – Le Parc du Marquentierre – from what we could gather the land belonged to a tulip grower who turned it into a nature reserve in the 70’s and 80’s. We have brought along a spotting scope I recently purchased second hand, so we are hoping to see some decent ‘oisans’ close up (25x maginification).
We turn up before midday and learn the long route (6kms) with 13 hides will take about 2hrs (I usually add half on again) so we decide to take some supplies with us. The first section was a little uninspiring but later on we were treated to some pretty good birdwatching. Spoonbills galore – throughout the day we counted about 120 in 2 different flocks (a first for Janette) – I had some pretty decent binoculars that I’ve had a couple of years but the scope is just fantastic – 3 times the magnification of the binoculars and with a large front lens not much loss of light. We then went on to see Avocets (another first for Janette) and later on some Moufflon and wild horses grazing near the scrapes. We were told by one of the wardens of a rare vagrant bird which had arrived from N.America – a Pectoral Sandpiper – just the one (and we managed to spot it!). To top it all as we were leaving a wild boar mother and 5 piglets crossed Hilma’s path. Not quite a black cat but we thought it was lucky 😊 A great way to spend our last full day – now we are off to top Hilma up with some wine to take back.
All good things must come to an end (or do they) – well maybe temporarily, “we’ll be back”.

Highlights and lowlights
There are so many memories of this holiday we will both take away with us. Passion France was an eye opener for us – you still have to be a bit choosy in terms of where you would like to stay, vineyards, market gardens, working farms or Chateaus. My favourite was meeting the old boy at Chateau Sury – I’ll never forget helping him fix his curtain and his wonderful smile when we said goodbye.
Aubusson was the next highlight for me with it’s inspiring art and tapestries – somewhere I’m sure we will go back to (hopefully to see the rest of the JRR Tolkein tapestries).
Noirlac Abbey was a peaceful interlude where the ‘light’ will forever stick in my memory. In between we have passed through many villages and towns which we have noted we would like to visit some other time – France is so large we will never see it all.
Cycling to Troo and seeing the Troglodyte caves was another little adventure which was fun – such an unusual place situated on the Loir.
Then the most amazing ‘visual indigestion’ trip to Giverny to see Monet’s house and gardens, what can I say? It was beautiful day and a beautiful place.
The ‘pièce de resistance’ was our last full day in France at Le Parc du Marquentierre mentioned above – 200 hectares set aside for nature and nature lovers.
Some obvious lowlights if you have been reading the blog was the failure of the water pump and the loss of the lockable Gazole cover – but you know what – that’s all part of motor-homing, it goes with the territory and with a little luck, asking for some help and a little ingenuity you can always get by and motor on.
This was the first holiday where we had planned with a ‘broad brush stroke’ identifying regions we wanted to visit and then ‘homing’ in on places we wanted to see using a French guide book. The only thing is we didn’t want to see every cathedral or church it had to offer so we sought out alternatives – even missing a few we might come back too.
Total accommodation cost for 18 days: £127. If we include the France Passion purchases for our hosts products that rises to a whopping £208 (£11.55 a day) not bad.
A fantastic treat – we are so privileged to be able to do this. Stop work for 3 weeks and really enjoy ourselves. We wouldn’t have done anything different, each day was an adventure, something to embrace and build upon for the future.
Bye for now – until next time.
Ian and Janette xx

The dodgy duo signing off until our next trip

To the Auvergne (now on our way back) – Day 17

26th September (Day 17)
A restful(ish) day

Woke up this morning to see the moon setting and the sun rising – the photographs don’t do it justice. The reason my uploads have been few and far between has been the lack of t’internet. I did manage to load some more £’s onto the SIM card as it had run out – but straight after doing that and getting on line Microsoft decided it would be a good idea to update my computer – goodness only knows how many GigaBytes that took and so within 48hrs I was back to square one, having to wait until I got some WiFi access to put more data allowance onto the SIM card. Microsoft – YOU DARE!
These are our last couple of days before the ferry back to the UK and we are taking it easy. We deserve it – so far, in less than 3 weeks, we have covered 1,904 kms (1,190 miles). It does not feel like it was a strain, although I am glad for these last couple of days. Janette is happy to drive Hilma but I have to admit to being a nervous passenger (especially on the continent) so I have done the driving. We have been sensible though, roughly the maximum we have done in any one day is about 150 miles if we wanted to push on, mostly less (usually between 40 – 60 miles) and with our planning each morning on the route to take, then feeding key villages or towns into Mrs Garmin, meant for (in the most part) stress free motoring.

Cayeux-sur-Mer beach huts

Off come the bikes this morning and we cycle along a track into Cayeux sur Mer, along the seafront and on into a small bird reserve where strangely they are proud of the fact that it is a nature reserve yet it is also clear there is shooting alongside. Back into town, find the obligatory boulangerie, Pain et Patisserie and back to Hilma for coffee. I decided to put my Boy Scout whittling badge to good use and hacked away at the cork to eventually bung up Hilma’s water inlet orifice (as for the ferry crossing I will use the lockable water cap for Hilma’s Gazole orifice). I was impressed – it worked and seals the said hole very tightly.

I knew my boy scout ‘whittling’ badge would come in handy at some point in my life

Cayeux-sur-Mer cycle ride – La Manche

The cycling here is wonderful – we continued in the afternoon in the opposite direction and ended up at a pretty inlet called Le Hourdal before turning around.
A walk in the evening down to the pebble beach and we saw the most wonderful sunset, captured on the phone which struggled to get good definition.

Cayeux-sur-Mer sunset

To the Auvergne (now on our way back) – Day 16

25th September (Day 16)
A dash to the coast

With only three days left now until our ferry back to blighty we thought we would head for the coast and put our feet up for a couple of days. We are going to stay near Cayeux-sur-Mer below Bolgne and get the bikes out, a bit of bird spotting, basically chilling before the inevitable horrors of driving on the M25.
Before we set off we look at the route and decide to have a look at les Andelys on the Seine as it looks like it has some fantastic views from a chateau on high. At the back of my mind though is the gaping Gazole hole that needs sorting out. The drive down into the valley is spectacular and we arrive in les Andelys looking for a garage – I pull into one but it really just a tyre outlet but they direct me to a motor spares place in town. This is a very busy place being on a main route to Rouen. Having negotiated heavy traffic we found ACE motor spares and I enquired about a ‘Bouchon Essence’ for Hilma – some strange looks but we get there in the end pointing to a picture of a temporary cap in the book he presented to me. “Aprés-midi monsieur” as they did not have one in stock. I declined, I did not want to wait for a couple of hours (probably more) as we wanted to crack on.

Janettes sweety face – cheering me up after the lost Gazole cap

Next stop was an agricultural supply shop in a town nearby (I had decided it would be better to try and sort this out before doing any more touristic stuff). A very helpful mademoiselle said they didn’t have any but came out and had a look at the size of Hilma’s orifice (most rude I thought) and went returned to the shop with me in tow. A couple of shelf visits later and we came to – the corks! Well, not parfait, but I bought a pack of two and intend to ‘whittle’ one into shape later with a spare in case I make a cock up of the first. All exciting stuff this motor-homing malarkey you know, what with pumps breaking down, lost gazole covers and smaller mishaps like breaking glasses it all adds up to an adventure itself, let alone the touristy bits.
We drive through Normandy content that we have corks to block up Hilma ( will swap the water cover to the gazole cover and use the cork on the water – ingenious I thought and when we get back to blighty order another – unless we see a camping-car outlet en route).
I didn’t realise just how rolling the countryside could be in Normandy with some spectacular views. Eventually we arrive at la Mollière d’Aval opposite a campsite and settle down into the Aire exclusively for motorhomes for €7 a night and €3 for a water jeton. For that we get to use the campsite toilets and showers with a view of the dunes.

La Manche – on our way back to blighty now

To the Auvergne (made it – and now returning) – day 15

24th September (Day 15)
Lily pads and impressionism abounds

What a treat we think we are in for today – we are off to Giverny where Monet painted his famous series of the lily ponds. We’ll get to look at the house where he stayed and the famous garden where he painted those famous images countless times.
Before that we wake to lovely sunshine in contrast to yesterday’s awful weather – only to find when we stop for lunch Hilma’s Gazole cap is missing. Yet another thing to sort out on our travels. That’s the one thing about motor-homing, if you haven’t yet got one you do have to think that sometimes things will go wrong and be prepared to mend and make do for a little while. After all it’s like carrying your home on your back and things go wrong at home as well. Gaffa tape is always a must have item when travelling – it can patch something quickly until you are able to fix it properly – so Hilma’s Gazole hole is now gaffa taped over. I need to sort something before the ferry back as it might be frowned upon if some official spots it before embarking.
Janette has been yearning to go to Giverny for a few years now and as we are now only a few km’s away we will get over there and take a peep. Well what a peep it turned out to be, I’m not sure I can turn such a spectacle into a literary picture for you.
I can say however that we were spellbound by the variety of colours in the garden and the house full of paintings (mostly copies) from some of the the most prolific and famous artists of the impressionist period. The gardens were a riot of colour and when we arrived at the lily ponds – well, breathtaking with the weeping willows trailing over the ponds just like in his paintings. A very peaceful place at this time of year (I can’t imagine how crowded it might be in July & August).

Monet’s House at Giverny

A wonderful walk through Monet’s garden – you get the feeling that not much has changed

The lily ponds at Giverny

Soaking up the atmosphere we continued to the Museum of Impressionism, a few minutes walk, where there was an exhibition of the neo-impressionist artist Henri-Edmund Cross who settled on the shores of the Mediterranean and used the light in the region to good effect in his work. Not an artist I had heard of before but well worth a ‘Google’ if you get the time.

My digital Monet

We left Giverny contented and once again feeling like we did at Aubusson, there is more enrichment in life when there is an appreciation of the arts. Onward to our overnight stop which was another ‘France Passion’ one night stay at Surcy (close to Giverny) in a farmyard. A warm welcome from the old lady whose son ran the farm and he was still out in the fields.
The nights are getting colder now and Hilma’s windows are steamy in the morning sun.

Hilma at Giverny, not quite a Monet – but in my eyes just as pretty (sticks fingers in throat).

France 2018 – to the Auvergne (made it!!) – days 12 -14

21st September (Day 12)
What a day – wine, water, pumps and STRESS

When in the comfort of our homes we tend to take for granted all that happens automatically – like turning a tap on and water comes out. I’ve been on about the water pressure for a day or two now, suspecting the battery bank after being on AC connected power – thinking perhaps the elektroblok was not doing its job properly and the batteries were being overcharged thus affecting the output.
So, this morning the water refused to come out the tap at anything but a dribble and then not at all as a motor-homer that’s just about one of the worst case scenarios – not the worst I’m sure, it certainly focuses the mind on getting it sorted pronto. Before that though we had to say goodbye to Sophie our Passion France host on the ‘Francois Jourdain’ vineyard (Domaine des Moreaux) and of course sample some of their wares (not too much with driving ahead of us) – we tried three whites and two reds spitting out lots (shame) and ended up buying a 5ltr box of red to drink on our travels and 4 white to take home. So one might say that it was an expensive overnight stop at €43 but we would be buying wine anyway and why not from our hosts who have been kind enough to let us stay for free – if we had stopped at a campsite it would be €20 anyway.

My little Sunflower on the ‘Francois Jourdain’ vineyard (Domaine des Moreaux)

A spot of lunch before moving off and I decided I needed some connectors to test the water pump, stopping at a Supermarché I found a few and decide I would have a go at the pump whilst Janette was shopping for supper. Off came the water tank cover, the pump connectors looked a little moist so I thought it might be shorting out. I did a quick test with the voltmeter and when Janette returned got her to switch the tap on – there was current going through but the pump was intermittent or sometimes dead. I decided to renew the connections and try again – same thing, so having eliminated the connection (13.6v was going to the pump) my suspicion was the pump was on the way out. At Blois we called into a Fiat dealer having been told by a garage owner that they serviced Hymers. A very kind gentleman who did not speak a word of English understood my ‘pompe electrique pour l’eau est mort’ pointed me in the direction of a Camping-Car retailer about 15km away. Last chance saloon as it was now getting on for 4:30pm and without water we would have to book into a site rather than an aire. Again my ‘pompe et mort’ managed miraculously to get someone to point me to the pumps on the wall. Bingo – having had the offending article out earlier in an attempt to shake some life into it, I saw the very pump on sale (not a Hymer original but exactly the same shape and size). With my pocket €65.40 lighter (or rather my credit card account) I skipped back to Hilma with a new present – she would think it was Christmas or her birthday – what a treat she was in for but she would have to wait. Time was pressing so we decided to motor to our original aire destination at Montoire-sur-le-Loire and settle in before attempting a pump refit.
We were the last on site (although the French usually manage to squeeze a few extra in when they want) – I really wanted a beer after the stress of the day but prudence meant (actually Janette’s insistence) that I try the new pump before any alcohol passes my lips (didn’t want to wire it up wrong and blow the fuses).
Hooray for Hilma – she has a new water pump – probably the first in her 17yrs of existence – and it worked. Positively blown away with the pressure we took glee in watching it spurt out, then we realised we needed to be careful with the water – it’s not on tap you know!

Bad, bad, naughty pump (but then it may be 18 yrs old).

You can’t see it but our brand new pump is in there and what power, boy what power she has

22nd September (Day 13)
Hoping for a better day

I arose early and tottered off to get my morning baguette and found the town square getting ready for the market. With moving on every day or two it’s pot luck whether we come across a market or not, so we wanted to make the most of this one. A quick breakfast and we launch ourselves into the fray of ‘combien monsieur or madame’?, attempt to not look like tourists by going to the local’s café (ha ha) – and stand out like a sore thumb!

Montoire-sur-Loir market produce

We get into buying mode with the veggies and discuss the possibility of an evening meal out, finally deciding on a huge slice of tuna and some prawns to cook on the Cadac (gas barby). We did eat out at lunchtime and with all the bread I am eating (I love French bread – how can you not) I’m noticing a little spare tyre starting to appear around the midriff. Since my marathon in April (in 25°C heat) I have only run 2 or 3 times and feel decidedly unfit. This boulangeries and patisseries are not helping!
After lunch Janette had identified a small town within striking distance of our bicycle fitness level – Troo. The guides showed it was full of ‘Troglodyte’ caves? Troo is a village built precariously into a limestone hillside. The village consists of many (and I mean many, many) staircases taking you up and down into different parts of it. Nowadays the caves that were originally hewn out for homes are used as storage cellars – one or two were even used as bakeries and café’s in the past and have been semi-preserved for historical importance (and to attract the tourists like us). When we (eventually) reached the very top of the village after a couple of wrong turns we were rewarded with a fantastic panoramic view over the Loir valley.

Troo – caves and all

Time to head back and work off in advance some of that choue bun (religeuse) that I would be eating after supper – really I ask you – what am I doing to my body!

La Religeuse – more like the ‘devil’s’ cake to me

23rd September (Day 14)
A travelling day

Nothing to report here really. The weather was so awful we decide to make a run for the North and make up a day of travelling so we can put our feet up and try a camp site on the coast. Well, that’s the plan – but this is a fluid holiday so we’ll see. We do end up for the evening in Rugles which has a lovely write up in the Aire book but we felt didn’t really inspire us so we will be moving on tomorrow.

France 2018 – to the Auvergne (made it!!) – days 10 & 11

19th September (Day 10)
Aubusson & Tolkien

10 days in and we have finally made it to the Auvergne! We are stopping at Camping La Perle about 12km from Aubusson – the most prominent tapestry and weaving centre of Europe, in fact a UNESCO site.
After a morning walk we drove into Aubusson ready for a 2hr lunch at Les Maison du Pont followed by a walk around the 2 main museums of tapestry. One houses some contemporary tapestries in 6 rooms of a very old house which is the Office du Tourisme – the contrast between an old building and more modern tapestries was fascinating. It was here we found out that the artist who creates what is called a ‘cartoon’ for the weaver to follow and in traditional Aubusson style is done in reverse.

The Tapestry Museum in Aubusson – the amount of colours being employed is amazing

Inbetween the two tapestry museum visits we came across a tiny studio with the artist producing some very different pieces of work. They reminded me of the Cirque du Soleil and on discussing this with the artist (in my best french of course) he enlightened me and told me they wee after the style of Cirque de la Luna (is there such a troupe? – I’ll have to google it!).

Strangely different sculptures to be found in a little studio – Aubusson

The sculptor at work

The second venue was the Cité Internationale de la Tapissaire. It can take anything up to a month for 1 sq metre of tapestry to be completed – when you see the size of some of the works one wonders how they keep motivated. I guess it’s like a painting, you slowly see it develop. We learnt such a lot in such a short space of time I could not do justice to it here. My suggestion would be to get online and have a look. One of the most amazing projects the venue is tackling is turning a series of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original illustrations into tapestries. Since negotiations with the Tolkien estate started in 2013 they have chosen 14 illustrations and have manged to complete the first in April this year after starting it last November. The technique harks back to the 16th & 17th Centuries when tapestries were used to tell a story – also they are utilising the colour styles of those centuries (5 only in a group of greens or blues or reds, etc) which leads to a more co-ordinated pallet.

The first finished Tolkein tapestry along with studies for the next

The ‘cartoon’ as it is called along with colour swatches to be used by the tapestry experts.

Absolutely fascinating and absorbing, so much so we said we would return for the final tapestry being completed in 2021! A very uplifting and energising day which has given both Janette and I food for thought regarding inspiration for future artistic projects when we finally cut the bonds of work.

20th September (Day 11)
Hoping for more of the same

Having rested Hilma for a couple of days we are off again on another search for a France passion site. We have our eyes on a bio-culture farm.
Before that though we want to look at a small Benedictine Abbey in Moutier d’Ahun. What a pretty village, plenty of money here we guessed. A river running through it, an old Roman bridge, the abbey with it’s beautiful wooden carvings, a restaurant – whats not to like? Unfortunately this late in the French holiday season the abbey was closed so we had a little wander through the village and learnt all about the old mill and oil press.
We head for our overnight stop and arrive in the afternoon only to find piles of soil, a straw shed, some old tarpaulins and a large wooden hut, also a route barré chain across the drive – no thanks. So off we go again on another Plan B- this time aiming for a vineyard producing Vins de Tourraine. Upon arrival we were greeted by Sophie who was also busy trying to organise a coach tour so got her Mother-in-Law to show us to our designated parking spot overlooking the vineyards of Francois Jourdain. Fascinated, we watched the grape harvesting machine work late into the evening (only to be woken by it again at 6:00am – ahh the romantic life of a motorhomer. Settling down for the night I was perturbed by the lack of power in the water taps – I couldn’t figure it out, the battery voltage was high enough, we had enough water – oh well, will have to sleep on it.

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.