We’re back home. In fact, we’ve now been home for over one week, but it’s taken until now to get a phone line and internet connection set up. And that’s good going since we were told it would be 1st Oct when our line would go live. I just thought I’d try it out tonight and – hey presto; real internet! So what’s happened in the intervening period…
We spent a couple of nights at Rocamadour, calling in the “Produits Regional” shop to buy some local Rocamadour cheese (all Chevre, or goat’s milk) as we left on Wed 17th Sept. We’d booked our ferry whilst in Rocamadour, so now we had a definite date on which to be in Calais (21st Sept). In truth, we’d wanted to take the Roscoff to Plymouth ferry as it would have been shorter driving distances both in France and England, but the different in price was 5-fold, making it much less expensive in fuel to go via Calais.
From Rocamadour, we drove for about 3 1/2 hours up to the Camping Municipale at Vatan, just to the SW of Vierzon. I was getting a bit nervous for the last hour as we were getting pretty low on fuel and there were no filling stations on the horizon. We pulled off the (toll-free!) autoroute, and – just before Vatan – was an Intermarché with a filling station. This would have been good except that – like most supermarket filling stations in France – this one was totally unattended, and the only payment option was pre-pay by card. Only it didn’t like our card. Several times, in fact. Even worse, the message telling us it didn’t like our card suggested that the machine was rather insulted by our attempts to use a nasty foreign card. Humph.
Next morning, we drove the 30km up to Vierzon very carefully so as not to waste an ounce of fuel unnecessarily! As luck would have it, we made it ok and were able to pay. The campsite at Vatan was very pleasant with a clean sanitary block, hot water and showers, all for a tad under €10. It also lay adjacent to a small pond, which – although good for the ducks – seemed to be a source of mozzie attacks, and I got bitten a couple of times.
After Vatan, in the morning, we motored through Vierzon where the toll-free autoroute section ends, and then took the RN road up towards Orléans. This road – the D2020 – must be the longest stretch of road without any bends. About 40km of straight-as-a-die road through the forest, gently undulating so you could see it way into the far distance.
We’d decided to head NW from Orléans in our Paris-avoidance ambitions; this took us through Chartres – where, in fairly slow traffic, we caught a few glimpses of the wonderful-looking cathedral that was – like so many others – largely shrouded and heavily scaffolded for restoration work.
After Chartres, we carried-on up the N154 – which was by now beginning to get pretty busy with trucks – up to Dreux, where we turned W toward our next stop – the Camping Municipale at St Rémy sur Avre, yet another really nice municipal campsite.
Here I got chatting with a English chap who was on his way South to his place in the Dordogne. He strongly recommended avoiding Rouen which would otherwise have been directly on our route, as the tunnel under the river Seine was closed and there was absolute chaos on the roads. So we studied the maps & I programmed her on the windscreen to take us along an alternative route to avoid Rouen.
On up through Evreux, then time for the diversion to kick in. It worked for a while & then she got us lost, insisting we head back to a junction she didn’t believe we’d passed through, even though we clearly had. I had to resort to silencing her with the “off” button, and we continued under Joy’s guidance.
At Abbeville, we swung left and parked up for the night at the aire in St Valéry sur Somme; quite literally on the mouth of the river Somme.
This used to be a wide estuary that would flood on high tides. However, land reclamation schemes in the 19th century have resulted in the estuary silting up and now there are only a couple of channels that are tidal; the rest is permanently dry other than during stormy high tides.
The estuary is a mecca for birdlife – especially ducks. This seems to attract many shotgun-wielding Frenchmen intent on turning as many as they can into duck paté.
Bizarrely, St Valéry also has a medieval town! It’s the spot from which William the Conqueror (Guillame le Conquérant) set sail to lead the Norman invasion of England in 1066. For some reason, the town seems to rather big-up old Guillame, and there are several statues, streets, and squares named after him. It’s also the place where Joan of Arc, four centuries later and as a captive of the English, was held imprisoned before being sent to execution in Rouen (presumably the tunnel was open then).
It’s an interesting little town, and has similarities with many of the more twee Cornish resorts. We spent the best part of of Sat 20th exploring the town, and even stopped at a street café for some lunch. We couldn’t help noticing that the people at practically every table around us were tucking in to vats of moules (with frites, of course). Now I have very wide-ranging tastes in food: I’ll eat almost anything, but I draw the line at offal, shellfish (other than shrimps, prawns, and – perhaps – the very occasional crab) and squid/calamares. I just don’t see the attraction of spending 1/2 hour on a mission to get through a vat of mussels in a garlic cream soup and have the texture of fine thick latex, with only the occasional chip for light relief. Maybe I’m missing something?
Later on Saturday, with a thunderstorm chasing us, we headed up the coast road hoping to find an aire in Boulogne where we could stay the last night before catching the ferry.
We came across just such a thing in a small coastal town called Wissant, about 1/2 way between Boulogne and Calais. Unfortunately, it was also full. Apart, that is, from 4 long marked-out areas with the word “Bus” painted in them. Surely there can’t be any buses wanting to use them late on a Sat night? And we’d be leaving early on the Sun morning anyway, so why not?
I took myself off on a walk through the town and had just reached the beach when my phone rang: Joy was a bit worried because a bus had arrived and the driver – very courteously, and in good english – suggested to her that we move pronto before his non-english speaking and very un-courteous colleagues also arrived with their buses for the night. Oh well, walk abandoned, and back on the road.
We ended up on the docks at Calais having driven up the the coast road through the infamous Sangatte – site of the recent immigrant transit camp and stopoff point before blagging a lift on a train carriage axle into Ashford.
There’s a very large car park and aire in Calais, just by the marina, but it doesn’t have a very nice feel about it. So we drove round to the car ferry terminal booking/ticket office where we’d spent our first night in France 3 months earlier. That’s also not a nice place but at least it’s free of charge. No room at the inn: the free car park for campers was full of cars with dubious-looking occupants, and other cars that had clearly been long-since abandoned there.
So we decided to chance our luck back by the marina. Where the payment machines were taped-up with plastic covers. So no chance of paying then. Suits me.
During the night, the wind blew, the van rocked, and it was cold. It must have been a freezing 18 degrees or so. How can I survive such cold? It hadn’t dropped below about 28 degrees for the previous 3 weeks.
At around 08:00, I was just taking a photo of the un-pretty docks when I noticed a uniformed-type person optimistically knocking on the door of a motorhome close by. Clearly the modern-day replacement for a parking machine. Time to make a sharp exit.
The 10:35 ferry got us into Dover at 11:00 (with the time difference) and we were at Morrisons in Folkestone by 11:30, stocking-up with a few essentials for home. It was all too tempting to fill our basket with all the goodies we’d not seen for 3 months: Simple pleasures like proper tea, redbush tea (unheard of in France), pork pie, pitta bread and dips, granary bread, etc. They were also selling quite passable looking fresh croissants. In France, they were always between €0.90 & €1.00. At Morrisons, they were 5 for a quid. Take that, Frenchies!