Places we went 2015
Chesterfield – Nottinghamshire
France & Spain April 2015
- Milly Le Foret – Region: Île-de-France – Department: Essonne
- Campagnac – Region: Midi-Pyrenees – Department: Aveyron
- Cambrils – Community: Cataluña – Province: Tarragona
- Gava – Community: Cataluña – Province: Barcelona
- L’Estartit – Community: Cataluña – Province:
- Carcassonne – Region: Languedoc-Roussillon – Department: Aude
- Rocamadour – Region: Midi-Pyrénées – Department: Lot
- Montignac – Region: Aquitaine – Department: Dordogne
- Lascaux Caves “
- Villandry – Region: Centre – Department: Indre-et-Loire
- La Mailleraye-sur-Seine – Region: Haute-Normandie – Department: Seine-Maritime
Italy May 2015
- St Imoges – Region: Champagne-Ardenne – Department: Marne
- Montreux Chateau – Region: Alsace – Department: Haut-Rhin
- Lake Varese – Gavirate – Region: Lombardy – Province: Varese
- Firenze/Florence – Region: Tuscany – Province: Florence
- Rome – Region: Lazio – Province: Roma
- Pompeii – Region: Campania – Province: Naples
- Mount Vesuvius “
- Lake Trasimeno – Region: Umbria Provice: Perugia
- Pisa – Region: Tuscany – Province: Pisa
- Agliano Terme – Region: Piedmont – Province: Asti
- Lepin-Le-Lac – Region: Rhône-Alpes – Deparment: Savoie
- Chambery “
Oxford – June 2015
Sibbertoft – Leicestershire
- Foxton Locks
- Rockingham Castle
Ilam Park – Peak District
- Welldressing in Bonsall
Glentham – Lincolnshire
Atlantic Coast France – Mediterranean Coast Spain
- Honfleur – Region: Basse-Normandie – Department: Calvados
- Mont St Michel – Region: Basse-Normandie – Department: Manche
- Coulon – Region: Poitou-Charentes – Department: Deux-Sevres
- Ile de Re – Region: Poitou-Charentes – Department: Charente-Maritime
- Albaraccin – Community: Aragon – Province: Teruel
- Alcossebre – Community:Valencia – Province:Castello
- Calig – Community:Valencia – Province:Castello
- Cambrils – Community: Cataluña – Province: Tarragona
- Tarragona – Community: Cataluña – Province: Tarragona
- Barcelona – Community: Cataluña – Province: Barcelona
- Cantal Mountains – Region: Auvergne – Department: Cantal
Tiverton – Devon
- Grand Western Canal
What a difference a day makes! Chesterfield
Though in this case more like a couple of decades, but more of that later…..
Although we live in Somerset we bought our current motorhome from a dealership near Derby. They had what we wanted at the right price and have excellent customer service skills which is enhanced by being a small family business. We have found our local dealers lacking in service at one and a ‘Mrs Bucket (Bouquet)’ attitude at another. The only drawback is the distance, some 171 miles when we have encountered teething problems (which have been many) so we tend to incorporate a small break into the mix. With a couple things needing to be fixed and a good price quoted for the much needed bike rack; one cold day in January we set off northwards to our chosen site for a few days – Poolsbrook Caravan Club Site near Chesterfield.
We have trekked this road many times on our travels and kept saying we must have a look at the new style service station on the M5 Northbound at Gloucester and so today to break up the journey we took that detour.
First impressions often count and we were really pleased to see a designated parking area well signposted for caravans AND motorhomes. At last someone has noticed us – even the Caravan Club membership card this year has a motorhome on it as well as a caravan. This service area is well worth a visit especially if like us you love your food. All the produce is locally farmed, the building itself is like a big barn with wonderful exposed wooden beams and roof truces. As well as the restaurants and toilets there is a well-stocked farm shop but BEWARE as you can really get carried away with the choice on offer.
There is a bread counter, meat counter, cheese counter (with cheeses on offer with wonderful names such as Cornish Yarg and Hereford Hop), fridges full of preserved meats, pies, dairy products, chocolate truffles in every imaginable flavour, ice creams, stuffed olives, fudge, etc. etc. ………… We came away with locally produced smoked salmon, a beef and stilton pie, ham hock blackpudding and pea pie, a sour dough loaf of bread, two cakes, smoky Joe Scotch egg and Moroccan lamb sausages! We certainly ate well that week, the southbound version will be opening in the summer of 2015.
After filling up with more supplies than we needed and a vow to ensure we get our bikes out at Poolsbrook to offset the calories we continued our journey.
The site itself is relatively new with a lovely modern reception and toilet block buildings. The pitches are laid out in a semi-circular type design and are ample. Some are fully serviced at an extra charge. The site is set on a former colliery and the whole area has been extensively landscaped making up the Poolsbrook Country Park.
The park has two big lakes that are home to many ducks, Canadian geese and other wildfowl. There is a nature reserve area via one of the many paths that surround the area. This is also a haven for fishermen with their own car park and many landing stages dotted around the lakes. When we arrived although it was a cold Sunday in January the park was full of families, walking around the lake with dogs, playing in the children’s play areas of which there are two; one for the smaller ones which is fully enclosed and one for teenagers. Unfortunately this re-cycled teenager thought she would have a go on the toboggan type ride and promptly fell off! The fall did not put me off though and I then proceeded to ‘have a go’ on the outside gym. What a wonderful idea, an area set aside with outside apparatus to ‘tone up’ on, fully weatherproof and chunky for the British outside. Wish we had one of these in our local park as I would certainly use it, beats paying for a gym membership and those of us who are less fit can still have a go without feeling inadequate. Strange but I would rather someone laugh at me being a fool in a play park/gym than in a real gym setting. Must be my very warped sense of humour.
There are many marked paths for walking, cycling and horse-riding and one of the paths joins the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT). The TPT is part of the National Cycle Network and runs from Southport to Hornsea (some 215 miles) with a loop that covers Sheffield, Rotherham and Chesterfield; which brings me back to the by-line – The Chesterfield Canal.
I last visited this area in 1992 and walked large sections of the very much run down Chesterfield Canal and was fascinated by the work involved to restore the canal to a navigable position. Some people are fascinated by trains and the age of steam – for me it is canals and the architecture. I am amazed by the vision of the engineers of that era to dig a channel of water from one town to another and the various ways of taking the water up and down hills with locks, tunnels, lifts and inclined planes.
In 1992 only half of the canal was navigable with the focus being firmly on the last 20 miles from Worksop to Chesterfield. This may sound a small distance but it had very big obstacles to overcome least of which being the dredging of the parts still visible to the largest being a section of canal that now has a housing estate on it!
In 2015 I was interested to see exactly how far the restoration had progressed. The TPT has a link from the just outside the caravan site which joins an arm that follows the canal tow path to Chesterfield. We got out our trusted fold up clown bikes (because the wheels are so small) and set off with the dogs running alongside us. The cycle ways are so well signposted with links to other tracks that for the enthusiast will keep you entertained for many days.
Near to the site we found the visible remains of the canal with a deep cut full of weeds, rubbish and little water. The canal then disappeared from view but was soon picked up under the bridge of a large dual carriageway above us. As we rounded the corner we caught a glimpse of the newly built Staveley Basin which was opened in 2012. The basin at Staveley is to be joined to the remains under the dual carriageway via a lock which is still under construction. It was with great delight that I looked into the partly constructed lock with its new brickwork. I have seen many locks over the years, some fully working and some dilapidated on old unused and unnavigable canals but it is the first time that I have seen a partly constructed new lock.
The five mile stretch from Chesterfield was restored from 1990 to 2002 with four locks restored and one completely rebuilt, and then a further ½ mile was restored along with the newly built basin. This section is currently under the ownership of Derbyshire County Council with the section from the former Norwood Tunnel to the River Trent in the ownership of the Canals and Rivers Trust.
It was so nice to cycle along the section to Chesterfield as it was unnavigable when I was last in this area and so much work has been carried out. Part of this section was interrupted by the open cast mining in the area and was then restored once the mining company moved out as part of a big regeneration project. Many agencies have been involved in the work including the very active Chesterfield Canal Trust who have spent weekends cutting back scrub, digging out channels and building and re-building new locks. The Canal Trust has its own coffee shop at Hollingwood Lock but it wasn’t open on the day we visited.
On the outskirts of Chesterfield is Tapton Lock and the visitor centre run by Derbyshire County Council where we had a much needed break and a cuppa. The very knowledgeable staff updated me on the obstacles of the remaining 8 miles of canal and the plans to overcome them and gave me many leaflets showing the cycle and walking routes of the area.
Although the original basin at the terminal point in Chesterfield has disappeared a new waterside development is in progress and a new basin has been built as part of the scheme costing £310m. At this point we had cycled 6 miles on our little bikes and decided to not go any further to see the new development and headed back to the site.
Upon our return with very achy muscles and bottoms we bathed the dogs in our washing up bowl much to their disgust (being two small Jack Russell’s their tummies hoover up all the dirt and wet), and sat down with a nice cup of tea.
On our final day we took Boris in for his repairs, and after picking up the keys for the courtesy car we considered driving back towards The Chesterfield Canal some 45 minutes away to see the restored section from Worksop to Norwood Tunnel; this has a new marina at Shireoaks and 31 fully restored locks over a 7 mile section. However with snow in the air we decided against this and after looking at all the ‘new vans’ on the forecourt took the courtesy car and headed to The Denby Pottery Visitor Centre.
This was approximately a mile away and much bigger a complex than I imagined. The car parking is spacious and well laid out. Here at the centre is a museum and a few shops. We had a good look around the Cookery Emporium and I mentally spent a lot of money on all the many baking gadgets that ‘I must have’. We then walked around the Denby Pottery factory shop before retiring to the restaurant. This is a very busy restaurant and it was easy to see why with home baked cakes and lunch time meals prepared on the premises. We settled for the home made game pie, which was packed full of meat, it came with a choice of vegetables from; roast parsnips, roasted swede, leeks, onions and carrots, peas, mashed potato and chips and to cap it all a self-served helping of gravy – delicious and just for £6.95. Also on the menu that day was shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognas and mushroom soup. This is our kind of food and evidently many others as there was not a spare table to be had and the restaurant was of a very good size. We didn’t have any room left for cake but they looked delicious as well.
With the snow starting to fall we headed back to Geoff Cox to collect Boris and our two little dogs Freddie and Molly who had been fast asleep in their dog cage. It may seem cruel to some but they consider the cage as their kennel and it stops them from wondering about whilst we are driving the van and getting under our feet.
We set off back to a warmer Somerset away from the snow with Boris fully repaired and sporting a new bike rack – just need to get some ‘grown up’ bikes now.
We hope to return to Poolsbrook later in the year so that we can see the progress of the Staveley Town new lock and to look at the dilapidated parts that are still to be restored. It will be very interesting to see the plans come to fruition for the restoration of the 8 mile section that is left. From the conversations I had in the Tapton Lock visitor centre it is hoped that the canal can be rerouted due a housing estate being built on one section through The Rother Valley Park; getting permission from a local farmer to share the access point under the M1 to accommodate the canal; using part of the Norwood Tunnel as it is and the remaining section where the tunnel is beyond repair building a new large staircase of locks to take the canal over the hill. All this is possible but with the many agencies involved, along with the private landowners and the now proposed line for the Eastern Arm of the HS2 rail link it may be another 20 years before I can finally get to see the ‘gap closed’ and this is all before the fundraising can start.
Spain & France
Sunday 15th March – AIRE at Milly Le Foret
Having awoken at 5.15am yes 5.15 in the morning!!!!!! Penny up that early – never heard of.
We packed the remaining things for Boris ready to set off. We pulled the van forward and started the laborious process of putting the bikes on the rack. Everything went swimmingly until we needed to put the red tie and do you think that either of us could remember how we did it last time? No – we spent 45 minutes just trying to get the bikes tied together and I spent another 10 on the step ladder trying to get the cover on. Never mind we set off at 7.20am to Dover. The journey was unremarkable only the road seemed to have stretched and Marc slept until we reached Cobham.
We reached Dover and just about crammed a sandwich in our mouths when it was time to load. Again the ferry journey seemed forever and we appeared to be the only Brits on board.
We set off from Calais and after a debate along the A16 towards Rouen we decided to go via Paris! I can never understand why when planning any journey in France the map planners online always go via Paris; especially as there isn’t a motorway link up network like the M25 in London, but looking at the map it appeared the most direct route and we have done it before. It was an adventure, the traffic wasn’t too bad but the constant road and lane changes were taxing to say the least. After at least an hour we had made our way through most of it and had managed to see the Eifel tower and fill up with fuel. In one of the many under passes/tunnels through the city was a layby that you could pull into and fill up with fuel – another adventure; how often can you say that you filled up with fuel in the middle of Paris in a tunnel?
Our journey for today ended in Milly la Floret some 35 miles from Paris in a lovely AIRE just off a roundabout next to The Conservatoire National des Plants.
Monday 16th March 2015 – AIRE at Campagnac
Having a fairly good night’s sleep for me I awoke at just after 6 feeling really refreshed and ready to go. It was a very crisp morning and we set off at 8.20 southwards. We couldn’t decide how far we were going to travel just that we would set the satnav for Cambrils and keep driving. I nodded off to sleep in the passenger seat not long into the journey – so much for the fresh start. After lunch and 200 miles it was my turn to drive the 147 miles to the only doable AIRE off the A75. Most of them had no water or were too far off the beaten track and there were so few to choose from in the first place. We arrived feeling exhausted at approximately 4.30 only to find that the water was ‘out of service’ so much for my much needed shower! We set up and then took the dogs for a little walk around the village. It was surreal a real ghost town with so many boarded up shops, and houses and numerous dogs just wandering around on their own. We found the little church and took a peek inside. It was beautiful with some amazing glass windows. We had a good look around the AIRE to see if there was any water anywhere but none to be found, a British couple had pulled up on the AIRE when we were out and they weren’t very happy at the lack of water either and both Marc and him complained about the fact that we were supposed to pay €3.00 for the night and they hoped that no one would call for the money cos it would be “a bloody cheek” if they did.
Tuesday 17th March 2015 – Camping Joan Cambrils
Again I had a really good sleep but didn’t really want to wake up as it was cold. We set off quite quickly and were on the road by 8.00. No one did call for the money for the AIRE thank goodness and we were soon travelling south. We decided to call at the motorway AIRE (service station) for fuel and it was also advertised in the AIREs book to have a service point. Well the fuel part was easy but there was no service point! Once we got to Millau we couldn’t resist getting off at the service area and taking the walk up the hill to look at the bridge. How can you travel over such a marvel of engineering without taking time out to look at it in all its glory? It was only just after 9 in the morning when we arrived and the town of Millau itself couldn’t be seen for cloud but the sun was shining on the bridge – it was amazing but only 1°C.
We thought about stopping at an ACSI site at Narbonne only an hour’s drive further on but once we got nearer the weather was very grey and we decided to just ‘get on with it’ and headed to Cambrils even though we knew it would be hard slog of a day. Having refreshed for lunch I took over the driving until we almost reached Barcelona then it was Marc’s turn again. The road seemed endless and we were both very tired when we reached Cambrils and then the satnav had a ‘funny’ and decided to take us almost off road down a track under a bridge, then down some very small roads around the holiday villas whilst it was trying to locate the campsite. We had had enough and turned the bloody thing off deciding to head back to the main road and find the campsite signs.
Having arrived and booked in we then had the very important and difficult task of finding ‘the right pitch’. It took us a while to make a decision – I think we were both just so tired that we couldn’t really think straight and having dismissed the grass section (one side too small for the length of Boris and the other crowded) we set about the task of which of the dirt pitches was big enough for Boris and had the least amount of overhand from the trees. Having made a decision Marc went and got the van, it took a while to get on the pitch – the angle wasn’t good and the overhanging branches just plain bad. Fortunately we had the help of a Dutchman a few vans down and with me as well we managed to get Boris on the pitch, fairly straight and without damage. How the hell we are going to get him back off again is another matter but one we don’t need to think about for a few days.
After emptying the loo, putting in fresh water, setting up the mat and electric hook up we both went for that much needed shower – shame the water was cold!
Whilst tea was cooking we took the dogs on the beach for a run around which they both really enjoyed. Even Molly got in the water and splashed about a bit. As I type this after dinner they are both asleep on the chairs, a little sandy but happy dogs.
Wednesday 18th March 2015
I woke during the night to the sound of RAIN – not happy. When it was time to get up it was cloudy, very windy and cold. We decided to just have a day of doing nothing much. I wasn’t feeling too well as I had an upset tummy last night and it wasn’t much better today. In the afternoon the wind dropped a little and sun tried to come out so we got out the bikes and cycled part way to Cambrils town with the dogs running alongside us. We didn’t go far as I didn’t feel too good.
Thursday 19th March 2015
We awoke to sunshine – hoorah!!!!! What a glorious day. Marc took the dogs on the beach early and when he got back after breakfast we cycled into Cambrils on our own. We parked the bikes at the train station and walked into old Cambrils to find the farmers market and central market. The central market was full of meat, fish and veg the farmers market olive oil and fruit and veg. We bought what we considered a lot of salami meats and it only came to €7.52 and then in the farmers market we bought some fruit and veg. On the way back to the train station we called in the bakery for bread and cakes. Opposite the train station is Ramon’s (an old haunt of Marc’s family when they used to come over often) so we sat outside and had a wonderful coffee. It looked like tar but tasted delightful, full of flavour with no bitterness. He then ordered TAPAS and I had beans with a sausage and Marc had beans with squid. It was delicious, the beans were full of flavour and I must find a recipe for them.
When we got back to camp we sat outside and had tea and cakes – yum. The afternoon was spent just lazy outside in the wonderful sunshine.
Friday 20th March 2015
We intended to leave Camping Joan and head further south towards Peniscola and had a campsite lined up. However after about 20 miles or so the clouds descended and we decided not to go any further and headed northwards towards Barcelona. It was lovely and sunny around Tarragona but there were no campsites that accepted dogs that were open so we went to one further north and it looked a tip. Should have realised it was going to be rubbish as we had just passed through a town called Cunnit and Cuballes and they both looked dire as well!
We traversed the very precarious coast road to Gave just outside Barcelona and headed for a site there called Estrella. It’s OK the site is very dated but we have a pitch right on the beach. Shame it is so windy and very cold – just like Burnham on Sea really. We have decided to stop here for the night and then make a decision. We spent the evening watching the planes land for Barcelona and even had a laugh at a British couple who were having a BBQ! Do we stay another and go into Barcelona tomorrow or head towards France in search of that very elusive ‘current bun’?
Saturday 21st March 2015
Having spent most of the night awake due to the storms that raged all night I had time to think and decided that I didn’t want to go to Barcelona if it was still wet and that maybe we would travel to Camping Aquarius at Sant Pere Pescador and have a good look at the internet and make some decisions.
Once we set off I noticed another nice looking site in the ACSI book called Camping Les Medes in L’Estartit and so we decided to head there for a change of scenery. We pulled up on the site in the extremely cold weather and decided to pitch near to a hedge at the far end to protect us from the wind as I can get frightened by the wind rocking the van. We got talking to a nice British couple Peter and Nia who had said that the weather wasn’t due to change for some time yet and they weren’t particularly happy about it either.
That night wasn’t very nice either as it rained all night and was very heavy and windy but at least they have a good Wi-Fi and I was able to take to the children which perked me up a bit.
The site is set in little streets from Begonia (which we are on) to Geranium with approx. 10 pitches on each street set under olive trees. The toilet blocks are amazing and just what you would expect from a top quality spa with a lovely glass roof letting in lots of sun over the central washing sinks. It is fully tiled and beautifully finished. The water in the showers was scolding hot – just how I like it and very powerful.
Sunday 22nd March 2015
It was quite surreal when we woke up at the site was flooded!
Once we were awake and dressed etc. we decided to get out for a bit and walked out of the site towards the local village of L’Greil and the beach. It was extremely windy and cold but the dogs loved being off the lead running around on the beach.
When we started to walk back we met Peter and Nia coming the other way and got talking to them, they were really interested in our travels and us theirs. Earlier that morning Marc had got talking to the ‘Bailey’ couple (Chris and Jenny) behind us and they said they knew Peter and Nia from their blog. I mentioned this to Peter and he gave me his business card so that we could look up his blog and see where they had been. We mentioned that we would be going back soon and via Rocamadour and a few other places and it was nice to hear Nia say that I had chosen well and would really enjoy the sites. I mentioned that I still needed to find somewhere near Rouen so that we could get the dogs sorted and she suggested La Mailleraye Sur Seine which is right on the seine and as I had already mentioned I liked watching the barges on the Rhine this would be perfect. They also have a small vets there which are really good and inexpensive. It was at this point that they invited us to their van that night for a drink and a chat about places we had been etc.
When we got back to the site we looked at the blog and really enjoyed the things they had written and the photos.
That evening when we went round it was us, Peter and Nia, the Bailey couple, and some other friends of Peter and Nia’s who had turned up later that day; who ironically were the couple who were just behind on the site at Barcelona cooking a BBQ in the howling wind called Tony and Rose. It was a wonderful evening with great nibbles; olives, bruschetta, samosas, onion bargees, crisps and pretzels and we were made so welcome. I sampled the Crème du Cataluña which was delicious and we all had a really good laugh. Nia loved my crochet granny square cardigan and Peter suggested I did a blog (which is something Larissa has been saying for a while). He seemed really interested in what I had to say and the places we had been and wrote down many places and sites of interest. We didn’t leave until nearly one in the morning!!!! But it was an amazing night for all of us and we were invited to a bike ride on Tuesday (if we are still here) to another town and a restaurant that serves lovely food and it will be all of us going.
Monday 23rd March 2015
After a really lazy start to the day (I didn’t get up until 10.45) we took the dogs for a small walk and then got out our bikes to cycle to L’Estartit. It was lovely, the sun was shining although it wasn’t very hot it was nice to be out in the fresh air in our shorts. The town of L’Estartit is really nice and has a lovely port with many yachts it in.
We looked out for O’Malley’s a place that Pete and Nia had mentioned but it looked closed, and so we looked for somewhere else to eat. We stopped at a place called N’gruna and parked our bikes opposite in a bike rack. Our Spanish is non-existent apart from hello and thank you but the waitress was lovely and showed us the set menu for 3 courses (although at the beginning we thought it was only 2 courses) for €12.00. We had a choice of vegetable soup or a salad for starters, fish or beef for main and so we both chose salad and fish. Marc had a coffee and I had a glass of white wine.
We were amazed when it arrived. The salad was of leaves of many different salads, with sliced fresh strawberries, tomatoes and a warm goat’s cheese on top sprinkled with walnuts, hazelnuts and drizzled with a balsamic sauce. It was divine!
The main came out and it was ratatouille with a slap of white fish on top drizzled with a parsley and olive oil sauce and two sprigs of asparagus. Again the flavours were amazing and fish just melted in your mouth.
After this we needed to choose a desert and it wasn’t until we became undecided that she offered us coffee instead and we realized that a desert was part of the menu. She then offered us cheese with honey and nuts and even though we didn’t know what it was we said yes. Brilliant decision as it was divine, a slap of soft cheese, drizzled with honey and nuts. The honey was beautifully sweet and the softness of the cream cheese and crunch of the nuts was sublime. Marc had a second coffee and the whole wonderful experience only came to €25.40!
We cycled back along the promenade and seen Pete, Nia, Tony and Rose sat outside a café called Kim’s and we all waved like we had known each other for years.
When we got back the Bailey couple were outside their van and we got chatting to them. It would appear that they had been on a long cycle to Torrella and said the supermarket there was great. They had also been to the aqua fit that morning in the pool which they enjoyed.
We sat outside the van in the sunshine whilst it lasted – it was a bit hit and miss as the sun kept hiding behind the clouds but we had an hour or so of rays. Marc and I then went for a swim and were impressed with the changing rooms complete with showers. The pool is small and although there was another couple in the pool when we arrived they soon went leave it all to us. We did approximately 20 lengths of the pool and got out feeling refreshed though tired.
Tuesday 24th March 2015
It rained all night and was still raining when we got up. I was a bit miffed as I had washed through the mats, towels that we use just inside the door the day before that Molly had wet on and they were drying nicely. I got them in to discover that they weren’t so wet after all and after a bit of cajoling I persuaded to Marc to part with €5.50 to pay for them to go through the tumble dryer in the laundry room. Marc had already seen Peter and said that we would still go to the restaurant with them and that we would leave tomorrow instead.
At 12 noon with a layer of clothes that made me look like a Michelin man we set off in the rain to the restaurant with Peter, Nia, Rosie and Tony. They said it wasn’t far! For them maybe not but for me and Marc it seemed forever and when we arrived I was extremely hot and sweaty but also wet from the constant rain.
We were made very welcome at ‘L’Horta de Can Patxei’ and they moved table around so that the six of us could sit together. On the menu that day starters included a stuffed aubergine, a goats cheese salad and stir fried vegetables in some sort of spaghetti come noodles. The mains included, pork with a chocolate sauce (yes chocolate – no guesses for what I had), fish on ratatouille, char grilled chicken. Deserts of crème caramel type desert which I missed out on choosing a fresh fruit salad, coffee flavoured ice-cream and a sponge cake pudding. This was all washed down with a bottle of wine between two people included in the price of €12.00.
We had a really nice time, eating, chatting, swopping more motorhome stories and taking notes.
At 3.30pm we decided it was time to head back – it seem even more arduous than the journey out and I really struggled to get back. My back was aching big time and I was struggling with the gears on the bike. Rosie suggested that I higher the handlebars and that this maybe why my back is hurting so much. Something else for me to do once I get round to it!
When we got back Rosie and Tony came into the van for a cuppa and a look around and it was amazing to see how alike we are. Marc and Tony were busy chatting trucks as Tony is an ex HGV driver himself.
As this was our last day the group suggested meeting in the bar that evening to ‘say goodbye’. This was another wonderful evening with a glass of wine and more ideas coming forward. Chris and Jennifer joined us as well .
We watched the weather on Spanish TV to discover that there were floods in Castellan and snow in Tenerife!
Wednesday 25th March 2015
We were up early and it rained all last night again! We said our sad goodbyes with lots of hugs, promises to e-mail and me to set up my blog for them to follow and headed North into France and our first stop at Carcassonne. We pulled up onto the AIRE which is a massive coach park divided into an area for buses and coaches and an area for motorhomes. I got really excited as I could see the turrets of the town from the AIRE. What a magical place, I thought for some stupid reason that Carcassonne was just a town that had a few wonderful pieces of architecture not a whole medieval walled town that was still in one piece which is exactly what it is.
I was in heaven, it has twin walled ramparts, and all the little streets, shops, houses etc. that were once a medieval city – how amazing is that. The site itself is free and dogs are allowed in the city but not the chateaux or basilica. I got really emotional in the church and lit a candle, the windows were beautiful. We couldn’t get into the chateaux – it looked like some work was being done. It was a cold day but dry. Some of the shops were touristy and others really expensive, there were many cafes and restaurants but I doubt they would welcome us with dogs, they did have many lampposts with poo bags though and Marc filled up his stash!
Thursday 26th March 2015
The AIRE at Carcassonne had a small service area that had seen better days, but we were able to dispose of our waste, and decided not to fill up with water as it was the only tap and cross contamination sprung to mind. It was €6.00 to stay the night and the machine only accepted credit cards, however about 12 vans stayed the night.
We set off on our next stop at Rocamadour. At one point we couldn’t turn down a road that the satnav wanted us to as it was closed for repair but ‘James’ (the satnav voice) soon recalculated and we were one our way. As we neared Rocamadour we turned the corner and straight ahead we could see the village clinging to the cliff.
We set off to explore and found that in order to enter the chateaux at the top of the hill near the AIRE we needed some coins to get through a turnstile and therefore decided to just head down the cliff face along a wonderful meandering path that made the whole descent so easy. On each corner of the trail were fresco’s dedicated to Jesus and his final days and part way down was a hollowed out section of the cliff in which the nativity scene was set in statues, they whole trail was very thought provoking.
On the way down there were several vantage points at which to take photographs and half way down the Basilica of Rocamadour. This was an awe inspiring place, there was an underground chapel of meditation that was small and beautiful. A chapel for John the Baptist with beautiful windows. The main church was stunning with it large stained glass windows and alter, but for me the most wonderful was the small Notre Dame chapel off the main church; I cried it was so beautiful with windows, pictures and statues of Christ that were a sight to see. I can understand the pilgrims need to visit such places it was magical and I really could feel something stir within my soul at the wonder of it all; perhaps this is the spirit of god that many often say they feel.
We carried on our descent which revealed many shops, cafes, restaurants and houses set into the cliff face. We turned in one direction and moved out of the village and directly above us on the cliff was a vulture – yes a real live vulture just sat on the cliff – it was the icing on the cake. We turned back and carried on through the village to the bottom where we could let the dogs off the lead and they both decided to go for a swim the in stream.
It was then the big climb back us but actually because of the way the path was set out winding back and forth is was a relatively easy climb back.
We then settled down for our stew: This was a purchase we made in Spain and the GP supermarket (GP Supermercats, Giona Puig, CRT Torroella-L’Estartitt) and wonderful place for foodies like us. The pack consisted of various types of bone (for flavour), a chicken breast with skin on and kidneys attached, a hunk of lamb, beef and pork, a piece of belly pork and some mince with carrot, leek and celery. It was delicious and too much for one meal so I spread it out over two nights.
The AIRE again was a big coach park off to one side of the main car park and whilst it had no facilities it was really pleasant and 5 motorhomes stopped over.
Friday 27th March 2015
We awoke to sunshine and set off towards Montignac. This town has two AIRES and we pulled in at the one outside of town as it had all the services that the other hadn’t. We had intended to stay here but Marc said that he was concerned about where it was and whether we would be broken into. So we emptied out the chemical waste (a not very nice job as the toilet disposal had a grate over it) and filled up with some fresh water and set off to the other AIRE in the town centre. This AIRE is perfect with marked out bays and free electric. The AIRE has recently put in the services of a drive over drain, fresh water and toilet dump point and it looks as if it is going to be free, at the moment it is still fenced off and looks as if the concrete has only just been laid. The only cost is if you stay the night at €5.00 a bargain. We pitched up and set off into town to find the bakery and tourist information office to enquire about the Lascaux caves. We passed several bakeries and the TO advised us that the caves would be open at 2pm and are some 2-3 km away and gave me the directions. We called into the bakery on the way back and Marc bought us some lovely quiche and four delicious cakes/pastries. Once we had refuelled ourselves we left the AIRE in search of Lascaux. It was easy to find and there was a separate section on the roadside for coaches and motorhomes to park in.
The English speaking tour was some 40 minutes after we arrived so we took the dogs for a little walk.
The cave itself was a bit of a let-down for me. The guide spoke in English but with his thick French accent I found it difficult to understand. The first chamber was just some pictures in frames and I was thinking that if this it then I would not be pleased. This opened out into a reconstruction of the original cave and was remarkable with the many cave paintings of bulls, horses and stags. The second chamber was also breath-taking with many pictures of horses and I was just getting into the whole experience when the guide said that was it! It seemed that we had only been in there 10 minutes but we had in fact been in the full 40 minutes. I am so glad that Marc bought me the guide book especially as there were some French in our party who asked lots of questions in French and the guide replied in French and didn’t bother to tell us in English what it was all about even though we had paid for an English tour.
We got back to the AIRE and chose a different pitch just for one van – perfect for us and set up for the night, cleaning the van, tidying and putting the dinner on. Even though I had cooked we decided to put the stew back in the fridge and heat it up tomorrow and we went into town and had a meal in a restaurant – three courses for €12.50. We arrived at 6.35 and they didn’t open until 7.00 but the really nice owners let us in and got us a drink so we could wait, even though they were having their dinner their selves. It was a really nice meal of a tabbouleh salad, pork marinated and sliced thinly and cooked with French beans but a real disappointment of a desert of a slice of dry lemon cake and strawberry coulis. The wine was good a white that we decided to have two bottles of!
Saturday 28th March 2015
We drove on northwards toward Villandry a big drive of 5 hours, it was originally nearer 6 but I decided to take an A road instead of the motorway as it cut across country and looked a good road, reducing the time and toll fee and it worked. When we passed the town of Chateauroux Boris clocked 20,000 on the clock in just two years! We have certainly made him work hard. The AIRE at Villandry was a big car park next to a sports field with the bakery opposite and the Chateaux 100 yards down the road – perfect. We ate our stew and had a little walk around. The patisserie was still open so we treated ourselves to a strawberry tart each and it was delicious. The tourist information was open and the lady their looked up the details of the nearest vet which was 2km away and phoned them to make an appointment for the dogs on Monday morning at 10.00 and gave me the phone number and the address.
Sunday 29th March 2015
We awoke relatively early and Marc wanted eggs and bacon for his breakfast. I didn’t fancy that so he went and got me some croissants. We then went to the Chateaux Villandry. It was wonderful, the rooms so beautifully decorated, such decadent colours, furniture and lovely big windows and drapes. The 2nd floor lead to a terrace around the gardens so that you could look down and see the beautifully arranged box hedges into different shapes. It was a shame it was March as there was very little in flower or many vegetable’s growing but the views all around were great and you got a real perspective of the whole chateaux.
I would love to come back another day and see it in the summer time when the flowers are in full bloom.
We then decided to get the bikes out and go for a ride to look for the vets in the next village. Unfortunately I didn’t take the full address with me and we therefore failed to find it which set Marc in panic. When we got back it started to rain and we got rather wet putting the bikes back on the rack.
We then decided to have a go at filling up with water but we didn’t have the right fittings and so the water just spurted out all over the place and we did relay of filling up the containers and emptying them in the van. I took the connection out of the AIRE services tap thing so that the water would stop going everywhere and when I went to put it back in it wouldn’t work. Marc came along and gave it a thump and I got drenched, needless to say I was not amused.
Back in the van I stripped off my very wet clothes and had a lovely hot shower and a cake (well Marc had to pay for it somehow).
Monday 30th March 2015
We drove the vets after working out the correct address and just let the satnav take us there which it did and fortunately we could park outside. It was just a little shack of a place and when we walked in the vet was in the throes of operating on a cat. It was quite surreal just sitting in the waiting room whilst he was finishing his stitching.
The dogs had an injection this time which Freddie didn’t like and he really yelped which set Marc off, I thought he was going to faint especially as he special girl was next; but Molly didn’t butt an eyelid. Although we have very little French and the vet had no English we got the job done and the passports stamped all for €52.00 which wasn’t a bad price considering they had an injection instead of the usual tablets.
After all this excitement we drove on to an AIRE recommended by Peter and Nia at La Mailleraye sur Seine. This is a really nice AIRE next to the Seine and we spent the afternoon watching the barges and really BIG ships going up and down. This would be even better if the sun was shining but that obviously isn’t going to happen. We have been here three weeks and we have had only 3 days of sunshine the rest has been rain, rain and more rain, perhaps we should convert Boris into an Ark!
It is soon time to go home and we receive the typical British welcome back of 2 hours queuing on the M25/M4.
Next stop Italy ……..watch this space! I hope to bring it to you live (well almost) if I can get my tethering of my mobile right so that I can upload as we go.
BIG ITALY TOUR
We left Britain on Sunday, travelling through France, into Switzerland and now in Italy. It has been really hot 30°C and we have been really enjoying it.
We stopped at an AIRE in St Imoges just south of Reims which was really pleasantly laid out with three separate bays and one long one next to a forest.
We also stopped on the French/German/Swiss border at an AIRE at Montreaux Chateaux which is next to a canal with a lovely cycle path.
The scenery through Switzerland was fantastic, snow-capped mountains, forests, lakes and fresh air. The journey passed really quickly because we just drunk in the scenery. We passed through the Gotthard tunnel some 17km in length. It was a while before we entered Italy and only once we got off the motorway heading towards Gavirate our stop for the night on Lake Varese.
The motorway between Bologna and Firenze was stunning, mind blowing and awful at the same time with many deep tunnels through the mountains, long climbs up and down and many viaducts across the mountains with sheer drops either side. The road itself was full of potholes and if you think England is bad this you need to venture here. They are in the process of building another section of motorway alongside this which will take out some of the frightening bends that we had to encounter. I was driving and Marc found the whole experience really unsettling especially because the Italian drivers are all nuts, driving far too fast and sweeping in and out of lanes just to get in front. Once we arrived at Firenze we then had to climb up to our campsite for the next couple of days and this was also very alarming with steep climbs, sharp corners and single track road and Boris. Fortunately we didn’t meet anything coming the other way. The site is a little dated in places but the people are really friendly and we have a section of the site all to ourselves on one of the terraces overlooking the valley. There is a lovely breeze up here which is really welcome after the excessive heat of the last two days. We even took a dip in the very cold pool to cool down and just spent the afternoon in the sun resting after our last three days of travelling. Tonight we are going to try out the restaurant and tomorrow we are off to Firenze (Florence).
We had a lovely meal in the restaurant of the campsite near Florence, all homemade by ‘dad’ who slaved away in the kitchen and prepared food not only for the family but also the campers. We had a first course of a delicious ravioli, then tagliatelle in a carrot/butternut squash sauce, followed by fish, in a tomato sauce with chickpeas and a coffee for €16.50 each.
Next day we went to Florence, the campsite provides transport to the local train station at 9.30 in the morning. The train to Florence arrived almost straight away and goes every 20mins or so. We offloaded outside the back entrance of the Santa Maria Novella Church. Once round the front on the much prettier fasade we waited for our walking guide. In the Piazza de Santa Maria Novella were many white vans and it transpired that they were filming the Dan Brown novel Inferno which was ironic as it was the novel that gave me the idea to visit Florence.
The turtles in the picture above were put into the monument as the Piazza de Santa Maria Novella used to be a ring that was used for racing chariots. Once it became a quiet and gentile plaza the then ruler decided to put in the slowest animal he could think of as a joke!
Florence is an extremely busy and manic city, full of tourists and those who prey on tourism trying to make a fast buck. The architecture is stunning but we needed more than the one day that we put aside to visit everything we would want to see. As I “don’t do crowds well” we will come back another day and explore further. If you go DO NOT go for the local dish of Lampredotto; it is cows intestine, boiled with vegetables. We thought it would be like a haggis but is was exactly what it said on the tin and was horrid. Marc and I will eat almost anything so it had to be bad.
After our lunch we had another walking tour taking in some more of Florence.
Another day I will return and actually go inside some of the buildings I have seen!
Next day we headed off to a campsite near Rome, it was really close to Rome and whilst the site was a bit of a nightmare with really small pitches and for some reason they have partly submerge fence posts which you can easily drive into the information desk was brilliant. The young lady there could speak goodness knows how many languages and complete with maps advised us of the best way to get into the city and back out. We bought an all day ticket costing €7.00 that could be used on the train, tram, metro and bus.
We eventually found our way to the train station; the map supplied by the site is not very good and for some reason there are no signs to the train station until you are almost on top of it. The train itself was like a tube train a very old design!
We waited outside the Spanish Embassy to pick up our guide for a free walking tour.
We walked from the meeting point opposite the Spanish Embassy to the Spanish Steps. Then onwards to the Column of Marcus Aurelius which was wonderful – it looked just how I envisaged the Tower of Babel to look. From there we went to the Pantheon which is amazing, so beautiful inside and free to go in. Then the Piazza Navona which was full of beautiful baroque architecture and fountains; on to Castel Sant Angelo and Saint Peters and Vatican Square. Once we got to The Vatican it was hell (ironic really being the base of The Catholic Church) but the crowds were horrendous. The queue for the Basilica was about a mile long curving around the square (which is oval!).
We then walked the mile to the Vatican Museum entrance again with queues everywhere and ticket touts. Eventually we found our way in and were so glad that we had pre-booked the tickets online as we just walked in.
The museum was immense with lots of statues which I could take or leave and the most stunning frescos and art work on the walls and ceilings. Here are just some of the many photos we took.
Eventually after walking through many rooms with all the walls and ceilings covered by many pieces of art we got to the Sistine Chapel; I must admit by this point I had had enough, it was very hot, and there were far too many people that I really don’t think it was safe. I started to feel sick and then to add to the misery we were ushered into the chapel and pretty much straight out so we couldn’t really take it in. Marc did managed to get a couple of photos even though apparently no photos were allowed – well if they didn’t rush us we could have read the sign that said no photos. Seems strange though that you could photograph all the other 300+ rooms but not The Sistine Chapel!
By the time we got outside – via many more rooms with a lot of modern art (which I really don’t understand the attraction of) and corridors I was really feeling ill.
The walk to the bus station seemed forever and the bus ride itself nearly finished me off, they drive like it is a race track and with the potholes it was like a frantic rollercoaster. I felt extremely sick. By the time we got back to the van all I wanted to do was go to bed which I did for an hour.
In conclusion both Florence and Rome are beautiful cities with many amazing buildings; I certainly have a better idea of the things I would like to single out for a future visit.
After Rome we traveled further south to Pompeii. The site here Camping Zeus is one of two sites both of which have bad reviews in the ACSI book but are right next to the Pompeii archaeological site so therefore the owners don’t really both much with the facilities as people still flock here due to its location. There are no water pipes; fresh water you need to get from the taps in the shower block. The shower block is so dated that it is no surprise that the cleaning ladies can’t get it clean (needless to say we showered in the van).
I think the receptionists here must go on the same course that the doctors receptionists go on in England for customer service!!!!!!!!!
The front of the site is laid out for car parking ………yes you read that correctly…..car parking. Well why have campers when you can make more money from day trippers wanting to park their cars. The back of the site is for us campers but the pitches are so small you can touch the van next door and the way the pitches have been set out you are lucky if you don’t hit your van trying to get in and out of the small spaces.
Never mind the site did the job we wanted, somewhere to stay for a VERY short time so that we could visit the archaeological site and Vesuvius.
Pompeii site is just outside the campsite some 50 meters away. It is massive so much so that you really need a
decent guide book because the free maps like most things we have experienced in Italy so far are a little vague/wanting for detail. We wondered around quite aimlessly with our map for 2 hours and the main attraction the amphitheater wasn’t open due to some maintenance work!
After a restless night due to the heat and the noise we awoke ready to take our trip up Vesuvius. We walked to the train station just outside the campsite and got our tickets. The big green bus took us on an eventful journey through Pompeii; the roads are just awful, full of potholes, bumps and humps and with the Italian jest for driving like lunatics it was very bumpy and scary. Pompeii itself is like a big rubbish tip, litter everywhere, bags of rubbish lined up all over the place, many derelict buildings and half completed ones. It is how I imagine a ghetto looks. The bus started to climb and entered a compound where the bigger trucks were to take up the mountain. The bus itself was also unbelievable as none of the dials on the dashboard worked, no speedo or anything and the driving seat was just a deckchair seat strapped to the floor!
The bigger bus on the way up was an old Fiat and the ride up from this point on was worse! The driver again drove at a stupid speed and it was very bumpy and uncomfortable, you certainly wouldn’t want to do this on a full stomach. At the top we got off and were informed that we had an hour to walk to the crater and back down again. We set off. It was remarkable easy to climb up to the crater with only a couple of steeper parts. The views all-around of the bay of Naples was amazing. Once at the top we could look right into the crater with its steady reassuring whiff of sulphur indicating its alive. The guide who talked to us about the volcano was really good, explaining the big eruption that covered Pompeii, that the wind blows over the mountain therefore as it is such an effusive volcano the ash and pyroclastic flows head towards Sorrento. The last big eruption was in 1944 and one is due any time!
We walked so far around and then headed back at the point the guide had suggested. The ride back down was even worse! We got into a big Mercedes bus that had big wheels and suspension and the driver drove like a complete idiot! We were being thrown around all over the place it was like being on a bouncy castle, with wheels going down a helter skelter.
After the extreme busyness of Florence, Rome and Pompeii we sat down and reflected upon our planned travels to drive all the way down to the toe of Italy. The driving down was relatively ok and we had planned to spend 4 days on the tip of the toe but then we would need to spend a week of drive 6-7 hours, stopover, drive 6-7 hours, stopover etc which is frankly gruelling. So we decided we would start to head back towards France; we were not sure how quickly it would all depend on how welcome we felt here in Italy as up until now the sites have been rather basic, the facilities not especially clean and the welcome rather poor. Maybe it is because some of the sites we have stayed at havent really needed to try very much due to their vicinity to the major attractions. Marc got talking to an English couple in Pompeii and they suggested Lake Trasimeno.
We looked in the ACSI book and picked out Campsite Kursall in Passignano sul Trasimeno and what a find this is!
The site is in the gardens of a lovely Miss Marple type hotel, the pitches are small and some are lakeside with amazing views. We have pitched near the front (not lakeside – all taken) but we have a view across the lake and we are opposite the very nice and welcoming swimming pool in this extreme heat (30ºC).
When we pulled up outside the Hotel entrance the receptionist came out to introduce herself before we got out of the van and to welcome us – what a difference. We intend to stay here for 3-4 days just relaxing in the sun!
Today we walked into the nearby town/village of Passignano sul Trasimeno and enjoyed the lovely higgly/piggly nature of the buildings and architecture clinging to the hill. We also had a very nice cake, then sat in the park on the promenade and had a impromptu picnic of salami, bread and strawberries we had just purchased in the local shops. Delicious.
We then took the boat across the lake to Isola Maggiore one of the many islands on the lake. It was beautiful, a wonderful hot day, lovely scenery and fresh air – just what the doctor ordered.
We walked along the street, into a beautiful church and then the restaurant gardens for a glass of wine.
We then took a walk around the island and were able to let the dogs off the lead as there is only one street and the rest of the island is just woodland.
Then it was all aboard ready to head back to the mainland! A very enjoyable day out.
We moved on as the rain was coming in and we called at a site at Vada that at was recommended by a lady at the Lake Trasimeno and we do not like it. It is pouring with rain but even so it is very packed in, small horrid uninspiring pitches but I suppose it would take a lot to beat Miss Marples hotel. To add to that what we thought would be the ‘saving grace’ a woodland behind the site that leads directly to the beach was a little …….. well I will let you decide except to say that those of us who hail from Burnham on Sea will see the resemblance!
After our disastrous stop at Vada we decided to head 1 hour up the coast to a camperstop in Pisa. This is an area that motorhomes can park overnight for a fee in a barricaded off section of a car park. Pisa is a nightmare to drive in, full of one way streets some of which are very narrow. As we drove down one we couldn’t get through because a police car double parked! Needless to say the locals started tooting their horns (typical) but soon shut up once they seen the police officer come out of the nearby shop and get in his car!!
Eventually we found our stop after the satnav didn’t recognize some of the one way system and Marc and I had a domestic over directions – you know typical husband/wife nonsense.
We didn’t have a map which didn’t bode well but eventually we found the very busy famous leaning tower and it started to rain – that big heavy thunder stuff and we were only in short sleeves!
I didn’t realise that there were other buildings in the square of importance, not sure what they are called but we could go into the Basilica for free once we had collected a ticket from the office, to climb the leaning tower was a whopping €18.00 each.
We waited our turn to go into the Basilica and the very nice lady on the door informed us that the dogs couldn’t go in which we readily accepted but as it was raining so hard, Marc could stand in the foyer with the dogs whilst I looked around and vice versa. Perfect…….. except the nice lady’s shift finished at 2 and the replacement was a very pugnacious jobsworth who evicted me and dogs into the pouring rain even though the lady told him she gave me permission. A big argument ensued in rapid Italian but the result was that I was out in the rain! Well I do not need to tell you Marc’s reaction when he got outside and realised what had happened. Lets just say the Italian bloke looked rather sheepish after Marc finished with him!
The basilica as you can see from the photos was typical Italian – really beautiful pity some of the people weren’t a bit more like it.
We were throughly soaked and started to make our way back to the camperstop but without a map it took us 1½ hours, a stop at a police station for directions and constant dodging of the touts selling umbrella’s. I was soaked through I think it was a bit late for a brolly!!!!!!
We did pass some beautiful buildings though and then the all important cake shop……
We drove northwards to a beautiful site at Agliano Terme between Turin and Alessandria. The weather is really hot and sunny and not what I expected as rain was forecast. The site is on a sloping hill and set in terraces. We are at the very top in a corner. We spent the afternoon lazing by the pool in the glorious sun.
After dinner we walked up hill to the nearby town (it was steep) and found an ice cream shop – delicious. We then walked to the edge of town to the grave yard. It was surreal as the Italians have big mausoleums for their families. The bigger they are the grander the family!
The next day we climbed the steep hill into the village again so that we could access the viewing platform tower which we had missed the previous night. The views were amazing.
Next stop was the ice cream parlour that is also a coffee shop. In Italy they have coffee, cake and ice cream shops all in one. You buy a coffee and then sample the small cakes which of course needed the Penny Reynolds taste test! The lady was so nice, unfortunately the water was cut off (and at the campsite) due to burst main and so we had to have a glass of wine instead, 7 SMALL cakes and then we were given a plate with other bits on such as pizza, fratata, bread, biscuits and olives – delicious and we were only charged €5.00 – how on earth do they manage to make ends meet on these prices?
After all this exertion we lazed by the pool.
Next day we just laughed – all day. It started with a fellow motor-homer trying to get out of his pitch….. we had a little rain in the night but not enough for him to get bogged down like he did…. he was just being a xxxxxx. He went backwards and forwards so many times that he churned up the ground, we think he did it deliberately as the just wanted the caravan in front to move. He chucked his wife’s handbag out the window and sent her off down to reception. then we had I don’t know how many people trying to direct him but he wasn’t going to listen and in the end the poor caravan block had to move his caravan out the way up the steep part of the site so the motor-homer could get out and to add insult to injury he messed up getting onto the main drag and the caravanner had to move again. Well you can imagine …. the whole site was out to look and lots of sniggers.
We then got talking to a couple call Nick and Odette and decided to walk back into town with them to re-visit the cafe but she was closed…. so we went for a wine tasting and after two glasses I felt decidedly tiddly. When we got back to the site another caravan had parked so close to the one that had to move this morning that there is no way he could put his car in front to hook up and move! What a carry on.
We are now at the beautiful site of Le Curtelet on Lac Aiguebilete in Lepin-le-Lac in France at the recommendation of George an Irish guy from the previous site.
There are many reasons why I love France and here on this site it is paradise. Just outside the site is a cycle path to the village with a bakery and butchers. Needless to say Penny was in heaven – all those cakes to try – they call me you know “Penny come and eat us” so I have to oblige.
What a great way to do the shopping!
We also had a swim in the lake which was great and both Freddie and Molly has a swim as well.
Today we went to Chambery – just for a few hours to look around. What a delight. It is such a beautiful town with many lovely buildings, fountains, squares, street cafes, bars, restaurants. We caught the train from Lapin-le-Lac and 15 minutes later we were there. Having found the Tourist Information Office with map in hand we headed to the Tourist Train. I am usually a bit dubious about this little tourist trains but this one was fantastic, it took us through all the little streets that are only about 10 feet in width, showing us all the local architecture and we were the only people on board so the commentary was in English -perfect. For €8.00 each it was well worth it and lasted approx 40 minutes. We got a good overview of all the main places to visit so that we could go back to them later.
After some much needed lunch in the Cardinal Express – three courses for €12.90 we headed off to the cathedral to find it was closed for lunch! So we went back to the Elephants and sat in the shade watching the world go by. The Elephants are a reminder of the military campaigns lead by General de Boigne in India and when he returned to Chambery he became a town planner and put up the monument. Today there was only 1 elephant, the others in for restoration.
We then explored the now open Cathedral to see the collection of trompe l’oeil paintings the largest collection on Europe. The cathedral was beautiful, constructed in the 13th century by the Franciscans.
The cathedral used to house the Turin Shroud but only a copy is on display now the original back in Turin.
Sorry Larissa no chocolate handbag but at €42.00 each it was a lot of money to melt/eat!!!
We arrived home safe and sound on Tuesday. We travelled from Lepin-le-Lac to aires at:
Nice but noisy
Lemarche sur Saone
Lovely and quiet
nice and quiet with electricity included in the €4.00 per night cost! Bargain
Then we had the lovely ferry ride home which should normally take 1 1/2 hrs but this time took 6 1/2!!!! The ferry was initially delayed due to bad weather and then we sat outside the port of Dover for 2 1/2 hours waiting to get in for some strange reason that no one could explain. Needless to say we were not happy.
Oxford June 2015
We decided at the last minute to have a short break in Oxford and explore the beautiful city of spires. The sun is shining and the architecture so far is a stunning as I remember. The only downside was Molly falling in the river Cherwell and me having to lie on my stomach on the edge to pull her out!
I am trying out my new tablet which I bought from the proceeds of my recent MMM article and using my mobile phone as a ‘tethering’ hotspot so its all a bit scary! So far going well but I won’t risk uploading any more photos today as I need to check out my data usage – don’t want any big phone bills!
Sibbertoft – Leicestershire
We have just returned from a lovely 4 day break in a village called Sibbertoft.
The site we stayed at is Brook Meadow http://www.brookmeadow.co.uk. This is a lovely site set on a fishing lake on a working farm. Even better is the price £14 per night without electric £17 with for up to 4 adults. There is an extensive dog walk around the farm fields and forest of approximately 1 mile in which dogs can be let off the lead.
After arriving on a beautiful sunny day the weather did what is always does in Britain and started to rain!
Never mind on Monday we visited Foxton Locks on the Grand Union Canal. This is a wonderful place, with a set of staircase locks and a former inclined plane that is over 200 years old. There is a wonderful discovery trail of 1 1/2 miles (which on seemed like 100 yards) that takes you down the locks, over the canal ‘turnover’ bridges, along the former inclined plane, with placards advising you along the way of the history and how things worked/what they looked like in the heyday of canals. The former boiler-house that powered the inclined plane is now a museum, one of the lock cottages is a tea shop and does a very nice cream tea and the locks were in constant use by holiday boaters.
After our drizzly day at Foxton Locks the next day was very hot and sticky and we visited Rockingham Castle
This is a former castle – now a stately home which has been inhabited by the same family for over 450 years. It started life as a Motte and Bailey Castle and then during the Tudor years was bought by the family and added to over the years to the present configuration of a beautiful stately home. We were made extremely welcome in our motorhome and ‘special’ parking was provided on the drive so that we didn’t park on the grass and get stuck. Dogs are welcome in the grounds but not in the house which is still lived in by the family.
We took the dogs around the wild garden putting them back in the van before exploring the formal gardens and house.
The formal gardens are within the walls of the castle and comprise of a tilting lawn (apparently the proper name for a lawn that was used for jousting), a cross garden, band stand, and a beautiful crenelated yew rose garden and elephant hedge. The elephant hedge is reputed to be 400 years old!
Naturally as the house is still a residence we could not take photographs but the rooms we were able to visit were beautiful with some lovely antique furniture and pictures.
Wednesday and the reason for our visit to this part of the country – Marc’s Tank Driving Experience – bought for his 50th Birthday! (http://www.armourgeddon.co.uk).
He had a fantastic time as the photos show, firstly the instructor took him around a very large field (about 10 minutes to get round) then Marc drove with the hatch open and then with the hatch closed looking for the periscope which is only a letter box in view!
Bet you can’t guess what Marc wants for Christmas!!!! Not sure we have the room for a tank as well as Boris.
It is that time of year again when Boris needs his habitation check. After phoning the very unhelpful staff at Highbridge Caravans our nearest dealers – “we don’t have any space until November, but if you want to bring it in and leave it with us for a week or so in October/November we can do bits as and when”, that was after phoning 6 times and eventually getting a reply – how they ever win the awards they do I just don’t know. Well those of you who know Marc can imagine his reaction to that one!
We go through this every time something needs to be done to the van, he doesn’t want to go all the way to Denby in Derbyshire to the dealer we bought the van from because of the distance but he doesn’t like our local dealers as they are a bunch of w……! So I always end up saying “well if we go to Derby we can make it into a mini break and we do love the Peak District and Geoff Cox Motorhomes are always so nice” and that is exactly what we end up doing.
So we set off on a very wet day in July (typical British Summertime when the kids have just broke up from school) to Ilam Park which is just inside Staffordshire. The 4 hour journey took 5 ½ as there were hold ups on the M5 and M6 another typical British summertime treat.
The whole journey seemed very strange as we left the dogs at home with Larissa – the first time we have gone away in the van without them! It was only because Molly was doing her usual ‘my bum is stuck to this seat and I am not moving’ – she hates travelling in the van – well the actual movement part and spends any driving shaking until Freddie decides to sit on her. Anyway back to the story – I just couldn’t be bothered with trying to coax her from the sofa and if I just picked her up she would have wee’d on the sofa in fright so I just thought ‘well stay there then’ and as Larissa was on annual leave for a few days it wouldn’t hurt either of them to stay behind, so off we went.
The site only had grass pitches when we arrived but the warden assured us that even though it had rained all day Friday and had and was continuing to rain all day this Sunday we would be ok. The site is lovely and really small, it is peaceful, cheap and has really hot showers in the former stable block of Ilam Hall.
On Monday we needed to get up early to get the van to Geoff Cox about an hour away and so it was with great reluctance that Penny got out of bed at 7.00am! We arrived at 8.00am but no one was home and it wasn’t until 8.30 that the staff turned up. Never mind we gave them the keys and set off in a courtesy car they leant us for the day. First stop was Bonsall which is just off the A6 between Belper and Matlock Bath for the well dressings. In the Peak District it is tradition to make a picture on a piece of wood using mainly flower petals in celebration/thanksgiving of the water provided by the many wells in the villages. The wells are dressed in different villages at different times and the details can be found at www.welldressing.com. When the dressings are first unveiled there is a celebration and Bonsall had just had a carnival in celebration. There is usually some form of church blessing as well and the dressings stay on the wells for about a week for visitors to look at and give some money to the various charities the dressings are supporting that particular year.
We arrived at the village and parked near the Village Cross and proceeded to walk around the village up some steep hills and very narrow lanes. The full details of the number of wells, and a map can be found on the website and this particular village provided a nice circular walk taking in the dressings and lasted approximately an hour. Needless to say as most of these well dressings are in Peak District villages taking a motorhome to see them is not really a good idea. There was no way that we would have got Boris around some of the lanes and inclines of this village. Fortunately for us the weather stayed dry for the whole experience and some of the dressings were amazing.
It was still early in the day and we had planned to drive to Bakewell as Monday is market day so off we went. Bakewell is famous for its tarts and so a school holiday Monday in the height of summer meant lots of people. The market consists mainly of the tatty white van man selling a range of clothes at stupid prices that would fall apart after one wash but there are also some gems, a really good fruit and veg stall, a lovely ceramics stall that we bought our infamous Golliwog pepper pots from, and a few nice craft stalls. I personally just wanted to get some Bakewell Tarts or puddings are they are properly called. There are a few shops that claim to be the original sellers so you will have a choice. We bought a medium traditional one (without the icing) and a Kipling’s knock off one to eat later – no doubt they will call to me all day “eat me Penny” as most cakes do!!
We parked in the agricultural centre car park which was a hive of activity as the farmers were there selling their livestock. Unfortunately there isn’t a farmers market on Mondays only on the last Saturday in the month which I feel is a let-down and a missed marketing opportunity for the farmers. This car park is easy to get into and we have visited Bakewell many times in Boris and stopped in this car park which easily accommodates motorhomes. It is only a 5 minute walk into the town over the beautiful river Wye.
After a look around we decided to go to our favourite pub in Bakewell ‘The Red Lion’ which has a very good selection of food, at a very good price, excellent beers and really friendly people. From the outside it looks a bit dire but be brave because it is so worth it. We had a beef bap, salad, chips and gravy and for those of you who have failed to try chips and gravy this is the place to ‘have a go’. It is delicious.
We drove back to Geoff Cox to get Boris and headed back to the site. As a caravan had left that day the warden had ear-marked a hardstanding pitch for us. There is no television signal at this site but that didn’t seem to matter to Marc as he sat drinking his tea and laughing at a women who had just pulled up on the site. He enjoys people watching and I must admit it was amusing. She really wasn’t very happy with her pitch and was stomping around, waving her arms, pointing at other pitches generally making a real spectacle of herself. She even managed to pull in a man from another pitch and the warden when putting out her levelling ramps but what really surprised us is that she mounted her van on the levellers whilst the electricity cable was connected to the bollard! We all do stupid things sometimes but why bring attention to yourself! It is raining again as I type this but I do hope tomorrow is better and I would like to walk to my English Shangri La – Dovedale.
It rained all night and it wasn’t until after lunch that we were able to walk from Ilam to Dovedale. It is a lovely walk across fields full of sheep, with amazing views of the Peak District. If you haven’t been to this part of the world I truly recommend it, Dovedale is just a part of the lovely valley in which the River Dove runs. I just love it here, it feeds my soul with the trickling, bubbling river, the dappled shade of the various trees, to me it is heaven on earth.