On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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France – Summer 2018 Days Part 4 Days 12-16

Tuesday 10th July

The end of the holiday has started to loom into view. Don’t you hate that? The first week it seems endless and then the second week just runs away with itself. We have to leave to start the journey home on Thursday morning, so today is our penultimate day at this beautiful location. Anyway. STAY POSITIVE. That’s the key.

We had decided last night that we would make today a real tourism day. We planned to get up early and drive to Chambéry, for a look round. So that’s just what we did! It is about 12 kms south from Le Bourget du Lac and we arrived just after the morning rush hour. It is an ancient town and very cleverly, they have put all their parking underground so they are not plagued by horrible multi-stories – or carbuncles as Prince Charles would have it!. They are quite deep – the one we used, by the Palais du Justice,  was 5 stories deep.

We parked and had a wander round the street market, where the produce looked top class and was beautifully presented. Sadly, we were going to be out all day so it was not practical to buy anything.

We had seen signs for The Old Town and decided to head that way (after a quick flick round Monoprix   – love them!). Food and frocks all under one roof. There were loads of very cute shoes (not reflected on their website) in small sizes. Curse my big plates! Not that I really need any more shoes….

The Old Town was lovely, with lots of cafes and independent shops and beautiful architecture. We also spotted a land train, and as we had a limited time (as we need to be in Aix for our boat trip) we thought that this would be a quick way of seeing all the sights. I really don’t know why we hadn’t learnt our lesson. We had, some years ago, taken an excruciating (but oddly hilarious) trip round Rouen in a land train with our friends Sue & Paul Rogers. It was awful – just embarrassingly so. Clearly, though,  a trip on a land train is a little like child birth because – some years down the line – it seemed like a good idea. Wrong! We just seemed to keep going round and round the same old bit. The commentary was all in French (it later transpired that Paul had turned down an English translation. Why??!!) and, whilst I’m not bad it was above my level of expertise.  Hysteria set in. And we really have learned now. NEVER AGAIN. It was a relief to get off!

But I did learn something. I kept seeing elephant pictures every where and there were signs pointing towards the “Elephant Fountain”. We were in the Alps. Why elephants?  I put 2 and 2 together and bingo! Hannibal. His legendary crossing of the Alps with elephants! And he had rocked up in Chambéry. What I had never realised was  how long ago it actually took place! It was 218 BC!!! it really was an epic journey and if you’re really interested, you can read more about it here.

The Elephant Fountain was beautiful by the way. And apparently has nothing to with Hannibal! Bang went my theory! It was built in memory of some chap who did stuff in India!  He was called Benoît de Boigne  and you can read more about him , if the fancy takes you.

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Place St Leger – home of the dreaded Land Train

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Heffalumps!

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A detail from the famous Fontaine des Elephants. One of the “Quatre sans culs” – or four with no arse!

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The Elephant Fountain

We retrieved the car and set off on the journey to Aix les Bains for lunch prior to our cruise. It wasn’t a long trip and we were soon parking near the port.

We found a nice place for lunch and asked for a place in the shade. The restaurant was very un-romantically named The Skiff Pub but the menu looked good so we gave it a go.  Lunch was very pleasant and we had such a lovely waitress. Unusually for me, I had an ice cold glass of rosé with my lunch and it was perfect.

We took our time and eventually relinquished our table, paid up and headed over to the embarkation point for the trip, which was just across the way. You may recall it was to visit the canal we had seen on Sunday. We were scheduled to leave at 2.30.

The boat looked nice but – just at the last moment, we were switched to another smaller boat, which sadly had very little outdoor space. We could only get a space indoors, sadly. Not a great start. It was BOILING hot and the sun streaming through the window (not openable, no blinds/curtains) was relentless. And then the commentary began. Entirely in French. Oh dear. Now – bear in mind this cruise had a duration of some 3hrs “plus stopover (variable duration according to period)” whatever that meant, according to their website.  I was picking up bits and pieces from the commentary but it did begin to pall after a while.  It wasn’t looking good although the lake looked beautiful.

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Hautecombe ABbey – burial place of the Counts and Dukes of Savoy

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A detail of Hautecombe – very Italian looking

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The mouth of the canal

It took quite a while to get to the canal – maybe an hour. The canal was also beautiful but we were aghast at the speed that the boat progressed down the canal. We are used to British canals, where the rule of thumb is never to have a breaking wash as it this causes damage to the bank structure. Breaking wash? As we passed by smaller boats/kayaks they were tossed around massively on our stern wake. We couldn’t believe it!

We passed through the pretty canal-side  town of Chanaz and then through the lock and out onto the Rhone. A short way up river, we pulled onto a pontoon and moored up. Everyone got off the boat and we followed suit.  I asked one of the two crew members what was happening and he said follow the crowd. So we did, thinking that perhaps there would be somewhere to get refreshments and possibly some retail opportunities (it being a touristy thing to do)?

We arrived in a very hot outbuilding with only a couple of seats left. I sat and Paul stood at the back – both of us still very puzzled! It looked like a workshop of some kind. And then it began. A presentation – goodness knows what it was about! We endured it for some time but I was so hot and – sadly – bored I signalled to Paul that we should leave. He readily agreed! We walked back to the boat and explained that we had returned because the presentation was in very fast French and we were English we had not understood a word of what was said. They reluctantly (they were on a break!) let us on board, where we – rather cheekily – found a space outdoors for the return leg.

There was a good signal and I scanned the boat company’s website for clues. I finally found reference to a “Cuivrerie” – which seems to be a copper works. That made sense. Further research (post holiday) shows that it was in fact the “Cuivrerie du Bugey” and I even found a video online of the presentation.

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THAT presentation. Nice chap- not a scooby what he was saying!

Eventually everyone returned and we set off back to AlB. I have to say that it was not the most successful or enjoyable boat trip ever.  We arrived back in AlB at around 7 pm and popped into the crêperie (Crêperie du Port) for a quick crêpe  (well a galette actually) followed by a lovely ice cream sundae (Poire Belle Helene for me. Yum). Then we made our way home and watched a bit of telly before bed. It had been a long day.

Wednesday 11th July

As we start the long journey South tomorrow, we had a lazy day planned. A little light packing and tidying mainly. Plans can change though and we decided to pop to the next lake along – the Lac d’Aiguebelette.

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Lac d’Aiguebelette – from Paul’s Nikon camera.

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Lac d’Aiguebelette – from my IPhone. You decide!

It, too, has a cycle path and we arrived at about midday. Yes – a cycle ride. At midday.  Mad Dogs and Englishmen, eh? But it was lovely. We parked and got the bikes down from the roof and set off. We were going anti-clockwise round the lake from the Maison du Lac to where the cycle route petered out at around the 4km mark. We turned and retraced our steps, stopping at a little cafe for a Croque Monsieur and salad, which was lovely. And shady. It was hot!

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Another day, another cyclepath

We returned home and spent the afternoon reading and swimming, deflating the boat and generally tidying up. As we wanted to make an early start, we showered and then got ready for the football. England’s semi-final match against Croatia. Being the good wife I am, I agreed to accompany Paul to the bar/restaurant to watch and have dinner. It all started well with a goal in the opening seconds, but as you will know, eventually England lost and we had a subdued bike ride home. Paul popped the bikes back on the roof and we completed our prep for our early departure and retired.

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Waiting for the match

Thursday 12th July

The alarm went off at 07:00 and we – very quietly – started the process of final stowing, fastening windows and roof vents and hooking up. We’ve done it so many times and we both have our personal tasks, so we were pretty quiet. We drove away on the dot of 08:00 as planned , looking forward to the first aire, where we would get our breakfast. I will miss this place.

We were taking a slightly different route back as we were a little further West and the miles soon piled up. We made frequent stops for snacks and drinks and comfort as usual and arrived back in Troyes at about 3 pm. As it was an earlier arrival than our visit at the beginning of the holiday, we had our pick of spots. We parked in almost exactly the same place though, as it had been handy for the loos/showers and bar.

Once set up it was time for some exercise. We had been sitting down a long time! SO the bikes came off the roof, we did a quick bit of planning and then set off along the path along the Canal du Labourat, which runs alongside the campsite. It’s a pretty stinky old waterway, never really a navigable canal, as such, but more a drain for the Seine, which also runs through Troyes and has (or had) a tendency to flood.  But there were fish in it! We did notice that a nearby factory was expelling some substances into the canal and the path was blocked off at this point.

As we had a reasonable idea of the lie of the land from our previous visit, we continued by road until we hit the Seine. We spotted a group of old folk playing boules and sat and watched them for a while. It reminded us that we hadn’t played for ages and we decided to cycle to the nearest Decathlon to pick up a new magnet and a circle (saves scrabbling in the dirt). We had spotted the store on our previous visit and we knew roughly where it was and how far, so off we set. We both forgot phones/cameras for this trip so we have no pics, sadly.

Mission accomplished, we returned to the site and called in at the bar for a quick drink and to see if we fancied eating there that night, as it would be quick and easy. We did fancy it, as it happened, and returned to the van to put the bikes back on the roof.

We then had a game of boules – I won! Of course. Then a quick hand wash and off to the bar. The menu is basic but very acceptable. We got chatting to a really lovely young English couple who were from Bristol (cute accents!). It (eventually) turned out that they were just coming to the end of their three week honeymoon in their self-converted camper. We wished them a long and happy life together and then it was home and bed.

Friday 13th July

On the road again! This time to a new location. Same routine – leave without breakfast and aim for the first aire. Here I discovered Nutella Brioche buns! Oh dear Lord. They were delectable. We made the usual regular stops. Old hands now. Amazing how you soon get into a routine.

The day wore on and we finally arrived – at about 2 pm – at the last site of this holiday. It was in a little town called Escalles – about a 15 minute drive (max) from the tunnel. It had seemed the perfect location. The site was called Camping les Erables  (Erables = Maples) and was approached on quite a steep hill. We did meet a car but it was fine. And what a lovely site! Small but perfectly formed. On a hill but with level pitches. It overlooks the coast and we could clearly see those famous White Cliffs.

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View from our pitch

And it was obviously going to be quiet. Lovely. We set up and grabbed a cuppa and then set off for an initial explore. Escalles has 3 restaurants and a lovely sandy beach, but as we had the bikes on top, we could not enter the car park. We’ll save that for later. So we pressed on along the coast – firstly towards Calais so we could have a look at the famous Sangatte. I think we both expected something pretty grim but it’s actually a pleasant little coastal town. The refugee camp (whimsically also known as Sans-gate) is quite low key.

Then we went back along the coast towards Boulogne sur Mer – ex ferry port. We hopped over Escalles and dropped in on Wissant, which nestles between Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez.  The coastline is called the Opal Coast – supposedly because the chalk from the cliffs makes the water a bit milky. And this particular stretch is called La Terre de 2 Caps – for obvious reasons!

We loved Wissant – which was just setting up for the evening market, held in the square there. Evening Markets? What a lovely tradition. We found a handy parking space and eagerly hopped on our bikes for a tour round.

The beach there is a beautiful stretch of sand and people were making full use of it in this gorgeous (and unusual!) weather.  We had a good cycle round, took some photos and generally enjoyed milling around with the smell of frites and moules and other slightly less agreeable summer odours!

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La plage – Wissant

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Cap Blanc Nez

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Interesting groynes #1

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Interesting groynes #2

I bought a beautiful bedspread from a lady whose shop was a very cute vintage caravan. I am delighted with it. Just right for summer. Very chuffed with my purchase.

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Vintage Van shop – Wissant

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The bedspread

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In situ – very happy

We stopped for a wander round the market and a drink in the square before returning to the car, loading up the bikes and returning to the van. We stopped on the way home to book a table at one of the restaurants in Escalle. Restaurant Les Falaises (The Cliffs). Seafood a speciality. Yum!!

After a cuppa and shower, we read for a while and then got ready for dinner out. I didn’t dress up too much as we had decided to cycle down the hill to the village.

The meal was delicious and we both had moules – Paul’s in a curry sauce and mine good old marinière and we had a lovely, lingering meal (Creme Brulee for dessert). But by the end of the evening the temperature had plummeted and there was a chilly breeze off the sea. I was (unusual for me!) really cold!

It was nearly sunset and we cycled down to the beach, just in time to catch the last rays. Beautiful.

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La plage au coucher du soleil

Then it was home – as soon as possible. Cycling back up the hill (quite steep!) might warm us up. Can’t believe how chilly it was after such a warm and sunny day. Just couldn’t wait to jump into bed. And it was the first evening  we had gone to bed with no fan on. It was warmer down South! We fell asleep to the sound of fireworks from the beach at Wimereux.

Saturday 14th – Bastille Day 

We are very often in France on this day it seems – creatures of habit, eh? Our destination today was Boulogne. I was intrigued to find out when the ferry service ceased to operate between Dover and also Folkestone. I seemed to recall a hovercraft too, from my younger years. Apparently, the services were all victims of the opening of Eurotunnel. I imagine this must have had a quite an impact on Boulogne?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Boulogne, although I suspected it might be tacky. Got that wrong. The old walled town is a delight and we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around. Everything was looking very smart with their Bastille Day-best flags and we were lucky enough to witness the Bastille Day Parade, complete with band.

After the parade,  we stopped for a coffee and a coffee religieuse. These are choux pastry concoctions, filled with coffee flavoured crème pâtissière  and topped with coffee glace icing. The name means “nun”, and they are supposed to represent the Pope’s hat. Whatevs! They are scrummy. And VERY naughty!

Coffee Religiesue

We went back to the parking, got the bikes back on the roof and set off to visit the other places we had missed on the way back up towards Calais. Before we left we popped down to the port and saw some serious fishing boats. Probably being paid to stay in harbour because of fishing quotas?! Also a large leisure fleet.

On the way out of Boulogne we thought we’d go and have a closer look at the imposing statue of Napoleon – or the “Colonne de la Grande Armée“, as it is more correctly known. It stand 50 metres high and building commenced in the early 1800s . It was intended to commemorate the successful invasion of England, but of course this never took place. So they just changed what it commemorated! An early example of “re-purposing”! It is pretty impressive but not quite as grand as our own column in Trafalgar Square – in my opinion. Interestingly, Napoleon is standing with his back towards England.

After this we passed on towards Wimereux – which we weren’t that keen on and thence to Ambleteuse, home of the very attractive, late 17th century Fort Mahon.

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We then pressed on to Audresselles, where we stopped for our lunch. We chose Le Loup de Mer (whose website made us chuckle. They do a nice line in “the carried away”). Loup de mer (or wolf of the sea) is French for Sea Bass, by the way. The plan was not to cook this evening but to have our main meal at lunchtime. As Greg Wallace might say “Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than this”! Audresselles still has a fishing fleet and so we both had more seafood. And delicious it was. It being Bastille Day and thus a public holiday, trade was brisk. And – sadly, though the food was good the service was poor. I am still waiting for the mayonnaise for my frites!

We must have been hungry because we forgot to take any photos of the town.

An observation. I have noticed that many of the place names (e.g. Wacquinghen, Hardinghen) have a vaguely Belgian ring to them and also that the style of building was very similar to the area around Saint-Omer where we have visited several times. It’s very pleasing to the eye. Clean and functional lines and attractive brickwork.

After lunch (it was quite a long and late lunch) we made our way back to the van, where we spent the remainder of the day relaxing, cleaning and packing before our final departure tomorrow.  More fireworks tonight as you might imagine.

This is a lovely area and I’d definitely be happy to return to this campsite.

Sunday 15th July

So that’s it. Time to go home. We had a lovely eggy breakfast and weren’t in too much hurry for the off because our crossing was scheduled for 1:10. We got there earlier than necessary (it’s just a short hop from the campsite)  in the hope that we’d get on an earlier crossing. We did get put on an earlier train but – with delays – we ended up leaving around that time anyway. We arrived home at about 3:30.

A great trip – not without sadness but there will be many happy memories. Here’s to our next trip.

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France – Summer 2018 Days Part 3 Days 8-11

Friday 6th July

Time to move on from our lovely blue lake. Such a lovely campsite. Reluctant to leave but there’s a whole France out there, waiting to be explored. Maybe some day we’ll return?We said our goodbyes to our camper van friends and exchanged contact details.

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We did not have to be off site until midday so we had taken our time, but finally we were on the road. It was just a short hop to our next destination – Le Lac du Bourget, near Aix les Bains, a famous spa town. Our campsite was again at the southern end of the lake, in Le Bourget du Lac. Confusing!

It took just over an hour and we were soon pulling in to the site – L’Isle aux Cygnes. It had been a bit tricky to find and was not well (if at all?) signposted). Google Maps got us there, though. As it was lunch time, the Reception was resolutely closed for lunch. Luckily “joining papers” were provided in a little cabinet and we were able to access our lovely pitch. Another great spot. Booking early really pays off.

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Immediately outside our door. Our own little bit of beach!

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The lake at sunset

Once set up, never ones to hang around, we popped out for a bit of orientation and headed to Aix les Bains. Some amazing Belle Epoque style buildings but, sadly,  an air of faded grandeur. Oddly – we seem to have not one photo of the town.

We did a bit of provisioning on the way back and – among other things – we picked up a couple of bavettes – reduced to €3.40 – a real bargain! We cooked them – with some mushrooms and new potatoes – on the Cadac and they were a couple of the nicest steaks we have had for a long time. Tasty, juicy and tender. And cooked to perfection.

Of course before the cooking we had a swim. Thank GOD for water shoes. Hellishly ugly but a godsend on those sharp stones.  And no worries about what’s under foot. Ugh! How on earth did we manage as kids?

Saturday 7th July

Life seems to have dropped down a gear since we got here. I really do seem to have a problem with just relaxing. It takes me a while to get a point where I can just exist without rushing/planning/over-thinking/anticipating/worrying. But today? I think I’ve cracked it! We had a lie-in, got up and spent the day swimming, reading, dozing and generally just kicking back. I know that this doesn’t make interesting reading but last week was pretty full on and it felt really good to do nothing.

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The shady bit of our pitch

There is another cycle-path around this lake, which goes from Aix les Bains to Chambéry  and which passes the campsite. We had forgotten to order bread/Viennoiserie for our breakfast so Paul hopped on to the bike and cycled into the small town (which boasts 2 patisseries) and picked up some fresh stuff while I prepped the fruit for our breakfast. It was a hot ride so he had to have a quick swim before food.

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We had a visit from the Patrouille several times and also on Sunday. Tricky to capture – no sooner had you heard them then they were upon you. I absolutely love that “crackling” sound a jet engine emits. SO exciting. Apparently they were appearing at the  Grenoble air show – my dear friend Tim told me. The power of Facebook and Google eh? It’s only 80 kms to Grenoble from here (or about 5 mins in a  Northrop F-5E Tiger II!!!) We did get a few puffs of the Tricolor!

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We both went for a cycle along the cycle path in the early evening, before we settled down to wait for the main event of the day – the fireworks. Right on the town beach which was next door to the campsite.

It has been a long time since I have been able to purely enjoy a good firework display. I have always adored them but poor Archie hated them. Seeing what he went through kind of took the shine off for me, but I was quite excited for the display. And we were not disappointed. They started on the dot of 11pm – it’s not really dark enough for them until then, bearing in mind that France is an hour ahead of the UK at the moment. We seem to have a plethora of pictures but a sample of them follows. Beautiful. and LOUD!!!

Sunday 8th July

We both cycled into town for the bread this morning. A beautiful sunny day (Again) and a real pleasure. I love the French way of life – they got so many thnigs right. Why on earth did we adopt the Chorleywood way when we could have had baguettes/flutes/ficelles/pain au levain/pain complet or just plain old pain – to name but a few. We  really missed a trick there.  And that’s without mentioning the joy of a Nutella Brioche! Delightful! The Chorleywood model meant the death of decent bread and it spread all around the world. They have us to thank for tasteless pappy, bread. Thank goodness proper bread has made a come back in recent years. Sourdough (Pain au Levain)  being a personal favourite. Until I wrote this article, I didn’t realise what a bread snob I am.

Anyway – back to the holiday. It was another reeelaaaaxing day although I got a bit restless in the late afternoon so we went for a drive up in the hills/mountains along the western bank of the Lac. The lac (very busy on a Sunday) is overlooked by the Dent du Chat mountain. You really can see why it is called that (although maybe not from the angle in this picture?)  and it was towards this we set off.

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Lots of serious cyclists looking for their PB on the climbs. And motorcyclists out for a Sunday afternoon randonnée. We got a good view of the camp site from a viewpoint on the way up. It was a heat haze kind of a day.

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At the top of the lake (North) there is a short canal which leads from the Lac to the mighty Rhône. I say mighty because it is one of the major European rivers and at over 500 miles long, the fourth longest in France. It discharges into the Med at Arles at a rate of 1,710 cubic metres per second!!

The canal – the Canal de Savières (note that this link is translated from French so reads a bit oddly in places!) has just one lock which raises you onto the Rhône. As we had ended up near the that end of the lake (and even though we have a trip planned, of which more later) we thought we’d go and have a quick reconnoitre. And maybe come within a whisker of getting a parking ticket – after all – we were only stopping for a minute at the lock – right? Yeah.

The way home was vineyard central. I wonder if this where they grow the grapes for the Côtes du Rhône wine? although it’s a long river?  Maybe that’s a little further South. But there are lots of “dégustation” (tasting)  opportunities,  which we eschewed.

We arrived home, had dinner and then re-inflated the boat and had a little trip out on it. A great end to the day.

Monday 8th July

I awoke early to a really beautiful morning. It was properly warm at 07:15 and I sat outside, reading and feeding my cute sparrow and duck chums until my Lord and Master (!!) awoke.

We both rode into town for bakery items and – over breakfast –  decided that we would visit Mont Revard,  a ski resort and another Tour de France climb. It overlooks the Eastern shore of the lake. It was a lovely Alpine drive and we were soon at the summit. Great views and a glass observation deck. Brilliant!  We loved it. There was also another summer luge but sadly not open.

 

Mount Revard is home to Nordic Skiing and as we were driving back down, we came upon quite a few amazingly fit people with long roller blades on their feet and ski poles (which we presumed were summer versions of the Nordic ski?). They were “skiing” UP the mountain. UP it! In this heat! Amazing stamina and drive. I take my hat off to them.

As were near Aix-l-B, we decided to pop  into town to check out where we need to pick up the boat for tomorrow’s planned trip and also where to park. That mission accomplished, we returned home for a lazy afternoon, reading. swimming and an evening boat trip. We went via the supermarket, to pick up more supplies of our new favourite soft drink. Volvic Touche de The – Peach flavour. So refreshing.

We had a pleasant evening and retired quite early after the (my) early start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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France – Summer 2018 Days Part 2 Days 4-7

Monday 2nd July

We awoke, breakfasted and over breakfast, had a quick discussion about possible contenders for our next day out and eventually plumped for the “Gorges de Fier” near  Lovagny, which is about 10 km from Annecy.  It was another lovely day and we were pleased to see that one of the routing options was via the Col de Forclaz again, so off we set. Somehow, we had a much better appreciation of the road and views today!! Whilst we had enjoyed it all the day before, it had been slightly overshadowed by fear of the unknown.

It was a hot day, and the gorges were actually a great place to visit on a hot day as they were cool and shady. The Fier is actually a River – short (just under 72 km) but very powerful, which has channelled a deep chasm through the rocks, forming the Gorges.

They were turned into a tourist attraction by an enterprising Victorian chap who created a series of suspended footbridges in 1869. The men who built it were transported inside barrels moved via a system of pulleys to fix the path to the rock face, we were told. Having walked on it, I can’t quite envisage how that worked, as it is suspended some 20 to 30 metres above the current path of the river. The path is around 250 metres long, so was quite a feat of engineering.

It’s a long way down

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Floods

The Fier (pronounce Fee) is a tricky old river and can rise from its normal, placid state to a raging torrent in minutes, during heavy rainfall. There was a graphic which showed the height of the river during flood conditions. You would not want to be caught on the path at such times as it is clearly totally submerged!

The main Albertville to Annecy SNCF line runs next to and indeed crosses the gorge. It is so close you could almost reach out and touch it! Quite exciting when a train whipped past!

Entry to the Gorge was very reasonably priced, so that was a bonus. We stopped at the cafe on the way back and had a very nice ice-cream. We considered – briefly – popping into nearby Montrottier Castle but it was so flipping hot, we decided to run for home and our lovely cooling lake. Sadly, though, we needed a few provs for tonight’s meal so we popped into a supermarket on the way home. Not that I mind – I love a foreign supermarket!

Montrottier Castle

Back at the site we were delighted to see that we had been joined by an English couple we had met on our last visit. It was so nice to see them again.

We spent the remainder of the day relaxing, reading, swimming and boating. Blissful. We were also entertained by the local schoolkids showing off their newly acquired musical talents on the land next to the site. Some were very good, others were enthusiastic, let’s say.

We cooked a pizza on the Cadac – enough for lunch tomorrow too. Delicious. And – in attempt to work this off – we went out for another cycle ride – this time around the nearby town of Doussard. And very pleasant it was too, on a lovely sunny evening, with the sting of the sun cooling off. Another lovely day. Gotta love holidays!

Tuesday 3rd July

Today we had decided to visit the ski resort of La Sambuy.  I had read about it and sounded just the sort of place we might like. We arrived at about 10:45 and jumped straight onto the chair lift. We were the only 2 people on it (I think the operating assistants were quite glad to see us!)  and when we reached the top, we were the only two people there too! We had the place to ourselves to explore. To be honest, there’s not that much – other than breathtaking views – to see, so we walked around, read all the info boards and then made our way back down. There were more people on the lift by now and we were glad to have got there early.

One of the other things there is a summer luge. We have been on one before and loved it. We had thus bought tickets to enable us to have five goes each. What larks! You get dragged up the slope on a rack & pinion and then you come down – this ride had 9 big bends and 3 “jumps”. You do have brakes – but they’re for sissies, right? We had such fun. And then Paul spotted – The Devil Buggies! These are 4 wheeled buggies which are dragged up the mountain by a modified ski-lift contraption, which hooks onto the front of the buggy. Once you’ve been dragged up, you make your own way down a marked path at whatever speed suits you. I think you can guess! There was a slight hitch while they found a helmet to fit my beloved’s rather large bonce and then he was off! He absolutely loved it. But it took up two of his luge tickets so he only had two more goes left on the luge, whereas I had FOUR!! We stopped for a coffee and some luscious caramel “pain perdu” – aka eggy bread. More cycling required!

The Devil Buggy

The Devil Buggy lift – Paul disappearing in to the distance!

Going up on the luge

A section of track on the ascent

Kay – on a roll!

 

Once all our tickets had been used up, we went back to the site for more RRBS – Reading, Relaxing, Boating and swimming. The lake was quite choppy today and we bounced around a fair bit. All good fun.

Tonight was the England game versus Columbia, so Paul went off to the bar to watch the game. There followed an evening of cleaning and – yes – a bit of boredom for me. And it went on. And on. Extra time, penalties. The lot. But we won so I had a happy hubby. And so to bed.

Weds 4th July

We spent the morning RRBSing and then went out in the early afternoon. We had a cycle ride into Annecy planned but we wanted to do it later in the day, once the heat had died down a bit. Obviously we weren’t going to drive straight to Annecy. Far too predictable. We went up to the Crêt du Chatillon on Mount Semnoz, high above the western shore of the lake. It’s quite a famous climb for serious cyclists and was, indeed, the penultimate stage of the 2013 Tour de France. From what I can gather, a “crêt” is cliff or edge of the mountain.

There are some fantastic views from the summit – Mont Blanc can be seen. We saw snow capped big mountains but were never sure exactly which was the great white mountain!

Eventually, we made our way back down the mountain and found some parking with no height restrictions in Sevrier – roughly half way along the west shore. The path is so brilliant and very heavily used. Rightly so. We had a very pleasant 5km cycle into the town. We chained our bikes to the railings and had a gentle wander, stopping for a drink next to the very famous and much-photographed Palais de L’Isle. Then it was home, supper and bed – but not before sitting outside to witness the thunder and lighting we could see over Annecy. We had a proper grandstand view. It was brilliant. Literally! Eventually it started to rain so we nipped indoors and retired.

Thursday 5th July

The thunder had rolled around all night but the next morning dawned clear again. We had a proper lie-in – the first of the holiday.  It must have been gone 9!  We had a lazy day planned in preparation for our departure tomorrow.  A bit of RRBS interspersed with tidying stuff away. Nothing too strenuous!

Around lunchtime, we popped to Doussard for stamps. Just too late! The sacred lunch-break of France had struck. We were, however, just in time to pick up a lovely Reblochon and Lardons quiche. As we had an hour to kill, we went up in the mountains. We spotted a “Dangerous Road” sign, so of course – we took it. We drove as far as we could before the road petered out and then, on the way back, Paul had a hankering to paddle in a mountain stream, so we stopped and ate our quiches and did a bit of paddling (him,not me).

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Sumps having a paddle

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Getting boulder

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These mossy trees were amazing. Took a real fancy to them.

We passed the remainder of the afternoon alternating between relaxing and packing the boat away and generally tidying up.

In the early evening, we cycled to Duingt – about 10km each way. We went to the Spinnaker pub/bar restaurant. Fab location. Regrettably we left not having had anything to eat or drink. Paul’s review here will explain why. Very disappointing. But their loss. We took the photos we wanted, had a rest. They could have made money from us but they chose not to. And I really fancied a Pina Colada!!

We bought some drinks in the local Tabac and sat and gazed at the lake for a while and then we heard a rumble or two. We decided to make a run for home. It was not to be. Half way back the deluge began. It was actually really funny and quite refreshing! But we were pretty soaked. All credit to the team at the Auberge Du Boucanier (which I had re-dubbed Pirate Pete’s) for allowing us in. Nice meal and then home and eventually – bed.

 

 

 

 


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France – Summer 2018 Days Part 1 Days 1-4

Thursday 28th June – Home to the Tunnel

We set off a little later than planned, for a variety reasons, with which I won’t bore you, but finally arrived at The Drum Inn (our first overnight stop) in Stanford, near Ashford at 17.30. The last time we were here, two years ago, we were pretty much the only people on site, but word must have got around and tonight it filled up pretty fast (15+ Units) but we had managed to get a prime spot thus avoiding the need to unhitch. Setting up was a quick matter as all we had to do was hook-up and put the steadies down.

Our table for dinner was booked at 19.00 and Paul had high hopes of watching the England v Belgium Match but to his disappointment, it was a World Cup-free pub (they DO exist!). The food was reasonable but slightly over priced for pub grub and we finished our meal in time for Paul to catch the 2nd half back at the van. Unfortunately, Belgium won 1-0 so not the best 45 mins of the first day of the holiday for Paul.

As we had a very early start, we went to bed early, feeling quite excited at the thought of being back in France for 2 weeks.

Fri 29th June – The Tunnel to Troyes

6.15 arrived way too quickly and we both leapt in to action, preparing breakfast to eat in the tunnel, upping the corner steadies, unplugging the electric supply and moving off. Several other campers were departing at the same time and we all made our way to the terminal in beautiful sunshine. We arrived in plenty of time for our booked crossing and managed to grab a coffee before being called – which was just as well as the queues for customs were particularly lengthy for some reason.  As we were waiting to board, a delay of 30 mins was announced and so our breakfast (Special K with Red Berries) was devoured in the car, rather than in the tunnel.

The Approach – lovely morning

Waiting to be called to board

Starting boarding

The obligatory inside the train shot

Boarding and crossing were as efficient as ever, aside from the delay, and we soon found ourselves heading south through the French countryside. We traditionally stop at the first services to savour some proper French coffee and a pastry (in this case a crispy, sweet Chausson du Pomme).

It was a reasonably long drive (c. 400km) but we weren’t in a hurry and we made plenty of pit-stops. We eventually arrived at Troyes at around 17.00 about an hour later than expected, as Paul had to make a business call.The campsite – Camping De Troyes – was very easy to find, pretty popular and very conveniently located. There were not that many pitches left but we managed to squeeze between a couple of  other English motor-homes and all was well.

After a restorative cuppa, we set off to explore Troyes, which was “shut” the last time we visited – due to Bastille Day preparations. It truly is a beautiful city and after a couple of circuits and a pop to the Supermarket for a couple of provisions, we partook of some fine dining courtesy of McDonald’s, albeit with a French “Royale” flair.

The campsite is set in woodland, with good facilities, swimming pool, onsite bar/restaurant and spotless showers/toilets  – which we took advantage of, it having been a long hot drive. We then retired, ready for a slightly longer (c. 450km) hot drive the next day.

Our spot at Camping de Troyes

At the gates of the site

One of Troyes’ beautiful fountains.

Another fountain

A church……

 

Sat 30th June – Troyes to Doussard

We left Troyes at 09.00 and after another long and hot drive, we arrived at our campsite – Le Lac Bleu –  in Doussard, at the Southern end of the beautiful Lake Annecy. around 17.00. This was the second time we had visited the site. We rarely vist the same site twice but we had liked it so much in 2016, we decided to return and had booked the exact same pitch. Our arrival seemed to cause much consternation, there was a lot of staring (maybe it was the motor-mover?) and we actually had to politely turf off a sunbathing couple who had a taken a fancy to our pitch. After quickly getting setup, we immediately went for a swim to cool off.

Our pitch at Le Lac Bleu

Once dried off, we went for a bike ride to survey the “Voie Verte” a fantastic cycle path that runs all the way along the bed of a dis-used railway line from Albertville (site of the 1992 Winter OLympics) to Annecy, with access directly opposite our camp site. We rode up to the landing field (or “atterissage”) for the Paragliders, and whilst downing a cool biere, we watched as many landings took place – this being a really popular centre for Paragliding, Hang Gliding and Micro-Lights.

Whether it was the tiredness, alcohol or sun, we will never know but we found ourselves signing up for each of us to have a tandem flight the following day and with a €50 Euro deposit paid there was no going back!

Excited but with a large dollop of apprehension, we rode back to the site and had dinner at the on-site restaurant, which was a very pleasant end to the day. We had resolved to go to bed early and get up early to make the most of the daylight and so with every window open, plus a fan we settled down for the night with the temperature still in the high twenties. The last time we had visited this site, Archie had been with us and I could not help but think of him as I drifted off to sleep. We had loved taking him on holiday with us and gladly accepted the restrictions his presence placed upon us. We had resolved, as we knew it would be a bitter-sweet time, to do as much as we could to holiday differently, so that his absence would be less marked. I think we may have made a good start?

Sun 1st July – Le Lac Bleu

Our jump was not scheduled until 13.00, so we had some time to do a quick provision shop at the nearest large Carrefour. After getting everything stowed, we cooled down with a quick swim before heading off to the landing site for 12.30 check-in.

Me looking apprehensive!

We were transported to the launch site, along with 3 other jumpers, the instructors and all of the gear in a “Delta Evasion” (very macho) transit van. The launch site is at the Col De La Forclaz.  It was quite a narrow, steep and winding road to the top of the mountain giving everyone lots of time to chicken out! We were made of sterner stuff though and on arrival at the summit, grabbed our harnesses, hiked the last few hundred yards  and lined up on the launch pad. This was basically a large section of astroturf  – a runway that took you over the edge of the mountain.

Us and our instructors

I went first, with my crazy instructor Patrice, who had over 30 years experience of flirting, sorry I mean flying. Once hitched together and the para-wing laid out flat on the ground, Patrice told me to start running, which I duly did and within seconds we were airborne. It was all so fast I didn’t have time to feel nervous!

It is absolutely amazing…. I could bang on about it for hours but I’d run out of superlatives! And it ended all too soon. I had told him we were staying at Le Lac Bleu and he took us over there. He also let me fly the thing for a while, which was fab.

Paul, who had followed me in to the air with an equally experienced, but rather less flirty female instructor (typically he cannot remember her name) actually landed before me and managed to film my landing, which was very graceful (if I say so myself!) and not at all bumpy. We were both exhilarated after our experience and celebrated with a beer and a hotdog – French style. Here’s my landing!

Still smiling like Cheshire Cats, we returned to the campsite for another swim and then started to prepare the boat for our first outing on the lake. The electric outboard quickly took us out to the middle of our section of lake and from our vantage point, we could really appreciate the beauty and splendour of our surroundings. The lake is like a bowl, with its sides fashioned from mountains, including the landmark “Teeth” (as I call them), which are more correctly known as “Les Dents de Lanfon“.

The Teeth!

With the outboard turned off we gently drifted, whilst catching some rays and reading our Kindles. Once we had reached the desired temperature, we returned to shore and had yet another swim – so refreshing.

Next job was building the Cadac to cook our Chinese Pork dinner, which was delicious and then a quick bike ride to work off our supper, which made us a little hot and sweaty, so guess what – we went for another swim. Seems like I spent most of today getting dressed and undressed, but that really was our last swim of the day and we happily retired to our bed, wondering what adventures tomorrow might bring.

 

 


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Sad news 13th Jun 2018

It is with a very heavy heart that I announce the passing of of our adored travelling companion, Archie the Border Terrier, after a short but sharp illness. We will miss you so much little one.  There have been and will be many tears at your passing and our travels will not be the same without you. Life was more difficult for you towards the end, with cataracts, deafness and your body starting to let you down. But not as difficult as our lives will be without you. The tears are flowing as I write this. You were the best dog any one could ever have wished for. Night night pupskip.

The Rainbow Bridge

inspired by a Norse legend

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,

Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.

Where the friends of man and woman do run,

When their time on earth is over and done.

For here, between this world and the next,

Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.

On this golden land, they wait and they play,

Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.

No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,

For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.

Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,

Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.

They romp through the grass, without even a care,

Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.

All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,

Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.

For just at that instant, their eyes have met;

Together again, both person and pet.

So they run to each other, these friends from long past,

The time of their parting is over at last.

The sadness they felt while they were apart,

Has turned into joy once more in each heart.

They embrace with a love that will last forever,

And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.

held

A very young Archie

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One of the last pictures of our beloved boy. 9/6/18

 


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Twilite Leisure, Banbury 8-10 June

Friday 8th

We had viewings on the house and set off right in the middle of one so it was all a bit chaotic, but we were soon trundling up the A34 as we have so oft done before. This weekend was our “Bob & Barb” weekend. Regulars will recall that we met them on our RV trip in Canada back in 2012. We became firm friends and generally meet at least twice a year, now,  to spend some time together and have a good catch-up.

They generally arrive on site well before us as they are fully retired but their journey had not been the smoothest (five and a half hours from Worthing. Oops). They did beat us there, but only just.

“There” was the Twilite Leisure Caravan and Camping Park, which is handily located exactly opposite Twyford Wharf, where we had a day-boat booked for Saturday. It was very easy to miss the site entrance, which could do with some additional signage, we thought. Luckily, we had hired a boat from Twyford Wharf last Autumn so we knew roughly where it would be.

It is an attractively landscaped site with some interesting (ex) industrial buildings. Notably the spotless shower block, which has been built inside an old-brick kiln. Very enterprising.

We got settled and had tea (a CREAM tea for some! Not me. I’ll leave you to guess.) and got nattering. B&B are very easy company and we get on like a house on fire. There is always plenty to talk about. And laugh about. 🙂

It was my turn to cook the Friday evening dinner and I had pre-prepared a Smoked Fish and Spinach pie, which we later ate with some lush Purple Sprouting broccoli. Yum. It was so warm we sat outside for our first course, although as the sun went down the air chilled and we went inside for dessert. Barb provided an array of desserts. And cheese. We went to bed stuffed!

We retired early as we had a reasonably early start the next day – although Bob had got up very early indeed and we found all the previous evening’s washing up done and dried and deposited outside our door when we got up. How nice!!

Saturday 9th

Up early to have breakfast and pack our food, drink and bits and pieces for our day on the boat. Usually there is a short drive to pick up the boat but today, it was walkable! Even with all our gear. The handover was swift and we were soon off towards Adderbury and beyond, heading south on the lovely Oxford Canal.

The weather forecast had not been too promising, predicting an overcast day but it was so much better than anticipated. The countryside looked summer-fresh and it must have been mating day for damsel flies as they were legion! The dog-roses were particularly pretty, too. It was very much a case of being glad to be in England now that (meterological) summer is here (to knowingly and defiantly misquote Robert Browning!).

 

Bob is a natural at the helm and we whistled through the locks, all three of them,  including the unusual diamond shaped weir lock just near Aynho, where the River Cherwell nudges the canal and disappears through a lovely brick-built weir.  This lock has a fall/rise of just 1foot (or 30 cm for younger people among you!). Thence onward to the winding hole that lies just before the impressive Somerton Deep lock. So-called because, yes, it IS deep. In sharp contrast with Aynho weir, it has a fall/rise of 12 feet, which makes it the 16th deepest lock on the waterways. In case you are wondering,  the deepest lock we have ever done is Bath Deep lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which is a whopping 19 feet 5 inches (5.92 m) deep. And that is not even the deepest! That crown falls to Tuel Lane Lock on the Rochdale canal at 19ft 8 1/2 inces (6m) deep. It must be said that both locks are cheating a bit, because they were both originally two locks, rebuilt as one.

 

We turned at the winding hole, although being short, we did not really need the width. Which was just as well as a boat had annoyingly moored just north of the turning “arc”, which would have made it tricky for a longer boat.

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Paul spotting the lunch stop!

We had spotted a pleasant spot for lunch, overlooking the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside and, now we were on the return leg of our journey, we moored for lunch. Quiche (rather tanned as I had left in the oven too long, but nonetheless tasty) with a delicious Greek salad, prepared by Barb. A very nice lunch indeed.

We called in at lovely Anynho Wharf for ice-creams and then continued retracing our steps in the lush HOT afternoon sun. We had noticed a sharp decline in Archie’s ability to get about both on the boat and ashore. He needed help. It highlighted his age and the ever-present thought that that he won’t be around for ever. But we still have him for now and he does seem to still be enjoying his boating.

 

All too soon we were back, handed over the boat and made our way back to the site where our vans were. Time for a G&T! And then it was time to get spruced up for dinner at a local hostelry.

I had booked the Red Lion in Adderbury, and as we sat down and ordered both Paul and I realised – almost simultaneously, – that that this was the pub where we had eaten lunch some 15 years ago, when we went to view Archie and Freddie, with Sue and Paul,  as very young puppies. They were born in Sibford Gower, which is not too far away. We actually took Arch to see his birthplace a few years back. He wasn’t bothered!

We had a nice meal and then made our way home. We had a trip round this beautiful Cotswold village and also to Kings Sutton, another attractive village. Many beautiful houses and privileged people.

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Kings Sutton Church at sunset

Back at the van, we had coffee and more chat and then eagerly hopped into bed. It had been a long day in the fresh air!

Sunday 10th

Another nice day but, sadly, time for us to go home. We had breakfast and another last coffee with B&B. They were staying another night and planned to cycle into Banbury town along the towpath (perhaps not such a good idea in hindsight, as it was not without incident – including a puncture and even a couple of falls; one with rather damp consequences).

We bid them a fond farewell, they cycled off and we packed up and set off on our journey home.  Another lovely weekend in their company. And only 17 days until we set off for our summer break. Woo hoo!

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Lady Heyes Caravan Park, Frodsham, Cheshire 24th – 27th May Plus Crick Boat Show 27th- 29th May

Thursday 24th May

I had booked this site (Lady Heyes)  so very long ago (early 2017) as demand for pitches, complete with their own hot tub is – not unsurprisingly – high! And it was in a part of the world that neither one of us has explored,  so we were really looking forward to it. Although perhaps not to the journey but time would tell. As it was a bank holiday weekend, I think we made the right choice to set off on Thursday. We rolled off the drive just after 09:00 and arrived at our destination at around 15:00 – including a couple of stretch and comfort breaks, for us and Arch, so not too bad, really. The M6 was – by and large – pretty reasonable traffic-wise. We do wonder what the cows make of all the traffic, though!

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It was a really beautiful day and we were excited to finally see our pitch with its really quite private hot tub. Larks! We had to sign forms and get a lesson on operating it but it wasn’t too complex.

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We had a quick cuppa and then set off on an orientation trip. On the way to the site we had spotted the River Weaver (or the Weaver Navigation), so we popped for a quick look round Frodsham ( whose famous residents include Gary Barlow (who was born there ) and Daniel Craig (who lived there at the Ring o’ Bells pub as a child), before heading off to the waterway. It was BIG. A really big boat (trip boat The Daniel Anderson) and high bridges – maybe one day we’ll give it a go, who knows?

As it was such a lovely evening, we thought we’d pop and have a quick look at the nearby  Anderton Boat Lift – a marvel of Victorian engineering which lifts boats down from the Trent and Mersey Canal to the River Weaver below (and vice-versa). Archie (our elderly Border Terrier) had a great time. It was out of commission for quite a while in the 80’s and I have never been up or down it. That’s definitely one for the Canal bucket list.

 

We were peckish by the time we had finished looking round and so we made our way to the pub where we had dinner booked – The Tigers Head in Norley, just south of Frodsham.  Thursday night is Steak Night so, of course that’s what we had, with all the trimmings. It was pretty good. Then it was home to our hot tub and fire pit. What fun!

After this, we retired quite early, as it had been an early start.

Friday 25th May

Lovely peaceful night and I awoke early. I didn’t want to disturb the boys, so I grabbed my towel and shower accoutrements and went off to check out the shower block – of which I had heard good things (award-winning). Had a lovely shower and then settled down for a read until the boys were ready to get up and carpe that diem. Arch always used to be eager to get out and start enjoying himself, but these days he prefers to snuggle in bed as long as he can. Sad to see him getting old.

After such a beautiful day yesterday, the forecast was not so good for today. I had always fancied a visit to Alderley Edge and so we set off in a light drizzle towards “the golden triangle”. This is an area of Cheshire, much loved by WAGs and made famous by the awful “Real Housewives of Cheshire”. The Beckhams, the Rooneys and even Ronaldo have all lived within the area. It is bounded by Wilmslow at the apex and Alderley Edge and Prestbury in the lower two corners.

Wilmslow was actually the first placed we reached. It’s a pretty town – also known as the home of Umbro sportswear. We weren’t tempted to stop though. As we drove through the lush Cheshire countryside, I recalled from my geography lessons that Cheshire was famous for dairy-farming (Mr Bradley would be proud to know) and one can see why. You may be interested to know that Cheshire cheese was once the nation’s favourite, before being taken over by Cheddar.

We arrived in Alderley Edge (average house price just under £700,000 compared with Fareham at £320,000 and nationally around £230,000) and parked in the Waitrose car park. Well we did need a few bits – as usual! We then had a walk round and I had a good poke around the charity shops. My best find was a Coccinelle  – an upmarket (ish) Italian brand – handbag for £50. Even though I love a designer handbag, I didn’t buy it. They’re not really my style.

We have noticed – on our travels – that there are many fine and imposing churches in the area and the one in Alderley Edge is no exception. After the Edge, we pressed on to Knutsford – named after King Canute, he of the failure to stop the tide coming in story, that every kid knows (or maybe not these days?). His bones apparently are in Winchester, by the way. Nowadays, it’s allegedly home to comedian Sarah Millican. We didn’t see her.

It’s another pretty market town with some lovely buildings and looked very festive as we drove through. The weather was not conducive to much exploration, although it did look to be improving. We thus decided to press on towards finding the Trent and Mersey canal – location of many a happy holiday. We passed one of the imposing gates to Tatton Hall on the way. We’ll save a visit until next time.

 

One of the other things Cheshire is famous for is salt. Very handy for that salty, tangy cheese! In fact over-zealous salt-mining (since Roman times)  has been the cause of much subsidence in the area. As you pass along the T&M you can still see piles of salt on the bank and one of the most famous old workings (Lion Salt Works)  has now been turned into a museum.  And Northwich has – even in this century been given aid to stabilise the old workings.

Anyway – it was to the “The Salt Barge” just opposite the museum that we repaired for our (late) lunch. Which was – OK. We passed some flashes – small lakes/meres caused by salt or lime workings – on the way there. They are now a fantastic resource for wildlife and recreation. Much like the canals, their industrial beginnings are now to our advantage.

Next we stopped at a couple of marinas to get some idea of how easy casual moorings are to come by and the costs thereof – for a “future project”. One of them  – Venetian – we have visited quite a few times by boat, but the other is relatively new, we think? Venetian is on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal – which is currently the victim of a serious breach and which must surely have had a bad impact on their trade.

A hot-tub, cuppa and perhaps a gentle snooze beckoned, but not before we had popped to have a quick look at the famous Bunbury Locks – a staircase lock, which causes a few puzzled frowns and scratched heads when people first encounter it. The signs are very useful for first-timers!

 

Bunbury

As you can see – it was still a bit grey and overcast but that didn’t stop us having a lovely warm, bubbly soak! Which we repeated after dark, just because we could . The rules dictate that you are out of it by 10.45, which I think entirely reasonable.  It’s very pretty at night,  with a variety of colours to choose.

 

Saturday 26th May

Another grey day, so we decided we’d go and have a look at the mighty Mersey before a cycle ride round the Delamere Forest.  But first – a full English, cooked on the CADAC. De-flipping-lish – and plenty left over for our sandwiches for tomorrows trip down South. Note the omnipresent and ever-hopeful canine!

Suitably fortified (OK – well stuffed!) we set off for the Mersey. Well one thing led to another and we eventually ended up in Birkenhead, where the ferries across the Mersey ply their trade. It’s quite an exciting waterfront and we took plenty of pics – of which a selection below.

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The Liver Building

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Ferry

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HAMILTON SQUARE – Birkenhead

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Birkenhead Priory

We made our way back up the estuary and stopped at Eastham – site of one of the earliest crossings of the Mersey (since the Middle Ages) for a coffee. There is a cafe in the former ticket office and a very friendly and knowledgeable chap runs it.  He is obviously –  and justifiably – very proud of his heritage. Eastham was, by all accounts, quite the place to go in Victorian times, with pleasure gardens and even a zoo! Apparently the bear pit can still be seen. Sadly it’s heyday was many years ago, now. But it’s pleasant spot and has been designated a Country Park.

Our next stop (for this was turning into a full on expedition!) was Ellesmere Port  – not to be confused with pretty, sleepy Ellesmere in Shropshire. We had visited Ellesmere Port by boat so it was interesting to see it from a different perspective. It was very much as I remembered, being the terminus of the Shropshire Union Canal and also the site of the tail end of the Manchester Ship Canal, before it merges with the Mersey. It’s quite an exciting place to come by boat as it is also also the site of the National Waterways Museum, which we have explored in the past.

Time was ticking away now, and if we were going to do that bike ride in the forest, it was time to press on. We were still quite full from our breakfast, so had not bothered with lunch. It was a bit late to do the planned 7 mile Whitemore trail route, so we chose the shorter 4 mile Hunger Hill trail. Maybe it would help us work up an appetite for an ice-cream?

It was such a lovely ride. Once again we found ourselves wishing we lived closer to such a great resource. Archie had a great time although his enthusiasm and stamina have sadly decreased quite sharply in the last year. He still enjoys it but flags quite soon. In his youth he’d just run and run all day.

By the time we had finished our circuit, the ice-cream booth had closed. And we were SO up for it! Shame. Still – we stopped at the Delamere Station House Cafe Tea Rooms (very mixed bunch of reviews on Trip Advisor) and had a cream tea instead. Naughty but very nice! It’s a real working station on the main Chester to Manchester line. Feels odd sitting there in some ways – you’d expect to see a steam train but it’s a modern diesel that comes thundering through.

We made our way home and had a relax before starting some packing for leaving the next day. Later, I cooked a Chicken and Mushroom Risotto in my new Paella dish on the Cadac – delicious it was too. Although it was a bit beige – hardly a surprise, as all the ingredients actually are beige, but I usually put some peas in it at home – to cheer it up a bit.  And then it was a bit of telly and a hot tub  and shower before bed.

Sunday 27th May 

Thanks largely to our packing efforts last night, and a simple breakfast, we left the site by 09:45 – even after taking time to make sandwiches for the trip. Egg mayonnaise with sausage and bacon. Yum!! We will miss our hot tub and I’d definitely visit again – still plenty to see in the area. And it was such a contrast to the site where we had spent the early May bank holiday. We didn’t feel at all over crowded or hemmed in – even though trade was clearly brisk.

The journey down to our next site was not quite so smooth. For some reason, the M6 was shut near Coventry and we had to make a lengthy and slow detour on alternative roads. But we arrived by about 1.30 pm and got set up. Our new site was a small one – with no hook-up – in the village of Kilsby, situated between Rugby (Warks) and Daventry (Northants), but more importantly, just a stone’s throw from Crick, where we were attending an event the next day. It is called Shire View and my goodness, you could see why. It was approached by means of a bumpy and steep-ish track and surrounded by fields. Our nearest neighbours were sheep  and chickens and there was a beautiful panoramic view our over the lush countryside. Delightful.

I had been a little worried that it might be a bit noisy, as it was sandwiched between the M1 and M45 and also right on the West Coast Main Line, but there was only a little road roar and Kilsby is the site of KIlsby Tunnel (2,400 yds) and thus we were also protected from train noise. You pass one of the tunnel’s recently renovated ventilation shaft on the track up to the site. We were very pleased to be there.

We were not alone – there was another seasonally sited caravan (not occupied) and a camper van (occupied) on 2 of the 5 pitches. But it still felt roomy. Set up was achieved and then we went out for a quick explore, as there would not be time the next day. As neither of us had ever been,  we decided to aim for Rugby, home to the famous Rugby school and – of course, the birthplace of Rugby Football.

Rugby School

A Rugby pitch – in Rugby

Rugby School motto

I had not realised how central the school is, imagining it on the outskirts of town or even in countryside. It has some fine buildings, but the beautiful main building is not easy to photograph. We went for a walk round and found – to our intense joy – a proper Italian gelato shop. This called for a stop. Maia Gelato is a fairly new addition to Rugby town centre, which in common with many other town centres today, looks a little tired. We sat outside and enjoyed our delicious ice-creams – although the experience was a just slightly marred by a strong smell of urine from the alleyway just nearby. Shame.

Yum! Salted Caramel.

That stinky alleyway!

 

On the way back, we popped to Crick to check out the location of the Boat Show we were scheduled to attend the next day. There had been a lot of rain, locally, and it looked a bit muddy, so we resolved to wear walking boots.

The air was quite sultry and as we arrived back at the van, we could hear the vague rumble of thunder and thus followed and hour or so of constant rumbling as the storm approached (as demonstrated in the video above). I have never known anything like it. As it drew nearer, one crack of thunder was so loud the caravan actually shook! Luckily, Archie is now a little deaf or else he would have been terrified. There was rain of biblical proportions, and it later transpired that Birmingham, in particular, had experienced flash floods. This did not bode well for conditions under foot for tomorrow.

 

The storm eventually passed and we had supper and retired early (no TV!) ready for the next day. Missed the hot tub. Such a great relaxer.

Monday 28th May

This day would have been by dear old Mum’s 86th birthday and I sent her some happy birthday wishes, wherever she is.

The day had dawned warm and we decided to take risks by not wearing – or even carrying – waterproof gear. The thought of wearing it (too hot) or carting it around (too heavy) all day was too much. So we set off in our boots with a pair of umbrellas (our trusty Fulton Tornados)  which we hoped would see us right. If they’re good enough for HRH they’ll certainly do for us!

We set off for Crick, site of the Inland Waterways Boat Show for the last 18 years. We arrived very shortly, parked and set off across the vaguely muddy fields. Luckily the organisers had laid walkways everywhere so conditions under foot in the show itself were better than anticipated. We had a good look round before meeting with our boat builder. Reader – it can now be told. We have decided a life on the canal is our future goal and we hope to be happily ensconced on our new-build boat within the next year or so! Exciting times. After much research over the winter, we chose Ortomarine to build for us. They were showing their most recent build at the Show and we had an appointment to view and meet with them again. Them being Caroline and Rob, a very nice couple, with whom we feel we can work. Their latest boat had some innovations which were were very interested to see and we came away from our meeting feeling very happy and with the sense of having chosen well re-confirmed. It had been worth attending the show for that feeling alone.

It was NOT worth attending for the food however. We had a very lacklustre and overpriced lunch before exploring the rest of the show. By mid-afternoon it was HOT! We had definitely made the right decision about coats, too. Archie had had enough of being dragged about and so we left and went back to the van for a snooze. Dinner tonight was home-made pizza on the Cadac. Versatile piece of kit, eh? And it was delish – despite forgetting the pizza peel, which made moving it (from work surface to pizza stone) a bit of challenge! We overcame. We ate. We enjoyed.

We read for a while  and then went to bed, tired, happy and relaxed. Nice feeling.

Tuesday 29th May 

Home time. We set off early and Paul was back at his desk by lunchtime. A lovely break. Looking ahead, we have our annual “Bob & Barb” weekend – on the canal again , this year. On the Oxford again, but this time near Banbury and – at the end of June – France beckons. Can’t wait. And exciting, sometimes stressful times ahead too, as we put our house on the market and find a new, smaller shore base. Watch this space!!