On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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France 2013 – Day 1 Thurs 4th July

The day had finally dawned and I spent the morning  packing and ticking things off lists while Paul finished all those myriad jobs that you need to do before you finish work for a long break.  He had started very early and beavered away until he was happy that he had done all he could.  We quickly threw our last few bits in the van and hitched up. We got away by about 3.30 which meant that we could complete the drive down to our first night stop near the Tunnel in good time. The Drum Inn is very close to the Tunnel and yet it has a countryside charm and is very quiet. It’s ideally located for an overnighter and would also be a good base for exploring that part of Kent. It has showers, and hook-up and some hard-standings. As we were only staying overnight and had an early start, the landlord let us park still hitched so that all we had to do in the morning was put up the steadies and drive off. Very handy.

Overnighter at the Drum Inn, Kent

We had a nice meal there and played the first game in our “Cribathon” – this one went to Paul – and then it was off to bed ready for our early start.


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France 2013 – Day 2 Fri 5th July

What’s that noise? A 6.45 alarm! But there was no lounging and pressing the sleep button countless times this morning. We sprang out of bed, raring to go. Quick ablutions and then it was up with the steadies and we were off. The latest check-in for our crossing was 7.50 and we were there in plenty of time – despite missing the turning and having to do a quick three-pointer  – no mean feat with a caravan behind! The morning was already heating up as we arrived and this was to set the tone for the weather for the whole holiday, although we did not know it then.

Driving on to the train

Driving on to the train

As it was term-time, there was the usual procession of excited school kids running up down the train but all of a sudden – there we were in France! We had a journey of around 320 miles (5-6 hours) ahead but very soon stopped for breakfast at the first Aire we could find. Coffee and pains au chocolate (or PACs as we came to know them). Delicious. It was hot!

Our route (see here – avoiding Paris at all costs!) took us through Abbeville, Rouen, Alencon, Le Mans, Saumur and finally to Camping de Chantepie, where we had 2 nights booked. We had made plenty of stops on the way and finally arrived at around 5.30. We were delighted with our pitch, which we felt was probably the most stunning ever, with an amazing view over the Loire.

What a view!

What a view!

We swung into our setting up routine and were soon sitting overlooking that view with a reviving cuppa. Lovely.

The fan which we had brought with us was very quickly plugged in and was to be our saviour  over the ensuing days as it was so hot – particularly at night. We packed the duvet away and spent most nights to come under just a sheet and occasionally a throw on top in the chilly hours of the morning.

After a brief relax, it was time to go off on a victualling expedition. Luckily, there was a brand new E. Leclerc in Saumur and we not only shopped there but ate there – much better food than UK supermarkets in our opinion.  We then had a quick flip round Saumur to get our bearings.

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Château – Saumur

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It was a beautiful evening and the crowning glory was watching a couple of air balloons drifting by.  I was very envious. This is a common sight along the Loire and we have some pictures in a later post.

We got back to the ‘van and unpacked our purchases and then fell very happily into bed with the Cribathon standing at 2-0 to Mr S.


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France 2013 – Day 3 Sat 6th July – exploring La Loire

Another hot day with a peak temp of around 32 degrees and it was time for an all-too-brief explore of the surrounding area. We set off along the Loire, stopping to photograph  the church and dungeon tower at Treves and also  Fontrevaud Abbey, which is huge.

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We followed the wine production route, had a pleasant lunch and returned home with very a good impression of the beauty of the area. Chateaux and troglodytes!

As there was a terrain at the site, we bought some drinks and had a game of pétanque. Winner? Why me, of course! The pool looked good but we did not have time to use it as we were moving on the next day. It’s a great site and I would return with no hesitation – and would like to.

Sumps in pointing pose.

Sumps in pointing pose.

The pools - very inviting

The pools – very inviting

We had  a very pleasant dinner at the on-site restaurant that night and then returned to the ‘van to read and play cards. We know how to live! By this time, we had every available orifice open in the ‘van because of the heat. There was a party that night in a nearby house with loud music. Still going at 5 am! Respect for their staying power but not quite what we wanted for the soundtrack for our night’s sleep!


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France 2013 – Day 4 Sun 7th July – off to the Lot valley

Another longish drive today down to the Lot Valley today, so we set off sharply at 8.30 with coffee and PACs for breakfast en route. It was about 245 miles but seemed much longer as it was so hot. I kept the driver entertained with a combination of French radio (Virgin is our favourite station) , my 500 track Spotify playlist  and crosswords. The track of the holiday was One Day/Reckoning Song by Asaf Avidan and the Mojos.  Check it out here.

Our route took us through Poitiers, Limoges and Brive-la-Gaillarde and there were quite a few stops. We arrived at our destination – Camping Chateau de Lacomte – at around 3 pm.  This was a larger adults-only site with a bar, restaurant and swimming pool and we were scheduled to stay for 7 blissful nights. It is very much out in the sticks and situated in the “black triangle” – where there is no light pollution and the sky at night is a sight to behold. The site is in the Regional Natural Park of Causses du Quercy which is another beautiful area.  The “Causses” as I understand it, are limestone plateaus and cliffs and are part of the Massif Central.

As you might expect, one of the first things out of the car was the fan – swiftly followed by the gin! Dinner at the bar that night and plans for a lazy day at the pool for the next day. A break from all the travelling – although don’t get me wrong, it was WELL worth the long journey.

At dinner, we noticed the flies – myriads of them and persistent? Unbelievably so. There followed a week of death matches – Sumps versus the flies! With his trusty Executioner fly swat (which I had had the foresight to pack, just in case, thank goodness).

The Executioner – in killing mode

The night was so quiet and so dark it was unbelievable and we slept like logs. We think we’re gonna like it here. Oh – and the Cribathon stands at 3-1 to Sumps.


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France 2013 – Day 5 Mon 8th July – relaxing mainly

It was a lovely day and we had breakfast ( fresh melon, yoghurt, baguette and jam and a strong coffee) outside but by 0900 Paul said “I’m too hot, I’m going indoors!

As we needed a few provisions (mainly BBQ bits) , we decide to go out reasonably early and  come back and have a swim and read by the pool. Good strategy. We drove to Labastide-Murat, where there there is a handy supermarket and also – to our pleasure – we found it was market day. So we sauntered around – it was quite big but there was nothing we fancied so we went to the bar for a biere.  Another good strategy! Whilst there we noticed that there was a friendly Petanque evening on Friday and resolved to pop along and play.

While we were out, we got a message from George saying “Call me!” That’s not usually a good text to get and this was no exception. George had a call at 0545 from Uncle D saying that the dog had escaped – he could not find him anywhere. George got up to get dressed and go looking for him and then he heard a scratching at the front door! Archie had made his way home. Across a busy main road – i.e the A27!  High drama but no real harm done, thank goodness. Mad dog!

Place de la Mairie – Labastide Murat

The Pool.

The Pool.

We spent the afternoon as planned and got ourselves ready for the Monday night quiz. It was great fun and they also had a promotion for Desperados – a flavoured beer – our take on it was that you’d have to be pretty blimmin’ desperado to drink it!

It was a good evening and we came third – two teams having tied for 1st place.  Retired with the Cribathon score standing at 4-2.


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France 2013 – Days 6/7 Tues 9th,Weds 10th July – Rocamadour, caves, etc.

Having had a quiet day it was time to explore. So – off to Rocamadour.  We had been once before about 20 years ago but it is pretty impressive and well worth a return.  The town is built into the cliff above the Dordogne river and draws many tourists and justifiably so.

Rocamdour 1

Rocamdour 1

Rocamadour 2

Rocamadour 2

Of particular interest is the Black Madonna or Vierge Noire. We had seen her before but again – she was worth a repeat. Paul managed a sneaky – if irreverent – photo of her. As you can see, she is pretty tiny! Maybe 24″?

Black Madona of Rocamadour

Black Madona of Rocamadour

Because the town is on several levels there is a cliff railway buried deep inside the cliff (so as not to distract from the view) to take you down to the Sanctuary level. Its cool was most welcome. There is a conventional elevator – again buried inside the cliff – to take you down to town level. The town was FAR less tacky touristy than we remembered. Perhaps they have had a rethink on tat? Although it was still there if you really wanted a Black Madonna snow globe or suchlike!

Cliff Railway

Cliff Railway

SUMPS ROCAMADOUR Archway Roca

It was hot again (over 35 degrees) and so we decided to make our next visit to one of the many and very impressive caves that stud the limestone. Our choice was Lacave – it was the nearest! We made our way there, pausing only for lunch – a very tasty Magret de Canard et frites. Mmmm. Check out the translation on that link for Lacave by the way. Amusing.

We had a very short wait before the Petit Train arrived and transported us into the bowels of the earth – or thereabouts! Once we disembarked there was an hour and half walking tour of the Grotte – if I’m honest it was a little too long. The sights were marvellous, they really were, but you can only shuffle through a damp (cool!) cave with about 50 others, listening to a rapid French only narration and explanation of its sights,  before you start to lose the will to live.  Just a little. All caved out was how I described it at the time. Soon the Petit Train had expelled us back into the daylight, tired and grubby.

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We made our way home via the E Leclerc in Souillac – more supplies although I can’t recall quite what. We played boules again and this time Paul won, although I was feeling a bit dodgy at the time. Honestly!! Got my own back at the card table, bringing the score to 4-3 – in his favour. Coming back !

Wednesday was another relaxing day by the pool. We were having lunch in the bar when suddenly a lone sheep trotted by. It transpired that it had been spotted here and there all over the site from an early hour but no-one had been able to catch it. It had escaped from the adjacent farm and soon the farmer turned up mob-handed and they swiftly had her back in their control. Sweet. Just missed capturing her myself – on film of course…..

We got chatting to a couple in the pool and it turned out they were from Hillhead! Better yet the chap turned out to be our Sainsbury’s groceries delivery driver. Didn’t recognise him without his clothes on! Small world eh? We had a lovely lazy and relaxing day

We went out to a local and really quite rustic pizza place and had a very nice meal in their front garden. For a while were the only diners and then another carload of English turned up. Nice chat with them before we set off back to Lacomte for a nightcap at the bar. We got chatting to another couple – this time from Chandler’s Ford! Has the whole of Hampshire decamped to the Lot?

Beautiful sunset.

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France 2013 – Days 8/9 Thurs 11th, Fri 12th July – Lot river/laziness

Up early today very excited  for our day on the River Lot. We were picking the boat up from Lot Croisieres in Bouzies – about 45 minute’s drive away and had to be there by 0900.  I think Mr S rather relished driving the country lanes sans caravan!

We arrived on the dot to find that they had problems with their card machine so ended up having to leave Paul’s driving licence as security. I should mention here that we’d asked for a 2-4 berth but they only had a 7 berth on the day we wanted, which was 50 Euros more. I managed to blag it for the price of the 2-4 berth, though. Result! Bouzies by the way is very pretty and accessed mainly by an attractive one-way bridge. Actually doesn’t look too attractive in the pic but we liked it.

Bridge at Bouzies

Bridge at Bouzies – with Croisieres Lot in the foreground.

We had a quite detailed briefing – in  rapid French. I understood a good proportion of it  but there was also a manual with everything we needed to know,which had at least some bits in English.  We’d be OK.

We set off in convoy for our first and probably most dramatic lock. Another French briefing and we felt it was quite lucky that we had at least done locks before. Although they are quite different, the principle is the same, thankfully – if a bit quirky and VERY hard work.

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On the way to our first lock

The towpath

The towpath

Carvings - see below for more info

Carvings – see below for more info

In the lock

In the lock

The towpath is hewn from the cliff and there are some recent carvings done by a chap called Daniel Monnier- see here for a little more info. There was a boat full of young English chaps, who were very keen to do all the work so we let them. In that heat who wouldn’t?! But  note that their keenness very soon petered out, once they had experienced how very hard the locks were. The first few locks were a doddle, though, thanks to them.

The scenery is just breathtaking. So very beautiful. We could scarcely take it all in.

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St- Cirq-Lapopie

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I’m running out of superlatives for this section, but Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, perched on the cliff is beautiful, amazing, wonderful. In a survey it was awarded the honour of being France’s favourite village and you can clearly see why. It was nice to see it from river level but we later saw it at eye level.

One by one we lost our fellow boaters – a couple to swimming and one to lunch so the next few locks we did alone – including one quite deep lock which was a teeny bit scary as we could not communicate very well. Paul aloft and me in charge of the boat – called Chodoulou by the way. Luckily it was very manoeuvrable and easy to control.

Shortly after this we tied up to twig for our picnic lunch – scrummy. And if the region suddenly starts spouting loads of new cherry trees? That’ll be us and our long-distance cherry-pit spitting prowess. 🙂

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St Cirq-Lapopie Lock

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Me at the helm

SUmps working up a sweat

Sumps working up a sweat

P1010630The base at Bouzies

I can’t tell you how much we loved this trip. Looking back, we both felt it was the absolute highlight of our holiday.  I would seriously consider a full week/two week holiday on this canal. Maybe next year? Need to research.

After we had handed the boat back, we drove to St Cirq to see it from land level. Equally impressive. It was just a quick trip and we resolved to come back another day for a better look. On the way home, we stopped for drinks at a patisserie and picked up some of our favourites – flan. They were also selling something I had never encountered before – Jesuites.  There was just one left – it turned out to be a crispy/almondy/puff pastry delight! We’d certainly eat that again.

Home to a barbecue and the thought of another pool day tomorrow. Happy.

The next day was Friday and also a relaxation day. Hours of reading and dipping in the pool. Just perfect.

It was, too,  Petanque day – or evening to be exact – in Labastide-Murat. Exciting and nerve-racking in equal measures. It’s been a long time for me and never for Paul and we did not want to let ourselves down.

We rocked up to the bar that we had visited a couple of times earlier in the week and which bore the poster for the evening’s event. A couple of beers and it was past 2030 – the advertised time. We asked if it would be going ahead and he said of course, but remember – you are in France. Soon after that a couple of old boys appeared with their boules, so we bashfully sidled over. They made us feel very welcome – if a bit awkward (well I did as the only woman there!).  A few more appeared and suddenly it was game on.

It was a melee – which means one guy throws the cochonnet (jack) and another gathers one boule from each assembled player and drops them near the coch.  I should say at this point for those that don’t know – competition boules have to be stamped with the maker’s name and unique number and also the weight so that they are easily identifiable. Pairs are formed by the person whose ball is nearest the coch and then furthest.  We were 8 in total.  Paul and I played with our partners  – me with Camile (late 60s) and Paul with Ludo (30s).

We played until  about 11.30 and had a lot of laughs. There were some stunningly good shots and also some stunningly bad shots from us but we weren’t alone in that! It was very friendly and at the end Camile told Paul that I had played well. Happy again! He also bought a round of drinks which we wanted to pay for to say thanks for including us but he would not hear of it. We both agreed in retrospective that that had been our best evening. Loved it.  We tiptoed home very quietly so as not to wake the campers, tired but on a high.