On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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The Spinney – for the Alresford Show – 30/8 to 2/9

Thursday 30th Aug

This was our annual Evie and Lenny weekend, which had had to be re-arranged due to Paul’s work commitments. It was originally scheduled to have been on the August Bank Hols weekend and we are actually glad that we didn’t have them with us, in the end,  as the the weather was rather less than sparkly.

I drove to pick them up, together with Uncle D (who had been staying at Bruce & Mel’s for a couple of days) and we met at the usual venue – Guildford Cathedral on Thursday afternoon. The arranged time was 2 pm and I drove into the grounds and parked, swiftly followed by Bruce. Very handy. We loaded up with all their bits and pieces and drove home, after dropping off Uncle D.

George had very kindly given up his bedroom for the night for Lenny. George would be sleeping in the van and Lenny was very excited to have a double bed to himself. Poor Lenny was finding it hard to be in the house and going away in the caravan with Archie. He really did love that dog.

After dinner (perennial favourite meatballs and Spaghetti) we went out for a trip down to Southsea and rocked up at the fair – which is not what it used to be but pretty amazing through a kid’s eyes. But it closes at 8 pm these days! What’s that all about? We went on the Big Wheel all together and then we split up – Lenny and I on the Roller Coaster and Evie and Uncle Paul on the Waltzer. Then we bought pots of 2p coins and had fun on the cascades. Lenny learnt that fairgrounds are not very fair. A hard lesson.

And then it was back  for hot chocolate and bed. Lenny went out like a light and Evie followed soon after.

Friday 31st Aug

Paul did the breakfast shift and then I took over while he worked. We wiled away an hour or so with TV and games and then we popped out to see Sue and her new Puppy – Lulu.  Lulu was very excited to see us and I think she was a bit much for Lenny! Luckily, Sue and Paul have a new trampoline and they both enjoyed playing on that while Sue and I had a catch-up.

On the way home for lunch, we popped into to Sainsburys. As is traditional, the kids had packed unsupervised and – as is always the case -there were obviously missing items. Just pants this year. Most years it’s pants AND socks. I think their parents use it as an opportunity to refresh the kids’ underwear drawer –  for free!! We also bought comics – to tide us over until Uncle Paul could finish work.

Then it was home for lunch and a short wait until it was time for them to help with the hooking-up process. Lenny was allowed to use the motor mover, which he seemed to enjoy. And then we were off. It’s less than an hour to New Alresford – although we took a slightly dodgy route down a narrow lane! Don’t ask! But we had visited The Spinney last year, too, and were soon set up and the kids were very helpful again, with Lenny helping Uncle Paul with the steadies and Evie going off to fetch the water.

The people opposite us had a drone and were flying it which afforded us some amusement. There were a couple of other vans there, but plenty of space for Lenny to kick a ball around (with out any fear of damaging other units) and he and Paul spent some time doing that. But soon there was more work to do.

We had bought a new “event shelter” after a tip-off. They were reduced to £12.95 and looked too good to pass on, so this was a first outing for it. Useful if we want to cook outside and it’s raining. The kids helped us erect that and then it was time for them to cook their dinner. Sausages, smiles and beans for them, mash for us. I think they enjoyed the process and were overjoyed to have potato smiles as a treat. Poor deprived kids!

While I washed up, Paul and the kids walked into town to pick up the one thing we had forgotten. I have now forgotten what that was! But it doesn’t matter, they enjoyed the walk.  When they got back, Lenny wiped up and then we played a game of “Say What” and then it was time for all of us to go to bed – a process which took at least half an hour, maybe longer. We read for a bit and then it was lights out.

Saturday 1st September

Well  – we weren’t expecting that! No-one stirred until gone 8 o’clock. How lovely! We are used to an early start with them but this was really quite civilised.  We had breakfast and then set off for the show. We parked and walked through to the site and started looking at all the stalls. Lenny spotted some finger-less gloves which he ABSOLUTELY had to have, despite attempted persuasion otherwise. We saw some Giant African Snails – which only I had the nerve to hold (look at Len’s face!) and then made our way to the climbing wall and Lenny had a go on that – he’s the right build for climbing. Then the kids had a milkshake, while I queued for coffee.

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Unbeknownst to the kids, we had arranged for George and Beth to join us for the day, so that the cousins could spend a rare day together,  and we met up with them, before touring the livestock section. By now it was very hot indeed! We stopped in at the petting farm and talked to turkeys, chatted to chickens, gossiped with goats, dallied with donkeys and then cuddled a few furry things. Finally the kids both had a go at milking – kinda…

We then moved on through to the sheep, where I showed Lenny just how deep a sheep’s wool was (and thus how hot they might be) then cattle, then pigs and then we were all thirsty so we went for a drink and a sit down.

Beth and I had frozen cocktails which were amazing. We ate our picnic and then set off again. Daredevil Lenny wanted to go on the scary looking slide thing , so we took advantage of some seats in the shade while he climbed up and threw himself off a tall thing.

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Evie and I then went and watched the Donkey racing (hilarious!) while Len took a few photo opportunities and had a go on a ride simulator (of sorts!).

We were all boiling hot and decided to decamp to New Alresford, where there is a nice ice-cream parlour/ tea room. But first there was a few vintage cars to pose by.

It was a good decision. The Tiffin Tea Rooms have a great choice of cakes and some lovely ice-cream flavours and we were soon all tucking in.

After that, we said goodbye to George and Beth and went back to the van. We decided to show the kids how to play Petanque with Paul coaching Lenny and me coaching Evie and we all had a fun game. I can’t actually remember who won, but it didn’t really matter. Paul and Lenny went off to play more football while Evie and I read for a bit and then it was time to get ready to go out. We were off to Pizza Express for dinner. It was a very pleasant meal and we enjoyed just sitting and chatting. I noticed how grown and confident my lovely Evie had become when she went off to the loo all on her own. Even a year ago she would have wanted someone to go with her. Lenny has always had that confidence, bless him.

We went back to the van and played a game of Beetle. I think Paul won that too! And then it was the bedtime routine  – which seemed to go on a bit – but we were soon all snuggled in bed. I think all of us were tired because it went quiet quite quickly!

Sunday 2nd September

We awoke at a reasonable hour and set about making Blueberry Pancakes. I use a very simple Jamie recipe that just uses cups, so there is no need for scales and other complicated equipment – although a whisk does come in handy. If there are only two of you – use a small teacup and for four use a larger mug. It’s so easy.

Recipe

1 cup SR flour

1 cup of milk

1 egg

Punnet of blueberries

Whisk all the ingredients together before adding the blueberries. Use a hot surface – a frying pan would do – very lightly greased. Pour a circle(s) of batter onto the hot surface – they will spread a bit, so remember to leave a gap between them. They are usually cooked one side when you can see dimples/holes in the raw side. Flip them over and cook that side until it has the right shade of brown for you and serve. I serve with maple syrup but the choice is yours.

The kids seemed to enjoy making the batter and cooking them – and they certainly enjoyed eating them! They went down very well indeed.

After brekker, Lenny did some more boules practice – declaring it his favourite game after football. He looked pretty good after a bit of practice. And then it was more football for the boys, while Evie and I started gathering up their bits and pieces and packing them ready to return them to their parents. It had all gone way too quickly and we had had such a lovely time. We gave them lunch and snacks for the journey and off they went.

We had decided that – for speed – I would stay and tidy up the van while Paul ran the kids back to Guildford. I was so sad to see them go. Look forward to spending more time with them soon. It didn’t take Paul long – straight up the Hog’s Back to Guildford. I had only just finished cleaning and tidying when he arrived back and we quickly packed up the van and were home in time to have a bit of a relax, before the next week kicked off. I’m not currently sure when our next time away in the van will be, so keep a look out for our next adventure.

 


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Bristol to Wales 23-27 August

Thursday 23rd

We’re back at Orchard Bank – it’s been a while! We did all the tasks that required us to nip back home on Wednesday and made the return journey today, at about 18:30. We drove through the heart of Bristol this time and it was nice to see all the sights. It was also lovely to see our van safe and sound when we arrived. So grateful to the owners of the site for keeping a lookout. And it kind of feels like home, somehow?

We had stopped for a very naughty – and very rare – MacDonalds on the way, so no food was required. Just a quick coffee and then it was lights out for yet another early start.

Friday 24th

We had originally booked to stay at the next site – Llangorse Lake – from the Thursday night and had thus rung and arranged to arrive early today – because we could. It would also help avoid the Bank Hol weekend traffic – or that was the plan. So the alarm was set for 06:00 and we got up and packed the van and hitched up for a last pass through those blooming gates. I’m not really complaining – they are a necessary evil and would make it pretty hard to make a fast get-away. Although, I guess if you’re nicking a caravan, you’re not going to be too scrupulous about closing a couple of gates! But they might be a bit of a deterrent?  It’s a pretty tight exit actually! But soon we were on our way. We have really enjoyed this CL and will definitely stay again, should the need arise. We’d be glad to.

We planned to stop at the first services to grab brekker “on the hoof”, but sadly that plan went awry when we missed the flipping exit. I say we –  but as I wasn’t driving I was reading…. Ah well. The first opportunity (it’s not always easy stopping when your total length is around 12.5 metres!) to stop was thus at Morrisons in Abergavenny. The coffee wasn’t bad but I threw my pastry away half-eaten. Vile.

We pressed on and the traffic was not too bad (phew!) and we arrived at Llangorse at around 09:30. We set up and had a bowl of cereal and I had a bit of a relax while Paul did a bit of work. The skies opened and it poured down. We were under a tree, which makes the  rain sound worse somehow and the sound of large acorns bouncing on the roof only added to the noise! But eventually it cleared up and we set off out.

Llangorse Lake Campsite view

We thought we’d pop to Brecon for a look round but as we arrived it started to heave it down. We bolted into Costa and took refuge in a coffee until it passed again. I wondered if this would be the weather story all weekend. Brecon is a nice little town and we remembered our visit there some years ago with our friends Sue & Paul and our lovely dogs Freddie and Archie, both of whom we miss terribly. It was in August 2007, before we started caravanning, but I remembered that the site was called  Brynich. It seems it is now a Caravan and Motorhome Club site. We had a lot of laughs at that site in our tenting days.

A few views of Brecon:

We had hired a day boat on the Mon and Brec canal with Paul & Sue, and this fact leads me to our next destination – we popped to have a quick look at the canal and were lucky enough to see a boat in the lock. It was the trip boat from Brecon. The canal is an interesting size, being wider than the usual narrow canal lock width (such as on the Oxford Canal) which is 7 feet, but not as wide as the usual wide lock – (such as on the Trent & Mersey Canal) which is 14 feet. The Mon & Brec locks are around 9 feet wide and their wide boats are, of course, built accordingly. So – consider yourself informed!! The canal runs adjacent to the very attractive River Usk, which is crossed by a packhorse bridge nearby, where my Lord and Master is pictured.

We then took a general tour of the area, mainly reservoirs – Talybont, Ponsticill etc and they all looked pretty low on water after our very hot summer. We also had a lunch stop near Torpantau at the Old Barn Tea Rooms. Very pleasant and nice, freshly-made sarnies. After which we looked out for the Brecon Mountain Railway, as we had spotted odd puffs of steam and heard a whistle. We got an all too brief glimpse and, sadly, you’ll have to rely on the pictures on the link above,  but we also saw a very attractive ventilation shaft for a disused tunnel at Pant Station. Sadly it was too late to take a trip but it does look well worth doing.

It took about an hour to get back home to the van and we had time for a quick wash and brush up before going out for dinner. I had booked a table at Hills, just outside Brecon. It’s a burger joint with wonderful views of the Beacons. We had a lovely meal and would definitely return if we were in the area again. We drove home and settled down for the remainder of the evening, although it wouldn’t  be a late night, in view of our recent early rises. Or that was the plan. We were snoozing soundly when we were awoken by our new neighbours arriving back at their moho with their three barking dogs and loud “see you tomorrows” and lots of noisy laughter. Which went on a bit. There are rules on campsites  – usually no noise after 10:30  – which most people (including us) follow religiously. Not them.  I asked them to desist but they carried on regardless. We were not amused.

Saturday 26th

We awoke quite early (must be getting used to it?) and found ourselves moving around and whispering so as not to disturb our neighbours, who had not yet surfaced. I actually felt like making an unholy racket but that would have been childish and we are above that sort of behaviour. Mostly….

Today , we had planned to go boating on the Lake, but the weather looked more than a bit iffy and we didn’t want to take a wet boat home in the car so we abandoned that idea. We were quite late going out but we had a new plan. And a picnic!

The new plan was to go to the Red Kite Feeding station at Llanddeusant. Feeding wasn’t until 15:00 and, although they ask you to arrive early, we still had some time to kill. Time for one of Paul’s delightful misery tours! We drove to Sennybridge – famous for being the home of the quirky X Factor contestant Rhydian (Roberts) back in 2007 –  and thence Trecastle and on to the beautiful Usk reservoir, where I stopped for a chat with a friendly sheep.

Then it was time to drop down onto Llandeusant for Kite feeding. On the way we were stopped by a tractor crossing the road and what followed was a joy!. A procession of tractors – many of them vintage (much like me!) – and we really enjoyed watching them. There is a video of part of the procession here.

We arrived at the Kite Station and settled down to eat our lunch and await the Kite Feeding time. It was a fantastic display of aerobatics from the Kites – who eat on the wing. We were also joined by a couple of Buzzards (BIG!!) who eat on the ground. A great experience and one I’d recommend. We also loved the cat, who loiters with intent to pick up scraps too. So sweet and very friendly.

On the way home, we came across a VERY narrow bridge – with a gauge to check before you attempt to cross. It was pretty close. I wonder how many people have been caught out?

We called in on Brecon on the way back, as we had heard tell of an excellent ice-cream parlour. We were not disappointed. It (Llanfaes Dairy) was very busy indeed and the ice-creams were amazing. And there was very clearly an Italian influence, which is unsurprising as there is a long tradition of Italian emigrants setting up Ice-cream Parlours (and also cafes and fish and chip shops) in Wales. Indeed, the famous Berni inns proprietors emigrated from Italy to Merthyr Tydfil. This article about the diaspora is well worth a read.

There were so many flavours it was all a bit bewildering! I can’t resist Salted Caramel, Cinammon and Rum Raisin. So I had a three scoops and it was delicious. After this, we popped to have a look at the canal basin, which looked very pretty in the lovely sunshine.

We then made our way back to base where we relaxed for a while and – eventually – cooked a delicious meal, (pork with fusilloni and basil) courtesy of the amazing Gousto. Having washed up we watched a bit of TV before retiring – hoping for a quieter night.

Sun 26th

We were not disappointed! A largely unbroken night’s sleep was afforded us. How nice! I say largely because I was occasionally awoken by rain and acorns but – after I put put my ear-plugs in – I snoozed until morning. And awoke refreshed

Today we were off to Kerry, near Newtown to visit my dear Aunty Vera. And as a bonus, my cousin Martin was over from New Zealand and we had a very pleasant afternoon catching up and reminiscing, as one inevitably does when one advances in years. We were also joined by my stepmother – Nanny Lynne and a good time was had by all. It was about an hour’s drive each way and – oddly and annoyingly – we took no photos, so you’ll have to believe that we went!

We filled up ready for our trip home the next day on the way back and then had a quiet evening.

Mon 27th

Home today and thus not much to report. Although Noisy Neighbours reared their ugly heads again. Boo to them! But we had a nice break and we’re away in the van next weekend too. Watch this space!

 

 


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Orchard Bank, Claverham 16-23 Aug

Thursday 16th

Claverham is situated half way between Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, in the Unity Authority of North Somerset and – more specifically –  in the Civil Parish of Yatton.  The reason for our stay was that Paul had some business to do for a few days and, rather than him zooming up and down the M4 several times, we decided that we would take the caravan and stay for the duration. Great decision! We chose a CL – Orchard Bank – as our base – another great choice!

We had arranged with the CL to arrive early (very often midday is the earliest you can arrive on a site and usually it’s 2 or 3 pm) – and this is one of the reasons we love CLs; they are much more relaxed and flexible than a “proper” site. They have fewer facilities but all we need is a electric hook-up, fresh water and somewhere to dump grey & black waste. This one ticked all the boxes and was only 20 minutes from where Paul needed to be.

We arose at 05:45 and were on the road by 06:20. We had a smooth trip – stopping for a quick breakfast on the run at Sutton Scotney – in the pouring rain – and arrived on site, to clearing skies, at around 09:15.  Access to the site was through 2 gates. There was one other unit on site and we chose to set-up in a quiet corner (as per the pic below). It was lovely. And all hard-standings – which we prefer. Quite rural too – as you can see.

IMG_9149

ORCHARD BANK CL

We soon got set up and then I dropped Paul off at work in Flax Bourton – the home of his company. And what a home it is, located as it is in the old Workhouse. A very imposing building, built in 1838 and used initially as a workhouse and then as a “mental deficiency colony ” a role it performed until the early 90’s – when it was closed as a result of the “Care in the Community” initiative. It was redeveloped as offices in 2005 but has retained its imposing buildings – thank goodness.

Farleigh Ct

So! Now I was left to my own devices and, as it was an impromptu trip, my first stop was at Waitrose in nearby Nailsea. I had thrown together a quick menu plan and I had a good list. Although I do most of my grocery shopping on line and have done for over 15 years, I do enjoy the occasional trip round a supermarket – especially a Waitrose. So much to discover. And a free coffee at the end to boot. Perfect.

By the time I had finished victualling I was a little peckish and so I decided to treat myself to a solo lunch in Clevedon – home of the iconic cast iron pier and a favourite of ours. It is located on the Severn estuary, with views across to Wales (probably Newport) –  and I’ve never seen the water looking anything other than murky, because of all the mud. It (Clevedon) was used in the filming of Broadchurch, by the way.

Parking was quite challenging – but I struck lucky after a couple of passes and whipped into a newly vacated space on the seafront. My destination was Tiffin Tea House, which we have visited on previous occasions.

The cafe overlooks the beach and it was – by now – pretty breezy! I had chosen one of th special – Mushrooms and Cheese on Sourdough toast. Shortly after it had been served, a gust blew my salad garnish off the plate! I had to weight down the napkins too.  Hilarious.The cheesy, mushroomy toast was delicious, but I felt it was all a bit over-priced though, sadly? £10.95 for a slice of sourdough, four mushrooms, a few blobs of cheese and some (horrible) frisee lettuce. Hmmm….

After lunch it was time to make my way back to the van in the lovely sunshine. This took about 20 minutes. In view of the early start, I rather fancied a nap – or “beepy”, as we call it in my family. I unpacked all the shopping and settled down with my book, thinking this is the life! I think I may have fallen asleep smiling?

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I was scheduled to pick Paul up but his boss very kindly dropped him back, which saved me a trip. He had a cuppa and then we put the awning up. I had done some prep for dinner, which was delicious – Corned Beef Hash, cooked on our Cadac. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

After dinner we watched a little Netflix and chilled. Our current favourite series is “Ozark” – highly recommended.

Friday 17th 

It was up early to get Paul to work – I just threw some clothes on and drove – figuring I’d sort out my toilette when I returned to the van, which I did.

I had a leisurely morning and then set off for Cribbs Causeway, for a little light retail therapy. For some years, my stepfather, Terry, had been based in Bristol at BAE Systems in Filton  during the week (home at weekends). My Mum often went to stay at his rented home during school holidays and had often mentioned visiting, but I had never been. Today was the day for me to visit.

I set off. Google Maps says it’s a 20 minute journey. Google Maps lies! Traffic was heavy and it took me nearly an hour! But I was soon parked and ready to shop.

I lunched in John Lewis (a cheese scone and coffee, thank you for asking). I wandered around the shops, desperately trying to spend money but nothing really caught my fancy. I did buy a couple of rolls of kitchen foil in Lakeland, though! I know how to shop, don’t I? Actually – I don’t really enjoy speculative or window shopping – I prefer to have a mission.

I set off for the journey home and it was then I realised my mistake. The M5 on a Friday afternoon is no picnic. Reader, it was rammed. The hour turned into nearly two on the way back. And even after I had left the motorway, i was happily tootling along when a guy came round the corner flashing his headlights. I assumed he was warning me of a speed trap (although I never exceed the speed limit – fact). But no. I rounded the corner to see a Police car parked across the road, blocking it. The policeman indicated that I should do a three pointer , so I turned round.

Not knowing the area, I was heavily reliant on the satnav, which was most insistent on taking me back down the route that was impossibly impassable! Nightmare.  I think it took me another hour to find a route that avoided the blocked road. Kitty Kia (the satnav) was next to useless. But I eventually made it back to the site. And in through the double gates – which I was growing to despise, even though I had developed a routine. Viz – drive up to the gate, get out, open it, walk to the next gate, open that. Walk back to the car, drive through both gates and then walk back to shut both gates. Get back in the car and drive to the pitch. We were alone now, by the way. Just how we like it.

Once again, Paul’s boss dropped him off, so it was a repeat of the previous evening . Dinner, tv and bed. Dinner was a slightly unorthodox full(ish) English – complete with home made hash browns. Delish though I say it myself. So much nicer than those flipping waxy triangles they pass of as Hash Browns in the freezer cabinet. Yuk. We first experienced proper Hash Browns in the States. They were a revelation!  If you fancy having a go, it’s very easy.

HASH BROWNS

  • 4 medium potatoes (maybe Maris Piper or King Edwards)
  • 1 medium onion (chopped finely)
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • salt and pepper – be generous or it can be bland
  • vegetable oil for frying

Grate the potatoes, put them in a clean tea-towel and wring them out. You will be surprised how much water comes out! I always am. Mix it all together with the other ingredients and then put it in “clumps” (about 1cm thick) on your frying surface. Cook until browned on both sides. About 6-10 minutes, approximately.

Saturday 18th

It had rained overnight and so we had a bit of a lie in after the recent early mornings. Our plan for today was to take the bikes along the Strawberry Line, in nearby Yatton. What a fab resource! It is a well-surfaced path along the route of the old Cheddar Valley Railway Line. The line – which runs 10 miles from Yatton to Cheddar was closed by dear old Beeching, back in 1963. But the first job of the day was to ring Linda Mary Wise and Nanny Lynne to wish them a very happy  joint. birthday.

We drove to Yatton station, where the track starts,  parked the car, got the bikes off the roof and set off through the lovely Somerset countryside. The area – part of the North Somerset levels – is criss-crossed by ditches – known as “rhynes” (pronounce reens) – which is basically a drainage ditch, or canal, used to turn areas of wetland at around sea level into useful pasture.

As we cycled, we met dog-walkers, walkers, runners and other cyclists. Our plan was to have lunch in Cheddar but we got as far as Sandford – about half way to Cheddar – when Paul realised he had left his wallet in the car. We were hot and thirsty and hungry and so decide to turn round and go back to Yatton. A shame but there it was. One day we’ll do the whole route as it’s lovely.

We cycled back. I had noticed that the hedgerows were particularly heavy with nature’s produce. Apples, elderberries, blackberries rose-hips (not to be confused with Haws) sloes and damsons. What a bounty!

ELDERBERRIES

APPLES

ROSEHIPS

HAWS

SLOES

BLACKBERRIES

DAMSONS

I wish I’d had a container to plunder some of those goodies. Crumbles, Elderberry Wine, Rose Hip Syrup – very popular for babies when I was a kid – remember Delrosa? But it’s nearly time to make a new batch of Damson Gin (which I prefer to Sloe Gin). Here’s the recipe – this is a quick way, by the way, which removes the need for pricking the damsons as is more usual. Note – you need to do Step 1 the night before you want to make the gin. And you’ll need one quite large or a couple of large screw top jars. :

DAMSON GIN

  • 500g damsons
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1l bottle gin

Step 1 – Wash the damsons all over, dry, put in a poly bag and freeze overnight.

Step 2  – Remove the damsons from the freezer and bash them a few times with a rolling pin to break the skins. Pour the damsons into the jar(s).

Step 3 – Pour in the gin and the sugar  and shake it all well – with the lid on!! Repeat the shaking process every day for a week. Then – stick the jars away in a dark cupboard for 2 or 3 months to allow the flavour to develop. Damsons are an autumnal fruit, so it’s usually ready in time for Christmas. Yum!

Step 4 – Strain the jars, discard the damsons (some folk eat them. I don’t. Yuk.) and bottle the now reddish-purple gin. Enjoy!

I digress- we arrived back at Yatton Station with only one thing on our minds! LUNCH! and a drink. So that’s two things. Whoops. Luckily there is a nice cafe right there that does a nice line in toasties and we fell upon them with relish. After (quite a late) lunch, we replaced the bikes on the roof and set off. Paul had a fancy to visit  Portishead. I was happy to concede, having never been there myself (that I can recall).

The end (and beginning) of the line

I’m not sure what I was expecting but Portishead was not as I anticipated. it was quite busy with people (holidaymakers?) and the beach area is quite dominated by a very 70’s looking orange and yellow open air pool complex. Again – very busy.  The business end of town was more as I imagined it although most of the old docks/power station buildings have been imaginatively redeveloped into a marina/housing complex – the housing area is loosely based on the Cornish seaside town of Polperro with narrow streets and multi-coloured houses. Quite attractive, we thought?

We had a yearning for an ice cream and spotted this place in the town centre  called Shanicattis Shakes – which looked interesting. It has long been an ambition of mine to try a “freakshake” and it seemed here was my opportunity! To be honest, I’d never even seen one. I’d heard that they had originated in Australia, were pretty popular and I just knew I wanted one. Aye Caramba! What was I thinking? I’d say a month’s calories in one hit!! A bit much in truth, and I couldn’t actually finish it,  but we are no longer freakshake virgins.

Yerp! That actually is a ring doughnut on the top!!!

We made our way home – stuffed to the gills. Cheese and biscuits – and not many of them –  for supper was the order of the day. In for a penny, in for a pound! But not before we had played a couple of games of Boules to work up something of an appetite! Other than that, the evening passed pretty much as usual,  until it was time for bed.

Sunday 19th

Big day today. Our best chums Linda and Anna had driven up to Linda’s sister’s house in Yatton,  after the show at Chichester which she was currently working on (Me & My Girl) and we were scheduled to have a day out with them, culminating in dinner at ours. Larks!

As they would not have arrived until v late, we were not scheduled to pick them up until 11:00, which also allowed us to have a nice lazy morning, too!

We eventually rocked up in Yatton and off we went. Cheddar was our destination but – as is Paul’s preference, we took an “interesting” route there. Suce routes are also known as “one of Paul’s misery tours”. Somewhat unfairly? Well those of you who have experienced one will know whether that is fair!!

Our first stop was at Burrington Coombe – location of the Rock of Ages – which is where the hymn of the same name is sometimes claimed to have been written. A perfect photo opportunity!

After this, we moved on to a bit of moorland for a bit of a scrabble round and – of course – more photos!

Thence – on to Cheddar Gorge, where we stopped for a while to watch some climbers and do a bit of clambering of our own. And even more photos….

We parked in Cheddar village and went to look at all the tacky souvenir shops and bought the obligatory lump of Cheddar Gorge Cheddar cheese. Then it was time for lunch at the White Hart – sandwiches only, as we had a proper meal later on in the day. A group of youngish potty-mouthed lads kept me amused – although their language was a bit over-ripe – even for me!!. My favourite saying was (in a rich West Country accent ) “Go down Bristol on a Saturday, get bollocksed, ‘appy days” – why it made us chuckle quite so much I don’t know. Nothing to do with the cider, I’m sure.

On the way back to the campsite, we stopped off at the Railway Inn in Sandford – home of Thatcher’s Cider – for more cider – although not for me or the driver! Well it was a birthday trip for that girl! It was a beautiful pub and we got to meet Pepita the Repeater – you had to be there!

Back at the van, we introduced the girls to the joys of boule and then cracked on with dinner. A Cadac Chicken, Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto, which went down really well. Along with the wine and beer! There was some Risotto left over for Linda’s lunch the next day too! Happy days! We had laughed a day away, as usual.

All to soon it was time for them to go back to Yatton, ready for their trip back down South the next day. We were quite pleased to go to bed too. Back to work tomorrow for Paul.

Monday 20th/Tuesday 21st

We had to pop back down, urgently, to Portchester for a couple of days on Wednesday for various compelling reasons and we had negotiated with the lovely owners of the CL (Charles and Diana – yes!) to pay and stay an extra couple of nights, leaving the van unattended for one night.  his was largely because we were coming up to Wales on Friday and it seemed silly to drag the van all the way back only to drag it back up on Friday.

I took Paul to work and then came home and pottered a day away. I did some work. – planning the Christmas show for Spinnaker and various other bits and pieces and it was soon time to get ready to go out for dinner. I picked Paul and his boss (Nick) up and we went to Clifton, where Nick had booked a table for us and the French Digital Yacht Sales Manager, Nico. We went to The Mint Room – an upscale Indian which was excellent and we had a very pleasant evening. I had a Biriani, which served very imaginatively. See below.  My review can be found here – it has already been read by nearly 300 people!  I drove home, dropping both Nico and Nick off on the way.

 

Lamb Biriani – served with a pastry lid!

I had a lie-in on Tuesday morning as Paul needed the car for work. I had a late breakfast and did some more planning work, before deciding to go out for a bike ride mid-afternoon. It had been a gray morning, but the sun had come out and I had a plan to go to Poppie’s Tea Room in Claverham. I punched the address in my phone and off I set. Only to find this:

Closed – and up for sale!

Very disappointing. Not deterred, I decided to set off to cycle to Yatton and I was breezing along when CLUNK! This happened:

Yup – the chain had come off. I was a tad annoyed. And I didn’t really fancy the walk home – it was hot! So I thought about it and I thought about it and decided that – as I have watched Paul put chains back on many times – I’d have a go for myself. After much swearing I managed it!  I was cock-a hoop! At least!! Thrilled, I got back on the bike and returned home to get washed up! No WAY was I going to risk it coming off again!

I had a quick beepy after my exertions and got ready to go out. Paul had arrived home earlier than anticipated and so we set off together to meet my cousin, Alice Legge, in nearby Backwell, at The George.  Alice had booked a table and we spent a really lovely evening chatting and catching up. It had been a while. We returned home to the van and went straight bed as we had an early start the next day.

Wednesday 21st

Another 5:45 alarm. We arose, secured the van and then set off for home. The owners messaged me to say that they would keep an eye on things and would add extra security to ensure the van’s safetyF. How very kind!. We arrived home nice and early, sad to have left – but knowing we’d be going back the very next day, after work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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

Gorgeous

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.