Thursday, 25 April 2013

Onward to Aquitaine

Towing the Line
We are on the road again. The weather seems unsettled everywhere, so I drew a line diagonally across the map between Aquitaine and Burgundy, and suggested to Maureen that we head in that general direction looking for pleasant campsites and some sunshine. Maureen, always up for an adventure, agreed. Our first site is just outside the village of Duras in the Department of Lot-et-Garonne, south of the Dordogne region.
Tuesday/Wednesday 9/10 April
We had a good look around the countryside which is attractive, with fields, forests, vineyards, orchards and small villages (usually with an ancient church at the centre). The weather here has been pleasantly warm around 18deg.C.

Thursday 11 April
Cloud and drizzle this morning, so we are on the move north towards the Dordogne. We had a straight forward journey of about 60 miles, in heavy rain.
Our campsite is by the river Vezere, just outside the village of Le Bugue, and a few miles upstream of the confluence of the Vezere and Dordogne.
Looking up the Vezere at Le Bugue

Friday 12 April
After lunch on a fine but cloudy day, we set off to explore the Vezere valley. Over millions of years the river has cut its way through the limestone plateau creating stunning cliffs, on each side of the valley. The fertile valley floor is dotted with ancient villages, churches, châteaux, and also many caves with evidence of the presence of early man. Eventually we arrived at Lascaux, the site of the world famous prehistoric cave paintings. This is a site I have always wanted to visit, so I paid my 10 euros and waited patiently for the next tour. The guide gave an explanations in French at each point of the tour, with a beautiful summary in English, just for me.
The cave is an exact replica of a section of the original cave, with even the smallest features of the rock face reproduced in precise detail.
The paintings which are precise replicas of the originals, using the original techniques and materials, are absolutely stunning. It was a very moving experience to look at works of art produced 17,000 years ago. The animals depicted in stunning detail include bulls, cows, horses, ponies and deer. The natural features of the rock have been used to produce 3 dimensional modelling. Also there is a strong design element, illustrated by the images of 3 bulls, which flow up the walls and onto the roof, coming together to create a motif or focal point. The roof of the cave reminded me of the ceiling of a church.
As we drove back 20 miles along the valley floor, the evening sun created a beautiful light on the villages, churches, chateaux, fields, cliffs and river.

Saturday 13 April
Warm sunshine at last, with temperature moving towards 26 deg. We parked up in Le Bugue, the village 1 km from the site, and set off to explore and take a few photos. We walked over the river bridge, and explored the back streets and the church. Nothing remarkable, just a typical old French town. We  had Plat de Jour at the local Supermache, and after dropping the shopping off, we went for a good walk along the riverside track from the campsite.
The riverside track

New leaves by the river

Sunday 14 April
We set off on a 100 mile journey across country heading NE to the village of Neuvic and a campsite in the grounds of a château. The roads were quiet being Sunday, and we made good progress with coffee and lunch stops en route.
On reaching the village of Egletons, the recommended route seemed a long way round, at 50 miles, so I opted for the direct route of 25 miles over the mountains. As we climbed higher and higher, the road became narrower and steeper, and the hairpin bends became sharper. Maureen was very impressed with my rallying with a caravan skills, and somewhat underwhelmed with my route choice. As we drove up to the campsite within the château grounds, a lady appeared to great us with the dreaded words "Ferme", so we had no alternative but to move on.
We drove the 50 miles back to the campsite at Egletons on good fast roads, and arrived in time for me to sit in the late sun with a glass of wine whilst Maureen prepared supper. A fitting end to an adventurous day.

Monday 15 April
We continued our journey, heading due north to the town of Aubusson, which is located almost halfway between Limoges and Clermont Ferand. The roads were good and we were soon approaching the village of Felletin, just south of Aubusson where we expected to find an English owned campsite by a lake. After some frustration, getting lost, doing u-turns, and passing through the same roadworks several times with a Frenchman waving his red flag at us, we gave up and headed to Camping La Perle, just north of Aubusson, a site we have visited previously.

Tuesday 16 April
We decided to have an easy day exploring the old town of Aubusson which is about 5 mile from our campsite. After parking up, we went off in search of a suitable "Plat du Jour". After wandering round for some time we decided to try a small hotel with an old fashioned, faded and slightly run down appearance.
The lady was very welcoming, and we had a very good 3 course lunch with bread, wine and coffee for a reasonable 31 euros. We also had some good banter with another couple, as we struggled to understand and speak French. After the meal, we explored the old part of the town, taking a few photographs before calling at the Supermache on our way back to base.
Old town - Aubusson
Looking down the Creuse River

Wednesday 17 April
We awoke to a lovely warm sunny day with the temperature moving into the mid twenties. We drove a few miles up the road to the village of Ahun, which has some interesting attractions, including a Roman bridge, an abbey and ancient church.
Inside the church at Ahun

 From Ahun we headed east into some beautiful countryside, with cows contentedly grazing in the fields, many small lakes, hamlets and clumps of forest. We looked inside numerous ancient churches, taking photographs of their interiors.
When we arrived back at the caravan around 6 pm. the sun was still pleasantly warm, so we sat outside for a while, topping up the tan.

Thursday 18 April
We are moving north today into Burgundy, a journey of 180 miles to our campsite near the village of Vincelles, which is located to the south of Auxere.
The campsite, Les Ceriselles is excellent, the best this trip, with large grassy pitches, excellent facilities, free wifi, fresh bread everyday, helpful friendly staff, and very reasonable at 12 euros per night.

Friday 19 April
After lunch we set off to walk along the Canal du Nivernais, which runs right by the campsite.
After walking about 1.5 miles Maureen decided that a left turn into the woods looked more interesting. There were numerous pools and lakes on each side of the track, in fact the whole area was underwater. The water in the pools was a beautiful luminous green, probably due to minerals leaching from the underlying rock, which was limestone.
Using Maureen's theory that if we kept turning left we would end up back at the campsite, we headed into the unknown! We came upon many signs with the dreaded words "Access Interdite", in other words "KEEP OUT" until we reached a dead end. We found a gap in a fence where we could get back to the tow path after negotiating some life threatening brambles and jumping over a water filled ditch, which looked like it may be full of man eating leeches. 
As we walked along the towpath, relieved to have escaped from swamp-land, a cruiser sailed past with numerous adults and children on board. They looked very white, and the young man steering the boat had an Adidas tracksuit on, obviously English! They moored up a bit further along, so I wandered over and in my best Lancashire accent asked "Arya ere fert neet then?" The sailors who were all French looked totally bemused. We had a good chat to them, which went really well considering their non-existent English and our very limited French.
Back at the caravan a G and T was called for, but seeing as we had no gin, we had tonic with ice and used our imaginations!

Sunday 21 April
After a cold misty morning and lunch at the caravan, the weather gradually improved and we set off to explore the country lanes through the cherry orchards and vineyards. The blossoms on the cherry trees were well out, but no new leaves on the vines.
We discovered some beautiful roads and interesting villages, and we began to think about coming here again in the autumn, when the colours should be superb. After frequent stops to explore and take photographs we headed back to base for a late tea. We are beginning our 300 miles journey towards Callais tomorrow.
Cherry blossom and dandelions
 Pasque flower by the roadside

Monday 22 April
Today we set off on the journey home, 200 miles today to St Quentin, and 100 miles tomorrow to Calais. Wednesday at 8:20 am we are travelling back through the tunnel and then home.
Much of the journey north was through interesting countryside on fast D roads with little traffic. It was only as we approached Calais that we experienced a significant amount of traffic. Of course that paled into insignificance when compared with the traffic on the M25, M1, and M6.
Wednesday 24 April
Arrived on UK soil at 7:55 local time, fantastic journey home, arriving at 5:30 pm.

Reflections of our holiday.
In spite of a few incidents, this has been a great holiday, with many interesting adventures. We have visited lots of places off the tourist route, and have met many interesting and friendly people of different nationalities. We have experienced all kinds of weather apart from snow, which has led us to appreciate even more the many warm sunny days. The scenery has been very varied and beautiful and we now have lots of ideas for future adventures.
In the main we have found the locals to be friendly and helpful, and drivers patient and courteous when confronted by Brits wandering around towing a caravan. We now have a couple of weeks or so to sort the caravan out and prepare for our next adventure, which begins 14 May.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Easter by the Atlantic Ocean on the border between France and Spain

We soon realised that Easter is not a good time to be on the road. There is a lot of traffic wherever you go especially along the coastal routes. Even inland there is no escape, as the locals love to drive up into the mountain villages for lunch. You soon end up with 3 or 4 French drivers on your tail, impatient to overtake a couple of rubber necking Brits.

March 29 Good Friday

From our campsite in the village of Urrugne, we drove along the coast road to the resort town of Hendaye which is located by the Atlantic Ocean, and next to the river Bidasoa, which is the border between France and Spain. The spanish town across the estuary is Hondarriba.
We enjoyed a good walk in the sunshine, along the promenade next to the beautiful beach, with a gentle Atlantic surf rolling in. Eventually the clouds began to build and after a few spatters of rain we decided to head back to the car. Hendaye is a very pleasant understated resort, which is well worth a visit.

The beach at Hendaye

March 30 Saturday

We set off into the hills to explore the Basque countryside and came across very attractive, pristine villages surrounded by fields, forests and mountains. There are many large houses with balconies, white washed walls, timbers painted red. The air is fresh and clear, and there is a feeling of confidence, affluence and pride.
We continued into the hills along Valle des Aldudes to get away from the traffic, and we did find some quite roads around the villages of Osses and Irissary. Although we had explored only a tiny portion of the region, by the time we got back to base we had covered over 60 miles.

A quiet road in the Basque Region

March 31 Sunday

I told Maureen about a quiet mountain road I had discovered on the map which would be traffic free, and we would be able to pull in wherever we wanted. The road led to a col at 400m, I was confident that there would be nobody about.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a nightmare, as there was a resort at the top with shops, bars and restaurants. As we negotiated many hairpin bends, with a big drop to our right, the french were coming down too fast and swinging over to our side of the road, pushing us towards the abyss, very scary. We decided it was safer to return on the Spanish side through the town of Bera, a longer but safer choice.

April 2 Tuesday

San Sebastion
We arrived about 1pm and parked up at the east end of the bay, then set off walking along the promenade in search of a Menu del Dia, which we found at the Cafe del Concha, where we had a very good lunch in the warm sunshine for 14 euros each.
San Sebastion's cockle shell shaped bay is a tremendous sight, with Mount Ungell to the west and Mount Igeldo to the east. We walked the full length of the promenade and back. The beach is beautiful flat, firm sea washed sand, in summer it is apperantly covered in roasting flesh, but not today!
On our way back to the caravan, we called at the supermarket, and it was at this point that I realised that my rucksack which contained my wallet had disappeared, presumed stolen. We have tried to figure out when and how this happened, but we cannot come up with an explanation. I soon decided to let this incident go, so as not to spoil a great day in San Sebastion.

Ralph back in San Sebastion 50+ years on, looking much the same!

April 2 Wednesday

Today I had to pay a visit to the local police to report the theft of my wallet, including my driving licence. He gave me a document that I could produce if stopped by the police whilst in France. The campsite kindly checked with the Spanish police to see if anything had been handed in, to no avail.

April 5 Friday

We are moving today, north of Biarritz, onto the Atlantic coast near the village of Souston in the department of Aquitaine. Our chosen campsite was closed when we got there, so we had lunch parked outside and then moved on to our second choice. This site was expensive at 26 euros per night, and also
somewhat noisy with French down for the weekend, so we moved yet again to Camping Les Acasias which was much quieter and less than half the price.
This area is flat with lots of cycle tracks, and miles of beach and dunes. A paradise for surfers and cyclists, but not for us, so tomorrow we are on the road again.

The Atlantic Ocean, a lone wind surfer, and sand dune.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Friday 22 March
We drove along the back roads from Sant Jordi towards Delta D'Lebre, one of the most important wetland habitats in the western Mediterranean. We continued down to the beach at Riumar, and explored some lagoons behind the beach, and the walked along tracks between tall reed beds to where a very wide Ebra flows into the sea. Continuing our circular route to check out some superb open backed hides overlooking lagoons teeming with birds.
During our visit we identified black winged stilt, little egret, great white egret, marsh harrier, king fisher, wood chat shrike, lesser grey shrike, hoopoe, and black eared wheatear.
Delta Ebre is a great place for bird watching, and with a scope we would have identified many more species.

Monday 25 March

A few photos around Sant Jordi

After a week of pleasantly warm sunny weather in Valenciana, at Sant Jordi, 15 km inland from Vinaros, we decided to head towards the border between Spain and France, in the San Sebastion/Biarritz area, with a plan to explore the Basque region.
We set off from Sant Jordi, driving over spectacular mountain ranges, with many hairpin bends, and fabulous views to distant mountains on our way to our campsite near Calatyud, a distance of 165 miles.
We passed by many interesting towns and villages, with castles, forts, church towers and city walls. We noticed a strong Moorish influence in the buildings and brick built towers. We also saw hundreds of vultures circling overhead, waiting for unsuspecting brits and pilgrims! The towns we passed by included Morella, Alcaniz and Daroca. During the day we moved from Valenciana, through Aragon and into Navarra. We have earmarked this region for future exploration.
During the night we were hit by a severe gale which rocked the caravan alarmingly. At midnight, I became very concerned for our safety, and I decided to move the caravan to a more sheltered position. After our troubled night and long journey, we decided to stay another night to recover.
By 09:30 Wednesday 27 March we drove 121 miles to a campsite near Pamplona. As we arrived mid afternoon, the heavens opened and soaked an already very soggy campsite. A heavy thunderstorm in the night encouraged us to hit the road towards a camp site half way between San Sebastian and Biarritz. We arrived at camping Larouleta around 4pm. after a dramatic drive through the mountains of the Spanish Basque Region. We are looking forward  to settling down for a week and exploring San Sebastion, Biarritz and the Basque countryside.