Courtesy of a small, but not insignificant family inheritance for Julia, and an impending small but not insignificant annual pension lump sum for me, we are able to purchase a new second hand car and plan another extended camping holiday in France. There is absolutely nothing in the diary for either of us – and Julia’s younger sister Livy, and her husband Jack, are moving in with us at Chipps Barton for a few months, so there will be someone to look after Julia’s mother and Reggie Doggie while we are away. So unexpectedly we find ourselves booking various ferries, hotels and campsites. We are planning to be away for the whole of July and August, and go to Caen via Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth, and then head down to ‘Cathar Country’ (to explore the historical sites surrounding this 12th to 13th century heresy). We have one or two hotel stops on the way, and the way back, but essentially we are camping near Albi and then near Foix (for our Cathar research), followed by two weeks by the sea at Bayonne, and a final two weeks in the Dordogne at Bergerac.
Our new car is a Nissan Note – that bit more roomy than our faithful Vauxhall Corsa, Betty – and we love it! Betty refused to be packed to the gills with camping stuff ever again, or have to risk travelling through four miles of low tunnels under Paris with a roof box on, so we pensioned her off. We hope she has gone to a nice home, perhaps with a little old lady, who will treat her with the care she deserves. We have given our new car the temporary name of ‘Wenlock’. This is not because she was conceived on Wenlock Edge in Shropshire, but because we were both amused and inspired by our friends Serena and Alastair Newman who, when Serena was pregnant, also called their ‘bump’ Wenlock before they knew whether their baby was going to be a boy or a girl? For all the ‘oooing’ and ‘aaahing’ people who are reading this blog, they had a bouncing baby boy whom they have named, Sebastian … and ‘No!’ he wasn’t conceived on Wenlock Edge either (as far as I know)!? Wenlock’s first major outing with us will be this two month camping holiday in France – we hope he (we are sure that it is a boy car) is up to it!
By the time we come to leave the UK at the beginning of July, we have become experts at packing and repacking Wenlock. We have had a couple of trial runs at packing the car, and have finally decided a) what we still can’t take with us (mostly Julia’s extra clothes that she swears she really needs ‘just in case’?!) and b) the best way to pack everything in so we can still see to drive. We manage to survive a last minute scare – a flat rear tyre because of a slow puncture – and the garage we bought the car from mends the puncture (and also replaces the squeaky drive belt and a faulty windscreen wiper blade) at no cost to us!
We leave really early because although Portsmouth is not too far from us in Rodden, and we don’t have to be there until 2.00 p.m., the Ferry Company have warned us that there are extensive traffic jams in Portsmouth due to road works. Needless to say there are no traffic jams and we arrive far too early … could have fitted in a final ‘Full English Breakfast’ if we had only known? Eventually we board the Brittanie Ferry, the ‘Normandie’ around 1.00 p.m., and very luxurious it is! We park our car, find our cabin (so we can have a rest during the five hour trip to Caen) and then go up on deck. We eventually leave port at 3.00 p.m. We are very amused to see the French crew all gathering at the ‘staff gangplank’ shortly beforehand – all clad in their fluorescent yellow high visibility jackets – we reckon that since it is almost 3.00 p.m. they have finished their two hour lunch break and we can now leave!?
The ferry crossing is very smooth and we enjoy our first taste of French cuisine ‘en route’. Our hotel is in Caen so, although it is 9.30 p.m. French time when we arrive, we anticipate no problems in finding it? How wrong we are?! The ring road is closed – for no obvious reason – and we have to drive through the centre of Caen. Fortunately we have Jane – our Sat Nav with us – and she directs right to the door of our hotel. True, she takes us a strange way – through an empty Supermarché car park at one point, and then through an industrial estate – but we eventually arrive! We always stay at one the B&B Hotels – we know what to expect, the rooms are just right for us, and you get a nice breakfast including the French version of bacon and eggs!
We are up and off reasonably early the next day – well reasonably early for us, that is – because we have a five hour journey to Limoges, our next overnight stop on our journey to Cathar Country. Jane, our Sat Nav, is set on the fastest route but after paying out an exorbitant amount at one of the motorway tolls – any motorway that connects to Paris is to be avoided at all costs – we decide (since we are not really in any hurry to get anywhere for the next two months) to take the alternative routes from now on. After all, what we save on tolls can go towards another nice lunch or dinner out, or two! I set Jane on what I think is the correct new setting … and chaos ensues! We end up quite literally in the middle of nowhere – a track leading to a farm – a track with grass growing in the middle?! Eventually I find the correct setting and, very reluctantly I have to say, Jane gets us back on the right route. We have obviously offended her by blaming it all on her (when in reality it was my fault) and she is obviously very ‘miffed’ with us. There are long periods when she doesn’t speak to us at all, and Jane quite deliberately takes us on the ‘pretty route’ that may not be the quickest but the one she obviously likes, and eventually we arrive at our hotel in Limoges.
We decide to eat dinner locally rather than drive into the centre of Limoges – we are still not sure that Jane has forgiven us yet and who knows where she might take us after dinner?! There is a ‘Hippopotamus’ next to our hotel – not a literal Hippo but a branch of the restaurant chain. We have eaten here before on our last stay at this hotel. We enjoyed a nice meal then, and we get 30% off the bill because we are staying at the B&B Hotel next door! We recall that our last visit to this restaurant was quite entertaining … and this visit proves to be equally so! We are seated next to a couple of Spanish business women (who are obviously staying in one of the nearby hotels overnight). They hardly eat anything of their meal, but are knocking back various cocktails like there is no tomorrow! The waitress suggests perhaps they would like coffee? They settle for another cocktail instead … before staggering off to their hotel … it is the high heeled shoes they are both wearing of course?! The wine waitress brings us our drinks. She is intoxicated as well?! We think she must finish off the drinks everyone leaves? What have we come to? Fortunately our waitress in sober, and we enjoy an excellent meal!
The next morning finds us on the final stage of our journey. Our campsite is within walking distance of Cordes-sur-Ciel – a wonderful historic medieval town set on a hill that literally appears at times to be situated ‘in the sky’! Cordes is only about 25 kilometres from Albi. One of the primary reason we have come to this area is to visit Albi’s famous cathedral, associated with the Cathars or Albigensian heresy. Jane is still rather ‘off’ with us and decides to take us on the most circuitous route imaginable?! We have to admit that it is rather pretty though, so we forgive her, and eventually we find our way to our campsite at Moulin de Julien where Madame welcomes us and takes round the various vacant pitches until we find one that seems most suitable for us, set in a quiet part of the site, near a lovely small lake, and not too far from the shower and toilet block – a very important consideration for gentlemen of a certain age! We unpack the car, put up our tent, put everything away in it’s correct place, set up our cooker, open a bottle of good wine, and enjoy our dinner sitting in the late evening sunshine. We park our car in a nice shady spot … we have decide to call Wenlock ‘Hugo’ from now on by the way … the name has to be based on the number plate you see, and Hugo’s number plate is HG57JBO.
It is time to retire for the night. I pump up our inflatable bed. Half way through the process our electric pump runs out of juice and it takes hours for it to charge up again?! I plug the electric pump in so that it can charge up overnight. There is no hope of inflating the bed any further tonight. We go to bed anyway. It is like sleeping on a water bed? We are so tired, however, we don’t care, and fall fast asleep anyway!