Week 1 – Day 1 – Monday 2nd of July 2018
Boulogne sur Mer to Fort Mahon Plage – 39 miles
We only had about 4 hours sleep but decided to get up anyway just after 8 to have my weekday rations of a diced banana through granola. This now being France there was no full English this morning. After breakfast we headed over to Auchan for a few French treats and although we only spent a few euros it was a bit of a payback to Auchan for the ability to overnight for free.
I mentioned when we were here in October that this is the most incredible shop you could ever see. A true temple to the gastronomic delights that the French worship. The largest store we have in mid-Argyll is the Co-op in Lochgilphead and to highlight the scale of this Auchan, the fruit and veg section alone is bigger than our Co-op.
From Boulogne we set the satnav for Fort Mahon Plage just to be certain we were on the right road, but most of it I remembered from October. It was a lovely drive, mostly on the D901 passing through chocolate box villages and well tended arable fields with not a farm animal to be seen.
Driving into Fort Mahon Plage was noticeably different this time as it was much busier due to the baking heat and lots of people here on holiday, although there are no large hotels or obvious places for people to stay apart from a couple of campsites and the motorhome Aire right on the main street in the heart of the little town.
Back in October it was an airy out of season ghost town with most of the shops and restaurants closed, but we enjoyed it none the less. Today was so different. All the businesses lining the main street were open and the Aire was busy when we arrived at lunchtime.
We had some lunch and then decided to have a nap and catch up on some sleep. When we woke and went outside to sit, lo and behold, a Belgian van had parked about 6 feet from the side of our van with our main door. The Aire had thinned out as people here for the weekend were either going home or moving on so there were plenty of spaces for this guy to chose from.
Being British we did not say anything as you don’t, so I embarked on a subtle course of action to get him to move. First off I tethered the tablet and sat right under his open side window and watched the Brazil v Mexico game with the volume fairly high but not even the dulcet tones of Ally McCoist had the desired effect.
On to Plan B. One of the little niggles we have encountered with Bessie was the awning not extending properly, with one end resolutely refusing to budge, while the far end comes out at an angle. Our dealer had suggested I go up a ladder and give the offending stuck end a bit of a slap to free it, then when it extends to spray the catches and rail with a spray containing silicone, like furniture polish.
Out came the small steps I had brought to try this remedy and the slap did the trick so I sprayed all the gubbins as instructed and voila, as they say in these parts, it worked a treat. I then proceeded to wind the awning in and out, as far as I could anyway, right up to about an inch from his open window with no luck. He was sitting right at the window but Plan B had no effect on him whatsoever.
On to Plan C. I would try and shame him to see if that would have any effect. Out came my phone and I paced out into the centre of the Aire and started taking pictures, pretending to anyway, but to no avail. He was not for budging and without creating a diplomatic incident on our first day abroad by telling him what to do with his van and EU, I gave up.
Over on the other side of the Aire there were similar tensions brewing between 2 French vans. A couple sitting out under their awning were getting more and more het up with their neighbours who seemed to have had a flat battery which they jump started, only to leave their engine running for about 20 minutes. The woman got up twice and stared in through their windscreen but the offenders took no heed.
They started gesturing across to us pointing to the noisy van next to them and I gestured back indicating how close this Belgian was to us and we shrugged our shoulders in that Gallic way meaning ‘what can you do’. I could see that the noisy offenders seemed to be getting ready to leave as they were stowing stuff away and they brought their dog in.
I put the Navigator on standby for a quick move if they did pull away and thats what happened. We were over in the vacated space before they had even paid at the barrier. We settled into extra space and fired up the Cadac to have an enjoyable meal, courtesy of Aldi’s flavoured chicken.
Later on when Japan went 2 goals up and Belgium were facing an embarrassing World Cup exit I started to fantasise about fashioning a Japanese flag out of a sheet of A4 paper and some of The Navigator’s lippy and putting it on the windscreen of our former neighbours in the dead of night to wind them up, but that was not to be as Belgium made a remarkable recovery to win 3 – 2.
Week 1 – Day 2 – Tuesday 3rd of July 2018
Fort Mahon Plage – 0 miles
As we had driven a fair bit over the past few days, and this is such a lovely little seaside resort we decided to stay and have a day on the beach, something we don’t do that often as I tend to get burnt and bored in equal measure and The Navigator’s back plays up lying on the sand for too long (a war wound from childbirth over 30 odd years ago!).
After a longish lie in we headed off on the short walk down to the beach from the Aire and on the way The Navigator lashed out on a new sunhat, a rare event thankfully as she herself admits to not being a person who suits a hat!
The tide was well out when we arrived about 11 and we settled down under the shade of a parasol on a quiet part of the beach. Having just got settled, the beach was then invaded by a number of school trips, not just the odd class full on a day at, but seemingly whole school fulls. That said they were all well supervised and well behaved and they had a great time, especially later on when the tide came in and they got to paddle and play in the water. It brought back happy memories of my primary school outing to Portobello beach in Edinburgh or Burntisland beach in Fife.
A JCB is on the beach every day to keep it well maintained and it also made a few of these mounds of sand for the kids to play on…
As the day wore on more and more people came on to the beach to enjoy the beautiful clean sand, but it never really got crowded as it is massive, both in width and breadth, although the tide comes in pretty quickly narrowing it considerably at high tide. It comes in so quickly that lifeguards are on hand, both on the beach and in a dinghy to shepherd people who were in the water to safety as the depth of the water rose very quickly.
As well as the hundreds of schoolchildren and families on the beach, the other noticeable group were maybe about 50 or so women and children of African descent who sat near us in 3 groups. The women arrived on the beach clothed in more textiles than you would find at a Dunelm textile sale. Clothed head to foot in bright and colourful patterned outfits with only their faces exposed to the elements they then proceeded to disrobe, some even topless, only to then put on other fairly extensive clothing to lie on the sand and go into the water. No swimsuits or bikinis.
No men were present in their group and their children were all in ‘normal’ western beachwear and it left me wondering if there was a certain age when they too would have to start covering themselves head to foot or whether they would rebel, having grown up in France, and wear European style clothing as teenagers then adults.
When the incoming tide eventually reached us and forced our retreat we called it a day and headed back to the van. One of the factory fitted extras on the van was one we thought would never be used but proved to be a welcome feature – an shower attachment which fits into an outlet on the side of the van meaning you can hose down your legs and feet to get all the sand off.
I put the awning out for shade as it was blistering hot and, having missed lunch, we had an early BBQ and a few glasses of wine. The evening was spent watching En-ger-land make heavy weather of a fairly average Columbian side and eventually progress to the next round after a penalty shoot out.
The Fort Mahon Aire (50.338737, 1.555825) is a must visit little resort only 59 miles from Calais and a bargain €10 given its location, although no electricity, but who needs electricity when the solar panel is soaking up so much sunshine!
If you are new to these blog posts you will have missed the 123 Seconds in video I made of our last visit to Fort Mahon Plage last October so here it is again…
Week 1 – Day 3 – Wednesday Monday 4th of July 2018
Fort Mahon Plage to La Mailleyraye sur Seine – 114 miles
After our two enjoyable nights at Fort Mahon Plage it was time to head 2 hours west to another place we were at on the recent 6 month trip, this time on the return leg as we headed homeward bound. The destination then was La Mailleraye sur Seine where we spent a fairly wet and cold stopover, only made enjoyable by watching the shipping passing right in front of us on the Seine.
There a couple of unfortunate events on the journey. First I decided to use Google Maps on my phone to guide us as I prefer it to the Tom Tom satnav that came fitted with the van. The week before we left I got a new phone and did not set it up properly so Google Maps took us on 2 stretches of motorway and we had to pay tolls of over €8 which was unnecessary as we had plenty of time to take the country roads, and in doing so, we spent more in tolls today than on the whole 6 month trip. Fair play to the French though as the stretches of motorway had a fantastic surface and looked to have been recently resurfaced.
The surface was incredibly smooth and that is why the second unfortunate event was such a mystery as, somehow, the motorhome we were following threw up a stone hitting our windscreen with a loud crack resulting in a chipped mark and a few small cracks radiating out from the centre. Hopefully the cracks won’t get any worse and we will make it home without the faff of getting the windscreen replaced over here.
The last half hour or so of the journey was on the same road but opposite direction that we had travelled on back in March, but The Navigator had no recollection of it whatsoever, not even recognising the same Lidl we stopped to get a few things in, parking in exactly the same bay as only 3 months ago! It was only when we approached the massive bridge over the Seine that her memory started functioning again…
We pitched up right on the riverside and had a relaxing afternoon watching the shipping of all types head up river on the high tide.
Brits far outnumbered all other nationalities on the pitches and we chatted to our neighbours on either side of us throughout the afternoon. It was so hot the dogs crawled under their vans to get some shade and we saw sparrows flying in and out of the radiator grills of some vans, including our own.
A BBQ sitting out under the awning watching the ships go past passed the evening but it all proved a bit much for The Navigator who had an early night, blaming the heat and the tiring journey, but not the wine which accompanied her meal!
The La Mailleraye sur Seine Aire is amazing value at only €6 for a couple, although again, no electricity.
Week 1 – Day 4 – Thursday 5th of July 2018
La Mailleyraye sur Seine to Le Vivier sur Mer – 162 miles
A longish drive is in prospect today, three and a half hours northwest up to the coast again at Le Vivier sur Mer, again another stop on our 6 month road trip last October. When I looked out of the window at about 7am the man on the pitch next to us was feeding the fish as he had done yesterday afternoon. I had queried what he was doing yesterday as there were no ducks or other birds in the water for the bits of bread he was throwing in the water but he insisted there were monster carp feeding only a few feet from the bank. I gave him the benefit of the doubt as I never saw any, not that carp are of interest to a hunter gatherer!
We had packed up last night so it didn’t take long to get organised to leave after breakfast, with one last picture of the location from the elevated position of the 16th century churchyard.
The destination was entered into Google Maps and this time I made sure ‘no tolls’ was selected as an option. This part of Normandy is very rural with some lovely towns and villages passed through on the way with Bourneville, Beuzeville, Pont l’Éveque just a few of the ones that stood out, maybe as much for the narrow streets as the medieval timbered buildings, but we got Bessie through all right apart from one incident when we were squeezing through one town when we heard a loud metallic sound and fearing I had scraped something, I pulled onto the car park of a Super U car park but thankfully found no scrapes or damage.
Caen was the only city of any size we encountered but the southern bypass, or ‘périphérique’ was dual carriageway and was easy to negotiate. The dual carriage way continued on for over a hundred miles with some big hills to go up and down. Bessie is not as powerful as the 3ltr powered Louis and there were quite a few gear changes to do as opposed to letting the cruise control take care of the speed. We had some rain for about 15 minutes but the closer we got to the coast the brighter, sunnier and warmer it became.
Arriving at Le Vivier sur Mer just after one, I drove straight to the place we had lunch back in October and repeated the meal of mussels, chips (crisps) and jus de pomme, and as it was a hot summers day, finished off with a tub of caramel flavoured ice cream. A simple, tasty lunch and well worth the €27 cost.
If you are new to these blog posts you will have missed the 123 Seconds in video I made of our last visit to Le Vivier sur Mer last October so here it is again…
The restaurant was much busier than last time as was the Aire when we arrived there, but we managed to get on a good pitch with electric hook up, the first of the trip so The Navigator will get the use of her hair dryer for the first time and I will get the laptop charged up again.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the shade of the awning with a bit of a clean up and a weeks worth of flies were removed from the cab.
In the evening we had another BBQ and it was as enjoyable as the previous two. The dishes done and everything packed away, we had a walk to see a couple of nearby Alpacas that were being kept company with 3 cockerels next to quite a good children’s play area between the Aire and the road.
This is a lovely sleepy little village and is well worth a stop if you are travelling along the coast between Mont St Michel and Cancale / St Malo. The Aire (48.603068, -1.772034) was €9.50 for the night including electricity and services. It is part of the Pass’ Etapes chain and their sites can be found on their website www.campingcarpark.com
Week 1 – Day 5 – Friday 6th of July 2018
Le Vivier sur Mer to Etang des Betineuc – 40 miles
We have had the comfort of staying at 4 locations we have been to before and enjoyed, but now we are heading off for almost 2 weeks of new places for us. The first, Caulnes is the first of the new destinations and the only reason for going there is its close proximity to Trefumel. If you were following the blog posts on our 6 month road trip you may remember that this little village nestling in the French countryside had its very own blog article as it has meant a lot to us down the years. Regular readers may remember I penned a special blog post back in October last year about this tiny French hamlet and our connection with it since we first visited it in 1974. If you missed it, the blog is HERE.
It was a grey cool day to start off, if you can call the low 70s cool! We were leaving the Aire this morning so we made sure all our devices were charged up and The Navigator had the luxury of using her hair dryer after her morning shower so her hair was looking as it should, not as it is without the dryer. I hinted at the end of last week’s blog that this week would bring a surprise for The Navigator and today is the day that the surprise will happen, and it is lunch at Trefumel.
I serviced the van and we headed off, first to a Lidl to top up on a few things for BBQs and offers that were ending this weekend. As I was reversing the van into a space in the corner of theLidl park in Dol de Bretagne, a young couple were loading their shopping into their car and kindly moved their trolley to make it easier for me to reverse. The Navigator thanked them with a “merci” only to find out that they were British, not just British, but Scottish, and not just from anywhere in Scotland, but Ardrishaig and Lochgilphead, in fact, although they now live in Glasgow, his mother’s home was only about 150 yards from our house! Small world indeed.
After a long chat with them and getting a few things from the shop we were off and it was at this point I decided to inform The Navigator of our intended destination – Trefumel.
Half an hour later we arrived and parked up. The Navigator (and I) both got changed into something more presentable and make up was applied to mark the occasion, not by me of course…
The restaurant was busy, even at 1.30, and many were sitting outside enjoying the glorious weather. There were no free tables outside so we went in to the shade and cool of the dining room. It was just as busy inside and we lost no time in ordering the lunchtime specials, Piemontaise for moi, and The Navigator had a home made Crudité. Those were the only two choices as starters and there were only two main course choices, a fish dish which we think was a Ray and Andoulette, a sort of rustic home made sausage.
Both were absolutely delicious, washed down by a glass of chilled Leffe blonde biere. A strawberry glacé rounded off the meal, well worth the €23.00 cost and another memory to savour at the Auberge, Trefumel.
I had planned to stay at a nearby Little town called Caulnes but in the way to Trefumel we passed through a town called Evran and there we went over the Rance Canal, beside which there was a car park so I decided to return there and park up for the afternoon and watch the boats go past, although not many did. It was very pretty here and there were no signs forbidding overnight parking, but Bessie was a bit long and at one point an elderly couple drove into the car park and started taking pictures of the van which made my mind up not to risk a visit from the Gendarmes later, so we would find somewhere else to stay, but not before watching the Belgium v Brazil game! It was a pity to move from here as it was so picturesque and well frequented by boaters, walkers and cyclists as well as families using the excellent play area.
Sitting in the shade at the Rance Canal…
There was a local area map on a board beside the towpath highlighting all the local facilities and attractions, and it showed a village a few kilometres away had an Aire, so I headed for Saint Andre des Eaux (48.381262, -1.998896). Expecting another sleepy little village with a handful of vans at the most, we were surprised to find it was a huge FREE Aire with facilities (except power) and upwards of 40 vans parked up, including a few Brits. We found a good spot to park and had a snack then sat out and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Week 1 – Day 6 – Saturday 7th of July 2018
Etang des Betineuc – 0 miles
When we arrived last night we were genuinely surprised to see so many vans in this rural location with no obvious attraction to draw so many people to it. What we didn’t realise when we arrived was that this was in fact a very popular location for both locals and visitors alike and it was only when i checked our location on the Google Maps satelite view that we were parked at Etang de Bétineuc, a large lake with a sandy beach, cycle / jogging paths around it, and the local forest, with keep fit equipment spaced out along the way. It also had an open byre like structure which was used by a group of locals later in the afternoon for some sort of celebration, maybe to toast England progressing to the semi-finals of the World Cup, but on reflection, maybe not.
After a lazyish morning we headed off for a cycle around the lake where there were quite a few fishermen trying their luck, some with tents erected on the shore, obviously there for the weekend. Back at the Aire we stopped to chat to an elderly British couple here in their Bessacarr enjoying a 2 week break between doctors appointments back in West Yorkshire. Colin was from London originally, but Muriel was a Scot, with her accent still intact after a lifetime in England. Her opening line to me was, “I can see your body but not your face.” I reassured her she wasn’t missing much before she explained her eyesight was failing and she could only get about with a zimmer and mobility scooter which was on a carrier attached to the back of their van. We chatted for a while and it was an inspiration to see this late 70s couple enjoying their holiday in France, given their health issues.
Back at the van the TV was tuned in to find a French station showing the ‘Grand Depart’, the start of the Tour de France, and the main reason we are in France, just ahead of the weather, food and wine! As a stage can sometimes last 3 to 4 hours I left them to it, returning later, just in time to see race favourite, Chris Froome, leaving the road and ending up in a field, not the start to the race he would have wanted, but he is more than capable of making up the minute deficit over the next three weeks of racing.
No French stations seemed to be showing the En-ger-land game so I had to resort to watching it via the STV app on my tablet, not the best game ever, but this is a results based competition and England deserved to progress.
After the footie and another BBQ, this time two delicious flavoured turkey steaks it was time for another cycle around the lake and into the nearby (ghost) village, we sat on a bench overlooking the lake and watching people swimming and having BBQs on the beach in family groups. It was well after 9pm by this time and it was lovely to be able to sit beside a lake at this time and not get eaten alive by midges! We returned to the van in time to see the end of the Russia v Croatia game, and although Croatia made heavy work of beating the Russians, they will be difficult opponents for England in the next round.
Week 1 – Day 7 – Sunday 8th of July 2018
Etang des Bétineuc – 0 miles
After a bacon and scrambled egg breakfast, a treat my personal chef only allows on a weekend, we just relaxed and sat out enjoying the warm weather.
Vans came and went all day but it was mostly families arriving in cars to spend time on the beach, man made I assume, where they sunbathed, played games, swam and had picnics and BBQs.
Back at the van we didn’t do much at all as it was far too warm to go a cycle so we just sat outside under the shade of the awning, which, now it is working perfectly, is a great feature to have.
Later in the afternoon I managed to get the ITV4 coverage of Tour de France on the tablet so watched the conclusion of Stage 2 with an English commentary as opposed to the French commentry we heard yesterday on the TV. At home the ITV app won’t work as it defaults to the STV app but by putting in our former East Midlands post code it worked perfectly. Apart from Le Tour and the World Cup we arent watching TV or listening to the news, although we get it via apps on the phone and tablet.
The temperature was in the high 80s all day even well past 7pm and we had a BBQ of sausages and tomato pasta for a slight change and Lidl’s Toulouse sausages were particularly tasty, as were the chilli ones.
We decided to have a late cycle around the Lac but The Navigator’s front tyre deflated so she walked her bike back while I completed the 3km loop around le Lac in record time. There were still people on the beach in the late evening sunshine but the crowds of earlier, along with the fishermen had departed, no doubt off home ready for work tomorrow.
We finished off the evening watching YouTube videos and having a fairly early night, somehow tired from doing nothing all day!
Hopefully we will be in position on Tuesday to see the Tour de France pass us on Wednesday then every evening we will be driving to get in position for the next 4 stages as well.
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To put this week into context here is the route we travelled…
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