Week 24 – Libourne to Saint Valerie sur Somme
via Saumur, Baugé en Anjou, La Mailleraye sur Seine and Dieppe
Week 24 – Day 165 – Monday 12th March 2018
Libourne – 0 miles
After saying in yesterdays blog post that we might re-visit St Émilion and the surrounding wine region, it didn’t happen, and to coin a phrase, rain stopped play. It had rained most of the night and it continued on and off most of the day. More on than off.
We could have left and continued the journey north but its never pleasant driving in pouring rain so we decided to stay another day on the Aire and hope it would be dry tomorrow.
I prepared last weeks blog to go online tomorrow and then spent the rest of the day backing up the tons of GoPro and Dashcam video that has not seen the light of day yet. That should keep me busy when I get home, among other things!
The Navigator was busy all day knitting, reading, cooking, tidying up etc etc and her day was rounded off with the weekly Monday evening ritual of the ‘hangout’ with the girls. Hangouts is a free Skype type App for phone, tablet or computer and has been invaluable for keeping in touch, face to face.
Week 24 – Day 166 – Tuesday 13th March 2018
Libourne to Saumur – 196 miles
The rain is off, its bright and sunny again and we are going to head off north.
First job however was to service the van, set the satnav for the near 4 hour drive heading for Saumur on the Loire. We were last in Saumur in 1982 when we did a circular tour from Roscoff, down to St Nazaire then followed the Loire up as far as Saumur before heading back up to the north coast of France. At the time we were towing a 12ft Sprite Alpine caravan in the days before satnavs, following roadsigns and Mitchelin maps, proper old school, and the odd thing is, I have no memories of ever getting lost.
The drive today was through wine country and we passed signs for Chinon and Cahors, two areas well known for their red wines. After about half an hour of ordinary roads we joined a dual carriage way heading directly north towards Poitiers. It was a good straight road through very pleasant countryside made ‘interesting’ by being flashed at again by a roadside speed camera. The speed limit on the motorway was 110km an hour, and 80km an hour for vehicles over 3,500kg, which we are not so it is still a bit of a mystery why I’m being flashed. My theory is that, because we are higher than a car, the camera judges we must therefore must be a lorry going over 80km an hour so flashes. I have read that the French system is connected to the DVLA which should confirm to them Louis is rated under 3,500kg. That is my hope anyway as I’ve been flashed 4 times so far that I know about!
With about two thirds of the journey completed there was a large Super U right beside the dual-carriageway and on a junction so I headed for it and parked up to have lunch. Never one to miss a laundry, The Navigator spotted a Laverie in the corner of the car park and before you could say ‘spin cycle’ she was over with a big load of washing and a purse-full of euro coins. As this was going to take 37 minutes we went and topped up on some groceries then had lunch in the van, which I prepared as the wash now had to be dried in the tumble driers, a task too complicated for me!
After all of this expenditure on washing and drying clothes we has 2 euro coins left so Louis was treated to a quick jetwash, its first since El Campello back in January. We rejoined the dual-carriageway and the long line of lorries heading north, most of them Spanish and Portuguese. We arrived in Saumur around 4.30 and found the motorhome Aire on the island in the middle of the Loire, almost next to the campsite we had stayed on almost 36 years ago. It had been a long day and I had a quick nap before dinner and then it was another night of podcasts. Tomorrow we will walk into the town and see if we remember any of it.
Week 24 – Day 167 – Wednesday 14th March 2018
Saumur to Baugé en Anjou – 21 miles
The historic town of Saumur is situated on the Loire river, and is surrounded by the vineyards of Saumur itself, Chinon, and other domains which produce some of France’s finest wines. Here are a couple of Loire facts for you…
The Loire, at 629 miles, is the longest river in France solely within its borders, the Rhine is longer but flows through other countries.
The majority of nesting birds in France can be found along the river, approximately 164 species and it also hosts 57 fish species.
The motorhome Aire is situated on an island in the middle of the Loire tight next to the campsite we stayed at in 1982 in our Sprite Alpine caravan and the above sunset picture is one I took all those years ago.
From the Aire we set off walking along the Loire riverside which has a great view over to the town on the south bank, dominated by the Château.
The landmark Château de Saumur was constructed in the 10th century to protect the Loire river crossing from Norman attacks after the settlement of Saumur was sacked in 845. The castle, destroyed in 1067 and inherited by the House of Plantagenet, was rebuilt by Henry II of England in the later 12th century. It changed hands several times between Anjou and France until 1589. Houses in Saumur are constructed almost exclusively of the local white Tuffeau stone. The caves, dug to excavate the stone, became tunnels and have been used by the local vineyards as locations to store their wines.
We were reliably informed via online sources that there was a market on in Saumur today but we could not find it, and attempts to ask the locals if / where it was on fell on stoney ground. When a police officer directed us to the local Carrefour supermarket we knew our search was going to be fruitless today, so instead headed for the Chateau.
A year ago I would have struggled to the top of the hill, but a healthier diet, some weight loss, and medication for my type 2 diabetes meant I made it up without too many stops ‘to take in the view’, in fact it was The Navigator who struggled a bit this time, certainly slower than 35 years ago!
The Chateau and surroundings are in the middle of a €9m refurbishment so the scaffolding and work going on slightly spoiled the photo opportunities but the view over the town and the surrounding landscape was still worth the effort. A combination of all this building work going on, and it being still out of season meant it was closed to the public, which was no huge loss at it is a museum now and not a residence.
After spending some time taking in the views, we wandered back down into the town and admired the quality of the shops and restaurants. This is a wealthy region, and Saumur is a very upmarket shopping centre with prices to match, the average plat de jour was about €18, where in most other places we have been to it is €10 to €12. We did eventually find somewhere cheap and cheerful and had lunch before heading back to the van in the early afternoon.
As we arrived at 4.45 yesterday we had until then to leave. We had seen all we wanted to see in Saumur so there was no point staying another night at €12.30 so the App was consulted and I found the town of Baugé et Anjou about half an hour north with a free Aire so we set off there.
Once we arrived and set up we headed off for a walk around the town, and pretty impressive it was too in a sort of shabby chic sort of way, with many of the buildings dating back to the 15th century.
This was a great stopover in a lovely little town that you would normally just bypass or go through without stopping. France has so many towns like this. A late meal followed then, as most nights, by more podcasts to before the drumbeat of heavy rain on the van roof serenaded us to sleep.
Week 24 – Day 168 – Thursday 15th March 2018
Baugé en Anjou to La Mailleraye sur Seine – 185 miles
There have been great and unexpected surprises with some of the places we have stayed at over the course of this trip and Baugé en Anjou has been another for that list. A quiet, unassuming town with many ancient buildings going back 4 to 5 hundred years, many still inhabited, a large church with an organ from the 16th century, and as you would expect for this part of France, a huge and impressive chateau. To top it all off, the Aire was free.
We set off initially heading for Le Mans via a caravan accessory shop in Arnage to pick up some bits and bobs to see us until we are home. Back on track again in heavy rain, it was a surprise to me that we found ourselves driving on part of the Le Mans 24 hour racetrack, somehow I had assumed it was a fixed enclosed circuit, but obviously not.
The Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans, is a semi-permanent race course chiefly known as the venue for the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Comprising private, race-specific sections of track in addition to public roads which remain accessible most of the year, its present configuration lets the driver go flat out up to 85% of the lap time on the 13.626 kilometres (8.467 mi) long track, making it one of the longest circuits in the world and with a spectator capacity of 100,000. It was lashing down as we passed the track but we drove out of the rain on the next leg towards Alençon.
We had topped up with diesel in Spain at €1.04 just before the French border and it would have been great to drive all the way through France without paying the much higher French prices but we needed fuel as we were almost running on fumes and there was nowhere to top up as this was rural countryside.
Eventually we made it to Alençon and half filled the tank with hopefully enough diesel to get us as far as Dover and cheaper prices than here. We paid €1.29 per ltr but have seen it as high as €1.57. Lunch followed by some grocery shopping at a Lidl then it was the last lap towards the intended stop at La Mailleraye sur Seine. With the satnav indicating 45 minutes to go the rain came down as hard as it could with the wipers barely able to cope. Eventually we reached the village no thanks to the satnav which took us up some single track lanes at one point, however we found the Aire which is situated right on the southern bank of the Seine about halfway between the sea at Le Havre and Paris.
We had a great view of the ships going past, and there were a few huge ocean going vessels going downstream in the gloom, even continuing into the evening when it was dark.
Week 24 – Day 169 – Friday – 16th March 2018
La Mailleraye sur Seine – 0 miles
It was dry when we woke and after a late breakfast we walked into the village for a look about and found a little market of about half a dozen stalls in progress. As this is our final weekend in France on this trip we treated ourselves to two fantastic looking patisserie from the village baker before heading back to the van.
The only noteworthy building in the village is the church of St. Mathurin, dating from 1585 which overlooks the Aire, but it was closed so we could not have a look inside. I spent most of the afternoon sitting outside waiting in vain to photograph one of the ocean going ships passing by, but surprisingly none appeared, until the light was fading when a large yellow ship headed downstream.
The Navigator spent most of the afternoon cleaning the van, before reading and knitting.
After dinner, our penultimate Mercadona calzone pizza, we settled down to watch our usual Friday night YouTube videos. According to my weather App it is 53 degrees just now (8pm), 43 and rain tomorrow, 39 on Sunday with some snow so it looks like the ‘Beast from the East Mark 2’ will be coming to this part of France too!
Week 24 – Day 170 – Saturday 17th March 2018
La Mailleraye sur Seine to Dieppe – 48 miles
Today, we are moving on, somewhat reluctantly. This site is a great location for chilling out and watching the ships go past, there is certainly more life on the Seine than the Loire. The decision is solely weather related. It is bitterly cold and this morning the rain is lashing down, however there is a possibility that the rain could turn to snow in the next few days, not a lot, but is it is cold enough to snow we would be better on a site with mains electricity as our heating needs mains power to blow the heat around the van and the batteries don’t last too long on their own.
I wanted to head north to the Normandy coast as there is less likely the snow will come to much there. We know this part of the coast well as we have been many times over the years, but most recently in October as we were starting this trip. There were a few places that we could have gone back to but it is always good to visit somewhere new, and on that basis Dieppe was chosen, just over an hour away.
Heading out of La Mailleraye sur Seine the satnav takes you north and over the Seine on the Pont de Brotonne, another huge bridge that the French do so well. I’m not sure how high it is, so ‘very’ will have to suffice, it has to be so ‘very’ high to let the sea going vessels pass under it on their way up the Seine. From there the journey was fairly uneventful. Midway there was a quick stop at a huge new Lidl as we wanted to stock up with provisions just incase we were snowed in somewhere. Then, not that far from Dieppe, on a huge flat field on our left we saw the first deer of the journey, this after passing dozens of signs warning us there may be deer on the road ahead throughout the trip.
As we were entering Dieppe there was a massive shopping complex anchored by an Auchan hypermarket, but right next to it was a Flunch, so we headed there for lunch. The Flunch restaurant chain is hugely popular all over France and are usually found beside an out of town hypermarket and a lot of people will know the branch at Cite Europe in Calais. This one was mobbed and the young children there were excitedly getting their pictures taken with an attractive girl dressed as some sort of princess with the full outfit and wig etc. Oddly there were 2 minders watching over her, maybe in case the 3 year old’s fathers became too frisky! We had a walk round the Auchan after lunch, but no bargains stood out.
From the shopping complex it was only 15 minutes to the Aire which is superbly situated on the seafront at the entrance to the port.
After servicing the van and parking up we had a cuppa as the wind was bitterly cold, the coldest we have experienced in many months. After thawing out, we decided that, as it was Sunday tomorrow when everything would be closed, we should have a walk into town when there was some life about it. The Navigator had at least 4 layers that I knew about, but probably more!
It only took 10 minutes to walk to the main shopping street which was quite long and sheltered. There was a good selection of shops, restaurants and the remnants of the Saturday market.
Dieppe is a quite large port on the Alabaster Coast, at the mouth of the Arques river, famous for its scallops, and with a regular ferry service to Newhaven in England, Dieppe also has a popular pebbled beach, a 15th-century castle and the churches of Saint-Jacques and Saint-Remi, all looking as though they escaped unscathed in WW2.
Dieppe was occupied by German naval and army forces after the fall of France in 1940. The Dieppe Raid in the Second World War was a costly battle for the Allies. On August 19, 1942, Allied soldiers, mainly drawn from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, landed at Dieppe in the hope of occupying the town for a short time, gaining intelligence and drawing the Luftwaffe into open battle. The Allies suffered more than 1,400 deaths, mostly Canadian, with 907 killed and 1,946 Canadian soldiers captured. Its hard to imagine those events as you walk round this prosperous looking town today. We returned to the van to hunker down with the heating on to await whatever the weather had in store for is in the next few days.
Week 24 – Day 171 – Sunday 18th March 2018
Dieppe to Saint Valerie sur Somme – 44 miles
We have owned the van almost eleven years now and if we have spent a colder night in it than last night, I can’t bring it to mind. It was freezing. The Aire in Dieppe is right on the seafront at the harbour entrance and the breeze coming off the water did nothing to increase the temperature, probably the reverse.
The Truma heating system has a setting that protects the boiler and pipes from frost damage in that it senses when the outside temperature gets down to freezing and then it automatically releases a valve to drain off the 10 ltrs of water in the boiler and pipes. When this happens, usually in the middle of the night, the water pump kicks in and starts pumping water from the main water tank to the boiler as it senses the boiler needs topped up, but, as the release valve is open, the water is pumped straight through the boiler onto the ground. The only way to stop it is for someone (The Navigator) to get up and shut off the water pump, and then, someone (The Driver) has to get dressed in as many layers as possible and go outside in the morning to reset the valve in the garage compartment while the water pump refills the boiler. As the temperature was still at freezing the valve had to be jammed to prevent it opening again. Great fun!
I liked Dieppe and the Aire is in a great position to access the town centre and the pebble beach on a much warmer day, but at $12 a night it should have electricity included, but the few sockets here are restricted to an hour at a time, supposedly to recharge batteries rather than run electrical equipment, including our fan for the van’s blown air heating system. A French van near us had plugged in to the mains but his cable had a spare socket so I connected my cable onto his and this gave us some much needed power. As his blinds were closed all the time, he was none the wiser! There was a chance he would move on so we decided to move further north, and nearer Calais, to an Aire we have been to before at Saint Valerie sur Somme where there are plenty of power outlets. The journey was 44 miles through pleasant Normandy countryside and villages with ancient cottages and churches. We will be here 2 nights so on arrival we re-filled the main water tank, parked up, connected the electricity cable and hunkered down with the heating on. There was no point walking into the town as, being Sunday everything would be closed, oh, and did I mention it was freezing cold anyway, with wispy flakes of snow floating down, but to no effect. The evening was spent typing this (moi), reading and knitting (The Navigator) and listening to podcasts (both).
To see the 123 Seconds in Saint Valerie sur Somme video click HERE
We will leave St Valerie sur Somme on Tuesday and head north towards Calais, probably stopping off at the Auchan hypermarket car park in Boulogne until it is time to head for the P & O ferry terminal for our 00.30am crossing, a bargain at £ 42.50 for the van and both of us, saving about £ 100 from a daytime crossing and allowing us to get round the M25 long before the morning rush hour.
The plan is to visit a few places in the East Midlands, then pick up Emma and bring her up to Argyll over the Easter weekend for a weeks holiday with us so this will be the last blog post until we are home in two weeks time and I will then post the last blog of this journey, and our final impressions of the whole trip.
COUNTDOWN – 667 MILES TO HOME!
To put this week into context here is the route we travelled…
THE NEXT TWO WEEKS…
We cross from Calais to Dover, spend some time in the East Midlands then head home over the Easter weekend…
The final blog post of this trip will be in 2 weeks time – and we will end with a BIG SURPRISE, so stay tuned…
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