This is my original blog – all my blogs  since I started in 2009 - are here including those from The Ale Archive – all the beers I’ve sampled at home and on our travels since 2012.
 
Since 2012 most of our travel has involved a caravan. I now have a specific caravanning blog called (Get Your) Legs Down which not only documents all our trips but includes product reviews, site listings, storage locations, mobile service engineers and much more. It too is on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, 31 July 2015

France Part 7 - On a lighter note….

After the fascinating but necessarily sombre visit to Oradour-sur-Glane on Monday, normal sightseeing duties resumed on Tuesday with a visit to Brantome about 45 minutes south.

According to the map it was on the road straight through Nontron so I decided the sat-nav app would not be needed. Hmm. Having traversed the town though all signs for Brantome had vanished so I had to reluctantly admit defeat. I pulled into a car park and put the sat-nav on, which sent me back in to town, only to try and direct me down a road which was shut. Great. I performed another reverse ferret, the sat-nav caught up and proceeded to send me down the road we were on in the first place!

We found the town without any trouble, and soon found ourselves driving past the old Abbey and across the river in search of a parking space. We didn’t have to wait long. Its seems whilst the tourists are looking to park for a few hours or all day, the locals are just popping in - probably for bread. Once again, there were no parking meters - and this is in a town centre. Astonishing - for us anyway.

Brantome was every bit as picturesque as we were promised. It sits on an island in the River Dronne with the old Abbey being an impressive focal point. Little traditional wooden boats are available for hire and we contemplated for a while but decided to come back later. A mistake as it turned out.

DSC_0003DSC_0013DSC_0025DSC_0034

It’s a small town and doesn’t take long to walk around but it’s a very pleasant place for a stroll around shops geared for both tourists and locals alike. Having exhausted ourselves perusing the shops for the necessary fridge magnet we fuelled up with caffeine before marching off again.

DSC_0021DSC_0026DSC_0038DSC_0039DSC_0010

Somewhere further around was obviously renting out canoes and we watched a number of people negotiate the weir by one of the bridges. The clever ones got some speed up and went straight over. The more timid got stuck and had to wiggle themselves free.

DSC_0069There was a company offering a river cruise starting near the Abbey and with sun occasionally showing putting in an appearance it seemed a very agreeable way of spending an hour. I like river trips because you get a different perspective on a place and very enjoyable it was too. Commentary was mostly in French with some English but an information sheet was provided too. It was here that we learnt that Brantome wasn’t originally an Island, but that a canal was dug by Monks linking the river. Once again the boat was electric, and apart from the gentle wash from the small propellers, was silent, making for a very relaxing trip. All in all well worth the seven Euros and fifty cents.

DSC_0042DSC_0052DSC_0050

On the way back, the decision about the wooden boats was made for us as they were all out on hire. Oh well, there’s always another time I guess

Also on our site info and in the Rough Guide was the village of St Jean-de-Cole, a pleasant twelve mile drive northeast of Brantome. It seemed largely deserted - so nothing unusual there then - until we found the central square where a couple of restaurants and cafe’s were ticking over. There was a twelfth century chateau deserving of a couple of lens clicks too.

DSC_0075DSC_0079DSC_0080DSC_0082

Wednesday was a day ‘off’ at least partially. The rain came Tuesday night as promised and was still lingering in the morning, which meant blog time. Lunchtime, as the weather cleared we drove in to Nontron - not only for the supermarket but to actually have a look around too. Whilst not endowed with the same beauty as Brantome it’s a likeable enough place and has some great viewpoints as you will see. It’s also well known for knife making and there is a workshop where you can watch. They must be good judging by the prices in the shops.

DSC_0119DSC_0110

Once again the BBQ was fired up for dinner - in fact we’ve cooked outside all the time since we’ve been away. Our neighbours Robert & Peter are always up for a chat and it’s been good comparing notes on places we’ve visited over a glass or two of er, research. Having been here eight times they know the area pretty well.

Right, part 7 done and dusted. Just the one video this time:

Look out for part 8 very soon. Until then….

 

 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

France Part 6 - The Cost of War

Saturday and it was time to hitch up the old girl again - and in case you’ve come to the blog late I aint talking about the mother-in-law but our caravan - as we continued our trip around France.

We were heading south and east - so away from the coast - and into what we know as the Dordogne region and roughly equivalent to the what the French call Perigord. They should know I suppose. Anyway, to ensure there were no nasty surprises I checked the route suggested by the sat-nav app step by step with the road map prior and all looked good.DSC_0040

And indeed it was. Soon the landscape was changing from the flatlands we had become used to. The road started to undulate gently and there was a noticeable change in the crops too. The sunflowers and maize was slowly being replaced by grapevines. Lovely, grapes are a fruit I guess so count towards your five a day don’t they?

They’d soon disappeared though, to be replaced by trees as we entered the Dordogne - sorry, Perigord region. The sat-nav took us as far as the village of Augignac, then we followed the instructions from the site for the last few miles, the road which seemed to on for ages but was in fact only a couple of miles and we were soon turning into the site - called Manzac Ferme. The journey of 146 miles took around 4 hours, with Rosie returning a credible 28mpg and bringing our total mileage covered since leaving Dieppe to 1380, although Patsy has only covered 546.

DSC_0043DSC_0041DSC_0045

Well, firstly it was one of the friendliest welcomes we’ve received - both from the site owners Georges & Margaret and fellow caravanners. Georges help us position the van on the pitch - It would have gone in easy long ways but made far more sense to go side on - as everyone else had - to make the most of the lovely view. We were extremely grateful - as ever for the motor mover. We got the legs down, the mains hooked up then were given a tour of the site and facilities.

I said firstly earlier. Secondly, this site is a VERY pretty site, possibly one of the prettiest we’ve been on and certainly our favourite in France so far. As you will see from the photo’s caravans sit on the hard standing area, almost like a terrace, and down the slope amongst the trees is the tent area. There are just six pitches for caravans and a similar number for tents. It’s a very friendly, cosy site and very peaceful. Moreover, the facilities look immaculate. And the sun was out!

DSC_0035DSC_0036DSC_0038DSC_0039

Our neighbours introduced themselves - Peter & Robert - a lovely couple who have been together for over fifty years and are on their eighth visit to Manzac Ferme and clearly love it.

There was a quick foray to the Supermarket in Nontron about 10 minutes away to get our fix - bread that is. Oh and some wine too. Got to keep the fruit intake up. Dinner was BBQ’d - and cremated - and we spent a pleasant evening under the canopy chatting to our neighbours.

Well, it couldn’t last could it? Cloudy and and at times wet for most of the Sunday meant I had little excuse not to catch up with the blog. WiFi is provided - free once again - and much better than at the last site meaning no trip out in search of a signal. We did little in the afternoon except laze around and discover that the facilities ARE immaculate - and the showers just divine.

As usual we’d done very little research on the area - so was grateful for the information provided by Margaret & Georges on things to see and do. We decided to start with the furthest away and that was the village of Oradour-sur-Glane some forty or so miles north east. World War Two historians may already have heard of it but for the rest it has a very grim past. Briefly, on 10th June 1944 the Waffen SS  surrounded the village and rounded up everyone - the men into various buildings around the village and the women and children into the church. Machine guns were already in place. The men were shot, doused in accelerant and the buildings set on fire. A smoke bomb was let off in the church and the woman and children were slaughtered as they tried to escape. Corpses were burnt so they couldn't be identified and the whole village was set alight. In all 642 were massacred on that day. Very few survived. It seems that the atrocity was carried out just to ‘make a point’. The invasion at Normandy happened just four days earlier and Hitler's grip on France was clearly weakening.

It was decided that the village should remain just as it was left after that night - and indeed it does. A new village was built along side to the same layout in the fifties.

The above is a very brief explanation of what happened, but the visitors centre gives you much much more, including the rise of Nazism, the occupation of France and attempts to find reasons behind the actions that day, as well as the events following. The displays have English translations and an audio guide is available to rent for just a couple Euro’s. While you don’t have to do the exhibition and can walk straight through to the village, unless you are fully conversant with it’s history, it’s well worth it.

The village itself? Well, peaceful although the mind wanders and tries to imagine what it was like that day. Everyone was respectful and spoke quietly and softly as they walked around, trying to take it all in.

DSC_0004DSC_0008DSC_0013DSC_0022DSC_0021DSC_0025DSC_0012DSC_0028DSC_0016DSC_0029DSC_0018DSC_0027

The new village adjacent was the obvious place to go for lunch and we had a quick look around before the drive back to the site.

DSC_0030DSC_0031DSC_0032

If you find yourself in this neck of the woods I can’t recommend this highly enough. It will fascinate you, shock you, and make you sad and angry too.

For further information:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oradour-sur-Glane

http://www.oradour.org/en

http://www.oradour.info/

Another couple of videos for you:

Manzac Ferme Campsite

Oradour-sur-Glane

Untitled

 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

France Part 5 - A Rare Treat

Those reading Part 4 probably deduced - correctly - that we’ve not done a great deal of sightseeing. That’s not to say that there’s not a lot to do around here although the beaches are a big draw. We enjoyed getting out and about but it’s also been nice just to laze about the ‘van sunbathing - weather permitting - and reading.

However Monday saw us head south to La Rochelle on the coast. We were particularly looking forward to this as we’d been here about nine years ago - on a cruise. The dear old QE2 no less. There were seven us in our party - us two, our friends Joe and Roy, Trev’s Mum HRH and his Sister Rosemary and Brother-in-Law Ray. We had a really great time and have some really happy memories of that trip, tinged with more than a little sadness when you think that three are no longer with us. Rest in peace Roy, Ray and Rosemary.

Anyway, as you will see from the photo’s the weather wasn’t kind to us. It was grey, wet and to be honest the place did look a little neglected. Cut backs or just the weather making it look a little dreary? Who knows, but it wasn’t quite as we remembered it.

DSC_0021DSC_0023

DSC_0014DSC_0019DSC_0020DSC_0022

I send a couple of blogs out by post and this was one of our first tasks on arrival. I reasoned that language might be less of a problem in a popular holiday resort, even at a post office counter but needn't have worried as self service machines do it all for you. Result! Job done we had a mooch around town before heading to the harbour.

One the things we wanted to do was climb the three towers. A great view of the town was promised even in the gloom and drizzle. A discount was offered on entry to all three. However, it transpired that one was closed for renovation and the other was closed for er, lunch. Great. A tourist attraction in peak holiday season closes for lunch. Oh well. The tower we DID get to climb was well worth it, giving some great views from the top.

DSC_0049DSC_0032DSC_0047

DSC_0036DSC_0037

It’s about a fifteen minute walk from the tower back around to the side of the harbour where the shops, cafes and restaurants were - presumably they WOULD be open for lunch but you never know - or you could catch a little electric ferry that glides across the harbour. Our Rough Guide said that the ferry was included in the Towers admission fee, however the Skipper of the boat said it wasn’t. I dug deep and produced a couple of Euros. The ferry was amazingly quiet - no smelly throbbing diesel engines, which was a little unusual - I like a nice throbbing er, engine - just the quiet whirr of electric motors. Solar panels adorn the roof and the boat hooks up to a charger when loading and unloading. Novel and impressive.

With bellies filled we contemplated heading across to the Ile de Re. The Rough Guide and other bumpf we’d accrued suggested it was worthy of a visit but the weather was not improving so we decided to give it a miss and head back to base.

The weather was much kinder to us when we visited the Vallee de L’yon a twenty five minute drive north east of the site. This was another recommendation by the young lady on reception and again it was well worth it. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking but you can walk for a little or as long as you like as there are plenty of places to cross the river. You can even take a horse as you can see! A great place to for a picnic, read a book or just sit and enjoy.

DSC_0005DSC_0014

DSC_0016DSC_0020

DSC_0023DSC_0027

We walked for an hour or so, and needed refuelling by the time we returned. There was a pretty restaurant by the car park and we procured - eventually - a coffee and coke. Service wasn’t swift - it wasn’t at all busy by napkins needed folding and tables needed laying out, which clearly came first. In such a delightful setting though it didn’t matter.DSC_0029

To date, it was the most I’ve ever paid for a coffee in France but a glance at the menu on the way out suggested this was the exception - everything else seemed very fairly priced. Live music also featured in the summer months.

Parking was again free - something unimaginable for such a tourist attraction at home.

Once a week the site put on a bit of party for the guests. Huge BBQ’s are fired and you bring your own stuff to cook. Benches are laid out and this week there was live music too. We’d already eaten, but went along for a look and to sample the free grog. To be honest it was hard to tell what it was - possibly a sangria like concoction and unusually for me I only had one glass. As I mentioned before, many of the pitches are occupied by the chalets which you can buy, so there were plenty of people here, all of which seemed to know one another. Except us.The Dutch always seem up for a chat though and we got talking to a fellow camper, who was a teacher back in Holland, so we had quite a bit to talk about. Funnily enough the band, well duo, stopped playing soon after we arrived and had a three hour meal break - they didn't strike up again until long after we’d adjourned to Patsy, but played for a good couple of hours after that - a mixture of both modern and old favourites, with varying degrees of success.

Most evenings we've been more than happy to strike up the BBQ but on our list night before heading on, we decided to return to La Tranche sur Mer for a meal. It’s a great place combining the usual sea-side resort amenities with a small traditional village feel. The central car park is reached through narrow one way streets which the locals must hate.

DSC_0020DSC_0019DSC_0021

The food was good. A restaurant in the main square were I spoke what French I could muster and the waitress replied in English - it worked really well. We both had steak but it was clear that the chef had a different interpretation of what medium (me) and well done (Trev) is. Ok, purists might argue than anything more than rare for a steak is sacrilege but we like what we like. Honestly, I’d never seen so much blood on a plate and had to wait for it to stop twitching but to be fair it was delicious.

DSC_0015DSC_0018DSC_0012

And that really was our time in the Vendee region at an end. Another great site and, as we found last year in Ireland things outside the UK are much more relaxed on campsites. There are no long lists of rules to abide by, or break. You don’t have to arrived after a certain time. You don’t have to ‘report to reception’ You don’t have to line your van up exactly with some marker peg. The pitch is your to do with as you wish as long as you show consideration for your neighbour - which everyone does. Campers are expected to use their common sense and  most do just that.

Again, the resorts aside, it’s seemed strange how quite everywhere is. Passing through numerous villages when you don’t see a single soul is almost eerie. But then you you have to remember the size of France and it’s population compared to Britain. It makes driving much more of a pleasure though - and after being quite apprehensive prior to our departure I’m quite happy now to get behind the wheel.

We’re coping with the language much better too. I am happy to have a go at speaking it but know what to say if I don’t understand and we get by.

By the time you read this we will be a bit further south and east - in the Dordogne region. Those on Farcebook will have already seen a few photos - head over to www.facebook.com/getyourlegsdown to have a look.

The WiFi is much better here on our new site so there is a couple of videos for your perusal:

Right, must go, it’s 10 minutes since I’ve eaten some bread, They quite like it over here you know…..

 

Untitled