2 – 8 September 2019
Following our fascinating but rather noisy & full-on time at Düsseldorf we crossed the Rhine and found a nice little campsite just into the Netherlands where we hooked up to deep-charge the batteries and do some repairs. No planes roaring overhead or trains going past, just peace and quiet. We sat still for a couple of days and got stuff sorted including fixing the gas hob which we were rather pleased with.
We were booked into a campsite in Portugal from 14 September so had 10 days to do 1700 miles, avoiding highways and toll-roads to see more of the countryside. Our first day took us through 4 countries despite our leisurely pace – from the Netherlands into Germany and through urban Aachen into rural Belgium where the scenery reminded us of England with rolling hills and fields edged by hedgerows punctuated by oak, then on into France. The cool grey skies were inclined to rain and we were glad we were heading south.
It took us 4 days to cross France and we soon settled into a routine of heading off around 10am and mooring-up on an aire early evening, driving anything from 180 – 280 miles a day depending on the roads. Entering the country via the Ardennes we followed first the River Meuse and then the rather odd directions of the satnav – her definition of “highway” is bewildering and her attempts to avoid any decent road took us on interesting lanes through places we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. A bit of a French Lucky Dip.
Our first aire at Corbeny was a good start – it overlooked a pretty carp lake on the edge of the village and we woke to a sprinkling of fisherman already in place. Good to be on the road.
We were in war graves territory and not far down the road from our overnight spot was one with a strange looking tank in pride of place – the French National Tank Memorial on the site from which the first ever attacks with French tanks were made in April 1917. No time to stop though or even get o photo.
The van felt small as we drove through huge bare fields that created a chequer-board of drab gold-and-brown, dotted with massive grain silos.
It was a landscape we were glad to leave behind as we travelled into Champagne with its green woods and vineyards. Through busy Reims with all its contrasts – from run-down social housing to the gleaming white walls of the Taittinger champagne house – and on to the champagne-making capital, Epernay, surrounded by rolling chalk hills covered in green vines laden with grapes ripe and ready for picking. Oh for a tasting session!!
Here it is still done by hand, and convoys of caravans passed us carrying the itinerant pickers to their next job.
Pretty villages with their fairy-tale chateau and attractive old towns gave interest to a grey afternoon – even the sunflowers were depressed, leaves yellow and limp, heads black and bowed. We encountered the Seine and then the Loire as we drove south west, overnighting at a small and slightly depressing aire. Next day we crossed the river at Sully sur Loire where it’s lovely big chateau was hosting a hunting & fishing festival, picketed by noisy animal rights protestors being watched by bored-looking cops.
We noticed that many of the rural villages, whether pretty or not, seem to have real civic pride, their communal planters overflowing with flowers, bright in the autumn sun, and hand-made signs advertised village fêtes . We envied that every village seems to have an artisan boulanger or boulanger-patissier – not a Greggs in sight!
The weather seemed to be responding to our southern trajectory and we had a gorgeous crimson sunset at an Aire next to a reservoir on the Charente river, then a sunny Sunday that had us heading towards the Atlantic coast via Bordeaux. As it was church day there were people out and about in the villages, some carrying bowls full of eggs or baguettes, others gathered round the church chatting. Okay, so there’s probably all sorts going on beneath the surface, but it did seem very idyllic.
It would appear that Sunday is also hunting day at this time of year and we passed many temporary signs and men at the roadside in orange vests carrying brass horns, as well as the occasional hunter with his gun. What were they hunting – deer, wild boar, game birds? We like to think all for the pot.
Failure by Kate to check the satnav closely and a closed road saw us lose an hour by going through the middle of Bordeaux itself rather than taking its ring road, which didn’t do much for harmony. Road traffic, cyclists, trams and pedestrians conspired to make it as difficult as possible to navigate the narrow streets and we were glad to emerge the other side. It made for a longer day than we had wanted.
We reached our target aire on the Atlantic coast just after 7pm and slid into a gap next to a 1989 version of our van occupied by 3 surfer-types who looked younger than their van and had obviously been there a while. In fact there were a few old and battered vans there that looked like they belonged to surf-loving people.
A walk was needed to remove the kinks and as it was a beautiful evening we climbed the dune for a beautiful at sunset over a peaceful ocean and a bracing breeze. Spain tomorrow.