Bay of Biscay : Dieppe to the Pyrenees

It is a hot sunny afternoon in the Pyrenees – too hot for Fred. After 5 nights we are about 700 miles from home into our journey and making the most of a 2 night stop to catch on some domestic stuff and sitting in the shade.

Sometimes it seems like things aren’t meant to be and it gets dishaeartening when inconveniences are thrown at you. Before we left home we found that the previously unused tow hitch was broken so as soon as we get home that needs sorting. On the second day we got a message to say the house alarm had gone off – its never done it before and it got a thorough test just before we came away. At least our neighbours have managed to sort it for us. Yesterday we got an email to say trout our garage permitted development had been rejected the upshot of which is that we need to apply for full permission that will delay our plans when we get home. And then to cap it all this morning the van fridge seemed not to be working – we are not sure about this but it means that we will have to be careful how we use it.

Before we left Dieppe we took a walk along several kilometres of the Anenue Vert / Greenway. It is a walking and cycling trail of about 30 kilometres from Dieppe to Neufchâtel-en-Bray. Much like our own Cuckoo tail in East Sussex was an old railway line. However unlike our own Cuckoo trail it is wide, well paved and beautifully maintained. Also unlike our own Cuckoo trail as well as been funded by the region it was also funded by the EU and oh yes – East Sussex County Council and is now maintained to high standard by the local authority.

Our first travelling day was an easy one with nothing spectacular except easy French roads from Dieppe to Chateaudun. We had our first argument with the sat nav somewhere south of Rouen where is seems that the 2015 map software, our paper map and reality are not the same thing. As time went on we got used to these little events from either new road layouts or simply incorrect data. Chateaudun is situated on the Loir (no “e”) about as far north as you can reasonably stretch the Loire region. It has its own grand Chateau perched on a rock in the middle of the town. The excellent municipal camp site (9.5€ a night) is situated on the banks of the river on the edge of town a couple of kilometres level walk from the centre. The back drop to the camp site is a magnificent old mill building which could be a chateau itself and points to a wealthy miller. Today it appears to be a bit of a hippy community.

For our next stop we thought we would stay just north of Limoge. The agriculture of this area is on an industrial scale and it was amazing to see the vast plains of cereal crop that make up the Haut-Limozin. Bowling along with the scenery passing by we were watching a pair of Buzzards when a Hen Harrier leapt up from the side of the road. We turned off to the Route National to go to Bellac and find one or other of the camp sites listed in the area. Firstly the Gendarmerie had the road closed and then when we arrived at the first municipal site the barrier was down and the phone number for the attendant would not connect as if incoming international calls were barred. When we did get in we took one look at it and left. The next site, the municipal site in Bellac itself, when we eventually found it along with several other confused campers it was closed and occupied by some large tented event. Finally after finding yet another that was simply closed we gave up and headed for a site in Limoge itself which in the end was a good choice.

After a couple of circuits of the lake in the morning to let Fred run off steam and we were on our way again this time heading for Sarlat in the Dordogne. South of Limoge the scenery changes into rolling pastures followed by acres of French Golden Delicious grown on frames and covered in netting with the harvest just getting under way. Soon we were driving through walnut groves and fields of dead sun flowers waiting to be cropped. We stopped for lunch in a posh motorhome stopover park and we noticed that Fred was looking a bit down in the mouth, worse still he refused his carrot and banana after lunch. We visited the place we had first camped and dangled our feet in the Dordogne some 30 years ago but either it had changed our our memories had dimmed somewhat. Fred took a turn for the worse and breakfast and lunch was duly deposited on the seat – thank goodness for a wipe clean seat cover. We drove a little further before opting for early afternoon stop on a shady municipal site on the banks of the Dordogne at Cenac. We managed a few stroles but Fred really wasn’t up to it and slept most of the afternoon.

Monday was a bit grey and overcast as we set out along the side of the river past gorgeous sandstone buildings hanging on to the river bank or chateau perched high on the cliffs. Despite the dreary weather it really was picturesque Perigord at its best.  Fred was back to normal although still a little tired from the previous day so he was quite happy to travel. We cleared the Lot river via Fumel and Vileneuve s/ Lot which surprisingly for the region are depressing examples of derelict heavy industry.  Passing through whole rolling landscapes of dead sun flowers waiting to be cropped we did not see any eveidence of harvesting under way. We had decided to make Tarbes on the edge of the Pyrenees and by the time we got there were greatful to find a McDonalds to get coffee, ice cream and a toilet. Some way before the countryside becomes flat, even more so than Netherlands, before it abruptly bumps into the Pyrenees that seem to rise like a wall in front of you.

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So for two nights we are pitched up beside a fast flowing river in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, a small spa town twined with and not dissimilar to Malvern. We walked into and around the town in the morning but by the time we returned to our camp it was becoming quite hot. So much so that the washing dried in double quick time. Birdwatching today we have seen Dippers, Vultures and Nuthatches as well as the regulars.

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