Bay of Biscay : Finisterre

As we left Morbihan and headed west toward Finisterre damp and chilly weather was forecast for the next week and at this time of year campsites are becoming scarce as they close for the winter. We decided to to head for our one last stop on our trip around the bay and to indulge ourselves with the luxury of a cabin for a few nights. Treboul – Douarnenez is 20km past Quimper on the south west corner of the Bai de Douarnenez. Douarnenez is famous historically for the sardine fishing industry and incidentally it is from here that the French Resistance sailed to and from Great Britain in WWII. On 18th June 1940 men from Douarnenez were among the first to sail to Great Britain to join General De Gaul become the Free French army.

I should explain that for several years we had a house in Treboul so the town is like our home in Brittany. We know it and the surrounding areas very well so even though we had not been here for a few years once we were on the road to Quimper it was all very familiar. We pitched up on a nice site which us just 500 metres from the Port du Plaisance of Treboul so an easy walk to the local shops and restaurants and of course our favourite Leclerc supper market. I had to smile while we were shopping in Leclerc when I bumped into my freind Olivier Youinou and promised to see him for coffee in a few days.

We spent Friday pottering around starting with a trip into the beautiful city of Quimper. It has a very classy, for which also read expensive, shopping district an a fabulous cathedral which for once did not have any hoardings or scaffold around it. It was a bright morning but very chilly so eventually after a cup of coffee in the sun we headed to the stores on the edge of town. My first stop was to Brico Depot, the absolute dogs whatsits when it comes to DIY and where we spent a lot of money when we were renovating our house, to find a tap fitting that I can’t get at home that I need to do a mod to the sink tap in the van. Next up we went into the huge Leclerc Hypermarket to look for a couple of warm pullovers – yes it was getting that cold.

And then to Saturday and the final part of our trip around the Bay of Biscay which took close to 1500 miles and 4 weeks. This end of Brittany was called Finis Terre by the Romans, Latin for End of the World, just like they named Cabo Finisterre in Spain and hence the Departement du Finisterre ( 29 ) in France. It is about 20km from Treboul to the absolute tip, the Point du Raz, that sts amongs an area designated as a national park. The point itself is a huge heather and gorse covered area sitting atop rocky cliffs looking out ove the Athlantic Ocean toward North America. On top of the point is a large coastal look out station and on the various rocks below are a number of lighthouses. Situated a 8km offshore is the low rocky island of the Ile de Sein just 1800m x 500m it is entirely one village.

 

The sea around the the Point du Raz is often a frothy mess where the currents swirl around the point and giant waves crash over the lighthouses. Even on nice days it is rarely quiet. On the headland and from the cliffs you watch all manor of bird life that changes over the year with the seasons. Often you can see dolphins swimming below presumably compete Inn with the fishermen for what sardines remain in these waters today. This weekend however the weather was flat calm so much so that you would have been safe swimming in the clear blue water around the point. The tide was along way out so that all the rocks were well exposed. The air was so clear that for the first time we can remember we could make out big ships on the horizon and see Brest clearly to the north.

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So here we accomplished what we set out to do, drive around the Bay of Biscay, it just took a bit longer than driving around Normans Bay at home.

Bay of Biscay : Carnac Megaliths

Getting close to our end point we stopped near Carnac to walk amongst the megalithic alignments and sites that always impress.

A morning of cold grey drizzle on the motorway north through Nantes behind us we arrived in Locmariaquer to the west of the Golfe Du Morbihan in clearing weather. Planning ahead had become more difficult now because so many sites were shutting up for the winter and those that were open had limited facilities and often decidedly worn pitches. We still managed to find a comfortable spot for a few days from which to explore the Neolithic sites.

The coast and beaches around Morbihan are nice but more often suited to Oyster farming. Locmariaquer is on the western spit where the entrance to the gulf is reduced to just a couple of hundred metres. The effect of this on the tide is dramatic and it surges in and out of the gulf. The village itself is almost the ususal small Bretagne seaside village except for its important Megalith and Cairn.

Carnac Allignments

We have visited the Carnac Alignments several times before but never when it was possible to walk among the stones. These neolithic alignments are in several ranges spread over a few kilometres. The stones were first raised Between 4000BC and 5000BC. Today there are approximately 1200 of the possible 3000 that were originally erected but have since been robbed out or vandalised. Even some of the present stones have been replaced or raised from a recumbent position as it is only in the last 150 years that the government has managed to take control of them. There really is nothing that can compare to these ancient symbols. Stonehenge is spectacular for the size of its stones and the distance they came from and there are many other interesting prehistoric sites. However when you gaze upon the shear scale of what was done at Carnac by plain old brute force and for what who knows?

We walked among the Menac and Kemario alignments before delving up a muddy track through the forest to take a look at a part we had not seen before. The Geant du Manio and Qudrilatere du Menhir. The Geant is is a huge lone menhir that stands 6.5 metres high.

We meandered back to Locmariaquer around the coast and stopped for lunch with a gorgeaous view over the water to La Trinité and across to Quiberon before strolling around the marina at La Trinité to admire the enormous ocean racing trimarans that are seemingly sculpted fro carbon fibre.

img_1420That evening Sue very bravely embarked upon pizza but this time with somehwat unknown bread flour from Intermarche. Good though they were we can’t recommend that flour although the variation in temperature may not have helped in proving the dough.

The following day we took a look at the tide surge at the mouth of the gulf and then around the beach. Fred really is quite amusing sometimes, we walked quite a way along the beach but would not let him go in the water because it was a bit weedy and scummy and to be frank he already smells enough when he gets wet, however once we got a clear bit he was straight in just for a few minutes and was happy as if he had just scratched that itch.

That afternoon we paid a visit to the local neolithic site including the Menhir de Brise that would have stood 20 metres high when it was erected along with a line of smaller stones around 4700BC. This giant stone weighing in at 330 tonnes is of a type of rock that occurs at least 10km away and would have been dragged to this site. The menhir fell and broke, probably due to earth tremors, around 4000BC and smaller stones are long got robbed for other structures on this site and elsewhere. Also on the site are 2 seperate grave monuments. The first is the Table des Marchands a dolmen that has been partly reconstructed. It was originally constructed with pieces of stone with decorative carvings that show they came from the adjacent broken and missing menhirs. Then there is the Er-Grah tumulus that started life as a cairn before 4000BC and was extended to a 140 metre long tumulus that was completed around 3300BC. Here the remains of the grave goods here were found to contain axe heads and precious stones of a rock found in Northern Spain. Obviously the grave of an important person.

Our 2 day cultural trip to visit the stones left us in awe yet again of what these people achieved so long ago. Something to ponder as we headed further west to our “home” in Finistere.

Bay of Biscay : Biarritz and Landes

Friday and half way though our journey we are back in France and looking for somewhere to stay between St Jean de Lutz and Biarritz. It’s almost a relief to have road signage and that we can see and it means something. First things first though off the peage at the first junction and into Leclerc for some essentials, bread and a T shirt.

This strip of coast is chockablock with camp sites of varying quality and car parks full of surfers in VW vans. The reviews in the guides are very mixed so we opt to start with a municiple site that had reasonable reviews. It wasn’t very exciting and it was full. We drove past several others before arriving at Tamaris Plage. This site had mixed reviews but it was a revelation. It had been revamped for this season with a luxury pool and facilitiesso it became home for 3 nights. The temperatures were up to 23C in the shade so felt more like 30C in the afternoon and it was great to be able to sit out of an evening and enjoy a glass or two and another of Sue’s excellent pizzas.

The local beaches along the coast here aren’t so great. The sand is very gritty and when the tide goes out there is a lot of rock. Worse still they insist on “No Dogs” signs which fortunately a lot of people, us included, ignore the same way they ignore the “No Motorhome” signs. Fred can smell the sea so we had to take him to the beach the first day as soon as we arrived. He went in but I don’t think he liked the undertow from the waves. The second day I took him on my own and he wasnt having any of it. We found a pleasant walk to the village of Guethary along the cliff path past some rather lovely properties, a small harbour where on Saturday they were preparing for an al fresco lunch party and a wonderful Art Deco hotel and casino built on the cliff face in 1926 – very in keeping with the rise of Biarritz popularity. The centre of the village was mainly a handful of chic bars, resteraurants and hotels with a few small shops. We made our way there twice, the second time for morning coffee. Walking to and from Guethary we could see the coast from Spain to Biarritz and just off each small bay there was what at first glance looked like rafts of ducks that turned out to be surfers waiting for that special wave. There were so many of them in fact that one wondered if there would be enough room when that wave happened and just how often they got hurt crashing into one another.

Another significant destination on this trip was to visit Biarritz which for whatever reason has always held an attraction for us. As you may have gathered we don’t really do towns so we planned a quick visit on our way north. We had always imagined it as not dissimilar to say Bornmouth except with a bit of French class. The compact centre has some wonderful period architecture and is full of smart shops and plenty of bars, restaurants and hotels. You can just imagine the well to do of the ‘20s and ‘30s partying the summer away in Biarritz. We wandered amongst the shops many, especially the surf shops having end of season sales, and I couldn’t resist a half price pair of BilaBong flip flops. The promenades had their share of surfers parked up and waiting who were into the sea and trying to catch a wave just as soon as an opportunity arose. I guess parking there would have been impossible in the height of summer.

To give ourselves time to do Biarritz we had opted to stay not too far up the coast at Moliets et Maa. Here, just like the resorts on the rest of this coast, there are several enormous camp sites just behind the dunes. We pitched up and took the few paces walk across the dunes on to the beach. The beach pretty much stretches a couple of  hundred kilometres from Biarritz to the tip of the Gironde with a few inlets and the Bai d’Arcachon on the way – it is simply stunning. You can see the height of the huge Atlantic breakers and the spray from them for miles in either direction and one imagines even at the height of the season it is nigh impossible for the beach to be busy. Of course we let Fred off who immediately made a bee line for the surf at the waters edge. He was so excited and even more so when we took him back the following morning before we left because then he got to chase a flock of Sanderlings around the beach.

Our next destination was the municiple site at Gujan-Mestres near Arcachon. We had never heard of it but it was recommended by a couple we had met a few days earlier mainly because the local very small Spar has a brilliant fish mongers as part of it. To get there we followed a long and at times very straight road up through Landes. Here forestry is a big industry with huge managed pine forests. The older plantations of traditional Landes Pine all lean noticeably to the east presumably because of the prevailing weather off the Atlantic. Sue had been looking forward to doing a bit of experimenting with cooking different fish at the van and we enjoyed 3 excellent fish dinners, Sardines, Hake and Tuna. Arcachon bay is known for oysters and there is plenty of evidence of commercial farming all along the edge of the bay here. We found a lovely forest walk up the Landes Canal (a drainage canal) that had become a managed park with all of the tree species labled. I have never seen the ground so littered with acorns that literally rained on you as walked.

We have been away for 4 weeks now and travelling is seems like the new norm. The weather was being unseasonably kind to us even for this part of the world with the temperatures in the low 20Cs but with solid blue keys, hot sun and beautiful sunsets and sunrises. Next we he’d further north past Bordeaux and on to the Loire and Brittany. Perhaps we had better brace for things to get cooler.

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.

Bay of Biscay : Our Journey Begins

This is the begining of our 6 week trip to the North West tip of Spain, Galicia, and back around the entire coast of the Bay of Biscay ending up in Brittany, to be precise Douarnenez-Treboul where we used to have a house. We will travel down through France and across Northern Spain and then back with the Atlantic on our left and Spain / France on our right – if it happens the other way around then we are going the wrong way. Don’t expect daily posts rather I will group together bits of interest and photos.

We had originally planned to go at the end of May and return in the middle of July so the weather would have got warmer as we came North but a family bereavement caused us to postpone so now we will be heading North and it will be getting cooler with shorter evenings but hey ho. As we cross the Channel to France the school holidays are about to finish so at least everywhere will be quieter and we get home the weekend before the clocks change. So we are hope desperately for a long Indian Summer.

The way we have got Van Blanc fitted out with the cupboard space and sliding seat is proving to be better than we had hoped.  The cupboards below the worktop take all of the cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery with room to spare. The fridge has room for plenty of essentials including the odd bottle of vin blanc. The tall cupboard soaks up tins and bottles, medicines, cleaning things and more. We also carry a 12V cool box mainly for bottled water, cold drinks and of course more vin blanc. In the base of the sliding seat are our hold all, wash kits and sleeping bags. So with the seat in its travelling position that leaves amasses of space for camping equipment, decck chairs, canopy, Fred’s  food and paraphernalia, outdoor shoes and so on.

We had the van loaded by midday the day before so we were scratching around for something to do for an afternoon. An early night was followed by a walk with Fred before breakfast and we joined the 07:00 rush hour traffic along the A27 to Newhaven for the 09:00 sailing to Dieppe. The ferry was fairly busy and the crossing much like a mill pond so Fred had a comfy ride in the van. Having booked as a campervan and paid for Fred we did think the yellow card they gave us to dangle from the mirror would have afforded us at least the opportunity for an early disembarkation but not so. The yellow card really meant diddly squat and we were on the mid deck in amongst all the other traffic so poor Fred had to cross his legs even longer before he got off.

We shot into Intermarche for some bread and bits and headed a few miles South to Deux Riviers municipal camp site at Martigny. We have stayed here before on the way to and fro and can’t recommend it enough. Pitched up next to one of the rivers with the facilities even at this end of the season are spot on. There are many walks from the site around the lakes, mostly old gravel works but now very picturesque, and of course the rivers. There is also the Avenue Vert following the path of an old railway toward Paris so very much like our own Cuckoo trail. Indeed it has been created in partnership with East Sussex County Council all of which might explain all the French tourists on push bikes we and Fred see when we are walking at home.

I hit the shower while Sue rustled upper signature pasta for supper. As soon as her back was turned Fred decided that he was in France and going to get into it properly so he started byfeasting on the end of our French stick. Clearly he is going to make the most of his first trip to France!

Le Mans 2015

Although we haven’t been for a few years this was our 21st trip to “La Sarthe”. In the past we have camped both at the circuit and with organised groups a way from the circuit. Our last few trips were spent sleeping in the car. The previous couple of trips were from our house in Brittany so an easy Saturday morning drive and home in time to BBQ on Sunday.

This time we were on the circuit near the Porsche Curves for 5 days. We bought a generator to take with us as few would be off grid for the whole time. Our push bikes went with us and came in very handy to get from the camp site to the village and the heart of the circuit.

For the first time we caught the tram into the city for lunch and to see the divers parade to the streets. Unfortunately it was wet and cold and not much fun.