We did not know that in 2020 any chance of travel would be wiped out by the COVID 19 pandemic. Our our last adventure was in 2019.
By September the year was beginning to wear away and with it the chance of taking the Blue Lady to France for some warmth in the sun. In particular we yearned for a swim in the Mediterranean. A swift pack using the checklist had us away on the road and heading South. We chose for our last UK stop Greenhill Farm Campsite in The Cotswolds near Oxford.
In the morning we woke to the loud quacking of an assortment of ducks at the campervan door demanding their breakfast. Our remaining bread went to them and we had a full english breakfast at the farm café.. There was also a shop with lots of local produce most of it priced a bit higher that our local supermarket so we contented ourselves with buying some eggs and a couple of knitted egg cosies.
Before heading to the coast we visited the Oxford Bus and Motor Museum at Long Hanborough. I was particularly interested the old Morris Motor section, having once owned a 1937 Morris 8 Open Tourer. The main displays covered the development of transport from early ‘boneshaker’ bicycles of 1868, through horse drawn trams to the development of bus and coach travel. It turned our thoughts to days of quieter roads. We were brought back to reality when we joined the motorway to Portsmouth to catch the Brittany Ferries crossing to L’Havre.
Swims in the Lakes
The next day the morning traffic out of Le Havre was busy and not for he first time, we found ourselves on the wrong road and heading towards Paris. After whizzing along for a while we slipped off the autoroute and travelling through little villages immediately enjoyed the difference The delightful rural road had an ancient ambience. Eventually we joined the A28 autoroute which, by-passing Les Mans, took us swiftly down to The Chateau du Loir
(Exit 26) and found our way to the lakes at Marcon, ( Camping de Lac Variennes). We set up the Blue Lady on a pitch with a waterside view and plunged in .It was the start of a couple of lovely days with us swimming in both lakes.
Swims by the Castle
On the Sunday we headed south and east on the D943 and relaxed as we enjoyed the scenery and little towns on the way to Chatellerault, where we joined the A20 Chaterauroux – Limoges auto-route. Once on it we picked up the pace and sped on until after much hill climbing we took exit 27 and followed the small road up to the village of Bonnac-la-Cote. where we had a taste of castle camping. The Camping Du Chateau de Leyechoisser dates from the 9th centaury. It is an excellent base from which to explore the attractions of the rural Limousin region but we chose to relax in the shade of the ancient lime trees. We happily spent a couple of days swimming in the pool and watching the deer in the chateau grounds. Not so much a castle in the clouds but compared to the average British campground it was certainly a dream location.
We were half way towards the tempting warmth of the Mediterranean. Travelling on we covered a lot of the distance on the A20 motorway but for quieter and more agreeable travels that took in the villages we avoided the traffic around Toulouse and at Montauban took the D630 through Castres and Mazamet.
A swim in the hills
Just beyond in the Albine district we left the main road and headed for the hills taking a tree lined track up to a site called Camping Etape du Lac. The Lake in question although attractive looked a bit green for swimming in but the pool at the campsite was lovely, warm and blue. We had arrived in the early evening but the friendly campsite manager rolled the pool cover back and joined us in our dip. We stayed the night on a spacious hedged pitch that seemed to provide our own garden amid the trees. ( The charge for our overnight stay was the cheapest on the trip.)
The next morning we wound the campervan awning back, disconnected the electric cable, topped up the water reservoir and carried on with the journey.
The signs on the D612 were already displaying the names of towns on the Mediterranean coast, the prospect, drawing us on. Beyond St–Pons-de-Thomieries the nature of the road changed dramatically and we joined the local drivers who motored skilfully over the mountain. The twists and turns required concentration we were happy when we reached the valley below and entered the town of Chinnon. It was a pleasant place and we sat outside café to enjoy coffee and a welcome break before strolling through a stone colonnade to the flower decked centre.
We swim in the Med
In the afternoon we reached the coast at Marsellian Plage and checked into our favourite the campsite Les Mediterranean Beach Garden. We needed to shop for some supplies at the supermarket at Agde but needless to say that task took second place to getting the sand between our toes and diving into the sea. In the days that followed, with the awning wound out we sheltered from the sun and enjoyed our breakfast croissants We happily punctuated the days with salad meals, clinked our glasses and wished each other ‘Bon appétit’. With the well tended gardens around us we were enjoying the days of wine and roses. However the season was about to end and there were not so many people around. In fact a check of the campervan number plates made us realise that there were no other British holidaymakers there. We did our best to make up for them by using the three pools, including the indoor spa with the water jets as much as we could rotating these attractions between dips in the sea
Notes from the return journey
After four days the forecast for stormy weather came true and we headed back over the mountain. Pulling off to a picnic area to escape the blinding rain we had a cosy breakfast to the sound of the storm lashing on the Blue Lady’s roof.
We eventually drove out of the storm and avoiding the autoroutes we headed north. Using our ACSI Guide, which lists sites that have low season rates, we found an overnight stop at Rivieres near Gaillac in the Tarn department of the Midi Pyrenees.
We stayed on at Camping Les Pommiers d’Aigueleze where we enjoyed the pool and sampled the windfalls from the apple trees. As we were driving north we became aware of hilltop villages that looked inviting and made a note to visit them on a future trip. Eventually we rejoined the
A20 auto route and were thinking that it was about time to stop when we spotted the sign for
St Germain les Belles. We had stayed there before and knew that it was located overlooking a pretty lake so we headed for it. We also knew that it had a pool and an excellent restaurant. Unfortunately when we got there the restaurant was out of action due to a kitchen fire and the pool was closed. Never mind, even though it had clouded over we were happy enough to dine outside the Blue Lady and watch the otters swim in the lake.
Fortunately the sun was shining again when coordinates on the sat nav guided us through fields of high standing golden corn to Chatel de Neuvre and a perfectly located pitch on the riverside opposite a nature park in the Allier Valley of the Auvergne.
It was a beautiful place and the river below us reflected a golden sunset as Sylvia laid out the table and I returned with warm chips from the camp restaurant to add to the dinner. We stayed for a couple of days amid the trees and enjoyed the company of friends from the adjacent pitch. It was a well-equipped and reasonably priced site
By now we had decided to avoid the traffic in the south of England and head to Belgium to take the ferry to Hull so we headed across country using ‘D’ roads to the area where the young Napoleon studied and President De Gaulle retired to his estate. We stayed at
Camping du Tertre at Dienville a small village near a lake and en-route to Brienne-le-Chateau.
Our next stop brought to mind s bit of doggerel
"I’ve never seen a purple cow, I hope I never see one.
But I can tell you here and now, I’d rather see than be one."
Well surprise, surprise, we found a full size model one sharing a field with some campervans
near Arras in the Pas de Calais. It was at Camping La Paille Haute close by the village of
Boiry-Notre-Dame.. The very child friendly campsite was well laid out for games. It also had a swimming pool and a colourful collection of lively chickens plus free Wi-Fi
We said goodbye to France and drove to Zeebrugee in Belgium. At Lille I was thankful to have a full understanding of how our sat nav worked, but for that I reckon that we would still be whizzing around in a mêlée of multi-lane traffic.
We reached Zebrugge with time to spare before boarding the Car Ferry.
In the rain an ‘end of season’ gloom seemed to be cast over the closed beach huts and the sea front attractions. The only life came from a large party of friendly children, who, liberated from school roamed about with clipboards in hand tackling a project. We sat in the Blue Lady, with the side door open and as the stormy sea crashed in we enjoyed lunch and returned the children's waves.
Later we sailed on the P & 0 Ferry to Hull and had a comfortable crossing. Alas the service is no longer availabe. I would certainly have recommend it. The generous breakfast set us up for the remaining miles home.
Swimming to the Med with a campervan.