Posted in France

26th October – Bordeaux

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On a quite a cold and dull grey day we caught the bus  from the campsite Crėon into Bordeaux, 13 miles away (21km); being driven for a change was nice and left me free to look around. Arriving beside the River La Garrone we set off across the Pont de Pierre spanning the River Gironde with several church spires, imposing looking buildings and a massive fun fair all in view as the city was spread out left and right along the banks of the toffee coloured river. Locating the tourist office we soon found a walking tour map of the ‘sights to see’.

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Along the waterfront we looked at the Miroir d’Eau which is the largest water mirror in the world at 3,773 square yards (3,450 square meters). The water is approximately 1 inch (2.5cm) deep on a dark background and reflects the Place de la Bourse which houses a stock exchange and discovery centre for the city’s history.

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The next significant building was the wonderful Grand Theatre with a columned portico with 12 stone statues. Inside the fabulous staircase lead up between low walls with twisted balustrade carved into the stone, dividing halfway up and leading around onto the landings with more columns and elaborate walls and ceilings. The central dome let light flood in and was also highly decorated but very difficult to photograph. The room above the entrance door had 3 huge chandeliers visible from the staircase but it was not open to the public.

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The Monument aux Girondines, built between 1895-1901, is a tribute to the inhabitants of Girande lost in the French Revolution, Liberty Breaking its Chains depicted proudly at the top of the 141 ft (43m). I loved the seahorses with fish tails, two with fins for hooves and two with claws, very strange!

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Walking around we were impressed by the number of trams and bendy busses available, there were few cars in the centre, added to that there were loads of electric bikes and scooters for hire. It was quite traffic free and really very quiet for a city centre. We did spot a car park with a green jaguar exiting the wall several floors up, luckily it was deliberate and was quite a photo opportunity.

 


In pride of place is the Cathedral Saint André, in 1096 it was dedicated by Urban II and was Romanesque but now the style is Gothic. The high door had numerous carved figures surrounding the arched top , higher up is a beautiful round window with an intricate pattern of stonework, above which it is topped with twin spires in elaborate detail.

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The inside of the cathedral was huge and light with arched ceilings, an elaborate pulpit and a huge organ spanning the width of the nave.

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Outside the separate Bell Tower was completed in 1500 and stands 164 feet tall (50m) with a statue of the Madonna and Child added 12 years later in copper and later gilded in 2002.

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The city has several gates but the most elaborate was the Grosse Cliche, a historic town Belfry and the only remains of the old defensive gate of the 13th century and was previously used as a prison. The bell was cast in 1775 and weighs 7.8 tons (7,800kg), it rings on the first Sunday of each month and 6 times a year on special occasions. On the central domed top is a golden lion weather vane which is a symbol of the Kings of England.

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Returning on the punctual, warm bus we could relax again as we started to  plan the next few days for our drive over the border into Spain.

Posted in France

18th October – Rivières and Beaux Villages de France

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The desire to see more of rural France led us to plan a deviation from our southerly route and we embarked on our chosen meander heading inland from the coast. Driving through beautiful farmland now rich with animals, golden cows with long horns grazed with their calves, several flocks of long legged sheep and beautiful bay horses dotted the landscape. A large wild black boar plunged headlong though a field beside the road giving us excellent views of it, we saw a few roe deer and watched red squirrels collecting acorns and burying them in a piece of woodland while we were having a picnic lunch.

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COULON

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Coulon is just west of Niort and is described as the ‘Green Venice’ of France, we stayed on a lovely grass Aire with trees around the periphery and the River Sėvre Niortaise only 5 minutes away. Walking along the river under the dappled shade of trees we came around a bend and saw the boats lined up on the river bank with a few restaurants and bars adding to the charming scene. Flowers decorated the banks, a sculpture of a dragonfly glinted in the sun and the shuttered building in various colours gave the area a relaxing feel. We followed a pathway under the trees with lovely reflections in the clear dark water, large houses were set back from the banks one of which had a wonderful double gate seemingly made of sticks, however it was actually made with metal.

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JAVERDAT
On our way to an Aire for the night at Javerdat, we stopped off at Charroux with a ruined Benedictine Abbey founded around 783 but subsequently destroyed during the 13th century during the wars of religion. The octagonal lantern tower survives having been bought by one of the Abbots in 1801. In the centre of the square nearby was a very large 18th century covered market hall with traditional cobbled floor and oak pillars. There were half timbered buildings, interesting windows and the church was having essential renovation work done using timber supports which was interesting and probably reminiscent of how it was originally constructed.

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In the centre of the square nearby was a very large 18th century covered market hall with traditional cobbled floor and oak pillars. There were half timbered buildings, beautiful windows and the church was having essential renovation work done using timber supports which was interesting and probably reminiscent of how it was originally constructed.

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Several miles further on we stopped at Mortemart, which is listed as one of the ‘Beaux Villages de France’ and flowers adorned the main centre. The old Chateau de Ducs is currently under renovation and the market hall has already been rejuvenated using sympathetic techniques and old timbers.

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MARTEL

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This village was a total surprise having no information prior to our arrival.  Picking up a ‘tourist’ map we followed the ‘route of interest’ indicated around the streets and were amazed how many historic buildings there were. A lovely town hall with a clock tower held a central position in the town inside a square lined on all four sides with attractive light stone shops, restaurants, coffee shops and in the centre was a really attractive covered market.

Narrow streets with tall stone houses, old half timbered houses that over-hung the street, the walls made of tufa stone and ‘wattle and daub’. There were shutters in a multitude of colours and a huge blue studded opening with an iron ring high above the door so that men on horse back could knock for attention.

 

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A delivery bike caught my attention, it looked so heavy, especially if the front was filled making it difficult to steer, a dress makers manequin outside a shop, barrels and wine displays and typical to the region, signs for foies gras, a local delicacy.

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ROCAMADOUR

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Perched on a rock face above a valley far below, a chateau looked over the precipice to an Abbey below, it was wedged into the rock face with a tremendous view over the small village below it, all stacked vertically on the side of a chasm. Ignoring the lifts down to the St Saviour’s Abbey, we walked down the zig-zag path and entered through a large studded door on stone floors polished smooth or the passage of time.

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The towers and turrets with arched windows looked beautiful against a vivid blue sky and medieval artwork could still be seen on some exterior walls. Inside the Abbey with its high arched ceilings the light flooded inside reflecting from the pale coloured stone, the polished dark wooden alter screen had three stained glass windows, the centre one above the altar, and at the back of the nave was a beautifully decorated organ which we were lucky to hear being played, the acoustics were wonderful. We had seen sand martins flying around the rock face earlier in the day and now we saw them inside the Abbey their calls magnified by the walls.

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The small linear village that lay below the Abbey was full of quaint old houses, some used as shops or studios and restaurants with terraces overlooking the views where we stopped for some lunch.

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AUTOIRE
In a limestone gorge with ledges covered in green trees the approach to Autoire was very picturesque. We found a great Aire to park for the night overlooking a small bridge and a couple of pretty houses very close to the village. There were many towers with tiled conical roofs, numerous three and four storey houses with interestingly shaped roofs and some really old half timbered buildings.

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Setting off for a walk along the gorge initially we passed under trees and by hedgerows before gradually making our way to a waterfall of 100 meters in height. Unfortunately, due to the hot summer and lack of rain, there was a very meagre fall of water but it must be amazing in the Spring months after a Winter of rain.

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Following a path on the opposite side we continued uphill, continually climbing up and along through the trees until we popped out above the tree line. We wanted to see the ruin of Chateaux Anglais which was still higher tucked right under the rocky overhang, there were steps up onto the top so it would be possible to walk around the top and back to the village.

Having literally crawled on all fours up two tracks with a narrow path, rocks and bushes a wide ledge opened up. Looking up at the white rock face of the gorge with the sun shining was amazing, however my nerves had got more and more shattered, the river now far below, looking down on the trees and with a vertical rock face above us. Time to go down, crouching very low to the ground and going very slowly for fear of slipping, I made a mental note never to try this sort of thing again. Chris saw the Chateaux and the view of the village far below, I only saw his photos!

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DOMME

Following the great River Dordogne through a large area of vineyards, we arrived just outside Domme at an Aire in Cenac. Walking uphill the following morning for 30 minutes we arrived at the historic, walled town of Domme perched on a rock and overlooking the Dordogne as it meanders through the landscape.

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Entering through one of the three gates in the defensive town walls, we walked uphill past pretty houses to the centre with many attractive buildings, including an historic building with two large arched windows which was The Coin Minters House where the ‘coin of Domme’ was made, now the workroom of a craftsman jeweller.
The House of the Governor represented the power of the Bastide, it was virtually rebuilt in the 15th century with the addition of a square tower. The church of Notre Dame de l’assomption has a simple façade due to its unusual steeple wall which has triple arched apertures at the top with a large bell.

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The House of the Governor represented the power of the Bastide, it was virtually rebuilt in the 15th century with the addition of a square tower. The church of Notre Dame de l’assomption has a simple façade due to its unusual steeple wall which has triple arched apertures at the top with a large bell.

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We visited caves from the main town square, they were discovered in 1912 by teenagers who found a hole in rocks on the cliff face outside the town walls. The cave complex is 8 meters under the town, with 492 yards, (450m) of galleries having stalactites, stalagmites, columns and curtains in lovely colours of white, amber and reds. The temperature was a constant 14°-16°C, some areas were humid and others felt cool and quite wet, passages lead from one chamber to another in a linear fashion with very low ceilings in places opening out into high chambers. It was very surprising to visit these caves in the centre of this fortified town situated on top of the rocks.

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MONBAZILLAC

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Lastly on our convoluted rural route we stayed at a vineyard south of Bergerac called Château du Haut Pezaud. Located in gently undulating countryside with vines in every direction, we parked at the end of the rows overlooking the building where the wine production happened while hens and two geese paraded around completing the pastoral scene. In the evening we joined a few other couples in a wine tasting with the owner and bought a couple of bottles, a small way of saying thank you as the first night was free. The second night cost €6 (about £5.50), simply put into an honesty box, it was €2 each for the camping, electricity and WiFi – amazing value!

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A morning walk over part of the vineyard was enhanced by information boards about the grape varieties and processes, including a fungus called Noble Rot, essential in the production of their sweet wines as it takes the excess moisture from the grape, leaving the sweet flesh and higher sugar content for the wine production.

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In the afternoon we walked to look at Château de Monbrazillac dated 1550 and classified at an historic monument from 16th century. It is very well preserved showing defensive and Renaissance style, with 20 rooms for viewing including vaulted cellars, the dining room with huge, dark walnut food dressers, circular table and 6 chairs all heavily carved, historic memorabilia, maps and museum of equipment for wine production. The views from the lawns were of vineyards virtually to the horizon with the exception of Bergerac Airport which looked quite small in the landscape. Later we sampled some wines from the Château vineyards and bought a bottle of the Monbrazillac sweet wine.

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Our previously unplanned jaunt around the area was surprising and wonderful, many amazing places in beautiful countryside highlighted by amazing sunny weather. No doubt we will return to this area again in the future.

Posted in France

13th October – Lakes and Islands

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Following a drive south-west from Nantes to Île de Noirmoutier, we were looking for an antidote to the delights of the city with an island escape, marshland and hopefully some wildlife and birds. The narrow spit of land is barely big enough for a road but at the end of the causeway it broadened out at the end near the saline lagoons. Soon we were struggling along the sea wall against a very strong headwind as we walked out between salt marsh and lagoons on one side and the tidal river on the other. After 45 minutes we made it to a pretty village with a turreted castle just visible over the fortified walls, we commented the boats now sitting like beached whales on the mud and added a few waders to our bird list. Having beaten blown to bits on our outward walk, I didn’t relish the return and it seemed an age before we got back to the welcome shelter of Bessie.

Abandoning our plan to stay nearby, we decided to proceed inland arriving at Aubigny Les Clouzeaux, the idea of a restful campsite with calmer weather was much more appealing. Set in the a rural location with two lakes we enjoyed relaxing for 2 days, walking, swimming and reading in the sun.

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On the move again through vast flat lands that stretched into the distance with uninterrupted vision to the horizon. Occasional groups of wind turbines punctuated the scenery, tractors traversed the fields busy with Autumn work following the harvest. Eventually trees became more evident, tall green and gold poplars leaves shaking in the wind, mixed deciduous woodland and a long avenue of huge mature trees either side of the road.

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Taking the scenic route cross country we headed once more for the coast and Ilê de Ré connected to the mainland at La Rochelle by an elegant bridge nearly 2 miles long (3km) and 138 feet high (42m); it took around two years to be built and opened in 1988.

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Ilê de Ré is apparently where all affluent Parisians go to chill out in beautiful surroundings, with quaint harbours and good shopping. There are 62 oyster farms providing much work in this region and the delicacy can be tasted at many restaurants. St Martin is one of the prettiest places to visit, relax with a meal or a drink and people watch while seating around a harbour, yachts are moored all around and there are two bridges to wander over for a different view point.

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Having parked on Rue de Rampart we realised we were right by the old city walls, massive stone fortifications with two moats, numerous  towers and old city gates. The perimeter is 8.75 miles (14km) of ramparts over a 9.4 miles (15km) radius, built by Vauban an engineer for Louis XIV; it was large enough to safely enclose the island’s population in times of trouble. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and quite stunning with its scale and preservation.

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From the top of the local church tower we could see the details of the building and wonderful views of the city spread beneath us. The three massive bells rang out very regularly so our decent was timed to avoid the deafening sound.

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We also stayed at the far end of the island in St Clement de Baleines. We walked along the sea wall with the yellow sea poppies glowing in the sun, the sea crashing on the rocks and throwing seaweed up to where the turnstones could feed on the accumulating insects. People were fishing on the edge of the sea standing on submerged rocks, cyclists raced ahead of us as we walked to the furthest end of the island which has many salt pans, large rectangular pools that are left to evaporate and the salt is collected before being flooded again. The lighthouse, Phare de Baleines was built in 1849 and is 57 meters high and one of the tallest in France, it is on the tip of the island, together with a tower and museum.

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We didn’t want to spend a lovely day inside so walked along the cycle path with pine and deciduous trees, teases and yucca looking glorious against the clear blue sky.

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Local to the area is a different kind of donkey called a Poitou Donkey; bigger, stronger and with a long shaggy coat that hung in tatters like a sheep waiting to be shawn. With strong hooves and lots of stamina they were good for working on the salt marshes and their owners made cloth ‘leggings’ to stop the flies biting them. Now they give donkey rides to the public and still get dressed up for the occasion, there are even beers named after them, ‘Bier des Flibusters’ – guess who bought some!

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Listening to the sea and the birds on our way to Port en Ré then back across the salt marshes using the bicycle trails. We saw many birds including marsh harriers, kestrels, vast flocks of avocets and black tailed godwits, a snipe and greenshank fed out in the open, lots of mallard, herons and little egrets, black headed gulls and a single Mediterranean gull. When we eventually got back after walking 10 miles (16km) I felt quite exhausted but our total disas 17 miles (27.3km) on Ilê de Ré so I was very pleased.

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Posted in France

9th October – Vannes & Nantes

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VANNES

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Driving through the French countryside on our way to Vannes the feeling was of space. The fields here have no hedges or obvious fences, many have ditches along the road edges often filled with bracken and wild flowers, but the best sight was a field of sunflowers. There appeared to be lots of trees along the field edges and also many areas of woodland, really good for wildlife and birds. Fields of maize seemed to be everywhere waiting to be harvested, other fields already green with new crops and huge tractors busy preparing land for re-seeding. We settled in an area about 2 miles south of Vannes with tidal lagoons all around, gulls, egrets and a solitary spoonbill, it was a pretty area with small boats and a couple of bars.

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Walking into Vanne using the dedicated pathways between cycle paths and roads, we eventually turned alongside the waterway ‘La Marle’ arriving at the quayside in the city after an hour and sat in the sun with a coffee watching the boats bobbing on the water. We had already picked up a tourist map and set off on a self guided tour of the ‘old town’ area, heading through the Town Gate St Vincent Ferries. It was built of stone with an archway that has three levels, smaller niches either side of a Coat of Arms and a statue of Saint Vincent at the top.

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Luck was with us as we discovered it was market day, brightly coloured stalls of flowers, fruit and vegetables, nuts, herbs, mushrooms and much more besides. The whole place was buzzing with sights and smells, activity and voices, what a lovely atmosphere.

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We also found a separate fish market bustling with activity, lobsters, shellfish, prawns and fish of every shape and size.  It was such a shame we were not buying as we would have had to  carry any purchases around all day. Great colour on that mackerel skin!

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A large proportion of the ‘old city’ centre had half timbered buildings dating back to the 13th & 14th centuries set closely together with lovely coloured woodwork. With the aid of our map, we were following a route around the town which informed us about some of the buildings, one being called Vannes et se Femme. The figureheads of a couple are carved into the corner of a half timbered property and are now popular for tourist photos, and higher up just under the eaves is a small statue of Francis of Assisi.

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The Cathedral of St Pierre is in the centre of this district, it has a mixture of architecture having been re built in 12th century on the ruins of the previous church. The large nave is from 15th century with no side isles; this is a very unusual design but makes it feel wide and spacious. Instead there are 11 side chapels with a highly coloured, beautiful stained glass window each, the coloured light was streaming making the whole space glow. The pulpit stands on the left hand side, heavily carved and ornate with a staircase leading from it on each side.

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Leaving the centre after several hours we walked along some of the old ramparts and by the Prison Town Gate, a very impressive building even with only one of its towers still standing. It was built between 13th and 15th centuries and used as a prison in the 18th century, hence its name today.

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Further along was a large stone building built on the site of the old Castle of L’Hermine, formerly the home of the Dukes of Brittany but today it is a hotel. The gardens in front were particularly impressive, flower beds of different shapes and sizes, and still full of colour so late in the season.

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NANTES

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Moving south again after two days we arrived in Nantes. The day was cloudy but warm so we set off to explore. We found a pretty Japanese garden and admired the reflections in the water, huge bamboos and camillas flowering in October! Moving on we walked alongside the river, past house boats and bridges before the clouds started to release the rain. Thank goodness we decided to shelter because it came down in torrents for 30 minutes so we decided to take the tram back and dry our shoes.

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Quickly retracing our steps next morning we obtained a self guided tourist map. The city of Nantes has developed a tourist trail guide using a narrow ‘green line’ painted on the pavements and roads around the major tourist attractions, it covers 12 km in total – we didn’t walk the whole distance!  First stop was Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne (Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany), a large fortification originally on the banks of the River Loire when it was built in 1207, the river was later re-routed and the building now stands protected by a moat while the city has developed beyond the walls. The chateau inside the walls was white with black tiled roof, the dormer windows and the central towers were very ornate. Restoration took place during 1990s and finally reopened in 2007 housing the History Museum in 32 of its rooms.

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We continued walking on our tour of the city. Following the green line made it easy to find the Jardin de Planter which was beautifully laid out and had meticulous attention to detail. The lakes reflected the trees starting to turn into Autumn colours and a connecting stream had a sculptural display of ‘lilies’ on single stems. We think water was being drawn up the stem which filled the ‘flower’, then being weighted with water, it bowed down emptying the flower, which released it backwards and forwards in a swaying motion until it was refilled again. The result was an ‘active’ sculpture which was very relaxing to watch.

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The lawns were so perfect I actually touched one to see if it was real! Faces of birds/animals were made out of wood on top of posts with plants growing out of the top of them, very effective and probably a dozen in total. A sleeping dog had been sculpted out of grass and small grey sedums used to show its eyes, the nose and ears were dark coloured peat and it lay on the sunlit lawn with flowerbeds behind edged predominantly in white and yellows, it was very calming.

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Following a walkway through pine trees we found it was lined with numerous different camellias, all full of flower invarious shades of pink and white. A large obelisk constructed in pale stone was situated with a backdrop of dark magnolia foliage behind. It was commemorating Jules Verne who was born in Nantes in 1828, he was the author of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’.

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As we left the gardens through large wrought iron gates we spotted the ‘plant pot’ people looking down on us. What fun!

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The cathedral of Saint Pierre & Saint Paul stands in the heart of the old city. It was built in the 6th century but destroyed in the 9th century by the Normans. It also had to be rebuilt several times before being bombed in 2nd World War and ravaged by fire in 1972. Consequently, the cathedral is virtually new, constructed with pale stone with an unfussy simplicity and full of light with modern stained glass windows that I really liked.

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On our long walk around the city we found an old and very decorative shopping centre full of old world charm. The glass ceiling let in so much light that showed up the shop fronts throughout the three storey building. The columns, statues and wrought ironwork balustrades and lighting brackets really added to the chzrm of the shop fronts. I loved the shop that sold nothing but shirts in bright busy designs, a cake shop with picture perfect cakes and the chocolate shop with ‘Henry & Henrietta’ in a bath, plus many other amazing and expensive creations.

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At the end of our tour with our ever present green-line guide, we effortlessly found the Opera House complete with pillars, shame we couldn’t see inside. In a large circular plaza there was a large water fountain to one side with a constantly changing water display, and surrounding the whole area were the most beautiful street lights which must have looked amazing at night.

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For a perfect end to our day we indulged in a beer! Oh yes we did, and at great expense too, but it was 6.8 ABV and we enjoyed it for a good while before walking to find a tram. We had walked 7 miles (11.26 km) in total, into and around the city and the ride back was good fun and very quick.

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Posted in France

6th October – Mont Saint-Michel

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Autumn has arrived and the weather is changing. Beautiful sunny days with hot temperatures, blue skies and summer flowers are being replaced with a definite cooling especially at night, more rain and although it’s a colourful time of year, we have already thinking of escaping to a warmer climate again. So it was that on 6th October we travelled over night by ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo in France to start our journey south in search of adventure, new sights and experiences.

Arriving about 8am we were soon off the ferry, and it was only a short drive away to the iconic and historic Mont Saint-Michel. After parking up at a ‘Camper Stop’ nearby in Beauvoir, we headed out along a pedestrian walkway covering 3.5 miles alongside the River Couesnon in the direction of ‘MSM’. A strong wind blew in our faces and the bland grey sky would be hopeless for photography, but we needed to stretch our legs and get some air.

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Awaking next day the sky was blue and the sun already shining brightly. The difference in temperature from yesterday was up by 10°C and walking was much more pleasurable. Soon we were spotting butterflies, painted lady, clouded yellow, large white, tortoise shell and red admiral flew along the pathway visiting the wildflowers still blooming among the longer grasses. We heard and saw many skylarks, a few meadow pipits and magpies with mallard, black headed gulls and cormorants on the river edges. Mont Saint-Michel has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and we were able to see it in high relief with the mid-day sun casting shadows showing it up to perfection.

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The Abbey is perched high on its pyramidal rock of granite, and it stands 80 meters above the sea on a number of crypts designed to take the weight of this 80 meter long building. It is believed to have originated from 708 AD; in later years Benedictine monks occupied the Abbey and a village settlement developed beneath it in the 10th Century. After the collapse of the religious community during the French Revolution, its thick stone walls, ramparts and fortifications meant it was used as a prison until 1863. Declared a Historic Monument in 1874, major restoration work was regularly undertaken. The new 32 meter steeple was later topped by a sculpture of Saint Michael by Emmanuel Frémiet, depicted holding a sword and set of scales.
More restoration work was carried out in 1987; a model showed a scaffolding tower surrounding the steeple with the statue hanging below a helicopter supported in a frame. Now re-gilded St Michael glinted brightly on top of the spire.

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The monument is entered over a draw bridge with a decorated stone-work panel above, narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants climb uphill steadily leading to the entrance of the Abbey. After a speciality French lunch of Moules a la Creme et Frites followed by crepes, sucre et citron, we were soon powering up numerous steps between the towering outer stone walls before coming out onto the West Terrace. The views were amazing looking out over the sands of the vast estuary that surround Mont Saint-Michel at high tide, cutting it off from the mainland. From this vantage point we could clearly see the bridge and walkway we had followed beside the River Couesnon, and further around we could see the sands all the way over to the Cherbourg Peninsular.

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Inside the abbey, there is a central nave and two side aisles.; the main nave arches are tall with lightly coloured stained glass windows, the high barrelled ceiling leading to a semi circular high altar area with ornate high windows set on two levels.

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The Merveille is area which was the work and study room of the monks, having multiple columns, a vaulted high ceiling with circular and arched windows. It gives access to areas such as the kitchen, refectory, dormitories and church.

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My favourite area is The Cloisters with its central garden, in all totalling 260 sq meters. It is situated on top of the Merveille room which has a lead lined roof to keep it water tight. The light floods into the covered galleries which have slim, light weight pillars spaced in double rows that are positioned out of alignment to show different aspects to the viewer.

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One of the last things we saw was a massive wooden wheel, (rather like a hamster wheel). It was installed in 1820 and was used to hoist a heavy wooden sledge with provisions for the prisoners, hauled up the side of the ramparts on a special ramp which can still be seen descending steeply down the walls.

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On our long walk down all the steps and walkways, we were still drawn to the views of the sheer expanse of sand surrounding Mont Saint-Michel. Such a magnificent position with vistas in every direction. This place has been on my wish list for years and it certainly lived up to all my expectations.

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Posted in England

2018 – Summer Run Around

Heading east for about an hour in beautiful sunny weather we made our way to Newbury Motorhome Show, looking forward to music and merriment we met up with Mandy and Roy who we met a year ago at Norfolk Motorhome Show. There was a large section of second-hand motorhomes of all shapes and sizes, then several avenues of stalls offering everything you could wish to use inside them or to ‘enhance’ your experience using one; it is a good thing we were only browsing for ideas. The show was spread over four days we took our time looking at the vast area the show covered and being entertained in the evenings by great live music. For a bit of ‘culture’ we took a day trip to Oxford and had an open-top bus ride around the city with amusing commentary informing us about its history and buildings.

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A Royal Wedding was happening elsewhere in the country and not wishing to miss out, we had our own mini party with flags, bunting, food, bottles of sparkling wine and watched it live on a ‘big screen’ provided for the occasion. We carried on into the evening with a very special Red Velvet Cake and more ‘bubbles’.

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In late July we headed for Crofty on The Gower Peninsular in South Wales, very picturesque, remote and relaxing. We had met Gilly and Alan near Alicante in Spain 8 months previously, kept in touch and arranged to visit them at home. With uninterrupted views over the salt marshes, curlews calling and wild ponies to watch, the scene was idyllic.

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Over four days we all walked in sunshine on the high cliff tops overlooking Worm’s Head with the magnificent Rhossili Beach stretching 3 miles into the distance. We visited Cefn Bryn, a high point inland having panoramic views over The Gower, from where we could see Oxwich Bay with its long golden beach on the south side of the peninsular.

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Then for something completely different we visited The Mumbles, a small touristy town on the opposite side of the bay to Swansea where we had a walk around, saw the old pier and stopped at Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour! During a walk around the village of Crofty and over the salt marshes, Chris had spotted Gower Brewery and we came away with a selection of ales for him to try. Now in early August we also celebrated our wedding anniversary enjoying some speciality gins with tonics, and salt marsh lamb with mint sauce in an excellent local pub. What a wonderful time we spent with our friends who showed us so much of this lovely corner of Wales where they live.

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Not satisfied with one trip to Newbury, we returned in August to meet Mandy and Roy for the Retro Fest; music, clothes, caravans, cars, motorbikes and lorries of yesteryear, so many smiling faces and a reminder of years gone by. The tiny caravans were delightful and their proud owners displaying their handiwork in restoration and accessories. Such simplicity with these tiny holiday homes, it makes the modern ones look like a huge monsters.

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With polished bodywork and sparkling chrome, leather seats, walnut wood dashboards and wire wheels, the cars on display were amazing. There were many other vehicles to see, huge lorries with ornately painted designs on the cabs, army vehicles, customised motorbikes and trikes, their owners having spent hours restoring them.

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The Retro Fest was a new experience for us with many people wearing period clothes that made them look so elegant compared to some of the fashions today. A colourful fun fair with carousel and painted wooden horses, the huge big wheel and smells of ‘fast food’ and candy floss, it all came alive at night, along with music of the era and old time dancing; it was a fun filled few days.

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Still in August we stayed in Stourport on Severn in Worcestershire with Julie and Kim to attend their son’s wedding, a beautiful day for everyone concerned. The four of us, plus their 3 dogs, then drove to Witney in Oxfordshire to spend a few days together in our motorhomes, relaxing after the wedding festivities. We spent the days walking in the countryside around lakes created from disused gravel pits, now full of wildlife, birds and flowers.

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We walked into Standlake one afternoon and looked at the pretty church followed by more than a look at the local pub, where we stopped for refreshments! At Witney we went down by the River Windrush and Country Park walking back through fields and along the edge of a wood with all 3 dogs, so well behaved but very tired that evening. We barbequed on our return to the campsite and enjoyed the late evening the sunshine. At Abingdon we walked along a section of the River Thames, there is a weir and a pedestrian bridge across to a lock built in 1790 and a lock keepers cottage. A busy yet relaxing few days.

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To round off the summer as we moved into the end of September, it was time to squeeze in a visit to the Isle of Wight. Only an hour from home we left the rain behind and caught the ferry at Lymington for the 30 minute voyage into sunshine. The island is small, 2 miles from the mainland and covering 148 sq miles (384 sq km), it is a great place to visit. Landing at Yarmouth on the western end of the island we drove to Nodes Point not far from Ryde on the east coast. We had fun and frustration putting up our new awning but the result was great giving us the perfect retreat each evening to enjoy the last of the sun.

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Much walking was achieved over four days, just over 31 miles (50km) in total, including two days both at 11 miles (17.7km). During one walk we took the coastal path from the campsite via St Helens, through Bembridge to Sandown. We passed house boats by the harbour, took pathways under pine trees passing massive and expensive houses, crunched along shingle beach to the lifeboat station, and climbed up a long hill to an obelisk. After admiring the view from this high position we continued over chalky downland and clifftop walks eventually arriving on the promenade at Sandown. After a couple of hours there we caught the bus back and surveyed the scenery again from the top front seats of a double decker.

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Living on the Island are more friends we made through motorhoming; we had met Caroline and Jeff at Benicàssim, Spain in November 2017. After having coffee together at our campsite, they droves us to Shanklin on the east coast where we walked around the quaint ‘old village’ area full of thatched properties. It was a step back in time with the narrow streets still full of the late summer flowers and thankfully not too many people. After an alfresco pub lunch we walked down Shanklin Chime which is a ravine shaded by many trees with a footpath that follows the stream and waterfalls to the coast. Emerging out of the trees the beach was deserted on either side of the steps down, only a few small boats were resting on the sand. Walking along the promenade in the sunshine we saw some ornate lampstands and an attractive clock tower before walking back uphill into Shanklin and returning to the campsite.

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The following morning we walked in the direction of Ryde alongside the beach stopping at The Boat house for coffee and a cake each while we watched the comings and goings of ferries, hovercraft, container ships and boats on the Solent, it really is a busy stretch of water. Mandy and Roy also live on the Island and joined us for lunch at the campsite, the new awning providing a great place to set out the food and drinks, while we sat out under the brollies for shade, quite remarkable for late September.

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Another walk the following day took us through St Helens and down a disused railway track, through fields and marshes with lovely views to the distant woods and hills. We finally located Bembridge Windmill with is now looked after by the National Trust. Climbing its steep stairs to the top floor, we learned how the bags of wheat were lifted up, emptied into hoppers and ground into flour by the huge millstones. The four large blades could be seen outside the windows but they didn’t have the fabric sails which were used to catch the wind. It would have been a very dusty environment to work in and caused many mill workers to have diseased and weak lungs.

20181006_144755-collageWalking steeply down hill and via the coastal path we stopped off for a rest at the Crab & Lobster enjoying a seafood platter and a cold drink, before arriving back at camp; another walk totalling 11 miles!

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Catching the ferry back to ‘The North Island’ as the locals call the mainland, we reflected on a very happy mini-break, great sunny weather the whole time, meeting up with our friends, visiting new places and lots of walking. We will definitely be planning another visit to stay longer next time, there is so much to see, beautiful countryside and coasts for walking, and the pace of life is more gentle which makes it ideal for rest and relaxation.