After 4 nights near Bayeux we moved west to another Castels campsite not too far from St Malo. Great site but real hassles with the wifi – couldn’t connect more than one device each day. Gets expensive when they are charging 6 euro per device per day. Met more Kiwis who are basing themselves in the UK for several years so they can explore Europe in their caravan during the summer.
Saint Malo, which was extensively damaged in the war but has been carefully rebuilt to replicate what was there beforehand, was definitely worth a visit. Quite touristy but still an interesting visit. A walk around the walls of the town shows how many little islets and islands were made into forts, who knows how.
The coastal drive from St Malo to Cancale was impressive – also that the entire coast from somewhere east of St Malo to at least the area in Bretagne near Quimper is part of the GR34 long distance walk. It would take weeks.
After St Malo we called into the town of Dinan which wasn’t damaged in the war. The town council in the late 1930’s had the foresight to protect the medieval centre of the town which was impressive given that war was breaking out. The result is a charming city centre.
Loved the wonky floor beams! These places all date from 16th- 17th century at least.
Even though it was a longish drive I decided that on our last full day in the area we had to see Mont St Michel as it is one of those iconic French places to visit – up with the Eiffel Tower.
Despite the crowds of tourists at the lower levels of Mont St Michel the abbey, dating from the 11th Century was was much quieter and fascinating, especially thinking of the skill required to build multiple levels of stone building around the rocky outcrop that forms the island.
We are settling into our new lifestyle well. The Nespresso machine (yes the van has a special shelf that pulls down especially made for one) is sooo good to have. Bed is really comfortable and easy to use with the inserts in the middle. Haven’t used the bbq yet. Probably tonight. It is starting to warm up a bit but the evenings are still too cool to sit outside for us Southern Hemisphere softies. We notice the Brit’s and Dutch sitting outside quite comfortably.
Couldn’t figure out how to resume text below the last image so chose the easy option – another post.
Normandy is known for a number of other things apart from D Day – cider and galettes- so we have been making sure we sample our fair share. I much prefer the cider here. I find NZ cider quite acidic but the ones here are surprisingly easy to drink.
We are settling into our new lifestyle quite easily – must be all that boating in earlier years. Bit of a learning curve for some things though – like getting the car up on the trailer when it has been raining and learning that you can’t have any sideways slope otherwise the rear wheels spin out and the car goes sideways!! When there is only a narrow ramp for each wheel and the back wheels are half off the ramp and the front wheel is wedged against the front of the wheel guard on the trailer, you learn. A potentially very nasty situation (like car falls off trailer). Richard stayed very calm and after a many point manoeuvre with me directing, we managed to get it off the trailer and moved to a flat spot. And guess what – the trailer now has non slip tape on it! Apart from that wee incident the car and trailer works really well and we cannot understand why more people with motor homes don’t do it. A lot of motor homes carry bikes but biking on the roads here doesn’t appeal to R let alone me.
On our last day at Bayeux, the golf course was beckoning R so we played 9 holes walking what turned out to be a very hilly course but with amazing views over the coast and yet another memorial and WW2 fortifications.
Thought I should start off properly with the French name. So much to do here. We had 4 nights at Le Chateau de Martragny, our first experience of a French campsite and a very good experience it was. We spent the first day exploring the nearby town of Bayeux with an 11th to 13th amazing cathedral Notre Dame. The Bayeux Tapestry is housed in a museum near the cathedral and was a “must see” given that it was done in the 11th Century to depict the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 so that those who could not read (most people) could understand the story. The level of detail down to the body language and expressions on faces has to be seen to be believed. It is so well preserved.
The town was remarkably quiet. A great time of year to be travelling. Back at the campground we found some fellow Kiwis from Invercargill- and the 3 degrees of separation rule held true. We found we had 3 different connections to them. In fact Marie played golf with our good friend John Powles’s sister from Invercargill!
We set aside day 2 to visit the key World War 2 sites. R got to set the itinerary for the day and we were lucky enough to be camped next to an English guy who was a WW2 buff and took tours in the area. After visiting the WW2 museum at Bayeux to give us an overall perspective, we started at La Pointe du Hoc where a small group of soldiers scaled cliffs to take out the big German guns. Huge casualties only to find the guns had been moved a short distance inland. But they succeeded in the end. Makes you realise the courage of those that fought. We moved on to Omaha/Utah Beach and Port Bessin, Arromanches, Pegasus Bridge and the Merville Battery. Neither of us had realised the sheer scale of the invasion and the area it covered – around 100 km of coast. Remains of the artificial harbours can be seen at Arromanches – how they towed those across the English Channel, I can’t begin to comprehend. Pegasus Bridge was a particular eye opener. 3 large gliders were landed with around 30 troops in each on a tiny (and I mean tiny!!) patch of not very level ground between a canal and a river with swamp and trees just to make things even harder. The skill to land those things about 30-40 m apart was quite something.
There are memorials all along the coast.
We spent 4 nights here getting used to the van. Horsley Campsite is an old WW2 airfield so lots of space. We found very few of the campsites in the New Forest have electricity connections. After his harrowing long drive the previous day, Richard went on strike and refused to drive anywhere! We decided a bit of exercise was in order and walked to the village of Burnley about an hour away over the Heath and through the forest. So many horses here and lots of foals. We found out the horses have owners who have commoner rights through land ownership but roam at will. Each herd tends to stay in a particular area and there are horse experts with some weird old English names for each part of the New Forest who keep an eye on them etc. The foals are often taken and trained and sold. The horses have right of way on the roads and are not worried about cars. Unfortunately quite a few die each year particularly when they venture on to the roads at night.
Saturday saw us checking out a Food and Wine festival at a local town (not so interesting) and the south coast near Bournemouth and Poole. One of our few wet and windy days and not a good day for walks on the coast. Luckily we checked out the ferry crossing from Poole as we later found out that we couldn’t go on the one from Portsmouth with a trailer. It was good to learn we could park in the vehicle queuing area overnight.
Sunday was family reunion day. (Photo above) We were invited to lunch at Richard’s cousin Gill’s place in Wiltshire where she runs a Bed and Breakfast in a 17- early 18th century farmhouse. A long drive but worth it. We got to meet 5 of Richard’s cousins and partners which was lovely. Such a coincidence that Richard’s cousin Patrick sent out an email to our Auckland 2040 address after googling Richard Burton asking if he was his cousin and wanting to reestablish contact. When Richard said we had just arrived in the UK he quickly organised the reunion – fantastic effort Patrick.
On the way back we lucked onto dinner at Burnley Manor – a beautiful old manor house in the New Forest near our campsite and excellent meal to match. Many of our meals outside London have been very traditional British pub fare so it made a pleasant change.
The New Forest was great place to stay and get familiar with the van – debated going down to the Cornwall area for a few days before crossing to France but when we found out the Bank holiday weekend at the end of May was followed by a week of school holidays we decided against it. I hate to think what the roads in popular holiday areas are like in school holidays given how much traffic there is normally.
Next post – Normandy
Wednesday 18 May: Finally after all the hassles we were on our way. Instead of Richard managing a short practice drive we were straight into it – a 3 hour motorway trip in rain and the usual heavy traffic that is so typical of everywhere in the UK. A large departure caused by more delays at the dealer did not help. We arrived at the campground near Henley on Thames feeling somewhat shell shocked. Nice campground by the Thames but unfortunately no time to explore as we had decided we needed to leave early the next morning to pick up both the trailer and car in one day if we were to avoid the Friday afternoon chaos on UK roads. No prizes for guessing how we feel about driving around the UK!
A huge day! We negotiated the M25 twice ( we have since found out it is called “The highway from hell” “the world’s largest parking lot” etc etc) Great for a trainee motor home driver especially once we had the trailer on. Picking up the trailer was a test of Richard’s manoeuvring skills – up a narrow lane etc etc. Decided to play it safe and use motorways to get to the car pick up. What we hadn’t accounted for was 20 miles of road works with a very narrow slow lane (where we tend to stay) and a little old lady who had forgotten where first gear was, causing mayhem on the motorway as she rolled slowly back into 3 vehicles including us. Fortunately no damage as Richard managed to edge back enough to absorb the impact. To cap it off she then got out of her car in her fur coat and hat in the middle of the motorway and ferreted around in her handbag.
Finally arrived at the campground in the New Forest at 7 pm.
So is all the hassle worth it. Richard was doubting it for a while that day. If we had known how much effort and hassle was involved maybe we wouldn’t have gone ahead. But we are so glad we opted to have the car despite the extra hassle (and thanks to Bernie and Yvonne who were the trail blazers last year). Twiggy works a treat.
Next installment – the New Forest. Hopefully I will have managed to get all the new photos transferred across to my iPad – not happening automatically at the moment for some reason.
After more waiting around yesterday we finally took possession of our not so wee snail home Ducky for the next 4-5 months about 5.30pm along with a mountain of gear we had to fit into it. Thank god it wasn’t raining!
By 9 pm we were starving and somewhat shattered. Nearly didn’t crack a celebratory bottle of wine as we were so tired but decided we couldn’t not do it. It took us until 11pm to get everything sorted enough to eat and sleep and everything else shoved in the garage to be dealt to the next day. Now I know why our friends Yvonne and Bernie laughed when we said we had allowed 2 days to buy everything we needed and fit the van out. You were right to laugh! Four days of purchasing, several hours followed by a full day of getting everything fitted in the van. We haven’t left the dealer’s yard yet. Going to be spending another night in this very beautiful location (not!). Richard has driven the van a total of about 10 m today. I have to wonder if he is putting off the big moment of driving on a ROAD. To be fair it has been a huge amount of work getting everything set up. The garage has taken most of the day ( All the gear in the photo by the fence had to be put in the garage ) but we finally fitted it all in so we can easily access the important stuff. Not to mention all the electronic aids like dash camera, GPS, tracker, mobile WiFi etc.
The van is actually very comfy. Haven’t tested out the TV yet- maybe tonight. It was a chilly one last night (like 6 degrees) and we were pleased we had the right bedding. Good test for the Arctic Circle. Heating system works well too.
What an amazing few days!! We arrived by train Thursday afternoon ready for my significant birthday on the Friday. All details had been kept secret from me. And so we trundled our bags to our hotel and my first surprise!
I never dreamed I would get to stay at Claridges. Richard had excelled himself, ably assisted by Soph who told him to “just do it”. And so it continued. Anna had organised my big day with a succession of surprises- a facial at Claridges, lunch at a restaurant with amazing views over London (great weather) , a walk along the Thames then a pedicure and hair styling before going out for a wonderful dinner. I was spoilt rotten. Lovely to have Rocky with us after she had arrived from NZ on Monday to surprise Anna.
Amazing weather continued on the Saturday. Definitely a good time to visit Hyde Park as Richard had never been there. Then another HUGE surprise! Richard was insistent we had a drink at the bar at Claridges (couldn’t understand why!) until guess who turned up? Our close friends Pamela and Roger from home – I couldn’t believe my eyes!
So wonderful to see them! Had a great afternoon the next day wandering around the Brick Lane market area. Delicious food at food hall in old Truman Brewery. Every cuisine you could imagine- we had vegan Ethiopian and Turkish gozleme. Here’s a new use for an old taxi.
Such a good time – helped by more good weather.
We had planned to start our blog the day we picked up our motor home. And if all had gone according to plan, we should have been the proud owners of our new motor home for 9 days now. Instead we find ourselves touring around the UK without our wee home on wheels. For a variety of reasons it did not arrive in the UK until yesterday and now the dealer needs a couple of days to install the extra bits and pieces we need for our adventure.
Luckily we made the decision last week that there was no way the van was going to be ready in time before we had to leave for London on 12 May- to celebrate my significant birthday. So we have spent a lot of time buying up everything we need (or hope we need) for the van. So far we have delivered 2 carloads to the motor home dealer to store with another one to deliver today. I only hope it is going to fit in the van!
With an extra few days up our sleeve we decided on Friday morning to go to the Lake District. Originally we had planned to take the van up there after we had fitted it out. We are quite glad we couldn’t – the narrow windy roads were bad enough in a car.
Next instalment – The Lake District