Opium.

That’s it. Done. Finished. I’m never using it again. Opium; awful stuff.

And if, dear Regular Reader, you are wondering why I ever started; the answer is I didn’t realise how bad using it would be. And getting my head together afterwards each time, was an absolute nightmare.

Hey ho, and on we go. Tomorrow actually. LWD and I are finally going up and over into Spain. Now not on the original plan, we’re going via Figueres and then inland a bit to do some cultural explorations (see the improvement in language use when my head’s not screwed up by opium?) I’ve looked at overnight temperatures in the area and we should be OK but I’ll probably add the extra duvet to make sure. In any case I shan’t be quite so far away from LPG sources.

It’s been a good time in Argeles. The place is busy with grockles at weekends but lovely and quiet midweek; well, apart from the noise of hammering, drilling and sawing going on everywhere this week in preparation for the new season opening very soon. All sorts of refurbs, cleaning and re-stocking going on in the businesses that have been closed overwinter.

Seasonal preparations in Argeles

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Opium – looks pretty tho’

Today’s crêpe, with dark chocolate, more than made up for the previous one. I went to a different place and was able to watch the lady make it for a start; it was absolutely gorgeous. My excuse is that it had to be done, I missed pancake day last Tuesday. Good job we’re off really, otherwise I’d be going there daily to work my way through the fillings list …

🙂 🙂 🙂

Very different reflections on the past.

I’m not sure what I think about the refurbishment of the shops in Mirepoix’s medieval centre. At first I thought the new all glass fronts and revamped interiors were too modern; then I realised that the “old shabby chic” shopfronts and interiors weren’t original and that maybe I was just reacting from the point of view of my love of shabby chic. It might even be I disliked the new look because not all the shops have been completed. I shall defer from opinion until I see it finished. Anyway I found it hard to wander round with the usual enjoyment with all the plant around and decided to hightail it to the coast.

Mirepoix before the recent renovations

It wasn’t much of a hardship to drive one of my favourite routes running parallel to the Pyrenees, the views quite make up for the parts where the road surface is extremely poor and the camber frequently wrong, especially as I suspect that is what makes the road so fabulously underused!

On Sunday, the day after arriving at Argeles Plage, right down in the corner of south western France, I meandered through the pine trees heading for the promenade when I was, at first distracted by a heavy Gendarme presence, and than told I couldn’t proceed along my chosen route. There appeared to be some sort of demonstration (which I was politely informed would be over in 30 minutes) and from the flags I saw I thought it must be the Basque Separatists protesting. LWD and I detoured round and walked the promenade to the port – where I was unable to finish more than a few mouthfuls of the disappointingly cold leathery crepe that arrived along with my drinkable tea.

The next day I took LWD on the same walk up to where the beach and pinewood had been cordoned off. On the beach I discovered an exhibition of photos of the camp that was set up in 1939 to house the 100,000 Basque refugees who escaped over the mountains from Franco’s forces in Spain. The previous day had not been a protest but the 80th anniversary of the events. The camp was set up right on the beach, it was early  February when the first refugees arrived and the conditions must have been horrendous. Exposed to the elements, families were split, as women and children were housed in one camp and men in another, taking up 1.5 kilometres of beach. The camp remained open for two years before all the refugees were dispersed to more permanent accommodation.

Argeles Plage

And I, 80 years later, find myself camping in almost the exact spot, although parked somewhat more comfortably and for far more pleasant reasons. The story does go to show that in 80 years dictators have not disappeared, and that ordinary folk are always the ones who suffer most. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

☹️☹️☹️

Hit and Miss, and Staircases.

The Aire at Mont de Marsan was a Hit; I was able to fill up with water, empty out the grey water tank and have electricity overnight.

The Aire at Mont de Marsan was a Miss; the French Air Force appear to have a base very close, landing and take off was directly overhead and the fast jets were very low and a tad noisy.

We left the next morning; strangely enough not long after flights commenced for the day.

Auch was a Hit! We arrived mid-afternoon parked up and had a mooch. The Pooch was dragged up the 374 steps of the monumental staircase, she didn’t seem very impressed but I was; my knees coped, I didn’t get out of breath and the view from the top was superb. Last time I was in Auch the staircase was being repaired. When originally built to impress (1863), and to improve access to the cathedral, it was made of poor quality stone and had deteriorated to the point where the repair that finished just after I last visited took eight years to complete; the staircase does impress now.

 

The monumental staircase ( these we walked up and down)

This morning we went on another quickish mooch this time using one of the pousterles (narrow steps) built in the Middle Ages to allow the citizens of the city to easily(?) get down to the river for water supplies, but were easily defensible. We entered the citadel via the east steps and left via the steps of the Oumettos (I have no idea, I think it might be Spanish as the street that leads to them is call Rue d’Espagne)

 

From L; Eastern steps (up), Oumettos steps (down), Oumettos with cat

It was all about steps and staircases. I also visited the Maison d’Henri IV as did, tradition says, Henri IV in 1578, and he would’ve walked up the stone and wood staircase. I didn’t.

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Henri VI’s staircase (allegedly)

We are overnighting in Auterive on our way to Mirepoix. The more attentive amongst you may have noted, if you’ve consulted your maps to ascertain my whereabouts, that I do not appear to be heading for Portugal via northern Spain. I have decided to wait to do that until the night temperatures in the mountains there are above freezing, I’m nervous that it will be difficult to get LPG thereabouts and I don’t think these old bones could manage without heating or hot drinks if the gas ran out.

The new plan is to mess about by the sea in eastern France and Spain whilst waiting for the nights to warm up – daytime temps are lovely and loads of sun at the moment.

🙂 🙂 🙂

Little Britain?

I’m back into the habit of picking out the best Aires and villages. This Aire has a lovely view of the river Charante just the other side of a small green park and electricity for only €2 per 24hrs which is wonderful as the nighttime temperatures (brrr) require heating to be on, and the boiler positively gobbles gas. My trusty electric heater is keeping us toasty at night and the daytime temps require no heating at all – wall to wall blue skies and lovely warm sun.

A quintessentially French village, Verteuil-sur-Charante is deservedly on the Beaux Villages list.The village boasts tiny independent shops, restaurants, a weir, two mills, one converted to a five star eatery, a chateau, a splendid church and, I’m reliably informed, six watering holes. 

Well gorgeous!

My reliable informant is one of a strong English community here. He was an early settler 20 years ago; lots more English arrived after some celebrity chef did a programme a few years ago about the restaurant at the mill and it’s chef who’s a whiz at brioche, and showed the village as well. There are now about 50 households of soon-to-be non-Europeans! It’s a beautiful place even in winter, in summer it must be absolutely gorgeous; unfortunately for the local populace, French and English, it’s then not so tranquil – Grockles like mosquitos, in droves!

We’ve been here four nights. I’ve been unable to drag myself away. LWD is well happy, loads of dog friendly lanes to wander off-lead. But we’re continuing south tomorrow …

🙂 🙂 🙂

Somerset area motorhomers meeting!

Bonneval lived up to my expectations. A superb medieval town which grew up around the monastery originally built in 857. The town was eventually fortified and part of the R. Loir (not the famous one with an “e”) was diverted round its walls to make a moat for added security (and doubtless a dumping water for all sorts of medieval rubbish). Of course it was fought over many times, walls torn down, church and abbey destroyed/rebuilt, destroyed/rebuilt, yada, yada. Many lovely old buildings do remain and the Aire is up against the walls of the rebuilt rebuild which was then restored, monastery which was eventually acquired, firstly by a private owner, some Duke or other, whose family either petered out or had money problems and sold it off to the government a century and a half ago; currently in use as a mental health hospital. I decided not to offer my skills!

Bonneval

I got chatting to my next door motorhomers (English) and was invited in for a cuppa, lovely couple, live just 12 miles up the road from Langport, in Taunton!! It also transpires that he vaguely remembers the name Mepstead from his REME days as an electronics engineer, BB would have been the senior (but then he’s older than Methuselah!). Small world – again! We’re headed to some of the same places so we may well meet up again and we’ve exchanged home details.

As can be seen, lovely weather during the day, freezing at night, literally.

P.S. Luvsya BB, mwah!

🙂 🙂 🙂

Docking at Dieppe

It amazes me how these ferry Captains turn it on a sixpence in the small harbour at Dieppe and side it in with unerring accuracy to tie up with nary a coffee spill, I wanted to clap but knew he/she wouldn’t hear. We were first off our deck and I hared off to Intermarche for diesel and a baguette; LWD did her first (desperately needed) pipi on French soil – vive la France, enfin nous sommmes ici!

“ Dieppe? DIEPPE? What happened to Cherbourg?”

Brittany Ferry’s prices are what happened to Cherbourg, dear regular reader. No Old Farts discount, £25 for LWD and she doesn’t even leave the van, and the total came to well over £200 for a crossing that’s only half an hour longer than Newhaven/Dieppe. I did not book. I did the maths on the extra fuel. We crossed for significantly under £100 thanks to DFDS whose staff are lovely, friendly and efficient. It doesn’t surprise me that they win ferry operator of the year; every year.

Newhaven harbour, the Seven Sisters ferry and the RNLI lifeboat

Le (millpond) Manche was so calm we arrived early and I had only one small (unsigned) diversion to overcome before reaching our designated Aire at Bonneval just after dark. The town, from our brief recce of last night, looks picture book. We are off for an explore when I’ve drunk my second cuppa!

🙂 🙂 🙂

All good fun

Four frosty days hooked up, thankfully, in the Midlands hanging out with BB. There are times when we behave like children, spontaneously play silly games and dissolve into fits of giggles.

Me: Where are we going?

BB: Dunno, which exit shall I take off the roundabout?

Me: First.

BB (having complied): At the junction?

Me: Straight on.

BB: At the roundabout in about five miles?

Me: Second exit.

BB: If it’s the M6 toll as I think it is,  you’ll have to chose another.

Me: I said second exit!

BB: That roundabout was the next roundabout, not the roundabout in five miles!

The second exit at the roundabout in five miles was the M6 toll. So we ended up taking the third exit to Lichfield; which was probably where BB intended to go all along, we just got there giggling and via a longer route!

Like me he’s into shop and market browsing and certainly neither of us is to be trusted in Fat Face. We enjoy the same films (mostly; I’ve never been a John Wayne fan), comedy (Swimming with Men and The Last Laugh watched this week) and music. You might think that’s entirely unexpected for siblings but BB left for Army Boys School when I was still in single figures (just) and I didn’t see much of him for the next dozen years – has to be the genes! The fact that we’re both currently having to diet I blame on the genes too!

The snow was very kind to us; I think Fazeley and a small surrounding area might have been in the only place in the UK that didn’t get a snow dump. Even Langport had sufficient that a snow day was declared by the local schools. The Smart One had huge fun with his mates snowball fighting and sledding, apparently returning home virtually hypothermic.

Tuesday was Coventry;

Wednesday was a brisk walk around Kingsury Water Park;

Thursday was a tiny bit frosty and included a trip to Lichfield;

I’m back now for the final week, which includes a meet up with The Bezzie and a double birthday party (J’s 40th and K’s 45th) before main engine start …

🙂 🙂 🙂