La Rochefocauld


Day 6 – Wednesday 20th June

Today we set out in hazy weather. It had been decidedly misty first thing but the sun came out and warmed things up.

We didn’t venture too far, just an hours drive to La Rochefocauld. Home to a chateau, founded in the 12th century, which overlooks the town and the Tardoire Valley. Also of interest are the Carmelite cloisters. Here in the town we had a splendid lunch of 2 beers, a croque madame, omelette with “lardons” aux “fromage” and a shared plate of “frites”. you can tell we are well into “le vacance francaise” mode. All served up for the princely sum of €18.30.

During our meanderings the temperature was rising steadily. By the time we arrived back at the car the onboard display was registering 30•C. Even once we were motoring the reading only dropped to 27•C.

As we left La Rochefocauld we decided that we might stop in the forest we had passed through earlier and on entry thought we would visit a memorial sign posted as just over 2km. We were thwarted in our attempt as much of the forest, and especially the bit with the memorial, was barred to us as the military were holding an exercise. Still it was a pleasant drive.

On our way out earlier we had spotted a sign indicating a view point. On the way back we made the detour, discovering that it was well worth the time spent. We were greeted by a near 360 degree vista. Laid out before us was a patchwork quilt of greens and golds interspersed with the occasional terracotta. Along the horizon were two wind farms although there was so little wind only two of the ten or so turbines were in motion. We could hear many birds singing. What species I have no idea. In the distance a farmer was driving his tractor, the clatter of the diesel so soft at that distance, that it provided an acceptable counterpoint to the birdsong.

When we got back to the gite the thermometer in the kitchen was only registering 22•C. The interior of the gite seeming positively chilly by comparison to outside.

We sat in the garden enjoying the sun although it all became too much for me so I headed to the relative cool of the lounge where I got my head down for a couple of hours.

While I was snoozing our host, Didier, brought us a lettuce from his garden. He had previously told us to help ourselves, which of course we won’t. This is the second lettuce and they are quite huge. I had told Didier that one will last us four days. Needless to say we are running out of innovative things to do with a lettuce.

The day was closed by a light salad supper at around 21:00. Yes we used Didiers lettuce. Quite what we will do with the previous one, as well as the remnents of our shop bought one, both languishing in the salad drawer is anybodies guess.

Now both of us are reading our respective books prior to heading to our pits.

Bon nuit.

A Dull Day


Day 5 – Tuesday 19th June

A dull day, but not an uninteresting day. Dull as in the weather was damp all day, until the evening when once again the sun shone while ate dinner al fresco.

An interesting day prompted by bumping into an 86 year old gentleman while walking the lanes. He told me that he had been on a tour of England. Had been to London, Harrowgate, Newcastle and Liverpool as well as touring up in Scotland too. He also informed me that he had lived in Paris for 16 years while working for Elstrom (to be confirmed) as an engineer. Apparently they now make the TGV. It also transpired that he is the uncle of Didier, our host.

Later in the day we had our attention drawn by a military jet that was performing tight turns and other gyrations before frightening the bejesus out the pilot of a small single prop plane. For a short period of time the military pilot flew pretty much as slow as possible and shadowed the civvy plane before heading for the horizon. Very noisy.

Again my wife sat out in the garden until gone 21:00 reading by which time the owls, two different species I believe’ have started calling. It is quite light right up to 22:00.

I stood in the front doorway to the gite, watching a different kind of aerobatics. This evening I have spotted the bats at work. Using our lawn, between the gite and the old barn, as a hunting ground for insects. It must be a rich source as they spent quite some time zooming, wheeling and doing impossibly abrupt stall turns.

Hoopoes ???


Day 4 – Monday 18th June

Today was a total chill out day. Skies cloudy and temperature right down. Certainly not conducive to lazing in the garden. After breakfast we decided to spend the morning reading. We were planning to go exploring after lunch. After partaking of Scotch Egg, Pork Pie and the local Goats Cheese the weather had improved so much we decided to shun the car. While my wife made the most of the sun lounger I took a long walk from the village out to the next community.

This region seems very fertile. In less than 1Km I passed fields growing grapes, sunflowers, peas and various cereal crops. Tending the vines seems to be a lonely task. I spotted two lone workers in different fields, tidying or tying back the vines, lost in a sea of green.

The next community, La Bousse, sits on top of a hill giving views back to Barbeziere and on toward Verdille some 3Km further on.

Oh, I forgot to mention the bird we saw in the garden first thing. I think its called a HooPoe. That needs to be confirmed. I have only ever seen them in books, long thin pointed beak and a tall crest on its head.

The weather had improved so much during the afternoon that we had our dinner, of local sausages, outside again. Very pleasant.

Talking of birds as I was earlier, the owls are very vocal tonight. They started calling well before sunset. I’m pretty sure there are a least two different kinds as the calls are quite distinctive.

A Trip To The Casino


Day 3 – Sunday 17th June

Despite the very long day, driving for 12 hours and despite the assistance of the alcohol that we consumed at the party, we both awoke at 03:15. Both needed a pee. Both satisfied we re-awoke at a more reasonable hour.

Today has been a day of discovery.

Discovering how to make tea without a kettle. Discovering that it is normal to provide your own towels, sheets & pillowcases when renting a gite. Thank you Didier, for lending us a set of bed linen, free of charge. And finally, discovering the nearest supermarket, in Aigre, where we obtained provisions for our Sunday lunch. Not forgetting snacks and beer.

Once we were back at the gite we sat outside with coffee and cake before relaxing in the sun. It is so quiet in Barbezieres. Well apart from the Collared Doves sitting on the ridge tiles and the antenna coo-cooing, the Blackbird sitting on the chimney singing his heart out with the volume set at 11 on and off all afternoon, and the Goldfinches adding their songs to those of the myriad of other birds.

After spending a couple of hours reading in the sunshine we took a stroll around the village. There is an impressive 15th century chateau and a Roman style church in the village centre. There a number of buildings that are offering themselves up as renovation projects. I’ve obviously seen to many “Grand Designs” programs. The potential for these properties is enormous but they would require significant investment too.
One can dream though.

Back at the gite, more relaxation followed by a tasty dinner of lamb chops, new potatoes and fresh salad all washed down with that complimentary bottle of Merlot.

Lovely!!!

Well it’s nearly midnight and time I was in my pit so I’ll bid you Bon Nuit.

Sangatte to Barbezieres


Day 2 – Saturday 16th June.

For some unknown reason I was awake at 05:30 on Saturday morning. Once again I sat and watched the ships out on the channel. The weather looked good, bright and clear if a bit blowy. Later we were to be informed by the hotel manager that there had been a heavy rainstorm during the night. Neither of us had heard a thing.

After a pleasant breakfast of coffee, orange juice and mixed bakery items we ended our brief sojourn in Sangatte and set off for Barbezieres.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of our 12 hour journey. The 12 hours includes stops for leg stretching, pee breaks, lunch and fuel. As we opted not to pay the French autoroute tolls, which could have added at least 50 pounds sterling to the cost of this trip. One way. We had to endure innumerable roundabouts and of course the inherent traffic due to having to traverse many towns and villages that the autoroutes avoid. However, the journey was quite pleasant overall. The only hold ups being in Tours, due to some roads being closed causing traffic to be diverted and Poitier which was just very very busy. Most towns were much quieter than the average British town especially for a Saturday.

Another, minor, inconvenience was pulling into a service station for fuel. The first pump was not responding so I moved the car to the next pump only to find it wasn’t responding either. There were no indications that anything was wrong but it transpired that they had run out of diesel. So, we saddled up and carried on down the road, stopping at the next service station.

After Poitier our route became more rural. We were getting close to our destination which, being in the middle of nowhere, can only be reached by traversing many country roads and equally small villages.

When we arrived in the village our next challenge presented itself. Once again the satnav had proved unworthy. It did not recognise the address for the gite. Once again fortune was smiling down on us and as we entered the village I spotted the name plate for the road on the wall above. This was the road for our gite. All we had to do was decide to turn left or right. I chose right and again fortune smiled. As we crawled along the road looking left and right for the gite, I saw this guy just off the road. He looked back with a quizzical expression and stepped into the road behind us. I stopped the car and got out. This was in fact our host. We had arrived.

He led us round to the gite and gave us quite an extraordinary welcome.

First there was a “welcome” pack containing many products of the region which included a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Cognac, a bottle of Pineau, a small loaf and tubs of pate and cheese.

Secondly, as it was his partners birthday, there was to be a party. To be attended by family and friends from the village, and we were invited. To say that we were trepidatious would be an understatement. Neither of us has any conversational French. I have enough words to order beer and wine with a smattering of other food related words but I have little understanding when confronted with language when presented at speed. On top of this we had just completed 12 hours on the road. What we both wanted more than anything was to lay down and stretch out. Not wanting to be party poopers, we splashed some water and joined the fray.

Needless to say the natives were friendly. We probably over monopolised our host’s time as translater but the food and drink were good and we stayed for an hour or two, before taking our leave and heading to bed, where we discovered that there were no sheets or pillowcases.

The French Vacation Begins


Day 1 – Friday 15th June.

So it has finally arrived. Our holiday. I picked my wife up from work at 15:30 and we made the quickest exit ever. We were home by 15:50 and on the road by 16:45 which included making a pot of tea and the final packing of everything into the car. A final check to ensure we had money, passports, car documents and we were away.

The traffic was kind to us. Even on the M25. We heard on the radio that there were significant delays on the Euro Shuttle, our hearts sank. But when we arrived at the Shuttle terminal it all went smoothly. Nobody checked our passports. We didn’t even have to show any ID to pass through to the waiting area. All done on vehicle registration number. Amazing what the technology can do these days. I have to say that it seems just a little too easy to leave good old Blighty. Suffice to say that we were on our scheduled train no problemo, no delays.

Loaded onto the top deck and a short while later we were on our way, gently rocking, zooming along under the channel. 35 minutes or so later we were in France.

Smooth.

We then encountered our first hitch. The bloody satnav didn’t recognise the road, in Sangatte, on which our hotel purported to exist. We managed to glean enough information from the hotel confirmation email along with a Michelin map to hazard a guess as to the likely location and forced the satnav to find a random point on our chosen road. As luck would have it we came across a roadside advert for the hotel and a few minutes driving had us at our destination.

We checked in, took a quick stroll round Sangatte. Determined that we were too late for a meal in the local restaurant so raided the cool bags in the car then retired to our room to feast on Ginsters Chicken and Bacon pasties followed by an apple for pudding.

I sat and read for a while occasionally looking out the window, watching the lights of the cross channel ferries heading in and out of Calais.

Eventually it was time to hit the hay, the end to a long day but the precursor to an even longer one.