Thursday, 25 April 2013

Onward to Aquitaine

Towing the Line
We are on the road again. The weather seems unsettled everywhere, so I drew a line diagonally across the map between Aquitaine and Burgundy, and suggested to Maureen that we head in that general direction looking for pleasant campsites and some sunshine. Maureen, always up for an adventure, agreed. Our first site is just outside the village of Duras in the Department of Lot-et-Garonne, south of the Dordogne region.
Tuesday/Wednesday 9/10 April
We had a good look around the countryside which is attractive, with fields, forests, vineyards, orchards and small villages (usually with an ancient church at the centre). The weather here has been pleasantly warm around 18deg.C.

Thursday 11 April
Cloud and drizzle this morning, so we are on the move north towards the Dordogne. We had a straight forward journey of about 60 miles, in heavy rain.
Our campsite is by the river Vezere, just outside the village of Le Bugue, and a few miles upstream of the confluence of the Vezere and Dordogne.
Looking up the Vezere at Le Bugue

Friday 12 April
After lunch on a fine but cloudy day, we set off to explore the Vezere valley. Over millions of years the river has cut its way through the limestone plateau creating stunning cliffs, on each side of the valley. The fertile valley floor is dotted with ancient villages, churches, châteaux, and also many caves with evidence of the presence of early man. Eventually we arrived at Lascaux, the site of the world famous prehistoric cave paintings. This is a site I have always wanted to visit, so I paid my 10 euros and waited patiently for the next tour. The guide gave an explanations in French at each point of the tour, with a beautiful summary in English, just for me.
The cave is an exact replica of a section of the original cave, with even the smallest features of the rock face reproduced in precise detail.
The paintings which are precise replicas of the originals, using the original techniques and materials, are absolutely stunning. It was a very moving experience to look at works of art produced 17,000 years ago. The animals depicted in stunning detail include bulls, cows, horses, ponies and deer. The natural features of the rock have been used to produce 3 dimensional modelling. Also there is a strong design element, illustrated by the images of 3 bulls, which flow up the walls and onto the roof, coming together to create a motif or focal point. The roof of the cave reminded me of the ceiling of a church.
As we drove back 20 miles along the valley floor, the evening sun created a beautiful light on the villages, churches, chateaux, fields, cliffs and river.

Saturday 13 April
Warm sunshine at last, with temperature moving towards 26 deg. We parked up in Le Bugue, the village 1 km from the site, and set off to explore and take a few photos. We walked over the river bridge, and explored the back streets and the church. Nothing remarkable, just a typical old French town. We  had Plat de Jour at the local Supermache, and after dropping the shopping off, we went for a good walk along the riverside track from the campsite.
The riverside track

New leaves by the river

Sunday 14 April
We set off on a 100 mile journey across country heading NE to the village of Neuvic and a campsite in the grounds of a château. The roads were quiet being Sunday, and we made good progress with coffee and lunch stops en route.
On reaching the village of Egletons, the recommended route seemed a long way round, at 50 miles, so I opted for the direct route of 25 miles over the mountains. As we climbed higher and higher, the road became narrower and steeper, and the hairpin bends became sharper. Maureen was very impressed with my rallying with a caravan skills, and somewhat underwhelmed with my route choice. As we drove up to the campsite within the château grounds, a lady appeared to great us with the dreaded words "Ferme", so we had no alternative but to move on.
We drove the 50 miles back to the campsite at Egletons on good fast roads, and arrived in time for me to sit in the late sun with a glass of wine whilst Maureen prepared supper. A fitting end to an adventurous day.

Monday 15 April
We continued our journey, heading due north to the town of Aubusson, which is located almost halfway between Limoges and Clermont Ferand. The roads were good and we were soon approaching the village of Felletin, just south of Aubusson where we expected to find an English owned campsite by a lake. After some frustration, getting lost, doing u-turns, and passing through the same roadworks several times with a Frenchman waving his red flag at us, we gave up and headed to Camping La Perle, just north of Aubusson, a site we have visited previously.

Tuesday 16 April
We decided to have an easy day exploring the old town of Aubusson which is about 5 mile from our campsite. After parking up, we went off in search of a suitable "Plat du Jour". After wandering round for some time we decided to try a small hotel with an old fashioned, faded and slightly run down appearance.
The lady was very welcoming, and we had a very good 3 course lunch with bread, wine and coffee for a reasonable 31 euros. We also had some good banter with another couple, as we struggled to understand and speak French. After the meal, we explored the old part of the town, taking a few photographs before calling at the Supermache on our way back to base.
Old town - Aubusson
Looking down the Creuse River

Wednesday 17 April
We awoke to a lovely warm sunny day with the temperature moving into the mid twenties. We drove a few miles up the road to the village of Ahun, which has some interesting attractions, including a Roman bridge, an abbey and ancient church.
Inside the church at Ahun

 From Ahun we headed east into some beautiful countryside, with cows contentedly grazing in the fields, many small lakes, hamlets and clumps of forest. We looked inside numerous ancient churches, taking photographs of their interiors.
When we arrived back at the caravan around 6 pm. the sun was still pleasantly warm, so we sat outside for a while, topping up the tan.

Thursday 18 April
We are moving north today into Burgundy, a journey of 180 miles to our campsite near the village of Vincelles, which is located to the south of Auxere.
The campsite, Les Ceriselles is excellent, the best this trip, with large grassy pitches, excellent facilities, free wifi, fresh bread everyday, helpful friendly staff, and very reasonable at 12 euros per night.

Friday 19 April
After lunch we set off to walk along the Canal du Nivernais, which runs right by the campsite.
After walking about 1.5 miles Maureen decided that a left turn into the woods looked more interesting. There were numerous pools and lakes on each side of the track, in fact the whole area was underwater. The water in the pools was a beautiful luminous green, probably due to minerals leaching from the underlying rock, which was limestone.
Using Maureen's theory that if we kept turning left we would end up back at the campsite, we headed into the unknown! We came upon many signs with the dreaded words "Access Interdite", in other words "KEEP OUT" until we reached a dead end. We found a gap in a fence where we could get back to the tow path after negotiating some life threatening brambles and jumping over a water filled ditch, which looked like it may be full of man eating leeches. 
As we walked along the towpath, relieved to have escaped from swamp-land, a cruiser sailed past with numerous adults and children on board. They looked very white, and the young man steering the boat had an Adidas tracksuit on, obviously English! They moored up a bit further along, so I wandered over and in my best Lancashire accent asked "Arya ere fert neet then?" The sailors who were all French looked totally bemused. We had a good chat to them, which went really well considering their non-existent English and our very limited French.
Back at the caravan a G and T was called for, but seeing as we had no gin, we had tonic with ice and used our imaginations!

Sunday 21 April
After a cold misty morning and lunch at the caravan, the weather gradually improved and we set off to explore the country lanes through the cherry orchards and vineyards. The blossoms on the cherry trees were well out, but no new leaves on the vines.
We discovered some beautiful roads and interesting villages, and we began to think about coming here again in the autumn, when the colours should be superb. After frequent stops to explore and take photographs we headed back to base for a late tea. We are beginning our 300 miles journey towards Callais tomorrow.
Cherry blossom and dandelions
 Pasque flower by the roadside

Monday 22 April
Today we set off on the journey home, 200 miles today to St Quentin, and 100 miles tomorrow to Calais. Wednesday at 8:20 am we are travelling back through the tunnel and then home.
Much of the journey north was through interesting countryside on fast D roads with little traffic. It was only as we approached Calais that we experienced a significant amount of traffic. Of course that paled into insignificance when compared with the traffic on the M25, M1, and M6.
Wednesday 24 April
Arrived on UK soil at 7:55 local time, fantastic journey home, arriving at 5:30 pm.

Reflections of our holiday.
In spite of a few incidents, this has been a great holiday, with many interesting adventures. We have visited lots of places off the tourist route, and have met many interesting and friendly people of different nationalities. We have experienced all kinds of weather apart from snow, which has led us to appreciate even more the many warm sunny days. The scenery has been very varied and beautiful and we now have lots of ideas for future adventures.
In the main we have found the locals to be friendly and helpful, and drivers patient and courteous when confronted by Brits wandering around towing a caravan. We now have a couple of weeks or so to sort the caravan out and prepare for our next adventure, which begins 14 May.

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