Monthly Archives: Apr 2018

France – Orléans & the road south

We rolled away from the pleasant beach boulevard in Seaford to catch our uneventful four-hour ferry to Dieppe.  We doodled only a short way south before deciding we deserved a lazy afternoon and evening, so we pulled into a tidy, and surprisingly somewhat busy, free aire at Clères.  It was a nice aire, set between rows of hedges with each large division each accommodating two motorhomes.  We had a short walk around the adjacent local football fields whilst some young players trained reluctantly, and we had a play on their climbing frames and slides as we went.

Cleres - view of aire

We drove a few more hours south, initially on roads familiar from our recent trip north, with our next stop being Orléans for a short city break.  We arrived just before lunch and found an easy park just a few kilometres out of the city centre and followed the river in on foot.  It was a cracking day, hot and clear, and produced our first outing of the year in shorts; it was a wonderfully comfortable and budding spring-like day in all ways. The contrast to the past chilly weeks in the north of England was stark and clear, and we thought on how well we had successfully dodged the worst of the winter weather as we enjoyed our makeshift picnic overlooking the river Loire in the gloriously hot sunshine.  It was the first proper sun we’ve experienced in a long while, and felt like we were finally warming up, mentally and physically.

Orleans - (riverside walk)

Orleans - (main street)

As the birthplace of Jean of Arc, we expected to have this historical fact hailed from the rooftops and be drowning in constant references to her life and exploits.  Yes, her childhood home is now a museum, the main street is named for her and a large statue of Joan on horseback sits proudly in the main square.  But there was little other mention, not even visible in the ubiquitous postcards or souvenirs, where the gothic cathedral seemed to be the dominant local feature. The city, built with clean white limestone, had the feel of quiet elegance, restrained and classy, and it maintained an ambience of understated opulence, confidence and openness.  It would be a difficult place not to like, especially lit up in the gloriously bright sunshine we were experiencing, and we were happy to oblige the mood.

Orleans - (Jean of Arc's house)

Orleans - (Square and statue)

We passed by the childhood home of Jean D’Arc and easily found the main square where her statue dominated.  Golden-coloured trams glided almost silently along wide avenues, with a casual ease that typified our first impressions of the city.  A festival celebrating street activities, from street dance to music to BMX tricks to spray-painting, was in full swing in the main square.  Groups of young girls danced while skateboarders rolled by and BMXers jumped and flipped, with music blasting all round.  We continued through the narrower, much quieter, medieval streets to find another festival focus, this one on junior rugby skills, set up outside the cathedral.  Players from a local club ran drills with the participating kids, with a Top 14 match projected on a huge screen behind.

Orleans - (festival in square)

After a lazy loop round the centre and the obligatory look inside the cathedral to cool off, we returned back to the riverside to slowly walk back to Benny.  We stopped for a while to watch a couple of kayakers on the river, or pedantically-speaking one kayaker and one canoeist, twisting and playing in the bubbling rapids formed by the stone arches of the King George V bridge breaking up the fast flow of the Loire.  As we reached Benny the blue skies darkened overhead and the now grey weather threatened a deluge, but we made it safely back before the inevitable happened.  After a short while we headed off to a nearby aire, to park up early and enjoy a little bit of the afternoon.  The sun soon returned with a welcoming smile and was back on full brightness as we reached our overnight stop.

Orleans - (kayakers in Loire)

We overnighted about a half-hour on from Orléans, at the small town of La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, on a patch of land outside a currently closed campsite that doubles as a free aire, available until 1st May.  The weather had cleared again so we went for a short run along a trickling river bank, studiously avoiding rogue brambles and nettles, on sodden ground that occasionally squirted liquid mud up our legs.  On our return we passed by the aire and beyond to have a closer look at a large château set behind a moat on the other side of the main road through the village.  We had a brief look around the impressive exterior but didn’t visit inside as it was closing.  We returned to the aire and explored a little of the external artwork, a joint venture between French and Australian artists, scattered around the woodland; it reminded us of art installations we visited in Skovsnogen in Denmark but this was, if it is even possible, worse.

Orelans - main street trams

The following morning we doodled off again early, heading south this time with intent, as we had a number of house viewings lined up.  After a few more hours of driving and we arrived back in the Limousin region, readied for a few days, or weeks, of serious house-hunting in our chosen area.  We were viewing five very different houses in varied settings over the next three days, to get a feel for what we’d like.  Unfortunately one house that we were very keen on (on paper) was, we were informed only a few days before our scheduled viewing, seen by another couple who made their excited offer the same day, was subsequently accepted and the house immediately taken off the market.  This was a reminder to us that if you see the house that feels right for you, snap it up.  We were geared up and ready to pounce.  Watch this space…

A&N x


UK – Last days & prep for return to France

We’d been busy in our first days back in the UK.  After a few more days of relaxing, eating too much, drinking far too much and rarely exercising, we waddled off southwards.  We had a flying visit with Nicky’s dad, enjoying a nice catch-up with him and happily helping out with several jobs around his house and garden. Then on to park Benny at Stansted, in a huge, entirely empty parking lot, before catching a flight to Dublin, Ireland.  We had more family and friends to visit on the other side of the pond.

Stansted - empty parking

We were met by Mary at Dublin airport and driven north to their home in Co. Meath to catch up with Andy and their two girls, all bounce and noise and smiles.  A late night and a few drinks then followed, us all trying hard to capture our highlights of the past year in easily-digested sound bites. Saturday morning took us all out for a steady run around some very pretty woodland near the town of Virginia (no, not that one) before finishing with a short walk with the girls to locate all the pretty fairy doors built into trees around the park.  On Sunday we had a lazy morning playing around the house then, with the weather clearing up and looking brighter, we enjoyed a cycle trip around a nearby lake, followed by a park walk and an ice-cream with their extended family. It was a wonderful, relaxing few days catching up, something we only manage to do once a year or so now that our lives are taking different paths.

Meath - lakeside cycle

But Monday morning brought with it the requirement for our friends to return to work.  With a very early start and bleary eyes, we drove with Andy to a local station then caught a train into Dublin Connolly, before saying our goodbyes and us catching the Enterprise up to the north, where we were smoothly met by my sister around 10am.  From there we had a quick pit-stop at hers before driving on northwards, back into the Republic, to visit Buncrana. From there we drove to Malin Point to be the most northerly people on the island of Ireland, at least for a brief moment, walking along the cliff path and enjoying the views out over the wild, foaming ocean.  A raucous family dinner out completed our visit then a long drive back to my sister’s home for a well-deserved long night’s sleep.

Malin Point - Panorama

The next morning we awoke to visit my mum, and headed out for a lovely lunch at the local golf club.  Later we played family games; chess, Monopoly, Texas Hold’em, talking nonsense and having lots of fun.  Our few days in where I still refer to as home, passed quickly, as always, and soon we had to again say goodbyes.  Hopefully we can all meet up soon in our new place in France, should we ever find this illusive home we have been searching for.  We returned from Belfast international to a patiently-waiting Benny at Stansted and drove north, back to the wilds of Lincolnshire for our final days of packing and organising.  In one dry-weather window we managed to fit in a windy beach walk on Mablethorpe strand and afterwards a muddy and wet 10km run home cross-country, passing by all manner of water management installations and huge, stalking wind turbines, spinning furiously in stormy skies.

Lisburn - games night

So, packed up and ready to go, we said sad goodbyes to our host Mummy Finch and headed south.  We still had a few friends to see.  First we called in to see Jannette & Paddy in Market Harborough for dinner and drinks, then we briefly called with Cathy in Northampton for tea, cake and a catch-up chat, before reaching Louise & Nigel in St. Albans where we enjoyed lamb curry, prosecco and whisky.  The night was a tamer, more civilised affair than many other nights spent in their gregarious company but it was mid-week school night for them, so excuses were readily available. Our love to all, great to have seen you and thanks for fitting us in. We had then hoped to visit Brighton, but it all seemed to be quite anti-motorhome, so we skipped on and parked on the expansive seafront in Seaford, a much more welcoming place for larger vehicles and also much closer to our next morning’s goal – the ferry terminal in Newhaven.

Walking the seafront, we passed through the ruins of Tile Mills, the foundations of an almost entirely lost mill complex that has slowly been eroded either by the encroaching sea or the changing flows of tides.  We continued our meandering beach walk to a fishing pier right by Newhaven harbour and later we enjoyed proper chip-shop fish & chips as we watched the sun set over the still sea and pebble beach.  Our last meal in good ol’ Blighty was a tasty one, and we felt contented with our jobs and whistle-stop tour of the UK, feeling we saw and fitted in as much as we realistically could.  We quietly overnighted in a curved area of the seafront that was set back a little from the main road; the signs suggested we could stay for 12 hours, and we overstayed this a little, but were gone before 9am to catch our ferry to Dieppe; the opening gambit in our next exploratory chapter back in the heartland of France.

A&N x