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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…