Tag Archives: history

Spain – Torroella de Montri, Sa Riera, Begur & Pals

We rolled away from Banyoles, heading east towards the coast. We stopped at Torroella de Montgri to have a short walk around the town, having read comments praising its centre.  It was pleasant enough, with a few nice squares and a stone-built cathedral, but we found it no more special than many other Spanish towns. We continued to the coast, following a convoluted way around the narrow roads into the coastal town of Sa Riera.

Our sat nav kept demanding we turn down roads that didn’t exist, or were clearly private driveways, so we improvised (read: guessed) at several turns.  At least our route offered a wonderful look over the bay and a glimpse of the fabulously located homes that line the rugged steep cliffs, but it made for some tentative and nervous driving.  We finally arrived at a car-park ( 41.971170n, 3.208628e ) near the Platja de Sa Riera, listed as an aire for the price of €3 per day.  Whilst we were there, still out of season, no one appeared to collect any payment, and we saw only one other car parked there, so it was clearly not worth their time this early in the season.

Sa Riera - (coastal walk)

We walked to the beach and a short way around a stone built coastal path, taking in the rugged orange rocks of the cliff face and the wild churning sea below.  Two young girls played alone on the sand, building castles, and one older man lay dosing in a separate bay.  The air was warm, but the sky was back to a dull grey, thick with cloud, with occasional gusts of chilling wind.  We had hoped for sunnier days and calmer seas, and the desire to swim here was not within us.  We collected a few choice bits of smoothed white driftwood with the intention of fashioning something useful from them once home, and then returned to Benny to relax for the remainder of the afternoon.  The wind died down later and we utilised the expanse of the empty car-park for a tiring, competitive game of frisbee.

The morning brought more cloud cover, so our hopes of a relaxing sunny beach holiday were in danger.  Without the weather, sitting around was not ideal, so we accelerated our plans and decided to move on to explore nearby villages instead.  Only a few miles south, Begur centre had a large sandy car-park that had been wildly pitted and cratered from heavy rain or flooding.  We appeared to be the only vehicle brave (or stupid) enough to use it, but it was ideally placed for visiting the town.  We watched several cars desperately circling other obviously full but tarmacked car-parks looking for spaces rather than join us.  From here we walked through the  beautifully kept streets of the town  to reach a castellated wall that was once a castle and enjoy panoramic views over the rolling hills and out to sea.  We could see the beach at Sa Riera clearly from here.

Begur - coastline view

It was market day in Begur, so there were lots of visitors, giving the town the feel of a thriving, vibrant community.  We enjoyed our bracing morning walk, before descending back down the hill and moving on to the next village.   We arrived next in Pals.  Not knowing where best to park we picked out a parking area noted on Google maps which turned out to be the local cemetery, but proved ideal for us, and was very convenient to the centre.  A short, steep walk and we arrived in the heart of the beautiful village.

It was almost too perfect, too neat.  After a few minutes of wandering, it began to feel artificial, like a film set created only for visitors to photograph and fawn over.  We popped in and out of lovely cool shops, immaculately finished and with neat shelves stocked with decorative, well- presented goods.  All staff members spoke at least three languages, ready to accommodate anyone wishing to purchase goods.  So much tourist money, and guided tourist groups, flowed through the streets.  We were equally impressed and appalled.   The main focus was on art galleries and pottery, local traditional skills.  We  joined the hordes and treated ourselves to a fiery red serving bowl, a splash of colour for our kitchen.

Pals -church

As on the church bell tower in Pals, there are yellow ribbons tied, spray-painted, chalked or inscribed everywhere around the Costa Brava. We initially thought they might be connected to Easter, but soon learned they are a (rather contentious) symbol in support of Catalan independence.  The leaders of the recent independence movement, now jailed and awaiting trial, have become a focus of activists who see them as political prisoners and self-determination as a right, not a crime.  Other pro-Spanish union groups have been removing public ribbons and this has led to heated exchanges.  The villages we visited around the Costa Brava coast all appeared to be in support of the independence movement, but it’s a complicated issue that has divided families.  Many runners in our 10km race back in Olot were wearing shirts with slogans in support of the jailed politicians.

A&N x

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France – Mums, Markets & Mulled Wine – Early Christmas fun with our mums

Leaving the elegant, damp streets of a rainy-day Pau, we drove further into France, homeward bound.  We overnighted in Villeneuve de Marsan at a free aire that offered two free electricity points but there were three other vans already plugged in and we had no splitter, so had to go without.  We walked into the centre of town, it looking scruffy and unloved, but was in the midst of new works to the streets.  It might be very nice when it’s finished.

The next day we cut diagonally to the north east, through beautiful rolling countryside, to return to Pugols, near to Villeneuve-sur-Lot.  This was an area we had grown to know well, having enjoyed a six-week house-sit there at the start of the year.  With fond memories we revisited the local swimming pool and spa for a relaxing morning treat.

That afternoon we called in to visit friends Dave & Kate, near Bergerac, with whom we had previously spent a week completing a rewarding WorkAway.  We had a lovely dinner and catch-up, picking their brains on quirks of life in France and pocketing great tips for the upcoming restoration works we are planning around our French home.

Pageas Christmas - (nicky and mums)

From then we arrived home and settled again into the pattern of decorating and pottering around our house.  The weather was entirely different now, wet and cold, so our focus was back on internal spaces.  Over the course of a few weeks we decorated our living room, kitchen and the second spare bedroom in preparation of two guests of honour arriving – both our mums were visiting for an early Christmas.  We arrived at the airport to collect them where we were greeted with a loud, improvised chorus of “We are the Mother-in-Laws”, repeatedly sung to an obviously practised tune, to the bemusement of local crowds.  We feared that Christmas spirits had already been liberally imbibed and this now how our next days would go.  We got back home quickly so we could begin to catch up.

Pageas Christmas - (Limoges river)

It was almost dark on our arrival home, so after a quick tour and room allocation we closed the shutters, turned on suitable music and settled in for an evening of drinks, food and chat.  The weather was grey and wet, but we sat cosy inside by the fire, catching up.  We had prepared quite a few different dishes, from wheaten bread with smoked salmon, French onion and potato & leek soups, pesto & lentil lasagne, chocolate cookies and lemon sponge.  All these and more were to be tasted over the course of the evening and the next few days.  In the morning we enjoyed a short visit to Châlus to wander around their festive market, along with a visit to the supermarket to stock up on essentials and treats; this short stay was all to be about indulgence, with some token light exercise to justify it all.

Pageas Christmas - (cathedral grounds)

Pageas Christmas - (cathedral plaza)

One morning we headed into the centre of Limoges, the first time we had returned to the historic city centre since our initial visit over a year ago now.  We walked along the riverbank and the mass of grey clouds parted for a few moments to display a wonderful blue sky, lighting up the vista and even warming our faces.  This morning break in the rain allowed us the opportunity to explore the historic quarter, climbing up through the old city walls to the formal gardens and the cathedral.  We later wandered through the under-attended Christmas markets, although it was a mid-week morning so most locals were still at work.  The rain returned briefly for one short burst, but we mostly stayed dry as we explored the shopping quarter, ice rink and all other quirky pockets of Christmas stalls.

Pageas Christmas - (nicky and tree)

Pageas Christmas - (woodland trail)

Pageas Christmas - (woodland walks)

We took the mums for a short walk around the local woodland trails that we know well from our run training.  The autumn colours still dominated the paths and everything looked rich and beautiful, despite the monotone greyness and constant threat of further rain.  We then warmed up again with a bout of present opening, replete with giggles and silliness and new Christmas hats all round.  We enjoyed a good approximation of a traditional Christmas dinner, with turkey, ham and all the yummy trimmings except for Brussels sprouts as they had been surprisingly elusive in France to date.  Stuffed and squiffy, we retired to the lounge to watch ‘A Good Year’, for a small taste of French life, as we polished off more food and drinks.  This was like the ideal Christmas days we remembered –  lazy and boozy.

Pageas Christmas - (pre-dinner drinks)

Pageas Christmas - (mum cheers)

On our final morning we attended a small local Christmas market in the nearby village of Les Cars, filled with stalls of hand-made crafts and local food and drinks.  It was nice to be a small part of a local event, but it seemed under-attended and rather empty, which was a shame for those who had worked hard on their wares.  A few trinkets were bought more from politeness than want, and then we retreated back home, out of the rain, to allow the mums to finalise their packing.  We dropped them off and said our goodbyes, knowing our house was going to be quieter, emptier and less joyful in the coming days.

But at least we have a new distraction to regather our attention – an upcoming trip to Paris to squeeze in before Christmas – the city of lights awaits.

A&N x

 

Spain – Vitoria Gastiez & Nanclares de la Oca

From Gorbeiako Parke Naturala we headed south, starting off with a narrow miss on the tight entrance road, from a crazy impatient driver who was desperate to squeeze past us without waiting for us to manoeuvre and make space.  The side of his car was lined with deep scrapes, signs of a previous mishap, as is our wing mirror now after his latest idiocy.

Not to be outdone, I later had my own driving faux pas – I brainlessly followed our SatNav the wrong way back out of a car-park to a roundabout on a two-lane but, as it turned out, one-way road when leaving a Decathlon store – it only by chance that nothing was coming.

Vitoria Gastiez (cathedral santa maria)

All drama over, we made it to an impressively busy aire in the north of Vitoria-Gasteiz, where we joined a long run of motorhomes at the back end of a huge car-park.  From here we undertook a longish walk into the old town, a little wearily, feeling yesterday’s mountainous 20km in our legs.

We passed thousands of apartments in tall, sprawling blocks, with scruffy communal spaces but no private gardens other than what could be imaginatively squeezed onto the small balcony spaces.  There was lots of commerce, small stores in long rows, no known brands, all looking locally owned and well used.  There were also lots of small bars, accompanied by the constant and distinctive smell of piss.

We arrived at the north of the old town centre where we were able to ride a long conveyor belt up the hill to the imposing 14th century Cathedral de Santa Maria.  There were multiple escalators on other steeper streets too, a modern means of ensuring an ageing congregation can always make it to church.

Vitoria Gastiez (san vincente church)

We followed our noses through lanes and squares large and small, flanked by tall townhouses with enclosed balconies of painted timber, looking more Venetian than Spanish. After some exploring we entered the grand Plaza de España, where we found the tourist office and swiped ourselves a handy town map.

We next stumbled upon the Plaza de los Fueros, a stepped amphitheatre with peripheral spaces created out of tall walls, all corners, niches and dead ends. On paper it may have represented something profound, intellectual, but in reality it was a horrible piece of urban design, deeply flawed, with dark, enclosed spaces designed only for violence or for use as a makeshift toilet.  We were in awe at any council that allowed it to be built.

George Mélès movies and their history were being displayed in a travelling show trailer in the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca.  As it was our favourite price, we had a good look around inside, imagining more simple times when his oftentimes bizarre films would have been seen as wild, shocking, incredible, sometimes scary and always technically brilliant.

Vitoria Gastiez (plaza de la virgen blanca)

Vitoria Gastiez (george meles posters)

Vitoria Gastiez (palacio de la provincia)

We passed several other large churches including the Neo-Gothic cathedral de María Immaculada, then sat a while in the sunny, leafy square in front of the Neo-Classical Palacio de la Provincia. The oval-shaped historic centre was delightful in the sunshine, much more appealing than the surrounding estates.  We returned through a leafy park and alongside a large cemetery.  It was slightly longer, but a much nicer route.

We decided not to stay overnight here, so we abandoned our original plan and moved to another nearby aire at Nanclares de la Oca.  The motorhome bays there were separate from the adjacent car-park and we were the only van in town, so we had our pick.  We had a short walk into town to look around, and buy onions.  We passed an interesting sculpture, a negative of traditional dress without the person within.  We then saw a huge heron nest on the pretty stone church roof as we wandered the side streets, before retiring for the day.  Later, after dark, we could hear the distinct roar of planes overhead, mixing with sporadic traffic noise, but despite the mechanical interference, we slept soundly.

A&N x

Spain – Guernica & Gorbeiako Parke Naturala

We slept well after our night run in Bilbao and lazily packed up to head the 35 minutes east to visit the rebuilt town of Guernica, or Gernika in the local language.   The morning was light with clear skies, making bright a town with a tormented history.  Not many historic buildings remain due to extent of bombing raids during the Spanish Civil War.

Guernika - Nicky on bridge

Guernika (Henry Moore Sculpture)

Guernika (Central cathedral)

We reached the Parque de los pueblos de Europa, where we walked on leafy paths by a trickling stream, ending in a grassy meadow where several sculptures sat. Henry Moore and local Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida had both created works to pay homage to the trials of the people of Guernica.  The Moore sculpture was an abstract figure wrapped in shell-like shapes, representing the deep instinct of individuals to seek comfort, refuge, protection, refuge, the primordial urge to feel safe.  It seemed poignantly appropriate.  We passed the cathedral and market square, mostly untouched in the bombings, and walked through the currently empty market square, gently exploring at a slow pace.

Guernika (main square)

We visited the Assembly House of Gernika, the historical seat of Basque power since the Middle Ages.  The highest governing body in the region, the Assembly House is seen as a living symbol of the history of the Basque people.  Its oval Assembly meeting room, plush with red cushioned benches and portraits of previous leaders, is where Plenary meetings of the current General Assembly occur.  Outside, the Tree of Gernika, a symbolic oak tree, is planted within a small formal garden in front of a neo-classical portico.  The ceiling of a large function room tells the history of the oak tree and how it is intrinsically connected to the Basque people, as a place of meeting and discussion.

The old trunk, planted around 1700 CE, is the oldest surviving remains of previous tree incarnations.  It was replaced by a successor in 1860, and that tree lived through two World Wars and a Civil War, surviving until 2015.   The trunk of the old tree, the one planted in 1860 and survivor of the bombing raids, is now stood proud within a circular stone portico in the grounds.  A new tree replacing this historic one was planted in 2015, at 15 years old, as a symbolic continuation of the Basque spirit, renewed by each new generation, but never changing nor faltering.

Guernika (Stained Glass ceiling)

We had thought to overnight in Gurnika and see the celebrated Monday morning market, but it was still early and we didn’t feel the love for the car-park aire, so we headed off south.  We stopped briefly in Artea for a bite of lunch, where we were bravely approached by two 8yo Spanish girls curious about us, and after our first greetings in Spanish we had them practising simple English (Where are you from?  What is your name?) with us.  Less than a mile later we stopped again in Areatza, walking along the river through a pretty square to visit a tourist office that was unhelpfully closed until 4pm. So again, back in Benny and through steep-sided rolling countryside bright with rusty autumn colourings, similar to Limousin where we now live, except with fields here were full of sheep rather than cows.  We reached Gorbeiako Parke Naturala on tiny, single track roads, expecting the visitor centre parking to be empty.  Instead, it was mostly full, with dog and hillwalkers, campers, motorhomers and picnickers all around the ample parking area.  After some deliberation we choose a spot and parked up, then visited the Interpretation Centre for a look at their exhibits.

Gorbeiako Parke Naturala (a brief moment of sunshine)

Gorbeiako Parke Naturala (valley view)

Late at night we could hear jangling bells, and although we could see nothing in the darkness we assumed a large wind chime must be hung in the trees nearby.  We could see no sign of anything in the morning light and it was much later that we decided it may have been a flock of rogue sheep sneaking around, as the flocks on the hills all made similar sounds.  Today we planned to climb to Gorbeia, the natural park’s highest point at 1482m.  We were parked at around 640m, so we only had an ascent of around 850m to contend with.

The route was a rather dull path, a driveable, gravel road for most of the way,  and low cloud prevented us seeing much of a view.  We grasped occasional glimpses of the tree-lined valleys to each side during short breaks in the cloud cover, but only for a few seconds at a time.  We passed a few hardy long-haired horses and a lot of grazing sheep, many wearing the tinkling bells we had heard throughout the night. Combined with the browning bracken, pine trees, prickly gorse bushes with small yellow-flowers and tiny, budding purple crocuses, this could have been any mountain slope in Scotland or Ireland.

Gorbeiako Parke Naturala (summit trig point)

Nearing the top, the cloud got thicker, visibility dropped to tens of metres and an icy wind blasted us from the west.  We added our windproof coats, hats and with hoods up we were still shivering under the wind’s viscous assault.  Exposed and feeling battered, we spent short seconds at the summit, pausing only for a hurried photo with the decorative trig point set below a metal tower structure, then began a hasty descent. Within minutes we escaped the bank of dense cloud and regained solace from the harsh wind, allowing us to begin warming up again.  We jogged short stretches to ease wear on our knees and to aid the warming process.  This descent, by the same route, was memorable only for us finally seeing our first other walkers of the day, near the bottom of the trail – three men with walking poles and wicker baskets, and we thought them likely to be mushroom hunters.

Gorbeiako Parke Naturala (aaron in trees)

Gorbeiako Parke Naturala (the forest)

The centre had told us the walk would be 3.5 hours to the top, and similar to return, but because we didn’t linger, we were up and back in well under four hours.  We enjoyed a well-earned lazy afternoon in Benny, snug away from the wind. A later short pre-dinner walk led us to discover a nearby area of beautifully expressive and wild beech trees, long-fingered, knotted and gnarly, photos of which had initially brought us to this park.  We had nearly missed them, yet they stood in all their wonderful, twisted majesty, set in a thick blanket of crispy copper leaves, only metres behind where we had parked.

A&N x

France – Lake Annecy swims and cycles

After leaving the quiet beauty of Serrières we drove over and down the mountain to reach the neat, bustling town of Annecy.  The only central carpark suitable for motorhomes that we knew of was full to bursting and the busy traffic dissuaded us from attempting to stop elsewhere.  We were staying close by and could return easily by bike, a much more convenient way to see the main town.  We had booked ourselves in for four nights at a campsite, Les Rives du Lac on the western lake shore, one with a private beach, taking full advantage of their last days of cheap ACSI rates before peak season began.  We serviced and signed in and were given a prime spot, with shade, only a few spaces from the beach that we soon snuggled into and called home.  Then we were off to survey our domain.

Annecy - (first view of lake)

Annecy - (our private beach)

Annecy - (local wildlife)

We scanned the site and were quietly amazed with the mountainous backdrop behind the shimmering blue lake, and smiled smugly that this was our home for a few days.  After an enjoyable celebratory night chilling, we got up early the next day for the short cycle into Annecy town, as it was their market day.  It was an easy cycle on a well-utilised cycle path, with many joggers, bikers, walkers, rollerblading maniacs and even the odd summer cross-country skier rolling along its smooth tarmac.  We passed a long line of almost static traffic heading into the centre and were glad to be able to roll past it easily under our own steam.  After spinning around the lake frontage and through several busy and beautiful parks, we locked our bikes up next to a quiet portion of canal and walked to the historic centre.

Annecy - (cycle to town)

Annecy - (town canals)

Annecy - (walking the old town)

There was a sudden explosion of noise and colour as we reached the covered markets, along with a huge increase in English being spoken, although mostly with American accents.  We followed the stalls along winding streets, dodging the crowds and taking in the wares.  The centre was as curving, winding and steep as any medieval centre we had walked before, interesting and fresh.  The managed rivers had piercing blue water that defined each scene, lifting each vista to a different level.  We walked up a steep, narrow pathway to reach the Château d’Annecy in the heart of the old town, before dropping back down into the heart of the market stalls. We later passed a complicated fish sculpture exhibit being slowly built over the water near le Palais de L’Île, its very construction drawing in a crowd.

Annecy - (fish sculpture)

Annecy - (market day bridges)

We returned to our bikes and cycled slowly, always aware of the milling crowds around us and giving ourselves time to observe the local sunning rituals. Every small patch of grass in the burning sun was filled with supine, unclothed bronzing bodies soaking up the intense heat.  We passed the casino on the north shore and reached a packed public beach where we joined the party, found a space and began our personal sun worshipping.  We had a few refreshing dips in the shallow lake, so necessary to cool our burning skin. We ate snacks listening to the conversation buzz of locals at lunch.  On our return we were passed on the cycle path by a few road bikers in time-trialling mode, and considered attempting a chase, but thought better of it on our rickety old mountain bikes.  We’ll get ‘em next time.

Annecy - (canals and bridges)
Annecy - (boathouse on route home)

Arriving back at base, we rewarded ourselves with more dips to cool off, reading and relaxing on the beach in proper holiday mode.  The beach led straight into a lake of soft sand.  Its texture was like groping mud, offering a weird gripping sensation on our skin as it enveloped our sinking feet. We could swim 300 or 400m out from the pontoon and still stand up, the whole beach basin was like a wave pool of constant depth of 1.5m, with a soft, sandy bottom.  We later sat in the shade, drinking chilled wine and picking at bruschetta as small birds hopped around on our pitch, searching for discarded crumbs, showing no fear.  It sparked memories of afternoon tea at Grantchester Meadows near Cambridge where greedy birds once ate cake crumbs right from our hands one glorious summer afternoon.

Annecy - (lakeside cycle)

Annecy - (town beach spot)

Annecy - (lake from beach)

Another day we got up earlier than is usual for us, ate a small, quick breakfast and set off down to the pontoon.  We had planned a longer swim in the still morning waters before the wind picked up and lifted the surface waves to a sea-like chop.  We set off for a distant beach we could see across the curving bay, having no idea how far it was away.  We were coolly passed by three ladies on SUPs as we swam, along with happily floating coots and grebes, all with cute young.  Sun-worshippers lay supine on their anchored small leisure boats, incuriously watching us go by.  The beach turned out to be almost a mile from our pontoon, or 1580m as measured on my watch, it attached to the handle on Nicky’s visibility tow float rather than my wrist for a more accurate read.  We exited the water to rest a little.

Annecy - (view from our beach)

Annecy - (n lake swimming)

Annecy - (sunsets at beach)

We paused here for a few minutes, watching a small, vocal group undertake lifeguard training.  A Dutch couple sat near us on the beach with their fun-loving black collie, throwing a ball into the lake. Two floppy ears approached us out of the water and with a very friendly manner proceeded to shake themselves dry all over us, to much hilarity.  We took this as a sign to get ourselves back in the water and dropped in from an old concrete digue to begin our swim back.  The waves had picked up in the time we had sat, so rather than stopping for casual sight-seeing as we did on the way out, we swam straight and true, back to base.  We climbed back out onto our pontoon with a little over 3km swam, in beautifully clear 24deg water, feeling buzzed and happy.  And it was time for second breakfast.

Annecy - (Chateau at Duingt)

Annecy - (boats and sunset)

Another day we decided to try the voie verte in the opposite direction to Annecy, to reach the village of Duignt.  A pleasant ambling along the traffic-free cycleway brought us to the shadow of an impressive château, set on a narrow peninsula, although it was privately owned and inaccessible.  Deciding we had better places to swim, and to not linger due to the busy through-road, we instead detoured through the lovely village centre, replete with colourful hanging baskets.  We meandered through their ancient streets then returned to our campsite, to enjoy chilling for the remainder of the day.  We spent time planning out longer swims to various spots we could see around the lake, but ones we may never find the dedication to undertake.  It was all too easy to slide into doing as little as possible.

Talloires (view of lake)

On our last night, we packed up slowly over the day, then sun-bathed and swam for much of the afternoon.  This wasn’t like us at all, but the sun was too repressive to attempt much more.  Later after dinner we returned and sat at the water to watch the slow red glow light up the faces of the mountain rock opposite.  The next morning we slipped out and got back on the road, but we were not finished with the lake just yet. After discounting stopping at a golf course, we parked on the side of the road and walked back to a set of stone steps leading up through a tall retaining wall to reach a path into the Réserve Naturelle du Roc de Chère.  We followed shady woodland tracks through the park, searching for a way to drop down to the coast of the lake.  We eventually found a route that would serve us.

Talloires (swim spot)

Talloires (nicky on boat pier)

Talloires (marina and mountains)

We followed a steep downhill path with metal bars drilled into the cliff face to assist descent, finding a glorious swim spot. White rocks and clear blue water combined to create a special corner of coastline, perfect for a cooling dip after a hot, hilly walk. Bikinied girls sitting chatting on SUPs glided past, and a bearded guy on a small sail dingy nodded a hello.  After drying off, the path led into Talloires town centre.  This was the posh end of Annecy, with a scattering of high-priced hotels and neat restaurants.  We heard American accents pass us by, them seeing Annecy through a different, more monied lens.  There was a gyrating patchwork of colourful paragliders circling the nearby peaks above us, and new wooden pontoons with sunning bodies lying all over them.  A scene of casual perfection.

A&N x

 

France – Brantôme, and a flying visit home

We had, mostly, readied ourselves and the house we were tasked with looking after for our imminent departure.  Our host Eric telephoned to say he would be home a day earlier than originally expected, so we cut short our final hours of sun-worshipping to complete the last tidy-up tasks, made a cup of tea and awaited his return.  We spent the evening catching up and chatting with Eric, then on to bed.  The rain returned the next morning as we removed the final traces of our presence, we said our goodbyes and, for the first time in six weeks, we were back on the road.

Brantome - (river view)

Brantome - (bridge and weir)

We didn’t venture  too far.  We had been harbouring plans to visit the town of Brantôme for months, and the time had now arrived.  We scorned a few free aires nearby for a centrally located ACSI campsite, as a gradual stepping-stone transition from a large, comfortable house to life back in a 6m box.  Set on the banks of the river Dronne, Campsite Brantôme Peyrelevade was a very tidy, peaceful haven, complete with a lovely swimming pool and set an easy five minutes away from the heart of the historic centre.  The heavy rain had followed us here, but soon lessened to a trickle and we decided, after an obligatory cup of tea, that it was time to go explore.  By the time we left the grounds of the campsite the sky was clearing, the rain had stopped and there was a threat that the sun might break through.

Brantome - (abbey from bridge)

Brantome - (abbey gardens)

A gravel track led us easily to a large canoe centre where we could cross a small tributary of the river to enter the central streets.  Brantôme central is a circular island, surrounded by a natural moat formed by a split in the flow of the river Dronne.  Five bridges, like extended spokes on a wheel, connect the island to the surrounding mainland.  Its foremost attraction, although not itself positioned on the island, is the 8th century Benedictine Abbey, founded by Charlemagne.  The original cloister and church were joined by an 11th century Romanesque bell tower and further monastic accommodations.  But life was lived out here long before the abbey was built; there were residents in the extensive cliff caves behind, and many relics from these original troglodytes are now displayed within the church.

Brantome - (nicky at abbey)

Brantome - (abbey from bridge)

Patches of blue sky appeared overhead as we wandered through the historic streets.  We had fully expected our walk to come complete with dreary grey views and a proper drenching, but with the ever-brightening day came a similar rise in our mood and expectation, and everything felt like a welcome bonus.  We walked slowly through parks and gardens, relaxed and happy.  The city streets were busy with tourists, the restaurants spilling out into small squares.   We heard lots of English voices, more than we’d experienced in France before, but it is certainly the season for it; the summer madness was ready to explode into action.  We watched people kayaking around the river, made complicated by weirs blocking routes, and passed a wonderful rusty curved cello sculpture set up on a bridge.

Brantome - (river view of abbey)

Brantome - (nicky plays cello)

We returned to the campsite by the same path, happy to have enjoyed a break in the weather for our town visit.  Huge swathes of grey clouds began gathering again on the horizon and we expected the rain to return soon.  Before that happened, we decided to have a quick dip in the pool.  We swam a bunch of lengths in the too-hot water, showered and dressed, making it back into Benny with only seconds to spare before the deluge returned.  The rest of the night was spent with the sound of rain for company, along with never-ending tea and multiple back-to-back episodes of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.  The morning was, thankfully, dry.  We had a quick exploratory walk around the campsite and its riverbanks before heading off north; we had organised a quick visit to (almost) our new house.

Flavignac (local lake)

Flavignac (playing at lake)

We parked at the nearby village of Gorre, in a huge empty carpark adjacent to the church.  After lunch, we got out our much under-used bikes and cycled a hilly 19km around beautiful local lanes, all soon to be forming the starting point for longer cycle trips from our new house.  We met up with Julia again and measured up a few rooms and took a few other dimensions to help us ascertain which items of furniture we should bring with us, or what new pieces we may need to consider.  After a tour of the flowering garden we said our goodbyes and cycled back to Benny to relax.  We decanted back to nearby Châlus to overnight, feeling like regulars there.  We had a brief visit over to Flavignac the following day  to check out a possible swim lake, but an outbreak of blue-green algae has closed it for now – shame.

Solignac (playing fields workout)

Solignac (riverside run)

After a quick supermarket shop and a lazy brunch, we popped into Decathlon for a few items, before stopping to overnight at a free aire in Solignac.  Here the sun reappeared and dominated our restful afternoon, lazing by a football pitch, watching the groundsman cut the grass with exacting precision and dedication.  A few guys turned up to train equally lazily on the neat football pitches.  The next morning, Thursday, we dragged ourselves out for a jaunty 7km run through the village and back along the muddy riverbank, before making our way to Limoges airport; we had work to do.  We parked Benny in Long Stay and that afternoon we caught a flight home to go through all our stuff currently stored in Nicky’s mum’s garage and decide what was going to come back with us to France.

Limoges - Airport

We deliberately organised a small removals van of 15 cubic metres, so we have to be selective with our needs.  We’ve proved we could easily live with just what little we have in Benny, but houses are different animals and demand to be filled with stuff.  We needed, as always, to be disciplined and sensible.  After 18+ months of travelling light in Benny, we had pared down our lives to a simplified palette of what was really necessary.  And even then, we have found ourselves not using or wearing many items that we brought with us, after what, at the time, was thought an extreme and difficult cut in personal possessions. We were never hoarders before, and never had a real desire for things, at least relatively compared to others we know.  But even what little we had collated over the passing years now seemed, when viewed through the hindsight of our recent existence, like an embarrassing abundance.

Packing - our worldly possessions

We had box after box of clothes, books, ornaments, crockery, kitchen utensils and stationery items, alongside rows of wardrobes stuffed with even more clothes, linen, blankets, tablecloths and towels.  We had gardening tools, bike tools, DIY tools, buckets, planters, ladders, cables, strimmers and clippers.  We had rows of bookshelves groaning with books, DVDs and magazines.  We have no idea what to do with it all, as after three days of opening, checking and repacking every box, we are taking less than a quarter of it back to our house in France.  We discarded some items, gave away a few boxes of others, but the rest, deemed too good to throw away, is simply being left behind for now.

A&N x