Tag Archives: travel

France – The calanques & beaches of Cassis and Sanary-sur-Mer

We awoke in our corner in Marly Parc to a cacophony of singing birds and revving motorcycles.  We paid up and headed south, away from Marseille towards the south coast.  Our first stop was in the tourist town of Cassis.  We managed to carefully squeeze into a space in the only motorhome-allowed area in town, tight to a weed-strewn rock on one side.  The last space, steep and weedy, was very difficult to access due to lazy car drivers using the aire to go play tennis, rather than walk the 50m from the ample and empty car-parking further down the hill.  From here we walked, stifled in the hot dry air, into town.  We passed several lovely beaches, a thriving market and a busy marina, the centre buzzing with holiday-makers.  We continued on around the coast, the crowds thinning as we left town.

Cassis - market streets

Cassis - marina

We were heading to a more special beach, the third of three celebrated coves.  The first calanque was utilised as a long marina, lined on both sides with large sailboats.  We followed a wide stony pathway thinking it would make a great aire, up and down following the rocky contours of the land.  We reached the second calanque, Port Pin, a white pebbled beach with shining clear, inviting water that was close to seducing us to stop.  Instead, we pushed on, 30 more minutes of sweaty walking through sparse woodland and up steep, dusty screes.  Birds of prey soared and circled overhead. We dropped into what looked like a dead-end canyon, a fully enclosed cauldron surrounded by high cliffs.  We thought it couldn’t access the sea.  But our eyes were deceived; there was a narrow souk on the right side, invisible from above, and this direction change led us between the cliff faces to reach the final calanqueD’En Vau.

First Calanque - marina

Second calanque - Port Pin

calanque D'En Vau - beach view

 

We had arrived at an utterly stunning stony beach, framed by tall cliffs, blue waters and thronged with people.  Given the number of supine sun-worshipping bodies, the beach was very quiet – no children, no music playing, no loud chatting.  Everyone here was of one mind – to relax in serene nature.  We plopped down in a rare space on the white stones and spent the rest of the day sunbathing, swimming and people-watching.  Some visitors had a more sedate arrival by kayak or canoe around the headland from Cassis, swelling the ranks on the beach.  Others climbed the imposing  cliffs and chose precarious perches on flatter rocks on which to rest, or jump into the calanque.  The waters glowed with turquoise luminosity in the bright sunlight, inviting us often into their soft, majestic coolness.

calanque D'En Vau - N on beach

calanque D'En Vau -from water

Having cooked ourselves sufficiently, we made the difficult decision to tear ourselves away from this little slice of paradise. We made our way slowly back, following the same route, passing the other calanques that no longer impressed us the same after seeing ours.  Once we returned to Cassis we spent some time around the marina and in the quiet town streets, browsing in colourful stores.  When we returned up the hill to where Benny awaited we found most of the cars had gone, enabling us to move to a more suitable and flatter parking space to overnight. The street was quiet, a no-through road, and only two other vans joined us.  We enjoyed  an exploratory walk around the tennis club site and buildings after dinner as the sun was setting, a simple restful stroll in the cool night air.

A on path to calanques

Cassis - second town beach

After a quiet night’s sleep we headed off again, following the coast road east.  We made a point of avoiding the tiny streets of Cassis.  Our plan was to follow the Route des Crêtes, a twisting, climbing coast road hugging the edge of the azure Mediterranean far below.  There were lots of spacious pull-off spots where a short walk led to a grand vista over the sea, and we took advantage of many as we snaked along.  The road cut back inland when nearing the next town, La Ciotat. We tried to stop for a look but could find nowhere amenable to motorhomes, so had to keep moving.  We drove the sea front of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, the most obvious resort town we passed, then along the busy roads and full beaches of Bandol to reach our destination, an ASCI campsite on the outskirts of Sanary-sur-Mer.

Route des Cretes- coastal view

Route des Cretes- sea view

 

As we flopped onto our pitch, the heat of the day, now reaching low 30s, sucked away our desire to move or explore.  After a competitive game of table tennis under a shady tent (not too competitive, Nicky trounced me), we lounged by their lovely pool, reading, dipping and dozing.  This was more like it.  The next morning was a different beast – a strong, wild wind blasted across the site.  It was blustery, demented at times, shaking every tree and blowing up dust clouds from the dry dirt; not a day for resting by the pool.  Instead, we chose a bracing exploratory coastal walk, back through Sanary-sur-Mer and on to a pointed headland called Pointe de la Cride.  There was a fort marked on maps, but it had the secretive feel of a government installation so we didn’t linger.  That evening we locked down the hatches, snuggled into Benny and watched TV, hoping a tree wouldn’t fall on our heads.

Sanary-sur-Mer - markets

Sanary-sur-Mer marian

Sanary-sur-Mer nicky at marina

The morning brought calmness and sun, a long way from the aberration of the previous day.  We ran an easy 2km downhill to the Plage de Portissol in the morning, relaxing and swimming often to cool off in the sticky heat.  Huge banks of seagrass were stacked up on one side of the beach, but clearly not enough, as we still had to wade through five soupy metres of it to get to clear open water.  We took turns having longer swims out to the extent of the buoys in the bay, it feeling good to use our arms rather than legs. After an afternoon back at camp we returned to the marina early evening.  There were market stalls, talented painters selling canvases, a harnessed rigging climb for kids, and some competitive water-based jousting.  The weather was too good for a restaurant, so we ate takeaway pizza and watched the various spectacles, enjoying a slice per bench as we moved around the crowded marina.

A&N x

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France – Alzon, Uzès and the Pont du Gard

We crawled through the busy centre of Millau continuing south-east, to overnight in the village of Alzon.  We easily found the aire and settled in for the night. There was a local pétanque game in progress opposite and we sat with a  glass of wine and enjoyed watching in the soft evening sun.  After dinner we had a stroll through the village, the four storey buildings flanking the central shady square displayed a tired grandeur.  We paused here and enjoyed the peacefulness and the quintessential French feel of this hillside village, allowing the flow of history to wash over us.

Alzon - (shady square)
Alzon - (allotment view)

Our onward road clipped the bottom portion of the Parc national des Cévennes.  Grand red poppies lined our route, growing like weeds in unlikely places, but splashing colour and warmth wherever they were.  The countryside was becoming more Spanish in our eyes, with wide gorges, limestone bluffs, deep lush greens, and steep stone terraces overflowing with olive trees and pink flowers. The road followed the low-flowing river, snug between high cliffs and a sharp vertical wall dropping to the riverbanks below.  We saw nothing but blossoming nature for miles, then suddenly got trapped in a wild swarm of human commerce, hugely busy pockets of life and noise we thought from the map would be only tiny, sleepy villages.  Just as suddenly we escaped back to peaceful, empty countryside.

Uzes - tower
On leaving the park the scenery slowly transformed into expanses of olive trees and vines. The route was straighter, flatter, offering a more expansive view across to distant hills.  The only animals in the fields were horses, all land was given over to the cultivation of high end products.  Tall cypress trees and squat lime-coloured cactuses began transforming the land into a more Mediterranean feel; we were closing in on the coast. We passed hundreds of local domaines offering direct sales and degustation.  Each was either a ramshackle collection of rugged stone buildings surrounded by scruffy yards or beautifully finished, immaculate visitor centres dripping with wealth.

Uzes - domaine approach
Our first stop this morning was at one such farm store selling olive oil, wines, honey and jams, in the town of Uzès. Missing a turn, we did a slow loop around the town, enjoying the casual beauty of each street in turn.  From our slow-moving vantage point the town was replete with cafés and shiny shops, old stone churches and tiny cobbled streets.  (You could say it Uzè’d charm).  After a complete circle of the wonderfully vibrant town centre we finally turned off and found the Domaine St Firmin.  We had read the place was a popular stopover, and true to word we found it absolutely full, with around twenty vans in rowdy residence.  We parked awkwardly in their yard and had a quick degustation of a few summer rosés, purchased a bottle of our favourite, then got back on with our journey.

Pont du Gard - (approach side)
Pont du Gard - (far side)

Aother hour of beautiful, empty roads, their verges sprinkled with bright flowers, brought us to the busy outskirts of Remoulins.  We found the aire near the bridge (43.938068, 4.558423) and picked out a corner spot between some badly parked cars.  We scoffed a quick lunch then packed our swim gear and began, under a strong sun, the 3km walk to the Pont du Gard.  We were thankfully shaded most of the route by plane trees and stretches of light woodland.  We reached the gates to the park and walked in along the voie verte, immediately facing the famous three-tiered Roman aqueduct.  There were de-clothed bodies scattered everywhere we looked, soaking up the sun’s heat.  Large groups of visiting American students paddled in the shallows of the river, chatting loudly.  We crossed the lower tier of the bridge, taking in the immense scale of the ancient build.  The size of the each carved individual stone in the pillar bases was incredible, the organisational undertaking and size of the workforce must have been a sight to see.

Pont du Gard - (nicky swimming)

Pont du Gard - (beach time)

We dropped off the left hand side to reach a pebble beach where we flopped down by the calmly flowing river’s edge.  Groups of kayakers idly floated by as we eagerly readied ourselves for a cooling swim.  The water was warm and we played and cooled off, swimming across the river and climbing rocks to jump back in, like children.  We lazed in the sun, reading and relaxing.  Occasionally we would glance up and re-see the aqueduct in all its glory.  We would again marvel at the Pont du Gard’s domineering size and the privilege we had in being able to casually swim in its giant shadow.  By 4pm we were satisfactorily cooked and took our leave, with the firm intention to return later that evening to witness the colourful June light shows that were projected onto the structure.

Pont du Gard - (in trees underneath)
Pont du Gard - (sunset)

When we arrived back at Benny, the subtle heat of the day had a sudden change of heart and brought forth a storm of sticky humidity and, following that, heavy drops of rain.  We soon decided to forgo our return, but after the rains dried up and with the delight of an intensely bright red sunset later, we began to regret not returning to watch the light show illuminate the Pont du Gard as planned.  We could still have made it, as the show was not expected to begin until 9.30pm at the earliest.  But we were both still feeling tired from all the jobs at home and this trip was about recharging.  We need to learn to slow down and accept that rest is a part of life and not every moment needs to be filled with activity.  The choice to remain in Benny came with a sigh, but was likely the right call for us.

A&N x

France – Heading South: Gignac, Rodez & the Viaduc de Millau

After the glorious sun-filled days during friends and family visits, we had a return to the heavy rain of previous weeks.  We had planned to leave early on a damp Wednesday morning, but a calamity of errors and minor issues (a broken chair, a collapsing rose trellis etc..) left us with a late afternoon departure.  We drove south under grey skies smudged by thick raindrops, still intent on gaining some distance this day.  After a quick consultation to change our plans due to the lateness of our exit, we agreed to a stop in the small village of Gignac (45.005852, 1.456925), a little way south of Brive-la-Gaillarde, to overnight, only two hours away from home.

Gignac - church
Gignac - church interior

Once settled in the free aire, we undertook a short exploratory walk around the village, mostly to stretch our legs.  After a mini run-in with a couple of local dogs, we popped our heads in the open doors of the local church.  Here we had a friendly chat with local gent, all in French, about the history of the building and its value to the village.  His tales roamed from the Hundred Year’s war where the church had served, in the absence of any other fortifications, to hide the local population from the invading English, through later conflicts between Catholic and Protestant forces, to a description of a parade happening the following day to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. An interesting and passionate chap, softly spoken and knowledgeable, and we felt honoured to have briefly shared his time and memories.

Rodez - (church)

Thursday brought us a slow morning, warm and bright.  With the rain gone and the sun out, we were ready to travel.  We continued south-east, following two hours of winding, easy roads cutting through lush fields and plump woodland. Our route brought us directly to Rodez, and after a futile effort to park closer to the centre, we gave up and stopped in the aire outside of the city (44.357642, 2.594083) and walked in.  Our trundle led us past the Église du Sacré-Cœur de Rodez before reaching the historic centre.  We passed by the even more impressive Cathédrale Notre-Dame de L’Assomption, flanked by several medieval squares and many busy cafes.  It was a hilly town and there were plenty of viewpoints with grand outlooks over the surrounding area.  We sat to eat our lunch on a bench near the mairie and were passed by class after class of well-behaved primary school kids, the youngest classes hand-in-hand, making their way inside.  We pondered on if they were visiting a municipal library rather than a civics tour.

Rodez - (cathedral entrance)

Our lunch stop and city visit complete, we continued in the same direction, chasing the sun south.  Our next stop was at the Viaduc de Millau.  We avoided the toll road, instead driving underneath to a separate car-park area (44.097826, 3.024766) from where we could easily walk to the expo building and the designated view point.  We crossed over to view the exhibition on local foods and watched several interesting videos on the bridge construction methods.  Sir Norman Foster’s practice was instrumental in the design of the €400M project that utilised over 200K tonnes of concrete during the three years it took to construct.  We climbed the short hill to enjoy the view and to marvel at the size and elegance of the build, and also at the sorry lack of any traffic crossing it, likely due to the toll.

Millau viaduct - (approach)

We stood a while, soaking up the expansive vista and reflected that it was still only 24 hours since we left home and, although we’d not yet arrived in our main destination, we were already feeling like we’d had a fairly decent adventure.

A&N x

Spain/France – Jonquera, Trouillas & the road to Limousin             

We sneaked away from the watery paradise of Empuriabrava back inland, with the idea of heading back to France. Our road leading out of Spain, the N11 north from Figueres, was lined with what appeared to be prostitutes, glamour girls in high heels and very little else, waving and bending over provocatively for the passing traffic.  There was one woman every 100 metres or so, each taking ownership of a junction or a scruffy parking lay-by.  Initially, we couldn’t decide if they were actually working this stretch of road, or if it was some sort of protest statement / art project*.   (* They were most definitely prostitutes, as I read later that this border town is the sleazy centre of the Spanish sex industry. )   Most had an eastern European look, some looking grumpy and bored, others over-enthusiastic.  It was certainly a strange and unexpected sight in the pre-lunch sunshine on Good Friday morning.  We couldn’t quite imagine the clientele they were expecting to draw in at this time of day, in such public surroundings, but there must be demand.

Trouillas - Olive farm shop

A few hours later we were in a very different setting, parked up in a friendly Olive Farm on the outskirts of Trouillas, near to Perpignan.  There were no gesticulating ladies of the day nearby, but instead a plethora of olive oil products to taste, products to browse and sunshine to enjoy.  The producer, Les Oliviers de la Canterrane, had a wonderful free aire and, after making a few tasty purchases, we settled in for an afternoon of lazy sun-worshipping.  The weather we had hoped for had finally arrived, just after we left Spain behind.  We were blissfully alone most of the day, but around 4pm a string of vans suddenly appeared, slowly bringing the Olive Farm visitors today up to eight strong.

Lautrec (walking route)

After a slow morning we said our goodbyes, heading north-west.  We followed the main road north to Narbonne and then took back roads, cutting through the gorgeous Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park.  The road was wide and clear, empty of other traffic and perfectly undulating for a combination of easy driving and beautiful views.  It didn’t hurt that the sun was back shining brightly and we settled in to fully enjoy the drive.  Looking around for pretty places to visit on our route, we settled on the village of Lautrec, north of Castres.  After a few tries we found a simple parking area suitable for motorhomes just outside the village walls (43.704847, 2.139952 ) and wandered up the cobbled streets to explore.  As is usual, we gravitated first to the stone church and the neat surrounding squares.

Lautrec (town view)

We were eventually drawn to the highest point, reaching the mound where the Moulin à vent de la Sallette sat.  We circled through their gardens, watching as the views over the countryside unfurled in front of us.  There was a table d’orientation on the top of the hill, pointing out landmarks as far back as the Pyrenees.  We stood a while and picked out the route we had taken to arrive here, both on road from Spain and on foot through the village.  The windmill was available for visits but we declined in favour of roaming their brightly flowering gardens.  We dropped back into the neat stone village and passed through the narrow streets, slowly making our way back to where Benny was parked.

Lautrec (nicky and windmill)

Lautrec (Nicky and town)

Labastide-Marnhac (aire)

In late afternoon we stopped at a small aire in Labastide-Marnhac, just short of Cahors.  This was to be our final stop before arriving back home.  The village was hosting a wedding at the local château and we could hear their announcements and music. On one occasion a long procession of tooting cars slowly passed, marking the happy couple either arriving or leaving.  Otherwise, it was entirely serene, the surrounding trees filled with bright blossom.  The only other notable occurrence was when a Belgium couple, fully settled in with the best corner site in the aire since before we arrived, packed up their awning and left around 8pm; to go where?  It seemed a strange call so late on.  But we enjoyed one last night of simplicity and quiet before returning to our long list of jobs to do at home.

A&N x

Spain – El Mas Pinell beach, Roses & Empuriabrava

After leaving the too-perfect beauty of Pals, we needed a new place to overnight.  Despite the lack of warmth, we decided to head back to the coast and spend a night at the beach.  We chose a secluded parking spot at the end of a dusty track at El Mas Pinell beach ( 42.018222, 3.192852 ) and squeezed in between the dog-walking day trippers.  Our chosen route in was a sandy trail, rough and pitted, but we later discovered the much better road in from the north, tarmacked most of the way, that would have saved us a few bumps.   But we were practically on the beach here, thirty seconds stroll from the sea, so all was well. (bar the weather).  We walked the sands, tentatively testing the sea with our toes, but not braving a swim.  At least initially.  After a return to Benny and to fill ourselves with tea and bravado, we returned to the sea for a splash around and the briefest of dips.  The wind ripped the heat from us all too quickly and we retreated back to Benny to regain our warmth.

El Mas Pinell beach (selfie)

El Mas Pinell beach (Nicky in waves)

One by one our single-use beach friends peeled away, and we were alone by early evening.  This left us free to enjoy a sun-setting walk with the soft sound of the lapping waves as our only companion. We collected a few pieces of smooth, white driftwood with thoughts of fashioning door handles or stool legs from them, in some mythical future existence where we become competent at wood-working.  We rose early in the morning and walked our tea mugs along the beach, lapping up the solitude, before making the decision to move again.  We were definitely feeling restless on this trip, unrooted.  We drove away from the coast, via the much better northern road, and turned north to visit the popular tourist town of Roses. We had skipped around it last time we were in the Costa Brava, instead heading straight to Cadaqués.  With no formed expectations we were a little surprised by what we found.

El Mas Pinell beach (morning walk)

We parked easily in a free car-park ( 42.266346, 3.166726 ) near to the walled Citadella de Roses and walked into the centre.  Roses was much bigger than we thought, with an expansive crescent of golden beach lined with all manner of shops and apartments.  It looked much more like the Spain of package tours, Costa del Sol and drunken tourists than anywhere else we had visited in the Costa Brava.  Behind the glossy façade lay a maze of tiny streets and small plazas filled with snacky restaurants and pubs touting for customers.  The car parks were filled with foreign cars, mostly French, Italian and Swiss, with the local Spanish looking to have skipped town for the holidays.  We walked as far as the marina and returned the same way, eyeing up the beach and the frothing sea, but again turning down an opportunity to swim.

Empuriabrava (waterways)

Instead we drove a short way south along the coast to reach the town of Empuriabrava where we parked in a scruffy, quirky free aire ( 42.258463, 3.115425 ) that was almost full.  The marked spaces were over-wide, much too generous, almost like a campsite.  We and two other adjacent vans parked right in the centre of our bays and later found two other vans had sneaked in between us.  There was still ample room for all of us.  We had a short exploratory walk around the nearby streets.  The whole town was based on strips of water, with each house having a road to the front and a boat to the rear, offering a very different feel to anywhere we’d visited before.  The following morning we went for a run through the bright streets and down to the beach, exploring around mini-marinas and curved avenues, eyeing up which style of house we’d prefer from the plethora of choice.

Empuriabrava (run to beach)

Empuriabrava (jetty end)

We ran out to a small marker at the end of a jetty.  The sea was crashing wildly against the rocks, with large waves rolling through the protected narrow opening of the town’s waters.  We watched several small craft try to breach the waves and escape to open sea, only to be repelled back to the calm waters to think again.  One larger vessel, lifeboat sized, bounced strongly through the crests, impressively catching metres of air between each successive wave.  I was glad to be watching rather than on board; the passengers must have been shaken to the core. We continued our run along the beach then back a different route, still gaping at the extent of this mini-Venice.  It was an interesting maze of affluent neighbourhoods and waterways, not at all similar to the tourist trappings of Roses.

A&N x

2019 Catch-up – What we’ve been up to lately…

Wow, it’s been over three months since our last blog post.  Time certainly moves on quickly when you fill your days.  We decided that this blog would be better suited for the recording of our exploratory travels in Benny, and that intermittent updates of our daily grind working on house projects were deemed not interesting enough to post about.  Instead, we have gathered together a few of our highlights of 2019 so far, to help capture a smattering of the interesting, noteworthy places we have passed through and a few events we have recently attended.

Angôuleme International Comic Festival (January)

Each year Angôuleme hosts one of the largest international Comic Festivals in the world.  Despite Nicky not being a particular fan of the genre, after some gentle persuading she was keen to visit and see what the festival could offer.  We thought of staying over, but decided to make it a day trip as the city is only an hour from our base.  The town itself was quite beautiful, set on a steep-sided hill dominated by a cathedral, and absolutely thronged with people.   There were many main exhibition venues spread out around the city, with free buses carting the crowds between each. The breadth and scale of each exhibition hall was incredible.  No longer the sole domain of superheroes, the comic genre reflects every conceivable topic; suicide to pornography, biting political commentary to historic tales, incestuous abuse to supernatural thrillers.  Every topic is described in detail, in a multitude of styles, the lined black inks of noir whodunnits through photo-realistic renderings of fantasy creatures to the large-eyed cartoon dramas of angst-ridden Manga teenagers.  We watched skilled artists personalise purchases of their novels by adding requested character artwork and personalised messages to any blank pages, and long lines queuing patiently for such a prize.  It was a great day out, fascinating to learn more about the process and the artwork and see a few of the big names behind the comics.  The only downside was the that almost all displayed comics were in French; I had held hopes that at a large international festival there would have been more availability of popular comics in English.

Chartres, cathedral city (February)

Heading home for our annual visit, check-ups and servicing dates, we stopped off just short of Chartres in Marboué, leaving our city visit until the next morning.  Here I had a hilly 10km training run around the nearby villages.  The next morning we found easy parking on the south of Chartres at a long gravel car-park that doubled as an aire, then walked along the gently meandering river an easy thirty minutes to reach the celebrated Cathedral quarter.  The city was quiet and still in the early morning, the sky a solid undisturbed blue, and only a few other walkers and joggers were around.  We walked slowly through the historic streets and enjoyed a visit inside the cathedral, marvelling at the intricacy of the carvings.

Trip back to the UK (February-March)
After Chartres, we competed the road north to park at Saint-Nicolas d’Aliermont, our usual pre-ferry stopover.  Here we went for another 10km run that proved much hillier than we’d expected, before crossing early the following morning.  Once back in Blighty our days were packed with appointments with dentists, opticians, MOTs, Benny servicing, and more.  We fitted in bouts of visiting friends, hopping from High Wycombe to central London to Northampton to Thaxted, before catching a flight from Stansted to Belfast.  There were more family visits around Lisburn, Ballinderry & Portadown, interspersed with lough shore runs, an American football game (more below) and a trip to my nephew’s student digs in Whiteabbey.

Craigavon Cowboys – our First American football game (March)

It was a freezing day with a bitter north wind on a playing field in the People’s Park, Portadown.  My nephew David was playing his recently discovered new sport with his local team, the Craigavon Cowboys.  We were there to support.   It was a little confusing at the start, not having realised that they only had one goal set up, effectively playing on a shortened pitch, so each change of possession required a direction and position change, with the team in possession always playing towards the one end-zone.  It was never fully clear what would happen in event of an interception, but I’m sure the black and white striped professional-looking officials had it all worked out.  With player shortages, my nephew played in both offense and defence sets, enjoying lots of game time.  The cold wind and less players to swap ensured less standing around time between plays, allowing the game to flow quicker than normal, to be constantly moving and action-packed.  We enjoyed the spectacle of it all.

After our return flight to England, we stayed with Nicky’s dad in Downham Market before reaching Nicky’s mum near Louth.  Here we had a few days of relative quiet, several long runs, a spot of tree surgery, and several days of opening and checking through the remainder of our packed possessions to see what could return with us to our French house.  We had a great night of comedy at Louth theatre, even if we had front row seats, an instant involvement in the show, and became the soft targets of several witty one-liners.   Then too soon again we were off, spending nights with friends in Market Harborough, Northampton and St Albans before finally reaching the south coast at Peacehaven to await our ferry.  We saw a monument marking the southern-most point of the Greenwich Meridian on UK soil and enjoyed our last fish and chips before returning (on an earlier 1am-5am ferry as our morning sailing was cancelled due to high winds) to France.

Nantes & its mechanical menagerie (March)

Nantes - visit (courtyard)

After our late ferry switch and a wild, rough crossing, we were missing a night’s sleep but a day ahead of schedule.  We paused at Fougères to catch up on sleep, then checked into a campsite in the centre of Nantes as a birthday treat.  Here we watched the exciting finale of the Six Nations, then the next morning caught a tram to the centre to explore the sights.  The Île des Machines, our main target, did not open until 2pm, so we had plenty of time to see the historic centre. There was a race on, a pink charity event, with many thousands dressed up, and we wished we’d known and could have participated.  Instead we became spectators, seeing the crowds of happy runners from all angles as we wandered the city.

Nantes - visit (elephant)

After lunch we made our way to the Île des Machines and queued to enter the venue, seeing the mechanical spider, sloth, crane and giant ant, amongst many others.  We climbed in one prototype  branch of a giant tree, the next extension to the park, due to be completed in 2020.  But the main event for us was the wandering Elephant, strutting and spraying at tourists on its slow trundle around the grounds.  A grand spectacle.

Marathon de Cheverny (April)

We drove to Cheverny on a slow Friday afternoon, leaving us time to find the designated free aire by the cemetery and settle in before the racing began.  Nicky was running the 10km on Saturday afternoon, and I was running my first marathon on the Sunday.  Each race was to begin in the grounds of the Château de Cheverny, an impressive house famous now for being the inspiration for Tintin’s ancestral home in Hergé’s comics.  Nicky ran well, beating her expectations to finish in 48 minutes, a new post-back operation PB. The pressure was on for me to meet my target.

The day began with a blanket of chilling cloud, dropping the temperature to 4 degs, before warming up slowly through the morning.  All my long training runs were through cold winter months, and a hot sunny day would have rendered them for naught as I wilt badly in heat.  Unfortunately, my mind failed early -I knew exactly what not to do, yet did it anyhow.  I began much too fast, still feeling I was going slow and backwards as many were wildly rushing past me.  It was only at the 10k point that I realised I was under 50 mins, far ahead of my projected pace schedule.  I reined it in, but it was too late. I was closer to my schedule on halfway, at 1hr 48 mins, but by 25k I was done.  My legs were lead, refusing to turn over properly.  I had never felt this level of fatigue on long training runs, so put it down to the over-fast start.  I paid dearly for it, struggling through the next 12k, then with 5k to go I ran hard again, forgetting the pain and pushing through to make it end.  I just made it in under my 4hr target, at 3hr 56mins.

We were running to support a charity – WalktheWalk – as Nicky’s friend Emma was recently diagnosed and currently undergoing treatment.  Our Justgiving page is still open should any kind readers wish to donate.  Many thanks.

So, that’s a few of our recent highlights.  In between, we have been catching up with friends ( Hi to Dave & Kate, and Chris & Peter ) reading, writing, painting, sketching, playing music, watching movies and completing DIY projects.  And running, lots and lots of running.  Our swim training will start again soon, with the warmer weather and water. Our wetsuits are certainly well rested, having gone unused since last September, and our bikes have been left unpedalled throughout autumn and winter.  With my marathon completed our running will likely taper back to only a couple of times a week, leaving time for more cycling and swimming.   This week we have a garden to cut back, dig over and plant out and then bathroom to tile, then we’re off to explore the Costa Brava for a few weeks.  Phew!

A&N x