Strange and Familiar

We are winging our way down a well-driven, well-known to us route towards south west France and some very familiar places as well as some yet unexplored. This return visit comes soon after our spring Brittany trip, so I’m back into the routine of packing the van [although I’m more efficient with a few days notice] and tackling van life.

The weather on this long, bank holiday and UK Jubilee weekend is what weatherpeople like to term ‘unsettled’, which usually means wet. I’m a little sad to miss our street’s Jubilee party- not because I harbour patriotic thoughts about our monarchy but because I’d have been delighted to mingle with all our lovely neighbours.

As timing would have it, it’s a double bank holiday for France, too, with Monday and Tuesday closing for just about everything- except perhaps the bakeries and restaurants.

On leaving Cherbourg Port we go on a wild goose chase on this last Saturday before the close down, to find an ‘Orange’ outlet and get a sim card, locating it after a time-wasting search and then having to wait 30 minutes for a member of staff who is able to deal with me, the awkward, old bat who wants a new data card for mobile wifi. But the guy is charming and well chosen, managing everything with a smile.

Then we adjust the night stop plan for a more manageable one, opting to pootle down the Cherbourg peninsula coast a bit and park up in an aire, of which there are a few. The aire at Gouville-sur-Mer is busy with French motorhomes but there is space for us and it’s a stunning view of the huge beach, a sky full of glowering storm clouds hovering above. The tide is out and horse-drawn trailer rides make the view more picturesque than ever.

Then it’s on southwards, planning to stop at Nantes for a night but it’s fully booked on this Bank Holiday so we press on and to a town called Parthenay and a site in out ACSI book. It’s nice enough, by a park and a river, for a couple of nights, althought he weather is unsettled and we wake to rain. When it clears up we walk by the river to the centre of the town, which has some medieval parts and a 13th century citadel. We can see the citadel in the distance on our way in, looking impressive, perched on the top of this hilltop town, although finding the entrance is more difficult than Alice finding her way into the garden [in ‘Looking Glass’].

The streets leading into the centre are lined with closed down and dilapidated shops as well as poor condition homes, even the historic, half-timbered ones falling to pieces. But the town’s central square is filled with loud music, stalls and revellers for the Fete of the Pentecote, so it’s not all bad! We have a wander round the stalls and into an enormous marquee which houses, amongst other sellers, a furniture outlet, a stairlift supplier and a purveyor of nougat…

The stalls continue along the streets- churros, gallettes, ice creams, rifle ranges and burgers all in abundance. The road surfaces are deep in confetti- presumably part of the previous day’s [Sunday] religious parades.

A choice of a random street leads us at last to the citadel gate, with no indication of its presence whatsoever; but it’s impressive, if casually presented, squeezed between buildings , the interior a car park.

There are, however great views over the terracotta roofs and down the valley, the gardens lush with flowers and vegetables. We walk back down to our site, past wonderful old medieval walls dotted with wildflowers. Parthenay, like so many places, is in urgent need of an economic leg up and some investment into its historic features.

Next morning we’re off again, heading south- and the weather is hotting up…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

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