About Grace Lessageing

I am writer of novels, short stories, flash fiction, blogs. I lead a creative writing group. I am an Ex infant teacher, living in Christchurch, Dorset, UK. My brand new novel, The Conways at Earthsend was published on January 28th 2021 can be found on Amazon, Waterstones, Hive and Goodreads and is available in either paperback or e-book versions. You can also read The Year of Familiar Strangers, available as an e-book from Amazon. You can visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Deans-Novellist-Short-Fiction-and-Blog-102757711838272 Happy reading!

Festival Fever

It’s years since we went to a music festival, not counting, of course, our own local festival which we were involved in running in various capacities and which has now become a casualty of the plague, never to rise again.

Years ago, as a teenager and then a twenty-something I went to see a lot of bands. In the beginning there would be one major band and a support act. Then festivals started up with venues like Isle of Wight and Reading among the first. Nowadays they’ve become a vast industry, corporately run and, for the most part on a much bigger scale.

So we take the plunge and set off for Wickham Music Festival- an hour or so away, featuring a few bands I’ve heard of [at least] and offering campervan facilities and all the rest.

We arrive on a Thursday, the first official day of the festivities and after waving our tickets at the blue-vested volunteer we’re directed, and directed, and further directed to a place in a row at the top of a huge, mown field. At the end of our row there is drinking water, some flat, black tanks for loo emptying and grey water for rinsing. So far so good! We’ll be here for 4 nights and will be relying on solar power plus our gas fridge. At the bottom of our field there are trailors with showers, which helps!

Once we’ve settled in I lend a hand to our neighbour, Lisa, who’s travelled all the way from Grimsby. She’s bought a dinky Quechua tent en route but is confused about how to put it up. I know these tiny tents have a release mechanism which allows the tent to spring into action so the problem is soon solved. Lisa’s partner is coming to join her tomorrow.

We’re not in a hurry to rush to the festival field on this first day, preferring to make a meal and stroll over there for the evening. It’s quite a trek to the arena- down across our field, along past the showers, through a shady [and very dusty] lane, dotted with helpful lights for later and to the main road, where there are temporary traffic lights and volunteers. Then it’s across the road, past the farm shop, turn right and across the tent field. At last we’re at the gate and get our wrist bands, but there’s still a hill to climb to get up to the 2 huge marquees and all the other paraphernalia that belongs to a festival.

Inside the gate is The Magic Teapot, serving tea, coffee, chocolate and various treats from pots and kettles on a wood burner- a hot job for the staff. It’s opposite the storyteller’s tent, which I’ll visit later in the festival.

We go on to the top to familiarise ourselves with the layout- the 2 stages, the merchandise, the loos, the drinking water, bars, food outlets. Best of all though, one of my favourite bands from the 70s is on tonight- 10cc. I was lucky to see them in their original lineup in about 1975 at Hammersmith Odeon, a concert I still regard as one of the best I’ve ever seen. Tonight’s show is brilliant- even if only one original member is left- Graham Goulden. The sound, though is still pure 10cc and a wonderful start to the festival…

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.

Last Gasp at Caen

It’s the morning after the ice storm at Moliets Plage. Stepping outside at the beachside site of Le Saint Martin there is not too much to show for the night’s deluge of ice and most of our neighbours seem to have survived the storm with little or no damage except for soggy tents and awnings and a fair amount of foliage from the trees. Once again we’ve cause to be glad of our trees, which almost certainly sheltered us from the worst hits.

At the service point we wait while a father and son clear the water from their VW camper. When they open the back doors of their van a torrent of water gushes out like a geyser. Not everyone has been untouched by the storm. Once they’re clear we empty and refill our van and drive off out of the site, first to get groceries ahead of our long journey north. We begin to see a little of the devastation resulting from last night’s bombardment. A huge weeping willow in the centre of a roundabout has been toppled. As we travel on there is evidence of many more trees down and we learn later that a few lives have been lost, as well as businesses such as vineyards. Vehicles and homes have also been damaged.

Temperatures are back to summer normal, although I wonder what normal is for temperatures now. We journey on towards the north without incident, mindful of the cracked windscreen which leads us to use mostly motorways, which we wouldn’t always use.

For a swift, convenient return it works best for us to return to Parthenay, where we stayed en route to the Dordogne and where we can get a serviceable meal outside the bar. Then we’re off again towards Caen, and the port at Ouistreham, from where we’ll return to the UK; except this time we’re allowing ourselves an extra day and Husband suggests trying out the campsite, for once instead of the aire we normally use, next to the ferry terminal.

It’s overcast now, here in this northerly part of France, but not cold or raining. There’s an excellent cycle path along the river that skirts our site, the Orne, and we’ve cycled a little of it before while staying a short distance along the coast. It isn’t far along to the Pegasus Bridge, a facsimile of a world war 2 bridge, now a substantial tourist attraction with war themed cafes and gifts for sale. We’ve visited one of the cafes before and been unimpressed by the welcome from the staff so we avoid it this time.

We cross the bridge and slip down the opposite side of the river, which leads to the estuary- and it’s beautiful and wild with many foraging seabirds. Further on there’s a short stretch of nature reserve and we arrive at Merville, the tiny town we stayed in before, which has a broad beach and a few cafes. On our last visit we’d anticipated getting a meal here only to discover the bars and restaurants were all closed on Mondays and Tuesdays- commonplace in France. On our return the Pegasus bridge opens right up to allow a sailing boat through, an outstanding sight!

For our final evening though, we walk into Ouistreham and get a fine meal at a canalside restaurant, watching massive vessels glide past and through the lock gates- a fitting finale to our trip.

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.

From Heatwave to Ice Storm in one night

One of the great advantages of staying at Le Saint Martin, Moliets Plage is that you can turn left out of the exit and be able to get just about anything you need. A bakery, a delicatessen, clothes outlets, surf outlets, newsagent, beach items, gifts, rotisserie, a comprehensive supermarket, a cash machine, bars and an assortment of restaurants and all in easy walking distance outside of the campsite gate. To the right of the exit and up the slope are still more bars and restaurants en route to the beach.

In high season the bars and restaurants are busy, especially when people are leaving the beach, but there’s always somewhere to get a meal, beer or a cocktail in the evenings. Later or earlier in the year there’s a reduced choice and the supermarket may not be so well stocked, but now, at the start of the season we don’t need to travel anywhere to get anything.

Inside the site there is no commerce except for an ice cream kiosk, new for this year, overlooking the extensive swimming pool complex- also very different this year, new pools and slides having been added to the domed indoor pool that was here previously.

If all this sounds like publicity for Le Saint Martin I must add that our first impressions are of slight dismay- we’re not fans of holiday park type sites, on the whole. But as we settle in most things seem like the old, familiar site we love, so we’re happy enough- and besides, it is in a stunning location between the forests and the ocean, with a comprehensive network of flat cycle paths. Perfect!

When the punishing heat subsides enough to allow us to cycle we pedal out on a favourite route to Leon, a few miles away. It’s not an arduous cycle, with only one steepish climb into the village, which has one or two bars around a square and very little else. We’ve been a couple of times before, once hving to stop in the square for a puncture. This time we don’t pause for a drink, but lock the bikes and have a short wander, though there’s not too much to see.

It’s still too hot for daytime beach and although we opt to go at 7.00pm it’s still very warm indeed, with little or no breeze.

Towards the end of our week something extraordinary happens. It’s late afternoon and the temperature is around 40ish- something we’ve come to expect on this trip. Then it starts to plummet, becoming noticeably cooler. In ten minutes it has dropped ten degrees. It feels incredible- like being released from a hot bubble. The evening becomes cooler still and clouds bubble up.

It’s a more comfortable night and I get off to sleep quickly, only to be woken by a crashing, hammering, clattering noise, so loud I’m prompted to leap up to close the rooflight. Water is splashing in from a monumental deluge of ice showering the van, melting and pouring off the exterior. I hurry to close all windows. The windscreen is a falling sheet of water and the sound is ear-splitting. The raging, icy torrent lasts for several minutes then slows and subsides. We are nonplussed. What just happened?

Cycling, Stifling and Seizing up…

So, south west France is currently suffering its second heatwave in a matter of weeks. When we arrived, though, the first heatwave had yet to begin…

You know you’re about to enter Les Landes by the way the scenery changes from fields and countryside into endless miles of pine forest. Occasionally the forest might be punctuated by a village, but mostly it’s mile upon mile of tall conifers reaching up into what- whenever we’re there- is a blue sky.

The drive from overheated, stuffy Bergerac has been a relief, with a cool breeze blowing throught the open windows of the van and once we’ve pulled up at Le Saint Martin, our site at Moliets Plage, the air is fresher.

Le Saint Martin is a huge, undulating site with direct beach access, if you are prepared to scale the dunes that fringe the edge; or you can make a more demure and leisurely walk by exiting the site and ambling up the slope from the outside car park.

The beach here is vast, as it is almost all the way down this west coast, with boisterous Atlantic rollers crashing onto pale, soft sand and retreating in a watery mist. A narrow strip of the beach is strictly surveyed by lifeguards, the margin demarcated by red flags. An occasional bark over a tannoy indicates that someone has transgressed by going outside the zone. It sounds draconian, but the seas are treacherous with a powerful undertow. We’ve seen a helicopter airlift swimmers from the sea here before.

There are spaces available and we park up and settle in, getting bikes off in readiness for a cycle- something we’ve not done in the Dordogne due to heat, hills and traffic. But now could be our chance- with all the long, flat, tarmac-ed cycle paths criss-crossing the forests everywhere.

One pressing issue is our damaged windscreen, which needs attention. But it seems nobody wants to come out and deal with it. We’re assured by the insurance company that the screen is ‘laminated’ and cannot shatter. I’m sceptical.

The weather begins to heat up again- even here in this breezy, beachside location. Once again we’re polaxed by it, dossing about in the shade. We’re entertained by the antics of tiny tots- the children of the many German families here- as they play together, although the increasing heat begins to induce tantrums and whining amongst some of them. It starts to look like cycling may not be a great idea, at least not until evening.

But after a second day of indolence I’m wanting to do something, so towards the end of the afternoon we ready the bikes and prepare to make an attempt. We’re used to the cycle paths here and have ridden them many times, in many directions. There are two moderate inclines out of Moliets Plage then you’re in the village and on to the forest cycle tracks. As we progress further into the trees I’m glad I remembered to apply insect repellant on top of my sunblock; even so, horseflies are trying to attack, crawling on my sunglasses and brushing my legs as I pedal. Once- on the coast near Bordeaux- horseflies got up between my T-shirt and the skin of my back, covering it with itchy bites that turned into hard, hot lumps, causing a lot of discomfort-especially at night.

After half an hour or so I begin to feel lightheaded- a sure sign of heat stress. I also notice that Husband’s pedalling [he’s in front] seems laboured, as though he’s finding the flat path hard work. We stop for water then decide we should turn back. Perhaps a cycle wasn’t such a good idea?

It becomes clear, then, as Husband’s bike seizes up entirely, just as it did a couple of years ago on the Nantes-Brest Canal path. Heat has caused the oil in the hydraulic brakes to expand and bind once more, meaning cycling is impossible. It’s fortunate that we’re not too far from our site as he has to push it back- a much harder job than cycling- and back up and down the two slopes, too.

We’re at Le St Martin for a week. Will we ever get a cycle in? Even a trip to the beach feels Herculean…

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.

Bergerac to Beach

In the Bergerac site, we spend our entire day under the shade of the trees, waiting for the heat to subside enough to be able to walk along the footpath, over the bridge and into town. At seven in the evening we decide to make our attempt. We’d already strolled around the area on ‘our’ side of the river, although the few bars and cafes had been closed on the Monday evening, a commonplace event in France.

It’s still airless and stifling as we make our way out of the site and along the path, but we are finally able to spot some of the hundreds of frogs that have been serenading us as they cling to the exposed weed and make an earnest bid for love. The sound they produce is comical.

In the centre of the river the tall plume of a fountain shoots high into the air and a pleasure boat carrying a few passengers is making a leisurely turn in this wide stretch of water. Across the other side we make for the old town and immediately we are in streets of half-timbered buildings and quaint, historic squares.

But it’s hard work sightseeing in what is still a punishing heat despite it being evening. We’ve decided to get something to eat in one of the plethora of restaurants and cafes, although I’ve not felt hungry for days. We get a beer first, in a busy, lively bar by a square then opt for an outside table in a narrow lane. We order salads, unable to manage all of even these, then call it a day and head back via the bridge and the noisy, lovelorn frogs. We need to get through another hot night then we’ll be off to the coast.

Next morning we’re up and out quite early [for us]. We take a look at an en route town, decked out in bunting for a festival, and stop to stock up for our next stay on the outskirts. Coming out of Super-U with our shopping, we make a worrying discovery. Something has hit the windscreen of our van and made a hole- a hole from which radiate hairline cracks. While the hole is in the lower corner of the screen on the driver’s side and not in the eye-line, nevertheless there is a danger the cracks could spread or that the entire screen could become shattered. Eeeek!

We unearth some tape and cover the damage as best we can then pray that the screen survives today’s journey. Once we’ve arrived at our destination we’ll be able to phone the insurance company and get it fixed.

The rest of the journey is uneventful and by mid-afternoon we’re motoring through familiar territory [to us] then it’s Moliets and towards Moliets Plage, where one of our very favourite sites is located.

We pull up to go to reception and it’s Heaven as a cool breeze wafts around us. The site is busy but is also vast and there’s room for us. We park up under yet more trees and finally we get to relax…or do we?

A Shady Retreat and Breathless in Bergerac

A treat is in store as we leave Beynac with the aim of visiting Bergerac before we drive out of the Dordogne. Nearby are the beautiful Gardens of Marqueyssac, up high on a hillside, just a short drive away and perfect for a morning visit. There are only a couple of motorhomes parked up in the allocated van parking as we arrive mid-morning.

As is usual in the Dordogne, a climb is involved in seeing the chateau and gardens, but we’ve started in the relative cool of the morning and the gardens promise to be shady. We enter via an elegant pergola and the views of the countryside below are already startling. The first thing you see as you enter the garden is a green sea of curvaceous, organic hedge baubles in assorted sizes, interwoven with meandering pathways. The topiary is immaculate with not a twig out of place, a theme continued throughout the gardens, which also display ferns, trees and shrubs but little in the way of colourful floral borders. While this may not be to everyone’s taste it makes for a resful, shady landscape- ideal on this, another fiendishly hot day.

We wander the paths, seemingly endless and without plan or pattern. There is a path along a cliff face ending with a flow of water plunging into a pool, pumped up of course, from below. There are spiral paths winding up to more stunning viewpoints. There are tiny clearings with benches. There is, bizarrely, an occasional coffee machine encased in rustic planking in an effort to make it blend in.

When we’ve had our fill of walking the paths- and it is still ferociously hot- we stroll down to the tiny chateau which boasts just five renovated rooms, elegant but not the star of the show. Outside on a terrace overlooking the valley below are wrought iron tables so, tempted by the idea of coffee and pastries we sit down and wait…and wait. The cafe is clearly too much for the one waiter. We give up and go and get lunch in the van, which is parked in a shady spot and well stocked with lunch items.

We head towards Bergerac and a site we’ve found by the river, although once inside the town’s maze of streets the Satnav [Mrs G] becomes hopelessly confused. We find the site by aiming for the river. By now it’s mid-afternoon and hot as ever. In the decrepit, dingy office I check us in and we’re directed to a spot overlooking the Dordogne, under some substantial trees which we’ll be glad of for their thick shade. The site is in need of some renovation and tidying up but is an easy walk along a footpath and across a bridge into Bergerac. The heat, though is a deterrent to activity and once we’re set up all we can do is read or doze. Then the reading option is off when my Kindle informs me it is beyond temperature range and will need to shut down. I know how it feels.

By evening I’m in serious need of a shower. The shower block is housed in an antiquated, two-storey building fabricated, bizarrely, from perspex- maybe the least practical material in these 40+ temperatures, producing a sauna-like effect; so that a shower is not the refreshing experience I’d hoped for.

We stay outside until we must sleep then keep everything open, including the door, using our Husband made insect screen and our ceiling fan. But it’s hot. And I lie beneath the fan listening to the frog symphony as hundreds of them croak their wobbly love songs…

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.

At Last- the Chateau de Beynac

Chateau de Beynac. Perched on the edge of a sheer cliff high above our site and flanked by its church, the two imposing buildings glowing honey-coloured in the bright sunshine. The chateau calls us to climb, just a short walk across the road from our site to the first incline, a sloping lane between rows of sandstone cottages. It’s not that we don’t want to climb up to view this wondrous site. It’s that the temperature has leapt up the scale, rendering every task impossible, like a labour of Hercules.

We’re under the trees in this very shaded site, as is everyone else. The shade is vital. All domestic tasks need to be undertaken in the early morning, before the sun climbs too high. The rest of the time we’re polaxed, draped over our chairs in a stupor, reading or dozing. Eventually, even the reading comes to a standstill when my Kindle declares it has reached the limits of its temperature range and will have to shut down. I can’t say I blame it- I’m feeling like shutting down myself.

Nights have begun to be restless, sweaty, disturbed intervals. We’ve deployed all the technology we can muster- a skylight fan, an additional fan, all available windows and skylights. This night begins hot and ends with rain, cooling the air a little but adding to the humidity. In the morning it’s cloudy but dry- except for the ground, which has renewed muddy patches in this newish area of the site.

However, with clouds protecting us, we decide to attempt the ascent to the chateau and set off after lunch, striding up the first lane between the yellow houses. Then the sun appears. As we turn the corner to make the next zig-zag upwards the pathway becomes uber-steep and I’m glad of my walking shoes with a good tread on the stones- still slippery from last night’s rain.

We turn the next corner and there are some rudimentary steps, although several visitors are coming down and it’s best to keep out of their way, since they are wearing dressy footwear and one is carrying a dog. What is it about dogs in France, that they are unable to use their legs? They’re either riding in a bike basket or trailer or being carried- often in a bag!

Once up the steps we’ve pretty much reached the top. The chateau is more spectacular from below than close up but the views over the countryside repay the effort of climbing. At the top there is the inevitable smattering of gift shops and cafes plus a very welcome ice cream kiosk. Further up still there is a car park and it’s clear that most sightseers have got to the top by this route.

There’s nothing more to do than to descend- and by the way we came, which I always find far more tricky than climbing. Once back on ground level we sit under a shade at a small bistro offering local produce plus wines and beers, although I’m unable to get a ‘diabolo’- my go-to summer French soft drink and have to make do with apple juice.

Is time we were off and we’ve one more Dordogne stop planned before we scamper of to our favourite SW seaside place, but the weather is getting no cooler…

Climbing Cliffs and Soaring Temperatures

We are on our way towards Beynac, in the Dordogne and it’s getting hotter…and hotter. We’ve left Souillac behind and have plunged into Dordogne proper, mostly following the lovely river. It’s a scenic drive and we’d love to stop and get lunch in any one of the outrageously beautiful villages on our route, but they are steadfastly anti-campervan, all car parks having low barriers or ‘no camping car’ signs.

On our way to Beynac there are plenty of great sights and we go first to Domme, a village perched on a hilltop [of course], where at least there is an allocated space for campervans next to a serviced aire. It’s a walk up, naturally, to the medieval village, which is very pretty, has wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and the usual array of tourist shops plus a Noddy train. There are also some splendid grottes, allegedly, although while we are enthused at the prospect of going underground to view the stallectites etc, not to mention getting into the cool caves away from the heat, the next ‘tour’ has just left…So we content ourselves with the views, the gardens, the architecture and a walk round the sightseeing trail- all very pleasant.

Then it’s on towards Beynac and, mid-afternoon we feel obliged to stop and park up to see Le Roche Gageac, a partly troglodyte village clinging on to a steep cliff. I’m a sucker for troglodyte communities, finding a fascination in homes that are burrowed into rock face with an outwardly conventional facade and an inner cave. There is an allocated field for campervans and motorhomes but the parking machine is unfathomable, refusing all efforts to pay, so I scribble a note: ‘nous sommes desolees’ and we head off across the car park proper- where we spot the parking warden, checking tickets. This is not good news. I tackle him and explain our problem, although he’s not amenable. Eventually he relents and gets our tickets for us.

We slog up to the lofty houses, stopping for a sorbet half way up, served by a sluggish teenager. The village is worth the effort of climbing in a heatwave, honey coloured cottages clinging to the cliff and swathed in riotous vines and roses and again, breathtaking views of the river below, miniature pleasure boats cruising and turning. A pale, fairytale chateau at the end of the village provides a backdrop.

Feeling we should get to our site as the afternoon progresses we call it a day and return to the van, which has become an oven; then it’s onwards to Beynac, where our chosen site lies almost opposite the Chateau de Beynac and its church, perched precariously, towering over the village, the road and the site. As we pull into the driveway a quick look reveals it’s busy- maybe ‘complet’? But no, the receptionist tells us there are spaces, which is a relief. The Dordogne is heaving with tourists, mainly Dutch and German with a smattering of we British.

Finding our pitch, however is like some devilish reality TV game, the site having been extended and the numbers along the shady alleyways seeming haphazard, but we get there. The rain we’d experienced in Souillac has churned much of the field into mud, which is drying slowly but is a little mucky. Nevertheless we are in- and the site is almost entirely shaded, which under the circumstances is a very good thing, because the heat is on, and is only going to rise…

Towards the Dordogne

From Parthenay we travel on southwards and head for Souillac, the weather improving as we go, until when we arrive to this attractive town on the edge of The Dordogne it’s sunny and very warm indeed, a situation we are unused to and not yet acclimatised to.

The site is close to town and by the Dordogne river, although, strictly speaking Souillac is in Lot. There’s one main street, as is common in French towns and villages. Once we’re set up at Camping Les Ondines we retire to the bar for cold drinks, sitting under a shade by the pool. A little later we try a walk up into the town to stretch legs after a day’s travel but it’s hard work in the unaccustomed heat.

In spite of the promising sunshine we wake next morning to rain, unrelenting and gloomy. We’d  promised ourselves a walk or a cycle but by afternoon there’s no change so we don rainwear and set off to explore Souillac, soon seeing most of it- down one side of the street and up the other. But there’s a museum- the Musee de l’Automate, which looks interesting. The exhibits are all historic, working models, some quite extraordinary, many comical and others downright sinister!

I’m also drawn to the Josephine Baker exhibition, showing in a cavernous space behind the tourist information office. There are photographs, ancient film footage and items from her glamorous wardrobe on display and a helpful expert on hand to answer questions, although not to talk non-stop, thankfully. Josephine Baker lived a fascinating life and had come from a deprived and impoverished childhood in the American south. Now she is much revered by the French. Her connection to Souillac is a little tenuous, in that she stopped overnight enroute by train to the Dordogne chateau she’d bought after becoming such a celebrated dancer.

There are few places to get a coffee on a wet, Wednesday afternoon in Souillac but we seat ourselves outside a hotel in the main street under the awning and get a drink while the rain plummets in a deluge.

The day after is a little better- cloudy but at least dry and we opt for a walk by the river, except that the footpath disappears after a time. Alongside the path a young horse is being schooled, round and round a ring. On our return we are confronted by the horse, riderless, stirrups flapping, galloping towards us on the path, prompting us to step to the side, although I stick an arm out and say ‘whoa’ as it thunders in our direction. The horse stops abruptly, standing opposite us and panting, then drops his head to graze, joined at last by his rider. The horse is beautiful.

By evening the sun is out once more and we go to eat at one of Souillac’s few restaurants. The menus are dominated by duck-related dishes, also foie-gras- a delicacy we prefer to avoid. But we get a pleasant meal on our last evening here and then we’re off again, this time to get into real, proper Dordogne country…

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

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