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

For the Faint Hearted…

This post is not for those who are wedded to cruises, villas, flights and hotels. It isn’t for anyone who is horrified by spider webs, unable or unwilling to step out on to grass, horrified by fresh air and/or traumatised by seeing others in public facilities such as lavatory blocks. It won’t suit anyone who doesn’t enjoy visiting new places, exploring or undertaking an occasional bit of research or problem solving. If your preferred trip is to sit on a boat or a coach and have sights pointed out to you from a window, then be stuffed with food and drink before enduring cabaret style entertainment, read no further.

There may be those, however who are wavering on the edge of independent travel and have not tried tents, vans or motorhomes but might be persuaded by the freedom it represents, the opportunity to be spontaneous, change your mind on a whim or the weather, stay as long or as little as you wish, eat when and where you want, discover things, meet all manner of people.

Using tents, vans and motorhomes these days is all blanketed under ‘camping’, although it isn’t- at least not camping as it was when I was a child, when we put up ex-army tents in a corner of a farm field. Nowadays everything is far easier, and campsites have become comfortable, user-friendly villages. broadly speaking their services are much the same; clean, warm shower blocks with laundry facilities and dishwashing areas and often a grocery shop. Many offer restaurants and bars or are within walking distance of them [we prefer these to sites in the back of beyond].

We’ve developed tricks to make life on a site even easier. While some campers are happy to wander across to the shower in PJs or a onesie, carrying a towel, I find that a supermarket ‘bag-for-life’ is my best friend, so that when space is at a premium or there is little more than a hook, my change of clothes/towel/anything else is kept dry in the event of an over-exuberant spray. In aires [see https://gracelessageing.com/2018/09/02/aires-and-graces-guide/ ] we have perfected the art of showering in our tiny but adequate van shower, where often the water is hotter than many site showers.

Campsites are commonly situated with beautiful views that you would be hard pushed to get from any hotel, such as next to Loch Ness [Scotland], the wonderful Belt Bridge [Denmark] or by the gorgeous Geiranger Fjord in Norway. Sometimes you cannot fault their location; we camped up against the walls of ancient Pompei on an Italian trip. Where they are not so close, a bus stop or station is usually near the site entrance. Many, like the ones along the Nantes-Brest canal are placed by cycle tracks.

Sometimes we stumble upon a site so luxurious it has to be seen to be believed, such as the one at Seelbach in Germany’s Black Forest, which has children’s showers like an undersea cavern and Innsbruck, where the bathrooms would rival a 5* hotel and have stunning views of the snow-topped mountains surrounding the site.

By the time you read this we’ll have started off once more- away down to SW France and some of our favourite old haunts as well as some new ones!

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

Going Local

Home from our two week dash to Brittany we unload, deal with domestics, undertake some garden rescue [drought had been threatening to murder many plants], clean the van and make another, impromtu dash; this time to the New Forest, which is on our doorstep and to a favourite spot- Holland’s Wood at Brockenhurst.

We choose midweek, calculating that the weekend will elicit throngs of campers into the Forest and it’s certainly quiet as we arrive in the early afternoon. Husband is keen to try out a plan he had devised to manage for longer without electric hook-up [Holland’s Wood has none]. Our ancient camping gas/electric fridge has been resurrected for use outside, now that there is an external gas outlet on the van, freeing up solar power for other devices.

In the old, tent camping days the gas fridge was a boon and much used on trips. Subsequently it has been used as an extra fridge at parties or during the freezer defrosting process.

For the uninitiated, the New Forest National Park covers app 150 square miles of land in the south of England and is home to a vast variety of wildlife as well as livestock- pigs, cattle, donkeys and ponies that roam unrestricted throughout the park. The animals, in particular the ponies have adapted to visitors and developed skills in stalking and mugging and anyone sitting down to enjoy an innocent picnic can expect to be gatecrashed by a couple of hungry, marauding ponies.

Ponies, donkeys and cows also wander into the campsites, weaving expertly through and around tents, vans and motorhomes and helping themselves to anything vaguely food related. It’s mid-morning when a tribe meanders into Hollands Wood, one of the mares accompanied by a young foal, all legs and eyelashes. He’s curious, sniffing and nibbling a campervan. Camera at the ready, I go to watch, although not so close as to upset his protective mum. He spots me and walks towards me and I can’t help stretching out a hand, at which he puts his soft nose into it. The mare continues to graze, unperturbed. It’s a wonderful moment.

One reason for choosing Holland’s Wood site is proximity to Brockenhurst village, with its shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants, although walking there and back involves trudging along by the busy main road for some of it. It’s a cute place though, with a parade of shops and a railway station, making it just about possible to go camping by train.

Due to wrist surgery I’ve not cycled for about a year and this is the occasion for trying it out- first around the relatively flat campsite a few times, during which my legs begin to hurt already, then for a short ride on a forest track. The gravelly track is bumpy and I’ve not brought my support straps, so post-cycle my wrist is not too happy!

We BBQ on our new gas, outdoor cooker then the evening closes in with some magnificent thunder and lightning plus a few showers and we sit outside under the awning to enjoy the spectacle.

Next day is a rest for wrists and we walk. We go through the village and up to picturesque St Nicholas church, which we weren’t able to see inside the last time we looked as its roof had collapsed. It’s a tiny and beautiful church and has a special stained glass window donated by New Zealand, in recognition of the health care given to their war veterans in the First World War.

Walking in the New Forest is always rewarding and I feel we’ve earned the meal we have in The Huntsman, just along the road. We leave on Friday, just as others are streaming in to the site, encampments of tents springing up and it’s looking much busier. Goodbye for now but we’ll be back again soon…

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.

The Last Days- St Cast le Guildo

For our final site and last couple of days before departure from Bretagne we’ve chosen St Cast le Guildo, a stone’s throw from St Malo and Dinard, both of which we’ve stayed at and visited, St Malo being fairly well known to us. It’s another glorious stretch of Bretonne coast and moves us nearer to our departure point of Caen.

The site is perched high above the sea. We choose a pitch ovelooking a vast bay where the tide recedes to expose a huge field of oyster beds, beach tractors working quickly at the low tide to harvest the oysters before the beds are once more submerged. The site is another being newly refurbished with an impressive, lofty bar/cafe [not yet fully open].

The campsite’s position, high above the town means a steep walk down to the seafront and commerce and a hard climb back up. But, keen to maximise our last days we wander down in the late afternoon sunshine to scope out the bars and restaurants. The seafront faces a broad stretch of sandy beach and like Dinard, there is a seawall walkway around to the harbour area.

The small town centre square has a sunny area laid out with tables and chairs from two or three bars, busy on this weekday evening with groups of friends and families. After a beer we select a restaurant- part of a hotel- and are shown to a table, although there is only a handful of fellow diners. It’s clear when we begin to make choices that much of the menu is ‘off’, at which point we should really make our excuses and leave, but we opt for simple fare and make the best of it. Then it’s a slog back up the steep hill to the campsite.

Next day is bathed in warm sunshine, perfect for a walk around the coast path. The views are magnificent and the meandering path is flanked by a huge variety of wildflowers, a magnet for speckled brown butterflies. The first stretch of path plunges down then quickly begins to climb a steep and rocky hill. Once we’ve reached the top it’s merely undulating rather then steep.

At last we reach a point above St Cast’s harbour with a panoramic view of the surrounding coast, then it’s a short stroll down to the port, which is a proper working base for fisherman, and where the dockside has a few promising restaurants and bars. We reward ourselves with a beer before slogging back up to our site- but not before inspecting the restaurant menus.

Later we return via the town route to get dinner. The restaurant is quiet, with only a handful of early evening drinkers besides ourselves, but we sit down and order. A little later a family arrives and the two young daughters tuck into plates of crevettes with gusto, which is a sight to behold!

The climb back up to our site is the last, as we’ll be off up to Caen next day…

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