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

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

Of Croissants and Campsites

After leaving Quiberon we moved on to Raguenes Plage, a tiny hamlet [‘hameau’] whose nearest notable towns would be scenic Pont Aven or touristy Concarneau, where we’ve been before, although all I could remember about Concarneau was falling off my bicycle into a nettle patch after an evening out…

On first sight, the campsite at Raguenes looks wonderful- and indeed it is as ‘luxurious’ as the ACSI book describes- beautifully laid out in gorgeous grounds, with a brand, spanking new indoor pool and an outdoor pool which is a work-in-progress. The showers etc are excellent and all seems great. We are welcomed by a jovial monsieur in an apron, wielding a spatula. He is caretaking the site on this Sunday while the reception staff have a day off. Not only is he pleasant and friendly but tells me I speak good French. He is multi-tasking by also preparing pizzas.

Here at Raguenes the spacious site is almost deserted and having selected our pitch we drive around to it and see only two other vans anywhere…

There isn’t a lot to the village; another site, a farm or two and private houses, although it’s picturesque, several of the old, stone houses having ancient wells in the garden or an old, outside bread oven.

It’s a short walk down the hill to the rocky shore and at low tide it is possible to clamber over the rocks to Raguenes Island, but best of all there is a coast path in both directions. The weather has turned overcast since we moved but will be fine for walking. There’s no shop, bar or boulangerie in Raguenes. Through the window of the site ‘takeaway’ behind the receptionist’s office I can clearly see two pains au chocolat, which is exactly what we would like with our coffee, but while we’ve ordered bread from site reception the woman manning the desk assures me that nothing else can be purchased unless we’ve pre-ordered it. Perhaps the pastries have been reserved by one of the two other units on site…

Perched above the rocky shore is a hotel/restaurant/cafe that may, or may not offer coffee. We wander down there. It’s quiet, but inside a conservatory a man sits using a computer and the door is open. Can we get coffee? Yes- and Bretonne style cake besides.

In the afternoon we stride out along the path towards Trevignon and despite the cloudy weather it is a great walk with lovely views and a carpet of dune-dwelling wildflowers and plants covering the sandy cliffs. Once we arrive at the tiny town there’s little to see and it’s bank holiday, but a couple of bar/cafes are open above the small marina. Then there’s nothing for it but to turn back and return via the same route. By the time we’re back the sun is out and as we pass the takeaway window I’m interested to see the two pains au chocolat still sitting on their plate, no doubt stale and inedible by now…

The following day is drizzly and we’re footsore from our walk so we unhook the van and take a trip to Pont Aven, nestling in a deep ravine and teeming with sightseers. We manage to find a parking spot and then must plunge down a steep hill to the centre. It’s an arty little town where Gaugin apparently went to school. Galleries abound as do gift shops, exploiting the arty vibe. The ‘pont’ is attractive, the river winding around the buildings, with a water mill wheel and a weir. We slog back uphill and have a last night at Raguenes Plage before moving on…

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

Back in the Swing of Things. France April 2022

We’ve chosen Conleau for our first site on this celebratory return to France, It’s just outside Vannes- near enough to walk in- and next to an estuary, a saltmarsh nature reserve. Across the road a popular beauty spot skirts the marina, overlooked by a couple of bars. It’s all bathed in sunshine for our first evening and we take a short walk then get a beer outside in the sun. An elderly man at the next table is eager to chat, which provides me with more French practice, and he with English…

The site is half full, mostly tourers, mostly French. There’s only one other British pair plus one or two other nationalities, which suggests that post-covid wandering is slow to get going. But I’m delighted that ‘turning up and booking in’ seems to be back on, as I’d worried we might never be able to be spontaneous ever again!

Next day we start out to walk around some of the estuary and discover that Vannes is not all that far, so continue on to the old city, walking along the river. In spite of all the modern architecture we’ve driven through to get to the site, the centre of the town is ancient and characterful with half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets. It’s full of tourists- again mainly French, and there’s a fair bit to see.

We’re a little weary and footsore and get a bus back almost to our site- except that the driver pulls up and turfs us off a couple of hundred yards before we get there.

We’re aiming to try and build back up to walking after our doses of Plague, so the following day we walk the other way, along the nature reserve, following one river.

It’s time to move on and we’ve opted for Quiberon, where we’ve stayed before on a few occasions. The site we opt for looks good and it’s near the sea, but although it is part of the same chain as Conleau its services are feeble. The showers, in spite of the new, modern building are feeble, the internet non-existent. The good news is we can walk into Quiberon town, which we do, along the seafront. All is just as we remember, including the ice-cream shop!

The coast around the Quiberon peninsula is scenic and rocky and the weather is fine, so it’s more walking, then on our second full day we plan to set off later, inspect the town and get a meal. We spend a lazy afternoon then head off, browsing the shops and getting a coffee. It takes a while to select a restaurant and it’s Saturday so many of them are ‘complet’. In the end I persuade Husband into the ‘Bistro du Port’ which he’d been convinced was a burger joint, but in spite of its unassuming exterior the restoranteur is enthusiastic and charming, welcoming us into his establishment, recommending dishes and engaging with us. The food is mostly seafood, fresh and delicious as you might expect in a port restaurant.

We walk back full and contented, and we’re ready to move again next day, which is Sunday. We’ll need to be up and away to catch a supermarket before thay close at midday…

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.

French Renaissance April 2022

It’s a momentous day. After two and a half years we’ve renewed our acquaintance with Brittany Ferries’ trusty vessel, Barfleur and have managed to cross the English Channel and get to France. Oh- and it also happens to be Polling Day for the French, who are choosing between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen.

                It’s an early start to be ready, packed up and into the sparse queue for check-in at Poole, but we are luckier than most as it’s a short drive for us. And it’s quiet on a Sunday. We been a little anxious about attempting another trip abroad after the Iceland debacle, but once we’ve trundled to the booth we only need our passports and vaccine passes, then we’re through and in spite of a security check of the van, [due perhaps to being the ‘1 in 10’ or whatever], it’s all straightforward.

                The ferry is quiet, occupied by ancient travellers such as ourselves and one or two young couples with toddlers making the most of back-to-school time. There are no excitable parties of schoolchildren galloping round and round the decks and no gangs of teenagers crowding the shop and thrashing hell out of the gaming machines.

                We get a quick coffee and a pastry then descend to the deck below where a salon offers warmth, quiet and comfortable recliners. Soothed by the engines, gentle swell of the sea and sunshine I’m soon drowsy and most of the crossing passes in a pleasant, sleepy stupor.

We are soon making our way down a familiar route towards Bretagne and our first planned night’s stop, an aire at Tremblay. It’s not hard to find, sandwiched between the cemetery and some old people’s homes and it;s dead quiet[!], except for a yard full of dogs yapping. We’re on our own in the 8 place aire, which has a service point and little else. A short stroll around the village reveals little on this sleepy Sunday, the two bars and everything else closed apart from the Mairie, which is a polling station. I’ve been hoping to fill my water bottles as we’re close to being out of water and the service point ‘ne marche pas’ so I make a cheeky entrance to the polling station and beg some water from the kindly polling clerk, who is very obliging.I thank her and wish her luck whilst itching to know who’s in the lead…

My French is rusty from 2 years of disuse but begins to be revived. We sleep well in our spot next to the cemetery. Aires often seem to be situated by churchyards, or sometimes sports grounds or police stations. Next morning there’s very little traffic to disturb us except for the dustbin lorry. We make a feeble attempt to get water from the service point, which rejects our 2E coin, give up and get underway.

We’re getting back into the swing of it- but we’re too far in towards the centre of Vannes to find a large supermarket by the time we think of it and the SATNAV leads us unhelpfully to a non-existent Hyper-U in the centre of town. We locate a Carrefour at last but find ourselves grabbing a quick lunch in the subterranean gloom of the car park.

Our mobile internet has failed us, a hitch that needs solving. The giant store has an ‘Orange’ outlet and we head there, to find my burgeoning recall of French severely challenged as I try to explain our difficulties. I manage it though and we come away with a stop-gap solution. It occurs to me that much of holidaying this way is problem-solving and perhaps that’s part of what we enjoy…or not…

At last we get to our chosen site- and it’s lovely, nestling by an enormous natural harbour. There’s time for a walk and a beer, sitting in the sunshine by the marina and we remember what we love about holidaying this way…

A Journey in Itself

Having cut short the Sussex trip, [https://gracelessageing.com/2022/03/20/cutting-it-short/], due to the Plague we made a second attempt at an early spring jaunt, this time even closer to home. We are back at Tom’s Field, Langton Matravers in the beautiful, Dorset Isle of Purbeck. We’d been encouraged by a promising forecast of warm sunshine. This is a rustic campsite that has existed for years and years and one we’ve been patronising for years, too. The services, while oldish and not luxurious are clean and efficient, the showers powerful and hot. There is also a campsite shop, not comprehensively stocked this early in the year but open and useful. We’ve only booked for three nights, midweek but I’m sure that by the time the weekend arrives it would be packed with vans and tents. The site does not accommodate caravans.

The dose of Covid that prompted our swift return from Sussex has been a bit of a journey in itself. Initially I felt shivery, achey and tired. I coughed. I was lethargic. At home I lolled around, did nothing and kept falling asleep. After isolation finished I managed some pottering in the garden, then by the weekend I was able to go out and about- to the theatre and to spend an evening with friends.

Then the sunshine prompted a packing of the van. Despite having felt well enough to get around I slept badly, waking often with a blocked nose and a hacking cough. It seemed that The Plague had moved into another phase. Loading the van was an effort but we made the short hop to The Isle of Purbeck in unbroken, warm sun and joined the 3 other vans in the south field. The site only opened 2 days ago.

Having spent yet another night propped up and blocked up, I staggered awake and did very little until Husband suggested a walk to the excellent Square and Compass pub at Worth Matravers to get lunch and a drink. I wondered if I’d manage the short walk across the fields and along the Priest’s Way but sitting outside the old hostelery with a pasty felt worth the effort. For a description of this wonderful, old pub click here: https://gracelessageing.com/2021/09/19/short-and-sweet-in-dorset/

Then another uncomfortable night followed and I decided against joining Husband for a favourite walk over the hills and down to beautiful Dancing Ledge, where the sea would be sparkling on this warm March day, opting instead for a doze on my lounger, catching up on missed sleep and watching the antics of the blackbirds chasing each other in and out of the ivy hedge.

I made it down to the lovely old KIngs Arms for something to eat, then trudged back for the next long night of sleeplessness. We’ll have to hope the next van trip of 2022 is less dogged by mishap. Third time lucky, perhaps?

Cutting it Short

After a couple of days at the Emsworth site [as described in last week’s post], we’ve determined there’s not too much left to see and it’s time to move on, this time to Littlehampton. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my [admittedly defective] memory, I seem to recall that we were despatched there from London as students in the fine art department of my college, in order to produce some work of a seaside nature. Other than this I remember nothing, so presumably the results were under-whelming and unlikely to set the art world on fire.

I’ve booked tickets to see The Weald and Downland Living Museum, an open-air attraction covering a large area and celebrating South Downs life with constructions of homes and businesses from days gone by. It’s also the home of ‘The Repair Shop’- a hit British TV series where expert restorers of every skill revive items that are brought in by members of the public. The objects chosen need to have an emotive back story, such as having been used by a beloved, now deceased parent or grandparent, which precludes Husband or me submitting ourselves for repair or any of the rubbish we have cluttering up our house.

We’ve been given a time-slot for revival and since we’re taking in the museum en route to our next site at Littlehampton we park and have lunch first. In the enclosure, some of the installations are set up as working premises, manned by volunteers who are eager to impart their knowledge and undertake demonstrations. We go first to the potter, who stands behind his wheel clearly gagging for the punters to stop and listen, which we obligingly do. And it’s here I hit my first snag with the museum: about half the items on display are things we had in our household when I was a child. Here in the potter’s shelter lies a ceramic mixing bowl- two of which we have in our kitchen cupboard right now, as I write. The potter imparts some interesting facts, although there’s little new in his exposure of all things pottery. I used to teach a pottery evening class myself, many moons ago and know about pug mills, kiln explosions etc.

I’m aware that we’re trapped by the ‘expert’ but then we’re rescued by some fresh victims visitors, allowing us to move on to the blacksmith’s shack. The expert here is an ex-volunteer but seems to know how to make a curly piece of iron. From here we can see the venue for The Repair Shop TV programme, although we’re not allowed too close due to it’s being a film set. A scaffold to the side of the thatched building indicates it is being repaired…

We continue to the mill, nipping away before we’re caught again then leave via the bakery, which is flogging yummy little oat cakes, still warm from the big, wood-fired wall oven. We’re getting the hang of avoiding the ‘guides’ and stick to visiting the unmanned houses. There’s a mixture of eras from medieval to Victorian. As before, many of the homes are furnished with items I remember my mother using: a ‘copper’ and a mangle for laundry, a range, chamber pots in the bedrooms. There are some glaring omissions though. We’d no bathroom before I was five and we were bathed in a tin bath by the fire. Also our toilet resided in a wooden shack towards the back of the garden and was furnished with a wide, wooden plank into which two holes were carved- one large and one smaller. A child could sit and cogitate alongside an adult there- although I don’t remember sharing with either of my parents! Under the seats was a long drop down into a cess pit. There are no outside toilets at the museum as far as I can see…

There’s a small farm area and a charcoal burners camp in the woods, then we’ve done it, neatly dodging the well-meaning volunteers.

We head off to Littlehampton and park up in our pitch. I still have a sore throat. The site is quite different from Emsworth, with more caravans, but it’s quiet and we’ve found a sunny spot. There’s next to no internet signal here for our little mobile pebble hub, but we pass a peaceful evening.

I wake feeling achey and unrested. After a while I decide a Covid lateral flow test is in order and Lo and Behold…there is the second red line. There’s not much deliberation and we’re not far from home so the second night gets scrapped as we pack up and take to the road home. Next morning it’s raining…

A Wander in West Sussex

Having regrouped from our debacle in Iceland, picked ourselves up and dusted down we opt for a modest, local jaunt in our campervan. It’s a while since we packed and prepped for such a trip so I resort to consulting our inventory list in the certain knowledge that we’ll have forgotten something. A few years ago we arrived to one of our favourite Isle of Purbeck sites to discover I’d loaded no bedding of any description, which resulted in a visit to Swanage’s one and only duvet and sheet stockists.

This March has come in like the proverbial lion, with ferocious, biting winds. At least the abortive Iceland trip was good for something, in that we amassed excellent cold weather gear. The van itself is cosy and warm- [warmer than our house!]. Also I’m reminded that the Ukrainian refugees are fleeing their war-torn country in icy, snowy conditions with their babies and all they can carry.

On our way back from Gatwick last month, the train passed through Emsworth, leading us to consider returning to have a look. It’s a modest distance from our home but not an area we’ve explored much so we’ve headed there, to a site at ‘Southbourne’, not the Southbourne, Bournemouth we moved from 5 years ago…

For our first day we wrap up well and walk down to the coast path and along to Emsworth, which is either a large village or a tiny town. It’s attractive, with a pretty harbour and not a lot else, including shopping, so I give up on the soft toothbrush I was hoping to pick up [having- yes- neglected to pack mine]. We get a coffee outside a small harbourfront cafe, sitting in a sunny, sheltered spot then it’s a short bus ride back to Southbourne.

Next day we opt for a visit to Chichester, accessed by a bus ride in the opposite direction. On the bus a single, portly, mature man feels the need to chat, starting with harmless remarks about bus stops and gradually progressing to rants about his pension, his dentist, his rent and why doesn’t everyone vote Conservative, at which point I no longer feel able to nod and murmur and I’m praying for his stop to be soon, please…When he gets up to leave the bus the woman who’d sat behind him is moved to tell me ‘Well that’s lucky…’ I also noticed that Husband, who’d been lucky to have taken the window seat, had found the passing countryside totally absorbing throughout the man’s diatribe.

We alight right beside Chichester’s magnificent cathedral but don’t enter as a recital is taking place. Instead we walk through the cloisters with their barrel-vaulted ceilings and the close- all very scenic. Then it’s a stroll of the streets and a quick look in a gallery or two. It’s a beautiful city with many historic pieces of architecture, including a wonderful market cross. There’s just time for a look at the Bishop’s Palace Gardens before we head back and the garden is extensive, although it’s too early in the year for many colourful displays.

The return bus is full to the gunnels, mostly with schoolchildren who act just exactly as you would expect groups of adolescents to-

Then we’re off to the pub, just a step along the road, for a very acceptable meal. We’re gearing up to move on to the next site in the morning…