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.

How We Roll Back…

We’ve spent a lot of time visiting south west France now, which means familiarity with the route, as well as the entire area. Nevertheless we still search for new ways to get there and back [avoiding motorways and their tolls]. A few weeks ago I wrote how we set off, where we like to embark, the entire routine.

So then, after a few weeks ‘bimbling’ [Husband’s word], we have to turn the van northwards and consider how we might return. We select a day. On this occasion, Husband came up with a plan to return overnight in a cabin, which appealed until we discovered that the ferry sets off late, leaving little or no opportunity to schmooze in the restaurant and bar. Who wants to drive on, locate the cabin, clean teeth and get straight into a berth?

These days it is neither necessary nor desirable to scramble up the length of France in one, long day and we prefer a gentle, staged journey – still attempting to find hitherto unexplored places.

We opted to return from Ouistreham [Caen] knowing there is a very convenient aire next to the ferry terminal for our last night. We decided to spend a couple of nights at Dinard, which is only a couple of hours away and left us time to explore as well as execute the all-important pre-return shopping spree that is obligatory at the finale of all trips.

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Dinard is situated across the bay from St Malo and probably suffers for it’s glamorous, historic neighbour but we’ve stayed at St Malo enough times. A look at one or two lacklustre ACSI [off season discount card ] sites confirmed that the municipal site at Port Blanc would be a good choice and so it was-with an uninterrupted view of the beach and bay from our van.

The weather by this time had become blustery and drizzly-a reminder that we were on our way home.

The site offered  a bar and pizzas-surprising at this end of season period but not an option for us [I am unable to eat pizzas]. A five minute walk up the road led us to a lively area with bakeries, bars and brasseries. On Sunday afternoon a small stage was hosting a display of line dancing-

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The restaurant we chose was old fashioned but proved popular, as after we’d been seated every table was occupied.

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Dinard is a hilly seaside town reminiscent of Scarborough, with an air of faded elegance-enormous old hotels, a smattering of art deco, luxuriant gardens and promenades as well as ice cream parlours and bars. There is evidence of an interest in the arts, with a film festival running and some impressive sculptures dotted along the prom.

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We walked back to site via a path around the sea wall which wound around the town cliffs, narrow in places and in a bracing wind, but thrilling and with dramatic views.

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We left Dinard to scoop up items on our wish-list from a Carrefour complex the size of five football pitches then drove up our well-trodden route to Caen and to our customary spot next to the ferry. We dodged the motorhome-bore [‘I’ve Been Everywhere, Man’], showered and went to get a meal. next day the ferry’s engines woke us at 6.30am, just right for packing up and trundling the 500yards into the check-in queue. Drive on, climb up to the coffee bar, grab coffee and croissant, settle into a couchette. That’s how we roll back…