Back into Oxford-

We’re undertaking a rain spattered bus tour of Oxford, sharing the top deck with a couple from Sidney. This typical British weather won’t be what they’re used to and I’m sad for them- or perhaps it’s a novelty and renders their experience more authentically British?

Our bouncy, enthusiastic guide, Catherine keeps us interested with plenty of anecdotes and by making references to our respective home locations. She knows plenty about everywhere, seemingly and hails from Somerset, herself. As we make our soggy way through the streets and past the individual colleges she provides us with a ‘who’s where’ of writers, artists, politicians, artists and otherwise famous people who attended them. There’s a comical moment when she mentions Boris Johnson and Husband interjects with ‘BOO!’ causing much hilarity from the Australian couple.

We’re not tempted to ‘hop-on-hop-off’, or certainly not to hop off, although the Australian pair alight when we pull into the bus station, taking their wheeled cases with them and off to Scotland, as the woman tells me.

It’s day 2 of our mini stay at the club site just on the outskirts of the city of Oxford and the morning arrives with much improved weather. After our previous day’s soggy walkabout we dined in the local pub- a perfectly acceptable pub meal- and all is well.

For this next day we’re meeting family members at the park and ride and heading back into city for a closer look at some of the colleges and historic buildings. After meeting up we clamber on to a double-decker bus and up the stairs to the top. The front seats are empty! In our dotage, we’ve all regressed to childhood in our delight in sitting on top at the front for the bus ride, enjoying a wonderful sense of almost-vertigo as the tall vehicle rounds corners, lurching like a galleon on the sea, and we’re able to peer down into peoples’ gardens or into top floor windows.

We alight in the city centre. Husband, who has a map, becomes the navigator. As usual I’m having to run to catch up most of the time due to photographing things [Husband has never been one to pause for photographical activities]. We get to look at a lot of things we passed on the ‘open-top’ and viewed through rain-streaked windows but this time the sun is out and even warm.

Today we can take ourselves to a restaurant and enjoy a long, leisurley lunch and we opt for a French bistro down a little side street, It’s great food in a rustic space that feels comfortable and intimate- ideal for catch-up chats.

There’s more wandering after lunch, although nobody feels like a long hike, or clambering up the ‘motte’ of the old castle which is surrounded by paths and also flanked by the historic jail.

Eventually we’re back at Queen’s College and the little old coffee shop, feeling it would be churlish not to stop for tea and cake before we amble to the bus stop for another lurching, swaying ride back to the park and ride. There’s more tea at the van and we bid our goodbyes. Home tomorrow…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

For our first foray by van this year I know I’m bound to forget something and of course, I do. In spite of copious list-making, notes to myself and references to our inventory we get as far as the supermarket before realising I’ve neglected to pack a bottom sheet for the bed. I’d been congratulating myself on even remembering the bedding itself- having once forgotten all of it- when it dawned on me, half way down the first aisle of Saunsbury’s. But all was not lost and I picked up a perfectly serviceable cotton sheet in the bedding aisle for £6 [a spare, white cotton, fitted sheet is always useful].

The weather is kind and it feels good to be off in the van- even if only for a couple of days and not very far. We’re going to Oxford, a mere two of hours away, to a site we’ve stayed in before which is conveniently next to the ‘park and ride’. Oxford is notorious for its lack of parking, snarled up streets and throngs of sightseers, making bus travel into city essential.

For non UK readers, Oxford is well known for its historic, 900 year old university and has been called ‘city of dreaming spires’, a description coined by the poet Matthew Arnold. The beautiful college buildings are spread over a wide area, some open to visitors to wander inside the gate and gawp at the splendid quadrangles in honey-coloured stone. Oxford has been a popular film location for many years, providing the set for Harry Potter films and much of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy, among other productions.

First we settle into our pre-booked pitch and have a gentle wander around our immediate locale, where there’s a weir and canal boats moored. The site is almost always busy but we’re here mid-week. A weekend stay would be impossible in this popular spot. In the evening we stroll along the main road to the nearest pub, which is perfectly adequate for an evening meal next day.

The next day we wake to a gloomy start, with grey clouds and an ominous sky. This does not bother the ducks on the grass outside the van, who wait for the staff member to unlock the office and head inside to pester him for breakfast- a well-rehearsed morning ritual.

But we’re not too downhearted, as for the time being we’re not going to walk much and had already planned to use the open-top bus. It’s a strategy we sometimes employ for looking at cities, giving us a chance to choose what we’ll come back to and providing us with an interesting [hopefully] and informative narrative.

We get to use our [oldies’] bus passes for the journey into town then, having located the bus tour office we clamber on and up. We’re fortunate. The covered area at the front of the bus has only two occupied seats. Catherine, our guide follows us upstairs. We’ve earphones but they’re not necessary as she’s sitting behind us!

Regular readers will have learned about Elton, our reluctant guide on Cape Verde [] but Catherine is everything that Elton was not; well-informed, enthusiastic, engaging and fun. Our top deck just has ourselves, an Australian couple and herself so we can sit back and enjoy the ride, the stories and the views through the rain-streaked windows…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Ready and Waiting

Home is never a bad place to be. In fact, we should feel lucky to have one, when so many do not. And now that the cold of winter has finally lost its grip there are pockets of sunshine between bursts of rain. The garden is waking and those first, bright, lime green shoots are appearing as well as hoards of weeds.

We are, however in house arrest at the moment due to circumstances [ill health] and inevtably we’re wishing we could be off on a travel adventure, as so many others are, according to social media.

Our last big trip was last autumn, to Corsica and Sardinia. On our return, knowing the van would be used much less throughout the winter I did my thorough, interior clean. I have a routine for this. I use a bucket of hot, soapy water. First, I deal with the fridge, taking out the shelves and grills and washing it all. Next I tackle the cooker, sink and worktop before turning my attention to the shelves and drawers inside our larder cupboard.

All cutlery, pans, plates, cups etc are brought indoors to be stacked into the dishwasher before being returned to their [clean] spots. Then it’s the ledges, windows and cab. The front cab is always covered in dust and grime after a lengthy trip. After this I turn my attention to the miniscule shower and toilet.

Lastly there’s the floor, which gets vaccuumed then scrubbed. I take the mats outside, hang them on our garden wall and give them a good bashing to eliminate dust. Of course there are times when rugs etc need replacing.

The exterior is Husband’s responsibility, as are the changes [he likes to call them ‘modifications’] he is always trialling. I have yet to find a good system for storing mugs and glasses that eradicates clinking noises as we travel. I did try florist’s ‘oasis’ foam but it crumbles, leaving a dusty deposit on everything. At the moment the mugs on the shelf travel with tea towels wrapped around them.

Though the van is getting elderly [aren’t we all…] it scrubs up well, is reliable [so far] and won’t be swapped any time soon, although at the moment it is languishing outside our home while we wait for health issues to be resolved…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Dorset Day Trip

The winter sun excursion to Cape Verde was over. I’ve mixed feelings about it as a holiday destination. Yes, there is much to love- the colourful culture, the [mainly] great restaurants and bars, the wide, wild coastline; but also much that is less enjoyable- the constant wind, the too-numerous roaming, wild dogs, the many abandoned building sites, scruffy with litter and dog poop. So, all in all, despite its frequent comparisons to the Caribbean, I’d certainly prefer the West Indies- which is more expensive, of course.

Back at home, we begin to think in terms of campervan trips. Husband enjoys pimping the van, sending for bits and pieces and always looking for ways to enhance van life. After the winter it feels like a good idea to get the van out for some day trips and get back into the swing of using it by some local travel. Even on cold, inclement days it’s a pleasant experience to park up somewhere, preferably with a good view, make some lunch, put the heating on and relax with a book.

So it’s on a grey, gloomy Sunday that we opt to drive out in the van, down the coast westwards to Weymouth for the day. Weymouth is a bit like Bournemouth’s poorer cousin, though the reasons aren’t clear. True, many seaside towns are impoverished and run down but it’s difficult to see why Weymouth would be. It has all the advantage that Bournemouth has, including stunning, sandy beaches. It has a direct rail link to London, albeit further down the line. It has charming, character architecture- including a beautiful Georgian seafront. It has a gorgeous harbour flanked by pretty, pastel coloured buildings; yet so much of the back streets and narrow lanes is unloved and in dire need of restoration.

But first, lunch. We need somewhere to park that does not have a low barrier and will be out of others’ way- and we find it, on the outskirts of the town, a large car park by the nature reserve- perfect! We can have lunch and a walk round the reserve, which has a sizeable lake and reed beds. It’s a short, circular walk but the cormorants are posing.

Then we’re off into town, to the seafront with its iconic clock tower and the sand artist, who has a permanent, sheltered stand these days. I love the buildings along the front, higgledy piggledy and characterful. The old harbour is also picturesque. Years ago there was a wonderful museum at Brewer’s Quay called ‘The Time Walk’ which was thrilling for children of all ages but no longer exists.

Rain has threatened all afternoon but we dash into a coffee shop as it begins to fall, then make our way back to the van for a rain-swept drive home…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Ups and Downs and Endings

This post is a continuation of a travelogue thread on the subject of Cape Verde. Track back to previous posts for the full account…

Our trip to Sal Island, Cape Verde is almost done and we’re undertaking an island tour, driven by our tour guide and driver, Elton. His guiding style consists of driving us somewhere, telling us where we are and opening the doors to let us out. En route, he is engaged with his phone or largely silent. We’ve no clue at all as to where we’ll go or what we’ll view.

Nevertheless we’re seeing places and having experiences, the last [detailed in last week’s post] somewhat unnerving and decidedly soggy.

I survive the incident in the shark-ridden waves, principally by being grabbed at the eleventh hour by the shark watch guide, Girondelo. I’ve been teetering as a large wave approached then he snatches my hand and holds me upright. My camera also survives, which is a stroke of luck; not so my shorts, which are sodden.

When Girondelo signals that we must return to the shore, I realise with dread that there’s another trek over the spiky coral in the thin, rubber shoes I’m wearing, a slog like stepping barefoot over a field of Lego bricks. He repeats his haul of me and my screeching self until we reach the sand- a relief! Husband, in sturdy crocs, has fared better and is only a little damp. Giro wants us to peruse his ‘shop’, to which we acquiesce, On viewing the assorted items on his tiny, wooden stall we select something to grace our naff shelves at home…[ ], paying an inflated price, of course, but then I’m still not sure whether he almost drowned me or saved my life…

Elton is, as usual ensconced with his phone in the car, stirring only to open the doors to us and shrugging when I point out my wet shorts will be on his upholstery. We bump along the unmade road once more and off up into some hills where the dusty track is worse still, throwing us all over the place and winding up and up. At the top we draw up, get out and can peer down into a huge basin where there are salt flats. We’ve seen a lot of salt flats but this is quite a spectacle as it’s perfectly framed by the surrounding hills. Above us there is an ancient and decaying structure of wooden planks and beams with wheels and pulleys, presumably for processing and transporting the salt down the hill to the nearby bay. It’s bleak and more windy than ever up here but it’s atmospheric.

There’s not much more to the tour, except for a brief stop at an attractive bay where there’s a pirate-themed bar and restaurant based in an old shipwreck.

Then we’re off back to Santa Maria and our hotel.

With only a day or two left we decide we should find a restaurant in the town for our evening meal, rather than the more local ones we’ve come to know. After looking at Tripadvisor we choose ‘Ocean’, a large, busy place on the main square which gets rave reviews. One side of the establishment is given over to bar, the other to meals. We arrive about 7pm and are led to a table in a corner by the lavatories…hmm…

We order a starter and a main meal from a menu that’s burger and pizza heavy but offers enough choice, at least to cater for my dietary difficulties. After a time the starters come and they’re fine- even too much when we’ve a main meal to follow, so I wrap up my dim sum and stow them in my bag for next day’s lunch. Then we wait…and wait. A glance around at other tables shows that those who’ve come in after us are already on their next courses, also our waiter is entranced by the two diners who’ve just sat down at the table next to us, fist-bumping with them and asking where they’re from [they are French].

During our wait there’s a hiatus and the entire waiting staff do a dance routine to the guitar playing of the musician in the corner- all very slick, but we are definitely wanting our meal now.

It’s been 45 minutes and no sign. Husband collars a passing waiter [not ours] and asks where our meals are. The waiter goes to see. We wait again. I nab another waiter and ask where the food is. Suddenly there’s a flurry of activity and some panicked faces as they scurry in and out of the kitchen. By now we’re aggrieved. We opt to leave, standing up as a woman approaches with two plates. It’s too late and we’re annoyed. We leave the money on the table for our drinks and starter as three of them pursue us, protesting. But it isn’t nice to be neglected in a restaurant.

We start back towards our end of town and plump for a modest but popular place we’ve been to before, where we are served lovely food with a smile. I get my revenge on ‘Ocean’ with my own Tripadvisor review.

Our return flights are to be overnight. We’re lucky to be seated by the emergency exits for the flight to Lisbon- less lucky to be waiting on the tarmac for an hour and a half for the second leg of the journey, resulting in our missing our bus home from GW, London. C’est la vie…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Whatever Have We Come to See in the Sea?

This week’s post is a continuation of a travel thread. For previous episodes, please track back to past weeks.

We’d booked an ‘island tour’ for one of our last days on Sal, Cape Verde. Our driver and supposed tour guide, Elton, is a man of few words, we’d discovered. Nevertheless, he is taking us around this tiny island and showing us what there is of note, even if he is a little short on imparting information.

On booking this tour, we’ve received no kind of itinerary and have no clue whatsoever as to what we might see or not see. We are entirely in the hands of Elton, which, as it transpires, is a mixed blessing.

After leaving Palmeira ‘fishing village’, we travel on towards the next destination, whatever it will be. During the very brief drive we’ve had in the streets of Espargos, the island’s capital I’ve been intrigued and would have liked to have had some time to explore properly. It’s a fascinating mixture of brightly painted homes and buildings and run-down, dilapidated structures or scruffy, ruined plots. It’s also hilly. Elton draws to a halt outside a large, corrugated building and lets us out. We enter and discover it’s a market, or rather it was a market earlier in the day. Now it boasts three stalls, two of them selling fruits and vegetables, although I’ve seen no evidence of crop growing on the island so presumably it has been imported from other, greener islands. There’s no way to find out as Elton has withdrawn to the car. We buy a couple of items and make use of the market’s bathroom facilities before rejoining our reluctant tour guide to continue the drive.

We go on quite a long way then turn off abruptly, off road and on to an unmade track. It winds about all over the place, dust billowing around us as we bump along. Ahead we can see the ocean and vehicles parked; then as we draw nearer we spot a gathering in the surf- many tourists standing in the waves to look at…what? We’ve no idea but must assume it’s what we’re here for, too- to look at something.

We stop at a haphazard collection of huts and stalls and are released from the car. Elton motions us to follow him and we’re taken to a hut with shelves outside housing a collection of rubber overshoes and croc-style footwear. Of course we’re to be joining the crowd in the waves to look at…something; clearly something worth looking at. In order to hire the rubber shoes we must, of course hand over cash, which we do. Husband gets a pair of sturdy crocs and I, I get a thin pair of rubber galoshes. A young man emerges and Elton gestures at him, ‘your guide’ he says, with no more of an explanation. The ‘guide’ [Girondelo, he tells me when I ask his name] moves off, beckoning us to follow, across the sand and then on to the rocky coral and volcanic stone beach, where I instantly discover that the flimsy soles of the rubber shoes offer no protection at all from the sharp, pointy rocks we are treading on. ‘OW!’, ‘OUCH!’ I yowl, falling behind as Husband and Girondelo as I stumble on. Giro turns to grab my hand very tight and pulls, and there’s no option but to press on, the soles of my feet feeling every step like walking across a watery football pitch covered in Lego bricks.

I should add that I’m further hampered by a small rucksack bag plus, in my right hand, my trusty camera which I must keep dry at all costs…

We’re getting nearer the crowd, but now we’re also getting into water, deeper and deeper. We’re wearing shorts, but as we progress I’ve no hope of staying dry, since shortness of stature and length of shorts preclude it and soon I’m wet up to crotch level, with the added instability of feisty waves buffeting. By now, aware of my inadequacies in the coral-walking field, Giro has tucked my hand under his arm as he continues to pull, simultaneously ordering me to ‘slow down’. Slow down? He’s dragging me along!

‘Would you bring your grandmother out here, Giro?’ I ask him, but I’ve discovered by now that his command of English is as minimal as my Portuguese…

By now we’re aware of what we’ve come to see, as, swimming around our legs there are dozens of sharks. ‘Look!’ yells Giro, ‘Baby shark!’ I’m far more terrified of the waves and the prospect of losing my camera to the frothy waves than I am of the sharks, which are smallish and unthreatening, but how on Earth am I to take photos with one hand? Then, without warning, Giro lets go of my left hand and I’m on my own, teetering in the rolling surf on an unsteady, coral strewn base. As a large wave approaches I feel myself wobble and my arms begin to flay in a desperate attempt to keep myself and the camera from submersion…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Sal- a Mysterious Tour Without Magic

At our small, relatively isolated hotel on Sal, Santa Maria, Cape Verde, fellow holiday makers come and go. At times, the breakfast community is full to bursting, with barely an empty chair. At other times it’s sparse, with no queues for the coffee machine or lengthy waits for omelettes. At the end of the room, the door is kept open and hoards of cheeky sparrows have learned that there is a feast to be had once the bread rolls, cakes and fruit are served, helping themselves at the tables if they can get away with it. Sometimes when the diners leave there’s a sparrow party as they dive in for the leftovers.

Our Island tour day comes around. The car is a sturdy, silver 4×4 and we are to learn why it’s essential later in the day! Our driver/tour guide, Elton introduces himself; we clamber in and buckle up and are soon bumping along the unmade road towards the edge of town. It soon becomes apparent that Elton is more driver and less tour guide, since his monosyllabic replies to questions give away minimal information and, in any case, whilst driving, he’s on his phone more often than off.

We travel out past a couple of service stations and on to the duel carriageway that leads to the airport. There is very little traffic and Elton takes advantage by driving in the outer lane where there are fewer ruts and holes. His driving style is gung-ho and often ‘hands-free’ [from the steering wheel], his approach to roundabouts is to pretend they don’t exist. It’s one of those times, like flights, when you just have to surrender yourself to the hands of the person in control- i.e. Elton.

Now that we’re in the interior [though seldom far from the coast] we can see how barren and dry the landscape is, with nothing grown in the windswept, sandy soil, nothing resembling a tree or shrub, only patches of scrubby grass.

During a lull between Elton’s calls I ask him where Sal’s water comes from and he grunts ‘de-salination’, pointing to the walled factory we’re just passing, on the outskirts of Espargos, Sal’s capital. It’s the only de-salination plant on the island. I think of all the hotels, swimming pools, showers and homes on the island and wonder how this one, seawater processing plant copes.

We skirt the edge of Espargos and drive on to Palmeira, which is, apparently a ‘fishing village’. In the event it’s an area on the fringe of town with a few, colourful, picturesque cottages sporting murals, a church and a marina housing fishing boats. On the quayside there’s some fish preparation going on and up on the narrow road a stream of pickups and tour buses is lining up. Elton opens the doors for us but it takes next to no time to walk the two or three streets. He stays behind with the car and gestures feebly at the tiny harbour and I wonder if he’s disappointed we are not inclined to visit the gift shop or spend longer looking at the harbour. We climb back into the car.

The tour continues [in next week’s post!]…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Highs and Woes in Cape Verde

The first few days after arriving to a new destination are all about discovery and exploration. After our breakfast on the first full day on Sal, Cape Verde we divide our time into relaxation and walking, since walking is one of the best ways to get around. There is very little traffic around our area and what vehicles there are tend to be taxis or other tourist transport. Some are pickups in which tourists are required to sit at the back in the open air and we are not tempted by them since a] the winds are brisk and cool and b] there is nothing resembling any kind of seat belt.

I’ve woken with a sniffly, runny nose since our arrival. A child in the queue at the airport was stricken with a streaming cold, which has, presumably affected most of the passengers on the Lisbon plane.

Nevertheless we wander to Santa Maria, our nearby town and then further still, to beyond the town and along a decked walkway to a much more upmarket area of chain hotels- Radisson, Hilton etc. The beaches are vast and unsullied by sunbathers [it’s not warm enough!] but attended by windsurfers and kite surfers. There are many companies doing a roaring trade in board and sail hire, also tuition. There is an abundance of cafes and restaurants- as well as the ubiquitous ‘Irish pub’.

Along the walkway we spot horses, tattoo parlours [not too busy!], gift shops and hawkers of small items spread on sheets and we are waylaid countless times by sellers hoping to catch our attention. Many of the items for sale are made of recycled/upcycled materials and a huge amount of it is from shells. In fact I’m struck by the plethora of recycled and repurposed items around; planters from halved containers, beach shelters from tyres, bar furniture from old pallets and so on.

We’ve dined in the hotel on our first evening, which happened to be Valentines’ Day, an acceptable though not stupendous meal, accompanied by a lacklustre guitarist/singer warbling out ballads from the likes of Ed Sheeran. Now we’re up for a more adventurous evening and we opt for a busy restaurant on the way into town, Porto Antiguo, where there’s a jollier guitarist and a lively atmosphere. It is to become one of our preferred restaurants for its friendly service, good food and fun atmosphere.

Husband succumbs to the cold and has a much worse experience, streaming and sneezing for the next few days.

The hotel manager comes to the room to tell us ‘Your room is ready’, which is mystifying. Later, her colleague comes to explain that this is not our room and we must move, that the enormous room we’ve been occupying is a ‘suite’, that our booked room is a modest, balcony-free room somewhere else and that the night receptionist should have informed us upon check-in. Hm…

We move. We’re not too unhappy. We’ve a kettle and a better fridge and the shower is nicer. We still have an ocean view and can use the poolside loungers- except that the weather continues to be rampantly windy in between bouts of sun.

Husband’s cold gets better. I begin a UC flare [for more recent readers, here’s the link:] I’m well prepared with meds, although it sheds a blight over activities, dining and enjoying an occasional beer. Bleurgh!

But we’re aware we haven’t seen much of the island and will need to book a tour, which we do, with the hotel. It’s to be a ‘private’ tour in a 4X4 rather than a pickup and will also need to be an afternoon jaunt, owing to the flare [always worse in the mornings]. We settle on a day nearer to the end of our stay to allow some degree of recovery for both of us…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Starting Back

4 Revisions

After leaving Caunes Minervois in the far south of France, and an arty interlude, we set off north. And while we’ve journeyed up through France many, many times it’s still a pleasure to meander up through the country and experience the differing landscapes, the changing crops, the divers architecture. We’ve crossed the fantastic bridge at Millau on numerous occasions but it continues to inspire awe, even though this time there is work being done.

We opt for autoroutes for a good deal of the way on this occasion. We head up towards the Loire. We’re constrained, now by campsites that are still open this late in the season but there will be enough places to stay on the way home. It helps, too, if there are sites near to towns or villages where we can enjoy an evening, perhaps get a drink in a bar or a meal.

There’s a likely place across the bridge at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire. We think we’ve stayed at the site before but once we arrive and enter the long avenue that is their driveway we realise it isn’t the one we thought it was. This happens often- either we think we’ve stayed somewhere and haven’t, or we think it’s new to us and then remember we’ve been at the site before. This is a combination of memory loss and sheer number of sites visited!

We park on the long avenue/driveway and go to reception, where there is a lengthy wait while someone booking in enjoys a chat with the receptionist about where they’re from etc and the receptionist tells the someone how much she enjoys speaking in her fluent English. Once we get our turn in the small office, the young woman is determined to use her English once more, even though it is not so fluent and we’d have got on better in French. Still, we eventually book in and can choose where to go except not near the river, where it is decidedly soggy.

There is still enough sunshine to sit outside the van, although we’re accosted by an English couple from the VW van opposite who are keen to talk about their grandchildren and how they’ve had to go home and return in order not to fall foul of the 90/180 day rule. This rule is news to us, and when we check it transpires we’ve used 87 of our 90 days. Phew!

We wander across the bridge to the town, which is pleasant enough, with a tiny chateau and park. The shop windows are full of autumn displays. Nothing restaurant-related pops out, but a riverside bar has tables in the sun so it seems churlish not to take advantage for a beer in the sunshine.

Next day we’re unable to detect anything resembling a hosepipe for water filling and the waste emptying is coyly concealed. We make an exit and embark on the next hop- up to Falaise, which holds some pleasant surprises! The municipal site is beautiful, with excellent, modern services and a stunning view of the stand-out castle- William the Conqueror’s castle, no less! By the time we get up the hill to look at it there’s only about half an hour of visiting time left, so it’s not worth buying tickets, but the exterior is lovely and boasts great views of the surroundings.

It’s just as well we’re on our way home, since the van’s leisure batteries have now given up and there’s no point in hooking up as nothing seems to happen when we do. So we’re without electricity.

Then we’re off up to Caen-via a supermarket, of course, for a good stock-up. The trusty campsite at Ouistreham is open and, best of all, the lovely canal-side restaurant has a table available. Husband drops me off to rush in and do a booking. It’s all getting end-of-trip now and I’m experiencing my usual mix of regret and anticipation. What kind of state will the house be in? And the garden? We’re limping home with some van problems to sort out. There will be plenty to do!

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

The Lost Van and the Art Village

Our Ferry from Corsica arrives back to Toulon, south on the French mainland. It’s early enough to still be dark and I’m feeling stretched from lack of sleep, having spent a wakeful night on a mattress I’ve dragged from the top bunk. But we stumble out and make our way out of the cabin decks and in the general direction of the car decks. But which one? We came up from our deck in a lift, but there is more than one. I definitely recall a large, shiny space when we exited the lift- but where is it?

We begin to search all exits, trying staircases, of which there are many, descending to car decks, lorry decks, dead ends. Which deck is ours? Which side? And which end? We squeeze between gigantic lorries, searching for our van. Outside in the half-light of dawn, vehicles are streaming out and off while we continue to do a frantic search for our campervan. We’re starting to despair as we go back upstairs to try again to find our lift area- then we spot a group of foot passengers in a waiting area which is…shiny, spacious and outside some lifts. At last! We push through the foot passengers and go down to the depths. And there is our van, in almost solitary splendour except for a few vehicles trapped behind it, their drivers waiting for us to arrive and a few extremely irritated ferry crew members. We’re sheepish as we drive off and I’m mouthing ‘sorry’, although it doesn’t feel entirely our fault.

We’ve to navigate Toulon in the half-light then off up the motorways. We’re heading towards home now, although France is big [by our terms] and we’ll be making a small diversion to see a friend and ex-colleague of Husband’s. Nick was an art teacher and is now a successful painter living in a small village in the Minervois area. This entire region is almost entirely given over to wine production, with a spot of tourism thrown in- as well as art, of course.

The village where Nick lives, Caunes Minervois, has a community of artists including potters as well as painters. We arrive mid-afternoon and search for the village’s handy campsite, which, as Nick has established for us, is open. The entrance isn’t obvious, although it’s by the sport complex, which is commonplace for a municipal site. There’s nobody manning reception but we’re directed, via a notice, to find a place and see someone later. The site is tiny but lovely, with a view of the cute village. It’s beautifully maintained and has everything we need- and all for 12 Euros per night!

Husband strides off up the village to see his friend while I get an hour or so of sleep. We wander up to Nick’s cottage later in the evening, strolling through the lanes. It’s hilly, narrow streets flanked by stone, terraced cottages. There’s a stone cross and a beautiful bell tower on the church. It’s all idyllic. Opposite Nick’s house, on the sloping lane, lives a potter, Lionel- examples of his ceramics adorning his front yard.

The inside of Nick’s house is as quaint and cute as everywhere else, with small rooms leading on to a courtyard partly covered by a vine. The rooms are filled with his art works, large canvases, swirling and vigorous. Across the courtyard is his huge studio, rustic and criss-crossed with beams. It’s warm enough to sit in the courtyard to eat.

It’s late when we walk back through the village to the campsite. Nick has warned us that the streetlights will be off and indeed, it is dark, but there’s enough light to see to walk and there’s something lovely about the ancient village, silent in the dark.

In the morning Nick comes to us for coffee and we ask to buy a painting, making a quick second visit to the studio to choose. It’s tricky! Nick’s work is shown in many, prestigious exhibitions, including the Saatchi Gallery and Brazilian locations. But we reach an agreement and he wraps it carefully for us to take away.

I feel reluctant to leave but we must make progress north now that Autumn has taken firm hold so we bid Nick ‘au revoir’ and we’re off again…

You can visit Nick’s Facebook page here:

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