Thursday, 20 October 2011


Crikey, it's over 2 weeks since I last blogged! But we finally arrived home on Monday so hopefully I will get back into the rhythm now and post more regularly. But for now, a summary of our 'Travels in Sadie' over the past 2+ weeks.

The main point of our second visit to the UK in the van this year was to attend Andy's dad's wedding to Lynne in Tamworth at the beginning of the month. After a lovely few days in Dorset with mum and Jamie, we headed North, spending the night before the wedding in the Malverns where we had a good but very undulating and hot 10km run in the morning. Hard work! A shower in the van then up to Tamworth for the 5pm wedding followed by a few hours at the reception and then a 1 1/2 hour drive to All Stretton below the Long Mynd in Shropshire where we visited back in June. We parked up in the same spot and had a quiet night but were awoken in the morning by the National Trust representative placing a note underneath our windscreen wiper, informing us that overnight parking was not allowed and that our reg had been noted. Great. Thanks. No matter that the 'byelaws' that they referred to were at the bottom of the back of a tattered, weather-worn, practically illegible sheet of A4 at the entrance to the parking area. No matter that it was 'out of season'. Arse. So, we moved down the road and bit the bullet of 2 nights' campsite fees. From there, we managed a stiff 13km mountain bike straight up onto the Long Mynd from Little Stretton which really tested the legs followed the next day by a lovely 12km walk up on to the Mynd in fantastic weather which I wished later we had run!

The weather was glorious but after 2 days on the campsite we decided to head down towards Exmoor. We found a fantastic spot to park up up on the moor above Minehead with great views and managed to get in a very windy run along the coastal path towards Bossington before the weather closed in

It was way too windy to contemplate riding the bikes so, after a brief detour to Bristol to pick up Andy's repaired HTC, we headed back down to Dorset where we stayed for another few days before catching the ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. I had wanted to explore Brittany on this trip but the weather in the North Western corner of France was overcast and cold and the forecast for the foreseeable future was not good either. Sun was however promised from the Poitou Charente region southwards. So we headed South and ended up in a lovely spot at Talmont-sur-Gironde on the coast just south of Royan in Pineau country. Pineau is one of my favourite aperos so I was a happy bunny! The bonus was that we had a fantastic, free parking spot on a big parking area dedicated to campervans. Great!

The area has some waymarked mountain bike circuits which I was keen to explore now that we had found the sun again. We managed two circuits while we there, one of 21.5km and the other 33km, both of which lacked waymarks at critical points which made for a frustrating time! But still, it was good to be back on the bikes again and to explore more of this undulating area which is dominated by vineyards and agricultural land.

From there, we headed South again to the mountains South of Pau for our final few days away. The smaller ski resorts are perfect areas in which to park up at this time of year. They generally have spacious, flat parking areas which are deserted and from where you can easily get up high into the mountains for a walk. We parked up at Gourette, a few kilometers below the Col d'Aubisque and followed the GR on the stiff climb up to the Etang d'Anglas and then onwards and upwards to our high point of the Hourquette d'Arre at 2465m, a total climb of over 1100m in just over 6kms. It was stunning and just amazing to be back up in the mountains again in perfect conditions! We stopped a couple of times to soak up the peace and quiet and the breathtaking scenery.

We ran just about the whole of the 1100m descent which was tough on the legs and which would result in me being in a great deal of discomfort for the following two days! But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We popped up to the Col d'Aubisque while we were in the area which was, again, a beautiful spot

Then, it was time to head home. We had two more days of lovely warm, still weather which allowed me to get the washing dried and the van unpacked. But then a quick blast of winter which saw the first proper dusting of snow on the local mountains. Andy took this lovely panoramic photo from our walk up to the Cap des Campets from Peguere this afternoon - chilly! Time to light the woodburner, methinks!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Onward travels

No, I have not disappeared off the face of the earth - it has just been proving incredibly difficult to find the time to blog on this trip! But finally, a bit of an update. 2 weeks ago, we were at Alpe d'Huez, a strangely soulless place in the 'inter-season', as indeed most 'out of season' ski resorts are.  But we had a good parking spot and nice views all the same - can you see Sadie?
I took the pooch for a walk up above the resort and the view towards the higher mountains was fantastic
We never got to explore its mountain biking and walking potential as the weather came in on Sunday. The exterior temperature gauge indicated 5 degrees, and we were treated to strong winds and driving rain - time to move on.

We headed a few hours North to the Jura department and had an exhausting and frustrating time trying to a) find somewhere suitable to park up and b) find somewhere that had an adequate 3G signal. We ended up on the edge of the National Park just NE of Lons-le-Saunier, in the midst of the Jura vineyards! I can think of worse places to stop. We spent one night in a quiet little carpark on the edge of the village of Voiteur, where I
stocked up on Macvin, a delicious Jura aperitif and also a few bottles of local wine. The renowned hilltop village of Chateau-Chalons which produces the 'Vin Jaune' of the Jura was just up the road.
We got in a good 8km run from Voiteur through the vineyards and then next day we headed to Verges for a cracking mountain biking afternoon. The area has loads of waymarked routes and we chose to do two of them back-to-back.... like you do. We blasted round the first 24.5km/300m+ circuit in just 1h43m
had lunch and then set off for the second 15.8km/320m+ circuit which was a different ball game 

 It was really hard technical riding in parts thanks to recent rain as the ascents kept on coming - we were seriously flagging after the 1h38m that it took us to get around. But what a good workout it had been!

After the mountain bike outing, we stayed in the Jura department but booked into a small campsite in Baume-les-Messieurs for 2 nights from where we did a 12km/475m+ walk which took us around the renowned 'réculées de Baume', which is a specific geological feature of the Jura area involving limestone erosion and collapse which results in deep gorges of up to 200m high - stunning!

From the Jura, up to the Champagne region. It's a great area if you are into vineyards and, well, Champagne, but not if you are in a campervan wanting to go mountain biking/running/walking because a) parking up is impossible  and b) it is virtually impossible to get info on mountain biking circuits in the area. So, after a night in a village car park, we left and headed North to an area just south of Laon which looked great on paper (the road map). We found a lovely, quiet little level parking area next to a fishing lake near the village of Chamouille.
To get there, we drove along the 'Chemin des dames' ridge which saw much action during the First World War

The fishing lake adjoined a much larger lake around which, thanks to the internet, I managed to find a good 10km running circuit which we knocked off in just over an hour.

From there, up to Calais and the ferry back to the UK which is where the fun and games as 'camper-vanners' really starts. Having spent 2 weeks travelling up through France, it is interesting to make comparisons between France and the UK. France is wonderfully geared up and organised for people travelling in motorhomes and campervans. Not only do motorways have 'service stations' (aires) with dedicated campervan overnighting spots, set well back from the autoroute, plus facilities for emptying your toilet cassette and waste water and for filling up with water, but throughout France, many towns and villages have 'vidange' facilities for servicing your campervan which are either totally free or cost a maximum of 3 euros. Not only that, but, in France, there are generally very few restrictions on where you can park overnight. Contrast this now with the UK. There are no facilities for camper-van/motorhome owners to service their vehicle other than at campsites where you are either required to pay over £5.00 for the privilege or are made to feel like a right cheeky bugger for even daring to ask! Clearly, UK towns and villages do not want such people to stay locally, spending their money in shops and restaurants, bringing much needed revenue to the area. It baffles me, to be honest.

Anyway, rant over. We spent 4 nights at mum's in Dorset where I got to spend some valuable time both with mum and with Jamie catching up with his latest plans and projects. I shall do a separate post on our UK adventures as I think this one has gone on for quite long enough!