Runcorn to Rodez

Day 1 July 6th  2015

You know what it’s like with children. They can get ill on the day you’re about to travel.  The van – Phoebe – took ill the day before departure. The water pump packed up. Widnes Camping Caravanning Company to the rescue. Other camping and caravanning companies are no doubt available, but this lot were brilliant. A new water pump was fitted by 10am on the day we were setting off.

Campervan 'hospital'.
Campervan ‘hospital’.

Thank you very much Widnes Caravan Centre. An excellent service.


We’re off !!

1969 – 2015. Hey, what’s 46 years between friends, or even family. Gulp!


I’m writing today in the idyllic Averyon valley looking back over the past couple of weeks or so.   The trip meter is reading 1300 miles – most of them completed in Runcorn on this first day. No – that’s unfair – but the name ‘The Runcorn Expressway’ on that day was truly an oxymoron. Most drivers took well over an hour to travel 2 miles on this route which ironically we were taking to avoid the busy M6. I managed to escape the queue but then spent 40 mins trying to get out of Runcorn  by another route. Eventually I admitted defeat and went back over the Runcorn bridge to Widnes and essentially we started again. I’ve lived in Liverpool since College days and so know the area well but Runcorn has had the capacity to defeat me and, this time my Sat Nav, for more than four decades.

Slightly geeky, route type information coming up now. Starting again,  we took the M62 to the M6, over the Thelwall Viaduct. We did not take the M6, known affectionally by some as the Cheshire/Staffordshire free car park, but went for the M56. Waving at the stationary Runcorn Expressway traffic as we past, we were now zooming down the M56 heading for Chester. Stopped at Services for a coffee. Great! It’s all going very well. Travelling for an hour and a half and we’re half way to Chester! A journey that at night might take 30 mins? It’s 1969 all over again. Let’s camp in Nuneaton? Perhaps not.

However, all was good. The sun began to shine and we headed south. M56 to Chester. Then, fast dual carriageway to Wrexham, Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Kidderminster, Worcester, a bit of M5 then swerve around Swindon ( much like the one and only Preston North End had done a few weeks previously at Wembley – see earlier post).  We were soon entering into the gilded South of England. Marlborough – beautiful, undulating fields of wheat, a clear blue sky and a definite spring in Phoebe’s step. Phoebe is my van, Margaret is my sister in case there was any confusion.

Okay – a confession about the Phoebe thing. I confess, yes –  I did name my van. I know that is a potentially high-risk strategy. It could mark you out as being a slightly soft, nerdy type – perfect! Since I’ve only got 4 followers to the blog though, I don’t think it’s going to be a major issue.

Where were we – oh yes – Marlborough. Marlborough. Kate Middleton. Marlborough School. I like Kate – well you know, she seems a nice girl. It’s not her fault she’s joined the ruling aristocracy and will one day be Queen. Oh – perhaps it is her fault. Anyway – good luck to you Kate and your family. You seem pretty normal to me and ‘normal’ is good. I was once at a conference at Oxford University where 95% of the delegates were from the Independent sector. The teacher from Marlborough College looked, well, amazing in his multi coloured blazer and matching tie but he could have come from another planet than the world most of us occupy.  I am not judging, just saying, we undoubtedly do live in two nations when it comes to some aspects of education.

Apologies for the above paragraph. It will probably be edited out, if the blog had an editor other than me.

We left Marlborough behind along with my silent musings and by early evening were in Poole eating superb fish and chips overlooking Poole Harbour. A beautiful setting sun and bathing in its warmth marked the end of a good day; a satisfying day’s travel; a lovely day.

Poole, Dorset.
Poole, Dorset.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Cherbourg. No camping tonight. We stayed the night at Margaret’s son’s house in Poole. Nice one Nick. :-).

A bientot encore mes amis. Feel free to comment or sign up to follow the blog.


1969 – 2015 Preston to Carcassonne – a roadtrip revisited

In July 1969 my sister and I set off from Preston to travel to Britanny in our dad’s Austin A40. We had had an exchange student from Nimes (Preston’s twin town) staying with us only a few weeks previously and on a bit a crazy whim and to allegedly help with my A Level French and Geography, we just basically set off with a borrowed largish, box-walled scout tent and a ridiculous amount of food from our parents shop and, I recall, a solid fuel stove – I think – and a kettle.

Margaret driving, me navigating we hit the road. If there is such a thing as intrepid but cautious travellers then perhaps that was us.

Night 1 –  Camped at Nuneaton! Nothing against Nuneaton but this was hardly blazing a trail. The M6 and M1 didn’t join up in those days but that is probably not an adequate excuse for only doing 120 miles on Day 1.

Night 2 – Camped at Dover. Two days and we hadn’t left the country!

Night 3 – Honfleur, Normandy. Honfleur, as you probably know, is a beautiful, picturesque fishing village. In 1969 it was probably even more quaint, unspoilt and perfect. I thought that all French towns were going to be the same!

I don’t think I had a clear idea what Brittany was going to be like but, similar to much of England this summer, it was raining so on Day 4 we basically turned left and headed south looking for sun. Rouen, Le Mans, Poitiers, Limoges. No motorways, truly empty roads. French roads are a delight today but in the late sixities, they were truly blissful although my memories of the them are all in black and white and accompanied by the smell of Disque Blue which I bought and smoked like a true wannabe student from the Spring of Paris ’68.

Today, I’m writing in France in July 2015.

Given secure internet connections and a fair wind, I’ll try to post a bit as I go but first a shot of Margaret on our 1969 trip. We were camped somewhere near Rodez, only about 60 miles from where I am today.


A bientot.


The Leaving of Liverpool

In July 1969 my sister and I set off from Preston in an Austin A40 heading for France. Margaret was driving, I was ‘navigator’. I was studying A Level French and Geography. We set off for France for the language and the Central Massif for the Geography. Tomorrow we set off to recreate this road trip and are scheduled to arrive in Carcassonne on July 14th – ‘Bastille Day’.

Our transport this time is ‘Phoebe’ my VW T5 campervan.

Phoebe wants to look her best for the trip
Phoebe wants to look her best for the trip

But what are we leaving behind? A Liverpool that has been reborn since winning European Capital of Culture in 2008. As I write, the Liner Queen Mary 2 is leaving Liverpool bound for New York recreating the first transatlantic crossing 175 years ago. Today, Liverpool attracts visitors from around the world. In 1840 when those first Cunard transatlantic liners set sail for New York, Liverpool was undoubtedly the second city of the Empire and perhaps in this spirit, it just unashamedly ‘borrowed’ some of London’s landmarks. So, in Liverpool, we have Islington, Kensington, Pall Mall, the Strand, Wapping, Drury Lane. Are there more?

But, what of my local Sefton Park Liverpool?  There’s a fair bit of independent, quirky, self confidence lurking in this really pretty fab patch of South Liverpool. In my local bakery – Aigburth Bakery-  you’ll find a fair smattering of irony and a definite statement of intent which, let’s be honest, is refreshing in our brand-based, commercial world.

Free coffee with a newspaper
Free coffee with a newspaper


Bit of irony and a free coffee but not with this newspaper. You okay with that?


Today in Liverpool we see lots of this.


This happened to be Hollyoaks. Drama?  Hmm……Perhaps?

I left the film makers to it and then bumped into two pirates watering their tomatoes on the allotment, as you do.

068 if you want to book a couple of great pirates. Allotments are a place of real, individual character. I always knew gardening was for me. If you’ve read previous posts you’ll know I’m the proud custodian of Lilo Lill’s shed (‘Carla Lane’s ‘Bread’) and I know Lilo Lill would have been proud to have Mycroft and mate as neighbours.

So – that’s something of what I’m leaving behind in Liverpool as we head off on Monday for the South of France. We’re heading into extreme temperatures 35+. However, the UK this week has seen our own record temperatures. My blog aims to be centred around social norms. Well – a bit of heat in Britain and we go rather crazy. Transport chaos, some frenzy from the press, and we are suddenly in melt down. I’m pleased to say that earlier in the week I bumped into Geoff, the landlord of the Cheshire Cheese pub in Frodsham  who was unashamedly embracing our Mediterranean weather.


Well done Geoff, I say. Nice meeting you. Thank you for letting me take your photo and I’ll pop into your pub on the return trip from France.