It’s a poor excuse to say I’ve been busy, but I suppose I have been busy squeezing in trips to Naples, Santorini and Nice to finish off my 2015 year of travel. Naples was great, Santorini and Nice were outstanding.
So – I’m just throwing this little blog out there in an attempt to get back on track again.
My campervan road trip finished with me and Phoebe in one piece having done 4004 miles ( it might have been 4003 but I’m a bit OCD and probably popped up to Lark Lane to add the extra mile).
I need to do a post about some of the people I came across on the French trip – Thomas, Andy, the ‘Probins’, the hitch hikers and there’s the little matter of two boss weddings, but I’ll leave that for now and just zip to the last 48 hours of the trip.
Who would have known that Dartmore jail has a sort of ‘Visitor Centre’? They call it a ‘museum’ but trust me it’s just as much a Visitors’ Centre as a ‘museum’. As is my wont, I was taking the scenic route, this time from St Ives (thank you Iain and Emma – more of you later) to Liverpool. I headed over Dartmoor on the B Road. Who could possibly resist a B road over Dartmoor?
To anyone who remember the Krays, the Great Train Robbery, the travesty/tragedy of the ’64 FA Cup Final, indeed the 60’s in general, ‘Dartmoor’ is synonymous with the ‘glamour’ period of British crime. A time when you knew where you were with yer criminal. Hard men, working class ‘bad uns’ specialising in cockney accents and facial twitches. Not like today’s, sinister, anonymous, cyber-savvy, oiling the the wheels of international terrorism lot who, quite frankly, lack the moral fibre of yer villain of the 50s and 60s. Mind you, the £14m Hatton Garden burglary – or ‘heist’ as the popular press insist – does represent something of a return to the ‘good old days of crime’.
Can I just say at this point I’m probably talking sociological bollocks. Can I also add that if it were the 1970s and I was Frankie Howerd, I could with some justification protest ‘But, some people like my bollocks’ but that would be an outrageous double-entendre that even Frankie Howerd wouldn’t attempt unless times were really hard…… Sorry.
Where was I? Oh yes – Dartmoor ‘museum’. Hmm. I’m not sure. The history was interesting. The garden benches produced by the prisoners were excellent – indeed I may try and remember to buy one. But it felt a a bit wrong to be across the road from people who, for whatever reason, are incarcerated and probably not too happy with how their life had panned out while we visited ‘their’ museum? Also, I just felt there was a bit too much of the Mr McKay (‘Porridge’ – 1970s BBC..well worth Googling) about the man who checked me in and gave me a sideways look when he noted I was from Liverpool. You had to say where you were from for the visitor stats. I do not go around saying ‘Arr eh, calm down, calm down’ and I do not possess a Liverpool accent.
Despite my qualms about the ethics of the place – it was genuinely interesting and the prisoners’ woodwork is superb. The garden gnomes produced by the inmates were not superb and I did wonder if they were just having a bit of a laugh and taking the michael.
Anyway – the major point of this post is really to say how beautiful and perfect was my final resting place that night. The last night of my 7 week road trip.
I headed for the Forest of Dean, as you do when you’re taking the scenic route from Cornwall to Liverpool, and after a very interesting two hours I spent gatecrashing the Asha Centre – http://www.ashacentre.org
a beautiful place of gardens, meditation areas and generally gorgeous gardens I needed somewhere to sleep that night; my final night of the 7 week trip.
There is a God; karma exists.
I was in Ross on Wye. It was 9pm. In the gathering gloom I rang a small campsite. Yes – the nice lady said I could camp there in the field behind her bungalow where there was only a few visiting, travelling people camping.
50 yards from the house was a pub – The Crown Inn, Lea. In the pub was a newly opened Indian restaurant/kitchen an off- shoot of an award winning Indian restaurant from Cardiff. I’m sorry, but it was bliss, heaven. My trip ended with a superb Indian meal and lager and chat with the lovely restauranteurs and the locals. It felt so good to be home. So ‘English’ to be having an Indian meal, in an English pub on the edge of Wales.
It felt perfect. The circle was squared. The following day up the A49 through Herefordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire, back to Liverpool in the gentle rain of an English summer; I was home. It felt good.
We leave Montreuill-Belay which is about 25 minutes south of Saumur in the Loire and head to Sarlat in the Dordogne. I really like the camp site we have just left and will defo keep it on my itinerary for future trips to the south.
Yesterday, at home in Liverpool – real time, I was looking at a route to the south of Spain for some winter sun. Hmmm – not sure if I’m ready to join that gang yet. Not that I know ‘that gang’ but Malaga in January isn’t exactly the lotus-eaters is it? Younger readers may want to Google ‘The Lotus Eaters’, a TV series from 1972 set in Crete. The drama focused on a group of ex pats living on the island of Crete and living their life as ‘lotus eaters’. According to Greek mythology those who ate the fruit of the Lotus tree lost the desire to return home. They were basically living a pretty chilled life! I’m not sure I am a lotus eater, I think I quite like returning home. However, my memories of the series are that in a grey, 1970s Preston, I found the programme beguiling. The ‘Telegraph’ describe the Dvd (sold out) as ‘tantalisingly watchable’. I feel I have to add something of an editorial warning here to my love of the programme, I also quite liked ‘Elderado’ the Spanish-based soap opera which went our nightly on BBC1 in the 90s, but I certainly wasn’t beguiled by it.
The haunting theme tune of ‘The Lotus Eaters’ trailing from the windows of our terraced house on a Sunday night in Preston took me far away from Lancashire and probably also far away from doing some homework!
Perhaps I’ve always come to things late in life, but in four weeks time, I plan to visit my first ever Greek island – Santorini. I’ll let you know. First, I have this to write and a little trip to Naples to fit in.
Back to the plot – me, Margaret and ‘Phoebe’ heading south into increasing sunshine and warming temperatures. We’re heading to the excellent Les Mathevies camp site at Sainte-Nathalène which is about 20 minutes from Sarlat in the Dordogne but more of that later.
The route down to the Dordogne is beautiful and just gets better and better as you go. Although Ste-Nathalene was our final destination that day, first we were making a stop at Oradour-sur-Glane, the scene of a Nazi atrocity from June 1944 and today perhaps France’s most significant national memorial. One great thing about working in a school is your have on tap a ready source of knowledge. Computer issues see the IT dept; find out what the favourite books are of seriously well read, processionals, ask an English teacher; want to know someone’s favourite number, ask a Maths teacher. Ho, ho. Sorry.
But a member of the History dept, Matthew, told me a few years ago that he and his girlfriend had visited this place near Limoges called Oradour-sur- Glane. His description of it and the impact it had had on him, was such that I resolved to definitely visit it one day. I have now been three times.
On the way to Oradour-sur-Glane, we stopped for coffee in the lovely village/commune of Availles-Limouzine.
Crossing the River Vienne at Availles-Limouzine
Arriving at Oradour-sur-Glane
On Saturday, June 10th 1944, six hundred and forty two men, women and children were slaughtered by SS Stormtroopers who were heading North to engage with Allied forces, this being 4 days after D Day. This mass murder was inflicted on especially innocent people – there having been no history of resistance by the Maquis (the French Resistance fighters) in Oradour-sur-Glane. There had been resistance in neighbouring areas but they were left alone thus heightening the terror of the mass killing in Oradour. It goes without saying that this is one place perhaps we should visit, and the message ‘Souviens-Toi. Remember’ is as relevant today as ever.
What always strikes me when I have visited Oradour is that these magnificent, beautiful trees were there on that day. On my visit last year, the trees were shedding their leaves like tears. Those beautiful trees: a silent witness to the horrors of the day. As visitors you are asked to keep silence. It is a request that is entirely appropriate and held by all.
After a four hour visit, we move on and arrive at our resting place for the next two days: Camping Domaine de Mathevies at Sainte-Nathalène.
This magnificent place I discovered last year while ‘wandering about’ a bit on my own and I would highly recommend it to all.
The site features on the front cover of ‘Cool Camping Europe’
and by some stroke of luck/my inability to remember which pitches the co-owner Natalie said I could NOT have, we ended up being allowed to stay on the same pitch as the front cover above. Thank you Natalie and Patrick. It was Patrick who said we could. I suspect he was doing his bit for ‘Care in the Community’ looking after we mature travellers.
So there we are, settled on an excellent campsite with a magnificent view to wake up to.
Unashamedly I love my VW campervan. There is a definite pecking order of VW vans which I won’t go into here mainly because I’d need a handbook to really remember all the different models. I just love my van and the freedom it gives. However, VW owners do sometimes acknowledge each other and then model can become a factor in the interaction. About 50 yards from us at Les Mathevies, was a campervan, more or less the same as mine, but older. Mine’s a T5, my neighbour’s was a California. Californias are the real deal whereas mine is a bit of a hybrid – a conversion from a ‘proper’ van whereas the California left the German production line as a campervan. Californias have pedigree. However, mine is rather good looking and much younger than my neighbours, hence perhaps some sort of equality of respect was established between we two owners.
I do want one recurring theme to be returned to in my blog and that is an acknowledgement of ‘social norms’. Social norms are a defining and identifying feature of any culture and culture is fun! Okay – me and the California driver are English. We make no contact in the first 24 hours. While I certainly was not monitoring the movements of the California owner in any shape or form, I was aware of him passing, sometimes at impressive speed on his early morning runs. I mean there are hills here and the temperatures were always either in the 30s or heading that way.
His wife passed often with their young baby on their way to the showers, washing up area etc etc. I mistakenly thought my sister was quite a shy person – shows what I know – and it was not long before Margaret had made relaxed, chatting, passing contact with mum and baby. This is what happens on camp sites isn’t it? Perhaps I’m just not very good at it and will either spend a week avoiding eye contact or communication of any sort; or, go to the other extreme and start issuing invites to random strangers – okay, perhaps not at all random – to ‘come to Santorini with me!’
I don’t know who cracked first; me or California man. But with a certain English reserve we made contact. We connected. We came out. We had a campervan compatibility that cannot be denied.
‘Hi’. It was me who cracked first.
‘Hi’- Mr California.
Forget the minutiae of the conversation. The guy was a delightful young man, an IT/software consultant sort of thing. They live in the South East and have travelled widely in their van. Loads of places. Scandinavia; Holland; Spain; proper stuff and now they have a little baby and they were having their first trial trip in the van with a baby. The searing heat of this summer in France was difficult for the baby – Freddy – but all was going well.
I gingerly asked the guy a question – we didn’t exchange names. Our connection was a technical/travelling/camping one, not a strictly social interaction. The question:
‘Err, does your van have a name?
‘Of course’, Mr California man replied, ‘It’s Birgit’. He explained they had wanted a sturdy, German, reliable kind of name. However, Mr California’s van had in fact fused the entire camp site a couple of times before our arrival, so perhaps Birgit was being a little too sturdy and not quite reliable enough except for a certain consistency in blowing fuses. I explained that I had gone for the more esoteric ‘Phoebe’ – a name I remember fondly from my childhood being used for ‘sun’ by my farming family. Blimey – another connection – Greece comes to the Peak District ( where my relatives still farm). Mr California went on to defend the principle of naming your van and proudly announced that ‘Sally sat Nav’ approved as well.
Trust me – it was a good, genuine laugh. Two grown men – me more grown than he – acknowledging that we were having a conversation that would take a certain confidence to have. Basically, there is fun to be had in having a campervan. That may sound too obvious to be true.
Anyway – that was the end of the interaction with our near neighbours save that on the day we left we went to say goodbye and quite rightly it was left to Freddy to cement the brief camp site friendship and make chatting easy.
Babies are great but I hope I’m man enough to admit that I was as interested in Birgit as I was in Freddy.
I went to say my goodbyes to Patrick and Natalie who are lovely, friendly, funny (amusing) people who own and run this great campsite. I mean, if it’s on the front cover of Cool Camping Europe, you know it’s going to be okay!
Apart from being a great site for location, facilities, surrounding beauty, fabulous local craft beers etc etc, Patrick and Natalie bring an understated warmth to the experience of staying with them and their family. I hope to see you next year.
I wanted to add a photo to give the above a bit of body. Natalie was a slightly reluctant model for this photo. They were at work after all and it was late. Patrick, on the other hand, asked if he should take his top off. I explained my Blog was not one of those sites. 🙂
Thanks very much Patrick and Natalie for a great little visit. Hope to see you next year
Finally – Freddy’s mum and dad. I’m not sure you will be reading this because it all happened nearly 2 months ago, but if you are, all the best to you in your future travels. If you are reading, did I get your van name right? I wouldn’t want to offend and detail is important. 🙂
Tuesday July 7th we left Poole against a backdrop of drizzle and grey – a weather feature that was to stay locked over England for the next 40 days. I hate that kind of weather oneupmanship that I think we Brits, in particular, seem to trade in and possibly excel at. You know the sort of thing. You tell your mum that the weather has been awful where you live, in say Manchester and receive the reply: ‘Ooh – it’s been lovely here.’ But mum, you only live in Bolton! Your mum’s claim that Bolton possesses a magical micro climate does not stand up to close meterological analysis.
Some British holidaymakers (what a lovely 1950s, Enid Blyton term) get very niggly if while they are on holiday ‘abroad’, the sun is shining hard at home. Even worse if ‘home’ is getting better weather than them. I hate all that. Weather is weather. Live in the moment. Carpe diem. That reminds me; Buddhist meditation tonight. Hope I remember how to do it. It’s hard work this enlightenment business you know.
Back to climate issues, isn’t it Scandinavians who tell us that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing? ‘Layers’ is the answer apparently according to my friend Danny who knows about these things although he’s not Scandinavian. He lives on the Wirral.
Got to admit to some hypocrisy here in that I do actually believe that Liverpool does have more than its fair share of sun – something to do with being on the coast? The rain from Ireland only decides to fall from the sky after Warrington? As I am writing today – 24/08/15 – ‘Mediterranean Merseyside’ is bathed in sunshine thus confirming my theory.
I digress. We’ll never get to Carcassonne at this rate. We’re still in Poole harbour and I have to say I am a bit pleased we are leaving in drizzle because I know we are heading to the sun. Come on Phoebe!
The crossing….easy peasy. Very quiet, this being out of school holidays. I spent 40 years working with children. I like children but I’m equally happy when they are in a large minority. Yes – it all was easy peasy, but just perhaps a little bit queasy? Okay; that was only me. Here is Margaret relaxing and perhaps ensuring we’re heading in the right direction. Margaret was to become navigator for next 7 days although I did not allow her to overrule ‘Sally Satnav’
Don’t you just love it when you leave the ferry and start to drive ‘abroad’. It’s exciting isn’t it. An adventure.
Very vaguely following our 1969 route which if you remember was head of for Brittany and turn left, we headed down the Cherbourg peninsula aiming for Saumur in the Loire valley. My love of always trying to take the ‘scenic route’ when driving is made a simple task in France where the majority of the roads are the ‘scenic route’. Contact me if you want specific directions, but essentially I took a straight line down ‘ordinary’ roads. For ‘ordinary’ read well maintained, serenely quiet and all rather beautiful. An easy, stress free journey.
I say, stress free, but having done perhaps 550 miles in two days and only arriving in France in mid afternoon, it was good to reach our first night’s camping spot:
Town: Montreuil – Bellay. Campsite: Camping Le Thouet http://www.campinglethouet.com
I’d not booked but I’d stayed there last year. I like it. Quiet, by a river, approached through vineyards and all for just less than 20 Euros a night. What is there not to like? Well – my dear sister thought it was a bit basic but hey – come on Margaret – spirit of 1969 and all that. Okay there were a few nettles perhaps and the grass wasn’t manicured but we were the only ones on this on the field and the evening sun gave a hint of the beautiful weather to come.
That’s about it boys and girls for Day 1 in France. I think we had some cheese, some pate, some baguette some wine in the setting sun. In 1969 I’m sure we would have had beans or something similar from my dad’s corner shop. As for 2015, ca marche bien.
STOP PRESS: Mediterranean Merseyside still bathed in sunshine. E mail received from our teacher, Jane. Buddhist meditation classes don’t restart until Sept 7th. Phew – two weeks to get back on the mindful track.
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.
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.
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.
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.
http://bandb.liverpoolpiratebrethren.org.uk/ 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.
I suppose I refused to just be a ‘retired teacher’ and so had a go at writing in the first few months of my ‘retirement’ I was rather chuffed when the Guardian published it online on Jan 17th 2015. It’s a secret though so don’t tell anyone.