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Wet and windy on Hameldon

It has been a while since I’ve walked on the moors, partly due to the Autumn travels and partly weather and the other usual things that simply get in the way. We decided to try and get the year off to a good start from a walking perspective and agreed to get out early in January. The overnight weather was very bad indeed and it was still raining almost until we set off.  One of the problems walking on Dartmoor is that it is usually quite wet; weather such as we had overnight makes even the relatively dry areas wet (and the wet areas become streams) so we headed to Hameldon near Widecombe in the Moor as that is usually drier than many areas.  We did wait in the car for 10 minutes before setting off to allow a heavy shower to clear and when we got out of the car we realised just how windy it was.  Heading up the ridge I took the left hand photograph looking south.  The “washed out” look is typical of Dartmoor in these sort of conditions and the amount of water on the track can be seen.  A fairly short distance further on the view of the right hand image appeared and it was obvious there was bad weather on the North Moors.  It seemed sensible to duck behind the wall there and have an early snack break to allow the weather to pass as the ridge becomes more exposed from here.

 

The heavy shower passed quite quickly and we headed on up the ridge. In practice the walking became quite hard as the wind speed increased markedly on the top of the ridge.  We estimated that the wind was gusting at over 50 mph based on the impact it had on our walking.  We tend to walk using poles and without them on a day like this it would have been very hard going.  We veered a little left as we walked to bring to the point of the ridge immediately above the ancient settlement of Grimspound.  Heading down a little I took the two images above.  The left hand image looks a little west over Grimspound and beyond to the tin mine workings at Headland Warren.  The right hand image looks over Grimspound to Hookney tor, our next destination.  As can be seen the threat of rain had lifted and without the wind it would have been a decent day.  There was a little shelter at this lower point however we were heading back up the ridge.

Looking south from Hookney tor

Reaching Hookney tor we came back into the wind again.  While not large Hookney is a reasonable sized tor and we expected to be able to shelter from the wind to have our lunch.  In practice it was one of those days where the wind was swirling around the tor and shelter was  a relative concept.  The photograph above was taken as I was having lunch looking south down the valley.  In some relative shelter it was lovely to sit and look out over the moors in winter.  We headed off again to the east and then back south along the ridge to the car.  As we headed north up the ridge we were walking almost head on into the wind and so had said that at least as we headed back the wind would be behind us… Wrong – the wind had actually gone around to the west more and so was blowing in from the side and still making walking hard at times.  I do realise others have had far more problems with weather recently however we have had strong winds for a while now and it may well be a week or so before I’m out again.  It was great to be out again though.

At Saumur on an island in the Loire and on the coast of Picardy

Moving up north again towards the Channel from Coulon (the previous blog is here) we decided to stop off on the Loire. While we had no real plan for the break the idea of stopping somewhere along the Loire had always been a possibility. It is an area we have passed through a number of times but never stayed in so it was time to put this oversight right. Again using the ACSI card we found there was a camp site on an island in the Loire at Saumur and the idea of that was simply too tempting to miss out on.

We arrived at the site while reception was closed for lunch however that gave us a chance to have a look around at the site and some of the pitches so that when reception re-opened we had an idea of where we would like to be on the site. There are a small collection of hard standing pitches which are at a higher level than the rest of the site – there are benefits! The view from our pitch was one of the best we have ever had.  Over the course of our stay there we did have the odd night where another motorhome would obstruct our view however, even then, it was a matter of two or three paces to be able to see the view again. Looking at the château across the Loire will remain one of the most memorable aspects of the whole trip – the various times of day, weather and light all making for great photographic potential.

The town of Saumur is one of those particularly appealing French towns to us. Large enough to be interesting and small enough to be easy to get around on foot. We also found the service in the restaurants and cafes good, again maybe an aspect of the size of town. The obvious place of interest is the château however much of the town close to the château is very old indeed and there are plenty of other things to see both in the town and a little further afield. The river is good for walks and is scenic. There is a large military establishment there where horses are trained (if that is your thing). Again the campsite offered a “7 nights for 6″ deal out of season so we stayed a little longer than we planned however the time passed quickly and we would certainly return to Saumur and the campsite in the future.

Sadly we had to consider the trip back up to the tunnel by this time and so the maps and campsite books came out. After quite a number of “plan B’s” we ended up with something that had been the original “plan a”! We decided to head back up to a different spot on the Normandy coast. The place we originally decided on was St Valery en Caux. The town looked fairly well situated on the coast and, although the campsite did not get rave reviews, we felt it should be alright for a night or too. We were right about the town but not about the campsite which was the least good of those we stayed at on the trip. The last straw was the lack of anything other than warm water in the shower and so we moved on after a night. We moved a fairly short distance to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme on the coast of Picardy

Our stay at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme was very pleasant. The campsite was well placed for the town and the Bay of the Somme was an interesting area. The old “city” of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme was fascinating. Set apart from the modern town, it is very old and with a lot of history to it varying from the fact that the invasion of England set off from it in 1066 to the fact that the English held Joan of Arc there until she was put to death. Throw in a very good food market which we sampled and the interesting railway that runs around the bay which we did not have time for and it is an area I’m sure we will return too. Three nights was not enough. From there we had a night close to Calais and headed home. All in all a great trip which we thoroughly enjoyed and we will be going to Europe in the motorhome again in 2015 I hope.

Storms and sunshine on the Loire-Atlantique coast

After our time on the Normandy coast (blogged here) we had a decision to make. Would we head towards the south Brittany coast area or towards the valley of the Loire. In the end the forecast for the coast looked marginally better than the one for the Loire and although the day we left Pontorson was forecast to be poor, it appeared that better weather would arrive soon. As it turned out the day was very wet indeed and we were very glad to get to our destination.

While the trip was largely unplanned we had decided to try out the ACSI card which seemed to give quite good discounts on out of season stays. The site at Pontorson had been one of them and had been good so we decided to try another one. Using the ACSI app we checked out the camp site and it was located on the coast of the Loire-Atlantique just outside a small town called La Turballe. We actually arrived there while reception was closed for lunch however this presented no problem as the owner came out to greet us and ask if he could help – it seemed to bode well. While we had a choice of pitches, he showed us to one he felt appropriate for our motorhome and the expected weather (!) and we were happy with that. In practice the pitch was maybe a maximum of 5 metres from the high tide on the Atlantic though fortunately sheltered by a sand dune and a small hedge and the gate onto the beach itself was also less than 5 metres from our pitch.

That night we probably had some of the worst weather I’ve had in the motorhome. It shook in the wind, at times it felt, and sounded, like the side of the van was being pressure washed and the noise of the sea was awe inspiring. However the morning was better and we walked into La Turballe to have a look around, get a coffee and do some shopping. It was still very windy but nothing like as bad as the night before. We had another night of fairly bad weather, however after that it calmed down and we had some good periods of sunshine.

La Turballe itself is simply a small town and not in any bad sense of the word. It is actually a working fishing port so compared to some places that we stayed on the trip there was far less of an “end of season” feel to it. With a mini market in town and a decent supermarket on the outskirts couple with a very good market all within easy walking distance of the camp site it covered our needs very well indeed. The camp site itself was excellent. Obviously the location was stunning however all the facilities were of a high standard, staff were extremely helpful and it even had a covered swimming pool that was open. Finding out that there was a “7 nights for 6″ out of season deal made staying a little longer that we had intended a very easy decision and we would go back there again. The camp site’s website is here for those who are interested.

We walked along the coast somewhere most days. The small and pleasant town of Piriac-sur-Mer was a little north of us while the lovely long beach (around 3 miles long) between La Turballe and Pen Bron was south of us. Slightly inland was the start of the salt marshes which I find a very interesting habitat. There is the history of extracting salt from the sea couple with an extensive bird population. I mentioned the area in a previous blog here. We certainly found enough to do here and started really getting into the holiday.

We really enjoyed our time at La Turballe however if I was to pick only one aspect it would be the sunsets. The ability to step outside and walk a few paces towards sunset time and see such stunning displays was wonderful. I took a lot of pictures and put a very small selection here.

All things must end and we decided it was time to move on. In conversation with another couple of UK motorhomers they had mentioned an area they had passed through coming north and we decided to head that way. At the northern edge of Charente-Maritime the commune of Coulon is in the Marais Poitevin or Venise Verte and the camp site was on the edge of Coulon. While we loved the tranquillity of the area and the small (& large) canals with some great birdlife Coulon in particular really did feel as though the season was over (this was mid October). So while this area has much to offer we decided to move on and start our slow journey back up to the Channel.

On the Normandy coast

For some time now we have had a motorhome and had the intention of travelling in it in Europe. However, as is often the case, life has simply not worked out that way until October this year (2014) when we made our first trip to France. I hope this will be a first in a series of blogs on our travels in the motorhome. My intention is still to focus on the walks and photographs from the travels however there may also be comment on some of the sites we’ve stayed on on the grounds that we have found other similar blogs useful to us. I was going to say that we “went over the Channel” on the grounds that that is the way it has worked in the past however this time for a number of reasons we went under the Channel via Eurotunnel simply driving on on the UK side and off in France – effortless if not all that interesting. We decided not to attempt too much on our first day and simply stayed at a campsite in Dieppe. Again for a number of reasons we were not planning to go very far this time and with the exception of our first real destination had no route in mind.

In looking at where we might go I’d happened across two different articles about the cliffs at Étretat.  They looked like they would be worth a visit and, around the same time, I came across a recommendation for a campsite at Étretat. It was simply the local “municipal” site however, from past experience, I know they can be very good sites.  We arrived in the early afternoon and found the site was fine.  We got pitched up and then walked into the town which was barely 10 minutes down the road.

Arriving on the seafront we realised just how spectacular the cliffs actually were.  On the first day the weather left a little to be desired however we walked along the cliffs to the east of Étretat.  In either direction there is quite a steep climb to get to the top of the cliffs however the view makes it well worthwhile.  The town itself was pleasant with a reasonable range of shops, cafes and places to eat and we decided to stay for a few nights.  There are also some interesting historical issues connected with the town.  The image on the left is of the White Bird memorial which commemorates the fact that there was any early attempt to cross the Atlantic and the biplane was last seen close to Étretat.  The image on the right is of the old covered market at Étretat which was used as a hospital during World War 1.

One advantage of staying in Étretat meant that we were able to look at the cliffs at night quite easily.  The town seemed to have a fair influx of day trippers but was far quieter in the evenings.  The cliffs are illuminated at night and a combination of that and a lovely sunset one night made for some good photo opportunities.

By this time we had decided that an extra night to allow us to pop into the local market the next day would be an idea however sadly the site had to close after that night. As we had planned nothing else we had a look at the maps we had and the weather forecast and decided to head to Pontorson which is close the Mount Saint-Michel. While we aimed to avoid autoroutes and their tolls as much as possible taking the autoroute over the Pont Normande across the Seine seemed more than sensible and got us to Pontorson by mid afternoon.

I’ve actually been to Mount Saint-Michel a couple of times before so was not too bothered about visiting it again. However the campsite we stayed at was good and the weather further south still looked quite changeable so we stayed on for a few days and decided to visit Mount Saint-Michel again. We took the bus from Pontorson to Mount Saint-Michel which had the advantage that it took us along the new causeway now closed to other traffic. I have to be honest and say, while I find the setting of Mount Saint-Michel stunning, the actual place is so touristy that we didn’t stay long and I doubt I’d go back again in a hurry. The religious buildings there are lovely however much of the island consists of tourist shops selling largely the same “souvenirs” – the only difference is the varying prices, some quite significantly. The campsite at Pontorson was quite an easy walk back (around 8km) along the river (Couesnon) and saved waiting for the next bus.

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