Back to the Dordogne…. .

We arrived bright and early at the motorhome repairers on Thursday 25th August 2016 after having provisioned up in Bergerac the night before.  We’d also sorted out everything we would need for our little sojourn on the bikes whilst ‘Ollie’ was with them for a few days.  On arriving, the receptionist said the van would be ready at the end of the day!  Doh!  After all that preparation the camping trip was now ‘off’!  Tim’s eyes lit up though as he was keen to get the van done and get back on the road again (read: ‘he was off the hook in terms of the cycling’).

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Off on our tour for the day whilst ‘Ollie’ is repaired.

Hmm, I was a little disappointed as I’d been looking forward to our tour on the bikes as the weather was superb, if a bit too hot, in the thirties.  Ah well, the cycle tour would have to wait for another time, possibly when we are in the Pyrénées maybe (!). Tim will get his comeuppance!  Still, I had the whole day to run Tim into the ground so we left the garage tout de suite on a tour across country, south of Bergerac, towards the Dordogne river.

We stopped to watch the plums being harvested by a machine that shakes the tree and catches the plums underneath.  Interesting to watch but I imagine the novelty soon wears off when there are thousands of trees to do.

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Plum harvesting.

After a lumpy 20 miles or so we picked up the cycleway west of Lalinde which follows the disused canal and found a lovely spot for lunch down by the river.

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 The disused canal near Lalinde.
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Picnic spot on the Dordogne.

France is never short of places to have a picnic!  After lunch we headed as far as we could to the end of the canal where it meets the Dordogne at Mauzac-et-Castang.

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Mauzac-ey-Castang.
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Tullieres.

We returned along the canal towards Bergerac where we were able to cycle a stretch of newly laid path traversing above the river and away from the main road which gave us some beautiful views.

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Newly laid path above the Dordogne.

So with the flat bit done and the temperatures now in the mid thirties we made our way across country again to pick the van up.  We arrived back at the garage after our 50 mile round trip tired, hot and sweaty and made full use of the air conditioning in their office.

So with ‘Ollie’ now in fine fettle we returned to our original plan of exploring the Dordogne.  We stopped for the night in the Bastide town of Belves at a free aire minutes away from the town centre.

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Hilltop town of Belves.

Belves is a medieval town and classed as one of France’s  ‘Les plus beaux villages de France’.  It sits perched on top of a hill commanding far reaching views across the Nauze valley and surrounding countryside approximately 10km south of the Dordogne river.

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Pretty main street in Belves.

On Friday morning, after having a mooch around the town, we swooped back down the valley to river level again to explore the towns and clifftop chateaux that this area is famous for.

During the Hundred Years War the Dordogne marked the frontier between the French held north and the English held land to the south.

We based ourselves, for three nights, at an aire outside Beynac-et-Cazenac as we wanted to explore the area by bike and canoe.  It also had some very welcome shade!

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The aire near Beynac-Et-Cazenac which gave us some shade in the heat.

The aire was a few minutes’ walk from the river where we could have a swim and a wade across to have a look at the village on the other side.

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Looking across the Dordogne from the aire.
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Wading across the river to have a wander around the village opposite the aire.

On Friday we just had a short ride into Beynac-et-Cazenac to find somewhere to restock on some food but my jaw dropped as we rounded the corner into the town.  The Chateau looks out from the cliff 200m above the road with the village built into the hillside below it.

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Beynac-et-Cazenac.

Thoughts of shopping went out the window for me, as now I’d seen the chateau, I wanted to get to the top.  We weren’t prepared as we only had our cycling shoes on which aren’t ideal on steep slopes and would be a bit treacherous on the way down but nothing was going to stop me!  Tim wasn’t happy and all I could hear was a faint muttering about it being highly unlikely that there would be an Intermarché at the top!  Nevertheless, he dutifully followed me up and was rewarded by an ice cream and spectacular views at the top.

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The view from the top of Beynac-et-Cazenac
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Looking back towards the chateau.

Having now persuaded Tim that it was worth the crawl up we minced all the way back down in our cycling shoes without incident!  We found a small local shop to restock and when we got back to the aire we decided the best way to cool off was to sit in the river in our clothes quaffing a bottle of fizz.  Why?  Because we can!

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The only way to cool down.

On Saturday we took a bike trip to Sarlat-La-Canéda on market day.  Big mistake!  Sarlat, the capital of the Perigord region, is about 10km north of the Dordogne river.  The old town would have been a must see but I just wasn’t feeling the love for it as it was heaving with tourists getting in the way of all the beautiful buildings.

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Sarlat-la-Caneda old town.

Yes, I know we are tourists too.   We should have left it until after August or at least not gone on market day.

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Too crowded on market day for us.

We spent about an hour there before heading back down the valley to the river where we had lunch.

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Lunch spot at Vitrac.

Next stop was Domme, another Bastide town, dating back to the 13th Century high above the river.  It was a bit of a climb on the bikes to the top but well worth it for the views.

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It doesn’t look particularly steep in the picture but we had to use our granny gears!

Tim did even concede that they were the best views he had ever seen!

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View from Domme.

The town is well preserved and, even though very touristy, it was much quieter than Sarlat.

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The whole of Domme was as well kept as this street.

We sat and had a coffee at a cafe with views right across the valley.

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View from our coffee spot.

Now that we were on the south side of the river we made our way west to return to the aire via Castlenaud-la-Chapelle.

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The chateau on top of the hill at Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

By the time we got to the village, which was directly opposite the aire we were staying on, I turned round to see Tim’s face set in the ‘you’ve pushed me too far’ position.  Oops!  To be fair he did look done in as we had done about 40 miles of hilly terrain.  I did offer to wade across the river portering the bikes and panniers but he opted for the extra five miles to the next bridge across the river and back down the other side.  I suppose it wouldn’t have done his street cred much good if he was seen slumped on the grass on the other side of the river whilst he watched the ‘Mrs’ struggle to carry all the stuff across!

As Tim had, by now, had had enough of the bike we opted to do a day trip down the river by canoe on Sunday.

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Tim looks far happier today knowing the bikes are safely back at base!

This was a much more civilised affair with the current taking us most of the way with a little bit of paddling in between the faster running bits.

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Chateau at Montfort.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves as it was a spectacular even with all the other people on the river.

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La Roque Gageac.
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Cup of tea stop.
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Approach to Beynac-et-Cazenac.

We’ve now refuelled, filled up with gas and shopping and we are heading further east along the Dordogne.  We’ll soon be crossing into the the Midi-Pyréynées region with a stop at Rocamadour by the weekend or early next week.  Hopefully it will be a bit quieter then with the schools restarting in September.

Happy Tuesday everyone!

 

Back to Bergerac to repair the bump… .

We’ve spent another week with Marian at ‘la petite maison de bois’ in Cahuzac.  We’ve done various tasks this last week including tackling the leylandii hedge between Marian and her neighbour’s garden, painting another village bench, varnishing another side of the cabin, wood shredding, weeding, walking the dogs etc.

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The leylandii was a bit of a beast at over 6ft across.
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Taking shape.
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Shredding.
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Before.
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After.

Marian has had a house full with various family and friends staying.

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L-R Tim, Gareth, Evelyn, Marylou, Marian.

We had a very pleasant afternoon and evening at the lake at Lougratte a few miles away which has a small campsite attached to it.

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Lake at Lougratte.
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L-R Tim, Marylou, Sandrine, Marian, Lea, Patrick.

I brushed up on my basketball skills with Marylou but alas I’m not as fast, or fit, as I once was!

P1070188.JPGWe also spent last weekend at the campsite by the lake at Lougratte which was great as the temperatures have been in the thirties and too hot to do much other than swim, read and play petanque.

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Lakeside camping at Lougratte.

We have come to the end of our three weeks here at Cahuzac with Marian and her fur-kids and it’s time now to take the van in for the repair to the wing tomorrow.

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L-R Moi, Tim, Rusty (on Tim’s lap) and Marian.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time here and it has given us a glimpse into village life in France.

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Nicole, Moi, Tim.

We’ve also met some lovely people and felt part of the community here, even if for a short while. Last night Marian’s neighbour, Frank, invited us all out for a meal with him, his brother, daughter and son in law to say thank you to us for tidying the hedge up which was very kind and we had a lovely evening in Villereal. Alas I forgot to take the camera though!

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Spot and Tim.

Whilst ‘Ollie’ is in for the repair, which will take 3-4 days, we are doing a bike tour around the area.  The forecast is for the temperatures to be in the mid thirties so I’m not sure how far we’ll get but I think we need to make the effort!

Bonne nuit!

Community projects in Cahuzac…. .

So another week has drifted by since I last updated the blog.  We have been soaking up the rhythm of life in the tiny village of Cahuzac which is about 25km south of Bergerac in the Lot-et-Garonne region of Aquitaine.  We are on another Helpx assignment with Marian who lives in the ‘petite maison de bois’ which she has had built on a piece of land overlooking the village square.  Marian lives with her three dogs (Johnny, Finette and Spot), five cats, several chickens and some Indian Runner ducks.

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Johnny, the senior boy.

We have parked up the van on the village square next to the house.

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‘Ollie’ parked up on the square outside Marian’s ‘petite maison de bois’

Marian has created a beautiful flower garden and a productive vegetable plot which she needs help with maintaining.  We were attracted to coming here as Marian is very active within the village on helping to improve the facilities and the environment.  She had a few projects which we thought we could be useful with helping to achieve in the time that we were to spend with her.

We had to be upfront about our zero gardening knowledge as we felt we would do more damage than good if left to our own devices on any green fingered project.  I think she got the picture when I asked, whilst looking at the tree in front of me,  if she made jams out of the plums from the tree.  She looked a bit puzzled before replying that I was, in fact, looking at a walnut tree!  Mmm, oh well, they looked like unripe plums to me!   From that point on Marian was probably glad we offered to do some of the community projects which would keep us safely occupied away from her garden!

So what have we been up to?

Our first task was to varnish the front of Marian’s wooden house as it bears the brunt of the weather.

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Varnishing the front of the house.

It’s the first time I’ve used a paint brush taped to the end of a stick but it worked very well and got the job done.  Tim painted the shutters and doors and it all came up a treat.

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Paintbrush on a stick!

We were on a roll with the varnishing so also painted two sides of the cabin behind the house as well.  Next up were three benches in the village that needed to be repainted.

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Transforming benches in the village.

I went off to do that whilst Tim wire brushed all the railings around the war memorial ready for painting.

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Voila!

Marian, and her friend Nicole had, after presenting a case to the Commune, received approval from the Marie (mayor of the village) to buy the paint needed to repaint the railings.

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I never thought I’d end up on the cross!

The painting of the railings was quite a big job and took a few days with some extra help from Nicole, Sonia and a couple of enfants!

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Villagers helping out with painting the railings of the War Memorial.

There were to be more ‘enfants’ helping with the task but they all mysteriously disappeared once Nicole had gathered together some paintbrushes for them!

 

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A man ‘tres content’ with his work!

With the railings looking fresh the monuments themselves needed a makeover too.  We took a wire brush to the moss and, violà, two rejuvenated monuments appeared.

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Clearing the moss from one of the Memorials.
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Clearing the moss from the base of the railings.

We have also wire brushed and painted the iron doors to the entrance to the cemetery and Tim fixed one of the damaged doors.

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Wire brushing the entrance gates to the cemetery.

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Looking good!

P1070149.JPGThe cross on the other monument adjacent to the church has also been painted.  Tim feels he’s earned his place in heaven now I think!  Basically if anything moves in this village it’s going to get painted whilst we are here!

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There’s no stopping Tim now!
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Rearranging the wood store.

In between our ‘work’ we have had plenty of time to do other things. We took a bike ride to the medieval village of Issegeac.  You’ll have to make do with images stolen from Google as the battery in the camera was flat!  I’m not doing too well with the camera at the moment it seems.

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The medieval village of Issigeac (picture courtesy of google!)
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Issigeac.

We’ve done some cooking on the Cobb.

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Tim (aka Ray Mears!)

Tim has strolled along to the church every afternoon to play his saxophone and clarinet (the acoustics in there are superb).

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That’s the first time the saxophone has been played in four months.

He did think he might be annoying the builder who has been working on renovating the building opposite the church but on the third day the builder approached Tim to let him know he was enjoying the music. It turns out the builder is learning to play the saxophone!

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Livening up the church with a bit of Jazz!

We’ve been to an art exhibition held in a very pretty church surrounded by fields of sunflowers.

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Fields surrounding the church where Marian took us to see an art exhibition.

I’ve done some French learning and have finally got through the Michel Thomas CD’s – although it would appear that I’ve gone backwards with it after having overloaded myself with information.  Every time I open my mouth now either nothing much comes out or it all comes out wrong.  Hey ho, I just have to keep going and hope it will one day all fall into place.  Maybe another ten years or so!

We’ve been to the AGM of the ‘society for the preservation of the church’ (our presence brought the numbers up into double figures!) where we were able to practice our limited French and meet some of the villagers.

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Restoration of the church partly completed.

 

All in all it’s been a very rewarding experience being here and Marian and all the villagers we have met have been so welcoming. We’ve learnt some more about life in France and enjoyed our chats with Marian and being surrounded by her pets.

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Finette (after a fur cut) and Johnny out on a walk.

 

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Spot says ‘Bonjour’ – that is actually a grin that he greets you with!

This coming week we are going to tackle the leylandii hedge on one side of Marian’s garden.

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Retirement seems to be agreeing with Tim very well!

The temperatures have been in the low to mid thirties these last few days which has meant it been too hot really to work in the afternoon unless in the shade.  Therefore, updating the blog in the shade seemed the best option.

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Rusty ‘helping’ me update the blog.

A la prochaine 🙂

Biding our time in Bergerac…. .

It’s been over a week now since I last updated the blog and I can’t really say very much has happened in that time.  Essentially we had been staying in the Bergerac area after our unfortunate mishap awaiting two quotes to repair the damage to the van.  We’ve learnt how to be patient as business in France doesn’t seem to happen as quickly as one might expect.  We haven’t wasted our time here though, far from it.  We’ve cooked outside every day.

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Tim’s creation of Fish fingers (or poisson doigts as we are calling them), fried potatoes, fried eggs and tinned tomatoes cooked on the Cobb.  We know how to live!

We had another look around Bergerac on market day and I took several photos of some interesting, quirky, medieval buildings in the old town…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… shame I’d left the SD Card for the camera in my laptop otherwise I could have shared some here!

Ralph, our last Helpx host, gave us a copy of the Michel Thomas Total French series.  I’ve been working my way through them for 2-4 hours a day.  My brain is fried by the end of each session but I have learnt heaps.  It’s a pity it all goes out of my head as soon as I open my mouth though!   I’ve also been swimming in the lake every day to try to keep up some fitness and as a way to cool down at the end of the day.

P1070031.JPGThe temperatures have been hovering around the low 30’s which is a tad too hot for my liking!  I took a trip to the dentist and had my broken tooth repaired.  €23 was all it cost, less than half the price I’d normally pay.

As a change from Bergerac we drove a short distance south to Montbazillac, an area famous for producing sweet wines.

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The yellow wagon theme reminded me of all the yellow bikes around the Yorkshire Dales when the Tour de France came to the UK.

Even Jamie Oliver gives the areas sweet wines a mention (he mentions the ones from the chateau vineyards though).  Montbazillac is a small village dominated by its chateau.

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Chateau de Montbazillac surrounded by it’s vineyards.

We stayed at a France Passion site just outside the village.  M. Camus, the owner, has 6 hectares of vines and produces about 2000 bottles a year which, as far as we can gather, he sells to all the visitors who stay on his little campsite.  He was a charismatic man who spoke faster than a machine gun so we had difficulty keeping up!  He is a motor homer himself and has provided a superb little site overlooking his vines.

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Our view from the cab window across the vineyards.

We had a lovely view for most of the day until another van parked in front of us later in the evening.

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Vines are high maintenance.

All the people staying were invited in at 6pm for a potted history of the farm through four generations and, of course, for a tasting.   The wines were a bit sweet for us but we bought a couple of bottles of the least sweet ones to be polite!

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Lunch with the campsite to ourselves.

We eventually received the quotes for the van repair and have been given the go ahead from the insurers to book the van in.  ‘Ollie’ is going in on 25th August 2016 which is the earliest it can be done.  Had we been returning to the UK a bit sooner we would have waited until we returned home but I don’t think the insurers will wait 9 months to finalise the claim!

After our week long ‘rest’ around Bergerac we felt like we needed a bit of a focus and thought another Helpx  assignment would be a good thing to do until Ollie goes in for the repair.  We contacted Marian, who lives in a small village 25km south of Bergerac, who wanted some help with her garden and various projects to improve the village where she lives.  Lucky for us she was happy  to host us and we have been here in her little oasis of paradise for the last five days.  I’ll do another blog post on what we have been doing early next week.

Adieu!