An extended pitstop in the Pyrénées.. .

Since my last update we visited our last bastide town before we made a beeline for the Pyrénées.  Cordes sur Ciel is purported to be the first bastide ever to be built in 1222.

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Gothic buildings on Cordes-sur-Ciel

It clings to the Mordagne peak standing 100 metres above the surrounding river valleys.

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The steep, narrow main street to the top of Cordes-sur-Ciel.

It is now a major centre for artists and the Cordes Academy holds many exhibitions drawing in visitors from far and wide.

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One of the fortified entry’s into the main town.

We arrived on Monday 5th September 2016 in the late afternoon.  We knew by the number of motorhomes at the aire below the town that it would be worth the visit but thought it best to explore the town on Tuesday morning when it would be cooler.

P1070935.JPGThe temperatures have remained in the low to mid thirties for several days now and the afternoons are really too hot for trekking up and down steep hills.

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The main narrow road up from the bottom of the town to the top is very steep and a feast for the eyes: cobbled streets, fortified walls, gothic archways, gothic and medieval houses decorated with flowers, kittens peering down from shuttered windows, the list goes on.

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Lower down the main street.
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A kitten surveying life below.

We explored all round the alleyways in the lower and upper town for a couple of hours just marvelling at the sheer scope of it all before hitting the road to make our way to the foothills of the Pyrénées. It was an easy drive skirting round Toulouse on the motorway with the Pyrénées in full view on the horizon.  We arrived at the little village of Siex after the two hour drive with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the low 30’s. 

We found a little aire tucked away behind the village where another four vans were parked.  I said ‘bonjour’ to the lady in the next van and she asked if we were staying for a few days.  I said ‘oui’ as we wanted to do some cycling in the area.  She then became very animated telling me her husband was a keen cyclist and he could tell me about some of the routes he had done.  It turned out that the four vans were all together and whilst the men went out every day on the bikes the wives stayed behind presumably enjoying the sunshine and chewing the fat.  Her husband showed me the map of some of the rides they had done and invited us to join them the following day.  I politely declined as, even though they all looked to be in their 60’s, they also looked like Tour de France retirees judging by their muscly legs. They were doing rides of 60-70km on road bikes.  We would have been left behind on the flat let alone the hills.  Also Tim would have killed me if I’d happened to drop in to the conversation that we were partaking in an Anglo-French bike ride the next day.  Therefore, on Wednesday we headed off on a 40km bike ride which took us on a gentle incline through the Garbut river valley to the village of Aulus-les-Bains. 

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Aulus-les-Bains.

Even though it was really hot it was a superb ride as the densely forested hillsides provided some much needed shade. 

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Tiny church at the roadside to Aulus-les-Bains.

The water in the river tumbling down the valley is so clear it takes on an almost duck egg blue colour over the rocks.

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Heading up the valley towards Aulus-les-Bains.

From Aulus-les-Bains we just had to negotiate the Col de Latrappe, a 1111m pass taking us into the next valley and down into Ousto.  The climb is 5km long with an average gradient of 7.4%, the steepest sections being at 10%.  It was first used in the Tour de France in 1956 and has been featured another seven times, the last time being in 2011.  Only one thing for it really – get the bike into granny gear and grin and bear it.  I have to say Tim set off like a rat up a drainpipe and didn’t stop until we got to the summit some 45 minutes later!  I expect the ‘Tour’ guys do it in ten minutes but, no matter, we’d conquered our first ‘Col’!  The ride back down the other side was exhilarating, with the sun on our backs, whizzing past the poor blighters huffing and puffing up the hill. 

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Lunch stop.

We had a beautiful stop for lunch and then cruised down the valley back to Siex feeling very satisfied with ourselves. 

Whilst we were in Aulus-les-Bains we spotted another aire which would be ideal to do a couple of walks from and that is where we have been for the last four nights.  We have a lovely view of the hills and a field of sheep with clanking bells around their necks behind us. 

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The aire at Aulus-les-Bains.

Aulus-les-Bains  is best known for its thermal springs and spa complex.

We’ve done a few walks in the last three days twice climbing up and beyond the Cascade D’ars. The waterfall is 246m high and has three levels. 

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Cascade d’Ars.

At the moment there isn’t a massive amount of water coming down but I expect it’s spectacular after several days of rain. 

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It was a steep climb for 90 mins through the wooded hillside before reaching the waterfalls.

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Just below the top of the falls.
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Lunch stop at 1500m above the Cascade d’Ars.
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Looking back down the valley towards Aulus-les-Bains.

P1080014.JPGOn Friday were woken up by the sound of a saxophone coming from somewhere in the village.  Tim went to investigate and returned to the van to collect his clarinet saying there was an old boy playing a soprano sax in the park and he was off to join him.  I went down to have a look myself and there they both were sitting on a bench in the park banging out some French tunes. 

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An impromptu gig in the park.

I sat on the bench opposite with the chaps wife and she explained that they were staying in the village at the thermal spa for three weeks as it helps with their ailments.  

I’m currently updating the blog sitting on a bench enjoying the free internet access from the ‘office de tourisme’ whilst watching a cycle race coming down through the village.  We want to head over the Pyrénées into Spain in the next couple of weeks but also want to linger a bit longer in the hills to get some more hiking trails under our belts whilst the weather holds.  Tomorrow we have a very glamorous day planned with a back log of washing to do and a grocery shop on the agenda so we’ll be heading back down the valley to civilisation before making a further foray into the hills.

Bon  Journée!

 

Heading further South…. .

The Dordogne has been our friend now for the last 10 days.  With the temperatures in the mid thirties every day we haven’t strayed far from it.  It really is the most beautiful river with crystal clear water and a combination of limestone and pebbles on the bottom.  The natural beaches along much of it’s length are accessible and ideal for paddling and swimming.

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The Dordogne.

We have cooled off in the river at some point everyday and I’ve been able to walk upriver and float back down gently with the current.  Parfait!

We left the aire near Beynac-et-Cazanac on Monday 29th August 2016 and headed a little further East with no particular plan in mind.  We drove through the little village of Carsac-Aillac which had a pretty area with some shade and picnic benches and decided to stop for some lunch.  It turned out that the area was a designated aire and was so lovely we ended up staying for three nights.

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Aire at Carsac-Aille.

A disused railway line, now a cycle path, runs straight through the village running east to Souillac and North to Sarlat-la-Canéda.  We followed it cycling east until Peyrillac-et-Millac  and then crossed over the river to come back a different way.

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A ride along the disused railway.

We needed to find a laundry on Wednesday so opted to use the cycleway to find one in Sarlat.  It was only about 8km, flat (big thumbs up from Tim!) and lovely to be away from the traffic.  Unfortunately, the cycleway ends abruptly 2km outside Sarlat.  It’s a shame it hasn’t been extended to go right into Sarlat as the last 2km isn’t a particularly pleasant ride with several roundabouts to negotiate into the town.  Sarlat redeemed itself on Wednesday though after our experience on Saturday with the market.

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Sarlat.

Even though Wednesday is a market day it was much smaller and much less busy with mainly local fruit and veg stalls, cheeses, foie gras and the like being pedalled.

P1070769.JPGWe found a laverie at the top of the town and spent the 45 minutes whilst the washing was doing it’s thing wandering around the old town.  Sarlat, now we could see it, is impressive!  We arrived before the lunchtime rush and had time to wander the narrow streets, soaking up the fifteenth and sixteenth century buildings and restaurants with their tables spilling out onto the footpaths, ready for diners.

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Sarlat’s back streets.

I’m not sure how you would choose where to eat for lunch as there were so many gorgeous places on offer.  Lucky for us we had fresh French stick and cheese waiting for us back at the van so didn’t have that dilemma!  So, washing done and a quick flit to Lidl we got back to the cycle path and free wheeled nearly the whole way back to Carsac-Aillac.  We hadn’t really noticed but it had been a slight incline all the way to Sarlat. The afternoon was spent lazing by the river marvelling at how much we are enjoying the Dordogne area and how lucky we are to be doing this.

After three nights at Carsac-Aillac we felt the need to move on to Martel, another medieval town which made it’s name during the 13th and 14th centuries when the viscounts established a court of appeal here.

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That’s what I call a door in Martel.

The aire just outside the town looked newly laid and in reality was no more than a large carpark but it was free and we picked up a really strong signal from one of the hotels wifi.  We spent the evening, therefore, in silence binging on the internet!

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Martel.

Tim was as happy as larry doing some research for a new camera as I think we are in need of one. Ours has now got some black dots coming out on the middle of the photos.  (Keeping it stuffed down the side of my cycling shorts hasn’t seemed to agree with it!)

We cycled to Carennac, another Beaux Village de France, on Friday.  We’d parked up 6km away on the north side of the Dordogne as the village is very narrow and motorhomes aren’t allowed to go through it.  Having now seen it I can see why.

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Carrenac.

The bridge across the Dordogne was also equally narrow and just wide enough for cars or small vans.

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Too narrow for ‘Ollie’,.

The village is very compact and well preserved and is best known for its Quercy architecture.

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Carrenac.

With the bikes back on the van we made our way to Rocamadour and parked up at the free aire at the chateau above the old town.  Now we are into September we hoped it would be less busy even though it was a weekend.  The aire was very quiet with about half a dozen vans staying so it looked promising.  We had an early evening stroll down to the old town and to take some photos in the evening sunshine.

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Jaw dropping Rocamadour.

Rocamadour really does defy gravity with no less than seven churches built into the steep hillside.

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In medieval times pilgrims flocked here lured in by the supposed miraculous ability of Rocamadours Black Madonna.  Tim remarked, after looking at everyone hobbling up and down the many steps and steep slopes that, miracles or not, you can’t stop getting old!  Mmm, another reminder why we are doing this trip now before we aren’t able to support our own body weight up and down all these places.

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Lots of steps!

We felt in need of a good walk on Saturday from Rocamadour down through the valley.  We tried to find a place mentioned in the Wild Swim, France book of a blue pool nestled in amongst the woods at the bottom of the valley.

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Following the GR6 long distance path.

Unfortunately, all we found was a stretch of stagnant water, emerging from the hillside, which neither of us fancied getting into.  We noticed some diving equipment drying in the sun and spoke to the couple with it who told us the water is some 30 metres deep running underground and re-surfacing again a further 800m up the valley.  Rather them than me, diving doesn’t really appeal.

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The hillsides in this area are starting to turn to reds and browns.

It was disappointing not to find the pool we were looking for but the walk alone was worth it.  The trees on the valley sides seemed to be turning russet brown and red before our eyes in preparation for autumn although it seems a bit early, especially with the temperature in the thirties.

The last couple of days we have been heading further south visiting several Bastide towns along the way.

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Figeac, another Bastide town.
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Najac, hillside Bastide town.

We are parked up for the night at Cordes-sur-Ciel ready to explore it tomorrow before heading further south west and closer to the Pyrénées to see if we can do some walking and cycling.  We are feeling that we have a bit of Bastide Burnout now and crave a bit of open countryside and mountains.  Or as Tim said ‘I’ve seen enough of these Bastar Bastide towns now!

We’d better get a move on as we have to be in Faro in Portugal for the 14th November 2016 as I have booked a flight back to the UK to see my parents.  I haven’t told them yet so I hope they’ll be there otherwise I’ll have to prostrate myself onto other unsuspecting family.  It’ll be a test to see if they read the blog anyway!

A la prochaine!

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!

 

Happy, lazy days in the Vezere valley… .

Since my last blog update we have been ambling at a very slow pace.  We moved on from Brantome on Thursday 14th July 2016 after having spent three nights there.  We had a mooch around the very pretty St. Jean de Cole, 20km north east of Brantome. It is ranked as one of the prettiest villages in the Dordogne and it didn’t disappoint.

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St Jean de Cole.

Beyond the central square, medieval houses cluster together cheek by jowl down narrow alleyways.

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Tres tranquille!

As always in France, the flowers and pastel painted shutters create an air of relaxed calm and tranquillity.

P1060763.JPGDespite it being the middle of July the village was extremely peaceful with a free aire a two minute walk away.

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St. Jean de Cole’s 11th C church.

Even though the aire was free at St. Jean de Cole we opted to retrace our steps through Brantome and continue further on to Bordeilles which we had inadvertently stumbled across on our walk the previous day. 

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River Dronne at Bordeilles.

The aire at Bordeilles sits on the banks of the river Dronne and covers two large fields with plenty of shade and space to spread out.  The weather had heated up again to the top twenties which was why, we discovered later, we had the second field to ourselves as all the intelligent people were parked up under the shade of the trees.   

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Oh look, we have the whole field to ourselves.

Still, we don’t get weather like this very often in the UK so we thought we’d best make the most of it. We spent a very pleasant evening slowing cooking in the sun playing scrabble in French!  Needless to say, that game didn’t last very long. 

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French Scrabble – we’re off to a flying start!

As part of the Bastille Day celebrations we did make the effort, this time, to go and see the fireworks. 

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Fireworks in Bordeilles on Bastille Day.

I found a very quiet spot on the river, a few minutes from the aire, to go for a swim but was quite shocked at how cold the water was. 

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Blimey, that’s colder than I thought it would be!

The water in the River Charente a few days before had been cold but not cold cold but the water at Bordeilles was cold cold cold cold cold!  However, swimming ‘au natural’ (by that I mean in nature not sans costume!) in such a beautiful river, with views of the chateau, and an occasional passing canoe was another big tick on my bucket list.  That’s two ticked off already – only another 200 odd to go!

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Not so bad once you’re in though.

In the spirit of living a more active lifestyle we rode our bikes the 11km to Aldi in Brantome.  Now we have the time to spend two or three hours on the weekly shop it makes sense to go on the bikes when we can as long as it all fits in two panniers each. 

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An Aldi outside the small town of Brantome – excellent!

In truth, the 22km round trip was more or less flat.  I don’t think it would go down too well with Tim if a soiree to the supermarket on the bikes involved too much altitude.  

At Bordeilles, we were really getting into a routine of breakfasting al fresco, learning French al fresco, biking alfresco, swimming al fresco and cooking on the Cobb al fresco whilst watching the sun set, naturally, al fresco!  I have dreamt of days such as these!

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Lunch al fresco.
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A bike ride in the surrounding countryside.
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Takes your breath away!
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I never thought Tim would go in too!

Having spent four nights at Bordeilles, though, we felt ready to move on.  We were going to stop at Perigueux, capital of the Dordogne, but it was sooooo hot we decided a very busy town was not where we wanted to be at that moment.  So after refuelling with diesel and LPG, followed by a cheeky trip to Lidl, we made our way to Montsignac.

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Monsignac.

 The aire had been recommended to us by a Welsh chap we met in Cognac.  It’s €5 per night which includes electric hook up and water and is a few minutes stroll into the town and down to the river.  Montignac is in the valley of the River Vezère. 

P1060846.JPGThe town, most of which is medieval, is set on both sides of the Vezère river.  It is famous for the Grotte de Lascaux, a deep cavern covered with paintings of animals, discovered in 1940 by four boys who stumbled across it. 

The paintings were created by the Cro-Magnon people 17,000 years ago and are among the finest example of prehistoric art in existence.  The original cavern was opened to the public in 1948 but, due to the deterioration of the paintings from the breath of over a million visitors, it was closed in 1963. So the saying ‘he could strip paint with his breath’ is true! 

A replica, Lascaux II, was painstakingly created by twenty artists and sculptors, using the same techniques and materials as the Cro-Magnon people, 200m away and opened in 1983. That too has now been superseded by Lacaux IV. 

We spent our time in Montsignac moseying around all the back streets seeking out interesting buildings and I rounded off the day with a swim, at dusk, in the river.  The river flows pretty fast which meant swimming against the flow was nigh on impossible without considerable effort.  Therefore, the best policy was for me to drift down the river a mile or so, past all the evening diners eating foie gras, hoping no-one would notice me (unlikely) and for Tim to meet me just beyond the bridge.  Excellent.  

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You can just see a speck in the river……………………that’s me!

We only stayed the one night in Montignac before moving on down the valley to the delightful village of St. Léon sur Vezère. 

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The beautiful St Leon sur Vezere.

The weather was in the mid thirties by this time and, once again, all the intelligent people parked their vans under the trees facing away from the direct heat of the sun.  We, on the other hand, parked where there was the least amount of shade with our side door facing directly into the evening sun.  We’ll maybe learn at some point in the future, once we’ve crisped up a bit more, but we appear to be very slow learners! 

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There was shade at mid-day but we cooked after that on gas mark 9!

For all our swimming exploits we have loosely been following Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, France book to give us ideas on where might be accessible, safe and interesting for a swim.  St. Léon sur Vezère was listed in the book and we found a nice spot away from all the crowds a further mile or so up the river.

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Perfect paddling on the River Vezere.

It had cooled down with some cloud cover by Wednesday 20th July 2016 so we cycled along the southern side of the river towards Tursac which afforded some fabulous views over the valley and the surrounding countryside. 

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Views towards La Roque St. Christophe.
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Views above the River Vezere.

We stopped at La Roque St. Christophe not knowing what to expect.  It takes a lot to impress me but even I have to admit my jaw dropped at the sight of this enormous troglodytic city.  It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site.  Humans settled here, in the natural caves created in the limestone cliff face, over 55,000 years ago.  Multi storey dwellings sat in the rock face 80 metres above the Vezère river. 

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Troglodytic village at La Roque St. Christophe.

The ‘city’ is over 1km long.  Although we don’t tend to ‘do’ tourist attractions per se I have to admit this was worth the €8.50 each we paid to go in.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Hopefully they give a sense of the vastness of it. 

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It is jaw dropping.

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Apparently all the machines are in working order.

P1060893.JPGWe cycled on the road running underneath the city giving us a view of the little people above.

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The road below La Roque St. Christophe.
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Looking up at the ‘little people’.

We crossed the bridge to take a picture from the north side of the river whilst enjoying the sunflowers swaying in the breeze. 

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The sunflowers aren’t all out yet but they will be spectacular when they are.

We continued on and found an interesting spot for a swim under the limestone cliff.  This was a step too far for Tim as the water was murky, deep and was a likely home, in his mind, for flesh eating aquatic things! 

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This picture was taken before a flotilla of canes came past.

In all, the cycle was only about 16km but with all our stops, detours and the many sights to take in it felt longer.

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Geese destined for the foie gras market!
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La Maison Forte De Reignac, a chateau built into the rock in the 15th Century.

We have now moved on a whopping 15km further down the valley to Les-Eysies-de-Tayac at another aire on the riverside.  The welcome en France to motorhomers continues to inspire!

Happy Friday everyone:)

Je m’en vais!

A week at the seaside…. .

So having completed our Helpx assignment at Chateau de Jalesnes, and with 10 days off before our next assignment, we felt the need to feel some sand under our toes and sea air in our hair.  The weather for our last four days at the chateau had been really hot and sunny so we were looking forward to a bit of sun, sea, sand and surf somewhere on the Atlantic coast of France.  We planned to head due west to Jard sur Mer for a weekend stop at an aire right behind the beach.  So far, so good.  What I hadn’t planned was how tired I was feeling and the fact that the one cell that is my brain refused to work on our departure from Vernantes.  I just couldn’t seem to plan a route to the coast flicking over several pages of our French Road Atlas.  In the end we programmed in our destination to satty nav (I know many people name their sat navs but I have such little affection for ours that I don’t feel she deserves a name) and I left her to it.  All was apparently going well until an hour into the journey when she tried to take us on the motorway which would have fleeced us of many of our hard earned Euros.  We try to avoid toll roads when we can as we now have the time to meander along without a care in the world!  After a brief discussion, it was agreed that it was more than likely (read, it was) operator error as Tim had thought he’d programmed her to avoid tolls.  So, having faffed and fiddled with the thing for an age we set off again.  I can’t say I recall much of the journey over to the coast as I was in and out of consciousness in the passenger seat the entire time.  I woke up fifteen minutes from our destination with a sore neck!

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‘Ollie’ has a sea view.

We managed to grab the last space on the aire that gave us a sea view between the vegetation and we had a wander along the beach to Jard sur Mer.

 

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Jard sur Mer beach 20yds from the aire.

It was a pleasant enough little seaside town but nothing memorable.  We stayed a couple of nights though to laze about and recover from the last two busy weeks!  We were able to watch the first Euro 2016 England v Russia match on Saturday night at a local Tabac.  The evening’s drinks were courtesy of our friends Nik and Phil who had kindly furnished us with some Euros before we left the UK so cheers to them!

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Cheers to our friends Nik and Phil for the drinks:)

Tim excelled himself with trying to engage the barman in conversation en francais!!(He’s come on leaps and bounds since the last time we were in France when he just managed to order two portions of chips without the aid of a safety net.  He was so chuffed with himself you’d think he’d just negotiated the release of ten hostages!)

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Tim shooting the breeze with the barman en franglais!

Tim asked the barman what the locals were drinking as it looked like a watered down Baileys.  The barman explained it was called Pastis de Marseille which is widely quaffed en France.  He poured us one on the house and it turned out to be a type of Pernod. I can’t say we’ll be rushing out to buy another one!

 

On Sunday we headed South down the coast to La Rochelle.  We were able to stay at Minemes Marina for two nights for zero euro!

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View from the van window of the marina at La Rochelle.

It turned out to be an excellent place to stay as it was a 20 minute stroll, along the harbourside, into the old town of La Rochelle.  There was also a solar powered water taxi which took us right into the old harbour.

 

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Solar powered water taxi.
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View of the old port entrance.
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Street art in La Rochelle.
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View inside the old port.
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La Rochelle town.
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Near the old port in La Rochelle
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La Rochelle town.
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More street art – Banksy stylee!
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Not sure I’d like to park under there.

 

 

 

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This takes me back to my first car in 1986 – a Citroen Dyane I called Daphne.   

Two days was enough in La Rochelle and on Tuesday we headed over the bridge to the Ile de Re. The island is apparently a popular holiday destination for well heeled Parisians in July and August.  It is 19 miles long by 3 miles wide and is a leisure cyclist’s dream destination.

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Ile de Re – a leisure cyclists dream destination.

The highest point on the island is only 19 metres so it is super flat but nothing much stops the wind.

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Ars en Re town.

We drove to the West end of the island and parked up at an aire at Saint Clement Des Baleines.  The pay machine at the aire was out of order so it looked like we were in for yet another free night!  Whoop!  (Edit: the Gendarme came and collected our money the next morning – we didn’t argue as he was bigger than us!)  We had a cycle around the western end of the island and we can see why it is such a popular holiday destination.

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All the streets on the island are like this.

The beaches are all accessible and beautiful.  The water is clear, green and clean.

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Taking a break on the beach.

The villages are just delightful and everyone seems to be getting about on a bike.

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Bikes are the main form on transport on Ile de Re.

We decided we would spend the rest of the week on the island as it is such a relaxing place to be.  The Ile de Re is famous for its salt and the industry is still going strong today.

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Salt farm.

The island is also home to many migrating birds with near perfect conditions for them.  We were amused to see the town at Ars en Re has been Yarn bombed as nearly every pole and post was covered in colourful knitting!

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Yarn bombing is alive and well in France!

We were able to catch the France match of Euro 2016 at the next door campsite on Wednesday night.

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Allez les bleu!

On Thursday we drove the ten miles to park up at an Aire at Le Bois Plage en Re which is another pretty little town on the southern side of the island.  The aire is adjacent to a campsite and right behind the beach.  We went for another tootle on the bikes over to the fortified town of St. Martin de Re. The weather was perfect and the town is just superb.

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St Martin de Re.

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We spent a leisurely couple of hours mooching about soaking up the atmosphere.  On returning to the van we had another look at the beach and the surf looked inviting enough to go in.  Tim wasn’t convinced – it has to be perfect sunshine and clean, green two foot surf for him to break out his wetsuit so I went in by myself, Billy no mates style.  We decided not to bring our bodyboards on the trip as we felt they take up too much valuable room in the van but I did bring my flippers and a little hand paddle thingy that I bought about 10 years ago.  It’s enough to surf with and doesn’t eat up much room.

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First surf of the trip.

The kitesurfers were out in force – there must be a beach for every wind direction on the island.

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Kitesurfing paradise.

We finally found some Ile de Re donkeys on Friday just outside St Martin de Re.  They were free range in the city ramparts but had an electric fence around them so we weren’t able to get up too close but I managed a few pictures of them.

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Ile de Re donkeys:)

Some of them look more like highland cattle than donkeys and a few looked like they could do with a good brush and furcut.

P1060204.JPGHow can anyone not love a donkey???

We’ve spent six days on the Ile de Re having a fantastic time enjoying the relaxed pace of life here.

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Action Homme – for some reason this picture reminds me of the sitcom ‘it aint half hot mum’!!

We’ve cycled the length and breadth of the island so it’s now time to move on to the next chapter of the journey.  We’re heading inland again to the Deux Sevres region of the Poitou-Charentes about 100kms from La Rochelle for our next Helpx assignment.  This one will be back to working on a small holding with animals – dogs, cats, horses and three donkeys.

The Tour de Yorkshire…. .

On Friday after we had walked into Knaresborough along the Harrogate Ringway we got into the spirit of things with the Tour de Yorkshire due to roll through the town in the afternoon.  After fortifying ourselves with a Wetherspoons lunch……………well we did still have some vouchers to use up and they do have a sell by date (!)…………we bagged a spot to watch the tour.

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Knaresborough turn out to support the tour.

We placed ourselves where we had a view of ‘the spotty house’ made famous by the Tour de Yorkshire in 2014.

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The ‘spotty house’
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Yorkshire, now the cycling capital of the UK.

The tour was a bit late due to a strong headwind and a crash near the start but we braved the freezing weather.

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I almost missed the lead riders coming through!
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Go ‘Team Sky’

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They look like they’re out for a training ride with all those clothes but it was freezing.
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And then they were gone.
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Dutch backup vehicles.
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Rubbish picture but just managed to get the Wiggins car!

After it was all over (in about 2 minutes) we retired to Blind Jack’s pub which is my Dad’s favourite pub due to the brilliant range of real ales they sell.

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Blind Jack’s, Knaresborough.

It’s also Bertie’s (their Border Terrier) favourite pub as he always gets treats when he goes in there, as does every dog who visits.  Bertie has been known to make a beeline for the pub door even when the pub isn’t open!  The couple that own it have their own brewery which started off in an upstairs room of the pub.  They now have new premises after expansion and call themselves Bad Co and have won many awards for their beers.  If you’re in the area check them out.

We arrived at the station to see the back end of the train leaving the platform so we went back to Wetherspoons to kill an hour over a coffee.  Tim spent the time updating his numerous spreadsheets.  You’ve gotta love a spreadsheet!

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The most work Tim has done in the last month!

Saturday dawned a beautiful sunny day so I suggested we go for a tootle on the bikes.  Our own Tour de Yorkshire so to speak. Unfortunately one mention of the ‘H’ word had  Tim rootling around in cupboards muttering things about needing to ‘sort things out’ and ‘a backlog of van work to do’. I took it that as the ride I’d planned was going to involve plenty of ‘hills’ he would prefer to stay back at base and well, do nothing.  In those situations it’s best just to leave him to it and go out on my own as I will feel guilty at every hill we encounter, like I’ve got a lead weight hovering behind me muttering expletives under it’s breath.

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Can’t remember where I took this!

As it was, it was just as well I went on my own as my average speed over the 27 miles was about 8 miles an hour.  It was hill after hill after hill………….after hill.

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View to Timble village.
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Mmm, not sure why this ewe had a bucket on her head but she looks quite content!

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Almscliff Crag.

Tomorrow we are leaving Yorkshire to head south to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk for another house sit.  Our charges for the next 2 weeks or so will be four wire fox terriers – Molly, Chester, Hattie and Daphne!  If you know what fox terriers are like we probably need our heads seeing to!