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!

 

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!

Micro-adventures and mishaps…. .

We enjoyed a couple of days at Les-Eyzies-Sur-Tayac-du-Soleil staying at the excellent aire on the banks of the River Vezère.  Surprisingly, the aire had plenty of space considering it was a weekend in July.  Les Eyzies is a small town in the Vezère Valley sitting beneath a vast limestone crag.

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Vezere river.

As you can see from the pictures a considerable number of houses have been built into the rock, as is typical of most of the area in the valley.

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Les-Eyzies-Sur-Tayac.

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P1060946.JPGWe embarked on another walk from Lez Eyzies  on Friday 22nd July 2016 which took us out in an easterly direction on the north side of the river.  Even though, for the first couple of miles, the path followed the road, being on foot gave us the time to really appreciate the limestone cliffs with a good view of the remains of troglodytic dwellings.

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Following the road out of Les Eyzies on the north side of the river.

We’d gone prepared for a dip in the water as I wanted to find a wild swimming spot further up the river which was recommended in Daniel Start’s book but when we got to the end of a narrow lane the path leading down to the river was taped off with a Property Privée sign across it so we had to retrace our steps.  Not to be deterred, I suggested to Tim that we try a little ‘micro-adventure’.  I first heard about microadventures when I was trawling the internet on a wet January day looking for some sort of inspiration for a weekend trip with a couple of friends later in the year.  Alistair Humphreys is an author, having written nine books, and a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.  He spent four and a half years cycling around the world on a shoestring budget, at times living on £1 per day.  I have read a couple of his books in the comfort of an armchair which is a much more civilised way to vicariously travel around the world!  I do recommend his books though if you are into that sort of thing.  Anyway, Alistair Humphreys came up with the idea of microadventures as a way for ‘normal’ people, who perhaps don’t have much time, and work 9-5, to make the most of the 5-9 with a microadventure.  Basically, it’s to leave work in the evening and walk/bike/canoe/horse-ride/skate/swim/skip/whatever somewhere and maybe climb a hill with a view and camp overnight, eat al fresco and then get up with the sunrise and return to work the next morning screeching into your seat just before your usual start time (probably feeling grubby and tired but hopefully very happy!)  It doesn’t have to cost much, is a great way to get away from technology and re-acquaint yourself with the the simple pleasures of a natural environment outside of your work and home.  I think it’s a great one for children too as a bit of timeout from technology.  A micro adventure can also just be doing something different for a couple of hours in the great outdoors that you wouldn’t normally do or haven’t done for a long time.   So anyway, again, going back to the original story, I suggested to Tim that we could have a little micro adventure by swimming/paddling/floating back the 3km to the aire.  We could put all our stuff in drybags in our rucksacks and just make our way down the river.  I’m full of suggestions like this which normally get the thumbs down from Tim or just the ‘look’ which says ‘if you want to do it that’s fine but don’t expect me to do it’.  However, for the second time in the last week, Tim surprised me by agreeing!  Mon dieu.  That had me floored!  It’s ok for me as I’m confident in the water but Tim isn’t, so it was a big challenge for him.

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Tim braves a micro-adventure.

I couldn’t get any photos whilst in the water as the camera was tucked away in the dry bags but we made it back to the campsite and Tim even conceded he enjoyed some of it – mostly the bits where he wasn’t out of his depth.

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Safely back exiting the river adjacent to the aire.

He even said he would be up for another trip.  Fantastic, Niagara Falls, in a barrel, here we come!  After all that excitement we had a quiet evening and tried cooking a lasagne on the Cobb.

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Cooking a lasagne on the Cobb.

I think it came out better than if we’d put it in the oven.  So a big thumbs up for the Cobb on that one.

We had a stroll into the village in the evening to see the limestone crag lit up.

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Les Eyzies at night.

We left Les Eysies on Saturday 23rd July 2016 and trundled a few miles down the Vezère valley to the little town of Limeuil at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezère rivers.

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The River Dordogne at Limuiel.

It’s a great place to have a swim or paddle with a campsite on one side of the river and the village built into the hillside on the other.  We had hoped to stay at one of two aires here but one had closed and the other was chock a block with cars.

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Pottery market at Limuiel.

There was a pottery market on in the town for the weekend which maybe explained the number of cars and people around or it may just be that it is always that busy here, I don’t know.

P1060962.JPGWe wiled away a couple of hours in Limueil before moving on to Tremolat further down the valley.  We parked up at a small aire in the village which happened to be by the village hall.  A birthday party was going on at the village hall with lots of people coming and going.  The organiser came out to let us know there would be quite a bit of noise later but we said that was fine and it wouldn’t bother us.  We were having a very pleasant evening enjoying our favourite sport of people watching when a car reversed into us!  Ah merde, not again!  I’m not sure what it is, the van isn’t exactly small and discrete, but that’s the second person who hasn’t seen it and reversed straight into us.  The driver was probably in his early twenties and very apologetic.  He went off to get his dad who turned out to be the mayor of the village!

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‘Ollie’ gets thumped!

We invited them in to complete a ‘constat amiable d’accident automobile’ which is a jointly agreed statement for insurance purposes as ‘Ollie’ will need a new corner bumper.  Ah well, c’est la vie and all that.  After all that was done we went to bed at about 11.30pm thinking that the party was drawing to a close and how quiet it had all been.  Mmmm, not so.  That was before the disco started at midnight!  By 4.00am, having heard enough Michael Jackson, Queen, The Eurythmics and some other French ‘disco’ music of indeterminate origin, I was beginning to think it would never end.  They finally wrapped it all up at about 4.30am and I managed to get some sleep.  Needless to say, Tim slept through it all!  We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and re-surveyed the damage to the van in the cold light of day.

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Ce ne pas grave!

It’s not serious, it’s just hassle!

We headed towards Bergerac as that is the most likely place we’ll find a garage to repair the van.  We stopped off at Cingle de Tremolat for a magnificent view over the river back to Tremolat and towards Bergerac.

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Viewpoint at Cingle de Tremolat.

As the viewpoint was a ten minute walk from the small car park and not sign posted we had the place to ourselves for half an hour or so.   We sat perched on the rock looking through the binoculars at the kites……….or was it falcons…………..or buzzards soaring above and below us?  I’m not sure.  Let’s just say they were birds of prey.

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View back towards Tremolat.

Little snapshots of time like that make me think of how fortunate we are to be doing what we are.

We stopped at Lalinde for the night which is a reasonable sized town where we’d be able to get some free wifi to start our search for motorhome repairers.

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Monday morning at Lalinde using the Tourist Information Wifi to source a garage to repair the van.

We were the only ones on the aire there until a French van arrived.  Even though we’ve been doing our own French learning we haven’t, as yet, braved talking to any of our neighbours at the aires beyond the odd ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Il fait beau’ so I was delighted when the lady came out and asked if we speak French.  When we said ‘a little’ she encouraged us to have a chat.  Once started there was no stopping me!  They have travelled extensively all over the world so are probably used to plenty of miming. Marcel Marceau has got nothing on us!  They ended up giving us their address and inviting us to stay with them and park our van up on their terrace.  They are probably serial killers but a free night is a free night!  It was great though as we proved to ourselves that we can string a few words together and be understood.  It was good practice anyway for our next challenge of organising the repair to the van.  We also now need a repair done to the habitation door of the van as a plastic bit has fallen off within the mechanism and we can only open the door from the outside!  To cut a long story short (I’m boring myself now), we are awaiting two quotes for the work.

The aire is 3km outside Bergerac with a country park adjacent sporting a lake for swimming.  Très bon!

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The aire at Bergerac next to a huge country park.

It’s a 30 minute walk or 10 minute cycle into Bergerac through the park so is an ideal location to base ourselves until the quotes come through and the insurance company has had time to peruse them.

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Swimming in the lake.

We’ve spent our time over the last few days exploring Bergerac, admin, laundry, shopping and swimming.

 

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Bergerac.
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Interesting B&B in Bergerac.
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Next to the Dordogne in Bergerac.

Our next plan, once we have a quote approved, is to get the van booked in for the repair which is likely to be in two weeks time at the earliest.  We are planning a cycle adventure with the tent and bikes whilst the van is being repaired as it’s likely to take 3-4 days to do.

They say all things come in threes which seems to be the case this week as I also broke a tooth whilst eating a peanut this week.  On enquiring at the Tourist Information in Bergerac about a list of dentists I was left with the impression that I’d never, in a month of Sundays, be able to see a dentist as they will all be either too busy or on holiday.  I struck lucky though with the first one I tried.  I walked in and explained the problem and he saw me straight away, filed down the jagged edge which was shredding my tongue and has booked me in to see him next week for a proper repair. Pas de problem!

Un bon weekend, toute le monde:)