The first trip has been to Ireland - leaving January 16th. Staying two nights at the Navan Road Travelodge in Dublin, then to our cottage. Our return was not without its problems, due to gales, several ferry sailings were canceled - very unusual this, generally high winds result in just one or two not going. So we had two extra days in the Irish south east we'd not planned for. Our journey back from Pembroke was also more than usually eventful. Heavy rain had caused flooding on roads, we managed to negotiate several, but later on thought that discretion was the better part of valour when finding our route barred by floods, and completed our journey by new roads and motorways. We were thankful to be safe home in the evening of February 2nd.
On the 7th February, we left our car at Sherborne, and took a rail trip to Cornwall. We had the previous day booked an apartment for a week's stay at St Ives. We spent most days well away from that town though. We made full use of the Rail Rover tickets we had purchased to travel the network of the county. A lovely method of viewing the countryside without the strain and expense of driving a car.
The early morning of Monday, 4th of March, saw us travelling to Portsmouth to catch the ten AM ferry to St Malo, darkness was falling as we arrived there, so the onward journey to our cottage meant having to drive on headlights - first time I had done this on the Continent. The rest of that week was spent in erecting a partition round the new shower/toilet. The electrician was wiring fresh power points and lighting, so the two full days he was there, we thought it best to leave the house so he could work on his own. One day we traveled to Vannes, the next to Quiberon. Most of the rest of the visit involved in us working on further improvements - a new stairs inside (previously to gain access to the floor above involved using the outside steps). We also enclosed a bedroom with another partition and door. A good 'working' visit - we travelled back on the 20th, well pleased with what we had achieved.
For reasons due to farm work, plus other jobs, our next trip did not commence 'til the end of April. On the afternoon of the 27th we drove via Cheltenham and Pershore to stay the night at one of our favourite haunts - the Compass Hotel at Wigmore. The next day was spent in general exploration, spending the night at Clun. We enjoyed a long walk though this sparsly populated area the next day, lunching in the pub at Newcastle. The following four nights we stayed with our friends in Cheltenham.
'Away days' are not usually mentioned here, but one we particularly enjoyed was a train trip to Honiton, then a walk back to Axminster, where we caught another train home - somewhat spoilt by loseing my wallet. Possibly this happened due to carrying a napsack, rather than my usual jacket.
Early on Wednesday, the 15th of May, we commenced the second trip of the year to our French cottage, a days journey, as we had to drive down from Cherbourg. The ferry was carrying many passengers, much too overloaded for comfort in fact, normally we travel on boats with few obvious passengers, this voyage was very much an exception, possibly because it was being used as a 'shopping trip'.
Time was spent in furthur improvements, though we did make a couple of sightseeing day trips. We do not consider we should tie ourselves to this area and ignore the rest of Europe however. With this in mind we thought it an idea to spend a few days - six in all, as it turned out, away from the place. The direction we took was due east, spending the first night at Lamotte Beaufor, and the second just outside Besancon - we had tried three hotels in that town, but they were all full. These two days of motoring had added almost five hundred miles to the 'clock'
Travelling east again the next morning, we soon passed through the Swiss border control, and had arrived in an interesting and attractive country. Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive to enjoyment of potentially outstanding scenery. It had rained the previous day, but for almost all that day it was even worse. We were told later that rain such as this in Switzerland was really unusual. Skirting the northern edge of Lake Neuchatel, turning south, with Murten on our left, we got to Fribourg. Then motored due south to Bulle, where we stopped for lunch. Here we could have chosen Fondue - something I'd often wished to try - but only spotted this option after we'd ordered. On again almost to Gruyeres - famous for cheese, we turned off to drive through the valley starting at Broc. Traversing this, then turning south, through Gstaad to Aigle, were it was time for a cup of tea.
Looking at our map, this indicated just how much of this country we had explored so far that day. It was time to take stock of where to go to next. I realised it was very much an option to try and get to Zermatt, a town that I'd heard about, and much wished to see. It seemed a good plan to get as close as possible to it by that evening. The drive along the lower Rhonne Valley in Switzerland is perhaps one of the least attractive routes in that country, due to the amount of industry we passed. By the time we reached Sierre, where we found a room for the night, we'd got through the worse. Just as well, because the next morning we awoke to a really lovely bright sunny day.
|Below: The Matterhorn juts imposingly above Zermatt. Right: Most cattle have very noisy bells hanging from necks - the animals look well though!|
We spent most of the day in this very touristy town. After lunch - when I was able to try a fondue! We caught another electric cog rail train, to travel even furthur up the mountain, ending about three thousand metres above sea level - two miles high in other words. The air really was rare up here, one noticed this in breathing. An expensive but enjoyable trip, with spectacular views.
|Left: View down Zermatt valley. Below: We're almost as high as the Matterhorn!|
That evening, after driving back down the long valley, we turned right up the valley of the Rhone again, very scenic in its higher reaches, with the Italian border straddling the mountains to the right hand side. As we proceeded, notices were indicating passes that were open - not all, one was still closed, but luckily the route we wished to travel had become open - only that day we later heard. We were lucky! Our next obstacle was climbing up out of the valley, we had to do this via a series of hairpin bends as the road was engineered up to the head of the pass. Thankfully in view of the conditions in which this road had to be built, it was good, well surfaced, full width lanes. At the top of the pass we came upon a hotel, it was then around eight in the evening, so we asked if they had rooms available - yes they did, so wisely I think we decided to stay here. A mile and a half high I reckon - a rare occurance to sleep at this altitude!
From here the next day our drive took us on the northern side of the two lakes which the town of Interlaken divide. Then avoiding Bern, across country to Fribourg again, through this to the side of Lake Neuchatel, then down to the bottom, were we took our lunch at Yverdon. After this, we drove back across the border, spending that night at Beaune in France.
The next day turned out to be an epic journey. On the outward drive, we had taken two days to cross France, would we have to do the return in two hops we wondered. Starting at eight AM French time, we found our way out of Beaune, and got on the road to Autun. We always try to use 'country' roads even when doing long journeys, while much more effort has to be put into planning the journey, advantages are that we see much more of the 'real' country, plus the drive tends to keep us on our toes. We halted to find lunch in the small town of Issoudun. It was following this I got breathalized!!
At around three PM we were waved to the side of the road by Gendarmerie. After ascertaining if I could 'parlez francais' - 'non', it was indicated the policeman wished to view my driving licence - sods law! I could not provide one. As I've already related, I'd lost my wallet, and my driving licence was in it. I would not have had time to replace it even if I tried. I can hardly recall being asked for it in all the years since I'd first got one. He then whipped out the 'blow bag', I was happy about this has I'd only drunk water with my lunch - as he said, 'tis good'. Meanwhile, what to do about the driving licence, very difficult to explain because of the language. But Muriel had a bright idea - why not show him hers - would he notice it was in the name of a woman? No he did not! So with jokes about the value of English beer and guiness, he allowed us on our way.
But could we reach Josselin without a break for the night? After crossing the Loire going north I thought it a good chance, though the drive from there on seemed much longer than I'd anticipated, I could not be bothered to stop the car and check the map. But we did do it! Home around ten thirty, after driving 425 miles, not a single one on a dual carriageway.
In the following three days, more work was carried out on the cottage. Thursday we started back to St Malo for the ferry. We'ed travelled just a few miles when the main engine drive belt came adrift - the tensioner pulley had fallen apart. Thus no power for the steering, brakes, battery etc. We could continue, but only by careful driving. A garage indicated we ought to be able to drive on, and yes, we reached the ferry OK - we were pleased! However continuing from Portsmouth, reaching Salisbury, other equipment started failing. I had the feeling within a short while the engine would cut out - five minutes later it did! I did not realise how much modern diesel engines relied on electronics. Our journey home had to be completed by a car transporter.
Early July, and once again we're in our French abode. The Tour de France runs near here, and it would be a pity not to see it. The trip over was not a pleasure for many, very windy, made worse by the high speed boat from Poole to St Malo, resulting in passengers being sick. I felt the stewards looked after them well though. The weather here not a lot different to Britain, quite cool, and more rain than usual for the area at this time of year I would think.
The following week we took four days exploring the part of France which lies inland half way down the Atlantic coast. Starting off by driving through the centre of Nantes, using the oportunity to obtain our lunch there. Most accomodation in this country is of good quality, and very reasonable prices are charged. This was not the case for our first nights stay in the town of Chantonnay - €55 for room only which did not even have hot water, we the only people staying, though it was close to peak season.
The next day was relaxing and interesting. Our first stop being at the village of Vouvant, another long one in the larger town of Fontenay-le-Comte. Then a drive exploring the large area of flatland which lies inland north east of La Rochelle. Very similiar country to the fens of East Anglia. The main crops being wheat, maize, and sunflowers. A really good time to see the latter, many fields being in full bloom. Following lunch in the small town of Marans, we turned east, driving that afternoon through the well farmed fields, stopping for tea at Beauvoir-s-Niort. Then on again til we stopped at Ruffec, at the tourist office here we learnt of a museum relating to the French Resistance in the town of Angouleme.
This information resulted in a turn south, along the valley of the River Charente. Scenic, but twisty roads. That evening we came upon a really excellent "Logis-de-France" hotel at Mansle, such a difference to the previous night, high quality, at the very reasonable price of ¤41. The hotel in a lovely setting too, alongside the river, which well kept grounds led down to. Mark out for a future stay!
Angouleme is set on a hill above the river. Narrow streets, made slimmer still by the tables and chairs of the numerous cafes and restaurants lining it. The town also benefits from an excellent indoor market. In the museum we found a young Scottish lass, who among her other jobs, was translating into French the story of the SOE during the war. I found someone who could explain some of the exhibits to me, a great help, the amount of English text and explanations being not very good in many of these museums.
Journeying on again, we stopped for a short while at the impressive memorial erected to the Resistance at Chasseneul-s-B. Then on, just pausing to take a photo from the bridge at Confolens. We were on our way to Oradour-sur-Glane. This would be our second visit, the first being around seven years previously.
I had first heard of the terrible event which took place here, on the tenth of June 1944, when the story first broke in England - I assume later that year. Briefly, the Germans massacred virtually the entire population of this large village, a total of 642 persons. As a vivid reminder, and memorial to the victims, the place has been left as it was when the perpetrators passed on. To ensure that no had been left alive, they systematically burnt down each building. What struck me on my first visit was the remaining evidence of how people lived sixty years ago - sewing machines in the houses, number of cars used in those days, and so on. I had the feeling that some items might have been removed since my previous look around.
|Below: main street in Oradour, note the tram power gantries and rails. Right: inside the church, strong evidence of bullet marks, specially on memorial.|
One thing certainly was new. In 1999 a large memorial museum had been opened, attached to which was a large car park, both being linked to the remains of the village by passage underneath the roadway. The site is now more of a tourist attraction. Matter of opinion if this is or is not a good thing. I found the staff in the building very helpful, one speaking excellent English. The majority of the displays also carried at least some explanation in English. Some questions remained to be answered was the feeling I still felt on leaving, possibly due to the lack of human detail. Most of this has since been removed by, for me, a rather amazing find. Looking up the name of the place on the 'Google' search engine, I found this web site: http://www.oradour.info/ An English person has taken an interest in what led up to the event, plus the subsequent happenings. He has most obviously put a great deal of work into his efforts, and to my mind the results of his research lead me into placing more faith in his views, than I would those indicated in the memorial museum.
After staying in Oradour overnight, we drove steadily up through the French countryside to return to our cottage that evening. For much of the time we seemed to be following rivers. First the Gartempe, later this joined up with the Vienne, then of course the Loire. Initially the farming was rather weaker as compared with much of France. Later though this completely changed. The amount of irrigation in operation was surprising, much of it going onto maize. With the possible exception of East Anglia, very little can be allowed in England. Obviously many French farmers are fortunate as regards water supplies for crops. This added to a richer soil and easier climate, makes their job very much a 'boys' one, certainly as compared to their English cousins.
The 14th of July - Bastille Day, is much celebrated by the French. Josselin in the evening was great fun, plenty of street music and dancing. A grand firework display which closed the proceedings was one of the best we have ever viewed. Though vast crowds were present, the excellent behaviour of all these people was very noticible, not a single police person did we see, neither in spite of looking, did we find evidence of any damage - the flower displays for example appeared completely undisturbed.
A short trip, just one night, on the 19th August, at Pandy, north of Abergavenny. That afternoon we walked from Michaelchurch Escely to the top of the Olchon Valley, then back via Llanveynoe. The next morning we climbed to the top of the hill behind the farm we stayed at - Oldcastle, then after following Offas Dyke path for a while, dropped down into Llanthony for lunch. Rather a long walk back to pick up our car, but we did avoid going over the hill again.
Saturday the 14th September we started early - 3.25AM in fact! This was for a drive up the M5 to Scotland. By 7.30AM we had cleared the major conurbations motorway traffic, and were level with Morecombe Bay. We were headed for Scotlands east side. Following a halt in Lanark town, we then had to transverse the lowlands conurbations - even worse traffic than I had expected! Dual lines of stop and start vehicles which took well over two hours to get through, though this included a break for food. A great relief to pass over Kincardine Bridge and a much quieter area. Here also we began to see really high quality farming, the crops even included fields of Brussel Sprouts. We learnt that Dundee was almost fully booked that night, so we headed on to stay at Couper Angus.
The next morning was spent at Glamis Castle. We then worked our way through what to me was a revelation in high quality soils, only marred a bit by the fact harvest was still not completed at these latitudes. Vast amounts of straw also had to be cleared, virtually all in large round bales.
That evening we found ourselves a self catering apartment a short walk from the centre of Oldmeldrum, a large village, twenty odd miles from Aberdeen. The first of our two days here we journeyed to Fraserburgh, then down to Peterhead. Some very large trawlers tied up in the former - in fact the harbours were stacked full of vessels, this could have been due to the fact that it was a holiday in that particular town. Peterhead though was working, interesting to watch catches unloaded
The following morning was spent exploring the 'Granite City' - Aberdeen. The harbour here really is interesting, not a problem we found to walk round, and plenty of large ships, some in dry dock. In the afternoon we drove up the valley of the River Dee as far as Balmoral, then a long drive 'home'. The next day we left this and travelled up to the coast at Macduff, where we visited the really good aquarium. Driving west from here we stayed close to the coast as far as Nairn, then turned south. First via the B9007 to Carrbridge, then down to Pitlockry, where we spent the last night of this trip.
The fourth trip of the year to our French abode commenced on the 10th of October, staying that evening at the 'Bonsai' in Cherbourg. We had our friend Mimi with us, being French speaking, she was of great assistance in conversing with neighbours, dealing with builders, etc. Taking a visitor encourages travel. One trip was to the Isle de Brehat, just off the north coast of Brittany, not far from Paimpol were we stayed one night. Another was to the coast west of St Nazaire. Our meal in the walled town of Guérande, at the restaurant 'Le Vieux Logis', was one to remember. We had eaten here previously, and intend to return again. Rochefort-en-Terre was also visited again - well worth it.
In early November of last year, we had visited the Lake District, the autumn colours making an impression on us. Because of this, we thought we would take another look. Just a couple of days later than last years trip however, but almost all the leaves were gone from the trees, moreover, there was no snow on the mountains, as there had been the previous year - the weather was worse too! We did though take two long walks, including a climb to nearly two and a half thousand feet north of Rydal (no Muriel did not "enjoy" this!). We could not use the apartment of the previous visit, but instead found ourselves an excellent hotel, at a very reasonable rate, plus a great atmosphere.
Portsmouth was the destination of a trip which commenced on 5th December. We used the train for the journey, and a short walk from the station we managed to obtain a room at the really excellent Ibis Hotel - we had never used one of this chain in Britain previously, but were so impressed with the good value it offered, we certainly intend to use them in the future whenever possible. I did wonder if 'Pompey' would provide sufficiant interest for us, but even though not one of the many museums and old ships contained in the city did we visit, we found plenty else to enjoy during the five days spent there. This is one event we viewed:- A Royal Navy destroyer being brought back
into Portsmouth after travelling by this method from Australia, where she had been holed.