The time has passed and we are slowly emerging again into the new landscape clutching at our semi freedom. Everyday vocabulary almost unheard of a few months ago is becoming our new normal. We have moved away from “shielding” to respecting “social distance” and are becoming almost ourselves again. So now with some wonderful memories of summer days and sticky fingers and an overwhelming sense of gratitude we are lucky enough to have left home to collect our new Motorhome.
Tonight I am sitting here listening again to the sounds of campsite life. People murmuring in the gloom and children playing. We are not in Europe where we would usually be but near Birmingham, an obvious mini break destination. We spent night one in a car park in Newark where I watched Paul cast of the panic of the last few months and are now at Chapel Lane, Wythall safely constrained by the rules of the Camping and Motorhome Club. Somehow it seems the right thing to do to have the safety net of this rather bureaucratic institution for our first proper night in “Duggee” as Theo has called the Motorhome. Two weeks later it could have been called “Cat Boy”, toddler logic is great.
It is actually rather wonderful to concentrate on whether we have parked the correct distance from the red marker rather than obsessing about who is standing where and whether they have a mask on. We are going to focus on one day at a time and share our good luck at being able to travel again with Zoe and Gareth.
Today we should be in Spain but we are not. It was going to be a six week tour but we are here completely locked down trying to help keep Theo safe.
Theo is our grandson, he is nearly three and was born with many difficulties and in a way Covid-19 has been an extension of the uncertainties that have walked with us for a long time. Sometimes these times are fine and other times they are not.
It is hard to know from one day to another how the landscape of the day will look. We are stuffing happiness into this time as fast as we can. Our days have been filled with baking, watching caterpillars turn into butterflies, befriending the local fox and cleaning and more cleaning. Changing dressings followed by stories and songs and meals where Paul and I sit in bed eating our share of the dinner I have prepared for everyone whilst Zoe and Gareth try to have private family time together as Gareth sits at one end of the table. He then goes back to his part of the house with the dog and Zoe and the boys stay with us.
Gareth has not hugged them now for two months. Zoe and Gareth have already spent months apart with Theo in one ward or another in hospital. As a family we are no stranger to ventilators and the suspended world of machines with their beeping heartbeats and sudden alarms so to try and avoid this is worth every day we feel trapped.
Anyway as traps go being here, in our home in the forest is as good as these times can be. Hopefully one day we will again drive, drive, drive, see the sea, feel the wind on our faces and breath in the cold air of the mountains, smell the orange blossom and just embrace being a tiny part of the lives of others.
In the meantime we will wait and I will use my planning skills to organise our week around the shopping delivery, the Thursday clap, the chemist deliveries and checking my dad is managing. Zoe will illuminate the spaces in between these benchmarks with the magic she weaves for her boys and Paul and I will follow behind with a dustpan and brush and concentrate on now and being here together.
A. Lisieux – Camping Le Colombier (1)
B. Cheverny- Camping Les Saules (1)
C. Creysse – camping du port (4)
D. Saintes Maries de la mer – Camping Le Clos Du Rhône (5)
The South of France
A. Cucuron – Camping Lou Badereu (4)
B. La Couronne – Camping Marius (2)
C. La Couronne, Martigues – Camping de L’Arquet (5)
D. St Mitre – Camping Felix de la bastide (2)
E. Salin-de-Giraud – Camping Les Bois Flottes (3)
F. Frontignan Plage – Camping Les Tamaris (2)
A. Sant Pere Pescador – Camping La Gaviota (3)
B. Taradell – Camping La Vall (2)
C. Sant Llorenc de Montgai – Camping La Noguera (2)
D. Alquézar – Camping Alquezar (2)
E. Biescas – Camping Gavin (2)
The West of France
A. Biscarrose Plage – Camping Campiole Plage Sud (2)
B. Tharon Plage – Camping Du Vieux Chateau (2)
Tharon-Plage and the adjacent village of St Michel Chef-Chef seem to have grown up unobtrusively in the environment like the mushrooms on our pitch. The buildings and little shops seem to be everything a seaside town should be and there is enough here to suggest it is a thriving community but also much loved by people that come here to nurture their souls. House are named things like “Welcome” and “Le Weekend” and here it doesn’t seem trite but true.
When we were at Biscarrosse-Plage we walked along the promenade and there were various inscriptions set in the walkway and this one particularly caught my eye.
My interpretation of that is that looking after “your calm” is just as important as caring for the rest of your body. We have tried to do both with variable success at different points of this holiday. All in all I think we are at least partially rejuvenated and ready to return. Obviously if the inscription means something different in translation I apologise to Jacques Pradel. Sadly, we have got quite good at apologising to our European friends this holiday.
In the end it turned out that red squirrels lived in the trees above our pitch and sitting in bed and watching one out of the back window cheered the whole place up immeasurably as did a trip to Leclerc hyper market for some very welcome food.
We spent two nights at Campeole Plage Sud and the beach is long and sandy and particularly good for surfers as there were some brilliant waves. We watched these from the shore this time. Paul did manage a swim in the pool.
Our next drive is a long one to Camping du Vieux Chateau, Tharon-Plage, near Pornic.
We are now one day’s drive from Cherbourg but although we are back in the north again we have had enough sun for an evening walk.
Butter coloured cows and sheep clinging to the hillside bordered by depressed grey stone walls and a creeping dampness. No more flamingos arrogantly twirling but in their place crows greasily hanging their heads. Yes we are back in France and going north and it even rains a little to cheer us along.
Paul has carefully selected Campeole Plage Sud at Biscarrosse-Plage. The rationale went like this; proximity to beach, tick. Heated outdoor pool another tick. Supermarket next door for those with no food left another massive tick. He spends hours on the planning for his appreciative travelling companion.
The site though seems depressed itself that it is still open. The resort is a cross between
Eastbourne and a surfers’ shack where
hopeful hoovers compete with the wind as they prepare bars for an exciting Sunday night in October. Smells of stale crepe fat mingle with perplexed people who walk aimlessly past “the attractions” and I use this phrase very loosely.
There are towns out of season and then there is Biscarrosse-Plage. Incredibly though people still seem to like the place. It must be the beach.
I know I sound spoilt and that is because we have been incredibly privileged to see the wonderful things we have seen. It was hard to leave and now it seems it is hard to go back.
I feel my new career working for the Biscarrosse-Plage tourist board may have ended before it ever began. Maybe it is a great place in June.
Oh well we have a nice view out of the caravan window and there are some interesting things growing on the trees.
We drive further into the Pyrenees past a shepherd who looks almost biblical as he walks alone herding his mixed flock of sheep and goats. The site of the “Mon Repos” Service Station and similarly named tunnels jolt us back into the 21st Century and a little laugh. Our next stop is Camping Gavin.
Both Gavin and nearby Biescas look to me like they are mainly skiing centres in that there are a lot of dead looking apartments. However, we do see quite a few people out with walking poles or mountain bikes. Paul gets out his Lidl poles to show willing and swaps his trusty shopping bag for a small rucksack.
The highlights of the short walk to Gavin are the eagles which this time are so close we get a full picture of their immense wing span and also a long talk with a couple who have sold or rented everything back in the UK and come out for three years in their old VW. The man does two thousand press ups outside his van before they begin the day’s excursions. He has also had a double knee replacement.
We waited a while at the market at Biescas to buy some fruit and vegetables until the stall holder pointed out we needed a ticket. So straight to the back of the queue for us. We watched as our shopping list was slowly sold in front of our eyes. Goodbye to the radishes and then the beautiful yellow peppers. In fairness the stall holder was busy and I don’t think he had noticed our ticketless state. He fed us with juicy muscatel grapes now and then to keep our spirits up. When it was our turn to try and point our way through the rest of our list we had a bizarre conversation. He told us he was from Romania and that Prince Charles and the royal family are related to Count Dracula and have several holiday homes in the mountains of Transylvania.
The peaches we bought were fresh and sweet and had a bite to them which made a welcome change to some of the floury supermarket fruit we have had. We ate the whole bag on the walk back to the site with Kites swooping down over the fields and the freezing mountain water making a good place to wash the juice off our hands. Tomorrow we leave Spain and travel north to France. Autumn has caught up with us.
We found the local town of Balaguer to be a town of two halves. It is bisected by the river Segre. On one side was the old half which looked picturesque from afar but close up the houses were falling into disrepair and as we walked up to the church of Santa Maria there were broken car seats and mattresses outside the doors and in one of the houses someone called Pedro seemed to be getting a very stern telling off.
We only stopped briefly in the modern half to get some fuel and food so there is nothing I can say about whether it has hidden delights. If it does they are not immediately obvious.
After a pleasant couple of nights at La Noguera our next stop is Camping Alquézar in unsurprisingly, Alquézar.
Paul has been given what we think are some more almonds by a fellow traveller. He is from Israel and is cycling with his friend from there to Lisbon. His stove has stopped working so Paul tries to help him mend it with some tin foil and then gives him a little gas burner we bought in Portugal for emergencies. The man tells Paul he has a big house in Tel Aviv where we are welcome to visit.
Alquézar itself is a place I would be happy to wander in many a time. The walk there from the caravan is captivating because of the number of eagles lazily drifting in the hot air currents high above us. At times though they come near enough for us to admire their grace and beauty much closer. The little town overlooks the high outcrops of red rocks down to the canyon below and the cobbles have long been polished by countless feet. The bells chime and there is a smell of aniseed in the air. It is so peaceful.
We climb up to the Collegiate and pay the three Euros each to go in and it is completely worth it. The castle part dates back to the sixth to ninth century and is Arabic. There is also a pretty courtyard and arched windows overlooking the stunning views. The church itself has an organ dating back to the seventeenth century complete with music. The artwork ranges from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. It is here for everyone to admire and share and there is no glass or cordoning to stop us looking at the colours close up which are still vibrant. If these are copies I would be surprised but in any case the whole place is wonderful.
We walk back accompanied by tiny blue butterflies, the sounds of bells ringing and the click and hum of workmen who are busy keeping this beautiful place preserved. It is deservedly a World Heritage Site. There was also quite an interesting dead stoat which the eagles did not seem to care for.
It is a peaceful drive to Camping La Noguera in Sant Llorenc de Montgai. The site is next to a lake and bordered by imposing red outcrops of rocks on the hills.
The village is a “one horse hamlet” sort of a place with some very tasty wild figs.
Today for me the highlights have been six storks standing to attention so close to the road as we drove past you could see each feather and then tonight watching the bats swoop past the caravan window as the sun went down.
The site is popular as a weekend retreat for locals who then disappear on Sunday night leaving their vans behind them. We spend our time with a combination of ambling around Vic and walking in the hills behind the site.
Vic is a grand town and has a very imposing square in the centre and a good Sunday market where we manage a little Spanish to buy some fruit and vegetables. The language is even more difficult than usual because it is mainly Catalan spoken locally. I also like the row after row of metal hoops to tie your horse. It makes a change from parking meters.
We were also fortunate enough to see a little of a procession in Taradell. It is a mystery to me what it was for or about but the figures had a medieval sort of character. There are really little children as well playing all sorts of instruments and blissfully not a recorder in sight.