We stayed two nights up in the mountains at Pradelles. We couldn’t tear ourselves away from the electric hook up and the shelter from the storm that was raging through central and southern France. However, before I continue our tale, I feel I must use this blog to confess my sins (You’ve guessed it … I still haven’t recovered from that convent education). When we first arrived on Saturday after our merry burst of excitement about the ten minutes of sunshine en route, we discovered that the parking spots were muddy, a bit crooked and sloped and difficult to manoeuvre with our trailer. I tried hard to reverse onto the most level spot that looked like it was on hard standing but the muddy grass all around caused the van wheels to spin so we unhooked and pushed the trailer beside this one precious bit of hard standing and then drove the van onto it, using the levelling blocks to get comfortably horizontal. It was only after dark, when other vans started to come in from the storm, that we realised we were actually on a part that was intended for driving round and not a parking place at all. Our comfortable position created some problems for the late arrivals who had to do some complicated shuffling to get onto the wet and muddy grass pitches. We struggled with our consciences for all of half and hour and then pulled the blinds down and decided to play the daft lassies game. No-one challenged us and we stayed there in splendid comfort for 48 hours.
On Sunday morning I trotted over to the shop to pay our 2€ for a second night’s electricity. Just as I was leaving in my full waterproof outfit and heading into the teeth of the wind, Shirley reminded me that it was Sunday. If you are new to this blog you might not know about our Sunday ritual. Sunday Bunday is the one day of the week when we allow ourselves outrageously large cakes with our coffee. That’s the theory. Sometimes the inner child wins when she jumps up and down and demands cakes midweek but as a general rule we manage to limit our cream and sugar excesses to Sundays. So, just as I was getting out of the van, Shirley said “Don’t forget to check if they have cakes!” This thought made the foray into the bleak weather more palatable and I was smiling as I was blown in through the door of the shop, liberally dripping water and peering through steamed up glasses. It didn’t take long to realise that this large and well stocked Charcuterie only sold savouries. Yes they had pastries but they were filled with sausage meat or ham with a bit of cheese for good measure. I returned to the van with a small peace-offering; a loaf of good French rustic bread. As it happened we enjoyed it thoroughly, liberally spread with butter and low sugar French jam. It was only afterwards that we remembered that we had a can of spray cream in the fridge. We could have made a decent imitation of a cream bun after all.
Sunday was spent reading, writing, trying to encourage Boo to come outside and listening to music and audio books. Sometimes wet days are quite pleasant, tucked up in our little happy space. Pradelles could well be a really interesting place, it is beside a large lake and is undoubtedly a pleasant place to walk around. We can’t comment on it because we barely left the van for 48 hours and it was simply too cold, wet and viciously windy to even contemplate the walk into the village. We’ll just have to come back another time.
On Monday morning we got the van ready for travel and hooked up the trailer. There was something strange about the way the hitch dropped onto the tow ball but it looked ok so we set off. When you tow a trailer it is connected in three ways to the van. There is the hitch that goes over the tow ball, the electrical connections that make the lights on the trailer work in synchrony with the van lights and finally, but essentially, there is a brake cable that operates in the unlikely but dangerous event of the trailer coming unhitched in transit. This final cable operates the trailer brakes if it gets stretched beyond the normal distance the trailer is from the van. Do you see where I’m going here? We were just driving into the exit of the aire when there was a jerk and a clunk from the back of the van. Rushing round to the back we found that the tow hitch had come off the tow ball and slipped forward under the back of the van. This small extension to the distance between the two had operated the brake cable and the trailer was going nowhere… thankfully. We managed somehow to extricate the hitch from under the back locker and get it in place to hook it on again but it refused to lock on. The locking mechanism seemed to be seized, presumably because of the drenching everything had been subjected to. I got out the trusty old WD40 and sprayed it all over the mechanism and tried again but it was still stuck. Just then a German motorhome drove up behind us and sat idling its engine, the driver obviously wondering why we were blocking the exit. I went to speak to them. “Do you speak English?” “Nein” “Parlez vous Francais?” “Nein” So I just pointed and said “Help!” The man jumped out, pulled on some serious gloves and grasped the tow hitch with a determined expression. Of course, by then the WD40 had had time to work and it slipped into place without any problem at all. Clearly helpless to explain we just shook his hand and said “Danke” then tried to pull away, only to realise that the trailer brakes were still on. He blew his horn to warn us, I jumped out and let the brakes off and we scarpered before we could embarrass ourselves any further.
Turning on to the main road we headed downhill towards our next stop. We were fully aware that the only way to go would be downhill, as we were in the mountains, but we hadn’t reckoned on two things. One was that we were above cloud level and we would end up driving through dense fog and the other was that the narrow mountain roads would twist and turn for almost 30 miles. Before we left, the satnav informed us that the first part of our route to sea level would take us more than an hour … now we knew why. When we finally arrived at the bottom of that 30 mile hill we swapped drivers because Shirley’s bottom was aching from pinching it together all the way down.
Soon we were on the open road, driving into sunshine and towards one of our all-time favourite places. Chusclan Cave. I’ve written about this place on numerous occasions so I’ll try not to bore you with another rendition of why it is so wonderful. All we can say is this; if you like good wine straight from the makers and enjoy fresh air, countryside and the unmistakeable odour of the South of France you should give it a try. Wine tasting, free parking and services and peace, only broken by a lovely lady turning up around dinner time with wonderful home produced goats’ cheese for sale.
To be honest the peace was also broken by my insistence on cleaning mud and road dirt off the van and trailer, Shirley showering a reluctant but smelly Poppy and our combined effort at hand washing the dog towels and fleece blankets. After that we slipped back into our seats and watched the arrival of other motorhomers. Several of these vans were as big as double decker buses, attracted to Chusclan because of the sheer size of the parking area. The owners of one of them came back from the cave with a trolley loaded with boxes of wine and stowed them away into the great depths of their enormous motorhome.
Next stop for us was Marseillan for a visit to our good friend Julie. Shirley and Julie worked together as young midwives in Abu Dhabi and now, in retirement, Julie has chosen to live in this beautiful area. We parked up rather cheekily in a side street near her apartment where we overlooked the town boules pitch. Unfortunately there was a big tournament on and locals could be heard muttering about “The English” as we took up several of their parking spaces. No-one tried to move us on so we didn’t correct them about coming from Scotland. We enjoyed a seaside stroll and a lovely dinner cooked by Julie enjoyed a relaxing evening before falling into bed at a ridiculously late hour ready for our hop into Spain the next morning.
And so we left the slightly chilly air of the French Mediterranean coast and slipped over the border into Spain. Here, we imagined fondly, as we drove past the sign saying Espagna whilst singing a rousing rendition of Bomboleo, that we would find sunshine and blue skies. Instead we discovered the awful truth – the rain had come with us. It has followed us like a bad smell all the way south and still it lingered as we parked up at a most peculiar but charming motorhome parking near Figueres. For the first time since leaving the UK we have paid for overnight parking and very pleasant it is too. More details will follow in the next post when we’ve actually been outside for longer than it takes to hook up to the mains. In the meantime the heating is on, we’ve had a pleasant snack and I’ve enjoyed writing about our latest meanderings.
A bientôt mes amis! ’Til the next time.