By midday, we were meandering through the Dordogne valley in beautiful sunshine. We stopped at a huge hypermarket to do some essential food shopping and indulge my habit of wandering through the aisles of useful bits and pieces for kitchens, cars, bikes and general household objects. I wanted to buy a coffee pot – the kind that sits on the hob and makes plopping noises. There were several to choose from and I made my usual error of buying the cheapest one on offer. I don’t know why I do this. I could see by Shirley’s expression when I picked it up that she couldn’t understand why I was doing it but I still chose to buy a coffee pot for 11€ when there were others for 25€. Getting it back to the van and giving it a little wash as suggested by the instructions, I put coffee and water in, screwed it back together and felt quite excited, in a low key kind of way. The box that the pot came in said it made six cups. I knew this meant six French cups so I assumed it would make two UK mugs. Ha! It made two half mugs of coffee, mostly because it’s a terrible pourer and spills half its contents onto the worktop. The second time we used it I made certain that everything was tightly screwed together and that I’d put enough water in the bottom, blaming myself in that ‘It must be my fault’ way I haven’t managed to grow out of. This time it splurted half its contents onto the cooker top through the safety valve because it was overfull, it was still a terrible pourer and to add insult to injury, we only got a third of a mug each. Watch this space for more on the coffee pot saga.
Wandering to Sarlat
Our plan was to make our way to Sarlat, a town famous for its markets. There are a couple of ACSI campsites there and we imagined getting settled for a few days, cooking on the BBQ and generally doing the holiday thing. A few miles later, as we made our way through the cute little town of Port de Saint Germain on the banks of the river we saw a sign for an Aire de Camping Cars. “This looks nice,” we said to one another, so we detoured, following the signs and discovered a fully serviced commercial aire where we could have a lovely pitch, full services including water and wifi and a small patch of grass to sit out on for 8€ a night. Too good to miss, we thought and got ourselves settled in no time. There was even a BBQ, picnic tables, a fitness track and a boules pitch provided. Wow! The thing about touring using aires is that you often have little or no access to outside space. A lot of them are basically big car parks offering a safe, often free and convenient place to spend the night. When the weather is hot and you want to sit outside, they can be a bit frustrating, although we usually find a nice bar with outside tables to have a cool beer. Commercial aires are normally more spacious and better designed so that you can sit outside. This one, having the added advantage of electricity, unlimited water and wifi meant that we could indulge in a feast of cleaning, sorting out, dog washing and people showering followed by online TV watching. We would have stayed longer but our afternoon wander up into the town brought a disappointment. There was no place to safely walk the dogs – or indeed the humans. The one-mile walk to the high street was on a country road with no pavement or even grass verge and the locals drove like mad things. We were seriously on edge by the time we had walked there and back. The next morning I walked the dogs the other way to a tiny hamlet but it was on the same road and the crazy drivers were still whizzing past. Even the dogs were spooked.
Still having the campsite in Sarlat in mind we were off bright and early the next day in that direction. Once again we detoured, just because we could, to the extraordinarily beautiful village of La Roque Gageac. Neither of us can remember why we went there but it was one of those diversions that turned out to be exactly right. Just before entering the village you turn a corner and see the Dordogne river meandering slowly under incredible steep red rock faces that have buildings built into the rock. Wow! Soon after, we saw a sign for a motorhome aire but we drove on past it to see another one we had identified earlier that was further along the road. It was obvious to us, as we drove on through the village and saw people sitting in pavement cafés and eating ice cream that we should have stopped at the first one but as the road was narrow and impossible to turn in, we went on to check out our original choice. There was no contest, so we turned in the second aire and made our way back to the first one. The Vezac aire, just outside the village of La Roque Gageac, is owned and operated by the Camping Carpark group and it is excellent. Pitches on grass, with plastic support grids so you don’t sink if it rains, all services including electricity and wifi, plus a gate leading onto the grassy banks of the Dordogne and a short walk into the village. For us, this is as good as a campsite because you can get your outdoor furniture set up and live outside whilst using all your onboard facilities to your heart’s content. The price is 11€ a night which is more than most but still incredibly good value for money. Using one of this group of parks for the first time you have to pay 4€ for a plastic card that is yours to keep and can be used in any of their sites to make entrance easier. The downside is that getting yourself registered to get the card, involves listening to audio instructions that have been translated from the French by a non-native English speaker. Making sense of the convoluted instructions is far from easy but we managed somehow, sweating a little for fear that we would bung up the system again á la Jonzac.
We did the real tourist thing at La Roque Gageac, eating pizza in a pavement café then regretting it later when you’re left with a mighty thirst from too much seasoning. Add to that having to get up in the night from all the water and other stuff we’d drunk trying to quench that thirst brought on an “I’m never doing that again” moment that will undoubtedly be forgotten before too long. For once in my life, I refused an ice cream after the pizza, saying I would have one the next day. Shirley, who admitted that she was completely full of pizza, reminded me that we have a separate stomach for ice cream but I still couldn’t face it. The next day we were back to take a tour on a riverboat. We couldn’t quite believe how hot it was as we walked to the village, it felt like mid-summer and we were glad we hadn’t bothered to bring a fleece with us. Halfway down the river, in the shade of the massive cliffs, we had yet another pang of regret. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees, reminding us that it is indeed late October. On the boat were two couples from Yorkshire and we enjoyed having a chat with them in a laid back, low key, kind of way. We’ve met very few Brits on this trip so far and we’ve missed the chance of a chat and laugh with fellow travellers. We can only assume that most of the British motorhomers are already in Spain and Portugal, seeking out the sun. Back at the jetty, after an hour’s fascinating tour with an interesting audio guide, we were straight back into temperatures in the high 20c and wall to wall sunshine. Dropping gratefully into the pavement cafés chairs, Shirley finally got her ice cream … and I had to join her, of course.
Two days and nights of gentle walks along the river bank, touristy delights in the village and afternoons snoozing in the shade in our reclining chairs were just what we needed and we felt refreshed when we finally packed up our gear and set off, yet again, for the town of Sarlat and the promised delights of a real campsite. It was only 10 miles to Sarlat so we were in no hurry as we entered the town and found a Lidl to get some food for the BBQ. The shop was busy. It seems to be the October school holiday here and there were lots of children driving their parents, grandparents and most other people to the edge with their general enthusiasm and their irritating ability to take up all available space whilst hopping from one foot to the other and asking for random items. We were relieved to be back in the van and yet, at the same time, experiencing a sinking feeling when we realised that if it’s the October break, the hopping, jumping and enthusiastic sproglets were probably going to be filling the campsite too. Have we turned into grumpy old women? Probably.
Camping Huttopia Sarlat was not as we had imagined. No doubt in the height of summer it is an advantage to be heavily shaded by enormous trees but in October it is dark and musty. It also has an almost fairground like scariness when you try to drive a big vehicle around its very steep inclines and miniscule roadways whilst avoiding the aforementioned sproglets who have either lost the will to live or are too full of joie de vivre to notice almost 4 tons of vehicle coming in their direction. A notice at reception told us that they were closed until 2 p.m but to go and find a pitch and check in later. Whilst I used the service point, Shirley tried hard to find a pitch that was a) big enough and b) not completely in darkness but it was hopeless so we drove out again and back into the town which has its own scary quality of putting signposts to roads that didn’t seem wide enough for us to drive down. We set the Sat Nav to Rocamadour, the next town on the list … Sarlat, we would have liked to visit but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next time.
The Secret Life of Motorhomers
There are almost as many layouts inside motorhomes as there are varieties of motorhomers. Choosing one involves coming to the conclusion that you can’t have everything. You might want lots of space inside but you can’t have that plus a fixed bed and a dinette and a lounge area. Many people choose a U shaped lounge so that they get plenty of space to spread out and relax in the evenings but this layout involves either making up the beds each night by shuffling the cushions and underseat frames around to make up into a double or sleep in an overcab bed that involves climbing a steep ladder. These are easier to get into than to get out of and a little sore on bare feet too. We chose a fixed bed model with a front lounge which means we have to put up a table when we want to use it as a dining area but at least we can get into bed at night – and perhaps, more importantly, get out again in the middle of the night when necessary. Sometimes, when parked up on a busy aire you hear strange noises from your neighbour’s van. Some are easy to identify – marital arguments, children objecting to going to bed or radios playing. One night we were very confused by the sound of hammering, something hard hitting the walls of the neighbouring van and grunts. After sitting spellbound for a while, hoping that a couple who had been in close proximity for too long hadn’t resorted to violence, we came to the conclusion that they were turning a U shaped lounge into a double bed with all the effort that involves. We were grateful to slip into our ready-made bed and snuggle down like hamsters for the night.
The truth is that we too are not strangers to making odd noises at night. I’m not referring to my snoring, which I’m told is achieving epic proportions but to a strange obsession of Shirley’s. She is the proud owner of a pink fly swatter and if any flying insect dares to take up residence in the motorhome she takes on the persona of a ninja warrior, flashing about the place in her PJs, luring them into a false sense of security and then dispatching them into the great blue yonder. She lies in bed at night holding the swatter shouting, “I see you and I’m going to get you!” I’ve seen the neighbours looking at us oddly the next morning.