Determined to try new places, we scoured the website of the Camping Car Park people and found an interesting looking place in the little town of Taillebourg. The name itself intrigued us, as it sounds as though it should be in Belgium or the Netherlands but is in fact in the Charente region. Here we were informed that we would be parked up next to the chateau walls. How splendid! I had made another rookie error and failed to look carefully at the details of our van on the satnav and found out, too late, that it believed we were 40 tonnes instead of 5 so our route involved missing any towns with a weight limit. The route, through vineyards and gentle scenery was pleasant though so all was well. Taillebourg is an ancient place, so ancient that the chateau doesn’t have that splendid facade we’ve come to expect. In fact, it has now been turned into a school and some apartments. The parking was pleasant and every van had its own bit of land, separated by hedges but unfortunately it was just metres from the main road and a railway line.
We wandered the streets and found a pharmacy where Shirley got some more cough medicine – yes we’re still coughing – and some honey pastilles. It was only later that we discovered that the cough medicine was caramel flavoured. There’s something terribly wrong about that and is only beaten by some we bought on a previous trip that was banana flavoured.
We enjoyed our stay here, despite its obvious drawbacks, not least that the pharmacy seemed to be the only shop in the village and the weather was still dull and cool.
The next morning I took Poppy for her morning walk and we enjoyed a lovely saunter through some open parkland and back to the van. As we approached I noticed two people with dogs standing chatting a fair distance away. One of the dogs was very large and to my astonishment, it took off in our direction without any concern being shown on the part of its owner. As it thundered towards us I realised that it was a puppy, albeit one that was the size of a small pony and it had that gleam in its eye that said “I’m ready to play”. I immediately took Poppy’s lead off, thinking that she had a better chance of managing any unwanted attention without the encumbrance of a small human attached to her. The big dog lolloped over to her and she stood still and eyed it calmly, it then sniffed her bum and almost knocked her over and I saw her stiffen but, probably wisely, she failed to give it the telling off she normally would in these circumstances. The three of us walked back towards the owner of the dog and heard him mildly calling “Viens!” So I took it upon myself to be a pretend French doggy person and joined in, bringing both dogs back to the two, still standing calmly chatting. Neither of the humans involved paid the slightest bit of attention to me and I returned to the van with Poppy in tow and pondered on the fact that perhaps women of a certain age really are invisible.
Off we went again, this time with the intention of skirting Bordeaux and heading towards the far south west of France where we thought we would spend a couple of days before going into Spain.
On the road again and the rain stopped but the wind became even more fierce so we decided, on the spur of the moment again, to get off the motorway once more and try the quieter roads. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was literally no other sensible route from where we had come off to our chosen spot in the south west and the only road was heading south east. I was reluctant to tell Shirley, who was driving womanfully on, that we were actually going east but in the end it wasn’t too bad a decision as we were on quiet roads and ended up in the town of Mont-de-Marsan where there was a nice paid aire beside a large park. To get in to the motorhome parking you put your details into a machine that asks you what you would like: one night, two nights, water, electricity – we opted for one night and water and it then asked for a bank card and 9 euros later the barrier opened and we were in. A paper receipt gave us a code for the water and we were soon filled up and parked in a nice grassy spot under a tree.
Not long after arriving we set off for a walk with Poppy along the Voie Verte – a cycle and walking path running close to our parking place. On the way back we became aware of two things. One was the frequent fly over of noisy aircraft and the other the onset of rain. Back in the van we realised that our place under a tree wasn’t such a good choice after all as the rain and wind returned in force and bits of greenery fell onto the roof of the van with more noise than seemed reasonable. The jets continued to zoom overhead and we resigned ourselves to a noisy night.
The next morning we woke up to the blissful silence of no rain and only a light wind. Soon we were ready for the off and we pulled up at the barrier, expecting it to open for us. It stayed stubbornly shut. Shirley went to the machine where she read the dreaded words “Use your code to open the gate” Where the hell had we put that bit of paper from the night before? Eventually, in desperation, Shirley went to the big communal bin where we had placed our the bag of rubbish and found it still sitting at the top. The paper with the code was mercifully visible and not buried under tea bags. How close a shave was that? We could easily still be stuck there being driven crazy by military jets.
Back to the plan and we set off towards the far south west of France and ultimately to Spain where our dream of sunshine might come to pass. We needed diesel and found a supermarket with fuel on our route. Shirley hopped out while I manoeuvred into position at the pumps. The card payment machine limited our spend to 98 euros, a figure that not long ago would have been laughably large but in the current situation didn’t even completely fill the tank but we accepted it gratefully. About three miles up the road Shirley yelled a great “Oh no!” And I nearly died of fright. “I’ve left the fuel cap at the pumps” she cried miserably. This was particularly painful for her because it wasn’t the first time this had happened but the last time it was our local petrol station so they kept it for us. Reassuring her that she really wasn’t losing her marbles but simply not used to having a petrol cap as our car doesn’t have one, we found a way to turn around and go back for the offending article. No harm done and we were soon back on the road again heading towards our destination of Orio in Spain. If you’re thinking that we really are losing our marbles I just want to say that I once knew a couple who left one of their children at a French service station – nuff said.
At the final peage (motorway toll) in France all hell had broken loose. It seemed that the card machines weren’t working but we didn’t realise that straight away. A lorry in front of us at the payment booth started to reverse towards us so we took evasive action and reversed out of his way until he could get clear to go into the next booth. We were following him at a safe distance when another lorry pushed and bullied his way between us There really wasn’t room for him but we were helpless and had to sit tight and hope he didn’t side swipe us. Once we got to the booth we saw what was wrong and paid our toll with cash in order to get through. Behind us mayhem was still being played out and we escaped with a sigh of relief. Fortunately this kind of thing is rare and we’ve experienced a lot more thoughtful, considerate driving from truckers than anything else.
And so it was that we landed, travel weary and fragile in Spain and headed to our first choice of campsite. Here we were refused entry because no dogs were allowed much to Poppy’s chagrin who thinks everyone loves her and if they don’t there’s something wrong with them. We moved five miles up the road to an old favourite. Gran Camping Zarautz is on one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago and is a busy, jolly place on the cliff tops overlooking the ocean. At the moment the majority of residents are surfers as the Atlantic rollers are just right for thrilling surfing.
The nice man who checked us in asked if we had been before and did we have a favourite pitch? I said no to the favourite but could we please have a bigger one than last time? He gave us a double pitch beside big hedges and we settled down to sit out yet another storm and have a much needed rest.
Until the next time! Adios amigos.