We had a wonderful evening with our French neighbours. They were so keen to improve their English and to help us improve our French that the evening became almost hysterical as we tried to communicate. Danielle and Jose, the absolute soul of kindness and hospitality, gave us artisan beer (yes I know, the alcohol fast had to end with such generosity. We couldn’t refuse.) They fed us snacks and entertained us whilst being genuinely keen to help us speak French more fluently. Jose speaks almost no English but is fluent in four other languages so we knew that his skill at learning languages far surpassed ours. He made us laugh when he was stuck for words by just whistling and miming. Danielle could speak some English and had us in hysterics when she mimed the effect of spicy food on her entire digestive system when visiting China. Finally they helped us with the well known problem of which verb to use when describing travels e.g. arriving, leaving, visiting. It seems that instead of telling them we had previously visited Lyon we were saying that we had been possessed by the devil. How dangerous this language lark is.
At one point Danielle turned to me and said “Your French is better than hers but she talks more” I was reluctant to write that but Shirley insisted. She thought it was very funny. Danielle had picked up the fact that I am nervous about speaking in case I get it wrong. Later she invited Shirley to have some more food. Shirley tried to refuse but Danielle asked her, in French. “Are you on a diet?” Quick as a flash Shirley replied, also in French, “Yes but it’s not working”, back came the response “It seems to work for her” pointing at me. I wish that was true but one thing was certain, it’s brilliant when you meet people that are on the same wavelength, even when you don’t share a language.
We got back to the van exhausted but happy. Moments like this are precious and we are very grateful.
To continue the saga of the mice – I went online to the wonderful Hymer Owners Group and got excellent advice. Apparently we need to lure the little critters with chocolate spread. This isn’t something we routinely carry so we had to wait until we got to the shops to buy some. However, we decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to swap the untouched bait in the traps for some chocolate as mice, pests that they are, share our love of the stuff. Out came the traps from their cunningly chosen places and we removed the bait that had come preloaded when we bought them. It was only when we got it out and replaced it with chocolate that we discovered they had been loaded with plastic imitations of bait. We had misread the instructions that appeared to say just set the trap and put it in a dark place near a likely mouse entry point. “Set” it seems includes putting proper bait in. We are, of course, feeling particularly stupid about this as we had been trying to catch mice with plastic for three days. Unfortunately, the next morning it seemed that even our delicious dark chocolate hadn’t lured them. Forward a few more days and we’d paid good money for Nutella only to find that didn’t lure any beasties either. We have come to the conclusion that our pulling everything out of the garage, vacuuming it and spraying with anti bacterial spray has driven them to some other unsuspecting location. Here’s hoping.
After eleven nights, we left our lovely pitch in Millau and headed north west. We were doubtful about the wisdom of this move as the weather forecast promised temperatures of at least 34c and we were leaving a lovely cool swimming pool and a lot of shade. We stopped at Rodez and pulled into the motorhome parking, walked to Intermarché for some essentials, taking Poppy with us because the van was like an oven. Walking back down the road we reluctantly decided that we couldn’t stay because there was no shade at all where we were parked and temperatures in the van were approaching 35c. Climbing into the van we discovered that getting off the parking appeared to be impossible as each spot had hedges on either side, only just wider apart than the width of the van. We had gone in forwards but needed to reverse out and be facing the way we came in. I was driving and Shirley directing and we simply couldn’t do it. Eventually, two Frenchmen came along and encouraged me to a) drive into the hedge and b) edge ever closer to a ditch then do a sort of waggling reverse until we were free. I would have kissed them but they were bare chested and sweaty so I just said thank you very much in French and we drove off. This time to Figeac, where pictures of the motorhome parking had trees. Arriving there we found no shade again. We stopped for about half an hour and got worried about our wellbeing as opening windows and the door only made the place hotter and Poppy was panting and gasping like an old smoker. So we did the only sensible thing and moved again, this time to a riverside Camping Car Park at Capdenac where there were trees in abundance and a slight breeze coming off the Lot river. We disturbed the other resident’s peaceful afternoon by trundling around looking for a place big enough with lots of shade but managed in the end and settled down. We all drank litres of cold water and Shirley and I had a tepid shower. Did I dream of sunshine only a few weeks ago? Now we’re trying to escape it.
The next morning when most of the other motorhomes had moved on, we walked all over the area looking for the very best pitch then moved. We were going nowhere for a day or three. The site sits on the banks of the Lot and some brave people chose pitches looking over the water. Here they were without shade but with midges. Each to their own I suppose. Capdenac’s Camping car park is part of the CCP scheme where old municipal campsites are taken over, upgraded with a service point, electric hook ups and wifi and, once you’ve joined the scheme for 5 euros you can stay for around 12 euros a night in any one of hundreds of different locations. They are a good alternative to the old style aires in towns as they have everything you need and no-one can drive in or out without an electronic membership card that registers their presence, so your van is secure if you go out and leave it. Across the road at Capdenac there was a big supermarket and not much further an outdoor laundrette, which we gratefully took advantage of.
The heat was intense by 10 a.m. and we set about hanging all the washing outside. This wasn’t easy as our little whirly folding washing drier isn’t big enough for a full load, so we stretched bungies between two trees on our pitch to make an extra line. Incidentally, I just checked the last sentence and noted that the automatic spelling checker had changed bungies to bunnies. I now can’t get rid of a bizarre mental image.
It took less that two hours for all the washing to dry and we had it folded up and back in place in the van in no time at all. It was now midday and temperatures were rising to over 35c and we could do nothing else but sit in the shade and stare into space. Apparently this is the hottest May since records began in France and we can believe it. We wondered what insanity made us leave Millau and that lovely cool pool.
We have five weeks left of our allotted 90 days in Europe so we’re caught between trying to live each day as it comes and the desire to make the most of our remaining time whilst being certain that we’ll be back in the right place at the right time. Plans are vague and open to change on a whim. We want to have a few more games of golf although we can’t possibly do that in this heat, so the clubs sit taking up a ridiculous amount of room in the garage. The most likely route we thought, moving from Capdenac was gradually west towards the Loire Atlantique coast to find another simple campsite with a pool. Stupified by the heat we sat trying to work out a route and find appropriate places to stay as we travelled but kept losing track and feeling sleepy. Is this the onset of old age? Eventually we decided to head to the Charente region and another Camping Car Park, this time one that had kept all the facilities of the old campsite in place so there would be showers, toilets and washing up sinks. How exciting is the life of the motorhomer? Arriving a couple of hours later we found that temperatures here weren’t as ferocious as they’d been in the Lot valley and we could go for a walk without melting or fearing for Poppy’s paws on hot pavements. The little town of St Junien lies west of Limoges and sits on the river Glane. It’s peaceful and very pretty and we seriously considered staying there for a few days but instead we moved on to have a game of golf in the tiny village of Mortemart, taking advantage of a cooling breeze and temperatures in the mid 20s.
We managed 9 holes before we had to admit defeat. It might have been cooler but it was still a lot hotter than we’re used to when playing at our local club in Scotland. We had foolishly booked to play before eating breakfast and having only had a cup of tea. We were very hungry, tired. hot and dehydrated by the time we got back to the van.
I had discovered an aire de camping cars about five minutes away so we decided to move there for breakfast and a rest. It turned out to be a tortuous route through villages that seemed unfeasibly narrow for our size. Five miles of bum squeaky driving later we found the aire full of school kids having a picnic so we stopped in a bus parking area and had breakfast. Needs must. It took us about an hour to gather the courage to drive back down those narrow roads and we cheered when finally we got to one that had a white line down the middle. Slightly stuck for ideas we consulted the CCP website and chose a place beside Lac de Pardoux in the Haut Limousin region. If you know anything about French geography, you will know by now that we would be travelling east instead of west but we didn’t care. All that mattered now was a place where we could relax and sit under a tree.
We set the sat nav for the given co-ordinates and off we went. The screen told us that it was less than twenty five miles away but it would take us more than an hour. ‘Can this br right?’ we asked each other. At some point, the details of which have been clouded by what was about to happen next, we were told to bear right and the picture on the screen showed clearly that we were approaching a couple of options and the route was obviously the right one. Within yards the dreaded word recalculating were spoken by the ridiculously calm woman in the sat nav. Have you noticed that she has no conscience and does not react in any way when you shout at her? There is a diagnosis for this but I don’t know if it applies to a machine. It turns out that the right turn was in fact the wrong turn and, worse than that, it was a forest road with absolutely no room for any two vehicles to pass. We motored on, having no option as there was also no room to turn around. At last I saw a roundabout appear on the screen and I said “Oh now, she’s sending us back the way we came.” This was followed by the following immortal words, “At least she didn’t send us through someone’s back yard”. I obviously have developed the gift of prophecy because that is exactly what the about turn was. We actually drove through a farm yard in order to go back along those miles of single track road. Not a word of apology left that sat nav’s electronic lips. We were soon back on the left road that it had eschewed half an hour previously. Now we knew why it was going to take more than an hour.
Arriving at Lac de Pardoux we could not have been more grateful. It’s beautiful here – the lake is enormous, you can swim in it, walk beside it, walk in the forest or sit on your bum and do very little. We opted for the latter.
Next time – we will move west, honestly.