Leaving Chartres we plotted our route towards home and decided to stop off at an Aire we had never visited before in Rugles. It’s a popular spot with free parking and services for motorhomes on the edge of a very pretty town. As we drove out of the site in Chartres we made our first mistake of the day – we decided not to fill up our fresh water tank at the site services, leaving it until we got to Rugles. The debate about whether to drive with your tanks full or empty comes up quite often with motorhomers. Some say that it reduces your fuel economy so you should travel empty, some say fill up and empty whenever you can so that you won’t get caught out and some travel with a quarter tank so that you can get by if you get caught short. We usually fall into the fill up when you can end of the scale but this day we didn’t follow our own advice. What did we find when we got to Rugles? We couldn’t work out how to get water or indeed whether it was even switched on, so we moved on to another Aire about 5 miles away. When we arrived, the water was definitely switched off.
Eventually we decided to go to an Aire we’ve been to before that has a really good service area at Broglie. By then we had detoured quite a number of miles from the most direct route to Broglie so the fuel economy argument was blown clean out of the water, forgive the pun. Rolling up we made a horrible discovery. Not only could we not get any water but we had put a jeton into the machine and it still didn’t give us any water. So, to recap, we had driven fifty miles out of our way to two free aires with free services that didn’t work, to a paid aire that charged for services, took our jeton and gave us nothing. By then we had agreed that motorhoming in France in March isn’t as much fun as it is later in the year and we would avoid it in future until April or May at the earliest. That evening, the man who takes the 5€ for staying on the aire at Broglie turned up and I managed to explain to him in French that it had taken our precious jeton worth 2€ and refused to give us any water. He took me over to the machine and patiently explained how it worked and I smiled and said yes I understood how these things work and I had indeed pushed all the right buttons. He then offered to open it up and fill us up with water if we wanted to move the van over to the service area. Unfortunately we had by then got the oven on cooking our dinner and we had both downed a large G&T. I declined his kind invitation and asked if we could fill up in the morning. No worries at all, he replied and arranged to meet us there at 10 a.m. We slept well, in an unwashed kind of way, and true to his word the kind man came back in the morning and filled us up with water.
Broglie is a great place for walking the dogs and, as it was empty of any other motorhomes, we could let them out of the van to wander around sniffing and snuffling as dogs do so, as far as the mutts were concerned, all was not lost. Moving on, we headed for Mailleraye sur Seine, a little town on the banks of the Seine river where you can park up and watch the cruise boats and the big tankers motor up the river. Arriving at the aire we discovered that it wasn’t in use because of the amount of rain in the last few days making it too soft for motorhomes to park up. The much anticipated final tour through France was going seriously downhill.
Squaring our shoulders, we reminded ourselves that changing plans is all part of the fun of motorhoming so we decided that we should drive to Neufchatel en Bray a day early. We had the dogs’ pre-ferry appointment booked at the vet there and it’s a town we know and like. Staying three nights instead of two on the very pleasant Aire at Neufchatel wasn’t too much of a hardship. As it happened we met a lovely couple, Kay and Trevor, who invited us into their fabulous big motorhome for coffee where we chatted and laughed about our experiences on the road. The next morning we met another lovely couple who were also on their way home to Scotland. We had a lovely, restful friendly three days at Neufchatel, walking on the Voie Verte that runs beside the Aire, meandering through the town, chatting to our new friends and helping people work the electronic gates to get in and out. Neufchatel en Bray is in an ideal position for people using the channel ports so the majority of customers are British. The owner has gone to great lengths to have all his notices translated into English and he is very patient when people get stuck trying to work the gates, the washing machines, the wifi and the payment on exit machines. This was our third visit there and I couldn’t help noticing that his English is much better than it was in 2015.
A Bit of French Culture – La Chasse (The Hunt)
Each time we come to France we get surprised by the sound of gunfire on Sunday mornings. Then we look at one another and say, “Aah, La Chasse”. It is a tradition over here for groups of people to go out shooting at the weekends. We’ve never been very comfortable with the idea but we accepted that it was a cultural difference that we would have to either accept or ignore, if we wanted to come and spend time in this lovely country. On this trip we found out a bit more about La Chasse. It seems that to a certain extent it is controlled and that limits are placed on what can be killed. It is also claimed that without La Chasse the countryside would be overrun by wild boar and deer. Like fox hunting in the UK, la Chasse is done with dogs but it is normally done on foot and by a range of people from different social groups. In other words it isn’t a posh person’s hobby done wearing expensive clothes and riding on magnificent horses. None of those facts made us feel more comfortable with it and even less so since I looked up Mr Google and found out that a number of people are killed each year in France by accident. They are usually hunters being shot by other hunters. You might wonder why I’m writing about this … we were driving through a woodland area close to the mouth of the Seine river when we noticed big signs that told us that La Chasse was underway in those very woods. We were glad we were on the road in a big vehicle that couldn’t remotely be mistaken for a wild boar. Driving along we saw a man walking towards his car parked up near the forest. We couldn’t fail to notice that he was walking very painfully, using his rifle as a makeshift walking stick. He looked youngish and fit but his leg was obviously very painful. “Perhaps he’s been shot in the chasse,” we said to one another and then started to laugh. We were reminded of the line from Forrest Gump when the president asks him “Where were you shot, soldier?” and he answers “In the buttocks”, making it doubly funny by putting the emphasis on the second syllable of the word. So our advice is this, if you’re planning to come to France for a wee break, do avoid wooded areas and open countryside on Sunday mornings just in case you get shot in the chasse.
Time to go Home
So it’s Tuesday 14th March and we are booked on the ferry from Ijmuiden to Newcastle on Thursday 16th. Two more sleeps on the continent and we’ll be on our way home. We set off towards Port de Maquion in the Picardy region to an Aire that is on the side of a working canal. Arriving there, after driving right through the middle of a number of towns, including Amiens, thanks to the satnav that now seems to be in the cream puff, we discovered that what looked very pretty and interesting on the web was actually dreary, noisy and had no signs to say that motorhomes were welcome there. After our experiences with the Portuguese police we don’t feel inclined to risk parking illegally so we moved on to another Aire de CC in Marcoing. Arriving in the town the satnav announced that we had reached our destination but we could see nothing resembling a motorhome parking sign. We rumbled and grumbled our way into town and parked up to consider our next move. Suddenly a small French car did a U turn in the road, crossed over and parked up right in front of us. A very pleasant young woman got out and came over to speak to us. To our amazement she and her husband offered to drive in front of us to show us where the motorhome parking was. We were astonished and very moved by their kindness, especially as it turned out to be in a place we would never have found on our own. Sometimes the kindness of strangers is what makes a trip like this feel so special.