It was hard to leave La Roche Bernard. We had enjoyed five nights in our huge pitch by the riverside and on the last couple of days had some good chats with our neighbour, an Irishman called Pat (no, this isn’t the start of a joke) who liked to tour France on a massive motorbike and sleep in a tent on the way. He was interesting, genuine and very pleasant and we were grateful for another friendly neighbour.
Eventually, we ran out of excuses to overeat in the cafés and restaurants and on one occasion I had a serious fight with a massive crepe that wouldn’t let me give in even though my gut was pleading for respite. The crepe won and I suffered from the gripes of a food baby for most of the night. Shirley just enjoyed hers and smiled happily.
All good things come to an end and we set off towards Arradon, not far up the road and close to the city of Vannes. We had intended to stay on a Camping Car park closer to the city but it was a holiday weekend and it was full. Arradon is on the bay of Morbihan and we set off with every intention of taking more waterside walks and enjoying the fresh sea air. On arrival we found that it was drizzling so we went for a quick walk into the village where the heavens opened and we returned to the van soaked. The weather forecast was distinctly dreary so we decided not to stay and move on instead to Pontivy in the middle of Brittany.
After writing in the last blog about paying for stopovers we took advantage of the woman’s prerogative and changed our minds. We chose Pontivy for its free aire with services because it sounded lovely. We were parked alongside a large canal, a country park and an outdoor swimming pool amongst a few other motorhomes and felt completely comfortable. We had a good walk along the canal, chatted about the next day when we would walk to a chateau just a brisk stroll away and explore the area. Unfortunately, just after we had that conversation and just before I stepped outside to go to the bins, there was a massive downpour and we could do nothing other than sit and relax watching other motorhomers arriving and getting drenched at the service point.
A Grand Day Out
From Pontivy we headed north to the coastal village of Planguenoual. This little place, apart from the obvious problem with a) pronouncing it and b) spelling it, is just east of St Brieuc and has an old municipal campsite that the local commune has turned into a motorhome aire. You pay with a credit or debit card at the gate (€10 per night) and for that you get a proper pitch surrounded by hedges, water, waste and loo dump and electricity. It is the quietest place we have found on all our travels and we loved it.
A surprising number of motorhomers find their way here, we counted eight vans one night, and at first glance you wonder what you will do in the silence and the obvious lack of anything much to entertain you. We set off towards the beach which turned out to be down a very steep hill. Be warned if you’re a cyclist – think before you set off. Just getting ourselves up the hill on our feet was a bit of a pull. We were doubtful if our electric bikes would have made it – but then again we’re lightweights as in fitness not pounds.
On the first night we walked down the road to the beach and found a tiny moules restaurant right on the slip way. It turned out that they grow and harvest the moules in that small bay. A word here about automatic spelling checkers – so far I have found a moles restaurant and a modules restaurant according to the spell checker. So there was a chance of eating my favourite thing, moules – just changed again by the mole in my laptop. Mussels in English of course. Can I expect my laptop to recognise French? Apparently not.
The next day we found a lovely woodland path down to the beach where Poppy could run around to her heart’s content and we could get to the beach without too steep a downward trajectory.
The sun was shining and we saw the restaurant’s doors opening. A bit early for lunch we took a stroll up onto the cliff path and stood gazing over the view of the bigger outer bay before scrambling back down the cliff path and choosing a table outside. Here we were sheltered from the wind but able to let Poppy sit under the table without fear of her licking some unexpected diner. She believes herself to be human, preferring people to other dogs but she hasn’t mastered the rules of social interaction and demands intimacy far too soon in a relationship.
The moules and frites were divine and we sat happily slurping, munching and making the kind of mess that can’t be avoided in such a situation. I was just going to remark that we might have to apologise for the state of our table when four fellow Brits turned up and sat at the next table. They ordered coffee and immediately one of them knocked a coffee right into the lap of his friend who leapt to his feet in alarm. He recovered quickly and said he was going to take his trousers off looking in our direction obviously trying to get a reaction. “Please don’t!” I called and with no further ado a merry round of humorous ping pong began between the two tables. The waitress came out with another coffee and told him in French to pay attention the next time and went away laughing.
Back in the van we pronounced the day a resounding success – sunshine, views, exercise and a great meal plus an exhausted Poppy. Incidentally she did manage to steal a kiss from an unprepared lady who was innocently perusing the menu.
The next morning, before we left, Shirley walked down to the beach again and saw the amphibious moules boats going out to take the day’s harvest in. They really couldn’t be any fresher. If you get the chance and you like mussels we recommend it wholeheartedly.
A City Break in Saint-Lo
Conscious that we were well into our last three weeks of the trip we decided to try something very different. We moved to Saint-Lo, the administrative capital of Normandy and stay in the free aire right in the middle of the city. We wouldn’t normally choose such a busy place but the reviews promised a pleasant spot in shade under trees beside the river Vire. We are so glad we followed that little inkling.
Saint-Lo is a fascinating town steeped in history and with a richly multicultural population. On the morning after we arrived I walked Poppy along the riverside pathway to tire her out before leaving her to sleep while we went exploring. It was raining so I borrowed Shirley’s rain jacket for the dog walk only to realise later that she would need it. It was drenched so she wore one of our garishly coloured bike capes that clashed magnificently with everything else she was wearing. We were reminded of an expression we learned at the French Institute in Edinburgh. “Elle a l’aire de clune” (She looks like a clown) – here is the evidence complete with modelling pose.
We walked the ramparts, visited the exquisite Eglise Notre Dame that was destroyed first by Allied bombing and latterly by German troops in WW11. Partially rebuilt it now has only one steeple instead of the original two. The architect explained “The west facade of the Notre Dame church will carry the stigmata of the 1944 drama for generations to come. It will be a wounded cathedral, a cry, a prayer for peace.” We loved it. It had an extraordinary atmosphere and we were both saddened and uplifted by our time there. Afterwards we wandered through the town, found the market, dreamed of a life when you wander out to the market to buy fresh produce before preparing it at home with sunshine pouring in from the garden. I know, we can dream can’t we? It beats popping down to the co-op.
Getting hungry we chose a very ordinary looking Café Bar where we were served a lovely menu du jour of fresh salad and paté followed by ray fish cooked in garlic butter and fried potato and ending with chocolate mousse. Heaven or what? €13.5 with an extra €1 for coffee to follow. Staggering back to Poppy waiting patiently in the van we were content to sit the rest of the day reading and walking on the river bank.
We are now in our last two weeks. We chose Camping Risle Seine because it is next to a 9 hole golf course and offers walks around lakes just outside the gates. More next time on getting our hose end stuck and other such nonsense.