Friday, 25 August 2017

Our Very Own Tour de France! Day 1 - 4

Canterbury -  To Lake Chantecoq

Tuesday 22nd August 2017

This morning we left Canterbury to board our P&O ferry to Calais - usually we use DFDS to Dunkirk but as their single fare cost more than our return ticket we decided to have a change.  And other than the ferry being half an hour late our crossing was quick and trouble free - so guess which company we'll be using in the future.

We arrived in Calais about 3pm French time and from there we had an 80 mile drive to a little town on the North coast called Le Hourdel.  The towns history is steeped in all things fishy, and it's still possible to buy 'the fruits of the sea' from small stalls that line it's harbour.  Le Hourdel is also the place where the River Somme flows into the North Sea, and this along with the sand and shingle beaches ensured the area was very busy with tourists - it was heaving when we first arrived!  This didn't bode well for us finding a  vacant parking spot in our target Aire (which can hold 20 vans) and that assumption turned out to be quite right as we were just pipped to the post by a little van - leaving no room at the inn for us.  Therefore, John had to do a fair bit of manoeuvring to turn us around  before we headed back in the same direction that we'd come.  However, as we'd approached the site we'd noted numerous vans parked up on any spare level bit of land, so as a vacant spot presented itself - we did the same.

The photo doesn't really do our night's resting place justice because it's taken from too low down, but from our windows we've got views over The River Somme where it empties into the North Sea, and as an added bonus, there is a colony of adult and adolescent seals basking on the far bank.  We've often said our wild camping spots are the best ones - and this one is certainly living up to that sentiment!

Wednesday 23rd and Thursday 24th August 2017

Yesterday and Today have both been more travelling days - 80 and 110 miles respectively, and this has brought our total to 5 consecutive  days in the saddle, so by the time we got to today's resting place we were more than ready to hang up the ignition key and have a day off - which will be tomorrow!

However, that's not to say that our journeys haven't been pleasant and interesting, especially as we ventured further into the hinterland of France, passing through  many miles of rolling farmland where crops have either been gathered in or are waiting their turn, and also through areas of dense forest where it looks as if some of the leaves are already turning a bit autumnal!  We've also  passed quite a few immaculate  War Cemeteries and Memorials where mostly French Soldiers have been laid to rest or are commemorated - when you see so many hundreds of graves it's a very sobering vision - the soldiers buried there all belonged to someone and many of them lost their lives well before their time!

Happily, our journey so far has been mostly stress free with good roads that often ran parallel to the toll motorways - we'd ensured we'd avoid paying tolls as much as we could, and in so doing we found ourselves passing through lots of very pretty villages which have proved to be much more interesting than mile after mile of motorway.  But we did experience one episode of horror when Mrs Snoopy threw a wobbly yesterday and completely conked out.  This is our second Mrs Snoopy Sat Nav and the first one went to her grave yard in exactly the same way - so when the failure occurred we thought she was permanently KAPUT.  However, later she resumed the task for which she takes up space and now  we think she just overheated in the very warm sunshine that was beating through our windscreen. I don't want to speak to soon but today she's behaved impeccably,  so now we're just keeping our fingers crossed that this continues for the rest of this tour! ( We will have to turn the air con on to ensure she keeps her cool!)

On Wednesday night we stopped at a lovely Aire in the hamlet of Longpont which lies in a large valley close to the forest de Retz.   There was only room for 3 vans and we were very happy to pop into the last available space - an area that was very generous when compared with some other French Aires.
The Aire is situated in a partially shaded courtyard where picnic tables were available and where our Belgian neighbours on one side proved to be extremely friendly. They entertained us with a Boules Tournament (which the lady won), and they told us they'd learnt their very good English from watching Telly - maybe our redundant TV could have a use after-all!

Once we'd settled in we had a little potter into the tiny village but other than the magnificent ruins of Longpont Abbey there really wasn't much to see. The Abbey was founded in 1131 and was home to monks for several centuries, but now parts of it have been converted into a private dwelling that is open to visitors at certain times - but as the tour was only in French we didn't bother.

On Thursday morning we left the Aire - which had no water supply- and nipped back up the road to the Abbey to nick a drop or two from it's cemetery - we've learnt over the last couple of years that graveyards nearly always have a tap!

And then we settled in for an uneventful drive to a lake near Arrigny - uneventful except for our 'rock and roll' coffee stop!  We pulled up in a lay-by by the side of the road, and as the lorries rushed by we were rocked quite violently - and on the other side was a train track - so the rocking was reciprocated by the woosh of passing trains - it really was a good job I didn't overfill our cups 🌊🌊🌊

We eventually arrived at today's target Aire at about 3ish, and as it's right beside Lake Chantecoq which has a lovely cycle track that circumnavigates,  you can probably guess what we'll be doing tomorrow! Oh, and it was a good job we'd nicked water earlier because the service point here was broken and I'm sure T4rdis2 would have ran dry if we hadn't!

Friday 25th August 2017

Lake Chantecoq AKA Lac de Der
Did I mention it's been boiling hot for the last couple of days - temps creeping up towards 30 degrees, and today was no different.  But despite that, as planned, we donned our cycling togs, slapped on plenty of sun screen and peddled 22 miles around Lake Chantecoq - mostly along a well finished double width track that had fantastic views over the lake for most of it's distance. The lake also abounds with water birds such as herons, great egrets, loons, swans lapwings and ducks to name but a few, so there was plenty to spot as we trundled along.  And after a chat with another English couple I think we might be calling back here again on our way home in October, because apparently each spring and autumn tens of thousands of cranes assemble here in their migration between their wintering grounds to the south and breeding sites in northern Europe - and they told us it's a magnificent sight to see.

And I suppose I should say a little bit about the lake itself!   Wiki informed us that it's the largest artificial lake in Western Europe covering 48 square kilometres and it holds 350 million cubic metres of H2O.  It was created in 1974 to hold the water of the River Marne - thus preventing flooding of the River Seine in Paris, and we also learnt that it's name is derived from it's situation on the Der Plain and also from the submersion of the village Chantecoq when it was constructed.

Along our way there were several beaches and wooded glades so we had plenty of choice when it came to finding somewhere to have our breaks, but even with such dawdling we were still back home by early afternoon - therefore, we had lots of time to sit in T4rdis2's shade with a cool drink and our feet up - we both claimed to be reading our kindles, but I think if the truth was known we caught a few 💤💤💤 as well!

Anyway, I think that's enough for this first episode of 'Our Very Own Tour de France' but I'm sure I'll have lots more to tell you in the next few days by which time we should have reached the start of 'The Route de Grandes Alps'

Click here to see our French camping spots