Well, I have earned my Yorkie bar! I have driven The Big Rig in France for the first time, including a successful reverse and a few incipient snakes when overtaking lorries.
As we left Penthievre, the plan was to go down the coast of Brittany to the Atlantic islands; Iles de Ré, Noirmoutier and Oleron. We decided on a whim to turn east instead of south and go inland. Our happy 6 weeks in Penthievre meant that it was now the mad, mad month of August and we figured that inland would be a bit less busy than the beach.
Now that we have finally got around to it, we are glad that we moved on. It is refreshing to see a different landscape and wonderful to be in green countryside and forest. I don’t know about the sands of time, but we are relieved to be away from the sands of Penthievre – particularly those delivered copiously by the Sandman (in canine form) into our bed every night!
We are in Aquitaine, I believe, which is where Richard 1st’s Mum, Eleanor hails from. It is an area where places are named after celebrities; there is Poitiers, obviously named after the famous actor, Sidney. Then there is Loudun, one of the musical Wainright brothers; brother of Rufus – (not related to Alfred, Blackburn’s famous son immortalised by his illustrated mountain guides, a canal bridge near Darwen St and a fine pint of bitter from local brewers Thwaite’s.)
An Artists Impression of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lion Something
Richard 1st was Duke of Aquitaine, but as King of England, Count of Poitiers, Maine, Normandy, Brittany etc he wasn’t going to be satisfied with any of this provincial naming business like the Americans. He needed something with a bit more kudos to name after himself, so it is a mainline train station in the capital, Paris, which bears his nickname; ‘Gare de Lyon’ – which is French for ‘Lion Heart’.
The countryside here is reminiscent of Dorset, only with fields full of sunflowers and an abundance of rambling, stone Chateaux. We are in wine country, staying in AOC Haut-Poitou, near the Saumur Nord Vienne, Loire and Maine. Salut!
On our first evening, I took the doggies for a walk up into the fields and watched the sunset. The fields smelled of straw, the scent carried on the lightest summer breeze, which made the wild flowers bob their heads. It was beautiful. I saw a deer bound across a field and watched a hot air balloon hang like a shadowy bauble in the orange sky. It is lovely here, with plenty of walking and cycle ways.
It seems to be one of those places that are a bit like The Borders in Scotland – people pass through on their way to somewhere else and miss out. I think we might stay a little longer than our proposed one night… It is quite funny that with the original outline ‘plan’, we should have already have crossed France and spent 2 weeks in the mountains in Samoens and be on our way back!
On Sunday, we planned to get up early and go to Poitiers, so instead, we went to the market at Neuville-de-Poitou!
It was really hot, with temperatures in the high 30s, so we relaxed in the shade and filled the paddling pool for the dogs to cool off! We are not sure what was their favourite experience at the market; the live pig at the charcuterie stall, sticking their heads into a lady’s shopping basket or BATH TIME! It was too hot to walk until 9pm, by which time we had emptied a bottle of Haut Poitou wine purchased at reception while sitting outside and chatting away the balmy evening. It was going on for midnight before it was cool enough to sleep!
I discovered at least one of the reasons that everyone immediately replies to me in English when I try to speak French. I was filling up the water in the Aquaroll. “Bonjour!” I said, just as the bloke said “Hello” simultaneously. “I never know which to say!” I quipped, “Only ze English use zose!” he said, indicating my Aquaroll. Relaying this conversation to Mark later “It’s not my terrible accent!” I gushed. “They reply in English because of the Aquaroll!” “What’s an Aquaroll?” asked my Competent Caravanner husband. Turns out he thought it was a way of rolling your Rs like in Italian! Rrrrrrrr!
Monday – Poitiers
It was a bit cloudy and cooler so it seemed like a good idea to go to Poitiers. We lost the will to live when we got caught in the gravitational pull of the Periphique and a one-way system that kept spitting us out in the same place every time. We could SEE an open car park, but we could only get to a car park with a 2m height barrier, which is absolutely no good for our van with all its gubbins on the roof rack!
By then, we’d seen as much of Poitiers as we wanted to, so we went to Loudun instead. It was really pretty but reminded me of the time Mark and I visited Glasgow – and couldn’t find a pub!
Here we were in a touristy city in France and there was not one, single, pretty pavement café in sight! We walked around the deserted streets (it’s August, everyone is away on holiday!) and had an interesting conversation in French outside the church with Christine. We discussed Brexit; the many shortcomings of the EU; Ageing (with particular emphasis on keeping your marbles); the widening gap between rich and poor; dogs, of course and how hard it is when you lose a pet… She loved our dogs, particularly Rosie. She showed us where she lived and told us to come and visit her again!
We ended up having lunch at a truck stop on the main road back to Poitiers. €14 for deux sandwich (jambon in a dry baguette) and deux boisson (in cans). It was expensive and hardly the al fresco treat that I had envisaged, but by then it was 3pm and I was so hungry – it was worth every cent!
We then went to Guesnes and enjoyed a beautiful walk in the Foret de Scevolles . In the area which houses the 2nd most popular theme park in France, The Futuroscope , it was wonderful, in high season, to go to a tourist attraction and see not one other living soul! The forest was fragrant and tranquil, with beautiful Acacia trees and wooden sculptures dotted around. From the dogs’ point of view, it was heaven. We had bathed them on Sunday and they smelled deliciously of Almond shampoo. Like sightseeing, almond fragrance is not acceptable to them. “Why are you dragging us round a boring town when we can go to a lovely forest (and roll in poo!)” I have to say I am largely in agreement with them – although they did just sneak in that bit about rolling in poo…!
Tuesday – Limping Lani, Laundry and Laziness!
We had a grand plan to go and walk in a beautiful area near a river (click here for a link to the many walks in the area) but we found a tick on Lani and for some reason after we removed it, she went lame! Our poor little love was limping really badly. So we decided to do the laundry instead but realised that with all the faffing it had just gone 12 so reception had closed. We dealt with the 2-hour closure admirably, by going back to bed and sleeping until reception opened so that we could buy a token for the washing machine!
Washing was interrupted by each individual dog in succession coming to find me in the laverie and a game of ball with a lady and her two daughters, who had originally come to do their washing up! Chatting with them about the breed, it turns out that the French for ‘Poodle’ is not ‘Poodle’, but ‘Caniche’. I keep mixing the word up with ‘Cornichon’ and am in danger of explaining to the many people who ask that the pups are a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Gherkin.
We finally went out at 4pm to walk by the river and found that there wasn’t really much river to be had! We sat for a while and watched a kingfisher, which was lovely. Then we drove back off-piste and decided that we would move on tomorrow, so we packed up and made ready.
Click here to join me next time to see where we ended up; another unsuccessful river walk, the secrets of a successful relationship and how we were defeated by a hairpin!
A Ripping Good Read
1356 by Bernard Cornwell is a fictional account of the Battle of Poitiers, although it does contain much historical detail. Poitiers was a pivotal battle in the 100-year war between England and France. Fought 10 years after Crécy, Poitiers was the second major English victory; the third being at Azincourt in 1415.
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