I tend to fill the kettle and leave it on the hob the night before. In the compact living space of the caravan, this means that all I need to do is lean out of bed to reach the knob to switch it on for my morning coffee!
The occupants of the tent next door were up early; it was 07:30. The smell of toast wafted into the caravan. I love the morning smells of a campsite. In Britain, the delicious smell of bacon frying…
My reverie was interrupted by the shrill screech of the smoke alarm. I shot out of bed. The kettle was still cold! It seems that half asleep, in semi-darkness and without my glasses, I had turned on the grill rather than the hob. Crumbs in the grill pan explained the smell of toast as they heated up to the point of near combustion… Thank goodness for the smoke alarm. Otherwise maybe WE would have been toast!
It was not a very relaxing start to the day and unfortunately, the morning progressed along similar lines. We were moving on, so after hitching up we stopped at the bakery on our way through Chalandray to get some baguettes for lunch. Then we stopped at the Spar market to get something for dinner.
Big Blue had come to life in a puff of blue smoke that morning and seemed to be getting through a lot of oil, so we stopped to fill up with fuel at a Super U supermarket, but found that they didn’t sell oil. I had forgotten the courgettes for this evening’s gourmet stir fry, so I nipped in and impressed myself with use of a self-service checkout in French. I was pretty chuffed. It took me well over a year to master one in English!
The towing gear had also started making strange grinding and creaking noises. We pulled into a layby to investigate in a systematic manner. First; address tangle of bungee cords and cable locks on the bike rack at the back of the van; bikes off; me driving forward slowly while Mark listened; stop; shake the hitch; drive forward slowly; nod head; rub chin; repeat; come to conclusion that you have absolutely no idea what the problem is; put the bikes back on; re-apply tangle of bungee cords and cable locks, marveling at the discovery of yet another new and unique permutation: continue on your journey, worrying that the tow hitch would explode and result in untold carnage (me) – or would be completely fine (Mark).
With just one more stop at a garage to fill up Big Blue’s oil and water, it is fair to say that it took us a while to make any headway towards our destination!
Destination. Ah, well now, there’s a thing. We didn’t have one. In the corporate world, ‘Fail to Plan; Plan to Fail’ was the watchword. Things like PPPPPP (Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) were bandied about.
You might think that we didn’t have a plan, well you’re wrong! We had certainly planned to have crossed Italy before the hideous holiday mayhem of August was upon us.
We have always felt that it is important to have a plan so that we know what we are deviating from. We changed our minds a couple of times en route and then finally decided to head for the Auvergne.
We saw a sign for Argenton sur Creuse – we retained happy memories of being held up by a hairpin there in our first year, but we continued on past fields of sunflowers towards Limoges. The Tour de France was passing through; we saw a strange group of decorated vehicles cross over a road bridge. I looked back to see if there was any action, but despite the carnival floats, I caught no glimpse of the peloton.
The Auvergne was very, very pretty. We drove through an area of small, dark-green wooded hills separated by steep valleys, the Monts de Guéret. My favourite view, however, was of a beautiful, pure white Percheron horse, perched on top of an emerald green mound. A French heavy horse from the La Perche region of France, this one was almost luminous in the bright sunshine. He stood motionless; the contours of every muscle showing. He could have been sculpted by Michelangelo from Carrera marble.
Besides being truly beautiful, the Percheron does have a slightly special place in my heart. “My ‘Observer’s Book of Horses and Ponies’ had a picture of a Percheron on the jacket!” I told Mark. This was a pocket-sized book that rarely left my pocket when I was a horse-mad teenager. It was very well–thumbed. I needed to learn everything that I could about all the different breeds to help me decide which horses I would include in my herd when I grew up. However, every Percheron that I have ever seen has been dapple grey, never pure white. He was majestic
We took a chance by stopping at Camping La Trouvé, a site with only seven pitches. Run by a Dutch couple, it was beautiful – but unsurprisingly full! However the owner, Monique, very kindly recommended another, larger campsite, which she said might have lots of children… On seeing my face, she rang a Dutch friend nearby, who ran a natural site similar to Trouvé; Campsite La Chassagne in a tiny village called Ronnet.
Marie Anne welcomed me from an archetypal French farm complex which exuded age. Flowers tumbled around the antiquated stones and chickens were pecking at the cobbles. “How many nights?” “Not sure” “How many dogs” “Four” “Let’s call it two…” I liked this place already!
Marie Ann introduced me to her dog, Inchie, a friendly, soft-coated black and white chap with lop sided ears. “We thought he was going to be small!” she said. “That’s why we called him Inchie. He had tiny paws when he was a puppy.” Marie Ann walked me through the important features of the campsite; we went to meet the chickens and the sheep!
I can’t remember the breed; they were French, but they were small and rather reminded me of the rare and ancient Scottish Soay sheep. I fed them handfuls of grass while the chickens hopped on and off their rumps.
The site was lovely, with large, shady, secluded pitches. We overlooked a field of Charolais cows and calves and every morning, a little red chicken wandered around the site, looking for treats. The 12th Century tower in the village of Ronnet stood proud in the trees above the campsite.
There was a BEAUTIFUL Hansel and Gretel walk in the woods straight from the site; “I’ve seen the location where I want my treehouse – overlooking a little river.” Mark told me. It was so peaceful and, being under Dutch ownership, very relaxed. We were not looking over our shoulders waiting to be ticked off the moment one of the dogs moved a whisker. In fact we were encouraged to let them off their leads!
This really was Paradise Found.
I discovered that there were showers and toilets on site. Marie Anne hadn’t mentioned any of that during our tour – I guess that she presumed that an adult was capable of finding them. I preferred that she had showed me the sheep. However, when I asked if we would be able to get TV reception to watch the World Cup, Marie Anne said that she didn’t know… Clearly, such fripperies were NOT a priority here.
We like to be in the middle of nowhere and normally, we would have been delighted. But France was playing Belgium in the World Cup Semi Finals and we had no TV reception, no internet, nor could we find a bar within 30 mile radius that was open – never mind showing the game.
We drove to St Eloy les Mines, the largest town in the vicinity, which was not very lovely. It appeared to be populated solely by fat men in vests looking out from their wrought iron balconies – and the whole town was closed. We headed back in the other direction towards Evaux les Bains but gave up at Marciliat en Combraille. We realised that it would be further 20-mile round trip to Evaux and, truth be told, we held out no hope of finding a bar showing the game.
We couldn’t believe that The Blues, the National Team, was playing in the Semi Final of a World Cup and that nowhere was screening the match! We decided that even though we had found paradise, we would have to move on. The next match was England vs Croatia in the Semi Finals. We couldn’t miss that…
The punchline, of course, was that having driven over 30 miles to try to watch the match, Mark went up to the campsite reception to see if he could get a strong enough signal on the free Wi-Fi to check the result on the internet. He met up with Dutch sisters, Paula and Milly who had already visited us to fuss the dogs, another Dutch couple and the French family from the pitch next door. All of them were watching the France game live on their iPads!
Before our tour of the entire region in search of a sports bar, I seem to remember that someone had suggested “Why not try the internet up at reception?” Mark had pooh poohed the idea; “There won’t be good enough service HERE!”
I can’t quite remember who suggested it. It might have been Kai. He’s a bit of a dude – and always has his paws on the pulse!
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” So said Bill Shankly, Scottish footballer and famous manager of Liverpool FC.
So join us next time and see how we got on trying to watch the England Match; the World Cup Semi Final between England and Croatia!