ANNOTATED CAPTAINS (AND C0-PILOTS) LOG STARTED 15TH AUGUST 1995 IN FRANCE AND BACKDATED TO INCLUDE ALL CAMPING TO DATE
20.4.96 44,402 miles
Oye Plage (nr Calais)
Caravan Club (Continental vol 1)
Captains log on the laptop in the camper for the first time.
Seven lean months, but the first camp of 96 is in France. There were two false starts on the ferry booking. In February it was snowing; the rearranged March date coincided with Bens concert; the nice lady at P&O allowed a second switch, although not supposed to.
A hesitant journey to the ferry, starting on the A20, switching for no good reason at all to the A2, then back to the A20 where we should have been all along. The net result was that we drove straight on when we arrived and were sailing soon afterwards. Good ferry with playroom and comfy chairs. A shopping map which I thought expensive (#1.99) but proved a bargain led us to Calais Beer and Wine where you can pay in English at a good exchange rate, then a Supermarket for pate etc. The camp site is quiet and rural. We are wondering whether a BBQ is allowed,
Log completed at home:
Pouvons nous (point at the disposable BBQ) ici? did the trick. An excellent meal of sausages for Ben and marinaded chicken for us. Some radio hams in a DIY van from Nottingham took the next emplacement ("have I come all the way ...")
Good playground, good facilities, in the middle of a very flat not-very-much with several large dogs protecting various bits of it.
Next day a failed attempt to visit Dunkirque - we went the wrong way then bottled out when we reached a toll road. Stopped at 2 supermarkets on the way back to the Wine & Beer Co. Took an early ferry at 1.45 (the same one). We had bought exactly the right number of bouteilles (44) to fill the cellar, plus 14 cases of beer.
8.6.96 45,261 miles
La Bien Assise,
Guines (nr Calais)
Castels & Camping
This time we took the laptop but didnt get round to updating onsite so this is the following week.
Two outings this year so far and both to France. #34 for the ferry and a full day with violin (first outing for the new half size) then school fete (first meeting with Joshua, the new Best Friend). The ferry was booked for 1.30 but we made it an hour early and so got on the 12.45. A rather older and smaller ferry with the usual padded cell for Ben.
The plan this time was to go for a better camp site and, when stocking up with booze, to avoid the Trappes Anglaise. The local C&C was now open and I had booked ahead with someone whose English skills matched my French. Summer arrived that week and it was hot for days until we set off when it got cloudy and was very foggy on the crossing. Picked up some beer, wine and pate at the Continental, met some Welsh chaps who wanted a lift to the Eastenders store for tobacco then meandered our way uncertainly towards Guines. The route we took was not unconventional but successful and we didnt panic. When I resorted to asking in a bar, it was just to the end of the road and turn right.
The booking had worked and we took our place on a corner plot near the playground, bar and pool. The hookup, meubling an other setups are now a piece of cake. The playground was a bit lethal, the pool grand but chilly and more of the bar later.
Tender wodgles of chicken had been marinading in a subtle blend of spices and a bucket of chilli for days an this was now to by BBQed. The weather got gradually worse and before the cooking had finished it was pissing down. On one side was a prefab tent with plastic meubles so I borrowed their patio brolly and carried on. The owners arrived but applauded our detemination and buggered off home rather than disturb us, leaving behind our bouteille peace offering.
Barbie was good and then to the bar for a Pinte de Pression, a rather drunken game of pool and we left the backpack behind complete with cards and the Big Wooly Book.
The Sunday weather was much better. picked up some bread and croissants at the camp shop, breakfasted on sausages and square crumpets. Gan realised during my extended abloute that the bag was gone. "Nous perdu une sac" I explained to the person cleaning the bar who handed it over, complete with all contents.
The journey back was a bit straighter and Intermarche provided 11 cases of Stella (now our preferred beer) on the first pass then 59 bottles of wine. A miscalculation on the second pass meant that we were 100 FF short and so paid on plastic. This was so easy that, depending on the rates and charges, we might do this intentionally in future.
Fine timing back to the port for the 1.30 boat, Ben played in the cell most of the way back, although there wee some larger boys there, while we picnicked on bread and pate.
Ethel had done a fine job entertaining Dinsy and Pru and deserved her pot of jam.
Planning has now begun on the Big Trip. Im rereading Holy Blood and Grail, weve got a map of the area and a bunch of campsite books.
13.7.96 46,283 miles
La Bien Assise,
Guines (nr Calais)
Castels & Camping
Back again, as we had run out of beer and wine. An end of term concert for Ben first on the Saturday. It is the High Season for ferries: P&O quoted £54 (even with shareholder discount), Stenna £59, so we went with Sally for £30. This proved a false economy. Ramsgate is exactly the same distance as Dover (by the M2 anyway) but the roads are smaller and there were some delays. Sally has fewer and smaller boats and one was out for repairs so we couldnt leave until 4 pm and when we eventually did get going, the journey is 2½ hours long. There is a crèche which Ben enjoyed for two sessions there and back.
Anyway, we arrived 2 hours early and Gan got rather grumpy, this being slightly relieved by finding a modest beach.
Gan had correctly surmised that 14th July is Bastille day and (incorrectly, as it turned out) that everything would therefore be closed on Sunday when we would normally go shopping. By the time we were on the road in France the time was 7.30, 8 by the time we got to Calais. We suspected that the supermarkets would be closed but decided to try the Wind and Beer Co. This, we learned, opens from 7 to 10 daily. We filled a trolley and agreed to pick it up the next day.
Then off to the camp site, magnificently found on our new map (although there was some confusion on motorway exits). We were on their database, thereby cutting down on the paperwork. Our pitch this time was conveniently between the playground and the toilets.
We had forgotten a few things, notably curry paste and pitta breads. I begged half a baguette from the lady in the chip shop and invented Chicken Curry Provençale. We will be having a lot of that on the big trip. Ben had a good play and made some friends. No swim, but a drink in the bar then Ben went to bed and we ate the curry. It was getting colder and windier. It seemed as though it rained all night but it mainly drizzled and parking under a tree. A fine breakfast of sausage, tbacon and floppy French bread then off to the B&WCo for the booze. We set off for our usual supermarket, just in case, and I came with inches of running down Frances oldest moteur-cycliste at an indeterminate crossroads. He curled his lip and rode on. The supermarket was open.
A relatively short wait at the terminal this time. While we checked out the terminal (and learned that you could get a reasonably good deal just getting the beer there) the VW Camping Club, returning from an outing en masse, flyposted our windscreen. Gan is not a joiner and does not want to rally with them, but at £10 p.a. it might be worth a try for information.
I managed to lose the camping carnet and camping club cards.
The Big Trip 1996
13.8.96 47,397 miles
Camping du Loup,
Numbers will have to wait as I have mislaid the Captains Log.
Back a few days to Saturday. An 8 oclock sailing is a wonderful thing for the likes of us, giving a day to get organised. Minor panic when thought there was a limit on how much we could draw out of Uncle Wooly so we went to Bex in case Ineeded to raid my All&Leics. No prob as it turned out and we set out with 100 UKP, 500 squids of Ffs and 100 squids of pesetas. The exchange rate for this hol was
18,000 pesetas at 188.37 £98.56
1,825 francs at 7.57 £249.54
2,700 FF cheques at 7.601 £362.32
An uneventful but slow (through London) journey to Portsmouth and we realised that it is not much further than Dover. We arrived three hours early. Spookily, the P&O lady who checked our tickets was called Blackburn and so were the people in the car before us. That is the first time I have met another Blackburn. The boat loaded an hour after we arrived and we shipped the toys, bun-making facilities and a few clothes up to our surprisingly spacious cabin with sea views. Dined on leftover buns and our own beer. Capn Ross had warned that it would get rough overnight and he was right. Ben threw up that morning while I was in the (palatial) shower and a few times subsequently. I was feeling less than hunnerpercen. Recovered enough for the Tea Party which gave us two hours in the bar. A surprisingly good curry in the boat restaurant. The "cruise" is interesting but two days is enough as the activities dont interest us.
Arrived in Spain at 7 (8) oclock and waited for the pampered arseholes in the camper in front (M Reg with a bog) to get their acts together. We had more-or-less ignored the fact that we would be driving for 70ish miles through Spain and I bought a map and phrase book at the last minute.
Some confusion on the route but we didnt get lost and eventually found ourselves on the peyage to St Sebastian. One fuelling stop (leaded is coded blue, but it took sometime to learn that). There were 2 peyages of 1710 ptas and 228 ptas [check the numbers], two strange French ones of 9 and 17 Ffrancs then the long drive on the A(?) 64 to Pau which cost 63 FF.
Finding the campsite took several trips through Lourdes and we eventually found it by accident after a minor disagreement. It looked full and got fuller. The facilities are slightly substandard and seriously overstretched. It is entirely true (as stated in the MMM article) that it is run by a nice friendly family, but that is no excuse. The setting, in the very foothills of the very Pyriknees is magnifique
Lourdes was astonishing and disturbing. On the way through (in search of a food shop) it was easy to sympathise with the sick in the distance and mock the commercialism surrounding the Grott (e.g. gallon containers for magic water with a little blue picture of Bernadette, three cinemas all showing the same film, Bernadette). On the way back, however, the sick were being paraded on ble trolleys, pulled by scouts and other youths and it was pathetic, moving, sickening and infuriating. One old lady gave Ben her large yellow balloon.
We had, incidentally, found a Supermarche eventually and so had our first of many Sauce Indienne Poule Currie Pronvencale s. Remind me to tell you about the curry-cooking dream I had on the boat.
It is now Day 2 in Lourdes, Im about to ablout while Gan is looking for a decent camp sight this time.
15.8.96 47,592 miles
Camping Eden II,
Quillan (19 km)
The next day we visited Luz St Sauveur, 21 miles away through mountains which none of us had seen before - tall and steep and beautiful, but this is a captains log not a fucking poem or botany lesson. [Crib some purple prose on mountains. Ed] Bought some fine cheese and none of the crappy souvenirs. As usual, most of the shops were shut because we always arrive just in time for their long lunch.
The next foray into Lourdes was less stimulating. Avoiding the 4 pm rush, we were spared the procession of invalides and could see the candle-lighting, grotto rubbing (a long queue then shuffle through touching the wall or, in some cases rubbing the damp from a hankie onto body parts) and water acquisition. The guidebook says its only ordinary water, "it is a sign that Mary uses to remind us ...If anyone thirsts let him come unto me". Nevertheless the surrounding shops sold containers ranging from small figurines to 2-gallon camping water carriers and they sold like relics.
The camp site was deteriorating - a group of Italians had circled their wagons and were turning the grass into a swamp. The toilets were getting busier and smellier. In addition to the water pump not working the tricity switched off in the night. We had tried 2 supermarches for a toy for Ben and had one row with a surly till operative who searched our bags and got a second opinion on my 100FF note (I did try, inadvertently, a 5p as a .5F piece but she started it).
A fairly early rise (7 oc by my watch 6 oc by Gans) and we were away by 8.30 (Ill use French time from now on). The pitch cost 122 FF. North towards Tarbes. Filled at a LEclerc (sp) 31.79l 190.10FF but no decent toys. I spotted a sign saying that the peyage was free for a way so we took advantage of that. When we switched to the free roads x117 to Foix and Quillan we realised what we had been missing with too much peyage. Picnic stop at Castelnau Durban after 102 miles and bought Gan a candlestick in a crafts shop. We happened upon a supermarket, just about to close and Ben found a toy he liked at last and I picked up a plastic boules set down from 23F50 to 11F75.
Eden II (arrived 4 oc on 14th) total journey 150 miles. A couple of reversals finding it but weve had worse (often). It is big but not busy (more evidence of Eurocamp going down the tubes). One of the obscurely named Camping-Caravaning & Location group. We were at one of theirs last year (I think it was the one where Ben threw up on the roundabout and we took our best photo of him after inventing a board game with leaves on a tree stump). Good pool (all deep) reasonable playground, a bar we wont use. Tuna and ratatouille curry, hot with much parsley - an economy measure.
Off to Rennes-le-Chateau today.
16.8.96 47,779 miles
La Grange Neuve,
Now 8 oc on Saturday morning 17th, sitting next to a vineyard (and quite near a motorway) with the sun just risen (the screen is even more difficult than usual to see) and the first cup of tea to hand.
R-le-C was brilliant and well worth its place as the original raison dêtre of the trip. We went via Quillan, going through super rurals and down (and down and down) a mountainside complete with hairpins normally only seen in car chases set in Italy. This, however, was small beer compared with the road to R-le-C. The road to it was obscured by the name of the nearest town, Couiza. I think the sign said 4 km, but the vertical distance was probably greater than the horizontal. The road is usually just wide enough for two cars to pass, perilously twisty with vertiginous drops. Gan did not enjoy it. We had a tail of two three frustrated drivers by the time we got there, the first with a GB plate and then 2 French.
It is a tiny village, with just a few houses...
this broadcast was interrupted for a trip to the beach. Back now
... a few houses, a good-looking restaurant and the esoteric bookshop. The Rough Guide was dismissive, referring to the number of mangy dogs, but we saw none of these (there was a lovely tortoiseshell cat) and loved it. The church is extraordinary and free (but you have to keep putting 1F in the meter to power the lights - this was not clear and most people thought that, as they do it at supermarkets at 12 oc, they were closing. The figures, illustrations and decoration inside the church are seriously weird, starting with the devil at the entrance (Ben saw the devil and then went in search of a picture of god in order to restore some perceived natural balance.)
We will probably invest a cheap scanner so that this fine document can be illustrated, when will insert pictures from the Guide (fully priced at 40f). Incidentally, Ben has done a number of illustrations for the log which can also be included.
For more details of R-le-C see the guide or the various books on the subject. We thought it a lovely village with a curiously decorated church and an entertaining mystery surrounding it. In addition to the guide, I bought a poster to frame and a postcard of the Poussin picture, Ben chose a souvenir stone and Gan picked a few flowers which, appropriately, are being pressed in the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The drive down the hill was similarly unpleasant for Gan who was brave enough to take a few photos through the window but, as a result, fouled her side of the cockpit with beer from a can between her thighs when I braked suddenly for an oncoming car.
The trip to R-le-C was 22 miles but we drove an extra 10 on the way back searching in vain for a supermarche - we passed several we new of which had not yet reopened but felt sure we could press on and find one - not so. The village of Puivert, near Eden II was pretty (including the brick privvy sticking out from a house, four floors up, over the river) and we saw our first lizard, but the little shop was (despite a sign to he contrary) closed.
Two more things about Eden II. I wasted a lot of time looking for a shower - they were in the same cubicles as the was basins, the first time Ive seen that and a good innovation (they also had a single, enormous roll of tissue-de-toilette from which you took as much as you dare before coopying down. My universal sink plug was thwarted by their sinks. When leaving Eden II, the lady before me used a travellers cheque. I had never thought of doing this before and didnt know you could. I cashed 500F (they charged a few squid) , paid the bill, leaving 300F and thus removing the need to visit Quillan for a banque. This is the Blackrat Handy Camping Tip no 14(a) - pay by TCs, and take a bundle of 200 FF cheques for the purpose.
Blackrat Handy Camping Tip no 17(b) - also articulated at Eden II, when having a shower, turn your sandals upside-down.
Thence to the coast. Excellent non-peyages, on one of which I made the first overtake of the holiday. Our experience in the Pyrenees had convinced us that France is full of *** and *** sites and so we could just pootle around a desirable area until we found the right one. Again not so. We took some splendid hilly minor roads (D16 and D620) via Chalabre to Limoux. There we found a LEclerc which restored our faith in the chain and got a legless seat a larger universal sink plug and BBQ requisites. A top-up (33.24 l @ 60.90 is 202.43F - dont forget the bit of paper from the pump next time).
On towards Carcassonne on the D118, we saw it in the distance and plan a visit tomorrow. Avoiding the peyage we took the excellent N113 to Narbonne then on to Narbonne-Plage. We had pencilled in a promising site CM La Falaise, not believing that a **** site would not have a piscine. It didnt, and BBQs were banned except at communal stations. This was liveable with and we booked in and went to the pitch. When we saw the feeble playground and found that there was no hook-up (stupidly, I had just assumed), we said bollocks and departir-ed. We didnt like the look of other sites there so moved on to Gruissan Plage. There was a good one in the book but we couldnt find it and didnt like the ones we did find. After a lot of aimless driving which established that it was a crappy area and included the EU cocaine mountain, we set out for Sigean (peyage, a remarkable 7.50F), aiming for this one, and were extremely lucky to find it, driving for miles looking for somewhere to turn round then just happening upon it. This was the low point of the hol with Gan and I grumpy and terse.
A fine site, the only downside being very hard pitches on which I bent half our tent pegs. The neighbouring tent reminded me of an old camping wheeze, banging the pegs in a bit and putting a rock on them, which I adopted. And still no BBQs so a chicken curry (include a can of lentils - hold the salmon) with a courgette and mushroom side dish. An excellent childrens pool and slide which Ben braved with his ring on and good facilities, including showers which feel like acupuncture.
The trip to the beach today was a bit grumpy as we were not sure where we were going. I was going to ask the man, but declined on the basis that I wouldnt understand them given the distance and the scale of our map. Headed off in what we thought was the right direction for Port-la-Nouvelle, lost confidence and faith when we saw the oil refinery but eventually found signs for an enormous, clean and unpopulated beach. There was a lot of wild camping there so we drove a long way onto the sands parked by a bunch of campers then walked to the beach for a splendid morning which we all enjoyed, Ben particularly. There are some fine photos of Ben on his way to the beach, with hat, waving spade, silhouetted. Good castle-building and shell collecting.
A minor shop, cash is running short, salad tonight then back to the pool and frites for lunch.
The sire was near an African animal reserve (the exact description escapes me. (This helped in finding it, as it was signposted.) We started walking towards it one night to see what was on offer, but Ben didnt like the dark. We decided not to drive round there in daylight to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to, or deciding not to, afford it.
Incidentally, the aforementioned campsite chain is not called that, its called Sites & Payages (?) de France and Camping Caravan Location seems to be their slogan. Still meaningless.
The next section is written on the boat going back, from notes made on the hol.
I forgot to mention the strange Danish (?) grouping next door at Sigean, two men, one woman, a boy (12ish) and girl (8ish). They had a big tent and bikes, and that was about it. They rode all day, read and talked quietly all night and didnt cook anything. I think they were an urban myth.
Another thing to mention is the electrical problems we suffered from throughout. I might have mentioned the pump didnt work in Lourdes. When it started again in Eden, we concluded that the van had been at an angle. In Sigean the fridge went. I put blocks under 2 wheels after the beach trip and it started working - again non-horizontality seemed to be the prob. The kettle also often tripped the electrics, sometimes when it switched off (presumably a sensitive circuit) and sometimes when switched on (presumably an overloaded circuit). And sometimes the distribution boxes tripped. At some sites, they could be reset, but at St Pee, I had to get the man to do it.
On 17th we made a new plan:
* stay there that night
18th, 47802 miles, off to Carcossonne.
Found the new bit but managed to miss the old, good bit at first. We were running short of
cash and so had to be careful. Carcassonne is a wonderful combination of old and new, all
of it looking old. They sold real swords for 50-100 quid, up to man-sized broadswords, but
I couldn't afford one. There was an exhibition of remarkable photos of the region. As luck
would have it, they took Travellers' Cheques, so that put us 150 FF up (50 for the book of
postcards we coveted and 150F change). We paid 5F for Ben to have his photo taken in a
real suit of armour, I bought Gan a gargoyle candleholder and Ben had a ride on the best
merry-go-round I have ever seen.