Friday 30th July 2010
Halys set off driving down to Folkestone and by the time we hit the M6 at Knutsford the rain started, and didn't stop. She drove all the way to Watford Gap where we pulled over for a pit stop and Paul took aver the driving as Halys was not enjoying the battle with Trucks, trailer and bad weather. After another stop at Thurrock for a wee we crossed the QEII bridge and hit the M20, arriving at the tunnel at 6:45am ish. As we hoped , we were offered a free transfer to the 7:20am departure. A quick dash into the terminal to grab a BLT and a coffee(strong & Black for Paul) we were off to boarding.
The train was big and not at all claustrophobic and we could walk around. The motion of the train when sitting in the car coupled with the movement of the car on it's suspension can make a few people a bit sea sick which is weird on a train :D.Boarding is easy, just drive in.
Just drive in a straight line until the crew tell you to stop.
Arriving in France is just as simple. Just drive out of the train and straight onto the French Autoroute.
The plan was to drive to our pre booked Formula1 hotel in Angers where we could sleep for the night and go on to our campsite in the morning refreshed. Now we had managed to get an earlier crossing we had a head start. Our original plan was to get there around 5pm but that would not leave us much breathing space so now we had a the chance to take it easy.
We stopped just after Rouen and grabbed our first french style sandwich while Paul got an hours sleep.
(For french style sandwich read: Half a baguette with filling)
The Formula1 hotel was cheap & cheerful with brightly coloured walls, fittings and bright rooms. It was a modular pre-fabricated building with lots of cube shaped rooms stacked together all identical inside and out. Toilets and showers were at the end of the corridor and were the automatic self cleaning type. So you didn't want to get stuck in there.
All of the French "budget" hotels seem to only cater for families of 3, as all the rooms seem to have a double bed and a single bunk over the double, so we ended up having to get 2 rooms.
That night we ate at Buffalo Grill.
One of the waiters took this pic for us
After a good nights sleep we set off again for Camping Les Brunelles
Only a couple of hours to go. The previous day had been quite a hard slog and all of us had been more than ready for a break.
We arrived at Camping Les Brunelles much earlier than we were supposed to but we were allowed onto site and onto our pitch which was all the way at the top of the site.
The site was huge but it felt much smaller, cosy and personal. Not a great big sprawling inpersonal site. The pitches were seperated by hedges but they were grouped in small enclaves of around 4 or 5.
Lunch was a chillie or curry that we had frozen and put in the "Combicool" still frozen. It defrosted slowly and helped to keep the fridge cold.
The girls went off to explore
We took the next day to relax and laze around the site.
In the early evening we took a ride to the next town to the North, Jard Sur Mer where we found a market in full flow and a couple of fantastic food shops and into the local town of Longeville Sur Mer.
The first was an amazing Patisserie which sold some amazing cakes and Macaroons
The butchers was selling a hot creamy ham & potatoe dish and we just had to buy the cake!
Every town seems to have a street market on certain days which all closed up at lunchtime and re-opened around 2pm until about 8pm. A very civilised way of doing things and made for a very relaxing evening wandering through the stalls and shops as it was getting cooler. Must be a right pain for the stall holders though!
Day 4 we took the long drive north to the city of Nantes.
The drive was well worth it the architecture is somehow typically French.
Halys had been to Nantes some years previously and unfortunately had a bad fall over a small bollard so we were looking to her to show us around a little but hopefully avoid the bollards.
This is the story of our first family camping holiday to France, The Loire
Valley to be precise.
Last year we had a great but expensive 2 weeks in Cornwall and on our way home started discussing our next trip, however after reading some info on a camping website about sites in different areas of France my interest was peaked. Also my Mum and Dad had become bold in recent years and had raved about their holidays in France.
We looked at some sites on the internet and decided that it all looked to tempting and so the decision was made France for us next year. But where?
With Anita's back problems traveling such a distance was going to be problematic so it had to be somewhere not too far but worth the trip. Brittany? The Vendee? The Loire? Dordoine etc... all looked tempting for various reasons.
countryside, Long drive to areas we fancied. (Anita did not want to
go by ferry so that left the Channel Tunnel and Calais)
The Loire it was we didn't need to look any further.
We decided we wanted an all singing & Dancing site so **** it had to be. We soon found loads of sites in the Loire that met and passed our needs so it was down to which one looked best and it's location.
Marias in Mudies Sur Loire right next door to the Grandest Chateau
in the region, Chambord.
We soon had enough vouchers to make a big dent in the tunnel fare, so that saved us a lot.
booked and paid for and the date for travel little over a month away
and what happens?
£125 lighter for the extra to take the TT on the tunnel and add it to our insurance and we are all set.
The Big Day Arrives
The day to leave for France finally came and we have been home barely a week from another trial run out in the TT. Washing is still going round in the machine as we are ready to leave. The van was finally packed and all was well.
Have we forgotten anything? Nope Sure? Yep Ok off we go. Down the M56 onto the M6 and straight into heavy traffic. No worries we have loads of time. We got to Holms Chapel and like a bolt from the blue. Oh S*&t we have forgotten to pick up the Euros. No choice we will have to go back. Off the motorway and back down the A50 to knutsford, the M6 north was worse than South. We got home and grabbed the cash and got straight back on the road hoping that by now the traffic had cleared. It had and all was looking good.
Lucy needed a feed and so a bit later than usual we fed her at Watford Gap services and took time to make a cuppa. Back on the M1 and traffic was flowing well. M25 and no problems. M20 again all was well but time was very tight. Tom Tom was predicting that we would arrive at 01:10 am which was no good as our crossing was 01:26am so the foot had to go down a bit and the average speed increased to just under 70mph, of course 60mph is the speed limit for a trailer.
We had decided
that rather than risk it we would top up with Diesel in the UK,
apparently French filling stations are not usually manned 24 hours a
day and their automatic card operated pumps do not like UK credit &
debit cards at all. So nothing for it but to stop at the services on
the M20 and fill up. Bang goes our crossing.
We didn't wait too long at all really before our letter, M, was flashing up on the information boards and we had to make our way to the train.
First check point and we were asked if we were carrying any Gas cylinders, yep OK please go over there to have them checked. All done and on to passport control. Checked and off again to line up in lane 17. It seems that only about 10 vehicles and a coach were catching this train to loading did not take very long and we were off.
The train was smooth and light and airy so no worries for anyone a bit claustrophobic and no see sickness. We arrived in France 1 & 1/2 hours after leaving England, I say 1 & 1/2 because French time is + 1 hour from England so it really only took an hour. Off the train and follow your nose and it leads you straight onto the French motorway the A16, we had elected to avoid toll roads so we headed right towards Rouen. At the first Aire we stopped for a quick wee break. And wouldn't you know it a manned filling station, with cheaper fuel, dam! Oh well never mind.
Tom Tom was
saying 300 & odd miles to Mudies Sur Loire but strangely 6 hours odd
to get there. No chance I thought.
Rouen was uneventful and we got through with no problems but the road out of Rouen is in bad repair and we got bounced around a lot. We found another Aire and stopped at around 10:30 am and changed and fed Lucy while Chris made another cuppa.
We have this great way of changing Lucy when we are out and about in the van as you can see in this photo. A change of nappy, clothes and a fill up and Lucy was raring to go again.
Lucy loves travelling especially at night and she didn't sleep at all the previous night so from this point on she zonked out pretty much just waking up a few miles from the site.
The rest of
the trip was uneventful and we stopped just twice more for myself
and Anita to stretch.
On arrival at site we were told your lucky we have loads of pitches right now so you can choose any and just let us know which one you pick. We drove up the site and one caught our eye right near the loo's , showers, washing up etc so we grabbed it perfect size for us with a tree in the middle well 2/3rds of the way across but ideal to pitch one side and park the van the other. The tent should be in shade all day but just in front and the sides will get the sun. We were right on the first hot day the tent was lovely and cool inside. We pitched and an early night was needed even though Chris was dying to try out the pool, We got away with that as it rained.
and it was fine and sunny even getting hot so Chris had a few hours
in the pool.
At reception we got some info about Chambord & Blois chateaux son et Lummier shows (sound & Light) and noted that Blois has an English language show every Wednesday so we decided to go the next night, but as Chambord is only round the corner and their show is free ( I like free) we should go and see it. We headed off as it was starting to get dark and arrived around 8.45pm which meant we could get front row seats by the moat. We had to wait until almost 10pm for it to start but it was worth the wait. The girl in reception told us that Chambord's show is not as good as Blois so we are looking forward to that. (That's not free)
Not done much today. We had planned to get up and go to the Supermarket in Mer but none of us woke up before 9:30 and by the time we had got ourselves sorted out it was getting a bit late to go as the shops here close at 12 until 2:30pm. So Chris had another couple of hours in the pool and we went to the Super U supermatket at around 2:45pm.
The supermarket was an experience and we soon found a few things that we wanted but deciphering French names and descriptions was fun. Trying to figure out the flavours or crisps was one thing that had us stumped. We managed OK with most things as some were familiar brands and most had some kind of picture on the pack. French supermarkets don't sell tobacco or cigarettes we found out so we had to find a small tobacconist/bar in the village who sold what we wanted.
The site has a fishing pond and Chris is keen to go so we looked at the tackle and found a fridge with bait in but only managed to figure out the worms (picture on pack) & pinkies ( really small maggots) same name. So we left that for now.
We got a pair of Jeans for Lucy some bits for the tent like a door mat and a brush with an extending handle to sweep up all the grass & dust that gets on the ground sheet. These things put up the bill to 75Euro which was around £53 which meant that all the food we bought was a reasonable price.
We decided not to go to Chateau de Blois this evening as a, it looked like rain and b, we were too knackered, so Chris got a couple of hours in the pool again.
Anita Lucy and I had a walk round site and a look at the fishing pond which is small but looked nice and on the way back decided to try the bar for size. Just as it started to rain as luck would have it, so we sheltered with a drink. Chris joined us and we got some Chips from the takeaway. The French don't do salt & vinegar on chips so we just had salt then afterward remembered that we have some vinegar from the last trip in the kitchen of the tent from a handy tip to get rid of lime scale in the kettle.
We decided that instead of going to the chateau today we would go next Wednesday afternoon and look around the chateau, then get some food while waiting for the evening son et lumiere show.
We are definitely going to do something on Thursday but as yet we have no idea what, maybe a chateau, maybe some fishing.
Chris & I went fishing while
Anita & Lucy had a relaxing day in.
Look at the size of that!
A mirror Carp which was getting
on for 5lb or at least that was the estimates from around the pond.
I must admit that he did very well to play and land it on quite
light tackle. The line was at best 3lb on a light float rod, using
sweet corn float fished.
Although I did catch more fish Chris's was easily the biggest. I caught 5 and he had 4.
This was my first fish from the
Chateau Des Marias pond
We packed up to the sounds of distant thunder and before we had left the pond it started to rain not heavy but before we had rounded the chateau it was raining cats & dogs and by the time we made it to the first toilet block it had become a real deluge. We made it back to the tent absolutely soaked and both had to change immediately. It was then that we noticed that the ground sheet was floating and indeed the water had gathered in the small hollow under our tent. Where the ground sheet has small holes the water began to rise through with the pressure of us moving around. We ended up with towels on the floor trying to soak up the excess and having to move everything into the trailer. The rain lasted for only about 15 minuets but boy did it rain! The tent didn't leak though.
Today was something just for Anita, well OK the rest of us did enjoy it as well. We went to Chateau De Chenonceau which is built on a bridge over the river Cher which is a contributory of the Loire. The drive was 40 miles but took just over an hour! Seems a lot for such a short distance but it was fine through some great scenery along the banks of the Loire for most of the route. Skirting Blois and providing some good views of the town across the river.
Our first view of Chenonceau was down a tree lined avenue. It was a very busy day at the chateau as you can see from the picture.
The avenue opened up to reveal a fairy-tale type castle with slender pointed turrets to the right. Manicured lawns either side and buildings housing a restaurant and wine cellar to the right of the main path. As yet no sign of the river, until you get closer. Formal gardens in differing styles are to either side of the chateau on this side of the river.
The chateau was home to some of France's most influential women and the exibits reflect this. Included in it's list of former residents are Chatherine de Medicis and Diane de Poitiers, who were the builders of both formal gardens.
Above: First view of Chenonceau after passing through the trees.
Right: a great view of the chateau from the Diane de Poitiers garden.
More images from Chenonceau Click to enlarge
In all we spent about 4 hours at Chenonceau and Anita and Chris managed to see every room in the chateau although it was like being in a rugby scrum. Unfortunately as with most old houses they never thought of wheelchairs so Lucy and I made our own fun in the courtyard after seeing the ground floor. It was not exactly cheap for all four of us to get in at 33 Euros but was we felt worth it.
As we left at about 6:30pm to the sound of distant
thunder and the first spots of rain we dreaded to think what we
might find when we arrived back at the tent. No problems looked like
it had hardly rained. about 45 minuets later a guy from Stockport
who I had met on our arrival came over to ask if everything was OK
as they had had torrential rain for quite a while while we were away
which made yesterdays effort seem very mild by comparison. His
caravan awning had got flooded out worse than yesterday. We said
that everything was fine in our tent and we thought it hadn't rained
here by the looks of things. He laughed and continued to describe
the weather today. When we told him about the glorious
sunshine at Chenonceau he didn't believe us and was amazed that it
was only 40 miles away.
we decided to see another Chateau well 2 actually. Villandry and
Azay de Rideau.
Anyway Anita and
Chris decided to visit the house and Lucy and I would meet them in
the garden later. Lucy and I headed off to find a quiet spot to sit
and relax hopefully out of the sun. We had had an hours drive
through some very rough weather along the Autoroute and the sun was
now a blessing.
I decided that I should take
some photos and we wandered off to see if we could find and nice
view of both the gardens and Chateau.
In the foreground right in the middle you can see one of the fruiting pear trees, I have no idea what variety but there seemed to be a few different ones around the garden. The garden is divided into squares and in each square the normal symmetrical arrangement of flower beds, only here they are planted with veg. Red standard roses are interspersed and each bed is bordered by box. At the corner of each square is a pear tree and the borders of the squares are wooden fences with miniature apple trees growing against the fences. The outer most beds of each square are planted with flowering plants.
A View of the middle level terrace.>>>>
This level is best seen from above and is more
appreciated from the top level terrace
This is the middle level seen from the walkway on the upper (third) level looking back toward the Chateau.
The walkway was lined on either side with large pear trees which did not show any signs of fruit so I have no idea weather they actually produce any, I assume that they don't as the smaller pear trees in the lower terrace were in full bloom at the time of our visit so I would think that they should fruit at the same time.
This shows the view down the path on the upper level, and Anita walking to meet Lucy and I.
The Water Garden
Is a large lake surrounded by 4 identical fountain features. The lake is stocked with Carp which were basking on the top of the water in the sun.
<<This is the river running down from the water garden on the upper level to the moat around the front of the chateau. There is almost certainly a more useful reason for this feature like feeding the many fountains but it does look impressive. The Carp in the upper lake are also in the moat and the next picture shows just how used they are to visitors feeding them. There were some very large fish and I was more than a little tempted to go back to the van and try to sneak my rod inside.
The Carp in the moat waiting under the bridge open mouthed to be fed.
The next photos of the inside of the chateau were taken by Christopher on our old camera.
We headed off to this Chateau to see it's
"Promenading Son et Lumiere". You stroll around the grounds to see
the lighting effects and hear sound effects. It starts in the
chateau's courtyard with a corridor of red lights leading you to the
front entrance of the chateau. We had a meal in a restaurant before
heading off to the Chateau.
The chateau projects it's artwork around it's central staircase.
Below: spooky red figures accompanied by very spooky music.
<<< A Walk in The Mist
A day of rest. Well Chris had a day to do what he wanted, and so we stayed on camp and he swam, rode his bike, played with friends etc..
In the evening we had a ride to Chambord to take a look at the wildlife. We had binoculars with us and could see deer and wild bore but only at a distance from the Chambord hide. The deer did come closer affording some good views but the light was fading fast and the pictures I got were not good enough to use. I hope to go back under better light conditions maybe early morning and try again but the combination of maximum zoom, subjects that will not stay still and low light made for difficult conditions tonight.
Zoo Parc Beauval
This was a bit of a surprise for the kids and we
didn't tell them we had planned to go.
was about an hours drive and after some initial problems near Blois
due to a road closure we made it there and ate as planned before we
The zoo is known best for it's white Tigers and bird breeding program with over 300 species of birds at the zoo. Parts of the zoo a on steep hills and are truly unsuitable for wheelchair users but signs do point out the unsuitable areas.
Undoubtedly the best thing about the zoo was the Bird
of Prey and Sea Lion spectacle which really was fantastic. The 2
shows run back to back in the sea lion enclosure where there is
seating on 2 sides, one with wheelchair access.
<<< In this picture you can just see the ripples on the water where the wing tips touched.
In all I took over 200 images at the zoo, some average, some not so good but some I am proud of. I will add some of the best in thumbnail format that you can click to enlarge further down the page. However it must be noted that this is a zoo and while excellent for seeing the animals you would almost never see with the naked eye it's never going to be great for photography due to essential safety measures. Some images are have to be taken through bars of cages and some through glass which makes reflections a nightmare. At this zoo the bars on the cages of the big cats were spaced just right to be able to zoom in and keep the bars out of frame, as with the image of the male Lion above.
Click the image to enlarge
Chateau de Valancay & Chateau de Cheverny
The drive to valancay although only 30 odd miles
still took the best part of an hour, and took us through the grounds
Valancay is billed as the children's favourite chateau and I can see why. In the park there is an extensive playground including Napoleons maze in which you have to gather clues to open gates. Photography is banned in the house as they obviously want to sell you some postcards. In the courtyard there are three performances a day of three different short plays, all in French I'm afraid but worth sitting down to watch.
Although most of the things in the house seem genuine quite a bit of what could be seen in the garden was obviously reproduction to make the place look better but it really didn't it just looked new by comparison. Two of the fountains in the garden were obviously newish and looked out of place. They also didn't function as fountains and a modern electric fountain pump was placed in front of them. The same is true of the fountain in the pool in the centre of the garden on the lower terrace but this time no statue. I have no idea if there was originally a fountain there but I am sure it would not have been an electric one.
I personally was disappointed with this Chateau. It looked like any restoration was done on the cheap and they were sure out to make a profit rather than share the houses history with you. As you approach the Chateau it looks so grand and you really want to take a look around but alas it did not live up to expectations.
>>>>>>>>>This picture is cropped from a larger image but quite clearly shows the modern electric fountain in the main courtyard>>>>>>>
Cheverny. Again free access for Lucy but they didn't tell us it was because there was no wheelchair access at all to the house, so I had paid full whack but had to remain outside with Lucy.
Right: View of Cheverny down main drive.
Blois is one of the major Chateaux of the region second probably to Chambord but historically speaking probably just as if not more important than Chambord.
The chateau is in the old town centre and is high
on a hill. Parking is good for cars but limited to on street parking
for anything bigger. We found a spot and decamped for the trek up
the hill to the chateau only to find 2 disabled parking bays at the
top, both were empty. If only we had known, to be fair there is a
sign at the bottom of the hill but unless you are looking for it you
would never see it.
There is also level access to the chapel which housed a painting depicting Joan of Arc's visit to Chateau de Blois. around the back of the chapel is the chateau ramparts from which some excellent views of the old town and the river Loire are available, not to mention the view straight down to street level.
Anita and Chris were fascinated by the exhibits in the areas that Lucy and I could not get to.
We left the chateau and headed into the town for some window shopping. The first shop we came to sold toys most of which were aimed at nursery level it seemed. Not a cheap shop and most of the toys were wooden. Lucy bought herself a wooden rattle with a long handle and a duck shaped head. From the body hung strings with bells and beads on. This is a great hit with Lucy who used it almost immediately as a hammer to hit her other toys, very amusing and at 15.50 Euros not a cheap hammer. Chris then found a games shop 2 doors away which sold memory cards for the Sony PSP he got for his birthday. OK so his birthday is not until Saturday but we gave him the PS early to try to avoid boredom on wet days and while travelling. So 36 Euros lighter he left the shop after deciding it was rubbish as all the games were in French.
After a wander along the rest of the street we headed back to the site for dinner and Chris for a dip in the pool. The walk up that steep hill has fair done us all except Lucy in as she was pushed. We had planned to return to Blois that evening for the Son Et Lumiere which was in English on Wednesday nights. After some debate as to weather we could manage it we went leaving the site at about 8.45pm. We found a parking spot on the street a bit closer to the chateau this time and decamped for the haul up the hill. Guess what, the disabled parking spaces were empty again. This time we had to pay for Chris & Lucy to enter as there are no access restrictions for the nightime show. We were told that we should stay in the centre of the courtyard as the images would appear on all sides. This meant either standing up or sitting on the floor. Not something Anita could do either of for too long so we found a bench seat at the edge and decided we should move when the show started.