Monday, 7 August 2017

Hauts-de-France, 7 August

So our final morning dawned.  We were booked on the 13:36 crossing, so didn't need to hurry.  The Swan Whisperer went out for a final walk after breakfast, and then we set off to the big Auchan near Calais, where he used the services and I did a final shop.  It was rather fun, actually, as we hadn't ever approached Calais from that particular direction before, and we were interested to see a Shuttle train doing its terminal loop before approaching the station.

Then to the Eurotunnel terminal, where we checked in very quickly, but then got caught in a long queue for passport control.  However, we got through in the end, and had about 30 minutes to wait, during which various bits of packing and tidying were done.  Then finally on to the shuttle, which was ten minutes late.  We had lunch on the crossing, and finally got home just before 3:00 pm.  I slept all the way, so was able to help with the unpacking and putting-away, and since then I have made jam!

The van will go to its Sussex home tomorrow, and our next adventures in it will be at the beginning of September.  There may, of course, be other things happening in August!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Hauts-de-France, 6 August

A lazy Sunday morning, so we set off at about 10:15 towards Guines, stopping in Montreuil for bread.  We got here and found the France Passion site where we have camped. The site is parking attached to St Joseph Village, a reconstruction of French village life in the first half of the 20th century.
It was a very odd place indeed - the brainchild of a single man, and much of the work seems to have been done by him alone. The first port of call was an agricultural museum, which, as so often in these places, made us feel old by having implements we remember from our childhoods. Less so than many, as of course the brands weren't the same, but the designs were!
 Then a fairground with a half-sized Gypsy caravan, rather lovely, swung boats, a roundabout, etc, and a short display of washing machines then and now.
Then a row of reconstructed shops - quite interesting, but nothing one hadn't seen a zillion times before. The next bit was arguably the most interesting; the "faith quarter", with a lovingly reconstructed Stations of the Cross, taken from a church that was being demolished, and several different chapels, including one that the man had built single-handed, together with copies of his testimony. 
There was a path that led down to a hide overlooking a lake, and we spent some time watching swallows and swifts swooping down to catch insects.  Then back to the village with its schoolroom, the "Salle des fêtes" now used as a museum of all the bits he couldn't find room for elsewhere, a windmill, and a seemingly endless stream of workshops, garages, cycle repair shops, sawmill, etc. Very dull unless you happen to like knowing which spanner was used for what!

And, finally, back to the main drag with a tea rooms and a restaurant that does lunches but not dinners.  We decided that tea made with boiling water is, as always, nicer than that made with tepid, so came back to the motor home.

It was interesting, but a little too much about the maker, how clever he was and how pious, and how clever to be best friends with Bernard Hinault, etc.  And no history at all - nothing about either war that had such a devastating impact on France during those years.  Still, I'm glad I went.

But there were donkeys, and, on our way back to the motor home, even baby donkeys!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Hauts-de-France, 5 August

Of course, having gone as far as Arras, we then decided to retrace our steps slightly when we discovered there was a preserved railway at Le Crotoy!  So the morning was taken up by a pretty drive across country, visiting various small villages en route, and a supermarket, and we would have liked to have visited the Abbey church of St-Riquier, but it was closed until 2. 
So we had lunch in a community centre car park somewhere, and then headed on to Crotoy, where we parked rather badly (and got a ticket - they say they will send it to our home address, so no point worrying until we see whether they do or not) and went off to the narrow-gauge railway.
The railway runs as far as Noyelles-sur-mer (it isn't at all on the sea, so don't know why it's called that), and then swaps engines with the other train and heads out backwards to St-Valéry-sur-Somme, where there was just time to stretch one's legs and take some pictures before the return journey. We made sure to sit in a rather more comfortable carriage on the way back - the plain wooden seats were not the most comfortable ever; the padded ones were marginally better!

After that, we had a much-needed cup of tea, and then decided to come to this place - a France Passion place in a meat-preserving factory!  We drove via Crécy, and made a brief detour to see the site of the eponymous battle, which is basically a field full of cows, although there is a car park. We decided not to stop, but came on here. The shop is, thankfully, closed, but we were warmly welcomed by the proprietor, who wished us a pleasant evening.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Hauts-de-France, 4 August

For me, particularly, today has been a much-needed rest day. We have driven about Hauts-de-France, finding first a Lidl to do some shopping (leaves the one at home standing!), then a lake near the banks of the Somme where we had lunch, and then in the afternoon we drove to a town called Doullens, where there was a citadel, which we looked at the outside of, and a museum which we should perhaps have visited. It also had services, which we used (€2), and we had a cup of tea.
After which we decided to go to Arras again and park up in the big car park by the cemetery where my uncle's name is on the Royal Flying Services Memorial, where we plan to spend the night. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Hauts-de-France, 3 August

Discovered today that the region is actually called Hauts-de-France, not Grand Nord (which I'm sure I read somewhere that it was going to be called), so have edited everything.
I made an effort this morning and we were up and doing somewhat earlier than on other mornings.  We discovered how to use the local buses and caught one into the main part of town, which we wandered round, including visiting the Cathedral (which we also did a few years ago with a friend), and then a cup of coffee in a local café. We walked back to the station (where the buses went to and from) and did a little shopping in a local supermarket before returning to the van for lunch.
Then it was time to go to the Hortillonages, a series of gardens in the extensive canal network around the town.  You go on a boat trip - only €6 for an hour, excellent value - and the various gardens range from bare earth to jungle, via some lovely displays of flowers.

The canals themselves were full of wildlife - mallard, coot, a moorhen.... Only snag was the guide who was appalling and didn't really tell us anything. He kept saying do ask if you have any questions, but he never knew the answers, so what was the point?  But it was a lovely ride and well worth it!
Then back to the van for a cup of tea. I had hoped to go out again and make the most of my day ticket, but exhaustion overcame me and I slept. The SW went for a walk, though. 

Now we have anything really planned until Sunday; don't know what we shall do for the next couple of days!  We will need to use a services soon, and I need to shop (again!), but we have no real idea what we shall do. Watch this space.....

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Hauts-de-France, 2 August

We had been going to go to the Hortillonages in Amiens today, and to the prehistoric museum at Samara tomorrow, but the Swan Whisperer rightly pointed out that, actually, Samara was on our route into Amiens, so we might as well swap them round. 

So we did, finding an Aldi to shop at en route, and arrived at the Samara car park in time for lunch. They meanly put a height barrier in place at night to stop camping-cars spending the night, but we are welcome in the daytime. We had our lunch, and then bought entrance tickets and went in.
I have to admit that I was disappointed with it.

There was lots to see, and we went on a guided tour of the main building following a guide whose mission it was to debunk "history" (eg they wouldn't have dug pits for woolly mammoths as the ground was frozen solid), but after that it went downhill, as nobody seemed to be doing any reconstruction or experimental archaeology except one potter and a flint-knapper, and the animal enclosures were all empty. I suppose it is better in term time, but the place was heaving with families. Plus there was an awful lot of walking, mostly uphill, between things; I flaked out before the end and left the Swan Whisperer to explore the marsh area on his own while I went back to the van and had a very welcome cup of tea!

So only one star, I think. We then drove on into Amiens and are parked in a public car park with several other motor homes, not too far from the Hortillonages, and I am making shakshuka for supper. And drinking the cider from last night - the apple juice, which we started at lunch time, is a great deal nicer than the sample we tasted!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Hauts-de-France, 1 August

Another very leisurely start to the day, during which we wandered round the leisure centre and saw where they rented pedalos and ran the Teleski from. There were a bunch of children in tents, and some kind of pods where people could sleep, although I've no idea what they did for sanitation.
We also saw the first ride of the day, some of the children obviously experienced, others less so.
After coffee, we headed to Mers-les-Bains, first of all calling in at the local aire to use the services. It was a privately-run site, and not free, but the very kind man who ran it said not to pay his fees as we weren't stopping, but to go to the Auchan petrol station instead, which would be cheaper.
So we said we would do that, but first decided to wander round the town. Mers-les-Bains is a lovely place - much of it is a conservation area from the Belle Epoch, with the houses decorated in Art Nouveau and Art Deco style.  It isn't very big - we walked most of the length of the beach, and then back through the town, and had a croque-monsieur in a café on the seafront, and an ice cream from the place next door. Then back to the motor home - amazingly, we hadn't had to pay for parking - and I went to the Auchan while the Swan Whisperer dealt with the services.

Then we went for a drive across country, trying to find where the daughter had been on an archaeological dig many years ago - it did not, until too late, occur to either of us to ring her up and ask if she remembered - and finally came to this orchard where we are spending the night. It sells apple juice (too sweet for my taste) and rather nice cider, so we bought a bottle of each.
There is another motor home parked here - the first time we've had company so far this holiday; surprising, really, since it is the height of the high season.