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The Rudds in France 2011 PDF Printable Version E-mail


A Motorhome Journey around France in July-October 2011

By Brian and Patricia Rudd

This is the diary of a 4,500 mile trip around France in a Rapido 7066dF Motorhome, or as it is usually called in France 'Camping Car'. The trip was originally planned to start on 1st June 2011 but my wife Patricia broke her upper arm, a quite serious break, which delayed the start and changed the plan. Most overnight stays were Aires or free camping.

See also: The Rudds on the Road in Turkey 2012

And: The Rudds on the Road to Spain 2012

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Brian

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Patricia (right) and her sister Pauline

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The Rudd's Rapido 7066dF

One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one's own and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism. Freya Stark

No medium has yet been devised for the translation of life into language, nor can any words recall the dazzling fluidity of days. Single yet fixed in sequence, they fall like the shaft of a cataract into time and through it. Freya Stark

Sunday 10 July 2011 Wigan

Sunday afternoon and, after many years of waiting and dreaming, it looks like tomorrow we are off. The van is packed. Pauline, my sister-in-law, is coming with us for the first two weeks and then flying home from Nimes airport. I am feeling a little nervous and apprehensive because we have never been away from home for so long. 'Doesn't work take a lot of your life away'.

It has taken some time just to make sure everything is planned and bills are paid while we are away. Also making sure everything that we require on the trip is packed in.

Anyway, the van is now locked. But Pauline has just told me she has lost a wallet with sixty Euros in that she was keeping for small change. Good start.

The plan is to get off around 8 am in the morning, after loading up with diesel. We have a little Certificated Site (CS) camp at Deal, near Dover, planned for Monday night and Tuesday night. Tuesday is planned to spend a day with our granddaughter Charlie, who lives in Deal. We will then get the 10 am ferry on Wednesday morning.

Day 1 Monday 11 July 2011 Wigan

Starting at Tesco in Wigan at 8.45 am. M6 and M1, nothing too exciting. Stopped at Watford Gap service station at 12.15 pm. Sun shining and a beautiful day, service station very busy.

Did a brief stop at Maidstone services at 3.35 pm. Parked in a nice big parking bay.

Arrived at the CS at 6.30 pm, sun shining, one other caravan on the site. (The couple in it later mentioned they had a leak in the caravan.) I started with hiccups, I had two sessions of hiccups on the way down. Quite a good run, but quite tiring at the end of the day, it has been quite warm all the way. Met Charlie at Deal Castle and dropped her off at the station, to go into Dover. Quick cuddle with her, she didn't stay long, we are picking her up tomorrow to spend the day with her.

Had chicken kebabs, couscous and salad for tea, followed with pineapple and ice cream.

Spent some time after tea to sort out one or two storage situations, ie where to store all the fruit Patricia and Pauline have brought with us. I joked they may have to acquire an export licence to cover the quantity. All sat tired and relaxing. Decided to get an early night after sorting Pauline's bed out, which is at the front of the van and actually looks quite sumptuous and spacious when set up. I joked that I can put a tent up outside for her if she would like.

Day 2 Tuesday 12 July 2011 Deal

Lovely quiet and peaceful night, Pauline had a good night's rest in the 'Queen bed' (as we had christened it). She slept like a log, she said. Sun just breaking through, breakfast of cereal and banana and brown toast with cheese spread. Pauline exercising her thumb while sending texts. Checked with Three (mobile telephone) to see if we can use the contracted minutes while we are in France, answer was 'no'. Ah well.

Got a photograph of a little bug sat on the waste outside. Pauline reckons it was a 'May Bug', whatever that is. She reckons they flock at this time of year – in July - why is it called a May Bug? It is then a 'Flocking May Bug'.

Left camp at noon to pick up Charlie, she suggested going into Margate. Weather a little bit overcast now, with quite a strong breeze blowing. Actually the opposite way from the direction the prevailing wind blows, according to the site owner.

Little caravan's TV aerial swaying in the wind. There are a few caravans stored on the farm. One near us attached to a Mercedes van: van value say £20,000, caravan value say £200.

Picked Charlie up outside Bucklands Hospital in Dover, near where she was staying at her friend's.

Parked in a car park near the harbour to have a bite to eat, came to pay the meter and it was flagging up £13, not bad for 90 minutes parking! Everyone else was paying a sensible price, so couldn't understand it. I finally found some small print on a sign, that read 'vans £13 for a day or part day'. There must be a sensor on the entry, detecting the height of the vehicle.

I wasn't paying that extortionate price, so called the office telephone number and a young fellow came down. I explained to him that we had genuinely not been aware of the signage. To be fair, he was quite OK and lifted the barrier up to let us out. We didn't pay at all.

Not really impressed with Folkestone while driving around. 'Sorry anyone from Folkestone', but it didn't look too good.

4.25 pm dropped Tricia, Pauline and Charlie at Tesco on the outskirts of Dover, after an interesting afternoon in Folkestone, where we had finally decided to go. Weather not too good all day, actually started raining while at Tesco. Topped up with diesel ready for the off tomorrow, dropped Charlie off in Deal, then back to camp.

Day 3 Wednesday 13 July 2011 Deal

Saw Stephen who owns the campsite. He lives in the house across the field from where we parked, not the biggest house near to us. Cost £8 per night with hook-up.

9.15 am, temperature 16 deg C, are signed on the notice board at Dover Port. Alarm was set for 6 am but actually went off at 5 am. Early brew and then off. Had a look around the facility for any showers. We had got in early, so decided to look for a shower. Found one at £1.60 for a shower, bit pricey so didn't bother. Had breakfast while in the waiting area. In line 42, behind an Abbey-by-Cosalt caravan driven by a young Polish guy who has been living in England but is now going back to Poland.

Guess what, the Customs wanted to search the van going out of the country. Can't think what they may be looking for, contraband, illegals???

We are now getting regular announcements in the Port, so hopefully should be leaving soon. Not far from the start of our big adventure, which we have waited and dreamed of for many years. Pauline behind me, getting texter's thumb.

Little problem leaving Dunkirk, missed the turn for the D300 down near Loon-Plage and Gravelines, eventually we got the D300, then D943 (N43) to St Omer, Arques, Aire-sur-la-Lys, Isbergues, Lillers, Bethune to Arras, where we hit the long straight road down to Cambrai. Picked up the D644 (N44) to Bellicourt, where we had planned the first overnight stop at the Aire.

Quite a few war graves along the road, unfortunately we didn't have time to stop on this trip. Getting accustomed to France again after a long absence, some of the road numbers a little bit misleading (I think there is some change underway). Lovely to be travelling on French roads again, going through the roadside towns and seeing the ubiquitous French churches.

The Aire at Bellicourt is at Le Soutterain de Riqueval. The Aire is actually behind the tourist information shop. It looks like it has just been completed and is a credit to the community. No other vans were on when we arrived, so we had the choice of bays to park. Another van came later. The facilities were excellent, the view very nice looking across the fields. Electric was offered if needed. This was our first ever Aire, so what an excellent start. Bellicourt village is across the road from the Aire.

We called in at a McDonalds at St-Martinau-Laert, near St Omer, where we missed the right road again, wrong turning (simple isn't it) . We tried the free WiFi and got family on Skype, Helena and Lily, Sarah Jane and Mike, Stephen and Rebecca, also Nicky, so good proving trial for Skype through McD. Good reception also. Also downloaded Pauline's boarding card for Ryan Air to enable her to fly home from Nimes Airport. I had brought my printer along to print it later in the journey.

This gave Patricia a chance to demonstrate her map reading skills. With Pauline sat in the rear very quiet, expecting the situation to go ballistic, which it does when you watch it in films and on TV. Not here! All calm and organised, Patricia did an excellent job, as she always does with the maps. (But she always thinks she doesn't).

Day 4 Thursday 14 July 2011 (Bastille Day) Bellicourt (Le Soutterain de Riqueval )

7 am, a beautiful morning after a peaceful and quiet night's sleep. Pauline slept well in her Queen bed. Breakfast and wash up then on our way again. Pauline examining the map to see where we will be tonight.

Back on the D644, St Quentin, Gauchy. 10.35 am, stopped at Chauny at a small Patisserie, where we tried out our French, having a little natter with the lady in the 'open to the street' shop. Glad that our French teacher Sophie wasn't behind us. (We had been at College for ten weeks doing conversational French, it's funny but the mind goes blank when speaking to someone). Bought Baguette and Croissants. The town was decked out for Bastille Day, all the flags on the Hotel de Ville (which is quite impressive itself).

D1, Soissons, Oulchy-Le-Chateau. Stopped about 5 km off Chateau Thierry for a picnic lunch just off the D1. The Aire has concrete tables and waste bins. Covered the tables with a large towel and the ladies laid out a small feast as usual.

D1 then to Montmirail, D373, Sezanne, Anglure, Etrelles-sur-Aube, D619 (N19) around Ste-Savine and Troyes, D671 (N71), Bar-sur-Seine, to Chatillon-sur-Seine, where we then turned off onto the D965 to Laignes to use the Aire. Unfortunately the Aire was closed, it looked a beautiful spot, what a shame. (Why did it close? Very near houses! Did abuse of the privilege of the Aire cause the closure?) So ended up at a small village called Sennevoy-le-Bas, just South of Laignes on the D953. Not far from Fontenay Abbey, which we had planned to visit. We did think of heading to Noyer, where there was a 'France Passion' overnight stay, but decided to stay at the side of the road just on the outskirts of the village.

Our first Free Camp. Not a person around, really quiet. Looking through the van window, there is a small church on the hill across the field. We are parked across from a ruined barn and large steel gate which are on the corner of Rue Bizeau. An occasional car passes, but it has a feel of going back in time. There looks to be a flour mill further down the road. Fields with corn growing, all peaceful. Swallows diving in the evening air, catching flies. The evening sun sinking in the west.

Had a walk around the village and found what seemed to be an Aire, with water and four power points, in the small square in the centre of the village.

Day 5 Friday 15 July 2011 Sennevoy-le-Bas

Lovely peaceful night and beautiful morning. Only noise last night was the birds and an occasional car in the distance, but traffic minimal. A little bit busier this morning after the holiday obviously. Plan today is to visit Fontenay, load diesel and offload the toilet.

10.25 am, washed up outside in the sunshine, Pauline washed her hair. Bread man just been into village, also butcher. Heading to Montbard for diesel. Decided to give Noyer a miss, nice village there apparently. Heading straight to Fontenay Abbey.

Had a brief conversation with a French guy on a bike, dressed in T shirt, jeans and small denim cap, who had been pottering up and down the road aimlessly talking to all. We were joined by a guy who we never saw, but was behind a large hedge across the road from where we were parked. Not quite sure what they were saying between themselves (probably some comment about the English).

11.20 am leaving Sennevoy-le-Bas, after topping up with water at the place we thought used to be an Aire. Weather scorching hot.

D953, D905 to Montbard, called at Intermarche for diesel, then on to Fontenay Abbey. Passed the turn-off for the Abbey following the SatNav but found a small picnic area about 1 km down the road, with tables again, so decided to lay out a spread.

It's amazing what small incidents happen which can easily slip from memory if they are not noted. This morning while driving along, beautiful sunny day, windows down enjoying the lovely warm breeze, I suddenly felt a stabbing pain in my right shoulder. So I pulled over to find a wasp sting. The wasp must have come in through the window and felt really angry that it was going somewhere it didn't want to go, so it let me know.

Completed our picnic and headed on to Fontenay Abbey. It has quite a large parking space, there were a few vans already there when we arrived.

The weather was really hot. Spent a few hours wandering around what is a lovely area. It has been restored quite a lot, but I would say with taste. There are guided tours every half hour with rather vocal guides, who in my opinion add nothing to the ambience of the site. We had a quiet wander around and tried to avoid the guides. I can imagine that the Abbey was a really peaceful and quite spiritual place in its prime. Apparently the buildings were deserted for a long time before they were utilised as a mill.

Headed on to the D980 to the Semur en Auxois Aire. Quite a picturesque town, with large towers on entry, cobbled streets, outdoor cafes on the way up to the Aire, which is at the top of the hill going through the centre. The Aire is quite spacious and situated at the side of football fields which give it an open aspect. Several cars parked, also a few vans. The Borne has the usual facilities, no electric. Several vans came along later.

Decided to relax and have a meal and forego a walk into town, which would have been downhill, but obviously uphill on the return, so energy levels being rather low, we gave it a miss.

I got the chairs out for an evening watching the setting sun and also a French comedy, quite a pantomime actually. A van owner parking his van between the white lines while his wife gave him very irate directions. She was quite animated and very strict as to the accuracy of his parking. It had to be exactly in the centre of the lines, nothing else would do. Very entertaining. A good ending to what has been a hot and beautiful day. The plan is to get to Macon tomorrow, around 167 km. We don't hammer the miles, our idea is to enjoy the trip and watch France go by, as we pass through.

Day 6 Saturday 16 July 2011 Semur en Auxois

A peaceful night. 8.20 am, sorting out ready for the off. Most vans on the Aire are French and Italian. It turns out our entertainment last night was provided by an Italian couple. Very animated to say the least. Eight vans on the Aire, no cars this morning. Lovely blue sky, with some fluffy cloud which I think will be burned off as the day progresses.

D980 out of Semur, Precy-sous-Thil, Saulieu, D15, N81 to Autun, N80, Marmagne, D980, stopped in Blanzy at a Tabac, the road we were on, runs straight through. Our idea was to buy a SIM card and convert the telephone to the French network.

Got a SIM card, 15 Euros at the Tabac and bar. A young guy in the bar helped the owner because he didn't know what a Carte SIM was. Also picked up two Baguettes, 80 cents each, which is quite a bit pricier than the Intermarche supermarket.

D980, Cluny,N79 then around Macon D1079 (N79) to Bourg-en-Bresse, D1075 (N75), then D1084 (N84) to Porcin for the night.

Stopped for dinner on the way at a small place called Polliat, on the D1079 (N79) heading for Bourg-en-Bresse. Parked in the square just off the D1079 road going through the town. Again it was really hot. Pauline had a chat with two young girls who were waiting for their boyfriends, one of whom soon arrived on a small motorbike. They were waiting outside of the school in the square.

Next stop was the Aire at Porcin, quite near a flyover of the E62 motorway, just south of Bourg-en-Bresse. Quite busy, but got a place under a tree in some shade. The Aire is near the cemetery, in fact you have to drive through the Aire to get into the cemetery. A sports field at the side with a floodlit Boules park also. Amazingly there is a couple from Orrell near Wigan in a Rapido van near us. Put a brew on and then decided whether to go for a walk before we have something to eat.

Had meal of pork and salad and chatted with a lady from Yorkshire. I noted the preponderance of satellite systems, on van roofs or outside on stands, it seems there is no existence without TV.

Walked into Porcin up the hill from the Aire. Quite a small town, not a lot going on. A few shops to browse, called into the church and got some photographs.

Spent some time setting up the French SIM card (Mobicarte). Popped out a couple of texts to test it out. One to our Carl in Scotland and Marc in Wigan. Marc sent a text back immediately to let me know it was received. Also spoke to Nicky, so the system is up and running.

Had a chat with the lady from Yorshire, Earby near Skipton in fact. They are travelling in an F-reg Hymer, which is obviously doing them proud, they have been all over France in it.

10.10 pm, sat outside with candles burning in the night, Patricia and Pauline huddled around the candles enjoying the lovely warm balmy night. The Boules match is still going on under floodlights. Quite cloudy sky. Vans are hunkered down with the satellite dishes searching the heavens for whatever entertainment is floating around up there. Not really my scene. Just to soak up the evening and enjoy the images around me is quite enough on nights like this. One of those nights you never want to end.

Just getting off to bed when a fireworks display cracked off, I think from the next village, quite a show too. Paul (I think), who is in the Hymer I mentioned earlier, with Anita from Earby, popped over to chat. I think he was having a nosy to see what the sleeping arrangements were.

Day 7 Sunday 17 July 2011 Porcin

D1504 (N504), Amberieu-en-Bugey, St-Jean-de-Chevelu, through the Tunnel du Chat, then alongside Lac du Bourget towards Chambery, Challes-les-Eaux, Montmelian on the D1006, then turning down to Aiguebelle, St-Reme-de-Maurienne, St-Jean-de-Maurienne, then St-Michel-de-Maurienne.

Early start to the day with the rain hammering on the roof, which got us all out of bed. So decided for a short breakfast, then get on our way. Get an hour under the wheels then stop for some breakfast. Around 20 vans on the Aire at the moment.

So the ideas is to get down into the Alps. Set off 7.35 am in the rain. Stopped around 9.25 am, down near Chambery. It has been lashing it down with rain all the way. Passed the Aire at Le Bourget de Lac, lots of vans parked there. Stopped at a small shop at St John de Chavel. Pauline popped out to get some Baguettes and I popped out to turn the gas on. Need some food to offset the depressing lashing rain. So let's have some bacon Baguettes to cheer us up. I keep notes on my small digital recorder and at this point you can hear the Alpine rain, deafening on the van roof. 10.30 am, all had breakfast, rain still battering down.

Stopped at a Super U on the D1006 at Montmilian , filled up with diesel, Patricia and Pauline popped into the supermarket for some cereal, milk and salad items.

12 noon, still battering in rain (fun this, isn't it). 3.15 pm, still raining, just had soup and Baguettes for dinner. Had a brief ride around, now heading back to St Jean du Maurienne to see if we can get on the Aire for the night. Had a brief conversation with our Marc at home in England and he said the Tour de France is now in the Pyrenees and it's lovely and sunny. Ah well.

Now parked up on the Aire at St Jean du Maurienne, now six vans parked. The service bollard is actually at the lower level of the car park. Good tarmac surface on this Aire, which is in fact a car park in the centre of town. Actually there are flats at the side of it, but quite OK for a stay.

We had a chicken, couscous and salad, followed with Pauline's excellent fresh fruit salad, very nice indeed.

The rain did stop eventually for the evening and cleared up quite nicely. We had a walk around the centre of the town as the place was drying out. Rain clouds have cleared and it is now clear over the mountains, just an occasional cloud. The town is really quiet, it didn't really strike me as a touristy type of place, maybe it is busier in winter. There are a few Ski runs on the mountains locally. I was quite surprised at the number of dilapidated buildings in St Jean, what we in England would call a 'good doer upper'. Got back to van and watching a couple of children playing football in front of the van, lots of room on the car park.

Day 8 Monday 18 July 2011 St Jean du Maurienne

Up 7.30 am after a good night's sleep. Slept like logs, as the saying goes. This morning the sun is shining. Just watching the dog walkers from the nearby vans, doing their early morning duties. I love dogs, having been brought up with one, but the idea of travelling around with one is not in my mind a good idea. Particularly for the dog. Enough said on that point.

There are two toilets in the corner of the car park. We were wondering what they were, until we saw a guy come down this morning to clean them.

Patricia and Pauline are going up to the Optician's, which we spotted in town yesterday, to have Patricia's glasses adjusted and also to buy some cables for hanging the glasses around your neck. The plan is then for Valloire, which is on the Col du Telegraph, on the way to the Col du Galibier. There is an Aire at Valloire, so we are going to check that out. It is outside the campsite in Valloire, so we can fill up with water, empty grey water and empty toilet before we head on to the mountains to pick up the Tour de France and have a couple of lazy days.

Got a couple of photographs of the Aire while waiting for Patricia and Pauline to get organised. I think I got better photographs of the Aire than the one in the Aires book. At least it showed off the mountains in the background and all the Aire, instead of the dilapidated block of flats. A few Ski runs on the mountains locally, so this Aire I presume would be a good stop in winter, only problem is no hook-ups.

Headed over the Col du Telegraph, stopping at the top just short of Valloire, where all the cyclists seem to congregate, before heading for the Galibier. Got a few photographs. Pauline borrowed a helmet from some Dutch guys and posed along with their cycle, pretending to have cycled up. Good laugh.

Headed into Valloire where we got water and sorted the toilet out. There were a lot of vans parked along the river, all French. I passed them on the way to the Aire and service point outside the campsite at Valloire. It seemed a nice place, probably beautiful in winter under the snow. Slow progress out of Valloire, it was very busy with cars and cyclists.

4.44 pm, travelled over the Col du Telegraph and Col du Galibier. Stopped on the Col du Lauteret, around 500 metres from the bars and restaurants at the top, just at the side of the road which was just wide enough to get the van parked up off the road. I parked and then suddenly lots of other vans saw that I had got in, so they were in front and behind me in a flash. A motorhome village developed, all the way up the road

The mountains are chaotic with motorhomes. I have never seen as many motorhomes in my life, they are parked on every piece of available space all across the Cols. Some must have been here for weeks. I had planned on us getting here on Monday, to see the Stages of the Tour on Thursday and Friday, but that plan was seriously wrong. Every space where you can get a motorhome, there is one parked on it.

I was speaking to some Dutch cyclists earlier in the day, just before Valloire, who had come from this way and advised us it was chaotic when they crossed the Cols. The views were awesome, to do it on a bicycle must be the ultimate of any cyclist's achievements.

Just having our first brew and food since setting off with breakfast this morning. It's been manic all the way. At the top of the Col du Galibier it was a nutcase place, absolutely bonkers, with every man jack and his dog, bikers, motorbikers, cars, motorhomes, in fact nearly every lunatic in France (me included) trying to get on a small area. I managed to get the van in for a few minutes for some photographs, but it was chaos. I wonder if it gets a quiet time sometime.

It was also being closed off, everything within 2 km of the summit is closed off apparently for the Tour.

Thousands of cyclists climbing the Galibier and Telegraph, also descending both, which causes a few concerns for drivers as they hit some nice speeds on the way down.

Baguette, cheese and pickle - first food since breakfast. Running on adrenaline, it's quite a ride for any first timer in the Alps, which I am.

Checked if we can get a mobile signal, yes OK, got in contact with Nicky, he was on his way to Manchester. Also charged up the mobiles. Had omelette for tea, which was needed. As I said, we hadn't eaten since breakfast, not a good idea. The Baguette I had was like a lead weight on my stomach, I felt better after the omelette. I think I actually got some sunburn also, while sitting out and watching the world and his motorhome go past. There was quite a chilly breeze, but it was clear and sunny. Had a Paracetomol. Watching a couple walking along a footpath to the station at the top of the Col, where I suspect they can pick up water, long walk there and long walk back with full water canisters.

Looked at the logistics of the toilet for five days, so came up with a sensible plan. Only needed a little imagination, so we should be OK until we get off the mountains.

Day 9 Tuesday 19 July 2011 Col du Lautaret

Never slept a wink unfortunately. A case of too much adrenaline and the sound of trucks passing all night. Also not eating or drinking much yesterday didn't help. A lesson learned, when we are going over mountain passes in future, make sure there is plenty of food and drink available. We thought that the traffic may have quietened later on but it didn't much, it is a main road after all, Turin to Grenoble, so lots of traffic passing all night. It's lashing down with rain this morning. Porridge and tea for breakfast. Mist over the mountains, with the rain blowing in. Sleet, snow, rain, what a lovely day. So we decided to have a good tidy up in the van. Pauline brushed the floor, I tidied the beds. Washed up, put some Velcro under a seat cushion to stop it sliding. 1.15 pm, just having a brew and deciding what to have for dinner. Pauline has the knitting needles out and is ready for action.

Sun eventually came out in the afternoon, then it rained again. Pauline went for a walk up the Col to the bar and cafe area, just in time for the rain to start for her. Spent two hours trying to get the satellite dish set up to pick up the Tour but gave up, no signal for some reason.

7.55 pm, just had tea - mash, burgers and beans, good stodgy gourmet meal for the mountains, not our usual fare. Quite cold and raining again, so the food fits.

Put the heating on for a while, then we all got tucked under the blankets in Pauline's Queen bed to watch a DVD for a change.

Day 10 Wednesday 20 July 2011 Col du Lautaret

Slept in until 9.30 am this morning. After two Co-Codamols last night, slept like a log. Still quite a lot of traffic on the road again this morning. We seem to have a phenomenon of the early morning horn blower, the idiot who seems to think it's fun to drive past all the vans at 5 am with the horn blowing, all the way down the mountain. Well small things have always amused small minds. I suppose this is just reinforcing that statement.

Snow fell last night, so the mountains look beautiful. The sun is breaking through to reveal a stupendous sight. Our early morning Baguette guy has just been around, also sells 'L'Equipe', sports paper. Three Euros for Baguette and paper.

Toast and egg for breakfast, sun now warming things up a little. Found problems with the water pump, after breakfast. Lots of water in the tank, but no go on the water pump. Checked with all aspects, put meter across to see if voltage on it, all OK, water in pump. Decided to make an emergency cone and pipe, to sluice the water from the underneath drain point. Had fun crawling under the van to position the cone under the drain pipe but it worked successfully, with Pauline working the drain tap while I filled the barrels. So now we have water in the barrels as a temporary measure.

Chatted to a guy from Norfolk, who came over the Col du Galibier, around 5 pm last night. Sun now shining, clouds on the mountains, snow on the high peaks. Had a walk down the Col towards Briancon, not too far, just to a snow tunnel down the road from our position, but it can be seen that vans are parked all the way down the Col. We are at 2,500 metres, so the Tour will have climbed for quite a few kilometres before reaching us. The thing is, we have had cyclists passing us on the way to the top all day long while we have been here. Hundreds in fact.

Had a walk to the top of the Col, about 500-750 metres up the road from our position. There are cafes and bars up there. Got into a cafe, got seats, tried to get a WiFi connection for the laptop. There is WiFi, but couldn't get connected. Not really bothered, we didn't buy any drinks before checking. The guy at the cafe seems to have quite a reputation for being ignorant, we were warned by the tourist office up there about him. He demonstrated this with people trying to get into the cafe but we didn't bite, just let him play around with his power games. The place was manic, absolute chaos, with cyclists, vehicles, people, police.

Well the madness of the Tour is now coming out. We have just got back to see a small car squeezed into the gap behind us, I can't believe that it's been driven in, they must have 'bumped it in'. But he says it was driven in. Pretty good technique, I must say. The people from the car are now camped a little bit further down the hill from us, on the grassy slopes. Still hundreds of cyclists coming up the Col.

6.10 pm, sun still blazing, the sky immaculately blue with just a cloud on the peaks. Just having a brew and a biscuit while sat out and watching the madness. Chilly wind blowing, which can fool you into getting burned quite easily. I'm sat here playing 'Spot the English registration plate', not many are going past it seems.

Calculated the distance to Nimes for dropping Pauline off at the airport to fly back home, she has come along with us for two weeks. Around 315-330 km depending on the route. Five days to do that, so will do Mount Ventoux on the way down.

Weather has now chilled down at night, 9.45 pm. Sky is very clear, may have some stars tonight.

We borrowed some builder's safety tape from a van up the hill, to tape off the small gap in front of our motorhome, so we can put out our chairs. We also taped off some space across the road for a French couple. It's amazing where vans will try and squeeze in, there could be some damage done due to people's desperation to get in at all costs.

Day 11 Thursday 21 July 2011 Col du Lautaret

10.10 am, good night's sleep, we are getting used to the continuous traffic overnight. Still got the morning horn blowing idiots. Just had breakfast, on my second brew. The madness is building up for today's stage to come past. Police vehicles passing continuously, helicopters overhead. Sunny again, with clouds on the mountains. The moon is just visible over the mountains.

People walking up carrying bags, chairs etc, to stake their place for today's stage. We're sat here chilled out and having a brew. Pauline is trying to text, but having problems.

Decided to fire the van up to put some charge on the leisure battery. Changed the gas bottle over to the small 6 kg bottle. Got ten days out of the remainder of the last bottle. I will need to buy a French bottle soon. Also connections for it, which will be different from the fittings I have.

Still hundreds of cyclists going up to the Galibier. Some don't seem to have much in the way of supplies, no bags at all, maybe a water bottle. There might be a few cases of rider's bonk going around later.

Walked up to the Lauteret top, where there is a giant screen set up to watch the stage. The scene is quite incredible, so many bikes and riders trying to get into a small space. The stalls selling food are doing a roaring trade from those people who can get near them. Superb atmosphere. There are still people trying to get through on the way to Grenoble, it's not recommended. The crowds are spilling onto the road, even though the police have it fenced off. Total madness rules everything, it's great.

6 pm, the Tour has gone past, through all the chaos. Andy Schleck won the stage. I watched the ending with some Spanish guys just up the road from our van, as they had it on Satellite TV.

Spotted Mark Cavendish in the Autobus at the back of the Tour. Just watching all the cyclists coming down the mountain. All in all an excellent day.

Just had tea - mash, bacon and beans - good cold weather food again. It's been lovely all day, but it really chills down at night. Lots of vans look like they're trying to get down to Alpe d'Huez for tomorrow's stage. We are staying here.

I had a problem with my Canon camera on auto focus, not solved it yet. Realised the problem when I was at the Team Sky coach getting piccies. Asked David Brailsford for a photo, he smilingly obliged, nice picture but a little out of focus. Thank you David, you're a gent.

Now 8.10 pm, it's been a lovely, sunny, windy day. I think I have got some sunburn today, my face is stinging. Pauline is having a 'Jam Butty', the fridge is nearly bare, needs to be stocked up soon. I seem to have sorted the camera out, fingers crossed.

Now 9.15 pm, the motorhomes have been streaming past us since 7 pm towards Grenoble way, Alpe d'Huez. There have been vans of every shape, size, weight and colour you can name streaming past. Motorhomes with cats driving, motorhomes with dogs driving (well at least sat on the driver's knees).

Day 12 Friday 22 July 2011 Col du Lautaret

Up around 9 am, clear blue sky again, low cloud over the mountains. Quite a lot of vans have left. Just bought 'L'Equipe', having a read, trying to interpret the French language. Porridge for breakfast, care of Pauline. Tricia's stomach a little off this morning, hence the porridge. So we all had some. Pauline's back is playing up this morning, fun isn't it. Just put all phones on charge.

Just had a visit from Liliane and Gerard from across the road. (We had taped up the space near their van.) Gave us their address and email, said we could call in to see them on our way north. They live up near Oradour sur Glane, which we plan to visit on our way home. A very nice gesture from them, we will have to see where we are up to when we are heading that way.

The trucks have been around picking up all the bags of rubbish from the vans. Special bags were left by the local services, excellent organisation I feel.

1.30 pm, I have just downloaded all the voice and photo files onto the laptop. Quite a few people leaving. It's a glorious day so we have set up the chairs and table to have some dinner outside. Mackerel and Baguette for dinner. Going to walk up Lauteret shortly, to pick up the Tour coming off the Galibier heading towards Alpe d'Huez. Now 2 pm, absolutely baking hot.

On top of the Lauteret, not as busy as yesterday but still lots of people around. Tour scheduled to come over around 4 pm. The Tour will be through in minutes at the speed they descend off the Galibier. You can see quite a way up the mountain and pick out the switchbacks winding down the mountain. The atmosphere is great, but a little hassle happens when you get lots of people in a crowd. We had a couple of Australians who wanted to stand in front of us and block out our view, unfortunately. I had to sort them out and let them know we weren't pleased, they got the message. (It turned out they were Tour de France VIP visitors, being ferried around in a helicopter. We found out a little later when a Tour official arrived to let them know the plan for the helicopter to pick them up. The official was French, but he spoke excellent English.) The Australian couple were fine after I had let our feelings be known, we had a good chat and they could see our point. People had been waiting for the Tour for hours, in fact some had been up there for weeks and they just plopped in by helicopter. Anyway Brit and Aussie relationships weren't destroyed, they were fine.

Then, after that little episode, we had a lady (I think she was Swedish) trying to muscle in front of us, to get our view up the road, which was excellent. She was waving a camera around, as though it gave her some right to push in front. She was really ignorant to Patricia and Pauline, so I had to manhandle her out of the way. Otherwise I may have been a little more diplomatic. It's all in the fun of the Tour.

Patricia and Pauline went for a walk to the Alpine Garden after the Tour had gone through. I strolled over the road and watched the finish of the stage in a little cafe across the road, along with quite a crowd of cycling fans. Quite revealing really, in cycling sport terms. They were all pleased that Alberto Contador (presently being investigated on drugs claims) was dropped on the Alpe d'Huez. Quite a cheer went up.

Another show of being inconsiderate happened here also, with one guy pushing in to the front. He wasn't inconveniencing me, being six feet two in height, so I let it go.

Walked back to the van, it was freezing by that time. Pauline bought a scarf and a pattern for making the scarf off a lady from Belgium, who was in a van a bit further up the road from our position. The lady was making the scarfs for selling and the money is collected towards a children's home.

6.25 pm, just arrived back at the van off the Lautaret. I watched the finish of the Tour stage on a screen at the bar on top of the Lautaret. Good day overall, chilled down quite a lot from when we went up top. Very grey and cloudy now and a little rain is coming down. Lots of vans are now leaving.

Just had a chocolate croissant and a cup of tea. Patricia and Pauline are playing around with the cards they got from the Tour goody bags, playing Patience.

Day 13 Saturday 23 July 2011 Col du Lautaret

Cups of tea and Pauline is raring to get on the road again. A very grey morning, lots of cloud on the mountains. A good night's sleep despite the rain, it rained most of the night. A few vans on the way down, just a few tents remaining down the road near the 'Route des Grandes Alpes' sign. Just sat watching a German guy trying to get his motorhome out, he seems to be having problems for some reason. Misty morning, the sun just breaking through, it's also drizzling with rain.

La Salle les Alpes, just used the Aire there. It seems to be 8 Euros per night, there are water and toilet facilities available, which we utilised. It is a very nice little area, there is a kayaking lake at the side of the Aire, also a cafe and lake behind the Ski Lift. We had a walk around and got some photos on the small beach on the lake. Local Gendarmes propping up the coffee bar, all a very nice sedate atmosphere.

Stopped at an Aldi in Briancon on the way, to get some supplies.

Stopped off at a small picnic area just off the N94 road to Gap and Embrun, hoping to pick up some WiFi at McDonalds in Embrun. At a junction with the D138A to Largentiere, right turn off the road there is a small bridge crossing the river, but also a small parking place on this side of the river. There seems to be canoeing and rafting taking place on the river. No overnight parking signs are evident but it's quite noisy anyway, so we won't be staying. A lovely place for a picnic though. I have just washed and sterilised all the fruit and vegetables we picked up at the Aldi. Parked under a large tree, which supplied some shade for us, lovely.

Pauline decided to have a paddle in the river after dinner, got photos.

Had a tour around Embrun looking for the McDonalds, finally found it and got WiFi parked near the McDonalds. Picked up mail and cleared some. Got through to Marc, Helena and Lily (Lily had just woken up from her afternoon nap), also Sarah Jane, not good connection so decided to pop into McD to try out and see what type of signal there is inside. Got something to eat, cost us 17 Euros, a bit pricey for using WiFi, another lesson learned.

Travelled through Savines le Lac, looked at the Aire, 8 Euros a night and looked quite chaotic so didn't bother staying. Carried on through, crossed over the beautiful bridge across the lake, turned left and found a parking place immediately across the other side, where we decided to stay for the night. No signage around for No Overnighting. A lovely spot, about twenty feet from the lake edge, looking back, the bridge is in sight across the lake. There is another small parking place adjacent and a couple of vans parked there, so nice and quiet.

8.35 pm, just had tea - curried chicken and salad with fries we got from the Aldi - sat on the banks of the lake as the sun went down and the evening drifted in. The lake is called Lac de Serre-Poncon, quite large and I believe it is one of the largest manmade lakes in Europe. The breeze picked up off the lake as the evening wore on, traffic still passing but not too bad.

We got some photographs on the grass at the side of the lake, set the timer on the camera and jumped in on them, had a bit of fun. 9.20 pm, back in van out of the wind and to hunker down for the night. Got the dominoes out for a few games. Played until 11.40 pm, quite late for us.

Day 14 Sunday 24 July 2011 Savines le Lac

Overnight and day start position: Savines le Lac. N 44. 32.141 E 06.22.972

Up 7.10 am after a peaceful night, the road is surprisingly busy for early Sunday morning at 7.55 am. The lake is lovely and placid and flat calm, the wind hasn't picked up at the moment. It is a very bluey-green colour. The sun is out and shining through the trees. The plan is to look at the Aire at Puy Morass, within sight of Mont Ventoux, where we are planning to go over and visit the Tommy Simpson memorial (the British Tour de France cyclist who died on Ventoux in 1967).

Stopped in a small layby just on the main Gap road and beside the market in Chaussy, which we spotted at the side of the road. Typical Sunday morning market. We decided to stop and have a walk around. We spotted some sausage, tomatoes and fruit which we bought on the way back to the van.

Patricia and Pauline popped into an Intermarche which was just across the road from the market to pick up a loaf and some cereal. Pauline bought me a present for when she leaves, a couple of scourers! I can then pick up on my washing up job. The traffic is quite busy heading towards the lake, I suppose that it is an attractive destination for weekenders for leisure purposes.

Looking towards Gap the mountains are quite clear, the appearance is of a white kind of rock, with lots of green around though, a beautiful scene.

12.55 pm, stopped for dinner, came through a small pace called Seres. We stopped at a small layby just off the main road. The wind had been blowing all along the road down but it seemed quite sheltered at the pull-in place. A couple of vans already parked up when we arrived. Tried the sausage I had bought in the market. Not bad at all. Other vans left soon after we arrived. Wind still strong, but still sunny. Not a bad place to overnight really.

The terrain has changed quite a lot from the Alps, the hills are more a rolling green type, quite scenic. Vineyards and sunflowers all around on the hills and fields.

Spotted a small medieval village called Rosans, so stopped for a while to have a look around and get some photographs. Quite a nice little village, fountain in the main square at the top of the hill. Could spend more time there if we weren't travelling through.

Got stopped by the police on the D94, around San Mey. In the Gorges that the river flows through alongside of the road, there was a helicopter landed on the road. It looked like it had come in to pick up someone, it was the only place it could land. It set off and we were on our way.

Down past Nions now on the D538 heading for Puy Morass. Stopped at Mirabel aux Baronnies, found the Aire, did the toilet and water. Tricia then suggested we stay here for the night, which I thought was a good idea. Small village, nice little Aire, sounded good to me. An English guy who we spoke to when we arrived mentioned that there was another Aire down the road with ten spaces on it, but we got in here so all OK. We got here just in time, another few vans rolled in after us but there were no spaces left.

7.15 pm, just been for a walk around the village. A beautiful night. I use the word beautiful a lot, but it really does fit the overall feel, atmosphere, weather and ambience of the places we are seeing and visiting. The sun helps a lot obviously, we don't get this much sun in the UK.

Chatted to a small old French lady who lives in the village, got a few photographs with her, also had a little laugh. I told her I had two wives. 'Ooh La Lah' she said. 'Dream on' she meant, I think. We also had a small Budgerigar land in front of us, don't know where it came from, but I saw another near the Aire later. Do they live wild here I wonder, the weather would be OK for them I would feel, if they have escaped.

Pauline washed some clothes while it was warm, easy for drying. Gammon, potatoes and mixed vegetables for tea. 8.40 pm, just finished tea, Tricia and Pauline had fruit and meringues for afters, I had some Roquefort cheese. Pauline pinched some also.

Day 15 Monday 25 July 2011 Mirabel aux Baronnies

Overnight and day start position: Mirabel aux Baronnies. N 44. 18.754 E 05.05.967

A very quiet peaceful night, 7.03 am now, the church clock has just chimed, looking through the front window I can just see it. Blue skies and it looks like another beautiful day. Just sat having first brew of the day.

9.45 am, just had breakfast, the sun is beaming. Pauline is now sat on the wall just across from the front of the van, enjoying the sun, looking totally relaxed. She has just been up to the village for Baguettes for breakfast. My stomach just feeling a little off this morning, not sure why.

We have an English guy in a van at the side of us. He has just moved the van, not sure if he's leaving, he hasn't said. This is a lovely quiet and peaceful Aire, totally excellent for chilling out for a few days, but we are moving on to keep to the schedule of dropping Pauline off at Nimes Airport on Wednesday. I also want to call in at Mont Ventoux, so we will be off soon. Had breakfast outside sat in the sun.

Just been over Ventoux, coming up from the Molecin side on the D974. Stopped at the top, where there are a few market stalls for tourists. It was very windy, which is quite usual on the Ventoux, I believe. Quite manic at the top, similar to Galibier, with cars, cyclists etc. Not as trying a drive up as the Galibier-Telegraph route. Everyone was trying to get over the top, some going one way, some going the other, doesn't make for easy traversing of the summit. Sample offering on a stall, 3.80 Euros for 100g of toffee. Not a bad profit margin I would say, he should be retiring soon at that rate. Needless to say, we didn't bite.

The terrain at the top is quite legendary and famous for anyone who knows their racing cycling history. It has been described as being like the moon. I can see why, the vegetation thins out as you climb, to eventually leave nothing but a whitish rock surface, which reflects the sun and is quite blinding to the eyes. You also have a very strong wind blowing, which adds to the alien atmosphere of the higher parts of the mountain.

My whole intention of visiting Mont Ventoux was to call in at the Tommy Simpson memorial, which is around 1 km from the summit on our way down the other side. For anyone who is interested in cycling, this will be well known. We parked just opposite the memorial, around 50 metres down. There is a reasonable space for parking, it is needed for the number of visitors to the memorial. Tommy died in 1967 on Ventoux and it is a credit to his cycling career that people still visit and don't forget his exploits in what at the time was a flawed sport - and still is to some extent, although improving thanks to some very ethical cyclists who have made a stand against the darker side. Unfortunately, Tommy did get into the darker side of the sport.

Here I met a young man, Marc from Calgary in Canada, who was cycling in France for three weeks with his dad. He had just cycled up the Ventoux and had just dropped back off the summit to get some photographs, while his dad was having a minute at the top I presume. Marc did a photograph for me with all three of us on it. Seemed a very likeable young man.

Parked up at a small parking place maybe 500 metres down from the memorial to have some dinner.

Just got around Carpentras and Avignon after dropping off Mont Ventoux. The trip down was a little concerning, as the brakes got rather hot. I could smell them, so pulled over for a short stop. Used bottom gears quite a lot, but not really conducive to a peaceful drive.

Stopped at a small France Passion site just off the D108 at Domazan, the lady came out to welcome us. It's a beautifully kept vineyard. They produce red and rose wines, no white. She has just shown us where the water is, no other vans here, what a find!

I recorded the crickets in the vineyard on my diary recorder; listening to it while typing up the diary brings it back clearly.

The is a small fig tree near the house we are parked in front of and it is covered underneath with snails, they seem to be coming out of the drainage ditch at the side of the fields and sliding under the tree. They must like the decaying figs that drop off the tree and are lying all over the ground. The house we are parked in front of belongs to her daughter, who is on holiday in the Dordogne area.

There is a small garden at the rear of the main house, where they are growing tomatoes and vegetables, also pumpkins. The vines are laden with grapes and we have a small cat strolling around looking like it owns the place, it probably does in many ways. A pile of vine trimmings are laid alongside of the garden, enormous pine cones are lying around on the ground.

Tea of steak, fries, pepper sauce and salad. Patricia is setting the citron burners up because she saw a midge flying around, she is trying to choke it to death. I looked down the van and couldn't see the rear for a blue haze accumulating. The alarm was set off, the owner of the site came rushing down with buckets of water. (This last bit was invented!) Patricia is averse to midges, they like biting her, they know good stuff when they see it.

Had a problem with auto focus on my Canon camera again, so will have to use it on manual focus.

Had a tasting session with Didier and Mariel, the owners, and bought two bottles of red wine and a bottle of flavoured syrup. We struggled with French, they struggled with English, but we got there in the end.

Another small French van arrived on site. 9.45 pm, been a long day going over Ventoux and coming around Carpentras and Avignon, but enjoyable. It is good to end the day at an excellent stopping place, thanks to our hosts, Didier and Mariel. Plan is for Pont du Gard tomorrow.

Day 16 Tuesday 26 July 2011 Domazan

Overnight and day start position: Domazan. N 43.57.176 E 04.39.463

9.15 am, just had breakfast. MP3 on charge, Samsung mobile on charge. Heading to Pont du Gard today. Sorted water out to ensure we are OK. Different vans have different ways of doing things. With water, we store water for cooking and boiling for tea etc in 5 litre bottles, taken up from sources along the way. Drinking and teeth cleaning is from bought bottled water. We also have the large tank for washing and showers. It is always difficult to ensure that a tank that is difficult to access is hygienic, hence only using large tank for washing. It works for us.

Heading for the Aire at Remoulins to empty the toilet (no facility on France Passion).

This Aire at Remoulins is around 1km from Pont du Gard. It is actually just across the bridge from the service point, which is a Flot Bleu that has a charge to use it for water-filling and electric. So on this service point we have a demonstration of human nature. Van owners have been dumping toilets in the grey water drain-off grid, so leaving toilet roll and all kinds of unsightly debris stuck to the steel mesh grid which is over the drain, when all they have to do is lift the lid on the Flot Bleu toilet point and they can empty the toilet free of charge. So the service point was rather unsightly and smelly. Sorry for the rant, but some van owners go about things in a way which will make Aires a rare thing in time, which would be sad for all the sensible van owners.

15 Euros at Pont du Gard to park all day. So 15 Euros for three of us and the van is not a bad deal. Sort out a brew and something to eat, then into the day.

Met Peter and his family from Belgium on the car parking area, he spoke very good English. We chatted about the Tour. It is the first time they have been in a motorhome. They have been staying on campsites paying 70 Euros per night. He has children with him, which makes the situation a little different from ours, but it is still quite costly.

Pont du Gard is quite an impressive site. A Roman aqueduct which has been standing for around two thousand years. We entered the site on the opposite side from the museum and cafe area, which was accessible by just walking over the bridge across the river. It was quite busy, being a main attraction in this area. Popped into a cafe to pick up some tourist literature on the area. It was lovely and cool inside, quite warm outside. Patricia fancied an ice cream but Pauline thought it was better not to bother, so they didn't.

It is easy to see why it is attractive for visiting, it really is an excellent area, lots of space to park, walk and move around on each side of the river. I think it may be better to visit when it is really quiet, maybe in winter. The whole atmosphere of the area would be enhanced I feel. It is just my view.

Checked temperature in van 86 degrees F, we have had screens up all day to shade the sun. Creeping up to 90. Put the awning out for a little shade while we had dinner outside.

Met Fabrice from Avignon, chatted about football, he knew Wigan Athletic (my team). He knew all about English football in fact, quite knowledgeable.

Arrived at France Passion site Domain Patience at Bezouce on the D6086, which runs right through the centre of the village. The site is nicely positioned for getting to Garons, where Nimes airport is. They have Merlot at 10 litres for 20 Euros, or if you have your own container it becomes 1.5 Euros per litre, not bad for drinkers.

Parked van and popped in the shop on site. The lovely lady there advised us that the Boulangerie was open until 8 pm, so we had a walk down the street to pick up a Baguette and have a look around the village. Patricia and Pauline wanted to pop into the church but it was closed.

Unfortunately the lovely lady omitted to tell us that the Domain would be closing at 7 pm and the main gate would be shut. There is only one access on the main street in the village, with a 3 metre high wall surrounding the estate. Guess what? We were locked out. The van was inside. What to do?

Luckily for us there was a French couple in a van parked with us on the Domain. I attracted their attention with a few whistles and shouts. He immediately recognised what had happened and jumped in his van to drive around a back road, about 2 kilometres, and then appeared in the main street to give us a lift around the back. We had looked if there was any side entrance, but had found none. It would have been fun if they hadn't been on the site with us.

A lesson learned, don't assume that places will be open when we arrive back, even early in the evening. Had lamb chop, potatoes and vegetables for tea, while sat outside. We had a hook-up which was free, so decided to set up the laptop and download the cameras and recorder.

11.05 pm, good night chasing midges, with Patricia gassing us all again. Pauline just made a farewell brew, with a couple of biscuits. We have been packing her case and weighing it, ready for her flight tomorrow.

Day 17 Wednesday 27 July 2011 Bezouce

Overnight and day start position: 2 Impasse de Recantou, 30220 Bezouce. N 43.52.846 E 04.29.239

Up 7.30 am, awoke with a pitter patter of rain on the roof, so a wet morning. Does it make it easier for Pauline to go home? We don't think so. 11 am, rain has stopped and the sun is shining, great.

1 pm, stopped in Garons near the airport, picked up a couple of Baguettes and had some dinner. Nice parking place in the village. We have a couple of guys doing a balancing act, while cutting some hedges about 20 feet tall. I have Dire Straits on the MP3 player, 'Brothers in Arms'.

Dropped Pauline off at Nimes Airport. Parked van on a nice and convenient turnaround point about 50 metres from the entrance door. Nimes is a small airport, nice and laid back, not like the manic large airports. Nice and easy to access. Waited in the lounge with her until the flight was ready to leave.

A little bit of an emotional time for us all. It's sad to be parting, but we knew that was the plan all along. Pauline is getting back to England to her husband Bob who, unlike us, is still working for a living. It has been excellent having her along and I'm sure she has enjoyed it all. I think she will now be a Tour de France fan in the future, she loved all the chaos and fun.

We decided to now head for Arles to see if we could get a place on the Aire at the side of the river. Set the SatNav to help us find the Aire. It was foxed by a 20-kilometre deviation, as they were doing the roads up, so we were sent the long way around. From Garons we headed down the D6113 (N113), down to Forques, we were then diverted up the D115 to Beaucaire, then the D90 up to link up with the D970, then down the D570N (N5780) into Arles. The SatNav was spot on when we finally got into Arles, taking us straight to the river Rhone side and onto the Aire.

The Aire has changed a little, it seems. Vans don't park parallel with the river now, but facing or away from it. In fact the designated places are few and around 300 metres from the Borne, but the vans that were parked were many. So we got in with them, facing the river. The Borne is still where it was, I presume. We are actually on a car park, but there are many vans. We are going to see how the day goes. There is a bridge across the Rhone down to our left and we have pleasure ships parked along the waterfront, so all in all, not a bad spot. There is a school behind us and coaches keep turning up to pick up the children.

7.30 pm and vans are still turning up for the night, so it looks like we won't be moved on.

Chicken Kiev, fries and salad for tea, with a Tiramisu and a cup of coffee. The sun is still shining. No word from Pauline, so presume not landed yet. Her flight was 5.30 pm, so still time yet.

A French guy pulled in with his van and asked was it OK to overnight here. I gave him the thumbs up. If he gets moved on, so do I. Ah well, no malice intended. We are monitoring the situation ourselves and will be a little wiser tomorrow. I have a feeling we will be OK

Had a walk into Arles after tea for around 45 minutes, to have a look where the Roman Amphitheatre is. It looks to be in the centre of the touristy area, lots of cafes with outdoor dining. A small square near it is covered in tables, with a stage and music equipment set up, that looked to be for a trio with guitars, all ready to perform later. Strolled back and walked along the river to photograph the large lions on what seem to be the pillars of a bridge that disappeared a long time ago. They are still quite impressive, apart from being frequented by a few down and outs who spend their time drinking and singing.

We sat on the wall at the side of the cruisers moored on the Rhone, watching the world go by. Interesting watching the people who go cruising on the boats. There are restaurants on the boats and people seem to come and go, maybe have a walk into town then return.

9.25 pm, still quite warm, in fact great for evening strolls.

10.05 pm, sat in van in the dark looking at the sites and lights on the river and across the river Rhone. The lions I photographed have now been lit up for the night. I also got photographs of the bridge over the Rhone and the church in the centre which is now lit up also, they all lend a lovely ambience to the night. There are still people walking along the river bank enjoying the night. People returning to the cruisers for the night.

We are alone for the first time tonight, Pauline having returned to England, back to her beloved Bob. So we don't need to make up her 'Queen' bed, as I have named it. Pauline did call and let us know she had landed, also thanked us for everything. No problem, we miss you already, was our thoughts. We didn't want to institute divorce proceeding by persuading her to stay longer.

Popped outside to watch one of the cruisers, which came down the Rhone from right to left, then proceeded to turn around in the middle of the river, to face the way it had come. Probably ready for the next cruise. Quite interesting and impressive to watch, with all the cabins and restaurant lit up and people enjoying themselves.

People are still walking along the riverside. From pictures I have seen of the Aire as it used to be, the vans were parked where people now walk. That is probably why the arrangement was changed, it is more sensible now I think. People can enjoy the evening with a stroll and the vans are not intrusive, being parked just across the road.

Day 18 Thursday 28 July 2011 Arles

Overnight and day start position: 5 Place Lamartine, 13200 Arles. N 43.40.960 E 04.37.824

8.10 am, had a very peaceful night, no problems in being moved on, I didn't think we would. The only sound was in fact the engines of the cruisers, which ran all night to keep their facilities OK. These weren't intrusive, just a low throb. I awoke around 6.30 am but turned over and dozed off again.

Just watching the tourists coming off the cruisers, they are awaiting coaches to take them on trips it seems. It's great people watching, isn't it. All shapes, all sizes, all kinds of people, all with their own woes and concerns, getting off into their day. They must be enjoying the trip, but some do look really serious and stressed. Can't think why.

Cereal and banana for breakfast. Then we had an irate coach driver remonstrating to me that all the parking along the river was for coaches only. I think he was exaggerating; there is a lot of space along here. Funny, but he didn't go to any French van owners!! Interestingly the only things parked when we arrived yesterday, apart from motorhomes, was cars, exactly where he was claiming it was coaches only.

The only way I could sympathise with him was the fact that we were parked down near the end of the parking area, nearest to town, and maybe coaches only use this area, but there were no signs at all. There was ample space to park quite a few coaches, which came and went with no problem. Maybe he had the hump on this morning, maybe had an argument with his wife etc. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and moved further down, also to be cautious. My experience of people driving vehicles which don't belong to them is that they are not really bothered if they get any damage, the company will pay for it. If he damages us, I would pay, so being pragmatic was sensible. I moved back later in the day when all the coaches had gone. We did park for a while on the area marked out for motorhomes, which unfortunately is not in as good a spot for viewing the river; in fact it faces the large pedestals where the lions are mounted.

Had a walk around Arles. Called into an Optician's for Patricia to have her glasses adjusted. Carried out at no charge by Guyan, who was very helpful. We bought a chord for the glasses for 4 Euros, which probably covered his costs. He spoke very good English, so we had a good conversation with him.

Visited the hospital where Van Gogh was interred for some time. It has been cleaned up and is now being utilised as a small 'craft' market. Maybe it will improve in its craft aspirations, but at the moment it seems to be a tourist gift area. It is a nice place, a cloistered square with flowers arranged in the centre. A little calm oasis, with galleries upstairs, but not much going on up there.

1.15 pm, got back to the van, 86 deg F, quite warm. We visited the Amphitheatre but decided not to pay and go inside, after viewing lots of building or preservation work going on. Internally it could be seen to be conventional stadium with seating, as a football stadium, so not very appealing. We had a walk around outside, which is maybe more sensible, giving a good impression of the structure. Renovation is going on but as always, the question is, how much do you renovate before you destroy the original structure and finish with a new structure. One of my little archaeological concerns.

Arles is very touristy, lots of people walking around with maps etc. Prices in cafes seemed reasonable compared with what we have seen.

Had a lazy couple of hours and something to eat. Got guitar out for a while. I don't seem to use it much at the moment, too many things to be doing while on the road. Mapped out a few Aires for when we move into the 'Cathar' region, near Carcassonne.

Had a walk down to supermarket 'One Prix', to buy a few bits that we needed. Got a top-up for the telephone, Mobicarte, 10 Euros, just to keep a communication channel. Moved the van back to where we were earlier. It's an excellent view across and down the river.

Sent Pauline and Carl a text. Carl called us back so had a chat with him and Megan. The Doncaster house he was interested in has now been shelved.

Pasta, tuna and salad for tea. Sun still shining but now cooling a little, a light breeze has picked up.

10.25 pm and just off to bed. Off to Aigues Mortes tomorrow, we will have a look at the Aire, there is also a France Passion site there. Quite cool outside now and also not as busy along the river. I decided to have a small Whiskey and water, my first drink in around 18 months. I think the laid-back, rolling along travelling is getting through to me in a nice way, so decided to get even more laid back.

Day 19 Friday 29 July 2011 Arles

Overnight and day start position: 5 Place Lamartine, 13200 Arles. N 43.40.960 E 04.37.824

6.50 am, cup of tea first thing. Beautiful morning, not a cloud around. Good night's sleep. A car backfired earlier this morning and we could hear small trucks, I think the municipal ones scuttling past emptying the bins.

8.30 am, the sun is blazing, the sky is clear, it looks like another sunny day in Arles.

The plan this morning is to look for the small drawbridge that Van Gogh used as a model for one of his paintings. It is just off the D35 outside of Arles. Have a look around, take some pictures, before heading down to Aigues Mortes.

Actually found the bridge quite easily. The tourist information we had read said that it was badly signposted, but we didn't find that. It is very similar to the painting in many ways, but a small amount of artistic licence has been used. There is a copy of the painting near the bridge, so you can compare and contrast (if you take a little time).

Some Japanese tourists were dropped off for five minutes, then had to be back on the coach to be off. So they had a quick amble around, got a few snaps, then climbed back on the bus. It's good to reinforce my feelings about organised tourist activity, not for me at all.

So myself and Patricia were left alone again. Had a good look at the construction of the bridge, got quite a few photos and had a good compare and contrast. There seems to be quite a lot of the original bridge that is still in place. It is certainly worth visiting, it is lovely and peaceful (when there are no coaches in).

Heading on down to Aigues Mortes, the roads are quite flat and featureless. The roads are excellent in some parts and very rough in others. Miles and miles of bamboo plants along the field perimeters. Quite a lot of motorhomes around also.

Stopped at a small roadside shop with English, Italian and German flags flying outside, selling olive oil, sausages, fruit etc. Also called at an Intermarche on the outskirts of Aigues Mortes for a few things.

Arrived at Aigues Mortes, which looked nice driving in, walled town, canal with boats etc. Quite touristy. Had fun trying to find the France Passion place at Aigues Morte.

Gave up looking and went back to the Intermarche to park up and have some dinner, then have another go. Address instructions are a joke at times for France Passion places. Popped the postcode in the SatNav, but it only takes you within an area.

Temperature in van 90 degrees Fahrenheit, even warmer outside.

Found our France Passion destination, Domain de Petit Chaumont, with a little luck and Patricia's insistence on looking around the next roundabout on the road. Voila, there it was. About 500 metres drive in from the main road, on a very dusty and pebbly road leading in. Sand very soft in the area designated for parking, so a little wary on where I parked.

Met Bridget from the Domain and tried one or two of the wines. Her grandfather bought and moved here in 1952. She spoke very good English. We tried a little French. I actually embarrassed her. She was suggesting how we try the wine and I said, 'I will do whatever you want'. I'm not sure what was going through her mind, but she really blushed up. All the wines were very nice, but there is only so much you can buy and drink. 1.50 Euros a litre.

9 pm, just had chicken, couscous and salad, followed with profiteroles. All washed up now. Also cooled down quite a lot, breeze has now picked up. Going for a stroll around to get some pictures etc.

Strolled down the road into the fields and found 'Domain Grand Chaumont', with large imposing gates leading into it. These were closed with an intercom system on the gate posts and infrared security lights, that floodlit us in the night. Got some nice pictures. Quite a few rabbits and bats around, with some large bird in the woods which fluttered off with screams and cries that made us jump and wonder just what it was.

Day 20 Saturday 30 July 2011 Near Aigues Mortes

Overnight and day start position: Domain de Petit Chaumont, 30220 Aigues Mortes. N 43.34.525 E 04.07.603

6.50 am, lovely peaceful night. The only noise last night seemed to be some distant pop concert PA System across the fields. Sunny again, just peeping through the trees.

8.30 am, just had breakfast, having cup of tea. Just been taking some more pictures. Keep hearing a low flying plane, but don't see it.

Got parked up in Aigues Mortes on a pay car park. The town seemed a little anti-motorhome, lots of signage saying No Parking for Motorhomes. A few height barriers. It reminded us of England. To be truthful, Aigues Mortes was a total disappointment, in my view a total waste of time. Not much of interest after you have seen the walls. The Aire that we looked at was a joke. It always staggers me the conditions that some van owners will put up with, I have seen more picturesque scrap yards, say no more.

2.50 pm, we eventually got out of Aigues Mortes and headed along the coast. All seemed to be a very touristy kind of area. Lots of camps and caravans all along the coast, mile after mile. La Grande Motte, Carnon Plage, Palavas les Flots, Villeneuve les Maguelone, Frontignan, Sete, along a stretch of road with thousands of cars parked along a beach, just before we got to Agde.

Stopped at Palavas les Flots for some dinner, at a small parking area overlooking a marshy watery area which seemed to be a bird sanctuary. Had fish and salad. Clouds came over and quite a breeze blowing, so a little cooler.

Pulled over at the side of a small canal at Portiragnes, just off the D612 (N112), when we saw a stall with fruit and a few motorhomes parked up. This had the effect of us facing back where we came from. Bought four melons for 2 Euros, cucumber and some red onions, 4.15 Euros in total. Still warm and windy.

Stopped off at McDonalds for WiFi, and cleared any mail, tried Skype but no one answering except Nicky, who hadn't been too good all week with food poisoning.

We have found that using France Passion can lead you a merry dance, directions are not the very best in the world. Looking for an FP site at Nissan les Ensurune. No signage anywhere for it. Found our way into Pereis, which was mentioned in the information. Luckily a little old lady sat out in her garden knew where it was: 'Just down the road'. It was just a big shed in a field, with farm equipment parked in it. You never know what to expect. No signs. Vineyards are not all picturesque, this looks to be a real work place vineyard, with vines across the fields, rubble piled up and old rusting kit lying around. A vineyard, with no water it seems. But we were ready for parking up, 8.05 pm, so stopped off. Had snacks, cheese, crackers and tomatoes to end the day.

9.20 pm Saturday night, trying to text Pauline, but no go at the moment. We got the message she had been looking at a Burstner Delphin, with a mind to purchase it. I think she has got the bug. Just watching a hawk flying across the fields, it has been hovering and dropping down for some time. We can hear what sounds like a pump running in the distance, not intrusive at all. A lady with a small child just walking down the lane near us, no one else around at all. A lovely warm night, we can see two wind farms on the misty hills in the distance. A beautiful warm balmy evening, a long way from home.

Walked up into the small village up the hill, not Nissan les Ensurune, but Peries. The place is deserted, apart from one or two dogs barking at us. Got a few photographs. One of an unusual building, also the well in the square. All the houses are shuttered up for the night. Got back around 10 pm, just going dark, still a lovely evening view across to the horizon. A car coming across through the fields, headlights beaming, the only activity in view.

Day 21 Sunday 31 July 2011 Nissan les Ensurune

Overnight and day start position: 16 Rue Marcel Pagnol, 34440 Nissan les Ensurune. N 43.16.521 E 03.04.303

7.30 am, quiet peaceful night, just having a cup of tea watching two white horses down in the fields. Felt a little chilly in the early hours. I was only covered with a sheet, due to the heat of the day. But it now looks like another hot day in front of us.

Tried to get BBC world service on my 'World' radio, but gave up. Had a read of an update from Barry and Margaret Williamson, who are now exploring the islands off the coast of Norway. Barry and Margaret are an inspirational couple who travel full-time in a motorhome and also utilise other travel modes. Visit www.magbaztravels.com. If we could do a tenth of what they have done, I will be a happy man.

Breakfast of cereal, banana and nectarines. We had bought a pile of nectarines recently. After breakfast we had a lovely Sunday morning, skinning and cutting melons up to put in the fridge. Such a simple job but something we have never done before. We had bought four for 2 Euros. The whole ambience of the place, peaceful and warm, adding to the fun of the job. We now have a pile of lovely cool melon to help us on our way.

Stopped at a Super U petrol station a few kilometres away from Pereis. Also popped into a Patisserie to pick up a Baguette, the smallest and thinnest we had seen up to now. Had a little fun at the Super U. I got the PIN code wrong on the credit card. We had taken out a Halifax CC, to use for diesel mainly, as it offered a 'no foreign currency charge', which was helpful. I had got two digits the wrong way around. After checking with our own coding system (an idea from Barry and Margaret, mentioned above) I got it right, so all was OK and we filled up.

Stopped for dinner in a layby just off the main road on the way to Carcassonne. There was a small columned construction on the hill, modern, not old, what we would call 'a folly'. It didn't seem to be for any use at all. Had a walk up to it after dinner and got a few piccies.

1.55 pm, had dinner and some of the melon we had prepared this morning, beautiful and cool.

Got down to Carcassone and into the narrow streets, not the ones inside the wall, to look for the Aire which seemed to be a large car park when we found it. Also had a look at a campsite not far from the Aire. Campsite was 20 Euros per night basic, topping up to about 30 Euros, so gave it a miss. Decided to head for a France Passion place addressed in Villalier. But as per FP, not actually in Villalier. As usual had fun finding it, about two kilometres out of Villalier. It's called Chateau la Mee, which sounds very grand doesn't it.

When we found it, the description would be 'very unusual'. Patricia wasn't taken with it, but it had been a long warm day and I suggested we should make the best of it. It all started when we arrived. I pulled in, parked up and called at the house alongside of us. The house looked quite nice from outside. The door was open so I had to walk in. The room looked like someone had thrown a hand grenade into it - books, paper, bottles, glasses, it was littered with objects too numerous to take in.

The man, who I presumed owned it, was talking to another man and they were having what seemed to be a glass of wine each. He had a long beard, glasses, a baseball cap and spoke with an unusual high squeaky voice. He spoke fluent English and came over as very well educated. He told me his name was Marchand, which he said was the equivalent of merchant or salesman. I assumed it was his first name. (I was wrong, as we shall see). He pointed out a water point, also said we could use the electric. So we parked up in the main street.

There was another van on the site with six young people in it, a hired motorhome. It looked like 'Marchand' gave them a lift somewhere in his van, along with some plastic white chairs, but they returned eventually without the chairs and disappeared along with the van, so we were left alone.

The place looks like it was a small hamlet or village but is now totally deserted. The houses are empty and floors missing in some of them. Pigeons roosting in the roofs. It looks like a DIY fanatic's dream project, it really is hard to put into words. We took photographs.

'Marchand', who told me he is 74, is renovating it alone. It used to be a vineyard, but hasn't been for 12 years, since he purchased it, in fact. Some work has been done and does look quite OK. I suspect that he has people working for him at different times.

I had a look around with 'Marchand' but every time I asked any question, he answered with something else. I never got a sensible answer. I was intrigued with the whole thing. He says he owns all the buildings, which he probably does. He also staggers around a lot, very unbalanced. I may be wrong but I got the feeling he was drinking a lot. He asked me to follow him to a room where he wanted to show me some paintings. I was very wary about following him, through empty rooms and up flights of stairs. The whole place, as I said, was a little spooky and he was a little cooky.

We eventually got into an upper room, where he had done some large paintings that were hanging on a wall in a derelict room. They were very geometric in construction and needed some mathematical and geometric knowledge to put them together. I could see this from my own knowledge, a degree in Mathematics and Physics, so was absolutely puzzled by it all. He makes claims that the whole place is a research laboratory into time and space. Certainly an eccentric, or as we say in Wigan, he certainly has 'lost the plot' somewhere along the line.

I feel that he has spent a lot of time maybe studying certain aspects of colour, space etc, which show in his paintings. In fact spent so much time doing that, he now dwells in that world until someone like ourselves creates some ripples for a while, until he is again left alone in that world.

He has given me enough information to suggest he was, or is, an architect. (I researched this when I got back to the UK and he is actually Robert Marchand, an architect, as far as I can ascertain.)

10.15 pm, been for a stroll down the lane leading from the buildings. Lovely night. Beautiful massive old plane trees along the lane, which must have been there at least 200 years. What stories they could tell if they could speak. Whatever happened in the hamlet? There was a dated stone in the buildings, which suggests that the place was built around 1789. I can believe that the trees have been there since that time.

We walked down the lane to a small bridge over a river. It was getting dark, so we didn't stay long. Got some nice photographs of trees silhouetted against the sunset, quite atmospheric.

Sent Nicky a text to see how he is. He is much better today, going to the doctor's tomorrow. Went to bed with the thought that we were sleeping in a place lost in time.

Day 22 Monday 1 August 2011 Villalier

Overnight and day start position: N 43.242 E 02.429

Woke up after an unusual night's sleep, with weird dreams of people leaving buildings and a deserted town. Don't have to guess where that one came from. Pigeons cooing and fluttering in the buildings at the side of us and a dog barking. A few cars passing on the road adjacent to the hamlet. It got quite chilly in the night. The street where we are parked is sheltered from the sun by trees, so does not get fully warmed up. Used the electric hook-up which was offered, boiled the kettle and washed the dishes outside, with the plastic tub rested on a steel beam laid alongside the street 'La Grande Rue'. Not many people can claim to have washed their hair in the Grande Rue. We hadn't used the electric last night because Patricia was a little wary that it wasn't safe. I checked it out for polarity and all was OK

We both washed our hair. 'Marchand' came down to ask us for our France Passion card. This was the first time we had been asked for it. He entered some information into a France Passion form. Used four FP's so far, he is the first one to ask us for the card.

Anyway got everything sorted, washed up etc and ready to leave. Decided we would be courteous and thank 'Marchand' before we left. We eventually found him in a vineyard building, with all the process machinery and vats still there but looking unused and uncared for. He came out into the daylight (I wasn't going in) and then proceeded to give me a lecture that his name was Monsieur Marchand and that I had been talking down to him like an officer to a soldier. I could see that he was upset, but he hadn't remarked anything to me yesterday to correct me. He told us that he had a daughter in medical and a son who was an architect. I apologised to him but he was still a little prickly, so we cut it short and decided to get on our way. We thanked him for the use of the site and were ready to leave when he asked us for 5 Euros for the use of the electric. This, as far as we were aware, was against FP guidelines, but we gave him 5 Euros and left. What a weird place and probably never to be forgotten.

Went about 500 metres down the road to a little village called Bouilhonnac, parked up for a look around and to see if there was a Boulangerie. Nothing doing, but a nice quiet place.

Popped in at McDonalds just outside Carcassonne and spoke to Nicky, Pauline and Sarah Jane on Skype. Sent mail to Pauline, who was helping to sort out my pension while we were away. 90 degrees F in the van again, that's with the shutters up to keep the sun out.

Got into the Aire at Carcassonne, which was a place I had wanted to visit for quite a while. We all have places that we would like to visit, this was one of mine. I had read about it in people's reports of their travels etc. All while working and being a weekend motorhomer, I was one of the dreamers. Well I had finally made it. I pulled out an article on visiting Carcassonne which I had carried with me to have a read. It was dated 2001, ten years ago, so that is an indication of how long I had waited to get down here.

The Aire seemed to have changed from photographs I had previously seen. Got onto the Aire, 5 Euros to park and free for the night, which seemed OK to me. With a free shuttle bus into the walled section, if you wanted to use it, excellent. Lots of vans on the Aire, it is obviously a honey pot site. Got the ground coffee on for a refresher.

Had a walk around Carcassonne, which was teeming with people and tourist shops. Lovely narrow streets and old-looking, probably restored, buildings. The overall effect is quite good, but obviously ruined by the mass tourism in the old walled part.

The restoration is to be questioned if you want to be pedantic. But, I suppose it is better to have the walled town for people to enjoy, rather than let it deteriorate and break down. The area of restoration is a tricky one to anyone interested in any kind of history. It is very difficult to tread the fine line between restoration tastefully done, with an eye to keeping the historic aspect of a site, or the destroying of a site with tactless and thoughtless, heavy-handed work.

I suppose we are all tourists and can't complain, but it is lovely when you can get a quiet vibe from a place without all the distractions. We called in at the Basilique de Saints Nazaire et Celse and made a recording of the music that was playing, very atmospheric. It was possible, in say ten steps, to get away from all the trashy tourist things to a totally different atmosphere, lovely. I bought a book, 6 Euros, about the Cathar region and history, as we are heading that way.

Strolled back to the van and had bacon Baguettes for supper, with a couple of glasses of wine for Patricia. A van decided to snuggle up beside us around 11.30 pm.

Day 23 Tuesday 2 August 2011 Carcassone

Overnight and day start position: N 43 12.316 E 02 22.464

Up before 8 am, peaceful night after the 'snuggling up van' last night eventually settled down. Watched four Italian vans, off like rats out of a drain, before the 8 am deadline for 5 Euros charge came up. That covers 8 am until 8 pm, then it's free overnight, which I think is superb, given what a honey pot for tourism Carcassonne is.

Grey and drizzly this morning. Spoke to the young guy next to us in an old van that seems to be a collector's item. He is going up to La Grasse, where we are heading. I say collector's item because he eventually had a bunch of Italians standing around his van, all in deep discussion and pointing out things of interest to themselves. They were obviously taken by his van.

When we eventually pulled off the Aire, we were charged 6 Euros, ie an extra 1 Euro for staying after 8 am. That's what all the Italians were dashing around and exiting to save, 1 Euro. Ah well, I hope they spend it wisely.

Stopped at Giant, to get a Baguette , demerara sugar and also some yoghurts for Patricia. Heading for La Grasse, to use the Aire, on the D3. Fields and fields of vines along the roadside. You can actually smell the fruit on the breeze. Country getting quite lumpy, ie hilly, with lots of signs warning of fire. There is a lot of dry vegetation on the hills, which could be disastrous if it caught fire. A beautiful drive. Quite a few cars on the road, but not many motorhomes, which is good, we might be getting away from a lot of them. Stopped in a little village called Pradelles-en-Val and got a picture of a soldier on a monument there.

Patricia made the statement "I think our life is Surreal at the moment". I can see where she is coming from. We have both worked all our married life, to raise and support three sons, who have all turned out to be fine and popular young men. But we are now doing what we have dreamed of doing for years. Travelling, seeing and doing what we want to do, every day. It is Surreal, but bloody great.

Arrived at La Grasse, Aire excellent in the centre of the village, on soil but with facilities in the corner of the field. It looks to be a good spot to spend a few days. Put the chairs and table out, got a cup of tea. 1.25 pm, Patricia just preparing dinner, quite breezy but still very warm.

The young chap with the collector's item van from Carcassone was on the site near us. Had a chat with him. He has taken the van over from his parents, it is now 22 years old. He is travelling with his girl friend, Monica. He is a primary school teacher, also spoke excellent English. They have been to Minerve, he says it is quite beautiful.

Had a stroll around La Grasse, narrow streets, one or two shops, it seems to be not overrun by tourism. A really laid-back place. Walked along the river, got a few photographs. Called into the church, which is quite grand and ornate inside, looks to be quite unusual for a small village. But it has lost a lot of its splendour, now seeming quite faded, paintings on the wall faded. There was a small exhibition in the Tourist Information place, showing La Grasse as it used to be in the early years of photography. The village people posing for photographs. They had also merged some of the old photographs into the modern day scene, so you could ascertain where the photograph had been taken, an excellent idea I thought.

A few vans have now come on the Aire, all seeming quite noisy. Italian and Spanish all seem to be very demonstrative and loud when talking, there is no quiet conversation taking place.

Only seen a couple of English plates on cars, no vans. Heard an English guy in the village, plum in the mouth type, what Wiganers would call a 'Hooray Henry'. I shouldn't be like that, but he did talk really posh. Only having a bit of fun.

Decided to do a small amount of washing while we could get things dry. Chicken, rice and salad for tea. Carl called around 9 pm, Pauline wanted him to look at a van in Aberdeen. Pauline also called, about sorting out any payments with the bank. Just watching a German guy setting up his satellite dish on a pole, probably tuning in for 'German Coronation Strasse'. 9.35 pm, we are now, very humbly, having a game of cards. Finished around 11 pm, a lovely warm and enjoyable day in La Grasse.

Day 24 Wednesday 3 August La Grasse

Overnight and day start position: N 43 05.589 E 02 37.191

Up before Patricia, cup of tea, left her to have a doze, while I did a little bit of French from the dictionary. Most on the Aire seem to be still asleep, not much movement. Grey and overcast at the moment.

9.55 am, 75 degrees F in the van. Reasonably lazy morning, pottering around doing one or two electrical jobs, changing batteries etc. A few motorhomes have left already this morning. Lovely warm morning, clouds drifting around but a beautiful blue sky.

10.30 am , a small black Transit type of van from Spain with two adults and four children just arrived, the van has the safari type of tent on the top of the van.

Had a cleaning session, carpets out, good wash up and toilet sorting etc. Walked to Boulangerie for bread, only about 200 yards to the shop from where we are parked. An English couple in a high top van dashed into the Chemist's just alongside the shop, while I was there. Didn't speak, they were preoccupied with getting into the Chemist's shop.

A little girl from the Spanish van is playing a small flute, it's nice to hear in the background

Dinner of cheese and Baguette. Had session trying to get the Canon autofocus working, not sure I have succeeded. Patricia is twiddling her thumbs at the moment, she is not used to having nothing to do. We are on top of everything at the moment. She just started playing Patience, but got impatient with it and packed up. Looking around it seems that the hardest work going on is watching the world go by, not bad.

A strong breeze keeps kicking up, so I have taken the awning down. There is shade at the side of the van now, so not needed.

Walked in later for some tomatoes, apples, really hot so didn't stay too long. Tuna, pasta and salad for tea. Temp in van, 82 degrees F. Children from S-plated van doing lots of clapping songs and running around, they seem to have settled in now.

Got guitar out later and did songs for Patricia all night, a very good night. Cup of tea and a couple of digestive biscuits to round the night off.

Day 25 Thursday 4 August 2011 La Grasse

Overnight and day start position: N 43 05.589 E 02 37.191

Up 7.45 am, lovely peaceful night, got brew on. All the children who were singing and clapping last night have now gone, the van must have been off quite early. New van in its place, a young couple in white van with bikes on the back, who spoke to me when I opened the door.

Went to La Grasse Abbey, not really impressed after going around, cost 4 Euros each. Bought a book on the Cathars, 18 Euros. When we got there, I found the battery was low on the small Nikon camera, so walked back for the Canon.

Had dinner outside watching a couple of French vans near us demonstrating how loud they can talk. A German couple pulled up alongside us in a yellow DIY van. They came from near Cologne.

Text from Nicky asking when we will be home, not for a while yet.

Really hot today, decided to visit the Intermarche at Lezignan Corbiere around 14 km away. Big shop, cost 85Euros. We are now stocked up for being out in the hills etc.

I think today is the hottest day yet that we have experienced, the car park was like a furnace when we were loading the shopping into the van. Tricia is doing pretty well, seeing it is so hot. (She is not a baking hot weather person.) Back to La Grasse. Followed the SatNav on the way out, but got sidetracked into a small village on the D212 on the way back. This brought us down the hill straight into the Aire and I think saved us a couple of kilometres in the process.

Had pizza and salad, olives and cornichons, sitting outside the van. Really warm evening, people still sat out at 10.30 pm. Temperature in van, 86 deg. F. The loud French party were pretty quiet tonight, I think the wine and the heat had got to them.

Talked to a couple from Belgium earlier in a Hymer Camp van. They didn't have a country plate on so I was unsure where they were from. He walked past us, said 'Bonsoir' and we answered assuming he was French. On the way back he said 'Hello', so he had sussed out we were English. I don't think my Lancashire accent was disguised, even when speaking French. They spoke quite good English, learned from watching English soaps on TV apparently.

Day 26 Friday 5 August 2011 La Grasse

Overnight and day start position: N 43 05.589 E 02 37.191

Up 7.20 am, Tricia too, brew on, all quiet on the Aire. We have had quite a lot of flies here at La Grasse, just nailed another one. Well we have been at La Grasse for three days. I was wondering if that qualifies us to say, "Yes we lived at La Grasse at one time".

Watched one of the loud French party get a pair of ladders out and climb onto the van roof to clean it.

Packed up and drove to Termes.

Called at Duffort Chateau on the way but it was private. We parked just down the road but when we spoke to a guy who lived across the road, he advised us that it was private. It didn't look like you could access it easily, which gave us the idea it may be private. An English family pulled up also, they were looking to visit. Just then a guy pulled up in a van and started honking his horn behind them, which seemed to indicate that he was irritated that they were parked where he wanted to go. He eventually drove away. I do think that he was trying to attract attention from inside the house, but he never made any attempt to communicate with the family in the car that they were OK where they were. Lack of empathy and understanding again. (Is it a French trait?)

A beautiful drive through gorgeous country. Got to Termes and tucked in at the side of the road just across the bridge over the river before you enter Termes village.

It was Termes Chateau Gala Day, 8 Euros for entry and Chateau Passport (to visit other Chateaus, you get a discount). This was a special offer for today's Gala Day, so we in fact ended getting the Passport for free. Walked up to thex. There are lots of things going on to celebrate the attack on the Chateau on the 5th August. Jousting, Falconry, Archery, food etc.

Red hot on arrival. Tricia did great with the heat until I sat her down near a Falcon, which she didn't see immediately but was unhappy sitting near; she then lost her cool a little. Anyway I got her a place in the shade and I went to the top to examine the access. Just as I got to the top there came the sound of thunder in the distance. I went back down and got Patricia and we then popped back up to the top before the rain came. Incredible views and to think that people actually lived up there a thousand years ago. Got photos at top.

There is a need to restrict access to the area, the place will eventually be destroyed with people walking over walls and not giving any thought to what happens to the site.

Walked back down in the rain and had some dinner when we found out we were stuck, due to inconsiderate parking. There are some absolutely stupid situations where people will park, without any regard to other vehicles around them. I have a long standing theory that lots of people go through this world with blinkers on, like a horse. They never look around and see the situation they are in and never make allowances for other people. Rant over.

Anyway, we were stuck. What to do? We chilled out and waited for an opportunity to arrive.

4.20 pm, still in Termes. Still thundering and lightning. Tried some pork pate bought from the supermarket yesterday. OK, not brilliant.

7.20 pm, still stuck, can't get in and can't get out.

While I was watching the fish in the small stream there, a lady came to park, so I helped and directed her into a small space. When she got out of the car she thanked me in good English, so we got talking. Her name was Heidi from Germany, she has now lived in France for four years, not far from Termes. She actually said that the car which we were parked alongside belonged to the Mayor (of Buleau, I think she said). So she took me down to meet the Mayor and with a selection of French, German and English, we let him know what had happened. He asked one of his friends to pop down and see what the situation was. Didier came to look at the van and said that it was no problem. The Mayor's car was blocked in, but he would not be needing it for the night. So with that we decided to spend some more time in Termes and wait for the traffic to ease.

Walked back into Termes for a look around the village, we had only been to the Chateau previously, well worth a look around the village. Recorded a little pipe music from the gala. The village is beautiful, it looks like it has been hacked out of the rock. We called into the lovely village church. There seemed to be a lecture going on so we didn't stay long. The lecture seemed to be about the Chateau. Excavation or reconstruction? I wonder.

There was food and drinks around, but it looked like it was all the locals, so we didn't get involved.

When we walked back to the van, we decided to try and get out of the village but the only way was back to La Grasse, the way we had come. It also meant we would be back on the Aire for the night, which was no big problem, so off we went after a tight 15 point turn in the road. The light had dropped down, so I used the van lights. We try not to do any night driving on our travels. 9.50 pm, back at La Grasse, Patricia did sautéed potatoes for a late supper. Ready for some shut-eye.

Day 27 Saturday 6 August 2011 La Grasse

Overnight and day start position: N 43 05.589 E 02 37.191

Up around 7.50 am, good night's sleep, really hot again. Patricia said her arm was aching during the night. She is still recovering from a serious upper arm break and is still wearing a caste during the night to support the break if she rolls over onto that arm.

There is a market on this morning, just had a walk up to check it out. There were six yellow Post vans taking up most of the space in the square where the market was. Rather quiet market, not a lot going on so decided to give it a miss.

Left La Grasse and onto Villerouge Termenes. Looked for a small church at Talairan, which I had spotted on a photograph in La Grasse Abbey, but didn't find it. We did visit a small church in the centre but it wasn't the one we were looking for. A guy who was painting his shutters advised us that there was another church on the outskirts of the village, had a look around but still couldn't find it, so decided to move on.

Arrived at Villerouge Termenes Aire. The books says it has water and disposal points, but I couldn't find them, looked everywhere. Car owners were parking on this Aire, taking well signed motorhome spaces. (Lack of consideration again.)

Parked up and had dinner, then went to the Chateau, which is in the centre of the village and you don't have to walk up any hills or mountains to access it.

We did decide not to pay 6 Euros each for entry, or 5 Euros with the Passport we had. We are just trying to be sensible with spending, we have many roads to travel, so it's a 'No thanks' on this one. To be truthful, the Chateau didn't look big enough from the outside to hold much of interest on the inside, that was our reasoning. So we had a walk around the village.

3.30 pm, not impressed with the Aire at Villerouge Termenes, so headed onto Felines Termenes. 86 deg F in van.

Met George and Annette from Denmark, who were travelling in an older Dethleffs van, plated as SNEGLEN, which he told me meant 'Snail', probably quite suitable for the van. Lovely couple. They had travelled 1500 km from Denmark.

Water, toilet and electric here, had to change the Pos and Neg over. 7.05 pm, downloaded all the sound and camera files while we had free electric, which is wonderful. I couldn't think of anywhere in the UK where that would happen.

Turkey, spring onion and oyster sauce for tea. Just watching a very demonstrative conversation between a French guy and an Italian guy.

Well the water pump, which I had found was not working in the Alps, has now decided to start working. Not sure why, I checked everything when it went down in the Alps. Ah well, the mysteries of life. So now that we have lots of water and free electric, we decided to use the shower.

While we were having a shower, a lot of noise developed outside. To our surprise a bar had opened at the corner of the Aire, which seemed to have attracted quite a few locals. People sat outside at tables drinking and chatting.

When I had showered and looked out of the window to see what the noise was, the screen was covered with what I thought were midges. It turned out they were flying ants. They were all over the van, but only on one side. They were obviously swarming. So I had fun cleaning them off with fly spray, which did the trick. Only a few got in the van. I kept Patricia inside the van, she would have flipped if she had seen them all.

Bar closed 10.50 pm, all the lights on the Aire went off at the same time.

Day 28 Sunday 7 August Felines Termenes

Overnight and day start position: N 42 59.220 E 02 36.760

Set alarm for 7 am but it didn't go off. I had not set it for Saturday and Sunday, yes it's Sunday today, so no alarm. Up 8 am. Looks grey outside today.

9.50 am, still grey, been raining a little, that will damp down the ants.

Lovely drive through the hills to Padern, a small village with a Chateau on a hill. (That's a change!!) We parked up just off the road into Padern, just on the left. Walked up to the Chateau. It's in a rather ruinous state now. There are signs warning about accessing the site, so we just viewed and kept away. Again, it's going to be dust soon if there is no restoration process taken up.

As we walked back down we spotted a small car boot sale on the banks of the river, so headed towards it. We were looking for some small red dishes to place candles on. Also a pair of sandals. Patricia had noticed that my sandals were falling to bits. I'm not surprised, I've worn them every day.

Didn't get any sandals but got some small red pot plates. The lady wanted 8 Euros for them, I think she thought we had 'mug' written all over us, she was wrong. I got them for 2 Euros.

Also chatted with a guy from England, who had lived down this area for some time. Said he had spent three years looking for the house he is now living in. It intrigues me why someone would want to move from the UK to a small place that is really far away from any large place. In the back of beyond, as they say. He also lives alone.

We had some dinner before moving on, towards Buillhac for the Peyrepertuse Chateau. We stopped on a corner and I had a walk along the road to assess if we were OK continuing. (There are some narrow roads around here.) I walked around the corner and there was an Aire. I had totally missed it in the book, so didn't realise we were near it.

It was busy but luckily we got parked on the Aire. George and Annette in SNEGLEN were just across from us. We also met a couple, Neil and Ruth, from York. Had a chat with them for a while. They advised that the path up to Monsegur Chateau (which we were hoping to visit) was very slippery. They are moving on up the west coast soon.

4.40 pm, put chairs out and had a brew to chill out for a while.

Went for a walk around the village, got a few photos. Quite a few 'doer uppers' in the village. Quite a lot of the roads in the village look to have been recently renovated. Called into the church, got photos.

You can see Peyrepertuse Chateau, at the top of the mountain. Looks like quite a few people on it. There is also a car park up there, so people drive up to it.

8 pm, had bacon, potatoes and vegetables for tea, followed with a sweet and a cup of tea. Sat outside for tea. I had my first half glass of wine. I had not had a drink of alcohol for around 18 months, due to medical reasons which hopefully are now sorted. My specialist in Wigan advised I could have two glasses of wine a day: "Brian, seeing that you have been a good boy, you can have two glasses of wine a day". This is the first day that I actually did fancy a glass of wine. I think because it is a pretty spectacular place, absolutely superb. A wind keeps springing up, it must be some local phenomenon.

Marc, Helena and Lily called. Lily recognised our voices on the telephone. They were strolling along the canal bank back in Wigan, having a nice summer evening walk. Isn't technology marvellous.

Had maps out to do a little preparation for the next part of the journey. Patricia had a read of her Kindle. The set alarm for 7 am, to get up and walk up to the Chateau.

Day 29 Monday 8 August 2011 Duillhac (Peyrepertuse)

Overnight and day start position: N 42 51.703 E 02 33.899

Awake 6.25 am, alarm was set for 7 am, kettle on for a brew. Weather looks grey and overcast, also windy and raining. Maybe a good thing that it will not be quite so hot walking up to the Chateau.

8.10 am, still raining a little and windy, nearly ready for setting off.

2.25 pm, having walked all the way up to the Chateau and had a lovely day walking around at the top. Quite a walk up in the wind and rain, lots of cars taking the easy way and heading to the car park at the top. We stopped off for a break at a large clearing about half way up. There was some work going on cutting the grass and fencing off. It looked like some event was going to take place, but there was no sign up for it anywhere.

I was really low on energy at the top and had to refuel, was OK when I had topped up. We then met a French guy called Alaine, who was working on the car park. He was very sociable and we had a chat with him. He had worked in England for a while so spoke quite a bit of English.

There is an admission fee at the top, 7.50 Euros each with the Passport we had bought at Termes. Don't be fooled that you are there when you have paid the fee, there is still quite a rough walk around the back of the mountain to access the Chateau. OK if you take your time, as we did.

We wandered around the site and enjoyed the scenery, fantastic views. Patricia got chatting with a lady who was waiting for her family, as she had been around previously, so was saving her energy. I viewed the stairs that led right up to the uppermost part of the Chateau and decided that it looked a little dodgy, especially for Patricia, who is still having to protect her arm from bangs or falls. So Patricia stayed and chatted and I walked up for some photos. Best decision, it was quite slippery, but there was a rope alongside the step for walking down, which helped on the way back.

The lady who was chatting with Patricia had lived down here for 23 years, her husband had done a barn conversion. They lived at Carcassonne for a while, but had to move away because of the heat. I ask the question. Did they not check out the local climate before they moved there?

Some unusual people doing unusual things right at the top. Walking around as if in a meditative state of mind and pacing the floor out in numbers of steps. They obviously know something I don't know. Had something to eat before making our way back down. The sun had come out and it was all downhill, lovely.

One thing from viewing the other visitors is how ill-prepared some people are for visiting these places. Flip-flops, T shirts, children in scanty clothes etc. The weather can change quite dramatically on high hills (or mountains), as we found at Terme. It rained on the way down, although not enough to be threatening.

Also everyone seems to be in a hurry, hurry up (panting for breath), hurry down, done that, now let's get on to the next one. Can't see what sense there is in that, although I do admit that a lot of tourists do not have the time that we have. Maybe that is the difference between tourists and travellers! Enough said.

Back to the van, 3.45 pm, been out seven hours. Around an hour to come down, quite hot, a lot longer than that to go up, we were walking against the wind and rain and stopping to admire the view as we got higher, lovely.

Good to get the boots and socks off and wiggle our toes. Tricia had a doze for a while, I wrote the following little ode:

These are the days we have dreamed of. Through all of the winters, summers and years.
All home life, the laughter and tears. Joys of our children and their children too.
Sadness about loved ones, whose time it was due. Family we love deeply, living their lives.
So good to hear from home. Life still goes on there, far, far away.
Seems even further sometimes. The days will roll by and we will return.
And when the winter draws in. We can sit and review, the things that we did.
The people, the places a traveller sees. Yes these are the days we have dreamed of.

7 pm, Patricia has just done sautéed potatoes, vegetables and curry, with a glass of wine. It just hit the mark and we felt we had earned it, having walked up and down, while the tourists went up in cars. Followed that with peaches and cream.

Patricia measure steps with her pedometer. She has done 19,000 roughly. I have done a little more 'Cos I went up tert top'. Lovely sunny night but a strong wind again keeps picking up. It must be a part of the regional weather pattern, which we found can change quite quickly.

French vans parked on each side of us, I can just about lean out and touch them. Don't leave a gap, or someone will be in it!

9.05 pm, both stiff and tired now and ready for an early night.

Day 30 Tuesday 9 August 2011 Duillhac (Peyrepertuse)

Overnight and day start position: N 42 51.703 E 02 33.899

Tricia up 7 am, I got up 8.30 am, feeling rather stiff and aching, not too bad really, so we are going to have a reading and sitting day today. Slept well.

10.25 am, done nothing so far except have breakfast. I have browsed through some information about the village, probably have a walk around later.

Went for a walk around the village and spotted Alaine, who we met yesterday. He was sitting just across from his house, he told us. Had a long chat again. Very nice and sociable guy, who because of the work that he does (working for the local village) probably gets ignored by a lot of people. He says there is not a lot of work locally, which I can believe. He only works six months of the year. He also cuts wood for the local fires in winter. He does it by hand, no machines, he says.

Got his address on my recorder, so hope to write to him. He does not have email. Quite windy again. There was a market on also, where we bought a kilo of peaches and a kilo of nectarines, 4 Euros. We were looking for a small shop we had been told was in the village, we found it eventually and popped in for a Baguette and a meringue. Back to van around 2.25 pm. Pick up a text from Pauline. Then put phone on charge.

4 pm, sun shining and still windy. The wind seems to coincide with clouds going over the sun. It just whips up and spirals the dust across the Aire. Tricia just chopping up a melon we had bought a few days ago, to pop into the fridge. Also washed a few whites, now hung outside drying. Had a chat with Pauline, they have pulled out of going for the Burstner Delphin they were looking at. Also talked about my pension arrangements (can't forget that). Going to have a sit and read for a while in the sun.

9.25 pm, Just had cheese, ham and peppers omelette for tea, followed by meringue, jam and cream. Another French van has squeezed in again at the side of us. A bar has opened just across the Aire in one of the streets locally, quite noisy too. Lovely moon shining across the valley. Just going dark and we are having a game of cards.

10.15 pm, we have some noisy neighbours tonight in a van at the side of us.

Day 31 Wednesday 10 August Duillhac (Peyrepertuse)

Overnight and day start position: N 42 51.703 E 02 33.899

Alarm on 7 am, sun shining, sky absolutely clear and blue. The wind is still rustling the trees. A French van at the side of us has a cat tethered on a lead, sat on the wall in front of us. Poor beast being dragged around wherever they go, not fair on the cat I feel. Not fair on dogs either, which are also carried around in vans. Sorry, but that's my opinion.

We have just been discussing French motorhomers. They don't seem to be very sociable. All the conversations we have had with French people have been with people not involved with motorhoming. All we ever seem to get is a cursory 'Bonjour', when we speak to them. Are we wrong? It doesn't seem so, at the moment.

But to be fair, the English vans we have seen (very few down here) have also been a little bit insular. Does motorhoming make you solitary? These are my philosophical musings.

D123, D19 to Maury, then D117 to St Paul de Fenouillet, where we popped into Carrefour Supermarket. I intended to fill up with diesel but when I got to the pumps, the booth had closed for dinner and the self-service ones were difficult to access, so I gave it a miss.

Headed on down the D117 to Caudies de Fenouilledes, then to Lapradelle Puilaurens, where we parked up on the Aire with two other vans. Had dinner. Just watched an inconsiderate car driver park right over the top of the grey water drain.

We went for a walk around the village. Called into the church, which seemed in a pretty sorry state, unloved and neglected. Probably the most neglected of any churches we have been in. There was loud music blasting over the village from a restaurant in the centre, it looks like a party of some kind. I wonder what the neighbours think, it was clear all over the village.

When we got back, a bus pulled into the Aire. We thought it was for taking people up to the Chateau. It said 'Chateau' on the front. But the driver didn't want to spend any time communicating with us (does he work for bus companies in Wigan, I wonder?), so we didn't get anywhere with him. A lady from the French van at the side of us, kept saying "Choo, Choo, Choo", which gave us the impression that it might have been for taking people to the tourist train that comes through on the railway, which is right at the side of the Aire.

Nice piece of melon from the fridge when we returned. Patricia 'shooed' an overfriendly dog away from getting into the van. He won't leave us alone! 84 deg F in the van at the moment. I don't know why the dog wants to get in, it is cooler outside with a little shade. Biscuit and brew are on the agenda.

Decide we will drive the van up to the Chateau and look at the situation, come back and maybe go up early in the morning.

4.45 pm, just been up to the Chateau. There is good parking up there, about 150 yards from the entrance gate. So we will get up there first thing in the morning, before the usual tourist mad rush. Also it will be cooler; it opens at 9 am.

On the way back down we spotted a car which was stuck on a little pull-off place. The chippings had accumulated at the side of the road and created a small hump. The car, a BMW rear wheel drive, had 'bottomed out' on this hump, it wasn't going forward or backwards. Even with the people shoving, there were two families, two cars (only one stuck), all helpless. I pulled the van in further down the road, got out my spade (used for toilet disposal digging and extracting yourself from being stuck). Walked back up and directed operations, to dig out the chippings from under the car. Which we did eventually. Got the car off. Good job done, then on our way.

We had had a problem getting the van off the Aire to go up to the Chateau. The friendly dog was lying under the van and didn't want to move. Unfortunately I had to get one of our walking sticks and prod and probe him to move, but he was very reluctant. I eventually could grab his collar and drag him out. He does not behave like any dog I have ever known. I wonder if he is ill, his tongue is hanging out all the time, so we did try to give him some water but he would not drink. I thought he would have devoured it, but no.

I put the thermometer on the wing mirror in the shade, it was 100 deg F. I thought I would have a walk to see what the party was about, then the music stopped, it's over it seems.

Had a small problem with my recorder, but it's OK now.

Won't be cooking for tea, it's too warm. Our little dog friend has just made another attempt to get in the van, he still won't drink. I've just spent a little time mapping out the Aires for going over to the west coast, Biarritz and then north. Cheese salad for Patricia and salmon salad for me, for tea.

9 pm, sun gone down and now cooling a little. There are a few vans on the Aire with us. One van just pulled in, filled with water and left. You wonder where they are heading for at that time of night.

10.10 pm, just had a game of cards. I had four 'fives' in my cards, six times during the game, which seems to be quite unusual. Off to bed, I'm reading 'Slaying The Badger', about Gregg Le Mond and Bernard Hinault riding the Tour de France - only of interest to cycling fans I think.

Day 32 Thursday 11 August 2011 Lapradelle Puilaurens

Overnight and day start position: N 42 48.590 E 02 18.514

Alarm on for 6 am, quick brew and then a drive up to the Chateau. Parked up and had some breakfast there. Sun coming up behind the Chateau. Not a soul around, lovely and peaceful, also cool. It was 40 deg F in the van this morning.

Our decision to get in early was a good one. There was only one guy in front of us. We had seen him walking down. He just beat us to the top, no-one else around. We covered most of the Chateau before the (in this instance, loud and babbling) tourists came up to spoil the ambience of the place. I often wonder why they visit these absolutely beautiful, peaceful places and then proceed to behave as if they are in a fun fair. Maybe it's something they have to do, to tick off a list, done that, now where is the next one.

I suppose in our way, we are doing exactly the same thing, but we do travel a little slower and try to respect the ambience of the places, where in some instances an awful lot of suffering has taken place.

When we came back down, I was sat on a wall people-watching, as you do. There were people coming up, absolutely gasping and sweating, it seems in a total rush. No time to 'smell the roses'.

A couple came up with all the running gear on but walking with the sticks etc. I think it's called 'Nordic Walking', it's not for me. They were dripping in sweat and gasping for breath. Oh what fun they must be having. Can't particularly see any sense in it at all.

11.45 am, we parked in a little pull-off place at the side of the river and road, which we had spotted yesterday. Had a brew, then on our way. Called back at the Aire to top up with water and then away.

D117, Pont d'Alies, Saint Martin Lys, arrived at Quilan, where we were looking for a place to purchase a gas connector for the French gas bottle I had bought. Called in at Carrefour and Mr Bricolage. Noticed on a Chemist's shop temperature display that it was 37 deg C.

The helpful guy we spoke to in Mr Bricolage pointed us to a small shop in Quilan. So we searched that out and found the shop. We actually spoke to two English guys as we were extracting ourselves from a small square in the centre that was not designed for driving a motorhome around. They saw our English plate and wound their window down to speak to us. They had been living and working over there for five years. They pointed out the shop to us, very helpful. Unfortunately the shop didn't have the connection.

Just as we left the shop, some young guys came running down the street towards some other young guys. Thump, kick, a fair old fight started off in the middle of the street. This obviously attracted a lot of attention. Women screaming and shouting, one lady waded in and was shouting and screaming at one young guy. We crossed the road and walked on, got out of the way, I have no time for idiots.

The sorry thing, on looking at these young lads who were black French youths, was that they dressed just like American black youths, with big baggy logoed t-shirts, backward facing baseball caps, trainers etc. Just copycats, why do they not do their own thing? Sad really.

Headed to Puivert where there is supposed to be an Aire. We popped down to the area, which is near a lake and guess what? It was filled with cars and pretty chaotic. People everywhere flaked out in the sun and every available space taken up with cars. We got out of it pretty quick, we don't need that kind of place. Lots of crisp human skin lying around.

Headed on through Saint Jean d'Aigues Vives to Lavelanet, bought a Propane gas bottle for 27 Euros and the lady there gave me the adaptor for the top of the gas bottle. But when I checked with my system, I still need a new connector to link up. Did a shop and topped up with diesel. Went to Roquefixade to look at the Chateau there. A very quiet little village. Stunning views all across the valley. We had a quick look, but decided we would give the Chateau a miss.

Backtracked and headed through Montferrier on the D9, headed for Montsegur. Arrived at Montsegur, parked in some parking places just down from the Chateau, actually on the main road over the Col de Montsegur, 1000 metres up. A noisy Italian family parked at the side of us. We are not really bothered about walking to the top, but wanted to find the field of martyrs, where the memorial stone is.

Chicken and rice for tea. We are now well stocked up with food.

Walked around 150 yards down the hill to have a look at the entry for the Chateau. A few cars and one motorhome parked down there. A beautiful night, with nearly a full moon shining over the valley. Just going dark when I walked back up. The noisy neighbours were walking down with their dogs, seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I spent some time trying to get the gas bottle into the gas compartment. The configuration of the gas bottle not really helpful for getting the piping connected up. 9.45 pm, ready for wrapping up for the day, quite a busy little day.

Trying to get the mobile topped up, got a signal but lost it. 10.25 pm now.

Day 33 Friday 12 August 2011 Montsegur

Overnight and day start position: N 42 52.436 E 01 49.491

Montsegur dawn, 6.45 am, the telephone dies in the night, so no early alarm. We decided to give Montsegur Chateau a miss for this trip. We need to get a connector for the gas as a main priority, or else we could be in trouble with the fridge and lose all the food if the gas from the English bottle runs out.

It's nice to watch the dawn come up over Montsegur, one of those things to remember. Patricia mentioned that she had been having some weird dreams, that's funny, so have I. Is it something to do with the ambience of the place. It has quite a history of being a focal point of human activity and beliefs.

Went back into Lavelanet, eventually got a gas connector at a Bricolage place. 33 Euros for a piece of pipe with a connector on each end, not a bad deal for the seller. The lady in the shop said they didn't have one but a young fellow took me to look at the connectors they had in and we figured out the correct one.

1.45 pm, got on line at a McDonalds near Foix. Chatted with Nicky for a while. Nicky told us he had picked up food poisoning from somewhere, he has been bad for two weeks, can't seem to get it cleared up. Left Foix and headed for St Girons, D117. Castelnau Durban, stopped at the Aire, 2 Euros for the water and electric for 15 minutes - not quite sure what you can do with the electric in 15 minutes. Then we headed on to St Girons where there is a McDonalds and two France Passion sites. So we will try to get on-line later in the day.

Going through Foix we got into the only traffic jam we have been in on this trip. The market was on, so quite busy, with vehicles heading one way and the other, a bit chaotic to say the least. Did a little boob on the road in Foix, when we left McDonalds and turned right, but this led to the motorway. Luckily there was a little space at the bottom of the road where I could turn round, so got out of it without entering the motorway. I got a few honks on horns but that's par for the course over here, horn-honkers are small-minded people in my opinion.

Now at Castelnau Durban on the Aire, just on the main road. There is a little stream at the other side. Two young girls were paddling in it.

Got the French gas bottle connected. 4.15 pm, went for a walk around the village. Looking for blue for the toilet, a small clothes dryer for the back window and maybe a pair of sandals. 6.35 pm, just back from our walk, not far really just across the road, the village isn't too big. Saw a couple of old 'doer-uppers' down the back streets. There was an amazing carved door on one house, beautifully carved.

There is a monument to the resistance fighters from the second world war, but that is placed out of the way and looks neglected.

Chatted for about 20 minutes with a couple from Ireland, Dermott and Mary from just outside Dublin, who were parked just a short distance behind us. Seemed a very nice couple.

8.10 pm, just had Tricia's Fajitas for tea, very nice and spicy. Just watching a French family on the picnic benches at the side of the small river, obviously not too bothered with the midges. If there is a midge there, it will find Tricia. So we are keeping the fly screen closed. Very peaceful, we can hear the river bubbling at the side of us. The traffic on the road isn't too busy, just an occasional large truck, but it is Friday night, so we are hoping that will quieten down too.

Spoke to Marc about getting on-line tomorrow to have a chat with Lily (our granddaughter), he has just got a quote for having new central heating put in.

10.30 pm, all showered up and clean. Used the gas for heating the water, excellent. Going to have a brew and then off to bed.

Day 34 Saturday 13 August 2011 Castelnau Durban

Overnight and day start position: N 42 59.959 E 01 20.328

Up at 7.45 am, the church bell had been ringing every hour on the hour all through the night. We had chatted with a lady earlier in the tour who had mentioned an Aire with a church ringing all night, I think we found it. We also had the pathetic early morning horn-honkers again, we had them in the Alps. Small-minded pathetic people. I suppose I should forgive them, it's probably the only excitement they have in their lives. Why, why, why? Sometimes you give up on the human race.

Cornflakes, bananas and nectarines for breakfast. A Dethleffs van had squeezed in front of us last night. (Leave a gap and someone will squeeze into it.) No gaps in future, it could be costly if they do some damage. Sorted toilet and grey water out before we left.

Arrived at a big shopping area just outside St Girons. There was a market on, cars parked everywhere, so a little slow getting through. Intermarche, Mr Bricolage and McDonalds here, so hopefully we can get a few items we need. Weather warm, but not too hot at the moment. Quite a busy area, had to drive around a little to find a parking place.

Got WiFi and had chat with Helen, Marc and Lily. Had some dinner while parked up, cheese and pickle sandwiches, with tomato and cucumber. There was a large automobile place just across from us, so decided to pick up some fluids for the van there. Did a check on all van fluids while here also. The temperature is now rising again. Called into Intermarche and Mr Bricolage for a few things.

Still trying to buy some blue for the toilet, but it seems to be a rarity in shops. 3.25 pm, just gone cloudy but still quite hot and humid.

Headed for the France Passion site for tonight, at Montesquieu Avantes. A lovely little site, a bit difficult to find but worth it when we got there. A very neat parking place, with water, electric and a barbecue set up for our use, if we wanted to use it. The farm has cows, llamas, chickens, goats, donkeys and miniature ponies.

Yolanda, the lady at the farm, met us and invited us in to demonstrate her goods. She has a large room for doing presentations to schools who are on farm visits. There is an enormous table in the centre with lots of chairs all around. Low beams on the ceiling. Refrigerator for the food in the corner. Her husband, Maurice, came to sit with us but didn't speak much (in French or English), Yolanda was the business woman. They have five children. Only two were here, the older ones had gone away for the weekend in their campervan. The two who were with us were a little girl, who I unfortunately didn't get the name of, and a little boy, Maximilian. The little girl spoke some English she had learned at school.

Yolanda let us try her yoghurt, cheese, jam and what looked like a Fromage Frais, very nice. She took us into her storage room, where the place was filled with jams and cheeses, there was an overpowering musty smell from the mould on the cheeses. Patricia bought some yoghurt, jam and Fromage Frais. I got a block of goat's cheese, 3 Euros, it smells really musty. I'm looking forward to trying it out. Eight Euros in all for everything. We gave her 10 Euros (a Euro each for the children).

The youngest of the children was Maximilian, a lovely little boy who popped back to our van on any occasion he could. He liked our bananas.

10.05 pm, had pork chops for tea, lovely. Also had crackers with the jam and cheese we had bought from Yolanda. Also tried the yoghurt, which is a little more savoury then the shop bought. Tried the TV, to see if we could get a signal, but no go.

Maximilian came around for a banana earlier. He likes to talk, although we can't understand what he is saying most of the time, he's very likeable though. Then the dogs decided they would visit us. We also have a loud donkey, braying at the side of us.

We have the hook-up connected and everything on charge and Patricia is fancying toast for breakfast. The silence is deafening, a big change from last night.

Pauline called from down in the Brecon Beacons where they had gone for the weekend. She said Sarah Jane, her daughter, wasn't too good, otherwise they were enjoying the weekend.

Day 35 Sunday 14 August Montesquieu Avantes

Overnight and day start position: N 43 01.733 E 01 12.488

Really peaceful night, heard the donkey this morning, otherwise absolute silence. Up at 8.30 am, weather looks grey and overcast at the moment. Maximilian came up to chat with us, we were just having breakfast. He had a banana. He told us the donkey's name was Tango. I recorded him while he was chomping on the banana.

Yolanda came up with some eggs, we bought six from her for 1 Euro. We are going to have some eggs for breakfast, with toast. They are definitely free range, we have been watching the chickens scratching around the fields.

The miniature ponies are really small, there are two of them in the field just at the side of us. We have just had a photograph taken with Yolanda and Tango, the donkey who makes all the noise, really loud when he set off braying.

They are going out for the day to see friends, so they dragged Maximilian off to get changed.

Set up the ironing board for Patricia to do some ironing for the first time on the trip. I got some photos of the miniature ponies, in fact the smallest seems to be a young one, with its mother. The larger of the two was absolutely covered in flies all over its back, they looked like a moving blanket. I got our fly spray to give them a dose but I couldn't get near enough over the fence, so I had to leave them. The temperature is slowly rising, rather cool this morning but moving up now.

We eventually got on the road. Left Montesquieu Avantes and headed for the D618. St Girons, Audresene, St Jean de Castillonaise. 4.15 pm, stopped off for some dinner at a place called Augirein just off the D618. A little cooler today, so better for travelling. Climbed over the Col de Porte de Aspe, and Col de Mente.

On the descent of the Porte de Aspe, we came across the large memorial to Fabio Casartelli, an Italian cyclist, a member of Lance Armstrong's team in the Tour de France. Fabio was killed on the descent a few years back. We met a mother and son, who had travelled from Australia to see the Tour and were calling at the memorial as part of their tour.

From the Col de Mente, we hit the D44 to the D125 heading to Bagnere du Luchon. From there a very good road all the way to Bagnere du Luchon.

The Aire at Bagnere was packed with the usual French space takers, who are 'all right, Jack, and bugger you'. I couldn't be bothered with them, all spread out taking up all the space on the Aire, where you could easily get more vans in if they were more considerate.

I saw a sign mentioning the Intermarche, which I thought said it was available for parking for 24 hours per day. We headed for that, just about 2 kilometres away. When we arrived, I realised it was actually advertising a 24-hour car wash. But what the hell, the car park was empty, the store was closed, we tucked into a secluded corner out of sight of the road. There was also a 24-hour open air laundry just across the car park from us, excellent. Three washing machines and a large tumble dryer. So it looks like a laundry day tomorrow. Not a bad celebration for my 65th birthday.

This is probably the most scenic supermarket we have ever stopped at, the mountains all around are beautiful. Obviously the most scenic laundry also. A French lady, who looked like an old time school mistress, hair tied back, glasses, flat shoes, dark green dress, was washing her clothes. She didn't speak any English but told us what to do, so very helpful.

Got tea on, pasta, then put some washing in. Four Euros for a wash and one Euro for ten minutes on the dryer.

8.55 pm, just had tuna, pasta and salad. Washing drying. We are intrigued by one or two things we can see going on around the car park. Some people eyeing up some supermarket vans that are parked up, getting down and looking underneath them. Then a family rolled up and are walking around also looking at the vans. Are they a local tourist attraction? They then went and stood in the supermarket doorway, not exactly what you would do on a Sunday night in England on a Tesco car park.

The mountains are beautiful, some snow in places, skiing Piste snaking down the mountain, with cable cars in places.

9.40 pm, I have just been philosophising about the life of a traveller. It's interesting what situations you get into and opportunities you have to take up when they arise, eg the laundry. Sunday night doing the washing, on the eve of my 65th birthday. Well, tomorrow I'm officially a pensioner and done with work. I wouldn't have it any other way. I've waited for this for years.

Day 36 Monday 15 August 2011 Moustajon (Bagnere Du Luchon)

Overnight and day start position: N 42 48.517 E 00 35.965

Very quiet and peaceful night, up 7 am, alarm was set. Our intentions were to launder the bedding etc today. We hadn't noticed on the Intermarche notice board that they are closed today, public holiday. But no problem, the laundry is OK and there is loads of parking.

Opened all my birthday cards from everyone. Pauline sent a text to say she is sat in the sun having breakfast. Got bedding washed and dried and put back on. Had a chat with Marc and Nicky, nothing from Carl yet. Nicky gave me the news that Wigan Athletic had drawn 1-1 with Norwich on Saturday.

I was giving some thought to the rest of the route into the Pyrenees and decided I would drive north to give some of the other high Cols a miss, we can visit again some other time. As I have said, this is learner for us, so I am a little wary of the amount of brake pads that have been worn off on the descents of the mountains. I may be ultra-cautious, but better safe than sorry.

12.50 pm, had dinner. I had some of Yolanda's cheese with tomato.

Headed into Bagnere du Luchon, parked up on a road that was a blue zone, which is free for weekends and public holidays and it's a holiday today. It was just across from the hospital buildings in the centre and near the Spa buildings. It was just a short walk into the centre from there. Got a call from Charlie (our granddaughter), she has a sore throat at the moment. Nice of her to call and remember my birthday.

Bagnere du Luchon is not the most exciting place, it reminded me of Llandudno in North Wales. It was a place that I wanted to visit while we were down in the Pyrenees, but the name sounded more exotic than the place actually is. It may be nicer in winter when it has snow all around. The mountains are lovely though.

Hit the D125 heading north, then the D825 to Montrejau, where there was an Aire with five places. Unfortunately there was a fair on when we got there and all the space for the Aire was taken up, so no chance of staying there. So we decided to have a look at a France Passion at Lombres. We had a merry time touring the back lanes trying to find the place before giving up.

While we were searching for the place we heard a clicking noise from the wheels, so I had to spend some time trying to find what it was. It seemed to be connected with the rotation of the wheels. I found out it was stone stuck in the tyre, so I sorted it eventually. But I had pulled into a small recycling centre to get under the van and have a look for the problem. It was difficult to turn around from there, so I was forced to drive down a narrow lane to find a turning place. I was pulling just into the start of a drive to get some space, when the house owner and his lady came out to see what I was doing. They realised I had a problem, so indicated for me to drive around the side of the house, around the back and out the other driveway. I accepted but it was a tight fit, to say the least. I collected some of his bushes on my way, also some scratches on the van windows.

Patricia suggested we try the Aire again, so we did, but no go again. The fair was still there, there was also a fair on the river, all obviously part of the national holiday. So we decided to head straight for Lannemezan and check out the Aire there, which according to the Aires book had 30 places. It was only a 20-minute drive at the most along the D817. Found the Aire quite easily. A lady who had been shopping saw us and directed us into the right little street to the Aire. 'A Gauche, a gauche', left and we were there. A few vans on the Aire but lots of space, so no problem parking.

7.15 pm, Tricia just preparing tea. Chicken and chips with veg for my 65th birthday tea. We opened a bottle of wine from Domaine Petit Chaumont, where we stayed down south. The wine was OK but for some reason it did not taste as nice as it did when we sampled it. Salesman's techniques probably, did they let us taste a better wine? I couldn't possibly say!

It went down anyway, with some cheese and biscuits for me and a sweet for Tricia. Patricia pulled out a small cake with a candle on it also, lovely surprise. I am starting all over again. We will sample that tomorrow.

Weather warm and overcast.

Day 37 Tuesday 16 August 2011 Lannemezan

Overnight and day start position: N 43 07.706 E 00 22.873

Up 7.30 am, very misty all around, we are at 574 metres altitude that is probably why. Slept well after meal and wine.

Had a quite lazy start to the day, Tricia reading, I had a session on the guitar: 'The Water is Wide', an Ed Gerhardt arrangement. Mist clearing.

12 noon, strolled into Lannemezan, sun quite hot. Popped into the Tourist Information Centre and picked up some brochures. Not a lot around the centre to be truthful. Shops closed for dinner. A couple of squares with bandstands. The grass is being cut on the Aire, so we had to move the van across the Aire to let them access to cut. We think it's market day tomorrow, so that is why the grass is being cut!

We put the chairs and table out for dinner and had a lazy afternoon. I spent some time getting the words for 'Looking for the heart of Saturday night', a Tom Waites song, actually sung by Gwyneth Herbert on my MP3 player. Chords easy in key of C. Also planned the route over to the west coast. I also set up the TV and got some French channels on it. Can't say we were needing it, it was the first time we have had pictures in France.

Tricia just had a doze, we are now going to have a brew, what a nice lazy afternoon.

9.30 pm, Patricia has just done a lovely omelette for tea, followed by my birthday cake and a cup of tea. The sky is beautiful and clear, the sun just setting in front of us over the trees. Not a cloud anywhere.

Day 38 Wednesday 17 August Lannemezan

Overnight and day start position: N 43 07.706 E 00 22.873

Up 7.15 am, peaceful night, really quiet. There is a skateboarding area just down from the Aire, where there were several young ones last night, but they went around 7 pm and the rest of the night was totally peaceful. They weren't really noisy anyway, apart from the landing of the skateboard sound and an occasional revving and riding past of a motorbike. No sign of the market at the moment. Sky clear with just a few wispy clouds.

Had breakfast and then decided to look for the market. It was just up the hill from where we were. Bought melon, tomatoes and nectarines. There were a lot of clothes being sold, also shoes etc.

Left Lannemezan on the D938 going across to Bagnere de Bigorre. We climbed up a hill on the D938 and when we got to the top there was a small church and a parking place, just nice for us to pull into. Not sure of the name of the place, but behind it is a stunning view of the Pyrenees. A little bit misty across the mountains, so not totally clear.

I had a chat with a couple who had cycled from Italy. They looked as if they needed a rest, it was again really hot. They had come over the Simplon Pass over the Alps. They are heading for the Col du Porte de Aspe, which we came over. I must say that they didn't look too happy, detected some tension between them, maybe I was wrong. They both did look knackered, to put it bluntly.

Onto the D937 and D935. At Bagnere de Biggorre we took a wrong turn, we were more interested in trying to find some blue for the toilet. We eventually realised our mistake after quite a few miles and heading for the Col de Aspin at St Marie de Campane.

Lourdes was misty and raining like last time we came through there. The rain wasn't as heavy though. There are a few places coining it in from the motorhomes. Did a shop at Le Clerc, 84 Euros, and finally got some blue for 20 Euros.

Finally reached the France Passion site we were heading for at the other side of Lourdes, at St Pe de Bigorre. This again was difficult to find, the instructions are rubbish. I'm getting cheesed off with them really, they are sparse to say the least. How about SatNav co-ordinates?

We had a keen farmer trying to sell us stuff immediately we arrived. I soon put the top hat on that. We were more ready for eating and drinking than buying food, it will have to wait until tomorrow. There is another van at the side of us, an old French transit Welcome 15 model, with a family of four in it, dog too.

The parking place is quite OK, on a lawn with fruit trees scattered around. There is a pear tree directly in front of us.

Had pizza for tea, a packet of crisps and a Tiramisu, also had a couple of beers, my first for a 18 months or more. I bought them today, I fancied a beer for a change. We then watched the farmer, Jean Francois, trying to get a pig onto a trailer. He got a rope around its neck but the pig wasn't too pleased and Jean Francois' wife also came out to take part in the chaos. They eventually got it onto a small trailer towed by a four-wheeled motorbike.

Tricia wasn't too good after tea, so we decided to get off to bed early. Just then the farmer knocked again. I had to tell him to leave it until tomorrow. He had just been with the family from the other van, probably showing them his produce, but they didn't come back holding anything, so maybe a no sale. He thought he would try us. I don't mind looking at products on a France Passion site, that is part of the fun, but he is a little pushy and to be truthful not the best at customer relations. Maybe his wife should do that, but we only saw her chasing a pig.

The weather was misty, drizzly rain and grey, a really depressing atmosphere pervaded the area. We had driven in along lanes that were eight feet deep in corn. This made the area rather claustrophobic also.

Day 39 Thursday 18 August 2011 Saint Pe de Bigorre

Overnight and day start position: N 43 06.213 E 00 10.700

A really quiet night, the farmer woke us up around 7.20 am, he was talking very loud (do French men talk quietly) to another guy. Obviously the other guy was deaf! It was grey and raining. We are at a height of 345 metres, with low cloud obliterating everything. Again a depressing kind of atmosphere. Tricia up, but still not feeling too good. We will have to see how the day goes.

9.40 am, still grey and rainy. I'm just watching the black pigs strutting around in the mud. They are in a field just over a low wall in front of us. There is a dirty grey towel hung on a washing line to my left.

We were discussing the depressing atmosphere over breakfast. The farm is in a valley surrounded by mountains, so is probably shrouded in mist quite often, and the main crop is corn that grows about six to eight feet high, which all adds to the closed-in atmosphere. It is all along the lane we came in by last night. It also seems to create the far end of the pig enclosure, all across from left to right. But to be truthful, when the sun shines it must be beautiful.

The farmer came around again, so with Patricia feeling a little low key, I popped along with him to view his wares. I followed him around the back to a small workshop, where he proudly displayed what he did. I was gobsmacked to say the least. The workshop had cut up raw ham and chicken piled up in trays with flies all over the place. No attempt made to cover them up at all. On one side I could see the usual tins that are displayed in shops and supermarkets, with meats and pates in them. The usual craft-designed sort with beige printed labels. He was showing me his canning system. To be truthful, I was absolutely disgusted at the conditions that he was working in. There was no hygiene at all, the place was filthy.

He cut a piece of ham off for me to sample and I pretended to bite a little off. I explained that we ate very little pork or chicken

I was trying to be detached from it, but it was difficult. I diplomatically bought 10 eggs for 2.50 Euros, which I thought he couldn't contaminate too much. So next time I see any tinned meat in the usual craft-labelled tins in France, I will think of this place and avoid buying any.

The farmer said he sells his tins from the farm. I can't believe anyone would buy from him once they had seen his workshop, which he said was also his shop. I'm afraid he would be closed down in England for hygiene reasons.

The only redeeming thing about going to see his workshop alone was that Patricia wasn't with me. She would have been totally disgusted. At least I had industrial experience, which numbed me to it all a little. Another experience, I suppose that's what we are travelling for.

I asked could we fill two 5-litre water bottles before we left, so he again took me into a small building to a tap, which gave out a lovely sludgy brown water. Oh my god! Let's be diplomatic again. I thanked him and carried them off.

Left the site, driving down the lane closed in with corn. Headed into Lourdes. We got onto the Aire quite easily. 10 Euros for 24 hours. It is at the rear of a large coach park. You drive in past the coaches and park at the rear. There is a lot of space available. All hard standing. All the coaches seem to Italian plated. Also most of the motorhomes seemed to be Italian. There is one English van on the Aire with us, an old Hymer. It's not a long walk from the Grotto area. We are parked on the side of the river. It has now stopped raining.

When we came in we passed the Grotto area, which was packed with people and pretty chaotic. The shops were still selling all the same cheap tat that they were selling 15 years ago when we last came through.

First job was to dump the water that I had just taken on from the farm. Flush out and sterilise the bottles. We do boil any water before drinking as tea or coffee but any water for teeth cleaning or drinking neat is purely bottled water. We never drink straight from our tanks.

Walked down into the Grotto area. This hasn't changed much since we were last here. The one noticeable change was they have now got rid of the loud pre-recorded 'SHUSH' that they used to use to quieten the crowds, which was totally silly anyway. There are now lots of young people walking around with signs asking for silence etc. Why do people have to be told?

The usual procession of disabled people with faith were being rolled across the main square. I'm sorry but the carriages that they are conveyed in, blue trucks with blue hoods folded down and blankets over the people, does nothing for the dignity of the invalids. I would think that there is now a possibility of updating these and even supplying electric vehicles for those able to convey themselves. But if that was done, it would cost money. Who would pay? Lourdes itself? The Vatican? Maybe I'm dreaming or totally deluded.

We actually got into the church this time. The last time we came we were too late, they closed the door on us. We sat in a little side chapel of St John the Baptist, on the left of the church. One small bench facing a statue of St John the Baptist. A service was taking place, so we were able to see everything going on. We also visited the crypt area, where there are certain items, remnants, relating to Bernadette stored there. There is a small chapel there too. Patricia went into this, where the remnants were. She said there was a smell that wasn't too pleasant. But all I could smell was burning candles.

We sat outside for a while watching the people buying candles of all sizes, some quite monster size. Also the lines of people filling their bottles with the water from the taps on the low wall below the church. Patricia filled a two-litre bottle to take home for friends and family. We purchased some small bottles to fill from this. I don't know if it will be of any benefit to anyone but it didn't cost much and people can make up their own minds about it. I suppose faith is the answer to it all.

Called into the underground cathedral, which is worth a visit to marvel at the size of it all, excavated from the earth. There is a series of glass sculptures around the walls, quite marvellous. I tried to get photographs of them,but the flash kept reflecting off them. I couldn't turn it off for some reason.

We then walked down to a set of gates which lead into the complex. The purpose of this was to check out a long standing little point from our previous visit to Lourdes. Myself and Bob, my brother-in-law, had taken a photograph at this gate. We were both in shorts at the time, even though it had been raining all day. When we developed the photograph (that's what you did in those days, before digital etc), we were both there in our shorts but at the side of us was a sign saying 'No shorts'. So this became a long standing joke for us, when recalling our visit to Lourdes. So, I thought I would look for the sign. But unfortunately it has now gone. It rained so much that day, I recall, we had a picnic in an underground car park.

We had been all around the complex and spent some time just people-watching, people of every shape, size and nation. We felt that it was now time to head back to the van. On the way back we passed numerous hotels that were in the process of changeover of clients. Masses of people leaving with cases all over the walkway, loading onto coaches. Masses of people arriving also.

6.05 pm, back at the van. The weather has been rainy, but quite humid and warm. We just realised we hadn't been drinking much, so we were ready for a brew. Just sat watching an Italian family whizzing up and down the Aire on electric bikes. Quite a few vans are leaving, they must have just paid for the six hours' parking. Still lots of coaches parked up.

I've been trying to send a text and had problems. I have now ascertained that my Orange mobile SIM has been cut off. Not sure why at the moment. I think I should have sent some identity information off within 30 days. It is a different system to the UK, where anyone can buy a SIM and no need for any identification. I will learn more later. I will need to find an Orange shop to see if I can get it fired up again.

I had been across to a motorhome with a French family to read my information. They had a young girl with them who spoke some English, so between us all we finally decided what had happened.

Pasta, tuna and salad for tea, with a beer for me. We watched other motorhomes spending lots of time moving from one place to another looking for their perfect spot. It's only a parking lot with no views to mention, so I'm wondering why bother.

I was reading a report of a visit to Lourdes that was written around 25 years after Bernadette started it all. The comments about the shopkeepers are probably still relevant, nothing has changed much. It is all about taking as much off the visitors as possible. Lourdes is a weird place, a display of so much faith mixed with so much cheap trash. An industry built around exploiting people's undoubted faith.

Time 9.55 pm, the Aire is now floodlit. Well we have just watched a van pull into the Aire and there is space all around, not full at all. What did they do? They spent time squeezing in, between ourselves and the van next to us. I can now lean out and touch their van. There must be some logic to it, but I'm sorry I can't figure it out. Barry and Margaret Williamson, intrepid travellers, have written about the same phenomenon. I can only think that it gives them a feeling of security to be in close proximity to another van. We have christened them 'Motor Home Sardines' or MHS for short.

Now 11 pm. We have been watching a van across from us, where the owner has been trying to set up a satellite dish on a stand, since 8 pm. I think it will be too late to catch whatever he wants to watch. A little bit further along, another van owner had moved his van away from another which was at his side, he wasn't having an MHS alongside. He was out urinating against the fence soon after. Maybe he doesn't have a toilet, maybe it's full, maybe he is just inconsiderate of other people, maybe, maybe, maybe, the questions of life.

The van which has just pulled in at the side of us, an MHS, has now decided that it's a good time of night to get lively, loud voices, banging about, great when you're just ready for getting off to bed.

Day 40 Friday 19 August 2011 Lourdes

Overnight and day start position: N 43 05.217 E 00 03.016

7.30 am, a peaceful night's sleep eventually after the neighbours settled down, which took a while.

I went to fill up some bottles with water and there was a van parked right on top of the tap. Buckets out filled with washing on the drain area, washing slung over the tap. I give up at some people's consideration for others. I had to move all their washing before I could get some water. What planet do they come from?

Left Lourdes just before noon heading for St Jean-Pied-de-Port. D937 to St Pe de Biggorre, D35 to Arudy, D920 to Oloron-Ste-Marie. We found a small Aire at Ogeu les Bains. Did the toilet and grey water and had some dinner. Watched a French van owner empty his toilet in the fresh water drain. It is a nice quiet village, the Aire is at the side of the sports ground.

Checked the Aire at Oloron-Ste-Marie, no go. D919 Aramits, D918 Mauleon Licharre, D918 Larcevau Arros Cibits, D933 St Jean-Pied-de-Port, then to Lasse for a France Passion site we had decided on. Sandra and Sebastien had a small restaurant with a small parking place just at the side of it. Another van on site when we arrived.

Coming through St Jean-Pied-de-Port, it was immediately recognizable from our last visit 15 years ago, nothing seemed to have changed much.

Tricia had been shattered all day, it had been very warm again. I felt a bit shattered also, maybe we are not drinking enough for the temperature. Glugged a couple of glasses of water and had a cup of tea, then felt better.

6.55 pm, washed a few items for drying while it was warm. Also decided to wash our hair outside while it was warm. Tricia doing chicken and rice for tea. I'm having a beer with it. Another van has arrived and people also seem to be calling at the restaurant. It seems to be quite busy.

Day 41 Saturday 20 August 2011 Lasse (St Jean-Pied-de-Port , SJPP for short)

Overnight and day start position: N 43 09.288 W 01 15.729

A lovely peaceful and quiet night, we were shattered going to bed. Mist over the hills again this morning, it seems to be the norm at morning, then burns off as the day heats up. Church bell ringing occasionally. Tricia up 7 am, me up 8.15 am. Tricia still a bit low key this morning. My stomach a little queasy. Is it the water we wonder? Toilet quite a few times.

This seems to be a cider producing place but I haven't noticed any apples, maybe they are somewhere else. Left without calling in to speak to the owners, we were not really in the mood for anything, both low key. We felt a little guilty about it, but there was no-one around and I couldn't be bothered searching them out.

10.30 am, heading into SJPP, spotted a Lidl so called in for some kitchen rolls, which Patricia uses quite a lot. Came out with 54 Euros worth of stuff. It was absolutely baking when we came out, so Patricia suggested parking over at the side of the car park for a drink and a snack. When we pulled over, we were at the side of the river that flows through SJPP. A small lawn ran down to the river, all very nice indeed. I checked the temperature on the wings of the van and it went off scale at 115 F. A bit warmish to say the least. I put the awning out to create some shade and we had dinner, with the intention of doing absolutely nothing until it cooled down.

There are a few people laid out on the grass whiling away the heat of the day. One guy in front of us, with rucksack and boots, was dozing, with his washing hung on a line just in front of us. Two men and a lady drinking beer and chatting. The rucksack guy seems to keep commenting to the threesome. I think he is German, they are Spanish, don't know if they are amused or annoyed by him.

2.20 pm, two other vans now parked up with us. 3.55 pm, we have been sat here all afternoon, reading and people-watching. The threesome have been drinking all afternoon, the rucksack guy dozing and commenting. He has just now gone down and sat in the river, scooping water over himself, good way to cool.

7.15 pm, still 80 deg F inside the van. Now 4 vans on the car park. We now have a German family in an over-lander type of vehicle, very high wheelbase and ground clearance. It looks like it's a DIY job, or a specialist vehicle. It wouldn't look out of place in a war zone. The rucksack guy is now keeping them amused. They are also giving him food, I think because he is German and they have a rapport. I'm not sure whether he is just tuned in with the drink, or has got some kind of mental problem.

A hiker just turned up with his dog. He sat down near the river and the rucksack guy started babbling to him also. He has been babbling to himself all day. He hasn't spoken to us once, maybe we look too intimidating, that's fine with me.

Lidl closes at 7.30 pm, so we are just watching for what happens. The car park isn't gated, so we are hoping we can stay here for the night.

Had pork steak, potatoes and veg for tea. Texted Nicky earlier for Wigan Athletics score 0-0.

9.50 pm, still on Lidl car park. Now six vans on the car park. We filled our yellow plastic tub with water and washed our feet, it was lovely and cooling in the evening air. We are now sat out listening to the babbling of the river. The German family are sat out, also a French couple on the other side of us, who have been here all day too. They are staying the night, they said.

It is a lovely cool night, the kind of night that you never want to end. It's amazing really, parked in a Lidl car park and it has been a really lovely lazy, relaxing day. Just what we needed I think. Thank you Lidl!

We had a large green grasshopper on the fly screen. I got some photographs of it, before chasing it away. Patricia is not a lover of insects. She didn't want him as a nocturnal visitor while she was asleep. It was a beauty.

10.30 pm, still very warm and humid. Off to bed. A very nice day after a pretty low key start. Set alarm for 6.30 am.

Day 42 Sunday 21 August St Jean-Pied-de-Port

Overnight and day start position: N 43 09.921 W 01 14.553

Up with alarm at 6.30 am. Patricia hadn't slept too well with Lidl's compressors coming on and off all night for the refrigerators. Probably more noticeable at night, when all is quiet. I slept OK. Just saw a rat in the water at the other side of the river, swimming along and then scrambling into a hole in the bank.

The water drain sump cover came off and emptied the contents into a food drawer, so we spent a little time sorting that out. We found that it just clips on, so will come off if anything from the drawer catches it. It really should have been screw-on. Looks like a bad design to me. Now taped over with Gaffer Tape. Good old Gaffer.

9.35 am, left van on car park and headed into SJPP. Timed it right, all the shops were just opening and not many people around. We got in before the rush, excellent.

Walked up the main street leading up to the Citadel. We called into the church, no service on. Is it too early yet? There was a service on when we were returning. It is a nice little stopping-off place for the pilgrims of the old times. Now just touristy, but worth a call and a walk around. There is quite a lot of history attached to SJPP. It is all exactly as I remember it from 15 years ago, still lots of fish in the river.

12.05 pm, just getting dinner. The heat is building again. Left SJPP, heading for the coast. We stopped in Espelette. I had read that there was a music session on for tonight, it was absolutely baking and not much parking, so we swiftly carried on. Put the air conditioning on, great. Headed on down to the coast.

On through St Jean-de-Luz (SJDL), along the coast road which I remembered quite well. Looked at the Aire in SJDL, it looked a nightmare. Squeezed in between the railway and the main road. Why would anyone in their right mind stay there?

Called into Henday to visit an old stamping ground. We had been there previously. One day especially, to pick up the finish of a Tour de France stage from Pamplona to Henday, was a memorable day. I met Chris Boardman and Sean Kelly that day. If you're not into cycling, then these two will mean nothing to you. If you are into cycling, then you will know them.

When we got into Henday, it was a while before I could orient myself at all. The place seemed different from what I remembered. Unusual really, because with everywhere we had been before, when we revisited, my memory was clear on them. We eventually oriented ourselves, had a drive around. It is basically a sun, sand and sea resort. We drove along the straight road, which had been the Tour finishing straight, past the large beach on our left with thousands of people baking themselves. I recalled a Jimmy Buffet song 'Living on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, all of those tourists covered with oil.' I hear you say: Who is Jimmy Buffet? If you don't know, seek him out.

We also wanted to call in at a camp we had stayed on at Bidart, south of Biarritz. Just to see how things had changed over the years. So I put the SatNav on and it wound us on a convoluted path along the back roads to Camping Le Ruisseau des Pyrenees. We parked up just across from the camp. We had parked there previously 15 years ago when we got locked out one night.

We had a walk around the camp, which had changed a little. No tents from what we could see. We had used Eurocamp, when we stayed there. There were no big holiday company tents at all. It all seemed to be caravans now. We found where we used to camp - there was a tent there, which seemed to be for the workers. We had a little session of remembering little situations that had occurred. We also thought about Pauline and Bob, who had shared the memories with us. The following will not mean anything to anyone but ourselves and Pauline and Bob.

Pauline's laughing toilet, the tree for reading upside down, the kicked over the bank frog, the dark damp corner, song for a Belgian child. All good memories.

5.45 pm, having a bite to eat before deciding where we are going to spend the night. The coast area is manic, so not much opportunity for parking. Bidart was a total no no. We decided to try Col de Ibardin, where we had been 15 years ago. There was an Aire in the book but no services, so we thought let's try it.

The Satellite Navigation we have is super, a Garmin system, bought as a present from our sons. The voice on it is done by 'Sally Traffic' from BBC radio, the lady who does all the traffic announcements during the day. So, it got christened 'Satellite Sal' or 'Sat Sal' for short. As usual you start talking to these inanimate objects as though they are actually people. I'm afraid Sat Sal led us a merry dance on the road to Ibardin. Down a little road that had a low, low bridge. Oh what fun. Again, the reaction of people driving cars is wonderfully understanding (said tongue in cheek). Patricia needed to get out and direct traffic while we reversed out of the situation. But no major problem for us, reversed and got on our way.

Arrived at Col de Ibardin Aire, and quite surprised to see lots of space available. Got parked up and brew on, sorted for the day. 9.55 pm, just had evening meal, pizza and chips. A couple of beers and a glass of wine, really going for it tonight!

We had a little mishap with a candle, splashing wax down the material which lines a part of the van. A bottle of water fell over, hit the candle and splashed hot wax down the material. So Patricia is not pleased and we have now banned candles of any sort. It will take some time to get it off or clean it.

The Aire filled up later, with a lot of French vans coming in, fun and games with some getting parked up. All entertainment for the evening. Good view right down the coast, SJDL all lit up at night.

Day 43 Monday 22 August 2011 Col de Ibardin

Overnight and day start position: N 43 18.583 W 01 41.133

7.35 am, the sky is cloudy, maybe a little cooler today! Last night we got info from home about the price of cigarettes, as we don't have a clue, not being smokers. I contacted our Marc, who had a word with his friend John McCann, and they advised not to bother. I'm not in favour of encouraging anyone to smoke but we were asked to look at prices by some friends and family. Particularly here, because it is a tax free area of some sort, right on the border of France and Spain. Lots of people come here for booze and fags, so there must be some saving. Lots of vans and cars make their way up here.

Toast and eggs for breakfast. The eggs were from our unhygienic farmer at St Pe de Bigorre.

10.45 am, quite a few vans have gone. We had a French van park at the side of us, a Chausson. The owners parked up and went off to the shops. They had left a window open a little because there was a dog left in the van. After they had left, the dog decided he/she wanted to follow them. It kept getting its head stuck in the gap. I had a concern that it was going to strangle itself if it fell with its head stuck but there was nothing I could do. The dog was yelping and barking. So we had fun for a while. They eventually came back. I had to tell them about it. It wasn't really fair on the dog. Not sure if they were bothered at all.

We went for a walk around the shops, nothing exciting for us non-smokers, also not drinking much. Cigarettes around 35 to 42 Euros for 200 named cigarettes. Considerably cheaper than UK I think. But we didn't bother buying any, which I was glad about, clear conscience now. No-one from home chasing us, so easy decision for me to make.

Booze is also cheaper but we are not big drinkers, so we again didn't bother. We just got a couple of bottles to sample, also water for drinking.

I had an interesting discussion with two French guys about why they all put their chocks under the wheels. We haven't used them anywhere at the moment. One was explaining that his fridge did not work if it wasn't level. Admittedly, he was in a rather old van. The other guy agreed with me, that new vans, or nearly new shouldn't have a problem. But it got a little interaction with French motorhomers who, I think I have said previously, are rather insular. It was also good that I could make myself understood.

5 pm, we went for another walk around the shops. We bought a small music box for our Lily, she likes music boxes. A nice present for when we get back. I bought some Jambon Sangliere (wild boar ham) to try. Rather sweet for me, so gave it to the guy in the older van I had been talking with earlier about chocking. He is very sociable, in fact it seems he talks to anyone. We had seen him in SJPP. I also bought what I thought was tinned stuffed vine leaves but when I opened it I had octopus, rather nice too. 85 cents for a tin.

Someone kicked up a generator, probably the noisiest I have heard for some time, hope it is not running long. The Aire is quite busy, vans coming and going, all French it seems. We had a discussion about how many UK plated vans we had seen, we reckoned about six in six weeks.

I also spent some time looking at our schedule for the next few weeks. Our Marc had mentioned that they may be flying out to Bordeaux to spend some time with us while we are on the west coast. All tentative at the moment, so I was looking at the possibilities.

Had a lazy night, a game of cards, then off to bed.

Day 44 Tuesday 23 August 2011 Col de Ibardin

Overnight and day start position: N 43 18.583 W 01 41.133

Up at 7 am, brew and plan for the day. Patricia reading her Kindle.

With having no services, it is sensible to extend the time you can use your own toilet facility. We use a bottle and a bucket, used it in the Alps also. Say no more.

We had a discussion on the small stuff. There is a saying 'Don't sweat the small stuff'. But Patricia does. Every little ping or scratch on the van, she is worried about. I keep calling it Patina, as you would find on furniture that is used. It is life, you pick up scratches and bruises as you go along.

My concerns are: Is the van running OK? Have we got water? Can we empty the toilet? Where can we sleep tonight? Have we got food? If those are OK, then there is no major problem.

Left Col de Ibardin, went down to SJDL to dump the toilet and pick up water. The Aire as I have mentioned is a nightmare, but useful for what we wanted. There was an English van parked there with side windows open. No-one in it. Very trusting of them I thought. Particularly as there was a notice up about someone having their van nicked. I had a little altercation with a French van owner, who tried to drive out at the side of me, as I was waiting to enter the road myself. There was not enough space for him to come through. I'm not sure what was going through his mind. Nothing much, obviously.

We had found the French toilet blue was rubbish, too thin and not doing its job. I had read that some van owners use biological washing liquid. So we popped into a Lidl and bought some to try. Tried WiFi from McDonalds next door but no good, we couldn't get in to park, so tried from where we were on the Lidl car park.

Headed on through Biarritz and Bayonne. The road we came along on the coast was very industrial, lots of graffiti also. Not the area where the tourists throng through, but again we saw something different. We called in at a small Boulangerie in a little square to pick up some bread. But all shops closed, it's dinner time again, no go at dinner. Parked opposite the SNCF building, the national railway company. Alongside the railway and the river, heading out to the coast road to Boucau.

Stopped at Tarnos where we had some dinner at N 43 33.138 W 01 29.532, just down a little road lined with summer houses and hotels, leading to a beach area. But unfortunately at the beach all parking had height bars. 2.55 pm, just leaving for further north up the coast.

7.10 pm, we are at Labenne Ocean, recommended by a French couple we were speaking to at the Aire at SJDL. It looks OK too, quite sandy, so I was wary of where I parked - not into getting stuck, too much hassle.

We had a long discussion about little disagreements we seem to be having. Patricia getting upset about some issues. The problem, we feel, is all about being in close proximity 24 hours per day. We have never had that, all our married life. We have been working, raising children etc. Now there are just two of us. It was a clear-the air-session. Hope it has done the trick

The Aire is 7 Euros per night, collected first thing in the morning. I can see a mass exodus before the collection takes place from the French van owners who know the place.

Went for a walk later. A few bars along the road, nice balmy evening. People eating out in the bars. It all had an end of the season atmosphere about it. It's not long before they all close up for winter. There are camps all along the road outside the Aire.

Sat out for a while, had a nibble and a drink, also a game of cards. A nice quiet peaceful end to a rather unusual day.

Day 45 Wednesday 24 August Labenne Ocean

Overnight and day start position: N 43 35.764 W 01 27.330

Up 8.30 am, quite late for us. There has been no collection of fees at the moment. I've seen several vans leaving as I suggested, quite a few Euros saved. Small-minded people. Or maybe thinking good of my fellow man, they were in a hurry to get off, to wherever they were going.

A young Gendarme was dropped off, he collects the cash it seems. He had RSVP on his chest, but he was dropped off by a police van. A young smart-looking guy. 7 Euros paid up.

Washed and sterilised all fruit and vegetables, loaded water. The site is really dusty with it being dry, my legs were black. Had to wash them before getting back into the van.

Called Pauline, since we had an inkling that something was wrong, she hadn't been in touch as regularly as in the last few weeks. A conspiracy had been going on. She had told all the family not to let on to us. So we didn't know. She had broken her ankle. She was afraid we would be looking at going back home. But there isn't much we could do if we did. So really, being sensible, we will carry on. She is in good hands.

Put the water on to heat up. Washed a few clothes and the screen of the van, need a car really. The weather is really grey and drizzly this morning. 1 pm, running late today, going to have a snack, then be on our way.

Headed on up the D652 west coast to Mimizan Plage. Lots of pine forests, small towns and campsites all along.

6.20 pm, Mimizan Plage Aire, parked up, hooked up. There is a barrier system with Credit Card payment on exit. 12 Euros for 24 hours. Very busy with lots of French vans doing an 'I'm alright Jack' and taking two places up with their awning and tables. Some vans have pulled on and gone because they can't get a place, due to the selfishness of the minority. There are three UK-plated vans doing the same, unfortunately. I suppose, 'when in Rome ...'

Not far to go for the police, they run the site and they have a helicopter parked just behind us. It went off on a flight earlier.

Went for a stroll along the beautiful beach here at Mimizan Plage. Just up the hill from the Aire, across a small car park and you are on the beach. The sand is immaculately clean and the water was 21 degrees C, the same temperature as the air apparently.

10.05 pm, just had pork chops, potatoes and vegetables for tea. Had a beer while downloading all the photos and sound files we have accumulated. Played cards for a while, had a whiskey and a read later. First whiskey for a long time.

Day 46 Thursday 25 August 2011 Mimizan Plage

Overnight and day start position: N 44 12.295 W 001 17.814

Lovely peaceful night. Alarm was on for 7 am.

Went for a walk after breakfast. Straight up the avenue in front of us and over the bridge across the river inlet. This is the avenue the SatNav should have brought us down but for some reason it directed us up to the beaches and then back down, instead of going in a straight line. Ah, the wonders of SatNavs.

There was a large market on, just down the road from the Aire, quite busy selling all kinds of things that people feel they can't do without. Also some food. Patricia was looking for some sleeveless tops to wear, but no luck. Got a 'Daily Mail' for 2.50 Euros, also two beach mats for 5 Euros. The mats were to place outside the van door, to try and minimise dust and dirt getting into the van when we are at a dusty site like last night.

I had seen photographs and videos of Mimizan Plage when I was working and wanted to call in and see it. As I have said previously, the beach is really immaculate. It must be cleaned regularly.

3 pm, sat outside for dinner and had a read, lovely lazy afternoon. Not as hot as it has been lately. Quite busy, with lots of people walking up to the beach. Backed up files to mini-hard drive that I keep for back up. Planning to picnic on the beach later, if the weather is OK. This was abandoned because the wind was a little too strong, you get rather gritty food, we know from experience.

The French lady in the Bavaria van parked alongside us asked if we were moving on and, if we were, could she have the spot we are in. No problem, if we go. She spoke very good English and seemed a very nice lady. She was with her husband and the ubiquitous dog, that seems to be a necessity for lots of van owners. They are from Normandy, down here for their holidays.

Had a walk along the beach later, down the wooden steps leading off the dunes and car park. Two young girls asked us to take a photograph with the sun setting behind them. I hope I did a good job for them. It looked OK. We watched them strolling along the beach, posing for each other and taking more photographs, seemingly not a care in the world. We were thinking, what was in store in life for them. But for that time, they seemed to be perfectly happy. We actually saw them leaving the beach later, then one of them came dashing back with a small bottle, to collect a sample of sand.

We sat at the top of the steps, watched the sun disappear and got some photographs. There were not many people on the beach. One family we watched were playing with some toy that shot up into the air and lit up. It looked like something which had puzzled me at Labenne Ocean, some green lights up in a tree. I was thinking they were glow worms, but this looked like a better explanation for the lights. One little hour, that I think possibly encapsulates Mimizan – the sun setting, quiet beach, waves rolling in as they have for millions of years, a few people enjoying the end of the day with simple pleasures. I always feel that a beach is best at night, excellent.

Got back and had a snack, beer and coffee liqueur while playing cards in the late evening light. Wrapped up around 11 pm. An excellent lazy day all round, with a lovely peaceful and balmy evening to finish it off. What a lovely place this world is.

Day 47 Friday 26 August 2011 Mimizan Plage

Overnight and day start position: N 44 12.295 W 01 17.814

Up 8 am, it is actually raining. It rained in the night, I had to get up and put the lids down on the van (lids are the windows in the roof). Just enjoying my cuppa and deciding what we will do today.

9.35 am, just had breakfast. Still raining. Quite a few vans are leaving. Being Friday, I suspect that a lot are getting back home because their holidays are over. Getting back to work. Oh I'm glad that I have finished work.

Just been thinking, I bought the 'Daily Mail' yesterday (only English paper in the shop). It's the first English news I have read or seen for seven weeks. The world still goes on! The only news of any significance to me was that young Amy Winehouse, a fabulous singer and songwriter, had died. Probably not unexpected by a lot of people. Really sad that such a talent could not find peace with herself.

11.45 am, vans still streaming off. Looks like it's the end of the season, the Aire is quite empty now. Rain has blown over and blue skies are back with us. I got a text from Pauline asking if we were interested in going to a Glenn Campbell concert on our return. £74 per ticket. I think Glenn is now past his best, he must be 70 years old now. I respect what he has done as a singer and musician, but not for me now I'm afraid, at that price.

Our French lady next door, informed us that all the children have to be back at school for the first week in September. Then that is why the season is coming to an end.

I'm not sure what our itinerary is at the moment. I am waiting for our Marc to let me know if they are flying out. We can then arrange to meet up and spend some time with them.

Went for a stroll into the centre of Mimizan. Reasonably busy. Used the cash point to get 200 Euros. This is probably the centre for night life, bars and restaurants etc. Very breezy today, big white breakers at sea.

Curry and chips for tea, very simple, very tasty.

Walked up to the top overlooking the beach, to try and get some stormy sunset photographs. It has been very windy all night. It was difficult to walk up the hill against the wind, it was so strong. The sand was whipping up into your face. I got a few mouthfuls as we walked up. Crunchy teeth for the night. Got some photographs, but not exactly what I wanted. But it all has its own beauty when stormy.

It changes faces, does Mimizan Plage. I think we have seen most in the few days we have been here. Beautiful peaceful sun and sunset, wind, rain. We only need snow!

9.40 pm, spoke to our Marc and now have a final decision, they are not coming out. So we can now get on with our travels, without any detour.

I've been watching vans coming and leaving again, lots seem to have difficulty with the pay machine. We have a little German guy parked opposite to us. He has been across to help people several times. I have been out also.

Had a beer and a whiskey, had a game of cards, then off to bed. That's the last of any aspirations to be a card sharp. Patricia beat me eight games to two. She won eight games on the bounce, I had a late rally winning two games.

Day 48 Saturday 27 August 2011

Overnight and day start position: N 44 12.295 W 01 17.814

Alarm on for 7 am, it's been a blustery night, but it looks like another beautiful day. A good night's sleep, except for being woken up in the middle of the night by some loudmouthed French late night reveller.

We now have two cats prowling around the Aire.

9.35 am, everything now sorted for leaving. We only have the water, grey water and toilet to sort, then we are off. Goodbye Mimizan Plage. (I like Mimizan Plage, a nice lazy place)

Our French neighbours are Anique and Silvain Binon, we have just had a chat with them before leaving. They are going to move into our space, it gives them a little more space for their dog etc.

Called in at Mcdonalds in Mimizan Bourg to check out WiFi. Got on Skype and had a chat with Helena and Lily. Also Pauline. Cleared email box out. We then set off across the landscape that dominates this area. Mile after mile of pine trees, scrub, small villages. Quite a remote type of area. There are quite a few camps for holidaymakers around, also lots of cycle paths. But oh so boring to drive through. The roads are quite rough, which is unusual in France.

Stopped for some dinner in a small place called Sore. We parked just off the road, alongside the village school, which was closed being Saturday.

Called at Casteljaloux at a Leclerc supermarket, where I got some advice from Gerard, a young man working on the mobile telephone section. He advised that I should have registered my mobile number within 30 days of buying it, or it automatically gets cancelled. Not like the UK. Got some groceries also.

Looked at Sainte Livrade sur Lot, but carried on. We are now at Saint Sylvestre-sur-Lot. We are not actually on the Aire, but parked with other vans nearer to the river, in a small square. I have a muzzy head with all the noise of the roads out from Mimizan Plage, the worst roads I have seen in France.

Spoke to Nicky: Latics have beaten QPR 2-0 today. Wigan Rugby won the RL Challenge cup, our Marc was there at Wembley to see it.

10.30 pm, been for a walk onto the banks of the River Lot. Chatted with a lady called Terry originally from London, now living in Spain. They were getting some grief from a French guy, who wasn't too pleased about their table and chairs being out. I would probably agree with him, but the biggest culprits in that game are the French themselves. It was a lovely quiet, balmy evening, someone must have rattled his cage.

Apparently Terry and family lived on a boat in the Med for 20 years, then bought a place in Spain to renovate. They did three houses in London, which may have been quite lucrative for them. Seemed to be rather jittery and not relaxed, she kept striking unusual stances while standing talking to us. A nice lady, she and her husband are with their daughter and grandchildren, making their way back to England.

Patricia's stomach not too good tonight, so I made her a whiskey, hot water and sugar. That always seem to settle an upset stomach.

Day 49 Sunday 28 August St Sylvestre-sur-Lot

Overnight and day start position: N 44 23.739 W 00 48.316

Lovely peaceful night. Had a lie in this morning, no alarm. I looked out of the window on rising and couldn't see across the river, it was covered in a drifting mist. We were going to have some bacon, but Patricia forgot to take it out of the freezer.

It was very misty on the river earlier, but it is now sunny and a beautiful Sunday morning.

There is an Intermarche three minutes' walk from the Aire. I popped in for some tissues, wipes and sugar.

Terry from last night told us that she had been here a few times and people usually parked down here near the river, only moving up to the actual Aire if it was market day. Then they all move back the day after.

11.10 am, we have been discussing whether to stay here another day or crack on to St Cirq-Lapopie. We decided to crack on and once on the way, see if we can find a spot to have a picnic dinner.

Stopped at Villeseque, just off the D656, heading to Cahors. We followed the D661 to Tournon de Argenais, then onto the D656 to here. The village is quite nice, similar to the Cotswolds type of buildings, same colour of stone. We parked in front of the Mairie, there was a lovely house opposite with a big veranda at the front. It looked a beautiful place, got photos.

4.30 pm, just landed at St Cirq-Lapopie. A little problem getting around Cahors to the D653, the police had a diversion on for a fair or something, but we eventually got on the right road through Vers, Saint Gery, Bouzies, then Tour de Faure, then St Cirq.

We parked in a field out in the sun, we can see St Cirq across the fields and up the hill, it looks super.

We think that the last time we were here, we actually went up the hill to the car parks and then walked into the village from there. This time we are down the hill, so will have to walk up tomorrow. Plan again is to get in before the rush. Brew time now.

5.55 pm, moved over nearer the services but had to wait for cars moving so we could get a spot. A little patience was rewarded with a super spot, with the side door facing across the grass to the River Lot, about 30 yards away. All the cars have gone as usual. And it is lovely and quiet now, just a few vans with us.

We have loaded our evening meal into a basket and we are going to have it on a picnic bench on the River Lot.

9.25 pm, just returned from our little evening picnic on the banks of the river. Just the two of us. Cheese, crackers, wine, beer and a sweet. I fed the ducks and fishes on the river. Lots of small fish that came out from the shelter of the bank when I dropped a small piece of cracker in the water, some quite big ones too. Also got some timed photos. What a lovely way to let the night pass and the darkness slowly encompass all, the only light being from a road lamp on the other side of the river.

Had a few games of cards to finish the evening off, I won 6-4. It was lovely to hear a local owl, hooting across the river. Lovely evening over.

Day 50 Monday 29 August 2011 St Cirq-Lapopie

Overnight and day start position: N 44 28.238 E 01 40.860

Set alarm for 6.30 am, kettle on. A quiet and peaceful night. We are going to take benefit of one of the key advantages of having a motorhome, you can get into places before all the crowds arrive. That's the plan for today. I feel we are into a traveller mode now, day 50. We were discussing what was the longest trip we had done previously? Seventeen days, when we went up to the Hebrides, fitting it in with holidays and work etc.

So get an early breakfast, then walk along the footpath from the Aire, onto the river bank, then up to St Cirq-Lapopie. Popped out to get some photographs of the mist on the river, before it disappears. It seems to be the coolest morning for some time, 62 F in the van.

Sat having dinner in St Cirq - nuts, bars and water from the small rucksack we had packed. Just out of the centre, sat on someone's house steps, we seem to have escaped everyone again. It's not hard, we find that people seem to be like sheep at times, all following the same route. The village is teeming with people now, we did well getting in before the rush. A simple walk down the hill away from the centre and we are alone. Well nearly alone, a young lady with hiking boots on has just passed us.

The village now seems to be more developed, it is 15 years since we last came here. There are several restaurants, craft shops, bits and pieces shops etc. Quite a few of the cottages seem to have been done-up for Gites also. I suppose that is what is required for the local economy, so we shouldn't complain. The village is still well worth a visit, beautiful. I wonder what it would be like in winter, with the snow covering the cottages, pretty stunning I would imagine. The main background noise, which is not really intrusive, is from the road across the river bringing you into St Cirq. There are quite a few lorries on it, so there must be some work going on locally.

We have a pastel sketch done in St Cirq, that Pauline bought for us. She bought it from a gallery near Silverdale in England, called The Wolfhouse Gallery, done by artist Janice McGloine (www.janicemcgloine.com). We have been looking for the building that she did, but I think we have to agree that she used artistic licence and utilised sketches from St Cirq, as we can't find an actual building that it replicates. But there are many building that it looks similar to.

There is a car park at the top of St Cirq for anyone who wants to drive up, also to cater for the coaches that come in. We have found the path on which we walked down to the river last time we were here. We will use that for walking back.

We have been looking for a shop that sells chocolate-coated walnuts, Patricia remembers them from last time we were here. She wants some for Christmas presents. We have found a nice shop that we are going to walk back up to.

2.35 pm, just back from St Cirq. Bought some items for Christmas presents from a lovely shop in the village. A young lady called Emilie at the Musee du Vin (www.lemuseeduvin.com) helped us choose what we wanted, she was very helpful and spoke excellent English. The heat of the day has built up quite a bit now. All the shades are up on the van to keep the sun out. We are now going to have a welcome lunch. Ham, cheese, pickles, cornichons and a cup of coffee.

Felt a bit shattered when we got back, not sure why, so had a lie down for while, my eyes were also very sore. Patricia doing chicken with mashed potatoes for tea, something easily digestible, not sure if it's something that I have eaten causing the low energy. The Aire is now quiet again, all the cars that park during the day have now gone. The sun is still shining on the river.

Walked down to the banks of the river after tea, with some mashed potato. Dropped little balls into the water and the fish had a feeding frenzy, I think they liked it. Sat in the van, we can see hundreds of fish on the opposite bank, jumping out of the water. I'm puzzled as to what they are doing. Catching flies? When I went down to the river previously, I couldn't see any of them, they must sense when you are there and keep under water. They all disappeared, then when I came back, there they were again. They must be thinking, we'll keep out of Brian Rudd's way.

I watched in amazement as a French guy from the van near us was getting some water at the services, just across from us. If you want a fill of drinking water, there is a charge of 2 Euros. He was washing his water bottle out and filling it, at the tap where he had just been washing his toilet out. I went over to him, to try and explain that he should not have been using that tap, it wasn't very hygienic. I suppose, in many ways, ignorance is bliss, but I would have thought that for anyone of some intelligence level it wasn't the thing to be doing. It all fell on deaf ears.

I keep telling myself that I should not go around trying to save the world, but that falls on deaf ears also. I can only keep trying. I hope he doesn't contract some evil bug.

Played cards later, five games each. We got a text from our Marc saying they may be coming out to see us after all, if they can arrange flights etc. We will have to see how that goes. A van pulled in around 11 pm.

Day 51 Tuesday 30 August 2011 St Cirq-Lapopie

Overnight and day start position: N 44 28.238 E 01 40.860

Up 8 am, didn't put the alarm on this morning. Slept well. It looks like another clear morning, the mist is on the river again. We will be packing up and getting off to Rocamadour. My stomach is still a little heavy, I will have to see how the day goes. Got some photographs of our picnic bench and table before we left, some nice memories were made there.

10.10 am, sunny now and feeling a lot better. Left St Cirq and hit the D42, D802, D807 to Gramat, a nice little Aire, nice and clean and tidy. Topped up with water. There was also free electric available, which as usual the French vans had monopolised. But no problems , we were just passing through. Called in at the Carrefour supermarket for a few things, 25 Euros. Then D840. A beautiful drive across country to Rocamadour, going through some lovely small villages.

Got on Aire at Rocamadour. Parked under some trees adjacent to the lift, that goes down to the lower village. Quite a few vans on the Aire, no services here, that's why we filled with water before arriving.

5.35 pm, just had a good wash and clean-up. Our Marc called, maybe coming out to La Rochelle, second week in September. If they come out, we will need to change our itinerary a little and head over that way.

Had some food, pizza and chips. I had put frying chips into the basket when we had shopped, instead of oven chips. Tricia just sprayed them with a little olive oil, popped them in the oven and they were fine. Had a walk out to the viewpoint where we first saw Rocamadour, possibly some 15 years ago. Sat out for a while having a read. I'm on 'Robinson Crusoe' at the moment, refreshing my memory from reading it maybe 55 years or more ago.

While sat out we discussed the lady in the next van, who was dressed quite provocatively in black and red. Not that I've anything against that.

Off to bed early. Quite a lot of people sat out tonight. It's funny, but on quite a lot of sites no-one has sat out in the evening air. Probably all television watchers, it is holiday season, so quite a lot of people on holiday I presume.

Day 52 Wednesday 31 August 2011 Rocamadour

Overnight and day start position: N 44 48.041 E01 36.931

Alarm on for 6.30 am. I was dreaming a lot last night. I don't usually recall dreams, but last night I did. Anyway parts of it. I was laid on a big white sheet. Then I was driving a car fast into deep snow at the bottom of a street where I used to live. Walking into a house and letting flood waters in, water running through the ceiling, the paper on the walls hadn't been finished.

What about that for a dream, all over the place? Is it something about Rocamadour? Am I losing the plot? Unanswerable questions.

Got off into Rocamadour early as planned. Walked down the zig-zag path with the Stations of the Cross. Got to the bottom, walked through a small entrance door and we were then straight into the chapel of the Black Virgin and the church. The last time we had been there we walked up all the steps from the lower village. Ah well, you live and learn.

Only one guy in the chapel, seemed to be meditating. Only us in the church. Excellent, very quiet and no-one else around, the plan had worked fine again. It gives you time to sit, think and contemplate your surroundings, instead of the mad rush that holidaymakers tend to be in. I feel we are in traveller mode.

Only cleaners and staff around outside and in some of the smaller chapels outside. It seemed to me they had cleaned the Black Virgin chapel up since we had been there last time, approximately 15 years ago. Last time it was all black from candle soot and full of old spiders' webs.

Lots of house martins flying in and out of their nests, all built on the facade of the castle building. We headed down the steps to the lower village and had a walk around. It was so early that most of the shops were just about opening, street sweepers out, Gendarmes planning the traffic control, etc. We bought a selection of Saucisson from a young French guy, who is going over to the UK for a Christmas Market later in the year. Interestingly he gave me a taste of some Jambon Sanglier, which is wild boar ham. It tasted a lot better and not as sweet as some I had bought at Col de Ibardin, earlier in our tour. Also visited the toilets - what a disgrace for a place like Rocamadour, subterranean, smelly and dark.

We then walked back up all the steps to the chapel area. The crowds soon built up later. We sat outside on a bench, had some sandwiches and watched the storm troopers stamp their way around the chapel and church. Lots of noise etc. We got talking to a couple from Medway in Kent, England, who were sat alongside of us. They were touring around in a caravan. A nice little interlude. We then walked back up the Stations of the Cross zig-zag path.

2.10 pm, back at the van and we have an English 'Sundance' motorhome parked behind us. One of the few English vans we have seen all the tour. Washed and sterilised some fruit and vegetables, then had a lazy afternoon. I popped some music on and played along with the guitar, Tricia had a read and a doze. Text to Pauline.

6.30 pm, Tricia cooking some pasta, mushrooms, passata and garlic, all smelling very nice.

Went for a walk after we had eaten and washed up. Watching a great thunder and lightning storm on the horizon, what a show. I thought it might have brought rain our way, but it didn't. Also got some photographs of Rocamadour at night, from the higher level where we are parked. I also got some photographs of the deserted restaurant near to us. All the tables laid out in the open and under the trees, waiting for the non-existent customers. It's the end of the season. I feel there is always something rather sad and lonely about a resort, when it comes to the end of a season. I was trying to get this onto the photographs. The dinner-jazz type of music that was playing in the background was also quite haunting and added an extra surreal feel to it all. Not a person around at all. A lovely warm, balmy evening. Quite memorable.

One or two people sat out when we got back. I poured a beer, had a whiskey and a packet of crisps. Played a few games of cards. Oh, what high living.

Day 53 Thursday 1 September 2011 Rocamadour

Overnight and day start position: N 44 48.041 E01 36.931

Up 7.30 am. The alarm had gone off, though I hadn't set it for this morning. The Chateau bell struck at 7 am, then chimed for 7.15 am. Oh get up, Brian, there's a message being sent out to you. Slept well until alarm went off. Made a brew. There are acorns falling onto the roof of the van from the small oak trees we are parked under. It is usually a golden rule not to park under trees, it can be a nightmare if it rains. Constant drumming of large drops from the trees. But this time we were under for some shade.

We are off to La Roque Gageac today. Called in at Gramat at the Lidl there. Called in to the Aire at Martel to have some dinner. There is a Chemin de Fer Touristique there. A small railway museum, where you can ride steam trains. Quite a nice little old-world ticket office, it was like stepping back in time when I walked in. We didn't use the ride, but quite a lot of people who were using the ride were hogging the Aire parking places.

Got onto the Aire at La Roque Gageac, just in front of a canoe centre. A young couple gave us a ticket for the Aire until 7 pm. I then got an overnight ticket for 7 Euros. Parked up looking across at the cliff dwellings that we had visited 15 years ago. Also spent some time watching some weird cloud formations forming.

We got the chairs out and parked ourselves under the nearest tree to get some shade from the sun. Nice and relaxed for a while until a Belgian van pulling a trailer with a motorbike on it pulled into the Aire. They obviously were going to have problems parking a vehicle of this length. So Patricia, with her manner of wanting solve the world's problems, started to be concerned about them. Suggesting I move our van for them. Then suggesting we should move our chairs so they could sit under the trees. I wouldn't mind if they had communicated with us but there was no contact, not even looking at us, nor a smile. I couldn't see anyone else rushing around to help or be concerned. So it turned into a bit of a niggle with her and she then couldn't settle and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the day. In fact it spoiled the atmosphere. The rule on Aires is first-come first-served, I think. We were only in our paid-for parking bay, not taking up anyone's space.

Had bacon, potatoes and vegetables for tea, then went for a walk around La Roque Gageac. Up the lane at the back, which is now closed off due to falling rocks. No access to the cliff dwellings.

Sat out and had a game of cards for a while, then it started to rain a little. So we moved into the van to finish the game. There was thunder and lightning again in the distance but when I popped out later, while finishing my beer, all the stars were gleaming overhead.

Day 54 Friday 2 September 2011 La Roque Gageac

Overnight and day start position: N 44 49.426 E 01 11.078

Awake 7.30 am, light rain on the roof. Quiet night, but I don't feel that I've slept very well. There is a small market set up near the Aire, we will have a look after breakfast.

Left La Roque and went over to Domme. I set 'Satellite Sal' our GPS system, which tried to lead me into a small car park near Domme. Quite why, I haven't a clue, these thing work mysteriously at times. It is a bit of a convoluted drive to the Aire, but quite OK when you have found it, if a bit tight for parking. It is around 500 metres from the centre of Domme, a walk of 500 metres up the hill.

There is a small train comes down to pick people up, we have just seen it passing the Aire. So who has just arrived - our long vehicle couple from yesterday, who had problems again trying to park up! They eventually parked where the coaches are designated to park, no doubt causing some irate French driver to get onto them. Ah well, they caused me grief yesterday without even knowing it. I trust they are OK.

Had some dinner, then walked up into Domme, again it is hot. So we strolled along slowly, getting under trees when we could. The place hasn't changed at all from what we remember. But I couldn't find a small cave shop that I remembered visiting last time we were in Domme. Had a look from the viewing point at the top of the village, lovely view over the river. We bought some pates for presents at Christmas.

3.20 pm, back at the van. From Domme we went back past La Roque Gageac, Beynac, Siorac. Turned down towards Belves and 'Camping Le Moulin de la Pique', where we had camped many years ago, so we thought we would have a look at what had changed. We found the road for the campsite, which was still there, much more commercialised, extended swimming pool, water slides etc.

We found the plot where we had camped, but some trees had been cut down, particularly one tree which went down in our camping history as the sun shade for Patricia when it got really hot. In fact so hot one day that Patricia had her book upside down, when we looked. We had a good laugh at that.

We also had a memory of a water mill that we had looked at, when we were there previously. The house part upstairs was locked securely, but the rest of the building was open. It was one of those places which would have made a dream home. A large spreading tree in the courtyard. We imagined our tables and chairs set up and family dining outside etc. It really was a beautiful building. But, there was no sign of it this time. We went down the road several times in each direction, but nothing we could single out as being the mill. There was quite a large development, in fact a campsite, being done, which we thought could have devastated the mill. We are coming to the conclusion that it doesn't pay to go back to places with good memories.

Called at Siorac Carrefour supermarket for some Salsa sauce, but they had none. We think the Carrefour used to be an Intermarche, where we used to shop when we were last around here.

Headed on to Monpazier, to the Aire just off the centre of the village. Two French vans there when we arrived.

6.45 pm, Tricia doing spiced chicken stir fry for tea. Ate outside with a glass of wine. 10.30 pm, just got back in van. A lovely quiet night. Quite a subdued atmosphere. We were discussing past holidays in France with family, we got a bit melancholy I think.

Day 55 Saturday 3 September 2011 Monpazier

Overnight and day start position: N 44 41.097 E 00 53.674

8.15 am, just got up, it's good to be awakened with van door slammers!! I just said to Patricia, I think I will put the alarm on for around 5 am, get up and start slamming doors. It's all called consideration for your fellow man. There are lots of people who do not have it.

I had been dreaming again, about digging cobbles up in the street where I used to live, it's occurring again, this past place. We had a little rain in the night, just enough to wake you up. Had breakfast and then went for a walk into Monpazier. Lovely lazy stroll around. Called into church.

When we got back, we were faced with another lovely considerate neighbour. A noisy clapped-out generator bashing away, a sure way to spoil the ambience of a lovely quiet village. Probably one of the people who get Aires shut down. I asked the French guy parked next to us how long it had been going on, he just said that the generator owner was 'Malade', enough said. Anyway, I think my prompting encouraged our near neighbour to go and have a word in French with him. He soon stopped. I have no problems with generators but his was really noisy and, to be fair, the house that we are parked behind would have had a case for complaint about it. We are about 25 yards from their rear door.

Monpazier is a lovely little Bastide village, with a well preserved square in the centre. Again we had been previously, so had good memories, it hadn't changed at all. I bought an English paper 'The Guardian' for a read after dinner. Also some Terrine de Lapin for me and tuna salad for Tricia. We find that there are lots of places that cater for the English, now we are in the Dordogne area. Our Marc called, they may fly into Nantes.

6.30 pm, productive afternoon. Tricia got some washing done. I moved all the carpets and brushed down and tidied up the front of the van. Clothes out drying, had a read of the paper. Next on the agenda is a shower, so that, as Patricia says, 'it will look like someone owns us'. We are not that bad, but you do need to have a good session occasionally of cleaning, van and yourselves. Patricia now feels better having done some cleaning etc. She's still not totally got her head around being footloose and fancy free as travellers.

9 pm, just had pizza and chips for tea, with a beer. The light is dropping quickly, it looks like it may rain tonight. The Aire that we are on is actually attached to the local fire station, they have just had a call out, all systems go. The alarm went off, a siren. Cars racing in from everywhere, all piling into the engines and then they were off. The fire fighters must be on call, living locally and can hear the siren.

I spoke to a lady holding her child, she had come in with one of the guys. I asked where the fire was but she didn't know, they are not told. There is a small radio transmitter at the station, so they probably get all the information that way. A couple of other children had also come in and were prowling around looking for a bit of fun. They knocked on the van, then ran away giggling.

Day 56 Sunday 4 September 2011 Monpazier

Overnight and day start position: N 44 41.097 E 00 53.674

Up 8 am, quite misty, typical September morning. Having a cuppa, Tricia reading Kindle, a dove hooting in the pine tree at the side of us.

There is a bungalow through the hedge in front of us with a large paddling pool on the lawn, quite near neighbours.

11.30 am, sorted out water and toilets, rubbish etc, all ready for moving on. We had a few resin spots on the van, which I was aware of from reading, and I got them off with a little water and Fairy liquid. A British Bessacarr van just pulled on, parked up. I said hello but they dashed off without any eye contact or hello etc. Ah well. Patricia reckons they looked like 'Hooray Henrys', probably too high and mighty for us ignorant plebs. He had a band around his head, not sure why, because he had no hair on. We meet all sorts don't we. To be truthful, it sounded like there were a few 'Hooray Henrys' around Monpazier yesterday.

Headed through Beaumont du Perigord, Lalinde, Tremolat. We had dinner near a hotel called 'Les Trois Canards', which was closed down and up for sale, but looked like a great building, just on a corner at the top of a hill, with a panoramic viewing area across the road from it. It looks like it has been closed for a while. A couple of vans near us, with English-speakers in them. Had a walk up to the viewing point after dinner. Beautiful views down the river.

At Limeuil had a stop and a walk around, nice place just on the river. It seems the Aire is just across the road from the car park we used. Le Bugue, Les Eyzies, St Leon sur Vizere, where we stopped and had a look at the Aire, which seemed to be quite nice. But we decided to head on to Montignac. There are two Aires there and we used the one alongside the river, about 500 metres from the centre of Montignac.

6.05 pm, parked up and brew on. Pork, potatoes and vegetables for tea, with a couple of glasses of wine. Played cards, then had a read of paper. Patricia beat me 4 - 1.

10.30 pm, just getting into bed, when a loud siren started off wailing all over the town, very loud. It must have been another fire alarm. Two alarms in two nights. Do we have a pyromaniac following us around?

Day 57 Monday 5 September 2011 Montignac

Overnight and day start position: N 45 03.652 E 01 09.526

Alarm on for 7 am. No mist on the River Vizere. It is a little cooler in the mornings now we are heading north and the seasons are changing. Walked into Montignac later and the sun came out to give us a lovely September morning. Lovely when the sun comes out and warms things up, a lot more comfortable than the furnace we had in the south. Stopped to watch a canoe business unload all the canoes for a bunch of American guys. All with their White Hunter hats on and life jackets.

Some lovely buildings on the opposite side of the river, over the bridge from the Aire. Again, a very quiet, end of season atmosphere. Cafes with tables out, but no-one sat at them, maybe a little too early yet and they will fill up over dinner. Called at a Boulangerie to get bread for dinner. We then had a walk around on this side of the river, it was a lot busier, seems to be the main commercial area, banks and post office etc. We posted some long overdue postcards. Got 120 Euros from the bank, also an English paper from a shop that also sold English books. I bought the 'Sunday Times' a day late. We are getting nearer England.

1.30 pm, having some dinner, then off to Oradour sur Glane. The river seems to be a lot cleaner on the surface than it did this morning, lots of bubbles and scum floating along on the surface then. Lots of canoes on the river from local businesses. An Autoquest motorhome just pulled onto the Aire.

D704 nearly all the way to Limoges. Quite good road, rolling up and down. It was probably a main north road before the motorways. Stopped in Nexon at Super U for food and diesel.

5.20 pm arrived at the Oradour Aire, a few English vans on site. A guy in the van at the side of us had a problem with his fridge but he seemed to be enjoying himself trying to fix it. Good Aire, perfect for the historic place that Oradour is.

Had a chat with a couple from Nottingham, Graham and Patricia, who travel in a Bessacarr motorhome.

Our Marc called from home to say they have decided they are not flying out to meet us, difficult getting flights etc. Pauline had considered coming out also but that has now been cancelled. She has a broken ankle, which she was trying to hide from us but we saw things were unusual. We knew there was something wrong, patterns of behaviour like texts and telephone calls had changed. Nicky has to complete a project for his Degree. So, we are now alone until we get home.

Day 58 Tuesday 6 September 2011 Oradour sur Glane

Overnight and day start position: N 45 56.129 E 01 01.531

Up 7.45 am. It was chilly last night as we got down for bed. I actually shivered in bed. Chilly getting up also, 52 deg F, 12 deg C in van. Probably the coldest it has been since setting off in July. It really is showing as September now. I had to clear lots of leaves off the windscreen in Montignac yesterday. Ah well, 115 deg F to 52 deg F is quite a drop, so we have to accept it. Lots of dew on the grass. I've got my fleece on. A beautiful September morning, clear blue sky and the sun is shining, but it is rather cool at the moment.

We now know that none of the family are coming out to meet us, due to home circumstances. We are a little disappointed but we can now make our own way home, without routing for meet-ups etc.

We walked into Oradour through the Memorial Centre. We found this place to be quite moving and difficult to write or think about after we had walked around the site. We arrived 10.30 am and left at 6 pm. We had taken a snack along of crisps, cheese, biscuits and bananas. We sat on the top step on the right hand side as you face the door at the underground memorial and museum.

I find it difficult to write about it. We had lots of time to think and reflect about humans and how we treat each other. It was a horrific incident but an example of how humans can be conditioned by other humans, who have an agenda and the power and ability to impose it on others. Nazi/German brutality should never be forgotten.

We actually had time alone in the church dodging the other visitors, time for contemplation. Some horrific acts were perpetrated there. Some heroic ones also.

Beware of anyone in any kind of politics, that is my conclusion from many years of following current affairs and the ins and outs of the governments we have had in the UK. I won't get on my soap box here.

We were ready for some food when we got back to the van. Had pizza and chips for tea. I then spent the rest of the night reading a book I had bought in the museum, an account of the day of the massacre and factual history of the event and where the Nazi Units had been based. Even information trying to understand what events had led to this happening. Incredible.

I will leave this account with one comment. Visit and never forget.

Off to bed around 10 pm. I had a whiskey and water and read Sherlock Holmes for a while, to wind my brain down after a real thought-provoking day.

Day 59 Wednesday 7 September 2011 Oradour sur Glane

Overnight and day start position: N 45 56.129 E 01 01.531

Up 7.45 am, grey and raining today, a real contrast to yesterday which, although chilly, was a beautiful blue sky day and sunny later. 67 deg F in van.

A few thoughts from yesterday. Lizards (lots of them), tram lines, sewing machines, cars (quite a lot of them: was Oradour quite affluent?), sun shades, metal winders on shops. Restoration work on buildings.

It needs a lot of upkeep really, it is a site that needs to be preserved but I fear in time it will disappear because it is all exposed to the weather. It's 67 years and counting, what will be left in another 67 years?

Left Oradour and headed for St Junien, where there is a McDonalds. Set up the laptop and had a session with Skype. Spoke to Nicky, Pauline, Helena and Lily. Problems with power shutting off, so it was a short session. Called into Carrefour for some blue for the toilet but they have none, so onward we go.

D 675 to Bellac, where we stopped for some dinner. N147, D347 around Poitiers, Loudon, D147 Fontevraud for the Abbey. Arrived around 5 pm. Quite sunny and warm when we arrived.

A small Aire, quite sloping, only ourselves and another English van on. Had a brew and then a walk around to check out the Abbey for tomorrow. Tricia's stomach was a little off, so she stayed in the van. A Luthier I had visited last time we came through here has closed down, his shop is up for sale. Sad, he had some beautiful instruments in the shop at the time. I walked up the same entry at the side of the shop, so we are now camped close to where we parked last time we were here.

Pork and potatoes for tea. Had a read and checked the maps. Going dark around 8.50 pm. Had a session on the guitar after tea. Off to bed around 10.30 pm for a read.

Day 60 Thursday 8 September 2011 Fontevraud

Overnight and day start position: N 47 11.082 E 00 02.961

Up 8.10 am, good night's sleep except for a car revver in the early morning. They puzzle me, what a waste of fuel. I think it must give them some power trip. Blue skies and bright this morning. Watched some local children with wheeled school sacks going off to school. The other English van still on site, but no recognition, sign of life or anything. Had breakfast of cornflakes and then off to Fontevraud Abbey, 9 Euros each to enter.

Back to the van 3.30 pm. Underwhelmed is all I can say. I really had got this place mixed up with another beautiful abbey we had visited many years ago. I thought it was this one. I was wrong. Patricia actually thought the one I was confused with was in Spain, so my geography was a bit out. Least said the better, disappointed is the word.

The site was really quiet until a coach party came in, all rabbiting on as they walked around. Really helpful for what minimal ambience the place had.

There is a lovely old church just across the road from the Abbey, a lot more interesting than the over-restored place we had been walking around.

I observed a high speed tourist visit while I was perusing around the rear of the church. A couple walked in, walked down to the front of the church, looked left, looked right, turned around and walked out. It must have been some kind of record. Why bother? Get off the soap box, Brian!

Left to head for the Aire at Le Coudray Macouard. We found it in a small clump of oaks, with concrete table tennis tables under the trees. Tennis courts just behind us. A football field with club house and changing rooms just up the road. I asked a French guy where the grey water and toilet disposal are. He pointed to a grid, which must have been the one. 'After all, this is France', he said. Not sure what he meant.

Tricia spilt Nescafe all over the floor, so we spent some time making sure that was cleared up. 7.30 pm, we hadn't lifted anything out of the freezer, so we had tinned ravioli and toast for tea. We sat watching the red squirrels running around, they should be well fed, acorns everywhere.

It really is a quiet site. I'm quite surprised, seeing that it is so close to the main Saumur Road. Around 8 kilometres south of Saumur. There are two French vans parked up on the football club car park, just up the road from us, around 100 yards. We sat out having a read until the light dropped altogether around 10.30 pm.

Day 61 Friday 9 September 2011 Le Coudray Macouard

Overnight and day start position: N 47 11.305 E 00 06.935

Really quiet and peaceful night. The only sound discernible was from the distant main Saumur road. I opened the screen at the side of my bed to see red squirrels running around. Weather is light and overcast, should clear up later, temperature 68 deg F.

The gas in the French bottle ran out today. We bought it on 12 August, so around 28 days from an 11 kg bottle.

Washed hair outside in the sun, lovely. I also did some hairdressing on Patricia. Oh, the multi-skills to be acquired in life! We changed the beds later, also stored some clothes under the floor.

We decided to move the van a little further up, as the sun was shrouded out with the trees and it made it a little dismal. We tried the car park at the football club, which was empty and deserted when we moved. Not for long, all the footballers began arriving for training, we were soon buzzing with young French footballers, razzing cars and loud music. No problem, it is their place, so we moved back down a little but kept in the sun.

There are lots of winged ants flying around, the sunbeams highlight them. So we will dine inside. Patricia did Szechuan chicken for tea with rice and a beer.

We had a walk around the village around 6 pm. Lots of houses with high walls and big gates. It did give an oppressive air to the place. Called into the nice little church in the village, 12th century apparently. But it is rather neglected inside.

Got a text from Pauline, dark in England, 1 hour behind us at the moment. 9 pm here. The footballers are just leaving the field.

Off to bed around 11 pm, had a read and eventually dozed off. We were awakened later with the footballers having a late session, chatting, laughing, cheering and kicking a ball against the club house wall until around 2 am. I was surprised really, because the club house is only separated from the village houses by a laurel fence. Do neighbours accept it?

Day 62 Saturday 10 September 2011 Le Coudray Macouard

Overnight and day start position: N 47 11.305 E 00 06.935

A lovely sunny morning, not a cloud in site. Decided to leave and head for Saumur. We had a look at the Aire first, it looked OK and lots of room, had some dinner while there. On the way back we parked outside the L'Ile d'Offard campsite and went in for a walk around. We had stayed here many years ago, so we just wanted to see if it had changed at all. We had some good memories of camping here and, in fact, this was where we put plans together for purchasing our first ever motorhome after seeing one roll in just behind where we were camped.

We had camped at the time right on the banks of the river with a superb view of the Chateau. Unfortunately, the view is now shrouded with trees which have been planted along the river side. Any space along there is taken up with caravans and the owners now can't sit out and enjoy the lovely view across to the Chateau, especially at night when it is lit up. I think we are slowly learning that going back to places of good memories is not a good idea.

Had a brief chat with an English couple who were staying on the site. It seems they only use campsites with their van. We then went to the Intermarche to do some shopping. They didn't have gas, so we tried Leclerc and Elan. None had the same gas bottle that we had purchased down south. I set the SatNav to take us back to the Aire but it led us a merry dance down roads we couldn't get the van down. We saw parts of the back of Saumur that we hadn't seen before.

8.20 pm, had bacon, potatoes and vegetables with a beer for tea. We went for a walk after tea. It seems the Aire is an old neglected campsite that is now unused and is free, so that suits us. There is a large disused wash facility right in the middle of the camp, with what seems like rooms above it. Lots of vans on the Aire. We walked up behind the restaurant across the road, some quaint houses there. Got a text from Nicky, Latics lost 3-0 at Manchester City. Played cards for a while when we got back. I won 6-4, incredible.

Day 63 Sunday 11 September 2011 Saumur

Overnight and day start position: N 47 15.178 E 00 03.725

Up 8.30 am. We had noisy neighbours again last night. A party at the small cafe/restaurant at the entrance to the Aire went on until the early hours. That is two nights we have had it. We haven't done so bad really for quiet sites where we have stayed.

Raining this morning and grey. We did the trick of leaving out the chairs and table. It's certain to rain if we do that, so we should learn really. A beach mat we had put out for keeping dust and dirt from the van fell to bits when I picked it up. We stayed long enough to do the toilet and water. A little old man came around with his little car selling fruit. He could hardly walk at all. We must admire his initiative, unfortunately we didn't need any this time. He didn't appear to sell any. Lashing rain is not conducive to selling fruit at the door, I'm sure.

Lashing down with rain while driving to the Intermarche. The heaviest rain since we entered the Alps weeks ago. I thought we would try for a different gas bottle but they were closed, Sunday. Tried Leclerc, closed also. McDonalds was open so we popped in for coffees, a fillet of fish and WiFi. Did email and downloaded two books from Amazon: 'The Sky's the Limit' about Team Sky cycling, also 'The Labyrinth' for Patricia.

Our Carl rang, we had a chat with Megan. We found a big car park near the military horse arena. We will try it for tomorrow and have a look around Saumur.

Headed back to the Aire and had a bite to eat. Had a read of 'Dr Bob in Morocco', an article from www.magbaztravels.com. Also got touted by a pizza man trying to sell pizzas. We then went for a walk down the pathway behind the site, quite a few cycles head down this path into Saumur. Looking around, it seems that the Aire is in the flood plain of the Loire. The old power points from the camp that was here previously are mounted high on poles. We had seen this at Naburn Lock on the river Ouse near York, a site that can get totally submerged if the river gets up high. The site is a little soft with the rain but we have some hard-standing so we are OK, although a few vans are slipping and sliding around.

Patricia did Fajitas for tea, very tasty. The Aire seems quieter tonight, the weekend is over so French vans are off home and back to work, I assume. We had a new arrival, Rick and Alex from England, in a small whizz-bang with bikes on the rear. They had just driven down straight from Calais. Site quiet now.

Day 64 Monday 12 September 2011 Saumur

Overnight and day start position: N 47 15.178 W 00 03.725

Alarm on for 7 am but we didn't get up. Patricia was having a sleepless night, so we stayed in bed until 8 am. So our early into Saumur plan is now later into Saumur, that's flexibility for you, I like it. We need a gas bottle today, the most important job. Tricia not so good this morning, three nights of broken sleep has not helped.

Left to go down to Leclerc. Said goodbye to Alex and Rick, who said they didn't know where they were heading to, we wished them a good journey. They were just packing up their bikes. At Leclerc a young lady helped me out and we sorted a gas bottle. 29 Euros including a 5 Euros deposit on the bottle. She had the old bottle from me. The gas bottle was a little tight going in, but with a little ingenuity I got it sorted. That should see us home.

We are now parked on the large military car park in town. No charge at all, which is surprising but welcome. Had a walk around. Bought the 'Sunday Times' for 5 Euros, pretty dear but lots of reading. Had dinner and then we had a look at a launderette while in town, did some washing and drying. Back to the Aire around 5 pm.

A grey drizzly day, intermittent showers all afternoon. Had a Cappuccino and a biscuit when we got back. Pizza and chips for tea. Had a read and then played cards until around 10 pm, then off to bed, to see if Patricia can get some sleep and get her stomach settled.

Day 65 Tuesday 13 September 2011 Saumur

Overnight and day start position: N 47 15.178 W 00 03.725

Up 7.30 am. Slept like a log. So did Tricia, she needed it. Still not fully light yet. We are off to Chinon today. The little old fruit seller is around again, persistent is the word.

1.15 pm and we are now on the outskirts of Chinon. A grey and miserable drizzly day. Headed for the Intermarche with SatNav on. Why, oh why, do SatNavs always pick the most convoluted and narrow roads. We got into a street in the middle of Chinon that I was reluctant to enter and I was right. I held the town up while I did a 90-point turn to get us out again.

We found an Aldi, which when we entered was totally deserted, no-one in it shopping. Spent the grand sum of 6 Euros, then went across to the Intermarche, which was closed. Ah well. So we went down to a Leclerc which is on the SatNav but when we got here it has closed down. So time for some dinner on the deserted car park of Leclerc in Chinon.

We then parked on a small car park on the road back into town. A few more vans were also parked up. A short walk in to a lift that now takes you down into the centre of Chinon, very helpful. It rained all afternoon, which kept Chinon very quiet, not many people walking around at all. We walked the medieval quarter and got a few photographs. Some lovely old buildings on the streets. We got 150 Euros from a bank in Place de General de Gaulle.

The Chateau was 7 Euros each so we didn't bother as we had been in before. Story is that Jean d'Arc recognized the Dauphin there without ever having seen him before.

Had a cup of coffee when we got back, with Pain au chocolat and Almond Croissant we had bought in town.

Headed onto Bourgueil, Gizeux, Parcay Le Pins, Meon, then Le Lude where we looked at the Aire but carried on, it was rather noisy. Next destination La Fleche. The Aire is on the side of the river, by the main road but not a bad site at all. A large fountain is shooting up into the air on the river. There looks to be a camp across the river. A Carrefour supermarket just across the road.

We had tea, then went for a walk into town. A nice little square not far from where we are parked. There is also a military school here with quite a substantial history. We walked up to see it, but there is no entry. Good night here.

Day 66 Wednesday 14 September 2011 La Fleche

Overnight and day start position: N 47 41.853 W 00 04.675

Up at 7.30 am, we had just put a brew on when there was a knock on the door. A Gendarme, could we move please, they are setting up the market. We hadn't seen any signs around the Aire, so we were surprised. Can't argue, got sorted and moved off. We found a place to park around 50 yards down the road in a little side street. 8.50 am, parked near a stone mason's workshop, advertising gravestones etc. A small Boulangerie across the road.

We had a walk down to the market for a look around, then popped into the Carrefour supermarket. Bought a new note book for 0.70 Euros. Called into a church we had spotted last night in town. Part of it seems old, part seems new. Bought a Baguette and then back to the van. A lovely September day.

Headed onto D306, D21, to St Denis du Maine with a beautiful Aire on the lake. Probably one of the nicest we have stayed at, a real gem. Wild life on the lake: ducks, geese, swans etc. But quite a lot of flies around. The services are around 300 metres from where you park, looks like the entry to a campsite actually across the lake.

Had a brew, then a walk around the lake and explored the campsite across the lake, which had all the facilities you would expect. The Aire facilities are just outside, on the lake side as you drive into the camp. Another couple of vans joined us. People dog-walking around the lake, joggers, walkers, sunbathers, swimmers. The Aire is now voted the nicest we have stayed on.

Pizza and chips again for tea, we are getting to be pizza fans at the moment. Easy meal, I suppose. Had a couple of beers also. Didn't sit outside, too many flies around. Had a read, then off to bed.

Day 67 Thursday 15 September 2011 St Denis du Maine

Overnight and day start position: N 47 57.855 W 00 32.068

Up 7 am, no alarm. Tricia was up early saying it's freezing, the mornings are definitely getting cooler, 51 deg F on thermometer. A peaceful night's sleep. I popped the heating on. A beautiful dawn over the lake, mist floating across it, quite ethereal. Got some pictures.

I observed what I thought were rats or some other water-borne wild life, but it was actually birds, who scoot across the water with their heads under the surface, obviously gathering food of some kind. 8.45 am and breakfast.

A beautiful September day, 11.30 am now. We have been watching youngsters from schools learning boating. They all seem to be enjoying it. The instructor was in a motor dinghy.

A slight cool breeze now blowing and all the children have gone, sailing has finished for the day. Peace has descended on the lake, tranquil with the sun shining on it. We had a walk around the lake again.

Met June and John with their caravan, off to St-Malo, back to work for them. They had been camping on the caravan site. Quite good, they said. June said the camp was 11.50 Euros with electric. We paid 12 Euros at Mimizan Plage just for the Aire. So the camp across the lake is excellent value.

Had dinner - soup, cheese and crackers - then walked into the village. There is a 12th century church, a washing house and public garden with a fountain in it. We went into the church and there was what seemed to be a local expert showing two couples around the place. He seemed to be quite knowledgeable. We had a chat with him when we came out. He spoke good English, so did his wife.

We then went down to find the public wash-house that is still preserved. While down there we came across a young couple having wedding photographs done. Later we rethought this and concluded they were models on a designated shoot. (See below.) It was quite a picturesque place. It was behind a wild flower field we had observed from the lake side. Absolutely covered with all kinds of wild flowers. It was obviously a preserved field.

Back to the van for a brew and a read. We thought some bollards on the lake were swans – fools! The couple having photographs taken are now plunging into the lake, up to their heads, while the photographer shoots some more pictures. A bit rough on the wedding dress.

6.50 pm, Tricia getting tea on. Peaceful night spent reading, perusing and chatting.

Day 68 Friday 16 September 2011 St Denis du Maine

Overnight and day start position: N 47 57.855 W 00 32.068

9 am, a real lie-in this morning, so quiet. Grey and light cloud this morning. The lake is serene, not a ripple. We keep discussing if this site gets busy at weekends or in the holiday season. It's been so quiet and peaceful, an absolute gem.

It's been superb here but it's now moving-on day. Patricia wants to stay, she has enjoyed it so much. But we need to move. Did water and everything at the services across the lake, then off. We found a Super U just as we hit the main road D21, so we did a big shop, 106 Euros, for wine, Bourbon, meat, pork, chicken etc.

Passed around Laval, Mayenne on N162, Ambrieres les Vallees, Ceauce, D23, D962, to Domfront, then N176 to St Mars l'Egrenne. A six-space Aire with two unmetered electric points, which I had spotted in the book.

Just done all downloads, we have free electric on the Aire. Charged all that needs charging. Had a shower. Pizza and chips for tea again. Had a read about Normandy beaches where we are heading. A Bourbon nightcap, it didn't help me to sleep.

Day 69 Saturday 17 September 2011 St Mars l'Egrenne

Overnight and day start position: N 48 33.668 W 00 43.758

Up 8 am, quiet Aire but didn't sleep too well. It was ages before I got off to sleep, same for Tricia. Bourbon nightcap didn't help. Church bell rang on the hour all through the night, also.

Very grey this morning. Another van came on the Aire last night.

Nicky's birthday today, we will call him later, he is going to Liverpool FC watching Latics.

We called at a small shop on the main road for a Baguette and then we left for Montebourg.

D22, D924 to Vire, D407, then D974 to Torigni-sur-Vire, where we had dinner on the Carrefour car park. Then E03, N174 around St Lo, to Montebourg. We looked at the Aire, then went down to the coast at Quineville.

We parked at the museum there, right near the beach. Walked along the footpath right at the side of the wall to the beach. Part of a German defensive wall. The sea was lovely, peaceful and calm. The beach empty. The real end of season atmosphere. The tourist information shop is closed until June 2012. It brightened up as the day moved on, grey skies and cloudy while travelling up.

Back to Montebourg for the night. A football match was on when we pulled in. We can see a church and Abbey close by.

Pork, potatoes and vegetables for tea. Played cards, I got battered 7-3 again. Started raining again.

Day 70 Sunday 18 September 2011 Montebourg

Overnight and day start position: N 49 29.101 W 01 22.467

A peaceful night, a quiet site, both of us slept well. Made up for last night. The sky is grey and brooding, hopefully it will clear later. Toast and eggs for breakfast. We actually had some sun last night, admittedly through the rain. Ah well, it's just started raining again, 8.05 am. It rained on and off all morning.

I waited for a lull and then did the toilet and water. Only one tap for water. I had to wash away food debris from a French van, again a little lack of consideration for other people. We do keep coming across it.

We explored the Utah Beach area. D421 along the coast. Quineville and the Frisberg Battery which costs 6.50 Euros. We had a look from outside in a lull in the rain. It was still lashing down most of the time. You can see most of the site from outside.

I went for a little exploration on my own with the camera and met up with some American cyclists who were doing a 3-week tour of Northern France. Bruce and company from Virginia and Georgia. Bruce gave me a hand up onto the top of a large bunker, just outside the pay compound. You can see all the site from the top, also down to the coast. They seemed a great and sociable bunch of guys. I got a photo.

After dinner off down the coast to the Leclerc monument.

At Utah Beach memorial, we bought a book but didn't go around the museum, it was 7.50 Euros. Visited other bunkers along the coast and got photographs. Tanks and steelwork outside the museum. We bought some books instead. Sheltered from the rain at the entrance to the beach at La Madeleine. I believe this is where the main exit from Utah Beach was.

On to Ste-Mere-Eglise where we went into the quite historical church. A famous pump nearby, where the villagers pumped water to try and douse a fire at one of the local buildings during the invasion. The church has the dummy paratrooper hanging from its tower. American John Steel apparently got hooked up there and hung there as if dead (but survived). I also went down to view a little house where 4 paratroopers were killed in action, around 400 metres from the church, there is now a plaque on the house.

There was parking at the church but it was 5 Euros and we were not sure if overnighting was OK, so we moved on.

From here we went on to Chef du Pont for a French Passion site overnight, but decided not to stay as it looked rather soft, another van had left some considerable wheel marks in the ground. Pity really, it was a beautiful little orchard type of area.

So we headed on to Angoville au Plain, a beautiful little Auberge. We are now parked on the car park. When I went in to see the owners, they both had their coats on as though they had just arrived. No problem staying, even when I said we would be cooking our own food. Lovely.

The sea has looked beautiful when the sun shone on it. Quite easy to see why this coast attracts so many holidaymakers and second home owners. Long beaches, holiday camps etc. Concrete bunkers for ever more, if you want them. Millions of tons of concrete, all left over from WW2. Ham, potatoes and sweet corn for tea, a little late tonight, quite a long day looking along the coast.

Day 71 Monday 19 September 2011 Angoville au Plain

Overnight and day start position: N 49 20.814 W 01 15.501

A peaceful night, awake 8.15 am. No alarm on and no plans for a hectic day. We can just hear traffic on the motorway, which is not far from here. The Auberge de Terroire had four visitors last night in one car. Don't know if they were friends or customers. There was no smell of food being cooked. The car park was well lit, the people left around 10.30 pm. The weather is a little brighter this morning, but it is still cloudy.

There are a few apple trees around the parking area. I tied a sample, but they are not very tasty. Probably for cider and Calvados. Cornflakes and banana for breakfast. We thanked the owners before leaving. Then on to Isigny-sur-Mer for McDonalds, no WiFi signal so we moved on.

Grandcamp-Maisy, Pointe de Hoc. Spent some time here, a quite large complex of fortified bunkers. A quite impressive story of how the Rangers climbed the cliffs to take the site in WW2.

Followed the D514 along a beautiful coast. Beautiful beaches and houses. Headed for Colleville-sur-Mer for the American Cemetery there. A quite moving monument to the loss of so many young men's lives. We got caught by the rain just before closing time, which is on time, no messing. The guys who run the cemetery are out rounding you up and ushering you out. Little golf buggies running around and checking if you're leaving etc.

Headed onto Arromanches-les-Bains for the Aire. Through Saint Honorine des Pertes, Port-en-Bessin Huppain, Commes, Longues sur Mer, Manvieux, Tracy-sur-Mer.

We squeezed in near an Irish couple from Limerick, who had been over for some time visiting Holland and Germany, now on their way back home. A lovely smell of steak and onions being cooked accompanied them. There was also a Scottish couple from Lockerbie. The actual Aire was full but the car park adjacent was filled with vans, so we joined them.

Had chicken and chips for tea. Had a read and then off to bed early. Alarm set for 7 am.

Day 72 Tuesday 20 September 2011 Arromanches-les-Bains

Overnight and day start position: N 49 20.355 W 00 37.550

Quiet and peaceful night, alarm went off 7 am. A van pulled in around 10.30 pm last night. Late arrivals! Weather looking rather grey, but a little blue peeping through.

Met a couple, Tony and Aysha from Colchester in an Adria van, who had electric bikes. I had a chat with them for a while. Tricia showing Aysha around our van, then popping into their van for a look around. They're off to Spain and Portugal with some organised tour in January of next year.

Had a walk into Arromanches. Went on the beach looking at the remains of the floating harbour, that are still prominent. We got chatting with a couple from Boston, USA - Edwin and Patricia, who were on a home exchange visit, ie they change their home with someone from France. Edwin reckoned it saved them thousands of dollars on each trip. I chatted with Edwin and Patricia chatted with Patricia. Edwin was a very interesting guy, a trilby wearer, with his book in hand covering the local area he wanted to visit. Walked up to the top of the hill, on the left of town looking from the beach. There is a tank parked up there, near a large concrete bunker.

There is a good view over the bay. Quite a large renovation project being done on a house up there. All the usual tourist things along the main street, also a museum with a large landing craft parked outside it. A quite nice village that got dragged to the forefront in a war. Incredible how such small places can make a mark in history.

Walked back to the van, picking up a Baguette on the way. It became quite warm as we passed the day away. Tony and Aysha had gone, though they said they were staying the day. Walked back into town after dinner and spent some time strolling around the front. The tide had come in by then. Got 'The Times' for a read, 3.50 Euros. Called into the church at the top of the village for a look around. There are some interesting pictures on stands along the front, with a little information on Arromanches in 1900. One was about building the Casino and a villa close by. We could pick them out of the buildings now there. The Casino facade is now very weathered. It mentioned most of the buildings being empty for 11 months of the year.

Moved the van onto the Aire when some space became available. Tricia doing pork stir fry for tea. Had a read of 'The Times', Tricia read her Kindle. Off to bed around 10.30 pm.

Day 73 Wednesday 21 September 2011 Arromanches-les-Bains

Overnight and day start position: N 49 20.355 W 00 37.550

Alarm on for 7 am. Peaceful night, but with vans so close neighbouring noise is always present. I shouldn't complain, but a little thought from some people would make the whole experience better. But I don't think there is a lot of thought from a lot, especially around hygiene at the water area etc.

Weather grey again, a little blue peeping through.

Bazenville British Cemetery called Ries Cemetery, Le Colombier, Grayes-sur-Mer, Courseulles-sur-Mer. Met Bruce and Lisa from Pontefract in Yorkshire. They had moved to France a while ago with their two children. Had a chat for a while at a Lidl supermarket. Spent 50 Euros, though we only went in for a Baguette, got four bottles of wine also. They didn't have a Baguette, so we popped over to Carrefour across the road. Had some dinner while parked there.

Berniere-sur-Mer, St Aubin-sur-Mer, Langrune-sur-Mer, Lion-sur-Mer, Hermanville-sur-Mer. Visited the Cemetery with South Lancs Regiment lads in it. Found a few lads from Wigan on the recorder. One from Beech Hill near where we live: Private Edward Dawber, aged 24, son of Edward and Mary Jane Dawber from Beech Hill. Frederic Dean, aged 25, son of John and Annie Dean. William Hampson, aged 31,son of James and Elizabeth Hampson of Ashton in Makerfield, husband of Irene Hampson. Quite moving to read, when the lads lived so close to where I was born and raised. They knew the areas I grew up in, especially the Beech Hill lads.

We checked out the Aires at Hermanville and Colleville Montgomery and decided to head for a France Passion site at Douvres la Deliverande. A small Angora Rabbit farm. With an electric hook up. The owner was Jean Claude Le Mazurier. Chips and Curry for tea, with a sweet and two glasses of red wine. Reading book on Normandy Landings, bed for 10-15 pm. Finished the book and the Sky Cycling Team.

Day 74 Thursday 22 September 2011 Douvres la Deliverande

Overnight and day start position: N 49 17.439 W 00 23.717

Quiet night, there is a cockerel on the farm but it sounds like an old one, it's having a problem crowing.

Had a tour of the farm and a demonstration of Angora Rabbit farming. All very interesting, to see how it's done. Patricia bought two balls of red wool, 19 Euros, for a future knitting project. All the rabbits are in separate cages, all named. We also watched a video on the player showing us all the aspects of farming and selling Angora wool. The oldest rabbit was eight years old. Went back to Hermanville-sur-Mer to sort toilet and tank up with water.

Went down to Ouistreham and parked just off the beach, where there is parking and cycle tracks near the dunes. A large concrete bunker at the other side of the dunes. Lady sunbathing in dunes and reading. Houses just across the road from the dunes. Quite a nice area.

Having dinner, people roller-skating past, jogging past, biking past. Beach showers just up the road from us. An observation platform in the dunes, all nicely decked out with flowers.

On to Pegasus Bridge, which we had visited previously. Parked up near the new museum. Quite good parking. The old Bridge is still there and seems to be in the same position it was when myself and Bob, my brother-in-la, walked over it in the 1990s.

Walked over the new bridge to where the gliders landed, called into the cafe also. The sun had come out by then, so a nice stroll. 6 Euros to go into the museum, so we didn't bother.

Got chatting to a lad from Oldham, Ron and his wife Audrey. Vintage car enthusiasts in what looked like a Cortina convertible.

We checked out a place that Bruce had recommended for the night, which looked a nice little village. An Aire with six places that looked a little tight - the Aires book stated park within the lines. So we left and headed for Breville les Monts. Five places available, only us here, got kettle on, sun shining.

We then decided to move from Breville les Monts. No vans on with us but lots of cars going past us, it was a quite busy junction, also near the school. I decided to have a look at Ranville at the cemetery. Quite a large lit area but no cars on it, so we moved on to Herouvillette. Four spaces on the Aire, with a few vans chocked up and satellites set up again, so we joined them. Omelette for tea.

Eyes really sore at end of the day, not sure why. Used eye spray and cold water bath. Off to bed early with sore eyes. Tricia reading for quite a while before settling down.

Day 75 Friday 23 September 2011 Herouvillette

Overnight and day start position: N 49 13.194 W 00 14.680

Alarm on for 7 am. 52 deg F on thermometer. I had been awake for a while. We are actually on the car park, where the four Aire spaces were full. All taken up by the chocks-up and satellite boys. But there are also around seven other vans parked up. A few vans came late, no chance of getting in. One around 9.30 pm, no chance.

My eyes feel OK this morning. Blue skies, wispy cloud. The rest of the car park is taken up with vans. A lovely little park in front of us. Cereal, pear and banana for breakfast.

Left the Aire and headed down to Deauville. It had electric points on the Aire, so I should have expected some vans practically living there. Then went to Trouville and joined vans parked on the harbour. Quite a nice little place overlooking the harbour. Had some dinner.

Went down to Honfleur, parked up on the Lidl there and walked into town. A lovely harbour area with well preserved harbour front buildings and a wooden sailors' church. It's now a museum.

From Honfleur we decided to head for a France Passion site. D180, then the D6178 and over the Pont de Tancarville (a toll of 3.60 Euros) onto the D910, around Bolbec, D910 through Goderville, D139 to Criquetot Esneval, Gonneville la Mallet, D940 to Ste Marie au Bosc. A little difficult finding it, some quite tight junctions on the way. This turned out to be a cider and Calvados place.

Day 76 Saturday 24 September 2011 Ste Marie au Bosc

Overnight and day start position: N 49 39.925 W 00 12.152

Awake early with a dog barking, then a cock started crowing. I looked at the clock, it was 6.05 am, so I gave up and got out of bed. Still dark. 54 deg F on rising. Tricia rather cold, so we popped the heater on. Country life is marvellous. Join France Passion, sample French country life, be woken before dawn when all you want to do is sleep.

10.30 am now, washed and sorted nearly but both of us on go-slow with not having a good night's sleep. Sunny but cool outside, clear blue sky. Temp 71 deg F in van.

Left for Etretat. Got on D940, diversions, police and security holding road up, so we headed to Fecamp along D940, tried McD but too tight to park. It was a little manic anyway. D925, stopped for dinner just off the road in a little parking place. We can see wind farms in the distance. A small cluster of houses across the field from us. It's a beautiful day. Cany- Barville, St-Valery-en-Caux, Veules-les-Roses, heading to Dieppe. Stopped at McD, had two coffees, bought four books off Amazon for the Kindle. D925 past St-Martin-en-Campagne.

Tried the Ault Aire, which sounded OK but not very nice when we got there. Tried Mers les Bains in the middle of the town, again the Aire full with the chocks and satellite boys. Did toilet and moved on.

Called at local Leclerc for diesel, 95 Euros. Decided to try France Passion for tonight at Buigny les Gamaches. OK when we arrived. Big piles of wood at the side of us, the yard was a little rough surfaced.

Met Robert the owner, who came just as Patricia was cooking tea, so we turned it off and went to sample his wares. Sampled apple juice, cider and Calvados. Got 3 bottles of cider for 10.50 Euros. Quite expensive, but we thought to try it out. We were in one of Robert's four Gites while sampling the cider etc. Robert gave us some information - only his name on everything, so I suspect he is not married to the lady we have seen around. Another couple from Belgium were in also. The guy was a look-alike of Bob's dad. Robert has a dog and shot gun, an over-barrel, and says he is going shooting in the morning. I had a hold of his gun.

Chicken and chips for tea with a beer. Just 9 pm now, hopefully we will have a good sleep tonight, if there are no cocks or dogs. In bed for 10 pm.

Day 77 Sunday 25 September 2011 Buigny les Gamaches

Overnight and day start position: N 50 01.444 W 01 33.930

Up at 8 am, no alarm on, we were in bed for 10 pm last night. A good night's sleep, but again there was a dog barking in the early hours of the morning. Temp 64 deg F. A lovely day again.

We are parked facing a newly planted orchard, young apple trees, grapevines hanging on the surrounding walls. Also walnut trees, hazelnut, chestnut, pear. All the apple tree area is grassed over. It looks like it was an animal farm previously and is now being changed over.

Robert said we could park on the grass, but it would have been criminal really. Reading 'Boy Racer' about Mark Cavendish, the cyclist.

Had a lazy day reading. Had dinner and popped down to the house a few times, but there was no-one around. Walked around the village after dinner, there seem to be quite a few small farm holdings. A saw-mill in the village also. Quite warm, 82 deg F in van after dinner at 1.30 pm.

Sunny all afternoon. Asked the lady/wife/helper/mistress if we could stay tonight also - no problem. We lifted the chairs for a lazy read outside.

Pork stir fry for tea. We thought we may be alone tonight, the Belgium couple had left earlier, but no, they came rolling back later. Very often on this trip I have said something and things have changed immediately, like 'I think we may be on our own tonight' and 30 seconds later our Belgian friends roll up. Like 'It's quiet on this road', then all hell breaks loose, with cars everywhere. Some weird happenings.

Time now 6.05 pm, played cards, 5 games apiece. I won the cut of the pack to finish the night. Off to bed.

Day 78 Monday 26 September 2011 Buigny les Gamaches

Overnight and day start position: N 50 01.444 W 01 33.930

Up 7.10 am, Tricia up and about, not yet dawn, just having a brew. 62 deg F this morning on rising. Sky is blue, it looks like another lovely day. Updating diary.

Left for the Carrefour at Feuquieres en Vimeu, spent 56 Euros. Then D48 to St-Valery-sur- Somme, to check out the Aire and sort the toilet etc. Quite large, around 100 places, at 8 Euros, but no electric available. So we used the facilities and left.

Then onto the D940, then D111 to Nouvion. Stopped on the D111 for some dinner. The D1001to Vron, then D175 for Argoules, where there is an FP site that does lamb, so we will try it.

This turned out to be a meat processing factory, with the associated noise levels, so we left. There was a shop there but we didn't really fancy being parked in a factory. I've seen enough factories in my life.

Then we went D940 to Berck, had a look at the Aire down in the dunes, decided no and headed on. We then tried to find a Chocolatier near Montreuil but when we found it, I couldn't raise anyone. I went down into the buildings and shop but no-one around, so we gave up on that one too. There didn't seem to be anywhere to park.

From there we headed up to Desvres to find a place called Brunemberg, but we couldn't find it. Then Alincthun for another FP site, where we pulled into a farm yard. There was a farm shop there but the yard was piled high with stinking manure, with a heavy generator running, so not for us. To say the France Passion information for finding the places is abysmal would be an understatement really. No SatNav locations and minimal information, they need to get their act together.

So we headed back for Desvres to get on a Carrefour car park. 9 pm, no tea just cheese and crackers. We had planned chips, egg and beans. Drove off at 11 pm to another location, a car had parked alongside us and was not seeming to move on, so we moved. I put the SatNav on and picked out an Intermarche at Samer, a few miles down the road.

Started here: N 50 40.169 W 01 49.455

Ended up here: N 50 38.561 W 01 44.539

Day 79 Tuesday 27 September 2011 Desvres or Samer

Overnight and day start position: N 50 38.561 W 01 44.539

6.15 am, awake and kettle on after a few hours sleep. What a bad day yesterday. Foggy outside. We are in a supermarket car park that we found around 11 pm last night, after moving on from where we were. A car had parked alongside us with someone in it, we didn't feel comfortable, so we moved. This site is rather noisy though, it seems to be a main junction for big lorries passing through, not conducive to a good night's sleep.

Had chips, egg and beans for tea. I had found a tin of Heinz beans in our underfloor store. We were going to have it yesterday but the day ended in a shambles, so we just had crackers and cheese instead.

We moved from the Carrefour out to a little village called Questrecques. Trying to get some peace and quiet for breakfast and a sleep if possible. We found a little parking place, lovely, peaceful and quiet in the morning mist. I got on the bed and then someone opened the floodgates. Car after car came past, also concrete mixers, oh well, give up. Had some breakfast 8.40 am, then moved off.

D341 Boulogne – Wimereux, D940. We found the France Passion site at Audhingen, they had quite a nice shop. We drove into a little courtyard behind the shop. On D940, around 100 metres from the D191 junction. We decided to check out the France Passion site at Tardinghen. We found it OK. Marie at the FP spoke quite good English. They had two pitches: one free where all the services were and one on the hill with good views costing 5 Euros. We decided to check out the hill. Had some dinner up there, excellent we'll stay. Lovely views across to the white cliffs of Dover and all the Channel. Nicky rang earlier from College, he was just having dinner.

8.55 pm, we can see all the English coast and lights. Television mast with the red lights on, ferries going across the Channel. I actually got some English TV on the television. It's been a lovely sunny day.

Off to bed 10 pm and ready for it.

Day 80 Wednesday 28 September 2011 Tardinghen

Overnight and day start position: N 50 51.638 W 01 38.244

Awake 8.30 am. Totally peaceful night, which was needed after Monday's debacle of a day. Just now having a brew. It looks like another lovely day in store.

We went down to the farm after dinner, to do the toilet and water and then back up. Tried to sleep for an hour but the gabby French near us put a stop to that. Why do they always talk at full volume. Ah well, we spent the rest of the day chilling and reading. I'm reading about Lord Byron at the moment. Nicky called, he's now back at College. He told us about Sadie, a young lady he is seeing at the moment. All well with him. I'm looking forward to putting my arms around him, missed him. The longest we have gone without seeing Marc and Nicky. Carl, having moved to Scotland, is out of our lives really.

I actually got English Analogue TV on the telly at 9 pm after tea. We have never used TV at all while away, we played two DVD's at the start of the trip. There was nothing much on, so we turned it off, back to reading. We had a beautiful display of English coast lights when it went dark. I think along the stretch of Folkestone and Dover. Also clear was a large mast with the red lights for aircraft warning.

Apart from family, we haven't missed the UK much. We have been too busy in all the things that travellers do every day. It's good to set your sights away from staring at four walls.

I totally agree with Barry and Margaret Williamson, long time travellers, who have a 'year zero' concept. It's not running away from life, it's running towards life. Patricia feels guilty and sometimes says we are running away. We are both now in our sixties, so need to set our sights at achieving other things. We have three great sons, who are totally capable of holding the fort while we are away. So all the family are OK. What have I missed? Not really much apart from family. I have bought a UK paper occasionally, but it's usually the same stuff churned out. No foods missed, we have bought as we have travelled.

But what an experience we have had. The trip has been incredible. We are now on the last few days. We got here near Dunkirk a week early really because of adjusting our plans to try and meet up with Marc, Helena and Lily. But that was cancelled, so we arrived up here a little earlier than originally planned.

Our Carl called and had a good long chat. He has now sorted out a relocation package, enabling him to move back to England from Scotland. He had just landed in Manchester and was picking up a hire car to drive out to Sheffield.

Had showers and replenished the soul, with a lovely lazy day. Had a read all afternoon after dinner, also had Radio 2 on the radio, Jeremy Vine show, like being in England.

Mysteries of Motorhoming: why do French and Belgian motorhomes always want to park in lines? Even when there is a large field to park in! Why do they talk so loud? They always sound like there is a major argument going on! Maybe there is! If so, why do they argue so much?

A lovely sunny day, quite misty over the Channel, so we can't see England at the moment. Reading all afternoon, we sat out for a while but the flies annoyed Patricia so she went back in the van. Quite a few vans rolling in.

Steak and onions with potato wedges and veg for tea, with a glass of red wine, very nice too. Had Mike Harding on the radio, BBC Folk Club, he was interviewing Ry Cooder.

The sink seems blocked, I need to check it out. We don't put any food debris down the sink, so surprised really, it's a little puzzle to be solved. Bed for 10.15pm. Two books on the go, Lord Byron and Mark Cavendish, quite a varied selection.

Day 81 Thursday 29 September 2011 Tardinghen

Overnight and day start position: N 50 51.638 W 01 38.244

Up 8.15 am, a lovely peaceful night. The English coast wasn't very clear last night, it's hazy again this morning. 64 deg F this morning. The flies are out early on the field.

While at the service point down on the farm I got chatting with Eric, who is travelling with his wife Sue. They are from Central Wales. He had actually paid 5 Euros but was parked near the barn at the service area. Advised them of the upper field option. They went up and got on the site. Had a look at each other's vans and a general good chat. Got chatting about Kindles for e-books. Eric promised to send me a disc with lots of e-books on it.

Went to the Intermarche at Marquise, 25 Euros. We then had a ride to Cap Blanc Nez but nowhere to park, height bars on the parking area, so we stopped for dinner not far from Sangatte, then headed back to Audreselles. There are two large German bunkers right on the beach. Had a walk on the beach, it was really hot, so then headed back to the Tardinghen France Passion site for the night. Pizza and chips for tea, with 2 beers. Radio on for a while, Tricia reading. It's been a beautiful day again, apparently it has been the same in parts of the UK.

Day 82 Friday 30 September 2011 Tardinghen

Overnight and day start position: N 50 51.638 W 01 38.244

Awake at 7.10 am but got back down for another hour. Up at 8.20 am. Just having a brew, temp now 64 deg F in van. Looks like another nice day. Nice in England too.

Eric and Sue popped in for a chat, they are possibly moving on. I gave them my address for Eric to post the disc. Also email address and telephone number. If they find a municipal campsite near Calais, they will call to let us know.

Just had a Dutch guy in a yellow van asking about staying on the site. Eric and Sue headed for the Intermarche where we went yesterday. We went to the Auchan Hypermarket just outside of Calais. Got wine, cheese, sausage and beer, for presents, 150 Euros. Our credit card was blocked for some reason, so had to use our alternative card. Back to Tardinghen for the night. Stashed the wine etc away. Has pasta for tea. Time now 7.50 pm. Auchan is a big place that sells all sorts, useful for future reference.

Got some drink out to have a walk over to Eric and Sue's van, as they had come back on site, but Sue was walking over to our van. Eric had moved his van away from a large American Monster, which parked right on top of them. As I say, the mentality escapes me, there is a large field available, big enough to park a fleet of vans in. Why so inconsiderate? Too much money, with no sense or empathy it seems.

Anyway, we had a lovely time in our van having a drink, crisps and nuts, laugh, rant and chat. Putting the world to rights in a good way until around 10.45 pm. Quite a few vans came creeping on the field in the dark, which caused Eric to come out with hilarious rants. They would probably creep off early in the morning, as we have seen many times before.

Eric was coming out with some really funny comments, while this was going on. One particularly when a van came in pulling a trailer with a car on it. I decided to record the next rant for posterity, but unfortunately no more vans came on. All in all a lovely sociable night. Good stimulating conversation.

Day 83 Saturday 1 October 2011 Tardinghen

Overnight and day start position: N 50 51.638 W 01 38.244

Up 8.10 am, peaceful night, sun shining again, looks like a lovely day ahead. Incredible weather, seeing it is now October. Radio says it is the same in England.

Eric and Sue popped in, they are moving up to Grand Fort Philippe or Gravelines. May meet up later if they find a good facility.

Went down to the farm to do toilet and water. I advised them of the late comers into the field, quite a lot of income being avoided. Six came in after they had collected fees. Not sure if they are bothered.

Left to find a Chemist's, there was one up near the Auchan. Got tablets needed, quite surprised at the good price for them. We thought they would have been much dearer. Went through Calais to get to the other side, popping the SatNav on, which is always quite entertaining, no different this time. We eventually got onto the motorway and headed for Grand Fort Phillipe. Eric had sent a text to say they were there. So off we went. The Aire was excellent when we arrived. Right on the banks of the river.

Feeling mischievous, I remonstrated with two French van owners who were parked parallel with the river, taking up several spaces that vans could have parked in. Again a selfish act from French van owners. 'I'm alright Jack' comes to mind. We have seen this too often from the French van owners. No matter, we parked a little further along, no problem. Met a young English guy, Matt and his wife Jill from Sheffield. Myself and Eric spent quite some time chatting with Matt, while Patricia, Jill and Sue were nattering. Latics lost 2-0 at Aston Villa today.

Sent text to Charlie, she wants to meet up with us on our return to UK on Tuesday. Yes, no problem.

Had pork chops and potatoes for tea. Sent a text to Eric and Sue to pop around but they were tired so they declined. We went out for a walk along the river. Behind us came Matt and Jill. So we ended up chatting again with them until 11.15 pm. Matt and Jill were leaving in the morning, so I suggested we wind the evening up. We then had what seemed to be a blues band crack off, performing across the river in one of the cafes. They sounded quite good too. They had a good mouth harp player. Had a read and then dozed off with the blues drifting across the river.

Day 84 Sunday 2 October 2011 Grand Fort Phillipe

Overnight and day start position: N 51 00.061 E 02 06.442

Up 7.50 am. Matt and Jill were just leaving. Tide out, the river low, sun shining, looks like another nice day.

12.30 pm, temp 87 deg F, nice for October. Had a walk up to Gravelines, on this side of the river. The Aire looked to be quite full.

Had dinner and then sat out all afternoon with Eric and Sue. Played a couple of songs on guitar for them, lovely in the sun on the banks of the river. Lots of small fish swimming on the surface of the river. The seagulls trying to catch them but not seeming to have much success.

Nice memory for October in the sun. Boats going up and down the river, there was also a seal swimming up the river in front of us. Nice day. A few motorhomes came and went.

Had chips and curry with a bottle of beer for tea. Had radio on for a while listening to football chat, there are plenty of idiots who call into football chat lines.

Day 85 Monday 3 October 2011 Grand Fort Phillipe

Overnight and day start position: N 51 00.061 E 02 06.442

Put the alarm on for 7 am, just coming dawn. Temp 62 deg F in van. Tide is up on the river in front of us. I can hear a bus engine running. Do they ever turn them off when they are stopped?

We are off home tomorrow, so we need a little last minute shopping today, hence the alarm being on. Eric and Sue popped in, they are also off home today, leaving for Calais. I demonstrated the television for them. Time now 9.45 am. Went to Gravelines to do the toilet.

We parked up on the Aire and had a walk around town and Citadel. Quite a lot of road works going on in town. Most shops were shut, it was very quiet. Went to Super U and got some beers for Nicky, also a couple more bottles of wine. Then back to Grand Fort Phillipe.

We were then asked to move over for a Boules match that seven or eight of the locals have. So I moved over a little and we spent the afternoon watching and listening to them.

Got text from Eric, they got the ferry back home, now in Canterbury having a coffee. Had dinner and a read, then we went for a walk right down to the beach on this side of the river, also along the jetty. Managed to get lost in the village. Nice walk, got brew on when we got back. The Boules had finished. The parallel parkers had now gone also.

Gammon and potatoes for tea. Mixed emotions tonight for going home. We are ready for home to see family, but it's the end of a wonderful first adventure for us. Hopefully an indication of the times ahead of us. A police car just passed. There was an emergency ambulance visiting a house just across from us yesterday. Around four or five vans now left.

Day 86 Tuesday 4 October 2011 Grand Fort Phillipe

Overnight and day start position: N 51 00.061 E 02 06.442

Up 7 am, I had set the alarm on the mobile but the gremlin had knocked it off! A lady with a dog just passed us.

Well it seemed a long way off when I started this diary but here it is, going home day. Tide is in on the river. A lovely peaceful night again. Only early morning traffic makes any noise on the Aire. The weather has changed, grey and cloudy, also cooler outside. An easy run to the port, in for 10 am. Port not so busy with leisure vehicles, only one motorhome with us. Sailed 12.15 pm, docked 2.15 pm. Got 'Guardian', two coffees and two little playthings for Lily while on ferry.

Found it strange to be back in the UK. Picked up Charlie. Popped into Tesco then on to the Certificated Site near Deal for the night. Time now 7 pm. Chicken and chips for tea. Watched DVD after tea, 'Just Like Heaven'. Charlie slept in Pauline's bed.

Day 87 Wednesday 5 October 2011 Ripple, near Deal In Kent

Overnight and day start position: N 51 12.202 E 01 21.917

Up 7.20 am. Made brew. Charlie still asleep. Not seen anyone from the farm yet. A few people coming for ice cream it seems. Paid owner of the CS £16 for two nights with hook-up.

Margate after for Charlie to spend the day shopping. Around 12.30 pm. We didn't see much of it, but it looked to be a bit of a dump. Another decayed Victorian seaside town. Dropped them off at the Art Gallery in the centre, just off the main road along the beaches. I parked up about a mile further on, nowhere to park any nearer. Good to be back in motorhome-friendly England! Picked them up later.

Dropped Charlie off in Dover near to Bucklands Hospital. Called at Tesco for paper and diesel. Then back to the CS for the night at 7.05 pm. The wind has now picked up quite a lot. Chicken and chips for tea with a bottle of beer. Mike Harding on the radio. Really windy tonight. A guy with a small caravan, just back from France after a month, on his way back to Chester, parked near us.

Day 88 Thursday 6 October 2011 Ripple, near Deal in Kent

Overnight and day start position: N 51 12.202 E 01 21.917

Alarm on for 6 am. Windy and raining in the night. (Welcome back to England!) Had breakfast and a read while watching it come dawn.

It's surprising how you adjust to what you are doing, eg travelling. It will be strange to be back home and not on the road.