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In France & Scotland 2016 (Martin & Pam) PDF Printable Version E-mail


Australian Motorhome Travellers in France and Scotland

Martin and Pam Williams
Summer of 2016


Martin and Pam Williams leave their home in Perth in Western Australia to buy a motorhome in England before setting off on a four-month tour of France and Scotland. It's interesting to experience Europe from a new perspective.

Links to full descriptions of four of their previous motorhome journeys in Europe (2011 - 2014) can be found in Fellow Travellers.

Click:
141 Images of Martin and Pam's Motorhome Journey

Holiday 2016 - Background

We had a year off long holidays in 2015, having done 80,000 motor home kms over the preceding 5 years in 20 countries between Southern Greece and northern Norway. In late 2015 we started getting itchy feet and began looking for another van, plan another road trip and research places to go.  Four months this time.

Getting Started – Buying a Van!

We wanted a new van less than 6 metres long (cheaper on ferries and easier to drive and park), a fixed bed (saves time and gives more flexibility) and ideally on a Peugeot chassis and we spent the months before our departure researching on the internet, emailing dealers and  getting somewhat frustrated as the number of suitable vans dropped quickly as they sold in the booming UK economy pre-Brexit!

We were unwilling to commit to buying something in the UK sight-unseen from our home in Western Australia; we wanted to see what we were buying. What we could see was vans selling like hot cakes!
In the end we hired a car when we arrived in the UK we visited and finally met some local dealers and bought a van on our second day.  It all worked really well in the end.

Planning where to go

We took delivery within a week, a week in which I picked up a virus, got a heavy cough which set my heart into arrhythmia.  I ended up in hospital getting it shocked back to normal sinuous rhythm.  This delayed us a bit and it was three weeks before we hit the cross-Channel ferry to Calais.  A very grey departure from England!

We spent some of that time having LPG fitted to the van – a trip up to Carlton Miniott in Yorkshire.  Well worth it!

The plan was to visit France for about two months, checking out Brittany that we'd never been to before, then do a long anti-clockwise loop around the country catching up with old and new places and people. 

We had hoped to see some of the Tour de France but that didn't happen. Neither did going to the annual week-long Grand Bal de l'Europe at Gennetines in Aliers.

We also planned to revisit Scotland and catch up with several friends and rellies in the UK.

What we Actually Did!

Well we did visit Brittany and really enjoyed it. We spent about 3-weeks there until we finally got fed up with strong winds, the cold and the rain. We did have quite a lot of nice weather but in the end we had had enough and we pulled the pin!

Dancing didn't feature much in the holiday; we danced in Guérande in Brittany during their summer solstice celebrations and in Alsace we went to an evening  performance of dances from a number of countries and regions. The most interesting dance that evening was a dance on stilts from a Basque group!!

We did pass a lot of people settled at the side of the road near Chamonix waiting for a Tour de France time trial and a late stage – they would have sat there by the side of he road for several days.  We kept moving!

Brittany – a different place!?

There was so much about Brittany that made it feel like a different country.  Yes, they spoke French – but they also spoke Breton. Yes, they drove on the correct side of the road – the right that is – but so many of the cars had a sticker on the back – not declaring themselves  'F' for French - but 'BZH'; short for Breizh – the Breton name for Brittany.

In some major cities the road engineering was unique too – Brest for example – maybe partly to cater for the tramways.   And they drank Breizh-Cola not Coca Cola.  They also drank Breizh bière and La Bière Bretonne.

As you drive around France you come across lots of place names and signs in a local language a sign of regional cultures and old languages.

There are three regions that do this in spades, the Basque region,  Alsace – where it is often hard to find a place with a French name – and the third is Brittany  Maybe it's the Celtic influence but many of the names wouldn't sound out of place in Wales – so many Aber, Du, L(l)an, Pen, Pont and Ty names.  We stayed at Pont-Aven and Aber W'rach which sounded far from French,  We drove along a short section of the D2 through Pont-l'Abbé. Plonéour, Pouldreuzic, Plozévet and Plouhinec, Were they so fixated on 'P'? All foreign sounding and all part of the holiday adventure!

To Green or not too Green?

When we cover long distances in our motor home holidays we are always conscious of generating lots of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Hard to reconcile with any thoughts of being green!!

This was put into context when we drove through Ploudalmézeau and Landunvez and down the D27.   We stopped to admire the ponies and foals there and we read the plaque by the rocky beach.  It was a non-emotive and factual statement that on the 16th May  1978 the Amoco Cadiz ran aground just off the coast and spilled 225,000 tons of crude oil.  A total disaster for all wild life and the local economy.

That was over 38 years ago and the rocks there are still stained with the residue; the signs of the disaster are still there.
 
So Many Magic Places

Without writing a very boring book it is impossible to summarise a trip of 10,500 km over 120 days or to answer the question 'what was our favourite place'? So many superb days and wonderful places. A small selection is included below using some categories that spring to mind:

From Calais we checked out Rouen, Lyons le Forêt,  Chateau Gaillard,  and Mayenne on the way to Brittany for Weeks 4, 5 and 6 of our holiday.

Fougères had our favourite garden and a superb chateau; Rennes was too busy, Roques aux Fées was amazing – how did they move 50 tonne boulders 5000 years ago?

Vitré on a Sunday was fun but the massive chateau was closed.  Redon yacht basin had some great reflections and the market at Vannes was, well a typical French market! We stopped 2 days at Carnac with its curious alignments.

Pont-Aven lived up to its artist heritage promotions and the walled town of Concarneau was brilliant.  For us the features of Quimper were the cathedral with its bent nave and the superb Mediterranean garden which had the healthiest grass trees we'd ever seen – far, far from home!

West from Quimper we explored the two wonderful peninsulas of Crozon and Sizun. Spectacular coastal scenery. Camaret seemed to be one great knackers yard for old fishing boats; fascinating place with its Vauban Tower and more alignments. The nearby beach at Anse de Dinan was a favourite - well our only beach of the holiday actually, nice though!  Some of our best overnight stops were here too – the cliff-tops at Pointe de Brezellec and near Pte des Espagnols.  Lots of walks there too.

We left Aber Wrac'h with its massive Rubik's cube and headed SE past Pointe St Mattieu, La Roche Bernard, through Guerande (with the least friendly dancers) to La Rochelle, which we loved – so much that we spent the night on the pavement outside 24 Rue Jean Mermoz
           
SE Across France to the Alps  (Weeks 7, 8 and 9)

Cognac gave us the best decorated toilet, on the way to the very poignant Oradour sur Glane, the site of a permanent memorial to a Nazi massacre in 1944.  We were disappointed not to visit the Gay Lussac museum at St Leonard de Noblat – but it did give us the best floodlit church.  Uzerche          was really nice and our first chance for a  Brexit discussion! A night with the frogs at a pond in Champagnac and a trip up the Gorges of the Dordogne to the Gratte Bruyere lookout took us to the Chateau Val with some of the best reflections – nice chateau too.

Early July saw us in volcano country walking around Lake Pavin before visiting our favourite mediaeval town Issoire – we spent 2 days there returning to sleep in the twin villages of Tourzel-Ronziere in the surrounding hills

Took a crazily steep road up to the Chateau at Leotoing on the way to Brioude with its stereo confession boxes!

The next delights included the volcano core towns of Polignac and Le Puy en Velay. In Puy we slept right  under the Rocher St Michel for 2 nights.  Magic town and magic views.

After a brief stop to visit a cousin in Privas we charged on past blooming lavender fields gradually climbing until we stopped for 2 days relaxation at the lake at Serre Ponçon in the High Alps. The lake was crowded with Italians there for the week-end – we were very close to the Italian border so we drove up through Briançon over the roads that we'd watched Cadel Evans win the Tour de France on and down into Italy.  We spent day 71 of our holiday in Sosa. It's probably 365th on the Italian list of places to visit but it was fabulous.  Yes the Romans had been there before us but it was a really nice town. Best Italian town of the holiday!!

We parked in the main square and found ourselves surrounded by parked cars in the morning!

Alps to The Ardennes and on to Calais  (Weeks 10 and 11)

Returning to the French Alps we climbed to the blue, blue  Cenis Lake at 2000m – which we shared with a herd of cold cows; it was 2ºC overnight. The next day was Bastille Day and we dropped down to the D902 and drove up to Bonneval-sur-Arc – really nice place, gorgeous valley in full sunshine.  We should have stayed there overnight but we headed up the Col d'Iseran and it got colder and colder, bleaker and bleaker.  Rain, then sleet, then snow. No views and at the top, 2,778m, it was -3ºC.

We carefully drove down to Val d'Isère and then back to St Charles Bridge where we stayed for two nights. The next day in glorious weather we walked up to the Refuge de Prariond and were enthralled by the Marmots, Chamois and flowers en route.

The Lake at Tignes was emotive with its memorial statue to the flooded village under the hydo dam.  We dropped  down to Bourg St Maurice before heading up to our favourite Les Chapieux.  It was a torrid trip – we shared the very narrow D902 with about 50 cyclist,  cars and motorbikes and emergency vehicles coming down the steep hill!!  We appreciated the evening peace of the valley.

The next day we climbed from 1608m to the Col de la Croix de Bonnehomme at 2443m on a day of perfect blue sky. With the flags at half-mast the next day, following the terrorist attack in Nice, we walked towards the Ville des Glaciers before reluctantly heading off via the Col du Roselend towards Alsace.

In hindsight the short cut through Geneva was a mistake but it led us on to Belfort – nice town with army patrols in the streets!  Did that make us feel safer or less safe?  We called in to the superb village of Eguisheim on our way to visit our friends near Strasbourg. While in Alsace we visited our weirdest museum – the baggage museum in Hagenau and the weirdest dancing – the Basque stilt dancing at a dance evening in Imbsheim.  We also visited a Buddhist retreat and some cliff houses before heading off towards the ferry at Calais.  Weirdest street art goes to Bitche – see photo!!


We called in to Saar Louis to pick blackberries – always reliable at that time of year – did Dinant which was good although wet and stopped overnight at Givet which was a bonus as we were on the river bank looking across at the town, the chateau and the lights reflected in the river.  Magic!

And so back to Calais and Dover.

The copy of 'The Most Beautiful Detours in France' that we were given in Fougères was invaluable. Using the book we visited 15 new places adding to the nine that we had previously been to. Also useful was the 'Prettiest Villages of France' web-site.

Scotland  (Weeks 13 through 15)

After a week of resting we headed up to Scotland on 7th August on a cold day of heavy rain.  We stopped near Selkirk.  The next day we did the first of many walks plotted by the Scottish Forestry Commission, this one at Thornielee.  Setting the trend for the trip we picked lots of fruit – that day it was wild raspberries.  We spent the night at Tinto Hill before driving through Glasgow and up Loch Lomond.  Bit of a frustrating day really which ended at Ardcastle Forestry site with nice walks down to Loch Fyne. On through Lochgilphead to see the superb Crinan Canal in atrocious weather. The lock keepers did a great job but they were soaked through running from lock to lock! Lots of traffic with very wet and miserable boaties.

We stopped that night at the magnificent Sutherlands Grove but we could not do justice to it.  It was just as wet at Fort William – we are yet to see Ben Nevis!  What we did see were hundreds of motor homes with nowhere to go!!  The 11th August saw us revisit and rewalk the trails at Glen Garry Forestry; picked loads of bilberries. On up Loch Ness where the river at Invermoriston was in spate; spent the night at Contin where we met Nadine and Uli from Germany.  We also met a bear & about a million biting flies.


Heading NW we rewalked the riverside paths near Little Garve and Silverbridge, picked more bilberries, stopped at the brilliant Lael Arboretum, climbed all over Knockan Crag, checked out Calda House and watched the sun set over Ardvreck Castle - all the time dodging fleas!!.

Brilliant scenery and really nice weather which continued as we headed for the north coast on single track roads with passing places, stopping by the Kyle of Durness with flat seas and another great sunset.

In Durness I went for my second swim at Balnakiel Beach – the first swim had been 48 years before.

Some of the other fabulous places that we visited include many sites along the 'Rock Route', Portmohomak, Cromarty (with its parked oil and gas platforms), Inverness and the wonderful Falkirk Wheel.

Along the way we did many more superb Forestry Commission walks.  We did wonder if we were we being watched during all those walks.

Check out our additional photos of the trip.

For motor-homers:  For most of our overnight stops we used almost exclusively sites from the excellent French Camping Car infos.