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Return to the UK in the Spring 2017 PDF Printable Version E-mail

Return to the UK via Spain & Portugal in the Spring of 2017

Margaret Williamson
April 2017

Travelling in our Carado motorhome, we left England at the beginning of December 2016 on the Brittany ferry from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, the port for the city of Caen. We headed south down the west coast of France to the Pyrenees. Here we paused for some time in the Basque country, hiring a car for a week out of Biarritz for a tour which included Christmas on the Spanish side of the mountains. After two months and 1,230 miles (2,000 km) motorhoming through the centre of Spain, we crossed the mountainous border into Portugal.

Avoiding the crowded coast, we enjoyed a month of camping, cycling and walking in the splendid hill country along Portugal's border with Spain, from Marvao to Guarda, the country's highest town. Crossing back into Spain, we headed for Salamanca. In this travel log, we drive through Spain to Ainsa and a crossing of the Pyrenees into France through the Bielsa Tunnel at 5,380 ft, aiming all the time for Cherbourg and a ferry to Rosslare in southeast Ireland.

Continued from: In Portugal in the Spring of 2017

FROM PORTUGAL INTO SPAIN – APRIL 2017

Guarda, Portugal to Camping Don Quijote, Cabrerizos, Salamanca (Castilla y Leon) - 112 miles (height 2,570 ft)

Open 27 Feb-31 Oct.  www.campingdonquijote.com  ACSI Card €17 inc 10-amp elec, hot showers and reasonable free WiFi.  N 40.97611  W 5.60472

We return 6 miles round the Guarda Ring Road to the A23/IP2, then continue north to Arrifania, where we turn east on IP5 for Vilar Formosa and the Spanish frontier. This is high country, remaining above 800 m/2,640 ft. At exit 33 (Vilar Formosa) we turn off to check Camperstop Zaza, less than half a mile along the road towards the town. The ample parking, with water and dump, costs €5 per day (+ €2 for a hook-up) and is next to a handy bakery. Too early in the day for us to stop, but it is certainly more accessible than the campsite at Guarda and is open all year. Back on IP5, we soon cross the Spanish border at 30 miles to enter Castilla y Leon. The Portuguese side is busy with shops and fuel stations but there are no checks or hold-ups. Entering Spain, clocks go forward one hour.

The A62/E80 Autovia de Castilla, a toll-free dual carriageway, takes us past the fine walled city of Ciudad Rodrigo. Again I notice storks nesting in trees as well as on old buildings. Shortly before Salamanca we take its outer ring road (signed Tordesillas) and follow it to the exit for Cabrerizos. Use the SatNav, then camping signs for the final couple of miles to find the large, popular and well organised campsite that is obviously on the migration route from Northern Europe to Southern Spain. The restaurant/bar is open, busy and expensive (no set menus) but you can sit there in front of a giant screen and watch football, if so inclined.

With several campsites round Salamanca (including two other ACSI Card sites), I chose this one as it claims to be an easy cycle ride along a riverside path into the city. This will be tested tomorrow. For non-cyclists, there is also a bus.

Opposite the camp entrance is a motorhome/caravan dealer (especially Knaus, Benimar and McLouis) so we browse the stock and accessories, buying only an orange plastic cover for a side marker light that has broken. Sadly, it doesn't quite fit!

Cycling 19 km return into and around Salamanca

Next day, a hot and sunny Saturday, we ride the so-called bicycle path alongside the River Tormes for 7 km into Salamanca. It is no easy matter as the footpath varies from a wide gravel road to narrow stretches that are sandy or stony, with trees and roots in the way and a drop into the river! The campsite, which rents bicycles out and recommends this route, really should give more warning about its suitability for children or novices. The path is also devoid of signposts, even on arrival in Salamanca, and we have to use the SatNav to find our way into the heart of this Silver Route town, a centre of religion and learning since the middle ages.

In the centre we wheel our bicycles past the massive Convent and Church of St Stephen (a nice lofty home for the storks), the Dominican Convent of the Duenas (open to view, with entry fee), then uphill to the old and new cathedrals (ditto). Streams of tourists - individuals and follow-my-leader groups of all nationalities and ages - thread their way along the narrow lanes past the historic edifices of the University of Salamanca, one of the oldest in Europe. Once firmly governed by the Catholic church, the buildings look mostly unoccupied today.

We sit outside a fine café opposite the Duenas Convent, just in time to catch their 'English Breakfast' which finishes at noon. The waiter apologises for the lack of beanz, but the fresh orange juice, coffee, bacon, eggs and bread are just what we need! Reinvigorated, we continue to the enormous Baroque central square, the Plaza Mayor, surrounded by restaurants and tables full of beautiful people. We pause for an ice cream before tackling the return ride along the river.

Salamanca to Camping El Acueducto, Segovia (Castilla y Leon) - 108 miles (height 3,540 ft)

Open 1 Apr-30 Sept.  www.campingacueducto.com  €26 inc 10-amp elec and hot showers. WiFi €2 per day - and only on pitches near Reception.  N 40.93138  W 4.09250

Wonderful weather again as we set off on Sunday morning (Palm Sunday), driving 12 miles east alongside river and railway to Babilafuente, then 5 miles south to Encinas de Abajo to join the quiet N501/A50 dual carriageway. We continue eastwards through high green country of irrigated vines and wheat fields, with a distant view of snow on the Sierra de Avila. The road climbs to 1132 m/3,375 ft before reaching Avila at 70 miles, where we turn onto N110 for Segovia.

Follow the Segovia Ring N110/SG20 to the La Granja exit, then take DL601 towards Segovia. The campsite is on the right, 4 km before the town centre: a nice position, with views of snowy peaks. It is also extremely quiet, due to being overpriced (not to mention the free motorhome parking next to the bull ring 3 km further on). The site café/bar and shop are closed.

After lunch I do the laundry, which dries in an hour or two on the line. Rabbits play in the next field, tiny lizards dart along the stone walls and two pairs of magpies are nesting in the trees above. I can even hear a woodpecker hammering and, later, am kept awake by the regular beeping of a scops owl. There is more wildlife here than campers!   

Cycling 11 km return into and around Segovia – on Margaret's birthday!

My birthday dawns bright and sunny, with a musical greeting from Classic  FM.

Cycling into Segovia is safe and easy on the pavements alongside the main road 601: just 4 km, past the bullring and all the way to the city's famous Roman monument. The impressive aqueduct, made of massive granite blocks with no mortar, slices through the town that grew up around it. It was built in the 1stC AD, with an original length of 15 km, to bring water from the Rio Frio. 167 arches still stand (75 single + 44 double) with a maximum height of 28 m or 93 ft. Reconstructed in the 15thC reign of Ferdinand & Isabella, it actually provided water for Segovia until the mid-19th century. For more, see www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/segovia/. There are no other Roman remains in the town; probably their stone was robbed to build the plethora of churches, convents and cathedral that now dominate.

The place is thronged with coachloads of visitors filling the souvenir shops, the two main squares and the cobbled lanes linking them. All the eateries have pretentious menus featuring the local speciality of Cochinillo Asado (roast baby piglet) at €25 plus. We do not feel inclined (or dressed) for this! Eventually I find a simple bar offering sausage, ham, fried eggs and chips, where we dine opposite the 12thC Church of San Clemente, near the end of the aqueduct.

Climbing up to the Plaza Mayor and the hilltop Cathedral (built 1525-1768, replacing an earlier model destroyed in wars in 1520), we continue to the Alcazar at the northwest corner of the old walled centre. Originally built in the 11thC on the site of a Roman fort, what remains today is mainly 19thC, resembling a Victorian folly. We don't pay to go in, but it was worth the climb for the magnificent view from the gardens down over the Eresma River and beyond.

Returning through the old Jewish quarter below the Alcazar, we stop at a delightful café for birthday cakes and coffee. It is opposite the Convent of Corpus Cristi, built in a former synagogue – the only one of five in Segovia that still stands.

Then a short uphill ride back to camp completes a memorable day.

Segovia to Camping Fuente de la Teja, Soria (Castilla y Leon) - 120 miles (height 3,425 ft)

Open 1 Mar-31 Oct.  www.fuentedelateja.com  €19 inc 6-amp elec and hot showers. Free WiFi near Reception/bar.  N 41.74588  W 2.48456

Leaving Segovia we take N110 through the town, past Aldi and Lidl (opposite each other after 3 miles), pausing at Lidl. Then continue northeast, the ridge of mountains to our right still flecked with snow despite the heat of the sun. Storks graze the fields while Red Kites soar overhead – each to its niche.

After 65 miles, still high at 1060 m/3,500 ft, we begin a swift 9-mile descent to San Esteban de Gormaz, where we cross the River Duero down at 860 m/2,840 ft. It appears to be an old town, with castle ruins, churches and a market. Continuing on N122, A11 (Autovia del Duero) to bypass El Burgo de Osma, then N122 again to Soria. Turn south on SO-20 Ring Road to exit 8, then follow camping signs to the site.

It's a delightful little campsite, easy to find and access, with several pairs of storks nesting in the trees along its perimeter. In Reception the owner's lovely daughter, Clara, noticed from my ID that it was my birthday yesterday. Her gift, bestowed with great patience, was to sort out a reliable WiFi connection that reached our pitch.

The storks magically oblige us with courtship rituals that Barry captures with a telephoto lens. The closest we've ever seen these birds on the nest.

Soria to Camping Municipal Ciudad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza (Aragon) - 116 miles (height 790 ft)

Open all year.  www.campingzaragoza.com  €25.75 inc 10-amp elec, heated showers (or €22 with Camping Key Europe card). Free WiFi throughout.  N 41.63766  W 0.94227

Circling clockwise on the SO-20 Ring Road, we cross the River Duero and continue east on N122. It climbs gradually to the Omenaca Pass at 1170 m/3,860 ft, across high open country of ploughed red earth and green wheat fields. Dropping to 483 m/1,595 ft in Tarazona after 36 miles, we're pleased to find a rare layby for a break.

Reaching the junction of AP68 (toll motorway) and N232 – which both lead along the Ebro Valley to Zaragoza – we take the motorway, since the narrower alternative looks busy with trucks. The only toll (25 miles along) costs €4.90, a small price for the easier drive. Join Z-40, the Zaragoza Ring, anticlockwise following Teruel, to exit 33, then take N11 towards the city, using the SatNav and camping signs. The site (about 5 miles before the city centre) is on the left of a dual carriageway, so double back at the next roundabout.

It's a sprawling municipal in an unlovely suburb, but a convenient overnight halt that we used back in January coming south from Pamplona. Another circle is closed! The café is open but the only hot meal on offer is chicken nuggets or squid pieces with chips, so I cook some sausages for supper.

Zaragoza to Camping Pena Montanesa, Ainsa (Aragon) - 122 miles (height 1,815 ft)

Open all year.  www.penamontanesa.com  ACSI Card €19 inc 10-amp elec, heated showers and a bottle of wine! Free WiFi only in bar/restaurant.  N 42.43555  W 0.13583

The Zaragoza Ring takes us clockwise for 11 miles to the exit for A23, Autovia Mudejar, and north to Huesca. The roads are busier than usual and we realise that today (Thursday prior to Good Friday) is the start of the Spanish Semana Santa holiday weekend and everyone is heading for the hills!

At Huesca we turn east on N240, part of which has been widened into the A22. At 81 miles, near Barbastro, there is a large service station that even has an overnight parking area. We refuel (a special Easter deal with higher quality diesel at the same price as the basic stuff), then take N123 leading to A138, which climbs north up the Cinca River valley to Ainsa in the foothills of the Pyrenees. A scenic layby overlooking one of the dammed Cinca lakes at 102 miles is a good spot for lunch.

On through the tourist mountain village of Ainsa, thronged with Easter holidaymakers, we continue along the road that will lead to France (via the Bielsa Tunnel). The flagged entrance to the Pena Montanesa complex (hotel/restaurant/campsite) is on the right about 2 miles after Ainsa, alongside the river.

Having phoned ahead to check availability ('no problem') I'm dismayed by the long queue for bungalows and camping but the cheerful staff are well organised and it's a big site. A helpful young man on a moped leads us to a privately hedged pitch with clear mountain views. The place fills up as the afternoon wears on and the café/bar, next to the popular indoor and outdoor pools, is packed. There is a programme of children's games and extended families are enjoying the sunshine. We are the only foreigners on site!

Later I fetch a takeaway pizza from the café and we spend the evening watching live Spanish TV coverage of the astonishing Holy Thursday processions in various cities (mainly Cuenca). Sinister contingents of robed men in pointed hats (reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan) carry elaborate tableaux depicting Christ's passion, or regally attired images of Santa Maria, through the streets as dusk blends into a moonlit night. The scene, photographed by Barry from the TV screen, is beyond belief (literally!) to those of us from the Protestant North, where it would certainly frighten young children. We did witness something similar last year in Sicily on Good Friday.

FROM SPAIN INTO FRANCE – EASTER APRIL 2017

Ainsa, Spain to Camping Domaine Lacs de Gascogne, Seissan (Midi-Pyrénées) - 92 miles (height 705 ft)

Open 8 Apr-30 Sept.  www.domainelacsdegascogne.eu   ACSI Card €15.60 inc tax, 16-amp elec, hot showers, free WiFi on pitches near bar/restaurant.  N 43.49541  E 0.57689

On leaving the campsite in Ainsa on Good Friday, I am presented with a bottle of red wine! A generous touch, after a one-night stay.

The A138 leads north up the spectacular Cinca Valley, following every twist and turn of the river. After 20 miles we pass two athletic racing cyclists on their way up through Bielsa, a tourist mountain village at 1100 m/3,630 ft. A mile later we stop at a huge pre-border supermarket stocking drink, clothes, souvenirs etc at prices to tempt the French visitor. Indeed, a quartet of French motorhomes have obviously spent the night on the car park. I buy a bumper-box of chocolate biscuits left over from Christmas, and wonder again why 'duty-free' shops have a limitless supply of Toblerone.

The road now climbs more steeply for 5 miles to the toll-free Bielsa Tunnel, through which the one-way traffic is controlled by lights. We enter at 1630 m/5,380 ft and emerge into France 3 km later at 1820 m/6,000 ft. It remains fine and sunny but snow-poles still mark the verges and there are a few patches of snow. The serpentine descent on the French side is much steeper (10%) and the road/tunnel can be closed between October and Easter.

At 35 miles, down at 1020 m/336 ft, we park for lunch at Le Pont du Moudang, where there is a picnic area and municipal camping opposite a small shop/café/ski hire advertising Pain for sale (sadly, it is yesterday's and rock-hard!) A footpath along the tumbling stream of the River Aure takes us to the Sentier d'Interpretation, a pleasant wooded walk with identification boards for flora and fauna.

Then we drive north along the Aure Valley on D929, bypassing Lannemezan at 62 miles and continuing towards Auch. In Masseube, 25 miles later, we see a Super-U by the roundabout that is open (Good Friday afternoon) with not a shopper in sight. I stock up on croissants, a splendid Gâteau Forêt Noire, pork chops and ice cream, to mention but a few!

Just another 5 miles to the little village of Seissan, where we turn left along a 1-km lane to an idyllic camp by a boating lake and two smaller fishing lakes. The young Dutch owners, Arie and Heleen, welcome us to their world and we settle in under the trees to enjoy the weekend, complete with chocolate eggs courtesy of the campsite.

At Camping Domaine Lacs de Gascogne, Seissan (Midi-Pyrénées)

Next day we make use of the camp laundry (good) and WiFi (not so good). Though we are pitched near enough to Reception to get the internet, as soon as we put both laptops on the connection fails. After much frustration, I leave Barry writing in the motorhome and take my laptop over to sit in the bar area updating the travel log. 'Free WiFi' is always a mixed blessing, since you can't complain about its slowness, unreliability and many another quirk.

Arie, a chef by profession, cooks a set Menu du Jour in the restaurant daily except Monday and Tuesday. We dine there in the evening and can highly recommend it. Saturday night's meal is cream of mushroom soup, chicken breast in tomato sauce with Mediterranean veg and perfect crisp hot frites, finishing with the best apple tart tatin I've ever tasted. Since Barry doesn't like fungi, he has French onion soup by special request, all beautifully served. A good end to the day is watching a documentary on Jarvis Cocker's final concert with Pulp, in his native Sheffield – a city we know well.

On Easter Sunday we take a walk through the woods into and around the village of Seissan, finding an ATM. The few shops are closed and all is quiet. Back at the camp we enjoy our own meal of seafood cannelloni and BFG (black forest gateau, or GFN in French).

Wonderfully sunny on Easter Monday, a peaceful day sitting on the restaurant terrace writing. Meanwhile Barry tries to solve a new problem with our website, which has suddenly turned all non-alphanumeric characters into weird symbols throughout our articles. After a great deal of anxiety, frustration and email correspondence with our internet expert, Rebecca, it is finally resolved though we still don't know the cause.

Seissan to Camping Municipal La Pelouse, Bergerac (Aquitaine) - 115 miles (height 45 ft, by the Dordogne)

Open 1 Apr-31 Oct.  www.entreprisefrery.com/camping-de-bergerac  ACSI Card €16.10 inc tax, 10-amp elec, showers, WiFi (2 hrs limit per day) on pitches near reception.  N 44.84902  E 0.47635

Before leaving Seissan we breakfast in the campsite restaurant: cold cuts, cheese, butter, jam, bread and croissants with orange juice and coffee, served by Heleen. Makes a nice change from cornflakes, tea and toast.

Back on the road it's 10 miles north on D929, then N21 for 3 miles to Auch, crossing the River Gers and stopping at an Intermarche supermarket/fuel. Continuing north on N21 via Fleurance and Lectoure to Agen, we follow a white van carrying Pruneaux d'Argen – prunes, the local speciality. At 55 miles we cross the Garonne, then drive alongside that river until it veers west for Bordeaux while we keep north for Villeneuve-sur-Lot, to cross yet another river (Lot) at 78 miles. France is certainly well watered and fertile compared with Spain.

Coming down into Bergerac the road runs between mile after mile of vineyards producing the famous Monbazillac and Bergerac wines. We cross the town's outer ring and continue on D936 towards the river, following campsite signs, to a busy little municipal camp on the south bank of the Dordogne. The town centre lies on the opposite bank, a 10-minute walk away.

Nicely pitched facing the river under the willows, we try the WiFi for which we've each been given one 2-hour ticket. Logging in demands a great deal of personal information, then an advertising clip to watch, in order to get a very poor signal - and one ticket doesn't work at all.

After a quick omelette for supper, we walk along the river bank and over the bridge into the old town. The quayside on the river, once engaged in shipping wine and locally grown tobacco down to Bordeaux, now offers pleasure trips along the Dordogne. Wandering along narrow lanes of half-timbered houses, we pass a Tobacco Museum, a 'Protestant Temple' and the Catholic Cathedral, though our abiding memory is of fancy restaurants and antique shops. There are two statues of Cyrano de Bergerac (he of the long nose), though it seems this fictional character was named after a Cyrano who didn't even come from this city!

Back to the campsite as dusk falls around 9 pm. Lovely to see the evenings lengthen.

Bergerac to Camping Le Réjallant, Condac nr Ruffec, (Poitou-Charentes) - 113 miles

Open all year.  www.lerejallant.fr ACSI Card €11 inc 10-amp elec, showers, unreliable WiFi.  N 46.01500  E 0.21304

Across the Dordogne on the D936 bridge, then east for 3 miles to join N21 north. At 27 miles we stop at Super-U to shop (bought a lovely French fruit tart, but roast chickens were sold out), then cross the A89 motorway and continue north on D6021 through Perigueux over the River Isle, negotiating much traffic, roundabouts and a one-way system.

At 36 miles we escape Perigueux on D939 and continue north to Brantome, where we cross the River Dronne and turn northwest through the Perigord Parc Naturel Regional. At 82 miles we meet the Angouleme Rocade (ring road), anticlockwise on the east side of the city, and exit onto the N10 dual carriageway going north. Turning off N10 onto D911 into Ruffec, we follow signs for the last 2 miles to the campsite at Condac, near the River Charente.

The site is quite pleasant with an outdoor pool, plenty of flowers, a range of 'mobile homes' and pitches that are busy with vans from GB, D and F – hardly surprising, given the low price. The free WiFi is barely usable but the new owners (of only two weeks!) promise that there will soon be better internet, upgraded facilities, a shop and a snack bar.

It's a 5-minute downhill walk to the Charente, where there is kayak hire, fishing, riverside walk, footbridge and an expensive restaurant. A strong cold north wind is sweeping across the area, so I turn back at the bridge.

Ruffec to Camping Les Voiles d'Anjou, Les Rosiers-sur-Loire, (Pays de la Loire) - 122 miles

Open 1 Apr-30 Sept.  www.camping-voilesdanjou.com/en/  ACSI Card €16.10 inc tax, 10-amp elec, showers, heated indoor pool, good WiFi on pitches near Reception.  N 47.35908  W 0.22500

We drive 2 miles back into and through the small town of Ruffec, then north (into a strong head wind) on N10 dual carriageway to join D910, the Poitiers ring road, at 40 miles. Going clockwise, skirting the west side of the city, we exit onto D347 for Saumur.

At 50 miles the Super-U in Neuville de Poitou is a good place to stop for diesel, lunch and shopping (a roast chicken at last!) This is very near the much publicised 'Futuroscope' film-themepark, which I look up in the Rough Guide – and despair of what is now a major attraction. So expensive, so artificial, compared with the landscape and the history that surrounds us.

In Saumur we cross the Loire and turn west along the river on D952 (with a 3.5 ton limit) towards the village of Les Rosiers. Just 3 miles before the village, the narrow road is completely blocked by police, a fire engine, a rescue helicopter and a crowd on the river bank. Whatever the accident, it is very recent as there was no warning or diversion sign, and cars ahead are turning back. Barry manages a U-turn and we take a longer route to Les Rosiers round even narrower lanes, via Longue. Eventually reaching our destination, Cyndie in Reception knows nothing about the incident or road closure.

It's an excellent campsite, currently being upgraded, and the very helpful Cyndie has reserved for us one of the two hedged pitches by Reception with a good WiFi signal. Her delightful little daughter, Zoe, is learning some English and practises on me. By the time I leave she can count to 10, tell me her name and ask questions!

Delighted to find such a site, with good internet and TV signal, a heated indoor pool and just half a km from the Loire, we settle in for a few days and enjoy a roast chicken dinner (with curry to follow tomorrow).

At Camping Les Voiles d'Anjou, Les Rosiers-sur-Loire

With reliable WiFi, we book the Cherbourg-Rosslare ferry for our favourite route from France to the UK via Ireland (neatly avoiding southern England). Other arrangements are finalised, with reservations on campsites in Kilkenny, Cashel and Skibbereen to cover our first few days in Ireland over the May Day holiday weekend and beyond.

We also write many an email and add articles to the website –Don Madge's advice on Portuguese motorway tolls and Paul Barker's prologue to their imminent tour of Iceland, as well as my own travelog update. In the Caravan Times newsletter I come across a hilarious video clip - 'The Family Camping Holiday Handicap' with Australian commentary – and circulate it to a few discerning campers.

Turning to politics, thanks to BBC Radio 4, the Guardian and French TV, we are closely following the disastrous events unfolding in Theresa May's Britain, as well as the run-up to the French Presidential elections. An article in The Observer quotes some very chilling comments from the EU Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator (a former Belgian Prime Minister) which Barry circulates to our friends and contacts, giving rise to some interesting correspondence.

The weather remains fine and sunny, tempered by a strong north wind - good drying weather for the laundry. The campsite quietens down at the end of the Easter holiday, with children back at school, so I have the warm indoor swimming pool almost to myself.

One afternoon we walk into Les Rosiers village (less than 1 km) and cross the two bridges that span the Loire to Gennes on the opposite side. These bridges (briefly defended against the Germans in 1940 with the loss of 15 cavalrymen from Saumur) were destroyed by the French and rebuilt after the war. They are busy and narrow, with no cycle lane or path, yet they form part of the official Loire Cycle Route which continues from Gennes to Saumur. The traffic deters us from setting out to cycle here – part of the Loire Valley route we happily rode from Angers to Orleans at Easter 1987, exactly 30 years ago. How things have changed.

Les Rosiers-sur-Loire to Camping Le Parc de Vaux, Ambrières les Vallées (Pays de la Loire) - 94 miles

Open 14 Apr-30 Sept.  www.parcdevaux.com or www.flowercampings.com  ACSI Card €15 (no tax) inc 10-amp elec, showers, free WiFi only inside Reception.  N 48.39121  W 0.61680

On a cold drizzly morning we head north for 11 miles on D59 and D144 to take the quiet A85 (Le Mans direction), pausing to shop at Lidl in Beaufort-en-Vallée shortly before the motorway. At 28 miles we join A11 (towards Paris) for 10 miles, taking exit 10 to Sablé: total toll €6.60. On through Sablé-sur-Sarthe, with a spacious motorhome
Aire by the river over the bridge, we continue northwest on D306. In St Loup-du-Dora at 51 miles we turn north on D24 for Mayenne.

We spot another Aire (free parking, water and dump) by a small lake, just off the bypass round Vaiges: a good place for our lunch break. Continuing, we join N162 to Mayenne, then D35 across Mayenne River to the junction with D23. This is only 9 km south of our destination, but only now do we find the road is closed for the next 7 km for resurfacing – with no suggested detour signed!

With the aid of road atlas and SatNav we find our own detour round country lanes via the village of Oisseau to Ambrières, from where it is less than 2 miles south on D23 to the campsite, beyond which the road down to Mayenne is indeed barred. Madame  in Reception helpfully tells us that it will be open again tomorrow.

The site, next to a riverside park with summer kayak hire, has only basic facilities and very few pitches that are large enough for motorhomes – none of them level. 'Night halt only' as the Caravan Club book puts it.

Ambrières les Vallées to Ferry Terminal, Cherbourg, Normandy - 117 miles

Ferry Terminal at N 49.644577  W 1.605079.  'Stena Horizon' overnight from Cherbourg to Rosslare, Republic of Ireland.  www.stenaline.ie 

The weather is still very cold, with sleet and high winds forecast (in the last week of April) and we have a ferry booked for tonight. C'est la vie! We drive north on D23 to Domfront, then turn northwest on D22 as the sky darkens and a heavy shower slows the traffic until we join a better road, D924 at Tinchebray. The farms we pass are selling Normandy cider, apples and pears as we enter the Department of Calvados. This is rolling Bocage country – hedged fields of cattle or crops of lurid yellow rape. The dashboard warns of low outside temperature (4° C) and the rain is indeed verging on sleet.

At 38 miles we bypass Vire on D407, pausing 2 miles along the ring road at a large Intermarche for a last purchase of Bleu d'Auvergne cheese and chocolate éclairs. We're also tempted into the adjacent restaurant (named Le Restaurant) by a sign offering a 3-course menu for €10.80. It turns out to be run by a friendly English couple and we enjoy a leisurely lunch: a Scandinavian-style salad buffet, followed by chicken supreme & chips, chocolate mousse, bread and water included. It's nice and warm inside and passes the time, of which we have plenty before our 9 pm sailing.

Continuing northwest on D674, we soon join the faster N174 dual carriageway, then N13 near Carentan for Cherbourg. At least the weather is now dry and the wind has moderated. We take a short detour off N13 through the town of Valognes, for a break on the car park of a large new Leclercs supermarket. The road through Valognes also passes a small motorhome Aire, a Carrefour and a Lidl, so plenty of opportunity there for shopaholics! The French don't seem to suffer from that addiction and stores are much less crowded than in England

We follow the signed truck route round to the Cherbourg ferry terminal, at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula, to avoid the town centre. The terminal serves Stena Line, Irish Ferries and Brittany Ferries and we join the queue to check-in at 7.30 pm. We'd booked a 2-berth en-suite outside cabin but the one allocated on Deck 5 proves to be cramped, with just 2 bunk beds, and very noisy vibrations. Disappointed, we ask to change and are given a free upgrade to a quieter 4-berth cabin on Deck 6, so all is well. The sea is surprisingly calm and we gain an hour's sleep, as Ireland is on UK time.

Next morning a full cooked breakfast is followed by a lazy day in the cabin, reading the papers ('The Guardian' via Kindle; 'The Irish Times' compliments of Stena). We docked on time at 3.30 pm (Irish time) in Rosslare, County Wexford, where it was not raining. In fact, Irish farmers are complaining of drought! 

(to be continued)