France - 141 - Castelnaudary on a wet miserable Sunday afternoon /the camping car aire is full/ Somewhere is on the canal de midi

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October 10th 2018
Published: October 18th 2018
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Day 16 - We are heading up FRance with little idea where to go to next. We have just looked at the map and picked a road heading home. The weather had turned. Now we no longer face 34 degrees of heat but need to put our jumpers and coats on. It is dull and the rain has started to creep in bit by bit. We have very little in the way of plans. We have done what we wanted to do and we have seen what we wanted to see . All in all we did them too quickly. We will hit the north of France too soon at this rate. How about heading for the seaside ? How about heading for the battlefields ? This was the way our conversations were flying between us. Which battlefields? Well first world war ones? Ok lets just see. How about Versailles on the way back? Not sure about that one - we have an inbuilt reluctance to go into Paris and think our sat nag should be reprogrammed to avoid the chaos of that city. Better to go by Eurostar and let the train take the strain. How about going up to Holland in the time we have remaining? We just couldnt come to any compromise and ideas were just flying about like flies waiting to be swatted.

In the end we found ourselves parked up on a Camping Car aire in Castlenawdary next to the Canal di Midi. Castlenawdry is such a nice name we guessed the town would be equally as nice . The aire was fairly empty when we arrived . Just a couple of vans and us. Everyone was out probably up town making the most of a grey old rainy Sunday afternoon. The price of the aire was 14 euros and a few cents. It had electricity, water and a dump . The only thing missing was a shower. Camping Car have started to take over the free french aires and making them into paid ones with barriers. You purchase a card which you can top up at the gates or on line. We had to negotiate the machine and add some euros to the account. We only had 10 euros on it and the barrier would have remained firmly down until we had enough on to pay for our nights stay. An easier task than I expected and was soon completed. The towns and villages seem to be giving over their aires to these companies as they cannot afford to maintain them. I guess the councils in french villages and towns must be like ours at home - strapped for cash . Giving the aire away is a way of keeping the facility and letting someone else take the profit and maintain it. Hopefully Camping Car wont make them so expensive they stop serving the purpose they were intended for but time will tell.

Leaving the aire we chose to walk up the street into town rather than walk along the canal. The town was deader than a dead dormouse. It felt rather down at heel and much less attractive than Mirepoix. Less inviting too. There were a few shops but none were open. The cafes looked empty or dirty and were filled with unsavoury characters . The young men and women sitting around with their dogs looked down at heel , out of work and rather worrying . I held on to my bag a little tighter as they walked towards me. Some sat around as if on the point of begging. It was not the introduction to the canal di midi of the television programmes that I expected. The streets were dirty and unkept , the canal basin looked grey. There were boats moored up but no sign of any life . Perhaps we were here at the wrong end of the season.

It was not what we expected in any way shape or form. We thought the waterfront would be full of bustling cafes, french music belting out onto the street, The smell of french cooking. Barge owners sitting around talking. Bicycles being ridden along the towpath . Barges and boats of all shapes gliding serenely through the water. None of it was to be seen. If I were on barge spending a week on the canal I think I would be disappointed with this town and stop off. I am sure there would however be more delightful stop offs along the way. We did stop a while on the bridge watching a large boat navigating the waterway and pulling up , tying up for the night . A school boat called the Where ever . The one man aboard made parking look easy even though Whatever was a big girl. Reginald Molehusband eat your heart out at this bit of parking. Go on you might need to google that one.

Castlenawdery promised much . We had seen it many times on travel programmes and even our own actors Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales had travelled the canal on their boat . It didnt look like this when they were here.

Disappointed we walked back in the rain along the towpath to our home for the night. By now there were 12 motorhomes on the aire . We had checked on the internet on the capacity of the site and it was 14 so only two more to go and it would be full. We wondered what would happen when it was full. We presumed the barrier would stay shut . The 13th van turned up and parked leaving one space in the middle of the site . You can book these sites on line so maybe the 14th would be someone passing by on the off chance of a space or it might be pre-booked. When the 14th turned up he decided to ignore the space and park up where he liked. It gave the impression that there was one more space left . Now that was going to provide us with entertainment a little later in the night .

A old VW camper turned up. The young girl got out. She looked like a young hippy of the 1960's . We knew the site was full and sitting right out of the way in the corner we were well placed to people watch but far enough away to stay out of the problem. She tried the machine . From a distance we couldnt see if she had a card . The card is just passed across a glass screen . It reads it and lets you in. Did she have a card ? Couldnt see. Was she trying the age old method of hoping a ticket would pop out and she could pay on exit. She tried times many and when she got nowhere her boyfriend/partner /husband young dreadlocks with a quizzing look on his face got out and tried . Did he have a card? No idea . Was he wishing the ticket would spill out? This went on for over 10 minutes as they looked at the machine, shook it , tried the barrier and got absolutely nowhere. Then a friendly french elderly lady went over to help. She tried the barrier, she read the instructions and they all stood there for a further 10 minutes scratching their heads. Shall I go out and tell them that the aire is full and no amount of headscratching will make it empty. In the end I decided to do the decent neighbourly thing , put my coat on, braved the rain and went out to find out if they spoke any English. I asked and the girl said yes. As I went to tell them the reason why they could not get in the male of the party put his finger to his lips suggesting I be quiet as the elderly lady was talking to the company. do no more .No point I persisted in telling them FULL , NO SPACES. By this time I almost gave up when the elderly lady told them the same thing. I walked off , tried I could do no more. They drove their elderly VW camper away probably disgusted with the system. Perhaps it was a good idea it was full . At least they didnt have to suffer Castlenawdry on a dull grey old wet Sunday evening. It didnt get better later at night .

Another place ticked off the list . Tomorrow we head north and towards home. The flash floods predicted by Meteo have put us off the south of France. The Dordogne or the Tarn seem the places to avoid the poor weather but we have done the Dordogne to death. What about Reims? What about it says the driver? OK we drive round it on our way to or from somewhere else . Big city, problems parking without planning. Amiens? We will see . So what will tomorrow bring ? Who knows ? I will let you into the route when we finally make that decision.


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