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Published: January 4th 2014
Motorhome News from France
19th December 2013 Time
Where do the days go? Time passes as we breathe and habits fall like autumn leaves as new challenges take their toll on the things we hold so dear. But time befriends us for a while as we take our leave of Olde England once more and head for the sun, lengthy shadows cast their wintry spell on glistening dew and a pale moon graces a pastel morning sky. Now there might be time enough for me to put pen to paper once more, to bring a tale or two of our 2013 travels since India in January. Let's start back in France in April 2013, before taking a motorhome journey back to Wales in July and Switzerland in September - blogs to follow! France. 10th April 2013
Easter 2013 came and went at home in England, with snow and frost delaying the coming of spring. Snowdrops continued to flourish in the garden, keeping a watchful eye on new shoots of daffodils just beginning to show their heads through the leaf-litter of yesteryear. It's three weeks since our return from India and we've been
Fred at the Zoo
Limoges France April 2013
frozen ever since. Time to head for warmer climes yet again, to visit family in France and meet up with some very special friends.
Grandson, Frederic, is now six-and-a-bit, living all his young life in mid-France, old enough to venture into the world of zoos and aquariums in Limoges, wide-eyed and excited by all that nature has yet to bring to his life. I guess that's how my own love of wildlife started, at Regent's Park Zoo and The Natural History Museum in London. It takes but a small spark to create a fire. Around every corner in life there's something new, as much for this old codger as it is for young Fred. After a couple of days of tigers, sharks and flying kites, it was time to move on south in our motorhome, to immerse ourselves in yet another new and rather intriguing way of life. Time
Behind me now, the tick-tick-tick of the clock, the swish, swish, swish of the pendulum, as time passes me by. Time, that enemy of life, standing in the shadows, bekoning with the devil's finger. Time that now stands still as I'm lulled by the rhythmic slap,slap, slap of
water beating against the hull; a clockwork spring awaiting the key as dawn breaks at the mooring. The canal is still, the trees at rest, the air silent as a dozing dormouse listening for the sounds of a new day, evidence that time has moved on and we're all a day older, another day nearer another life.
Our dear friends, Jan and Trevor, from Melbourne, Australia, have invited us to share a few days with them, cruising the canals of the Dordogne, from Montauban to Marmonde; a far cry from that last most memorable adventure together, in New Zealand
, as we travelled together on a circuitous route from Christchurch to Dunedin via Queenstown and Mount Cook by motorhome back in 2009. They arrived in France at Motauban Station, laden with luggage, (mostly cheese), all ear-splitting grins and waving welcoming arms, still reeling from the flight and train journey following their recent research visit to Corsica's cheeseries . Apart from being old friends, and I use that term loosely, J and T are gold medal award cheese-makers from Red Hill, Melbourne, and the next week would see us sampling all the local cheeses - and the odd bottle or two
of something to go with it. Our home for the next week was an eight-berth canal cruiser with plenty of room for us all to rattle about, sober or otherwise.
This was never on our list of life, the dull monotony of boats on canals, trapped like the water before us on an opal-green mirror sinking into the deep unknown. Wind-blown tree-litter bobs on sparkling pools as we pass by, swirling nervously like an excited child unsure who may be watching, as lock-gates open and close. A light morning breeze greets the waking sun working its way above the horizon, shimmering shafts of white filter through the new leaves of spring waking the buttercups from their slumber to fluttering golden reflections along the water's edge. The morning mist rises in graceful clouds of cotton-grass and seeds of plane bob overhead like strings of beads, the alder and oak, white knots of elderflower and hawthorn between bridge and lock and ubiquitous poplars stand in sharp rows beside the towpath. A gentle breeze chases fledgling ripples, dancing like ballerinas on ice, chilled in the dawn of a new spring day, sending the last remnants of yesterday's clouds out to the east.
What do we know of such leisure? Our lives so graced with the urge to travel to wild places, ever at risk of new learning. Here beginneth the umpteenth lesson. This old dog's about to learn a few new tricks.
Listen now. Beyond the rhythmic hum of the engine, the cackle of magpies and the tinkling bells of willow warblers and blackcaps from the river bank, that unmistakeable trill of the nightingale: 'wee, wee,wee, wee, chuk-chuk-chuk' - another there in the shrubbery, another, and yet another; that most secretive of birds, an invisible magnet there in the thicket. The nightingalle will go unnoticed by the local population; it's part of the every-day wallpaper of their lives; the breakfast coffee and butter croisants; the two-hour break for lunch; the cheese, the wine, the ealy-morning walk to the boulangerie. But to us, the lesser-blessed, the sound of the nightingale heralds spring; it's the finest Earl Grey tea, scrumptious eclairs, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, a teenager's first searching kiss behind the cycle sheds.
And yet we fell for the lure of placid water, the aimless wandering, snail-like, to the monotonous drumming of water
on hull, friendly waves from towpath fishermen, and at 5 kph, a lazy pace of life to which one can quickly become accustomed. My mind goes back to my youth once again, to fishing on canals and lakes, the polluted River Thames of my teens at Richmond and Shepperton; rod in hand at peace with the world - a sachet of personal space and a time for reflection and comtemplation.
There are those who would tell me tales of canals and toil and hefty locks, but much of that is in the past. The canal that meanders beside the River Garonne, the Garonne Lateralle, boasts the latest in remote controlled lock technology, leaving the jolly boater the mere chore of standing proudly as a figurehead on a tall master, twisting a swinging pole in mid canal and tying up on the capstan at the lock. Boredom, were it a true possibility, is relieved by this simple procedure and an occasional walk or cycle-ride into the nearby town to savour France's many delights.
As old hands on water, Trevor and Jan took charge from the moment we stepped aboard, leaving us to relax, listen and
learn. To be truthful, it's motorhoming on water, though rather more leisurely and it's not necessary to tie everything down before taking the handbrake off. If the fancy takes you it's 'up anchor' sometime after breakfast, a stop for a cuppa around mid-morning, pop into the local village shop for daily essentials, visit a few places of interest and moor up somewhere different every evening. With our able captain at the helm, we sampled the pleasures of sun bathing on deck whilst he took care of all the driving!
A carnival procession was under-way in Montech, our first port of call on foot a short distance from our mooring; the whole town singing, cheering, arm waving and marching through the streets in fancy dress to the strains of the local band. Goodness knows what it was all about. This must be Fance.
But even in France it's possible to find a little touch of home from time-to-time. One evening as we approached our mooring for the night in Moissac, we were greeted with a shout from ashore. 'Ahoy there! Throw me the rope,' the harbourmaster cried in English. Alan, the diligent harbourmaster, was a
Norfolk boy and his wife, from our home town.
Being of sturdy Australian stock, our Trevor took it upon himself to unchain the bikes from the blunt end whilst we were moored in Valence d'Agen. A leisurely 6km cycle ride was planned to the bastide town of Auvillar, but a slight mishap delayed our departure. First we needed to retrieve two of the bikes from the canal. Whoops! No harm done, just wet bottoms for a while as we took to the hills and wandered the cobbled streets of pretty Auvillar.
Bikes and I got on famously as a youngster, taking flight at every opportunity for mile after mile, flash drop-handlebars and toe-clips, bum in the air and head down, but the coming of age brought motorbikes and cars; the gaudy Dawes left to rot. The legs too have withered with age if our recent experience in India is to be believed. I vowed then never to stray near a bike again. That was just five weeks and half a ton of steel and rod brakes ago. Now I find a friendly soul has rented rather more modern bikes for Janice and myself. It's all well
intentioned, and to be fair, we did leave India with a blog picture of me on a bike - smiling for the camera. It's that old thing I'm rather good at; hiding behind my own shadow and ever anxious to conform to what's expected of me by those younger, with more sense and a kindly heart. There's clearly some discernable difference in rideability between Indian hired bikes and European ones, for suddenly there's a new lease of life in the legs, fresh breath in the lungs and wind in the hair. We took to the winding roads and hills this time as children yet again.
My little brother, Mike, once described cruising the Nile as, 'sitting on deck reading a good book as scenery passes by'. So it surely is with canals, as orchards drift gently by, bridges float as overhead shadows, and joggers, bikers and dog-walkers meander to-and-fro along the narrow towpath. Out beyond Agen the canal twists and turns between shady tunnels of overhanging trees, through leafy glades and regimental lines of plum trees in blossom as cool mornings turn to balmy afternoons and the welcoming chant of the cuckoo haunts the stillness, the sun passes the
yard-arm and glasses are raised in celebration.
It's April and the temperature was steadily rising. It's easy to forget how far south we are when snow and ice was bringing traffic to a standstill back home just two weeks ago. Despite the heat we cycled from Feugarolles to the delightful walled town of Vianne and to Buzet-sur-Baise to sample their Bordeaux-style wine and buy strawberries and cheese and pastries for breakfast from the market in Damazan. This must be France.
One day Trevor will be as old as me, but that's still a long way off. A short way up stream we celebrated his 68th birthday in style with a superb lunch at 'La Chope et le Pichet', on the lockside at Villeton - followed closely by sleepy sundowners on deck and our favourite motorhome game of Farkle, now famous across Australia.
Our Calypso cruiser was finally left at Marmonde, a one hour train ride back to our motorhome, left parked at Montauban, our starting point. So it's thumbs up from us for canal boating, companionship and soperific relaxation. Sadly it will be 2015 before we get to meet these special friends again, but thank you Jan
and Trevor, for introducing us to yet another way of life beyond our blinkered eyes; a journey into tranquility and peace; offering time, time to allow the mind to wander into another world.
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads - and Todd came too!
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Tot: 4.051s; Tpl: 0.062s; cc: 56; qc: 177; dbt: 0.1442s; 3; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 2mb