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July 8th 2012
Published: July 8th 2012
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BLOG 12

Monday 2 July – So there we were still on the island of Oleron – northern end, at St Denis. It was a cool overcast morning, so we slobbed it in the van ‘til after lunch. Off on the bikes again in the increasing bright weather cross-county on a round trip to Les Huttes, where we had an ice-cream and watched the surfers, back across the island to La Bree-les-Bains again to see if we’d missed anything the first time......we hadn’t – then finally back to St Denis for refreshments and in search of wi-fi. Discovered a harbour-front bar with free connection, so B cycled back for the laptop and we enjoyed a demi-picheur of white as we checked emails and blogged in the sunshine.



Tuesday 3 July – Happy Birthday to brother Jeremy! Time to move on to a different part of the island and do another needed supermarket shop – Leclerc’s again....vast, in St Pierre – centre of the island. We usually buy 3 nights’ meals at a time – this time a ready-made paella, some fish fillets and a large duck breast.



All this takes time so by the time we arrived at the rather remote forested and salt mash area of Boyardville on the north-east coast, it was time for lunch. We ate in the shady carpark for the beach, then strolled a short distance to yet another glorious, unspoilt beach (with views out to the large 18th century Fort Boyard) to chill, under the shade of our much needed beach-brolly, ‘til after 6pm.



Part of our amusement was watching the fathers building huge sandcastles and dams, whilst the children are discouraged from ‘spoiling it’, large inflatable turtles being blown up which the wimpy kids refuse to ride on and small babies being dangled in the water, despite their total displeasure and screams! Been there, done that – how pleasant just to turn over another page of the book.



Since overnight parking was not allowed for motorhomes in the beach carpark, we drove around for a bit and are free-camping in a quiet lay-by. There are a number of cycle paths in all directions – to different beaches, other villages, forts and salt-marshes. So it’ll be the bikes again tomorrow.



Wednesday 4 July – Still enjoying being on this peaceful, very laid-back island, which is popular with French holidaymakers and motorhomers but almost no other nationalities – odd because it really is idyllic.....a series of quaint villages and hamlets inland and beautiful fishing harbours and totally unspoilt beaches on the shore....all set amongst salt marshes/waterways, fields and forests.



Anyway, - we started by driving into town, where we parked and wandered around the little port of Boyardville on foot. At that time the tide was low-ish and going out. We then returned to the van for the bikes – only to discover that her bike had a puncture. That took some while (and some frustration) to deal with but we finally got going, still exploring the locality, which worked up an appetite.



Our lunch was enjoyed at a pleasant seafood restaurant – Moules/Frites for him, Seafood Pasta for her (+du vin blanc). One could have retired to the van to digest but we are made of sterner stuff, so instead we embarked on an 18km cycling round trip to the charming village of St George – out via the forest, back via little lanes. By the time we got back to Boyardville, the tide was in.....what a huge difference between low and high tide. A suitable pause in Hymie to recover, then onwards to our chosen overnight spot at Dolus – central south-ish. We are one of probably 30-40 other motorhomes...all French bar one from Belgium, parked up in a field surrounded by woodland. A quiet night in with some fresh fish and a game of Scrabble.



Thursday 5 July – What a way to start the day....being brought coffee in bed, only for the shelf to collapse and the contents fall below! Luckily most of it fell into a beach bag full of towels, cozzies etc but enough went over the driver’s seat cover to warrant removing and washing it, as well as the beach bag contents - all-in-all ....a bloody palaver.



Well today was pretty much more of the same really – we had Dolus village to check out, which we did – on the bikes of course....a great little village with a morning market in progress. Then a fantastic 11 km cycle ride to the main village of Le Chateau d’Oleron. I know we harp on, but these flat cycle paths through such charming countryside and hamlets is just superb. We’re not saying we’re ready to enter Le Tour de France – but the cycling is just soooo easy. One’s undercarriage is somewhat compromised from time to time – but short spurts of free-wheeling eases the squash!



Having arrived in Chateau d’Oleron, we cycled through the main square and down to the harbour. The tide was very low and boats were lying in the sandy mud – but what a fabby place. Masses of brightly painted fisherman’s huts and a number of lovely eateries/bars.



We stopped for refreshments at a pretty little bar then continued cycling around the harbour area and from there up into the citadel. The town and former fort – bombed by the RAF to nullify German naval positions , is surrounded by huge fortified walls. By this time it was 2 15pm and we were hungry. To cut a long story short, we tried to order lunch in three restaurents/bars/cafes, to be told they’d stopped serving lunch...we were starving. Furthermore the sky had clouded over and the rain began to fall. On our way out of town we came across a boulangerie selling small, cold pizzas, which we ate under the cover of a closed restaurant. Ho-hum.



Nothing for it but to plod onwards. We thought we might be in a wet T shirt competition, cycling in the rain – but as we took the coast road back to the van, the skies cleared and we enjoyed another extremely pleasant cycle back ...quicker this time, maybe only 9kms.



Once home, we topped up with a bit of extra lunch then chilled, read snoozed for the remainder of the afternoon. Our day finished with the game of Scrabble we didn’t have yesterday and an amazing duck breast, beans and roast potato supper.



Friday 6 July – Time ticks and we’ve still a way to go – only 11 days left. We’ve had to come to terms with our sunbathing/beach/swimming days being over – the bloomin’ pommy weather is inching nearer.



So, with some regret we decided to leave the Isle d’Oleron and head onwards and upwards. On leaving our Aires spot, we really needed to empty our loo cassette (liquids only; solids? – don’t ask!) but there was a queue and we couldn’t be bothered to wait. We knew that on the road to Le Chateaux d’Oleron (town we cycled to yesterday – no food & rain), where we would have to stop to do a shop, there was another Aires du Camping-car (albeit one requiring a 7Euro overnight fee). As we pulled up it was busy, busy, busy – vans and cars coming and going – so Baz removed our loo cassette and took it to the WC Chemique emptying spot – another guy was taking far too long rinsing out his cassette. In the meantime a female site official got stroppy with Baz for using the WC Chemique without having paid for an overnight fee.............suffice to say, after indicating that ‘what was he meant to do? Drink it? and barging past the slow rinsing guy with a ‘Pardon Monsiuer’ ......our cassette got emptied. As we drove away, the female site official was seen taking down our reggo number. So are we now on the Gendarmarie’s Most Wanted List?



Then followed an extremely laborious Super-U shop before we could finally get going. We crossed the Viaduct (bridge) back to the mainland then headed cross-country to Brouage, where we’ve been before – a fantastic, middle-of-nowhere walled fortified village. Having driven through the cobbled main street, we were minded to stop for drinkies but within minutes of setting forth on foot....the heavens opened – rain, rain, rain. So we back-tracked to the van and headed onwards instead – the weather had cleared by the time we stopped for a Hymie lunch.



Our route took us around Rochefort, where we’d also been before. There was something going on today....lots of traffic/police/people etc about....maybe La Tour de France? Onwards through Puydrouard, Bouhet, Courcon, St Hilaire la Palud and finally to Coulon. The countryside was of the usual rather nice French rural type and the final few miles was alongside a beautiful river; also, some of the vast fields of sunflowers are now beginning to bloom.



We had a slight altercation with TomTom as to where the Aires site was...he took us to the very heart of the narrow village, then along the even narrower riverside – but in the end we got it right and paid our 7 Euros (with great hilarity twixt her & locals at the entrance/payment gate)and have our settled pitch for the night. The town/village of Coulon is in the heart of what is known as The Green Venice – due to the copious waterways (boats available...that would be fun) in these parts. In fact brochures tell us it’s The Marais Poitvin (in the Vendee) – and I quote –‘mile upon mile of waterways, where water has replaced roads, linking men and villages in a labyrinth of mysterious channels’. Apparently farmers often have to use flat bottomed punts to tend their livestock and crops.



With long bouts of hot sunshine, we wandered into the village via a large expanse of common-land, which was being prepared for a 2 day festival – starting tomorrow – it’s shaping up to be something special, various stalls and a Groupe Folklorique, as well as food/drink tents and so on.........so that’ll be good – maybe we’ll stick around for the whole weekend.....one of us yearns for some social activity!



Anyway, after stopping for a riverside drink, we returned to the van for the cooking up of a large chicken curry...more tomorrow.



Saturday 7 July – What a lovely day! Well the morning was a bit dull, mainly ‘cos the weather was dull......reading & slobbing ‘til about midday when we set forth on the bikes. Perfect cycling weather warm sunshine, refreshing breeze and periods of cloud. Once again, good flat cycling along lovely cycle routes....didn’t meet a soul. We cycled in a roundabout way to La Garette, about a 9km round trip....all in amongst the meandering water channels with little bridges here and there and the last bit being on a winding board walk though marshy woodland – superb!



We arrived in the charming, mainly one street village of La Garette at about 1pm. Although we stopped at a waterside hostelry for drinks, we were not going to get caught out again with missing lunch ‘cos (in this low season) they stop serving at 2pm. So we ordered our lunch – two different Gallettes et un picheur du vin blanc. How lucky we felt as we sat in the sunshine in such a lovely setting.



An easy and charming cycle back, and as we neared the van we heard the sounds of an accordion coming from the Fetes area...so we stopped for a while to watch the costumed traditional dancers on a small stage. The area was now quite crowded with interesting stalls – all about regional crafts and produce, manned by costumed locals. Other areas had live tableaus of bygone days....a school, a household a motor garage and a laundry.



We spent a couple of hours chilling-out again in the van, then one of us was drawn to explore some more as the music wafting from the nearby fete indicated that more was happening...and it was. Firstly the washerwomen took their smalls to wash by the riverbank – as they would have in days past, then it was obvious something was going to happen on the river, as crowds had gathered by the banks. Cycling back to alert him-indoors, we took the picnic rug, a can of Panache, some decanted wine + glass and found a good riverside spot to watch the flotilla. It wasn’t the fastest-show-on-earth....but the tableau boats that punted by us represented the various trades....farming, butcher, baker, milkman, post office, police and so on. It was quite delightful and the crowd on-shore gave each boat resounding cheers and claps....great fun, and all this on a glorious sunny 76 degree evening, with the sun shining.



We have now returned to Hymie for a steak supper but plan to go back to the fete later for some Bonne-hommie, booze and dancing. More another time.



Well we did go back – it was all very French....a large marquee with masses of trestle tables and a dance floor with live band at one end – and about 400 people.....also a catering tent for an uninspiring looking mass-catering meal (glad we’d had our steaks) and a booze stall – with glasses of wine at 50 cents!



After a couple of glasses and a bit of people watching, we took to the crowded dance floor but it was not his sort of evening. So he returned to the van and she joined a number of women line dancing and was then asked to dance by a large bearded Frenchman, complete with beret. We whirled around the dancefloor in a clockwise direction with the other dancers at breathtaking speed and just as I thought it was over, the band struck up another number and off we went again – belly to belly....and a large sweaty kiss to end with! (I then retired to the marital bed in time to say goodnight).



Sunday 8 July – A lie in, few chores, then the attempt to leave the Aires site. The double problem was only one entrance for new-comers and departers and a super-duper electronic barrier system that kept buggering up. Suffice to say that after about 20 minutes and a lot of frustration, we were able to drive away.



Still minded to be heading north, we drove along fairly main and uninteresting roads, firstly through Niort (which may have had its charm – but not from what we saw) towards the Thouet Valley, which would appear to be a top area. We are parked up in a fabby Aires site, within a few feet of a beautiful river at Parthenay. Lunch and a bit of a siesta (for her) then a great, mainly riverside 3km cycle ride into town.



There was a huge Games festival going on....every available bit of space – squares, streets etc were filled with people playing games........board games/puzzle games....ancient and modern pastime games – difficult to describe but every sort of game you can think of. It was really weird and VERY popular. We found it enormously difficult to find our way about and discover what this supposed great town was about. We stopped in a square for coffee and chocolate crepes then chose to leave the town by a very steep hill by the ruins of an ancient castle. There we discovered a virtually deserted and unspoilt mediaeval village, with a terrific entrance gate/bridge over the river. Some more exploratory cycling and finally finding our way back along the river to Hymie. A quiet night in!



Furthermore, being a Sunday night and having Internet access, it’s time to blog again. Maybe only another blog (or two) and we’ll be home.



Since Isle d’Oleron- Bree-les-Bains; Les Huttes; Saint Pierre d’Oleron, Boyardville; St Georges d’Oleron; Dolus d’Oleron; Chateau d’Oleron; Brouage; Rochefort; Puydrouard; Bouhet, Courcon; St Hilaire la Palud; Coulon; La Garette; Niort; Parthenay.


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