April brought a mixed bag of weather with lots of rain, very cold sometimes and even snow! We have seen little sunshine and when we do, it is on with the boots and off for a hike.
Monday 1 April saw us camped at a France Passion site producing olives, almonds and stone fruits after doing a 10km hike in stony countryside around Coury. Lucky we got there early as 4 other vans rolled in as the afternoon progressed. The poor farmer had barely enough room to turn his tractor around as the small patch of gravel in front of his barn was the only place to put us all given the normal site was too boggy. However we bought produce from the small shop the next morning so they did okay by having us all there.
On Tuesday we drove to Ales to do some shopping and internet stuff then pootled along the delightful Gardonne valley. We first stopped at the aire in St Jean du Gard but it seemed a bit uncomfortable surrounded by roads. Winding our way along the river we found Camping Chateau l’Hom which was a 2 night stop even though it had no
sanitary facilities open and most of the place looked like a demolition site! We did however get a peaceful camp site with a river front view for 10euro a night. We also got a sunny day on Wednesday for a terrific 20km, 600mt ascent walk along the river gorge, up over a couple of Cols and back to the van for a cool cider.
Thursday brought more rain early then fog prevented us enjoying the views as we drove up along the Corniche de Cevennes to Florac. The aire was well situated above the town so we stayed there 2 nights in order to do a walk up to high plains on Friday which whilst very cold, did not rain. This walk was about 15km and 500mt ascent. We spotted a deer and several Griffon Vultures which have been successfully reintroduced into the area in recent years.
On Saturday 6 April we left Florac to drive to Mendes up over a snow covered pass – again it was Kathryn driving (she cannot escape the snow). The aire at Mendes is next to a fast flowing river so even though it is close to the town centre it is
quite peaceful for an overnight stop. Early Sunday morning we took time to use the local laundrette before driving to Pelhar to do a pleasant walk around the cone shaped hill and village of Grezes. The sun even tried to come out for a while during our lunch stop! There were plenty of birds of prey today – Short Toed Eagle, Buzzard, Red Kites and Vultures – all majestic to observe at fairly close quarters.
After a quiet night at an archery range just out of Canac we drove through yet more snow (and who is behind the wheel again?!?) to Le Canourge where we did a geocache in the rain then continued on to an aire in the quaint hill town of Campagnac. It rained a lot so all we did was go for a walk around the village. The next day we hoped to do a planned walk but the rain continued so we decided to drive to Sevenac Les Chateau to get gas. It turned out to have a lovely medieval hilltop town and a great restaurant for lunch! After this we drove back to Campagnac to relax the rest of the day. Not bad for
a rainy day out!
On Wednesday morning we drove to St Geniez sur Olt, got some info from the friendly TI and checked email. Drove to St Eulalie sur Olt to park at the well set up aire by the river Lot. They were doing some electrical and plumbing work but the very nice man in charge explained everything and put us through the barrier. After lunch we did a pleasant hike of about 13km over hills and down along the Lot river. We also did 7.5 geocaches (we found the spot for the half one but it was missing). Thursday it actually felt like spring – mild and almost sunny, so we got out the bikes and rode to St Geniez then did a hike of about 13km, stopping to enjoy our lunch of quiche and prune brioche. When we got back it was pleasant enough to sit outside sipping a cider but by the time Brian wanted to cook our BBQ dinner the rain came so it was out with the awning.
Friday 12 April saw us taking the high, scenic road west along the Lot valley. It was market day in Espalion so we stocked
up before heading to Bouzols and a river gorge where the water was chocolate brown with so much silt coming down from the fields after the heavy rains. This also caused us to cut short our walk as we could not cross the river at the ford. After a quiet night on a cliff behind the cemetery we drove back to Espalion to do a lovely hike along a disused railway line picking up a record 12 geocaches along the way. We did not get the other 8 as it was rather tricky translating the hints from French to English – even though we carried our dictionary with us! It was only a 14km hike but with the caching it took many hours. We ended the day at a France Passion site which was a lovely flat grassy field on top of a hill at Fonteille. Sunday was another warm day for exploring the medieval village of Estaing, hiking to cascades at Montezic and doing a bit of handwashing at the aire as this one had water freely available and the sunny, breezy day dried things easily.
Monday 15 April and we headed a bit further north to Aurillac
where we sat parked outside the big Decathlon sports store (a bit like Anaconda in Oz) for a couple of hours. They offer free wifi like McDonalds only there is a lot more room to park nearby. We needed to make our booking for crossing back to England on 3 May so the van can have its annual MOT and service. We spent the next two nights in a quiet, riverside aire at Velzic. We also did a massive hike from Mandaille St Julien up to the ridge at 1550mt. However there were a number of patches of snow to be crossed which weren’t too bad with Brian leading the way using both poles to test the depth. However after 12km we got to the turn down sign but could go no further as there was a huge shelf of snow covering our path which was a steep descent. We were only 2km from home as the crow flies but we had to retrace our steps to find another way down and thanks to Brian’s trusty GPS we did but it was still nearly a 20km hike and the legs were a bit heavy after re-crossing the snow patches.
The next couple of days were spent on the northern side of the Puy Mary (the highest peak in the Volcans Natural Park). There is a road over the mountain but the pass is still closed with snow so we had to drive around a fair way but the scenery is lovely. This is lush green farmland on rolling hills dotted with creamy Charolais cows from whose milk they make the delicious Chantal cheeses. One night was spent parked on a lonely hilltop road across from a serene lake with horses grazing and ducks dabbling.
Brian has been suffering badly with hayfever the past week or so and none of the over the counter medications do much to alleviate his suffering. A visit to the GP might be needed to get a supply of something more effective. Saturday 20 April saw us parked up on a hillside beneath a honey producer near Chateau-Chinon (France Passion site) however no one appeared to be home so we weren’t able to buy any yummy honey. Sunday morning we browsed a brocante then lunched at a local village restaurant which was right next to the aire so we did not have to drive
anywhere post lunch and a few wines. However we did drag ourselves out for a walk later in the afternoon which was enough to work off lunch.
The next day we continued our dawdling way north stopping at Chateau Bazoche which was the home of the military engineer Vauban (he was responsible for building forts and winning sieges in 17th
C France and is a bit of a national hero). We finished the day at a riverside campsite below the pilgrim village of Vezelay. It is on the camino de Santiago and was the place the Kings of France and England met up to start the 3rd
Crusade. Okay, enough history for now.
We spent a few nights in a row on France Passion sites including a Chablis winemaker, a pigeon breeder, a trout farm and a couple of Champagne vineyards (we decided to give the escargot farm a miss). We also did a bit of bargain hunting for outdoor clothing at the outlet centres around Troyes – some good discounts to be had so we have refreshed our wardrobes a bit. This is the second time we have been near Troyes and still have not visited the old
town – maybe next time.
Our main objective in the last week of this sojourn was to be in Amiens for it’s annual brocante which fills the streets of the town centre. We slogged around for nearly 8 hours browsing the hundreds of stalls mainly filled with “tat” but occasionally coming across authentic and interesting items. Fortunately the sun came out and unfortunately we had trouble getting a coffee despite the many cafes offering them. It seemed everywhere was understaffed badly and even where they weren’t understaffed they had no organisation.
After Amiens we spent a few days in the Bay of the Somme enjoying gentle walks, a bit of Geocaching and a good bit of birding. There are a lot more motorhomes on the road in this area with many Belgian and Dutch numberplates. It seems these nationalities have taken up motorhoming in large numbers in recent years - we rarely saw them when we first started out 10 years ago. Just before crossing back to England we spent a couple of days on the coast south of Calais and managed to find our 300th geocache which was appropriately placed at the spot where the Top Gear
boys came ashore in their "toyboata" a few years back.
Anyway, that is your lot for this month.
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