I’m back and new adventure planned…….

I’m back….I’ve never really been away, just lazy, which is a shame as we have enjoyed some wonderful holidays since my last post, with and without the slightly dysfunctional family.brucebetaohm2  Last year we managed, by some small miracle (AKA Barclaycard), to take my step children to their Dads birthplace – Malta -to meet the family.  As ever, the Maltese family were warm and hospitable and made a fuss of the children.  We’ve also taken advantage of The Sun £9.50 holidays for short breaks for all six of us which this year involved a 19, 18,17 and 15 year old, Bruce, me and Charlie The Dog ending up in a caravan near Hull (don’t ask) with my parents in another caravan and both of my brothers and their families in another 2 caravans.  It was a short weekend and although the area and the weather didn’t impress me much it was fabulous spending time with my entire family!

village sautadetBruce and I have also been to France a couple of times, staying in the tent, with various degrees of success.  One year was a bit of a disaster…….the word crappy actually sums it up perfectly -Bruce had food poisoning.  Chronic Diarrhoea + Camping in a Tent + Deflating Airbed = Sleepless nights and grouchy days.  We abandoned the holiday early as it

Spot the Kyla .....

Spot the Kyla …..

became apparant Bruce had more than a simple dodgy tummy but not before I found one of my new favourite places in the whole world – Cascade de Sautadet in the Ceze region.  For a water babe like me this is almost as good as it gets, wild swimming in a natural water-park cram packed full of rocky diving boards, shallows, shutes, flumes through crevices and deep lagoons.  Of course you have to share it with lots of peeps but it’s a huge area so lots of space.  All this talk of wild swimming leads me nicely into what I am doing back here blogging again.  cascadesautadetwaterfalls

Camping in a tent was always a compromise for me ….it’s been the only way we could afford to get over to France

Pitched by the River - Ardeche 2013

Pitched by the River – Ardeche 2013

each year and I would have slept in a cardboard box if it meant I could still get to France.  Undoubtedly we’ve had some wonderful pitches but each time we spend the hours setting up our new home, erecting the tent, blowing up the airbed, setting up kitchen, finding clothes, putting up chairs, stringing up the washing line etc etc I have longed for the days when I simply pulled up in my motorhome, put the handbrake on and cracked open the wine.  If we didn’t like it or the weather turned we simply pulled off again -if we couldn’t find a site we stopped in a lay-by or Aires- the freedom to do as I please on holiday is the most essential ingredient and tent camping curtailed that freedom just a bit too much.  I spend the rest of the year being a sensible employee, Mum and general all round person blessed (or cursed) with oodles of common sense and general conformity.  Underneath that runs a vein of rebelliousness, non-conformity and basic naughtiness – it has to have an outlet or it will seep into my everyday life and screw it up completely.  Chasing the sun, going where we want, doing what we want, being caught mid shag fest on a river bank in the Ardeche by campsite security, boogeying the night away to a reggae band with 2 litres of Rum & Coke, jumping into rivers ignoring the warning signs – these are what make a true holiday for me.

Marge The Hymer

Marge The Hymer

So this year there will be no tent to put up, we are hiring Marge the Classic Hymer Motorhome with the only responsibility being to get it back to the hire company clean and tidy, I think I can manage that.  To say I’m excited to be back where I belong is an understatement – I live for the day we are crossing the channel with a fridgeful of beer and an on board toilet.  To share the experience with Bruce is the icing on the cake – I feel sure Mr Non-Conformist UK will love the freedom of stopping at Aires and doing what we want.  We hope to wild camp all the way down to the Med when we set off on 4th September……..using Aires and scenic lay-bys we hope to avoid campsite charges and camp site rules (Bruce can leave his Speedos behind) the only exception might be the odd cheap municipal.  It will be interesting to see how we get on and I will be blogging as we go……so watch this space……

 

 

Wild Times at Wild Duck Norfolk – July 2013


It’s been a while since I last posted and I have no excuses at all.  Last year we all set off for Wild Duck Holiday Park near Caistor. I shall clarify all: myself, Bruce, 3 teens (the oldest teen having gone on holiday in the Lake District with his mates) plus my brother, his wife 935067_10151667450039130_2034901642_nand their two sons.  We had booked the Holiday using Sun (newspaper) holiday vouchers and after much trawling through and umming and aaaring decided on this park as it was inland a bit, spacious, had swimming pools, a David Bellamy Conservation Award and of course ducks. We arrived in 30 degree sunshine and as the caravans weren’t ready we headed for the bar.  The park has a kind of centre parks feel about it, except with caravans instead of villas.  The bar and restaurant have a fabulous terrace with sofa and coffee tables made from felled trees and we were soon all spread out applying sun cream and sipping a cool drink.

Eventually we were allocated our caravan – a small 3 bedroomed static van which was perfectly adequate. Fortunately the statics are not laid out in military precision rows which I find totally soul destroying, they are ‘scattered’ among the trees and small lake which is right up my street, I like a bit of scattering and non-conformity.

999698_10151667450554130_764429634_nOnce unpacked we got the disposable barbies out and rustled up a little feast, of 998540_10151667461729130_1807661417_ncourse with the heat and the laid back feel of the place it’s hard to keep a track on just how many wines/beer/cider one has drank – until one feels just a bit brahms and list.  Anyhow, the children came back eventually and we all turned in for the night.  This was the start of a few nights of drink and one especially memorable night saw my sister in law getting stuck in a kiddies ride and showing her pants off!  She did spend the next day in sun glasses with a glass of water and a packet of paracetemol next to her.

 

The next few days were spent in glorious sunshine, it was fab spending time with my brother and his family on an idyllic family sea 556995_10151667459939130_818558374_nside holiday.  One day was spent canoeing the broads, my son had a Sevylor inflatable canoe for his birthday and my bro hired a canoe and off they went.  Several hours were passed playing in the outdoor (and indoor) swimming pools although I had to be sneaky taking photos as you are not allowed to take photos in the pool area, I got told off once and then it just became a challenge and I eventually managed to take this one of our kids playing ball in the pool.  Shocking!969745_10151667451974130_2061475538_n

 

 

 

 

 

No seaside holiday is complete without a trip to the beach.  I’m not usually a big fan of UK beaches an account of them being windy, cold and inhospitable places however Gorleston Beach is a lovely sweep of sand and the sky was blue (although the sea was that browny, uninviting sludge colour).  It is years since I lay on a UK 942389_10151667455289130_71444370_nbeach and it was very pleasant indeed.  We ate ice-creams, chips and candy floss, drank far too much, partied on with the cheesy entertainment at night, laughed, talked and relaxed.  I couldnt have asked for a better holiday and all too soon it was over.  There’s always next year……..1016151_10151667450544130_1086130427_n64615_10151667457954130_1964500613_n1069798_10151667460814130_1376552022_n1011981_10151667455199130_892725791_n

The Ardeche – France 2012 Part 3…………….

pontdarc_jpg

We arrived at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, the entrance to the Ardeche Gorge and the start for many of their journey by canoe through a boat trip and france etc 049picturesque and magnificent landscape.  So to find a campsite, cheap, cheerful, not all singing, all dancing……well that was the plan but like all best laid plans we ended up at a large, relatively expensive (although the prices go down in the last week of August by a few Euros) site on the banks of the Ardeche river just outside the town called Mondial Camping.  I’ve reviewed the campsite here: http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/sites/reviews.asp?revid=12154.   Once again we pitched the Outwell on a large, shady pitch just opposite the path to the river and then took a walk down the path for a quick swim; as it was late evening only a few canoes paddled by and, having negotiated the steep path, rocky shores and boulder strewn river bed with limited injury,  we immersed ourselves in the cool, clear water of the Ardeche…….as a true water babe I was in heaven, my life was complete!

The next morning we considered renting a canoe but I decided to do some research before embarking on such an epic adventure.  I placed myself at the top of the steep slope down to the rocky shore and put my boat trip and france etc 054sunglasses on.  From this vantage point I could observe people negotiating the slope and shore with their canoes and assess with reasonable accuracy a) how likely I was to sustain injury b) a level between 1 & 10 of how ridiculous and ungainly I would look c)whether I’d fit in a canoe.  The first family to come down with their canoes were fit, slim and agile and negotiated all the obstacles in a gazelle like fashion, assuredly but gracefully with only the occasional wobble on a loose stone.  They slid off to join the throng of canoes now gliding down the river, some even facing the right way!  The next couple were more representative of Bruce and I, a little wider than average with a few years on the clock.  Hesitatingly she slid down the slope and was nearly on level ground when hubby sent the canoe down, she avoided direct contact with the runaway canoe by jumping out the way and wobbled precariously before steadying herself.  I learned a few German swear words, thankfully not directed at me but at her husband now sliding down the slope presumably muttering apologies.  This was much more entertaining than the last family, I was thoroughly enjoying my new-found hobby.  Throughout the holiday I would return to my new hobby of watching people wobble, fall and retain their balance whilst trying to maintain dignity – even  I eventually developed a technique of boulder/wobbly stone hopping to my sunbathing spot with only a hint of ungainliness and far less falls than I thought; I even managed to enter the water on one occasion without stubbing my toe…..back to the canoes and the now angry wife and her remorseful husband.  I was relieved to find she did fit in the canoe, with plenty of space to be fair but her husband did have to draw on all his strength reserves to launch it.  Once floating the husband clambered into the boat with only a slight risk of sinking due to water that also entered the boat and they paddled off with the masses, surprisingly and expertly avoiding any major collision.  I determined that with several dummy runs it would be possible to launch the canoe without serious damage to myself or my ego and went back to the tent to relay the good news back to Bruce.  Of course I would need a day to psychologically prepare myself………………

To cut a long story short I made excuses everyday, for some reason I didn’t feel confident and felt my levels of fitness would see me boat trip and france etc 058being rescued and pulled to shore should I embark on such a venture.  This made me sad, I’d had a go at most water sports with various degrees of failure (a pulled muscle water-skiing, a shark encounter that was really dolphins on a jet ski in Florida, windsurfing which I managed for around 3 seconds after hours of practice) but canoeing I’d been relatively successful at in the past so why I would suddenly feel this fear and lack of confidence did get to me.  Bruce was indifferent about canoeing but I felt this indifference masked a similar lack of confidence as we’d had a fair few conversations on steering techniques whilst watching the Ardeche M1 for canoes from our perches on the rocks.  We therefore left for home regretting that we had not taken the plunge (quite literally in our case) and canoed the fantastic Ardeche river beneath the Pont d’Arc, a natural bridge carved from the ancient landscape.

The landscape is indeed ancient and in 1994 2 speleologists (which I presume is something to do with caves) discovered the Chauvet Cave with it’s remarkable 31,000 year old cave drawings.  Due to it’s rarity and importance it isn’t open to the public but we did find a cave that was.  On a hot day this was a cool retreat, in fact as we descended down the numerous steps I came to the conclusion that a vest top was totally inadequate and I shivered around the interior, listening to the French tour guide (my French is limited and I have very little knowledge of any cave related word).  Geographically the caves were spectacular with stalagmites and stalactites and pools and waterfalls and an almost cathedral-like impressiveness about them…natures sculpture park.  But no wall paintings and I guess as someone more interested in people (with a recent interest in all things archaeological) the geology was less exciting.  Bruce was a bit peeved he couldn’t just nip out for a fag after we’d seen the first chamber of the cave and even more peeved to learn we had a few more chambers to go.  But we were both glad we’d seen it and at least immersed ourselves in a bit of the landscapes history.

coco locoValon Pont d’Arc is a lovely old town with a thriving weekly day and evening market.  An added bonus is that whilst we sat in the square sipping coffee and eating a freshly baked croissant, the Merry Go Round played some excellent chilled music including a fair bit of reggae.  We had a meal one evening at a lovely restaurant Coco Loco in the town and spent another evening getting on down to the music at the campsite disco…..as is our tradition we managed to clear the dance floor with our moves and shakes.  Although the campsite was fairly big and organised there was a laid back feel and the owners were very proud of their site.  Another evening was spent drinking wine and watching the stars in our little rocky hideaway down by the river…….all very romantic and amorous until the river security guards spotted us, we managed to restore our modesty before they got to us and upon seeing us just wished us a good evening.  They were intent on intimidating the naughty teenagers and obviously realized that 2 middle-aged, respectable, polite English people would be doing nothing more than drinking wine and star gazing…….little did they know!

All too soon it was time to start the long journey home, we had left it as late as possible and decided to go from south to north in one go.  We left one of my now favourite regions of France, the Ardeche,  at around 10am and by midnight we were on the tunnel train thing heading for a real bed and a good night sleep……would have swapped the real bed for an airbed in the sun of southern France any day.

Troyes – French Adventure 2012 Part 1:

troyeshouses

As soon as I disembark whatever means of transport I’ve chosen to traverse La Mer (Euro-tunnel in this case)  I feel I’ve come home…….it’s never been my home, my French is tres crap and I have no French connections at all but it still feels so right.  I will go to great lengths to get my French fix, lies, bribery, threats, self-denial, gross exaggeration – there is no level I won’t sink to in order to secure my crossing to France. This year had even involved various levels of threats to the passport office finally culminating in tears of despair after they’d made a monumental cock up; we finally received the new passport on the morning we travelled! Thanks to family, friends and the UKCS guys for seeing me through one of my darkest hours.   Therefore on a sunny dawn late August we arrived with very little money (lie number one = “it’s fine hon, we can afford it”) and a whole lot of  joy in my heart – Bruce was snoring loudly in the passenger seat so I’m not entirely sure he felt same elation.  Perhaps I should explain that we were child, or rather teenager free and Bruce was asleep because he’d been doing a gig in London while I slept for a few hours at his sisters house in Rochester before we caught the 5am euro-tunnel-train type thing.

We had endured a wet, miserable summer so far but this weekend the temperature had started to soar and as Fugly chugged along the troyescathedralmotorway, the heat increased.  The air-con still didn’t work, Bruce woke up in a sweat and the benefits of my 1.5 hours sleep were wearing off at an alarming rate.  As we pulled off at Troyes, in the now searing heat, the elation had turned into dehydration and our communication was reduced to a short, clipped bark, sometimes accompanied with a low growl and a cutting remark.  We parked close to the center of Troyes and found a square with some cafes, nice but not remarkable.  After we had sat and lapped up the atmosphere and the coffee we headed to another square with a market place where there was a stage and live music.  I love live music and outdoor concerts but I think tiredness and heat were starting to win the day and my energy levels were such that I couldn’t even be bothered to snap at Bruce in the usual tired and grouchy manner, not even a little snarl.  We started to walk back to the car when I spotted some medieval timber buildings around a corner………….and so began my love affair with Troyes and our holiday for real.

boat trip and france etc 040Troyes is the capital of the Aube department within the region of Champagne-Ardenne, south of Reims, on the road to Lyon.  Troyes history dates back to Roman times and includes Joan of Arc, wrangles and treaties with the English throne, a revolution or two and of course the obligatory Great Fire.  It’s location and annexing from Champagne caused uprisings as late as 1911 and resulted in the wine growers being granted permission to label sparkling wine from this region “Champagne”.  The French and their wine eh? This historical melting pot has resulted in some fine architecture, Troyes cathedral being a fine example.  Work started on the gothic cathedral in the 13th century and continued into the 16th century so it’s worth a look if only to honour the tenacity of the builders and craftsmen.

In medieval times the city was a bustling trade centre and gave its name to Troy Weight which is apparently a measurement for gold, as I have had no gold to weigh I am unfamiliar with this term. In 1524 the Great Fire destroyed the city bar one or two buildings.  All this history and drama serves to make Troyes an interesting place but what really floats my boat is the half-timbered houses that survive from the 16th century in the old town.  Their pretty pastel colours, crookedness and shabby chic authenticity is irresistible to me, I was drawn towards these buildings from a chance glimpse around a corner and soon a whole mini-town opened up before us.  Bruce, who is unmoved by boat trip and france etc 042inanimate pastel coloured buildings and generally doesn’t give a flying fig about history began to to take the tiniest bit of  interest as he caught a whiff of French cooking.  The lunch time menu was being prepared in the numerous restaurants situated in rustic twisted buildings with their tables pouring out onto the narrow sunlit streets flowing effortlessly, like wine, from building to pavement.

boat trip and france etc 043We stopped for lunch, rude not to really.  The restaurant was called Rouge et Noir (ranked 12 out of 111 on TripAdvisor) and we opted for a table in the sunshine against the church wall.  I was so impressed to find a vegetarian option on the menu, in fact I had to look twice and then ask Bruce to confirm that we were in France, meat eater central, and that I had found a restaurant with a vegetarian option.  Slightly taken aback I perused the menu while Bruce ordered drinks.  I opted for the vegetarian platter and the drinks arrived –  Orangina for me (driving and a total lightweight) and the most delicious red wine I have ever tasted for Bruce.  As we sat in the sunshine supping our drinks I watched the stress lines visibly dissapear from Bruces face, his dimples began to reappear and the smiles became more regular.  He was positively elated when he put the first boat trip and france etc 044mouthful of food into his mouth, the whole dining experience including the service couldn’t have been bettered. Viva la France!  The food, the drink, the location, the weather and the ambience combined to provide that perfect holiday feeling expressed with a long, deep sigh of contentment.

Our intention was to motor as far south as possible and find a campsite by 5pm however, after a long, lazy lunch in the sunshine the thought of getting back into a hot car with no air con was about as appealing as eating live cockroaches.  We checked our phones for the latest weather which basically said we were in for a couple of days of hot sunny weather then back to the miserableness that had been our summer in the UK, at which point I suggested we went to Lac D’Orient, a few miles east of Troyes.  We sauntered back to the car hand in hand, the stress and worries of home finally banished and 1 weeks worth of time for each other to look forward to……………

Day 2 – Flushing Beach

We awoke to a grey sky and Bruce being stuck to the plastic mattress, we had luckily managed to go through the night without peeing the bed which surely deserved a gold star on our star chart.  Our plans today involved meeting friends L & S for a day on the beach, we had been promised some sunshine although the low, grey clouds and sea mist told a different story. 

After waking the platoon and issuing rations we left the barracks for Penryn where L & S live, I was being ever the optimist and spotting glimmers of sunshine however my hoodwinking came to an abrupt end as the rain began to fall just as we arrived at L & S’s house.  The rain passed quickly and the clouds began to break and as we sat on the decking drinking coffee we decided that by the time we got to the beach we would definitely be needing the sun tan lotion.  And so to Flushing beach via Argos at Falmouth where I had been given information that a Lumix camera had been reduced from over £100 to £49 and as my lovely Mum and Dad had given us a bit of spending money before I left I decided to treat us (meaning me) to a new camera – it’s a fab little thing so big thanks to Mum and Dad.  We also dropped in to Trago Mills, a shop full of low quality, cheap everythings to buy an SD card, a £3.99 watch for Beta and a dressing gown for George as well as a pair of flip flops for Bruce.  We now had all the necessities for a day at the beach – except towels! 

We arrived at Flushing beach to the sun shining and the sea sparkling.  The kids immediately got to work digging big holes for no reason whatsoever and Ohm and H arrived to assist in the “dig a great big hole” project.  I got busy with my camera, see results below, taking pictures of the few bits of blue sky I could find to give the illusion of being on a “summer” holiday.  We spent a lovely hour eating our pack up (reduced sandwiches from Tesco Express – Tuna & Sweetcorn 15p, bargain!) talking to L & S and watching the world go by until L got a phone call to say his Mum had fallen and possible broken her ankle so they had to rush off to take her to hospital (fortunately it was only a twisted ankle, painful though).  With no friends to play with Bruce and I left the kids digging a hole and headed for The Royal Standard for a cup of their lovely coffee.  We arranged to collect the kids 1 hour later which we did and shoved various sandy, soaked bodies (no towels remember) into Fugly and back to the barracks. 

Having attempted to cook a meal for six using 1 small oven tray the night before, we decided to have Fish & Chips for dinner that evening and went into the village of Mullion.  Here we found The Galleon Fish & Chip shop and what a find, the service was friendly and efficient and they serve freshly caught local fish in their crispy home made batter, Bruce thoroughly enjoyed the Pollock.  If you’re ever in the area in need of fish and chips this is the place to go, they have a small restaurant to.

Suitably full we returned to our nissan hut and went to bed eager to be up and moving on to our new destination the following morning.

Flushing Beach July 2012

Blue sky at Flushing July 2012

Day 11 Millau – Gorges Du Tarn – Camping Saint Lambert

I woke up early this morning due to the air bed deflating and Bruce and I went in search of croissants.  We found a bar  tabac, boulengerie and Lydl on the outskirts of town and then returned to see if our pitch by the toilets was free as we were due to move today.  Sure enough the pitch was free and we returned to camp to find the kids and start Operation Up Sticks.  First the kids cycled round to the new pitch with all of the bikes while Bruce and I bungled all sleeping bags and pillows inside the car.  Next we bungeed the airbed and camp beds on top of the trailer and slowly drove round to our new pitch.  I may have mentioned that there are a lot of Dutch campers at this site and some seemed very tidy, organised and pedantic and not the least bit impressed with our moving mayhem, especially the weird chap camped opposite our new pitch.  I say weird because he and his family hardly spoke to each other, never smiled and spent the day sitting outside their caravan staring at us.  We gave them something to stare at when we went back to collect our tent and carried it round, fully erected, a person on each pole and plonked it on our pitch.  Pegs in, airbeds unbungeed, sleeping bags in et voila, job done – decamped and recamped in under an hour.

We then had the rest of the day to enjoy canoeing  (without oars as we had left them in the car park at Salles) and swimming in the river.  The campsite has a riverside beach and plenty of shallows to play in.  It’s also fun to watch those in hired canoes navigate the mini rapids caused by kids daming the river in various places.  After a day resting, swimming and being stared at we lit the barbie and enjoyed a lovely family meal.  Afterward we listened to a few tunes on the car stereo (not loudly), George played guitar and Bruce and I even had a dance around the pitch.  Being stared at.  At 10pm the music went off and we tidied around ready to strike camp the following day.  We were right next to the

This is NOT miserable, staring man but he looked very similar!

toilet block which was noisy with washer uppers and kids larking about with the water but it didn’t bother us, our neighbours were playing a film, kids were playing around and we all sat and played a game of “How many cars can you name beginning with the letter R”  – that is until Weird Staring man got up from his chair in the dark, left his very quiet family around the table and came over and asked us to keep our voices down! He didn’t ask our neighbours to turn off their film (complete with loud dramatic music) or his Dutch neighbours to stop playing cards and arguing, nor did he ask the screaming kids to quieten down or the washer uppers to stop clanking their pots.  Just the English (who are not all English anyway) family sitting down altogether and playing a game, I have never experienced prejudice before but I can tell you it isn’t nice. So we just put on our best shell suits and in true football hooligan style told him to F*** OFF!  Only joking, we actually wished him a lovely evening and completely ignored his request.  I can’t stand insular, intolerant bigots and it really hacked me off.  Luckily his Dutch neighbours were fantastic, chilled and laid back with a really cool bell tent and they completely restored my faith in the Dutch camper.

Despite Weird Staring man I would return to this campsite as it’s location by the river is fab and it is comparatively cheap – 62 euro for 2 nights for 6 with electricity in high season.  We were paying nearly that per night at La Barque and that was cheap for the Med coast.  The toilets are clean but not quite 4 star luxury, the owners are friendly and the bar is fairly priced.  It is generally quite laid back and friendly with the odd exception!  If I were to book I would ask for a riverside pitch, although the river might be a bit noisy for some!

 

Day 10 – Moving On to Millau

We left Saint Aygulf around mid day to head for Millau, apparently it has a big viaduct there (whoopee) and it has appeared on top gear (fantastic).  I like bridges but not enough to head to one for 2 nights camping, it must be a man thing and I happen to be surrounded by young men so on the hottest day so far I found myself on the autoroute, in the traffic, heading for a bridge – I was not impressed!  As we came off the autorroute and on the road to Millau we came to a viewing point and it was there I got my first view of the viaduct and the gorge running below and what a bridge!  It is magnificent and the contrast between the man-made magnificence of the bridge and the luscious green of the river gorge below blew me away.

We made our way down into the town and then followed a river for about a mile to Camping Saint Lambert.  We hadn’t booked but luckily they had a free pitch by the river for 1 night only and the next day they had another pitch free by the toilet block.  After a hard days drive Bruce and I made our way to the bar for a drink and left the kids to put up the tent, which they did brilliantly.  We then all had pizza and chips from the bar along with a litre of wine all for 27 euro – that’s 1 euro less than a round of drinks in St Tropez.  With the last of our money almost gone we turned in for the night and were lulled to sleep by the gurgle of the river.