Posts Tagged 'motor homes'

Brittany

If you’ve never been to Brittany, here’s a tiny word of advice. Don’t.

Don’t, because you’ll only help to fill almost empty roads.
Don’t, because you’ll take up emplacements we might want to use shortly.
Don’t, because the dearth of typical English campers is a delight.
Don’t, because we loved the place and fear you could spoil it.
Don’t, because I want to be selfish and keep it to myself.

We journeyed for three weeks, pottering the lanes and roadways of the Atlantic coast. Apart from the initial drive to get there and back, we covered very few miles. Probably, we walked further than we drove. From Brest to Concarneau, we encountered jagged granite cliffs, white sands in remote coves, fishing villages in rocky bays, misty islands ghosting off-shore, enigmatic statues on bluff outcrops, miles of footpaths free from people except us four, rural campsites and aires almost empty – and entrancing towns half asleep until beyond midday.

In those three weeks, I rediscovered Jacques Prevert, tasted and relished my first ever Breton beers, tapped feet to the stimulus of Breton music, ate crepes in tiny bistros, missed out on moules frites because of a serious case of mistiming (they disappear on 1st May – the very day I tried to order the dish), learnt the difference between the French verbs for ‘to buy’ and ‘to sell’ much to the puzzlement and amusement of a patient shopkeeper at Cleden, drank more cheap French wine than I should have done – and walked about 150 miles of GR34, the coastal footpath around Brittany.

At St Malo, we wandered through the awe inspiring medieval town immured by ancient high stone walls. At Paimpol harbour market we rummaged among stalls laden with marine paraphernalia. At Landrellec we found a strange green frog (that’s not a joke). At Brest we saw penguins. At Pors Peron a swallow-tailed butterfly passed within a few inches of my head. At Pointe du Raz we watched fishing vessels bouncing in the wild tide. From Audierne we walked up the winding river to Pont Croix, where we drank beer, ate our first crepes and saw our first heronry in the trees. In Quimper, we became acquainted with Rodin. At Concarneau, another ancient citadel, we had more crepes while the flags of European nations fluttered above us.

And we brought home a few lasting impressions of Breton life. They like to hang bedding out of windows to air. Trees are pollarded into tight symmetrical balls. LeClerc supermarkets are probably the best in the world. Colourful wooden shutters on windows, often closed against the sun. An absence of ‘no camping’ signs – even small villages provide extraordinary services for motor homes, unlike the anal antediluvian attitude of most British towns. An absence of toilet seats. And a scintillating Atlantic Ocean, blue to green and as clear as vodka. A countryside as rural, green and clean as Kent was in the 19th century.

When I get time, I’ll post a few more thoughts on this fascinating part of France. In the meantime, please keep trying to find a Caravan Club site in England able to accommodate you on a Saturday night. In all we stayed at twelve camp sites in Brittany – and booked at none.

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pingoes, pubs & pines

dogpartridgecropped_edited-1_1On our first day at Thetford, we met a small group of fund-raising women walking Peddars Way, the long-distance foot path through Norfolk. The gang’s leader, an ebullient lady wearing a huge sunflower-head pinned to her bodice, demanded to know where we’d walked from that morning. Rather shame-facedly, we had to admit that we’d started about 15 minutes earlier on the nearby camp site and intended to finish the outward bound at the pub about a mile down the path. “It’s not open,” said her companion. “But it will be by time YOU get there.” I’m not quite sure what she intended with the remark, but she was right. The landlady was putting out the A-board as we arrived.

This was the Dog and Partridge. It had the ambience of a true Old English wayside tavern, and is among the best two pubs I’ve been into during many miles of motorhoming throughout Britain. The landlady was delightful, albeit a northerner, and knows how to welcome strangers to her tiffinal metaphorical bosom. In her spotless beer garden, we quaffed cheerfully of Bombardier and Adnam’s bitter (the only negative being she doesn’t have Abbot on tap) and dined well on generous portions of cannelloni and battered cod. Lunch was a prolonged affair. Our good intentions of a steady and healthy ramble evaporated with the sun. Instead we returned through forest tracks for cups of tea on the camp site. I’m afraid life is like that when you’re older. The round walk was no more than 3 miles, if that.

By amazing co-incidence, we found the second best pub (that’s second best, not second-best, a pertinent distinction – the grammar is dubious but everyone reading this will know what I mean, not least because the author is also the sole follower) the next day, when we opted for a longer walk. Turning off the lane northward, we followed a disused and unkempt railway line skirting the forest and eventually trailing past a collection of pingoes. Pingoes are difficult to spot, although they don’t move; they don’t look as the name suggests. Rather, they are natural declivities in the land formed by melting glacial ice and subsequent climatic erosion. We think we saw them, but one declivity looks much like another and nobody has thought of erecting a prominent sign saying “This is a pingo” so we’ll be generous and award a tentative tick to the pingo entry in our list of 1001 things to see before global warming toasts us. Stonehenge was much easier to identify.

We lunched at the Chequers, a pretty and restful pub in Thompson, a pretty and restful village not far off the pathway. Here a charming young lady served us with welcoming smiles and plates of spectacular steak & kidney pudding and butternut squash lasagne eaten to the accompaniment of copious Adnam’s Regatta and Greene King IPA. We’d found another fine staging post for thirsty ramblers. This again is a highly recommended pub with a bonus that the car park is big enough for motor homes, but I suggest leaving your vehicles on the pitch and going on foot.

To reach home we joined the Peddars Way about a mile or so from the Chequers. This is very easy walking even after a few pints. The footpath here is an ancient green lane, lined with hedgerows and majestic old trees such as hawthorn, oak, sycamore and beech. Feet tread on firm, level and sandy ground. Few hills challenged creaky knees. At times we could walk four abreast – val-de-ri; val-de-ra – my knapsack on my back. On the way, we debated the issue of the missing apostrophe in the word “Peddars.” Opinion is divided, but then after a few pints everything is debateable. The round walk was about 10 ½ miles.

Closer to the camp site, we encountered plantations of pine trees, the most ubiquitous and detestable of mankind’s inflictions on the British landscape. Wildlife flees the stuff except for the occasional motley grey squirrel; tall spindly trunks are naked and look dead from the waist down; carpets of needles stifle almost everything on the forest floor; close planting produces dank groves stretching into tenebrous tunnels. This is Forestry Commission territory and it shows. The agency shares the land with the military. We find many MOD signs warning us not to stray beyond flimsy gateways, and much of what we see discourages us anyway.

But, the previous paragraph aside, this is wonderful walking and cycling country, especially in those numerous stretches of natural deciduous heath lands. And, while we were there, a telephone call advised us we’d exchanged contracts on the house sale AND the purchase. We move at the end of the month and we won’t be spending winter in the motor home after all.


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