Frankie is a tiny bundle of bounding French energy. She had joined a British motorhome forum in order to improve her English, which is already excellent, and welcomes friends from the forum stopping by on their way to and from other places.
I have to say Toulouse was a far larger city than I imagined, being the fourth largest in France with well over 1.25 million inhabitants, and is supposedly the most dynamic city in France. Somehow I had imagined Toulouse as a sleepy backwater city, maybe like Hereford or even Ludlow, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The city was the capital of the Visigoths back in the dark ages; in the 15th C prospered by exporting Bordeaux wines to England; then in the 17th C built its fortunes on the blue dye obtained from woad, which was grown on the fertile soil surrounding the Garonne, the main river of the region – a trade which disappeared overnight with the introduction of indigo from India. Nowadays it has re-invented itself yet again, and is the centre of the European aerospace industry: the air route between Toulouse and Paris being the busiest in Europe, transporting nearly 2.5 million annually
So my intention of parking somewhere near the centre of the city and exploring it on The Supter was out of the question. Even when Frankie kindly took me round in her car it was almost impossible to stop, though we had to in the end, as the road we had chosen ended in an underground carpark beneath the central square! I was just grateful I was not in Thebus.
Frankie whizzed round the narrow lanes of the centre, driving as only a French woman can – a mixture of shrugs, waved hands, and toots on the horn while she wove in and out of the traffic.
The city centre is enormous, and full of luxury shops and restaurants.
Frankie said that when she was younger most of the wonderful buildings in the centre were luxurious apartment buildings each with a concierge and still retaining the huge gated doorways to the courtyards for the carriages, and some still are private dwellings.
She and her family had moved to Toulouse when she was three, and she describes herself as a ‘Blackfoot’. The Blackfoots were French emigres to Algeria, when it was first a French colony in the early 19th C., and her forbears had lived there until the troubles of the 1960’s when they returned to France. It was wonderful being able to communicate with Frankie and learn about her culture, I really shall have to press on with learning French, otherwise I will never be able to understand the people and places I visit.
We had visited a lovely old restaurant just on the outskirts of Toulouse for lunch, where I tried the local dishes of Goose Pate followed by Cassoulet and Crepe Suzette with Grand Marnier flambéd at the table. All most enjoyable.
Bidding farewell to all the lovely folk, both French and English that I had met whilst staying at Parc Verger I set off for Toulouse to meet up with Frankie, a lovely French lady who I had chatted with on one of the internet motor homing forums, and who had invited me to stay on my way down to Spain.
But less than two miles up the road towards Toulouse I suddenly sensed a change in the air temperature inside Thebus and the noise levels also. It felt like a window was open. But glancing round – eeeek – I had left the door open.
Little Miss Phoebe was clipped to her travelling line on her bed so was safe from danger: fortunately there was a bit of a pull in on the right side of the road and I hastily headed for it – of course as I braked to enter the layby the door flew wide open, and as the electric steps automatically extend when the door opens there was a moment of panic as the layby was uneven and the steps began to grunge on the gravel. Heart racing I stopped with no damage and shut the door very firmly before starting off again. About another couple of miles down the road there was a repeat of the same heart stopping problem, with this time nowhere easy to stop. I slowed carefully (feeling grateful I wasn’t in the south of the uk with a score of impatient and angry drivers behind me and eventually found somewhere to pull over without the door flying open and the steps extending.
Now – when I had first arrived at Parc Verger, one morning waiting for the bread van I popped out for a minute to check that I hadn’t missed it, and on my return the door wouldn’t open. As I had only intended to be gone a minute to two I left Phoebe loose in Thebus., though got chatting to someone and stayed away longer than I intended. So when the door wouldn’t open imagined that she had jumped up at the door and somehow flipped down the lock. I had a spare set of keys for just such emergencies but the door still wouldn’t open. Fortunately the side sliding window was ajar so Franc and a visiting builder found a set of platform steps and I got inside to open the door, thinking Phoebe might be slightly less excitable if it was me climbing in though the window. But try as I might the door just would not open. It transpired that the latch of the lock is made of nasty cheap metal, and had simply broken in half, so when the door catch was operated the broken half of the latch stayed in place holding the door shut.
After much complicated jiggling and unscrewing of bits the annoying part was removed, and I sent off to England for a replacement lock. Now, one would have assumed that the company making the replacement locks would have made one the same shape and size as that which was being replaced. No such luck! Not only was it a different shape but there were some extra internal parts which fouled a strut inside the structure of the door. Duncan, who supplied it, said the best way round the problem was to carefully file off the offending bits. As the lock was jolly expensive Franc, unsurprisingly, did not fancy being responsible should the ‘nasty cheap metal’ that those bits were made of shatter and render this new lock useless. But he explained that if I locked the door with the key as I left all would be well and I could get the mechanism sorted out when I returned home. Of course I never thought that when driving along there was no latch to hold the door in place and the suction of the wind simply pulled it open.
So the journey to Toulouse went on in fits and starts as I continually pulled over to shut the door again. Eventually I rigged up a sort of fix which involved Phoebe’s retractable lead, and a bungee cord. There being nothing suitable on the door to attach the lead to it simply went round part of the door handle, and although the door did not fly right back, if was open just enough to be worrying. Not a pleasant journey at all.
I decided to stick to the motorways as in the inside lane I had a chance to pull over onto the little pull-ins with emergency phones they have every so often, and fortunately most times the traffic was not so heavy that it made it difficult to rejoin the carriageway from a standing start. As the day went on and our journey was turning out much slower than I expected we got into the five o’clock Toulouse traffic and I abandoned any hope of shutting the door, trusted to God and just drove on,
The countryside on the way down was not a spectacular as I had expected, but I would guess that as with all motorways they keep them away from the prettier parts of the countryside as much as possible. We just skirted the edge of the Dordogne then breasting a hill just before Toulouse as the sun was beginning to set there was a fine range of mountains in the blue of the distance just merging with the blue and red of the evening clouds, so one couldn’t be sure if they were clouds or mountains, but I decided they were definitely mountains, which was confined by my charming hostess when I arrived.
I managed to be organised enough to take a snap of the little bread van arriving in the morning
Then Lisa took me on the supermarket run again and very kindly went the pretty way back passing a few of the local chateaux.
Then when her godmother was due to visit for Christmas I accompanied Lisa to the local airport at Limoges.
What a super little place to fly in and out of. Wonderful countryside. A carpark not quite a large as one at a British Superstore, with probably less distance to walk to check-in. As we parked up I could smell cooking: having kept many pigs over the years and cooked all of them I straight away recognised the smell of steamed pork. Once again, how many British airports do their own cooking. So being early we got something from the cafe and sat outside in the sun to wait for the plane. Lisa had just a coffee, but there was Limousin pie, and as I have not really tried much local food I felt that was a must for lunch, and guess what, it was cooked pork pieces and sliced potato in a light pasty crust. Very tasty, and being lunchtime I had a glass of wine, and most enjoyable it all was, sitting in the sun and looking out at the stunning scenery of the Haute Vienne.
The little Flyby plane arrived and taxied round stopping just in front of us.
Then we went back via a SuperU supermarket, full of Christmas food – crates of oysters, live lobsters, wonderful cheeses and pates. It feels so good here I surprised myself by starting to look at properties in the area.
Back at Parc Verger Christmas was being organised for the fourteen of us due to spend Christmas day there. The marquee looked very festive, and we were treated to a roast turkey lunch with all the trimmings
There was even some live entertainment. Thanks Franc!
Plus a wonderful iced cake for after.
And the sun shone so strongly that the tent sides had to be opened for the afternoon. Most enjoyable.
I ventured down into the village to post a couple of letters back home. Of course my French dried up after my first carefully prepared sentence, and I cannot get to grips with what is being said when I am told the price, but the letters went and I had a little look round the town or maybe its a village. I don’t know – it has a Maire (Mayor) so I suppose it must be a town. It was half past nine in the morning, so not rush hour, but still it was amazingly quiet.
Rush Hour in Champagnac-la-Riviere and I didn’t even have to wait for the traffic to clear
One challenge a day to my French was enough and I didn’t try going to the Boulangiere (bakery), but on Sunday the little bread van does not call to Parc Verger so I thought I would give it a try.
The cute little shop was full of delicious looking bread and cakes. I bought (not knowing what it was) a walnut loaf made from, I think, Christmas flour. Anyway it was very nice. But the pièce de résistance was this cake.
Apparently I am told by a French friend that it is called Une religieuse which translates as A Nun – I wonder if they are only made on a Sunday? Anyway it was délicieuse never mind a about religieuse
It lasted most of the day as there was far too much of it to eat at just one sitting, and Phoebe shared some of it as well – and gave it lick-lipping full marks.
Quite a few of the locals were popping by for their morning bread, and Little Miss Phoebe, who had come with me was highly excited by all these potential new people to meet. She was attached to The Supter which I had parked on the pavement as I went in. Now of course, not only was it a Sunday morning, but here in rural France people like to chat to one another, which is nice, but it meant I was in the shop much longer than I intended. So when I went out I had one highly excitable Great Dane puppy straining at the leash. We needed to turn round to retrace out route and in all the bouncing about at my return – plus trying to look round at everyone else she was not paying attention and there was a loud yelp as one of her paws got caught by the back wheel. I felt dreadful about it but Phoebe didn’t seem worried.
She was previously limping a bit occasionally, but on another paw, and that was from leaping an enormously wide ditch, much wider than she expected I fear. I think the result was that she strained one of her front paws.
Time passes all to easily here in the Limousin. The countryside is wonderful. Not in a breathtaking sort of way as in the Western Highlands and Skye, but in a relaxing way. I remember reading that focusing on distant landscape objects relaxes the eye-muscles and hence relaxes the body……. ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills’.
And here the ever-present woodland of oak, chestnut and silver birch threaded through with silver jewels of the many lakes: and there in the far distance a background of more wooded hills, fading into blueness with groups of trees and tiny buildings outlined on their crests. Charming.
Not every day is sunny, but many are. On a sunny day like today, the dawn began with oranges and blues lighting up the clouds from below, as the sun gradually rose over the horizon. Phoebe gains in strength and energy every day and our walks (well her walks and my rides) become longer. We are still sticking to the cycleway as it is so perfect for us. She hasn’t had the confidence to explore the acres of open woodland alongside the trail, but races back and forth along the leaf strewn swathe at the sides. And has discovered how to carry sticks, though she rushes back and forth so fast I cannot easily catch photographs.
This morning we were out early; the frosts still on the ground, and the grey mists lying trapped between the trees bordering the courses of the streams and rivers; and the sweet, earthy smell of the decaying chestnut leaves. When I first arrived there was just a narrow strip of tarmac of the cycleway showing amongst the leaves, which I assumed the cyclists and walkers had kept clear by passing and re-passing, But today the whole of the path from end to end had been swept – can you imagine that happening in Britain. We can’t even keep the leaves off the main-line railways tracks.
Before long we met Jean-Claude (who lodges with Andree next door) returning from his early morning hunt – gun broken over his arm and with his Brittany Spaniel still working the woods beside him. I managed Bonjour, and then had to mime as to whether his hunt had been successful. Smilingly he produced a hen pheasant from one of the deep pockets in his coat. I was lost for any more French other than délicieuse – and a waving Jean-Claude returned home with his prize whilst we carried on..
I have fitted Phoebe with a set of bells to her collar like Jean-Claude’s dog. It makes it so much easier to keep track of where she is and what she is doing, and is a pleasant accompaniment to our explorations. We passed silent, thick-set Limousin horned cattle, staring curiously through the misty woodland, and a few horses. A builder was working in the distance on a barn, and the muffled echo of his hammering rang out through the silence. Jays cried from the thicker parts of the woods, and, as most other mornings, we saw the resident buzzard sweep from tree to tree as we passed by his territory. Plus the smell of woodsmoke when one passed a silent cottage made some lovely memories for the mind’s eye.
There are many things I have found to like about France other than its slightly old-fashioned ways and beautiful scenery. Obviously the food is wonderful, and the pace of life relaxing, but then other silly little things – like the way milk comes in milk-bottle shaped bottles. Not wobbly plastic handled containers or awkward cardboard cartons, but something you can get your hand round and which pours easily. I had forgotten the pleasure of pouring milk from a bottle.
In the afternoon we walked in the opposite direction on the cycleway. Still beautifully quiet and wooded, but this time with more lakes closer to the path.
And several fields of goats, the ones nearest to the path with signs not to feed them. I like that. An area with so many goats that it is worth commercially producing signs telling you not to feed them. A couple of the nannies looked EXCEEDINGLY fat, but I don’t think it was over-feeding, and I before I leave there will be kids. I wonder whether they allow them to stay with the nannies or not?
As we returned home, late in the afternoon silence, several times I could hear rustling amount the leaves, and thinking it was a wood mouse I stopped to see. And this is what appeared after a few minutes of watching.
Now why is it that the French (and a large part of the rest of the world come to that) drive on the right-hand side of the road.
I have always read that we in the UK drive on the left so that the sword hand is free to protect our females and youngsters who are clinging to our left. And what do they do with their dogs in right hand drive countries? Where do they walk? I have always trained my dogs to walk on the left and Little Miss Phoebe is good with this, and also with trotting along at the left hand side of The Supter…… but now she is constantly exposed to the traffic. Its very worrying. I will have to see about trying to get Phoebe to run on the right, but then my right hand is already occupied with the controls for The Supter.
Out of interest I did some research and it appears the Romans were already travelling on the left so Britain must have it right (pardon the pun) My reading told me that in pre-Revolutionary France the aristocracy not only drove on the left, as was universally normal at the time, but they forced all other road users out of the way, meaning the commoners had to use the right, though this argument falls down somewhat unless France consisted of entirely one way roads, or all the aristocracy only headed in one direction. Anyway this theory goes on to say that after the Revolution a decree was made that everyone should use the commoners side.
Another theory was that Bonaparte was left handed and made his army march on the right hand side of the road so it would be easier for him to fight his enemies ……… Hmmm….. I would have thought when you are taking your army with you it would be a good idea to have them fight your enemies. What do they say – no point keeping a dog and barking yourself. Also every portrait of Bonaparte I have ever seen shows him with his sword dressed to the left – pretty difficult for a left-handed man to draw ….. ohhhh!….. perhaps that’s why he took his army along
Still be that as it may, around the same time as all this was going on it would appear that the Industrial Revolution was also having an impact and large heavy wagons carting food about (probably to supply Boney’s army) began to ply the roads. On the continent and apparently in America, they rode one of the wheelers (back horses) on the left of the team, so they could use their right hand as a ‘whip hand’. Thus is was easier and safer for such heavy wagons to use the right hand side of the road as the carters would be able to safely pass other wagons going in the opposite direction. That sounds more plausible. The proponent of this theory then let himself down by saying it also made it easier to see to over-take. I would assume this particular guy had never driven six carthorses pulling a huge fully laden cart. In my mind’s eye I see the French carter inching out slightly to get a view of the road ahead while whipping his charges up from 3 to 4 kilometres an hour and screaming past the lumbering cart ahead which was doing only 2 kilometres and hour and which had been blocking his way for kilometers. I wonder if they carried one of those curly french horns and gave a blast as they went past. And I must research rude French road signals…. I have only just discovered the correct way to use the English hand signals – (thanks to all at A & P). Not that I use them any more often than I use my feebly-mastered French phrases!
The French lady who lives next door to Parc Verger is charming, and exactly as one might imagine someone living out in the French countryside might be. She is tiny and slightly built and bright as a button, reminding me of a little Jenny Wren. I am not sure how old she is but she informed me (via Lisa) that she would have been married 42 years this year, though she had been a widow for the last 18, and that all her married life her husband had never once made her cry. And that she has the most wonderful son in the whole world
Lisa from Parc Verger on the left and Adrianne from next door on the right
She has sweet little house, and outside a barn with chickens and quails. In the woodlands behind the house is a goat, and in her tidy entrance porch were bright, flowering pot-plants and a couple of dozen persimmons ripening. Apparently she is pretty well self-sufficient. I wish I could speak with her in her own language, and to that end have at last put on the French Language CD’s that I bought early in 2014. Bad girl that I am!
I sit and listen, and think I am doing quite well, and compose things I will say when I meet one of the locals, though when I do I mostly forget how it goes, and if I do remember and they understand , I am then confronted with a totally incomprehensible reply, plus spurred on by my efforts to communicate they encouragingly chat away whilst I stand by totally dumbfounded.
And of course, assuming I do get to grips with the language even a little bit it is my intention to move on to Spain, where I have even less hope of communicating. So! – I pay the price for my English laziness.
Little Miss Phoebe and I continue to enjoy the walks along the cycleway through the woods, each day venturing further as Phoebe gets stronger. A lot of exercise is not good for growing Great Danes, but it is a fine line between having her full of boundless energy in an RV and over-taxing her with long walks. Of course it is easy for me as I can just sit on The Supter. Still Phoebe’s speed and strength increase daily. If she lags behind me investigating some new and interesting smell, then gallops to catch up, she flies past The Supter, which does eight miles and hour easily outpaces it. Apparently one of her siblings from last year’s litter has been clocked at 35 mph.
Weight wise she is also growing! Just over 35 kilos when weighed at the vet’s today (She will be six months old the day after tomorrow).
One of the ladies staying here on the site kindly drove me to the local vet’s, as Phoebe is in need of more worming tablets. I am not normally a fan of constantly dosing pets with all sorts of medications – coming from a time when most folk just kept mongrels, which were freely available, as everyone’s dogs seemed to produce puppies once or twice a year and their owners were just grateful to rehome any offspring. Then, other than trying to keep the puppy away from the chance of “hardpad” for the first six weeks that was it as far vets were concerned. Their diet consisted of Spillers Shapes and household scraps, and cats were expected to make their own living apart from a large bowl of milk. They rarely had fleas or worms, but if anything was looking off colour it had a few Vetzymn tablets. A bit thin and it was given tablets purchased from the hardware shop, or if it it started to scratch was covered with white powder from a large perforated tin from the same source. And I have to say they all lived long, happy and healthy lives. But now I am travelling and don’t know what foreign dangers may await my precious girl.
The vet’s here is situated in a large airy, purpose built surgery, with a plant filled atrium as an entrance, and several elegant French Madamoiselle as receptionists. I was assured everyone spoke English, but we must have visited on the day when the English speakers had all gone out on call. I managed to remember how to say her name was Phoebe, and that she was a Great Dane nearly six months old and was on monthly Milbemax tablets for worming. We couldn’t even cope with how to spell my name and were stumped until I mimed that I needed a pen and paper and would write it down. But I came away with a tablet and even if it was not Milbemax a bit of googling and google translate let me know that it contained the same ingredients.
This is a little montage of her first six months.
I have to say making this encouraged me to look at some of the photos of my lovely old Phoebe, but I still miss her so much that I found it too hard to bear and had to stop.
Franc and Lisa moved over from Britain as new owners of Parc Verger in June this year, but what a charming and welcoming couple they are. I had pulled over into a layby once I realised I was not going to find them and phoned at about 9.30 am – not being sure what time the gates were opened and everyone was up and about – but apparently I had only just missed them being open when I passed by the second time. Franc saw Thebus heading along the main road and ran down to the entrance in case we sailed by again, but in the daylight the entrance was VERY easy to spot.
I had a choice of plots but went with Franc’s recommendation. For an easy life it had water, 16 amp electric and a drainage point. Wonderful! and reasonably priced. It was a lovely situation, partly screened by a hedge but looking out over a beautiful lake and woodland.
I think nearly all of the others presently staying at Parc Verger are British, so it is very relaxing being able to communicate easily, even if a bit of a ‘cop out’ (what a strange idiom that is, and one wonders where it came from, but in this case says precisely what I mean).
The lady from the local bakery calls up most morning with freshly baked baguettes and wonderful pastries, and she is definitely French, and if she does speak any English is certainly not owning up to it. I will include a photo sometime, but normally she pulls in blowing her horn, one is never quite sure when, turns round and if you are not quick is gone. So by the time I have wrestled with Phoebe, and found my walking stick and purse I am not thinking of photography, more of breakfast. And what a wonderful breakfast it is, with lovely, real French-tasting bread, and the most buttery croissant I have tasted in my life, plus each time she calls there is a different freshly baked pastry to tempt you……. yummy.
It is terrific here for Phoebe, as although dogs are expected to be kept on their leads at the site, within a mere couple of hundred yards there is a tarmaced cycle way running for several miles in both directions. It was originally the old railway (or possibly tram line – I am not sure which) so of course it is perfectly flat and goes through woods and fields – no traffic and wonderful for letting the dogs run free.
We occasionally pass other walkers, dog owners or cyclists, but just enough to make it interesting. The first day I collected some of the masses of big fat chestnuts and roasted then in the wok when I got back, and they were lovely. Its probably a bit late in the year and they have been lying in the damp, but a month earlier I think I would have been eating them every day.
Parc Verger has free wi-fi as well, and a reasonably fast connection, so that has meant I have been able to update the blog and sort some of the things which should have been done before I sailed. Oh well…. it all gets done in the end.
The French here speak French and only French, but there seemed quite a scattering of British around – as I noticed when Lisa kindly took me to the supermarket for my first French shopping test – Is it washing up liquid or washing liquid? A bit of deduction and I got it right. I coped at the butchery counter buying liver and kidney for Phoebe, both dearer than at home where neither are valued as food, and the chicken, which I had been led to believe was expensive in France was almost exactly the same price as in the British supermarkets – the cheap chicken that is, the premium variety was double the price. But on the fish counter it was heaven. I bought some of the nicest prawns – well crevettes of course – I think I have ever eaten. About 1.50 for 200 grammes. They will certainly be on my list next time I call. I tried Phoebe with a bit but she looked as though I was trying to poison her. I think they probably have a cut off time as puppies for learning what new things to eat, and prawns were too expensive in Britain to try out.
Although our arrival in Cherbourg had been in glorious sunshine, which continued for the whole of the day – the weather was set to change. The next morning was at least dry, but that did not last and soon the rain set in solidly. As I had not managed to get much sleep the day/night/day of our sailing I was not bothered, intending to explore the town on Saturday. But next day the weather continued wet and then turned extremely windy, buffeting poor Thebus about – though we are used to that having travelled in Shetland and the Western Isles – but it was not weather conductive to ‘looking around’ – so another day was spend indoors.
Sunday was not quite so bad, and by now I was getting itchy feet, especially as it was not possible to use the satellite internet – high winds can damage the receiver dish. Fortunately I had managed some internet research before the windy weather arrived and had discovered that not far away in Gouville-sur-Mer there was a thriving mussel and oyster industry and I felt a ‘gastronomique’ tasting was due and headed to Le Flot Blue to try some mussels.
I had read reviews that the Moules Royale was excellent, and though it was good I have cooked better mussels myself and often – still it was a foray into asking for things in French – though a bit of a cheat as being on the tourist trail the waiter spoke some English. It’s a town that would be interesting to visit in the summer season when they run the traditional horse drawn mussel carts, but carrying tourists instead, for a tour of the mussel beds.
Today, even though it was Sunday, as soon as the tide turned a fleet of tractors and trailers headed past our parking place and out onto the beach. They were so far from us I could barely make them out, but the camera set on zoom picked up how many there were. Looking for all the world like a cast of crabs appearing after the tide has gone out.
I could have stayed the night at Gouville-sur-Mer as there was a large aire, which I think was 4.50 euros per night but what that included I am not sure. I must get PLUS FRANÇAIS
But the weather was not promising and I thought to head further south, travelling by way of Le Mont St Michel which I wanted to see.
I set the Sat Navs using both Strict Lady and her Chinese Cohort and as we approached, there, suddenly, across the fields it appeared out of the mists like a giant blanc-manger – see I can do French (even if I have to use GoogleTranslate).
As we drew nearer to the town following the SatNavs it was obvious that large vehicles were less than welcome at the ‘Mont’, and we were funnelled to the biggest area of car parking I think I have ever seen. Interestingly non of the prices were posted on the entrances. You just had to go in and find out how much it was going to be once you had committed yourself. I must admit I wasn’t keen, plus the town didn’t seem all that much closer than when I had glimpsed it across the fields.
We drove round a bit looking for a section which allowed motorhomes. You were STRICTLY forbidden from entering the coaches section, and when we finally found our correct section it cheerfully informed us that over 8m was forbidden also. Merde! (See my French improves by the minute).
Okay – I would bin Mont St Michel and press onto Nantes where there was something I really wanted to see.
The SatNavs sort of got me there….. almost. Fortunately it was late so my detours and re-routing, plus stopping to use Google Maps were all possible, and I finally located the Aire which was quite near to the place I wanted to visit.
Sadly the gates were Ferme (closed) and though there was lots of signage in French I knew I wouldn’t understand it, and on the principal that it might be closed for the season rather than the night I decided not to risk waiting until rush hour in the morning.
For some reason my Satellite Internet now refused to work, and I felt adrift. NO way of knowing where I wanted to go next, and so NO way of inputting information into the Sat Nav. This was NO GOOD.
I knew there was an English owned campsite further south, and just before my internet connection died I managed to get their address. So setting both the SatNavs decided I might as well drive through the night to Parc Verger at Champagnac-la-Riviere in Limousin.
We didn’t do too badly though I think I got lost at Rennes, and did several circuits of part of the town, finding it especially tricky at junctions with traffic lights on dual carriageways to decide quite which lane I was meant to be in when I needed to turn back, which happened frequently. But we finally escaped and headed out.
For some time the Chinese Lady had been imploring me to leave the motorway system at every exit, whereas Strict Lady seemed more than happy for me to carry on. As Strict Lady was taking me by the easiest road I stuck with her. Sadly it turned out that Strict Lady was set to accept motorway tolls routes whereas Chinese Cohort was set to avoid them. When we hit the toll motorway I wasn’t too phased – I had cash and change. I remembered going through toll booths all those years ago back in the eighties. There was usually a grumpy lady or two to consult if you got into difficulties. How wrong could it go?
This was more like it – hardly any traffic – no endless roundabouts or checking the route. We cruised on, motorway after motorway till finally both of the SatNavs agreed it was time to exit. Reaching the swathe of toll booths I found only the lorry exit was open plus one other. I wasn’t going through the lorry exit and paying lorry prices – I had learned that much from the Severn Bridge.
The other exit was tight but no worse than the Severn Bridge, and we crept in. There were lot of close printed instructions – all in French. Not using the lorry exit meant that the controls weren’t at quite the right height. I tried putting in the ticket without success. So I managed to squeeze out of the door – just – but then I went into panic mode. By now I had two vehicles queuing behind me – Why were they wanting to use the same exit at this time of night? …. aaarrghhh!
Now I have mentioned in the past that confronted with an ‘emergency’ situation I just go into ‘Corporal Jones’ mode. I couldn’t think what to do other than ask the car behind me for help. Of course they had not a word of English between them and my French seemed to end with ‘Je regret’, and ‘non parlez francios’ which I know is not grammatically correct but was the best I could come up with. There was a lot of shrugging and huffing from the driver who was male, and eventually the passenger – I would guess his ‘femme’ – got out to help me. I just gave her my money and ticket and left her too it. It cost nearly 30 euros, but a lesson well learned.
When the barrier lifted I was so grateful I grabbed her hand and kissed it with a beaming smile. Then waved her farewell as she waited for her (probably grumbling) spouse to follow me through the barrier.
So now we were into the ‘charming little French towns’ route. The sort where there is not room for two vehicles so one or the other of you needs to give way. The worst one had an extraordinary one way system to exit the town. Mainly because the streets were so very narrow there was no other way of dealing with it. The last section looked so unlikely an exit that I made two tours of the town before risking it. Fortunately it was only a short section but non the less very worrying with a 10 m vehicle. This was followed almost immediately by a 180 degree turn over a railway level crossing (well, level in name only) . Then immediately up an exceedingly steep and winding exit road. Another aaarghhhhh !!!
We were getting close to Champagnac-la-Riviere (why do the French have such long names for their towns, its nearly as bad as the Gaelic ones in Lewis and Harris) It had been my intention to stop in a layby until it was an appropriate time to phone the site for final directions. Of course the only possible stopping site had been thoughtfully filled with gravel, presumably for winter road repairs. This involved some complicated manoeuvring to escape, and I was so grateful we were unscathed that I drove along the wrong side of the road for several hundred yards before suddenly remembering to drive on the right
We were getting very, very close now, in fact, there was the turning for the village itself, and thankfully a blue sign indicating motorhome camping. I gratefully turned down the lane. But in the dark sailed straight past the site entrance. It’s a charming little village, but not really suited to RV’s. Plus I was hopelessly lost. Both the SatNavs had informed me that I had arrived at my destination and left me too it.
I must admit that for the last half hour or so I was surprised at what early risers the French were, as it was before 6am and there were quite a few people on the streets of the little towns. (Only later did I realise I was still on British Winter Time so it was actually nearly seven)
In Champagnac-la-Riviere the boulanger was open and an elderly gentleman was leaving clutching his bagette. It had to be done. Je regret….. again…. and once more not a word could either of us understand, other than Limoges, and as I had originally been travelling on the Limoges road I took it to mean the site was somewhere along it. The other single word I grasped was adroit, which I knew meant right. Armed with this information I cheerfully sailed past the site entrance yet again. Looking at the entrance in daylight it is hard to imagine how I could have missed it twice. But needless to say I did finally arrive.
Here are a few photos of Cherbourg as we entered the harbour, and what a contrast they make to my photos of leaving Poole.
The announcements were made that we would be able to disembark soon and to return to the vehicles. Phoebe was delighted to see me back, and reasonably interested in her new toy, though there was little time to spare. Strict Lady needed to be set so we were not floundering around holding everyone up, as being parked so far forward we would have the whole contingent of ferry passengers following us.
And…….I must remember to drive on the right.
The traffic in the town of Cherbourg was not as worrying as I feared it might be, and I had decided to head for somewhere nearby on the coast so it was not too trying a journey. The first roundabout I was determinedly reminding myself to turn to the right, which I did, but then almost forgot to look to the left to check for traffic.
The French traffic lights were slightly different, plus every time I saw a vehicle approaching a junction hoped that Prorite a Droit was no longer prevalent. But we made it out of the town and into the country, and I even had a chance to glance at the scenery, though of course I was mainly checking for lay-bys for Phoebe.
The sunlight was bright and clear and sharp, with that quality of light which reminded me of the Newlyn School of painters, who had in fact spent their formative years in Brittany, before resettling in Cornwall.
I saw French looking farmsteads, and small fields of blue-grey cabbages – then …. my first Normandy windmill, just glimpsed over the tops of some trees. Sadly there was nowhere to stop nearby, but later in the day I was to see another and much closer.
Before too long we found a nice layby and pulled in. The sun was still shining and I could leave the door open when I let Phoebe out – and by now she was desperate. It was so warm I half thought of changing my jumper for a T-shirt. A butterfly floated by and a lazy fly came in to join us. It seemed a different world. Hardly more than twenty four hours ago I was wondering if the sleet would begin to settle. Now I could barely believe my luck.
It was still not late in the day so using the satellite connection I checked for suitable aires perhaps nearby the sea, and found one, close to the main road which looked ideal. And so it proved.
For those not used to driving a motorhome, or not used to driving a motorhome on the continent, in France they have a system of Aires (areas) where it is permitted, and even encouraged for motorhomes to park and stay overnight or even for a day or two. Some are free, and some make a small charge. Some are simply parking spots, and some have facilities provided, water, electricity hook-ups, and waste disposal facilities, Sometimes toilets, showers, and laundry facilities. I am a novice at this so time will tell.
This one had no facilities such as electric or water, but it was free of charge to park.
The approach looked worrying after we left the main road, but I decided to risk it and in fact the entrance to the aire was only just around the first bend. And what a wonderful view. The sun still shone, and reflected off the sea in the bay before us, with the rooves of the town of Saint Jean De La Rivière between. Phoebe could have a run around off her lead on the acre of so of grass included within the hedges of the aire. There was a good area of flat hard-standing and several picnic benches, and best of all, I felt welcome. The UK tourist industry could learn a thing or two. The contrast to how I had felt whilst touring on the south coast of my own country was striking.
Entrance to Saint Jean De La Rivière with Windmill in the backgroundView out over the countryside to the sea beyondSome of the picnic tables, and plenty of space for Phoebe to run aroundThebus looking handsome
After we had eaten I used the evening researching what I might like to see nearby. It appeared that the town of Gouville-sur-Mer a little further along the coast had large oyster and mussel beds, so I was looking forward to exploring and maybe tasting, but sadly next day the weather had changed, and though nowhere near as wet or cold or windy as it had been in Britain, it was certainly not pleasant enough to wander about.
I must admit I had not risen early, having only had three hours sleep the night before, but once again it was a pleasure to feel relaxed enough to have a ‘lie-in’ And even if the weather was not of the best I used the day to catch up with my photographs and blog – so far I am liking this foreign travel.
My meeting with the crane lorry in the little Devon village meant that either I would need to return to the Midlands for a repair, or I would have to be prepared to travel to where I hoped for hot sunny weather without an awning. It would be foolish not to return, so Strict Lady was set and we ploughed on through the four hour odd journey, stopping only to see Sally and buy some of her eggs and sausages.
Yes – I did say sausages. She had at last sent a couple of pigs off, and reduced the numbers from about one hundred and eight to one hundred and six. But very good sausages they were, and if not completely worth the wait, or the four hours journey then certainly worth a detour off the M5, plus the pleasure of meeting with Sally
Then back to Dave’s who thought he might have an awning arm which would be a suitable as a replacement. Sadly it wasn’t, but not to be defeated he removed the damaged one and took it away next day to get it repaired, then re-fitted I waved him farewell and set off to my brother’s to collect the post he was intending to send on to me. Yet another excellent lunch out with him and Liz to celebrate her new job overseeing the lottery or some such. Then on my return I booked for the ferry, set Strict Lady for Poole and drove all the way back, arriving in the early hours ready for our 8.30 sailing.
As usual with me lots of things were left till the last minute and probably not sorted out properly, but before we could look round we were being loaded onto the vehicle decks and Thebus was third from the front. Phoebe was told to ‘Be Good’ and I went off to the upper deck
As it was a French line – Britannia Ferries – decided to treat myself to my first cup of true French coffee. Well…… I can only hope that things get better, as it was one of the very worst cups of coffee I have tasted in years – so bad I could hardly bear to finish it, other than it would be a long time before I could make one for myself.
After all the windy weather we had a calm day for the crossing, and the ferry started imperceptibly to carry us out past the millionaire’s yachts and their splendid houses along the seafront of Sandibanks – one of the most expensive places in the world to own property. I found a window seat and watched as we glided past.
I also had several hours for ‘people’ watching, as foolishly I had left my boarding pass in Thebus, so didn’t have access to the free internet on board. I shall be better prepared next time. For some reason most of the male passengers seemed to have dressed in navy blue and I wondered if it was in honour of the sailing, or whether it was a la mode – see I can speak French!
I must admit it has been one of the things which has been preying on my mind a little bit. How will I get on with no languages other than my native English – to this end I bought a set of CD’s – ‘Total French’ -and I am ‘Totally Ashamed’ to say that though I purchased these early in 2014 as yet I have to get past the middle of the first CD. Still I will let you know how I get on.
There was a pitching and rolling swell, which didn’t suit everyone, and the sea looked almost black and oily. The choppy waves looking like countless myriads of close-capped channel swimmers, determinedly heading for France, but half an hour or so out I could see a pool of sunlight reflecting off the waves in the distance. I thought it was just a chink in the gloomy grey clouds, but no !! When we reached it the sun came out, the sky turned blue, and little fluffy white clouds appeared. The sea itself changed colour to a limpid green, with even hints of blue in the distance. The waves seemed more relaxed and now carried foamy little white crests, for all the world as though those channel swimmers who had made it thus far, were now on their backs, faces towards the sun, and lazily backstroking the rest of the way to France. My spirits brightened with the weather.
At 10.30 I was allowed to go down to the vehicle decks to check on Phoebe. She had been good, and when I let her out thinking she would need a wee she decided that she was still indoors so bless her, wouldn’t go.
There was still a few hours of our journey and not wanting to risk the food after the appalling coffee I thought to have a look round the shop. And on special offer was an enormous soft fluffy Christmas Reindeer toy, which I thought Little Miss Phoebe deserved to honour her first ferry crossing.
Though when I took it back she was too over-excited at seeing me to take much notice – but look how blue the sea is behind it.
So all the hanging around was done and I would be able to visit the abandoned village of Tyneham.
Having visited Lulworth I didn’t then want to travel all the way back up the narrow lanes only to have to return the following morning and on my way to the castle had passed a layby in one of the nearby woods, so we went back there for the night. I think there were more stags roaring in the night but quite a long way in the distance this time.
Isn’t it surprising how when one is looking forward to an event it often does not live up to expectations, and sadly Tyneham Village was one of these.
I had heard about it, and read about it. It was the village that time had forgotten. Abandoned in the war and simply left as it was. In the run up to D-Day the army had secretly moved the villagers out so manoeuvres could be undertaken. Several other villages and estates were also cleared, but after the war the government decided it still needed Tyneham owing to the looming Cold War. The villagers made strenuous efforts to be allowed to return to their lost lives, and eventually permission was given for people to visit, though not to return to live.
One of course has visions of a time warp village, and reading the website that is how it is put across. Judging from old photographs this was probably the case until the 1960’s and 70’s, but time does not stand still for buildings that are not maintained, and all that remains there now are a few half standing walls. Yes, the church and schoolhouse have been recently and immaculately restored.
The only other recognisable thing is the telephone box, though I wondered if that was the responsibility of the GPO rather than the army, till I read about its history ** (see the bottom of the page for more on the phone kiosk)
The K1 telephone kiosk – and no I wasn’t standing at an angle. That is how it actually is.
But the place is certainly not a time-warp – There is a massive carpark, though as a motorhome I was not allowed down the road to enter it, and had to park a mile or more away, (thank goodness I have The Supter.) And Health and Safety have been hard at work so there are paths, warning notices and fences everywhere.
The second of the two photos is particularly amusing if you first read the pious Victorian inscription on the water fountain outside the churchyard. Then look at the modern ‘Elf ‘n Safety notice affixed to it.
I was fortunate that after the hideously stormy wet weather of earlier in the week it was a gloriously sunny, though fearsomely cold day. With the result that the ‘World and His Wife’ had come to visit and they seemed to have brought all of their children and dogs with them. I did manage to get a few photos free of the meandering hordes but I had to wait quite a while. But the contrast between then and now was striking
The Rectory 1930 and 2015
Rectory Cottages then and now
Post Office Row over the years
Sadly not somewhere I would bother to revisit.
What was stunning was the drive there. This was on the road from the carpark to the village
Although incredibly narrow and pretty steep, the little lane climbs up the side of the Purbeck Hills to a wonderful viewpoint at the top. Trying to take photos of panoramic views is mostly a waste of time, and one never has the real feel of what the eye sees in a place like that. Though that is probably more of an excuse – in that the wind was so severe and the day so very cold that I viewed it from the cosy interior of Thebus.
Further down along the hill was another carpark and being more sheltered it was possible to get out and admire the view even if for a fairly short time. I think one is looking out over Brandy Bay, what a real Smuggler’s Name that is. And beautiful scenery all round, so although the village of Tyneham was something of a disappointment the trip there was worthwhile. And the telephone kiosk was fun.
Tyneham got its first public telephone kiosk during the winter of 1929. Before this date the villagers would keep in touch with the outside world by telegram or later by using the telephone in the back room of the Post Office.
Tyneham Valley was evacuated during the second world war and for the next forty years the abandoned kiosk was left to its fate, hidden under the shade of self seeded trees and disappearing under the sea of undergrowth which had consumed most of the village.
In the early 1980’s, prolonged protest and campaigning resulted in the public being granted increased access to the Army Ranges. In 1983 the kiosk was restored as part of a massive clear up programme but with the incorrect K1 roof decoration.
During the filming of ‘Comrades’ in 1985 an accident resulted in the kiosk being completely destroyed.
The K1 was Britain’s first standard kiosk. Between 1921 and 1927 three different versions of this phone box were designed by the General Post Office, all with the same reinforced concrete body and wooden door. The kiosk at Tyneham is the third and final version.
During this period the GPO had great difficulty persuading local authorities to accept a standard design. A variety of styles had sprung up since public phone boxes had first appeared on our streets at the turn of the century.
Rustic wooden booths in rural districts, workmanlike galvanised iron for the dockside. Eastbourne seafront boasted two kiosks with thatched roofs! Paintwork was equally creative, ranging from conservative buffs and browns to eye catching vermillion and flame. The GPO had to find a solution to this confusion.
Leading architects were called in to design an attractive, cost effective kiosk which could be made available in all our towns and cities. Post Office Red was to become the standard colour. Eight kiosk designs were introduced between 1921 and 1983.
It was the K6, introduced in 1935 for the Jubilee of George V, that was destined to become a British icon. Known throughout the world as ‘The Red Telephone Box’ it has become part of our national identity.
‘The Red Telephone Box’ is increasingly threatened in this age of the mobile phone. British Telecom is attempting to save this important part of our heritage with their ’Adopt a Kiosk’ for a pound scheme. By the beginning of 2012 over 1500 communities were taking care of their local box turning them into everything from art galleries to libraries.
There were several places that are on my must see list. Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, so it seemed a good opportunity to visit. But yet another disastrous time as the rain now began to come down in earnest. The sky was grey, the scenery indistinguishable, the wind howled, and Thebus was rocked around. So although I paid for a day’s parking I didn’t even bother to get out, except in a couple of intervals of lighter drizzle to allow Little Miss Phoebe to stretch her legs. The cold and rain, plus being in all day meant that I used far more LPG ,which irritatingly it meant a return trip to Dorchester. Silly me. This time I intended to arrive extra early when they opened at six o’clock so that I would be able to get to the correct side of the pumps to fill the house tank.
If anything the garage was even busier than last time, but now I simply had to fill up. So on the principle that ‘might is right’ I just had to push in, and make everyone else reverse out of the way so I could get to the pump, and when I did I blocked off four of the filling zones. Mind you when I left there was almost no-one there, so perhaps Thebus bulk put everyone else off.
And now it was back down to the coast again as the weekend was approaching when I would be able to visit the village of Tyneham, though that was not open until Saturday. However Lulworth Castle was so I decided to take a look at that.
Having left the filling station before seven it was dark as I headed towards the coast through what were probably delightful Devon villages. Of course it was still pitch black and now all the commuters who lived out in such charming country places were rushing to work and all coming towards me. There was lots of pulling in on my part as I was not sure if they were aware of how wide Thebus actually is. But when I met a crane lorry coming the other way and I pulled in and flashed him forwards, he did the same to me – and assuming he had better local knowledge and his bit of the road was better for passing I edged forwards. I suppose its called living and learning. For a start off I forgot to put on the excellent docking lights which Dave had fitted for me earlier in the year, so once past his headlights I really couldn’t see what was going on behind on the opposite side to the driver’s seat. We almost made safely through, but the rear arm of the awning just caught him and that was it. Other than that there was no real damage to either of us, but it meant my awning was completely caput, and I had been intending to sail for France early next week. Still, there was nothing which could be done now, and having made everything secure I just headed on.
Lulworth Castle is set in the most beautiful area, and the grounds round it are wonderfully landscaped with a mixture of happy natural beauty and artful tree planting.
The castle itself was built between 1588 and 1601 as a hunting lodge to entertain important visitors, and was then purchased in 1641 by Humphrey Weld, who descendants still own it today.
Unfortunately in the 1929 it suffered a disastrous fire, and the family being uninsured simply abandoned it. Some of the old photographs made for interesting viewing.
Furniture stacked on the lawns during the fire at Lulworth Castle, the photo was taken by a visiting tourist, smoke is still pouring out one of the towers and look at the ladder on the left.
The abandoned burnt out shell of Lulworth Castle
I have to say this newspaper article took my fancy. The family with true upper class British aplomb sitting watching it burn while the servants manfully try to rescue the contents. And is he smoking a cigar?
Hall way and stairs before and after the fire
However in recent times English Heritage has come to its rescue and an immense amount of work has been done. It is now possible to climb to the very top of the towers, via a very sturdy, but slightly vertigo inducing stairway, with even more stairs than I had suffered at Portland Bill lighthouse. But the views of the beautiful countryside around the castle made up for the climb
The family – as many old Cornish families – were staunch Roman Catholics and in the grounds a short way from the castle is a most attractive Roman Catholic Chapel, designed to look like a Classical garden building.
Built in 1786 Weld family tradition tells that King George III gave his permission to “build a mausoleum and you may furnish it inside as you wish”. Thus St Mary’s became the first free standing Roman Catholic Chapel to be built for public worship in England since the Reformation.
In 1789 the King and Queen Charlotte visited the Chapel and gave their approval. And in 1790, John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States was consecrated here.
So the castle stands between its two churches. Church of England on one side and Roman Catholic on the other
On the way in that morning I had stopped at the entrance gates not far from these lovely old thatched Dorset cottages, of a type which seem prevalent in the area, and particularly round Lulworth
Apart from taking a quick snap I had wanted to measure the entrance gates to make sure there was sufficient width to get Thebus through, and there was plenty – well about 6 or 7 inches on either side. So it never occurred to me that I might not be able to get out again.
Having had a lovely day at the castle I went to drive out, and found that the sensible one-way system they had instigated now took me though a different and narrower set of gates – so narrow there was no hope of Thebus getting through. But it was only when I had driven though another quite narrow gateway and small section of road that I made this worrying discovery.
Fortunately one of the ladies I had spoken with earlier in the day was just leaving for home, so she stood behind me whilst I tentatively backed up, then drove the wrong way down the drive to escape via the narrow, but not too narrow gateway I had used in the morning.
Earlier in my travels I toured round Orkney and Shetland, plus the north and west coasts of Scotland and all down the Outer Hebrides and saw such a plethora of lighthouses that their fascination somewhat dimmed. But not far from Weymouth was the Portland Bill lighthouse, and so it seemed the perfect place to visit – It was the name that did it of course – Portland Bill.
When I was working as a surveyor many years ago what the weather was going to be doing the next day was important, but although I listened most evenings it was very rare that I remembered or possibly even heard anything as the soporific effect of The Shipping Forecast along with their playing of Sleepy Shores had me in the Land of Nod, far too quickly.
But those evocative names have stayed in my mind for all those years so I decided to take a look at Portland Bill. Also the Isle of Portland was interesting in itself – Portland Stone, Portland Cement (the surveyor in me must be re-surfacing – and perhaps with Portland Stone Flags).
Where lighthouses are concerned I know from past experience that they can be down some pretty narrow roads, and though in fact this one was not too bad there were a few awkward bits on the way. The trouble with travelling early at this time of year in the UK is that it is invariably dark and so one doesn’t have the chance to appreciate the scenery of the place one is passing through. Though I find with our current uk traffic that if travelling is left until it is light at this time of year the quantity of vehicles makes total concentration on the road a requirement – so you still don’t get to see the scenery.
I did just get a glimpse of a couple of quarries as we went past, and in fact the Portland Bill light house itself is built on an old quarry.
Arriving at Portland Bill there is an immense carpark, with a pretty stiff pricing policy. Although it was early in the day and late in the year, and I was the almost the only vehicle around I generally follow rules so got out and paid the fees. I had considered parking in the coach section, but I know that often seems to cause a problem with any parking attendants, quite why I am not sure, but it is a risk I am loathe to take. As it was so incredibly windy (Storm Barny was still raging in) I parked longwise, so although I take up two spaces, and paid for two spaces I was crosswise on.
As soon as it was light a car-park attendant appeared, so I immediately checked with him as to what he wanted me to do. No…. I had to park in the official slots. Fair enough even though throughout the entire day the carpark was less than 5 percent full, and the storm meant that now the door flung open with such force I found it impossible to close and had to turn round to face the wind, with the result that I could barely open the door. No matter. Phoebe and I braved the wind and went for a walk round the lighthouse, though I was careful to keep her away from any cliff edges.
At the base of the stone obelisk – built on the point in 1844 by Trinity House to warn shipping of the rocks – was a little shrine put there when a fishing boat sunk with all hands just off the coast.
Trinity House Obelisk 1844
The photo is of one of the fishermen, and those who knew him drop by to drink his health and reminisce.
.Shrine to drowned fisherman
Then leaving leaving Little Miss Phoebe inside Thebus I popped over to the lovely cafe on the headland which was open for business, and had an excellent large cup of delicious coffee and a big slice of Spiced Dorset Applecake with Clotted Cream. All so very good, that after my tour of the lighthouse I went back for a Crab Sandwich and that was on a par, and just as delicious as the crab I bought the day before at Weymouth.
The tour of the lighthouse was most interesting. It was conducted by an ex-lighthouse keeper, who obviously loved the job and was a mine of information on the subject. I was worried by the idea of 103 steps, but having been round Biddluph Grange gardens which has steps in every direction, and not suffered that badly the next day I felt quite literally ‘up for it’ And in fact saw off a couple of much younger folk who chickened out when they reached the lighthouse keeper’s room and would not venture up the last, exceedingly steep, staircase. So steep in fact that the handholds were in the step ahead, and those of us who were brave enough to make it to the upper floor had to return down them backwards.
The lighthouse keeper’s living room, although with most of the original furnishings removed.
This is the clockwork mechanism which originally ran the turning mechanism of the light
And this was the enormous key to wind up the weights, taking about twenty minutes.
The huge, and original light of the Portland Lighthouse
The quarry on Portland Bill had been working until just before the lighthouse was built at the beginning of the 20th century, being finally completed in 1906. Before then two lighthouses now known as the Old Higher Lighthouse and Old Lower Lighthouse operated as a pair at Portland Bill. They were first constructed in 1716, and continued to warn ships off Portland’s coast until the existing lighthouse was built.
I learned several interesting snippets that day – something I had never heard about was ‘Leading Lights’ which I have always imagined to be a theatrical term. But no…..this was a system used to help ships navigate – the Leading Light was built higher and a lower following or rear lighthouse behind, if the lights aligned one above another you knew you were on a safe course. And this is what the Old Higher Lighthouse and Old Lower Lighthouses at Portland Bill were for. Secondly all lighthouses have their own livery of stripes. so sailors could identify where they were on the coast by the pattern of stripes on the lighthouse. Portland Bill has a single thick red band round its middle, Also they had varying light patterns. This one flashes four times every 20 seconds – and the light is set up so if you were off to the far west of the lighthouse you would would only see one flash, but when due south you would see the entire cycle of four.
The current Portland Bill lighthouse has an intensity of 635,000 candelas, giving a range of 25 nautical miles, and the fog signal – also with a coded blast to help ships identify the lighthouse and hence their position – has a range of 2 nautical miles, though our guide informed us it has been heard unto 25 miles away also.
All in all a worthwhile day, and I even got a badge, well two badges in fact – one for making it to the top, and another for making it safely down again.
Where to next? I was still filling in time before the weekend, but didn’t want to move too far away from Poole, which was from where I intended sailing on the next leg of my journeys.
Looking on the internet there seemed to be a long stay carpark at Weymouth, which wasn’t too far, and Weymouth had a beautiful wide, long, soft, sandy beach. Very few of the beaches in this area had sand, seeming to be mostly shingle, and I was longing to introduce Little Miss Phoebe to the softness of sand beneath her paws. So Weymouth it was.
We left the Lyme Regis carpark very late and travelled arriving at the Weymouth carpark very early. It was another huge and deserted carpark, both when we arrived and throughout the day. I think visiting any of these places in Thebus in the season would be problematic to say the least.
Dorset seems to be trying to make a slight effort to welcome motorhomes, though possibly more in the thought than in the deed, and so hasn’t quite got there yet, and in winter with many of the caravan sites shut, and no real alternatives for parking overnight in most places, travelling was becoming somewhat stressful. Or perhaps I am just feeling a little tired at present.
Little Miss Phoebe is about five months old, and although she is a quick learner and I know will be a lovely girl, I find at present her energy levels and attention span are in the reverse order to that which I would prefer. But I do love her, and it will all come right in the end. She is just approaching the dog equivalent of those testing, early teenage years.
So what with her energy levels and demands, coupled with my having to find places to spend the night and parking near places of interest in the day I was feeling a bit weary.
But having arrived at Weymouth the day dawned beautifully so we went to the beach early, and I found I could take The Supter out onto the sands. I did try with Little Miss Phoebe off lead for a little while, but the temptation of playing with other beach-walking dogs was far too great, so she had to be recaptured and put back on the lead, and she wasn’t as excited by the soft sand under her paws as I had thought. I remembered how my own dear old Phoebe loved to race round in the soft snow, and when we first found a sandy beach up in Shetland she was delighted, and even started digging a big hole, but having then put her nose in for a really good sniff and got her nostrils full of sand she disdainfully refused to take any further interest,
Little Miss Phoebe was quite worried by the waves coming in, and refused to go too near, but she had a good run up and down the beautiful beach in the morning, and I took her again at evening.
After she had her breakfast I left her to sleep it off and went to explore the town of Weymouth a little, plus I have been wanting to get to a Barclays Bank for an age to reset the password on one of my credit cards, having foolishly entered it incorrectly more than the allowed times. But first I headed to the old harbour area full of small boats, and with a wonderful Victorian lifting bridge.
I found an excellent fishmongers an bough the very best and sweetest crab I have ever tasted, plus the fishmongers gave me good directions to Barclays, where a helpful assistant made sure I got everything right.
The original town street was now pedestrianised, but the Old Black Dog (a real Dorset pub name) the oldest inn at Weymouth gave some idea of what the place might have been like.
And on my drive back I could see the bones of how Weymouth must have looked when it was the favourite seaside retreat of George III, to whom they had erected a handsome statue flanked by a most attractive pair of bow-fronted buildings. There was even an original bathing house – at least that was what I assumed it must have been. It seemed impossible to reach, positioned as it was on a traffic island amidst the heavy town centre traffic.
Old Bathing Machine from George III times (?)
Then a drive back along the promenade with its ornate bench shelters, and a glimpse of the deserted sand sculpture display.
Just before I got back the sun backlit the beach most beautifully.
I had bought a lovely Dover Sole as well as the crab from the fishmongers, so Little Miss Phoebe and I had a fishy tea, though I had most of the best bits.
Then as the daylight began to fade I had a wonderful surprise when we were given a light display. Fantastic and really beautiful from where we had parked. I am not sure how long it went on as it was still going when we drove away.
We needed to refill on LPG and stations seemed few and far between in the area, so it looked to be a trip to Dorchester, but I liked the idea of finding a carpark there and spending the next day seeing the town and visiting the museum where the was something I particularly wanted to see.
In the event it was all a bit of a disaster. The carpark was totally unsuitable for us, the garage had a small and very tight forecourt, plus was exceptionally busy and though we did fill the fuel tanks I simply could not get near enough to fill the house tank.
In the end I decided Dorchester was off the menu and we simply headed off, so yet another town which will not benefit from any of my tourist spending.
I was killing time slightly as there was something I had planned to do whilst in this area, but it was not open until the following weekend so I just began mooching westwards along the south coast. With the storm ‘Barny’ just blowing in the constant wind and rain meant that nothing was very memorable – mainly as I couldn’t really see it.
I stopped once or twice at beach type places, but in England motorhomes are neither particularly welcomed nor catered for, so it was tricky finding somewhere to park – and often even though there was plenty of room, motorhomes were specifically excluded. Somewhat shortsighted of the authorities I feel. I expect many of the council members run B&B’s or campsites, but neither of these are really much use to me. Even if I decided to bed and breakfast, they would be unlikely to accept Phoebe, so that would make staying impossible, and in any case I would still need to park somewhere near. Most of the caravan sites are too far away from anything I might want to see, and even if I ordered a taxi it wouldn’t be able to take my scooter so wouldn’t be able to get around once I arrived. The result is I simply have to drive on, and anything I might have spent in such places is lost to them.
Parked up in the rain I got on the internet and found a carpark at Lyme Regis which was not too far from the town, which allowed motorhomes and I could stay all day, albeit having to pay double fees as I take two spaces. And in this blustery wet weather perhaps an atmospheric walk along the famous Cobb felt the right thing to be doing – even if I didn’t have a hooded cape with me.
For those who haven’t seen The French Lieutenant’s Woman this might seem mystifying, but for those who have you will know exactly what I mean. And I have to say even in November I did enjoy it there.
*A relevant bit of the film can be found at the bottom of the page*
The town itself is charmingly picturesque, though very hilly and a bit difficult to negotiate with an RV, but we made it though and even though the carpark was on a slope it was nowhere near as bad as the one in St. Ives last year, where I half expected that I might discover Thebus had fallen over onto his side when I got back.
The morning at Lyme Regis dawned beautifully – this was the view down out over the bay
And another over the Lyme Regis harbour, a little later in the day from a different viewpoint
We set off early and I took Little Miss Phoebe with me for an exploratory walk: she really is getting the hang of walking along at the side of The Supter.
Down the steep hill to the harbour area where an old gun looks out over the bay,
Then though some of the old streets of the little town.
Sadly the Museum was closed, but this was the path outside its doors. I would have liked to have taken one of the guided ‘Fossil Walk Tours’ as this is a major part of the Jurassic Coast, and in fact one of the first fossil hunters lived here – but it sounded quite long with a fair amount of clambering involved so I decided not to risk it.
Mary Anning – Fossil Hunter ** see bottom of page for more information
Then striking out along the splendid coastal path running east from the town, with the waves thundering and dashing in against the newly constructed sea wall.
Then along the seafront with its charming and picturesque old houses and cottages.
And down to the beautiful harbour, the little boats nestling secure and calm within its massive haven walls.
Old steps up to the top of The Cobb
I didn’t risk a walk along the top of The Cobb Wall with Phoebe, with or without a hooded cloak, so it was back to Thebus to give her breakfast, and leaving her to sleep I headed down again alone. This time it was easier to take photos and I left The Supter at the bottom and climbing the steep steps of The Cobb walked along the sloping top until the crashing waves ahead made it look a little too risky, but a memorable day and all the better for its storminess.
I had decided to treat myself to a meal, but off season on a Monday limited the choice and in fact I felt fairly underwhelmed by the offerings and by my meal when it arrived. Never mind. Some you win – some you loose, and the visit there was well worthwhile, I just wish I could have taken a black hooded cape.
** From Wikipedia Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist who became known around the world for important finds she made in Jurassic marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis in the county of Dorset in Southwest England. Her findings contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.
Mary Anning searched for fossils in the area’s Blue Lias cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. It was dangerous work, and she nearly lost her life in 1833 during a landslide that killed her dog, Tray. Her discoveries included the first ichthyosaur skeleton correctly identified; the first two plesiosaur skeletons found; the first pterosaur skeleton located outside Germany; and important fish fossils. Her observations played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilised faeces. She also discovered that belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs like those of modern cephalopods. When geologist Henry De la Beche painted Duria Antiquior, the first widely circulated pictorial representation of a scene from prehistoric life derived from fossil reconstructions, he based it largely on fossils Anning had found, and sold prints of it for her benefit.
Anning did not fully participate in the scientific community of 19th-century Britain, who were mostly Anglicangentlemen. She struggled financially for much of her life. Her family was poor, and her father, a cabinetmaker, died when she was eleven.
She became well known in geological circles in Britain, Europe, and America, and was consulted on issues of anatomy as well as about collecting fossils. Nonetheless, as a woman, she was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London and she did not always receive full credit for her scientific contributions. Indeed, she wrote in a letter: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.” The only scientific writing of hers published in her lifetime appeared in the Magazine of Natural History in 1839, an extract from a letter that Anning had written to the magazine’s editor questioning one of its claims.
After her death in 1847, her unusual life story attracted increasing interest. An uncredited author in All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, wrote of her in 1865 that “[t]he carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.” In 2010, one hundred and sixty-three years after her death, the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.