Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Finally Fougeres...

Last day. Off to St Malo via Fougeres - heard about, but never visited.

It was worth it: very pretty, with a spectacular fairytale castle and the aire conveniently sited next to it.

 And finally...farewell, St Malo!

Les animaux...les ouiseaux..

We've seen all kinds of wild birds and animals this trip. Every day has yielded glimpses of buzzards, wheeling and dipping, soaring in circles over our heads, screeching to each other. Today there were four, diving at each other above the trees.

En route to Saint Suzanne, a deer stopped in the road ahead of us, moving from one side to the other before finally deciding to squeeze through the h - let'edge alongside the fields.

At St Jean sur Mayenne, Pickle and I were sitting by the water quietly, enjoying the evening sun and the reflections of trees on the water, when I noticed a large V-shaped wake coming towards us. I sat up, expecting to see a coot or a moorhen - again, common sights this trip. Instead, a large brown rat, perhaps 10 inches long, hove into view.

It was hard to know which of us was more surprised, but it turned tail and sped off before diving into a handy hole in the bank. It turned out to be a water vole - I'd never seen one before.

On top of the live sightings - we must add jays to our list, along with a linnet and a spotted flycatcher our very first day - were roadkill as well. One very squashed bright green lizard; and a serene, beautifully velvety mole lying at the side of the path as we walked down a forested mound at Treves.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Rural France....

Saint Suzanne... St Jean sur Mayenne...

It was, again, a beautiful sunny morning: not so cold, either. We left Saumur to journey north, aiming to stop at Saint Suzanne, a medieval 'cite' which is one of the most beautiful villages in France.

We journeyed through rural France to get there, on small roads set among huge fields and rolling landscapes until we reached Sainte Suzanne, perched on a rocky outcrop surveying the river below. It has the distinction of being the only village which did not fall under siege to William the Conqueror, even though he tried: for four long, long years. Unimaginable.

Now, it is a pretty little town.  A castle and medieval streets, calm and unfussy. The old buildings had intriguing artistic signboards hanging over the doors; the church a mixture of modern and old. Packed with history and views at every turn.

Then it was on to St Jean sur Mayenne. An aire on the edge of the Mayenne river, which  barely seemed to flow. I was amazed to see a large brown 'rat' - at least 30 cm long - busily swimming along by the bank until it took fright and dived into a hole in the rocks. A few wood pigeons flew back and forth among the trees, the reflections shimmering only slightly as the sun went down....

Pickle: because this is, after all, her blog...

This blog is named after Pickle, but she has featured so little in it this time that she now gets this post to herself.

This amiable little dog has settled well into safari life. Of course, she doesn’t much like being strapped in for journeys, or when left alone in the van or shopping, but she puts up with it, sitting on the seat next to her kennel when she isn’t lying on it. And of course, when she is free, then she stretches full length on one of the bench seats.

She enjoys the cycle rides, sitting perched up, surveying the world from an unusual vantage point. She finds the new sights, sounds and smells so stimulating that every evening she collapses into bed early, completely zonked.

Today, however, must rank as the best experience of the trip. We are staying at St Jean sur Mayenne: the aire is a former camp site next to the Mayenne, complete with hedges around each generous pitch, toilets, showers with free hot water,  free water and electricity and a barbecue and covered area with tables and benches. Amazing – there is no site charge at all, just kind notices wishing us a pleasant stay.
On the other side of the lane there is a play area and a small river running fast by. Pickle was pleased to explore it, carefully going from stepping stone to stepping stone so that there was no risk of slipping and falling in. She was trying to catch the water as it flew by, venturing in up to her arm pits only: Pickle doesn’t ‘do’ swimming unless there is a real purpose to it – like keeping up with me, as she did last year when I swam in a small dam at a campsite.

Of course, she failed. Who can catch water? Not she. Eventually she retreated, then skeetered at top speed in huge circles through the long grass as she dried off. She managed to circle round several trees a couple of times each, her lead becoming hopelessly entangled. I persuaded her back to the motorhome, dried her off: she then scrabbled around in her kennel, throwing herself upside down with a gormless expression on her face. This photo is proof....

Thursday, 20 April 2017


COLD!  Colder than February! Mind you, that was unseasonably warm...lots of fog in Guernsey at the time, which we escaped. Now, the skies are clear blue, with just a few fair-weather cumulus clouds very high up. The wind is keen, which adds to the chill.

We become sunburnt while feeling cold.

The aire in which we are staying is on an island in the middle of the Loire, hence the wind. A bridge connects the island to the main bank at one end: to the other, this causeway leads across, an artificial dam with water regulation for when the river is high: not this year, although last year when we were here the water is much higher.

 And the view across to beautiful Saumur are stunning...

It might be cold in the shade, in the wind, but otherwise it is beautiful weather for photos, and easy cycling on the many 'Loire a velo' cycle tracks. We go along the edge of the Loire to the vet - who Pickle greets like an old friend. She is ecstatically happy to be there again, straining to get in the door. She wiggles her body, wags her tail and gobbles the tapeworm tablet he kindly gives her. The beautiful pale cat which comes to sit on the reception desk, just tantalisingly out of reach, exercises her just a little. She is extremely uncomfortable with the sight of Richard stroking the feline enemy, whining and whinging until I pull her ears and tickle her back, when she wisely breaks eye contact and pretends the cat is not present.

Then it is through a riverside park, along country tracks and lanes... many curiosities:
 This chimney is the remnants of an industry, in Saumussay, a tiny village full of 'troglodytic' dwellings ' houses and buildings carved into the side of the cliff.  Indeed, we cycled along the 'Rue des Troglodytes'....
 Then there were unseasonal 'fungi' on the sides of this tree - or were they scars from old branches?
 And then the landscapes of huge fields... and pylons. And pylons. And pylons.  These were just a few among many... Pickle had no idea what to make of these metal giants. Wisely, she chose not to bark...
The megolithic bridge... two massive stones made the span, held up by one large menhir. Amazing. How on earth did they manage to build this so many years ago?  
Inbetween all this sightseeing, we saw some strange things... a scooter doing a wheelie across a narrow pedestrian bridge, skilfully weaving its way through the stile which caused problems for simple bicycles.

Then there were the two little mutts, fighting over something orange and furry which lay unmoving on the ground: a ginger cat? a fox?

Not so strange... the birds. Woodpeckers woodpeckering; goldfinches flitting; a buzzard circling teasingly over as we cycled; an unusual, very musical call from deep within the woods...

Pickle remained unmoved by all unusualness... even the explosion of barking from three dogs who were so shocked by the sight of her processing past in her carriage that they produced their entire repertoire of barks, howls and whimpers at full volume, carrying on until we were another half mile down the road.

And then, back over the bridge at Saumur to the island.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

More Loirveliness....

From Chaptoceaux on to Chenehutte.  Actually, Cunault: a village which, along with Treves (which means 'truce'), is linked in a threesome with Chenehutte, all along the banks of the Loire in the approach to Saumur.

Our bike ride took us up to the hills behind, past a large lake and through forest. A cuckoo called... and called... and called...we have heard so many this spring. It is the most haunting sound...
On the way down, we explored the feudal motte at Treves, perched high above the river. Pickle is never too impressed with pretty woodland and views, but she is very good-tempered about it all.

 Back at the aire, she was delighted to explore the river again,discovering the delights of chewable driftwood and bouncing around on the sand.

We have stayed here before: the shady aire is below Cunault with its ancient church, chateau, and ruins, right next to the river. There is a delightful walk all the way to the village on a footpath running along the bank....water to watch, fish to catch... endless fascination.

Then on into Saumur, to a Campingcar site: electricity, water and free WiFi - woohoo!  A simple site on an island in the river, connected to Saumur by a bridge. Sunny, windy and cold.

We went on our daily bike ride into Saumur, weaving our way through the old quarter and up past the stunningly beautiful chateau before emerging into vineyards and fields.

We made our way back to the river via villages set into the cliffs, full of dwellings which seemed to be half house, half cave.... a street of artists' and craftsmen's studios, a village which boasted the ancient art of apple 'tapping' - a method of preserving apples by slowly drying them whole, then 'tapping' them with a hammer to compress the apple into a 'cake', much appreciated by sailors who would pack them amongst their provisions.