August, 6-9th, 2019

Deeply disappointed by our early return from the Dordogne and buoyed up by slightly cooler weather we effected our plan to go out “little and often” in an attempt to train the cats for living in the new van.

Melle, Fontaine de Villiers

Trip the 2nd for Van Nessa.

GPS Coordinates : 46.231778  -0.143972

https://campingcarpark.com/en/shop/parking-areas/camping-de-village-area-of-melle/

Another former Municipal campsite, smaller than the one at Tauriac and less formally arranged. Sanitaires again – just one toilet and one shower, and again rather basic. They don’t look very nice and could do with an upgrade but that shower performed fantastically well, with plenty of hot water on tap.

We chose this site for the same reasons that we chose the last one – good shade from mature trees and a safe area in case of cat-escape.

The weather being cooler and the cats being less hyper, we managed to stop out for our planned three nights. Melle offered plenty to keep us occupied and although I took many photographs on our wanderings I actually failed to find the time to take photos of the site, sorry.

An extensive network of footpaths can be accessed directly off the site. Much of the walking forms part of an Arboretum, with 1,800 different types of trees and 300 different roses. Three National Collections are held. There is an additional Forest Arboretum opening off the Discovery path, and a cycle route on the former railway extends to almost 15 km (linear route). Some walking routes are entirely off-road but others cross parts of the town

In the town there are three lovely Romanesque churches to visit, a market hall, a motorbike museum, and some historic silver mines to see. Good eating possibilities, with two Michelin-recommended establishments within half an hour’s stroll of the aire and plenty of other eateries available. A particularly lovely Lavoir is sited right by the aire. Children’s play area faces the site. Friday market.

The Verdict

I am going to give this one 4 stars also, mainly based on its fit with our preferred lifestyle.

We enjoyed our stay and plan to return in the future.

Van Nessa

We ate out twice and made a salad on the other evening, so cooking facilities remain untested.

Having twice been to a site with showers, the bathroom remained untested also (but see forthcoming post…)

The bed remains comfortable and we slept transversely again.

The Cats

Dusty and Chloé behaved better than we might have expected. Dusty was a bit rowdy on the journey there, Chloé elected to travel on the bench seat and snooze her way through the journey.

Dusty was less inclined to sit outside this time, due possibly to this site having become quite busy whilst we were there – he’s nervous of other people and vehicles. I put him out on a line but he chose to return inside.

I also tried Chloé on a line but she got in a bit of a guddle with the washing up bowl, scared herself and managed to back out of her escape-proof jacket. Fortunately she did not run off but went up on the axle somewhere similar and when she emerged, she also chose to go back inside the van.

Overall I believe that she is now pretty much bomb-proof in this respect, seeing the van as her safe place. We have concluded that she learned her lesson in Viviers and is now minded to stay close to home. We also believe that her stopping out for three nights was probably not of her own choosing.

Those may be filed under “famous last words” I expect.

Being on mains hook-up we plugged in a Feliway diffuser and nights were fairly calm. Dusty was far quieter on the drive home, though a long way from actually being silent. Chloé popped up into the over -parcel shelf and didn’t come out until we were parked back at home.

Overall I am leaning towards finding a tethering solution for travelling with Dusty in preference to putting him in a carrier. He’s far too active to allow him to be loose when we are driving but may complain less if not boxed. Mr Snail finds driving along to a cat’s chorus to be very stressful.

Our next task on the van will therefore be to fit an appropriate fixing point for the cat’s harness.

July 23rd 2019

Trip the 1st

It was mid-canicule and powerfully hot at home so Mr Snail thought now the new van had arrived, the thing to do would be to go in search of cooler weather. He found some, down in the Dordogne and we packed up and took off .

We had chosen a CCP aire on an ex-municipal campsite that had good tree cover for shade and was away from roads (thank you, Nevilley) in case of cat escape.

Tauriac, Le Mas de la Croux

A nicely tended former Municipal Campsite. The trees are mature, as are the privacy hedges between pitches. The pitches themselves are spacious and unexpectedly feature flat concrete pads for parking.

A Plan d’Eau adjacent to the site features a small beach, supervised swimming (in season and in fixed hours) children’s play area, crazy golf and a bar/restaurant. Naturally, some noise is generated until late hours when the weather is clement.

The site is also bordered by a shallow and slow-running arm of the River Dordogne. There are smaller, unhedged pitches on concrete pads overlooking the river, lightly shaded by trees.

A rarity for motorhome aires – there are Sanitaires. Somewhat basic but better than no facilities at all. These are seasonal. Also the aire is shared with tenters and tuggers in high season.

There is no commerce in the village other than at the Guinguette but shops may be found at the next village, about a mile away. These remain untested by ourselves.

The site is very pleasant and we might have stayed there quite happily (and will probably return sometime) but the weather, although 7 degrees cooler than at home, remained too hot to be at all comfortable.

https://www.google.fr/maps/@44.9057863,1.7727134,17z

Cats escaped.

Tempers frayed.

It was too hot to do anything other than to sit outside with a cooling fan running to generate some breeze – which is why I have no photographs to share.

We packed up early the following morning and fled home to our stone-flagged floors and air conditioning units.

The Verdict

Taking this under consideration as an Aire rather than as a Campsite, I think that we might rate it as a 4 star stop. Bear in mind that we did not explore the area at all, for fear of expiring from heat exhaustion.

Van Nessa

Performed well. We had a comfortable ride of three hours there, and thoroughly appreciated her efficient cab cooling especially when we encountered roadworks in Limoges en route.

It is the season for roadworks in France, Deviations and Routes Barees abound.

We did not cook, only prepared a salad.

The bed proved to be capacious and comfortable – we slept in a transverse configuration.

So far we are having trouble in adjusting to the more cramped conditions.

The Cats

Importantly, we had failed to register how much more difficult it would be to deal with cats when we have a wide sliding door rather than a narrow hinged one.

Dusty seems quite happy to be attached to a line and to sit under the van in the shade, watching the birds.

Chloé popped outside for a look but fundamentally prefers being inside. Not a good choice in that extreme heat.

Travelling with cats

Dusty, in a moment of calm

Long ago and far away in a land elsewhere, we travelled with a cat. When we originally bought a motorhome we went away only for two or three nights at a time. We had two indoor cats and would leave them at home to keep each other company. They had many litter trays, an automatic feeder and lots of water bowls. All was fine. It never occurred to us that we might take them travelling.

Then one of them died. We could not leave the other alone and by then we were planning longer trips anyway, having got the hang of this motorhoming lark. Thus began Teddy’s travelling life.

It worried us. He was 15 years old. How would he take to it at his age? Well, the answer to that was “like a duck to water”. He travelled for two years and seemingly loved every moment. Then he too died and left us with a cat-shaped hole in our hearts.

We agreed. No more cats. Just Nell. As we downsized the van, it seemed the correct decision. No room for a litter tray in the Roadtrek…

Chloé however had other ideas. She simply moved in with us when we bought the new house.

As time moved on, we had to replace the Roadtrek with another van. The Hymer is smaller than the RT but more spacious and just about offers room for a litter tray. We had hoped that Chloé would travel with us and we tried to familiarise her with the motorhome by leaving the door open on fine days and hoping that she would let herself in. In the evenings we would have our meal in the van and take her in with us. She demanded to be let out. We kept on trying. She made it clear that she was an Outdoor Cat and not to be confined against her will.

A Outdoor Cat

Then Dusty came into our lives. We did not mean to keep him. He was half dead, a tiny runty kitten with eyes glued shut. I picked him up, took him home and started to find a rescue organisation to take him in. He survived, I did not find a rescue willing to take him and he remains with us to this day.

Chloé was outraged. She took an instant dislike to the kitten and much of the progress that we had made with her went out of the window.

When it came time to make our first trip away in the new van it was clear that Chloé was not ready to join us. We simply left her at home and took the kitten with us. Chloé had been living independently before we came along and we knew that she would be fine on her own. The weather was good. She was used to living in our outbuildings, we had a neighbour come to check her water and she had a 99 day automatic feeder. All would be fine.

Except for the fact that it wasn’t. It turned out that little Chloé had actually become attached to us and she missed us.

She still wasn’t getting on with little Dusty.

He didn’t really offer much of a threat…

We continued working on the issues but realised that Chloé needed a new home. I tried hard to find her one but was unsuccessful so when it was time to leave for an extended trip over the Winter, there was nothing to do but to bundle both cats up, shove them into the van and hope for the best (whilst expecting the worst.)

With its U-shaped rear lounge layout, the Hymer has plenty of room to place a travel cage in safety. Our cage can be divided into two, for two cats but we rightly thought it far too early to stress the cats by confining them so closely. Dusty went into the cage and Chloé into a travel carrier placed next to it. We sprayed the air liberally with Feliway, took a deep breath and drove off into the unknown.

Ten minutes later we pulled into a lay-by as Chloé had escaped her carrier. It was going to be a long journey.

To be continued…

Winter Tour 2018/19 Part 3 (The remainder of December)

Traditional fishing boat at Vagueira

Day 12/13 Vagueira, 213 Km (total 1472 Km)

Vagueira is old ground, we stayed there last year. So we were surprised when the SatNav insisted on a different approach route. We cursed her a little but when we approached the campsite from the “wrong” end we found that the road in from the other end was closed. We had to forgive her.

We found little change, it remained a seaside town very much out of season.

Surf’s Up

The surf was up, as usual. One wonders how brave the fishermen must be to put out in their little boats if waves like this are normal business. They have our admiration.

One change we did find in Vagueira was this new item of public art. Reading the accompanying notes I concluded that the council and the artist together completely over thought this one. I remain in favour of the giant fork and sardine.

I remained a little under the weather from my stomach bug so we did not make the best of our visit here.

Days 14/15 Gala (Figueira da Foz) 75 Km (total 1547 Km)

Devastation

If there had been little change at Vagueira, Gala had more than enough change to offer. A Transatlantic Storm touched land here a few weeks before we arrived. The campsite, the forest and the village had all been pounded by extreme winds and high seas.

Many of the trees, possibly more than half, on the campsite were down and the story continued in the forest outside the perimeter fence. The path through the dunes to the beach had disappeared, with only a warning flag left to show where it had been.

In fact, most of the dunescape had been washed away. We walked along the beach towards the village finding heavy machinery hard at work shifting sand form where it ought not to be and back to where it should. The breakwater access was heaped with rubble, many of the boardwalk steps to the beach had gone.

On the little “prom” the story continued, with the beach bar now just a skeleton – roof and glass sides all gone. Other buildings were under repair. Street furniture such as parking and direction signs were all blown over and lying on the grounds.

Wandering around back at the campsite we realised how many of the caravans and chalets had suffered damage. What was a beautiful site will take years to be restored.

The highlight of our stay at Gala this year was our trip across the main road to the Industrial Estate and the cafeteria there, where we had a very cheap lunch with many of the local workers. We treated ourselves to the Portuguese favourite; the Francesinha.

With much maintenance work going on, added to the ambient noise from the main road, the Industrial Estate, and the nearby firing Range, plus the difficulty of working in the now-destroyed forest; we decided that two nights was sufficient and we moved on.

Days 15/16 Alcácer do Sal, 252 Km (total 1799 Km)

Flowering shrub in Alcácer

When planning this section of our trip we had not realised that last year we had taken note of this little town. We had stayed overnight at the Barragem nearby and had not enjoyed that experience. As we approached the town on the next leg of our journey we had remarked that it looked very attractive, arranged as it was on the hill with tiled roofs glowing red under the morning sun… and what a shame it was that there was no aire or other place to stop. We did stop to fuel up at Intermarché (not a happy experience) and did some shopping at Lidl.

Well, it turns out that we got things very wrong. There is a Municipal Campsite and that is where we stopped this time.

It is a small site, with equally small pitches on grass. The toilet facilities left something to be desired and we used our own arrangements. The showers were tolerable.

The best feature of this site is the fact that it is only yards from the Intermarché, with Lidl just a few strides further away.

The walk into town is not particularly short however but the town is old and quaint and fun to explore, if somewhat run down and neglected. Oddly it did not attract me to use my camera as I had expected that it would. I came away with very few photographs.

I was surprised to find an old lady washing her clothes in the ancient lavarie (don’t know the Portuguese term) but see it as indicative of just how economically depressed this town is.

The notable feature of this visit was our lunch at Taberna 2 à Esquina, a delightful establishment with a rustic feel and very friendly front of house staff. We had the day’s Special, which we now know to be one of Portugal’s “national dishes”.

Cozeido à Portuguesa

Portuguese Stew is, to us at least, their equivalent of the French dish of Choucroute Garni – a load of different meats combined with cabbage. In this dish’s favour the cabbage was in a vegetable stew and not fermented but some of the meat items were a little dodgy. We did really enjoy the Portuguese variant on Chorizo and there was also a very tasty blood pudding in there. The lump of “lard” we were far less keen on.

We’ll add this to the “Done that, don’t want to do it again” list.

Day 18/19, Vila Nova de Milfontes, 120 Km (total 1919 Km)

Research had shown this campsite to be ideally placed with a good fish restaurant around the corner and a supermarket a short walk away. The site’s publicity states that it is 600 metres from the sea. Fabulous!

The dirt road to the sea – note the lack of any habitation, commercial activity or any other form of urbanisation

As we approached the day’s destination, Mr Snail said that he was worried. “Where is the town?” he enquired, seeing no visible sign nor indications on the SatNav map.

We, as many others have been, were led astray by a Google Maps marker for a closely similar-named alternative campsite. This one is in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Happily the site has a restaurant and it was open. The on-site supermarket was closed but an array of essential items was available from the bar.

The site is interesting. By far the largest campsite we have experienced to date but at that time of the year it was all but deserted. A small handful of motorhomes were parked by the rear gate that leads onto the dirt track to the beach. The main gate was about a kilometre away from our parking spot and the restaurant and bar situated about halfway between. You definitely need your walking legs on for this site, most especially if returning from the beach too late to buzz in through the back gate.

We liked it a lot but suspect that we would hate it in season. Would happily return for a lengthy December break again, but only if we had adequate supplies on board!

Alternative access to the beach via the scrub makes for good dog walking

It was very handy to be able to nip out of the back gate to walk the dog and the walk to the sea is pleasant enough, though dusty with cars passing at the weekend. At the end of the road is a huge car park. The bay is beautiful and there is an extensive boardwalk network across the dune tops.

Simply beautiful bay with clear water and clean beaches… no litter or flotsam/jetsam anywhere to be seen

The sun was out, the sky was blue and tops were off. What more could you want at this time of the year. Well, apparently, some shopping opportunities and a good meal out. It was time to leave.

Day 20 – 47, Sagres, 115 Km (total 2034 Km)

We came to rest in Sagres, intending to stay for around a month and sit out the winter holidays. Readers with long memories will recall that we spent ten days here over the New Year period last year. I will not bore with rehashing an account of the site or the town.

Both the town and the site have been a little quieter than last year. The weather has been a little less startlingly good and although mainly sunny we have experienced both rain and wind. It has in fact been a little more comfortable this year.

We celebrated Mr Snail’s Birthday, a very merry non-christmas, and our Wedding Anniversary on New Year’s Eve whilst here. There has been much kitchen activity in the van.

A few pics from the past month:

We departed Sagres on the 6th of December and drove to Spain.

It's quite a climb from the Aire by the river and up into the town of #Bellac Love the way that the old houses cling to the steep hillside. Do not love that hill! Went to the Notaire's office to collect copies of the Compromis and to kick off the 10 day cooling-off period.

It's quite a climb from the Aire by the river and up into the town of #Bellac Love the way that the old houses cling to the steep hillside. Do not love that hill! Went to the Notaire's office to collect copies of the Compromis and to kick off the 10 day cooling-off period.