Friday 29 April 2016

We visit The Shops At Dartington and find Totnes Community Bookshop

Dave was intrigued when he saw The Shops marked on the
Upcycled figure at The Shops 
map at nearby Dartington. Normally towns don't bother to announce their retail district so proudly so he investigated further. It turns out that The Shops At Dartington are part of something a bit special. The estate was purchased by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in 1925 and they 'embarked on what they called the Dartington Experiment to regenerate a rural community.' The Elmhirsts welcomed people who were interested in social change and reform - artists, economists, horticulturalists - and the estate is still very much a social enterprise today, ploughing any commercial profit back into local projects. There is a full calendar of musical, artistic, culinary and literary events as well as an arthouse cinema, beautiful gardens, restaurants and the eponymous Shops. Parking is pretty cheap and we also spotted a Sustrans cycle / walking route from Totnes.

We began wandering around outside this pretty venue
The Sustrans route leading away from the bridge 
which is all old stone and flowers. Lots of the trees were in full blossom and there are interesting details like the above upcycled figure near to the Restore shop. Restore is a voluntary enterprise, part of Refurnish Devon, which brings people together to learn how to repair and restore their existing furniture as well as upcycling individual pieces for the shop. Right now there's a nice gateleg table there!

We managed not to allow ourselves into the very tempting food shop and also bypassed another business selling fire bowls, outdoor pizza ovens and the like. A homewares shop had Christy towels at half price, but we don't have the space! Instead we spent our time (and money) in a greeting card shop which has a fabulous range of cards - special occasions, humorous, and arty. I especially appreciated their support of local artists and liked designs by Kerry Tremlett from Exeter and Sally Anderson from
Sally Anderson greeting cards 
Teignmouth. Our final discovery was a branch of the vegetarian Cranks Restaurant which Dave remembers as the first veggie eaterie in London. He even ate there in 1967 and we are planning to treat me to a birthday lunch at the Dartington establishment (on Tuesday, just as a by the way!) so I will review it next week. I think if we do find our perfect abode in Torquay, we will be visiting Dartington fairly frequently!

Another town we would be visiting frequently would be Totnes. We have already stopped by once and loved its hippy vibe. This time we hoped for another good DVD, but couldn't find anything promising that we hadn't already seen. My other aim was to find a cafe with a book exchange shelf because I thought Totnes looked a likely place. I wasn't able to google one either there or in Torquay - so if you know better, please let me know. But in the meantime, we made the wonderful discovery of the Totnes Community Bookshop in Castle Street. It officially became a community enterprise in March and hosts events such as open mic poetry evenings, author visits and acoustic music. I think all the books are second hand, but are in good condition and there's an excellent selection. Most of the paperbacks that caught my eye were £2 each so we chose five between us and, best of all, I got a £1 trade-in each on the three I had hoped to exchange. So if you want to read Daughter Of The Killing Fields, Fermat's Last Theorem (review blogged tomorrow) or The Amateur Marriage, my copies are now all at the Totnes Community Bookshop. Go take a look!

Photo from Totnes Community Bookshop FB page

Thursday 28 April 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Aprils past

I have enjoyed joining in #ThrowbackThursday on Twitter
Shadows Of The Wanderer by Ana Pacheco 
for ages now, but it only recently occurred to me that I could do a similar feature on my blog. For those of you who haven't come across the hashtag before, the idea is to look back across the years and reminisce about what you were doing on the same date. Stephanie Jane (the blog) has been around since 2013 and I have posts on Theatrical Eastbourne back to 2012 so let's see what we were up to! All links go to my old posts, so do click through for the full story, and if you write your own #ThrowbackThursday post, pop the link in the Comments!

At the end of April 2012 I had just visited a Willie Doherty photographic and video exhibition at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. Doherty is from Northern Ireland and much of his work is an attempt to understand the daily fear, oppression and uncertainty of people living within a divided community. I liked the ambiguity of his work and several of the photographs got more frightening the longer I observed and thought about them.

A year later and April 2013 was all about the theatre. We
had returned from a fortnight's holiday in Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana, to cold, grey, miserable England in March. Wearing all our clothing (not quite!) for two days while we tried to get the house back up to temperature was the genesis of our travelling idea - no more British winters! - but in the meantime I consoled myself with a cultural overload: three plays, a musical, a film, a storytelling workshop and an incredible Matthew Bourne ballet.

At the end of April 2014 we had been home a month from
Books to read! 
our first European caravan travels - six months around Portugal and Spain - and I started what would become a frantic ebaying and freegling of everything in our house that wasn't actually bolted to the walls! We hadn't yet decided to sell up and embrace the nomadic life full-time, but I remember feeling claustrophobic back indoors and this was exacerbated by the sheer amount of stuff I had accumulated over the years. I didn't have a job to return to either so the clearout helped with cashflow. I still had reading time though so April 2014's memory is a roundup post of six book reviews.

This time last year we had been on the road for nearly
eight months and were beginning our UK summer tour. The end of April saw us in Norwich admiring the Ana Pacheco sculpture Shadows Of The Wanderer at Norwich Cathedral (pictured at the top of this post), buying local produce at the permanent market, and visiting a couple of excellent eateries. Dave found his very own Place too!

I've loved looking back over the past few years and am still amazed at how much we have changed our lives. I'll do another #ThrowbackThursday post at the end of next month remembering that date in years gone by.

Monday 25 April 2016

Dave eats 'the best cake in months' in Brixham

Yesterday, being Saturday, we didn't have any flats to view
Dave loved one of these!
Scroll down to see which and where ...
so thought we might indulge in a spot of sightseeing instead. I had stayed at a Pontins holiday camp near Paignton with my grandparents, probably twenty-five years ago now, and didn't remember the town at all and Dave says we visited Brixham with Chris and Marta, albeit a decade ago, and I can't recall that either. For those of you wondering at my terrible memory, it's always been like that. The acts of reading and writing tend to cement experiences in my mind so I can often remember books I have read far better than places I have actually visited. It's part of the reason I blog our travels so extensively now - recalling a blog post opens up memories that would otherwise vanish!

We began in Paignton with a stroll around and the
Demolition site in Paignton 
intention of checking out a few second-hand furniture shops. Since our Axminster visit last summer alerted us to the savings and more interesting styles to be found by going 'vintage', we agreed that this would be the best and most fun way to kit out any new non-travelling abode. To be honest, Paignton itself underwhelmed both of us. Elegant old buildings are in poor states of repair and the whole town felt quite run-down and unloved. We spotted pretty stained glass windows in this house pictured, but it is now just a facade, soon to be demolished like the rest of the building. On a more positive note, we found several pre-loved furniture shops, these best of which I think was The Bargain Box because everything was laid out with room to view. We also discovered a great little Asian supermarket, Siam, where we got more sweet chilli sauce and noted they have black rice for more of Kim's Rice Pudding. Our two-hour car park ticket was plenty here though and we drove on to Brixham.

The first thing to note about Brixham is the distance from
View from Brixham harbour walk 
the harbour car park into the harbour itself. We had just started to be concerned that we had missed the turning when we found it. The road gets very narrow and I bet it is great 'fun' in the height of summer! Walking back in along the harbourside was picturesque and I loved looking over at the pretty painted houses on the opposing hills. Brixham certainly is charming! We stayed mostly around by the harbour, wandering through the last of the Arts And Crafts Market, peering in at the touristy souvenir and homewares shops, and wondering how on earth seventy-one men managed to live together on the Golden Hind for months at a time without all murdering each other!

Ultimately, coffee called though and we decided on The Bay Coffee Company to patronise. They have three shops in Brixham and the enticing cake display pictured at the top of this post. (I have 'borrowed' their photo from twitter as I forgot to snap one myself.) I had a slice of Lemon Treacle Tart which was lovely if not particularly lemony, and Dave's 'best cake in months' comment was for his Yogurt Topped Raspberry Flapjack - shown far left on the middle shelf. So now you know - and when Dave compliments food then it must be excellent! I picked up a loyalty card as I think we may well return.

Let them eat fish - a real Banksy? 

Sunday 24 April 2016

I hit the Google Adsense threshold and we go flat hunting in Torquay

I was delighted to receive an e-mail from Google Adsense on Friday morning letting me know that they had sent me a payment! I have finally hit their £60 payout threshold and it's only taken four years of blogging! Thank you to everyone who has visited and especially to those who have clicked on advertisements. You might remember back in August last year I posted about the monetisation avenues I use here. Well, that Affiliate Window payout and this Google one brings my total blog earnings up to £81.69. (It's a good thing I write for the love of it!)

In other news, our search for a new permanent base has begun in Torquay this week. Dave has been intensively researching on Rightmove for months to narrow down locations after our UK tour last summer and the Torbay area seemed like a good place to start. It was interesting to learn that the lack of contrast meant he hadn't been anticipating our winter travels with such excitement this year. For the previous two winters, we had exchanged house living for our caravan lifestyle. Departing in October 2015, we had already been in Bailey for thirteen months.

We have only seen eight flats so far but they are beginning to blend together so it's hard to remember exactly which features we liked from each! One in particular did 'tick most of our boxes' (I hate that phrase), but we're not yet completely convinced as it is very near (i.e. over) the top end of our budget. So in the meantime, if you know of a spacious two bedroom flat in good decorative order on the first floor with no other flats above it, which has interesting architectural features but isn't Grade Anything Listed, has double glazing and an outside space such as a balcony or low-maintenance garden or terrace, with off-road parking and ground level bicycle storage, that would be a secure lock-up-and-leave in a quiet and pretty area with a shortish walk to good local shops but with no loud children or yappy dogs within earshot, could you let me know?!

Saturday 23 April 2016

Frankfurter and apple pasta salad recipe

Frankfurter and apple pasta salad 
I thought it was a while since I had submitted a Credit Crunch Munch recipe and, checking back through old posts, I saw that it has been three months. The last was my Smoked Salmon Pie recipe back in January! Credit Crunch Munch was devised by Camilla at FabFood4All and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours. It's a great monthly resource for good food on a budget and April's host is Sarah at From Plate To Pen.

This month's Pasta Salad is great for using up part packets and could be infinitely varied to suit whatever you have to hand. I had two frankfurter sausages left from a previous hot dog lunch and a few ounces of French macaroni curves that Dave wasn't keen on, so rummaged in the fridge and cupboards to fill out a whole salad that would provide a couple of lunches me. Dave doesn't DO salad!

100g (ish) macaroni
2 frankfurter sausages
2 Cox apples
Small tin sweetcorn
2 tbsp mayonnaise
A good slug of Mustard flavoured salad dressing

Cook the macaroni according to its packet instructions then drain and rinse under cold water to cool it down.

While the pasta is cooking, cut each frankfurter into four pieces, then each quarter into four lengthwise sticks.

Peel, core and dice the apples.

Drain the sweetcorn.

Put the frankfurters, apples and sweetcorn into a large bowl - remembering it must also be large enough to add the pasta later (yes, oops!). Stir in the mayonnaise and enough salad dressing to taste. We've still got a bottle of a French Bouton d'Or creamy mustard dressing in the fridge at the moment so I used some of that. We've also got pesto which I think could have been nice too.

Stir in the cooked and cooled pasta. Serve either just as it is or with a big handful of fresh green salad leaves.

I did expect this salad to be more colourful - I do love brightly coloured food - but the mayonnaise muted the yellow sweetcorn and pink frankfurters so it does all look at bit magnolia! It tastes good though and I liked the sweetness of the apple against the mustard in the dressing.

Thursday 21 April 2016

Exploring Torbay and watching Wild in lieu of walking ourselves

We are pitched up on The English Riviera now, at a huge
campsite in between Paignton and Torquay called Widend Touring Park. It is a good location for exploring the Torbay area and we zoomed over to Totnes on our very first day here. Totnes impressed us a lot. It has lots of independent shops, many of the hippy-green variety that appeal to me! There are three health food shops and more organic cotton clothing than I have seen since WOMAD! We bought tofu in The Green Life, delicious fennel and garlic sausages from C.M.McCabe butchers, and a second-hand dvd copy of the Reece Witherspoon film Wild from a fabulous shop, Fretwork Music, that stocked a range of musical instruments, dvds and books. Great mix and the dvd was only £2.99!

In 1995, a young woman called Cheryl Strayed decided to walk 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail across the American wilderness. She was a heroin addict struggling to overcome her grief at losing her mother to cancer. She had never hiked before and set off, alone, with a ridiculously overstuffed backpack and too-small boots. Cheryl published her memoir of her hike years later, in 2012, and it was read by Reece Witherspoon who was then convinced that she had to make a film of Cheryl's journey. Together with director, Jean-Marc Vallee, I think she has done a fantastic job! Wild is just under two hours long, but it flew past for me and I was actually a little disappointed when it finished. The Pacific Crest Trail scenery is stunningly beautiful and Cheryl's story is one of real hope and motivation. I am now so inspired to set out on a long-distance walk of my own! I loved that the real Cheryl was very involved with the filmmaking - her whole family appear in minor roles and her daughter plays Cheryl as a child - and the work feels truthful. Dave did find a lot of the dialogue difficult to hear so we might well watch the film again with subtitles on. Otherwise it is superb!

Back to my reality and a few words about Widend Touring
Our pitch at Widend Touring Park 
Park. I was seriously underwhelmed on arrival. We had booked by phone a few days earlier and had to pay the whole cost of our stay upfront, however they failed to mention Reception's lunchtime closure so we were left stranded in their carpark for twenty-five minutes. An officious woman who said she would find someone to show us to our pitch but failed to do so got quite snarky with Dave when she reappeared. She gave the impression that we should have known Reception would be closed even though we hadn't been told and there's no mention on the website either. Grrr! Not a good start!

The site is large and most pitches are taken, but with unoccupied caravans so it feels like a ghost town. We wonder if there will be an influx at the weekend or over the Bank Holiday. It's pretty peaceful at the moment and cheap for the UK - a deal of stay-six-nights-and-get-the-seventh-free means we are paying under £12 a night including electric - less than many CLs. We have fantastic wifi reception here - our Osprey has five bars of 4G! Water and grey water disposal are close by and the shower block is in good condition, but the doors are kept tied open so it's chilly at this time of year. There was only eight seconds of water on the shower press-button too, though after my shower I tried the next cubicle and that ran for twenty seconds. We are surprised that the only recycling facility is a wheelie bin for newspapers. Everything else has to go in large bins that seem to be just for landfill and we were strongly encouraged to use the tumble driers rather than hanging out our washing - I guess they're not big on environmentalism!

Widend campsite is conveniently located for exploring the Torbay area by car though which is our main objective here as we start our flat-hunting in earnest. I don't yet know if we can do any walks from Widend - I wouldn't fancy walking or cycling on the road past the entrance - but we are only a few minutes' drive from Torquay and Paignton, and a scant fifteen minutes from Totnes. The scenery around here is beautiful, as you would expect from Devon, and we've even had one gloriously sunny day.

Monday 18 April 2016

Discovering Sophie Ryder #Relationships sculpture in Salisbury

For our last afternoon pitched up near Bournemouth we
Temple to the 200 rabbits by Sophie Ryder 
thought, instead of getting stuck in the city traffic again, we would head in the opposite direction and visit Salisbury. The historic town is beautiful with lots of interesting architecture including the iconic cathedral which, we learned, has the tallest spire in England. We dressed up for the cold and then wished we hadn't as warm sunshine made heavy coats more of a burden than a benefit! Leaning Medieval cottages are pressed in between solid later brick built structures and very modern shopping arcades which make for a unique mix of styles. There is lots of water here too and we enjoyed a short stretch of the River Walk.

Minotaur and Hare Torso by Sophie Ryder 

Having gotten lucky with a free onstreet parking spot in
Medieval house between
more modern structures 
Trinity Road, we started by just strolling around the centre streets. Salisbury Park and Ride doesn't run on Sundays for some reason, but the Culver Street multi-storey car park is free if you can't find an onstreet space. We got a little lost in the one-way system while trying to find Culver Street. It looked so easy on the map!

A three-day Bakhtiyar exhibition of Persian carpets and rugs made for an unusual diversion. Dozens of carpets were on display in The Medieval Hall in Cathedral Close. Unfortunately there were far too many for the space so only a fraction could be properly viewed. The workmanship was gorgeous and the prices were eye-opening too - up to £15,000! Just opposite Cathedral Close, Salisbury Cathedral itself towered up into the blue sky and we were delighted to find a selection of huge galvanised metal sculptures dotted across the lawn. This was the beginning of a five-venue exhibition across Salisbury of Sophie Ryder's work which continues until the 3rd of July and is entitled 'Relationships'.

We only visited the Cathedral lawns and the Cathedral
Salisbury cathedral 
interior venues, both of which are free to view. Further work including drawings and prints are displayed at Sarum College, The Salisbury Museum and Young Gallery. I loved the hare motif which recurs throughout much of Ryder's work. Apparently she views herself as the lady-hare, often accompanied by a male minotaur. Ryder also frequently incorporates horses and greyhound-like dogs. "Her beguiling blend of human and animal forms are used as a metaphor to discuss a complex range of human emotions". Sophie was the youngest student to be admitted to the Royal Academy School since Turner and began her training there at just 17.

We both liked Salisbury very much and could have happily
Introspective by Sophie Ryder 
spent longer in the town. We managed to miss most of a motorbiking convention that had taken over the central square for the day, although we saw lots of motorcycles in the area. A high proportion of shops and cafes were open, considering we visited on a Sunday, and we rediscovered a branch of the Cornish Bakery chain that we had liked in Tavistock. In other mundane news, I finally got a new watch battery after it died on me months ago. I was loathe to buy one overseas as I had already paid for a 'lifetime' battery replacement at Timpson. This means that after a one-off payment of £11-something four years ago, I can take my watch into any Timpson branch and get its battery replaced for no extra payment for as long as I keep the same watch. I was a little dubious, but the woman at Timpson in Ferndown was friendly and efficient and the new battery was completely free.

Sitting horse with girl by Sophie Ryder 

Saturday 16 April 2016

Back in the UK - traffic jams and April showers

Gee, but it's great to be back home!
Donkeys at Lost Pines CS 

We had a beautifully calm Channel crossing which I particularly appreciated - not being a natural sailor! Six hours from Caen to Portsmouth were made even easier by my sleeping for four of them and we had our own cabin which I firmly believe is worth the extra cost. Ouistreham's Les Pommiers campsite was again perfect for the ferry terminal. €18.10 per night with our ACSI card to include electric hookup and good facilities and then only about a ten minute drive along easy, well-signposted roads so not overly taxing for a sleepy person at stupid o'clock in the morning. I am much more confident at driving onto the boat towing the caravan now too. This crossing was aboard the Brittany Ferries' Mont St Michel which seemed to have a far more spacious car deck than we experienced previously on the Cap Finisterre. If you're a bit nervous about towing your caravan on and off a ferry, maybe try and book yourself onto the Mont St Michel. I don't know much about the rest of the boat's facilities. Our cabin was adequate and the sheets weren't as threadbare as I remembered from the other boat. The coffee from the bar was also adequate, but don't be misled by the huge white sofas by the windows - they are surprisingly hard!

Sanitary block at Lost Pines 
After the mostly quieter continental traffic of the past six months, driving the M27 out of Portsmouth felt like being in a video game again, but at least I knew to expect it this year. We headed straight for Bournemouth and are now on a wonderfully ramshackle Camping And Caravanning Club CS in St Leonards. The site is called Lost Pines and costs £12 a night including electric hookup. It is down a very bumpy little rural road and consists of five concrete hardstanding pitches with grass inbetween them. There is a brick-built sanitary block with two toilets and a shower each for men and women. The owners keep four little donkeys in a paddock just behind the CS and this reminded me of Camping Casteillets in southern France. Fellow caravanners who have used Lost Pines over several years told me that the owners used to have a successful market garden, but illness has curtailed this. Greenhouses still line the site entrance, but are overgrown with brambles and falling down - a melancholy sight. It's very quiet here too.

Our pitch at Lost Pines 
Unfortunately for our purposes, Lost Pines is almost a complete EE network blind spot. We zoomed to the nearby EE store at Castlepoint Shopping Centre on Thursday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get a new SIM card for our Osprey. There wasn't even much of a queue. Their current good deal is 32GB of data for £28 per month on a rolling 30-day contract which should suit us. Back at Bailey though, even with the Osprey wedged in the skylight, most of the time we just get two bars of 2G which is scarcely enough to download emails. We are meant to be starting our househunting efforts here. We can't get Rightmove! The signal does improve after about half-past nine of an evening, but in the daytime we are better off driving half a mile away and parking up in a layby.

We drove into Bournemouth yesterday for a stroll around Christchurch Road and then through the Gardens by the seafront. Roadworks on the A338 made it quite a journey just to get that far and I really didn't like the sheer volume of traffic everywhere. I had previously thought of Bournemouth as a town, but it is really more of a busy city - and presumably gets even more manic during the summer season. The Victorian architecture is frequently beautiful however, especially looking up above rows of shops to see interesting window and roof details. Christchurch Road was fascinating for its variety of cultures and range of little independent shops. We saw a dozen different cuisines offered in less than five minutes walking. I don't think I could cope long-term with the noise and bustle though. Plus our Ford Mondeo Estate isn't going to be a convenient car for ad-hoc roadside parking! A shame as there are a few potential in-budget flats that caught our interest online. I think we're going to be moving on soon though.

Monday 11 April 2016

Getting even further back to basics than caravan living

We are both feeling pretty tired today after not one, but
Wrens are nestbuilding in the woodshed 
two late nights out in succession. Two! The reason is our having visited our friends Chris and Marta at their new-to-them rural idyll nearby. I mentioned a couple of days ago that I would write about their lifestyle so here's the gist.

Chris and Marta have also essentially been caravan dwellers for the past year or so, but last summer they splashed out a ridiculously small amount of money on three-quarters of an acre of amenity land in the Haute-Vienne region of France. They have a secluded field with a well, a small wooden cabin and some trees. Amenity land isn't intended for full-time inhabitation so this is ideal as a stopping-point where they can spend a few weeks between journeys to pastures new.

The cabin was in surprisingly good condition as the land
The shower 
hadn't been used for much more than sheep for a decade, and Chris especially is a dab hand at constructing all kinds of things out of wood and gleaned materials. This rocket is actually a shower cubicle and Chris plans to use a similar triangle method for a lean-to storage area. He has already built a composting toilet having discussed the method when we all visited their yurt-dwelling friends in Devon last year. Units that were already in the cabin have been moved to its porch area to create a remarkably spacious outdoor kitchen and the cabin itself now contains bunk beds and a surprisingly efficient little wood-burning stove. You can't move for woodland in this part of France so collecting enough to fuel the stove, a great steampunky water heater (which is pictured below) and a small chiminea is easy, if time-consuming.

The well was dry as it had been neglected for so long, but is now working again by way of a 12v pump, just like we have into our aquaroll, which currently fills small containers but will eventually be piped directly to two huge water butts. These butts collect rainwater too and provide enough water for washing people and clothing - everything except drinking water.

All their electrical power comes from a solar panel that
The water heater 
charges up leisure batteries to power LED lights and similar mod cons, plus they have a gas camping stove for additional cooking. Marta has found fabulous things at a nearby Brocante including a vintage manually operated food blender. It works just as well as, if not better than, my mains powered handblender, but again takes considerably longer to do the job. Chris and Marta don't mind the time aspects though as this is simply a part of their lifestyle and, having stepped well and truly away from the standard UK ratrace, they enjoy the daily challenges.

I love their quirky decor touches such as a hand-painted umbrella stand and a found Monark chain guard on the wall. It's lovely to be able to sit outside in the evenings at this time of year watching blue and great tits darting to the bird feeders. Marta and I were even lucky enough to observe the wren harvesting moss to line its nest. Of course, it vanished as soon as Marta went for her camera! Last night there was a thunderstorm with torrential rain at times and huge lightning bolts, and previously the sky was so clear (with almost no light pollution) that we saw more stars at one time than we could remember seeing in years.

We are so impressed with everything Chris and Marta have achieved in the short time they have been on their land. Despite owning it for nearly a year, they have only stayed there in bursts of a few weeks at a time, yet it has a cosy, homely vibe. Dave and I have talked, vaguely, about a similar setup for ourselves, but both know that we probably aren't tough enough to cope as happily. We might have been sitting outside until gone midnight for the past couple of evenings, but we like our switch-off-and-on-able caravan heating overnight. And we wouldn't want to have to go wood-gathering in the rain!

Dave and Chris in the cabin porch 

Sunday 10 April 2016

Following Richard the Lionheart and T E Lawrence into Chalus

We are on the trail of that T E Lawrence again! Having
previously found a record of his 1908 visit to Aigues-Mortes and detoured to see his grave in Moreton, today we stood at the site of his twentieth birthday party: Place de la Fontain in the small Haute-Vienne village of Chalus. The Grand Hotel du Midi in which he stayed is no longer there, but we saw an elegant fountain which probably was and the plaque pictured below proudly commemorates the occasion. Lawrence visited Chalus in the same year as Aigues-Mortes and, according to Wikipedia, was "tracing the route of Richard I of England ... in preparation for his thesis: The Influence of the crusades on European military architecture at the end of the XIIth century". Sounds fascinating!

Richard I - Richard Coeur de Lion - Richard The Lionheart
Ruined chateau in Chalus 
is big business in this part of France as he was actually killed while besieging Chalus in 1199. Pierre Basile shot him with a crossbow bolt and Richard died 11 days later of the wound. The 817th anniversary was on the 6th of April so we only missed it by a few days! A gruesome bit on information we learned is that Richard's entrails are apparently still preserved in the Chateau in Chalus. There are two Chateaux in the village though and we think the entrails are in the still-inhabited building up on the hill, not the ruined central one shown in this photograph. This tower is medieval, but not begun until 1280 so Lawrence would probably have seen it, but Richard wouldn't. It was built and then occupied by the Maulmont family for centuries and was originally much larger. Extensive damage and the destruction of a second tower occurred during the French Revolution. However, this tower didn't collapse until 1994.

We got to Chalus by cycling along a Voie Verte that passes close by our campsite. Today being a sunny Sunday it was quite busy with other cyclists and walkers. There is a distinct uphill slope for most of the way to Chalus, but coming back is a corresponding downhill freewheel! The Voie Verte is a dismantled railway line and I liked that the station buildings have been retained along the way. Some are now private houses, but the one at Chalus is an information centre about the route. (Sadly closed today) There are bike racks by the playground on the far side of the centre so we locked our bikes up and explored on foot.

We both liked Chalus as it contains interesting buildings,
but it is quite run-down. A significant proportion of the shops are empty, although attempts have been made to brighten them up by painting palm trees on the whitewashed windows. The town obviously needs a lot of investment though. Signs of this potentially happening include the Voie Verte itself which is a popular local facility, and this public sculpture which is visible overlooking the river (stream?) through the town centre. Created from rusted metal, it celebrates the local chestnut harvests, but doesn't have a plaque identifying the artist - anyone recognise the work?

Friday 8 April 2016

We're in a British bubble at Champagnac La Riviere

Our last-but-one campsite before we return to the UK is
Church at Champagnac La Riviere 
Camping Parc Verger in the pretty Limousin village of Champagnac La Riviere. We chose to come here because of its proximity to the new home of our friends Chris and Marta (whom you've met in previous posts). They are about an hour's walk away from our campsite and I am hoping to write about their fantastic French adventure in a future post. In the meantime, Camping Parc Verger is kind of perfect for us right now not only due to that location, but also because of its Britishness which is swiftly acclimatising us to what we will face in a week's time. Once past the barrier, it's hard to tell we are still in France - this could be a Caravan Club site anywhere in the UK. It does feel a bit odd hearing so many English voices all the time.

Now run by Franc and Lisa, who took over last year, Camping Parc Verger has been British-owned for years. We have a pleasant view towards a neighbouring lake from our pitch and everywhere around here is a wonderfully lush green. We have seen jays, wagtails and hoopoes on site, and cowsips, daffodils and bluebells in meadows and woodland nearby. The site is just out of the village centre and within a hundred metres of a Voie Verte cycleway that runs from Oradour sur Vayres to Chalus. We have already cycled the four kilometres to the Oradour end as part of a circular route - it's worth noting that while the Voie Verte may be fairly flat, the surrounding roads are most definitely not! They are mostly quiet though and cars are great at giving cyclists a wide berth, but we got very puffed out very quickly.

Back on the campsite, everyone here at the moment is
Lake view from our pitch 
either English or Scottish and apparently this is the case most of the time - Parc Verger is open all year - other than in high season when Dutch, Germans, Belgians and French also book in. We are paying €18 a night (Discounts are available for stays over 14 nights) for a hardstanding pitch with 16A electricity which seems luxurious after the mostly 6A campsites elsewhere. In theory we can have the heating and the kettle on at the same time! We've not tried yet though, because we don't want to be the ones to blow the trip switch! The shower block is small but excellent with lots of hot water in the generously sized shower cubicles. There is a disabled-access wetroom too that anyone can use if no disabled people are onsite. Dave tried it out and was actually impressed - so it must be good! The little cabin Reception has essential groceries for sale, and books for exchange. Plus the wifi has a good signal sitewide and is free. The only thing missing is a laundry sink, although there is a washing machine and tumble dryer, but I managed just fine with our red bucket atop the stone work surface by the dishwashing sinks - there's hot water here too.

On the downside, it certainly is cold this far north and we managed to get ourselves rained on yesterday. You can see the thick clouds in my photograph and it's pretty much the same today too. We have been here since Tuesday and have only sat outside in the sun once. Oh well, I suppose we need to be getting used to that too!

Our pitch at Camping Parc Verger 

Monday 4 April 2016

A great day wandering historic Perigueux

We didn't get to Perigueux on Friday as the weather was
Mad street art in Perigueux 
miserable - those April showers starting as they mean to go on! Saturday dawned grey, but we decided to take what might have been our last chance to view this historic town, dressed up for rain and ended up wearing far too much in glorious sunshine. Definitely a better outcome than the forecast's promised drenching!

We parked for free in a little car park down by the river. Dave had researched getting there by the little local Peribus, but it involved a mile's walk at the campsite end, a change of bus and a journey of well over an hour so we took the car instead. The town was busy in the morning as the bi-weekly farmer's market had taken over several of the squares and surrounding streets. The market happens on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, packing up about 1pm, and there was an excellent range of food stalls including fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, honey and mead, and breads.

Our first sight upon exiting the car park though was
Perigueux cathedral 
Perigueux's unique Byzantine cathedral whose spires tower above the other buildings. I did get a blue sky picture of it later in the day, but it looked more imposing I think against the ominous grey clouds. Saint Front Cathedral was originally modelled on St Mark's Basilica in Venice with its floorplan being a Greek cross. This felt quite weird when we actually stepped inside briefly as two large sections of chairs face across towards each other giving worshippers no view of the altar or the service. The cathedral seemed to be mostly dull grey stone inside and I thought it best seen from outdoors! Built in 1669, Saint Front looks quite plain in early images with only its tower to distinguish it. The domes were added when the cathedral was rebuilt to the designs of Paul Abadie between 1852 and 1893.

Perigueux has surviving Roman stonework and lots of
medieval structures including this old 'moulin' by the side of the road into town. (If you see this on your right, the slope down to the car park is imminent on your left!) We had intended to visit the Tourist Office for a historical town map, but didn't arrive until after their lunchtime closure. Instead, we wandered the old town at random.

Narrow streets have dramatically tall buildings leaning in towards each other and many of the most interesting alleyways are still unevenly cobbled, rising in the centre to drain water (and originally sewage) to gutters on each side. We spotted signs for a historical town walk which is marked by yellow stripes on the side of various buildings. This led us through a medieval maze of streets including those of the Jewish quarter, and alongside sections of the city walls which are still very much in evidence. We loved seeing buildings with their original thick wooden doors, and some had small stone statues in niches above.

This weekend just gone was a pan-European celebration of
artisan crafts and crafters entitled 'Les Journees Europeennes des Metiers d'Art'. We saw two exhibitions that were part of this - one of pottery in a small gallery and the second of various arts in a wonderful venue. Delphine Viau and Vero And Didou showcased their talents for leather bags and recycled lighting over two floors of the Mataguerre tower. The tower was part of the defensive walls, made of thick stone, and with a steep spiral staircase enabling us to enjoy these fabulous views across the rooftops of the old town. Originally there were twenty-eight towers and twelve gates, but Mataguerre is now the only one remaining.

Lunch was coffee and cake at Le Fournil patisserie which has a good selection and also offers the usual bakery breads, plus salad boxes and savoury pastries. There are a few little tables inside along one wall. Suitably refreshed, we wandered back down to the river so Dave could drop off his waterproof coat at the car. In hindsight, I should have left my wool coat too as shortly afterwards the cloud cover cleared and the sun shone on our canal and river walk.

Perigueux has a short canal built just inside the bend of the
Perigueux canal 
river L'Isle. It's banks are now primarily for leisure with a Voie Verte passing along here. In the hour or so we walked out and back we saw dozens of cyclists, runners and other walkers. It is amazingly peaceful and feels rural despite being just metres from the town. Returning along the narrow strip of land between the river and canal we enviously overlooked small houses and fantastic little plots of amenity land, some with hammocks and swing chairs, others which had been dug into full-scale allotments.

After such a great visit, the downside to Perigueux is the huge sprawling Centre Commercial we needed to drive through to get back to Antonne Et Trigonant. There are so many businesses and such weight of traffic that getting across the roundabouts safely was a pretty hair-raising experience. I wouldn't let that put me off visiting again, but I might choose to camp elsewhere if possible and cycle in along the Voie Verte!