We had an uneventful crossing to Calais at the beginning of August and found a municipal site next to a canal in Watten, near St Omer. The canal still had barges operating up and down carrying freight. They were so huge that some of them even had space for an estate car. The site was run by a delightful family. In charge an elderly Frenchman who delighted in telling me all about his diabetes every morning whilst his arm started off around my shoulder and tried to continue south. It was very quiet and everything in the village was shut by 10pm even though the fair was in town. The mainstay drink for the patrons in our favourite bar appeared to be Leffe, a wheat beer. Mike quickly labelled them Leffe louts as they seemed to consume a large quantity after work and pour themselves out after an hour or so, straight into whatever mode of transport they were using. This included motorbikes, cars, and bicycles and affected all ages and both sexes. All the entrants to any bar in that part of France were all very well mannered and as they walked in there would be a standard double cheek kiss for the ladies and a handshake for each of the men in the bar. This included us strangers. There was no such thing as an internet café or WIFI so we had to go into the Mission in St Omer to use their computer so keeping in touch was not as straight forward as we have become accustomed to.
You will remember from my last letter that the whole motorhome was 'done over' whilst at Westcroft. They eventually did agree that they had a duty of care with regard to our contents. Their policy is that the contents are left at the owners risk however but they did understand we are full timers so removing everything of value would have been very difficult for us. They also acknowledged that the burglary was not due to an opportunist thief but an inside job which must have taken place over a number of visits. The police also took the matter seriously and went to Westcroft to interview the staff. It took a while for us to get over the experience and after a month of phone calls and emails Westcroft gave us half the value as compensation although this of course does nothing towards the loss of items of sentimental value. The irony of it all was that one of the things we went back for was to get the alarm fixed!
From Watten we headed south to Limoges. We chose a Saturday as there would be no lorries on the road but completely forgot about the exodus to the seaside on the second Saturday in August. It took us a couple of hours to get round Paris. The site we headed for was purpose built for large motorhomes at Champagnac-La-Riviere about half an hour from Limoges. It is owned and managed by an English couple who really looked after us well. They were there waving when we arrived, had loads of suggestions of where to go and what to see. They even cooked all us campers a barbecue one Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately we had four days of solid rain which coincided with Nige and Sally's visit. We managed to keep ourselves occupied while they stayed but it really did rain constantly, day and night. The countryside around the site was absolutely beautiful. There was a 14km walking/cycle path along a disused railway which was perfect for jogging-as long as we avoided the huge bright orange slugs. We visited an excellent village fayre and artisans market at nearby St Bazille. They had stalls and handed out free local wine and nibbles. The 16th August is Assumption Day and a public holiday in France. The whole village hosted a day of activities to celebrate. This included a car boot sale in the morning, a motorbike display and a carnival procession complete with majorettes. The procession had just 3 floats and some dancers dressed as peasants. The majorettes had lovely legs and figures but weren't very good.
We had a couple of excellent days exploring Limoges. As always I enjoy sampling local cuisine but was unable to manage the accidental ordering of warm duck gizzards served over my salad. They weren't too bad initially but were extremely rich and had a liverish taste which I didn't like.
After about 10 days at Champagnac La Riviere we headed South to Biarritz. This time travelling on a Sunday which was much quieter. The bad weather we had experienced in Limoges had been far worse on the coast with severe flooding accompanying the torrential rain. All the sites I rang were either full or flooded in Biarritz but we managed to get one at Labenne Plage just north of Bairritz. This was a huge holiday camp style campsite with the most amazing swimming pool complex-just like a waterpark with slides and a lazy river. On our 1st morning we drove down to Biarritz where my sister Catherine was on holiday with her family. The children didn't know we were coming and we had left the arrangement open ended with the adults. They had had a very disrupted holiday due to the weather. The little stream that ran through their site had turned into a raging torrent which subsequently flooded. They had been evacuated from their Eurocamp tent into a caravan and then had 3 further moves to other caravans in less than a week. Each time having to clean up the caravan or face a fine as well as pack and unpack each time. We kidnapped Evie and Alex for the night which gave Catherine and Andy a chance to pack (again) ready for their return to England. We had a great time spoiling them and after 24 hours went out for a lovely meal and then said our farewells. The following morning we packed up and headed across the border to Spain, back to the campsite we had left at the beginning of June in Noja, near Santander.
We had some wonderful days out and really enjoyed the gorgeous scenery along the coast. We visited Laredo and also took a ferry to Santander from the nearby town called Somo. Just next to the promenade there was an Artisan's market with a Moroccan theme. We also visited the cathedral and had a frustrating 2 hour wait for the shops to open to buy an up to date detailed road map. The Picos de Europa mountains were a short drive from our campsite so we packed our bags and drove to a town called Arenas de Cabrales in the foothills. We had a delicious coffee at a street café and noticed a lot of cyclists milling about. There were also coaches, lorries and trailers passing through all carrying cycling equipment. It turned out that 'La Vuelta' was passing through later that morning. This is the Spanish version of the 'Tour de France' I couldn't resist the merchandising and bought a pack from a van advertising the race. It contained a hat, sunglasses, T shirt, radio, wristband and stopwatch all for €10. Unfortunately the radio and the stopwatch didn't work and we didn't even stop to watch the race as we had to get on with some serious walking. We found a nice little guest house and then drove into the mountains Poncebos. The base of a funicular railway. This was only .7 of a kilometer long but took us through the mountain to a village called Bulnes which had no road access. We then did a strenuous walk to admire the peaks. The weather was fabulous and we had really wonderful views. When we got back to the car a pair of goats assisted Mike in sniffing out some bread. They practically climbed into the boot to get it. That evening we went out for the most delicious meal and sampled as many local specialities as we could. Fortunately not gizzards this time but the much more palatable locally brewed sidra (cider), cured meats, fillet steak and cabrales. The sidra was poured in the traditional way with the bottle held high over the waitresses' head into the glass held in her other hand behind her back. The cabrales is a wonderful tangy blue cheese made from cows', goats' and sheeps' milk. We still have some in the fridge which we bought the next day, vacuum packed by the shop so it doesn't stink the fridge out.