Our lives are about to change, summer 2013 would become, unknown to us at the time, a “life changing summer”. At the start of our adventure we were going to explore the North West coast of France, but the weather forecast was disappointing, with rain and a low pressure predicted for the area lasting around a week. I had a route planned that would take us along the North West coast and down to La Rochelle, with campsites provisionally pencilled in. Having to change the travel plans we had looked forward to was disappointing, but we thought we could always do that part of France another time.
Off we set for Central France. As we’d had a very nice experience staying at Beaugency the year before, I entered the GPS co-ordinates into the SatNav and away we went, expecting an improvement in the weather the further the south we travelled. This didn’t happen; in fact it deteriorated. We arrived at Beaugency around 4 pm and pulled into the campsite alongside the Loire river. I booked in at reception for two nights and then pulled round to where we had pitched before, only to find the grass extremely tall, coming up to the door opening of the motorhome. It was early into the summer season and the campsite looked very unkempt, but we were here. I had a look around and saw an area in much better condition, so we moved onto it. I tested the electrical supply and found that it had reversed polarity. When I contacted the guy in reception he was adamant that there was no problem and that I was the problem, so not a good start. He came over with an electric drill in his hand, plugged it in and, waving it above his head, turned it on, shouting “VOILA!” as if the French had won “The Battle of Agincourt“. (The French electrical supply is wired in double pole, meaning that both the Phase (our live) and the neutral supply is switched on and off at the same time. We only switch the live on and off.) I tried to show him that the the poles were reversed and they would cause a problem to a single pole motorhome, but he was having a French moment, being quite aggressive and negative and not wanting to listen or try to understand. We have been coming to France for a few years and this was my first experience of a French person being totally unapproachable. He walked off waving the drill in the air and mumbling to himself. I decided to try other supplies until I found one that was wired correctly for us. This might have saved the Entente Cordiale agreement between the UK and France.
The whole campsite seemed to have changed; it was very tatty in its appearance. As I walked over to the wash rooms/showers I suddenly realised they had cut down about an acre of trees which had previously provided a shaded area to walk through. The trees hadn’t been tightly planted but had been very tall and given a very nice dappled light. I was very impressed with the campsite on our first visit and had told a lot of people about it on our return home. On our second visit I found it very disappointing, with the shower blocks in need of refurbishment and a very good clean. The whole campsite has been left to deteriorate, so I would advise anyone considering staying there to think again, although Beaugency Town itself and the Bridge over the Loire and the area around is well worth seeing. We only stayed the one night and decided we would move on, so we set out for Néris-les-Bains.
It wouldn’t be long before we were into sunshine and our spirits lifted. It was only a four and a half hour drive, so with a short break for a coffee we were soon at camping Municipal du Lac. The site is set just on the edge of the town; the pitches are a bit tightly packed and some are awkward to manoeuvre into if you have a large motorhome, but a smashing campsite and immaculately kept municipal gardens. Our stay here was very restful and our summer adventure had begun. We walked into the town for a couple of beers and to people watch, one of our favourite pastimes. The fire brigade was celebrating its 150 years of protecting the town from fires, and a lot of old fire tenders were on show. The culmination of the weekend was a parade around the town and a church service. There is a very impressive Opera House which has the gardens alongside. We spent the weekend at Néris-les-Bains and on the Monday morning we woke to sunshine so we thought we would head west to Mézières-en-Brenne, Indre, Val de Loire this would take around a two hour drive so we could be there by early lunch time. It was only 160 km away but within a short time the temperature had dropped and we were in torrential rain. It never stopped raining and we stayed just the one night. The area looked very nice but we didn’t fancy getting soaked, so the following morning we headed for Cournon-d’Auvergne on they way down to the Ardèche, staying at Tain-l’Hermitage. As we travelled to Cournon, where we had also stayed the year before, we approached Clermont Ferrand from a different direction than we had on previous occasions. What a sight it was. I think we were on the D941 but I am not absolutely sure. We turned a bend and, stretched out in front of us, was Clermont Ferrand and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption. What a sight! I had read about the speech Pope Urban II had given for the First Crusaders in the Cathedral, and there it was in all its glory.
We were very lucky that day, everything was just so relaxing. We had a nice lunchtime drink in the campsite restaurant and a very pleasant stroll around the large lake. We also met a Scottish couple on their European holiday who had travelled down to Greece and were now heading in no particular direction but going to spend the winter in Spain. During our stay at Cournon I spent about an hour or so photographing a Red Breasted Fly Catcher. We were sitting out in the early evening when I suddenly realised I was getting bitten by mosquitoes around my ankles. I had about five bites and did they itch! Mrs K had also been eaten alive. We had treatments for mosquito bites on board, but they were not very effective. We spent the next few days dabbing our ankles with the bite pens, and we didn’t get much sleep with all that scratching going on.
We were now going to head for Tain-l’Hermitage about a three and a bit hour drive away but, as usual, no rush. The route would take us through Issoire then onto Brioude where we stopped on the outskirts for a coffee. We have some friends who had told us about Le Puy En Valay and that if we were ever near it to stop and have a look.
The next main town/large village we came across was Le Puy, and what a sight. I find that wherever you go in France there is outstanding scenery. We came across it so unexpectedly that it took us by surprise. We were in a long queue of traffic so it was very difficult to stop or pull over because so many other people had the same idea, so I said to Mrs K we will definitely stop on our way back and have a good look, but what a setting and scenery. We travelled on to Tain-l’Hermitage, we were not prepared for what happened next.