Returning to France and The Kindness of Strangers

After months of waiting due to Covid, lockdowns and illness, Liz and I finally found the time to mosey off to France in our motorhome once again. It was a bit of a snap decision really but once we made it I checked the motorhome and its oil and water and generally got it ready for our holiday. The battery didn’t seem too good so I plugged in the charger and after a good 12 hours it still wasn’t looking good so we called the RAC and they came over and fitted a new battery on the morning of our departure. The fridge had already been switched over to gas to cool it down ready for an influx of various yummy foodstuffs but sadly when we set off and changed to internal power, the indicator didn’t light up on the fridge. We knew it worked OK on gas but as our trip on the channel tunnel had been booked, we had to set off and hope for the best.

We’d planned an overnight stop down south at a place called the Bricklayer’s Arms in Chipstead, Sevenoaks, a lovely looking village pub that allows people in motorhomes to park up as long as they buy beer or food. Various delays meant that it looked like we were going to arrive just before the food deadline of 9:30. We did but were advised that the kitchen had just closed due to it being quiz night. They offered to serve us a portion of chips each with our beers so we reluctantly had to settle for that. Had we arrived an hour earlier, for £15 we could have joined in the quiz and had a 2 course meal. Damn the M6!

The next day was pretty warm and it felt like the aircon wasn’t up to the job so we made a diversion to a garage Liz found on the internet for a regassing of our aircon system while we settled down with a cup of tea and a sandwich.

We were actually early for our channel tunnel crossing and we expected that as usual we would just be allocated an earlier train but sadly the prior crossings were fully booked but they told us to just go over to the embarkation area anyway and see if we could slip onto an earlier train. The channel tunnel of course isn’t a tunnel that you can drive through, all the crossings are made on specially built trains. After passing through customs, both British and French, we seemed to be waiting for forever to get moving and it turned out that the previous train had broken down. Anyway, we eventually crossed over to the continent about 40 minutes later than planned and headed for our first stopping place, a small motorhome aire based on a rural farm. We initially thought it was free but it turned out to be 10 euros per night. It had toilet emptying facilities and as our toilet was pretty full from a previous trip, that came in pretty handy.

We carried on the next day and made our way to a lake in Brûlon. We visited this lake 2 years ago, the last time we came to France and parked by the lake. There is a restaurant and campsite but when we checked at the campsite reception the staff told us we couldn’t park overnight by the lake but had to pay to book into the camping area. We checked with a few of the numerous other motorhomes parked by the lake and were assured that they had been coming here for years and yes, we could park overnight as they were certainly going to.

The lake at Brulon

This year, a new sign had appeared that advised motorhomes were only allowed to park by the lake from 07:00 to 23:00 hours. OK we thought. We’d park in the car park overnight and return to the lake in the morning, which is what we did. The only real problem was that the local youths and their 2 stroke 75cc bikes and scooters used to meet up late at night, do a few quick wheelies and then having thoroughly woken us up, ride off into the night.

One day, having departed to visit a vide grenier or pick up some supplies we returned and noticed another sign, no motorhome camping allowed except on the campsite. The campsite of course demanded payment to park our small motorhome and as this was in direct contravention of the Tightwads Society Prime Directive (I think I have mentioned before that I am a founder member) we decided to move on.

Liz, an absolute wizard with Google maps had found another lake just by the small village of Chantenay-Villedieu. The temperature was getting hotter and hotter so we decided to park up for a few nights, there being no restrictions and also a motorhome toilet emptying area with a fresh water tap.

A motorhome aire in Doué La Fontaine

Day 1 by the lake was quiet with the lake mostly to ourselves. A sign denoted bathing was OK 13:30 hours to 18:30 hours so at the appointed time, 1:30, we slipped into the cool waters for a swim. Later a number of anglers appeared and set about the business of catching fish.

Day 2 was pretty similar except that at about 3 pm when again, we had the lake mostly to ourselves a car hurtled up the gravel track and two youths alighted and jumped into the lake. I’ll call them Noisy Frog #1 and Noisy Frog #2. Noisy Frog #1 ran headlong into the lake and began shouting and screaming as if he had been thrown into an arctic pond. Noisy Frog #2 joined in with a similar reaction and this went on for some time, totally ruining my afternoon nap. Later Noisy Frog 3 arrived with Noisy Frog Dog #1. Noisy Frog Dog #1 ran around annoying everyone and despite various vocal commands delivered at full volume from the noisy frog contingent, the dog just carried on running around annoying everyone. Later as the temperature increased and more people arrived, the noisy people seemed to settle down until round about 6pm. At that time we had set up our little gas barbecue on a picnic table and the noisy frogs decided this would be a good time to start kicking a ball about right next to us. Liz directed some choice French at them and to their credit, they took their ball game and their dog to a safe distance.

The lake at Chantenay-Villedieu.

Day 3 was hot and another busy afternoon but we did have most of the morning to ourselves. We moved a little further away from the centre of the lake which meant a short stroll for our frequent dips (the temperature hit 100F) but it was a little quieter and my naps and reading were undisturbed. We had also noticed that despite extra signage going up banning all swimming, the local populace didn’t seem to give a flying monkey’s either way and went swimming whenever they wanted to. Naturally as it was so warm we joined them too having a night swim just before bedtime that night which was hugely refreshing.

We journeyed further south on a warm Saturday evening and we came into a small village where Liz had spotted a French restaurant with good reviews. Now I wasn’t getting my hopes up because in the French countryside, nothing much happens on an evening, not even on Saturday evening. The restaurant was closed and nothing was open except for a small bar which did not serve food. We stopped for a small but refreshing beer then carried on, eventually coming into the town of La Flèche. Not far from our chosen aire de camping car we spotted a Buffalo Grill Restaurant and decided to give it a try. Surprisingly it was open and very busy but most importantly it was air conditioned. We managed to get a small table and the fare was burgers and steaks, just like you might find in a British pub restaurant but of course with a French twist. Carafes of various sizes were available for the very nice house wine. A small salad came first followed by a steak for Liz and a cheeseburger for me. My burger was really nice, in fact it tasted like a much nicer and fresher Big Mac. Liz’s steak had to be sent back twice as the French like to cook a steak as little as possible. All in all it was a lovely meal.

For the final part of our three week holiday we had rented a villa in the small village of Parçay Le Pins. It’s a rather lovely place with a nice pool. We’ve rented the place before and Liz noticed there were four days free so she negotiated us a short stay at a knock down price. Despite me taking out all unnecessary goods from our motorhome before departing from the UK, we found a bag of charcoal in there so we decided to use the villa’s barbecue and have ourselves a ‘proper’ barbecue which was rather lovely.

Out in the French countryside I’ve always liked sitting outside watching the sun sink down and the stars emerge whilst sipping a glass of vin rouge and nibbling on some French cheese. My video camera had conked out while at the villa and my back up camera switched on OK but then didn’t stop until my memory card had been filled with one endless shot of driving through the French countryside. Oh well, so much for the video version of this post then!

Somehow, sitting there contemplating life and the universe and my favourite French cheeses and red wine, it didn’t really seem to matter.

The Kindness of Strangers.

Unlike Blanche Dubois, I’ve never relied on the kindness of strangers but that problem with the motorhome fridge I mentioned earlier was really bugging me. I wasn’t sure what to do except for a cursory check of the fridge itself and its various switches and connections. We decided to put a post on the Facebook motorhome site that we belong to asking for information. A few people answered saying to check the fuses which sometimes blow after a new battery fitting. Where were the fuses though? Other Facebook motorhomers advised that they were behind the driver’s seat in a rather difficult to access position. I checked the fuse and replaced it. No change. Another site member mentioned that there was another fuse box, under our bed. Nigel, one of the admins for the page was very helpful and during our night stopover we lifted up the bed, found the fuse box and changed that one too. Still no change. Nigel then mentioned that as he was in France already, staying at his French property, we were welcome to come and visit him, stay the night in our van on his drive and he would help us solve the problem.

We thanked Nigel and agreed to come and visit. Nigel and his wife were waiting for us with both a nice bottle of red and his barbecue warming nicely. They made us welcome, we had a nice evening together and it didn’t seem to matter that the fridge had starting working again all on its own.

The next day we said goodbye having made two new friends.


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4 responses to “Returning to France and The Kindness of Strangers

    • We went for three and a half weeks at the beginning of June. When we were at the lake it hit 100 F. For our last few days there were thunderstorms and then it cooled down a little

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    • Yes, it renews your faith in human nature. The fridge started misbehaving again later. I’ve got a feeling it’s really working but the indicator lamp is just not lighting up. I’ll probably end up getting an expert to check it over, fixing things isn’t really one of my skills!

      Liked by 1 person

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