Archive for September 2020

The French Connection – Tarn Gorge Kayaking   12 comments

Another sunny day, another river, another kayak trip.

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The local company just down the road from the campsite were excellent and made us realise just what disorganised chaos the company used in the Dordogne was. Everything was clearly organised and arranged at the base. The route was talked/walked through. The driver of the bus gave a talk of the sights on the way to drop off (in French but this part of France doesn’t see many Brits). Most importantly when we arrived every party and person was walked through the process and given a suitable sized kayak. In the Dordogne they just left you with a load of people to work out what boat you should be in. Well done Le Soulio 🙂

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Its a great route to get you started with this river kayaking thing. The initial stretch is flat, calm and easy to paddle with enough gorge-like cliffs to make the views outstanding.

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Everyone had individual kayaks apart from J-Dog who requested someone accompany her in a two-man. Myself and Mark took turns in handling the bigger boat.

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Here is J-Dog, resplendent in pink bucket hat (hence their family nickname, the Bucket Hat Bitches – self coined just in case you think the rest of us were being rude!)

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TJS enjoying the ride, love the fact you can see the shadow of his boat on the river bed beneath.

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Be warned though, about 15 mins in there is a Weir in La Malene to negotiate. Loads of signs warning you NOT to try and kayak over it as it damages the boat and, as the fools who did try it found out, very difficult not to capsize at the bottom.

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Took a good few minutes to step out and the push the kayaks down the weir before continuing the journey.

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Just beyond La Malene is the perfect lunch stop. A broad pebble beach, very deep pools for swimming and a large rock for DB jumping.

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Here is the best swimming and jumping section complete with DB Junior entering the water. On a hot summers day, nothing finer than a little paddling with regular stops to eat, swim and have fun.

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A photo taken from inside a small cave looking back out and upstream.

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The river is a mix of easy paddling and easy rapids to practice your skills. I still find rivers a little tricky as most of my kayak hours are spent surfing. Waves behave rather differently to rivers especially in fast flowing water (you lean into waves to keep upright on the sea but away from standing waves on a river)

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The rock architecture is endlessly stunning and views are magnificent all the way.

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Entering the narrowest section at Les Detroits.

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We’d been warned that the river had changed course and a new set of rapids had emerged that we should avoid. Good excuse for a stop and a swim.

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And to catch some more sun!

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We swam down to take a look and saw that most people were negotiating it without too much trouble. There was just one part where the natural flow of the river pushed you towards a small overhang just at head height so potentially a cracked skull if you weren’t paying attention. We all gave it a go and got through without incident.

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Les Detroits is magnificent and last time we stopped in its heart for an extended play.

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This time however there was a strong wind blowing through that made it temporarily quite chilly and indeed quite hard work paddling into it.

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We satisfied ourselves with moving on and enjoying the views from the kayaks.

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To compensate for this minor set back we stopped off at our campsite for a well deserved ice cream.

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Before pressing on to the finish point a couple of miles on. Note the Bungee jump platform high above the gorge in the photo below.

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Sadly over all too soon and another superb day out. We picked the best day of the week for weather. Clear water under blue skies is pretty good way to spend a day.

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Less than £20 per person for a full day out is not a bad return on investment either.

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More conventional modes of transport in the next post

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The French Connection – Pointe Sublime and Cirque des Baumes   8 comments

Even though it was hot we wanted to do some more walks this year. We started out with a walk we did last time. Driving up to the top of the Gorge at Pointe Sublime, walking back down into the gorge and then returning later to pick up the cars. After a some aggressive hassling and pressure we even managed a relatively early start!

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“Pointe Sublime” is used in several places in France to mark some kind of sensational view point and this one is a classic. Perched right on the edge of the gorge looking down 2000 feet to the bottom. As the gorge twists and turns you have to come up at various times of day to see the various stretches in the best light. Morning is good for the southern bit. In the morning, the classic view down into the narrow part where the campsite is, looks straight into the sun and is hard to photograph.

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Its quite a contrast between the depth and narrowness of the gorge and the flat rolling farmland and woods of the plateaux it dissects (called “Causses”)

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We spent a good while just enjoying the warm sunshine looking at the views….

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And watching the vultures.

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I took lots of photos but they move quickly and unpredictably and the light (bright sun and dark shadows) meant only a couple were even remotely any good. They are magnificent birds though, huge wingspans, gliding effortlessly through the gorge.

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Time to start the 2000 foot descent down to the river.

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Grasshoppers everywhere. Luckily TJF wasn’t with us – she hates them!

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The Cirque des Baumes, our route down is steep but magnificent. Full of limestone pinnacles and sheer rock faces.

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We managed to lose the kids at some point. Here they are above us on a rock outlook.

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One the many huge towers of rock in the Cirque.

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Lots of these in the trees. Caterpillars that create some kind of nest around the pine needles.

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Near the bottom looking back up at our route down.

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There is a tiny chapel built into the cliff near the bottom. You can’t enter any more due rock fall danger but the views of the gorge upstream….

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And downstream, are magnificent

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There is a bungee jump platform on top of this cliff but they weren’t open today.

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The Rocher de Champignon from the road this time.

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Looking back to our campsite from the rock.

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And down to our swimming and jumping spot. Needless to say you don’t jump from quite this high up!

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Back to the top to pick up the cars and a much better time to see the narrow stretch. Our campsite is down there in the middle of the photo.

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Later in the trip we also decided that it would be nice to drive up and watch the sunset.

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The sunset wasn’t all that spectacular as the gorge is far too deep to catch any sunset light and the surroundings are effectively flat.

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It was still a superb and very quiet place to spend the evening though.

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When I say quiet, as all of us were there we had a great deal of fun, messing about. I can’t exactly remember all the reasons but we did seem to laugh an enormous amount up there. One the strongest memories of the trip.

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The moon was out to add some interest in the darkening skies.

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Selfie time.

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The lovely ladies of the trip.

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And just as we were about to leave we did get a short stretch of flaming sunset sky.

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Three visits in one week – well worth it.

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The French Connection – Tarn Gorge Camping   11 comments

So onwards to new areas and new experiences. A slightly wet pack down in the Dordogne after overnight storms but a nice easy paced and very pleasant drive through France and over to our other favourite spot and campsite (La Blaquiere) in the Tarn Gorge. A more relaxed set up and we were all done in time for swims and tea. Its a superb campsite and this time we had huge pitches overlooking the river. Just wonderful.

Next morning was stunning and we enjoyed a lazy post-travel day just sitting in the sun and swimming.

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Our little home from home set up looking good with new sun canopy.

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We spent just over a week here, just enjoying these wonderful scenes.

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These shots show the campsite and its riverside setting. Everything here that you need with regular pizzas, chicken roasts and the local delicacy of Aligot (cheesy mash and sausages) as well as a small cafe selling excellent burgers.

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Of course the main attraction is the gorge itself and the views are just magnificent. I love the Dordogne and it has so much more variety of activities but if pushed I’d still say my heart belongs to the Tarn.

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Its a perfect family spot with a huge beach for sunbathing, shallow water for the little ones and deeper pools for swimming and jumping. Its also great for snorkelling as the river is teeming with fish.

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Upstream view towards the narrows of Les Detroits.

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The cliffs overlooking the campsite.

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We were somewhat surprised to see that when we were up on the edge of the gorge, the cliffs we could see directly from the campsite are but a small portion of the total depth.

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Downstream view.

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For the more adventurous this was the place to head. “Le Rocher de Champignon”, Mushroom Rock is a well known site from both the river and road. The cliff underneath is perched above an extremely deep pool and is perfect for big jumps as well as more great swimming and snorkelling.

The DBs entering the water and getting ready for jumps.

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There are platforms at various levels and heights and we spent a lot of time down here. It was especially fine in late afternoon and early evening when all these photos were taken.

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Looking back towards the campsite.

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This is the new member of the DB gang, an inflatable Killer Whale that I’ve had for years and thought would be a fun addition this time. On our trips to the jump spots we took him with us to join in the fun. He was therefore given the name DB Aquatic.

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I decided to play with the Slo-Mo setting on my phone for the jump-fun and they came out rather well. Even DBA gets in on the act at the end

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Its a fantastic little spot and the icing on the cake of a quite superb place to spend a week.

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Plenty more Tarn adventures to come.

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The French Connection – Dordogne Kayaking   10 comments

Fitting last post from the Dordogne is the classic river kayaking trip. We picked both the sunniest and the hottest day of the trip, 36C. Plenty of swimming would be in order.

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A 16km trip from Vitrac down to a stop off point west of Beynac et Cazenac. This is the start point near the bridge at Vitrac. We’ve done this journey many times now so its all very familiar and natural (and busy!)

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After a few minutes paddling we arrived at our favourite spot from last time. A pebble beach with fast flowing water, loads of fish and cliffs and caves for exploring and jumping.

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It was a short stop last time. This time we had lunch here and several refreshing swims

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The Dordogne is much warmer than the Ceou so the swims are a little less chilled!

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Its a fabulous spot and one of Mark’s all time favourites.

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Onwards and downstream. Lots of lazy paddling in the heat but the cool waters and lush blue skies and tree lined river bank to enjoy.

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The youngsters.

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J-Dog and Mark.

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Time for another stop for snacks and a swim

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Before moving on again.

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Past the picture-perfect village of La Roque Gageac (apart from the choking traffic anyway)

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The houses are that quintessential sandstone look that is typical of the Dordogne and it always looks gorgeous on a clear sunny day.

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Me and the DBs even found a rock for some serious jumping (no photos sadly) – they are always on the look out for anything and everything with jump potential.

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Onwards to Castelnaud for drinks and ice creams.

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And more swimming in the odd experience of the warm and cold water as the Ceou and Dordogne mix together.

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The setting with the Chateau overlooking the bridge is sublime.

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At this point almost all the kids gave up, decided they had had enough and walked back to the campsite. I took this as an opportunity to wind them up for the rest of the trip about how pathetic they all were. They didn’t like being called out as snowflakes, especially the DBs.

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To be honest the last stretch is not the best other than the impressive views of Beynac et Cazenac and its chateau. TJS jointed me in my boat while TBF to a turn on her own.

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From here the Dordogne is less in the way of a gorge and cliff features and becomes a more lazy slow moving stretch through farmland. I managed one final swim and one of the quotes of the week. While waiting for TBF one of the kids looked at the kayaks spotted a likely target and said “Is that TBF or just another small person”. Made me laugh anyway.

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A superb trip and always a highlight, especially as a group that all have fun together. Time to move on to new adventures.

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The French Connection – Accrobranche   12 comments

We love the tree climbing adventure parks in France (called Accrobranche over there) and its a mainstay of any visit. We have them in the UK but the courses are inferior and shorter and the cost much higher so we fill our boots when we are over the channel.

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These places are everywhere in France and even though we had a couple just a few miles away from our campsite we travelled across the Dordogne countryside to one we’ve visited many times now. At only £16 each for a full days entertainment with friendly staff and challenging courses, its well worth the extra drive.

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This year we had the added “fun” of heavy rain just before we arrived making the obstacles somewhat more slippery than normal.

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Here is the inestimable “J-Dog” (no idea where that nickname comes from – her kids assigned it) tackling one of the many zip wires.

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TBFs lack of height can make these things a little more challenging although she’s easily the best of the adults at this stuff.

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The kids taking a break from the action.

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One of my favourites, the Tarzan swing onto the cargo net.

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Anyone who has ever done of these course will tell you that the toughest obstacle are the infamous “strirrups”.

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While dangling in mid-air you have to reach forward and place one foot in a stirrup and then remove the other foot and move forward. Believe me, its much, much harder than it sounds or looks (hence the reason I dipped out this time and am taking the photos from below)

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TJF making it look easy.

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The last course is short but very hard indeed and only a few hardy souls tackle it. This year it was just the DBs who made it look all rather easy.

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Fantastic day out as always.

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The French Connection – Chateau de Bonaguil   14 comments

We did have the odd cloudy day with a bit of rain in our week of hot sunshine. Such days demand an outing and all of us are suckers for a good castle. Luckily this area of France has a plentiful supply. There are several near the campsite but they tend to be very busy. I suggested a 45 minute drive across the pleasant and empty countryside to a cracking castle my family have visited before, the Chateau de Bonaguil.

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Its a classic castle much like the one’s I used to draw as a kid. Battlements, passages, towers, staircases. Ruined enough to let your imagination run free, but with enough left intact for a good explore. A great way to spend and hour or two on a cloudy afternoon.

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Its built in a commanding position on a spur of limestone rock overlooking a forested valley. The architects used that position to great effect and it would have taken some military might to take it down.

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The views from the various towers and battlements were superb.

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Lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

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And an impressive construction when looked from the bottom to the highest point.

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The added excitement of underground tunnels where they used to store food and prisoners.

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One of the massive towers.

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The terrace was a great place to get further impressions of its bulk.

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Our happy band of campers and castlers.

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The top of the Donjon or keep.

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Spectacular views over the rest of the countryside and castle. I’m always torn by whether I prefer to see the castle as it is today and use my imagination to see what it was like in its prime, or whether I’d love to see one of these castles restored in its full glory.

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TJF can look stylish in any setting.

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TJS looks like the quintessential student in any setting.

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The entrance over the massive bridge into the heart of the fortress.

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A fine way to spend an afternoon.

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Posted September 12, 2020 by surfnslide in Castles, Dordogne, France

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The French Connection – Dordogne Camping   15 comments

After a hugely successful trip a couple of years back, our little “camping friends” team decided on another trip back to the same places this summer.

We were all booked up months before all this Covid madness started and ever since our spirits have been up and down almost weekly as to whether we’d be able to go or not. As the summer progressed it looked like things were settling down, “Air Bridges” were opened in including France and all looked good.

Then as we were less than a week to go, Covid cases in France started to rise and it seemed possible if not likely that France would be removed from the Air Bridge list and our trip would be off. As the travel date approached it became clear the rules would only change after our departure date. On that basis, assuming that nothing was certain with our current haphazard government and accepting the fact we may have two weeks quarantine when we got back we decided to go for it. In addition we were heading to rural France on small quiet campsites which felt safer than a crowded British beach for example.

It was a stressful few days leading up to departure but once we were underway the focus was on having as good a time as we could. It was a heatwave when we left although we hit some heavy showers on the way that spread to the rest of the country and marked the end of the good summer weather in the UK.

We all met up very excited at Portsmouth for our overnight ferry to Sty Malo.

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The Sherpa gang ready to go.

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The sail out of Portsmouth is an interesting one, past several large navy ships.

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And Portsmouth Harbour including the Spinnaker Tower.

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A gorgeous sunset saw us on our way.

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Including this amazing light show with the sun creating an endless shadow behind this cloud.

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We gathered on deck for a picnic tea and to kick the holiday off.

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It soon grew too cold to sit outside so while most went to their cabins and bed, Me TJS and Mark enjoyed a couple of leisurely beers to aid sleep (that’s my excuse). Brittany Ferries had the whole Covid situation very well planned and it was an excellent crossing. We saw almost nothing of St Malo due to a dense fog when we arrived but we were on the road and on our way within 15 minutes of the ship docking bang on time.

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Its a long drive to the Dordogne but we travelled in convoy and had several stops for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea that are always fun and help make the journey bearable. Unlike the 1am arrival last time, this time we were able to complete the journey and get ourselves set up before it got dark and more importantly before heavy thunderstorms hit. Just enough time for a couple of cheeky beers before bedtime.

Next day however was a stunner, hot sunny with gorgeous blue skies.

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We quickly settled into a routine of not doing much. Swimming, eating, a few short walks, sunbathing and generally lazing about.

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Every morning was a walk along the lane by the river Ceou that flows through the campsite and down to the bakery to collect the bread and breakfast croissants.

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The Ceou is small spring-fed tributary of the Dordogne. Its stunningly clear and an inviting blue-green colour. Less inviting is the temperature which is startlingly cold. Luckily the weather has been hot and sunny on both our visits which makes the cold water refreshing.

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These two photos are taken from the bridge downstream of the campsite at the Moulin de Mel where we spent a lot of time. The river is still, deep and clear and there are jumps from the bridge to add to the entertainment. I was also rather pleased to see a snake swimming across the river here.

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The next two are from the deep pool on the campsite which has its own small waterfalls and a jumping platform. The site also has a Swimming Pool. It’s always busy but we prefer the clear cold water of the river to the extent that only a couple of our group have ever been to the pool.

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The site has a small bar and restaurant and we had a lovely meal on one of early evenings there. Most French campsites I’ve stayed on have some form of takeaway service so you rarely have to cook.

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Above the campsite is a long line of limestone cliffs with caves that are great for both exploration and messing about as well as great views down over the Ceou Valley.

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DB Junior peeping from one of the caves. TBF managed to fall into a hole in one of the caves. Luckily a potentially nasty fall was broken by a Dangerous Brother and a packet of crisps acting as an air bag.

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The campsite from above.

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Castelnaud and its chateau.

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The campsite swimming pool. Our pitches are in the trees behind.

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The open pastures behind the campsite.

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Early morning view of the chateau on one of my bakery walks.

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The river pool sunbathing area.

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We took a quite ridiculous amount of inflatables between us and had great fun wrapping our killer whale in rings and trying to ride it!

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A short video of DB Jr successfully riding the combined “raft”.

A few views from around the campsite.

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Its a really well provisioned and laid out campsite. France does camping so much better than we do in the UK, at least in my very limited experience.

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Overlooked by the limestone cliffs and with a clear stream running through it, pretty much perfect.

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Hot Air Ballooning seems to be big business here. They drift overhead most mornings and evenings. We had a chance to watch them inflate and take off on one evening.

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I’m guessing its very expensive but its fascinating watching them.

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One of the balloons took off quickly into the sky but the other two seemed to have difficulty getting fully airborne and seem to float very close to the trees. Seemed to work out well in the end though.

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Our main focus however was in and on the water. The Ceou is beautiful as it follows a lazy course through the valley. We discovered more pools for swimming upstream and downstream and had many trips along it either walking, swimming or floating down on inflatables.

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These final few images are again from the bridge at the Moulin de Mel where we ended up on many occasions.

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It’s a wonderful place for a swim and teeming with wildlife. One of my favourite spots.

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After many trips to various places in southern France we worked out that access to water is essential in the hot summer. Even though the post has a “Dordogne” title we spent almost all of our time here and loved every minute of it.

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A few more specific posts to come and this was only the first part of our trip. The Dordogne Valley is a busy place but this valley only a mile from the main river is quiet, rural and unspoilt (as are huge tracts of France if you can be bothered to seek them out). Our routine of an easy paced life with lots of swimming, eating and simple pleasures was just the tonic in this most troubled of years.

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Seaside Fun   9 comments

A couple of posts for days out on the beach. First few were from a windy trip down to Rest Bay in South Wales for some surf kayaking with THO. TBF came along as well as did Mrs THO. The tide was fully in when we met up and as eating out is tricky we had an al fresco fry up in the car park followed by a walk along the coast.

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Its a rather nice stretch of coast that I’ve never explored before as I only take to the water when I’m here.

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It was wild and windy but we had a fine time especially as THO brought his lovely dog Mac along. Walks are always more fun with a dog especially when they are friendly little fellas like Mac.

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We did eventually get in the water and the surfing was excellent. Another chance to meet up with friends we hadn’t seen for ages due to lockdown.

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The following weekend was TJFs birthday. We had been planning a meal out but with our summer holiday coming up we didn’t want to visit a busy restaurant a few days before and end up in isolation and not be able to travel if we were contact traced for the virus. Searching for a day out that all of us could enjoy we settled on day at Weston Super Mare

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The weather was much better than forecast with plenty of sunshine if a bit windy. We parked up at the far southern end of the beach on the sand near Breen Down with a view to walking up the beach all the way to the far end and back along the Promenade.

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I haven’t been to Weston since I was a kid and have vague memories of a rather tatty place with mud instead of sand and of watching the Red Arrows perform their aerial stunts from the beach.

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In those days Weston was about the nearest resort for anyone living in the Midlands so it was a sort of pilgrimage to head there. Its not somewhere to go for a swim as its really on the Severn Estuary rather than the coast.

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What I hadn’t realised was that there is a good deal of walking around here and Been Down looked especially fine and I now have a plan to come down here and walk out onto its rocky headland. You can also see one of the two islands that sit out in the estuary, Steep Holm, to the left in the photo below.

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The tide goes out miles here so a visit to see the sea was out of the question although there were some brave souls miles out there trying to find it.

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We enjoyed a very fine walk along the firm sand up to the heart of the resort and pier. Even though it was a sunny weekend there was no crowding at all on the beach. We avoided the busy spots like the pleasure park and the pier as masks were needed. TJF does not like wearing a mask to the extent she finds it distressing so we avoided that sort of place

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Looking back down the beach to Breen Down.

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At the north end of the beach they have created a tidal pool for anyone who fancies a swim. It looked cold and murky and I don’t think I’d want to swim in it but people were and having a good time into the bargain.

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We found a takeaway chip shop – a really rather good one – for lunch on the sea front that also included me and TJS taking on a challenge to eat far too many deep fried donuts. I didn’t eat for the rest of the day!

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Then a long stroll back down the Promenade heading towards the car.

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More fine views of the beach and the headlands.

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I’ve been meaning to head back to take a look at Weston ever since we moved to Herefordshire. That was 16 years ago so it took a while. Its altogether a more pleasant place than I remember and well worth a visit and a stroll especially on a nice sunny summer day. A grand day out.

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The Return of Camping!   12 comments

The first weekend of the school holidays is a regular get together for our friends up in North Wales. That wasn’t an option this year as campsites in Wales were still closed but TBF did some research and came up with a very good alternative and the very nice site, Sytche Farm near Much Wenlock in Shropshire.

Forecast wasn’t the best for Saturday but after a wet morning it dried up and we managed a pleasant, short stroll up on to Wenlock Edge.

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And a wander around Much Wenlock itself, a very nice little town indeed. Just as well we got out as the evening was atrocious, heavy sweeping drizzle that soaked everyone and everything. We were all cowered under my canopy as we were not yet allowed in each others tents.

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The next day was a complete contrast. Blue skies and warm sunshine. My new air-canopy looking rather fetching in the morning sun.

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Time for extended games of Kubb. Mentioned many times and a fixture of our gatherings. Chucking sticks at blocks of wood has never been so much fun.

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Lunch in the sun before deciding we needed some proper exercise and a walk over the fields and hills to Ironbridge.

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Whilst not exactly thrilling the fields and woods were very pleasant and undemanding at least in an up and down sort of way.

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It was demanding in a distance sort of way though. A 10 mile+ round trip in fact.

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Worth it to see one of the UK’s more famous sites. Its not the most impressive bridge you’ll ever see but the idea is, the first – well – iron bridge.

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Its actually rather a pretty spot, if a little touristy.

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Although calling it a gorge is rather overplaying its hand a little.

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I came here when I was a kid and I’m sure the bridge was black and you could drive over it. That’s long since been stopped obviously.

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Its an iconic structure though and given more time (and with no pandemic) it would be good explore further and visit some of the many industrial museums in the area.

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As it was we had a long walk back, a BBQ to set fire to and it was already well past 5pm. A return route and a fast pace to ensure we had the BBQ before it go too cold. A fail there, once the sun went down it was freezing but clear and a good time was had by all even wrapped in duvets and jackets.

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A morning wander around the town, church and Guild Hall in Much Wenlock.

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For our afternoon walk we drove to the Wrekin. Despite it being a very prominent local landmark (and the fact that “going round the Wrekin” is a common phrase in my Black Country homeland – it means taking the longest possible route) I’d never been up.

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A massive oversight as its lofty height and isolated position provides 360 spectacular panoramas. You can see as far as the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, Cheshire and the Peak District.

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It was busy and we were lucky to secure a parking spot but well worth it as the skies were clear and the views just magnificent.

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It even has some rocky tors for a DB to explore and make everyone else nervous.

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We decided to make a circular walk by heading off the far end and returning through the forest. Much quieter other than main route and a perfect plan in every regard apart from the fact the path down was steep, loose and rather unpleasant, especially if you slip and land on your bum as TBH did. Very painful indeed.

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Back to the site for more evening Kubb and a new woods and sticks game called Molke.

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The last day we packed up, everyone else headed home but we had a short drive back so managed to fit in some more activity. We drove over to the Stiperstones, had a picnic by the The Bog (nicer spot than it sounds) and then went for walk along the ridge.

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It had clouded over but the effects were quite impressive.

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And then main ridge always delivers a fine walk (even if the path is one of the most rocky and awkward I know)

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Time was short (TJS had a train to catch) so just a walk past of the Devils Chair ridge.

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The Wrekin on the skyline in the distance.

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Normally our group gatherings tend to be up north leaving us with a very long drive home at the end of the day. This time we packed up the trailer, fitted in a picnic lunch and decent walk and were still home in time for tea.

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A great weekend and after so long in lockdown and seeing friends through Zoom, it was fantastic to meet up in person and have some fun. Long overdue.

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