France 17th-30th August


A couple of days family get together on the Loire was spent paddle boarding and kayaking around the tidal waters and picnicking on the beaches when the weather was good and holed up in Tranny playing games when it wasn’t, which was a lot.

When the others left for their ferry we left for Normandy. The day had started well

 But soon deteriorated and we had a wild and wet drive north. We were heading to another area we’d never been to ,the Alpes Mancelles in the Parc Naturel Normandie Maine. There was a free camper parkup next to the river Sarthe in St Leonard des Bois

 in the centre of it and we arrived in the evening with the rain finally easing. We parked under a massive slab of sandstone cliff that alarmingly had lost a chunk recently but awoke unharmed.

  A pretty town filled with flowers,

   and little curiosities

 it had numerous walks marked out around it. We chose a 4 hour geological ramble and set out on a figure of eight through time.

Included in the Natura 2000 list of remarkable European sites because of its geological and topographic diversity it’s been an area that has attracted nature lovers for centuries. To name it Alpes is overstating its height somewhat and it was hardly in the same league as a lot of the stuff we’ve been exploring but it was pleasant enough and the route was studded with signboards and viewing pipes and rock samples to explain the landscape, most of which was due to those volcanos again.  The first thing we came across was an ancient stone cross marking the pilgrimage to Mont de St Michel.

Halfway round we stopped at the Domaine du Gasseau, a big chateau with potager or veg garden which we obviously had to look over.

 There was also a show of photos taken in local ponds that was charming.

 Back on track we climbed up through heathy woodland to traverse an escarpment before descending to the river and Tranny.

Our next stop was St Ceneri le Gerei, listed as one of “France’s prettiest villages. “


It was indeed very pretty but its tweeness had probably driven up property prices and driven out the locals. We certainly came upon a few groups of Brits who had invested in a French dream home.

There was a wonderful garden open to the public , Les Jardins de la Masoniere,made up of 18 different enclosed spaces. The plantings and landscaping had a certain je ne sais pas ,a certain joix de vie. Magnifique! 

There was going to be a classical concert held there the following night lit by 1000 candles which would have been magic but we had to go in search of a shower. It had been too long.

We found one miles down tiny back roads at La Ribardiere organic cider farm, which was handy. They had a couple of caravans and people camping, so for a couple of quid we were able to wash and clean and sit in the orchard sipping the produce. No air miles involved.

 The sheds were covered in solar panels which was something we’ve seen a lot of in this area of France.

 A very quiet Saturday morning on the farm with only the sounds of cows and birds was followed by a short drive into “Swiss Normandy”.

Like the Alpes Mancelles, the name was a bit of poetic license but it was a dramatic landscape on a smallish scale.

 We stopped at La Roche d’Oetre where the escarpment peak at the Swiss like altitude of 118m, gives a fine view of the surrounding wooded river gorges. Like on our previous Alpinne experience the hills were all that was left of the oldest mountains in Europe, the Armorican massif. We did the trail.

 There’s a pretty convincing head profile in this slab of rock.

  The path circled around down through the oak woods and along the river below.

   The river meanders were impressive but I couldn’t get a decent view of it and in the end Serena came up with the best display.

We were gradually making our way north towards Cherbourg and the end of our time away. We had one more night on the road and we trusted our parkup guide to supply somewhere nice en route. It didn’t let us down and when we arrived at the Abbey in Cerisy le Foret at the edge of a huge oak forest we were delighted to find a sculpture park had been created there. Every year since the mid 90’s artists from around the world had been invited to an annual festival to carve a piece in public and in 2013 a park was made to house 112 works by 71 sculptors from 34 countries and the municipal camper park was in the middle of it.

 There was also a placid pond surrounded by the marble and granite pieces.

 And the mighty Abbey above it all.

 A fine meeting place of artistic cultures and a very tranquil spot to contemplate the end of our journey.

Which only left the next morning to complete our trip by returning to the sea we had left in Holland on the first day of our Grand Tour.


We left our restaurant side park up disappointed by being turned away from a deeply anticipated meal there. We’ve had some trouble being served a few times for reasons exceptionelle. ?

But as it was a very rainy day we’d had our first real lie in and hadn’t left the cloudy gorges till nearly midday.

 We had a few hours drive northwest cross country to get to our next park up in Oulches near the centre of France. The area around there, the Park Naturel Reginal de la Brenne, looked really interesting with acres of forest and a myriad of lakes.

 The weather improved as we went and after settling in to our temporary home and checking the facilities

 we went for a marked hike about the environs.

   It was all deeply rural. A little unknown (to most) patch of rich land and thick oak forest studded with little ponds and pools and rich in fungi.


 The little village had a huge church and nice little houses.

We went further into the park the following day, to an interpretive centre, where there were boardwalks across some ponds and hides full of twitchers spying on the rich bird life.

 There was all manner of wildlife in the area including boar and deer and little terrapins.  You don’t often see this road sign.

The lakes and other man made ponds were often stocked with carp, a specialty of the region, which must have been great terrapin and bird food.

Time to move on again. Another few hundred km northwest to a family rendezvous on the banks of the Loire near Nantes. Keeping away from major roads again we past through one beautiful town or village after another , anyone of which would have a steam of coach tours and tourists but here were left to fade in a very chic fashion.

And so we arrived at our free parkup from the guide to discover yet another nice tranquil spot with water and toilets, walks and cycle ways, restaurant and bar, ancient ruins and history. How civilised this country is.


3 Days of Hiking the Auvergne Volcanos.  32/ 21/ 16 km

We’d parked the Tranny outside the camper site with a little note saying we were walking the GR30 for three days and headed off hoping not to return to a parking ticket.

We had a vague circle in mind but with a multitude of trails crisscrossing the countryside we had options. Which was just as well because it didn’t take long to realise that we had bitten off more than we could chew.

Their was something indescribably French about the landscape and little details in it.

The way was littered with crosses, a lot ancient looking ones, and we realised we were on yet another Camino route. Or maybe the same one we were on in the Valle di Susa in Italy.

We were traveling up and around and down steep sided volcanic cones and the dogs were already looking to cool down.

This was also granite country and there was a big dolmen that seemed to be incorporated into a little village football pitch.

At the quiet hamlet of Olloix about 12km into the journey we were already heating up. The initial cool of France had gone and we welcomed a sign for the first Gite D’ Etape of the route.

 These places did food and drink and beds and were geared for the walkers. We had thought about using them as an alternative to carrying tent , mat, bag , cooking and eating stuff etc etc but didn’t know if the dogs would be welcome and anyway we like to carry heavy loads up steep sided mountains in very hot and humid conditions.

So we just had a cold coca cola.

A couple more hamlets and then a fairly big spa town ,St Nectaire ,was in view with the day’s goal of Murol in the background below the hill top chateau.

 Back into oak woods after all the beech of the last couple of months, and down into town where we passed bains or baths that had seen better days.

With over 20km and a lot of sweating done it was a bit of a slog back up into the menhir and troglodyte cave rich hills for the final push. We passed, bizarrely, a kangaroo and emu zoo where the fencing needed to be high.

 And then the Chateau de Murol which was heaving tourist bait.

 We had to get round the hill ,down into town where the pharmacy thermometer said it was 33*( this was 6 pm),pick up water and supplies, get out of town a couple of Km and hope we could find a lake side camp spot.

Unfortunately the place was more of a resort than we had realised and the lakeside trail was a running, cycling, family strolling kind of amenity path where camping was strictly interdit. 

But we found a little patch unseen to call home for the night and after an aborted nudey swim in water up to our knees, we’re happy enough to call it a day.

Next day dawned fair to the sound of a hot air balloon’s gas burner.

We were going to do a lot of climbing,up to 1700m , and do a long ridge walk across the spine of the Auvergne so we headed off as soon as we could down the boardwalk around the lac. 

 Passing through deeply rural villages with some lovely traditional buildings we slowly climbed higher onto the hills.


 Overjoyed to find a restored mountain hut operating as a Gite but disappointed to discover they were booked out.

 Still they had plenty of reviving water and cake and yogurt.

 Water was a crucial element in this hike. We were sweating loads so needed loads but couldn’t carry loads. And we were never sure where we could get it. And the dogs needed loads too. Scruff did a stirling job of carrying theirs but it got too much for him and I’d ended up carrying his rucksack too.

Anyway suitably revived we’d carried on to a saddle at Coll de la Croix St Robert were we erected some shade and rested up before the big climb up Puy de l’Angle at 1738m.

And on up and down along the ridge with beautiful views all around towards the next drop to Coll de la Croix Morand.

Salvation at the Coll. Another funky hostelry revived us with beers and replenished our water supplies so we carried on happy another couple of km and made camp beside the path where I spent the night in my bivvy bag gazing at the Milky Way in the crystal sky at 1440m and it was cold enough for Toby to wear his silks.

In the clear blue sky of the morning we crossed a broad flattish plateau and then started to descend passed many old summer grazing both us, to the lower ground.

The least exciting 10km section finished it and us off as the heat sapped us of strength and enthusiasm and we were relived to arrive back at Tranny to find him/her unmolested and without tickets. We snuck into the camp for showers and clothes washing and hung everything up on the railings around the football pitch to dry like proper travellers and as things cooled off joined the motorway madness of the return to the north for the thousands whose holidays were over this weekend, before quickly pulling off to park up in a lovely free camper spot next to a fine looking inn.


Our next move was to drive 300km west to Clermont Ferand and the volcanos of the Auvergne.

We had planned to spend some time hiking around this area and needed some info so headed into the city centre.

 Chic and sophisticated plantings and transportation and streets capes.

 We visited the cathedral and marvelled again at the money and majesty needed to do this thing.

 ‘Twas a handsome city

 but not the wilds I was looking for, so after a long stop at the olive oil and other overpriced frippery store , managed to get to the take off point for a hike around some volcanic comes. Unfortunately that point was a massive car park but it had a good view and as the hordes left we settled in for the night.

Bright and early we hit the trail, noticing how much cooler no colder it is now. A balloon rose over the scene

 as we headed up the Puy de Dome, the tallest volcano in the region with a fine view of the other forested cones to the south.

We did it the hard way while most folk took the train.

 The thing ran till 11 at night but didn’t give you time to stop and take in the sights like we did.

 There were flights of steps running down this volcano and up its neighbour and they were made from oak. 

  A very different, more open landscape, to the mountains we’ve been in. They were working hard to protect it with the steps and fencing.

 and the caldera of the cones was impressive.

Back down through hazel wood

 and heathland and some nice mature birch

Back at base we planned our backpack exploration of the area to the south and drove off to Aydat from where we will hit the GR 30 at dawn tomorrow for a three day hike and leave the wheels behind.