Travelling through France...
... from the Mediterranean to the English channel
TRAVEL THROUGH FRANCE
SUNDAY IS FOR SURE THE DAY TO TRAVEL THROUGH FRANCE
If you're ever planning a long drive through France , then pick a Sunday if you can. For that's the day that most lorries are banned from the motorways. Yesterday we set off from our home to make the journey to Caen. Today , as I write this, we are crossing La Manche, in order to spend a couple of weeks in the U.K. Au revoir France, et à bientôt.
And how did our journey go? Like a DREAM... until suddenly… IT BECAME A NIGHTMARE
Our journey began as we crossed the bone dry limestone plateau, or causse de Larzac in order to join the motorway at Le Caylar. It felt like crossing the Karoo in Southern Africa, as we noticed stunted box trees turning bronze from lack of rain. We joined the near empty motorway, ready to enjoy our onward journey through the stunning gorges du Tarn, and on past beautiful green alpine like hills and villages, before finally reaching our first large conurbation at Clermont Ferrand . Apart from the toll to cross the suspension bridge at Millau , this ‘autoroute du soleil’ is completely free.
As we drove over the Millau suspension bridge the struts seemed to levitate of their own accord.
Nobody saw us go as we left our forest. But silent raptors watched from the trees by the side of the motorway, and bearded vultures looked down on us, as they soared around the azure blue sky.
When we reached Clermont Ferrand everything changed. This was our first reminder of France as an industrial nation, for the traffic grew heavier and factory units now lined the route. In the distance we could see the snow covered ‘Puy de Dôme.’ But even after we had left the conurbation behind, there were other changes to observe.
MISTLETOE From here-on large bunches of mistletoe could be seen enveloping the spindly lower branches of trees, like giant muffs to keep a lady’s fingers warm. Some trees seemed to be almost choked by them. This was to continue for the rest of our journey. It would seem that mistletoe has become much more widespread in central and northern France.
Nothing is more delightful than to see one’s first lamb of spring gambolling in a field. That is a pleasure we rarely get to see in our predominantly wine growing area. Now as we travelled northward, and the scenery grew more rural once more, we not only spotted flocks of sheep with their young lambs, but outdoor pigs and many herds of white Charolais cattle too. I watched a flock of plovers fly over a ploughed field, while kites wheeled above the motorway in place of vultures. We also enjoyed bright yellow gorse, and silver birch trees, never seen further south.
We spotted many groups of aeolians/ wind generators along the way: gentle giants creating a less harmful form of energy. How sad, I thought, that the U.K has outlawed onshore wind farms. Apart from their annoying flashing red lights which flash at night, supposedly to warn low flying aircraft, we have welcomed them to our local hills.
But all was not well...
As our journey continued through the middle of France, we took a quieter route, skirting major towns like Bourges, Tours , Le Mans and Alençon. But as we got nearer our destination, our tankful of fuel had much diminished. At that point we made a bad decision and near disaster struck. We decided to avoid the pricy motorway service station , and fill up our tank when we left the motorway at Caen. The onboard computer reassured us that, in spite of the fuel warning light, we could comfortably reach that destination. With 30km to go, and as dusk descended, I grew nervous. I suggested we should swing by the adjacent town to fill up with fuel, before completing our journey to the ferry port at Ouistreham. Alas, as we drove through this large town, in spite of passing a major hospital and large blocks of flats , there was not a supermarket or garage to be seen. At last I spotted a sign to ‘ELeclerc,’ a major supermarket and purveyor of cut price petrol. We followed it. Twenty minutes later, after following a road that took us out of town , past villages and along darkening country roads, we returned to the very same point we had left, not only harassed, but carrying even less fuel in our tank than ever. We turned into the road, and within 100 yards…Eureka…there was E Leclerc , where we spotted row upon row of cars filling up with petrol. We duly pulled up in turn at the diesel outlet. Alas, we then discovered that the diesel supply had run out. Of course! I suddenly remembered that the chief executive of ELeclerc had announced that that very Sunday, they were to sell fuel at cost price. What were we to do? We were stumped. At that point, a saint ( disguised in the overalls of a petrol forecourt attendant) came to our rescue. We explained our dilemma. He took our mobile phone, and with the assurance of all members of Generation Z, he pressed and prodded before handing it back to us. There , on screen, were the navigational instructions for locating another local fuel station. Halleluljah! Ten minutes later, thanks to our young hero, we found a tiny out of the way supermarket, and began to fill our tank with precious diesel.. We finally reached our port side hotel hours later than we had originally expected. Let us just say that my navigational skills , using a mobile phone, are not as good as they could be. Next time we travel, I shall use a good old fashioned atlas. What’s more, if we ever run low on fuel again, we shall not hesitate to pull into a motorway service station.