Merlins in France 2004

Day 1

The day started rather well, overcast but dry - we hoped that the day would improve as we went along but it wasn't to be. By the time we crossed the M48 suspension bridge the drizzle was steady and when we met up with Dai and Sue on the Bath road it was light rain. Visibility was so poor that Dai failed to notice the speed limit into Bath until the camera lights flashed him and then me close behind. Still another thirty or so miles and it started to dry up a bit.

We were almost at Salisbury when Dai pulled into a car park to tell us that he taken a phone message to say that the A31 was closed and that we couldn't rendezvous at the agreed "Little Chef". So he chose a suitable route on to Pole and hit the diversion tail-back some twenty minutes later. Still it only put 40 minutes onto our time and so when we met John and Margaret at the Ferry check-in we still had time to zip over to the local Café for that promised bacon butty. We strolled back to the cars to find most of the others in an orderly queue and had chance to greet all our old friends.

The crossing was easy and the water still. A couple of driver used the cabins to cat-nap while the others sat back and enjoyed the trip. Nadia was amused by the resident on-board magician and we all did our reconnaissance of the low price alcohol while Helen and Amanda stocked up on first booze supplies. Helen was also keen to show off her new T-shirt which had been fashioned with a transfer print. This little white number now sported an almost flourescent pink picture of teh Merlin +2 emblazpmed across her chest. It drew much admiration with particular comments about the prominent wheel-nuts - but we liked it.

By the time we docked the rain had started again. We set off hoping to get some miles travelled before taking a half- way break but we'd only gone about a mile when we hit the French diversion tail-back - their major road was also closed so we lost another precious 40 minutes trying to get put of Cherbourg. We would have liked that stop but the evening was getting late so the lead car decided to push on all the way - at least Linda and I tried to cheer up by singing some awful old camp-fire songs to try and frighten the clouds away. It worked! Within two hours the sky was blue and we enjoyed a dry trip for the rest of the journey.

The GiteEventually we arrived at the gite and were all tired and stiff but the location was so spectacular that it revived the flagging spirits. The Old converted mill was actually sitting on part of the river; the valley was a picturesque setting and the accommodation fine. Fortunately Barry and Neta had arrived courtesy of an earlier crossing, so they had done some first day shopping and Neta had prepared a wholesome stew - it was just sitting there in the pans ready to start cooking as soon as we arrived. It was a late but welcome dinner and, suitably lubricated, we retired for the night at around 1:00 am.

Day 2

This was to be recovery day - enjoy some breakfast, clean the dirty cars, take a little trip - of course there were problems.

Mark and I went to the local "Patisserie" for croissants and "pains" (big baguettes) - "three pains s'il vous plait" - "merci, et vin quattre (24) croissants". Oh dear they only had a few left, never mind we took the bread and ordered 24 croissants for the next day, so breakfast was fresh bread with plenty of jam, marmalade and coffee.

Clean the dirty cars presented few problems but clean the dirty girl was another matter. Nadia was enthralled to see that we had a small (approx 10' by 8') sand beach, or sand bank. She was determined to get down by the water. And along the river there was a lovely grass bank - but a bit slippery. Nadia only wanted a close look but it wasn't to be - splash, one rather wet dirty little girl - second shower and second set of clothes for the day.

Andy had prepared another distraction in the way of a quiz that we had to do through the week. It was a two-part job with open side full of cryptic clues for movie films while the second half was a list of initial of musicals (such as TPOTO - The Phantom of the Opera). As it turns out These proved to be very useful for helping pass the time on some of our early trip when we covered quite a large distance on not very exciting roads in not very interesting weather so Linda and I got quite a few done in the first couple of day. However as the weeks weather got better they commanded less attention.

We enjoyed lunch on our patio and then decided to take a short trip. A few were short of petrol but never mind there was a 24/7 petrol station at the local supermarket so off we all trouped. No the problem - it was a plastic card operated machine and, as we had found out at Cherbourg, none of these machines recognised anything other than French plastic cards. I think everybody tried every card in their wallet - even the newer chip'n'pin cards were rejected. Fortunately everyone had enough petrol for a 40-50 mile round trip so we set off with a circular route in mind and stopped at the little town of Moncontour some 7 miles up the road.

We'll put one about here...!There were no garages open and also the town centre was barricaded off. We drove round, parked up and walked back to take in the scenery only to find that the village was having a music festival with bands and dancing. The bars were putting out chairs and tables in the centre and it was due to start in less than 30 minutes (that's French minutes, which are approximately 1.65 English minutes!) So with the events looking interesting locally and a general shortage of petrol, we took up residency on one long table, got in the first round and waited for the afternoon to start. While waiting some of us took a stroll about the small town and admired the way all the shop signs and windows bore paintings that depicted their trade. I was particularly intrigued by one window that seemed to reflect Helen's Merlin-print T-Shirt (see picture). I could just imagine the fitter saying – "Yes madam, we could a nice print on the front – just about here."

The ParadeWe returned to the town square for the day's main event and weren't to be disappointed. The brass band entered the high street with about 60-70 people skipping along behind, I say "skipping" because it didn't seem to be a real dance, but they were not walking either. The brass band was quickly substituted by a local folk band with accordions, hurdy-gurdy, fiddle and clarinets and all the towns-folk formed two big circles for the Breton equivalent of barn dancing. We were also encouraged to join in but the beer was very attractive - in the end it was down to Helen and David to take up the challenge, Mind it was only for the one dance as the next seemed far more complex so we sat down again and played at being spectators. The bands changed over and at one stage, while the rain briefly reappeared, John was very good when he took his brolly up to the stage and helped other to shelter the musicians and their instruments.John gives shelter

When we left at about six or seven the event was still going strong but we wanted to get back and enjoy our first barby while the weather was still fine. Did I say 'fine'?. John and I thought it dry enough to take the hoods down for our drive back - OK until the heavens opened and we had our heaviest downpour of the day. We were both going as fast as possible, wiping the raindrops of the inside of the screen and hoping not to stop. But by the time we got back there were four drowned rats and a dozen amused friends.

In the evening a few of the group explored more of the gite facilities and enjoyed the games room along with darts, pool, table tennis and table football. Barry as usual was in full competitive spirit and there was rumoured to be a wager for which the losers would go skinny dipping i n the river next morning. Mark and Sue lost and it was rumoured that they did pay their bet - but few actually believed them!#!

Day 3

After yesterdays trip, the petrol shortage had to be resolved so Dai and Mark went off in an 'open-garage' search in Marks diesel Mondeo (still loads'a fuel) - it was bank holiday Monday in France as well so most places were still closed. Dave went off to the patisserie to collect the day's bread and the ordered croissants without any hitch. About an hour later, Amanda gets a call on her mobile - it was Mark, who had found an open garage, but neither of them could speak a word of French and the garage assistant could speak no English! So Amanda with some knowledge of French managed to ascertain that they were open until 1.00 so we could all top up if we left before too long. Mind you we were still waiting for the light rain to stop - there hadn't been much of a break so far.

We had seen posters in Moncontour yesterday that advertised a three-day Vintage car rally around Brittany which was to finish that day in Rennes. We figured that 50 miles wasn't too far so we all headed off for Mark and Dai's garage, topped up the tanks and immediately got separated and lost. After a could of phone calls and a quick re-group, we headed off for Rennes hoping that it might be drier a bit further inland. It didn't actually stop raining but a least it dropped to a fine drizzle.

At Rennes, when we finally found the location, we were rather hoping to find a welcome for our 'unusual veteran English cars' but it wasn't to be. It seems that everything was parked up in one area so we had to find an empty part of the main car park and simply enjoy the spectacle.

Before that we figured that we had time for a lunch break so we hit the French equivalent of MacDonald's and refreshed ourselves. I suspect that it was Dai's decision, after all being at the front of the gang, and having had one French language problem, I suspect he figured that a self-service with lots of picture to pint at would be fairly straightforward - and so it was.

30 Minutes later were gathered beneath the few brollies, at the side of the road enjoying the spectacle of possibly 1,000 old cars in all ages, shapes and sizes. Anything, from seventies classics, back to cars from the thirties, was in the procession. There were cars and lorries, bikes and scooters, and even a fire-engine. The realism of the event was helped further when we saw that many of the occupants had dressed in appropriate period costume for their particular vehicles.

By three o'clock we seen it all go past and were starting to get rather cold. The damp was slowly penetrating and the light breeze didn't help, so we decided to call it a day and head home. Mind you it started to brighten up in the last twenty miles so we pulled over for a pint and met a couple of British bikers and a bar in the back of beyond. And then we risked taking the hoods down again - Linda was extremely dubious, but Andy, who had also taken his down, promised to stop if it showed any signs of rain. Ten miles later there were spots on the windscreen and the lead car was still pushing on. Fortunately that all it was, a few spots, and we arrived home warm and dry. Oh, and the sun had come out as well! Our Patio

We enjoyed a warm evening barby and camaraderie and all went to bed hoping for some better weather.

Day 4

Today started by looking fine. We even cleaned the cars and were off to Cancale were they farmed oysters and other shell fish and were there was an oyster museum with English speaking tours at 2:00pm.

Unfortunately we started late and the trip through the towns dragged the trip out more than expected. Still we arrived at Cancale while it was still dry, not much sun but at least no rain. We enjoyed the walk along the front and found a restaurant that served crepes (sweet only) so we took seven tables and ordered something drinks and food.

Andy decided that it was too late and the wrong direction to take in the oyster museum so instead we headed towards home and took the cost road to visit the Roch Sculptures. This is a rocky headland that had been carved up in the nineteenth century to show dozens of heads, figures, creatures and more. The weather had taken its toll through the years but there were still many clear figures to see. It must have taken someone years to chisel it all but it was a sight worth seeing still.

From there we took one more stop for liquid refreshment at St Briac-sur-Mer and then headed home. It had been a dry day and reasonably warm, but at least the weather was turning.

The evening was another fine barby and more self-amusement with games and drinks.

Day 5

Our host started the day off well by saying that the weather forecast was sunny for the rest of the week. And it was! The girls packed us a super picnic and we took in some lovely scenery as we drove down through the nearby forests to the lake (forgotten its name!). There we were able to chill out and relax for a couple of hours.

The Picnic by the Lake We enjoyed the food and company and even had a few raft races. Nadia had everybody weaving bundle of grass in a variety of floating rafts. Despite Amanda's being the biggest, the corporate effort of Helen's small raft along with Linda's even smaller attempt being utilised as a sail, won the day - well five yard dash at least. We took it easy for the afternoon and basked in the welcome sunshine for a couple of hours before packing up to visit the nearby ancient town of Pontivy. There was a free hour to explore the town and buy some raffle prizes before we called it a day. We had to be back early as we had a meal booked back in Plougenast (this was on our host's recommendations).

The Raft RaceEveryone was in their finery as we stepped out to the town - the restaurant was walking distance so we wouldn't have to worry about drink'n'drive. And what a meal it turned out to be - 5 courses of soup, charcuterie (cold meat), roast beef and vegetables, cheese plate and choice of three deserts. All accompanied by plenty of beer and wine. Helen couldn't believe it when the bill was worked out at €265 which was less than £14 a head total - what a bargain. (So we booked it again for our last Friday night meal as well).

Then it was back to the gite for more drink and more games. Half a dozen partook of the word game 'Articulate' but Linda and David romped ahead at the end though word skill and fortunate dice throwing.

Day 6

Cap FrehelThis was a "do what you want" free day. Many took the opportunity just to stay at the gite and chill out in the gorgeous sunshine. Three couples however, were still pining for the seaside so Linda and David, Clive and Margaret, and Dai and Sue headed north for the seaside towns of Pleneuf-Val Andre and Erquy. These turned out to be quaint little places that looked almost British, well - Devonish with a French flavour. So much so that we were not at all surprised by the presence of several more British registration plates than we has seen anywhere else. Having enjoyed the beach and restaurant we took off for Cap Frehel. This was David's whim, and we had to admit that the spectacular coastal scenery in the last twelve miles was far more entertaining than the last twenty minute walk to the point. But at least we went there.

ErquyAfter that we returned back to both Erquy and Val Andre for some more present buying and then headed home for Plougenast - we had to be back on time for Barry's wicked Chinese raffle.

Unfortunately we took a wrong turning somewhere near St Brieuc which was a bad mistake. This was a very large town (or small city) which suffered from a total lack of signage - once you were in it was a matter of guess your way out. Eventually we were on a known road home but there was mild panic once again as we reached the main road and Clive in the lead signalled left while the two cars behind were frantically blowing their horns and shouting "Right!" We missed Barry's six o'clock deadline by nearly an hour and a half!

Mind you we soon gathered the news of the day that Nadia had outdone her first day's events of two showers in one day. It seems that, despite her first early shower, sometime in the day, she managed to repeat her first days trick and had fallen in the water once again - in the muddy bit. So it was second shower and second change. Then later she wanted to feed the house kittens, she took out a bowel of wonderful sloppy kitten food in a bowel and managed to fall and spill it all over her clothes! Third shower, third change of clothes!

The Chinese raffle - earlier in the week, Barry had asked if we would like to partake in a Chinese raffle which was like an ordinary raffle with a 'wicked' twist. The main idea was that every person had to by two raffle prizes for no more than 4 euros each and that, where possible, we were to keep them secret even from our own partners. So we had agreed and in the stops at Cancale and Pontivy everybody had managed to get two pressies. (Mind you some didn't so they finished their shopping during today's free time).

All the pressies were wrapped in the similar newspaper so that you could tell who's were whose and then everybody was allocated two raffle tickets. First ticket drawn was Nadia who picked the biggest parcel and found it to be a giant water-pistol. Next prize was drawn but the twist now was that, as each person took a prize and opened it, they could choose whether to keep their prize or swap it for one that some one had won earlier. The first couple choose to keep their prizes but it was me who started the trouble when I won a tin of chocolate sweets and promptly swapped it for Nadia's water-pistol. As more presents were opened there were, how shall I say it, some prizes that were appealing, such a quality model MGB soft-top, and some that were less so such as silly figure key-ring, and a pair of tights. (It's surprising what you can get for 4euro (about 1.50). Funnily enough, it was the water-pistols (a second was soon 'won'). That were most popular and many prizes were being swapped all over the place.

It soon became obvious that the last drawn tickets would allow the winners to select the most popular prizes. After the last had been won Barry then told us that while every body had won and had chance to swap two prizes that the first winner, Nadia, had not had the chance to swap on her first go, so she was now entitled to swap either of her two prizes for any other that she wanted - and she got her water pistol back again!

Day 7 - last whole day! Hasn't the week gone quick!

Gorges do CorongGorges du CorongToday was to be another easy circular tour taking in a few sights along the way. We set of in a westerly direction in the fine sunshine once more. Our first stop was a small country town of Corlay for a brief rest, another bar and a walk about. From there we went to the rock gorge known as the 'Gorges du Corong". Car park at the top, and a gentle walk down to the river. Well, gentle for a while until we get to the bottom were there were huge boulders to cross. In fact this was the appeal of the gorge, it was full of huge boulders about six feet across and more, that has fallen down the valley and forced the small river to find its way over, round or through any path it could find, It's resultant tortuous route gave the valley unique appeal and the boys spent a good half hour jumping across form one boulder to another looking for the best photo opportunities. Then it was a steady climb back up to the car park.

From here we continued Andy's trek through the quiet and scenic country lanes until we reached another town called Bourbriac – a quiet and small country town with a massive car-park in the centre. There was one obvious bar/café so the girls went in an enquired about lunch. They went in and asked if they could do lunch for 'quinze' (15) - the man behind the bar could only see the couple who had gone in so replied 'quattre?' (4) - to which Helen affirmed 'quinze' and held up ten and five fingers. His jaw dropped when he realised to full number and it was nearly 2:00pm and lunch time was almost finished. "Un moment" he said, went out the back and nodded his head "Oui - quinze" - by which time the rest of the whole group had wandered in.

True to their promise, they served us a three course mid-day meal (we only really wanted snacks or single course) but the salad, ham and chips, cheese board and dessert all went down well.

Quintin Royal GardenThe final leg of the days driving took us to Quintin a very large town where the traffic was unforgiving and we soon were split up at the various junctions. Only Barry at the rear got totally cut off, but phones again saved the day and we regrouped in the main church car park and then immediately split up for 45 minutes wander about time. Linda and I found a very old town park with a water feature that had been built in the 16th Cent then on to some museum house which was closed but which explained on the outside board how the town had made it fortunes in the 18th/19th century when its craft weavers produced famous "Quintin" cloth which made some folk very rich. It's no longer produced (probably suffered form the Indian and Asian competition I suppose - like England).

Somehow, everybody was back at the car park in time and we wended our way down more peaceful country lanes, basking in the sunshine with our hoods still down. Back in time for a general clean up and change into glad-rags for our second meal at the local and last meal of the holiday.

During the courses Andy gave us all the answers to the two quizzes that he had handed out on the first day - no prizes but the winners were - Linda and David. (Barry swears that he's not bringing any more word games or puzzles if Linda and David are going again).

Amanda had brought along some of those long thin balloons that magicians use to make toy animals and challenge us to produce the best. Trouble was that absolutely no-one could even inflate a single balloon despite our best efforts and very red faces. Fortunately, she also had a miniature hand pump which did the job. I don't think any one effort stood out as an outright "best" but we all had fun trying. And the meal (different set meal tonight with Fish starter and Lamb main) was good again.

Finally it was back to the gite where there were more games (a second attempt to beat Linda and David at "Articulate") and the obligatory task of finishing off as much of the liquor as possible 'cos we didn't want to carry it all the way back.

We retired for the night a very happy couple who had enjoyed our first outing with the Merlin Club!

Day 8 - Trip Home

We had to be up and out by 10:00am today and much to our surprise everybody got up on time, had their breakfast and then joined in with the clean-up chore. We were finished by 10:15. Mind you we did have a carrot - Andy said that if we didn't get out quick enough then we would have to either drive back to Cherbourg in one go or forego our final shopping trip to the Cherbourg hypermarket.

We got both!

Dinan PortHaving loaded all the cars and set off by 10:30 we had time for a 90minute stop of at Dinan. This inland port has its own beautiful harbour which has a very steep lane up to the medieval town centre. Funny how that little lane looked just like "Diagon Alley" from the Harry Potter film! We had been to this town before for a whole weekend with our own kit car club some ten year ago but never discovered the port.

Dinan is an amazing old place that looks like it is still in the 17th century (apart form the cars and people of course).

Dinan Town CentreLinda and I walked (climbed) up to the old town where we enjoyed lunch and a saunter round, (as did a few other couples). Then it was back down to the harbour and off to the ferry.

The trip back to Cherbourg was fairly straightforward and we made good time - well time enough for at least 75 minutes in the hypermarket - funny how everybody zoomed in on the spirits shelves - not much room in the Merlin for much else.

We said "Goodbye" to Barry and Neta at the same time as they were travelling back a little later on the fast crossing (and hoping that it would be smoother than the incoming trip).

Back on the boat it was feet up and some of the drivers (including myself) used the cabins to get some much needed rest.

Tying up at Poole harbour was the key to our farewells – it was dark and there was no need to meet up after leaving the ferry. So it was good bye to all and thanks for a happy week.

Day 9 - back at Home

We weighed up what had been a good holiday and looked back on a few of the highlights.

One major factor was that we had all had a week's trouble free motoring. Not one single car broke down throughout the trip (although we did hear that Dai had trouble with some failing headlights on his way back to Llannelli).

France is still a fun place were some people love to see cars like ours and will wave, flash headlights or just stop and smile - somehow it makes the extra effort all worth-while.

We were also very pleased to have shared a holiday with good company. Everybody was considerate and when you think of how there must be so many different wants and wishes to keep 15 people happy together on holiday I think that Andy and Helen have done a great job keeping everybody content and satisfied. And thank you to everyone who did their bit.

All the best - David and Linda.

 

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