Loire Valley - France June 1997

with John Winn

This is a sort of diary of our three week trip to the Loire Valley in France in the Merlin. We made our bookings through the Chez Nous brochure which is largely English owned Gites or B and B and means the correspondence is in English and queries about suitable private parking or garaging are more easily dealt with. Also if the accommodation is in a renovated farm e.g. converted barns, it may be that the English owners also live there which can help in discussing places to visit, local restaurants etc.

We traveled from Portsmouth to Caen, booked through Chez Nous, which included an element of car breakdown cover. Ground clearance on the ferry was no problem, so no nasty scraping noises! The French roads were well signposted and much less crowded that England. For the long distance we used the N roads ( like our better A roads) and cruised at 65 -70 mph. For driving around the countryside we used D and minor roads, the latter sometimes a bit bumpy -many of these were virtually devoid of traffic.

Everyone loved the Merlin. Schoolchildren waved to us, some drivers flashed their lights and motor cyclists gave us thumbs up. All other drivers were most courteous. It all added up to a great motoring experience.

We parked in a number of small towns and villages, often leaving maps and baseball caps on the seats and never felt there was any risk. We covered 1,748 miles in total, of which 1 ,490 were in France. The Loire Valley is Chateau country and we visited about 15 ranging from grand and extensive like Villandry, to the smaller like Chemery. We found that two centres, the first a farmhouse gite near Lengais, the other about 60 miles along the valley was a town house in a tiny cobbled street in St. Aignan, gave a god availability of places to visit. Were there any incidents with the Merlin? Yes, but minor:-

1. The setting up on the rolling road had put the ignition as advanced as the engine would take. The combination of scorching weather (in the 80s F), French petrol (I think), my opening the distributor points as the engine occasionally missed a beat, allied to some unwanted pinking. With great care and advice from the Haynes manual that 1 degree at the distributor is two degrees at the engine, I readjusted by trial and error.

2. We left the car outside a supermarket, in the sunshine. Twenty minutes later we emerged to find there was a torrential cloudburst which was drowning the Merlin. The carpark was awash but I managed to drive the car under an awning, swab out the worst of the water and erect the hood. As we drove back to St. Aignan, where we had a large covered garage, I heard a relay ticking, sounded like the hazard relay. Then half a mile from home the horn started sounding intermittently, rather like a sick car alarm (which the Merlin doesn't have!).

Two hours later, in the comfort of the garage and with the aid of a small multi-meter, I found that the deluge had penetrated the horn and hazard switch mechanisms on the steering boss. A sneak circuit was switching both the hazard and the horn relays measured about 3 volts at the horn relay. By drying the relevant multi-pin connector in the steering boss and waiting for the internal switches to dry out the problem was cured. As usual Loraine calmed the situation with cups of tea and a helping hand.

I think I will make a slip -on cockpit cover out of something like shower curtain material, tailored to fit over the screen and sidescreens and with nylon cords to tie onto the boot rack. It would be very useful at night if the car is not garaged when touring as the dews can be quite heavy. At the farm Gite I used a bit of rubberized canvas clipped on by clothes pegs, not pretty but adequate.

3. The engine bay cooling fan operated a few times, I think only at standstill i.e. when parked and the heat built up. The 60 degree switch seems right as it only operated on scorching days. The mode seemed to be to switch on about five minutes after parking and run for 7 minutes when it cut out at the 45 degreeC lower switch setting. It did not switch in again so it had obviously dispersed sufficient of the heat stored in the engine lump. I am still not certain if it is a real benefit, although it does give confidence that things are not getting too hot. The switch on current for the fan is a bit iffy for the Samp thermo switch, so if I keep the system I will add a relay.

On our last lap back to the ferry at Caen we met up with about a dozen other kit cars who had come to Le Mans. They included a group of Cobras and a group of Westfields -much waving on the road and pleasant chats at the dockside.

The run back from Portsmouth to Crick was late in the evening, dry but cool, so we wrapped up and blessed the Sierra heater. It was super to be driving around midnight, little traffic, gorgeous exhaust note, lovely view down the bonnet with the headlights glinting and blazing down the road.

Next year Loraine and I are thinking of 3 weeks or so in Spain which will test my evening class Spanish. Loraine's French coped well and is now much "brushed -up" .She was particularly delighted to overhear a comment from a chap in the bar just near the house we had in St. Aignan -"C'est la dame dubeau voiture (car)". having safely returned and had a great time we can only say -"Nous aimonsnotre Merlin".

John Winn.

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