You'll note the residual snow in the intro picture, up there on the heights of the Central Massif. All the way up we encounter evidence of recent heavy falls but fortunately, a thaw following: so that the roads are wet but clear. Best of all, the sun is out, the sky is blue and we are on the road again. Nice! We overnight at St Pourçain-sur-Sioule, near Vichy – not risking the town's restaurant (this town has few; the one we gave our custom to twice before is the one I walked out of, the second visit, a year or two ago, I shudder to recall it). No Sir! We eat our own supplies, brought with us, mindful of the paucity of provision hereabouts… beer, sausages, hb eggs, crisps, fruit, etc. A jolly repast … Once bitten twice shy…
All these diversions, plus the distances inbetween, mean that we only reach our hotel (Maubeuge) after dark, romantically located behind a filling station, a hotel all right in its way but not remotely near any source of sustenance. We make do. But too far really, now that the clocks have gone back… well over our normal 300 miles a day limit.
There are others already in the cemetery this morning: Wilfred Owen died in that same action that took Hugh's life and his grave, two head stones down from Hugh's, attracts attention all the year round (we have been here before you see, so we know) but this centenary is bringing in coach loads of folk later on so we know to be early. So we are, and those already amongst the headstones politely give way to us as we are visiting a family member's grave.
Recipients of this year's marmalade production will understand the significance of this visit to Ors. I reproduce the label at the end of this posting.
After this sombre task we go back into Ors to stare down the canal that proved such a fatal obstacle to all those men, and then on to The Forester's House, just to show Adam the place where Owen spent his last night with his men (now transformed into a pilgrimage site, in white) We have been there too before –sans Adam– but today is not the day for visiting as it is about to receive the coach parties of Owen enthusiasts so we pass by to a nearby town for our last breakfast on french soil this year. Top flight croissants I have to say.
That town is Le Cateau, where Matisse was born. There is a museum seemingly full of his work; but we haven't got the time to view it and anyway it isn't open yet and we have to get ourselves west by auto-routes various in time to get a proper meal somewhere or other, visit the two target lighthouses and eventually to take ship unto Portsmouth, from Ouistreham, overnight.
We make good time, as one does when one uses the auto-routes, undistracted by side roads and beckoning attractions off, so that we can have some time on the sea front of Le Havre after bagging the light on the Cap d'Antifer (see below!). It is warm enough to sit out and drink expensive coffee in Le Havre as well as take the odd snap and stroll amongst the Sunday afternoon crowds.
There is some disagreement as to whether we have driven over Le Pont de Normandie before (I think we may have, but now I'm not so sure) but we have certainly visited the south side of the Seine, underneath the bridge, at least twice. It is a towering achievement: worth the toll to cross it. Given the need for shipping to pass under the structure, the bridge sports considerable inclines. It is a favourite. Glad we are going south though*, just look at the traffic coming north! (pictures from Mrs Melling's in-car snappings. *Mrs Melling opines we are going west, actually – but the bridge is aligned north-south, so there. True, our general tendency has been westerly today).
And so unto Ouistreham our port of departure and the second target phare, passed by many times before but not photographed for some reason. The truth is, we haven't used this crossing back to Blighty for many years, before I was smitten with the lighthouse bug, that is. Finally we get a proper meal before embarking, at a price that makes my eyes water a little, I have to own. We sail a bit late, an overnight crossing it is, arrive in Portsmouth on time where, once released by UK Border Control, it is… almost raining…
Thereafter, its heavy Monday morning traffic, a full English breakfast in a welcoming café in Bridport and an arrival back at Bullsmead at midday precisely. The garden is buried in leaves, the lawn calls for scything and it has been very very wet. Notwithstanding, we put this transit down as a goody, even with the trudge from Portsmouth to Devon taken into account…