november retreat 1: gentle journey

For reasons that are all too apparent now, I need to fix this return trip, Sabbers to the UK… I am gaining comfort from it even as I try to give out the gist of it, at this remove of some six months is it?

Just two days before we started packing up to come to the motherland the weather turned ugly, the wind cranked up and we had some water through the roof. Not a lot, but enough to summon Mr Fernandes. The next day a couple of our roof tiles shifted too, one flying off down the road. We left that to Mr Fernandes too. Don't worry, I will get to it as soon as I can, he said, and we are pretty sure he did just that. We'd check it when we were out in the Spring, don't worry about it.

We were determined to try and make a memorable progress back from PACA84 even this late in the year, as we had the son-and-heir with us, taking his delayed annual leave (from Spring).
So this is what we did: [nb: if you click on it you can get it full screen so that you you can admire the wonderful detail and clarity of design to the full! Not many people know that you know…]

Day one: 15 November: As is the way of things, departure day was contrastingly clement. A bit of mist and low cloud… I remember thinking as I steered the motor along the Camaret ring road — no need to give Le Géant a last look because we'd be seeing it all again in Spring, a few short months away. Ahem.

So, on to the A9 auto route, and in a short hour and a half, off again to sink some breakfast in Sète, the clouds left behind north of Montpellier, bright blue skies for our petit dejéuner canal-side in the old town. Never imagine it was two weeks into November; croissants so good that we re-crossed the bridge over the grand canal and patronised the source of the croissants for our lunch takeaway in baguette sandwich form, made to order with some humour. 

Back on the road along the coastal strand, stopping off for a short walk along the now deserted beach. I don't think we had set foot thereupon with Adam at least, since he was in a romper suit… And of course we could not bypass Marseillan. Have we ever, without the customary stroll down the port? Everything more or less closed at this time of the year, such as La Pacheline. But come on come on, we must get on!

We were still in time to take the A75 for the climb up into the hills, slipping off near Le Caylar and making a hillside stop-by for the sandwich lunch. Fabulous sandwiches: a man could be happy and never seek to better such substantial sustenance.

Replete, we motored on without further recourse to the A75, to reach the town, or is it city of Millau, the place the Millau viaduct was built to save. Our hotel – buried deep in the centre, but found by a combination of perseverance, shouting and Mme Melling's failsafe sense of direction. The remainder of daylight hours were used to gain an idea of the town, passed through before but not previously patronised by a stop over. I found it reasonable but not a contender for world heritage consideration… the other two in the party were considerably more moved by the place.

I have to own the evening restaurant was special. Wonderful, original (see bottom right, before the pleasure of the food we consumed had manifested itself before us). It might persuade me of another Millau stopover, you know, next time, when we come this way again – say in the Spring? 

Ha – hollow laugh…

The two pictures in the bottom panel that do not feature a fountain were suppled by Mme Melling.


november retreat 2: a hint of the white

We have looked down on Le Viaduc de Millau from this spot before now but this morning we caught but a glimpse due to autumnal cloud, as you can see. The son and heir was sanguine: it was good enough for him that his parents had at least taken in the longer view at a previous passing, maybe another time, you know in 2020 perhaps? Tsch!

Day two, 16 November, early away from Millau and over the hills. I reproduce our route once more so that you can see our plan unfolding, without having to go back to day one of this progress. My comments about viewing the plan in full screen mode on day one of this account hold good here as well. I recommend it to assist you in achieving a more comprehensive understanding of our aspirations for this journey. It is, I would have thought, rather too small to read without employing the full screen enlargment feature supplied by the software manufacturer. Especially on a Smart phone pixie screen. But you know best, of course.

This route was the one that was thickly lined with cowslips the last time we passed this way. Now we stepped over patches of fresh snow to take in the view shown at the head of this post. A dashed chill in the air as well. After a suitable passage of time we reassembled in the motor and drove on. As we climbed yet higher into the Causses, the white stuff came more into view; before we pulled over to break our fast at a snow dusted Sales-Curan the precipitate had graced the windscreen in passing flurries.  And another excellent haul of croissants was obtained and another splendid round of grandes crèmes were placed before us by a native of the country of origin, running the bar and tabac for many years she confirmed,  and rumbled by Mme Melling as being of English extraction.

Our comfort restored we drove on, our next diversion, mostly for the benefit of our youngest crew member, was to divert down the lovely Gorges de l'Aveyron once more and pass by the succession of little mills which once pounded iron with water powered drop hammers; they (the mills) get bigger as onefollows the twists and turns of the valley that ends up at Villefranche-de-Rouergue, until one is passing industry only recently abandoned, powered by water turbines rather than the up stream shot-over wheels.

Now, I am sorry that the route I have asked you to examine in detail does not include this excursion. It goes off the D911 to a place called La Bastide d'Evéque which you don't actually go through, and down into a tributary valley of the Aveyron first, to the La Ramonde hammer mill (14th century site and possibly building) on the Lézert stream, see picture here below. We did it first back the spring, 23 April in fact, and completely overlooked by my failure to make a post for that return. I have slipped up badly here, I hardly deserve the loyalty of Mrs Trellis of North Wales, let alone my public at large…
Do let's get on: Villefranche-de-Rouergue then, through to Cahors.

By-passing Cahors for a complete change, we stopped to eat at Prayssac (not listed on my route, sorry, just after Cahors on the road to Bergerac), just across the square from where Mme Melling and self once had an atmospheric top flight breakfast one dark and very rainswept morning. Today the resto was being patronised by a bunch of rather snotty and ostentatious Chinese (wine buyers, Mme Melling opines) who did not pay for their lunch, were being idolised by the patron, and who monopolised table service (and the wine list) to the disadvantage of other diners eating there. Food OKish but overpriced for us lesser mortals. Humph!

The rest of the day saw the weather rather turn against us. Plans to venture into Bergerac were scotched by heavy rain so we settled down to a few odds-and-sods of provender we had with us once we had booked in at the Ibis. Would not be wanting to overdo things, and maybe it would be fine in the morning for a snoop around Bergerac…

All pictures herewith by your author excepting the snow covered pines which Mme Melling secured on her phone through the windscreen of the motor. I thank her for the copyright inclusion of this image.


november retreat 3: living in the moment

Bergerac on a Sunday morning (17 November) in late autumn before and around 0800 hours is not exactly an hive d'activité. Reminded me of a town in lockdown, if you can imagine such a thing! In the early morning mists and street washed dampness we traipsed, and at last espied a purveyor of breads and cakes open for the odd soul seeking a first baguette of the day, etc. We acquired croissants and exciting looking filled baguettes but gave up on anything further, retired to the wheels and got on the road.

Fog and mists. Sainte Foy-la-Grande finally provided the necessary, rather large good coffees with which to swill down the Bergerac provender (the baguettes held in reserve for lunch). The café is just behind the market hall in the view I include here. It was busy. Sainte Foy-la-Grande was not. Did they forsee a time when this would be the norm? Sainte Foy-la-Grande is the town which yielded the fine Meissen fish plate that graces our kitchen wall these twenty-five years or more, here at Bullsmead Towers. Bought it for a fiver. I have suddenly had a thought! Could I repair that chip in the plate's rim, the reason for it being so cheap? Hmm. A bit of painted polyfilla . . . hmmmmm.

You will, once again, find no reference to our next diversion on the route exhibited on the previous two posts concerning this journey, so I shall not reproduce it again herewith. Mme Melling took us off the straight-and-narrow and via various rutted tracks and country by-ways, to visit the pile where Montaigne wrote his philosophies et thoughts down (mostly in that tower illustrated to left and to right of the ancestral home, pictured above).

I understand from the literati (my family) that this chap was an all round good egg and a bit of alright when it comes to views on life, loves, philosophy, cats, etc; in Fr of course so mostly beyond my humble comprehension (I blame my school). I have heard of him though (see book from shelf at Bullsmead Court). No tour of the place was available (thankfully) but we were permitted to wander round, for a small consideration, although not at the front of the big house as the present incumbents were in there stuffing their faces no doubt with petit dejéuner-en-crôute. The son and wife were deeply moved by the whole environment and I felt that indeed, it had character.

I am pleased to report that the weather lifted and cleared somewhat as we proceeded hereafter. We eventually arrived on the coast and our oft used route: we stopped on the sea-front once more at Saint George-de-Didonne to consume our sandwiches which we had brought from Bergerac. Excellent, excellent, why would any person on the road want more? Tasty, rapidly assimilated, moderately priced and satisfying. No long waits for service – or that illusive pudding – or terminating coffees – or long waits for l'addition, then similar wait for card reader gadget.  Open the bag, take out the napkin and get it down you. Wipe fingers, brush crumbs off paunch, motor on. Simples. St Georges is quite refined but the out-of-town beach requires chestnut palings to contain drifting sands. Mother and child (unknown to us) are on the wet sand, not walking on the waters.

Our further excursion in this phase of our retreat back to the motherland does feature on the planned route back: namely, reaching the hotel in La Rochelle by means of the coastal road through La Grande Côte, and via La Coubre, Ronce les-Bains, Rochefort etc. We did just that, stopping briefly not far up the road from our very first ever easter rental on this coast, in La Grande Côte, making abeyance to Cordouan, out there in the bay. Now under lighter skies and low light, we motored on to set foot again on the beaches of Pointe de Coubre. The snaps below give you the idea. That's Cordouan, beneath the image of the fishing pavilions at La GC. Monument Historique y'know, World Heritage Site expected, etc. etc.

Fans of my Pharesighted blog will be very aware of our fondness for La Coubre. It looked rather fine on this afternoon as at last the paint job has been renewed. It certainly needed it. Closed of course to the climber, a faint hope flickered briefly as there were quite a few folk about, it being Sunday, but no such luck. We contented ourselves with filling our shoes with the exquisite blonde sands of the shore, enjoying the sea air and uplifting late afternoon light, subconsciously social distancing as you can detect below, if we had but known it. Spiffing.

After La Coubre it was a matter of simply driving on to our overnight lodging in La Rochelle, the usual good feed at the place next door and a comfortable night in the unassuming surrounds of the rather atypically good Premiere Classe. Mind you, so sedate was our progress on this day, so untaxing the mileage undertaken, that we still had time for a stroll round the port and a drink in the old port bar before getting back to the serious business of our supper… Ah yes we thought, we will be down this way again for sure in 2020, it will be nice to eat once more in whatever-the-name-is restaurant and see how the restoration of the old port lift bridge has come along…  ah me… folly, what folly!

All pictures on this post are by your author with the exception of the strangely deserted scene in central Bergerac; that image was donated by Young Adam. 


november retreat 4: the final miles


How fateful those words read now! 

As if to remind us why we come this way, our morning departure (this is 18 November now, a Monday which, and when incidently, restaurants often choose to be closed, please note) was kissed by clear skies, when our breakfast stop at Luçon was up to the usual standard, and our deviation to le Passage de Grois, most pleasant. The tide was in, the tourists out, or not around. For a full fifteen minutes we had the landward end to ourselves, and in this wonderful light — we shall not readily forget it. Port du Bec just had to be called in upon also, naturally, although we were altogether far too early for the moules–frites we have enjoyed here on other less clement occasions. Oh to have a small bolt-hole here! We pressed on, after pottering up and down in that reluctant manner we have on our 'final days' when we are only too aware that on the morrow we will not be iaround these parts.  We drove to Saint Brévin ostensibly to find somewhere to eat, prior to crossing the Loire.

We didn't find such a place: the blame, as is usual in this tribe, being apportioned to me for some reason. I have learned to tolerate the misrepresentation of myself as a no-lunch promoter by my family, to suffer the insults and vitrolic remarks heaped upon my person when lunch does not spring from this village or that town, ignoring the stoney silences and deep sighs that punctuate the rebukes. I do so with resignation and the infinite patience for which I am widely known. My conscience is clear. Not my fault if everywhere was either closed or not in the least sense present. It is no use shouting at me, you should have pulled us over for a filled baguette or three when there was the chance!


With the hounds and snakes of hunger snapping at our heels  (something like the image right) we took once more to the road (and over the bridge) while I managed to deflect the vitriol still flying my way by the suggestion of a tea-time interlude at distant Guingamp.

It can seem a bit of a slog (well it IS a a bit of a slog) to get across the Brittany peninsula these days, particularly since 90 kph became 80 kph maximum speed limit on single carriageway roads. I mean, I am known for my consistent adherence to limits … I have never been done for speeding you know. Not me. Mme Melling was once stopped and breathalysed fgs! Near Chaumont in the days of the XM motor. Only by luck had she had just the one Paris Goblet of rouge with her lunch… one of those lunches that took an age to get on the table…  spot check only of course … but I digress.

We did get a drink in a rather sleazy bar in Guingamp at long last (I thought it sleazy but it was probably more noisy than sleazy). We gave Adam a chance to look at the fortified bit of the town (and saw the worst sculpture seen in Fr this autumn – see below, head in the clouds sort of idea) and then drove off into a setting sun to arrive in Roscoff at dusk.

Our normal parting shot when shipping out from this bit of Fr is a moderate three courser at Le Surcouf, a restaurant that has never failed to please. But they were shut for three weeks. Holidays or some such. Mme Melling had an alternative in mind and a place she had wanted to try before now, but here's the thing, the son-and-heir still hasn't come to terms with fine fish cuisine and will only partake of soupe-de-poisson in fish restaurants; M's second choice venue didn't offer it so we went to another joint which did. But when it came to ordering we were addressed on the subject of the soup and of it being 'off', that is to say they hadn't any as chef no doubt had mislaid the tin opener. A certain gritting of the teeth took place. The meal was alright I suppose. Only alright. Personally I'd have preferred a filled baguette but decided at the time to refrain from pointing this out.

From there it was but a short drive to our ferry and the three berth cabin situated on deck 7. Amorique as usual, the crew greeted us on first name terms (not). Bye bye Roscoff see you in about four month's time…

The following morning France was behind us. The very last car out of the customs check. Someone has to be. We were already planning our return in spring by close of play on 19 November. All was as it should be back at Bullsmead Mansions… except… just-a-minute… What is this? bloody hell! 


…… seems I went 3kph over an 80kph speed limit way back in September just after we had arrived in Sablet when taking Terry to Grignan. Reputedly. Three kilometres per hour! Some blasted Fr parking geek in Saint Paul Les Trois-Chateaux or wherever, deciding to go to the trouble and state expense to try and snatch some shekels back from a fellow EU citizen who spends most of his surplus in his region anyway. Not to mention local taxes. The nerve of it! For a few fleeting moments I thought about saying stuff you, I am not paying up the €45 requested of me, but then I relaxed;  fair dos, I'll remember to take more care when driving around there next spring, of course I will. Damn it all though: me, getting a ticket for speeding. ME! A speed camera: must have had a fault, obvs. But you can't argue with these Fr can you? I can't, I blame my school. Huh. ( I feel better now, thank you for your concern).

Well that was a pipe dream wasn't it? Going back this spring and all that. Hah! Stuck here on the Bullsmead Estate, albeit in glorious sunshine, son-and-heir stuck in Bath, all with about as much chance of getting tired of that interminable hack across Brittany to get down to La Rochelle or Les Sables d'Olonne in 2020 (or vice-versa) as winning the top prize with the Premium Bonds. Self isolating! Pah!

We've even gone and bought a new Michelin Road Atlas for 2020. Before all this kicked off. Two in fact! The wiro bound one is already getting bumped while we have been doing all the planning for the Spring Jolly!

All in vain. Damned Corona. And us with only two BiBs to sustain us (and a few bottles of Côtes du Rhône, and some Touraine). We are fresh out of proper garlic! My summer open toeds are stuck in Sablet… merde merde merde!

Stuff happens.  And we both did win on the Premium Bonds aussi! No not the top prize exactly…


isolation: today we should have been

I cannot let today pass by without a reflection. 

Last night (15 May) we three should have fetched up in Rochefort and today (16 May) even as I tap this out, we SHOULD HAVE BEEN proceeding via various coastal excursions and deviations to Lorient. Why, I even published the plan, didn't I?  — ever ready to assuage the thirst my public experience as they try to catch up with the machinations of the Melling-Smith consortium. No? Oh well, as I forgot this was what we planned to do on our way back to Blightey:

But you won't need me to point out that this progression has not been fulfilled in any way whatsoever, as you, dear reader are, no doubt, in what has come to be styled as social isolation, as the Coronavirus ravages the land. As of this morning, the official death toll in this country alone got to well over 34 000 (put in today's number here, I can't keep pace with it) — while the true figure is likely to be much higher. There is no comfort to be had in the confusion and ineptitude of the government which is almost entirely without the wit or skill to meet the challenge this pandemic presents, so that the motherland is second only to the USA in lives wasted, lost and thrown away. And they have Trump. It is a very dark time both here and across the world. The UK got it very wrong, it did not have to be this way (Hong Kong fatalities? 4. That's four). One need look no further than the buffoon running the show and his evil puppet-master, to see we was screwed from the off. But enough of that. What about The Mellin-Sniffs?

What has replaced our now almost usual spring expedition to Sablet might be represented as very much of a 'best of a bad job scenario'. But it has been a rather unchallenging and not at all unpleasant experience from a personal point of view. Tempered of course by the ongoing and increasingly stressful lack of access to the son-and-heir, offset though it is by the wonder of the age, Facetime, upon which we exchange news opinion and quite a lot of jokes. We were in the habit of doing this weekly but it has been positive for us all to up the contact by 100%. Also, our calm and satisfaction are inevitably tainted by the distressing national news coverage and our shouts and oaths aimed notionally at either television or radio, when we have the stamina to update on the epic that has replaced just about every other situation in the world.

Mme Melling and self, used to self-isolation as an inevitable norm here at Bullsmead Towers, have just tightened up our act. We have secured supermarket deliveries by dint of having once asked for a delivery to Helford Passage or somewhere else when taking a holiday down there in Cornwall (supermarkets have long memories) and being also considered to be in what HM Govt. has decided is a vulnerable group (because of our longevity, vintage, sell-by-date).

So that was sorted. Add in the local butcher being prepared to put himself out on our behalf (as well as the other handful of Cheldon inmates) and deliver, ditto the local Post Office and stores. All this means we have not had to go and get anything whatsoever. We've been able to concentrate on getting the garden straight, decorating the living room, under blue clear skies striding across the empty fields (until the stock came to graze it), basking in the atypically warm and dry April, eating well, mostly sleeping well, enjoying our diminishing wine stock . . . and so on. We've not been here to see the garden take on the new season's look for a few years, so it has been a particular pleasure. The bluebells! Superb apple blossom. And add in the return of the migrants, the warblers et al. Peace. Calm. Quiet. Dawn chorus.

Confirmation from our Irish compatriots, up at Terrace Towers for the duration, that all is well at 1RdeFB also has helped to assure us that any worry about what is going on at the neglected Sablet residence is unnecessary (and pointless), as all is pretty much as it should be. They've been in, checked around . . . bless 'em. E mails from the homeowners uphill of the Sablet gaff also report all is well and offer us a watching brief. Good neighbours!

Our only excursions outside the estate then (excepting the potters round the uphill field edges) have been to The Grove at Kings Nympton —closed of course as a public house— but offering takeaway fish and chips, provided under rigorous sanitary precautions and by appointment only.
A pleasurable excursion: easy to achieve when one is retired and in receipt of a modest but adequate pension (we are amongst the least demanding of folk, our expectations are modest, our realisations similar… good job!). We are conscious of our good fortune and positive situation.

Oh yes. Let me not forget the 'we-are-all-in-this-together' front lawn jolly of a week ago when the core of Cheldon, all twelve of us, safe distanced from one another on the lawns in front of The Barton for a protracted chat with drinks (self supplying).

Could do with haircuts, mind. The motors both need servicing (and this will be our first foray proper back into the outside world -- to get one done next week).

Need some liquorice toffee. Maybe a little more gin?

Need to see in person the son-and-heir. This last, badly. Mme Melling is noting the saga as it plays out for us in a blog with a strictly limited circulation. The F&C snap is her work, I was too busy applying the malt V. and sodium chloride, to my portion.

Nothing more to say then, really. So far, for all three of us, so good. Son-and-heir in Bath, us here. Not the account of our discoveries and bons petits déjeuners I had expected to be rolling out. Still getting good breakfasts here at the homestead, of course . . .

bacon… eggs… sausages… mm
mushrooms… tomatoes… mmmm
not everyday FGS! Just on occasion… Quite a lot of pancakes, aussi.