Beating the curfew and other highlights

The trip from Trébeurden to Huelgoat was only 65 kilometres so we left at 4.30 pm thinking that would be plenty of time to make it before curfew started at 6 pm.

5.59 pm and curfew is about to begin!

What we didn’t anticipate how much the narrow country lanes and the twists and turns could slow you down when driving a camper van.

So there we were, driving along at 5.59 pm behind a very slow car with still quite a way to go! Would we get stopped for breaking curfew? Would the camp site we were heading for close its gates on the dot of 6pm?

After 6 pm and everyone else is behind closed doors

The sun was setting as we passed through the village of Huelgoat and for a moment the spectacular sunset put the anxiety of breaking the curfew out of our minds.

By 6.10 we had made it to our stop for the night, thankful for not getting in any trouble and happy to see the gates still wide open!

Phew! Arrived at the campsite without incident and with a beautiful sunset!

The next day we followed the walking path out of the council “Aire” (parking where camper vans can stay overnight) through a wooded area alongside a lovely gurgling brook.

This beautiful brook was right next to our campsite
We noticed there were some big boulders

It wasn’t long before we started to notice some massive moss-covered boulders scattered along the way. These exceptionally large ancient rocks gave the woods an ancient mystical quality and we weren’t surprised to find out later that the area had many Arthurian legends attached to it.

Many of them scattered along our pathway
Some were in the water

We also later learnt that these woods, containing oak, beech and chestnut trees, are among the last vestiges of the ancient forest that once covered inland Brittany.

These woods are among the last vestiges of the ancient forest that once covered inland Brittany

Some of the trees, like the boulders, were covered in the softest of green mosses – it was an enchanting sight.

Some of the trees were also covered in moss

As we continued our walk through this magical setting we came across a clearing at the centre of which was an amazingly beautiful evergreen tree.

Such a handsome tree

Curiously, it had a fence round it but there was no information about it at all. Two things piqued my interest – firstly, there was a definite atmosphere created by this tree, the type of feeling that gives you goose bumps, and secondly there was a deeply worn path round it forming a perfect circle. We wondered if there were locals that could tell us if there were some kind of rituals associated with the tree but there was absolutely no one around and an Internet search has come up with nothing.

Our path took us to a group of old stone cottages on the outskirts of the village.

We came to some old stone cottages
We saw boulders even in the cottage gardens
In this garden the owners had incorporated the boulders into the garden design

Crossing over the road we continued our tramp along an ancient trackway which we followed as it circled round through the village and back to the stone cottages.

We walked along an ancient trackway
We imagined a time when this would have been a main thoroughfare
We met some nice ponies along the way
And saw an old mill stone on the outskirts of the village

Our next stop was in a commercial site near Vannes a medieval walled town which sounded lovely. Unfortunately the town was much larger than we had thought with sprawling suburbs and lots of traffic and people. We stocked up with a few essentials at the supermarket and spent the night in an official site with power and water. The next day we set off for somewhere quieter.

Plenty of vans in Vannes!

We decided to head away from Brittany to take a look at the Loire Valley for the first time in our lives. Our first stop was a very quiet spot called Juigné-sur-Loire.

Our first stop in the Loire Valley

This was a small village – not far from Angers – famous for its slate quarries that date back to Roman times. Throughout the centuries the quarries have provided slate for roads, piles, stakes for vines, walls and for building houses.

There were slate walls everywhere in the village

In 1348 slate from here was used in the reconstruction of the Beaufort-en-Vallée castle, and in 1367, slate quarried at Juigné-sur-Loire was used to repair the castle in Angers.

Also slate houses

We were surprised to learn that after The Great Fire of London in 1666, slate from the quarries was also used in the reconstruction of London.

Walking in the now disused quarry

Considering 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the municipal buildings of the city were destroyed, that would have required a lot of slate to be dug out of the ground, shipped down the Loire and across the Channel to London!

The slate quarries are closed now and the 27 hectare site has been turned into a fabulous recreation area. Paths meander through forests of beautiful trees and around undulating open areas where you can see the remains of the slate that had been mined there over the centuries.

It was a lovely place to have a stroll

Some of the trees growing in this beautiful area are unusual for this part of the world as a microclimate exists due to the mounds of slate warming the earth. This warm earth allows the growth of trees such as Lebanon Cedar and Corsican Pine – more normally found in Mediterranean regions.

I don’t know what kind of tree this is but we liked the shape of it
Remains of the slate that had been quarried here for hundreds of years

We walked for a long time and got a teeny bit lost, then realised we didn’t have long to get back to the van before the 6 pm curfew. The last part of our walk was at a smarter pace than previously and fortunately we arrived in plenty of time in the end.

Ooh better hurry – nearly curfew time (time on my phone – the screensaver is Lucy the boat dog from Polykandros and Jonathan)

We stayed the night for free in the parking area of Le Potager de Garennes (Garenne’s vegetable garden) part of the Domaine des 2 Moulins (Two Windmills property).

The two windmills property – the second one just visible in the background
Curfew time at the two windmills

The farm shop was open when we arrived and walking in we realised that as well as selling delectable fresh fruit and vegetables, there was a small winery as well. Sadly we weren’t able to do a tasting but of course we did buy a bottle or two (very drinkable!) as well as some delicious fruit and vegetables.

Lovely fresh vegetables to stock up with
Jonathan is examining pumpkins and behind him are wine vats
Of course we had to buy some wine
It was more than fine

The following day we were driving alongside the wide and very full River Loire. The Loire is the longest river in France and surely must have the fastest current judging by the incredible flow of water rushing along while we were there.

Driving along by the River Loire

The road winds right alongside the river and takes you through some lovely typical “shabby chic” villages, past wine cellars advertising tastings and cliffs with caves where amazing homes and wine stores have been built. The caves were the end product of the cliffs being quarried for tuffeau stone.

A typical “shabby chic” village along the Loire
Some amazing houses too
The Loire in flood

We arrived at town of Saumur which has been a major equitation centre since 1783 when the military cavalry school was built. The very first thing we saw was the famous French military riding academy. This is one of the most prestigious classical riding academies in the world.

One of the indoor arenas of the Cadre Noir

Fortunately there was some training being conducted over the jump course so we were able to witness an instructor from the famous Cadre Noir putting one of the cadets through his paces.

A cadet being put through his paces
The Cadre Noir is one of the most prestigious classical riding academies in the world
This building is the original military academy

As we drove through the town we could see the famous Chateau de Saumur perched up high in a hill so we decided to drive up there for a closer look even though we wouldn’t be able to go in. Sadly we missed out, among other things, on the Museum of the Horse inside the Chateau.

We could see the famous Chateau de Saumur perched up high in a hill so we decided to drive up there for a closer look
It didn’t disappoint

Even though we were unable to go inside the Chateau, it was definitely worth the detour as it was lovely to have a close view of this fairytale castle and the glorious views it commands over the mighty River Loire.

The detour was worthwhile to have a close view of this fairytale castle
The chateau commands glorious views over the mighty Loire

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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