More about Camping L’Etournerie

31st July
The Next morning. The evening sun shines over the valley into this campsite and it is obvious that everyone here, not much more than a dozen people, mostly Dutch, the rest Brits, turn their chairs toward it to get the last beautiful hours of warm sun. I joined them in this sun worship sitting on a bench looking over a field, of something, I don’t have a clue what is growing. I never sleep that well camping but got up before anyone else at around 8. Where there are no small children there is definitely no early rising. My breakfast order of croissants arrived and I brewed up some acceptable coffee with my rudimentary equipment. Hmm. I’ve had enough of this tea malarkey. So now I am trying to connect to the wifi here without much success. It is warm already. With nowhere to get to today I am at a bit of a loss how to spend the day. Some people seem to stay here all day others get out and about. I think I need to unwind a bit, to get in to a day of doing nothing not even worrying about how I will get out, get to the next place etc etc. tonight I get my meal at a tent. Let’s see what that is like. The campsite owners tell everyone how good it is.

I loafed around reading, the Macfarlane book is improving, two women offered to lend me a bicycle so I could ride down the 3k to the town supermarket but it was going to close for lunch of course so I gobbled up my food bought yesterday (you see, I am right about always having food), had a snooze despite someone starting a strimmer and a cock crowing next to my tent and then cycled down the road to the unremarkable town where I bought some choice items that hopefully won’t melt during a day on the back of the bike. Then I got back rather hot from the effort and tried out the pool.

I am off further south tomorrow. My knowledge of the geography of this area is poor so I rely on the GPS to get me to the next campsite. It is 4 and 1/2 hours away according to it, so I will take the quick route, that’s a long time for a journey it says is about 180 miles. It has clouded over today, which is fine by me as long as it doesn’t rain.


A perfect day, assuming anything could be

30th July
First day not subject to the tyranny of motorways. Forty nine miles to lunch at Chalonnes a Loire. Nice small d roads.

Today has gone really well. All in all I enjoyed the last campsite. I opted in for pizza mainly to join the crowd along the long table. I supposed I had to be the oldest guest, the others were all couples with young children, intelligent, funny, nice company and I was so glad not to be camping with small children any more, one couple with two small girls, twins maybe who screamed and shouted at every opportunity. There is no privacy camping. Imagine washing two naked screaming toddlers with a strange man brushing his teeth a couple of feet away.

I think the success of these trips, finally, is in the detail. Yesterday evening before it got too late I plotted a route along small roads close to the Loire from where I stayed to where I am now, camping l’etournerie. But where that is I am not sure exactly. This site is sunny! And tucked away down a grass track with maybe six pitches on it and a small swimming pool. I think this is one of the adults only sites that I booked (actually planning this trip is rather hazy as it got mixed up with my medical tests when I was convinced I’d spend the summer in hospital having parts removed). It makes a difference – the planning not the surgery. The place really is quiet, just the conversation and splashing of three Dutch people in the pool just down there, the buzzing of bees and the crunching of eucalyptus leaves under my feet. The place is simple. So different from the theme park places I have stayed at or nearly stayed at. This is a nice recipe.

So today my mostly GPS-less route planning worked perfectly. I had a list of road numbers and turnings written on a sheet of paper in the tank bag and managed to get most of the way here like that. I stopped at Chalonnes a Loire at a large supermarket, the brand of which is new to me and had a salmon and prawn salad and bought some provisions (when there is an opportunity to get food I have realised you should always take it). I spent a good hour there. Eventually my trail ran dry and I opted to turn on the GPS and obey its suggestion for a blast down the motorway then back down some very smaller roads where I always wonder if the GPS really knows what it is doing. Eventually down a grassy track I found the place. Belinda did not like the uneven grassy ground, or rather I didn’t and sadly we can’t keep vehicles on site so she is just behind me out of site on the track. Now, I shall be complaining to Touratech because the handle on my brand new Zega Pro 2 pannier broke while I was carrying it. It was hugely heavy I admit, but I expected a bit more from this hard core brand.

I was too late (4.30 is too late) to order dinner. The site owners make three course meals and serve them at the campers’ tents. So I have ordered for tomorrow evening. I have also ordered pain au chocolate and croissants for breakfast. This morning breakfast was two beautiful moist pain au raisin but my attempt at tea was not good. Dried milk definitely does go off. I will return to coffee so at the U-shop supermarket I searched for a device to make coffee and only managed to get a tea strainer and some ground coffee so I will improvise. It will be better than tea with globules. Today’s ride I think was 144 miles. My average throttle position since I’ve had the bike is 11 percent and I’ve made 5 and a half thousand gear changes.


On French soil, well, Tarmac

29th July
Ah getting up at 6.15 after not sleeping that well, after dreaming that my cabin was full of people or that I was trying to sleep in forbidden parts of the boat… Mercifully the cafe that sells coffee is within sight of my cabin door, so I sat and watched the bright but cloudy sky go by over the settled sea with a paper cup of passable coffee and the custard tart that H gave me just as I was leaving. That was breakfast number one, another to be had somewhere in a couple of hours on the road. The forecast is for cloudiness with some sun but no rain drops so that is looking good. Thirty minutes till we land, time to squeeze everything back into my bag. I am so pleased not to be travelling with small children as almost everyone is here, the constant focus on discipline and behaviour.

On the massively packed car deck I bumped into Helen and her partner by coincidence on the same crossing and parked close to each other. I will be staying with them in La Rochelle next week, on the two last nights of the trip.

Later… I am at Le Chant de L’oiseaux, a beautiful small site with about ten pitches, run by a British couple who you can tell are really particular about how the place looks and runs. Instead of a supermarket and my stove I am trying out their home made pizza cooked in three shifts, the first for children (he apologised that there were so many children on site at the moment though they all must be out apart from one little boy who his dad proudly sat him on my motorbike seat without his nappy) the second for women and the third at about 8.30 for men (now 9pm I wish I had cooked my own). Nice but a little strange. No free sockets in the bathroom to charge up your gadgets. In fact there are notices everywhere about what you can’t do and must do. Above the recycling bin for glass is the instruction Do not drop glass into the bin. I have a beautiful partly shaded spot in the corner next to a couple ‘without children’. I have ordered pizza. I was shocked to find that this campsite was only 125 miles away from the port. Or was it? Perhaps that is as the crow flies. I haven’t yet worked out how to get all the geeky figures from this GPS.

How did today go? The weather has been perfect: sunny all day from 9am when we left St Malo, cool though, about 18 degrees. The roads were ok to boring and my attempt to avoid the peage failed dismally. Then there was my nervous foreign technophobia first with a pay at pump petrol station (in the middle of the night I realised that I had put in the wrong pin for my card and mercifully didn’t do it three times as my card would have been blocked) and then the dreaded peage which appeared to refuse to issue a ticket. I stopped thankfully at a motorway service and picnic area and got my first glimpse of the French and a meal deal which I had no hesitation in agreeing to, while on the TV screen in the petrol station and also on the ferry and here on site the ‘deepening crisis’ at Calais where refugees appear to be trying to force their way into Britain. David Cameron is outraged. The Brits are having their holidays upset. I sat out in the warming sun then headed off. Once off the main roads I found the local road down to this site, through forests, quite beautiful and an easy pace, shady. I could do with more of that.

It was good to get the old tent out after my flirtation last year with a huge Redverz tent, marketed as being able to accommodate two adults plus their adventure bike. I knew it was a daft idea and should never have succumbed. I was trying to remember when my tent was last used. Someone did not sweep it out after they used it.
The bike seems to have much more room in the luggage and I have been trying to decide what it is I have left at home. The panniers work well, more tricky to open than the old ones but stunningly well made and capacious. The GPS is good apart from finding the most ugly roads to send me down. Cleverly it knows when you are running out of petrol and offers to direct you to the nearest petrol station. I’ve used that twice on this trip, in fact every time I have filled up, already. So far, so good, looking for nice places to stay and good weather are two good ingredients.
Today I rode 166 miles. I’m reading The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane. I’m only up to page 36 but so far I have to agree with the reviewers who find it a pretentious list of name dropping and pseudo poetic erudition. You get three or four lines about Wordsworth, then the same about Nietzsche, and so on. The same reviewers say that the last sections are much better. I may skip to them. I had thought a book about travel would make a good companion for my own trip but not so far.

life on the ocean waves: on the way to France

28th July 2015
Written on the rolling waves.

Amid calls from a son for moral advice and plumbers arriving to investigate our failing boiler, I climbed into my armoured clothing and set off on the bike for this trip to France. Moving was so slow in Cambridge, first down Mill Road then along to Trumpington Street then finally onto the A10 where it started to lightly rain, then down to the M25 anti-clockwise interrupted by a call to fill up with petrol somewhere near ghastly Uxbridge, my willingness to risk reduced by my last experience of calling out the RAC on the side of the same orbital road because Bertha was always optimistic about petrol, then tailbacks finally leaving the orbit and heading off toward Portsmouth only to get stuck into another jam. I arrived in Portsmouth with only a stop to get fuel and a to much two bars of a triple Bounty bar standing next to the pump. Over three hours riding and tiring. Arriving here though, as usual, on a bike you get your own lane right to the front of hundreds of cars in line. One other man on a bike who was very nervous about parking up. The men here just tied our two bikes to the railing with some old rope, we both picked up something more substantial and did our own fixing, lingering anxiously, mind you I am glad now, two hours into the all night trip and there is some pitching and yawing I’m unaccustomed to in my trips to date. We sat and chatted while our cabins were cleaned. He learned to ride even more recently than I did, got the licence that limits riders to small bikes but ignored that and just bought a big bike anyway!

I’ve just returned to my swaying cabin from the restaurant (I didn’t fancy the cafe with its hoards of children) where I remembered that the French enjoy food unlike the Germans and I wondered if this could be the key to a successful holiday, weather permitting as always. Feeling rather over full not helped by the swaying opening and closing the door to my bathroom like a ghostly hand is moving it, bringing back pseudo memories of my childhood trips on the Harwich to Holland ferry where I was always sick. Always? Perhaps just once.

So tomorrow I head in a direction I approximately know. I have forgotten to write down which campsites I go to on each night. I have GPS coordinates of each but I don’t know which order I have booked them. Pitching and yawing.

Dordogne by BMW 1200gs

Tomorrow I leave for my ninth motorcycle trip. I’m heading down to South(ish) west France, to the Dordogne, camping for the most part (apart from two nights at a friend’s house in La rochelle). Since my last trip to the Black Forrest, I have a new bike, new luggage, a new GPS (I bought it with the bike), new bluetooth headset and even new prescription sun glasses non polarising – so I can read the GPS screen. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the weather for one thing. I ought to publish the dates I go camping so that everyone else can make a point of staying at home. Its blustery and raining on and off today and some sailings from Portsmouth have been cancelled today due to bad weather.
This clever little map makes it all look so calm:

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Still, supplies have been renewed, the bags are packed,

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oil and fuel strapped on the back of one pannier, a litre of vodka on the other, trying to travel a bit lighter this time, so the huge Redverz tent is staying at home in the cupboard and my faithful Vango tent is coming along. A great hair cut (instead of last minute dental work) too.

Flickr, 500px: photosharing communities

Since about 2006 I have been using Flickr. It is a good way to share pictures I’ve taken at a party or other event with the people who were there just by emailing a link to a group of photos instead of sending hefty attachments. But there is another aspect to photosharing sites like Flickr. That is something to do with the search for a community of people with the same interest (so much of the Internet offers this). So there are a number of similar sites that have the reputation of something a little more serious than Flickr where the vast majority of images are taken on smart phones. 500px is one of these that has caught my eye. Some of the photographs posted on 500px, as on Flickr, are impressive. Many though, to my eye, seem more like exercises in achieving some kind of photographic cliche and there are a small number of types of photographs that many seem to aim at – the sunset taken with an extreme wide angle lens to take one example. Many shots on 500px have attracted a number of comments, including a few to some of mine. So while I am touched that anyone would bother to write something, even a few words (most are), about my uploaded images, I think that overall the comments made on photography sharing sites are extremely banal. I have never seen critique for example. In fact it is easy to wonder whether most of the commenting is little more than a crude attempt to drive more viewers to commenters’ own images (some posters recommend just this to neophytes). And, as with much of the Internet, many contributors seem to be far more interested in the number of apparent visitors they get than in doing anything creative or interesting.

To many this will be obvious but what is interesting to me is the way it is possible to unconsciously adjust expectations, and the type of subjectivity you present, when on the Internet. And I wonder whether there is a rather desperate attempt at community at work here that, in my view, rarely delivers anything remotely like it. There must be other places to find dialogue and critique.

One review of 500px is here, along with reviews of some similar sites.