Sainte-Enimie

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This, I hope, is Sainte-Enimie*, a small village upriver from our campsite which we drove to in an absolute downpour. (*I’m relying on Andy to correct me if I’m wrong.)

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It was a fetching little place, very charming, and I took lots of photographs, which, in the gloomy conditions, was probably a little optimistic on my part.

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When we returned to the campsite, it was to find that, if anything, the weather had been even worse there, with hail as well as rain, and that the cloudburst had left everything liberally spattered with mud, and our event shelter looking like a fully-furnished paddling pool. A few days later, when we were leaving for the long haul home, this area of France had terrible floods, so I suppose we were lucky really.

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Sainte-Enimie

Three Weeks Under Canvas: The Tarn Gorge

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After our week in the Dordogne, we drove to the Tarn Gorge for another week’s camping, this time at Camping La Blaquiere. Even more so than at Camping Maisonneuve, we spent a great deal of our time on and around the campsite, particularly swimming in, or jumping into, the Tarn.

This is limestone country, like the area around the Dordogne, but very different scenery; the Tarn cuts deeply into the Cévennes and the steep sides of the gorge are girt with crags and huge towers.

This…

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…is the stretch of the river where we did most of our swimming. It was deep, crystal-clear, fast-flowing and absolutely full of a wide variety of fish: I took to wearing goggles whenever I swam, so that I could dive below the surface to observe them.

This…

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…is the only photo of the camping site I took. It shows the small cafe, where we ate twice, memorably watching a three-piece band segue from The Ram-Jam Band’s ‘Black Betty’ into the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, an unusual combination.  As the light faded whilst we ate, I watched Alpine Swifts, which are larger than those we see at home, hurtling along beside the cliffs across the river.

I was endlessly fascinated by the way light changed with the time of day and the weather. This photo…

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…was taken relatively early in the morning. Just right of centre, you can see a rock formation poking above the horizon….

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The kids decided that it was a man and a woman. Later in the week we travelled past the campsite in a bus and I’m pretty sure that the driver pointed out the same rocks and said that one was Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. Presumably the other is one of his wives, or many mistresses.

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Later in the week we had several afternoons which brought dark clouds, rumbles of thunder and sometimes rain.

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Which really added to the drama of the views…

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This stretch of the river…

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…is just downstream from the campsite. It was favourite with the Dangerous Brothers because the rocks on which I was standing to take the photograph had several spots from which to leap into the river, some of them really quite high up. That’s two of the DBs talking on the far bank: DB Senior, our B, and ODB – Old Dangerous Brother, or Andy, who is an honorary member of the team. I think he was quite chuffed to have somebody with him who shared his appetite for reckless self-enganderment. I know our boys certainly enjoyed it. Little S climbed to the highest jumping point numerous times, but in the end, on our final day, it was B who actually jumped.

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The photographs were taken from the far side of…

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…’le champignon’, the mushroom rock, another landmark which the bus driver identified.

Morning walks for bread only went as far as the campsite reception; the villages up and down the valley from the campsite were both a little too far away for a morning croissant and baguette walk.

This is La Malène…

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Which was upriver.

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And which has a bridge over the Tarn, handy for taking photos…

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The village in the other direction was Les Vignes, where we did most of our grocery shopping. It was almost as picturesque as La Malène, but I don’t seem to have taken many photographs, preferring instead to concentrate on being fleeced by a consummate salesman who lured me in with a complimentary glass of peach wine and samples of his wares, before ruining me financially by selling me some of what was surely the World’s most expensive salami. It did taste good though.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: The Tarn Gorge

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Camping Maisonneuve.

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So – you’re on a peninsula in the extreme north-west of Wales, where do you go from there? Southern France of course! I’m glossing over the epic journey, the overnight camp in Kent, the ineptitude of Eurotunnel and the one a.m. arrival at Camping Maisonneuve. Suffice to say, it was a very long way.

The campsite was Andy’s find (as was all the planning for the trip*), and what a good find it was. Situated near the village of Castelnaud-la-Chappelle, on the banks of the River Céou, a tributary of the Dordogne, it had a heated swimming pool, but we were all much more taken with the pool in the river itself. And with the diving platform by that pool…

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I have lots of photos of various members** of the party jumping in, but I’ve used one of B because he particularly loved jumping, bombing or somersaulting into the water, something he seemed content to do all day long.

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The water was surprisingly cold, much colder, we discovered, than the nearby Dordogne, but even Little S, who suffers particularly in cold water, all skin and bone as he is, coped well with it, probably because it was so warm out of the water. So warm, in fact, that even TBH and our friend J got in on the action. Well, I say ‘action’…

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The heated pool, and the wooded slopes of the Céou valley.

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Our pitch. This must have been early on, it got much more untidy than this: knowing that it probably wasn’t going to rain made it very tempting to leave stuff lying around outside. It did rain overnight, once, during the week that we were there, but otherwise the weather was superb.

I have lots of photographs from our two weeks in France, well over a thousand (don’t worry, I won’t post them all), so I’ve decided, I think, to stick, on the whole, to short(ish) posts, with just a few photos in each.

*Planning and organising stuff is another one of his strong suits and this trip was researched and planned impeccably. All went very smoothly, despite our best efforts to misread, misinterpret or otherwise not follow his careful instructions. Cheers Andy!

**Of the seventeen who put in an appearance in Wales, twelve continued to France. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll see some familiar faces in the posts which follow. Unlike our annual gathering in Wales, this is not a long-standing tradition, but a new venture, although, if you go back far enough, some of us us have made summer trips down to the Alps together before, long before any of the kids were born.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Camping Maisonneuve.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Kubb at Towyn Farm

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So, as the title implies, we’re recently back from three weeks of camping. The late-evening photo above shows our trusty Conway Countryman trailer tent, with Carn Fadryn in the background. Long-suffering readers will know that this was the thirteen annual get together at Towyn Farm near the village of Tudweiliog on the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula (although, only our twelfth, because we skipped 2009 to go to Germany for my aunt’s birthday instead.)

This year we were a party of 17, at least when everybody was there. Different members of the group arrived and left at various times, some only there for the weekend, others staying for longer. We were late, the boys and I arriving early on the Sunday after an early-hours start. We should have been there on the Saturday, but muppetry on my part, including not being able to locate the pump for the tap (it was in the sink) and not remembering, until B reminded me as we were about set-off, that the number plate on the trailer needed to match the ones on our new (to us) car. TBH and A arrived later still, on the train, having stayed behind because A had her DofE Bronze expedition that weekend.

Anyway, once we were safely pitched up, we had the usual marvellous time. The mornings were often misty and damp, but the weather always improved by the afternoon and we spent our afternoons on the beach. In fact, we settled into a rhythm of a late and leisurely breakfast, a late lunch and a very late evening meal, usually followed by one final visit to the beach, in the gloaming, and a late retirement to bed. I’m not sure whether the prevailing weather dictated our behaviour or if it just fit in conveniently with our lazy inclinations.

After so many visits, we have a routine for the beach too, alternating swimming with games of tennis, cricket and some frisby throwing. I don’t have any photos, because I don’t like to take my camera to the beach. After all of the fresh water swimming we had been doing, the temperature of the Irish Sea came as something of a shock – it was freezing. But that didn’t prevent some of the kids from spending hours in there.

The game of Kubb has become part of our regular routine too. My brother bought us a set several years ago, and it has to be one of the best presents ever (and he excels at presents). I’ve never seen anyone else playing it and our games always seem to attract attention and questions wherever and whenever we play. (As does Andy’s enormous space-age trailer-tent).

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It’s a good game for parties like ours, since up to twelve can play, in two teams. Essentially it involves knocking down wooden blocks by throwing wooden batons at them, which makes it sound rather dull, but it isn’t at all. When we play, it also involves a great deal of barracking, banter, gamesmanship and accusations of cheating and, in the case of the game in these photos, a fair deal of hubris too. The team on the right here, who had, in fairness, won once already, had been ahead in this game too, but are now on the point of losing.

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You can find the rules here. Andy will be disappointed to find that ‘kubbs that right themselves due to the momentum of the impact are considered knocked down’ since that happened to him and, despite his quite correct insistence, we overruled him and let the offending kubb stay upright. Disappointed is probably the wrong word. Disgruntled, unsettled, indignant, might all be closer. Indignation is one of his strong suits, though, in truth, his bark is much worse than his bite. Once he knows the truth, we will never hear the end of it, that’s for sure.

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During one of our late trips to the beach, I think on the same evening that I took this photo, we saw several seals popping above the surface briefly to watch us, watching them. I’ve seen seals along this coast before, but usually early in the mornings, and not by this relatively busy stretch of beach.

Three Weeks Under Canvas: Kubb at Towyn Farm

Waterside House

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After Silver Sapling we had one night at home, but didn’t unpack the trailer, because we were straight off again the following day, this time to Waterside House on the shore of Ullswater, once again with our friends Beaver B and G and their family.

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On the first day, after we’d pitched the tent, we inflated the canoes and spent the remainder of the day enjoying the lake.

The following day we took a short stroll into Pooley Bridge.

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It wasn’t far, but there was plenty of entertainment along the way.

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Pooley Bridge is not a huge place, but TBH and G wanted to fully explore all of the shopping opportunities it had to offer. Fortunately, the sun came out and those of us who wee not so interested in tat could settle down on a bench and watch the world go by.

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Browsing concluded and ice-creams consumed, we moved on for an ascent of Dunmallard Hill. This was Little S’s brainwave; seeing it from the campsite, he’d announced his intention to climb it. The kids also selected the route, a frontal assault which turned out to be ridiculously steep and which I think some party members will remember for all the wrong reasons, having not enjoyed it at all. To add insult to injury, there are no views from the top because of the trees.

Fortunately, there are other routes from the top, one of which we used for our descent, finding opportunities for feats of derring-do en route.

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The principal reason for choosing the campsite was it’s lake-fronting location and we got out in the boats every day that we were there.

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A view from the water gives a whole new perspective on the Lake District and I found it very relaxing, even though the weather was a bit mixed.

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A in particular seemed to agree with me and, with her friend E, probably used the canoes more than anybody else.

TBH was out quite a bit too…

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…here with our friend G.

We didn’t go very far, but we didn’t need to. Down to the yacht club at Thwaitehill Bay a couple of times was the furthest. (Dinghies can be rented there we found, something I’ve stored away for future planning).

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Some of the kids were more keen on the small playground on site, and others, B in particular, spent a lot of time swimming. I probably would have swum more than I actually did, but for the fact that the water is not very deep. I swam out quite a way and found that I still wasn’t out of my depth. It seems illogical, now that I come to write it down, but for whatever reason, I don’t like that. Even TBH, much to everyone’s surprise, got in on the act…

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…briefly.

The campsite was excellent, we would definitely go again. The showers were good. The toilet block closest to us was a sort of upmarket portacabin, but it was always clean and perfectly adequate. There’s a small well-stocked shop and a take-away kiosk. The site was busy, but very quiet at night. The ground was water-logged – we saw one car get really stuck in the mire. For that reason, we put the trailer-tent on a bit of a slope, which isn’t ideal, but it worked out okay: we managed to pitch it with the beds level after a lot of help from our friends. The big advantage for us was the access to the lake shore which, hopefully you can tell, we really enjoyed.

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Waterside House

Silver Sapling Weekend

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Here is our trusty Conway Countryman pitched at the Silver Sapling campsite. Where’s that? What exotic locale have we chosen for our latest break? Well, er…it’s about half a mile down the road from home. The kids bikes, you’ll note, are strewn across the field by the tent, because they had decided that they would cycle rather than joining us in the car. It’s a Girl Guiding site, but bookable by other groups (although this is not immediately clear from the website). We were there for our friend Beaver B’s* big birthday bash. He’d booked it so that friends from the village could easily attend, but so that friends and family from further afield could also be easily accommodated. A brilliant idea I thought.

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We’d barely started to pitch the tent, in which task B is my principal assistant, when B discovered a Slowworm. It was dead sadly, but that gave us a good chance to examine it closely. It’s scales were gold on its upper-side and it was black underneath.

The weather was a bit mixed. When the sun shone, with trees on three sides but open to the south, the site was a lovely sun-trap. When it rained, we had the marquee to use, to which we added another tent to give a sort of T-shaped affair…

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For the kids there are pedal go-karts, grass sledges, giant jenga, and giant kerplunk (all provided on site), plus badminton, footballs, frisbees and bikes which we’d brought ourselves. There are huge barbecues and fire-pits on site too, which got good use, as well as a place where it’s okay to have a larger fire. Beaver B had ordered in a barrel of Tag Lag beer, which is brewed at the Drunken Duck near Windermere and proved to be very palatable.

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Most importantly, there was lots of good company, both old friends and some we hadn’t met before. A fine time was had by all, I think. I certainly know that I enjoyed myself enormously.

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We had a couple of visitors to our tent over the weekend. On the Friday night there were some comedy attempts to photograph a quite striking green cricket using flash photography (the results are predictably blurred). The following morning I spotted this moth on our awning. There is a species of moth called the Mottled Grey. Since this moth is both grey and mottled, maybe that’s what this is.

In all, a fabulous weekend. The camp site can be booked in sections (as we did) or the whole thing can be block booked (every year a group of bikers have a charity weekend and concert here for example). It can also be booked for daytime use. You only pay per camper. Why not give it a try?

*When Beaver B has appeared here previously, I think he has just been B, but, obviously that gets confusing with our own B. I’m not sure that he will be too enamoured with this sobriquet, but it is how we make the distinction at home, since Beaver B helped run the local Beaver unit when our own B and S were members.

Silver Sapling Weekend

Towyn Farm: Cloud Ten

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Lesser Black-backed Gull (I think).

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Our tenth annual summer camping holiday at Towyn Farm near Tudweiliog on the Llyn Peninsula. (Eleventh for some of our friends, because we missed one year for a family birthday party). We were unusually late this year, meaning that S had his birthday before we got there – he has had almost all of his birthday’s in Wales.

Because I’m chary about taking my camera to the beach, my photos are wholly inadequate and don’t capture any of the things which are important about the holiday – the frisby flinging, beach tennis and mass games of cricket, games of Kubb, swimming and body-surfing, messing about in boats etc etc. There are no pictures of our various rock-pool finds, in particular of the Norway Lobster which B and I caught with a borrowed net. Or of the many fish I saw at low tide whilst snorkelling around the reef just off shore.

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But most importantly, there are no photos of the gaggle of old friends whom we meet here every year and who make the holiday what it is.

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The weather was very kind to us this year, with lots of sunshine and the rain largely confined to the nights or early mornings.

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Our kids adore the sea and seemed to be quite happy to spend almost all day every day immersed in it, swimming, surfing, snorkelling, boating, floating on a ring, jumping about in the waves etc.

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I’m already looking forward to next year.

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Towyn Farm: Cloud Ten