We are pleased with what lockdown has helped us to achieve in the garden, but when the restrictions under lockdown started easing our thoughts turned to planning for our travels. In an impulsive moment I signed us up for a Carthago UK Owners Club three day gathering in York, as I thought it might make an ideal shake down run prior to a bigger trip.
Charlie II also seemed to like this idea and inexplicably got quite excited imagining there would be plenty of Margo Leadbetter types at such a gathering. Questioned further Charlie revealed he was fed up being in the closet and from now on he’d like to change his name to ‘Margo the Carthago’ In fact she suggested, it was about time I took off her scruffy winter wheels and tyres and fitted her with the shiny aluminium wheels and summer tyres we had stored in the garage.
The UK Carthago Owners Club turned out to be nothing like the Leadbetters, but instead a welcoming down to earth friendly bunch , who not unlike us had invested their savings in a Carthago as a way of living their dream. As an unexpected bonus MTC was very pleased to introduce Lesley and I to her original owners Terry & Dot who now own a very nice Carthago Chic E-line 51 QB. Margo was most impressed!
We like many others have found it difficult to fully understand the fast changing rules that followed the simplicity of lockdown. Especially when travelling between England and Lesley’s home town in Scotland. Our current understanding is: it’s not going to just go away – a vaccine is probably coming but is 6 months away – the majority are taking it seriously – but some are not – the economy needs society to function – for the sake of our mental health life has to go on – we shouldn’t abandon common sense – we should act responsibly.
The data provided by the New York Times has been very useful in helping us decide where we should go. Like the local restrictions being imposed in England -France, Spain and many other potential European destinations have very varying numbers of Covid cases. Our plan (along with the weather forecasts) is to stay in touch with what’s happening around us and alter our plans to suit. Living in a motorhome it’s quite possible to have very limited contact with other people, aside from food and fuel shopping, where we take care to avoid taking risks.
Matt Lucas summed up the latest advice from Boris “So, we are saying don’t go to work, go to work. Don’t take public transport, go to work, don’t go to work,” Lucas spluttered. “Stay indoors. If you can work from home, go to work, don’t go to work, go outside, don’t go outside. And then we will or won’t, something or other….” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WT59lu4tCU
With her first MOT passed, cab serviced, habitation and gas checks completed, Margo was ready to roll. But where to?
We feel incredibly lucky, privileged as retired, financially free, reasonably healthy people who have the chance to go off and explore. We have this possibility and although we may also feel slightly guilty we aren’t going to waste the opportunity we have.
When we were leaving France avec vitesse back in March we found a great aire at Neufchatel-en- Bray which held about 18 vans but was clean, well organised and about two hours from Calais. We decided to return there choosing a mainly non toll route and arrive still with no fixed plan of what next but decide to land for a couple of nights whilst we assess what to do next.
As born again cyclists, we’re discovering how biking is a great way to see nature, enjoy fresh air and explore. With great cycle paths and quiet lanes the Normandy countryside around Neufchatel-en- Bray was perfect for settling us back into our routines.
Nearby to our aire we came across allotments buy the side on the path. Lesley was especially interested in the tall spiral metal canes for the tomatoes to grow up. It all looked very productive in spite of a distinct lack of leaves? Personally I was more impressed by their ability to grow satellite dishes…
After a relaxing start, looking at the weather we had intended to head for the coast before the forecast wind and rain came through. Honfleur has a large motorhome stopover very close to the town with great views across the inland waterways.
After an afternoon strolling the town (observing the compulsory wearing of masks outside) as we returned to the waiting Margo we got talking to an English couple Martin in a van nearby. We would have loved to have been more sociable but the nagging concerns of Covid-19 inhibit normal sociability. However they did pass on some good tips regarding motorhoming in Portugal and Spain which we’ll follow up later.
Honfleur is a attractive place with boats in the sheltered harbour backed by a network of medieval streets, so we could imagine that it would be heaving in the height of summer. Out of season it was quiet whether this is entirely due to the time of year – or more likely the effects of the Coronavirus.
On our second night deciding to eat out, it wasn’t difficult to find a harbourside table in a restaurant with just one other couple. Our galettes washed down with local cidre was enjoyable, but we felt the pricing may have been set to make up for the lack of custom.
We had half a plan to head north west for the likes Quimper and Concarneau but a close look at the weather maps showed storm Alex would hit that corner with 60-70 mph winds so we changed our minds and headed south in the general direction of Alençon. We later read winds of more than 110 mph were recorded in Brittany on Thursday and Friday!
Avoiding the toll roads we made good progress on the smaller D roads and see more at the slower pace of a less direct route that is interspersed with the occasional village. The landscape in this region is littered with half timbered buildings many in the rural parts in need of TLC or renovation. Mmmmm there’s an idea!
Chosen as one of the ‘prettiest villages in France’, Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei was a good spot for a bit of Komoot-researched bicycling . We also intended to stay the night . When arrived it was certainly pretty and pretty narrow to drive a 7.45m motorhome through. The second challenge was the 2m height restriction on our planned overnight free (close to village) parking spot.
Finding a temporary parking spot in a rain soaked car park, we set off on the planned bike route in search of a couple of interesting river crossing points. The first one was meant to be a raft with a wire to pull yourself across, but unfortunately had closed 3 days before… Whilst I struggled to keep my bike in lower gears we carried on in search of the ‘bridge of five stones’. We did find the location indicated by the Komoot app but no bridge. however after hunting in several places we were about to give up when Lesley spotted an overgrown sign for Pont de cinq pierres, voila!
With parking limited we abandoned our beau village and set course for a overnight parking spot 20kms down the road at Fresnay-sur-Sarthe. We joined on a free parking spot next to the recycling bins by a rarely seen GB plated motorhome. We would have been up for a safe disanced chat but curtains were still drawn when we left for Le Mans inthe morning.
The town of Le Mans must feel pretty neglected. As most visitors (us included rush by to get to the 24 hour Le Mans circuit. We were quite close when yet another confusing Mal de Sat Nav sent us down a route which lead us, first onto an industrial estate, then a long detour back and round to join a traffic queue that took us eventually 24 minutes later back to where we started… arrrrgh.
With no racing taking place, our target was the 24 Hours of Le Mans Museum.
Seen through a 2020 lens there are examples of all manner ridiculous contraptions. Steam powered from Léon Bollée Automobiles and De Dion Bouton Trepardoux Steam Quadricycle from 1890. There were also examples of early electric cars from 1900 that had a range of 310 kms on single charge.
The museum was much more than the story of the 24 hours. Yes it was full of examples across the history of 24h race. However I was most impressed how it also told a brilliant story of automotive development, of mechanical ingenuity, craftsmanship and of the characters involved in the history of motor car manufacturing. Many branches of motor sport have helped advanced everyday motoring. However the 24 hours is first and foremost an endurance race. The test upon the cars, the drivers and the teams behind them is designed to separate the wheat from the chaff.
According to Wikipedia – In 1803, Hayden Wischett designed the first car powered by the de Rivaz engine, an early internal combustion engine that was fuelled by hydrogen. Lesley and I both think the future is H-powered cars, but maybe the risks of crashing a hydrogen fuel tank during competitive motorsports and the interests of big oil have held back the development?
Continuing the British Racing Green theme…. The Bentley Speed 8 that won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2003.
Bentley was the first British manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 2003 win provided Bentley with an unusual 24 hour record: the longest time, 73 years from 1930 to 2003 between two overall Le mans 24h victories for the same manufacturer.
Le Mans is the name of the town that hosts the legendary race course, Circuit de la Sarthe. Much of the 8.46 mile circuit comprises closed public roads.
The circuit has many familiar (to petrol heads) turns and landmarks like Dunlop Bridge, the Esses and the famous Mulsanne Straight . This once single very long straight connected Le Mans and the town of Mulsanne. The straight now has two chicanes to keep top speeds down.
Talking of speeds the quickest cars lap the eight and a half miles in around 3 mins 20 secs. That’s an average of more than 150 mph with top speeds of 210 miles per hour. Le Man authorities are known for its openness to new categories. e.g. diesel, hybrid. So how about motorhomes! The test might be how long would it take to complete a lap in Margo whilst boiling an egg? Just a thought…
Okay, okay, that’s enough about cars already. I promise….!
Toot, toot, peep, peep and Toodle Pip for now
Dave Lesley & Margo