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Tuesday 16th October

(c) Michelin 2012

Well, the rain returned overnight. Peering out through the windows of the caravan, to those of us from Manchester…. (that would be me and Sue then), it looked like it was set for the day. There wasn’t any ‘soft roading’ action planned for today, so it looked like a trip out to Sarlat, about 25 Km south, was on the cards. There wasn’t much hurry so a leisurely start to the day  with twenty minutes of trying to decipher the local TV news ensued. We left the site around 10:30 and headed south along the D704 towards Sarlat and I at least hoped that I would be able to find a nice pavement cafe and have a petit déjeuner croissant and coffee while watching the world pass by.

The Freelander was running much better than it had been and we followed the road, past some impressive piles of logs, without any rattling from the engine. We arrived in Sarlat and followed the signs for the town centre. We managed to park in a small car park up a hill at the back of the main shopping street and for a reasonable one Euro got four hours of parking. Sue found a brolly in the door pocket of the Freelander and we wandered back down to the main shopping street. Despite the drizzle, I decided that having the collected contents of the top of the umbrella repeatedly emptied on one shoulder while being poked in the forehead by the pointy bits of the brolly with similar frequency was slightly more annoying than getting wet in the drizzle. After a brief look at an engraved map of the town to get our bearings, we set off in the general direction of the hub of things.

Wandering down a side street we came across a tower next to the church that has a number of market stalls inside, but what made this really impressive was the size of the door. I’ve seen some mahoosive sliding doors on hangers, but this was the biggest swing door I’d ever seen. I don’t have a photo of it as I’d left my camera in the car due to the inclement weather. I must upgrade my iPhone to one with a few megapixels… that would be a start. Mind you If I remembered my iPhone had a camera, that would be an even better start.

Wandering past the shops and peering in the windows, it became apparent that Sarlat was the centre of “duck and goose abuse” with the amount of shops all specialising in or selling Foie Gras. It also seemed to be the centre of tinned, bottled and generally pre-package “cassoulet” too. Well I guess they have to do something with the other bits of the ducks and geese they have left. Most of the pavement cafe’s were preparing for the lunch time rush, so we wandered on and came full circle back on to the main shopping thoroughfare. We eventually came across a cafe that had tables outside that were sheltered from the rain and sat down. Sue went inside and ordered coffee and Stella… well it was nearly lunchtime. We sat and watched the shops up and down the street. It was approaching lunchtime and as the local clock chimed out one o’clock lights went off, shutters dropped and signs in doors were flipped over to “fermé”.

A few years earlier we had sat outside at a pavement cafe serving tapas in Gerona, and witnessed the spectacle of everything shutting for two hours while lunch was taken. Then, as now, we thought how civilised, and always thought of office and shop workers in the UK that seem all too frequently have to have a lunchtime snack sat at their desk or workplace.

As the shops started to open again after lunch, we paid the bill and headed off back to the car. I never did get my petit déjeuner croissant. At least the rain had eased. Leaving the centre of Sarlat via the one way system we passed a number of motor-homes parked up in car parks. It would seem that some towns have facilities for overnight stops for motor-homes. The Freelander was still behaving itself as we turned north on the D704.

That afternoon Sue caught up on the news from home in a paper we had managed to obtain while I got my Macbook out and started drafting “The French Connection – Pt 1” That evening we polished off the remainder of the cheese and meats we had bought the day before with some more fresh bread we collected on the way back from Sarlat.

Wednesday 17th October

Wednesday morning – high cloud breaking up with a 4 knot breeze out of the south-west

Wednesday started with more promise than Tuesday had done. It had stopped raining sometime in the night and looking out, the clouds were high and breaking up. All in all it looked like a good day for more off road adventures. Phillip had said on Monday that today would be a bit more challenging with a number of different surfaces. The departure time was again 11:30 am so we had a leisurely start to the day. We had another go at deciphering the local news, without much success, but we did find out that some French stations ‘simulcast’ the original English language soundtrack of programmes that have been dubbed into French. Quite useful as we had now watched the entire set of “Gavin & Stacey” including the Christmas editions that I’d copied on to a portable hard drive….. lush. At least now that evening we could watch “The Big Bang Theory” in English on the local tv channel.

We all assembled at the gate around 11:30 again. Phillip said we would be stopping for lunch at a spectacular view-point and the tracks today would be a little more challenging as they were not used as much and covered a different variety of surfaces, including flint. We set off initially on the same route we had done on Monday.

The view of La Tournerie across the valley.

Phillip explaining to Sue the history of La Tournerie while in the background Chris gets another shot across the valley

This time however, the view across the valley was not obscured in low cloud and offered an excellent view of La Tournerie.

We stopped there while everyone took a couple of photos and people chatted. Although we all knew each other via the various caravanning forums and had many ‘conversations’ on line, we had not actually sat down and talked except for small interludes like this.

We set off again in convoy. Despite all the rain the previous day the ground was firm and dry. Phillip explained that this year had been a particularly dry summer across the region and they needed all the rain they could to help build up reserves for next summer.

The tracks this time were more overgrown than the previous adventure. I’d pushed the button to swing the door mirrors into the parked position and hoped that the others had remembered to do the same. The surface changed from fairly compact limestone to a less compact and rough local rock. In a couple of places I’d used the Freelander’s “Hill Decent Control” on the steep sections as Ray’s Toyota Hilux which was in front of us locked up its rear wheels occasionally and slid on the loose surface. At the bottom of some descents  the track was rutted and deep in mud, none of which caused any problems to any of the 4 x 4’s.

Damage to the rim after sliding off a lump of flint (click to enlarge)

The surface changed to broken flint, which can be particularly hard on tyres. The trick here was not to rush sections and let the wheels find their own course. Trying to turn sharply or spinning the wheels would probably result in a puncture with a piece of flint being driven through the side wall. Thankfully we all completed the section without punctures, although I did pickup some damage to the front near side rim when I slid off a rock and it kicked up.

The hill we were heading up for lunch

Philips promise of lunch at a spectacular viewpoint proved to be spot on. At the top of a 200 foot escarpment was an area where the local paragliders fling themselves off the edge and fly down, missing the power lines on the way, and descend into the grounds of a local Chateau.

We all managed to park up wedged in amongst the trees at the edge of a clearing. Walking to the edge gave a spectacular view of the valley below and across the valley was something that was familiar to Sue and I, a runway tucked on to the side of the hill on the other side of the valley…..

Wendy had once again provided an outstanding buffet… I can heartily recommend her home made sausage rolls complete with home made sausages and a rather fine tuna pasta that demanded seconds… or thirds even.

After lunch we tracked back down the hill and across through the grounds of one of the châteaux that was undergoing a massive restoration and rebuild. Some of the trails were a little more challenging and you could tell these were not as well-travelled as others we had been on. In winter some of these would be a bit of a challenge and I could see some of the tracks could need a bit of winching here and there. All too soon we were back at La Tournerie. The weather was warm and sunny with a light breeze so I thought it was time for my alter ego “One Hairy Caravanner” to don his apron and deploy the Cadac. The only problem was… we needed a few supplies. A trip to the Intermarche  store in Montignac was required.

That evening “One Hairy Caravanner” donned his apron, fired up the Cadac to its ‘blast furnace’  setting and created “pan-fried new potatoes with chorizo and seared butterfly pork steak with a cayenne pepper drizzle” washed down with a rather lush white wine Sue had chosen. Unfortunately  the wind was starting to pick up a little which required some delicate positioning of the Cadac lid as a wind break so we sat inside to dine. This is also the reason there are no photos of “One Hairy Caravanner” creating his masterpiece…. either that or Sue had spent too much time sampling and deciding on which wine to have with the meal.

PS… Sue wanted me to mention she also had some sliced tomatoes with a light vinaigrette as an accompaniment. There, mentioned it.

That evening after washing up and cleaning the Cadac (by the way, if you have a Cadac and haven’t tried the foam cleaner, give it a go… I think it’s fantastic!), we battened down the hatches as the wind was continuing to build up and we ended up watching a James Bond DVD that was part of a collection of DVD’s thoughtfully provided on a shelf in the ‘facilities block’ along with a selection of books.

Thursday 18th October

It was windy during the night, in fact on a few occasions particularly strong gusts felt like the caravan was lifting on one side. I got up a couple of times to check on the Fiamma Caravanstor awning. Although on the leeward side of the van it was having a severe flap, along with a metallic tapping sound which seemed to be right above our heads and a low thumping sound. I popped out a couple of times but could not see anything. I did however frighten the bejesus out of a rabbit that was taking shelter under our caravan step!

While the kettle was on for our morning coffee, I went out to investigate the sounds a little further…. the metallic tapping sound was actually the little finger grip part of the zip that closes the Caravanstor bag. It was in a position that allowed the wind to lift the bag and it would tap lightly on the side of the van. Closing the zip a little soon stopped that one and the thumping was… well I never did find out. After coffee Sue and I rolled up the awning and zipped it back in its bag which considering the wind, which I guess was blowing 30 knots, was quite easy to do.

As a pilot, I’d always been told “if you have a problem try to take it home, it’s always easier to solve back in your own hangar rather than sat in some remote airfield“. Obviously safety of the pax and crew always overrides this. The problem with the Freelander was still gnawing away in the back of my mind and on Saturday we had a drive of 440 miles to our overnight, then another 110 miles in the early morning to the ferry terminal. I think I’d already made the decision a couple of days earlier, but now I was convinced, we needed to leave a day early just in case, so that meant we would be leaving tomorrow. I thought if we can complete the 440 mile part of the return trip, I would have at least 24 hours to sort any problems and have a good break before potentially having to nurse the Freelander the remaining 110 miles before I could get her back on home turf. When planning the trip, I had taken out Red Pennant insurance, so if we did have a big problem, help was only a phone call away.

Thursday was a bit of an odd day one way or another. We spent some time tidying the van ready for the trip back. We decided that as it was potentially going to be a 9 hour drive it would be best to leave early… around 7:00AM. Another trip to the local Intermarche store to stock up on wine…. well when they were selling 3 litre boxes of good wine for 6 or 7 Euros, it would be silly not to take some back for testing!

It seemed that Chris and Fran must have had similar ideas as we met them in the car park. Chris had also just picked up the wheel for his caravan after having a new tyre fitted. It was also a chance to get the Freelander washed…. Phillip had actually managed to find some genuine French “splash it all over” mud the previous day and the Freelander was covered in it. Chris had similar ideas and pulled his truck on to the jet wash next to ours. I spent the afternoon with a spray of Dry Wash cleaning off streaks on the van and giving the Freelander a spruce up. This also included emptying all the door pockets of accumulated toll receipts and other bits of paperwork that weren’t needed. The wind was still blowing quite strong, although as we had descended from the hilltop that La Tournerie is on it abated somewhat, in fact in the Intermarche car park it wasn’t blowing at all.

Next time….. The long road north, a small fire in Versailles and will we make the ferry?

S

Click here for:-

The French Connection Pt 1

The French Connection Pt 2

The French Connection Pt 3

The French Connection Pt 5

The French Connection – Finale