We continued our journey north and stopped at an out of the way place near St Saud-Lacoussiere, right in the middle of the Perigord Limousin regional park. We had been entertained with more deer sightings en route and even a peregrine falcon, which whizzed passed us and into the trees.
That morning we had intended to visit Chateau de Hautefort not so much to see inside, although that too would be a treat, but to view its elegant gardens. Unfortunately, the rain showed no signs of abating and as we neared the village it worsened ,all we could do was sit in the carpark and admire the top of the house towering above the hedges. It was a great disappointment as the history to the property is very interesting and involves brotherly rivalry and flammable disaster over the centuries.
We spent a couple of days at Camping Wakan Tanka, a site that had been bought by a Dutch couple 14 years ago, and despite the weather we managed a 7km walk one morning before being soaked through once more just yards from home. Being so deep in the countryside meant we were getting close to wildlife including a frisky fox who, unaware of us, leapt around the field finding grubs; we were also honoured with the sighting of an eagle, who landed elegantly on a branch close by then turned to look down its beak at us. Not quite so pleasant was the rapid approach of a dozen heffers who followed us along the path, the flimsy wire fence not offering us much in the way of protection. Not sure Neil was too keen to practice his matador skills at that moment.
The shower and toilet block had been set up in a huge barn and it was certainly a unique experience to use facilities whilst birds were flitting overhead to and from their nests. But with no sign of the miserable weather improving we decided to head towards civilisation once more and the medieval town of Parthenay.
Parthenay is an 11th century town set just 50km west of Poitiers and our campsite was to be found on the outskirts. On arriving at the campsite we were told they weren’t taking anybody because the ground was too sodden to drive on; however, they also owned the ‘aire’ next door and offered us a place there. Although there was electric hook up and water supply, there were no other facilities so we would have to make do without a shower for a day or two. But the position was perfect, overlooking the river Thouet with much entertainment from the resident ducks who seemed to be the only creatures enjoying the current precipitation!
What joy the next morning when we woke to blue skies and no sign of rain. Not knowing how long this might last we were quickly ready and out by 9.30am, following the riverside path into town. Parthenay is another town steeped in history and we roughly followed the route that guides you to the major points of interest, which includes the Saint Jacque tower, a fortified gate by which pilgrims would enter and leave the town whilst en route to Santiago Compostella (Spain) following the Way of St James – it is believed the apostle James found his way to Spain and died there.
It is a very interesting town, but we couldn’t understand where everybody was. The shutters were down and the streets empty apart from an elderly lady tending her vegetable garden – most strange. We eventually found the newer part of town and a busy little bar where we stopped for a coffee – maybe the majority of the residents stick to this area. It was lovely to be able to sit outside in the sunshine, it felt like an eternity since we had done so. Just near the bar was an equally busy bakery; it would appear that bread is a very important part of the French daily life the most popular and more frequently bought baguette is nearly always under the arm or in the basket of each and every passerby. The origins of the long slender loaf that we associate so much with France aren’t all that clear, however, these thin sticks of bread are certainly mentioned back in the mid 1800s but it would seem that in the 1920s a law prohibited bakers to light ovens before 4am meaning regular round loaves were impossible to prepare in time for customers’ breakfast, therefore a slimmer shape meant the bread could be baked quickly. Whatever the history to it, you can’t move in France without seeing the baguette!
This particular bakery was run by an Asian family and as well as mini quiches they also had samosas on offer, so we treated ourselves to something delicious for lunch. The good weather was sticking with us as we headed back to Scooby a few hours later and we spent the rest of the afternoon on the river bank enjoying the warm sun.
That night we heard the rain return, and it continued on into the next day. We were continuing north but not far, as we wanted to make at least one stop in the Loire region. As we were up early again we were on the road in good time and reached Montsabert (south of Angers) by 11am.
The Loire Valley is France’s third largest wine producer, the majority of which is white but given the geographical extent of the Loire means that the grape variety is also extensive resulting in red, rose and even sparkling wines being produced. As we drove towards the river we were being surrounded by vineyards with just the inkling of leaves appearing on the otherwise bare stubby vines.
This was a beautiful area, with signs for chateaux and ‘domaine’on every corner and the campsite we were heading for was in the grounds of the 13th century Chateaux Montsabert. We settled in but within minutes the rain was with us once more and we were trying hard not to get too fed up with constrictions the weather was putting upon us. We had been looking forward to visiting France and taking time to enjoy these two beautiful areas that we had heard so much about. The Dordogne and Loire had always featured so much in magazine and holiday suggestions, and we had had ideas of cycling round discovering villages and chateaux, but the miserable weather was making that impossible. We knew that the weather was bad all over France and northern Europe, but it was extremely frustrating as there was still so much to see. But there was nothing we could do and we certainly didn’t want to just sit inside moping about it, so we decided that if the rain persisted through the night and we woke to another grey wet morning we would move on once more.
And so it was – Saturday morning we joined the weekend traffic and travelled up to our next stop: Noyal-Muzillac. We were once again travelling through beautiful countryside, enjoying brief peeks at chateaux in the distance, although at times we couldn’t see the road in front through the rain, let alone our surroundings. But the next campsite was set in the grounds of a working mill and there was always hope the rain may stop falling – at some point!
Despite the pouring rain we enjoyed our stay at camping Moulin de Cadillac – the main pitches were surrounded by the small river that obviously motored the mill, and at the back was a small menagerie with chickens, sheep, rabbits and llamas amongst the residents; but Neil’s favourite was the turkey, in full feathery outfit with its fleshy protuberance atop and beneath the beak it regaled us with its typical gobbling sound, and Neil was amused to discover Terrance the Turkey would gobble on cue! Funny the things that would amuse us during the damp weather!
The campsite was busy with many French coming to use the cabins for the weekend. 1st May is a holiday in France and we presumed many were taking advantage of having a long weekend. We on the other hand couldn’t believe May was soon to be upon us – we thought of the hot sunny days cruising round Croatia and found it hard to believe we had been on the road for 14 months. We were about to start the last two weeks of our trip, and although in the past that would have felt like a welcome holiday, it now seemed such a short time before returning to reality.