2 – 4 May: And off to France we go!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Newhaven Ferry Port, Dieppe, Grandvilliers, Saint- Quentin, Longpont, France

Thursday: The day had finally arrived to board our ferry across to France. We originally booked our tickets while visiting my dad in New Zealand, and it seemed so far away. We had sat there wondering what would have happened to us in the intervening five months…an awful lot as it turned out!

We had not had the best night’s sleep. While sleeping at the port seemed like a good idea (and we were not the only motorhome to do so), the night was punctuated by the arrival of multiple heavy goods vehicles running their engines and freight trains moving to and from the port.

Nevertheless, a crisp clear morning greeted us, blue skies and light winds seeing us off from England.

Truffy all ready to board
Passports checked and tickets in hand…
Into the belly of the ‘Seven Sisters’ we drive

The three hour journey went without incidence, and we pulled off the boat in Dieppe reminding ourselves to drive on the right and give way to the left on roundabouts. Finally our left hand drive truck was coming into its own.

Both tired, we decided not to drive too far on our first evening. Those of you unfamiliar with travelling by motorhome in France will probably not have noticed the ‘Aires de camping car’ in many of the small towns and villages. These are designated areas for motor homes with often four or five parking spots. Sometimes there is the option for a couple of hours of electricity (around €2) and drinking water, which is often free. Generally there will be a drain to dump your grey water (showers/dishwashing) and a dump-point for your black water (toilet).

We selected a random one from an app which had good reviews and drove over.

The village of Grandvilliers sits on the far northern outskirts of Paris, and is fairly unremarkable. We had a stroll around the village and bought some bread from an artisan bakery before retiring for the night.

Hotel de France

Wonky old house along the road from where we parked up

Loving the tulips
A beautiful array of tulips on the entrance to a mechanic’s workshop
Monsieur A very proud of his ‘Je voudrais du pain s’il vous plaît’

Friday: A bit of research of the area revealed nothing too exciting for us to aim for, so we picked another location in the general direction of the Champagne region we’re heading to. Either there are no towns of note here, or nobody is writing about them (probably the latter!)!

We drove through relatively flat countryside, mostly growing rape seed for canola oil and various other vegetables, and ended up at another small town, Saint-Quentin.

Picturesque patchwork of fields on our drive
Driving along a straight Roman road

Saint-Quentin has a long history and was originally founded by the Romans in around the 4th century. Many of the roads we drove to get there were dead straight, a clue to this history. Apparently many Roman artifects and coins are still found in the surrounding fields and properties. This town has a bit of a tragic story, with more than half of its population killed during the great plague and during World War II 80% of the town was destroyed or severely damaged as it was part of the German Hindenburg Line.

Today it is a peaceful centre, with a train line into Paris taking just under two hours, and the Canal du Nord taking water borne traffic through town. Our aires for the night was right beside the canal, so we decided to jump on the bikes for an explore.

Despite the grey day, a picturesque cycle
Potential to go a long way…we stuck to 20km

Other than a few rowers, there was little traffic on the water, perhaps a bit early in the season for barges. We were interested to see that the canal near here heads underground for a few kilometres. In the early days, it took hours to travel through the 5 or so kilometres but today it is traversed using a chain boat. We didn’t make it up as far as the tunnel.

Saturday: The temperature plunged to 3 degrees centigrade overnight which made for a slow emergence from bed. We really miss the warm bedspread we left with my mum in Hastings, but are hoping that nights this cold will be few and far between as we head south.

We drove to the town of Soissons where there was a choice of large supermarkets to choose from. There we did a huge shop for 10 people – tomorrow is Sunday and French shops will be closed, and we are joining a group of friends who are staying nearby in a house. Somehow we managed to make a whole trolley load of purchases disappear into Truffy, and set off for our night’s destination.

It was not too far to drive to the little village of Longpont. The village is very pretty and dominated by the ruins of an old abbey which was active between 1131 and 1793. It was open to be visited, but with looming black clouds and no roof on the abbey we retreated to a nearby pub instead. Are you surprised?

Abbaye de Longpont – ancient ruined monastery
Can almost imagine the stained glass in this grand window
The old entranceway, several hundred years old
Mr A already half way to the pub
One pastis and one vin rouge, merci boucoup
Un chien noir
Fairytale French village…

The Forest of Retz is close by to here, an ancient woodland which has been under protection since 1672, quite rare for Europe where forest was seen as something to cut down and use for fuel or clear for agriculture. Hopefully the rain will hold off so we can go for a stroll tomorrow before we head to Priez, our home for the next few days.

As for tonight, we’re sheltering from the showers (currently marble sized hail!) and are going to enjoy an Italian red (yes, I know, blasphemy in France) with a home made Pad Thai. Bon soir!

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