Looking along a long straight road amidst lush green farmland

Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

False Hope Part Two

By Ren Withnell

It rained most of the night as far as I can tell. The gf's airbed went down again and I blew it up from time to time but it's obviously not right. Outside in the "porch" the mud has had more water added to it to make it even muddier. Perhaps we should decamp and go and find somewhere better. But then it stops raining. Having the small supermarket nearby is a blessing that supplies us with even more chocolate granola, fresh milk and I even find some tea bags that make an acceptable brew. Apart from the quagmire in the porch and outside the tent it's even starting to dry out.

the tent and a muddy path from within the porch to the gravel track
The quagmire. Sparse grass and weeds are not enough to bind the soil and I know there's puddles under the groundsheet.

I find the campsite owner to pay for another night. She speaks no English and with my broken French the discussion is awkward. It takes a while but I deduce that another night's camping is €8 if we want sunshine, "soleil" or €6 if we accept rain, "pleut". I have to assume she's not God and she is teasing me so I opt for the €6. Considering it's merely damp right now I reckon I might have got myself a bargain. 

The tall English camper tells us of several "must see" places. The first is across the river and up a steep hill to a bastille, walking distance. Then we must ride to Monflanquin to see their ancient buildings. We'll start with the walk then see how we feel later, but it looks like we're stopping another night here. The skies are cloudy but not heavy or grey and from time to time the sun makes a brief appearance. The English camper tells us the forecast isn't too good, a possibility of showers. Not to worry this morning is looking fine and we have all we need close to hand. We prepare for our walk.

I should say we over prepare. Just in case, I have my waterproof jacket and warm jumper on, you never know do you? St Sylvestre-Sur-Lot is on the north side of the river and on the opposite bank looking just like another part of St Sylvestre lies Penne-D'Agenais. They are 2 distinct towns on opposing shores connected by one bridge and according to our eccentric English friend they are locked in competition. I see no battlements or armies but I can imagine French mothers outside school giving each other dirty looks and whispering to their friends "she's from the OTHER side, tart!", in French of course.

the modern smart concrete bridge between st sylvestre sur lot and penne d-agenais
The divisive bridge. It's dry and warming up quite pleasantly.

We cross the bridge without incident. After a few small houses and gravel verges we start to climb. We've been told the bastille is on top of the hill so up seems to be the obvious route. Up starts off with a reasonable gradient past houses that increase in size as we get higher. Then we're confronted by a piece of tarmac that must surely be clinging to the gradient by the skin of it's teeth. It looks like 45 degrees although I'm sure it's not. Walking up it however feels more like 90 degrees and after the first third we both stop to remove a layer. Halfway we remove more layers and foolishly I offer to carry the gf's, trying to prove what a man I am. By the second third I'm regretting my choice and with just a few yards to go I'm hot, sweaty and out of breath. Looking back down the road is only 200 metres long.

As I catch my breath by sitting on a rail the gf catches me up. I'm surprised, she's normally a lot fitter than I but maybe I've got my mountain goat head on today. Maybe it's because I'm "vaporising" these days not smoking. I don't know but I do know I've done myself in a bit. On the level ground it takes a minute or two to ease the cramps and gripes in my legs as I walk. Down below the town looks like any other French town but up here we're entering an "historique" town complete with narrow lanes, hidden paths, tiny doorways and quirky mixed up houses. There's also the obligatory tourist shop and information centre. 

It is most pleasant and very much still in use. On a building that would typically be preserved and filled with ancient artefacts is a sign offering, from what I can deduce, joinery and window fitting services. Another shop is the boulangerie, another a restaurant. It is historical yet inhabited, alive. The odd car pokes out from a garden wall and a delivery van passes by. It's steep too, houses are cut into and built upon the hillside in an array of jaunty angles and precipitous steps. I'm thankful we're not on the overladen bike on these angular streets.

higgledy piggledy street and houses in penne d'agenais
Delightfully mixed up, alive and ancient all at the same time. 

The bastille, "Notre Dame de Peyragude" is right on the top of the hill. To me it's a church, what the difference between a church, a bastille or a chapel is I'm not sure. Inside the gf snaps away at the impressive stained glass windows and I rest my weary feet. A young family talk in English, they greet me with a "Bonjour" and I reply "Bonjour". I imagine they think I'm French, I hope they say something juicy or rude safely thinking I won't understand but they just have small talk whilst junior is replaced back into her buggy. I'm something of a heathen when it comes to churches and architecture, I'm not really that interested.

large clean grey stone chapel or church or bastille with a lady pushing a buggy through the door
The Bastille and the English lady with the buggy.

We've missed a small shower outside. I tell the gf and remind her that sometimes luck is on our side, it's not all Murphy's Law fighting against us. We wander around a small cave outside complete with a Virgin Mary and offerings to those taken from this life. Looking at some of the pictures it seems many are taken far too early and that life is most cruel. A maturing French couple talk to us in the familiar manner of broken English and French, as ever we work out what each other is trying to say. The talk is of the weather and how amazed they are at how bad it has been recently. For the umpteenth time we're reassured it's not usually like this. If we had a pound for each time we're told this the holiday would have been free.

a magnificent view over the river lot region from the bastille on the hill
It's not a bad view from the Bastille. You can see how high we've climbed.

Walking back is a lot easier downhill. We laugh as a group of ageing French walkers shuffle, groan and pant their way up as we brace our way back down. Back through the town and over the bridge and back to the campsite is done is warm dry weather with just light cloud. It is most pleasant and we've avoided the one solitary shower. As we get back to the tent and the mud we feel but a few small drops of rain. Not a bad morning at all really, now, what shall we do with the afternoon?

As we sit in the tent resting the shower develops. Not to worry, we'll have a bite to eat while it passes over. It doesn't pass over. Soon the shower is rattling the tent incessantly and the idea of going out on the bike to Monflanquin is becoming less and less appealing. We decide to have an afternoon nap-nap and see how we feel when the rain has passed. I sleep for maybe an hour. It's still raining and harder than ever. My fears of floods, of mud, of saturation and leaking tents are all coming back to me. It must pass, it surely must.

The gf is sleeping and that is a relief. As long as she's asleep I know she's happy. If she's happy then I only have myself to worry about and that I can deal with. I'm bored so I put on my waterproofs and take myself off for another walk. In the pouring rain, the sort of rain that causes water to gush out of gutters, this town looks far less appealing. The weather and the mood truly does influence one's opinion of a place and that is most unfair.

As I walk I wonder what people would think of their favourite holiday resort in mid winter when it's cold and wet and deserted? I think of those who relentlessly tell me how bad the UK is and of how they'd love to live in this or that place. Everywhere, anywhere is great when you don't have to go to work. When you don't have to wash the pots. When the sun is shining and the sea is warm. It's one thing to visit a place, it's quite another to live and work there. Humans are a foolish breed, trapped between sentience and intelligence.

There's a chemist with the LED sign they all have. There's a butchers, bakers and estate agents. A small church, not as impressive as the bastille. The supermarket. Lots of campervans in the supermarket car park. A female Gendarme goes into the butchers and comes out with a packet of something. Rain runs off the clear plastic canopy outside the supermarket at an alarming rate. I hope you're as bored reading this as I am observing it. The rain washes over my jacket onto my waterproof pants and down over my bike boots. I look to the skies for hope, there is none. All I get is a big fat heavy rain drop in my eye that stings.

I don't want to disturb the gf. There's no point us both being bored and the rest will do her good. Back at the campsite there's a small table and chairs under a small sheltered patio outside of reception. I sit there, cold and bored. There's some magazines in a tub, an English copy of Top Gear provides some reading material and images of cars in warm dry places. As I read the odd campervan resident passes by and complains of the weather in French. I agree but envy them with their comfy chairs, televisions, kettles and tables. At least they're dry. They're not worried about the tent leaking. They can walk around in their vans. 

By late afternoon I give up and return to the tent. The gf's awake and has been for a while. I daresay even she's bored as well as miserable. She doesn't do bored, there's always a book to be read or domestic chores to be done, but not here. She's been writing in our diary and straightening out the tent. And the airbed has gone down again. It's all going wrong and the rain rattles the material of the tent so hard we're almost shouting at each other. Yet still, somehow, someway we are managing to keep a brave face, a smile and surviving.

The supermarket sells cheap plastic li-los. The sort of thing you'd use in a pool on a package holiday. The images of pretty models standing next to the li-lo in glorious sun on a white sandy beach belie the conditions outside but for the price, €5, this may be a solution to the airbed problem. Also we spot a reed mat for €2 which may help to bind the mud and reduce the quagmire in the "porch" area. Along with a carton of soup and some brioche bread we pay our bill and trudge back to the tent and the mud. The soup is delicious and most welcome, the reed mat helps, but not much and the li-lo is at least inflated.

This is now dire. It's only 1930 but it has been raining hard and solidly for 7 hours. Whilst washing up a French camper in his large luxurious van tells me he's had enough of this weather and is returning back home to Paris tomorrow. He uses some swearwords I recognise and the rest I deduce. Wuss. He's in a big van with awning and electric, what's he got to complain about? I wonder if I should offer him my tent, then he'll know what real hardship is. I also wonder why he doesn't offer the gf and I a brew in his nice van. Perhaps the mud on my boots has put him off.

The strange lady in the van next to us offers us a brew, she's English. Her dogs bark and fight and to be honest she's a little odd, eccentric. It's a very generous offer and we both politely thank her but decline. I wonder if we should have had a warm dry brew, we never gave here a chance, she might have been quite pleasant company. I feel guilty now, and wet. The rain continues to rattle against the tent, hard rain interspersed with even louder rattles as the wind shakes the tree and it drips hard onto the taught nylon. It's an incessant noise that occasionally eases a little bringing hope but then returns with ever more grinding force. It's times like this I understand how a mountain feels while it's being eroded.

We are both bored. After discussing the weather into submission and our hopes and fears of travelling the gf suggests we play games. Oh for Christ's sake it's come to this. I hate games, they remind me of being bored as a child on holiday in the rain soaked UK and my heart sinks. But I'm reaching the point of mild insanity, it might just help, so I agree. First off, taking it in turns to give girls names beginning with "A". Whoever runs out of names first loses that round. Alison, Angela, Anne, Andrea, Agnes...

I start well but by F or G I'm losing more and more. By T my mind has switched off. By Z I'm desperate for the world to end. We finish to my relief but it's only killed 3/4 of an hour. My god it felt like 40 years. The gf moves on to animals, Antelope... I can't even think. My mind has become as gloopy and turgid as the mud outside. By the letter C the gf relents. After daring to go outside and use the toilets once more we retire to bed. As I squelch the mud and remove my waterproof jacket with prune fingers I no longer feel depressed. I no longer feel. Sleep comes sweet, the gf seems more than happy with her new li-lo airbed.

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike fixed...bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. Adventure...no-one said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.

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