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Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Don't Go To Ault

By Ren Withnell

The self inflating mattress was, is, well, sort of, acceptable. I have slept and I feel refreshed for it. I did however wake several times in the night with a dead arm or a numb hip. A shuffle and roll sorted it out and sleep was resumed until the next time a part of my person could take no more. Of course it's the crack of dawn and there's little point trying to wake the gf, she'll only curse, roll over and go back to sleep anyway. I get up and dress then take a walk around the site.

It's only a small site, maybe 25 or 30 pitches. There's a handful of large permanent tents for hire and 2 wood effect chalets too. The toilets are basic but clean. The shower is wet and marginally warm, at least it's inside a building rather than a shelter. There's a small lake, or a big pond. Beside this is a beach, obviously a small man made beach, built for the entertainment of small children and parents to sunbathe. It lacks patronage, this weather is far from sunbathing weather. This is July, the sun should be melting the tarmac, the campsite should be filled with annoying kids and the "beach" should have sandcastles. The place is sparsely populated and the chill wind bites through my jumper.

small static caravan with decking at the campsite in mamers
On this chill morning it would be nice to have a substantial shelter.

One of the English bikers is up and this time he's a little more talkative. Perhaps they were tired last night. He tells me of the campsite they stopped at during the previous night in a place called Ault on the coast. He espouses the merits of the site and it's proximity to the lively town where we will find food, entertainment and a jolly warm welcome. I thank him and wish him well on his travels. Back at the tent I check the map, Ault is indeed ideally situated on our return route and the promise of a good site bodes well, Ault it is then.

I'm kind of hoping the campervan couple who made us so welcome last night will make us another hot tea and let us sit in their van a while longer. I assume the van must be very comfortable, there's no sign of life even at the late hour when the gf awakes. By the time she's finished her feminine ablutions and decided what to wear under her bike clothes I've already got most of the gear packed. It's only when the bike is loaded do the campervan couple surface to wish us well on our journey. I can't deny I envy their lifestyle, I have to remember that when they work on the boats they probably work very hard indeed, and there is no rest at sea. Perhaps they have earned their present lifestyle.

I ought not to complain. Today I have I estimate around 150 to 170 miles to travel. I have a motorcycle that is functioning correctly even if it is somewhat overladen. I have light clouds with a hint of sunshine rather than rain. I have still 3 more nights in France and a couple of nights in the UK before I must return to work. It's not all bad is it, really.

The downside is that we're in Northern France and not the Alps. The Alps have truly ruined this holiday with their magnificence. These plain, straight, tree lined roads are pleasant enough with their fields and farmsteads. The little villages are pretty and ancient. There is traffic about but it's not chaos. Most importantly of all it's not raining. Yet while all is good it's still not the Alps. No snow capped mountains. No scary roads cut into the sheer rock faces. No switchback bends. No crystal clear rivers. No dark tunnels. Nothing that makes you gasp in awe and wonder. Damn the Alps.

scruffy, plain, ordinary french street with dull buildings, telephone wires etc
It's not all beauty on a trip through France.

In an effort to really see France we've made a point of not riding the main roads or the motorways all the time. Today is no exception. After following the N12 through to Evraux I take some minor roads through to Parcy-sur-Eure then Vernon. I ought to be heading North but end up in Mantes-la-Jolie which is South. Damn and blast! I know we're supposed to be looking around but being perpetually lost is starting to grate. As I curse inside my helmet I wonder whether or not Sat-Nav may be a good investment one day. Getting lost took us to the delights of Le Bourg-d'Oisans in the Alps, Sat Nav would have taken us where we should have been. Mantes-la-Jolie is nowhere near as nice as Le Bourg-d'Oisans though.

At least Magny-en-Vexin is North as is Gisors. I'm already tired of riding today, maybe I've not got my biking head on. Maybe it's the fact we're going home. By the time we're through Gourney-en-Bray and Formerie we are both tired and bored and wanting to rest. Attitude makes a difference and our attitudes suck right now. We're not depressed but we are down and bored and just wanting somewhere nice to camp and rest. At least we're promised a warm comfortable welcome in Ault. Ault seems like a long long way away still.

the gf in all her bike gear hangs her head nest to a town sign for miserey france
I've often taken the gf to Miserey...
the gf jumps for joy at fontaine sous joy
...and also to the Fontaine of Jouy.

Aumale...Blangy-sur-Bresle...Le Treport. Ault is not far but these towns are barely nice let alone superb. I'm getting a similar feeling to the North Wales coast around Rhyll, once magnificent but now cheap, abandoned or unkempt. On the road to Ault there's a splendid looking caravan park which bodes well for the town. The town however fails to impress. As I park the bike on the steep car park outside Tourist Information I'm tired, grumpy and struggling to keep any sense of humour. The lady in the shop is helpful enough and provides us with a pamphlet map and circles the 3 campsites in town. Which one is the one the biker recommended this morning I do not know.

We set off in search of respite. The streets in the town are steep, poorly maintained, narrow and filled with dead ends. The houses are run down, ramshackle, dilapidated and worn. I get lost and confused. It takes an age to find one site high up on a hill but it looks like a concentration camp, we turn around to see about the others. We can see one down on the coast but the tiny tents are flapping in the stiff sea wind and the gf wants none of that. After cruising the broken tarmac for another 10 minutes and seeing nothing to entice us to stay we head inland to a site I'd noticed before.

Inland by a couple of miles lies the tiny town of Friaucourt and the Camping Municipal. The manager, owner or warden, we never know which, lives in a small white bungalow by the entrance and comes out to greet us. He speaks no English yet I manage in French to ask for "le camping pour un nuit". In a wooden hut it's obvious he rarely if ever receives campers as he doesn't even know how much to charge. Outside he points us to a small field covered in grass to almost waist height. I suggest that's just silly, he just waves his arms around and walks away. I hope he means "Well you decide then, wherever."

We wander around the site. This is not a campsite for campers this is a residential site for caravans. There are no other tents, whatsoever. One or two caravans are tourers that are still touring but the vast majority are tourers that have not toured off this campsite for many a year. The awnings are securely fitted with ornaments and microwaves inside. Grass grows long beneath the vans. Some have sheds and paved areas, even a patio. This in fact is not uncommon in France, the French must have a different attitude to living in a caravan and many sites have residents. Our laws practically prohibit it.

This site is different though. Other sites have a mix of holiday makers, summer-time live there types and residents. This feels nearly all residents. It's scruffy too. Some of the vans date from the '70s and come complete with 30 to 40 years of moss covering the roof. Ripped awnings and long grass. Broken deck chairs and long abandoned kids toys. The toilet block is ancient although I must say at least it's clean. It feels odd, I don't feel too welcome either.

We grab a small patch of mown grass near the entrance and the toilet block. It's barely big enough for the tent but it's the only cut grass that doesn't seem to "belong" to someone else's pitch. We put the tent up in haste, half expecting to be told "Ne pas ici", not here. By the time the tent's done and the gear is in I'm calming down a little, it helps when a couple of residents pass by and smile a "Bonjour" rather than a dismissive glance. We need food, as we leave the tent I still can't help but feel it will have been pulled down and thrown into some long grass somewhere.

the tent on a small grass area next to the motorcycle
Our patch of grass...

There is a small Carrefour nearby where we purchase Mediterranean rice and peppered sardines for the gf and some curried beans to go with the regular rice we already have with us for me. France is not a cheap place, don't be suckered in by the "Rip Off Britain" naysayers, and this shop is extremely expensive. We pay for this simple meal what I'd expect to pay in a restaurant. At least when we get back to the campsite we find the tent intact and the bike still upright. We cook and dine and then wonder what to do with this evening.

Not a lot it seems. We wander around the site and discuss the various caravans and awnings. One or two have signs of life with a TV playing through the plastic glass windows. Others have diners hunched over fold out tables eating dull dishes and looking cold. Many look deserted. We marvel at one for sale, dated to the early '80s, covered in moss, a ripped and faded awning and mouldy seating inside. The asking price? €700. Optimistic in my opinion.

old dated caravan covered in moss for sale at friaucourt campsite
"This delightful, modern piece of real estate could be yours for €700 (plus site fees)"

There's nothing to do so we take an early night. I hope tomorrow brings better weather and a much more welcoming place to camp.

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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