The outside of a motorbike engine seen up close near the exhaust

Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Resting In Ambleteuse

By Ren Withnell

Overall, all things considered, even with the rain, even though it's not been hot, taking in the mileage, understanding our mistakes, looking back we've not done too badly on this trip. Here we are on a Friday morning lying in a tent. We are both physically healthy, uninjured and alive. One of us is awake and that will be me. Sleeping beauty has grumbled and griped as I lie awake and fidget but there's little chance of her actually achieving full consciousness for some time yet. I get up.

the bike and the tent with clothes hung from bungee cords drying in the wind
It's a scene of domestic bliss on the road with washing on the line and a scruffy kitchen.

Getting up in a tent is not easy. Even on this dry but very windy day it's a faff and a fuss to find my pants and my jumper. It's a strain to twist and turn into these clothes in the confined space of the tent. After 19 days under canvas (modern polyesters and man made fabrics) I am tired of the big long laborious zip into the outer porch and the awkward, always snagging zip of the outside door. Not long now. Not long before I can spend the night at my Dad's house with a toilet merely 10 paces from my bed. A bed. Imagine that.

Life is stupid. Being on the road and in a tent for so long I miss the luxuries of modern life. As I stretch into the windy morning I also understand that as soon as I get home I shall miss this. More. Travelling is not actually pleasurable to me, not like a massage, a good film or a jovial laugh with my friends, those are pleasurable. Travelling is not always fun. It can and has been on this trip bloody hard work at times. Rain, the fear of the bike breaking down, boredom, long dull roads, discomfort and the bewilderment of a foreign language, customs and traffic. And yet I feel I have achieved. I feel I have learned. I feel that every moment has been worthwhile and the last 19 days have not been time wasted by just existing, but time lived.

Anyhow, enough of this philosophical nonsense. What am I to do today? There's a World War 2 museum next to the campsite to look at, we need to organise more food and I'm sure to want to re-re-re-recheck the Channel Tunnel booking and recheck when we need to arrive. I do worry, far too much.

As the gf sleeps I find something else to worry over, the bike. The metal bit inside the light lens is still in position. I'm proud of that bodge. There's still oil in the motor. Good. I re-grease the chain and I mentally note that I still have plenty of grease left in the tub. The chain could probably benefit from some adjustment now but I decide to leave it on the premise if it's not broken then don't fix it. I can do that at my Dad's with the safety net of extra tools, local bike shops that speak English and if all else fails the RAC. I'm pleased with the Fazer, it's completed nigh-on 3,000 miles under a heavy load and in terrible weather. This bike is perhaps the one thing that's survived this trip best.

There's a stirring from the tent. The gf crawls out and complains about the weather. In fact while a very stiff wind removes any sign of warmth the sun is shining. After breakfast and ablutions we set out for the World War 2 Museum.

the gf standing and smiling in the tent doorway
OH LOOK! She's awake.

The problem with museums is that they deal with things and fact. Oh, don't misunderstand me I like them and I believe they provide an essential service in reminding us of the mistakes we've made in the past. Even so after seeing the uniforms, machine guns, armour, pictures, artefacts and vehicles we arrive at a board filled with statistics. We the British lost shy of half a million souls to the second world war, the Yanks a similar figure. This pales into insignificance to the Russians who lost far in excess of 20 million. The Chinese, who we don't even think about as being involved, lost over 20 million too. And yet no matter how shocking, these are still merely facts and figures.

I see an image of some soldier covered in mud looking rugged and tired. He's a nobody, not a general or a politician or a leader or a hero, just a nobody. And yet it's him I think about. We're told of this campaign, that raid, this battle and that commander's great military victory. We're rarely told of the men who fought. How did he feel? Did he feel justified? Was it worth the effort and sacrifice? Did he know what he was fighting for? Was his food any good? How did he cope with losing comrades? How scared was he? I am curious, if we did know what it was like to fight a war, would we go to war?

a sherman tank on display in the sun at ambleteuse ww2 museum
I'd love to have a play in one, but not go to war in one.

Outside in the sun for a while it feels surreal. Here I am on holiday having a jolly old time and their sacrifice makes it all seem so...selfish and vain. I remind myself that life is for living and perhaps the best thing I can do is make the most of the freedoms those men died for. 

The rest of the day is wasted in the best possible manner. Dinner is purchased and eaten. Tea is made and drunk in copious quantities. We take some time in the privacy of the tent to get re-acquainted with each others anatomy then follow up with some well deserved sleep. On a walk around the town I spot several ancient tractors and form a plan to tour the world on an antique tractor rather than a silly motorcycle. The beach is windy. We visit the spot where I joined the Germans in a party the year before. I check the booking for the Channel Tunnel. Again.

an old tractor in a poor state on the footpath of a french seaside town
This is it, this is my future choice of travel transport. 

Laying down again on the thin ground mat in the restrictive sleeping bag makes the idea of this trip being over quite pleasant. Then the thought of returning to the daily grind makes me want to carry on forever. Then I think of my mates and having a laugh in a language I understand with people I know well makes me smile. Then the notion of bills in the post, cleaning my house and washing up makes me depressed. I don't believe in star signs yet I am a Libra, the scales, I see pros and cons in everything. Damn. Go to sleep Ren, I've got to be up and alert tomorrow.

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 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. 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.

Reader's Comments

john de ville said :-
Ummmmmm, some deep thinking there Ren, but good reading.

No doubt Tom will have something to say about not going into detail about "the time in the privacy of the tent to get re-acquainted with each others anatomy" bit LOL.....................

Not much more to post about the holiday now...its been great reading and no doubt you will let us all know how many miles you did, how much money it cost, so we will be looking forward to that.

Cheers Ren and Sharon for your time and patience writing and documenting this epic trip.


01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Andy said :-
Timing is everything!
I'm not sure id have have gone there willingly 70 years ago!
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC

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