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

Home Travel StoriesCochem And The Blue People 2019

Trouble, Tired And Transport

Ride Date 14 September 2019

By Ren Withnell

My bleary eyes read 0450 on my phone as I'm awoken by the shouting, screaming and scuffling nearby. It takes my befuddled brain a few moments to work out what is going on.

There's some kind of drunken fight trying to break out. Despite everything being spoken in French I just know what is likely being said. "I'm gunna kill him, I'm ####ing gunna kill him!!" "Yeah, come on mate, you think you're so hard, ####ing wimp" "Leave it John, he's not worth it!" "Booo hooo! w-w-w-w-why do you always end up picking a fight when we go out for a quite drink, asshole, I hate you!" And so on and so on.

My concern is this spills over from the entrance onto the site. My concern is the drunken mob are looking for trouble and might cause trouble near or with the bikes. Frankly I can barely fight my way out of a sleeping bag so I'm not really ready to face a bunch of drunken French troublemakers. But needs must if needs be. I consider getting dressed.

The smart buildings at the entrance to the campsite are all peaceful in the sun and daylight
It's all peaceful by the time I take this image (I was hiding when it wasn't)

Sharon's awake too. She informs me this has been going on a while and several people have been heard running by our pitch as well as screaming at each other. Oh lordy I prey it settles down. I'm too pretty for fighting. I'm a lover not a fighter. I can't put my helmet on if I have a black eye. Maybe I should wear my helmet? Better to look like an idiot than be in pain? Better to be somewhere else frankly. Upt'North - you've a lot to answer for boy.  

Things do calm down after 20 minutes or so. We nod off again but it's not an easy comfortable sleep. 

As we stir we discuss. Having a campsite near to the town is fabulous because we can walk into town and explore. Charleville-Mézières is worth a look and all the better at walking pace. Having a campsite near to the town is stupid because who'd want to camp where all the drunkards and weekend revellers go to party and to fight? I suppose if we'd been here on a school night things would have been very different and very pleasant. 

A note to self. Consider the day of the week when selecting places to sleep. 

We should put this behind us but Sharon has got a strop on, she's wearing a face that looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp, she's throwing her toys out of the pram and making it very clear something is not right. I initially put this down to her usual morning grumpiness but even when she's vertical and the sun is shining upon her she's not happy.

As we take the tent down I find out why - and for once it's not my fault! It's this trip. Laura and Stephan were great but an awful lot of this journey has been just that - a journey. Not adventure or exploration, just miles and distance. She was hoping it would be like Spain last year or Scotland earlier this year. 

The 2 motorcycle loaded with the camping gear at the campsite in Charleville-Mézières
Tent up, sleep, tent down, ride, repeat. 

She's right, she's bang on the nail. With Scotland and Spain and many of our other recent trips we did not HAVE to be anywhere in particular save for any ferries and returning home for work. If we'd had a long ride the day before we could stay put, chill out and either not ride or just potter around locally. Because we had to be in Cochem on Wednesday and now we have to be back in the Calais area for Monday we have to keep moving. 

We know this already. We've discussed this many times before. This is why I said we should meet in Cochem and have 3 days to get there and 3 days to get back. This is why we pressed on yesterday, maybe today we can go easier and relax? 

Sharon gathers herself up, puts on her big girl knickers, loads up the Kwakker and we head out. The sun is up and I estimate if we do around 100 miles today then tomorrow we can have an easy day. I keep on estimating that, and it keeps on not coming true. Here's hoping.

We ride and we ride. The weather is fine. We are still troubled by the silly French speed limits, speed bumps and tailgaters. I only get us a little bit lost using sat-nav. Everything is as it should be and for that I am thankful and yet it still feels a hollow and empty thankfulness. 

I find myself on familiar ground, Le Nouvion-en-Thiérache. I came this way the last time I was coming back from Cochem in 2012. This brings back good memories of a great campsite and a pizza in a pleasant place (My Last Visit). I pull in and we search for a rest and refreshment.

Sharon's perked up. So much so she wants dinner in the friendly tabac we're in, but regrettably "ne pas de mon-jay oh-jourd-wee" which I suspect means there's no food today. We sit with our pop while a mixed selection of customers come and go. There's the scruffy but handsome young builder, joking and flirting with the bar girl, the older lady hen-pecking her husband to get the right paper and the frazzled mother who's toddler is pulling things off shelves. We don't have anything quite like the tabacs in the UK, shame.

A corner shop with the tabac sign outside on the main street through the town
Cafe, papershop, tobacconist, sweet shop and social hub. I like Tabacs.

Another hour and a half of rather ordinary farmland sees is into Arleux. Considering we have only covered around 100 miles it has taken us the best part of 5 hours with stops. And I am tired once more. This is ridiculous. 

The campsite is a camping municipal with the omnipresent "lived in" feel. The chap on reception has no English whatsoever so we have to muddle through with my French. He's as happy and friendly as a chubby little puppy dog, grinning and excited at the notion of bona-fide actual travellers stopping at the site. I ask where we camp - "ooo-ay?" He gestures anywhere, anywhere we like.

Sharon and I stop on the little track to consider a pitch, I note a man scowling at me from his be-fenced and be-gardened pitch. He approaches, sternly asking something I don't understand. It takes a while for me to grasp but he aggressively points out we have a number on our sheet and THAT is our pitch. Thing is our number is 412, neither he nor the gathering throng of "locals" know where 412 is. 

We ride away. Looking around the pitch numbers only go up to about 130. I suspect the happy chappy HAS to put a pitch number into the computer to print out the form. As such he just enters any random number because he doesn't care where we camp. The scowling local will be one of those jobs-worth nimby complaining types. We find a pitch at the other end of the site and no-one bats an eye.

The campsite is barely scraping an average but it has toilets, sinks and taps so we'll be fine. We make camp. I'm feeling flat, neither happy to be here nor distressed. 

Trees, caravans, sheds and grass at the campsite in Arleux
Nothing special but it's fine. 

We do have a problem though. Today is Saturday, it's already early evening, Arleux is only a small village, and we could do with supplies. We have enough for today, tomorrow is Sunday though and France is closed on a Sunday. We need to go shopping.

Arleux is only small. There are a couple of shops in the village but at this time they are closed. According to Google maps there's a Carrefour at the opposite end of town so we walk up there, only to find that closed just a few minutes ago, dagnammit! We'll be fine, we're not going to starve. We saunter back to the site as the skies darken. 

whispy clouds, darkening skies, lampposts, and the outlines of buildings in Arleux
"I think we might as well head back sweetie"

While I am always pleased the bikes are working and we are both in good health today has been a "meh, whatever" kind of day. It didn't start too well then after that all was just neutral. I am just about experienced enough to know this is to be expected and to just be happy that we're still rolling. Sleep.

You can contact Ren via

Prologue And Excuses It's the whys and the wherefores and the excuses for making this trip. You don't need a reason to travel, but it makes it easier to justify the expense and effort.
The Trouble With France Is It's Chunnel Time and Sharon's made a new friend. Finally in France Ren is finding the going frustratingly slow.
Kicking The Saddlebags Ren is having one of THOSE days. He's a very naughty boy and he needs to take a chill pill. It's them bloody foreigners fault.
Calmly Into Cochem After the previous day's temper tantrum and failure it would be fair to say this day is a better day.
Riding With Friends Cities aren't really Ren's things but with a little local knowledge he can cope. It's the countryside that gets him thinking.
A Long Day And Night A long day on the road then a night out in the town? That'll be two tired travellers then.
Trouble, Tired And Transport There's trouble this morning so it's not the best start. Throw in a grumpy Sharon and a scowling local and you have another day on the road.
Familiarity And Food As the end of the trip draws near the surroundings become familiar. But will the Dynamic Muppets survive without sustenance?
UK And The Epilogue After an early start the Muppets return to good old Blighty where they catch up with BAT reader Ross. Poor Ross, he doesn't know what he's gotten himself into.

Reader's Comments

Upt'North said :-
Guilty as charged sir.
No one kept us awake but then again we were in town centre new hotel insulated oblivion. Plus after a litre of plonk and a fair few miles covered we probably collapsed for the duration. Its too long ago to remember. You can blame me though, everybody does.
A "Neutral Day", yes I know just what you mean. Great expectations can turn to, What The .... Happened To Today. Plus Northern France doesn't help.
Of late, other than visiting the war graves last year we tend to get through it as fast as we can. Hence the consideration of the Santander ferry previously discussed.
Sorry Monsieur et Madame.
Still think it was a nice town.
1/11/2019 6:10:15 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I usually blame Sharon for everything so she'll be thankful that you've shouldered responsibility for once. Sharon! Thank Mr North. I would advise anyone in that area to look at Charleville-Mézières. It is quite small so not daunting like a city. It is the very essence or cliche of French. Just consider your accommodation that's all.

When looking forward to a trip it's all to easy to day dream of wondrous beauty, fabulous roads, friendly little cafes and pretty villages. So much so that even pleasant places aren't quite up to the hyperbole you've created in your mind. I am far better than I used to be at managing my expectations, but I still have much to learn.
2/11/2019 6:20:17 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
There's northern France and northern France. I really dislike the Pas de Calais region all the way down to the Seine. And it doesn't help that getting there (from the Midlands at least) requires navigating the horrendous M25.

But Normandy has some beautiful areas, some lovely roads and you're there as soon as your wheels touch tarmac off the ferry - which admittedly is a lot more expensive than the chunnel or whatever. There are cheaper options eg the Brittany Ferries Le Havre "economie" route.

I must confess that over the years I've tended to sweep straight through Normandy but have decided that in the future we'll spend more time there. Not as dramatic as the Alps / Pyrenees but delightful none the less. And the cream / butter based food washed down with cider and finished with Calvados can be excellent. Brittany is another region we've neglected for decades so may try that again.

On the bike I've always taken pot luck for accommodation and stumbled across some great places. But when we have the caravan on tow I prefer to plan more carefully and seek out municipal campsites on the edges of villages / small towns. I even go to the extent of finding them on Google maps and streetview (actually useful towing the van as access can be on the tight side).
2/11/2019 1:38:58 PM UTC

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