We were away from the holiday house by 9:20, having suitably disposed of anything edible that remained in the fridge. We had a fairly long way to go and, of course, this time we didn’t have the luxury of a night in a hotel midway, so we were committed to getting all the way to Calais by early evening and then all the way home.
Thankfully the roads weren’t too bad and after a couple of hours we found ourselves all the way over at Caen, where we stopped for some lunch at some motorway services.
We then continued on over the rather impressive Pont de Normandie. We found a bit more traffic around here, but it was mid-afternoon on a Saturday in August, and there were quite a lot of North Europeans and Brits attempting to get out of France.
We needed another stop to change drivers, stretch our legs and rotate our bicycles, so we chose the fairly uninspiring services at Bosc-Mesnil just north of Rouen. Having stayed in Rouen on the way down we were fairly familiar with the amount of time it was likely to take us to get up to the Channel Tunnel so we didn’t hang around for long. Just long enough for the kids to stop climbing the walls and for us to have a bit of a rest from being cooped up in the car.
From there we managed to get to Calais and through the tunnel without any fuss at all. We continued on to Maidstone Services where we stopped for a motorway dinner before finishing off the journey in the gathering darkness.
We had another fairly slow morning before deciding to scoot over to Rothéneuf to look at the famous rock sculptures. These rather weird items were carved into the rocks above the sea by a poor guy who suffered a stroke at the age of 30 which left him paralysed. He retreated to these cliffs to spend most of the rest of his life carving out sculptures.
Some of them were a little strange, to say the least.
The sculptures are a little way out of the town, so we drove back there for lunch, which consisted of a small cafe serving crepes. These turned out to be pretty good.
While we were there we had to find somewhere to buy stamps so that Ami could post her postcard back to school. It proved more painful than it should have, but eventually we found a small shop that sold them.
And that was more or less it for the “being out” – we drove back to the house and began the long, painful process of trying to get everything packed whilst keeping the kids occupied.
They were occupied for some portion of the time by going into the swimming pool again.
Kev was occupied for some time by trying to wrestle the roofbox down the tight staircase and onto the top of the car again.
When all this was finished we had the traditional last day “fridge clearance” for tea, finished off whatever alcohol was left, and headed for an early night.
The following day was going to involve a lot of driving.
We spent most of the morning in the swimming pool, as is traditional for Ami. And then we had a pretty slow lunch and got cleaned up.
In the afternoon we drove over to St Malo to see what we could find. Granny and Grandad went for a walk around the walls without us for a while, so we took the opportunity to take a walk our along a very long sea wall to find the cache called Saint-Malo – Le môle des Noires. It required a little bit of thought as to where it could be placed and it took us out to a location we might otherwise wouldn’t have gone.
After this Kev, Kas, Ami, Izzy went down onto the beach in the town centre for some ice cream, some paddling and some sandcastles, but generally none of us had much enthusiasm for it.
By now it was more “late” afternoon than it was “mid” so we decided to go over towards Saint Servan to find somewhere for dinner, having suitably met up with Granny and Grandad again.
Saint Servan turned out to be a bit of a nightmare to park in, but when we did park up we found ourselves in a fairly nice looking spot with some excellent views. We also noticed a tempting looking geocache nearby called Saint Servan – Parc des Corbières, which, if we found it, would be our 100th total find. That was too good an offer to resist. It involved a bit of a hike over a small hill and along a wooded pathway before reaching an overlook onto a fairly secluded beach.
When we got back to Saint Servan we then tried, but failed, to find a cafe that was open for food (at 6 pm). We were quite surprised to find that none of the cafes at this quayside in a fairly touristy (judging by the lack of parking) location was actually serving food yet.
We didn’t want to wait ages so for some reason we decided we’d jump into the car and drive over to Dinan instead. Well, I guess it’s not that far, to be honest.
When we got there we ate at a place called Cafe Noir, and it turned out to be really good.
On the way home we got slightly lost, which wasn’t the first time on this holiday. We got back eventually though.
We got the girls into bed at about 9 pm and then popped out onto the lawn for a while for a bit of stargazing.
We were starting to get the feeling that the holiday was nearly over.
We had a bit of a slow morning, involving swimming with Ami, a bit of shopping and lunch at the house.
In the afternoon, we decided to drive up to Cancale for a bit of beach-based action at the Port Mer beach.
Granny and Grandad went for a walk while we built some (big) sandcastles and then walked several miles out (seemingly) to the sea and got mud/silt between our toes.
Then we had an ice cream and went home to have pizzas for tea.
In the evening Kas and Kev went caching in St Malo and Dinard. Another evening of convincing the parents to look after the kids so we could go out, and so a good opportunity to chase a few more caches as a couple. This is becoming quite a habit! Just as well it involves walking and fresh air, otherwise it would just be another bad habit.
First up we decided to have a go at Saint Servan – Parc de Bel Air , which is one of the caches planted by gdugardon in what seemed to be a blatant attempt to stop us from “clearing” St Malo before going home. This proved to be a well-hidden little dibbler stuck into a hole in a wall in a pleasant park in the Saint Servan district. It was on top of a little hill and there was a nice little castle/keep/tower jobby on the top, dodgy though that sounds. The only downer was that it was quite a busy little park, even in the evening, and there were a couple of distinctly dodgy looking characters around. The other downside, obviously, was that there was nowhere to park anywhere nearby. It is in St Malo, after all.
After which we drove round to the Barrage de la Rance again to seek Ça s’en va et ça revient – Cache BONUS, having already mailed gdugardon a couple of times to confirm what we were looking for. There was some doubt over the calculated coordinates somehow based on misreading a value from a previously soaked log elsewhere and ending up with a diagonal line about 500 metres long with several likely spots along it. We had to confirm what the coords meant and the clue – Bear in mind also we were trying to use Google to translate some French into English too. Having done all that it was a simple matter to park at one end of the barrage and then walk most of 1.5 km to the other end to bag the cache. The power station was running again and as a result there were some pretty impressive whirlpools on the seaward side (where the higher water lay) again. You seriously have to go look at them to believe it.
Having found this one fairly easily the light was still good so we decided to continue round into Dinard to pick up a couple more that we didn’t have time to do last time around. Both were in the Port Breton park. First up was Port Breton by blenormand, which we had previously missed as a result of walking miles up a road only to discover that the cache was the other side of a six foot high fence and not at all accessible. Serves us right for not reading the description properly before. When we did manage to get the right side of the fence it was still a bit tricky because the coordinates were a bit off. Obviously the owner had problems in the trees. It was about 20 feet away from where our GPS said. It was made all the more interesting by Kas having chosen to dress in “girlie” style rather than functional, which obviously involved shoes that were totally impractical for walking up steep sided, woody slopes. Going up was OK, coming down was tricky.
Final search for then evening was Cache canadienne #1 by blenormand, which is over the other side of Port Breton from the previous one. Terrain was somewhat easier (except for Kas) and the cache was quite an easy find.
And then we had another go at trying to find somewhere to park in Dinard in the evening so we could go for a coffee. We failed. Again.
We tried to drive around through a few little villages up the Rance Estuary on the way home searching for a small riverside retreat with a cafe. No luck whatsoever. I am now thoroughly convinced that outside the major towns France actually doesn’t have cafes or bars, it just has houses. We passed several places which must surely have a cafe somewhere, but no, we found nothing, saw nothing, drove past nothing and eventually got lost temporarily before struggling our way through the darkness until we eventually got back onto a main road and drove home.
As always seems to be the case around here, the caching is fine, the apres-cache is rubbish due to no parking near any bars and no bars near any parking. Silly France…..
This was another slightly strange day on which we left Granny and Grandad behind again and did a little tour to a couple of locations that were good for passing a couple of hours.
First up we went down to a village south of us called Hédé. This is home to a group of 11 locks in very close proximity on the Ille et Rance Canal. It was what you might expect apart from the fact that there was a dedicated lock opening/closing lady and some motorised gubbins that was a lot more flash than you’d get on a typical English canal. There’s also a cache, of course. It is called Les 11 du Canal and it is another one placed by the Tourist Board of Haute Bretagne. It’s a multi but quite a simple one – there’s only a couple of stops. The final location requires you to do a mile or so’s walk from where we parked up (at the Tourist Office). Nice cache. And the weather was improving. Shame it took ages to find the place. The road signs were not good.
For some reason, after driving south to Hédé we thought it would be a good idea then to drive straight past home and up to Dinard again. We didn’t do much while we were there, to be honest. We couldn’t find parking again, then we played in a kids park for a bit while Kas walked round a nearby headland to bag Entre Vicomte & Prieure. No idea what this was like because Kas went for it, but I am lead to believe it was a bit tricky to locate and to reach. Something to do with altitude and tidal range.
Back at home we had a pasta bake for tea and got the kids in bed with no swimming.
OK, so having driven halfway across France to get to St Malo, what better way of spending a day than to drive most of the way back again to gawp at a big piece of embroidery. You know the one. Note it isn’t a tapestry, it’s an embroidery. And it wasn’t made in Bayeux either. It took an hour and a half to drive there from our base, and when we got there we couldn’t find parking. Typical……..
Still, it was a flamin’ big bit of embroidery though. And the descriptions were good. And I got to see the famous bits you see on the telly, namely Halley’s Comet and the bit where Harold has the arrow in his eye. One hundred and eight……ty! The rest of it is just filling space, really. And it might not even be Harold anyway. They could’ve stitched in another arrow pointing at the figure that is actually him, you’d have thought.
Meanwhile, back at the tupperware based plot, there’s a cache in a hole in a wall just outside. It’s called Le tapisserie de Bayeux, funnily enough. Then there’s another one close to the cathedral, called Cathedrale Notrre Dame de Bayeux. All of that was good. And we had a pleasant (and surprisingly inexpensive) lunch as well.
For the afternoon we decided we wanted a quick dash to one of the Normandy landing beaches. The tour guides all say that Juno Beach is the best as a beach, and because we have kids we decided that would be the best one. Indeed, it was a good beach. Miles of sand, little streams, big “proper” shells, i.e. scallop shells, and limited toiletry facilities. Juno Beach was where the Canadians landed on D-Day. It was the second most difficult landing (after Omaha Beach) and remarkably under 200 men died on the first day with a further 600 or so wounded. Apparently the Canadians didn’t meet any of their day-1 targets, but did push further inland than any of the other beaches. And the German commander reported that of the four battalions numbering nearly 8,000 men defending the beach only one battalion at 80% strength remained by the close of operations on that first day. One entire battalion of conscripts apparently didn’t fancy it, and just buggered off.
Behind the beach is a fairly impressive memorial to the Canadian forces, which included a small cafe and clean toilets – always useful to note. It is also provides the backdrop for the JUNO Beach cache. This is a multi involving visiting most of the informational displays near the Canadian Memorial. It is a good design, because you cannot but help read the displays while you are there, and even for someone of my generation (whose parents were alive during the war), it is very moving and disturbing to read about that conflict and those landings. It is not especially morbid, it talks about events in a factual way and it honours those who fell. It is done in a way that in a couple of years we would be able to explain to the children. For now, it was all about a “bad man” and the need to stop him, as far as Ami and Izzy were concerned. For an adult who has lived through a number of modern wars the loss of life is simply staggering. To think that it was multiplied across five beaches and that it went on for many days before the bridgehead was properly secure is beyond belief. We all owe a debt and we should remember it on a regular basis.
We vowed to return some time when the kids are bigger, and just to tour the beaches and cemeteries to get a more full picture of the scale. And, of course, to do a few more caches.
We grabbed something to eat at a little corner cafe in the middle of Courseulles-sur-Mer called le P’tit Moules, but we didn’t have any moules, petit or otherwise.
Time was now marching on though, having not really got to Bayeux until lunchtime, and we were conscious of the 90 minutes drive back, so we didn’t linger for very long. On the way home Ami accused Granny of having “windy pops”, seemingly on the basis only that it was far too loud for Izzy. But oh yes, Izzy it was !
That evening they were showing Saving Private Ryan on the telly, which seemed rather apt. I did warn all the others that it’s quite a bloody experience, especially at the start, but they watched it anyway. And Tom Hanks did his doings and Private Ryan got out safely – again.
We did lots of nothing much in the morning on this day. Well, it was a Sunday, and Sundays aren’t for being busy or running around.
Sundays, in Ami’s case, are for swimming. And more swimming. Followed by some swimming, and then a quick dip in the pool before going swimming. You get the picture.
While all this was going on, Kev popped out in the bus to grab some more milk.
So the morning was taken up with lots of general mucking about, not doing much, and then having a very long lunchtime.
In the lounge somewhere we’d seen a flyer for a local “Fête du Blé” at nearby Pleudihen, which sounded a lark, even if we did have no idea what “blé” was until we got there.
It turns out that it’s wheat. So we’d actually gone to an olde-worlde celebration of everything generally wheat-based. There were some fantastic old bits of farm equipment on show, some steam, some horse-powered, some manual, and all operated by geezers who looked like they’d been there the first time around, as it were. Not that this is a bad thing.
Lots of people were also dressed up in traditional clothes and there was a general air of dancing and merriment. And it was sunny. One of the best days of the fortnight to be honest, so a fine afternoon for partaking of a few glasses of hand-drawn cidre, munching a few locally made sausages, and pretending we weren’t English.
One great way of pretending not to be English is to wear sun cream so you don’t get sunburn. I failed miserably on that one.
Despite the heat the kids seemed to enjoy it, especially Izzy who was rather engaged with the country dancing displays, but not so much with the noisy old farm equipment. More dancing, Vicar?
After all that we were all feeling a bit hot and bothered, so we scooted off to Dinan and grabbed a table at a little cafe down by the river for some well-earned dinner. It was fairly expensive but quite good, as I remember.
When we got home again it was still quite early, so there was time for Ami to have just one more dip in the pool. We all went this time to cool off a bit.
We got the girls to bed fairly early and passed the rest of the evening with, as ever, some local wine.
Saturday morning. The weather looked a bit wet and Granny and Grandad look a bit lethargic, but given that it was our main our holiday there was no way we were going to be sitting in all day. So the four of us piled into the bus with a target destination of Dinard – a posh little town on the other side of the Rance Estuary from St Malo. It was about 20 minutes drive from home so not far. We hadn’t really planned anything and didn’t really quote any return times to Granny or Grandad as we set off. We were just going for “a while” I think. It turned out to be most of the afternoon.
We had the urge to go for a few caches, and Dinard looked good. We parked up in a residential district at one end of a series along the “Grande Route 34” – one of France’s long coastal walking routes.
Our first stop was GR34 – Point de la Vicomte . This was listed somewhere up a tree and it proved to be a tree halfway up a rock slope as well. It was OK for Kev and Ami getting up, but then because of slightly shabby footwear and wet rocks it proved harder getting down again. I remember warning Ami to take care right before slipping and banging my elbow and upper thigh. The elbow/forearm was cut and I carried the injury with me all through the rest of the holiday. It was a nice little cache and contained some clues for another which were duly collected.
The series involved walking around a coastal path for a distance of a mile and a half, or so. Most was under trees so the rain wasn’t really causing problems, and anyway, it stopped pretty much as soon as we got there.
Second up wasLa Vicomte #2 – Le Blockaus. This involved some interesting approach routes, given that the site was an abandoned concrete gun emplacement halfway up a cliff. We tried dropping down from above, then backtracking around the side and up, and eventually got there. Kev and Ami ascended the heights and then walked round onto quite a precarious looking ledge. Bit of a scary moment to be honest, but I have to learn to give Ami some credit for good balance, now that she is a gymnast, I suppose. The cache was a tiny little thing shoved fairly tightly into a little hole in the concrete. Very easy to miss.
Next came La Vicomte #1 – La Plage. This was probably my favourite hide ever (of all time, ever). Can’t say too much but it proved to be at the top of a zig-zag path and extremely well hidden. Part of the cunningness of the hide was that the path was very steep. Another part was heavy tree cover causing some inaccuracy in the readings. Fair to say that the GPS was giving reading acceptably close at a bout 4 different places down the path. We must have spent 45 minutes here going up and down and searching around. Kids were getting bored and frustrated we wouldn’t let them go on the beach. Just at the point where we were about to give up, there was a bunch of muggles coming but Kev said “one more look over here”, and as ever this was the point where we walked straight to it. It was an excellent hide. You would never find it if you weren’t looking. It just wouldn’t occur. Unfortunately we also seemed to be getting watched with suspicion by a group of locals. I think we got away with it, though.
La Vicomte #3 – La Scene was a nice little cache at a turn in the path where there was not quite enough room, so they built a little wooden stage/platform to carry the path round the corner. I think Kas and Izzy found this one. It would have been their turn.
Next up was La Vicomte #4 – Le Pilier. This had the possibility of being really hard, in that the description says it is behind a brick. You assume it is in quite a large wall but actually it’s just a little pillar and there’s no other masonry in the same style nearby. It actually proved quite easy. I think Ami spotted the brick.
The next cache was Quelle Vue. This was a simple magnetic nano stuck to a fence. The complication, as ever, was muggle traffic and tree cover. It took about 5 minutes though. Only so many ferrous objects within acceptable range. It was at an extremely nice spot though, a turn in the coastal path with outlooks over the main part of Dinard.
Due to a very bad piece of parking we ended up about a mile from the car, and having been walking for an hour and a half the kids had had enough, so Kev left the three on the beach and walked back to the car, using the GPS as the only means of telling which way to go. It worked. I walked straight there.
Anyway, I collected the family and we drove down into Dinard for some lunch, crepes and the like, I think. By now the weather had improved into sunshine rather than rain and it was really quite nice. Shame we couldn’t find anywhere to park for ages. That became a theme for the holiday. Lunch turned out to be crepes and beer, and through some form of disturbance in the space-time continuum, Kas managed to knock her beer over.
So having done all that we decided to set off home, but not until we’d walked all the way across the Barrage de la Rance and searched for GR34 – Le port des moines. That would make about 3 miles round trip from the parking, I think. Good job we’d totally forgotten the buggy. This one was the second goody-bag after the bonus words found in the first of the day (see above). The cache was a big box behind a big stone in a sea wall. The wall was in a very quiet little bay looking out north towards the Channel.
However, even after we had both bonus codes we were still unable to figure out what it meant, so we failed to find GR34 – Ça s’en va et Ça revient – Cache BONUS. Never mind, the Barrage was being used for power generation as we were crossing and this produced some fantastic whirlpools of water being sucked through the open sluices – a sight you don’t get to see very often. Even the girls went “woooo!”
So it turned out to be a good day’s caching. The kids enjoyed it, we enjoyed it, and it didn’t rain all day. Can’t be bad then.
We scooted off home via a local supermarket to buy stuff to make nachos for tea, and reunited with Granny and Grandad at home.
We had pre-planned a long drive this day over to the north west of home base to the fantastic Pink Granite Coast at Perros Guirec and Ploumanac’h. It was a long drive but proved to be worthwhile. It was a warm, clammy but rather overcast day, as I remember. When we arrived we had been going for long enough to have an immediate coffee stop.
It promised to be a fun day only because the planned caches for the day were a little bit interesting. One multi-cache and two earthcaches. Never done an earthcache before. Two in one day seems excessive.
The multi-cache was Architectonic Granites. It involves visiting about 5 locations on a nice little walk through the Pink Granite Coast. We picked off a couple of these whilst walking to the little lighthouse which is the home of the Earthcache called Pink Granite Coast. To do this you have to count a couple of little things around the lighthouse and log a photo of yourselves with the lighthouse in the background. We nearly forgot the last part.
So off we trolled a bit further round, leaving Granny and Grandad to go at a slower pace. We found the remaining clues and then totally miscalculated the final location. After a while of realising we had miscalculated we had another go and this time walked right to it, under a big rock.
I seem to remember then that we spent an eternity trying to figure out where everyone else was. Too much splitting up and walking around, not much sticking together and planning a route. Got there eventually though.
After this, we took a short lunch break and then spent an hour or so on a beach that had some extremely sharp stones on it. Finding enough sand to build a castle was quite hard work, but we did get to see a couple of sailing boats passing by.
On the way home from here we stopped to have a look at the Earthcache called Les Couleurs du granite . This takes place in a little park full of statues made of granite. The sketch is that you have to photograph yourselves on a big granite seat and then count a few bits and bobs to answer some questions. Some of the answers required GoogleMaps, so the cache is designed such that you can’t simply do it while you are there. You have to do a bit more from home afterwards. It wasn’t that tricky and actually it was a nice little half-hour that we otherwise not have done. The kids quite enjoyed it, which is the main thing.
And so to the long drive home. It was long, and it involved driving. And all of us were happy when it finished. That was a good day, though.
We began the day at a very slow pace, with a selection of different breakfasts, at different times, and the now mandatory trip to the swimming pool. At least it was a nice warm morning, so we could make up for the water in the pool by getting out and lying on the side for a bit.
Once they’d had enough and everyone was actually out of bed, we got cleaned up and had some lunch at home too whilst deciding what to do for the afternoon.
Our choice was Dinan – a few miles away and one of those really well presented twee little towns that France seems to be full of.
This particular one is built on top of a hill looking down on a deep valley containing the River Rance, which is the one that flows out into the Channel at St Malo. The old town centre has been quite well preserved, although I suspect some of it is, errr, “modern” preservation. I have difficulty believing that the medieval town ever looked quite that nice.
Back at the plot though, there’s a couple of fantastic churches in the old town, one of which has a bell tower you can climb so you can be totally deafened by one of those European style carillons at the top. It went off while we were up there, and the sound is still bouncing around between my ears.
One unfortunate thing we noticed about this particular old town, though, was an absence of nice looking places to go to the toilet, especially for a small child. We got ice creams and walked around a bit, but once it came to toilet time we seemed to do far more walking than strictly necessary.
So we sat in a nice park at the top of a cliff overlooking the river whilst eating our ice creams, and then we decided to come home.
Granny and Kev popped out to buy food for dinner, and we chose to make use of the host’s barbeques, so we all sat outside eating various types of dead animal with salads and drinking far too much wine. The kids kept themselves suitably entertained by mucking about in the host’s camper van with their two kids Grace and Austin, who were going home again the following morning.
I think we all had a good day. Dinan is a lovely little town.