July 30th to August 14th 2010
A family holiday in St Malo. We drove down through the Channel Tunnel and stayed over in Rouen on the way. Granny and Grandad came with us in the car, which made for a fairly packed drive.
St Malo Aquarium
Mont St Michel
The Pink Granite Coast
- Setting Off
- St Malo
- Mont St Michel
- Pink Granite
- Fête du Blé
- Hédé & Dinard
- Cancale & Dinard
- St Malo & Dinan
- Rothéneuf Rocks
- Going Home
So off we set at around 7:30am, with Grandad Pete volunteering for the first shift. And then we immediately hit problems. J13 looked like non-stop traffic heading south so we went straight on towards Bedford instead. They seem to have started rebuilding the A421 all the way to Bedford, so roadworks there too. But thankfully once past Bedford the roadworks were finished and we were on the new (to us) dual carriageway section running all the way over to the A1. So we maybe lost 30 minutes driving essentially in the wrong direction and then 20 more coming back down again.
Once we got to the M25 all seemed remarkably calm and normal again though. In fact last time around we lost ages queuing for the QE2 Bridge but this time, despite being Friday morning rush hour, we were over the bridge and down to Maidstone Services by 10am. The daughters didn’t have breakfast at home so the stop was also the cue for a round of bacon sandwiches, toast and Costa coffees. Mmmmmmmm! Bacon sandwiches.
And so to the tunnel. This time around we arrived a half hour before the final check-in time but weren’t offered and earlier train. Turns out that was because the earlier one was so full they couldn’t fit all the bookings on, never mind move anyone else forwards. So we took a quick break at the terminal building to “check the football scores”, “turn the bikes round” and other such delights. Then it was off through the passport control and into the queue for 25 minutes of dull, dull, dull, and finally much excitement as we pulled onto the high bay carriage and parked up. The high bay carriages are exactly the same as the low bay ones – just on one floor instead of two. Strangely enough, they take the same amount of time to get through the tunnel.
When we arrived in France we made a stop at the first garage to acquire Pringles, drinks and to make another bicycle rotation stop before the drive down to Rouen. The other necessity here, of course, was to switch on Felicity the Sat Nav. It seems Felicity had actually been asleep since August last year, when we returned from La Rochelle.
Our destination was the Hotel Ibis in St Sever. Felicity found this nicely except for one bit of misdirection which we think was due to taking the wrong one out of 3 motorway junctions apparently in the same place. So we ended up driving alongside the Seine in the wrong direction. After a quick u-turn we were back on track.
Parking arrangements for the hotel were not listed on the confirmation so we were a bit exposed. We followed signs and ended up staring at an overnight car park under a nearby shopping mall which had a 1.80m height restriction. Yeah, as if ! Just as well we weren’t actually committed to that direction. So we executed a dodgy shuffle in the middle of a busy road (at 5pm on a Friday night) and then another loop around a roundabout before returning where we had been five minutes previously. We parked on the side of a busy road resolving to walk up to the hotel and check out the form. The receptionist offered a spot in the hotel’s underground car park which we again had to decline because it has a 1.95m height restriction. Thankfully the hotel has two (yes, all of two) free roadside spaces right outside the door and we duly parked the trusty Peugeot in one of these, taking care to leave enough room at the front to allow an exit from the space in the morning regardless of whether someone parked behind or not.
We established a cunning method of extracting bags from the roofbox (open the door and stand on the interior floor) and retired to our two three-berth rooms. The rooms were OK for the price. Not lavish but perfectly functional, each containing one double bed and one single. The only downside was that the two rooms were on different floors, but this turned out just to be because they only had one three-berth room on each floor. So Izzy was to be bunked up with the grandparents and Ami with us. We did a quick turnaround and then decided we would head off into the centre of Rouen for dinner and a bit of an adventure.
The adventure was caused by the choice to travel by tram/metro. There was a stop right outside and the hotel receptionist explained the process very well. Sadly though, she wasn’t aware that the ticket machine doesn’t accept non-French credit cards, and given this was our first day in France we don’t have pockets full of loose change. So we ended up missing at least three trams while we figured that we actually needed some coins, and Grandad walked back to the hotel to beg for some coins, which were given up somewhat reluctantly by all accounts.
The tram itself was fast and efficient. Not sure whether it is a tram or a metro though, because it alternates rapidly between sharing the road with cars, running on rails up the middle and ducking down through tunnels. We boarded at St Sever at road level and got off at Palais de Justice now three escalators underground.
Having found our way back to the surface we then proceeded to do a bit of idle wandering around the streets waiting for someone to blink and decide it was dinner time. It took a little while to do and in the meantime we walked down to the cathedral, found some little horse drawn carriage thingies and then waited for ages until Ami and Izzy finally could be dragged away from the horses. We also did a bit of architectural appreciation. There seem to be quite a few old buildings in the middle of Rouen which are mainly in quite good condition. Obviously the cathedral was surrounded by scaffolding (being cleaned), but the change of colour was dramatic so it’s probably worthwhile. The Palais de Justice appears to have been particularly attractive to the Nazis and its facade looks like fossilized Emmental.
We found a couple of restaurants in a nearby modern square and plumped for the only one which appeared to be open. I guess it was only 6:30pm but the form in France seems to be that places actually shut between lunch and dinner, so when we arrived we were told we had to wait 30 minutes before they could take a food order. Might as well, I suppose, because everyone else here seems to be properly shut.
We got stuck into a nice round of drinks whilst waiting to order and all was going fine until we heard a rather unfortunate cracking noise, closely followed up by a bit of gagging and spitting coming from the general direction of Izzy. Oh God! What has she done ? She’d got stuck in rather enthusiastically and had bitten right through the side of her glass and ended up with a mouthful of glass with her orange juice. Thankfully none of it stuck, so all was well, but it looks like Izzy is happy to maintain her nickname of KamikIzzy.
Food consisted of a selection of pizzas and pasta washed down with beer. We discovered grandad doesn’t like Leffe.
And so we retired to the Ibis for a good night’s sleep after a fairly long day. Just time on the way in to extract some bedtime pants from Izzy’s case (in the roofbox) and toothbrush (between the back seats).
The car was pretty full on the way down and it was a bit draining, so it was nice to allow a bit of time to explore in Rouen. The following day was to involve more French motorways in a jam-packed car. Best get all the sleep available.
Day 2 started at a fairly leisurely pace with some breakfast at the Ibis. For Kas, Kev and Ami it had been a restless night with lots of sneezing, coughing and changing of beds. Ami, bless her little heart, had spent half the night getting up to fetch tissues for Kas. In the other camp there had apparently been several hours of sound snoozing, which was only broken by Izzy needing a new nappy and then taking half an hour to settle back down again, during which time she was talking away like a talkie thing.
This time around we learned our lesson from last year and decided that the hotel breakfast was probably a good deal. And so it proved to be. There was a good selection of fruits, cereals, breads, drinks and other goodies. Plenty for all, in fact. I’m still not quite sure why they allow you to pre-pay adult meals but not childrens’, but the kids ate well along with the rest of us and by French standards we all got our money’s worth.
And so quickly upstairs to cram stuff into the overnight bags and clean our teeth, and then down to the Batmobile for a bit of cruising. Kas took the wheel and we quickly discovered that we were more or less on the road Felicity wanted us to be, and also were pointing in the right direction. So we escaped from Rouen very easily and were soon heading along the A13 in the direction of Caen. We had to push hard on the wheel to avoid driving down the A28, which is where you go for La Rochelle. Not that way this time, thank you very much!
The road towards Caen is fairly uneventful apart from the large quantities of north Europeans heading in the same direction. All the toll stations were heaving and our choice of booth was limited at all of them by the fact that the credit card only lanes have a 1.8m height limit. Nett result of this is that anyone with a caravan, 4×4, people carrier or roofbox can’t pay by credit card. You only realize that far too late in the day and so there’s a large number of cars doing the soft shoe shuffle between lanes at the last second and generally causing confusion. We let in a bloke in a big 4×4 mainly because he opened the window and actually asked us. It wasn’t just because he was English, it was because he was nice about it. Ya Boo Sucks! to the French family in the Volvo who pulled in and nearly took our front bumper off.
The journey to Caen therefore took a bit longer than Felicity predicted and very much in time for an early lunch or late elevenses. We refuelled first, and this, too, took longer than necessary because the pay at pump insisted I put the nozzle back before it would take the credit card. I had put the nozzle in before I noticed the pay at pump option. The Peugeot isn’t the most thirsty of cars but she does have a big tank, so it costs a couple of quid to fill her up from near empty. Last fill up was last Sunday though, so a three quarters of a tank has seen Kas around MK for five days and then driven us to Caen from Milton Keynes.
The Giberville Services can best be described as a fuel station on steroids. French motorway services seem to come in two types – big, well provisioned ones, and over-sized fuel stops. This is a pretty busy motorway on a Saturday in summer and the immediate problem when we parked was the large and ever increasing queue for the toilets. Normal French arrangements apply, meaning that the ladies queue was actually a queue for any of the cubicles regardless of which room they’re in. Kev took Izzy into the gents (the baby change had no toilet and the disabled was locked….) and played the “this is the gents and I’m a gent” card despite carrying a small female. Well, it was that or a damp shirt.
The services did have a small kids play area so the girls got a bit of a run around while the rest of us queued, rotated bicycles and checked football scores, as it were. Having finished the necessary we then did a bit of free-form buying of drinks and biscuits with no particular structure and all ended up outside with a drink and some biscuits. And some smoothies (Fraise & Banane flavour) which Ami managed to knock over on the table. Good job it was an outside table.
So back to the car, with Kev at the helm and grandad translating Felicity and reading the book. We had to negotiate our way round Caen and an enormous queue for one of the junctions (our junction, as it happens) and then on to the A84 towards Avranches. This is a toll free section and hence also queue-free. It was quite busy but kept going all the way and it actually passed away very quickly. Just after Avranches it becomes the N175 and goes single lane for a bit. Not a problem as such except for the near tail-ending when the two lanes suddenly turned into a queue just round a blind corner. Sharp braking ? Hmmm! Just as well we don’t have a very heavy car with six people and a roofbox on top.
The N175 turns into the N176 and gains an extra lane at Pontorson and we breezed through this section and then the final few kms to Le Tronchet, our home for the next two weeks. It proved really easy to find the place, as it was all well signposted.
The apartment was ready and the owners were there to welcome us. In particular, they welcomed us with a fridge full of food that was more than enough for lunch. They had very nicely left us some wine as well. Can’t be bad. So we sorted out the sleeping arrangements and unloaded the car and got some lunch and took the roofbox off.
After that, there were two streams of activity. Ami, Izzy and Grandad stayed put and played in the garden. Kev, Kas and Granny went shopping for food in nearby Plerguer. The Supermarche Utile in Plerguer proved adequate for most purposes and we were back fairly soon and unloaded. We then remembered what we had forgotten to buy. Milk. Can’t get Izzy to sleep without milk. So Kas got her swimming kit on to stop Ami from exploding and Kev jumped back in the bus and went back to Plerguer. Didn’t take long though.
Tea involved three types of sausages, potato wedges and salad. Then the kids got a bath and went to bed. Granny and Grandad retired to the studio and Kas and Kev had a glass of wine and contemplated the holiday to come.
We got here fairly easily. Not much crying, not much complaining and not so much time. We made it here without the portable DVD player and without much use of the iPod. In fact, it was quite a pleasant trip down.
The first full day of our family holiday in St Malo. So we’ve done the tunnel, we’ve done a night over in Rouen (including a worrying incident involving Izzy and a glass), and we’ve done a load of motorways. We’ve found our accommodation and we’ve done our first extremely expensive French shopping trip. We’ve allocated our sleeping quarters and had our first night’s sleep there.
And so to the first opportunity to go for a swim before most people are even up for breakfast. OK, so Ami has an obsession, but I guess that’s why we chose this place rather than the many others. There’s no way she would survive somewhere with no pool. So Ami got out of bed and put her swimming costume on straight away. It wasn’t that early, but she was itching for it. And because Grandad hadn’t come round early on then we had to get up early too and go with her.
It was quite a cloudy morning and whilst not cold, it wasn’t really warm either. We managed to hold her back long enough to get some pain au chocolat down her before swimming. Izzy joined the party too (somewhat slower) and the main problem was that Ami ignored instructions and dived in without waiting for either of us. Her swimming isn’t too bad now but it is imposing a little bit much to expect that the owner will keep an eye on our kids as well as his own grandkids. Hmmm! We need to watch her more closely.
Anyway, a good old swim was had by all until the shivering finally got the better of Izzy and we started to pack up.
By lunchtime the weather was getting progressively better so we got cleaned up and headed off for our nominal host city of St Malo for the afternoon. We didn’t have a particular plan but we had a list of geocaches loaded up on the GPS for central St Malo, most of which are around the outer side of the city ramparts.
The “old town” of St Malo was almost completely rebuilt after the war in the style of the original (but presumably with better plumbing). The effect is good. It looks great and whilst the streets are quite narrow there isn’t a lot of traffic and the bodies move along fairly quickly. Obviously, we totally ignored our host’s advice and tried to park near the old town. We had to queue to get into a park and even then we had to play “stalk a punter” because we were let in when no spaces were actually available, but we found a spot eventually. Eventually….. Flamin’ tourists….
We began our walk around the ramparts from the Chateau end and proceeded in a generally westerly direction. At one point it was obvious Izzy and Granny were struggling a bit so we split into 2 groups, with Grandad, Granny and Izzy mooching about and getting ice creams while Kev, Kas and Ami crossed the causeway onto the Île du Grand Bé, home to the tomb of François-René de Chateaubriand. Apparently, he was a writer as well as his time inventing a steak (or was it a red wine?). Anyway, he’s buried on this little island off St Malo. Also buried on the island is a geocache. Whilst hunting for this particular one we had our first experience of a cacher-jam. A nice Dutch gentleman standing above us said “I think the thing you’re looking for is just here”. And then his Mrs sitting on a rock below said “It’s within 2 metres of here” Points to us though, as we (Kev) actually spotted the suspicious-looking pile of rocks and checked beneath to reveal the goodies. We dropped off a geocoin transported from Milton Keynes and then, behold, another group of cachers. French, this time, we think. Anyway, we had to ask them politely to look away while we hid it again, but even then it’s pretty obvious when you’re there.
Said Dutch couple also gave us a less than subtle pointer at the other two nearby ones, so we set off back across the causeway filled with confidence. Halfway over we saw Grandad waving at us and met to confirm they would be waiting at a nearby waterside cafe and having an ice cream. Works for us. So we found those two quickly and the family reunited at a beachside cafe for a much-earned beer/ice cream/whatever.
The afternoon was moving on so we decided to mooch into the old town for some dinner. One final cache on the way which turned out to be the sneakiest plant ever. So sneaky, in fact, that it took Kas a while to notice when she had it in her hand. See below for further information, but it was a cunning little thing.
We entered the old town and pretty much immediately came upon a small square, in which we found a bloke doing hair braids. Ami immediately decided she wanted one, and so did Izzy. Kas was havering a bit. We dragged the girls off for dinner on a promise of returning later.
Dinner was at a small bistro on the Rue de Chartres. We had a selection of pizzas, pasta and chicken nuggets, as ever. It was OK but fairly uninspiring, but I guess that’s what you get in a tourist trap like this. After dinner we scooted off back up the hill to the hair braiding guy only to discover he was just packing up. I’m sure that wouldn’t happen in La Rochelle. So we trudged back down the hill to the car with two slightly grumpy and distinctly tired little girls, and then back home.
Our first full day finished, with a general absence of grief. Both old and young shot off to bed as soon as we got home and Kev and Kas were left supping wine and struggling to get a response out of the on-site wi-fi. It’s not very quick.
- First up was supposedly Saint Malo Porte Saint Thomas, and our first encounter with the works of St Malo’s busiest cacher, gdugardon. This is supposed to be on the mechanism of a doorway into the old town, but our way in was somewhat obstructed by bikes and many onlookers. We had a couple of shifty looks but eventually gave up and moved on around the ramparts.
- Next up was supposed to be Remparts de Saint Malo #1. This is shown on one of the rampart towers on the north side. It is fair to say that we had a few location issues, both in terms of altitude and position. We searched at length on the top of the tower, around all the doors and even inside the little art gallery. All to no avail. This caching overseas game is a bit tricky, so it seems. We have yet to get close. After 20 minutes and some obviously bored children and parents we moved on. It was quite a warm day and lots of standing around in these crowds was making stuff worse.
- After a bit longer Izzy decided it was time for a drink, so we left her with Granny and Grandad and the other three of us headed over the beach and causeway onto the little island which is home to Saint Malo extra muros by homerchris. This one can only be reached at low tide so it was quite possibly now or never. The tidal range here is a scary 14 metres, so when it comes in, it really comes in. The cache itself proved easy enough to find but also was our first experience of a queue at a cache site. Whilst we were doing the lido-shuffle, bearing-boogie and terrain-tango we heard a voice above us saying “the thing you are looking for is very close to here” It turned out to be a Dutch couple and a very large dog who were also out for a spot of holiday caching. Cool. Never met any others before. So we agreed to search together, at which point Ami and Kev immediately spotted a previously unseen heap of stones and hey presto, Bob’s your teapot, and all that. While we were signing and generally discussing caching with our new found friends a group of French people stated hanging around an looking a bit shifty too. Hold on, they have a GPS too. Not more cachers. So we told them they would have to wait until we finished signing it and then hiding it again. Look away please…….
- However, we did take a PAF from them over the previous failure at Remparts de Saint Malo #1. They sorted out our altitude problems and after that it was a nice quick one. Just as well because Izzy was running across the sand to meet us, having finished her drink and wee stop. Apparently though, she was now ready for an ice cream, and so was Ami, so we all stopped at a beachside bar.
- On the way uphill from here we had a pop at Saint Malo – Porte des Bes. We mooched about for a bit and bumped into the French group from over on the island. I think they used the phrase “you will have to wait until we put it back” I think the Dutch couple may have given us a PAF for this one as I remember we walked pretty much straight to it. It was a cunning little micro.
- From there we mooched about the inner walls for a while and then eventually popped out at Saint Malo – Porte Saint Pierre. This one had a cunning description and was shown a long way from the gate which gives its name. It was a good 50 yards away down a ramp onto the beach. I won’t give away the absolute details but it was one of those where Kas picked up something whilst saying “I wonder if it is inside this thing” and I remember replying something like “no, because it is in your hand…..” It was a cunning hide. One of our favourites so far. Actually, Mr gdugardon has done a few cunning ones.
All in all, a nice walk around in the sunshine with a few cache finds and some good architecture, so a good start to the holiday.
Every good holiday in France should involve an aquarium. We’ve done the fantastic one in La Rochelle, so it was time to try the one in St Malo. It looked smaller than La Rochelle, but the kids don’t remember to that level of detail so it’s gotta be worth a shout.
The Great Aquarium St Malo is another very good attraction. The kids loved it. It was indeed rather smaller than the aquarium in La Rochelle, but it was big enough still to be interesting and it kept us busy for a few hours through the morning. On the way out there was a ship’s funnel thing that was big enough for the kids to sit in, and hence ideal for a photo or two.
After we finished we shot off back into the centre of St Malo for lunch and another pop at a geocache there. Lunch was a success, the geocache wasn’t. This particular one was starting to turn into a “bogey” cache.
While we were there, we walked back through the old town and found the hair-braiding bloke, who was still there today, so both girls got the (apparently obligatory) French holiday hair braid. I wish I had a photo.
I did get some photos of fish though, as evidenced in the photo gallery.
Today was a day when we couldn’t be bothered to do much.
There was some swimming involved, but otherwise we didn’t really go anywhere or do anything.
In the afternoon I went for a walk around Le Tronchet to pass an hour or so. None of the others fancied it, so I went on my own. I discovered the 12th century Abbey of Notre Dame du Tronchet. Look at the cloisters on that!
It must have been a quiet day. I didn’t type anything for a diary and we didn’t go caching, so no records of that either. So there’s not really a lot I can write about. Sorry.
Truly a day of doing a large amount of not very much. I enjoyed my short walk though.
Today we decided to go to Mont St Michel, so we got up at some ungodly hour and jumped into the bus for the 45 minute drive over. It proved to be an interesting day.
Back at the plot, Mont St Michel is France’s second most popular tourist destination. Don’t know what the first is – either Eurodisney or the Eiffel Tower, probably (being very stereotypical). Anyway, I think all of the 500,000 annual visitors went on this day. Progress around the streets was painfully slow, probably because the streets are narrow and made narrower by all the tat vendors. It took fully 45 minutes to get to the foot of the abbey, at which point the three of us (Kas, Kev and Ami) decided to avoid the queue of thousands trying to get in, and instead to try to find a geocache. We had long since left Grandad, Granny and Izzy behind. All of them were struggling with the crowds and the hills and they decided to retire for a coffee even though we’d only been inside for 10 minutes. On reflection, I would rather have stopped for a coffee than walk up to the top and back. Imagine walking through a football crowd up a steep hill, but they’re not football supporters, their all old age tourists intent on standing in queues and gawping at tat. I do not include my own parents in that description, by the way. By comparison to that bunch, my parents are extremely quick, nimble and not at all interested in souvenirs. If my schoolboy French is right, “souvenir” means something like “beneath coming”. It would have to be a long way down to be beneath coming here.
OK, call me misery guts. If you can catch a day outside the summer holidays so you can actually see the cobbled streets and spend less time in queues then it is probably fantastic. It also has the advantage of being free to get in.
There’s only one cache on Mont St Michel. It is called In The Marvel’s Shadow. As with the whole of the island, it is very regularly visited. Four people had visited the day before. The cache is shown on the north side of the island and it turned out the only way there was to walk around the outside on the silt. It’s highly likely, therefore, that you can only get to it at low tide. The GPS found the spot fairly easily but the description indicated some rock climbing was in order. We did a bit of a reccy and confirmed that up was the way to go.
Kev scrambled up some rocks and located a likely looking site, and then lifted Ami up to do the honours. Sure enough, the cache was located beneath the “erratics”
It’s quite a big one ( and quite busy) so we decided to deposit foldingcaravan’s Garmin Visit UK – Angel of the North Geocoin that Kev had extracted from one of Kitey’s Mission Impossible MK series the week before. This coin wants to visit as many countries as possible before September 2010, but so far had managed only to travel to 14 sites in England. At least France is a new country.
So the coin was dropped, and we had a nice walk around the outside of the island, thereby avoiding the crush inside, and Ami enjoyed some rock climbing. And when we met up with parents and Izzy again, they had enjoyed themselves too, just at a slower pace than Kev, Kas and Ami. Result all round, I’d say. Lunch was an overpriced and not very satisfying affair, during which grandad got spilled on. And then we decided we’d had enough. It was starting to rain and the early start was dragging everyone down a bit. So we decided to go home and spent the afternoon watching the rain, snoozing and watching some telly.
Then we had an early tea of pasta bake and salad before convincing the grandparents to look after the kids while we went caching in St Malo. There were a couple of decent hours of daylight left, So what better way to spend the evening than running round a foreign town looking for bits of tupperware. OK, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds, really. This collection is especially touristy.
First up was Saint-Malo – Tour Solidor de Saint Servan. The one was actually planted by the Haute-Bretagne Tourist Board. One of a number they have planted in some of the finest locations around. To be honest, they are in the kind of places that the average cacher would go to anyway if they were in the area, so look at it from the point of view that you can engage in more than one pastime at once. This particular one was under some rocks halfway up the (very steep) seaward side of a castle. Kas was wearing vaguely appropriate footwear for once, so we managed both to scurry upwards and search. From the cache location there is a lovely little view across the Rance Estuary upstream towards the Barrage de la Rance (more of that in subsequent logs). We dwelled for a little while. What a pleasant spot. OK, let’s be fair, the Haute-Bretagne Tourist Board have made us go round to a side of the tower that otherwise we would not have. Maybe that’s the point of their placement strategy. Either that, or they just put them wherever there’s a few loose rocks.
All subsequent items found on the evening were placed by gdugardon. He seems to be by far the most active of the local cachers. In fact, we got the impression he was getting more active just because we were there and kept finding all his hides. It’s like he kept setting us a new challenge.
So second up was Cathedrales d’Aleth. The greatest complication here was trying to get the car somewhere nearby. I think we parked in a reasonable spot but there were a few one-way streets involved. This proved an easy find. It was a “I wonder if anything is in here ?” sort of a cache. Kas was mainly disappointed that we picked sides of the structure and I got the one with the goodies.
A bit more walking (uphill) and next up was Cite d’Aleth – Memorial 39 – 45. As the name suggests it is on an old fort on top of a promentary overlooking the entrance to the harbour. You can see upstream as well as downstream, and there is a fantastic view. The cache is not up there though. It is around and down a bit. Then down a bit more, and then a bit more. When you get to the bottom, it is just below there. And then you have to climb back up, and walk back downhill to your car. We picked a dodgy route and ended up spending a good 10 minutes wandering through a campsite looking for the way out.
Fourth for the evening was Cote d’Emeraude #3 – Iron Gate. This is part of a little collection (lacking a bonus) celebrating different ways of getting here. This is named for the nearby station but proved to be at the back of a car park outside a block of flats. It was a nice little cache but the location was weird. It just felt wrong to be there. We both felt rather out of place. but nothing like as far out of place as …….
GR34 – Cote d’Emeraude #1 – Sea Gate, which celebrates arrival by sea. Due to a total misreading of the hints by Kev we started off doing a very thorough (and unsuccessful) search of the car park before Kas realised the error and we moved on. We definitely looked like terrorists, rummaging around between car park and the entry to the ferry terminal, appearing randomly out of bushes and staring at all manner of things. Once we got on the right course it wasn’t too difficult. You had to locate a couple of places around a large rock structure and read a couple of bits of info that had been carved into there. This gave 2 clues to a very easily located final cache – all within 200 yards of each other, and none of them anywhere near the parking spot. Lesson learned – read the text first…..
By this time it was getting pretty dark so we decided to retire for a drink – coffee, beer, whatever. So we drove round to the old town and once again struggled to park anywhere. Once we did manage to park up we scooted over to the east end of the old town to a little area with street stalls and multiple cafes, one of which we sat at and sipped at a very French espresso.
The light was not totally gone so we thought we’d have one final pop at Saint Malo – Porte Saint Thomas before reporting it lost. This time, however, the location was relatively free of both bicycles and people, so we were able to have a proper rummage without too much suspicion being generated. It took a couple of reaches but Kev suddenly put his hand on something definitely non-metallic and whipped out the traditional 35mm film canister wrapped in duck tape. Excellent. It really does exist.
So all in all a good night’s hunting. We went to some places we would not have gone as a group of six and it was definitely nice to spend a bit of “Kev and Kas” time. The kids are great, but they can be hard work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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 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.
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 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.