Ardennes Forest

P1080260Operation Stack

Not only do you have to register to leave the UK but it seems that you have to crawl over broken glass to do so.

The M20 - the main route to Dover - is being used as a truck park due to industrial disruption and would be migrants attempting to stow away on the trains through the channel tunnel. This results in periodic closures of the motorway while it is used as a car park.

Despite all this we have booked the tunnel and wake up to find that the worst has happened. The Stack is in progress. Our plan B is a cross country trip, guided by the GPS. Four hours of winding lanes and back country roads finally leads us to the terminal and a quick trip across.

A long chat with Paul, one of the tunnel workers, gives us the background on the migrant problem and some history of the tunnel. Fascinating stuff and clearly intractable.

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Read more: 28th July 2015

P1080264It's clear from the tourist booklet that the area around St Omer has much more to it than we expected. We've always raced through the area on our way somewhere else so today we decided to remain in Les Frangins and take a look around the area.

First stop (after an excellent breakfast at L'Sainto salon du the next door) is the canal and Les Fontinettes ship lift, a magnificent structure but closed. (hours are until 12 but M. says closed at 11 so closed it is). The structure is in a state of disrepair but what an amazing piece of engineering.

Onward to Cassel to see their windmill with a lengthy stop in the (rather fine) town centre for lunch. Sadly the windmill is also closed and has obviously been for some time. We think it may be considered too dangerous. Back to the ship lift we take the rather brief tour. Frankly you see all you need to from the outside, which is pretty impressive, and the inside is simply explanations and the repair shop.

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Read more: 29th July 2015

P1080334We repeated the breakfast stop at the salon du the, booked a hotel in Noyon and headed off via the back roads. Several detours were required to get around the various road closures and several cross country excursions needed. Lunch (a baguette) and a fun interlude with a shopkeeper who was attempting to swap his shop for Joan's bike. I think she would have gotten the worst of the deal.

Intermittent showers, some heavy and very variable temperatures between 12C and 19C made for severals stops to change gear, the last one being at one of the many war graves cemeteries in this part of the world. How cruelly pointless war is.

The hotel Le Cedre expects us and the rooms are more than adequate.

Overall we have spent 7 hours on the road and are more than ready for showers all around then off to have a look around and dinner.

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Read more: 30 July 2015

P1080361It's a good hour and a half travel but we manage to get to the Chateau at Chantilly before 11am despite numerous stops for breakfast and so forth. The day is cool but clear skies and generally glorious and the chateau and grounds are quite spectacular.

The bad news is that is no discount for pensioners but the good news is that the car park is free for motorcycles.

There is a paucity of snack food on the site but we manage an superb ice cream and coffee at the outdoor cafe in the grounds. Good enough.

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Read more: 31 July 2015

P1080435Today is Saturday and the towns market day and it is pretty big with furniture, clothes, food and all sorts. Nothing by way of a tea shop for breakfast so it's a pain au raisin and from the baker and a coffee in a cafe.

Lunch is deferred while we pour over a map to determine where to tomorrow, we do have to move on sometime. The general consensus is that none of us have been to the Belgian border in the Ardennes so that's what we'll do. Left a message at a B&B and we head out on the bikes to nearby Compiegne.

Much warmer today and this afternoon it's about 25C. Quite comfortable at speed but not in the sun.

The town of Compiegne is much bigger than Noyon and has some ramparts which turn out to be well hidden and not hugely impressive. There's a lot more to see here than time or energy permit so it's watch a wedding at the registry office, have a sandwich and coffee and back to Noyon for a much needed shower and thinking about the next meal!

Dinner at Dame Journe, a somewhat upmarket restaurant with and excellent meal but no slack for English. French only.

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P1080456A pain au raisin in the hotel car park and away, not early but not bad for us. First stop (of any consequence) at Laon having seen the magnificent church on the hill from far, far away. There's a christening going on and so we can't really look around too much.

Lunch in the square outside the cathedral is disappointing as they are way busy. All the countryside is lovely but the farms have become very big

More back roads to Le Mont Dieu, and a fabulous gite - La Correrie. Anne and Jean Luc make us very welcome and we are very pleased to get there after a long and quite warm day.

Dinner on the premises is included and really excellent. This place is a delight and there's no question about staying another day.

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P1080462The forecast is for hot but getting away early is impossible. There's a major breakfast to have and Joan has to move to another room (one of the family's rooms as the gite is complete).

We plan a short trip, first to Sedan for the castle which we see but do not get off the bikes. The sun is so hot that the buttons on the ATM are too hot to touch!.

Next is a home made ice cream on the river at Bouillon in Belgium or Luxembourg, we are not sure which. There is no border any more.

Finally we stop at a memorial to the Maginot Line at La Ferte sue Chiers. This is not what we expected but the temperature has soared into the mid 30's and it is just too uncomfortable. Mary takes a wrong turn and gets separated which adds to the internal temperature.

Finally we get back to our gite at 3pm, hot and tired and ready for a drink and a shower.

The next few days are forecast to warm and we will have to think about how we tackle the weekend.

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Read more: 3rd August 2015

P1080501Overnight rain fortunately becoming scattered as the morning progresses.

Bidding a sad farewell to Anne and La Correrie, it has been lovely, we head to nearby Sedan with light showers.

Sedan has a huge castle, biggest in Europe apparently, and we figure we should be able to remain under cover mostly while we have a good look around. Actually it's pretty interesting and the audio guide is not over long like many.

As we prepare to move on there's a small crowd waiting by what looks like a jousting arena. Investigation reveals that it's some kind of show and still having time before we can go to our B&B for the evening and the weather having cleared up why not?

This turns out to be a great decision although there are a few bits in English and it's hard to follow a lot of it it's great fun. The Knights of Normandy I think was the name of the troop. Very good.

About an hour from Sedan to La Petite Abbaye in Signy l'Abbaye. Uneventful except for a hornet attack on my arm leading to rapid disrobement by the side of the road to get the little sod out. Most unpleasant.

The B&B has a some Belgians in residence and we chat with them over a beer before going over the road for dinner at the hotel there.

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Read more: 4th August 2015

P1080496An excellent breakfast at Le Petit Abbaye.

My colleagues demanded a day off so I took myself off into the Ardenne Forest up to Givet and managed to get into Belgium on the way back. The forest stays somewhat cooler than the river valley and it was not too bad on the road.

Back in Signy by 2pm and a quiet afternoon researching weekend accommodation options. These are somewhat limited as you might expect in the August school holidays. Overall no joy so we ask for a third night at the B&B. We have to move rooms but that's not a disaster either. We can have another look at the options tomorrow.

Dinner is the same (more or less) but the chef returns on Thursday so we'll see what he's like tomorrow.

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P1080637We both took a run through the forest via a somewhat different route and in the reverse direction this time. It's really nice but today is somewhat warmer than yesterday and we start later having had to move rooms.

A small incident while we were stopped for a break as a tar rtruck came and sprayed the road with wet tar as we looked on in horror.  Luckily it was closely followed by another truck with stone chips. 

Coffee in Montherme, lunch in the spectacular fortified town of Rocroi and back to Signy by 3pm. It's very hot by this point and we are glad to get to our room for a shower and more research.

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Read more: 6th August 2015

P1080660A very hot night with thunderstorms and torrential rain in the small hours. Quite exciting though.

We took a small detour on the way to Laon via unprepossessing Hirson and equally drear Fourmies, the latter being marked as a pleasant town on the map but this was not obvious,

Anyway the Hotel le Bannier de France in Laon is located in a one way one lane road and getting there by GPS requires several circumnavigations. Finally made it and despite the trip advisor reviews to the contrary it's fairly typical of it's type, somewhat run down and smelly. Our room is up two floors above what appears to be the kitchen and spacious at least.

Having arrived at a fairly sensible time to try to beat the heat there is the opportunity to explore the very down at heel main street. The good news is that there is a coin laundry, just what we need after 10 days!

A drink in a new bar (Zinc) just down the road recalls old times, doing the laundry while at the pub. This time we did not get locked out of the laundry having gotten back to pick up the clothes too late.

The restaurant over the road Estaminet St Jean did not look too bad and apart from confusing maroilles cheese with morelle mushrooms my din

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Read more: 7th August 2015

P1080696The town is worse in the morning, quite dead and no real breakfast options. We ended up in a boulangere for a pain aux raisin.

The funicular railway (Poma) from the station to the town at the top of the hill is closed apparently for "renovation" but looks just closed period.

There is a good town map and lots of things to see. The must do is the cathedral and this for this you need to prebook for the morning or afternoon, yes only two tours and limited size. We were too late for the 11:30 so it was the 14:30 for us.

Quite enough here to fill at least a half day and probably more but the closed shops start to get to you after a while. I did find a barber and had a much needed haircut however.

Very good crepes for lunch and a tour of the cathedral gave the fear of heights a work out.

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Read more: 8th August 2015

P1080791Rain this morning and it's Sunday so everything - and I mean everything - is well shut. We even take a look at the hotel breakfast and it's really not worth the €9 each they want to charge so we demure.

The rain dries up about 11 so we take off to the new part of town, finally finding the station and a very nice cafe restaurant, L'Adresse for lunch. Laon is really short of good cafes but this one is first rate. They even shoo out Mme and her barking dog who causes angst to the diners.

The afternoon is much the coolest we have experienced and we have a grand ride through the countryside to Artres near St Quentin.

Sadly Le moulin d'Artres is not actually expecting us and there is much confusion. Who did call and where are we actually booked? Common sense prevails and and we take the room here - there is little choice at 5:30 pm. I could try and call to cancel whoever we talked to yesterday but honestly that really is unlikely to work as I just could not make myself understood by the lady I spoke to yesterday. Guilt.

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Read more: 9th August 2015

P1080792The others are all leaving this morning and we don't want a repeat of the previous evening as the route for dinner is difficult. We understand that the chef (Mme.'s husband?) has gone but where and for how long we cannot determine.

After some messing about we decide to head for the coast which is really booked out. The very grand looking (and expensive) Westminster in Le Touquet Plage - Paris has rooms and having taken a mortgage out for one we head off.

The back route takes us through the very ugly outskirts of some major towns, Cambrai and Arras and the route does not improve until the last hour from Hesdin to the coast. The main thing of note are the many war cemeteries. These young men are looked after far better now than they were in life.

The Westminster is as grand as the pictures with antique lifts and all sorts. The prices in the restaurant are to match however.

So what of Le Touquet Plage - Paris? Well it's quite different. A pedestrianised main street running at 90 degrees to the sea, thronged with people and fancy clothes and seaside tat shops. The beach is huge and covered with kids fairs, aqua parks and other diverse stuff. The front is almost completely a row of apartments with the odd old building that has yet to be redeveloped. Overall a total mess. Typical town planning.

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Read more: 10th August 2015

Back to Calais again today, thunderstorms and cooler weather are forecast :(

We'll skip the hotel breakfast as it's a mad price.

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