A long time ago, the eminent Chris Rea wrote a song called The Road Hell. Today, we drove along it. I should back up a little.
Our favoured route into France is this: down to Dover, ferry to Calais, 2-hour drive down the A16 past Boulogne-sur-Mer, then the A28 to Neufchâtel-en-Bray in Normandy. On day 2 we generally head south through Rouen to Evreux, Dreux and Chartres. This route drops down what is pretty much the centre line of France so we can deviate almost anywhere without too much hassle. The route, though, has one serious problem: between Evreux and Dreux lies St-Remy-sur-Avre which is one of the worst bottlenecks known to French homme. It’s a favourite truck route and traffic backs up horrendously to crawl through the traffic lights at St Remy’s centre. The most frustrating aspect is that two lanes neck down to one and cars in the outside lane constantly queue jump, cutting in and holding up inside lane traffic even more. So bad is it that we’ve actually seen trucks sit in the middle of the road to block both lanes and stop the queue jumpers in their tracks. Bravo Euro-truckers! Weekdays are dreadful – the only way to deal with it is to hit it on Sunday morning when it’s quiet. We were travelling on Monday so decided to try a deviation to avoid it. Big mistake!
In attempting to bypass St-Remy-sur-Avre to the east, we hit one of the slowest, bumpiest roads, rich in towns and villages deploying 30 kph speed limits and violent ralentisseurs [infernal speed bumps] to enforce them. It may be hard to believe but the French seem to be even more in love with speed bumps than we are. Poor Francine was, at the same time, staring left and right as we passed orchids in the verges, and getting bounced up and down by said ralentisseurs. This combined movement completely wrecked Francine’s neck. It also lost us 45 minutes, as well as our sanity. The traffic jam would’ve been far preferable although, of course, had we been sitting in it, we wouldn’t have known that. We’ll know next time. Such is life.
We eventually hit some decent roads sans bumps, then the A71 autoroute past Orléans and down to a delightfully rural, 1-star campsite at Bruère-Allichamps, just a spit north of St-Amand-Montrand. Bruère-A has a Roman column noting that it is Centre de la France. I said we were dropping down the centre line and we’ve ended up plumb centre – for a night, anyway.
I’ve often stated that our favourite kind of site is a field with an electric hook-up and no facilities. Well, here it is and at a stonking €9.04 a night including electricity – and madame let me off the 4 centimes. I tried to insist but she was having non of it. We are on the banks of the river Cher and the only noise is a cricket chirping away. Some sun would be nice but, hey, it’s blissfully peaceful. There seemed to be only one other unit on site when we arrived. Since then a couple of touring motor vans have turned up, too. Being Dutch, the very first thing motor van A did when it arrived was set the roof-mounted satellite dish spinning on its mission to auto-locate a TV signal. Its still very peaceful, though.
We very recently been paying £21.00 a night for a site with less facilities in England’s New Forest. This French field beside the river does actually have a rudimentary sanitaire block but we’ll be using Guillaume just for convenience. I know which I think is preferable. To add to the pleasure, we found Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens), Blue-tailed Damsels (Ischnura elegans) and Goblet-marked Damsels (Erythromma lindenii) flitting about just metres from Guillaume as he overlooked the river. I dislike that BDS name, Goblet-marked Damselfly; I much prefer the Euro name, Blue-eye which I think is more descriptive.
Interestingly, on the path beside the river, close to where many Banded Demoiselles were flitting about, I spotted a few dark blue “stains” on the ground. The dark blue stains were, in fact, discarded male Banded Demoiselle wings. There were about four pairs. Something had been dining on Banded Demoiselle.
Chris Rea’s Road to Hell was the M25. Our road to hell was the D16 to Dreux. After our seriously misguided choice of alternative route, we deserved a little luck.