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Boliding in France:2012

Having had a busy year leading up to daughter's wedding (including preparing the pre-War Rover as bridal car) we resolved to have a complete switch-off break and take Bolide to France again. An outward Ferry booking, a bag of Euros and a copy of Sawday's book on French Chambre d'Hotes was the recipe.

August Bank Holiday weekend included Dave and Nicki Parr, Duncan and Pam Grimmond as house guests - a very enjoyable episode taking in seashore walks locally and on the Bank Holiday Monday, Boys' Day out to Fenman Classic, Girls' Day out to Holt and more refined activities. The game plan was to pack at a leisurely pace for France on the Tuesday, before an early start on Wednesday for the drive to Dover and Ferry to Dunkirk. The weather forecast put paid to that - strong wind and heavy rain for Wednesday!

We packed at a gallop, switched the house off and set off at 1 o'clock for Dover, taking advantage of the dry weather - we would overnight "somewhere in Dover" and set off for an easy first day on Wednesday.

400 yards from the house, indicated to turn across the Common: no left indicator. Back to the house and a quick check showed no left front indication. Continuity check (loom connections underneath the battery carrier, of course so battery and carrier out) showed the connection under the front mudguard was to blame. Front wheel off, connection sleeve (with bullet) - live feed 'nearby'. A quick soldering job with new bullet and sleeve saw winking restored; we were on our way again at half past two. Tedious drive to Dover - WHY do people hammer past on the M25 when you're doing 70, then cut in front and brake?!!

The overall plan was to do no more than 200 miles a day, have single stopovers until we got down to the Ardeche, then a series of 3 nights stopovers in the Auvergne and Cevennes when we would put the tonneau on the car, take in the local atmosphere and do no motoring until time to go to the next venue.

Seeking our first stop near Arras, we were directed to "Maison de Campagne" by a gesticulating man using a mobile phone outside the Mairie. Probably the Mayor, we thought - it was and we stayed in his house first stop! Next day the oil temperature gauge and horn stopped working - more vibratory connection failure, repaired (once we'd stopped and the car cooled down!). Approaching Digoin, it started to drizzle. Pulling away from a busy junction, a backfire blew the left carb off its sleeve - tricky, easing a carb back in to the sleeve and refastening the jubilee clip, underneath a seriously hot exhaust header! Firing the car up again, the sleeve was obviously damaged, but a strip of gaffer tape seemed to keep the vacuum inside. We set off again to find our next stop, in teatime rush hour, one way/pedestrianised Digoin. The gaffer tape bodge didn't work and keeping the car running on one pot involved keeping the revs up - as if we weren't conspicuous enough already!

We pulled over and whilst I was pondering, a man in overalls in a Peugeot 205 pulled up, most interested in the car. Between his no English and my not much French, it seemed we were to follow him to his "atelier". Ten minutes later we drew up to a remote bungalow behind which was a sizeable "tractor shed". A Matra undergoing refinishing was a clue. Inside was the largest collection of vintage and veteran cars I have ever seen in one place - all of them (save the immaculate MGB) were continental. De Dion Bouton, Bleriot, Hotchkiss, Mercedes, Salmson - cars I had read about but never actually seen. It's difficult to recall all I was shown.

I declined the offer of replacing the inlet sleeve, having an acute awareness of how precise the angles needed to be in cutting the ends and length. Having a spare piece of sleeve in the boot, I would rather fit that next morning, to a COLD engine! Colin Gerard (for it was he) lead us back to our stopover, blithely ignoring one-way streets and pedestrians-only areas - apparently the local "traffic flics" knock off at 5! We didn't get to see our room until our hosts had viewed the car and decided it HAD to go in the garage overnight.

Similar concern for the car's wellbeing came at Tournon-sur-Rhone where it was insisted that the car be garaged (a sort of subterranean collection of caves, hewn in to the cliff rock-face). We came to the car next morning to find it covered with a freshly laundered white sheet (no bat droppings on Bolide!).

As we continued South, switch-back roads, 1-in-7 gradients and straight-lining locals became the norm, drizzle turned to low cloud (headlamps and rear fogs were needed) as we climbed. On the other side, as if by turning a switch the temperature was ten degrees warmer, clear blue skies but still on mill-race roads, this time going down - the exhausts' "rear-gunner" ensuring no one got too close to the back. Eventually we arrived at our first static venue - along 1km of unmade road off the single track zig zag. Directions were "turn left at the yellow poubelle" and there it was, clinging to the terraced mountain side at 1200m in 5 hectares of mountain scrub, views in every direction and all of them Massif. The area centred around silver and lead mining in the middle 1800s, with much to explore and much wondering how on earth so much limestone dry walling could be achieved without mechanical assistance, so necessary to prevent everything from simply slipping down the mountain. The local village, some 4kms away was a tiny affair, but memorable, if only for the iconic display of phallic ornaments in the Bar Tabac (which also did great jambon/fromage 'sandwiches'! Le Coupetadou (look it up) was a fabulous stopover - completely unpredictable. Much hammock-swinging on the terraces was practised.

The next stopover took us to within 15km of the Millau (pronounced Meeyow) Viaduct, within easy reach of the Tarn Gorges - a hugely enjoyable day was spent meandering under the towering cliffs on unfeasible roads, dipping in to and through tunnels and arches. A 10km punt ride down the Tarn was milestone memory material as was a stop in St Enimie, where a Frenchman, hugely interested in the Pembleton, derived great pleasure from showing me his Panhard Tigre - a superb motor.

Our third static stop was in the 13th century Chateau de Vaulx (still in the same Dumas family ownership). The HUGE bedroom complete with armchairs and escritoire desk had the en suite bathroom in one of the corner towers. Meals were "en famille" and the atmosphere was unbelievably "make yourself at home".

The notion was that after the Chateau, we'd wend our way North East, taking in France Comte and Alsace, before tracking back towards Dunkerque, our favourite 1 star Relais and home. However, forecast weather for the next few days (which proved accurate) signalled the need to cut north. We figured there would be nothing to equal the Chateau, so decided to "quit while ahead". Four days of motoring (nothing remarkable, except a variable tickover ) and we were back in Dover, traditional B&B before a pleasant saunter home.

2,200 miles run, £216 worth of fuel, half a litre of oil (the odd exhaust-header burn!) we had an amazing holiday in which the car was the star. Roll on 2013 when we hope to do it all again!

Mike Meakin


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