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Pembletons open doors

Driving our Kangoo through Normandy on the way back from a birthday party we were looking for a hotel. When you're taking a freehand line on place, distance and accommodation, there comes a point in the day when one thinks of where to lay one's head for the night.

We had been following the coast road which tracks the rise and fall rather than the contour of the land and, as a result, has a spectacular number of climbs, descents and multifarious hairpins. All this while I was thinking "What a fantastic road for a Pembleton" and planning a return trip.

On my trip to Caux-Retro in 2010 I'd had a recommendation to visit Veules les Roses and had stayed at a campsite near Yport. We were re-visiting that route from the other end and I was arguing with and even shouting at Catherine (my French sat-navigatrice) who kept avoiding my waypoints. Dipping in and out of hamlets on the road is a pleasant way to get a few miles in before lunch.

The need for a hostelry usually makes its presence felt between 3.00 and 4.00 o'clock when the radar for "chambres d'hote and hotels" seems to switch on automatically. Sometimes we get an example of perfect timing as an opportunity presents itself immediately (did I see that sign subconsciously?). At others however, a delayed action response seems to engage, with the accompanying twitch of the finger towards the panic button (let it not be a campsite!). Not that I mind camping, I just don't want to inflict it.

When we arrived in St Valery en Caux we had not seen a single sign for at least 15km. and, as the satnav wasn't showing hotel symbols (operator malfunction suspected) all eyes were peeled for the little cluster of brown pointers usually found in French town centres. Ahah! A sign for the Hotel les Remparts, there's an Angouleme connection here, let's go. A missed turn took us away from the road so we re-crossed the bridge over the estuary towards Henry IV's house and, by good luck, a little brown sign for the Hotel Henry IV.

A tall, narrow building covered with Virginia creeper with a partially hidden door and window and hotel sign appeared on the left. Pull across and park and go to investigate is the form.

My "Bonjour monsieur, vous avez une chambre pour deux ce soir?" was met with a classic Gallic shrug and intimations of "complet". Mr So-and-so is arriving…the family Quelqu'une has arrived… While this drama was being played out over the register I noticed a photo of an old BSA, "C'est a vous le BSA? Un A10, un A7?" "A7", came the reply, "not mine, a friend's, I have a Triumph Trident, here's a photo". Out came photos of a very tidy 1972 early model. "I have a Velocette Venom and a Sunbeam S7… and a Pembleton or two". This led to a photo session with suitable coo-ing over respective machines. Behind the banter and cameraderie was a confirmation of a room and I breathed a sigh of relief.

All this time Pam had been patiently sitting in the car and it was with some difficulty that I managed to interrupt his enthusiasm. I went out to the car to alert Pam and collect the luggage and when I returned to reception he'd googled and opened a Pembleton page on his PC and was drooling. "These are fantastic cars, and based on a 2CV? For you I have the best room in the hotel, third floor, no lift but with a view, normally E76, never mind that, E62, I can carry only two bags"

Le Patron picked up Pam's bags and led us upstairs (six dog-legs) to the third floor and showed us the view from the dormer window across the inner port. Panoramic, certainly, but you had to lean out to see the sea. "There is a story here, you have room 13; no hotel In the world will have a thirteenth floor or a room thirteen but this is room one on the third floor, so Room 13, "Le clef de bonheur" (the key to happiness). Who could ask for anything more?

After finding a restaurant and enjoying dinner we wandered back to the hotel and found le patron putting final touches to something for another guest. I asked if he had a bar where we could continue our conversation but he had to go and eat with his family. However, he produced a cold bottle of Kronenbourg, a glass and bottle opener with a pleasant "C'est un cadeau , bon nuit" and then disappeared to his dinner.

In the morning while waiting for our breakfast I noticed that the coffee table in the dining room was covered with a six-inch thick layer of old motor-cycle and car magazines and so I enjoyed the wait. The breakfast was worth waiting for as well: juice, yoghurt, a baguette, jam, butter, coffee and a croissant all went down very well.

After breakfast (with some more magazine reading) we brought down our bags and, as le patron was dealing with another departing client I loaded the car. Pam prepared herself for another twenty-minute wait as Eric and I exchanged names, enthusiasm, web-site addresses and, eventually, the bill and my credit card details.

As the title implies, there are very few doors that a shared enthusiasm does not open and the Pembleton seems to be a "Pass Key", particularly, in my experience, with the French

.

A reasonable bill and such a warm welcome has to be shared so I propose to try to organise a couple of days touring along the Normandy coast roads with an overnight stay in Valery incorporated with another rally, perhaps Caux-Retro or better still, something like Montlhery Vintage Revival 2015 or Puy-Notre-Dame vintage GP.

Any takers?


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