Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A Very French Tale

With a friendly sounding of the horn and a cheery wave from the driver, who was dressed in appropriate aeronautical attire, the French TR2 sped passed us in the fast lane of the N165 in a flurry of spray and disappeared into the gloom. Two minutes later the heavens opened again and our 4/4, fortunately with the hood up, was in the grip of one of the most intensive rainstorms that we had ever experienced.
In response to this story, people inexperienced in motoring Morgan style, and at this stage we were definitely in that category, would say, “well thank goodness you had the hood up!” Looking back now, I think that this was the defining moment when we were truly initiated into the Morgan community as we tried to dodge and stem the raindrops that seemed to come from everywhere. To add to our woes we were at a virtual standstill due to road works and our little car (they do seem very small at times like this!) started to belch forth steam from the radiator. A quick check of instruments assured me that all was well. It must have been the sheer volume of water evaporating from the exterior of the radiator...but it didn’t half give the French drivers some amusement.
Helen and myself had only been Morgan owners for six months and had started our first continental trip in a Morgan at Saint Malo. The weather was splendid and we made our way through the glorious Brittany countryside arriving for our first stopover at the lovely ‘Le Manoir du Menec’ at Bannalec,  just inland from Pont Aven. The hotel, under English ownership is used regularly by the Bentley and Rolls Royce Drivers Clubs as well as others and comes highly recommended by us as being a perfect place from which to tour Western Brittany.
During the three days we spent there we could cover only a small part of this lovely region, visiting charming seaside towns such as Benodet with it’s bustling marina and the pretty, although very touristy, town of Pont Aven, with it’s Art Galleries, floral displays and a beautiful harbour. Our stay also included a visit to the spectacular Pointe du Raz and it was there that we met a lovely French couple who, on being told by the Payment Booth Attendant that there was a car just like theirs in the crowded car park, had searched for our car and had parked next to us. They were busy fixing their tonneau cover when we returned from our walk and noticing their UK registration plate we assumed that they were fellow Brits. It was only when we greeted them that we realised they were French. Our French is somewhat limited and therefore, although we exchanged many words in our respective languages, you would be correct in deducing that precious little came from that discourse in the way of understanding, except for the fact that they had bought their car in London and came from Northern France! Despite our linguistic shortcomings we shared a very special common interest and they were a delightful couple clearly loving every Morgan moment. This was the first of many occasions on our holiday when we were made to realise that we were now members of a much extended family and it was a great feeling.

Pointe du Raz
We somewhat reluctantly left Le Manoir, but were keen to continue our tour and after the enlightening ‘drowning’incident, detailed above, arrived at our second hotel, ‘Domaine de Bodeuc’ in La Roche Bernard for a couple of nights. Le patron kindly allowed us to garage the Morgan in his barn, a gesture that was much appreciated, although at the evening dinner it did not compensate for an exhaustive wine list of, what we considered, overpriced wine! But there again at our age we are probably out of touch! Regardless of that it was a good stay in this wonderfully eccentric French manor house.
After spending time exploring that part of Brittany, in what were very mixed weather conditions, we moved on and had a wonderful ‘top down’ drive to Breze, just south of Saumur, where we spent a delightful week at the superb ‘La Charpenterie’, which advertises in ‘Miscellany’. I hesitate to recommend it for fear of us not being able to get in ourselves when we wish to return.
Our next door neighbour while we were there was fellow MSCC member Stuart Harrold and his wife, from Ross on Wye, with their 1976 4/4.  Sharing daily experiences, he was also able to reassure me regarding the aforementioned quirks and intrinsic characteristics of the marque, which is why he always carries strips of towelling in his car to plug the various offending orifices!

By the River Thouet
‘La Charpenterie quietly nestles amongst the rolling vineyards of the region, yet is close enough to restaurants in Saumur if you wish to eat out. The owners, Rodger and Margaret John are keen ‘top down’ motorists and indeed during our stay, Rodger had taken his track car to a race meeting in Dijon.
Notable moments whilst there included a wonderful drive and visit to the Chateau of Villandry, a similar drive through vineyards to Montreuil-Bellay where, not only did I meet my childhood hero, the long distance athlete of the 1950’s, Chris Chataway, but also a French ‘athlete’. He was actually a white van driver who had stopped at a halt sign in a very narrow road , spotted his lover behind him and had promptly entered into a torridly passionate embrace with her over the bonnet of her car!!!! And this was in front of five highly amused schoolgirls sitting on a wall opposite. The couple locked together were clearly totally engrossed and wouldn’t move despite the approaching Morgan. We could barely get passed this human roadblock. Ah c’est la vie! It could only happen in France. In fact thinking about it now, this was the only time in France where we did not attract a single glance in our direction.

Montreuil Bellay
 The 11euro four-course lunch including wine, enjoyed at a local bar/restaurant, frequented by lorry and van drivers and situated a short walk through the vineyards from our gite, was truly memorable as was the beer we quaffed at the ‘Le Saint Cloud Bar/Restaurant’ in Saumur whose owner Herve Lemercier has promised to see us at the Morgan Centenary celebrations at Cheltenham in his Roadster. The local organiser of the Morgan Club of France and also a member of the Jaguar Owners Club, he is always delighted to see fellow owners who can always be assured of a free dish of crudities!
After our week at ‘La Charpenterie’ we travelled to our final one night stop at ‘Le Quesnay’ (also ‘Miscellany’ advertisers), a lovely Chambre D’Hote, where we sampled first class hospitality, super accommodation and a beautifully prepared evening meal which we enjoyed sitting around the dining table with the owners.
The final leg was the fast ferry from Cherbourg to Poole where, due to the fact that I had mentioned our low ground clearance, we were the sole occupants of Row11 prior to boarding and were finally ushered into a very nice spot on the car deck with two feet to spare on one side and twenty feet on the other, and were almost first off at Poole.

Early start from 'La Charpenterie'
 Our shock at arriving back to the congestion in the UK is worth mentioning, after experiencing the joys of the quiet open road roads of France. The mayhem certainly raised some rather unsavoury comments as we clawed our way north.

What a wonderful trip, in a car that performed beautifully and was rightly admired wherever we went.
We are currently organising our 2009 touring holiday in France. Once again a garage awaits us in Breze for the first two weeks of our trip and then it will be either further south or west for a further two weeks, we haven’t decided yet! Well, you’ve got to have something to look forward to!

Article originally published in 'Miscellany' November 2008

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