In June of last year I flew to Bergerac to enjoy a week of guitar playing and tuition at La Perdrix in the small town of St. Martin de Riberac. I had an absolutely brilliant trip and decided at the end of the week that next time I would drive and make much more of it.
I left Edinburgh on the morning of Wednesday 6th of June and had arranged to stay with friends in Cobham for a couple of days before taking the crossing to France. Usually, I take the A702, M74 and M6 when I am driving south, but this time I decided to go via the A1 and the A1/M. I’m glad I did as the drive was far less stressed and congestion free particularly in comparison to the delays, anxiety and dysphoria that a drive around Stafford and Birmingham brings.
Cobham, an affluent village to the SW of London just inside the M25, “Prime Suburbia” just a 40 minute commute from London. It is probably familiar to some as the home of the Chelsea FC training ground. There’s a gate at the railway station which leads directly into the ground – of course locked most of the time and guarded when it is open. I spent a couple of nights with my friends Sue and Chris and enjoyed a great trip to Brooklands with Chris on Thursday. As well as the famous motor museum and old race track, there is an aircraft museum and just over the fence “Mercedes Benz World”. I was struck by the brutal design of the main building at Mercedes and the famous three-pointed star turning around on top forced me into a double-take.
I had booked a mid-morning tunnel crossing for Friday and expecting the M25 to be busy, I left Cobham early. Fortunately, there were no accidents and no hold-ups and I arrived in plenty of time. So much so that I was able to catch an earlier train and reached France a whole hour earlier. The tunnel was a new experience for me and whilst it was excruciatingly boring is was quick with loading and unloading handled extremely efficiently and I was on the French motorways within 10 minutes of arrival.
I had bought a Télépéage tag before leaving the UK so I could use the toll roads without having to get out to pay or clamour across the passenger seat to reach the machine. I was a little apprehensive approaching the first toll and fully expected to be fumbling around for change or credit card with a queue of irate French tooting and gesticulating, but I needn’t have worried. The tag beeped and the barrier went up as it did at every other toll gate. Incidentally, it cost me just over €90 to use the tolls there and back.
I had used booking.com to make all my reservations and my overnight stop was at Fresnay-Sur-Sarthe, a small village, unsurprisingly on the banks of the River Sarthe to the NW of Le Mans. I had chosen here partly down to cost and partly to proximity to the toll roads. As it turned out, it was a very pretty little place. The Hotel Ronsin was a little run-down but more than adequate and the owner extremely helpful. He was eager to tell me about the village and gave me a small map of walks and before dinner I set off for a stroll to take some photographs and work up an appetite. The main street was adorned with parapluies – an “Umbrellas in the skies” project. The owner had told me that there were some very interesting buildings built into the rock-face down by the river so I wandered down and as I was taking photographs a local, who was gardening, started talking to me. It turned out that he had been on a school exchange to Paisley (?) many years ago. He told me that he had a grotto at the back of his house where he thought some prehistoric remains might be and he invited me into his house to see it. He had converted part of the cave, which was wonderfully cool, into a sitting room complete with sofa, table, chairs and a large stove/cooker. He was rightly very proud of it. As we were making our way back down to his home he invited me to join him for a beer and we enjoyed the last of the evening sunshine in his garden.