11 February 2016
Location Bunratty, Co. Clare, Ireland
It’s been quite some time since our last update, 6 months in fact. We returned to Sheffield on 3 August after the trip of a lifetime covering 20,000 miles and 26 countries, arriving home with some incredible memories, hard drives bursting with over 7,000 photos and videos, several interesting passport stamps and one more dog than we’d left with.
I never got around to finishing the last few updates to bring our trip to a close, it was always on the back burner but we’ve been so busy. Since returning home we’ve sold up and moved abroad!
We’d come to the conclusion that we could not return to our former lives after the trip. We could not see ourselves slotting back into the rat race, we’d learned so much about living together in a small space, living on a tight budget and foregoing superficial luxuries, coming to value more important things in life like the time the five of us spend together.
So the house was sold, Jude packed in her job, Ernie has sold and we now live in another country. But more of that later, we’ll pick up where we left off….
From southern Zealand it made sense to leave Denmark by the Rodby – Puttgarden Ferry, rather than driving all the way around, paying another bridge toll to cross into Jutland and then down into Germany around Flensburg. At 869 DKK or €116 the ferry was good value for money seeing us enter Germany again on 6 July. Our first overnight stop was at the popular seaside resort of Scharbeutz, the Stellplatz there we thought was rather expensive at €16 a night, a reminder that we’re firmly back in Western Europe now.
There is a fantastic dog-friendly section of beach at Scharbeutz. Typically German organisation, they have the beach sectioned off, one part for families with children, one for dogs, one for nudists, one for nudist dogs with children and so on!
Into Belgium and passing south of Brussels we had to stop and visit the battlefield of Waterloo. The future of Europe was decided on a Sunday afternoon 200 years and five weeks ago, leaving 30,000 dead on a battlefield of little more than a square mile in size and ending a quarter century struggle against Revolutionary France and a French Empire which had conquered most of the continent.
The battlefield is now dominated by the Lion Mound, an earthen mound topped with a statue of a lion commemorating the Prince of Orange, a young Dutch oik who was wounded on this spot during the battle. The mound was constructed using earth from the ridge which had been a key feature of the battlefield, Wellington was famously furious when he saw what they had done with his carefully chosen terrain. From all the commemorative Emperor-worship tat as well as statues and monuments around the battlefield you do seem to get the impression that Napoleon must have won after all!
Tickets cost €16 to ascend the Lion Mound, or €19 to include shuttle buses to visit the farmhouses of a Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte which played a key role as fortifications during the battle. We’d only arrived late-afternoon and judging there to be insufficient time to get our money’s worth we were more than happy taking the dogs for a stroll around the wider battlefield area.
Travelling through the Picardy region we did a whistle stop tour of the Somme memorials including the village of Pozieres and the enormous Thiepval Memorial inscribed with the names of 72,000 allied soldiers who died in the battle and have no known grave.
There is a fantastic unofficial free aire at the seaside resort of Veules-les-Roses in Normandy. Despite “no camping” signs at the entrance to a huge field above the village there must have been 50 motorhomes parked up, largely French familes enjoying the summer weekend, but some Germans, Austrians and one or two Brits as well.
A few days spent at the aire at Beauvoir in order to visit the huge Norman Abbey on Mont Saint-Michel, an island just off the Norman coast and reached by a long causeway. This was my first visit, Jude has been a few times on school trips. The Abbey is a massive tourist trap but in a stunning location and really a must-see if you go to Normandy.
We reached Brittany on 15 July, several weeks earlier than planned but by this point we’d decided that a bit of house hunting was in order and we’d already shortlisted some country cottages, firmly in the budget fixer-upper category.
Josselin in central Brittany is popular with British ex-pats thanks to a mild climate. We were very interested in one of the cottages on our shortlist but decided to look further west in the wild and windy Finistere region where you get more for your money. We’ve always wanted to live somewhere on the Shipping Forecast and there were no houses available in Viking, North Utsire or Dogger Bank!
At Scrignac, near to the small town of Huelgoat, in a wonderfully isolated spot down a little country lane we viewed an old stone two bedroomed cottage which had been on the market for years. The house has a ramshackle barn on the end containing loads of massive barn-owl droppings, there’s also a half-finished loft conversion and three quarters of an acre of secluded, but very overgrown garden containing among other things an old cow shed, a wrecked camper van and an ancient Renault van. We fell in love with the place. It needs quite a lot of work, the sale price was €39K so we put in a silly offer at €27K expecting it to be knocked back. €27K is around £19,000, only a bit more than we’d paid for the camper. The house needs the same spending again on repairs, but still…fingers crossed. We nicknamed the place Chateau Caniche, or Poodle Castle!
Our final couple of days in France involved some long drives to all the way over to Dunkirk, stopping briefly to see the D-Day beaches and the remains of the Mulberry Harbours, as well as the ancient city of Bayeux. Waiting at the ferry port at Dunkirk we had a phone call from our Immobilier, or Estate Agent to inform us that our offer had been accepted! We’re giddy, just as one incredible phase of our lives is drawing to a close a new one begins.
So why am I posting this from the Republic of Ireland? Find out in the next nail-biting episode which will definitely not take six months to get around to!