Breton Stripes & Gripes

Summer feels a long time off, but I was determined to get another blog under the belt this month, and I didn’t want to let our summer holiday go by unnoticed.

It was a first time abroad for the smaller girl, a proud holder of an EU passport for a while longer, the first time we’d been on Eurotunnel since 2014, and a different kind of holiday in many ways – the first buggy-free, but at the height of a heatwave, the idea of doing the kind of hikes we are used to in UK holidays was off the table. Oh and there was going to be camping. That was new.

We got stuck in a horrible tailback at the tunnel – the hot weather meant it couldn’t run at full capacity, but after a few hours hanging around we were across the channel and heading to our first stop in Rouen.

I remember being very impressed by Rouen as a teenager, and the cathedral is certainly epic. It didn’t quite have the romance I remembered, but then that’s probably what 25 years difference makes. The hotel was outside the old town and was fairly unglamorous, but if I’d known it was one of the better nights sleep of the holiday, I would have given it more credit!

The next day certainly delivered on romance and drama, as we drove to Mont St Michel – somewhere I hadn’t been for even longer, a holiday when I was 4 or 5. I knew it was a tourist trap and crowded and on a full-on heatwave day, likely to be hellish, and yet, and yet, how could you not want to go into a place like that?

The winding lane up through the ‘town’ was not quite as I remembered it – it had become my childhood blueprint for ‘medieval citadel’ and I’d forgotten how much of it was actually tourist tat shops, and restaurants that were all full (we had lunch in a place a bit like a French version of Upper Crust – although of course the baguettes were much better – as it was the only place not turning people away).

It was still ridiculously pretty, and thanks to the narrow streets and high walls, there was some welcome shade. Plus, I’d worried the girls would find it dull and too hot to enjoy themselves, but luckily they loved it as much as I had at the same age. (Phew!)

I failed to take any photos of the winding lane or the cute alleyways – minus points to me, it must have been the heat- but I did take one of the view across the sands which was rather impressive:

From there we went to the campsite – one of those sprawling enormous ones which the Eurocamp brochure would have praised for its family-friendly facilities and fabulous entertainment, whereas my parents would have gone for the ‘quiet, shady sites with larger than average pitch size’ and given this one a big swerve.

Luckily, our tent was on the very edge of the site and a long way from the night time fireworks and open-air live music – although a bit dwarfed by an enormous hedge around the perimeter which made it feel a bit like we were next door to an angry Leylandii neighbour.

We were also cheek-by-jowl with some very tiny shoddy-looking caravans, though with a sunset and rainbow like the ones below, you can’t really complain, can you?

Well, of course you can complain, and we are born middle-class grumblers who would like to be well away from other people and not have to use toilet blocks, but the girls loved the water slides and sleeping in the tent.

Eurocamp give you proper beds rather than camp beds these days, but beds that have sat in a tent for a while get a bit rickety and creaky, and over-excited children take a long while to get to sleep, so we all slept badly the first night, and as we were so shattered, fairly well the second night – that was the second good nights sleep of the holiday.

Then it was on to the gîte, the bit we’d been really looking forward to after the camping – proper beds, proper showers, a hot tub – and it really was idyllic. (First photo is the instagram moment, a moss and fern-covered staircase leading to nowhere).

It was also the place to go if you like hydrangea (luckily, I do).

At this point, the heatwave receded for a few days, in Brittany at least, but if you’re staying in a thick-walled farm building with bedrooms in the attic with tiny velux windows, at night it’s beautifully cool downstairs but hot as an oven upstairs.

It felt like a terrible con to be staying somewhere so lovely and to sleep so badly every night.

We managed to make the most of our days, despite the disturbed nights – the most memorable place for me was Huelgoat – probably because it was most like our typical British holidays – and it was shady.

It’s an amazing wooded gorge which is full of weird rock formations, including one of those mythical rocking stones you can supposedly move with one hand (you can’t). This was probably the longest walk we did the entire holiday, very different from previous years.

Our other major day trips included Carnac – amazing to see the standing stones and very doable with small children, despite the heat, thanks to being able to go round the site on a small train. You can also get off and walk, though as at Stonehenge, you can’t get too near the stones.

Then we did the afternoon on the beach at Carnac, but the lack of shade made it a bit of a struggle – the same with Le Pouldu which had been recommended as a good beach. Found myself wishing for a good old British windbreak…

On the last day in Brittany, we found the perfect balance – another scorching day, but we went to Lac le Guerledan, where you can hire pedalos, and swim, and afterwards (oh joy!) sit under a tree in blissful SHADE to eat ice creams.

Then we stopped for one night en route home in lovely Honfleur….

– if there is a more chocolate-box perfect (or Normandy biscuit-tin perfect) place, I don’t want to hear about it.

And the B&B place we’d booked rather uncertainly after failing to find a ‘family friendly hotel’, turned out to be an amazing apartment to which we had our own private entrance, and beds which delivered a final heavenly night’s sleep, followed by breakfast cooked by the owners in a courtyard garden below.

That was the point I started to wish we’d booked another night or two – but it was time to go home. À bientôt, Bretagne.

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How Summer slipped by

I managed to lapse into a whole month with no blog, more by accident than design to start with – I had all sorts of ideas of things I was going to write about, but I seem to have spent August letting all sorts of things slip.

Fitbit targets have gone out of the window, I haven’t had my eyebrows threaded for months, or hair cut since May, summer holiday tasks and clear-outs I’d planned have not even begun, and the garden was looking, frankly, its worst ever by the time we went on holiday.

This was the dismal, withered state of the raised bed at the time we went away – thankfully now much recovered after the August rain.

What water we could spare went on the vegetables, though I felt like I was betraying my poor flowers – though the tomatoes were worth the effort, I must say.

The heatwave was, to start with, unbearable, but it’s amazing what you can put up with when there’s no choice.

You go everywhere slowly, you rest in the shade, you carry tons of water everywhere, you save every saucepan of water and ‘grey’ washing up water for the garden, you buy inappropriately thin clothes you’ll maybe never need again – and you adapt to the new conditions. It got to the point where I didn’t really care how hot it was in terms of my own personal comfort – I’d acclimatised to it – I just wanted rain for the sake of the poor brown garden.

For a really shocking contrast, here’s Greenwich Park taken in late July, the main open area (unwatered) below vs the Queens House/Maritime Museum side above, which was still being looked after. These two photos were taken literally on opposite sides of the same path. Just unbelievable.

BUT a great deal more has happened this summer, more than will fit in a single blog. Holidays and other new projects will wait for the next one, but the big double win for this summer was a girl finally out of nappies (except at night, obvs) and going buggy free.

Pictured here with the sunflower she grew herself at preschool – back in July when we were changing pants many, many times a day and I thought it would never end (and that my poor sofa would never recover).

People say ‘if they don’t get it straight away, it clicks after two weeks’ but 3 weeks in and we were still struggling. No going back, though, as she was nearly 3 and a half, and I was determined to be out of nappies for the summer holiday. By a miracle, we managed it, with just a couple of dodgy tummy incidents on holiday leading to ‘accidents’, and life without nappies has been marvellous.

The buggy-free thing came about because our first trip into town after the holiday was to see The Tiger who Came to Tea, going via Brixton where the lifts are out of order. I said ‘we’ll go without the buggy this time’ and since then she’s just got on with it.

Of course everything goes more slowly and we don’t cover the distance we used to – hence those lost Fitbit goals – but she doesn’t grumble or ask for the buggy and I am so glad to have my hands free instead of always pushing something.

I do obviously have to carry everything that used to go under the buggy, but I am learning to travel as light as possible (though still carrying tons of water bottles weighs me down a bit). Not carrying nappies now helps with the bulkiness, but spare outfits, wipes and nappy bags still needed for emergencies.

Compared to how emotional I felt at Easter saying goodbye to her old playgroup, losing the buggy and nappies has been a liberating experience; not a tear has been shed. She’s a big girl delighted at how grown up she is, and I’ve seemingly managed to let go of the physical baggage without any emotional baggage attached.

Mind you, if we actually dispose of the buggy I might feel differently, but it’s folded in the porch now awaiting its fate. I dare say on a rainy school run morning it may get used again, so we’re not quite ready to let it go yet.