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Today we packed the car. Tomorrow we say bye to our friends, Saturday we head north to the ferry and Christmas with the family. Fair warning, we are on our way. I always believed that packing was an art. Now, each time we prepare to leave, we say to ourselves “only the essentials” when the open boot lid hits the bridge of my nose, I know the car is full. But the temptation to fill the space is almost too much. Our car works hard for its money, it is a working beast, not pretty, useful and does what we need it to do. We will cross half of France, get the ferry Sunday morning, then be home Sunday night to watch the football. (The kids will, I’m sure, object to this plan)

I have posted off two competition entries this month, so we shall see what becomes of them in the New Year. One requiring more than one poem, occupied some time as I ferreted about in my writing folder making choices, we shall see.

For now, a brief trip across France, soon we should have the time to take the back roads. It is Autoroutes with the comfort of steady speed and light traffic. We arrive relatively fresh and in good spirits, mostly.

The car is as full as it has ever been, more things to be returned to England. This time, we are taking paint back to the UK, a first in seven years of renovating houses in France. It is just before six in the morning, not my best time of day, when the dark and the damp make the final checks worse than normal. Water off, lights off, doors locked, a list we are now fairly good at organising between ourselves. Leaving Rilhac should be simple, catching up with the family, seeing friends and Christmas shopping.

Soon we bump along the back roads through fields clear and ready for winter. Misty water coats the windscreen, enough to be a pain, not enough to need the wipers. When we hit the main road there is a mental line crossed. The point of no return. If we have forgotten anything now it is too late and we won’t be going back for it. Passports and tickets being the last check we make before driving off. The headlights make grey out of the darkness, not much of an improvement but better.

We have four hundred miles to cover before we make Ouistraham and the ferry to Portsmouth. For this early start there is nothing of the mountains to see except black shapes beside the motorway, so we listen to an audio CD, a background sound that passes the miles, comfortable above the rumble of travel. Dawn slides down the hill as we start the long descent into the Allier region.

We passed Clermont Ferrand, its black cathedral and the jelly shaped lump of the Puy de Dome a while back still under cover of low cloud. Now as the sun clears the mist a little, leaving just rain we can see a bit more of the passing French countryside. We are leaving the high ground of the Massif Central, foothills compared to the Alps but still a beautiful place to explore, and we drop about 300m to the Allier. This is the point when we think that’s it, we’ve left. And the point on the return journey when the end is in sight. The Aire du Volcans has one of the best views along the famous Chain des Puys along to The Puy de Dome after which the region is named.

The hills are lower now, rolling through the Centre, past Bourge, Vierzon and then a left turn towards the Loire valley and Tours. It always amazes me how much the scenery changes, and as we cross some of the biggest rivers in time passes quickly. We do two-hour stints at the wheel. A throwback to travelling with Rosie dog, who we lost last year. But taking the time, coffee breaks and snacks make for more enjoyable and less tiring travel.

After Tour, we again head north and pass by Le Man with its 24hr circuit. The services here has one of the sports cars in the lobby. We are getting closer now and as we start seeing signs for Caen, we also start to see the directions to Commonwealth and American war cemeteries. A reminder of the 6th of June, when so much was given by soldiers from around the world. Normandy and we start to smell the sea. Ouistraham, the ferry port, fishing boats. We can almost smell the fish and chips now. In the local bar though, I opt for moule frite. Fresh and done well it is one of my favourite foods. After it’s time for the hotel and bed, ready for the boat in the morning.

Next time I write, we will be in England and building up to Christmas.

I like this time of year, don’t you?

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