After getting more and more excited and nervous and a bit unreal, we finally left our caravan, with a two week stint to say goodbye to everyone in Wirral and Oxford.
In Wirral Steve attached our mascot to the front of the bike, and he has become a fixture we are fond of (the mascot, not Steve, though we are also fond of him...). We left Sue and Steve and were a bit upset, but will be seeing them in Thailand. We then had a horrendous ride down south with sidewinds and our very first attempt with all the luggage and panniers on, which left us both wondering if really this was such a good plan. Especially when we accidentally rode up on the kerb on the way out the drive. Some might say we should probably have had a trial run with the luggage...
the bike fully loaded. possibly excessively...
We headed to Picardie in Northern France where my parents little rundown cottage was empty and in need of guests. We got lost immediately in Calais, but eventually made it and weirded out the neighbours with our bike-griminess and english-speaking.
Spent a chilled out few days wandering around Le Crotoy and riding up and down very good country-side roads. Found an unexpected French boot-sale with small labradors for sale and the odd parrot, and old people who had their faces all twisted up in wrinkles selling shell trinkets. We accidentally stumbled upon a massive cross-country beach-race and watched a huge crowd of people cheering on a small wiry man crossing the finishing line in St Valery. It was all decidedly French but not very foreign, and we soon scarpered towards the more exotic south.
We headed down south using our appalling navigational skills and a bad map (GPS- pah!). We got lost for two hours around the dodgier end of Paris, which was interesting in a highly irritating way, but eventually did some funky maneouvering and were out. We followed some smaller, pleasant lose-yourself roads and ended up near Clemency in Ardennes, down a dirt-track in the middle of nowhere, following a camping sign. It being April, the campsite was shut. I tried my rubbish French on some passing kids, and they looked a bit confused and didnt really say much. Then the guy in the house opposite came to see if he could help, and they were from Kent. The passing kids were his, and spoke excellent Kentian but no French. Felt like a bit of a twit, but had a good evening drinking wine in their garden, and ate pasta straight from the pan on our phenomenally worrying petrol stove.
Camped on the closed campsite next to the river, which was a very good gentle lead-in to wild camping, though the toilet was still the riverbank, and a barge went past at an inappropriate moment. Oh well.