*every lovely person who's read this series of blogs.
Above: Around midnight ... serried traditional beach huts at Yport in Normandy.
The Basque Country left us literally and figuratively hungry for more. For our next visit (and there will be one) we are going to have to step up our time allocation by an order of magnitude. And do a lot more research besides. Add on the same again for Catalunya and 6 weeks starts to look like a minimum baseline.
Especially if we were to start in Oporto and work our way up the Douro!
Now we had a day to get North, retrieve our battery powered VW, drop off the Mercedes Marco Polo, and have a last blast with the incomparable Ann and Craig, before doing the EV charge point hopscotch back to Calais.
It always pays to break a day-long trek somewhere diverting and Shan and I had chosen ahead an attractive pitstop on our way to Saint-Romain. But first we had to traverse the ultimate spaghetti junction that had so daunted us on the way into Donostia. This time the traverse would be in reverse. We also decided to stay off the motorway to absorb the coastal scenery.
Given the suspicion we now felt for the Mercedes satnav, and encouraged by Shan's bailing us out with her trusty Google-equipped iPhone, we decided to put her in charge of navigation. It was a good decision that played out with little fuss despite the driver (me) being uber suspicious of every change of direction (and there were many).
We had chosen Issigeac as one of the last few places for Kinks to experience an historic French village given that the last substantial stretch of the journey back to Calais would have to be undertaken in our Volksie EV. This meant stops for high speed recharging and these were really only reliably to be found on autoroutes. French autoroutes are excellent but, like freeways anywhere, can be quite boring.
Our penultimate destination for the day was a medieval village that dates back to Roman times, located in the Périgord and is a commune of the Dordogne department. Apart from its antique charms, Issigeac is also home to a compact cornucopia of craft shops and the like ... ideal for those last-minute gifts to ferry home. It also has a reasonable choice of places to grab a bite, although this turned out to be irrelevant ...
It always comes as a surprise how vast France actually is. Five hours are w-a-a-a-y too long for the venerable jollers to last between wees and teas so the odd Lidl or Carrefour car park along the way provided the facilities and food was bought to assuage the guilt of using the free lavs.
So switching to a little retail therapy and sightseeing made a welcome break before changing drivers for the last hour-and-a-half leg of our journey for the day.
Above, clockwise from top left: a typical medieval lane leading to the central square; a street of smart shops leads into the square bookended by a restaurant and a pillared covered market; The café was inviting but our needs had been fulfilled; A medieval doorway definitely not made for Shan; there are nooks and crannies and cobbled streets everywhere; probably the most splendid outdoor library we'd ever come across.
Above, clockwise from top left: Just when you think you're shopped out - a tempting wine shop with the most attentive expert; another charming café; half-timbered buildings in the next two pics; this one's for me old mate Starry, let's see if he spots this and is able to solve the riddle; there are a lot of green shutters and awnings in Issigeac.
And so it was that Shan steered us expertly to her cousins' house where we reclaimed our car to begin what was to become a somewhat epic journey in our battery-powered odyssey.
By now we should have been experts at planning an EV journey and we duly girded our loins for our Saturday morning departure. We were all set up for our last two days on the road and home was beckoning comfortingly. We had a full charge, good for 300 kms, and a hotel booked in Yport in Normandy 600 kms away. Six hours max. And, 'er, add another two hours' recharging. Leaving at 9AM, a 5PM check-in would be a doddle.
Above (l to r): last night in Charente before our grand départ - atmospheric bar/restaurant, Barbacane, in Aubeterre run by a Dutchman named Jaap with a South London accent - lovely bloke, lovely food; We should have been enjoying this sunset in Yport, instead we had only recently regained the A28 in Normandy, still quite a way South of La Seine.
Off we go
We got there after 9PM.
Problem #1: Massive downpour at Aires de Poitiers-Chincé on the A10. This was not anyone's fault but the process of standing in the torrential rain with half of the self-service process being conducted via a mobile phone with a touch screen being activated by random raindrops: MERDE! There was no one to help so we had to just persevere and start over and over again. I still don't know how we got it right but, if I have any advice for IONITY (an otherwise excellent service), for heaven's sake put your charge points under shelter. ONE DOES NOT HAVE TO STAND IN THE RAIN FOR PETROL OR DIESEL. AND THIS IS ELECTRICITY WE'RE TALKING ABOUT.
We resumed our journey about 45 minutes later than we should have, soaked to the skin and feeling disgruntled. Imagine what that might have been like in midwinter!
Problem #2: Our bad, but it was easily done, we missed the turn off the A10 onto the A28. French autoroutes are pretty unforgiving when you cock up (we'd discovered this in similar circumstances on the way down). The next exit was 20 km further on up the road.
Problem #3: My bad. With hindsight the optimum decision would have been to return 20 km back down the A10 and resume our journey on the A28. It seemed such a long way around so I went for a cross-country dash towards Le Mans that was shorter. I hadn't counted on the number of towns and villages along my chosen route, all of which have 30 km/h (18 mph) speed limits. I do thoroughly approve of these limits and commend the French traffic authorities for taking this step but it wrought havoc with our ETA.
Problem #4: My MOJO destroyed, as we were approaching Le Mans where we would need a battery top up, I elected to turn away from the city up the A11 towards Paris. The Aire de Villaines la Gonais was fine and we spent 55 minutes actually constructively charging.
Problem #5: Because we'd travelled some way up the A11, I elected to continue the cross-country madness and take the shortest route back to the A28 near Gacé.
Problem #6: We were back on track but now it was dark and the roads on the last stretch to Yport were narrow and winding. We'd already taken a call from the Hotel Normand, asking us if we were still coming. By this stage I was driving again and Shan assumed her most tactful counsellor tone to reassure them that we'd be taking up our reservation.
Not sure how many calls took place between our EV and the hotel but we eventually arrived after 9PM absolutely starving only be told the hotel was no longer serving le souper. Our hearts sank, visibly enough for the receptionist to take pity and make other arrangements.
Actually everything ended up brilliantly with three fish supper extravaganzas with cidre at Le Nautique 100 metres away. Result! And a little wine followed the cidre.
The car had been happily hooked up for the night and looked as if we'd be fully charged by morning. Sated, we strolled along the sea front for a while, absorbing the atmosphere before retiring for a well-earned night's kip.
Above: Fishing boats hauled up for the night, on the left with distant Fécamp in the background and on the right only the ghostly cliffs keeping watch.
Above, (clockwise from top left): les belles après le petit déjeuner, ready for the day; a nostalgic shot of the town with the hill behind - if you look carefully the camping site becomes apparent and it was there that Shan and I had spent some great times in the past with our "Campy"; the beach huts the region is renowned for, now in glorious sunshine.
Yport is possibly the smallest of these atmospheric Normandy seaside communities and an all too brief promenade après le petit déjeuner was a bittersweet farewell to mainland Europe before returning to the realities of everyday life (and Brexit). Even more essential given the continuing frisson of steering our EV over the remaining 570 km (360 miles) to our home in Oxfordshire.
Actually, we needn't have worried (actually we didn't because the positive side of the technology was that one could keep an eye things remotely, via a smartphone). The Yport car park had replenished our batteries and the ongoing opportunities were on more familiar territory.
Above (l to r): the edge of Yport and the cliffs that separate it from Fécamp; almost on the horizon you can just see the maritime traffic jam in the Channel roadstead, just over the horizon, England; final recharge in France - not that easy to find until you become aware that it is situated in the grounds of the Calais Holiday Inn, which is actually in Coquelles and very close to a large roundabout containing an imposing tunnel-boring machine/drill charmingly named "Virginie".
When we approached the Eurotunnel, having been through it scores of times, it hadn't occurred to us that this would be a totally novel experience for Kinks. Not only was the car going on a train, but the train was going into the tunnel under the ocean. This was an altogether new experience during which she insisted on giving her full attention to our progress until we were well and truly sous La Manche.
The remainder of the journey was pretty uneventful apart from a brief interlude when I elected to top up our battery at Cobham Services to give us a bit of a safety margin. There are 6 Ionity chargers there, one of which was out of action. Not very far away there are a gazillion Tesla chargers dotted around Cobham. I was first in the queue for an Ionity charger to become available. There were soon a couple of Teslas circling but I thought common decency would prevail and they'd respect a first-come first-served discipline, so I waited patiently. Only for one of the Teslas circling to cut me up to get into a free bay, actually making it difficult for the departing Volvo to exit. This is the kind of behaviour that Melon Usk encourages. EVs are supposed to make the planet just a little more pleasant for its inhabitants, not encourage the sort of naked aggression of the world's Donald Trump clones.