Thursday, 30 August 2012


It was a grey and rainy day, so we decided to paint a pot. The nearest place to do this was Newquay, so I found myself back in the town where previously I have always been teenaged and drunk. This time we were entertaining children, and ourselves. We settled down in the family room of a central pub, decorating a bowl, mug and plate between us. It was really fun, and I'd love to do more, but it's quite an expensive way to create crockery. Afterwards we ventured into one of the surfy cafes, drank smoothies, ate nachos and pretended we were on holiday. It was nice, and different, and a great way to spend a miserable day.


On another trip to Cornwall the skies cleared for one day of the five, so we took the opportunity to check out a new beach. Nanjizal lies somewhere near Lands End, and requires a bit of a walk across fields to the beach. Once there, the boys and Nana got stuck into the frisbee throwing while I tried to keep warm by curling up on the sand. The sea was rough, and no-one was swimming apart from two enormous seals, who hung out just by the shore for hours. Then I spied Nana in her bikini, climbing across the rocks. Before I had time to wonder what she was doing, a huge wave swept her off, and she disappeared under the water and onto some rocks below. She was rescued quickly, emerging with a bloody toe and knee, and I learned that she had been trying to recover the frisbee from the sea. We all wandered back up across the fields, spying basking sharks in the sea below.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Canal du Midi: Capestang, Villeneuve-les-Béziers, Montpellier

As we queued to pay our 12 euros between us to stay at the campsite, Orangina had never tasted so good! We were very hot, sweaty and dusty after 10 hours on the tow paths, and very much in need of a shower. Once clean, we headed into town in search of food, with no idea of what we were about to see. Capestang was having its annual Fete Locale, which consisted of all the things we most needed at the time. We began by dancing to the band in the street and continued with 1 euro glasses of rose. After a few of these, accompanied by chips and calamares, we went in search of something substantial and veggie, and came across a lovely restaurant where we could sit outside with more rose, pasta and ice cream. Emerging full and happy, we wandered around the many pretty squares of Capestang. Although it's only a small village, it was bursting with life, with makeshift bars, DJs, bands, banners and fairground rides. The strange thing was that everything was Spanish, from the tapas to the music to the flags. We hadn't planned this stop, but felt very lucky to have happened across somewhere so vibrant and small. I would recommend Capestang over Narbonne if ever you find yourself in the area. The next day was the easiest, with only 20 miles to go until we reached Vanessa in Villeneuve-les-Béziers, where we arrived in time for lunch. I thought I'd stumbled into a dream world and still can't believe that Vanessa lives somewhere so perfect. Her house is a minute's walk from the canal, and cycling distance from the beach. The houses are tall and colourful, arranged in narrow, maze-like streets, and the weather is incredible. And best of all it is in France, where life, with its cheese and wine flavouring, is just nicer. We were welcomed with food, wine and smiles, and instantly made ourselves at home, as Vanessa has lots of space. In the evening we went to the beach and swam in the sea, and I couldn't have been happier. The next couple of days were spent exploring the pretty city of Montpellier, hanging out at the beach and watching fireworks (and a little bit of the Olympics). A great holiday, full of sun, fresh air and good friends. That we finished off by the beach meant I could not have asked for more - all my favourite things!

Canal du Midi: Toulouse, Castelnaudary, Carcassonne, Capestang

After talking about it for a year, we finally got on our bikes and cycled. All the way from Toulouse to Villeneuve-les-Béziers, at opposite ends of the Canal du Midi. It's about 150 miles, and I wouldn't recommend doing it in less than the five days it took us (including a rest day), unless you are very fit. We began in Toulouse, where we spent three days acclimatising to the heat and holiday vibes, in the safe hands of Anne and Armand, who have just bought two small properties on the same land and are in the process of making them one large home. It was quite amazing to see them hanging out on a newly laid roof, fitting Velux windows in the 35 degree heat. They are hard workers and excellent hosts, and we ate some lovely local dishes as well as picnics beside the Garonne. We had a great time, highlights being Toulouse Plage, where you can hire all sorts of games, from badminton to chess, free of charge, or chill with a beer in the shade; and the rum bar, which had Jon and Matt all excited about a similar venture in Bristol. We set off on a Wednesday, at around 2pm by the time we'd collected our bikes and repacked our stuff into paniers. The first day wasn't too hard, covering about 40 miles, but took a lot longer than anticipated, as we had trouble with falling paniers and had to choose our route around the tree roots carefully. We couldn't go wrong though, following the canal all the way to Castelnaudary, where we arrived hot and sweaty at around 7pm. After a shower we headed into town and happened across a pizza place run by a young couple, where the electricity blew every time they put their drum n bass soundtrack on. We got on well though, them staying open late for us, and offering us free beer, and we renamed ourselves the pizza n base blackout crew! It was a hot night in the tent, which smelt strongly of the leftover pizza we were keeping for breakfast, and I was relieved to be up and on our bikes again by 10am. Day 2 was only a 35 mile ride, made only slightly uncomfortable by the sparsity of the tree cover in some parts on a very hot day, and a tumble down a gravel path on my part. We arrived in Carcassonne at around 2pm, and had the task of finding our campsite during the hottest part of the day. We were very much looking forward to it, as we were to stay for two nights in the enticingly named 'A l'ombre des oliviers' ('in the shade of the olive trees'), and on arrival we all jumped straight into the pool. Unfortunately the olive trees had quite a bit of growing to do before they would be casting any real shade, but we settled in well to our plot, making friends with the resident ants. Matt thought it would be kind to offer them lots of bread, and they did seem pretty happy about it. Carcassonne was a half hour cycle away, so the next day Matt and I went to visit while Jon chilled out by the pool. The old city was heaving with tourists, but very pretty, and after a three course lunch, feeling full of Cassoulet, we decided we'd be happier in the pool again. We ate a mega picnic for tea and got a very early night, as the next day was to be the longest cycle. We rose at 6am in order to get a lot of the journey done before the hottest part of the day, and by 7am we were back alongside the canal again. We cycled and cycled and cycled some more, until eventually we came across a cafe where we rewarded ourselves with a large beer. After that we found a shop, bought more picnic provisions and sought shade under which to eat them. Then we kept on cycling, until we got to Le Somail, where we needed to turn off for our next campsite in Narbonne. Here we got talking to an older couple, who informed us that there was a campsite nearby which would save us the detour, so I headed to Tourist Info to check it out. Sadly the campsite was full, but we were advised to keep cycling to the next, as then we'd be closer to our final destination. So we summoned all the strength we could to cycle the last 15 miles of the day, and finally arrived in Capestang for 5pm, after 10 hours of cycling!