Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cleaning out the guttering of leaves and bird nests

If anyone has a sure-fire way of keeping the gutters free of debris then please do leave a comment as I'd love to save myself a job every time I visit our Brittany farmhouse.

In France we've been lucky enough to buy quite a large property with the 3 bedroom section of the house that we rent out, a second three bedroom section that I'm very slowly renovating, a stable and hay-loft section, plus there's a large external barn that used to be the original farmhouse but now stores our bikes and outdoor children's toys.

And with all this property comes an awful lot of guttering of which a fair chunk is underneath a massive 150+ year old oak tree.

Soon after buying the house I bought several rolls of black gutter-guard which is basically a rigid plastic mesh that you unroll down the gutters and then clip it in place with the supplied plastic clips to prevent leaves and other debris falling into the gutters.

I think its fair to say it doesn't really work. On the sections of guttering that are not underneath the oak tree we get a few leaves and twigs landing on the top of the gutter-guard and everything's fine, but for the sections that are underneath the lee of the tree we get so many leaves, twigs and leaf mulch that it not only sets into a solid mat, but it also inexplicably ends up underneath the gutter guard and in the guttering.

So just about every single time I go over to France I end up getting out the ladders and spend half a day climbing up the ladders, removing the rubbish off the top and then removing the black slimy wet mess out from underneath the gutter guard. Of course having the gutter guard in place gives me an additional challenge as I have to unclip it before I can remove the smelly leaf mess, then clip it back into place ready for my next visit to France and the whole cleaning out process to start again.

It's not that I really mind clearing out the gutters but I did hope that the plastic mesh would prevent me having to do this job.

Last August when I was over in France - cleaning out the guttering again - I noticed that one enterprising bird had found that the corner junction of two sets of guttering was the perfect place to build a nest in. The baby birds had long since flown away so the nest it was just one more thing for me to clear out of the gutters whilst up the ladder.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

National Ferry Fortnight

National Ferry fortnight graphic
Apparently it's National Ferry Fortnight and there seems to have been more ferry-related articles in the popular press as a result.

The Daily Mail describes the multi-million pound investment in new ferries being made by a number of companies including LD Lines with the Norman Leader which will cut the Portsmouth to Le Havre crossing time to just 3 hours when it comes into service.

The Daily Telegraph has a useful summary of ferry options and routes for the major operators and gives some tips on how to find the cheapest crossing. The Daily Mail goes further with more details of the different continental ferry routes and advice on how to find the cheapest fare.

We do still have a few free weeks in June and July for our French Brittany Gite so please do follow some of the cheap ferry advice given and let us know when you'd like to stay with us!


Friday, May 14, 2010

Barfleur spotted in Caen

Just before Christmas 2009 I reported on the decision by Brittany Ferries to withdraw the Poole/Cherbourg ferry service and with it to retire the Barfleur after 18 years service on this route.

Well you may have wondered what's happened to Barfleur since Brittany Ferries withdrew the boat from service?

On the 8th April when I was on holiday in Brittany I quite by chance found the answer to that question when I was driving from Boulogne down to Brittany. The route I take follows the autoroute down past Abbeville, Amiens, through Rouen, round Caen, through Avranches, past Mont St Michel and then the last 30 miles is smaller country roads to get to our Gite.

At Caen I always go round the South side of the Périphérique (ring-road) as its less crowded and is I think slightly shorter and quicker than going round the Northern side of Caen. But just for once I took the Périphérique Nord because I wanted to call into the big Brico Depot DIY merchant which is to the northern side of Caen.

Going round to the North of Caen takes you over a river estuary and as I was driving along I noticed a large boat on the river, which I then noticed was painted in Brittany Ferries colours, and as I drove past I spotted it was Barfleur that had been moored up in this presumably quiet location.

I managed to get my camera out in time and snap a few pictures as I drove past, sorry about the railings in the way but I was driving at the time and couldn't stop so I think I have a decent excuse!

The ferry looked pretty much as if it would have done when it finished service on 7th March 2010. I wonder what Brittany Ferries plans are for her?

Here's a link to the Google Map position of where Barfleur is currently moored.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dinosaurs at 'Parc de Préhistoire de Bretagne'

One of the places I took the kids to when we holidayed in Brittany last year was the "Parc de Préhistoire de Bretagne" which is just outside the medieval village of Rochefort-en-Terre, about 45 minutes drive from our holiday Gite.

Rochefort-en-Terre itself is a lovely picturesque Brittany town that's been recognised as a Petite Cité de Caractère (literally 'little city of character') and from the brief look we made looks to be well worth a visit in its own right, so will be somewhere we plan to return to for a proper 'look' on a future visit.

There are about a dozen of the Petite Cités de Caractère across Brittany, several of which are close to our holiday home including Josselin (with its chateau, cobbled streets and medieval buildings), Lizio (full of granite stone buildings and with an Insectarium and museum of 'fantastic machines') and Moncontour (where they hold a Medieval street festival every two years).

The Parc de Préhistoire literally means "Park of the Pre-History of Brittany" and it tells the story of the history of the inhabitants of ancient Brittany from dinosaurs 500,000 years ago up to almost modern day man at 2,000 years BC.

The 25 hectare park is located in a disused set of wooded quarries and as you walk through the forests the journey starts with full-size dinosaur models then progresses through a series of tableau's of how mankind has evolved including Homo-Erectus the first Brittany inhabitants, Neanderthal man, Cro-Magnon man and then the Breton's that built the stone menhirs and megaliths. There are a number of scenes including hunting, fishing, life in the primitive villages, early day music and how the burial mounds were constructed.

As a family we had a great time exploring the park, looking at the models, trying to count the number of dinosaurs and reading the information boards set beside each little tableau. Each information board is helpfully presented in French, English and German so the kids didn't have to suffer my dodgy French translations!

At the end of the tour there is of course the obligatory gift shop which did have some quite nice stone crystals which the boys liked, and of course there's the snack bar which I enjoyed much more!

The Parc de PreHistoire website is unfortunately a bit disappointing and doesn't really give all that much details or photos about the park, and the map of the park doesn't really give you a feel of the scale of the place - it probably takes a comfortable 2 hours to walk around although you could easily spend more time if you wanted to.

Anyway, we enjoyed our visit there and I hope that this brief review and my photos wet your appetite to go as well if you're visiting that part of central Brittany.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

P&O forced to about turn and change the proposed names of their new Dover/Calais ferries

In an about turn of the news from early April of the new new P&O ferry names - Olympic Spirit and Olympic Pride, P&O appear to have been forced to change their mind and are now to name their new ferries 'Spirit of Britain' and 'Spirit of France'.

The London 2012 Olympics organising committee (and I suspect also the full IOC) is fiercely protecting the Olympic brand and has told P&O that the previous names may infringe trademark rights under English law.

So jumping on the Olympic band wagon hasn't in this case helped P&O.

The two new boats are due to be launched at the end of 2010 and in autumn 2011 respectively and will be named by Dame Kelly Holmes.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Fantastic day today, did my Microlight Flying Test

Today was the day I have had multiple multiple butterflies in my stomach as it was time for my Microlight Flying Test - which if I was successful would mean I'd be no longer a student and would have my full PPL(M) Pilots Licence.

We were supposed to be doing the test last week but rain stopped play, so the test was rescheduled for today.

The forecast was pretty much perfect, almost no winds, clouds at 3,000 feet or more, and calm conditions predicted all day.

Last night I seemed to hardly sleep a wink. Awake at 3:30am, then 5:30am, and then I finally got up at 6:30am.

The rest of the day has been a bit of a blur, I was second of the three students doing their flying tests today and the long and the short of it is that I passed!!!

I was as pedantic as I could possibly be with pre-flighting the aircraft and with all my takeoff and en-route flight safety checks, the exercises went pretty well, including the three emergency "engine failure" landings which I successfully got down to the target field OK (I was really worried about these), and the only thing that really didn't go as well as it could have done was the intentional stalls when turning .. when I couldn't get the aircraft to stall at all. More practice of this manoever required!

So now that I have done all 5 of the theory tests and passed them as well, and now today having passed the practical test, the paperwork is all filled in and I now have to wait for the CAA to send me my licence in a few weeks time.

Yipee !!

See previous articles about learning to fly a Microlight aircraft