We duly arrived at Camping Ruisseau du Treil (RDT) on Friday 15th May and were immediately made very welcome by the owners Nigel and Jenny, not forgetting Milly their Golden Retriever. We had expected to start work the next day but were told to take a day to settle in, and start on Sunday. We were also introduced to our co-workers, Bev and Ryk, and Myrtle and Jim whom we had already met back in Portugal in October 2014 at Monchique.
The site looked lush as we were in early summer and everything was still green, and growing. The Ruisseau, the crystal clear and ice cold stream that runs through the middle of the site, was flowing – something we didn’t get to see last year.
We chose a pitch right next to it and it was lovely to go to sleep and be woken by the gurgling of the water as it tumbled over the rocky, canyon-like riverbed.
We quickly sorted out Aurora, erected our tables, got out the chairs, and it was home until early September!
We then met up with Bev, Ryk, their dogs Dolly (the Dalmatian) and Lola (Shar pei), as well as Jim and Myrtle and their dog George (black labrador). We all seemed to click and had a barbecue on our first night by way of a welcome party.
Nigel and Jenny also did their best to make us all feel welcome and arranged an evening for all the helpers with home made Thai curry, wine and beer. Very enjoyable.
Camping Ruisseau du Treil is a two star campsite right on the banks of the River Lot in the Lot region of France. It is an absolutely stunning area with the river Lot carving its way through limestone creating an almost gorge effect in some parts.
Sunday arrived and we duly started work. Our hours were 10am – 12pm and for the first hour, the girls duties consisted of some gardening, cleaning the bar, kitchen and terrace area, and then for the second hour cleaning the two toilet/shower blocks (sanitaires). The boys duties consisted of strimming and mowing the grass, pruning the trees and hedges and attending to the swimming pool. We had one caravan, lodge and mobile home for rental which were cleaned each Saturday (changeover day). The work can be quite physical, which personally I enjoyed as it kept me quite fit and lean. In fact by the end of the season I’d lost 2 stone and was under 12 stone for the first time in about 20 years and felt all the better for it!
In return for our work, we received a free pitch and electricity (6 amps). Nigel and Jenny meet up with us daily at 10am and apportion tasks. It is a very amenable arrangement and obviously suits both them and their helpers as many of them (us included) return year after year. We knew we were also to be joined in July by Alice and Pete and Anita and Dave whom we had met last year at RDT. We already felt that this was going to be a great season. The other advantage to working here is that Nigel and Jenny’s rota system allows you time off to go and explore the region, which as I have said is stunning. For every 14 days you work you get 6 days off which provides you plenty of scope to get away and relax. A holiday within a holiday as it were!
Of course given you finish at noon, you also have the rest of the day to relax and/or explore. Cathy and I wasted no time by getting on our bikes (literally) and cycling to Calvignac, Cajarc and St Cirq Lapopie.
I know I keep banging on about them, but our Cube electric bikes have been a real boon. The countryside around the campsite is not what you would call level, but hills are no longer an issue. Indeed our first ride out was to Calvignac, a very pretty hilltop village, which comprises quite a stiff climb. No problem! In fact we saw a group of cyclists ahead of us on the hill, puffing and panting and wheezing, but we just sailed past them without even raising a single bead of sweat. Now some people say they spoil cycling and are ‘cheating’! Rubbish! No one likes riding up hills and sometimes it will mean the difference between going for a bike ride and not going! Besides, the models we have only provide assistance when you pedal, so you have to put some effort in. Also by law the ‘assistance’ is limited to 15.5 mph (25 kph) so anything above that and it is 100% down to your effort. I will try and do a separate piece on the bikes, like a sort of review, once we have had more experience with them. We’ve come across so many out here, manly used by the Dutch (err…isn’t Holland flat?)
Anyway life soon settled into a very pleasurable routine and we got the chance to get out and about. We also had several friends who were keen to come and see us, including Steve and Lyssa whom we’d recently met back in Chaillac.
For our first 6 day period of “rest” we ventured towards Villereal, in the Lot et Garonne region of south west France, using the benefits of the ACSI discount card. This is a Dutch based scheme where you can stay at selected campsites all around Europe off season for €12, €14, €16 or €18 per night. This is usually at a significant discount to the published rate. The card costs £13.50 per annum and can pay for itself in a couple of nights.
Villereal was a lovely town, and had a large English contingent. Not that I am keen on that. When in France I like to integrate as best possible. However the Marie (the mayor) had, in conjunction with a local English ex pat, invited an English choir from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston to perform one evening.
We duly went along and I must say it was very well done, with most of the songs performed being in English which might have perplexed some of the locals. Cathy used to belong to two choirs back in the UK so this was right up her street! (and she knew many of the songs).
On subsequent days we got out on the bikes including a 50km cycle through the wonderful French countryside via Biron, Monpazier, and Croquant.
As a reward for our efforts we found a cafe opposite the chateau Biron and treated ourselves to a cafe gourmand! (Gourmand in French means fat b*****d!!).
Our next time off was into the Tarn area. The site was tranquil but lacking in full facilities such as shop or restaurant as the Belgian owner had only taken over in May 2015. However he advised that a neighbouring campsite did provide meals but you had to book. So whilst out riding we called in and were greeted warmly by the owner Joel and his wife Francoise. They showed us round their campsite which had a wild west feel, with the campers staying in mix of wagons, teepees and tents – all of which they had designed and built themselves.
Without prompting they poured us a large Rouge Cassis (chilled red wine with cassis) which was very nice. Eventually we got around to booking our meal. When we asked to see a menu we were told there wasn’t one, but we could discuss what we wanted. Now there’s a turn up for the books! In the end, assisted with some ideas from Joel, we selected hors d’hoevres (olives, nuts etc) with an aperitif, a starter of melon and saucisson, main course of steak, sauté potatoes, green beans in a garlic and shallot sauce followed by warm goats cheese salad with walnuts and honey. The desert was what can only be described as a baked Alaska. Wine would be served throughout the meal.
Then the awkward bit! How much? Would we have to make our excuses and leave because it was too much?
Joel said would €22 each (about £16) be ok?? OK? That’s a bargain!!
Needless to say we confirmed our reservation for two days time (they were busy the next day hosting a concert!).
On the night, we decided we would again cycle there, as we had done previously, as it was only about 1 km from the site. The path was extremely gravelly and it was quite a steep, fast descent followed by a sudden incline and sharp turn to the left to the restaurant. Both of us were “up on the pegs” all the way down. I arrived at the restaurant and the owners came running out and headed at speed past me. I turned round and saw Cathy and the bike on the floor! What had happened?! They helped her indoors but Cathy was in a fair bit of shock (and pain) and nearly passed out! Francoise pulled up a chair and duly got her first aid kit out and spent the next 15 minutes washing and cleaning Cathy’s knee (which looked quite a mess) and hands before applying a large dressing over the wound. Once Cathy had recovered and the colour returned to her face (!) we were shown to our table to begin our evening again!
The evening was arranged as a private dining experience and the room and table were beautifully presented and decorated with roses. We were given an appetiser and more rouge cassis to accompany the hors d’houvres.
The meal and the whole evening was fabulous, notwithstanding Cathy’s injury, and our hosts were excellent.
The icing on the cake was that they wouldn’t let Cathy ride her bike back in the dark and insisted taking her in their car, whilst Joel rode Cathy’s bike back.
An absolutely memorable ‘private dining’ experience we will find hard to match – especially for that price!
Back at RDT the weather was warming up and it was getting time to open the swimming pools. Nigel was keen to use the water from the Ruisseau to fill the two pools whilst it was still flowing. However some preparation was needed first which meant emptying the water from last season, cleaning the pool and giving them a fresh coat of blue (rubberised) paint. All 6 helpers were assigned to this task for the next two days. It was actually a lot of fun and once we had finished we were well pleased with the results. Whats more, Nigel and Jenny were pleased too. So the process of filling them began which took another couple of days. It would then take quite a few days sun before anybody would be brave enough to venture into the water! And just in time. Within days the Ruisseau stopped flowing and wouldn’t do so again until much later in the year.
Our next 6 day ‘holiday’ was to the Gers region of France. The site was situated in the middle of acres of sunflowers which were now in full bloom, and was an amazing sight.
Again there is plenty of cycling in the area amongst the vineyards that extend as far as you can see in each direction.
As we neared the end of our stay we witnessed an almighty electrical storm, the like of which we have never seen before. It was hardly surprising it was going to happen as we were having an amazing summer with daily temperatures in the high 30’s! It was like someone was standing by the light switch and just flicking it on and off, and carrying on doing it for about two hours!! The sky was continually being lit up, but at first no rain!! Then the wind hit us and the rain fell. Cathy and I were literally hanging on to our awning “legs” as the awning wanted to take off! The next day it had all passed and we were back to cloudless skies! Amazing!
As I have mentioned the site at Ruisseau du Treil is delightful and during the summer months it is adorned with countless butterflies……
…although there are also some less desirable beasties!
Steve and Lyssa came to see us at the end of July, and given the flexibility of the site’s rota system we managed to have time off with them. One of our days out was canoeing on the Cele river. This is a subsidiary river of the Lot, and in my opinion, much more beautiful. We arrived at the canoe centre at about 9:40am and were then transported 19kms up river by minibus, whereupon we were launched into the river. The beauty of the company that run this is that there is no time limit on how long you take to get back. Your vehicle is there where you left it – you just drag your canoe onto the shore, drop off your lifejacket and oars and job done. Additionally there is no deposit to pay, no Health and Safety briefing and no disclaimers to sign – just 5 minutes of instruction as they push you off into the river about how to paddle!! How refreshing!
We had a fab day and as we have seen on this same trip last year, numerous sightings of kingfishers, as well as an otter, several herons and plenty of fish!
The pics say it all.
We also spent a lovely evening with them at our local ‘pop up’ restaurant – the Bamboo.
Another notable event at the Bamboo was Pete and Alice’s wedding anniversary.
Another set of visitors were Pat and Maria (the ‘better’ ??) halves of the gang we have spent some many memorable holidays with, the most notable of which was doing the Inca trail in Peru in 2012.
Theirs was a whistle stop visit but they packed it in with a visit to the street market in Cajarc, a day at St Cirq Lapopie, canoeing on the Cele, and joining in with Dave and Anita’s wedding anniversary at the Bamboo.
It was all over too quickly and no sooner had they arrived they were off back to the UK.
Cathy has shown new culinary talents this year making her own pesto sauce, chocolate brownies, fabulous deserts and last but not least her mirabelle jam.
The beauty of this area is that it is littered with walnut trees, peach trees, apple trees, pear trees, plum trees. The list goes on. However one unusual fruit, part of the plum family, is the mirabelle. This came into season late July and we picked several kilos. Cathy researched her method, bought the ingredients, saved some jars and then on a chosen day went into production. The finished product was amazing – much better than the shop bought mirabelle jam!
What a fantastic wife I have. Mind you – she must be to put up with me!!
As we got into August we had yet more visitors. Well, they were visting Le Fleix in the Dordogne valley so we went to see them. They were Jan, Clare, Sue and Siobhan.
Siobhan has just bought a property in Le Fleix so we were all excited to see it. We stayed on a campsite at St Foy La Grande (in fact where we stayed last year when Sue came out to France) which was only about 5 kms away from Le Fleix.
On the first night we wandered into St Foy. Siobhan wasn’t with us as she also had family visiting and needed to spend time with them. Cathy cooked dinner for the girls and then we wandered into town where there was an evening market on with entertainment. After walking around the various stalls we suddenly realised it was quite late and despite several enquiries could not find a taxi company to get the girls back to their B&B, 5 miles away. We were wandering the streets aimlessly when Cathy flagged down a passing Gendarmerie vehicle. “They’ll know a taxi company” They duly stopped, obviously thinking Cathy was a damsel in distress (!). The girls were all gobsmacked when 5 young, extremely good looking guys (only in their opinion I might add!) got out of the car.
“Can’t you give them a lift in your car?” inquired an impudent Cathy!
“Non” was the reply. “Anyway what’s in it for me?” said the driver of the car.
“I’ll cook you dinner!!!”
“OK, I’ll come tomorrow – where are you staying?”
One of the Gendarmerie made several calls on his iPhone to various taxi companies but none were available. They also asked one of the local policeman, but he couldn’t help either. So we starting walking back towards the campsite thinking of plan B. Next thing we knew the car pulled alongside having ditched 3 of its occupants, making room for 3 very giggly girls who were then promptly escorted home! We found out the next day the driver put on the ‘blues and twos’, at Sue’s request, when they got outside the town!!
And no the driver never did get his dinner!! Well, he may have stopped by but we were at a Fete in another town! For all we know he’s still combing the area for that cheeky blonde English girl so she can fulfil her part of the bargain!
We visited Siobhan’s house in Le Fleix which is lovely.
She has got plans for it over the coming years Given she has been coming to this area of France for many years she has got the necessary connections to help her make it happen.
The girls had a great few days in spite of the unseasonably wet weather! Typical, especially when the summer has been so good!
We returned to RDT with the weeks counting down to the end of the season. The site had been full during July and August but as the holidays were now coming to an end and the kids would be returning to school soon the site was getting a lot quieter. We were scheduled to leave on the 3rd September.
We had reasonable wifi on the site and used an app on the iPad (Tunein) to listen to UK radio, specifically Martin and Su on Heart Essex, whom we have woken up with for the last 14 years! We have got to know Martin quite well and have kept in regular touch since we left the UK. One morning I WhatsApped him saying we were listening to him and Su from the South of France. Within minutes he said live on the radio “….and hello to Nick and Cathy listening in the South of France” which was nice!
However we did get one further unexpected visitor. Some Dutch guests had sadly lost their Border Terrier which had wandered off and was missing for 5 days. They feared the worst and eventually decided they had to continue with their holiday. However a couple of days after they had left we were sat under our awning and out the corner of my eye I spotted this lone dog. It was the missing Border Terrier so we quickly collared him and put him on a lead. Jenny managed to contact the owners who confirmed his name was Bent. They advised their son would collect him the next day so for 24 hours he was a house guest, although he slept under the van. He had a lovely temperament and Cathy quite took to him.
Needless to say the owners’ son appeared the next evening – they were on the Austrian border when they got the call so had had quite a drive. We were sorry to see Bent go but glad he would eventually be reunited with his owners.
One of our last ‘holidays’ was to Castelnau de Montmiral and to a wonderful commercial aire that had a swimming pool – a must in these sort of temperatures. It was an excellent base from which to visit some beautiful French towns and villages.
Over the next few days we ran the wheels off Soo, our Honda C90 motorbike, visiting Cazals, Les Cabanes, Corde sur Ciel (where we had a fabulous lunch), Puycelci, (another fabulous lunch), and Albi, where we also visited the Toulouse Lautrec museum.
Little did we know what was in store for us when we returned to RDT to complete our final days at work. On 1 September Jenny came round to warn us there was a weather alert for strong gusts and rain for the evening. We wound in the awning and battened down the hatches. By 5pm there were a few large drops of rain but no more. What was all the fuss about? However, nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught that took place that night around 8:30pm. It was verging on a tornado with the winds seemingly going round in circles. We could hear twigs and all sorts of things landing on Aurora’s roof. We couldn’t see anything outside through the driving rain lashing down on the windscreen. The power had also gone off. For several hours it was wild. Seriously scary. (so much so that Cathy chipped her front tooth nervously nibbling on her thumbnail). When it abated Jenny and Nigel – bless them – came round the site to check everybody was ok. It was only in the morning that we could assess the damage. The pictures speak for themselves!
Luckily, it was towards the end of the season when most campers had left and none of the remaining guests were under any of the trees which fell. Big Bird, Steve and Lyssa’s motorhome would have been sliced in two!! (we honestly thought that’s what was going to happen with ours).
So our last few days at RDT was to attempt to clear up some of the debris.
So an exciting, if slightly scary end to our time at RDT. We enjoyed the season very much.
Our final social event was a leaving do for all the helpers, again hosted by Jenny and Nigel. Jenny had prepared some food and the wine and beer flowed. As the evening progressed we persuaded Nigel to get his guitar out, which he duly did and sang some witty ditties that he made up on the spot. It was a great end to a great season!
We bade everyone farewell on the 3rd September and headed off to start the next part of our journey.
And so the adventure continues….