An important reason to have the van ready before June was our 24th visit in 30 years to the “Circuit de la Sarthe” for the Le Mans 24 Hour WEC Sportscar race. Over the years we have camped at the circuit off the back of a motorbike with the army of the great unwashed, at club camp sites away from the circuit, in the car on the main car parks and recently in our T5/T6 vans again at the circuit. And while conditions have improved by Saturday and Sunday they still become a bit unsavoury. So this year was luxury with our own comfortable facilities to the track.
Taking Fred is limiting as he is not allowed on Friday pit walk and while he is allowed in all the public areas it is not fair or right to take him in amongst the really tick crowds. Otherwise he is absolutely fine amongst the noise of the race cars and all night long as they roar past every few minutes. Unfortunately he is not that interested in the racing so we have to work to keep him occupied. What does bother him though is the camp site fireworks at night which tend to be worse on Friday and Sunday.
Despite the limitations we camp near Arnage. We can watch racing and qualifying from here and we walk in to the circuit and watch from the kart circuit just before the main straight and stands. We also enjoy a few walks around the pit village and all the concessions and of course a few gold plated beers and coffees. These days that have neat reusable plastic beakers and glasses with artwork for each year. They charge you €1 a piece but they are great souvenirs and perfectly usable afterwards.
This year a highlight of the pit village for me was on the Aston Martin stand. They had on display 2 of their new top end cars alongside the first of a limited edition of hand built DB4 Superleggera. Built as a track ready collectors car it is to say the least drop dead gorgeous. However if you want one you also have to buy the new modern version and as a pair they are £6M + VAT. The press are valuing the DB4 at least £3.1M +VAT.
The race itself was the usual mix of 4 classes of GTE cars in amongst Prototypes. The fast cars lap at around 3′ 20″ and the slower production based cars at around 3′ 50″ which makes for interesting racing once they get mixed up. The only way to follow the race is to listen to Radio Le Mans, an English language station that broadcast all week from qualifying to the end of the race. During the night we manage to get 6 hours sleep only woken when the pace car comes out and the cars bunch up and the engine note drops. Winning the race is about outright pace and good management – just think by 13:00 on Sunday the cars have basically completed 11 Grand Prix distances and still have one more to do and will have completed close to 4000 miles by the time they see the chequered flag.
So will we be back next year? Well the jury is out n that one as we have been so many times and it will be a long way from Scotland just for a weekend. Perhaps we will just have a Le Mans party instead.
Friday and half way though our journey we are back in France and looking for somewhere to stay between St Jean de Lutz and Biarritz. It’s almost a relief to have road signage and that we can see and it means something. First things first though off the peage at the first junction and into Leclerc for some essentials, bread and a T shirt.
This strip of coast is chockablock with camp sites of varying quality and car parks full of surfers in VW vans. The reviews in the guides are very mixed so we opt to start with a municiple site that had reasonable reviews. It wasn’t very exciting and it was full. We drove past several others before arriving at Tamaris Plage. This site had mixed reviews but it was a revelation. It had been revamped for this season with a luxury pool and facilitiesso it became home for 3 nights. The temperatures were up to 23C in the shade so felt more like 30C in the afternoon and it was great to be able to sit out of an evening and enjoy a glass or two and another of Sue’s excellent pizzas.
The local beaches along the coast here aren’t so great. The sand is very gritty and when the tide goes out there is a lot of rock. Worse still they insist on “No Dogs” signs which fortunately a lot of people, us included, ignore the same way they ignore the “No Motorhome” signs. Fred can smell the sea so we had to take him to the beach the first day as soon as we arrived. He went in but I don’t think he liked the undertow from the waves. The second day I took him on my own and he wasnt having any of it. We found a pleasant walk to the village of Guethary along the cliff path past some rather lovely properties, a small harbour where on Saturday they were preparing for an al fresco lunch party and a wonderful Art Deco hotel and casino built on the cliff face in 1926 – very in keeping with the rise of Biarritz popularity. The centre of the village was mainly a handful of chic bars, resteraurants and hotels with a few small shops. We made our way there twice, the second time for morning coffee. Walking to and from Guethary we could see the coast from Spain to Biarritz and just off each small bay there was what at first glance looked like rafts of ducks that turned out to be surfers waiting for that special wave. There were so many of them in fact that one wondered if there would be enough room when that wave happened and just how often they got hurt crashing into one another.
Another significant destination on this trip was to visit Biarritz which for whatever reason has always held an attraction for us. As you may have gathered we don’t really do towns so we planned a quick visit on our way north. We had always imagined it as not dissimilar to say Bornmouth except with a bit of French class. The compact centre has some wonderful period architecture and is full of smart shops and plenty of bars, restaurants and hotels. You can just imagine the well to do of the ‘20s and ‘30s partying the summer away in Biarritz. We wandered amongst the shops many, especially the surf shops having end of season sales, and I couldn’t resist a half price pair of BilaBong flip flops. The promenades had their share of surfers parked up and waiting who were into the sea and trying to catch a wave just as soon as an opportunity arose. I guess parking there would have been impossible in the height of summer.
To give ourselves time to do Biarritz we had opted to stay not too far up the coast at Moliets et Maa. Here, just like the resorts on the rest of this coast, there are several enormous camp sites just behind the dunes. We pitched up and took the few paces walk across the dunes on to the beach. The beach pretty much stretches a couple of hundred kilometres from Biarritz to the tip of the Gironde with a few inlets and the Bai d’Arcachon on the way – it is simply stunning. You can see the height of the huge Atlantic breakers and the spray from them for miles in either direction and one imagines even at the height of the season it is nigh impossible for the beach to be busy. Of course we let Fred off who immediately made a bee line for the surf at the waters edge. He was so excited and even more so when we took him back the following morning before we left because then he got to chase a flock of Sanderlings around the beach.
Our next destination was the municiple site at Gujan-Mestres near Arcachon. We had never heard of it but it was recommended by a couple we had met a few days earlier mainly because the local very small Spar has a brilliant fish mongers as part of it. To get there we followed a long and at times very straight road up through Landes. Here forestry is a big industry with huge managed pine forests. The older plantations of traditional Landes Pine all lean noticeably to the east presumably because of the prevailing weather off the Atlantic. Sue had been looking forward to doing a bit of experimenting with cooking different fish at the van and we enjoyed 3 excellent fish dinners, Sardines, Hake and Tuna. Arcachon bay is known for oysters and there is plenty of evidence of commercial farming all along the edge of the bay here. We found a lovely forest walk up the Landes Canal (a drainage canal) that had become a managed park with all of the tree species labled. I have never seen the ground so littered with acorns that literally rained on you as walked.
We have been away for 4 weeks now and travelling is seems like the new norm. The weather was being unseasonably kind to us even for this part of the world with the temperatures in the low 20Cs but with solid blue keys, hot sun and beautiful sunsets and sunrises. Next we he’d further north past Bordeaux and on to the Loire and Brittany. Perhaps we had better brace for things to get cooler.
This was our second visit to Busfest and equally as good as the first. It didn’t matter to us that the traders were the same as last year and even some of the bands were the same. Indeed we really like the Ska band that plays the Sheep Shed nearest our T4 Forum pitch. With Fred in tow we couldn’t spend so much time amongst the crowds and we had to leave him in the van for a while when we went for a walk around in the evening. Steve who we drove top with and who pitched up next to us had to come and find us because Fred was setting the alarm off.
Although we haven’t been for a few years this was our 21st trip to “La Sarthe”. In the past we have camped both at the circuit and with organised groups a way from the circuit. Our last few trips were spent sleeping in the car. The previous couple of trips were from our house in Brittany so an easy Saturday morning drive and home in time to BBQ on Sunday.
This time we were on the circuit near the Porsche Curves for 5 days. We bought a generator to take with us as few would be off grid for the whole time. Our push bikes went with us and came in very handy to get from the camp site to the village and the heart of the circuit.
For the first time we caught the tram into the city for lunch and to see the divers parade to the streets. Unfortunately it was wet and cold and not much fun.
The VW van forum we subscribe to has an annual get together at Beaulieu Motor Museum. It is a relatively quiet layer back fair with a lot of games for the kids, a smattering of traders and a fancy dress event.
This year’s fancy dress event was a drive out to Sammy Millers motorcycle museum where there was a large gathering of strongly dressed folk having morning coffee. Sue went as Cruella De Ville complete with a spotty dog pup, I thought she looked convincing, and I went as Kojak because it didn’t need too much dressing up and I got a lolly to suck.
We had a walk around the estate and visited the museum included in the event entry. Its a while since we had been there and it was interesting to see some of the new stuff . I was particularly amused by the Outspan mini. My friend, who’s father was the accountant there at the time, spent a summer with several young ladies touring the seaside resorts with this promotional motor.
I bought a set of pressed registration plates from Duflecta and another trader was selling Vango Kella drive away tents for a good price. We spent couple of days considering it and decided to buy one. I will write about it once we have used it a few times.
In the 70’s and 80’s we were heavily involved in organising drag racing. Over the winter of 79 / 80 our group developed Long Marston Airfield into permanent facility with new tarmac, armco crash barriers and the like. It is the best part of 30 years since we were last there or even at a drag race but my brother, Duncan, is still involved crewing for the Moor family. Things have moved on a lot in that time and we had a great weeked. Now they call the place Shakespeare County Raceway or “Shakey” and it is touching to see that the strip is named Wigmore Way in honour of our late freind Alan who did so much for UK drag racing.