Driving again…

Since  my reblogging of a seven-year-old post seemed to go down quite well at the weekend, I’ve decided to have a short season of re-blogged posts, mainly because time is at a premium, but also because I’m enjoying looking at these Blasts From the Past.  Malcolm’s doing alright – he’s been moved to James Cook Hospital, at the wrong end of the horrible A19.  Tests and possible treatment today.

In the end, choosing a post for today was easy.  My number one activity this last week has been driving.  To the hospital.  From the hospital.  And repeat.  How pleasant it would have been to have been able to make use of a Gracious Aire.

May 2012

Gracious aires

One of the pleasures of motorway driving in France is the chance to have a sustained break in one of the aires, or service areas.  Not the run-of-the-mill petrol station plus eatery and shop. They have those too.  As in England, they offer the chance to eat indifferent food at over-the-odds prices, and to spend a small fortune if you’ve been unlucky enough to need to tank up there.

No, in France, roughly every other service area is all but unserviced.  There are parking spaces, toilets, a telephone, and not much else: nowhere to spend money, in any case.  There may be a children’s play space set among trees, and perhaps picnic benches.  And that is their charm.  They’re generously sized areas, set well away from traffic noise, and offer a real chance to get away from the stress of a long drive with a relaxing walk in the woods or a picnic in the shade.

Perhaps my favourite is on the southbound carriageway of the A20 in the Limousin.  I first stopped by chance at L’Aire de la Coulerouze when I was driving down alone to Laroque a few years ago.

Earlier that day, I had picked up the makings of a picnic at the market at Levroux.  I’d got bread, and a young goats’ cheese.  I’d bought fresh apple juice from some nuns who had a stall, and an apricot producer had sold me a couple each of every apricot variety he grew so I could have my own personal taste-test session.

Down by the riverside at Coulerouze

At Coulerouze, I found picnic tables and was about to settle myself down when I noticed wooden steps leading downwards.  There at the bottom was a bridge over a small river all but encircling a small wooded glade, with a single bench under an apple tree.  The only sounds were the birds singing, and the river tumbling along its path.  I spread out my lunch and relaxed.   Afterwards, I found there was a path.

The signpost to the path

It took me first of all along the river, and then along fields and hedgerows.  The walk wasn’t a long one, but it was all I needed to forget the many miles I’d already driven that day, and the four or five hours driving that still awaited.

Not all these aires are quite so special.  There are some horrors near Rouen.  But find a good one, and it’ll become a treasured destination, somewhere to aim for with pleasure on a long day’s driving.

It feels almost impertinent to post a jolly little story from our time in France on a day when Paris, when France and the whole world is mourning the loss of Notre Dame de Paris.  My own sorrow is that, unbelievably, I’d never visited this cathedral.  And now I never can.


34 thoughts on “Driving again…”

  1. It’s not only people who appreciate these – dogs do too. Although if you know what you’re doing and chose your stop you can get good dog walking and a decent (non machine) cup of coffee. Love to both.


  2. I think you can still visit the cathedral, and the restoration funds are mounting, but they were pretty dramatic images we saw, making it seem the entire facade was ablaze. I think that was because the upper structures and the roof have so much ancient dry wood, so it was impossible to prevent that part going up. But it will be saved thankfully!

    I understand how life suddenly gets busy with hospital visits, my daughter has had three visits since Christmas, one in Marseille, so a lot of driving, but last week she was in the local hospital, a walk downhill for me for which I am so grateful. I also appreciate that while in the hospital, it can be a necessary quiet time, because everything else ceases to become important and there are no other distractions (except I do take my book with me).
    Wishing your husband a speedy recovery.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Quiet time? With dementia patients in the next beds, tests, blood checks, routines? Hmmm. Thanks for your good wishes, and it’s good to wake up to the news that the Cathedral is slightly more intact than previously feared.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, other patients? I forgot that’s how it can be, in the pediatric ward it’s always a single room, and when they don’t want quiet they go off to the play room, or in my daughters case, to the nurse’s room for a chat.


  3. Oh, Margaret, I’m sorry, I’m just catching up after a weekend sick in bed and have just read your earlier post about Malcolm’s heart attack. How awful for both of you. I hope he’s getting the care he needs and will make a swift and full recovery (although I know exactly what you mean about dementia patients in the next bed, but that’s a story for another time). Sending good wishes to you all. Warm regards, Linda.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Linda. It’s Action Day today, and I hope that he’s just a boring routine patient whose needs they can address almost in their sleep. Just made your simnel cake. Talk about last minute…..


  5. I’m catching up too and am adding my very best wishes for Malcom’s speedy recovery. I don’t enjoy driving either, so you have my sympathy for all those miles you have to cover to help keep him busy.

    I’m glad the building itself seems to have been saved. Did you see this in the Guardian:

    …at a moment like this, how foolish it seems to pretend that we are not all Europeans. We stand with France in its hour of heartbreak. We will never, ever, turn away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. Yes, I saw this piece. My thoughts exactly. Notre Dame is inextricably part of British history, in all sorts of ways, from the political and religious events that took place there and are part of our past too, to the craftsmen from all over Europe who contributed to building it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like your idea of re-blogging golden oldies. I often feel some of my very best posts were from back when I had about 10 followers and nobody read my brilliant words! Ha. These roadside stops sound delightful–so different from most of what you get on the highway. I hope Malcolm’s tests and treatment go easily and well, and that you don’t have to make the drive toooooo many more times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly Kerry. Our deathless prose gets one outing, then….that’s it. I mean, how would John Steinbeck, Harper Lee et al have become national icons via a weekly blog post, huh? We’re just wasted, Kerry, wasted. Fingers crossed! Malcolm’s being poked and prodded as I type.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Margaret; I think you are a hero to re-post (even)…. when you could just as well not be in touch with your followers…. And also, I wondered if I should re-upload an oldie of mine on Flickr – I must have visited and talked about Notre Dame hundreds of times in my 11+yrs of living nr Paris. I think I‘ll do it – first I thought it might come across as tacky but then a friend said to me: No, not at all, it‘s remembering….

    I am full of praise for the French autoroute stations and aires…. Countless, never less than enchanting, picnics and pauses in all our years here, countless photos later of picnic tables, high and less high grass, of dogs playing and children screaming on dedicated play grounds, countless ‚sittings‘ in badly needed toilets – I‘ve never, ever, anywhere found better places than in France. Lately we have discovered for our very late ‚pauses‘ that Van Houten makes a decent chocolate which gives us the necessary pep to continue when espresso would just make our hearts race!

    Greetings and well wishes to Malcolm and ‚good nerves‘ to you – the driving probably adds to your stress too, doesn‘t it?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, driving in England’s very stressful. Especially the A19. Do repost your Notre Dame photos. Not tacky at all. A fitting tribute. I’ll take a look later to check up on you! Thanks for your good wishes.


  8. Hi Margaret, just catching -up here. Firstly, great news that Malcolm won’t need surgery. Hopefully he’ll be allowed home soon? And after a suitable period of recouperation I hope your many and varied activities together won’t be impacted too drastically.

    The Aires sound like a wonderful concept – if only we had them here. And the particular one you describe sounds idyllic. Almost worth those long hours of driving!

    As for Notre-Dame – what a shock. I have only visited once but it’s stayed with me. The images of the blaze were so vivid, I found it hard to believe it was happening. It does sound like the damage has been contained and tragic though it is, it is bringing people together and we certainly need that. Macron is saying the cathedral can be restored in 5 years. Perhaps, with people pulling together, that can be achieved. I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Home at last. All well so far, though he has got some limitations on his life which I hope will be temporary. And yes, the news from Notre Dame was a shock: but it seems it could have been even worse. Five years though. I think that’s over-optimistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that it’s optimistic. But at this stage, when they’re still assessing the damage, perhaps it’s not impossible. Good to hear that Malcolm is home, easier for both of you I’m sure.


  10. Never say never….I am sure that you will get to see Notre Dame in the (hopefully not too distant) future. The delight will be doubled! As a frequent traveller I LOVE the ‘aires’ as I drive around, and of course, wonderful stops for my dog. Courage!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Firstly, good news about Malcolm. I wish him a very speedy recovery.
    I have never visited an aire – they sound too good to be true! So different from our stops.
    Lastly; such sad news from Paris. I read that the difficulty will be accessing long enough pieces of timber to reconstruct the roof. Then I saw that many of our own Historic Houses have offered to donate oak from their own estates! How wonderful is that! https://www.historichouses.org/resources/latest-news/help-rebuild-notre-dame.html?fbclid=IwAR1pqbEyj0SEf5d9olwbDXGEZdb_URG6hAVuDzucRjSbOVe-nK0PoWFt0Co

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Claire. It looks as if even disasters can engender their own positive stories: and in fact it’s not such a bad story as we all at first feared. You’ll have to have a road-trip to Paris and take in an aire or two!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Great for you both that Malcolm is home and I hope he is able to take it easy as he recovers.
    Great idea to do some reblogging. Those roadside stops sound so much more pleasant than anything I have ever come across.
    We were also riveted watching online the shocking fire at Notre Dame, and what a relief they were able to save as much as they did, and remarkable there were no casualties. It is almost paradoxical that such a disaster can bring people together. I visited Notre Dame years back and had the luck to be there when the organist was rehearsing for a concert and the afternoon sun was flooding through one of the rose windows colouring the interior fantastically. Unforgettable …


  13. My best wishes to both you and Malcolm. So glad he has been able to return home. Seems like some things run side by side. I too, am having all kinds of tests…the reason for our cancelled trip. But having to stay home, having to find some patience, an attribute I have never possessed, has made me find a way to behave as I always insisted of my children…find the best in every day and in every thing, it’s not that hard. Well, it is not that easy either, but it can be done, and I have found some wonderful moments in my own surroundings.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Optimistic note here – in five years you and Malcolm will be able to visit Notre Dame as it looks like President Macron will probably get his way and there appears to be much support to get Notre Dame ‘restored’ in that time. Will be interesting to see the Catholic and Parisian approach taken to the project in the 21st century. London engaged Wren and got St Paul’s Cathedral.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed it did. Judging by the fuss the idea of submitting new ideas for the spire has engendered, a 21st century Wren doesn’t seem likely to be found poking among the ashes. I hope it doesn’t only take five years though. Taking time over projects like this is no bad thing

      Liked by 1 person

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