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I was very interested in reading your article, Going Solo (October issue). We bought a house in the Pyrénées in 1986 and spent many happy years there, at least five weeks every year. We made excellent friends, some of whom have moved back to the UK and some who have stayed. In 2003, following a divorce and a failed relationship I thought my relationship with France had ended as well.
A friend moved to Moncontour in Brittany the same year and invited me over, picking me up from Saint-Malo. From then on, for several years, I attended the Moncontour wonderful bi-annual Fête Médiévale, frequently being asked to sing with musicians and in the church service.
In 2006, to celebrate my
60th birthday, I bought a very cheap ticket to Europe and travelled to Perpignan, caught a bus to Caudiès and walked to the nearest campsite (in 28°C with rucksack, tent etc on my back) where I spent a very quiet night being visited by wild boar, owls and deer. My daughters had recently sold the house in this area. From this campsite I visited our former house, friends, enjoyed the Fête de la Saint-Jean where we jumped over a bonfire and ate and drank very copiously, and then moved on to the campsite at SaintPaul-de-Fenouillet. A return trip to Perpignan via bus and then train back to Waterloo ensured I had the most marvellous time, meeting people who were very colourful and funny. I could write a book about that journey alone!
This continued for several years with trips from Moncontour to friends in SaintVincent-sur-Oust in the south of the Morbihan département, enabling me to see wonderful places such as l’Île aux Pies and Rochefort-en-Terre, and to meet many more interesting people.
On one ferry trip I met a French teacher who had taught in England for many years and gave me a lift to Rennes. On another I met an artist who lives in Scotland who was on the same train as me to Redon and we actually had seats next to each other, having travelled on the same ferry, and met at the Saint-Malo station.
Then, in 2018, (already in my seventies), I became a fan of the programme Escape to the Château: DIY and applied to one of the châteaux; Château St Ferriol in Aude, close to where I had owned the house. This was my first real experience of complete solo travelling. Train, ferry, train to Rennes, BlaBlaCar (a real first) to Carcassonne, train to Limoux, bus to Quillan where I was picked up by my hostess.
I worked for a fortnight in the château doing all manner of jobs and then I returned to Moncontour to housesit for a friend. This journey consisted of the €1 bus to Perpignan, train to Paris (where I got into the wrong couchette which caused havoc at 2am!), change at Paris for Rennes and Saint-Brieuc and eventually Moncontour and return trip via Saint-Malo.
Last year saw me at a château in Normandy for a month; again I travelled by train, ferry, (where I met Beatrix, a professional photographer from Brazil) train and bus.
This year was a different experience in that I could not travel as a foot passenger during Covid-19 so I took the car to the Pays de la Loire where I worked in a house that was being restored and a campsite owned by a former château owner. Although the route had changed considerably since 1999, I managed despite having a small auto breakdown!
I am already booked to work in another château in 2021 and will be nearly 76 when I take this trip. My motto is ‘age is not a barrier, attitude is’! I have experienced more in the past 10 years than I have in the previous 60. I recommend solo travelling – do it!
Tyger Hardy, Hampshire
This is just to thank Karen Tait for her article describing her voyage in the Barge Luciole (October issue), which exactly mirrored the experience I had with my late wife over 15 years ago and brought back so many pleasant memories.
We made the same trip in two successive years, 2003 and 2004, both in the reverse direction from Clamecy to Auxerre (pure chance that they were the same – that was how the dates fell). We enjoyed many of the same tours, in particular to Vézélay and Bazoches – and the same standard of food on board (I still drool at the thought of some of the meals we had). We had the same cosmopolitan guests, American, Australian and New Zealand as well as Brits (and Penny in charge of us), who all mixed in so well.
And, if I remember rightly, it would seem that the price has not increased significantly in the intervening years. Long live the Luciole!