A little over 17 weeks ago Andy and I packed up the little house in Provence and headed back to the UK to be with the boys as COVID started to really take a grip and spread at a terrifying rate across the area.
The last 4 months has seen us manage to redecorate the house in Exeter, in between pottering on the bikes and walking the dog and slowly but surely the time has passed.
But now, at long last we’re on our way back to Provence finally getting the chance to take Fifi in the road trip we had originally planned for the start of May.
Every cloud though has a silver lining and it’s meant that we have managed to get some work done to her that means we are more confident she will be able to to the 1000 mile journey. Primarily a full working set of brakes as 3 of the 4 were pretty much seized and the grinding noise she made everytime we tried to stop is happily now a very distant memory. We’ve also upgraded her gears to deal with her throaty 600cc engine, rather than the 400cc engine they were designed for, so she no longer screams, over-revving in top gear. And the oil seems to be staying inside the engine now, rather than trying to escape.
She is also the proud owner of smart new, matching tyres as opposed to the hodge podge of different styles and sizes that had been fitted over the years and most importantly for our safety, a shiny new MOT certificate.
She has new seat covers as both Andy and I have vivid, childhood memories of sticking to vinyl seats of family cars, so not only are they more comfortable, but the striped red and cream Ticking seems to suit her personality too, giving her a dashing ‘je ne sais quoi’
So yesterday afternoon, with tummies bizarrely full of butterflies, at just after 5 we finally ran out of excuses, fastened our seat belts and started the drive that would see us do the first stage of Fifi’s French Adventure heading down to Plymouth to catch the night ferry to Roscoff.
Leaving Exeter in the sun, we had the roof open and headed across the city and out onto the open road, driving towards the massive hulk of Dartmoor, without doubt Fifi’s biggest challenge to date.
Pottering along the winding road to Moretonhampstead our early nerves started to settle as we purred along and she tackled the hills with ease, passing through little hamlets along roads lined with Willowherb and wild roses.
By the time we passed through Moretonhampstead, Dartmoor was covered in cloud and all the cars heading towards us had their lights on, not filling us with much confidence that we would make it to the other side without having to stop and close her roof.
But buzzing across the Cattle Grid at the entrance to the National Park we were smiling, the unfenced road winding into the distance with sheep and ponies grazing alongside. The further we drove the more we relaxed and felt Fifi was settling too, enjoying the fresh air and wind through her open roof, as much as we were enjoying the experience.
By the time we reached Warren House Inn, high on the moor where it’s said a fire has been constantly alight since 1845, it was starting to mizzle, but not quite hard enough to make us stop and close her roof. We must have looked rather mad driving with our lights on, windscreen wipers working, but smiling with the roof down, but to be honest we were having fun and didn’t care.
The road across the top of Dartmoor is a stunning drive, even on a grey and mizzly day with the desolate and dramatic granite Tors being the only markers on the horizon and views down towards Cornwall. Then past Princetown onto the South West Side of the Moor it begins to soften slightly as you wind down the hill towards Yealmpton and on towards Plymouth.
So just under 2 hours after leaving Exeter we arrived at the docks in Plymouth, the first stage of the journey done and just incredibly content that we were finally underway.
We loaded just after 9 and were on our way by 10, tucked up in our cabin with a ‘picky tea’ and the height of élégance, drinking canned Gin and Tonic from paper cups…. We know how to live.
As I type this, we’re just coming into Roscoff and should be docking in the next 20 minutes. All being well Fifi has survived the journey and we’ll be able to get underway on today’s leg, which will take us across Brittany, passing through some of the places we have visited on holidays over the years, crossing the Loire at Nantes and then heading down into the Charente, where a friend has offered us a bed for the night.
The next few days will be fun, a bit of an adventure and full of memories as the route we have chosen will take us through some of our favourite places from holidays in France over the last 31 years on our way back across to The Luberon.
So Fifi’s French Adventure is underway and we’re determined to enjoy it.