Well, there was an aspiration to have a "day zero" and leave home before midnight, but in the end it was 1 in the morning before we left - still ahead of our deadline. We headed off, pursued by Laurie whose off-roading lights were seen approaching as we climbed into Four Marks, then with flashing of lights and waving out of windows we said farewell and we were on our own.
First stop was Wisley services to increase the tyre pressures to accommodate the heavy load, before a steady drive around the M25. At Maidstone we swapped drivers and Meld drove the last leg to Dover, where we were randomly selected for a spot check - fortunately not a search! Then we checked in and joined the queue for the 04:30 crossing.
The girls, who had been sleeping a bit, seemed pleased enough to be on the way.
On the ferry we were able to quickly find a corner to sit (or lie down, in the case of the senior members of the party). As we approached Calais it was getting light and we took a walk outside. (We hardly had a clue we were approaching, until we were told by the ferry people, because the visibility was so poor!) Although it was quite a calm crossing we did have a couple of moments where we were flung across the ship and I landed in the vending machine. Rosie was a bit silly and didn't realise that there was a bridge thingy over the brown thingy which meant she got her trousers a bit wet & I stupidly followed but stepped over rather than trying to climb over.
Off the ferry we stopped for diesel at the huge truck stop on the Rocade (ring road) - took a while to understand the rules (you have to give a card or ID as security before filling), then topped up at €1.13 a litre (about 80p, better than 100p at home!). Meld then drove to just north of Paris - steady, heavy traffic. Aid took over, and soon ran into trouble. The overhead signs warned of "bouchons" on all the alternative routes, and our "escape" from one jam hurried us into another on the Boulevard Peripherique. We persevered to the Porte d'Italie, and then headed south on the A6. After a slight detour near the airport at Orly, we were heading out of the city sprawl. As far as Orleans the going was tough, with a series of accidents with their personal "bouchons", but south of Orleans on the A71 things eased and we had a fast spell (this reduced our fuel consumption, but we were still getting well over 40 mpg, which is good). (All he cares about is fuel prices and fuel consumption! By this time my bum was considerably more numb than I would have liked!)
Somewhere near Chateauroux we stopped for lunch - being a new motorway the trees are smaller and the shade less, but although hot (about 35°C) it wasn't too painful. On the signpost to the picnic place it said that there was going to be a see saw but we got there to discover that there wasn't :( I was not impressed.
Even B, famed for staying in the car when it's hot outside, joined us. (But you took a picture of me in the car!?)
Meld took the next stint to just north of Cahors where we stopped for cold drinks and ices as well as loos and a driver change, then Aid took over for the last leg. This took us up on the new road through the Causses (limestone plateaux) and across the valleys of the Dordogne and Lot on a series of viaducts. It was remarkable how green the countryside was after leaving a dry, scorched England. OK, much of it is achieved by pumping water from the rivers, but not all. With a fuel stop at Montauban (oh no, €1.20 a litre - but it's not worth deviating from the motorway, and my "alert when 2km from a Carrefour" on the GPS hadn't indicated an alternative). (Deirdre failed us! She's not the goddess of questions, answers and random phrases as we all though she was!)
Traversing Toulouse at 6pm could have been a nightmare, but proved easy enough, and we found the old N20 towards Foix. Here things slowed down as we wove our way through small villages and road works. And the sky got darker and darker...(Great place for Jaws theme here)
Turning off the main road we made our way into Cintegabelle, across the bridge over the Ariège, and parked outside La Poste as instructed. Here Marie-Helène met us, and we walked up to meet her parents in their house opposite the church.
M-H then led us out of the village down towards the family farm where we are to stay. We staggered our bags in, just before the rain started, and we we watched it pour down from the open doorway (OK, some of us went out and danced around in it!) (It was the fun kind of rain! Massive cold drops that soak you in minutes! Can I photoshop a picture of me spinning on top so it looks like you took a picture of me in the rain?!) It had been nice all day and then we arrived to this...
Then, inside, we enjoyed a relaxed dinner - Vin de Noix from M-H's parents as an aperitif, M-H's mum's home-made pate, toulouse sausages with spaghetti and a sauce of tomatoes from the garden, local wines, Pyrenean cheeses. C'est la vie!
And so to bed - and sleep - a very deep sleep - to the sound of crickets, the babble of the river, the breeze in the trees. (And then to be woken in the morning by dog-face! Humpf!) <- I agree with B!!