Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Mud? Nah, Let's Go to France...

Green Man was expected to be the pinnacle of my epic summer festival circuit, the cherry on the musical exploration cake of 2008. I was really looking forward to it. And then it rained - some would say an unseasonable amount. Reports of flooding in the Brecon Beacons started appearing on festival message boards. My giddy spirits sank. Still jaded by our recent experience in Kendal, neither Ant or I could face another weekend of wading through mud and roughing it under canvas in extreme conditions, however great the musical offerings. And the forecast was getting worse by the day. Our first instinct was to look for alternative accommodation, so that at least we'd have somewhere warm and dry to escape to; but after extensive online investigation and countless disheartening phonecalls, it transpired that all the cottages, B&Bs and apartments within 20 miles of the festival site were fully booked. By this point it was late on Wednesday night, and we were due to leave the next morning. We went to bed feeling frustrated and miserably resigning ourselves to the original plan. It was either that or spend a long weekend in Brighton and waste our precious holiday time mooching about at home.

The next morning the weather was still grim, prompting us to briefly resume our search for somewhere to sleep in Wales other than a tent, but to no avail. A few years ago, we probably would have said "f**k it" and booked a last minute flight to somewhere exotic instead, but in a commitment to a 'greener' travel ethos we recently agreed not to fly anywhere we could get to in a day by rail and/or ferry. We've taken the Eurotunnel a few times now to get across to the continent, but strangely - since we live so close to a cross-channel port - never used the ferry. Doing some speculative research, I was surprised to discover how reasonable a return ticket with the car was from Newhaven to Dieppe (£99). Newly inspired by this knowledge, we set about looking for somewhere to stay in Normandy or Brittany, only to be confronted with a similar "no room at the inn" scenario. Finally, when we had all but given up hope, I tried one last place - a B&B near Saint Lo - and succeeded in booking us in for three nights. To celebrate, and make the most of our day off in Brighton, we treated ourselves to an indulgent lunch at the ever splendid Terre à Terre.

After a smooth crossing the following morning, we were in Rouen by lunchtime. The whole city was practically deserted due to a public holiday, so it was great for strolling about, but not so good for shopping. I'd like to go back some time and check out the nightlife, it felt like a pretty cool city. From Rouen we carried on to Saint Lo, and after a couple of minor palavers (bits of the car falling off, and getting slightly lost), arrived at our B&B by early evening, to be greeted by the landlady and her handsome ginger cat, Raoul (so named because of his distinctive vocalisations). The cottage was stunning and in a very tranquil spot; we both breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed firmly into holiday mode. On Saturday we braved the weather and tourist hoards to check out Mont St Michel before heading over to St Malo for lunch. Whilst dining at Borgnefesse - a rather nice, tastefully pirate-themed restaurant (if you are thinking inflatable parrots and staff in tricorns, stop) - we discussed the possibility of going to La Route du Rock festival (which I'd seen was taking place up the road) for the evening. Ant's always easier to goad when being well-fed, so this was the ideal opportunity for me to secure a little compensation for missing out on Green Man. Anyone would think I planned it this way (I didn't, as it happens).

La Route du Rock Festival, St Malo

The weather still looked touch and go at this point, but it turned into quite a nice evening eventually, with even a bit of blue sky appearing during the first band - the excellent Menomena. The festival itself was small and amazingly tidy, but best of all, despite the weather there was NO MUD. None. We also saw French Cowboy, Girls in Hawaii (both of whom were entertaining enough) and stayed for the first few songs of The Ting Tings' set - enough to persuade us that they are very much a studio band. Sunday's cultural activities were altogether gentler, with a visit to the impressive Bayeaux Tapestry followed by the beautifully presented Caen Memorial - a deeply moving WW2 museum, and finally an abortive tour around a country Chateaux - about which more later. For me, no holiday would be complete without a trip to the seaside - and a sandy beach at sunset was the perfect spot to round off our mini-holiday. Throw in a slap up meal at a chic waterfront restaurant and one could not ask for more. On Monday we just had time to stock up with the obligatory wine, cheese and interestingly-packaged groceries at the hypermarket before catching our ferry home.

Looking at other people's photos of Green Man on Flickr this morning, I am reassured that we made the right decision not to go (though I'm still gutted about all the brilliant bands I missed). I'm only sorry that we hadn't made use of the easy ferry connection from Newhaven to explore Normandy and Brittany sooner. But now that we've had a little taster of the many delights that those regions have to offer, I'm pretty sure we'll be making up for it in future.

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