France 2006

The ’46-’55 Register weekend had always been great fun despite not venturing outside the UK, so last year (2005) as a result of pressure from those wanting to cross the Channel, I organised a short trip to Normandy and about 15 went. It was a tremendous success so we decided to go again this year but with more people and for longer, 28 came this time and they were from Canada, Australia, Switzerland, the Dordogne and of course, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The RROC US, RREC, RROC AU, BDC and BOC were all represented.

We travelled on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth (some slept) to St Malo and then drove 175 miles on almost empty, minor roads to the breathtakingly beautiful town of Montreuil Bellay in the Loire Valley where we stayed for nine nights at the Relais de Bellay courtesy of Jean Francois and his family and staff. They were terrific so I agreed to take him for a ride in the Bentley and pull up outside every bar in the town, hooting so that his friends could see him! And all at 9am on a Sunday morning!

Montreuil Bellay has a weekly market, a magnificent Chateau, superb gardens, walks and picnic areas by the river below.

Once ensconced we split up into small groups and visited various Chateaux, gardens, museums, just picnicked by rivers, in the countryside or lunched in one of the many beautiful Towns. The whole area is a sensory overload. Conversations as to where oil should be on dipsticks or how much petrol should be left in tanks were significantly reduced, although two cars still had crossplies and were clearly struggling to keep up. Convincing evidence of the need for change came from Jayne Wayne who was able to sleep in cars with radials but not the others! My wife felt there was still too much cars so confiscated my keys, collected some other wives and disappeared to Saumur for therapeutic shopping and a tour of its massive equestrian centre.

Hedley and Roseanne Greaves organised a trip to the premier Loire Vineyard Domaine de la Motte where Monsieur Giles Sorin entertained us and explained winemaking procedures prior to a tasting session. It was an excellent outing and we followed it with a riverside picnic where shade was sufficient to protect us from a very unusual (in June) 32 degrees.

Darrell Bell, who is Irish, had driven from Newcastle upon Tyne to Glasgow (to fetch a trunk!) then to Croydon for the night and then on to Dover then Dunquerque to Montreuil Bellay and finally Domaine de la Motte where he strapped huge quantities of Monsieur Sarin’s best to the bootlid of his car. It was a splendid sight and he completed the second half of his 2,300-mile trip without incident or having it confiscated by overzealous UK Customs officials.

Classic car Rallies abound in France and we met up with a large International one at Breze on its way to Tours and then Provence They would have been guests for wine tasting and lunch at Breze if ordinary visitors hadn’t finished everything before they’d arrived. The next day we were prize exhibits in a local Historic Vehicle Rally where there was a street market, a Le Status Quo tribute band, a PA system and cars returning from a 3-hour drive. The roads were partially obstructed by stalls, cars and caravans were going in the opposite direction to returning Rally participants, everyone was hooting and amongst this lot was a car with four loudspeakers on it gabbling in French and playing distorted music. It was good-humoured bedlam and suddenly it cleared as Le Quo sang “we gonna ‘ave some fun tonight” No health and Safety and no accidents! I loved it and we all sat bemused under the trees and picnicked.

The astonishing enthusiasm and hospitality of the French for motoring events (well anything really) has to be experienced to be believed, we were clapped, cheered and flashed everywhere we went and it was a pleasure to travel too, the roads are constantly improved, most are straight and fast and traffic is light. It’s stark contrast to the misery of our own; Those of you who’ve read road tests of nineteen fifties cars will be aware that maintainable average speeds were given as guide to overall road performance and that our cars were expected to easily cover over 40 mile in the hour. Fifty years on 25 is nearer the mark and the car’s performance irrelevant. To drive in France is to drive on raids our cars were built for.

On our return we had drove from Montreuil Bellay to Valognes and the Hotel Argicultureabout 10 miles south of Cherbourg where we stayed for one night and then caught the 8AM ferry to Poole. The drive home on the A350, which, as they say, would be the worst road in the UK, were it not for all the others was especially unpleasant and I felt very sorry for those faced with much longer journeys than the James family, especially as some were recovering from a stomach virus.

We were particularly delighted to see Jan and Andrea Jonkers who’d driven up from Perigieux and stayed for a couple of nights, Ray and Barbara Bain from Toronto and David and Linda Neely from Sydney. David edits the excellent RROC magazine Praeclarvm.

Everyone agreed that that our trip had been great fun and that I should organise another next year so if you own a pre 1960 car and enjoy modest journeys on the Continent and the pleasure of the company of some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, please let me know soon as we are bound to be oversubscribed by the time it comes to make bookings.

I have yet to decide the destination but we shall not travel much over 200 miles to a Hotel, we will probably not stay in more than two or three and I shall only provide a guide to activities rather organise people for most of the time. The first few Dinners are together and informal, but once everyone knows each other, people are free to go elsewhere if they wish. The trip will take place in early June 2007 and full details will be available later in the year. I do hope you may join us.

ashley james