Saturday, September 30, 2006

More microlight stuff

I have been asked to show a few more microlight pictures on my blog, so here goes. This first picture is a French built Air Creation. This was taken at the trade show at Popham while we still lived in the UK. I would love to own one of these with the four stroke four cylinder engine. It is a very well built machine and seems to show up the UK microlight builders. There is even a built in panier under the engine - great for the picnic. This is the sort of aircraft that could be used for trips from the south of France to the UK with no problem.
This is a picture of me over the Lake district, taken by Richard Procter, from another microlight. We were on a trip around the UK at the time and in this picture we are heading south down the west coast.
Another picture from the same trip, but this time heading north towards Edinburgh. Again it is me in the picture. The sea fog can be seen coming in foem the east. I was flying my Raven 44XLR at the time with a 503 two stroke engine and a 3 blade ivor prop.
Sutton airfield in Cambs. We took a trip down on the bikes to meet a friend, Mark Hogget, who took us for a flight in his Quantum. Not the sort of aircraft that I would buy as it is not sporty enogh for me. I flew a similar Quantum across Canada in 1996, as part of an RAF microlight expedition.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Dordogne area - in pictures

The first picture shows the modern and the old. This was taken of the bikes in Domme. The whole of Domme looks like this and still has the town walls intact. Most tourists that visit this area will visit this pretty little town.
This picture shows the church in our town, Rouffignac-st-Cernin. The church is the only building to survive the war. On the 31st March 1944, the German army decided that there was too much resistance activity in the area and destroyed the whole town apart from the church. The poeple were forced to donate all of their bedding and linen and label it up as a gift from Rouffignac to the German people, before it went on trucks. They were then given an hour to leave their houses before the German army stole the rest of their belongings and flattened the buildings.
This was taken in the main square in a little town called Villefranche-du-Perigord. It was taken on a visit when we went to see a friend, Brian Milton, who was the first man to fly a microlight around the world.
This is Rocamadour, not strictly in the Dordogne, but slightly to the East. The town hangs on a cliff and has only one marrow road going through it.
Th famous town of Sarlat. Typical view of a street cafe set within the historical town. A fantastic place to wander around, with small shops and the most famous saturday market in the area. Be warned though, being very old there are constant traffic jams here in the summer, the best way to visit is by motorbike.
This was taken of Beynac chatau over the Dordogne river. This view is almost in the back garden of the gite/B&B described in an earlier post. As can be seen from the date on this picture it was taken in early Arpil and the rivver was very high. During the summer months there are loads of canoes and swimmer here.
A view from the Bastide town of Domme overlooking the Dordogne river.
Both of these pictures were taken in La Roque-Gargeac. The town is another one that hangs on a cliff, squeezed between the Dordogne river and a sheer rockface.
To anyone who has not been here these pictures may seem to be of just the best bits around here, but that would not be true. The villages of Beynac, Domme, Sarlat and La Roc-Gargeac are all with 8 miles of the Gite/B&B, run by Tom and Andrew. I could have loaded thousands of pictures like this and they would all have been of different places.
For me one of the nice things about this area is the preserved history. Not only is everything kept how it used to be, but as you look up onto rock faces the caves are still there where man lived 20,000 years ago, and quite oftern they have been excavated and are open to the public.
In this rambling I have shown some of the places around the Dordogne river, but more local to me is the river Vezere, which has pre-historic sites all the way along it. One of the most famous is the world heritage site known as Lascaux. Here there are preserved colour cave paintings dating back 17,000 years.
I just wonder how much more there is to be discovered.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The new car and why we chose this one

If you read further down this blog you will see that it does snow in the Dordogne despite what people think. It is very rare to see the amount of snow that we saw this year, the locals tell us that it was the worst for 30 years, but next year might be the worst for 31 years!
We decided that we needed a four wheel drive. The track through the woods to our house was a bit rough on the Citroen Xantia HDI, so that was a good excuse.

We needed a small 4X4 for the two of us and the occasional trip to Bergerac airport to collect visitors. It had to be a diesel as diesel is much cheaper than petrol here and generates less CO2 than a petrol vehicle, it is also much more economical. I had a new Range Rover once in the UK and was not impressed by the quality or the depreciation, but a car should never be an investment. After much research the choice was narrowed down to either a Kia Sportage or a Hyundai Tucson.
We were in Bergerac on the bikes in July and in the car park was a Tucson with black windows. Jude liked it. That is very important because she normally only looks at the colour of a car and I look at the engineering. I started an internet search and found a dealer in Cahors who had new Tucsons with 5000 euros off the list price. Next step was to direct one of our bike trips towards Cahors. I was going for the Comfort model, but he had a luxe model with leather and heated seats standing there, so we went for it.

The engine is a 140 bhp 4 cylinder diesel that is very smooth and quiet. The 4 wheel drive system is automatic, and the car has more toys on it than my Range Rover had.
You may notice that the pictures show different registration numbers, this is because here in France the car must have the department number for the area where the owner lives. The 46 plate was similar to a trade plate to allow us to drive the car until the 24 plate registration was ready.

How do we like it? We both love it. We came back from Barcenona (sea level) and climed to over 6000 feet near Andorra through mountain roads, around Tolouse in traffic jams, and up the motorway at 80 mph to home, and the car managed 6.3 liters/100 km, that is around 45 mpg. That figure was with only 3000 km on the clock so I would expect better with more miles on it.

Does this mean the bikes are redundant? No way. Although the bike season is very long here, they are no good for our skiing day trips in the winter. With the Tucson we will have no problems fitting the skis in and no problem with the snow.

I am amazed at the build quality of the car and cannot understand how Land Rover still manage to sell the Freelander with the old engine that it has fitted.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The bikes that brought us together

Here is a picture of Judes Honda Blackbird (CBR1100xx) taken in St Ives, Cambs. This was the bike she had when we met. She bought the bike because she thought that it looked nicer than her Suzuki GSXF750, nothing to do with the 160+ bhp or the top speed in excess of 180 mph.

I had a very nice BMW R1150RT, seen here in my garage in the UK. It has the centre stand on a very simple turntable which allows the bike to be turned within the garage. This bike had to go for two reasons, 1. with an inside leg of around 29", it was too tall for me and I risked dropping it, and 2. with a very upright sitting position, I found that over distance I would slouch and end up with a sore back.
I changed the 1150 for a much more comfortable K1200GT, bought new for around £12000. With a lower and narrower seat, I had no problems reaching the ground when stationary, and with lower bars than the 1150 it was better over distance. This bike turned out to be a good match for Judes Blackbird on European roads despite only having 130bhp, it had more torque, a heated seat and handgrips and more important, ABS. It also used 10% less fuel than the Blackbird.

When we had commited to living in France, where there is a 100bhp limit for bikes, we changed both of them and bought a pair of R1100S's. This picture was taken at the BMW dealer in Northampton on the day of collection. Mine is the silver and Judes is the Dyson colour.
At first Jude said that she prefered the Honda to the BMW, but now, after a couple of years, she loves the S. It suits our change in riding style. We no longer need to cover 800 miles in a day but spend our time off autoroutes scratching around the twisty roads here. Both bikes ate standard apart from luggage rails and catalytic converter removal. Judes bike can be seen with the paniers fitted, but they spend most of the time on my bike if we are touring.

What of the future? I love the new BMW K1200S and Jude fancies the K1200R. The problem is the 100 bhp limit here in France. There seems to be no point in buying bikes that in the UK are 170 and 162 bhp and having them restricted to 100. It has been said that the K1200S ends up losing the smooth engine performance once it is restricted. It looks like we will end up keeping what we have now. There again, I have just seen a picture of the soon to be released K1200SR, which looks much more like the bikes that we have now, but there is still the bhp limit which we have here!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cars and bikes stuff

Here is a picture of our car packed up ready for our little trip to Spain. We will be off in the morning so there will be no posts here for a week or so.
You may notice that the car number plate has a 46 on it. That refers to the department of France which the car is registered in. It now wears a 24 plate which is correct for the Dordogne. The reason for the 46 plate is that I bought the car new from a dealer in Cahors. I bought it there because the dealer, Drigouts Autos, had the car priced at 5000 euros under the list price.
Cars and bikes here in France pay no road tax. The equivelant of the MOT (known as a CT) only applies to cars over four years old and then every two years. There is no CT for motorcycles.
There should be one or two stickers inside the windscreen, a green one shows the insurance details and a white one shows the CT date for cars older than 4 years.
A registration number does not stay with a car for life as in the UK, it will change if the cars registered address moves from one department to another, as in the case above.
French car drivers are very aware of bikes and will almost drive in the ditch to let a bike past. On the other hand French motorcyclists are very highly trained, the bike licence is quite an intensive course here. Bikers normally stick their leg out to thank car drivers for letting them pass. When biking here watch where you park. There are a few pay car parks, but a bike would not normally park in a car bay and so would not pay for parking. I have had attendants telling me to park on the pavement for free rather than take up a car bay. There is little chance of anyone interfering with your bike in the Dordogne and I often leave the helmet on the mirror when I wander round a town.
Should you be visiting France it is worth noting that fuel is quite expensive on motorways and it is worth finding the nearest supermarket to fill up, it can be as much as 20% cheaper. At the time of writing, 95 octane unleaded is 1.16 euro per litre at the supermarkets and diesel is 1.06 euro. It stands to reason that if you are intending to visit do it in a diesel car.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The fun of flying

Found this picture of me back in about 97. I was trained to fly a microlight and soon bought one of my own. In this picture I was flying my second aircraft, a Raven 44xlr, in Yorkshire just as the sun was going down.
Within a year of obtaining my pilots lisence (PPL), I had flown around 100 hours. That included a trip around the UK, a trip around northern Europe and then finally a trip from Vancouver Island on the Pacific coast of Canada to Winniepeg in the center.
I went on to fly light aircraft after upgrading my PPL at RAF Halton flying club. Light aircraft were pretty boring compared to microlights and gave up all together after a while.
I now love bikes again, but the flexwing microlight is very much like a three dimensional motorbike. If I ever get around to converting my UK PPL to a French one, I may buy another aircraft.
This must be one of the nicest areas in Europe to play around in the sky.

A picture (left) of the bikes that we visited France with. They have now gone to be replaced with the 1100S's (right).

About the wildlife

We live on the south side of a hill, in 14000 square meters of woodland. Most of the trees are oak, but there is some fir and some hazel. There is loads of wildlife here, wild boar, foxes, deer, squirrels and more. There are also snakes, not many but we have found during the last week a four foot grassnake, which we re-located half a mile away, and an adder which needed no re-location as we had driven over it in the car, accidents do happen!
I was on the balcony today watching the red squirrel pinching all the hazelnuts off the trees. There are no gray squirrels here at all. The wild boar eat the apples off our tree without even asking, probably lucky that the fig tree is too tall for them, do boar eat figs?
There are also loads of lizards, during the past month there seem to be many very small ones, one inch long rather than the normal 4 or 5 inches, so I assume that they have been breeding. Some of the little ones are getting quite friendly and can be handled. It is quite amusing to see them running when they catch a worm or a small fly.
Jude has a small room built into the rock at the side of the house which she calls her potting shed, I tend to avoid this room as we have found snake skins there and I know that the bat also roosts in there. It is not that I mind bats, but snakes are another thing.
The locals here tend to hunt deer and boar on sundays, but they should only hunt on common land and have no right to come onto private land. Although I respect their traditions, I do not want people with guns roaming around our place, so have put up signs to tell them that this is private. I spent 23 years of my life in the RAF and have had enough of guns.

It does snow in the Dordogne!

I thought this picture might interest some. This is the small road that leads down from the end of our drive out to the tarmac road. This area is a very popular holiday spot for many including the British, Dutch and even the French from other areas. Many of them come here for the fantastic weather during the summer months and others come for the history. If you think this area is warm and sunny all the year round, then think again, this was the situation at the end of January this year. We could not get the car, a Citroen Xantia, out onto the tarmac road for three days. It won't happen again too soon though as this was meant to be the worst snow for 20 years, and we have bought ourselves a Hyundai Tucson four wheel drive.. That still doesn't mean that it is allways warm, temperatures in the winter often get down to minus 10 celsius at night. We are lucky in that we have enough trees to keep us going with wood through the winter.
We are off for a quick holiday in Spain on monday so there will be no posts for a week or so.
When we return, I will do a little article on the history of this area, it is something that I find interesting and there are few areas that I have visited where habitation of a site can be proved to be continous for over 18,000 years.

Our wedding day

Just found this picture on the PC and thought that any readers, if there are any, might like to see who is writing this. The picture was taken on our wedding day in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
The event should have happened here in France but we were stumped by the British Emabassy who decided that they had to complete paperwork which would take weeks. The French system would have worked had the lady in the town hall not contacted them.
One of the reasons that we decided to marry and not just live in sin, was the French inheritance law. Here you do not just write a will and your worldly goods go to whoever you want, but the law says that property must be split between surviving spouse and any children that you may have. For that reason it is much easier being married.

First update - it is raining

The last post is a reprint of an aticle that I wrote last year. This one is today.
I sit here in the office which is next to the garage and it is raining outside, that in itself may not be anything amazing but here where the sun shines most of the time, it is. I have collected and cut loads of oak for the heating, as the only heating that we have is wood fired, and stacked it under shelter around the house. There will not be enough for the whole winter but our farmer friend will supply is with more as we need it.
The bikes are tucked up in the garage, but not for the long term, they will come out again if the sun should shine.
The picture was taken last year May on the way to Andorra. My bike is the silver one and Judes is the Dyson coloured one. Those who know anything about bikes will know that they are a pair of BMW R1100S's. They may look like single seaters, but the rear seat cover does come off to seat two. Jude will not take a passenger on her bike anyway.

How it all started

Where should I start? It's been a packed 13 months.

In January 2004 I met my girlfriend, Jude. We are both motorcyclists and both had an urge to travel, so during Easter 04 we got on our BMW K1200GT and Honda CBR1100 Blackbird and headed south, intending to reach northern Spain and look for a home.

We stopped in the Dordogne just for an overnight stay. When we woke the next day and looked out into the daylight, we both knew that we had found paradise. We extended our B&B booking to cover the next five nights and we set off to discover the area. To say that we were impressed was an understatement - we were bowled over.

We both returned to our Civil Service jobs working for the MOD in Cambridgeshire and planned the next trip. So only a month later we were back, again on two bikes, and this time we were house hunting. We looked at loads of houses in the Cahors area but it was not the Dordogne, so we went to Sarlat and started the search again. One estate agent had what we were looking for - the advert said "Tres isolé". house

A visit to the house confirmed that it was the place for us. 14,000 square meters of woodland, on a hillside, with a 1970 house in the middle. No neighbours, not too many expats, but with the local town 5km away. We didn't make an offer at that point but took loads of photos - thank goodness for digital cameras.

On our return to the UK we put both our houses up for sale, sold one of our cars and worked out the finances. I am very lucky that I have an RAF pension so I knew that I could retire at the age of 45 and still have an income. As the first house was in the process of selling I phoned the estate agent and made an offer, and it was accepted.

The end of July saw us driving out to the Dordogne for the third time in four months, this time by car, to sign the Compromis de Vente. On our return to the UK we sold the car and went about changing the motorbikes too. There is a 100bhp limit for French-registered bikes and ours were 130 and 165, so we ordered two new BMW R1100S's with 99bhp.

We returned again to France for the final signing for the house on September 26 in a hired Luton van with all our worldly possessions on board - apart, that is, from the most important items, the bikes.

Bob Thompson drivewayThe van refused to climb the driveway and eventually the clutch burnt out - at the bottom of a 200-metre uphill drive to the house! Thank heavens, we managed to get some friends with a trailer to come out and ferry the goods to the house (thanks Tom and Andrew), and our AA cover gave us hire cars to get back to the UK for our last visit home.

We arrived back in France, this time for good, on November 1, bought a French-registered car and now live life to the limit.

We have many French friends. Our estate agent turned out to be one of the friendliest people in the area and we have visited his house a few times. We are learning French as fast as we can and drinking red wine so that we fit in with the locals. We have just celebrated our first year together and often think of the work colleagues that we left behind in the rat race.

Does retirement suit me? Yes of course - there is so much to do. I cut wood in the forest for the heating, I visit all the interesting sites in the area, I go to the cafe regularly to meet the local people and learn a few more words of French. In early 2005 we decided that we should get married. Little did we know that that the idea of getting married in France would be foiled, not by French rules, but by British rules. The dreaded trip back to England was to follow - but that is a story for another day.