Friday 6th November
We left Damgan Wednesday morning and moved along to a town called Guerande which had a free aire just out of town and an easy walk into the town centre.
Our guide book describes Guerande thus:- “No visitor to the region should miss the gorgeous walled town of Guerande…” It goes on singing the towns praises talking enthusiastically about “the pedestrians thronging the narrow cobblestoned streets” and “it makes a great day out”. Rough Guide to France is on it’s last notice – any more bum information and it will be clogging up a bin somewhere.
Everything starts off well, impressive castle gates and information boards in French, German and English.
We’ve got a moat, although it’s only on two sides.
And a 13th century back entrance. You can tell it’s 13th century because of the arrow slits, any later and there would have been openings for canons as well.
As you can see the streets are thronged with excited shoppers. These posts each had cast iron statuettes showing local craftsmen and women of the area. We arrived at just the right time, noon, just as all the shops were closing for their hour and a half lunch break.
Guerande derived it’s fortune from controlling the saltpans that form a chequerboard across the surrounding countryside and have done so since Roman times. Most of the shops that were open were selling salt, salted caramel and the usual tourist stuff that no one really needs.
We’ve been having a problem getting internet access, we’re too tight to pay for it and have been trying to pick up SFR signals wherever we go. Whilst looking for a wifi signal we found that the local tourist office had a free open (for 15 minutes at a time) signal so I logged on and started sending. We were still standing in the doorway when the Tourist Office staff came back from lunch so it seemed rude to stand outside and went in and I continued sending. Lucy had a good look round and found that we could buy tickets for a tour of the Airbus factory and the Submarine pens at St Nazaire for 10% off if we bought them inside the Tourist office.
I asked for tickets for the Airbus factory and the submarine pens. The submarine pens were no problem but we were told to phone the Airbus number since they needed passport numbers, date and place of birth, etc.
Back at the van I phoned the number given, got through to the English voice asking me to wait, you will be served soon, and waited, and waited. After 15 minutes holding I suddenly noticed that the was a calendar for opening times and since it is Wednesday and they are closed there is no one there to take my call. I then realise that the submarine pens are only open on Sundays in November. I was really pissed off that the Tourist Office have sold me tickets, on a Wednesday, for something that is only open on a Sunday, is it really to much to ask for someone to have said something?
The Airbus factory was a complete no no. You have to give two working days notice that you want to visit, if they only work one day a week it will be nearly December before we can visit. We were going to go back and complain but they would just have said that they served us what we asked for so we have rearranged our plans.
Thursday morning, raining, it’s launderette time so Google the launderette, stuff everything in and go for another wander in this great town while the shops are open. It’s no better, we could visit the salt museum but it is just a shop selling salt!
Once the washing has been done and dried we head off to the aire at St Nazaire so we can have a wander round and make sure that the submarine pens really are closed until Sunday (with a hour closed for lunch of course!!).
This is our first view, it looks like it could be the right place. Before the Second World War St Nazaire was one of the largest harbours along the Atlantic coast of France. The Germans arrived in 1940 and soon began work building a submarine base that would be invulnerable to allied bombing. It took 16 months to build and consists of 6 double docks and 8 dry docks. The building is 300m long, 130m wide and 18m high. The roof is 8m thick consisting of four layers of reinforced concrete, granite and steel beams. Anti aircraft cover the roof.
There were 62 workshops, 97 magazines, 150 offices, 92 dormitories, 4 kitchens, 2 bakeries, 2 electrical plants, a restaurant and hospital. In total the Germans built five of these bases in occupied France.
Jeremy Clarkson is a bit of a Marmite person, you either hate him or love him and I am for the most part in the former camp but occasionally he can be interesting and informative without being silly. A couple of years ago he presented a program on “The Greatest Raid of All Time” (Watch it on Youtube) in which he described an assault on St Nazaire by 622 Royal Navy and British Commandos where they sailed in on a destroyer, rammed the lock gates and set off a huge explosion putting the gates out of action until well after the war had finished.
One of the reasons for attacking the lock was that ships like the Tirpitz were so large that they could only ever be repaired here or in Germany, St Nazaire would have been easier to get to.
I thought that these were the gates and was not impressed that there was no mention of the raid at all. After getting back to Frankie I discovered that we were looking at the wrong lock!
This is the small lock, we’ll try and get a photo of the big lock on Sunday when we return to St Nazaire for our submarine trip.
Opposite the submarine pens is another imposing building, this is the lock for the submarines, protected from allied bombing by more concrete.
From the locks looking back at the submarine pens. There is a submarine right behind us but everything is in darkness and I couldn’t get a decent photo.
This is the type of ship that needs the large lock. The Queen Mary, the largest cruise ship of it’s time was built here.
Friday morning we have moved onto to Le Croisic, it’s hammering down with rain, it’s not particularly nice here but we have managed to log onto the local wifi, so we are having a quiet day and will move back to St Nazaire tomorrow ready for our submarine trip on Sunday. Then it is head south until we see some blue sky.