There is no denying, Camping Huttopia is very lovely spot. What could be nicer than waking-up to birdsong in a sun-denched wood on an island in the Dordogne? So, it's fairly likely that I am poised to become positively effusive in a moment or two about the delights of the site, how sharing our time here with stylish millenials and their smallish off-spring brought back great memories of camping holidays with our kids. Undoubtedly, I will attempt to persuade you that if you wish to sample the best things that rural France has to offer, this place is definitely worthwhile considering. So, it is essential to get all the negatives out of the way first.
During the day it was not so noticeable, at night, however, because we opened every window and skylight for ventilation, the roar became much louder. In the small hours worse was to come, the weir was connected to the Dordogne valley hydro-electric system, from time to time a turbine would kick in with an annoying high pitch whine, like a hippo sized mosquito. Luckily the site is wooded, so the annoying noise is muffled by the trees and only audible in the pitches furthest upstream; we simply had made the wrong choice. Next morning, by 10am it was red hot; the kind of weather where merely moving an inch provokes profuse sweating in every nook and cranny. So we stayed put and read for a while. I amused myself by annotating the site map with useful warnings concerning its hazards and delights.
Now you have no excuse whatsoever to be caught out by Huttopia's more annoying aspects- Niagara Falls, the resultant insomnia zone, the enclave of National Trust enthusiasts and the guilliotine portal are all clearly noted on the map. For the sake of balance the place's delights have been highlighted too. Lets start with Camp Hipster. This small settlement of erected safari tents seems to appeal particularly to hipsterish couples (prophetic beards, skinny jeans, startling specs, garish blazers [him], leggings with knee length floaty top, glimpsed tattoos, facial piercing, quirky hat [her]. Most were couples, though one had a small baby with them, stylishly garbed, but carried about gingerly as if it might be virulent or belong to somebody else.
Our pitch was adjacent to the zone of fractious toddlers. Some grey-haired moho owners consciously avoid family orientated sites. 'Adult only' campsites are quite common in the UK. Clearly there is a market for 'peace and quiet'. However, some of our happiest memories are of camping in France in a secondhand 'big-top' of a frame tent with our three kids. Watching the next generation of enthusiastic, but harassed parents being systematically outfoxed by a clutch three foot high toddlers brought a smile to our faces. Both of us spent our working lives as educators, you would not do that unless you were interested in children and young people and like to see them catered for and having a good time. So, we are happy to share a camp site with families and accept at any one time, especially in a heatwave, some small person is going to become outraged by life's frustrations or parental injustice and decide to wail.
As the Ascension holiday approached the site became ever busier. Nearby - a family group of four - parents, two older teenagers, all sleeping in a small ridge tent. "That's not going to be very comfortable in this heat," Gill mused as the four crawled into their bivouac in the twilight gloom. A couple with two boys and a baby had parked next to us in their motorhome. The motorhome looked newish and the couple perhaps in their mid thirties. We speculated how they could have afforded it; we could not have envisaged being able to do that at their age. More similar to our past experience - the family next to them, again three kids, a biggish ridge tent and a Mercedes Sprinter. We travelled the length of southern Europe with kids, firstly in aged estate cars, then, when our third child arrived, we bough a Ford Galaxy, but carried so much stuff for our tribal encampment that eventually we needed a trailer.
|Version 1 - Gill plus venerable Nissan Bluebird and ten ton frame tent|
|We reckon...summer 1993, near Puivert, Languedoc.|
Version two - after Laura arrived in 1995 we needed a people carrier and trailer.
|On the way home from Croatia - 2000.|
|1997 - Tuscany|
One effect of the influx of families was to turn the sanitaire into a minor war zone every evening as exhausted parents cajoled or coerced tired offspring into the showers. We waited for the place to calm down. The heat was such that it took until almost midnight for the van to cool to the mid twenties, at which point, with a light sheet as a cover, it became possible to get to sleep.
|9.10pm. still 31 degrees.....|
The entire Acension holiday seemed to provoke some sort of nostalgia fest. On the way here we passed convoys of 2cvs and Citroen Dyane's of every type - some hippyfied with big flowery graphics, others souped-up with chrome pipes sprouting from the side, or lovingly restored to their dull green original livery, complete with arse-breaking canvas seats. I am not sure where the rally was, but an escapee camped immediately behind us with a gleaming example and a tiny vintage caravan light enough to be towed by a car with 425cc engine.
Our sense that reality had been temporarily augmented by some kind of vintage sepia simulcrum increased when a contingent of soldiers dressed in Bonapartiste uniforms marched across the footbridge a few metres from the site. Beaulieu was poised to celebrate a re-enactment weekend involving a skirmishes between Royalists and Bonarpartistes. This explained the arrival of a large four-wheeled cannon towed by a Toyota Hilux which we had witnessed the day before in the main square. Whether this commemorated a real event or was just an excuse to dress up and make huge explosions I don't know. I thought Royalist resistance to the Revolution was concentrated in Brittany and the Vendee, but maybe smaller insurgencies occurred in the Central Massif too. Anyway, I think there is a fairly loose connection between re-enactments and historical fact. It's all about dressing up and putting on a show.
On the question of dressing-up, I can just about see why men don uniforms with braided epaulets and snazzy tri-corn hats and strut about clutching muskets; what attraction it holds for the women participants is less clear. Their role seems to be simply to trail along behind in a bonnet, which I suppose is an improvement on their actual historical role, which in reality probably involved making gallons of scarcely edible beef stew while at constant risk of being raped by the opposition soldiery.
As if to re-inforce the notion that the past is a risky place, prone to unexpectedly intervening and posing a 'real and present danger' here and now, next day we left the campsite, squeezed gingerly through portal guillotine, and immediately were surrounded by Napoleonic forces. I don't think a surprise move on the flanks by a Prussian motorhome was ever envisaged by the organisers of the re-enactment. The unexpected manoeuvre worked, resistance melted and we swept imperiously through the ranks of Bonarpartistes to head northwards towards the safer territory of the autoroute. It may be tedious, but at least it is a place firmly rooted in the 21st century; well, aside from occasional roving gangs of Belgian Peter Fonda fantasists riding Harleys three abreast at 40kph purposely to irritate fellow four-wheeled road users.