Category Archives: France

THE LOT. A HOLIDAY DIARY.

Puy L’Eveque on the Lot River.

I’ve just returned from three weeks staying in my friend’s house in the Lot Valley, France.  The weather as you can imagine, in August, was hot and sunny.

The first week was shared with the owners and their family, the second two weeks one of my sons came out with his family.

Here is a snapshot of daily life.

Day 1.  Hot air balloon. Awoke this morning to see across the vineyards a hot air balloon landing through the mist over towards Vire. They must have had a fantastic flight in the clear morning air. I don’t know where they launch from, an unusual start to the holiday.

Day 2. Men in orange. It turns out that this Thursday is a French Bank Holiday, we get caught out with the shops being closed.  This explains why the hunters are out in the combe, dogs try to flush out deer or wild boar into the open. Not a good time to go walking. Thankfully there were no shots heard this morning.

Day 3. Full moon. I seem to often visit whilst there is a full moon which shines brightly over the back of the house and garden whilst we are finishing supper.

Day 4. In the pool. The two young children make the most of the pool as the temperature sores into the 30s.

Children, father and grandma.

Day 5. BMF training. Saturday back home in Leeds is BMF training session in Roundhay Park so the exercises were recreated on the lawn. It all looked very energetic and powerful from my viewpoint on a lounger.

Day 6. French walkers. Each day I get out for a short walk, often before breakfast. My favourite is up the garden into the woods and then back down The Combe de Filhol. Today I extend my walk around the Orienteering Course in the woods across the way. I come across a group of French walkers, holidaying in the area, marching along with a map. Normally I see no one but today as I zigzag about I bump into the same group several times, they look a little uneasy as I keep appearing from the undergrowth.

Day 7. Hints of autumn.  On my walks I started noticing fungi pushing through the undergrowth. Unfortunately they looked poisonous, On the other hand, the mirabelles, small plums, were prolific and once stewed provided many delicious desserts with yoghurt or ice cream.

Day 8. All change. I take mine hosts back to the airport and await the arrival of my family group. They are quickly through passport control, how will this be next year after Brexit?   I drive them back with a short coffee break in Isseagac, a charming Bastide town.

Day 9. Garden games. A lot of time was taken up with games in the garden. Boules, table tennis, french cricket, croquet etc. The competitive spirit was well demonstrated in croquet where some most unfriendly manoeuvers were taken.

Day 10. On the bike. For some of my longer excursions, I took one of the bikes with me but ended up walking as much as riding due to the terrain and the bike’s gears’ obstinacy. One of my favourite trips which I hadn’t made for some time was over the hills to St. Martin le Redon in the Theze valley. Firstly over to Touzac then over the river Lot on a splendid metal bridge. Near here is a good swimming spot in the slow running river, popular in the heatwave, One of the GR routes is joined to go over another group of hills down into the Theze valley. St. Martin is a sleepy village but has gained a little cafe since I was last here; a welcome addition. In the valley is a string of limestone cliffs which I often climbed on in happier times. Hilly tracks take me over to Duravel and slowly back to the house.

Day 11. More exercise. As if last weeks exercises hadn’t been enough my own family started on more each day. Matthew and Lou’s seemed fairly casual but Sam was into serious workouts in between fast runs.

Day 12. Shush! there’s a deer in the garden. The orchard higher up the garden has numerous apple trees which drop their fruit at this time of year. It is a regular event for deer to visit the garden for this fruit and Alex spotted one tonight, well done; they don’t hang around long.

Day 13. Off to market. Sunday is market day at the nearby town of Montcuq.  There is a market somewhere every day but this one is very popular with locals and tourists. Every sort of stall [produce, clothing, antiques etc.] street entertainment and an interesting village to explore.

Day 14. The Poolman cometh. An ageing hippy drives up in his Morris Minor van, he has a collection of them, and cleans the pool.

Day 15. Snakes and glow worms.

Day16. More pool activities.  The weather was perfect for relaxing in the pool. One of the challenges was to do a length on the banana,

Day 17. Orienteering. In the woods I’ve set up a simple orienteering course. The family were keen to try it and being competitive split into two groups, I’ll call them the tortoises and the hares. They disappeared for an hour or so and needless to say the more careful tortoises came in first. This proved the hardest to find in a pile of stones in the middle of the trees…

Day 18. Eating in and out. We have mainly eaten at the house, two vegans to feed plus two picky ‘enfants’. Despite that, the family have eaten out at several local restaurants. Chips and salad is the best option for vegans in France. For a special occasion, I specifically booked the nearest place we could walk to. Le Caillau is a lovely courtyard restaurant with a reputation for good food. They told me they could cater for Vegans. My family appreciated the atmosphere and the food but I thought they could have been a little more creative with the seasonable vegetables, What have I missed out – wine tasting, Martignac with its Medieval church, lavoir and cazelle, Buzzards, Bastide towns, castles, mosquitos, kayaking and LOTS  more.

Day 19. Chez mois.  Je suis de retour a la maison maintenant, c’est l’Automne.   Que fait Boris?

 

LAZING IN THE LOT.

I had no plans for the holiday at my friend’s house [above] in The Lot Valley, France. This was my first time abroad for nearly a year and I struggled to get insurance. I’m feeling as fit as anything but because of the tablets I’m having to take etc no one wants to know me. The insurance I managed covers walking up to 1000m which is ridiculously low – there are road passes in France double that height. For now it doesn’t matter but I’ll take it up with them later.

As usual, I was ‘chef’ for the house and made use of as much fresh produce as possible, the supermarkets here have a huge choice. Lunches were salads and evening meals featured fish quiet often. The weather was hot so nobody was wanting large meals though large quantities of the local wines were drunk. This is the land of the dark ‘Cahors’ Malbec reds but also good dry rosés. Local restaurants were revisited though on several occasions I was happy to miss out and dine alfresco by the pool.

Most mornings before the house was awake I would do a circuit from the garden up into the woods and then down into the secluded Combe de Filhol. I love this route of a couple of miles, I often see deer and there are masses of flowers in the meadow above the combe. Orchids and poppies were prominent at this time of year.

An extra attraction was kestrels nesting in a wall in the buildings in the combe. One nestling was happy to pose for me.

A couple of days before we left a Jay fledgeling was found on the patio, it didn’t appear to get any food from its parents. As I was having breakfast on our last day suddenly another fledgeling dropped from the maple tree, there must have been a nest up there all the time with the adult Jays coming and going in secret. I wonder what happened to the two Jay fledgelings.

I walked the hills behind the house up to the prominent communication tower and thoroughly enjoyed the rollercoaster of a ridge with views over The Lot valley with the villages of Duravel and Puy L’Eveque down below.

Up here the thyme created a heady summer fragrance and butterflies were making the most of the sunny weather.

A couple of afternoons I enjoyed walks with my host if there was someone to help with his wife. I think he will need new boots before we return,

The longest day passed and there was a Strawberry Moon.

I worked in the garden and picked up a Tick for my troubles.

We were lucky to leave France before a record-breaking heatwave was due to arrive.

 

A LITTLE MORE OF THE LOT.

It’s the end of August and I’m back in the Lot Valley, France, for a couple of weeks as is usual.

The house of my friends is as welcoming as ever and the weather is perfect. The problem is I can’t get out of bed in the morning. My stiffness in shoulders and hips has intensified and nobody sees me until lunchtime when I’m the head chef. After that I’m semi OK and can walk up the easy Combe de Filhol behind the house. To my amazement on an oak tree I spot a luxuriant fungi. Orange and yellow bracts sprout from the tree, I’ve no idea what it is but I suspect it is edible and return to cut off a few slices.

A quick search suggests, no proves, it is  ‘chicken in the woods’  – a delicacy in some regions. Without further to do I fry a piece up and season up with salt and pepper. It tastes good but more like a lemon flavoured mushroom than chicken. I start with a small piece, some people are allergic to them, but the next day fry up more pieces for friends who realise I’m not dead.

Nothing to do with the fungus but I slowly become worse with the stiffness and pain, almost certainly PMR [look it up], and have to resort to the steroids prescribed to me. I take two after breakfast and two the same evening and miraculously the next morning I’m virtually back to normal. Life is returned and  I’m able to do some gardening, swim and go on my usual walks around the area. I enjoy a lovely walk along the ridge to the communication tower and back along the vineyards. Buzzards flying above and butterflies fluttering alongside, blues and clouded yellows. From the ridge I have great views of Puy L’Eveque above the River Lot and am impressed by the size of the church above the town, arrowed below. I don’t think I’ve ever visited it,

So a couple of days later we make a pilgrimage to investigate. What a find! The church of Saint Sauveur began in the 13th century and is in an elevated position with views over the valley. It is of course built from limestone giving it a clean bright appearance. There is an elegant arched entrance porch soaring up to the bell tower. Elaborate stone carvings are found above the door. The interior is generally plain with high vaulted Gothic arches but there are fine stained glass windows. Coming back outside we can see where the building was extended in the  C19th. High on the North East wall is a strange observation tower. Surrounding the church are masses of burial vaults.

Apart from that it is mainly eating and drinking at the numerous local hostelries. In particular Le Pigeonnier alongside the River Lot gives a fine view of Puy L’Eveque’s medieval houses rising from the valley. In contrast Le Cote Lot restaurant in the Bellevue Hotel has a fine terrace room looking down onto the Lot below. Le Caillau courtyard restaurant close to the house has a romantic atmosphere with fine food but due to its popularity we found the service has deteriorated. More fine evening dining was experienced at La Venus Restaurant in nearby Prayssac and of course we made our usual pilgrimage to the Brit Hotel in Fumel for their fabulous lunchtime buffet.

Looking up at Puy L’Eveque from Le Pigeonnier.

Looking down from Cote Lot to the river.

Le Caillau courtyard.

The Brit’s Buffet.

Back at the house mirabelles, quince, plums and figs all collected locally gave a healthier balance to our diet.

It will be a wrench returning to the UK as Autumn starts.

LOWS AND HIGHS IN THE LOT.

 

Attention, chiens méchants.

As we pulled into the house after our flight  a nightingale was singing in the maple tree, the one in front of the house with the misletoe. A great welcome. It continued its sweet song for the rest of the holiday but despite scanning the trees with binoculars I never convincingly saw that small brown songster. The Magnolia grandiflora was producing ‘grandiflora’ – all was lovely.

https://www.british-birdsongs.uk/common-nightingale/

 

Next door neighbours have changed and there were a couple of yappy dogs guarding their ‘secure’ enclosure. The next day mine hostess was walking up the road when the two dogs came out onto the highway and bit her severely on the leg. Fortunately she escaped relatively lightly with nasty bites and bruising. Apparently they have bitten before and have been seen chasing cyclists. The next few days were spent between doctor, mayor and the police. The neighbours were most unhelpful and denied any guilt, the worrying point is they have a two-year old child sharing the space with the dogs which turn out to be miniature Dobermanns! We will leave it with the local police to sort out but I’ve grave doubts about the outcome, surely enough is enough.

Not as pleasant as they appear above painful bites followed —

 

So what else? I decided to call it ‘save a tree week‘. Well not just one but several conifers which have been neglected and have other species growing up  within them destroying their lower branches which will not regrow. The species in question include oaks, cherries. maples. clematis, ivy and numerous unidentified sticky plants. This meant full on plant warfare. Clearing the worst before going in with the strimmer and mower, they should be OK now for a further five years.

As well as my gardening endeavours the fields of rape seed surrounding the house were harvested by massive machinery, this attracted the local buzzards looking for small prey.

All was not stress and work. The weather superb with the pool refreshing in the hot temperatures. We enjoyed some excellent French meals at various restaurants in the area.

Each day I walked/ran up the hill behind the house and then down the Combe De Filhol before breakfast. Not a major trip but one getting me back into fitness for the mountains this summer. I managed to wear out my trainers.

An eventful trip to The Lot which could have been so much better.

 

A LOT OF WORK.

Back in the Lot valley for a couple of weeks to ease me into Autumn. When we arrived the air temperature was up in the high 20s and more importantly was the pool temperature. As the days slowly passed the temperatures dropped but I was still swimming on the last day. This was the usual combination holiday of work and pleasure, heavily biased to the latter. My oldest grandson joined us for a week and it was great to reacquaint him with the pleasures of rural France, think food and wine. It was a bus-man’s holiday for him being on lifeguard duty by the pool!  Despite the usual post flight colds we managed a few local walks and cycles incorporating fruit picking, he was on guard as I picked. Bad example to the innocent younger generation. Light relief came from boules, table tennis, crosswords and whist – boring old farts.

Anyhow to get back to the subject of this post there was a lot of work going on at nearby Hauterive Chateau with the plums they grow alongside the vines A machine washed and cleaned the ripe plums, trays of plums are then loaded into ovens to dehydrate them into our breakfast prunes. As well as our boxes of wine we came away with handfuls of plums which provided desserts for many nights. Grape picking occurs later at the end of September.

The fields in the vicinity of the house had been harvested earlier and now they were being ploughed and harrowed. The size of modern machinery is staggering, the tractor turns up with a trailer which then proceeds to unfurl its long wings making quick work of the large fields. The last run must have been seeding as within a few days green shoots of Barley appeared.

One morning I woke to find a man on the roof cleaning the chimney in the traditional way. Apparently one needs an annual certificate of this work being carried out for insurance purposes.

We had our own work repairing the sit on mower but thankfully the helper is an experienced engineer. It did work later.On my daily circuit of the wooded hill and combe I spotted some trees that had their bases tarred and sticks placed against them, not as traps but possibly as markers for any boar or deer movements. The woods are hunted regularly. No one was able to give a satisfactory explanation.

Every night a deer came down the garden to feed on fallen apples so in an attempt to get a closer view I rigged up my hammock and laid in wait but of course I drifted off to sleep, too much wine, so probably missed all the action. There was a full moon which lit up the garden in the early hours.

A pleasant couple of weeks.

SIZZLING IN THE LOT.

It’s 37º in the shade, time for another dip in the pool.

That’s how two weeks passed at my friends house in The Lot valley this June.

It was too hot for any serious walking but I managed a short walk in the shelter of the woods most mornings. That’s probably where I picked up my third tick of the year, I always have my ‘tick remover’ in hand as the little blighters seem to like me. This is a previous picture as the latest tick had reached and embedded itself in a far too private area to photograph.There are many deer in the surroundings so one expects the ticks to thrive. Talking of deer I experienced a wonderful sighting of a young calf lying in the long grass in the garden, it remained motionless for minutes before being startled and rushing off. I believe the doe often leaves her calf like this in the daytime.  Of course I didn’t have my camera with me!

I did have my phone trying to catch a photo of the Swallow Tails that landed by the pool for water but wasn’t very successful.Buzzards and kites seemed scarce this year but a pair of great tits nesting in the bowl of a tree on the terrace were busy feeding all day, unfortunately we left before the young emerged.

The various orchids in the garden were all past their best but the roses were putting on a good show.

All in all a lazy time.

 

Following on from a comment I’ve added a couple of pictures to demonstrate my tick remover…

LOLLING AROUND IN THE LOT.

Puy L'Eveque.

Puy L’Eveque.

Following on from my last post I’m in France not Austria, no I didn’t board the wrong plane, this is one of the weeks I spend at my friends’ house in The Lot valley. I’m wandering about in those new boots to ensure they are comfortable and intent on some secret training.  It really is too hot most days to walk far but I’m up and away for a few miles every morning. I enjoyed the local ‘communication tower’ walk more than usual as the tracks had a more rustic feel to them now that the quad bikes have been banned. The herds of deer and ibex were still present in their artificial enclosure and there were lots of illicit plums and hazelnuts to pick.

 

 

 

 

Walked the long way via Tousac and the old railway to the Marie Restaurant in Duravel for their 6 course lunch, 13 euros. needed a lift back. Another morning a long sweaty march through the vineyards to Puy L’Eveque and then up through the chestnut trees to a friend’s house in Martignac. He donated an abundance of tomatoes and courgettes from his small potager which featured in our menus for the week. Traditional markets were visited, several restaurants’ multi course lunches endured and much time was spent in the pool. We prepared lots of salads in the hot weather to try and eat healthier.

Up the road in Loupiac by coincidence my neighbours from home were spending a week and  we visited their luxurious accommodation. Reciprocating they spent a lazy afternoon by our pool. The area is famous for its tannin rich dark red Malbec wines and they had been donated three bottles of the best Domaine des Sangliers ‘Santon Black’, but as they don’t like red wine they generously passed on to us, lovely – all part of the training.

The nearby family Filhol  Chateau Hauterive  provides us with lovely fresh rose and rich red wines. They were also in the middle of plum harvesting and drying to produce the best tasty prunes. The vines were all well pruned and ready for picking in a few weeks time  – they just need a little rain before then.

 

 

 

 

Ten days of blue skies and thirty degrees sun – all things come to an end and Austria beckons.

Oh and bye the way always….

 

 

 

 

 

THAT’S YOUR LOT.

A quick update from France.

The weather patterns have certainly become confused this year. We arrived in The Lot at the tail end of the bad weather which saw flooding in Paris and for the first few days it was cold, wet and miserable. Despite that short walks were achieved every day, lots of weeding in the garden and I even braved a swim most days. The orchids were past their best but sweet peas brightened up the byways. Different, to us, restaurants were visited and old friendships renewed. Lots of dark Cahors wine was imbibed. Talk was of the referendum; even the British living out here are divided.   Due to duplicate shopping trips, we amassed at one stage three dozen croissants – breakfasts became a major event.

JpegJpegThe weather changed to hot and sunny, butterflies appeared in their hundreds, kites and buzzards wheeled over the garden, out came the barbecue, the sun loungers appeared and the pool became the most desirable place to be.

The change in our weather fortunes reminds me of that old comedy song by Al Sherman ‘A letter from camp’  – they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.

 

 

From now on the shade of the woods was needed to make walking in the heat possible.

 

Soon be  home – that’s your Lot.

 

 

 

 

 

France – one more trip to The Lot.

                                “If you have nothing to say, say nothing”    Mark Twain.

No point in telling you of my activities here in The Lot Valley – I’ve said it all before.

Two highlights though –

The most fantastic electric storm one night when the whole of the area was lit for hours by sheet lightening with terrible thunder. 10cms of rain fell.

The next moonless night I slept out in the garden under the most perfect starlit sky and watched the Perseid meteors shooting in. Magic.

The Lot Valley – it’s all about the food.

The French love their food and this area is particularly well endowed with local food markets and restaurants. Duck is often omnipresent on the menus. But starting at breakfast you can enjoy Agen prunes sliced into yoghurt or muesli. That’s after you have visited the local Boulangerie for fresh bread and croissants to savour with your coffee. Lunches eaten outside this hot June have mainly been delicious salads, have to keep the calories down somehow. However the local restaurants all seem to do a fixed price lunchtime menu so we availed ourselves of this on two occasions.

Lets start with the wonderful Cafe/Restaurant de la Mairie in Duravel. I always try to eat here, preferably on a Friday for the fish. This is a no fuss lunch enjoyed by workers, locals and tourists. The mother and daughter team are welcoming and the meal is set, just listen carefully for the choices. First we can pick from the extensive salad buffet [soup’s off in summer] but don’t overdo it as there is lots to come. This time we had tasty merlu with gratin potatoes as the main course. The cheese board arrives next along with more fresh bread. The tarts for desert were all seasonal and delicious. Relax with a strong coffee after all that free wine. Can’t be beaten for 13euro.

Another day we went more upmarket and dined at La Terrasse Restaurant in Grezels [booking essential] A more formal dining area with no workers present, mainly English visitors and favoured French locals – they have there own personal napkins! One man serves the whole room with style and nonchalance, and more style. He knows his customers and has full confidence in what is being served. Meanwhile his wife slaves away in the kitchen. Again a fixed menu with ample wine included. Today we started with a wonderful noodle soup tureen with the freshest of bread. The maitre d’ encourages you to pour wine into your empty soup bowl and slurp it up – Faire Chabrot. [not recommended in your average English restaurant] Next was a goats cheese mille feuille on a tomato salad – superb. The main event was a pork casserole with roast potatoes accompanied by a simple green salad. The cheese board highlighted some of the local goats cheese and a well matured blue. Pudding was an egg meringuey  thing. 18euros this time. What wonderful food perfectly presented to you in a classy dining area.

Going more upmarket again, we ate out one evening at Le Vert, a country house set in lovely surroundings near Mauroux. The weather was perfect for eating out on the terrace. This place also has ‘chambre d’hotes’ and was therefore quite busy. Aperitifs of the local Fenelon [Cahors red wine, nut liqueur and cassis] are served tonight with melon balls. A salmon and salad starter was favourite.  The main course was a choice between duck and merlu, the latter was mine. Served with asparagus, mushroom and tomato it was perfect. The black fruits with meringue completed the banquet which had been enjoyed with a fresh white wine from a local estate. We splashed out at 32 euro a head. [drinks extra!]

Apologies to all those other lovely local restaurants we didn’t visit this holiday, will make amends next time.  Who needs trip adviser?

                                                                       Bon appetit.

 

 

 

Cycling in The Lot Valley.

This is a perfect cycling area – quiet lanes, not really too many steep gradients, beautiful villages with refreshments and also a  good network of VTT tracks. The tourist information offices have lots of free leaflets and maps – try the ones in Puy L’Eveque and Duravel. There is a particularly good set of routes produced by The Lot tourist board  –  http://www.tourisme-lot.comOver coffee and croissants I pour over the 1 in 25,000 map as I want to explore tracks alongside a large loop in The Lot to the east near Grezels. Choosing an off-road bike for practicality I planned quiet lanes over towards the area I was to explore. Memories of cycling through this area on a journey on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela several years ago came flooding back. On that occasion I spent a night in Cahors and cycled alongside The Lot somewhere, tasting the dark red wine of the area for the first time. I remember how the French people heartily welcomed a lone cyclist and how considerate car drivers were as opposed to the UK.

Soon I was on a well-signed cycle route through steepish hills amongst the vines and on down towards The Lot. Here I left the road to follow a grassy track alongside the river passing an old mill on a side stream. At a slipway there were plaques showing the heights of ‘recent’ floods, March 1912 appeared the worst.  I’ve seen The Lot in flood and it’s a frightening sight.As I cycled along a green lane by the river I came across the newish tourist passenger boat sailing by,  operating from Puy L’Eveque it seems a fairly tame trip. Much better to hire a canoe from the same people and explore yourself. A little further upstream is one of the canoe launching sites I’ve used in the past below a new weir and lock. I once found it surprisingly hard work getting back to Puy with my young Grandson against a strong headwind, kept getting blown back up the river whenever I stopped paddling for a rest.

The lane left the river through fields of sunflowers which were just coming into bloom. They are a classic summer sight in this region of France.

I pedalled along happily, pleased with my chosen route alongside the river. Even better was my arrival in previously unvisited Pescadoires which turned out to be a delightful hamlet just above the river. In the village square by the 11th-century church [with its series of Gargoyles] I had a potted history of the place from a lady out of one of the adjacent houses. She also proudly told me she lived next door to an English family who fly in for short breaks – such is the nature of modern travel. I wonder how many English own houses in the area and how this has affected traditional community life and the prices for the locals. My French wasn’t good enough to delve into those issues.Road cycling took me through Lagardelle as the clock struck 12 – mad dogs and Englishmen….      and on to Grezels. The restaurant La Terrace here had an interesting 18euro lunchtime menu, would return. Again in the village, some of the buildings displayed faded old signs from the recent past. These rural places must have been much more vibrant 50years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy with my morning’s cycle I returned home the same way I’d come, this being the soft option rather than a longer loop over steep hills.  Next time!  and in any case, I was ready for lunch. The afternoon temperature rose to 34C in the shade, they were harvesting the rapeseed in the adjacent field so the Kites were flying in. As a bonus in the evening we were visited by a deer and her fawn.

 

 

 

 

Long(er) walks in The Lot Valley.

Long is relative, in this heat  20k seems long. These walks take me into a more diverse landscape. Different valleys and ridges are visited from my base without having to use the car. I have several routes which, this fantastic week, have provided top class excursions. A long morning is set aside for exploration and  I’ve returned each time full of admiration for the landscape of the area.

As a good example, I leave this morning along easy tracks in the oak forest. Sunday scrambler bikes, much as I shun them, help to keep these ways clear. Very few other people use them.

Over a ridge little paths brush through aromatic lavender. This is a splendid spot for a breather and a chance to admire the varied butterflies and watch the buzzards wheeling overhead. I’ve given up trying to get decent photos of either.

 

 

 

 

 

Down into a secluded valley of scattered houses threaded with quiet lanes [ideal for cycling – see later post] and I’m soon into the little village of Touzac. The cafe is closed today but there is a welcome water tap, as there is in all the hamlets passed today. It’s good to reach the River Lot itself, a grand stretch of water, which here is crossed by an impressive metal bridge.

A scheme is well under way to restore navigation to this once important river by installing a series of locks thus providing for boat trips as a tourist attraction.

There is a gradual climb up a wooded valley and on past hillsides of tidy vineyards.

At the top there is a stone cross as this part of the trail is on one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, hence the Scallop Shell the symbol of the route.

Worth visiting just a short distance off the track is the pretty village of Cavagnac centred around the church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you leave the village steeply downhill there are views towards the valley of La Theze and the next village to be visited, ancient Saint-Matin-le-Redon. The cliffs on the right, Montcabrier, have given me good days climbing in the past. The cafe in the village has closed long ago. I love these traditional, but now fading, signs on cafes and shops so evocative of France.

A long ascent over yet another ridge on good paths is made bearable by the shade of the Chestnut trees.

Lanes lead into Duravel giving views across the valley to Vire, numerous family vineyards and the wooded ridges behind with the prominent water tower visible. Duravel has pleasant stone houses and narrow alleys surrounding the medieval church and is worth exploring. Time for a refreshing drink in the Cafe de la Mairie. It is difficult to find off-road walking back to the bridge over The Lot at Vire-sur-Lot and the road is long and hot – better to phone for a friendly pick up.

View over The Lot Valley from Duravel.

View over The Lot Valley from Duravel.

Short walks in The Lot Valley.

All short walks lead to home.  In this heat days drift into one and so do the walks. There are many short circuits from the house. To fit in with gardening, cooking and lounging I can do some before breakfast, some before supper and at this time of year in the late evenings. The bird life is best early but the light is magic in the evenings.

Usually I’m heading up into the woods, which here are mainly dense oak. In the mornings you hear but hardly ever see deer scuttling away. There are few flowers on the forest floor, Scabious and Red Hellibore are probably the commonest.

Wild boar have been especially busy grubbing up the ground this year. They come right down into the garden at night.

Most orchids have died back but in a meadow of poor soil I come across a few Lizard Orchids which I haven’t seen before.

Where forest tracks join roads waste tipping often seems to be a problem – same as in England unfortunately.

Views can be limited until one is on the ridges clear of the trees but then distant vistas open with scant habitations. Lovely old farmsteads, many now holiday homes, dot the valleys and hillsides. Pigeon towers are often a feature, typical of the area, giving both food and fertilizer in the past. Today deep in the woods in a secluded valley I came across an old well, complete with bucket on a cord, I wonder when it was last used? There are ruins hereabouts.

A word of warning – these woods are home to ticks. Tucked in trousers have become de rigueur, trez chic.

BACK IN THE LOT.

Puy L’Eveque on The Lot.

Its great to be back in France. A later plane schedule had us arriving at 17.00 but still time for a cafe au lait in the beautiful village of Issigeac.tmp_SAM_2638-1246733509

A short time later I was having a swim and then enjoying a glass of Cahors red. A deer walks through the garden and a nightingale begins to sing. No plans, perfect.

LE CHEMIN DE STEVENSON, GR70. An overview.

In September 1878 R L Stevenson bought a donkey, Modestine, and walked the 140miles from La Monastier sur Gazelle to St. Jean du Gard. He subsequently wrote his now celebrated book Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes. It is worth reading this as it gives a real feeling for the period and for Stevenson’s quest for adventure. I downloaded it for free on Kindle to read each stage whilst on route. I know the times have changed but the feelings of the walking haven’t much, this area of France is still remote and mainly untouched by high commercial tourism.

The route starts in the volcanic Velay, wanders through the historic Gevaudan, climbs the Lozere mountains and finally explores the endless ranges of the wooded Cevennes. So a great variety of scenery and culture. Each day is certainly different. Originally the route was followed by eccentric English walkers and was never waymarked. But 20 years ago the French took it to heart, waymarked and promoted it and eventually it received a GR number – 70.  It is now firmly established and seems mainly used by the French, where are all the patriotic Brits?  Donkeys are optional. There are plenty of places to hire them but the few people we met using them were not finding it easy. In retrospect I think it would have been fun for a few days but not the whole trip.

My photos on the trail and posted on my blogs were taken using my mobile so do not really capture the beauty of the villages and countryside.

So the route is not demanding, stages can be shortened, paths generally good, the signing is excellent, accommodation characterful, plentiful and frequent, the scenery brilliant and the bonhomie top class.  I highly rate this route and it would be an ideal 1st GR trail for anyone.

Cicerone produce an English language comprehensive guide book and there is an excellent FFRandonnee Topo Guide which gives basic maps so you don’t need to purchase any. There is an excellent website    http://chemin-stevenson.org/en/

 

 

LE CHEMIN DE STEVENSON. DAY 12 – the last.

St. Etienne Vallee Francais  —  St. Jean du Gard.

JpegThe usual French gite breakfast of coffee, bread and jam….Our host was busy weeding in his crocus fields when we left to stroll down the road into St. Etienne V F itself. A busy little market village of narrow streets with a chateau above. JpegWe did not linger as we have a bus to catch this afternoon although not exactly certain at what time, we keep getting different opinions from everyone we ask. Shortly after the village we cross the river at Martinet and start the climb up through the woods to Col de St. Pierre. Again this is an ancient winding track cut into the bedrock in parts. The rock here is largely composed of Mica sheets and glints brightly as you walk by.Jpeg Jpeg As we climbed there were good views back to the St. Etienne valley and over this area of the Cevennes. Of course chestnut trees were everywhere, they are called the bread tree here as the dried fruit was ground for flour. Nowadays they are used in local recipes and sold as confiture which is delicious on toast. We were privileged to watch a red squirrel in these trees. The col itself was on a busy road but soon the rocky path went back into the sunlit woods for a last wild, winding descent through purple heather above yet another tree filled valley. The heat built up and you sensed the Med. getting closer. A steep path through some old houses brought us onto the busy main road. We had to walk along this for a poor couple of kilometres before a path alongside the  River Gardon de St. Jean took us into town, passing the beautifully arched old bridge. We arrived at the station just in time to see the busy tourist steam train departing to Anduze. This departure seemed to leave the town empty of people. St. Jean du Gard was the end point of Stevenson’s journey with Modestine and he sold her here before progressing by coach. The village has embraced this history and there are many references to him and his donkey in the streets. There is not a lot more to recommend this village. We caught our bus along with some other hikers finishing the trail. We all agreed that it had been an excellent trek. The 50k bus journey to Nimes only cost a subsidised 1.60 euro. An evening was spent in the narrow lanes of the old part of the city and next morning we were back in Liverpool by 11am.

I shall write an overview of the route in my next post.

LE CHEMIN DE STEVENSON. DAY 11.

Cassagnas —  St. Etienne Vallee Francais.

Having stayed an extra night in Florac we were able to enjoy another buffet breakfast at the Grand Hotel. H had a near miss with what he thought was a hard boiled egg – he was just about to crack it when I asked him how long he had boiled it for. He had not realised that you boiled your own in the heated container – that raw egg could have been messy.

We wandered across the bridge to catch the same bus as yesterday, stood around awhile until a man approached us and enquired whether we wanted the bus which was about to leave. This time it was white and from a different place – could easily have been stranded, however we were soon back at Cassagnas Gare. The difference is that it is tossing it down today. Now I’m not one for walking too far in the rain when there is no visibility so I suggested we keep to the road up to the Plan de Fontmort for easier walking and the remote possibility of a lift. No sooner than we had made this decision than a friendly carpenter in a van picked us up for the what seemed like an endless three kilometre ride to the Plan. Thank you!                                         The heavy rain stopped on our arrival. Here there is a monument to the protestant bloody resistance against the catholic majority in the 17th century.Jpeg

Forest tracks passed old gariottes on the way and several standing stones suggesting the antiquity of the route. At the Col de la Pierre Plantee we paused for a snack next to a standing stone. Downhill now to reach the village of St. Germain de Calberte. Here another monument emphasises the local protestant strength. By the wayside is an old military jeep. Most of the village was closed but we found an aging bar terrace with a man serving slow coffee. the sit down was welcome. Other walkers passed us by.

A rather lengthy session in the chestnut forest high above the valley passing renovated holiday homes eventually deposited us onto a valley road. We had booked at Mas Stevenson gite but had no idea where it was. However after a couple of kilometres of road walking a van drew up alongside me and the man asked if we were the Englishmen who were staying at his gite. ‘My old man said follow the van’

The Gite Mas Stevenson turned out to be the best of the trip. An old renovated farmhouse with a modern dining extension and good modern bunk rooms. A party of horse riders shared the accommodation tonight. The couple running the place could not have been friendlier, they cultivated Crocus bulbs for saffron and bees for honey. The wet summer had not been kind to them in either respect.   The communal supper served by our hosts with the chatty Cavaliers was a great experience.  French beans and beetroot, barbecued chicken and potato Dauphinoise and local cheeses. Perfect.Jpeg Jpeg

LE CHEMIN DE STEVENSON. DAY 10.

Florac —  Cassagnas   [in reverse]

Rock towers above the Grand Hotel, Florac

Rock towers above the Grand Hotel, Florac

We couldn’t get any accommodation at the end of this stage but fortunately there was a bus connection. So we booked a second night in Florac, Enjoyed a superb breakfast and caught the 9.30 little blue bus to Cassagnas from where we walked back.Jpeg From the main road stop we walked down into the valley of Cassagnas old station and set off along the dismantled railway line westwards. This gave us easy walking down what in parts is a dramatic gorge. We marveled at the skill of the engineers responsible for this line. A lot of the time it was cut into the gorge side and there were several tunnels and viaducts.Jpeg We recognised lots of walkers going the correct way and by the numbers could see why we had failed to get accommodation. We met our friendly French 4 just below a castle high on the hillside.Jpeg At the end of the railway section where we crossed a road we met up with ‘la voiture rouge’ jolly group picnicking as usual. They generously invited us to share a glass of rose and a snack with them. We stopped ourselves for lunch soon after and felt quite soporific with the sun and wine, I believe we may have nodded off.

Across the road the path climbed unexpectedly into the forest and became a balcony style route. Most of the trees were chestnuts and there was a steady fall of ripe sweet chestnuts around us like grenades. This old path has been found and cleared by the Stevenson Association to provide wonderful walking high above the river. Alongside is evidence of old terracing suggesting an active agricultural past of hard labour. The afternoon disappeared up here and we were glad to eventually start descending into the outskirts of Florac. We approached the town from a different direction and found ourselves in a more attractive old district than yesterday. Our opinion of the place improved as we explored the narrow streets. There were several mill ponds within the town, complete with trout, adding to the attractions. Jpeg

Tonight the restaurant at the Grand Hotel was open, saving us wandering the streets, and we dined in classic vintage French style. The dining room was busy, background piano music [sadly recorded] set the scene. The waiters were attentive and informative. the menu and wine list extensive, the food brilliant. Jpeg

All for 24 euros for three courses, of course the local Cevenne wine cost an arm and a leg but was worth it.

LE CHEMIN DE STEVENSON. DAY 9.

Mijavols  —  Florac.

Early morning at Mijavols.

After a ‘grim faced’ breakfast in the farmhouse we packed and said good luck to the donkey trio who were going down valley. The two French teams were always away before us. It was a perfect morning as we climbed the few hundred metres back up to the ridge. We arrived at the Col du Sapet, 1080m, and chatted to mushroom gatherers on the road that crosses the path. The rest of the ridge was easy walking in mixed forest.JpegThe GR70 does a long descending loop through the forest to arrive above the infant River Tarn, most well known lower down for its gorge and the Millau Bridge. Up here the waters are sparkling and quick flowing through rapids and pools.We passed ‘la voiture rouge’ group having their lavish lunch and then found ourselves a couple of seats at a campsite cafe [closed!] to munch a bit of fruit. Old riverside paths took us to a main road at the junction of the Tarn and the Tarnon rivers, we followed the latter upstream into Florac. Walking in at 2pm when everything is closed gave the impression of a rather grim town, sitting at a cafe with the local alcoholics didn’t improve matters. We booked into the impressive looking Grand Hotel du Parc, a complete contrast to last night’s gite. The elderly lady on reception was from another era as was the hotel itself, think 1940s and Noel Coward. We confused her by changing rooms and then locking ourselves out but she took it all in her professional stride with a smile and a Gallic shrug. At supper time we came down to eat and asked her where the restaurant was, she pointed down a corridor and said take a left. I did and ended up in a lounge, second time she pointed further and I exited a door onto a side street! No sign of their restaurant there. On return she this time accompanied us out of the door and pointed left up the street towards a square with cafes. The reason was that the hotel’s restaurant was closed that night and she was sending us elsewhere. I think she was glad to see the back of us. Eventually we found a pleasant restaurant and enjoyed another good French meal including escargot as a starter.

LE CHEMIN DE STEVENSON. Day 8.

              Stevenson’s Ghost?

Le Pont de Montvert  —  Mijavols.

This morning was almost a rerun of yesterday’s – steep uphill on old paved tracks into the forest. Wild boar hunting was going on and there were lots of people out with their baskets mushrooming. We had decided to split the long section to Florac into two more reasonable days by a slight diversion to a gite d’etape. We therefore had plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings and scenery. The views back down to Pont Montvert as we gained height were sensational. By the time we had reached the top of the first climb at Col de la Planette it was lunch time. We had caught up with the donkey team, two German women and Paprika. They had unsaddled Paprika who was grazing trees and grasses happily whilst they lunched. We had a hands on demonstration of donkey loading and they wandered off up the trail. It all looked idyllic but the girls talked of problems with the, at times, stubborn beast who knew the trail well and had her own ideas of pace and stopping places. We followed leisurely behind up the ridge to the summit of Signal du Bouges, 1421m. It was a glorious day and we lingered to enjoy the views back to yesterday’s route over Mt. Lozere and the views to the south into the Cevennes.

Mt. Lozere range

Mt. Lozere range

The Cevennes.

The Cevennes.

The ridge led onwards through purple heather. To reach our overnight lodgings we left the ridge halfway and descended steeply to a remote hamlet – Mijavols. On the way down we met the German women clutching onto the reins of the donkey who had been spooked by a dog and set off at a canter – it is difficult to hold onto a donkey!!  The gite was a basic barn amongst agricultural buildings. A room downstairs served as a dining area with attached kitchen, the next floor had a dorm and washrooms and above was another six bunked room – all very cosy. The donkey arrived and was put into its own field for the night, the guardians providing grain for it. The two French couples we had met for the last few days turned up and a larger jolly group who were being followed and supplied from ‘la voiture rouge’. We had time to watch the rural life in this remote spot where not much has changed in 50 years or more. Our dinner was served down in the hamlet at the farmer’s humble house. The wife had a rather stern presence but served up a wonderful meal of her own products – Ham,  Blette and sausage, omelette, goats cheese and cake. And no one snored in the crowded dormitory!                                                                                    Another glorious day.