Steam trains and silkworms

We are in the Cévennes, a place of  narrow, winding roads, tumbling, rocky rivers, green, craggy gorges and mountains. It’s not considered a number one holiday destination by the French or most other tourists for that matter and yet it’s completely glorious. It’s France as it used to be, with great little restaurants, proper markets, more locals than visitors and a pride in the place and its way of life that’s palpable.

We are staying in the village of Anduze and discover that there’s a steam train, the Train à Vapeur des Cévennes.  The track follows the course of the Gardon river to Saint-Jean-du-Gard, 13.2 kilometres away. How can we resist?   A puff of steam, a toot toot, a train guard’s whistle, slamming of doors and we’re off. It’s like being on the Hogwarts Express. I feel like Hermione Grainger. Except except now days look more like Professor McGonagle…

The route is picturesque in a wild, untamed sort of way, with old stone mills, enormous vistas of the river, glimpses of ancient terracing between the trees. It’s mostly over viaducts, the eleven arches of the Viaduc du Mescalou being the most spectacular with the best photo opportunities of the Gardon bubbling away below.

At St Jean we resist the market and head for the Musée des vallées cévenoles, housed in Maison Rouge, once a large spinning mill used in the production of silk, the principal industry in the Cévennes right up to the second World War. The area produced more silkworm cocoons than the rest of France put together, fed on the leaves of the four million mulberry trees planted in the region between 1554 and 1606. The museum sits in beautifully designed wildflower meadows and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.Wildflower meadows at Maison Rouge

We’ll be on the road again soon, usually something I relish, but this time part of me doesn’t want to leave. The peace, the wildlife, the river, the spirit of this place is very special and I know that one day I’ll be back.

Notes for campers: We stayed in Campsite Castel Rouge in Anduze, on the banks of the river Gardon.  Our pitch was right on the bank of the river and was very peaceful, although this was in May. It accepts the ACSI card.  There’s also a very good Aire de Camping Car in the village.

Advertisements

Battle of the pavement in Saint Jean-de-Luz

The harbour at St Jean-de-Luz

It’s been some time since I cycled extensively in France, and in the intervening years there’s clearly been a move to get cyclists off busy city streets by creating dual use pavements, pedestrians on one side, cyclists on the other. What a good idea, yes? Well no, apparently.

Picture the scene. Perfect blue sky, wild, surf-strewn sea, totally beautiful Saint Jean de Luz a mile or so away around the bay, a very wide pavement with clear dual-use markings and signage. It’s France, right? France is the cyclists’ friend. Cars understand the need to take care around us. Everyone rides a bike here. Cycling is easy in France.  Unless, apparently, you have to share a space with pedestrians.

On they come on the cycle side. Babies in pushchairs, joggers, lovers snogging, toddlers, women chatting, hoodies looming. I ring my bell. I smile. I politely say ‘excusez-moi’. They either ignore me completely or reluctantly move at the very last moment. What to do? In the end I give up and weave backwards and forwards through the lovers etc, across the whole width of the pavement and guess what? No-one cares or even seems to notice. No-one tuts or shakes their fist at me. Of course. I’d forgotten. I’m in France.

Bittersweet symphony

Lily

On Thursday 12th October, John retired and our beloved Border Collie Lily died.  We’ve waited so long for this time, the beginning of the rest of our lives, but we are now on our first long trip in Gertie with just two of us instead of three.

Our first stop in France probably shouldn’t have been St Valery sur Somme. So many memories of places she loved to run, restaurants she was welcomed in: ‘Yours is the best-behaved dog we have ever had in here’…and she was.  She gave us 15 years and 9 months of love and fun and we were so very proud of her.  But she has gone and life continues.  We’re on the road for the next seven weeks so here’s an update of the first bit.

After St Valery we head first for a place called Durtal in the Pays de la Loire, where a huge 17th century chateau dominates this little town, perched on the Loir, a tributary of the Sarthe.  Next day we head for Saintes, on  the banks of the Charente.  The town is amazing, stuffed full of stunning architecture. There is an incredibly well-preserved Gallo-Roman amphitheatre built in the time of the Emperor Claudius and a Unesco World Heritage site, the 11th century basilica of St Eutrope, including the crypt where he is supposedly buried, an important piece of Romanesque architecture.

Now, four days after leaving England we are in St -Jean-de-Luz, near the Spanish border.  In our imagination, this part of the journey was gong to be bathed in southern sunshine. Instead we are lashed by the tail end of Storm Brian. Better weather is promised for tomorrow.

Notes for campers:  The aire de camping car in Durtal is between the post office and a school.  It’s full around school drop off and pick up times but otherwise fairly empty.  The Raclet aire de service is not currently working.

The aire de camping car at Saintes is very popular so if you’re intending to visit it’s best to arrive early.  Some road noise.