But tell me, where do the children play?
Where is the line between stubborn and stupid? I’m not sure I know, in fact I think I have walked the thin line most of my life. Stay with me as I tell you a tale of malice in which our obstinance prevailed and we won, what for us, was a little victory.
We walk. We walk a lot. In all weathers and all over the place but we have one rule. We stick to the PRs – Petits Randonees which, all over France are the marked routes (almost but not always circular) which vary in distance typically from 5-30 km and in difficulty too. In Cantal we can buy books from the Tourist Office at the head of each paysage (there are 14) which describe the route, what to look out for and give a little map. I always carry the relevant one in case I am challenged. Incidentally there are also GRs in France – Grands Randonees which are, well – Grand, varying from 80-90 km upwards to many 100s. We will walk some of those across France and all of the 340 PRs in our departement. We love walking, you see – we see and feel the terrain so much better than from a car or a train.
Ten days ago we set out to do PR16 in Le Cézallier Cantalien. We chose the walk carefully it being only a handful of kilometres from the friends we were dining with that evening. The day was ludicrously fine – you could easily have pretended it was summer were it not for the tell-tale burnishing to the trees giving the game away that it was in fact the very end of October. We arrived at the start (and finish) point, parked in front of the ancien ‘Gare de Landeyrat et Marcenat’ now a velorail station of which more later, donned boots clipped The Bean onto her brand new hi-viz leash (it’s a cat lead but please don’t tell her) and set off in childishly high spirits. Not a half kilometre down the road having walked past a fine painted panel proudly demonstrating the good walks (including this one) that families could take from this place and spotting several buzzards and kites wheeling and dealing in the rudely blue sky above, we spotted the first way-mark. An altercation took place because it seemed it could not mean turn left since there was an electric fence blocking the path. We pressed on but, looking at the map, it was obvious that we should turn off and circle the village of Landeyrat which we were fast approaching on our race-fit legs (give me a little artistic licence, will you). Hey ho – clearly we had missed something but if we traversed the village we could pick up the path again the other side. I stopped to take some pictures of this typical small conurbation high up in a pays that depends entirely on agriculture for its living. Two Brains was looking at a fortified farmhouse as an elderly woman snapped at him ‘do you want something’. ‘I was just admiring the house’ he replied, typically mild and unflappable and we walked on. We nodded to a couple of other people and said ‘bonjour‘ to stoney faced responses. If you have ever watched ‘The League of Gentlemen’ you will get the picture … this was not a welcoming place which is unusual in Cantal – the people are well known for their lovely nature but I guess there is an exception to every rule. We strode on, found the path and followed it looking down a beautiful little valley to a copse of gilded trees in which we supposed we would find the ‘Chaos’ that was described in the book. Chaos in this context means a volcanic rock-slide and there are many across the area (it is, after all, entirely volcanic) but this one is singled out as special.
We walked on and came to a Stile waymarked yellow. Which is what we were following. The other thing to note about this stile was that it was electrically wired. As was the entire field. Our stubborn-meters clicked in simultaneously. Neither of us was giving up so we found the best way under and rolled. First Two Brains, then the dog lifted over, camera, bag, coat and then me rolling inelegantly under. We walked to the Chaos which was worth it – a fantastic spewing of gigantic basalt rocks and a great view of the Orgues above. We have driven past Les Roches de Landeyrat before many times but being on foot as ever, was better. Which was just as well because after that the walk descended rapidly from bad to appalling. Literally every stile had been electric wired and I think we spent as much time rolling as walking. Our senses of humour were fraying but the stubborn, pig-headed pair that we are would not, could not give up. At one point we were squeezed between two fences and had to walk through waist high nettles and undergrowth – I carried The Bean. She was on her glow-in-the-dark leash most of the time and that is absolutely reasonable. I have already said that Cezallier relies on agriculture. We were walking amongst cattle. You must respect. And we do. But, and here is the bite. The area also needs visitors – visitors who will buy coffee, lunch, dinner. Stay in the hotels and auberges. Many many people have been driven out of business here – the hospitalities industry struggles. It is hardly surprising when an objectionable farmer makes one feel about as welcome as a runny cow pat in your living room.
This was the point in the walk where we nearly failed. The next stile was behind a secondary electrified fence. This meant that we had to roll under one, stand up in a space that was about 18 inches wide and walk to the style and climb it without touching the fence. We managed it. We are extremely bloody minded. We did this to a background of shotgun fire. We assume that the target was not us since neither of us was hit. Only three more electric fences to go and we were back.
Normally, on my own I expect to walk the walks in less time than the estimate given by the Tourist Board. Normally with Two Brains and our attendant chatter we take the guestimate given. This time it took 3 and half hours against their estimate of 2 and a quarter (and we have shaved 20 minutes off at the start by not rolling under that first electric fence and taking the proper route). A family with children could not have walked the walk. I could not have done the walk on my own with dog, neither could Two Brains. The farmer in question is in my opinion odious. We have since reported him. He will be visited by the Gendarmerie because what he has done is illegal. He should, in my opinion, be made to pay back the Tourist Board all the money they have expended in putting up stiles, their lovely information points, the time they have taken to make this walk what should be a great taste of the paysage de Cézallier.
But do the walk we did. I shan’t do it again. I’m stubborn but perhaps I’m not stupid after all. The gun-shots were off-putting the fences just plain unkind. We did however, as we arrived back at the velorail station having walked the last of the walk up the railway tracks like a pair of bedraggled gold prospectors, do the victory dance and have a group hug. Well you would, wouldn’t you?
The story of Landeyrat (or Launderamat as we hilariously Christened it in our efforts to keep up our spirits on the walk) does not end there. The following Friday (Halloween as it happened) we met our great friends to give the children a birthday treat – two of them have birthdays in Late October and November and we wanted to do an outing rather than just buy them more toys. We booked tickets for the velorail and arrived at 10:00 to take our carriages for an hour and a half spin down the tracks. 6 kilometres there and back and the last but one day of the season. The sun duly shone and we took our instructions (I got told off by the lady for not concentrating on her words) and set off down the tracks. Velorails are my new favourite mode of transport. Big enough for four, two pedalling and two passengers you potter down the track to a given point where you turn your car on a simple devise that lifts and spins with the aid of ones bodyweight ready to go back the other way. Ours was the shortest option – the youngest child being just 4 years old, this was plenty and took us to a lovely cascade near Allanche which we had been to before. We sat in the sun, took pictures, ate biscuits from Hawaii and variously sketched or stared into the crystal waters for tiny fishes. Tranquility itself and blissful this place figures in Le Hobbit: Le retour de roi de Cantal which is the sequel to ‘Lord of the Rings – made in Cantal’ two brilliant spoofs made by a young Cantalien and funded by the Tourist Board.
Raymond who is a Special Commendant in the Gendarmerie (in other words he is not a full time Gendarme but rather like a high ranking Special Policeman in the UK) told us that the reason for the sign saying ‘no swimming’ hanging above the very shallow water (no more than a foot deep) is that a Dutch youth jumped off the top of the waterfall and broke both legs and his pelvis. His parents sued because there was no signage. So this lovely place has to have a ridiculously obvious sign to warn others against being imbecillic. The judge, incidentally told them to get lost and ruled against any compensation. We passed a lovely interlude and then velorailed back to the station – harder this way … it was uphill. I would highly recommend a velorail outing – you can do much longer ones and it is great fun. However, it turns out that with monotonous regularity there are incidents. People managing to pull the cars off the tracks, turning it over when they are turning it around, throwing rocks at cattle, getting their fingers or toes caught. This was why the lady had told me off – they need to be sure that people have heard all the instructions. As an advice, I would suggest that they make a cartoon crib sheet and give it to every hirer before they set out. It would be a real shame if something happened to close them down. There seems no end to peoples stupidity. Me – I’m happy to be just stubborn and I am glad that I didn’t just give up on Landeyrat Laundermat because our morning on the velorail was the greatest fun – it would have been stupid not to!
PS: Before it all, I had photographed a name that made me smile on a pair of great oak barn doors in the village … Diabolo – perhaps I should have taken the hint!
That sounds just so much fun…despite all!
Helen, it was a hoot! 🙂
Love the idea of the velorail. Maybe a pair of wires cutters in your pocket……………or (and 2B could advise here) subtly earthing the wires? When we had Charlie the Labrador, Maggie and I went for a cross country walk and encountered thoughtfully provided stiles that were fine for people but hopeless for dogs. So he had to be lifted over each stile and he was a very big dog. Then it started to pour with rain and the fields were covered in sheep poo and soon so was Charlie and so, soon, so were we. The smell in the car driving home was indescribable!
The velorail needs to be adopted in blighty – there are plenty of unused branch lines that would be perfect. I love it! I also love the story of Charlie and the sheep poo … Bet he was oblivious and thought he smelt very tasty!
You might be aware of the Wirral Way running 12 miles from West Kirby along the coast of the Dee estuary towards Chester. It was a railway line and if only the tracks were there it would be perfect for a velorail.
I feel a campaign coming on! Will be up Wirral Way at Christmas … Watch out!
Hope the farmer is taken to task, but I wonder why he felt the need to effectively bar the route? Maybe insensitive walkers/ramblers had caused damage, perhaps loose dogs had attacked livestock. It is not always the case of a bloody-minded land-owner!
Your point is well made and well taken, Jenny. As a country girl born and raised on and off farms I am well versed in those that are either ignorant of or choose to ignore the country code. I would be the first to report or indeed take on anyone I saw with a dog off the leash crossing a field of livestock, doing damage or leaving a gate open but the fact is that this was an extreme case of someone wanting no man to cross his land. And the actions are illegal.
I love your missives – so real and heartfelt – and yes the French can be obstinate!
I’m so happy that you enjoy my little scribbles, Jane! The obstinacy of the French is part of their charm for me. And probably part of why I feel at home there!!