On a beautiful day nearly two years ago, The Brains, The Bean and I set off for a walk that starts in the wonderfully named St Poncy (if you are English this will make you smile – my American is not good enough to know if Ponce means the same in your vernacular). Along the way three became four and this is the piece I wrote at the time – I hope you will enjoy it.
Posts tagged ‘Petit Randonee’
I’ve been niggled by a think for a while and the think that I’ve been thinking is that I really should share more of the humungous archive of photos that I have accumulated since I arrived in France. It’s the first time in my life I have had a reasonably decent camera and, as importantly, the first time I have had the time and place to spend on taking pictures. I remain resolute in my belief that I am a leading myopic point and shoot photographer and I am happy that the approach does produce some nice pictures amongst the disasters. Having reached the conclusion that I might do something worthwhile with some of this vast catalogue, it’s a simple question of finding the right mechanism. After much navel gazing and machination with self I’ve decided on my own personal TWTWTW or TW3, (‘That Was The Week That Was’, that legendary satirical show that aired in the UK from 1962-1963 and in the US from 1964-1965 and spawned some of the greatest ever including David Frost and John Cleese). Except my TW3 is ‘Those Were The Walks That Were’ – hardly praiseworthy semantics but enough to amuse my frou-frou brain.
My Two Brained husband calculated recently that I have walked more than 3,000 km in the Cantal since arriving in the Autumn of 2013. This means that The Bean on her much shorter but markedly springier legs has also walked the same distance. She is heartily impressed with herself. With 340 PRs which stands for petits randonees – the network of waymarked paths in varying degrees of difficulty that you find throughout France to choose from, I don’t need nor want to go off-piste. Sticking to the laid paths is no hardship at all. Some are very well marked and easy to follow, some less so, some frankly, barely at all. Which adds a frisson of farce to keep complacency at bay.
One of the very first walks I did and one that has become my standby, my head-clearer, my go-to when I arrive back from England ravaged from the 1100 km drive on my own with unhelpful small dog or a 9 hour round trip to drop The Brains for a flight from Lyon or yet still an 11 hour round trip to pick up a visa in Paris, circumnavigates le Lac de la Cregut.
It’s a 15 minute drive from my village give or take a bovine hold up or two and about 350 metres (1150 feet in old money) higher. It’s a glacial lake and forms part of the hydro-electric system for the Massif Central as, in fairness does most water in our area. The marked walk (named ‘L’histoire de l’eau’) is 6km and designated blue which means it is easy. It has a déniveler of about 150 metres (that’s the difference between the lowest and highest point on the walk …. it’s quite a crude indicator without an OS map to show you the contours since it could be a single trudge uphill or several undulations – in this case it’s a single stretch that accounts for the majority of the relatively light lift). The path has a series of educational panels along the way. They tell you about the fish in the lake, the birds in the woods, the animals and the way the lake was formed. There are four devoted to the birds of prey found in the vicinity – you turn big cubes to find the information about each one. It’s aimed at children but I’m not too proud to learn and of course it’s in French so it helps with bits of language that one might not learn otherwise. Like lombric which is another word for a vers de terre or earthworm. I might never have learnt that word. And it took me a while to remember it. In the end I drove home muttering over and over to myself ‘Herbert Lom likes Bric-a-brac’ …. it worked and now lombric is in my venacular along with the very useful tattou (armadillo). You never know when you might need such words and in what combination.
I have walked here in all seasons and most weathers – in the heat of summer when a little altitude is a relief and the harsh frozen winter when it takes on a Narnia like appeal for a girl who loves snow. I’ve walked it with my husband often, two of our four daughters and a friend or two. I’ve strolled it, struggled it, marched it, rambled it depending on my state of health, wellness and fitness at any given time. I’ve shocked the cobwebs out of my musty mind and I’ve slain the anxiety that sometimes sets in when you spend too much of your life on your own.
Along the way are trees, of course – its a mixed disiduous and coniferous forest which forms part of the landscape of the lightly populated but widespread commune of Tremouille. It straddles Cantal and Puy de Dome the next departement north in the Auvergne. The trees are blanketed in mosses and laced with lichens and many sport Conks of differing flavours. Fungi are positively frenzied whenever the weather is warm and damp, flowers abound in spring and summer and for a while we are graced with the lovely lillies that float like lanterns on the water. There are deer and boar and smaller animals too, of course, and bugs and beasties and birds. I don’t necessarily, in fact rarely ever see any of them. I just know they are there and I get a sense of great harmony with my earthly companions. There is a pit along the way which we believe to be a wolf-trap having seen one identified as such before. I remember the old fellow who told me there are wolves but if I see one to please not tell for fear of man going into panic overdrive and destroying them all over again. The ultimate maligned of creatures wolves are. I find it to be the most peaceful of interludes walking under the changing canopy passing rushing water hurling itself over rocks and lacing and tracing to the lake’s edge.
The very first time I walked it and several times after, I happened past a farm which I silently christened ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ and briskening my step, hoisted The Bean into my arms as we were pursued by a hunting dog, it’s deep bass hoot echoing behind us in that particular combination of folorn and forceful that is peculiar to these dogs. On every mound and trailor and joining the hootathon with laudible vigour were other dogs. A pack numbering a couple of score at a guess. The farmer bellowed valiantly at his escapee to come back. To no avail as it buttoned its ears soundly and carried decisively on. It seemed an eternity before it eventually deigned to give up on us. It was, therefore with deep joy that I discovered some months later that I had no need to pass Cold Comfort Farm at all – I had missed a mark and had been moaning falsely about the length of time spent on the road since in truth you veer straight off the road almost as soon as you come on it, penetrating back into the woods above the farm. The farm itself looks so much prettier viewed from aloft with its magnificent backdrop of les Monts du Cantal and les Monts du Cezallier beyond. Turn 180 degrees, by the way, and you get les Monts d’Or just in case two handsome ranges aren’t enough for your greedy self – I’m a self confessed glutton for mountains so the third is a welcome bonus. After making this momentous discovery we had a couple unpeturbed walks before the darned dog spotted our game and hared across the road (it’s a very tiny one car a day kind of minor road so don’t panic on her behalf) to pursue us through the woods. It’s a small price to pay. We play the game whenever we do the walk. She follows us, The Bean feigns alarm, I walk resolutely onwards ignoring her and when she gets to a particular tree she slings her undercarriage downwards, takes a long and purposeful pee and goes home. The Bean nips back and over-pees the pee. We are all happy. It doesn’t take much.
PS: For the avoidance of doubt and because the seeds of uncertaintly have been sewn in me by Two Brains when I read the ongoing to him – it’s the DOGS that pees at that particular tree. Not me. I save mine til I’m safely round the bend – which is my favoured default in life.
The title is Wordsworth from ‘Tintern Abbey’. I chose it for two reasons …. that Wordsworth was of the Lake District and this area resonates with us as strikingly similar to that beauteous region of England. And the poem is written about a walk – with his sister at the magical ruins of Tintern.
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!