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.