6th to 11th June and 1510 kms in the bank
Blimey it feels as if l have covered a lot of distance in the last 6 days. I think that is because I have arrived in the south of France, still French of course but a very different climate with a very different look and smell about the place. It is currently 31° in the sun (the forecast is for 35° tomorrow!), fortunately I have found a nice bit of shade this afternoon.
Pas d’urine: Please don’t worry anymore.Thank you all for your positive and sympathetic responses to my health concerns. I have been reassured by some very helpful advice about fluid loss and the rash has cleared up, I think the latter is due to better air circulation since arriving in the south of France. You will be relieved to hear that there is no need for me to send any colourful intimate photos anywhere (thanks for the offer though S).
The organic farm at Gramat turned out to be just the tonic I needed and I was good and ready to get back in the saddle again on Tuesday. It was a ride that took me up out of the Dordogne valley and into le Lot valley. I have spent 4 days with le Lot and I feel I have got to know him very well. At first I thought him a grumpy old bugger of a river, perhaps that is why we hit it off so well. He was big and dark and crammed to bursting point from the recent rains, growling and snarling over sets of rapids, through narrow rocky channels and over a hydro power station. Le Lot is a lonely river, hemmed in by its high sided valley walls covered in dense deciduous forest. With only the occasional small village and small holding not much changed for many a kilometre. There were breaks in the forest where sheep and cattle grazed, both with bells around their necks. It is funny how the novelty of chiming cattle quickly becomes the normal. Why do the French do that, nice though it is? I was Impressed by a group of goats clinging to a very steep and seemingly barren series of rock faces.
The sky was full of raptors. Although unconfirmed, I think I spotted two red kites, a goshawk and maybe my first eagle, on these lower reaches. I also saw my first red squirrel, n the road and being startled by Bob and me he did a cute jump over a ditch and away. Little flashes of bright yellow started to catch my attention which I have eventually concluded were yellow wagtails. Two firsts in quick succession, nice.
Foie Gras and Walnuts: Some people would say these go together well, I would not know. Is it still true that the geese are force fed huge quantities of corn to distend their livers, I hope not but suspect they are. It was a thought that kept reoccurring every time we passed farms and shops throughout the Dordogne and much of the lower Lot Valley; with their large pens of geese and huge cutout caricatures of the creatures. This is definitely foie gras country, on every menu in every restaurant. It is also walnut country with walnut trees growing in any available space. Fresh walnuts, you just can’t beat them. I have been buying them and scoffing them. I have been trying out new ways of cracking them open without a nutcracker. The tent mallet does best as long as they are not hit too hard. I did try my new improved butt cheek muscles but strangely the walnuts kept disappearing and I didn’t discover where to until the next morning. Not recommended.
It has been a journey back in time with le Lot as I have travelled up to his source where he resorted back to being a babbling mountain brook. In the meantime my route took me over some of the highest hills (small mountains the guidebook calls them) to some very spectacular villages and towns, including Entraygues Sur Truyere, St Eulalie d’Olt and Estaing, to name but three. All big on old medieval bridges.
The mother of all hills: Thursday was an experience, day two of three high climb days, and three big climbs in the one day! The middle one was the mother of all climbs, en route from St Geniez D’Olt to Mende, Bob and I had to work our wheels of to get to the top, lungs bursting and sweating like pigs. It was 2.5kms that will stay for a long time. Road signs warn the ‘Cette route est dangereuse’ and a sign saying 10%. The hill forms part of an annual cycling event called ‘Le Tour du Gevaudan’ and is held every September. The road is covered in the names of cyclists at the point they drop. A couple of times I thought I would have to add mine! The guide book describes the hill as being through a lovely woodland. I have no memory of this. My view was hazy and limited to just 1m of tarmac in front of the front wheel. I do remember lots of small blue butterflies flitting around, they were a very vivid colour. One couple were in the act of procreation right there in the 1m zone, I managed to ensure the front wheel missed them, I couldn’t tell you whether the other two wheels missed too? It made me wonder which of the two came up with that idea. My guess is that it was the male of the species and he must have serenaded it to her in a Liverpool accent!
Friday was the start of the change, it was a ride of two halves. After leaving the city of Mende I climbed up the highest reaches of le Lot. He took me up to 1132 m above sea level where it felt like being on top of the world. We said our farewells and I freewheeled 25 kms down to a very pretty town called Villefort. A further climb on Saturday before a staggering 700 m drop into the south of France. As well as being very much warmer, the landscape is Mediterranean, rocky and much more scrubby. There are olive groves alongside the vineyards, the barley is ripe and the sunflowers are getting ready to flower. There is a strong smell of thyme filling a warm breeze. I rolled into the old town of Les Vals on market day and wandered through the colourful streets full of stalls, street performers and café bars. It feels as if the ride has now become a holiday too. Yesterday and today took me down the spectacular Ardeche river through the famous Pont d’Arc limestone arch and the stunning 300 m high river gorge. I am having a rest tomorrow.
The ones that got away: Mindful of wanting to do this blog I am often preoccupied with thoughts and ideas that just might be of interest, hopefully I have come up with some. Then it occurred to me that an awful lot of stuff gets away before I can use it, especially (if not exclusively) pictures. There is the pole cat creature (or whatever it was) wandering around the campsite at Les Eyzies de Tayac. Wouldn’t that have been a great story if I had captured it’s image. Or the great tit sat on a village pump in someone’s front garden at Gramat with a beak full of dried grass taking a rest from its hard graft in the morning sunshine. Not a great story perhaps but a great picture.
How about the buzzard sat close to the road on a straw bail and who reached up on tiptoes to full stretch before rising slowly, beating its powerful wings and was away before I even realised it was a picture at all, let alone stop the bike. Or the local passenger train that crossed the bridge at Lessac with a ruined castle in the background. You just got the castle and the bridge!
Then there was the musings going around my otherwise empty head about the impact of the ride on our bodies, involving the three points of contact with the bikes and how point B, which seems to have a greater impact on the fairer sex, led me to calling Kath Major Houlihan. Of course she is temporarily absent from the tour and so it no longer works.
Two more firsts for me today. Speeding down the Ardeche gorge I became aware of the summer breeze whispering through the hairs of my new beard, a proud man. Oh and I saw two, yes two, hoopoes, at different times and at different locations, what a thrill. If you are wondering what a hoopoe is, it is a very flamboyant bird related to woodpeckers and it is a double treat to see two.
For more pics use this link.