The long way round

A while ago, back when the days were sunny and long…and very hot, a friend told me about the lac de Coiroux. I had told her we had walked around a lake in the Correze and she told me this one was closer while still being in that department. Of course, i googled it and discovered it was not only the lake and obligatory ‘plage; but had a campsite, a children’s activity centre and a popular golf course. Too busy for us, I decided, in the middle of the summer season but maybe later….

The days are shorter and cooler now and after the last circumnavigation of a lake ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ had commented that perhaps we should try longer walks. I remembered lac de Coiroux and set about finding a randonnee around it. The ‘parcours nature de Coiroux’ popped up, stating it was 8km and ‘facile’. I printed off the fiche which, annoyingly , was one of those vague maps which show a red line but no map details and the accompanying words waffled about the zones we would walk through but no actual directions. I should have smelled trouble!

We had to wait until the end of the week for a dry day so were keen to walk again. The drive was quite twisty once we left the main road towards Tulle but very pretty with the autumn colours deepening.

beautiful colours in the carpark at the lake

We were relying on road signs as the gps couldn’t find any of the villages situated close to the lake. i had discovered that google earth had not just travelled the roads nearby but driven into the carpark so I was able to scan around and had spotted what I believed to be the panneau for ‘our’ walk. The first mistake!

The golf course featured heavily on the signs as we drove closer so it was very easy to follow.

taken as we trudged back from our detour!

Chastagnol, the village in large black print on the map was a tiny hamlet with one of those tiny black name boards attached to the 50k speed limit reminder. No wonder the gps didn’t consider it a destination worthy of the name.

In the car park I realised the sign i had confidently predicted was for the parcours was, in fact for a 9.5 km walk with blue balise to Aubazine and back. The sign for us was at the entrance to the car park and gave no indication at all about where the walk started. After the usual faff of putting on boots and finding sticks we set off up the steps next to the ‘wrong’ walk hoping the yellow balise for ours would soon appear. mistake number two.

At the top of the steps we were faced with the path to the left going to Aubazine and a path in front of us leading past the children’s centre. An excited goat bleated pitifully from inside his shelter while his companion just gazed at us quietly, knowingly? The view of the lake was lovely and himself pointed out picnic tables ‘for later’.

After walking for a while across the grass we entered the trees, still not having seen any suggestion of a yellow balise anywhere. Time for a rethink. Back to the car park and a minute scrutiny of the photocopied piece of the ign map that i always take…thank goodness! According to the map there seemed to be a path marked on the far side of the car park so we set off in that direction. Sure enough there was a large sign announcing the ‘parcours nature’ but still no indication of where it may be. We walked up the road out of the car park and saw a gloomy path on our left marked very clearly with the blue balise. No yellow but a lurid green, plus a plastic sign that had PN on it and arrows in each direction. ‘PN’ must stand for parcours nature’, I suggested, let’s just go for it.’ So we did!

The path was gloomy because it was under the trees, chestnut trees, as evidenced by the ground littered with them. I should have brought a bag. I told Lou.

He was still not convinced we were on the right path but when we came to a junction with a very clear blue balise to the left and the lurid green plus plastic PN to our right, we were mollified that this was indeed the parcours.

The path was lighter now as it ran along the side of fields with cows but still with chestnuts underfoot. It rose and fell and views opened out on our left. The campsite seemed to be somewhere on our right now, hidden by the trees but with occasional signs for it pointing back the way we had come.

the plastic PN balise

And so we progressed. In and out of the forest, past two enormous water towers,

winding through tiny hamlets with big vegetable patches, down tracks with warning signs about cows or sheep on the move….

but always having to hunt for the balise to decide which direction to take. From experience we knew that the paths we were following might not feature on the map. In fact, the water towers were the only thing I could positively identify.

At times we walked along the edge of the golf course, the immaculate greens contrasting wildly with the landscape we had been walking through, especially when we reached an area of logging destruction. The debris of felled trees was everywhere but the wild flowers were flourishing in the sudden light.

malva

Further on we came down onto a wide track and, ever curious, i walked back to its start to read a large sign. It was telling us we were on land belonging to ‘international paper’ and no admittance. However, the plastic ‘PN’ was in evidence so on we walked.

property of international paper?

Back by the golf course, walking between the greens and undisturbed woodland was most pleasant, if you ignored the posters warning of flying golf balls with the power to kill or maim. And remembered to avoid the electric fence of 6000 volts!

A little further on we came to a crossroads of tracks with a beautiful wayside cross. It was carved from wood, decorated with climbing ivy and mounted on a stone plinth.

We looked in vain for a balise of any description. The only one was a plastic PN pinned to a tree just before the crossroads. A large lurid green arrow was splashed across a tree and gave the impression we should walk straight on. To our right, the logging had taken down every tree for about a hundred yards so nothing to pin or paint on. So we continued down the track. Mistake number three!

We could see a house further down on our left and walked past its wood pile. Suddenly we found ourselves at a t junction with a tarmac road. On our right was a name sign. La Chapelle. Lou was scanning his map (I do one each!) and shouted he had found La Chapelle. Right on the edge of our photocopy. I could see the way back and it looked a long walk. We pushed on to the right and just as we were wondering if we were going into someone’s front garden a tractor came towards us. Happily, he stopped and I explained where we had come from and where we needed to go. He told me the grassy track he had just come up wasn’t ‘interdit’ and if we followed it to its end at the ‘chemin goudronee’ (tarmac) we could turn left and then right at Maisonneuve and find the lake straight ahead.

folliw the track!
not our tractor chap but maybe his friend?

What a star! We followed his advice and ultimately made it back to the lake, walking along the main road for what seemed like ages.

in the cheerful chap’s garden

At Chastagnol, a chap working in his garden, hailed us and told us we had profited from the only dry day. Indeed we had, I didn’t want to imagine that extra walk in the open along a busy road in the rain!

lac de coiroux

We made it back…three hours of walking instead of two. The picnic was very welcome!

footnote: himself had chosen Strava to record the day’s walk. 11.6km instead of 8km, that longer walk he wanted!

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Clockwise

The weather has changed and we must adapt however reluctant to let go of the warm days and life outside. Our garden furniture has been packed away, the pool emptied and stored, wood has been cut and the stove lit. I was like a bear with a sore head for a day or two but now I’ve relaxed into it, pulling on a jumper and rummaging for socks while stowing the summer shorts away.

This week’s walk had to be adjusted too. Monday was but Tuesday was fine albiet chilly first thing. It being the fourth Tuesday of the month I wasn’t needed at secours populaire as it was closed so the day was ours.

Enjoying walking near water but facing the challenge of only an hour’s drive away I was pleased to remember the Lac du Causse near Brive. Some years ago friends in the village with a young family used to enjoy visiting this particular ‘lac’ for its beach and water sports. It sounded fun but, as himself said, probably heaving in the summer. The upshot is that we had never explored it. But we were about to.

The drive to Brive is one we regularly undertake for medical appointments or for shopping we can’t do locally. It is also the first part of the journey north to Calais to visit family and friends in blighty, not something we can contemplate in the present environment. We could go but would have to isolate for the entire visit thus rendering the exercise entirely pointless. But, these walks are intended to lift our spirits so onwards.

I knew there were several car parks around the lake and it didn’t really matter where we left the car as we would circle back to it. ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ put into the gps the village of Lissac-en-couze which turned out to be a very pretty place with an interesting chateau with the church built into one wall. Somewhere to explore? Leaving the village we turned down a road with a big welcome sign and found ourselves at the ‘base de loisirs’ where there were several buildings, a large but empty marquee and jetties leading out over the water. A girl parked nearby was unloading some sort of skiff and carried it onto a jetty. Sadly, we walked away from the jetties before she left so I have no idea exactly what it was except she had a paddle!

We were on a muddy beach with a rising grass bank with trees and decided to walk to our left. There were several signs with instructions on what was and wasn’t permissable and giving directions for the tourist office, first aid post etc. All very well organised for the summer hordes. Passing a building opposite a strange structure out in the water, (for competitions? mused himself) we came to the ‘beach’ proper. A huge curving crescent in front of a grassy bank with lots of shady trees and picnic tables. A crocodile of small children came towards us with their teachers and were instructed to say ‘bonjour’. We bonjoured but also good morning-ed and got a giggly response from a few and even a ‘how are you?’, the standard English greeting with requisite response of ‘I’m fine’, a particularly tortuous form of words for a French child to pronounce!

We were nearing the eastern end of the lake where there is the Moulin de Couze, a pretty building out in the water and named after the stream that runs into the lake at that point.

We began to walk away from the water and under the trees past a large carpark. A little further on there was a stone bridge over the Couze on our right and the path leading back around the top of the lake.

Just before the bridge had been a sign for a much longer walk that ran up and around the hills.. not until we are much fitter!

The path was still at a distance to the lake but was attractive and undulating, with meadows to our right and a slope down to the water on our left. Lots of space for children to run about and for picnics on the grass. I was beginning to understand the attraction of the place.

Out in the open and with the sun making more of an appearance we were both beginning to feel warm so stopped to strip off a layer. A couple passed us walking in the opposite direction….more of them later!

And so the walk continued in similar fashion. Gently rising and falling, sometimes near the water and sometimes further away, under the many trees or in a sunny space. It was lovely and I dawdled, taking photos of seedheads and views and enjoying being outside in a beautiful space.

sloes….gin!
other couples walk together, we rarely do!

There were always sounds of some sort, birds close by but sounds further away. The village of Lissac is on a hill above the lake as is the main road along that side so the sounds carried across the water. At midday it was church bells which set off some dogs barking!

Lissac en couze

Plus Lou had installed some sort of walking app on his phone which meant that intermittently a female voice told him how long he’d been walking and how far amongst other things. Actually, quite useful as I had had difficulty finding out the distance and just had a blogger’s estimate of seven kilometres.

Just about now we came across a lone disabled toilet, perfectly placed for my needs! Normally I have no compunction about watering some woodland spot but this footpath didn’t have many secret places and there was the occasional jogger or fellow walker happening by! The door was ajar so I was in and out without having to touch anything (compost loo) and always carry handgel. This place was definitely growing on me.

We came to the village des vacances where a handy noticeboard showed we were about halfway round from our starting point. There was a restaurant, closed, and a waterskiing school, also closed. Several boats were tied up by the jetties.

Now we were walking towards the western end of the lake with its dam and the path came much closer to the water. There were some beautiful plane trees with their amazing patchwork bark.

I was mesmerized by the ripples under the foliage and he carpet of fallen leaves declaring autumn is truly here.

About now a couple came towards us and we all smiled in recognition. We had passed each other at the other end of the lake. Fast walkers, we decided, or we’re just very slow!

At the dam end you walk alongside the road for a short time. Never a pretty place on a man made lake but at least the overflow system was a pretty flower shape. An inspired piece of engineering!

During my earlier Google ‘earthing’ of the lac I had decided the car park near this end was the prettiest for our lunch and so it was.

Not many picnic tables, grunted himself, as we hadn’t brought our own, judging it a bit nippy for a formal lunch ‘a table’. But it was much warmer now.

teasels

The path was more level this side and we noticed a campsite up on the hill beside us. I bet there are lovely views from up there and there are as we discovered later.

Lou’s ‘woman’ announced he’d walked seven kilometres so my blogger was a bit out. But we were soon walking up behind the buildings of the ‘ base des loisirs’ from which came the excited chatter of small children. As we sorted ourselves out back at the car, a school coach carefully reversed down the approach road to collect them.

We watched a jogger prepare herself and we set off to find ‘my’ picnic spot. The main road climbs up and offers spectacular views of the lake set amid its hills and then drops down to our chosen car park. Both tables were empty so we sat in splendid isolation in the sunshine….until a fisherman arrived and wished us bon appetit as he set himself up on the lakeside. And then our lady jogger panted past…..

A very pretty walk and one I hope we do again but maybe anticlockwise next time?

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Plan B

On Monday it was a grey start to the day…with rain forecast for the morning and storms for the afternoon. I had planned we would walk around a lake but clearly that would be a bit damp so onto plan B.

Through social media I knew there was an exhibition of three photographers at la gare – Robert Doisneau in the old station at Carlux. As there are only three galleries in the building and two of those devoted to Doisneau I knew it would be a small exhibition and therefore a quick visit. Remembering that last time we had problems finding a picnic spot and with that storm warning (yellow) we opted not to picnic and just do the photographs.

The drive takes about an hour and as we drove along the Puybrun bypass we could see the black and grey clouds hunkered down over the causse de Gramat, last week’s route. We were following the Dordogne to the west of Souillac. It didn’t look much better in that direction either.

We passed through Martel, the town of ‘sept tours’ and very pretty. There was an outdoor art exhibition due to close at the end of the week so I hoped we could stop on the return journey for a quick peek, weather permitting.

As we arrived at La Gare, there were spots of rain on the windscreen. Grabbing coats just in case of a deluge as we came back out, we hurried into the tourist office section. As usual our nationalities were asked for and how we knew of the place. ‘We live in 46 and we’ve been here before’, I countered, more interested in buying the booklet of walks in the area, only available from this office. I once answered ’46’ in the Toulouse Lautrec musee at Albi and the cheerful chap behind the desk made the queue laugh by commenting how the Lot accent had changed! I joined in with the joke, part of the expat’s lot, ‘scuse the pun!

As expected, the exhibition was small, just the one space with one photographer’s work hung in the corridor. All black and white which we have a preference for and all portraits from two of the exposants. I liked the third photographer’s work best. Dreamy, ethereal studies with just certain parts lit. ‘Photoshopped’ sniffed ‘I’m only the chauffeur’. We visited an annual art exhibition in Tulle several times, the results of a photographic competition. The last attendance we were irritated by the heavy use of ‘photoshopping’ which rendered most of the images into something resembling stills from florescent video games. We stopped going.

by Fabrice Domenet

But I liked these. Of course, my sneeky photo was hindered by the reflection of the green(?) lighting.

Outside, we opted for coffees from the smart little cafe/bar that is part of La Gare. (Lunch smelled delicious). Just time to drink them before the rain started again. But I did have time to notice a huge and beautiful tree nearby.

Back in the car, before he switched on, ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ risked asking if there was anywhere else I wanted to go before we went home. It did seem a long way for just a half hour visit. Well, I ventured, could we go up to Carlux proper, please? Like some other towns in this hilly part of the world the stations are often at a distance to the town eg Turenne, Aubazine.. ‘It has a castle which is where the Carlux boucle starts from, it’s probably just a bit of wall…..’

The GPS told us it was three kilometres away so not far. We climbed away from the Dordogne up a pretty valley (is there a river? a stream?) and into the beginnings of a pretty village. The GPS told us to take a left turn in what seemed to be the centre bourg and we drove up a very steep and narrow street.

Driving down that steep two way street on the return

At the top we came out into a wide area that was once part of the castle precincts, I learned later.

We parked under that ‘bit of wall’

Curiousity piqued, we followed the wall around to our right and came to an entrance with a severe sign telling us that we entered at our own risk!

The weekend that had just finished had been the journees de patrimoine and something had clearly taken place. There was a huge tarpaulin roof stretched over tables and chairs and the ever present buvette and in the adjacent basse-cour there was a stage still in situ.

We spent the next fifteen to twenty minutes clambering and scrambling around the restored ruins and enjoying the 360° view and the sun which had come out just as we left the car. What a delightful and unexpected find!

la basse-cour and la tour longue
la chapelle, Sanctae Mariae de Carlux 1153
Le logis Roman X1e-X11e siecles
the view west

When we tore ourselves away I walked on past the entrance to see how far that ‘bit of wall’ went. The path I was on dropped down but I was able to see how the chateau was dug into the rock of the hilltop.

Probably because of the heritage weekend, there were a number of brochures in a box by the exit. It was only later I realised I had picked up the English version. The chateau dates from the 12th century and has had its fair share of pillage and burning since then. As always, I am intrigued by how these places hang on despite their stones being taken away to build local houses and their lands sold off. This particular chateau was donated to the commune as recently as 1990.

There is a boucle around Carlux and with so many other buildings to explore; church, halle… plus I saw a pretty restaurant terrace with a view over the valley…..we’ll be back!

l’eglise Sainte Catherine

We drove back down that steep hill without meeting any vehicle coming up, thank goodness. There were more lovely buildings tucked away in side alleys. I felt very chuffed at how our day was turning out. Now we just had to make it to Martel while the weather stayed dry. And it did.

Gilles Sacksick is a local artist who always had his work hanging at the Casino in St Cere that I wrote about a while ago. There is another little gallery in the area that I visited last year to see his paintings and had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with him. Like his art he came across as a gentle and unassuming man and I was pleased to be able tell him how much I liked his work. The print I bought is still waiting for its frame, I’m ashamed to say!

one of his favourite subjects, victim of our recent storms by the looks of it
this is a comment on migration but I need to study his thoughts with a dictionary to hand!

As I walked around Martel peering upward at the artworks above me the cooking smells from two busy restaurants were making my tummy rumble so back to the car and home, with the sun still shining…just!

Castelnau Bretenoux from the Puybrun bypass
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If you go down to the woods……

Over at Gramat, a rather grey town on the causse of the same name, there is a ‘parc animalier’. I am not a lover of zoos or captive animals but after visiting with my youngest nephew when he was only two I became a fan. The animals are predominately European and have large enclosures. There are lots of trees and places to picnic and a safe space for toddlers to run about. Later our first grandson visited at nine months old and squealed excitedly at the wildfowl and the otter who shows off in his glass fronted tank. There have been subsequent visits when he has delighted in being able to run at will or gently stroke baby goats.

I was upset by the bear pit the first time I visited but a few years ago the Parc spent several months creating a big new enclosure with a building from which you can view the bears at eye level and feed them pellets dropped down a tube. So the Parc has become a feature of family visits and we were all excited to discover bear cubs were expected last January. Three were born and the public, via Facebook, were able to vote for their favourite names (Mishka, Noisette and Cassy). The Parc management posted video clips of the cubs with their mother, Groseille, safely cocooned away from prying eyes. A promise was made that they would be out for the public to coo over at Easter.

Well, we all know what had happened by Easter 2020. We had been in confinement since the middle of march and all visitor attractions were closed for the foreseeable future. The Parc continued to keep us informed of the cubs progress along with other births amongst the animal family groups. But it was by the bear cubs that I was besotted.

So, having waited all summer, ignoring the opening of the Parc in June as probably akin to opening the floodgates, and then July and August when the tourists were thronging into the department, I was desperate to see the rapidly growing cubs. We wouldn’t bother with a picnic as it is only a half-hour drive away and the day was forecast to be hot so coming home to a cool house would be inviting after our walk. The programme suggests two to three hours to ‘do’ the whole Parc.

I bought the tickets online as the website suggested was better in these covid conscious times and got a small discount. We arrived half an hour after opening time and found a few cars in the car park. Masks weren’t required outside but we kept them handy just in case. The girl on the desk told us to take a short cut to see the bears first as they liked a nap around midday. She sold us some pellets to feed them with and any other animal that was permitted. Some of them are pretty practised at begging as soon as you show an interest!

Down to the bear enclosure we went, checking our cameras were primed and charged….but no bears. Not a single one. We scanned the far corners but not a shape or shadow to be seen. I rattled some pellets down the feeding tube, hoping it would stir someone, anyone, to amble over. But no.

Disappointed and slightly disbelieving, we trudged back to the start by the wolf pack and admired the new litter of pups. Then we walked around the park in the increasing heat. It had been about 25° when we left home but was forecast to reach 30+. Most animals were dozing the morning away or hiding under faraway trees. The various goats and sheep were most pleased to see us….or the pellets we carried.

As the ‘sense de visite’ took us back to the bears we began to quicken our pace. Surely they would be out by now?

No. We walked up and down, inside and out, but nothing. This was so sad. During our Sunday facetime call with the family we had talked about this visit. Promised to take videos of the bears. Recalled happy and silly events ‘do you remember when the pelicans tried to eat daddy?’ etc

One thing I did discover in the bear viewing building was the grotto. I had thought it was hyperbole in the brochure but there really is a grotto within the building, stalactites and all! I have always been so focussed on the bears I had never ventured into that space before.

So something to take away from the day. But no bears. I video-ed the otter. And the coypus who snuffled about, tumbling over each other in their fake stream. We bought postcards of the cubs and the girl commiserated with us and said why didn’t we stay for lunch, they may come out later? But it was really warm now and I wanted to get home and get inside into the cool so I wasn’t surprised the bears were staying put. Next time. Please.

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Last day

The last day of the holiday. The day the tour de France was going to be whizzing through the department en route for Puy Mary. The day we decided not to try and see it. Been there, done that in 2012 when Wiggins won. We camped on the side of the road and after a long morning of waiting enjoyed the craziness of the ‘caravan’ and then the mad few seconds of the peloton hurtling past in a swishing of rubber on road.

We were going to have a quieter day. A morning walk, a lazy lunch, a swim and then the packing. The walk would be a shorter one and, preferably, without too much climbing.

In my file I had a walk called ‘le chapelle de Granges’ which started from Tauves and made its way up to the plateau, across the main road and then wound around a few villages before arriving back at the start. 9.2 km. Far too long a walk for Friday but the mention of a medieval chapel and the vestiges of its accompanying chateau sparked my interest. Himself grunted assent so it was back to the starting point of the plateau walk opposite the cheese factory where we could pick up the track to Granges and be able to park easily.

Conveniently, there was an ubiquitous yellow sign giving us the distance to the chapelle. An easy aller-retour of 3.2km. Perfect and an added bonus was no wind!

We set off along the track that ran between the two parts of the cheese factory and straight out into the downland. I waited to hear skylarks as it seemed the right environment but maybe that pesky wind keeps them at bay…or ‘les chasseurs’.

After a while we began to drop down between fields with the ever present sound of cow bells coming from somewhere in front of us. I dawdled, taking photos of hedgerow flowers, particularly excited to see a tiny wild pansy hidden in the grass.

rosehips

Further down we crossed a small fast running stream and climbed up to a junction with more yellow signs.

We were only half a kilometre from Granges. Gosh, this felt so easy after the clambering and scrambling we’d been doing this week! The cowbells were getting noisier and a few cows with long curving horns stared dispassionately from above our heads.

As we came down into the village we were surprised by the sound of a car. There was a crossroads with a proper road. I don’t know why we were surprised. It was a village, after all!

cosmos around the village cross

From my Google earth snooping I knew the chapel lay behind the barn opposite and was pleased to find a notice board with lots of information about its history.

Sadly, the chapel was shut but its two side windows were open so some shifty poking of my phone through them revealed something of the interior.

From reading the board I knew that there was only the remains of a tower from the chateau and looked around for it. Hidden in the trees and up a slope it could just be seen. Ever the curious one (nosey, himself says) I scrambled up with the help of my trusty stick and investigated the ‘vestiges’.

As I scrambled nearer I could see that the tower was almost a complete circle despite the encroachment of saplings etc.

The size of the remaining stones amazed me. How tough were these chateau builders in those days, heaving these great weights up a hill before even beginning to build?

i estimated this wall was at least two to three metres tall

I bet the village kids love playing around this site. Imagine having a real castle to fire your imaginary games! Meanwhile, I needed to slither back down to the chapel where ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ was waiting for me.

Time for the return walk. We were at 890 metres and so it would be uphill almost all the way to 940ish but no scrambling and no wind. A doddle, in other words.

Before we left Granges I took a photo of a house with a tin roof. I assume this would have had the traditional lauze roof at one time but as these are so expensive to repair this would explain how many such roofs we saw in the area.

So back past the cows with their jangling bells, back past the little stream and back past a field which seemed to contain a bull we hadn’t noticed before!

Then it was up across the downland to the cheese factory which was quite noisy even at a distance.

And back to the car. I hoped my cheese I bought yesterday was a proper ‘fermier’ and not from this factory but who knows?

One last look at the Massif de Sancy and ‘home’ for lunch.

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A day off

When exploring last Sunday we had noticed a large sign advertising their farmers market on Thursday as we drove into Tauves. Another sign by the campsite ‘acceuil’ convinced me it would be interesting to visit, masked of course!

As Wednesday had been our wedding anniversary we had ordered a campsite roast chicken and chips for supper (plus foie gras and bubbles I had brought with us) so had plenty of cold chicken to use up. Some fresh green veg to go with it would be good. Plus I love a market, who doesn’t?

When we arrived there were quite a few cars parked along the sides of the road and their number plates revealed the wide spectrum of departments they had come ftom. Puy de Dome had been a green department when we left home, during this week it had moved to red! We would need to be careful.

I love an old sign and there were several displayed around the buildings in Tauves. But first we wanted to find a boulangerie as there had been a hiccup with the campsite delivery although I wasn’t quite sure why. A fail for my french listening skills!

The boulangerie was right at the end of the market and had some yummy patisserie so we treated ourselves!

another type of sign that intrigues me. A change of use but from what?

Back amongst the stalls I looked for a cheese one. Every walk had taken us past fields of cows and the day before we had stopped while a huge ‘troupeau’ crossed the road. The Auvergne is cheese country! I bought a large piece of creamy St Nectaire…yum. As I took a photo of the mairie I was curious about what appeared to be a collection of objects in the windows but not displayed so as to be seen from outside…a tiny museum?

Himself pointed out that up around the side by the church was the tourist office. Bingo! Not just the tourist office but a super craft shop filled with goodies. I wandered the displays, careful to avoid the few other customers. ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ lurked outside. A few purchases including a practical souvenir and back outside into the sunshine.

There was a bar terrace full of chattering customers. In more normal times we would have happily sat over a beer and cappuccino and watched the world go by. With doom virus upon us we decided that caution would be advisable and would have our drinks back at the campsite bar. With hardly any other campers we feel more comfy there. A stop at a veg stall to buy haricots vert from the grower and we were set.

one more sign!

Back at the campsite we were amused to see a collection of sunbeds drying in the sun. The end of season work was already happening around the empty mobilehomes.

Dumping our shopping we walked down to the bar for those promised drinks and a chat with one half of the campsite owning couple.

over exposed husband!

Lunch on our terrace and then a lazy afternoon. Happily I could have another swim in the heated pool after being frustrated the day before due to a sudden rainstorm that blew in, luckily, after we got back from our walk.

….followed by that patisserie from Tauves.

Before our supper of left over foie gras, followed by cold chicken and haricots, we watched our neighbours playing boule…very seriously!

That reminds me…stick ours on the list for next time!

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Le Bois de Rochemave

The tour de France has been taking place this month after being yet another victim of covid-19. After much debate the decision was taken to let it happen but a month later than normal. We are keen followers of the Tour and were chuffed to discover we could watch France 2 direct on our tablet each afternoon. (No telly in the mobile home) Friday’s stage running from Chatel-Guyon to Puy Mary would be coming down the D29 from Tour d’Auvergne down to la Pradelle, the road we had driven up on our exploring drive last Sunday. This was the stage that the cyclist was hoping to witness himself from the side of the road on ‘his’ mountain, Puy Mary.

We knew the roads would be closed in that area and parking would be at a premium. So any walks near Cros and Bagnols (I had several on file) couldn’t be undertaken on that day. There was a 6km walk starting near Cros that looked interesting so we decided to do it on Wednesday when the roads wouldn’t be congested.

As usual, the departure point wasn’t the easiest place to find. I had looked on Google earth at the turning after Cros onto the D613 but as there was no blue line running down that road it was going to be hit and miss. After driving along for several twists and turns we pulled over and looked at the map more closely. There was a tiny turning for a hamlet called Gerbeix just beyond a marked track so we drove back slowly and spotted it on a bend with a useful patch of grass to park on.

There was one of the tourist board signs detailing the route and saying it was easy for mountain bikes. What about two septuagenarians celebrating their wedding anniversary? The ‘denivele positif’ was 235 metres so not as much as the day before.

Before we started we noticed three wooden crosses on the slope behind us but there was no information near them to explain their significance. Something to look up later.

The path started across the road and was a grassy track between hedgerows full of blackberries.

It was sunny and warm and good to be walking in the open after the forest walking of the day before. I had this thought too soon!

We crossed between two farm gates and I noticed blue twine lying across the track. I call this Didier’s string. We have a farmer neighbour who moves his cows occasionally across the main road, under the railway bridge and past the end of our drive. To prevent any of them paying us a visit he ties a length of blue twine from our neighbour’s fence with the other end on a metal pole stuck in the verge. When we see the twine on the ground we know the cows have been on the move.

The path narrowed and we carried on walking between fields and past some very thick oak trees. We speculated on their age.

I noticed holly bushes with a bumper crop of berries and wondered if the old saying is true and we’ll have a hard winter?

Eventually we came to a turn in the path which took us into a wood, the bois de Rochemave, I assume. To start with there was a mixture of fir and beech trees with their leaves beginning to turn and shining in the sunlight.

The fiche of the walk had a profile on it so we knew the middle part of the walk would be uphill and this was it. The first part was particularly steep and I was glad I had two sticks with me to help the poor old knees.

this is looking back down a particularly steep bit!

After that effort it was an easy amble through the pine trees following the blue balises on the trees. There must be other walks taking the same route as we saw orange signs and a flamboyant white slash with a bright red bar in its middle. The same colours as the GR trails but too messy to be one of theirs.

a more restrained version towards the end of our route

At one point our path crossed a deep and muddy rutted track. We had to walk back and forth a bit before spotting ‘our’ blue balise on a tree. If a path is not for you two bars painted in a cross of ‘your’ colour will be displayed so you don’t go wandering off and get lost.

Finally we came out of the pine forest and began walking along between a wood and a rough meadow. We could see what we think were sheep moving among ferns in a field beyond. A dog suddenly barked and howled which made me uneasy. Had the hunting season started? I began to whistle, tunelessly but noisily!

The path started to rise again and there were bigger and bigger slabs of rock under our feet. A tiny lizard darted back and forth startled out of his sunbathing. Down on our left the field had given way to short grassland with a shallow ‘etang’ in its centre.

The sun was hot and I was glad I had borrowed one of Lou’s hats, not a woolly one today! The rock was now evident in big stones beside the path and there were rowan trees too, full of berries, a sign of autumn.

showing the scale of the slabs under our feet
rowan berries

We were reaching the point where the path met the road again and there was a faded information board that needs replacing in order to inform!

We came down behind a little cottage and into the road. On the far side there was a garden full of flowers and a lady digging. We exchanged greetings and she asked how far we had walked. Not far, I replied, guessing our starting point probably wasn’t very far away by road! I complimented her on her lovely dahlias before we moved on.

As I have said before I hate walking on tarmac and we were in for quite a distance before we could turn off. I started to walk on the verge but it was full of flowers which deterred me. All of these walks had been a joy for all the flowers and butterflies we had seen. At the start of this walk we had startled lots of grasshoppers who scattered as we passed.

There was the wonderful sound of cow bells from a field on our left before s turn in the road took us back near the trees and some log piles. While we were on this road a huge lorry and trailer loaded with enormous logs had passed and then repassed empty. We could hear machinery somewhere in the forest so logging was going on.

We joined another road and were slightly mystified by a warning sign as the road we were joining stretched in both directions in a straight line! But, to be fair to the departmental or regional tourist office who, I assume, manage the signposting of these routes, they do a brilliant job. It just makes me smile at the constant use of yellow!

The trudge along the side of the road continued accompanied by all the different colour balises we had encountered all along the walk. Finally we turned off on our left, climbing along a logging track into the forest again. A logging track as evidenced by the litter of broken branches littering our path. Suddenly himself gave a shout. A tiny frog had hopped in front of him.

‘the poisonous frog of Puy de Dome’

I was surprised that a frog could survive in this apparently dry environment. The dreaded poisonous frog 🐸 of Puy de Dome, Lou replied!

From this point we started to descend and I really disliked the next twenty minutes or so of walking. The track was steep which was not a problem on its own but the surface was covered with loose stones of differing sizes which made placing your feet tricky as the ‘cailloux’ skidded away and threatened to twist an ankle. Once more I was glad of my two ‘batons’ as I planted them in front to help keep my balance. It was impossible to take your eyes off the path and I ended up with an aching back from feeling so tense.

Just as I was beginning to get quite stroppy we came to what seemed like the bottom of the valley where a scene of woody devastation was revealed! But the track was less stony, the rock now at the side, huge and mossy.

I was really keen to get back to the car now. My toes were complaining about being thrown against the front of my boots and I was looking forward to taking them off. The path began to rise again through softer woodland. Once more, the fauna showed itself to Lou in the shape of a red squirrel that ran across the path and burrowed itself into the undergrowth before I could get more than a tiny glimpse.

And then we were on the last rise up to the tiny road to Gerbeix and then the grassy slope. I took my boots off and walked the last bit to the car on the scratchy ‘l’herbe’. Bliss!

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Les mines de la guingette (or Mind the gap!)

After nearly being blown away on the plateau de Tauves Lou asked if there was a walk closer to home. There is but it involves a lot of climbing, I replied, and I’m slightly anxious that, once more, there is a part of the walk marked on the fiche that doesn’t have a corresponding path marked on the ign map. Well, that was like yesterday and there was a wide farm track, he replied, so resistance was impossible.

Given the walk started and finished just above the campsite (well, two kilometres away) we didn’t bother with a picnic, deciding to come back for lunch. Not wanting to add four kilometres to a walk that already looked pretty exhausting, (345 metres of climbing, about 1000 feet in old money) we drove up to la guingette, the starting point. There is no carpark near the start of the walk so ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ squeezed us onto the verge and I turned the side mirror flush with the door.

We walked down to the sign for the walk which was next to the war memorial, an odd edifice departing from the norm by having four shell like obelisks (as in military shells) around it which were painted bright blue. Across the road and around the corner past a trickling water pipe that was labelled water non analysed (?) we started the climb next to another memorial.

This one was more specific and commemorated a former Maire of Singles who had been in the resistance but was informed on and arrested. After spending time in a detention centre he was deported to Buchenwald where he died within a year of pleurisy. In the middle of this beautiful countryside there are reminders of the violence and horror that took place just before mine but within Lou’s lifetime. A sobering thought.

The tarmac road gave way to earth and stones and we were trudging up a holloway, the banks level with my eyes but giving glimpses of the beautiful Burande valley.

After a while we came back onto the main road up to Singles. The hillside fell away to our left as we climbed higher. You must be fit to live at this altitude. We wondered about the number of cars parked in every available space and as we walked up past the church we realised there was a funeral taking place. Another sobering reminder of mortality and the need to be grateful for being able to do this kind of activity in freedom and good health.

The road we were on became steps that led up to the mairie. The village sign said Singles was a ‘village fleuri’ and it really is. Beautiful flowers bloomed everywhere. I peeked into the Marie windows at a meeting room. A sign of the times that at every place at the table the ubiquitous bottle of water has been replaced with a bottle of hand gel.

Another turn, up another slope and through more pretty cottages with flower filled gardens. We walked past a barn whose shape I’m beginning to recognise. Very tall with a steep high pitch to the roof. Protection against snow, himself believes.

Now we were walking away from the centre ville between fields where cows lazed and the far hills were hazy in the heat.

As we came to a farm on our right swallows (or maybe, housemartins) swooped and dived and chattered as they briefly came to rest on the telephone wire above our heads. I stood still and enjoyed their frenetic movement knowing I could never capture their excitement in a photograph.

and i couldn’t!

The blue balise, yes, blue today, took us to the right around the farm and its buildings. As i came around the end of the barn I let out a ‘wow’. Suddenly we were looking across the hilltops to the Massif de Sancy.

We had seen it the day before but it had been a constant during the walk. This was a sudden sighting and as we walked further and slightly downhill it was lost from sight again. We were on a farm track now and dropped quickly down into woodland which became denser and with more pine trees. It looped back and forth very pleasantly with dappled sunlight and birds calling to each other.

I noticed lots of beech trees and rescued a tiny sapling from one of the ruts in the track. Naughty but it wouldn’t survive there. Better in a pot at home and cared for!

the Banne d’Ordanche through the trees

The track went down and down … and down, looping around hairpins with broken branches and shifting stones lying in wait for a careless step. It was a lovely walk but ‘we’ll have to climb back up at some point’ I called to himself, always yards in front.

Then the track with its double ruts disappeared on a sharp bend. We could see a path of sorts leading away to our right and could hear a stream tumbling somewhere below us. There were still blue balise on the trees so we were on the right track…except there was no track. And soon, there was barely any path! We could just make out a slightly smoother path across a very steep slope falling away to our left. The next ten minutes were scary. We made it by helping each other out, grabbing at anything that looked a strong enough handhold and not thinking about how to explain to the pompiers exactly where the slope was that one of us had just tumbled down!

Safely across and back on a wider path the blue bars were still taking us to the right although the sound of the stream was to our left now. The fiche showed the path crossing a stream and, then, suddenly, there was a plank bridge over a stream, obviously the one making more noise further down.

Comparing the map to the fiche we were in the no-mans land of the IGN. Not surprising given the state of the path we’d just struggled along! Once, when walking in the Haute Savoie there had been ropes strung along certain dodgy sections of the path. We could have done with a good strong rope back there!

As if to compensate us for our fright, the path now led us under a fallen tree, across the stream again and into a tiny hidden valley of verdant green in full sunshine. After being under the trees for so long it was magical. The water tumbled down some rocks at the far end. ‘Waterfall’ called back himself, ‘Cascade’ I replied, always ready to try and teach him some French!

Now the climbing began. But a decent track along and above the stream which dropped further and further below us as we climbed back under the trees. Big rocks covered in moss lined the track until we started to come out into more open countryside. Grassy verges took the place of the rocks and soon we could see across the fields to our car parked by the road.

As we approached the village there was an information board beside the path telling of the history of la guingette, which means a cafe cum dancehall. When there were gold mines in this area, the workers came to the guingette to relax, the only building at the time, the mid 1700s. Later, more houses were built. The mines carried on for some time but the old galleries and the railway that served them were all drowned when the Dordogne was dammed at Bort les Orgues. This walk was meant to give us a feel of those times but I can’t say they did without knowing more of the history. Did they pan for gold down in that pretty valley?

Back in la guingette the bar/restaurant that bears the same name was shut so no beer and cappuccino for us. We noticed it had a cafe associative sign on the door. This is a movement in the French countryside where volunteers open up defunct bars in their village so that the inhabitants have somewhere they can still meet up for a chat. However, the opening times can be a bit hit and miss for thirsty walkers!

Back to the campsite for lunch and a snooze

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Plateau de Tauves

Nights in the Auvergne can be pretty chilly as we found out the first time we took our new tent to Mandailles St Julien. It was August but so cold at night! We wore sweatshirts and layered loads of stuff over our ‘four seasons’ sleeping bags.

Last Monday morning was almost the same. We woke up inside those same sleeping bags but in a mobile home not under canvas so we could snuggle down warmly. But contemplating a walk meant warmer clothing than we have been used to wearing recently. Picnic sorted and a Google search so I knew exactly what the road layout looked like for the starting point of the walk we set off on a bright but ‘frisquet’ day.

Past Tauves on the D922 and on the opposite side of the road to a cheese farm I told ‘i’m only the chauffeur’. I had seen on Google earth there was a turning with a patch of grass for parking and two picnic tables. It was as spotted and easy to turn off the busy road and park.

the ‘point de depart’

Getting out of the car we were buffeted by the wind. I opted for my padded duckdown jacket and borrowed one of Lou’s woolly hats! This was walking on a plateau after all. There were several yellow sign boards and our walk was featured. Why so much yellow? At least it was a ‘papillon’, butterfly, which made a change.

follow the yellow butterfly

We set off along a cinder track which eventually took us up to a farm past a field of cows, one of whom walked halfway across the field just to inspect us.

Past a lot of pink marshmallow hay bales and then a long drag up to the top of the downland just past a water tank.

The wind blew strongly into our faces but the 360° views were worth it, especially of the Massif de Sancy in the distance, even if it was under cloud!

Turning right we were now on the track that featured on the ‘fiche’ of the route but not on the ign map. But exist it does and, to prove it, a car came towards us.

‘i’m only the chauffeur’
the garden gnome look!

Later, it drove back past us…checking us out? The track turned again and we dropped a little bit out of the wind and then followed a narrow lane that twisted and turned, up and down and took us to Vivers.

While walking this part the scenery changed and different views opened up. We passed a very modern house hunkered down into the hillside with three beautiful white horses in a meadow below it.

Just before Vivers we turned for la Ribeyre and Fougeolles. We were walking on tarmac which I don’t enjoy but the scenery made up for it.

At one point a noisy goat brayed at us passing.

At Fougeolles we started to climb again and soon found ourselves back at the farm and passing the nosy cows. Just a walk back along the windy cinder track to the car.

looking back….

The D922 leads to the autoroute and is busy and not conducive to a restoring picnic lunch so we consulted the map and looked for somewhere calmer. Not finding any ‘aire de repos’ symbols nearby on the map, we drove on to La Tour d’Auvergne where two were showing. The first turned out to be on top of a hill. We’d had too much wind to stop there! The second was by the plan d’eau we’d discovered on our Sunday drive so searched for the car park. One near the town still had those campers parked up and there was no sign of picnic tables on the grass below. We could see some campers further around the water so went to find their car park. We found it….full of camper vans as was the ‘aire de camping cars’ beyond it.

waiting for le Tour

Still no tables on the grass under the trees so we parked on the side of the road leading from the car park with a view of the water and finally had lunch!

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Exploring

Sunday was a bit chilly first thing and there was quite a bit of cloud around. Despite that, we sorted out a picnic lunch and debated whether to walk or not. Deciding not, it still seemed a good idea to drive around and get a feel of the area. In my researching I had identified four towns/villages with a two or three nearby walks, more than enough for a six day holiday!

Checking the map I could see we could do a circular drive taking them all in. So we did. First stop was Larodde, a village on top of a hill a few kilometres from the camp site.

‘fin de voyage’, Larodde

From there we took the twisty road south aiming for the village furthest away, Cros. The scenery was stunning and we saw several signs for the ‘retenue’ du Bort. More of that later!

Cros lies on the D29 as do Bagnols and Tauves which made up my four ‘points de depart’. Tauves looked pretty and has a Thursday market advertised at the campsite so that’s a plan for Thursday morning, at least. Bagnols looked busy with people queuing outside an epicerie as we slowed down to check a signpost. I had noticed the D29 led to La Tour d’Auvergne, a place we had visited during our first raquette holiday at La Bourboule, a dreary town as I remembered it but it was a very wet February.

So we drove on to La Tour d’Auvergne and noticed a plan d’eau for the first time. Plus several mock-ups of bicycles on the edge of the main road.

Daylight dawned, the Tour de France is due through here on Friday. The stage that the cycling son had hoped to catch the beginning of at Puy Mary. Later, I discovered that the tour will be driving the same bit of the D29 that we had driven. A chance to see the peleton whizz by?

There were already a sprinkling of camper vans parked up. Waiting for le Tour, Lou summised. Driving back to Tauves we tried to find the starting point of one of my walks. Unfortunately, I had my north and south muddled and we drove a long way in the wrong direction. Tant pis, we studied the map and decided that, rather than go back and eat our picnic at the campsite,we’d follow the ‘retenue de Bort’ sign and hope we’d find a pleasant vantage point above the water. Sadly it was not to be. We followed the signs, through a tiny village called Labessette and down a road with a no through road sign.

eglise de Labessette

Down and down, twist and turn.. and then disappointment. The road ended just above the water but under gloomy trees with a no entry sign to a grassy patch with cars, caravans and boating trailers. With hardly any room to turn, let alone picnic, we drove all the way back up. Imagine driving down there in a camper van we exclaimed. No sign to tell you not to and still the brown signs that denote a place of interest.

a wayside cross

By now we were feeling a bit peckish so we backtracked past Larodde, past the campsite and drove down to Pont Dieu which we’d crossed on our way here the day before and had noticed had a couple of picnic tables under the trees overlooking the water. The space was empty so we parked up and set out our lunch, just a few metres inside Puy de Dome and gazing at the Correze!

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