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.
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.
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.
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.
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!