Walking season has started…

After one of the wettest winters for fifty years (so the Depeche said the other day) opportunities to step outside, let alone picnic have been non existent. But with the spring slowly beginning and some glorious sunny spells now and then the time had come to put our best foot forward. Plus I was tired of riding the exercise bike with the same view and the horse had started to ignore my apples when I ventured up to his field between the showers.

Through Instagram I had become aware of a new nature reserve at Argentat, a town with a pretty riverside, and, apparently, gravel pits which had recently opened as a biodiversity site. We were still under the autumn lockdown when I first looked it up online and estimated it was just within our new permitted 20km exercise zone.. but that weather!

But a Monday in early February dawned bright and sunny and not too cold so I suggested an afternoon ride along the Dordogne to check it out. The family cyclist does this particular route often but we were in the car. The road is limited to 50km and cyclists have preference. The countryside looked pretty and the sun glinted off the river. We twisted through a couple of hamlets and tried to spot a campsite we’d used back in the 80s. More by luck than judgement we found the reserve. A very neat carpark and lots of smart signs directing us around it. We were surprised to see families there it being a Monday afternoon and a school day. Schools closed due to positive covid cases? We noticed everyone had masks so we put ours on despite being outside. I checked with a family walking in the opposite direction and they said masks had to be worn in Argentat. So be it.

The reserve looked raw still and very bare. It was still February after all. The sun was being overtaken by high white cloud and it felt cold. We walked across the boardwalk that is featured on the website and looked for wildfowl. The commune hopes the place will become a stop on bird migrations but the number of people plus two small girls on noisy bicycles would seem to militate against that hope!

We carried on around the largest expanse of water and, rather than recross it, followed a path next to the Dordogne. The river was in full spate and I hoped no one would get too close. An accident waiting to happen? The path seemed to be leading us out of the reserve and finally, after passing a hide busy with walkers, it dumped us at the boggy end of a gravel pit close to the main road. We realised we had two options, walk back the way we had come or walk back up the main road to the car park. It was walk up the road to the car! Curiousity satisfied we drove home under gloomier skies. We still didn’t find that campsite but I did spot a beautiful arched window in a broken down building. So a photo opportunity at least!

‘i’m only chauffeur’s birthday arrives in late February and ever since we moved here in 2004 we have spent it in mountains in different parts of France stomping about on raquettes. A couple of years ago we decided the time had come to give in to our age and creaking knees and opt for walking in boots instead. Last year we went up to La Bourboule, its closeness making it a favourite, and we found everywhere green. It was a novelty walking on ski de fond pistes we had never explored in snowier times. This year its appeal palled as all bars and restaurants are closed due to doom virus and a 6pm curfew would curtail any after-ski fun.

Happily, the weather of the birthday week looked good and himself said his birthday promised the best of the sunshine. We even made up a picnic in hopes of eating it in a sunny spot. I had found a walk up on the Causse only half an hour away by car and entitled the ‘tour of the dolmens’. The Lot has a multitude of these neolithic remains despite the looting of their stones over the centuries.

Driving to the start at Les Feux I was surprised by how many trees had burst into blossom suddenly. The car park had only one other car and the start of the walk was very well signposted. This was looking hopeful.

cornelian cherry

What followed was a lovely walk through an abandoned village, past dolmens in fields, beautiful blossom my app identified as Cornelian cherry, curious cows and calves, indifferent sheep, honking geese and always between or near drystone walls. We puffed up the hills of the first half, gazed across the Causse to the far off Segala and Limargue and rejoiced in the descent through fields full of birdsong and the first flush of wild flowers.

The only picnic table we saw near the start of the path had a family well ensconced as we came back past it towards the end of the ‘sentier des dolmens’. Tant pis, we picked one of the many big stones decorating the carpark, spread our picnic and relaxed in the perfect tranquility of the Causse.

arrival beer for the birthday boy

Having made a start on the walk and picnic days out, I watched the weather forecast closely and googled earthed to find something interesting but not too challenging after the winter somnambulance. I found what looked like a gem just an hour away from home and in a direction we hadn’t explored last year.

A little village called Vaillac, complete with a chateau, had a walk that looked like the outline of a butterfly on its fiche. Closer investigation showed that halfway through the walk we would come back to the centre ville thus giving us a chance to give in gracefully if feeling a bit puffed! The closeness of the contour lines suggested climbing would be involved. Sadly the chateau is privately owned and doesn’t open for visits.

A goodish day was picked and the road we took is the one that takes us to the motorway, many happy adventures have started at that junction! This time we drove under the A20 and just a little further on down narrow lanes under a blue sky.

I glimpsed a huge chateau on a hillside and suddenly we were in the village of Vaillac. And a very pretty village too. It had looked good on Google earth but that was a summer picture so I was a bit anxious it would look gloomy in early March. I needn’t have worried, it was picture postcard.

I wandered down from the vast church to find the little stream that I believed was the start of the walk. Sure enough, there was the familiar yellow balise clearly indicating we cross over the foot bridge.

Boots on, water in backpacks and two sticks each (remember those contour lines) and we were off.

Leaving the village we turned up a grassy track past a large pigeonnier….

and then climbed…and climbed.. and climbed! Around 90 metres I calculated. Views of the chateau opened up and early on there was a bench handily placed for catching your breath.

those big pale shapes are the towers of the chateau

On the ridge we turned left on a wide track and walked for quite a time between wire fences topped with barbed wire. Protection for whatever was in the fields or repelling marauding sanglier and deer? We could see other deep valleys on our right side away from Vaillac…more googling for another time?

Me with one of those lovely Cornelian cherry trees

Eventually we turned left again, just past some donkeys, and began to drop down into the valley…

Although easier to be walking down, the last part of the path became quite difficult as it was very steep with a lot of loose stones, lethal if it had been a bit damp!

Back in the village we decided we had walked enough for that day and found the picnic table I had identified online and had a very pleasant lunch. The few cars that passed were quite expensive models and I came to the conclusion this was quite a well heeled village, given how beautifully restored the houses seemed to be.

We noted where the second half of the path left the village and will go back and walk the rest of it….when we’re a bit more match fit!

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Moments of joy…

I have been feeling guilty that I hadn’t managed to get myself back to secours populaire on Tuesday afternoons. Before Christmas we had a saga here with our ‘chaudiere’, the oil fired boiler which, we realised with surprise, was fifteen years old, the average life for one according to Google! That wasn’t much comfort as we filled up every camping bidon we owned and turned the mains water on just long enough to flush the toilet. Two weeks it took for two hopeful repairs to prove it was ‘mort’ and the replacement (ouch) which happened Christmas week. We still have a drip pronounced ‘pas grave’ by the plumber as he ignores us to deal with the umpteen broken down boilers during the recent frosts and snow.

Then there was the replacement of our internet with fibre optique. We moved furniture and a lot of dust in anticipation of where the new socket may be located. Then when the two man team arrived they chose somewhere we hadn’t thought of..more moving of ‘meubles’ and more surreptitious cleaning!

So what with that, an unanticipated snow fall and waiting for a possible plumber visit I hadn’t got around to going back to do my volunteering. Then today I read that our ‘antenne’ is closed as someone on the team has tested positive. That’s scary. We all wear masks, use gel religiously and keep our distance. I don’t know if the person contracted it while working at the shop or elsewhere but scary that I could now be isolating if I had gone in.

January is a gloomy month at the best of times but you can ward off dark thoughts by planning summer holidays and spring breaks. But with an imposed 6pm curfew and disturbing new virus variants and horrendous figures coming out of the UK and stubborn resistance here at home of our own significant numbers refusing to fall, it all looks pretty desperate and thoughts of holidays seem far too frivolous.

When the weather was better we could go out for walks which is always good for the morale but wet and windy days don’t encourage being outside for long. Our elderly cat, marmalade, sums it up well. He burrows under the top cover on the spare bed and sleeps the afternoons away hidden from the world. Would that I could too!

I’m trying to keep positive. My Christmas present of an exercise bike is being used every day. I’m up to ten kilometres in twenty minutes, not that it is making an iota of difference to the weight gained over Christmas! I do fifteen minutes a day of Duolingo French lessons, an irritating online course, extremely repetitive and cursed with advertisements but is slowly filling gaps in my knowledge of conjugation. I continue to take photos in the garden and places I go to entertain Facebook friends although the weather and time of year means they might as well be in black and white, the countryside is so grey at the moment.

Last Friday, the day I nearly heaved a sack of old clothes into sec pop, we went to St Cere to take back our old livebox. The relais was an electronic vaping shop. Now those are something relatively new. A shop full of flavours and fake cigarettes. I listened to the sales assistant explaining to a customer how you can mix your ‘aromes’. Wierd. As we were nearby we popped into the camera shop and had some photos taken for our eventual, we hope, carte de sejour permanents. If we ever get called by the prefecture, that is, to go down and be fingerprinted. We did all that in march 2019 but my Facebook group page tells me the photos will be too old. Presumably not the fingerprints? Of course, we emerged with photographs that make us look like elderly criminals as is the way with photos that don’t allow for disguising gestures; the merry smile, the hand under the chin to hide the ones sagging behind. Usually, trips into our biggest local town end with a coffee in one of the many bars but all are closed due to doom virus and not even a chair is to be seen on their terraces.

The beautiful plane trees that shade you so prettily in summer have had their annual winter mauling and stand like so many twisted and bent witches, black against the grey sky (it was a very wet day).

Our weekly drive shop had been unable to deliver clementines the day before so I went along to the Carrefour, a small supermarket I rarely use, but hoping I might find their own brand cereal as well as some fruit. Yes to clementines, oddly carrying a label stating ‘avion’. Do they have customers opposed to air freight? And no to the cereal. But as I queued for the checkout on the obligatory strip of plastic a metre distance from the customer in front I spotted my favourite tea…in tea bag form ..and not costing an arm and a leg! I buy loose redbush tea but the other half (a coffee only drinker) hates the faff of leaves and prefers a bag when making me a cup. My blighty supplies have dried up due to no trips across the channel last year. I took a box and then another…and then a third, just in case. Oh, joy, the comfort of my favourite redbush vanilla tea in the morning when himself brings me that first cup. I smiled all the way back to the car.

And on reflection, I’ve decided that’s what will get me through the next few difficult weeks,months…looking for those little moments of joy each day. Meanwhile, I’ll just finish this cup of tea..

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Calendar crazy

We’re getting to that time of year again…whisper it… Christmas! I know this, not because of the unrelenting volume of Christmas ads on the TV but because I have had the first bundle of paperwork from a charity. The foot and mouth painters,which always seems an unfortunate title, have sent thier usual bundle of slightly naff Christmas cards and a calendar. Gosh, how churlish I feel writing that but one must be honest. I shall send off a cheque even tho the cards were unsolicited and stick them in the card box to be used in the event of running out of my preferred and, in my opinion, more tasteful ones. More about the calendar to follow…

The next bundle to arrive was from the guide dogs charity which I do support. A pen, a notebook, a few Christmas postcards featuring guide dogs, bien sur, with a festive message in braille alongside the printed one. Every year the teacher in me thinks what a useful classroom resource even if it is nearly twenty years since I last taught six year olds the story of Louis Braille. But the most significant thing in the bundle is the calendar. This one is on A4 card and has useful score lines so it can be folded and propped on a shelf somewhere.

When we first came to live here it was in late September and I remember being surprised by the proliferation of calendars at every turn. Of course, calendars are a staple of Christmas just as slippers are or joky onesies but here in France they are seemingly the gift you cannot be without.

Of course, not all are free and deciding how much to pay caused some head scratching for us at the beginning. Our initial experience of this was when the pompiers arrived at the door around the beginning of our first December. Two smiley chaps in uniform stood there obviously assuming we knew the drill. We didn’t. It soon became clear we were expected to buy one of their calendars and to pay whatever we felt was appropriate. This led to a whispered conversation a deux in English hoping we weren’t being understood.

We’re old hands now and invite them in, offer ‘un verre (never accepted) and hand over some notes. Ever since we had an unfortunate incident with the flue pipe at the back of the woodburner catching fire necessitating my calling an emergency number for only the second time in my life, we greet them with heartfelt thanks and a more generous donation. Especially as the majority of our local firefighters are voluntary. I was chatting to a neighbour in the bricolage shop when his pager went off. He headed for the exit immediately, shouting excusez-moi over his shoulder as he went! The calendar is a very professional one, full of smiling pompiers, fire engines and bowsers and photos of emergency situations. I use it to record bookings for our gite.

It was only recently that I realised that the calendar from la poste has disappeared. Our first postlady would always make sure we didn’t miss out. Their calendar was a very informative missive. Not just days and months in its pages but maps of the larger towns in our department, recipes, helpful hints, proverbs related to the weather. There was always a choice available too inasmuch as the different cover pictures. These were a range I can only describe as chocolate box; flowers, kittens, puppies or countryside scenes which included the Pyrenees and Alps, of course. I miss that one but was surprised to see certain of them offered on eBay. I should have kept ours!

10euros on eBay!

Certain shops offer freebie calendars too. These aren’t to be compared with the ones already mentioned. These are the handy to have style, sometimes a simple rectangle of card, printed on both sides and easily slipped into a handbag but more often s folded affair, the business bit inside while the outside carries publicity for the shop and maybe a new year greeting. Our local pharmacy used to have them on the counter but recently they have moved up a notch. When using the pharmacy near Christmas you used to receive a small gift, eau de cologne, then it was shower gel. More recently I have been offered a choice, an eco folding shopping bag or the calendar. I opt for the bag.

Then there are the business calendars. Now these are in a form I had not experienced before. On very stiff cardboard starting out in A4 size but can be bigger, sometimes much bigger. Last year we were given one by the oil delivery man along with the usual printout of the ‘facture’. We got one from the plumber once who came to sort out the boiler.

Until now I have accepted this as just one of those little differences that, as an expat, you notice. But with reconfinement limiting more exciting ways of passing the time, I have pondered why the calendar has become so essential. And I think I may have come up with a possible explanation.

I was chatting about bank holidays recently and trying to explain that the UK bank holidays, in general, are Mondays, neatly tacked onto a weekend. This had never caused me to stop and think until I moved to a country that had its holidays on the allotted date. If it falls on a Monday or a Friday, a cause for a long weekend. If it falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday there is the possibility of a ‘pont’, ie taking a days annual leave on the day in between and getting a four day break. If it falls on a Saturday, not a working day for many, then a gallic shrug but to fall on a Sunday? Quel horreur. So there is a clear necessity to know when the long break possibilities are likely to fall. I have become adept at highlighting all bank holidays on the kitchen calendar…always a version with big boxes for each day so important stuff can be noted, ‘worm cats’, ‘chimneysweep’, payday!

On the subject of bank holidays or jours feries which are often religious holidays another addition to French calendars is the saint days. Every day of the year has an associated saint. Once upon a time French children would be named after the saint who shared his or her birthday. My saints day is 17th January, Rosaline, but as I go by a nickname not many congratulate me on it. But the particular Saint is always mentioned at the end of the TV weather forecast along with the date. Rather sweet, I think.

But I think I have found a much more important reason for all these calendars. School holidays. At the time of retirement there was a heated debate going on in UK schools about the Easter holiday and should it be fixed as due to the fluid nature of when Easter occured there would be either be a short spring term and a long summer one or a long spring term and an Easter holiday that tipped straight into the SATs, obligatory national tests. I have no idea how it sorted itself out but the idea of an Easter holiday that didn’t encompass Easter was a strange concept for those of us at a certain age.

In France it is taken as the norm. The second half of the academic year looks much the same for all students but the first half is a different story, especially to the uninitiated. Despite having a similar population as the UK but with four times the geographical area, there was concern that the ski resorts and other tourist areas couldn’t cope with the press of holidaymakers arriving all at the same time. So for the purposes of alleviating such pressure France is divided into three zones, A,B and C. We are zone C. So now the calendar comes into its own. Close inspection of any one of the forms above will reveal continuous stripes down one side each day/month. Usually blue, green and red, they signify the three zones and the periods allocated for the winter and spring holidays. Without school children these dates have never carried much import for us except when working out when the ski resorts will close. It often seemed that as soon as one colour finished another was waiting to take over. To complicate things further the zones order moves around so one year we may be the last to have our holidays, another year the first. All this only became personal to me when I volunteered for a term time homework club. But I still find it confusing…probably my age!

So, already I have two free calendars but, sadly, I read the other day that, due to covid, the pompiers will not be visiting with theirs. Mind you, with reconfinement and sober reports about a hard winter, I assume there will be no exciting upcoming events to record on the kitchen calendar…other than worm cats!

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‘Come outside…

Two weeks into reconfinement and the prime minister will be making an announcement tonight about how it’s going. He promised at the start things would be reviewed after ‘quinze jours’ and we await his pronouncements but doubt there will be any easing just yet.

The figures are still daunting and, depending on which set I read, our department is either doing better than most in our region…or not!

But I’m doing better. Or, at least, that’s what a friend in the village just told me. ‘You’re looking better than when I last saw you’, she said. I remember that morning, the first Saturday of the last confinement. We passed each other at the village baker and I shrank away from her. ‘You’re very shifty’, she commented. I didn’t like to own up to how frightened I was of not just her but anyone!

Today, I was happily riding my bike, not hiding in the car, and had just hailed two other friends and neighbours as I swept past them. Bike riding was forbidden last confinement but I have recently discovered it is ok this time so long as I stay within the radius of a kilometre from home and only stay out for an hour. I was so frustrated last time as I enjoy a little tootle through the walnut orchards or a ride along the river.

So bike riding has been added to my almost daily walks. The weather is glorious for November and because we haven’t had any frosts the leaves are mostly still on the trees making walking under them a joy.

On the French government website I found an app which gave you a personalised map of the one kilometre radius around your address….except it wouldn’t let me print off a copy. In the end we dug out the oldest and scruffiest map of our area and, with the aid of a pair of compasses, drew a circle around our location. Armed with that it is possible to work out all manner of permutations for walks and rides. ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ has just taken a walk with that app that talks to him (remember the lac de causse walk?) and reports he has done over 4km in 56 minutes. We will stay fit after all.

It’s not just about fitness though. For me, the loss of social contact was the hardest thing to adapt to. I loved all my activities and regret the lack of opportunities to speak French in our ‘new normal’. There is still lots of contact happening on social media but it’s not the same. Out walking I have had the chance to say bonjour to fellow walkers, chat over the garden gate to various neighbours and catch up with friends as our paths cross. As we don’t live in the middle of the village anymore I didn’t bump into former neighbours that often. But now that the village is in our permitted radius it is fast becoming a regular event. Which has to be a positive.

If there are any ‘easements’ in tonight’s announcement I must make sure I carry on getting outdoors and keeping the contact going, not just with our glorious countryside but with the people who inhabit it too!

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Second time around

The first day of reconfinement and I have surprised myself. On the first full day last year I had to go out to the pharmacy and spent the whole time stressing about other people and whether the gendarmes would stop me. Had I filled in the attestation correctly? Should I be wearing a mask? Was my homemade gel protecting me? A bright spot was in the bakers as written about earlier on this blog thread.

Back at home we were trying to decide what we could and couldn’t go out to buy beyond food. Bigger worries, fuelled by the TV news, both French and UK, were that it was probably only a matter of time before we both succumbed to the virus and would die in hospital within days of entering with no visitors and unable to say goodbye to each other or any family member. Panicked, we tried to be sensible and posted a paper on the fridge with both boys names and addresses should the worst happen.

That is my overwhelming memory, the fear that gripped me which, amazingly, didn’t stop me sleeping or lead to the migraines I have suffered all my adult life when stressed, but which did colour all my decisions and meant we spent a lot of time sniping at each other as we tried to make sense of what we could and couldn’t do. For example, our communal bins are at the end of the drive but across the road. Do you need an attestation and passport to go to the bins? I was opting ‘yes’ as had read about an over zealous gendarme fining a girl who emptied her bins in her dressing gown outside her house and had no identification on her. Lou said it was nonsensical so insisted on strolling down to the bins as before with me nagging about 135euro fines! The first time we took a walk together I felt naked as all my rare outings had been in the car which I soon realised I was using as a comfort blanket, a metal one between me and potential infection.

Today I took a walk to post some letters and cheerfully filled in my attestation, printed off earlier, ticking the exercise box. I didn’t feel naked nor afraid. I exchanged a few words with the farmer’s son across the road and bonjoured a neighbour. I took photos and revelled in the glorious autumn colours.

Tonight I have pondered this new and very welcome relaxed attitude. Last time we had watched with growing concern as patients were moved from overcrowded hospitals onto trains that carried them to regions less afflicted, others were put on planes to travel over the border into Germany. Horror reports were coming out of northern Italy of doctors having to decide which patient received life saving treatment. And the awful death toll in care homes with tearful relatives telling of not being able to be with their loved ones at their end. Going into confinement seemed to polarise all those worries, presaged as it was by Macron’s pronouncement ‘We are at war!’

Nearer home there were stories of the shortage of gel and masks although the argument about mask wearing was still ongoing. Every outing prior to confinement was a personal tussle as to whether I should be going out to gym or rock or secours populaire. Would I be bringing the virus home?

This time I am equipped with gel and masks, mainly thanks to a talented sister who made my favourites, and have become adept at moving adroitly if anyone comes too close for comfort. As our eldest son says, amongst others, we may have to live with doom virus for a while and need to adapt.

Sadly, the volunteer work I had begun again has stopped due to the shop closure. The message came from our ‘chef’ yesterday but today another has come from the homework club asking could l help by facetiming again. Doors closing and opening.

So I am relaxed. We’ve been here before. There are still unknowns, like the bin visits, but other things have been experienced. The national and international news is still extremely worrying but that is a big concern, the piddling ones that wear you down on a daily basis have, for now, receded…

Photos have been taken over the last few days and are calming, j’espere….

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Here we go again…

Well, the Miers walk around the dolmens is kicked into touch again. First it was a wet Monday that should have been fine, then a dry Friday that was very gloomy, then a glorious Monday but the plumber was coming.. and now confinement again. Not that I’m complaining. The infection figures are terrifying and the hospitals are getting too full. Not just in France but in Spain, Italy and Germany. The UK can’t be far behind. Facebook covid groups have gone into overdrive bringing the news to English speaking expats so, of course, the questions and laments have started.

For people caught between house selling and moving before the end of December Brexit deadline it is one more enormous thing to be worried about. For others whingeing about not being able to go on holiday I am less sympathetic. For anyone who follows the news this has been on the horizon ever since the end of August, one of the reasons we took a break while we could.

Within an hour of Macron’s address to the nation a friend had messaged to say she was ready to drop off anything we needed as she will continue to work and passes the end of our road daily. Macron’s ‘Vive la France’ had been enough to make me feel emotional, her message nearly brought me to tears.

We have to wait until tomorrow to find out which shops will be allowed to stay open and I wonder about the charity one I work in. Our food distribution will have to go on so I assume I can still go in on that afternoon to sort stuff out but it may not be seen as essential work.

The schools are staying open so the streets will be fuller than last time, I imagine, at each end of the day. People were reporting that their local shops were busier than normal but my usual drive order went through for my preferred slot. I shall see tomorrow when I do my regular pick-up if the roads are thronged with shoppers scrabbling for pasta and loo rolls!

Meanwhile, off to bed and try to sleep….

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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.


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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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.

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.


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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