You have reached your destination

Except we hadn’t.  Last week it was a case of a walk that seemed be non existent, this week it was a whole village!

I had looked at a little etang online and when researching information about it found a walk that passed by it.  Google earth revealed a decent parking place next to the village church so having printed off the fiche for the walk it was all systems go.  My meteo said some showers, his said no rain so off we went.  Northwards this time into the Correze.   I thought it was a bit odd that after passing Tulle we were on a road that I knew was on the northern side of the A89 autoroute but decided the bigger road was better than wiggling along those twisty lanes ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ doesn’t enjoy.   At any moment I expected the GPS, usually a lover of goat tracks, to take us down a right turn.  But that didn’t happen.  On the main road in the middle of Gare du Correze our gps announced we had ‘arrived at our destination’.  ‘No, we bloody haven’t’, I retorted.  Lou checked the address he had entered which was indeed Saint Priest de Gimel but we weren’t in it.

Fortunately, on checking with the map and proving that the village was clearly marked south of the autoroute, we found we were near the D26 which should deliver us to the correct place.  Of course, there is always trial and error.  Not least when you are presented with a fork in the road that has both possibilities carrying the same road number!  A short backtrack once I recognised we were on a part of the walk and once past the etang (thank goodness) we drove up a hill, around a bend and there was the tiny church on our right.

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We parked up and tried to ignore the menacing black clouds coming from the direction we hoped to walk.  Sensible shoes and raincoats we decided.   I was very pleased to find a notice board with the name of the walk and the start of the yellow balise that would lead us around the five kilometres to come

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The usual faff as forgotten bits are retrieved and then we began.  The route was ‘sur la route’ until we got to the etang.   The small hill we had just driven up, in fact.   The Correze is logging country and we walked down between huge stacks of logs smelling gorgeous.  Around them the grass verges were full of wild flowers.  After our dried up straw like roadsides back home it was refreshing to see.  As was the rain that started to fall!

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By the time we reached the edge of the etang de Caux the rain had stopped, and so did we to enjoy the tranquil view of the water.  Its owner clearly enjoyed it too, to the extent of slapping up a wire fence and three signs with various interdictions…no camper vans , no entry etc.

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We took the hint and moved on.  My researches had revealed this would be a walk on farm tracks, no slithering over rocky, plum smeared narrow paths between fields, and so it was.   We walked up towards the plateau de Caux as my fiche told me. The etang could just be seen between the trees behind and below us.

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The landscape was a mixture of woodland and fields with rocks and heathers beside the track as we climbed higher.

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Finally the track flattened out with views of woodland and we came into s tiny hamlet. Caux, I believe.  The first people we’d seen were chatting outside a house and waved us to the right as we searched in vain for a yellow balise.

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With a bonjour and a merci we walked down past a precarious old barn and noticed a tiny yellow splash on one of its stones.  Now we were on a main road and heading uphill…again.   Himself wasn’t convinced we were going in the right direction but this bit I had seen several times on Google earth so strode forth! IMG_20200803_123526-01

Leaving Caux behind us we clung to the verge (more flowers) as the few cars that passed us drove at speed.  The Correze has abandoned the experiment with a limit of 80kph and so you can whizz’ along at 90kph.  Walkers beware!

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Soon we reached the right turn for Vieillascaux.  Thank goodness for the yellow balise on the road sign as Lou was convinced I was leading him on a wild goose chase.  This road led us down, at first, past broom bushes and ripening blackberries

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and then up to a farm.  Another prominent yellow splash pointed us around the farmyard.

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By now himself was striding away as usual.  I was bonjour-ed by a young girl as I took a photo of her father’s (?) sign of protest about wind farms

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I took several shots here as I love a cluttered farmyard and this one was pretty full of diverse objects.  In contrast there were some very neat piles of wood, ready cut for the winter stove and weighted down with bits of the ubiquitous corrugated iron and large stones.  A nearby logpile smelled wonderful

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I knew from Google earth and my fiche that this track would eventually take us back to the church from where we started so I let Lou go ahead as I strolled along enjoying the sights and smells.  The track alternated between tarmac and rough stony earth and at one point there was a wonderful perfume but I couldn’t identify from what.  We were at the highest point of the walk and there was a warm breeze blowing and some blue sky appearing.   Good to be alive kind of walking.

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A helicopter suddenly clattered away to my left.  Possibly monitoring forest fires?  This is the dangerous time of year with high temperatures, random winds and careless humans.  The path undulated and wandered between fields and woodland.

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The woods were made up of several different deciduous species, some of which I even recognised.

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Suddenly on my right a vista opened up with misty mountains in the far distance.  I wished I had a compass so I could work out later with the map which ones they were.

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We seemed to be in the final descent which was into a beech wood.

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I love beech woods.  They remind me of life back in the UK when I would pick bunches of leaves to steep in glycerine for winter displays.  Around our village there are similar trees that confused me until a friend told me they are hornbeam.

The last part of the walk brought us back to the village through a farm.  Possibly not a working one given the state of its buildings?

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Once beautiful but needing repair.  The immediate village, or hamlet, consists of this farm, three houses, a cross and a church.

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There was a group of fat yew trees around the cross and I wondered if they signified the presence of a former graveyard but no amount of internet searching has revealed any information about the village or its church.

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The church was locked and appears to be  missing a bell or two.  Its war memorial set into the church wall seems sadly neglected.

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But someone must live here as a van turned up with a cherry picker on top and two workers emerged and seemed to be busy with internet cables as we were changing our shoes.

Lunch was on our minds and we hoped the small, possible parking space next to the etang would still be free.  It was.

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We ignored the wire fence and enjoyed the calm and the fact it had stayed dry after that first shower.

As to the mystery of the whereabouts of the real Saint Priest de Gimel?  Well, we know it exists, we’ve been there…and, by proxy, so have you!

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Le fraysse

It was meant to be a short walk followed by lunch and then, if we felt up to it, the rest of the walk.

It didn’t happen like that.

Firstly, the meteo told us it was going to be the hottest day of the year so far. Hmm, just the first part of the walk then.  Secondly, when we arrived in Lissac, the departure point for this walk around the commune of Lissac et Mouret, there was no sign of ‘our’ walk on the information board outside the mairie.

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There were four other walks, one of which bore the same name as the walk on the ‘fiche’ I was holding in my hand.  No matter. The le fraysse walk on the notice board said it was facile, 6.5 km long and would take one hour and thirty-five minutes. Perfect.  Just the right amount of walking to bring us back for lunch before the real heat of the day kicked in.

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You can tell my nature tends to the optimistic!  We got ourselves sorted, lots of water, sticks (thank heaven) and the copies of the map I had made.  But I left the route of ‘my’ fraysse in the car.  Bad move.

The blue balise was easy to find and we started to trudge up a steep hill away from the crossroads.  Halfway up there was an expletive from the other half and back he went for his camera, forgotten and still in the car.  I continued and dallied at the top taking photos of wayside flowers and a pretty view with a cross.

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Up here we were amongst the older houses of the commune and there were lots of picturesque barns and drystone walls.  We were to become well acquainted with them over the next ten minutes or so.  The blue balises were still evident but kept sending us into front gardens or down grassy tracks to wire fences.

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As we found ourselves having gone in a complete circle I made an executive decision.  That trudge up the hill was also the first part of ‘my’ yellow route.  Let’s follow that one and hope for more success.  A fabulous kite flew low overhead and it seemed a good omen.

So off we went, comforted by the sight of a yellow balise painted on a telegraph pole. The track led down and I could remember the first bit of the instructions telling me that the road would become a grassy track and then a road again.  And it did, so I was reassured that these yellow balises were ‘my’ yellow balises.

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At the end of this first part we came back to the main road and were directed across it to a narrow low bridge crossing the Drauzou river.

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I was amused by a ‘no swimming’ sign. The depth was just about sufficient for a paddle.

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A young chap with his shoes off, deep in a book with headphones on, was sitting on the bank. There was a nice shady place just past him that might do for our lunch spot.

We turned right under the trees and I began to look out for the moulin de la fraysse but it was completely hidden although we could hear water tumbling over something, either a weir or the remains of its waterwheel.  The path led us to our left and up between two fields.  Up being the operative word.  We had walked up, down and along one side of the river and the river was in a valley so common sense told us the other side of the valley would have to be climbed too.  And climb we did

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Looking back down…there was a lot more climbing to be done!

The path was easy to follow but upwards all the time. As we got to the edge of the woodland above the fields I pleaded for a stop to catch my breath.

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Now the path ran along to our right.  I was glad of our sticks which could hold back the brambles that tried to catch us and steady myself as we crossed large slabs of stone.  This would be treacherous after rain, I decided, especially as the ground was littered with squashed wild plums.  We came to a troop of sheep all huddled together in the shade of a tree.  ‘I bet the ones in the middle are hot’, said Lou and laughed as he pointed out some more shade further along with not a sheep taking advantage of it.  Sheep being sheep? I replied

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Further on, still going up, we passed a tinkling ‘font’ on our right and a hamlet on our left.  We were coming to Labadie, according to our map copies.

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We left the brambles and squashed plums and walked (puffed) up a grassy slope towards a beautifully restored old house.  From there we took the track on our left that linked the hamlet to le Causse St Denis.  The clue is in the name.  All our local causses are reached by climbing steep hills!

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The road was still climbing but eventually it began to flatten.   There was a turning on our right which, happily, our yellow balise  ignored.  The Pech de Saubie.  I have never found a satisfactory translation for pech but peak seems about right!

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Now the track was obviously going down gently through woodland.  It was very pleasant and I was glad of my overly large floppy sunhat with its deep brim as the sun was hot and I was wondering if ‘Mr Mcgregor’s stomach was rumbling as it was well past one o’clock by now and he is franglofied enough to eat at midday normally.

Where the track joined the main road he was all for turning left and following it to Lissac but the yellow sign was saying go right.   I suggested that, maybe, we had  followed the yellow this far so why not give it a chance as it was sure to turn left soon and, hopefully,  be more pleasant that walking beside the traffic in the sun.  Sure enough, after a few metres there was the yellow bar on the back of a stop sign for a turning on our left.  Further on at a fork between two roads in front of us there was a track leading away down the hillside.  This isn’t on the map.  I’ve looked.  But there was a yellow sign on a telegraph pole!  By now I had decided that ‘my’ le fraysse  route was not a commune inspired walk.  I had found it on the Figeac tourist site.  Curious that the commune hadn’t thought to add it to their notice board though.  Fit of pique?

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Before plunging us back into woodland we had a lovely view across the Drauzou valley we had just crossed.  It looks shallow but my knees could tell you different.

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There goes Lou.  He is shouting plums!  The path got narrower and steeper and there were squashed plums again.  We passed a couple of clusters of lovely old buildings  where lanes came up from the main road and one had a magnificent covered well.

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A dog behind a wire fence growled at me while I took pictures of a pretty wall.

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As we slithered down the slope to the main road I noticed a portion of dry stone wall. Put there to hold the hillside back from the road below many years ago?

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Once on the main road it was a only a short walk across the Drauzou again, not such a pretty bridge, and into the town.  a left turn, up another steep slope(!), past the church and behind the mairie and back to the car parked next to the cemetery.

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The car temperature read 47 degrees!  And that hour and a half of walking had been two and half hours of walking.  I needed my coffee!  After drinking tepid water off we went to see if we could park in the shade by the pretty bridge.  Sadly, the young lad was now stretched out asleep in ‘our’ spot.

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Undeterred we turned for home.  We knew of a couple of shady laybys set back from the road.  So that’s where we ate lunch and i finally got my capuccino, in the shade of ‘les tilleuls’.   We scorned the grass below the grove of lime trees, just in case, and set up our table and chairs behind the car.  A little later a van pulled up in front of our car and let out a dog.  The dog promptly used the grass.   We were glad to be sat where we were.   We were too knackered to move anyway!

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On top of the Xaintrie

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Another lake, another swimmer.  But technically, this isn’t a lake or etang. It is a plan d’eau.  Plan d’eau is a catch all term for a stretch of water used for leisure activities such as the river Cele at Marcilhac.  The nearest one to our village is where the Cere widens and curves just before a small wier.  A beach of sorts has formed on the outer side of the bend and is used by a nearby campsite.  The one at Auriac  looks like the manmade variety and we could see a rather plain embankment whose sole purpose appeared to be to hold the water back or in.

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But I’m ahead of myself.  Today’s trip started with a visit to the Puy de Bassin a few kilometres down the road from this particular plan d’eau.  We had driven to Argentat taking the route of two weeks ago, the ‘fish farm road’ but from Argentat had taken the road northeast up across the Xaintrie, the old name for the area.  Typically, the gps had ideas of its own about the route it should offer us and left the main road at St Privat and proceeded to take us down narrower and narrower roads until we had barely enough space to negotiate our way around occasional cyclists and even rarer oncoming cars.  Mind you, the road from Darazac and through the forest Duzejouls was beautiful and when we drove past about five or six huge log stacks the car filled with the smell of resin.

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‘i’m only the chauffeur’ hadn’t been able to find the Puy de Bassin, my intended first stop, on the car gps so we came to the plan d’eau at Auriac first.  We drove on Into the tiny village full of slate roofed house and a slightly forbidding church and took the road for the Puy.   As I had hoped the turning for it led to a decent tarmac road albeit narrow that took us to a parking area.  Getting out of the car we could hear a humming noise and soon realised there was an enormous phone aerial nearby.  Well, it is advertised as the highest point of the Xaintrie.

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There were several information boards telling us about the flora and fauna. Otters (?) and booted eagles. And a sign for a six kilometre walk.  Lou perked up at the thought while I didn’t. Well, not today anyway.  Another time perhaps?

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A wide track led up through the pine trees to a green space with a chapelle and a statue of the virgin Mary on a very tall column.  There was also a rectangular stone thingy and an old fashioned camera set up pointing at the scene.

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One of these edifices marks the green meridian which cuts through Paris.  We cross it on visits to Aurillac (spelt differently!) and Puy Mary.  I’ve read that to celebrate the millennium events were held in towns and villages along it.

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(I wondered if the English translation was a touch of local French pique, letting les Brittaniques know they weren’t best pleased to lose out to Greenwich!)

We took photographs but couldn’t see the view as, despite being at the highest point, the surrounding forest blocked out everything.  The chapelle was unlocked so we were able to go inside and look at the stained glass and memorial to the fallen of the two world wars.  ‘Mort for la France’, this phrase is intoned at armistice ceremonies all over France after each name of the fallen for the particular community is read out.  So always poignant to come across those words, especially in a beautiful place on a peaceful day.  A group of children had clattered around the chapelle as we had arrived but only tried the door.  Perhaps they should have been encouraged to go in and reflect.

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There were none of the advertised picnic tables and with the six kilometre walk put off for another day it was back to the car under the humming aerial and back to Auriac.

Earlier we had driven past what we thought was a parking area for the plan d’eau but it turned out to be for the Sothys gardens nearby.   Luckily there was some flattish land just above the water on our left so we drive onto it and parked.  A bit anxious about the legality of that but the plan d’eau was just below us so we wouldn’t be far away if a jobsworth turned up and wanted order us off!

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Picking our way carefully down the bank we found a bench perfectly placed for our picnic lunch.  So beer out, himself, cappuccino made, myself, we relaxed and enjoyed the view.  The swimmer made a circumnavigation and then seemed to disappear.  We hoped he’d made it to the far side from where we could hear excited children playing in the water.

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Lunch finished and the sun getting hotter as our shady patch wasn’t that shady anymore we decided to walk around the plan d’eau.  I had read online there were ‘bornes’ placed along the walk with relevant information.  It was thanks to one that I learned that there was a source that ran into the water.  source always sounds so romantic but this appreared to be a ditch watched over by a few cows.  Most if the others were pretty faded but we could just make out that we were passing a very old oak and later a very old chestnut.

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The squeals and screeches were coming from children messing about with canoes next to a pontoon and some in the water by the “beach’.  We spotted the official car park.  Up this end there the obligatory commune tennis court and boule pitch as well as crazy golf.  There was the municipal campsite which looked very inviting under its shady trees.  One to remember for when times improve?

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Benches and picnic tables were placed around and about and there was a holiday atmosphere as we passed groups also picnicking, sunbathing or fishing.  All the things you envisage at a plan d’eau but surprisingly restful due to not being overcrowded despite it being mid July and school holidays.

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Back at ‘our’ bench it was time to turn for home and pick our own route rather than  that of our goat track loving gps.  St Privat here we come, the less windy way!

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Canal des Moines

Before we left the UK and retired to France my best friend and I decided to extend our regular lunch dates to include local places of interest that either neither of us or just one of us had visited.  I remember she took me to Brookwood cemetery which may sound gloomy but, as she promised, is a beautiful place full of flowering  rhododendrons if you go at the right time and is a very peaceful place for quiet reflection and long walks

Somewhere neither of us had visited was Farnborough Abbey despite knowing of its existence. This was quite ridiculous as both of us must have driven past it hundreds of times as it is on the main road less than three miles from the village where we had both lived for thirty years. (I say village because it had been back in the early 70s when we both moved there)  The abbey was founded by the Empress Eugenie in the late 1800s as a place for contemplation but also as a final resting place for her husband Napoleon the third.  So a French connection.  We enjoyed our visit and I treasure a tiny silver pill box I bought as a souvenir of our day.

Similarly, over here we have an abbey a bit further away than three miles but still one that I have known about but never visited.  Its most famous attraction is the canal des Moines, an amazing feat of 12th century engineering built to bring fresh water from the river Coiroux to the abbey.  A distance of around two kilometres.  Although founded near a spring the abbey required more water than the source could provide so a real case of necessity being the mother of invention.

With the one hour away driving rule this was a perfect choice.  We drove past the signpost for the abbey every time we went to Malemort on shopping or medical exoedition.  The gps was switched on in case there was a quicker way and, sure enough, it took us up a road we didn’t know which wound along a hillside looking down on a pretty valley.  Aubazine sits on a hilltop amongst other hilltops.

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There weren’t many places to park, holiday makers?  ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ expertly slotted us into a space I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying, not far from the abbey.

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Across the road behind us was s sign for the start of the canal so we joined a few other tourists walking in the same direction but at a distance as the new reality advises.

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The start of the walk was a steep climb up a village street.  I hoped this wasn’t indicative of what was to come!  As we climbed higher we could hear the sound of water rushing over stones and there was the canal, tumbling down the rocks and into the valley below.  I said we’d been climbing!

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Up some steps, across a main road, past a lavoir and up another steep street.  But, at the top, the proper start of the walk.  There was a large information board and a smaller one reminding you of the dangers to come!

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We had been warned.  The walk was now flat with the canal moving gently on our left and a fabulous view of the thickly wooded hills on our right, between the trees growing on a very steep slope.  Not a place to bring the grandson…yet! IMG_20200713_113705-01

Soon we were out in the sunshine with the rockface now on our left and an even more dangerous looking drop on our right.  The praise in all the publicity for the rigorous hard work of the monks was becoming apparent the further we walked.

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The path is well maintained and easy to follow.  There are a few places where you have to clamber over a rocky outcrop but there are handrails to hang on to.  Of course, out came the hand gel after each rail grab and I was very concerned by a chap I nicknamed the heavy breather who persisted in stopping behind me to catch his breath.  I moved quickly away and hoped my ridiculously big floppy sunhat was giving sufficient droplet protection!IMG_20200713_115225-01

At one point there were metal hooks in the rockface and I remembered seeing a climbing logo on the map.  Abseiling too?

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We carried on with the sound of the river now below us amongst the trees.  Finally, we caught sight of the water glistening as it rushed over the rocks. A little further on there was a path down to a wooden bridge over the torrent.  Some children were enjoying that!

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Now we were almost at the point where the canal joined the river.  There was a sluice gate set between the rocks and an anxious step over the flow took you across to a place where you could see the river coiroux cascading down a waterful deep under the trees.

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At this point we wondered whether to follow the footpath up to the calvaire and the point de vue.  There was a washed out yellow balise on a tree trunk but the path didn’t look very inviting as it curved its way up the deeply shaded hillside with many tree roots looking ready to trip over the unwary walker.   As we were not in walking boots we decided to give it a miss and return the only way possible…the way we had come.

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The return always seems much faster than the outward journey and, thankfully, I’d lost my heavy breathing shadow.  More photos, bien sur.  And time to take the one that is on all the postcards of this walk.

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Is this the corbelling the publicity talks about? In which case we’re walking over the void!  We were blessed with fabulous weather and it was clear the holiday season was getting going.  Further picnics may need to be taken on randonnees rather than tourist hot spots as infection rates are already on the rise again.

Back at the car lots of hand gel and thoughts of coffee.  Luckily we were parked on the road we needed to take out of town.  I had spent ages on Google earth looking for likely picnic spots, preferably near water and had even thought we may end up in a layby, albiet pretty, with a former railway building on it, on our route home.  Finally I found a tiny etang and street view showed me it had a sign indicating its existence and google earth had followed the approach road as far as a big parking sign.  So, hopefully, a legitimate place to picnic.  Then the evening before the picnic I remembered that I had recently bought an ign map of the area.  There was ‘my’ etang and, oh joy, an aire de repos icon.

A short drive along a windy (aren’t they all) road with views of more wooded hills and valleys and then the sharp left turn for the etang des saules, the willows pond.

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There was the carpark as expected with just two cars.  We parked in the shade overlooking the pond.

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There were several rods around the pool and fishermen at both  ends.   We set up camp in the shade  above and where we wouldn’t disturb the fish.  We relaxed and watched the dragonflies and a lone duck, the only one to break the peace and quiet.

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After lunch we wandered around the etang (I tried the toilets indicated on a sign but the door was locked!) and, of course, I chatted up one of the fishermen to find out what lived in the water.

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He told me carp and pike but you could only take one of each home with you.  Half-day and whole day permits could be bought at the mairie of the commune, no licence required.  He spoke a little English when he heard my accent and as we left told us to ‘stay in France, ignore the Brexit!’.  We intend too, we told him.

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Picnic maker and researcher!

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‘i’m only the chauffeur’ and parking expert. (He didn’t like the other photo)

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Across the border…

Maybe because I was born under the sign of pisces I love being beside the water be it river, lake or sea.  Having grown up under two hours away from family favourite beaches in the county that includes most of the Cinque ports it was perhaps odd that we retired to a landlocked department of France.  But our commune is bisected by the Cere river and the Dordogne lies just over the hill behind the house.  So still a lot of water about for this fishy soul to enjoy.   Both the Cere and the Dordogne are home to ‘barrages’, an important source of hydro electricity.  These help control the flow of what were once very dangerous rivers which could flood towns along the banks in times of heavy rain or melt water from the Auvergne from whence they both spring.  In a civil defence exercise undertaken by our canton a few years ago we were told to be prepared for a disaster.  On the allotted day we had a call from two councillors who announced solemnly that the big dam at Bort les Orgues on the Dordogne had burst and we had four hours to evacuate.  In reality I’m not sure if four hours would be sufficient for the people ‘of the valley’ as our dance teacher refers to us, to grab precious possessions and head for the hills.  Narrow country roads and a weight of fleeing traffic may mean we’d be safer sitting on the house roof and taking our chances!

Anyway, in the context of the picnic days out and the charm of sitting beside the Cele on two occasions meant I set about exploring the lakes of Correze, a department known for its thick forests and multiplicity of rivers and lakes and that starts on the edge of our commune at the top of that hill.  I began by searching the department’s tourism site which listed lacs et etangs (ponds).  Then it was google earth to see where one could park …or not, and if there was any shade, a priority in July and August.

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I came up with two possibilities, Etang de Ruffaud and Etang de Laborde.  Laborde looked the more intimate of the two and offered parking closer to the shore.  There was information about both of them on various fishing sites but a photograph of people playing on the little beach of Laborde as opposed to a footnote about swimming being forbidden at Ruffaud swung it towards the smaller pond.  Google maps showed a route we knew well towards Tulle and then hang a right across country just south of Saint Fortunade.  Further websearching revealed another possibility that was probably more interesting scenery wise.  Get ourselves to Argentat and then follow the eastern side of the Dordogne up to the Barrage de Chastang, over it and then across in a westerly direction to La Roche Canillac, the nearest village to the etang.

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So that is what we did…or nearly didn’t do!  We each have our own pet weather forecasters.  We had woken up to wall to wall grey as himself calls it and although my forecast said sun by eleven o’clock, his said no sun until two in the afternoon and the possibility of some light rain.  Decisions, decisions!  In the end we decided to go. This hour from home idea means we could come back without regrets if it all went belly up.   The road ‘past the fish farm’ is a favourite of the cycling son and i could see why.  It winds through the woods, past said fish farm in its delightful little combe, and then up into the high pastures and the village of Mercoeur.  After a few kilometres of flattish land the road swoops down into the valley just along from Argentat.  The town is unremarkable but is visited for its stunning quayside lined with picturesque houses.  All our visitors get taken there to wander and eat the fabulous icecream on offer!

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The road along the Dordogne was new to us and not very busy.  It wound around through trees with tantalising views of the river all the way.  We passed the Barrage de Argentat, a rather ugly interruption of the bucolic landscape and then came to the Barrage de Chastang.

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It was an awesome site and my photograph doesn’t give a sense of how tiny you felt standing below it knowing about the weight of water and power behind it.   Lou asked if i wanted to stop on the way over to take another shot but I didn’t.  Travelling over dams makes me feel anxious and those expanses of still deep water always seem to me to smack of something sinister.  So a quick shot from the car window!

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The road on the other side was narrower and twistier than I had expected but not busy which was a relief as I was on the river side of the car as we climbed steadily upwards next to an ever increasing drop to the water but with stunning views glimpsed between the trees.  As we neared La Roche Canillac i got a bit confused and therefore not very good with road directions.  I knew there was a lower Roche and an upper Roche and it seemed silly to climb to the upper Roche when we would have to come down again.  ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ mutters about twisty roads!  Happily just when we thought we had taken the wrong road a village sign informed us we were in La Roche Canillac and at the next t-junction there was a sign for the etang.

Down the hill, a turning on the right and we had arrived.  And the sun had come out.  There was a large grassy car park with just one car but no shade so I directed Lou around the etang to a track under the trees.  He was a bit uncomfy about parking there but as there was no one around and no traffic on the track I assured him we would be ok for now…at least until we had a coffee.   Table and chairs set up, coffee made, we sat and enjoyed the view despite a rather chilly breeze coming off the water.

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A lady cyclist arrived, leaned her bike against a nearby tree, stripped off and slipped into the water.   Brrrrr.  We watched as she did a slow lap of ‘our’ end of the etang.  There was a line of buoys which we assumed demarcated the swimming zone.  When she climbed out just below us a conversation started.  She told us it wasn’t that cold and she was used to it.  She swam every morning and evening and ‘it is my element’.  She went on to explain the etang is privately owned but allows the public to use it.  A fishing association manages the sale of permits from the boathouse we could see and it would be open in the afternoon as a buvette.

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Then she went off to sit in the sun to dry off.  We decided that a move into the sun would be preferable for our lunch and so we adjourned to the grassy bank next to the boathouse.  By now there were some other swimmers enjoying the water and it was very pleasant to sit in the sun under some very tall pine trees enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

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Despite the sunshine (brownie points to my meteofrance app) the breeze was still fresh so, after lunch and a pause we decided to walk around the pond or as far as was possible.  Our local informer had told us the track where we had been parked originally became very wet further on because of the logging lorries.  So we made for the other side where another logging track meant it was an easy walk and I soon lost Lou as I stopped to take photos.

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It was lovely strolling along next to the water and exciting to see waterlilies blooming.  Beside the track were young chestnut saplings and beneath the mostly pine trees not much scrub.  Clearly well managed woodland which is important given the incidence of forest fires in the area.

 

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Around the top of the etang the track left the waterside for a short distance but we soon saw where to find it again, negotiating a large tree trunk obviously placed to dissuade quad bikes and the like,  I imagine.  Here the track was grassy in places and very damp but passable.

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IMG_20200706_132459-01We were soon back at our coffee stop and ready to start for home.  Back in the car a decision to return via Saint Fortunade was made as the roads were straighter.  A peaceful place to visit again but I think I’ll pass on the swimming!

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This time… Marcilhac sur Cele

Marcilhac sur Cele was so pretty we were always going to go back.

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In the interim I did my much loved researching online to find out more about the Abbaye Saint Pierre.  Founded in the ninth century by Benedictine monks from Moisssac, by the 12th century it had become rich and powerful and even tried to take Rocamadour into its possessions. When the hundred years war ravaged the area it was destroyed by the English troops.  Rebuilding work in the 15th century came to nothing as the Protestants burnt it down during the French wars of religion. After that the reformation and French revolution finished any influence it might have had.  Nowadays there is fund raising to restore as much as possible with the village cure even persuaded to do a parachute jump! A secondhand organ was found and donated by Craggvale parish in Manchester.

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There is an emotional comment about the English making restitution for the damage done in the Hundred Years War on the Abbey website.  We used to hear a lots of comments about that war and wonder how deep that scar goes locally!  All these events mean the abbey is an amalgam of its history, some of it standing as picturesque and formidable ruins and a lofty interior containing that organ.

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We drove across the causse once more, poppies still there amongst the fields where haymaking was finally happening now the weather had dried up.  Down into the gorge of the Cele with its breathtaking limestone cliffs and into the village ‘place’.

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Not many cars parked which was a relief as the school holidays were approaching but the confusion of deconfinement meant many children had never actually gone back.

I led Lou along the riverbank and showed him the archway we had to duck through to arrive behind the abbey (the result of a swift recce the last time we were this way).

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At this point we lost each other.  It is ever thus.  Cameras in hand we wander about taking photos, nosing around in corners and then happening upon each other eventually.  The village is much tinier than I had expected but a positive jewel containing some beautiful old buildings aside from the abbey.  I couldn’t find any brochures about the place as the tourist office was shut.

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The tourist office!

I was keen to know if it was ever flooded as the buildings go right down to the river.  Plus did the abbey control the salt route as several had along the Dordogne in medieval times when salt was an expensive item?  Marcilhac is on the Santiago de Compostela route but then so many villages lay claim to that in this area I tend to think it is a tourism ploy rather than a reality.  Even Gagnac has the familiar scallop shells pasted on lamp posts etc to show the ‘way’, a detour to Rocamadour from Figeac.

Back at the car the picnic was unloaded but not the table and chairs as we had noticed picnic tables next to the plan d’eau.  Lou went to bag a table while I visited the epicerie for some postcards. I found some fabulous cherries for sale too….dessert!

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There was a gang of lads with canoes and a radio on the grass by the water but not too loud so the peaceful atmosphere was maintained.  An ouvrier was eating his packed lunch at the next table and wished us bon appetit.   Lou’s beer had been remembered so all was good.  Over lunch we watched the world go by and listened to the frogs…again and the Abbey clock sounding the quarters.

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“I wouldn’t fancy swimming in that’, said Lou, nodding at the slowly moving and very green water.  I had to agree it didn’t look inviting but the setting is fabulous. The village and its riverbank are dwarfed by the towering limestone cliffs that rise up on the far side.

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Lunch over, rested and curiosity satisfied…for now, we made for home.  But first we crossed the river just beyond the village and followed the road we had noticed that ran at the bottom of that towering ‘falaise’.  It took us back past the village (but no suitable place for a photo) and then up into the forest of Marcilhac.  Eventually we circled back to Saint Sulpice, a village clinging to the vertiginous hillside.  We took the road up and out of the village and eventually came to a ‘point de vue’.  Photos were taken, poppies included!

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Next time…

We didn’t go to Marcilhac sur Cele the next time. We did something completely different.

When we first came to this area in the early 90s we discovered an unusual bar cum gallery in St Cere called Casino.

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Unbeknown to us at the time the tiny elderly couple who came out from behind the scenes when we walked in, switched on lights and watched us suspiciously as we wandered around had opened the casino back in 1945 as a bar and music venue. It soon became famous and had been referred to as the Olympia of the Lot, as a comparison with the more well known concert hall in Paris.  We knew none of this and looked at the wierd and wonderful collection of art works by Jean Lurcat, a famous tapestry maker and resistance radio worker during the last war working out of his nearby chateau at St Laurent les tours and the modern, more gentle water colours of Gilles Sacksick.

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The black and white photographs of a chap called Robert Doisneau took our eye, especially as it is Lou’s favourite medium.  We pondered the link with our local social centre called after him.  Over the years we have seen several exhibitions in St Cere and collected quite a few books of his work. Exploring the history of the owners of the casino they had been the centre of a coterie of artists, photographers and musicians who exhibited and played at the bar.  It was Jean Lurcat who encouraged them to include an art gallery (for his work, bien sur) in 1947 and after Doisneau interviewed Lurcat for the magazine le point, he too became part of the St Cere scene.

All of which brings me to our next destination.  Sadly the casino is no more. The elderly couple passed on, both surviving to a great age and, despite promises that the casino would continue albiet in a reduced form, not a lot has happened in recent years and it remains closed.

But, I discovered another place in the region connected to Doisneau.  Although not from this area he enjoyed taking his holidays here with his wife and friends.  A photograph of them waiting on the platform of the station at Carlux became an iconic image due to being taken in the early years of paid holidays and, more importantly, the last summer before world war two began.

I had googled earthed (my favourite form of stalking) a few years back and the station looked forlorn and as if it was about to be demolished.  Now, however, Google revealed it to be very smart and calling itself La gare Robert Doisneau, a complex of the tourist office, a gallery dedicated to Doisneau and a cafe which had opened in 2018.  Plenty of parking and only an hour from home. Bingo!

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The railway track is now a voie verte, a mainly cycling route along part of the Dordogne valley.  We chose a sunny day and ‘only the chauffeur’ braved the twisty road to Souillac he doesn’t like to drive.  We were equipped with masks and took a picnic as I still didn’t (and don’t) feel safe eating out although bars and cafes are once again open.

The two galleries devoted to Doisneau were interesting for explaining about his life and connection with our region but the photos were mainly holiday snaps.  The girl on the tourist office/gallery desk seemed unaware that there is a big Doisneau exhibition down in Bram near Carcassonne at the moment.  It has been extended until September due to confinement so we still hope to get to it, fingers crossed.

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There is a third gallery used for temporary exhibitions which we shuffled around but weren’t very impressed with.  Outside the sun shone down and although there was a grassy carpark beyond the tarmac one it didn’t offer any shade so we decided to go and look for some.

Malheursement, the spot I had picked because Google showed a sign saying aire de repos had been taken over by a private canoe company and the shady riverside was roped off.  So back to the main road to hunt for a picnic place. From my internet searching I knew it was going to be hard.  This road is busy in summer and is more about moving tourists from one destination to the next rather than letting them dally.  We saw one possibility and after a fruitless search further on turned back.  A camper was parked up under the trees but there were two picnic tables available. Ultimately we set up our own in the best shady position.

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We found ourselves eating next to the voie verte where it crossed the main drag and I think there was more traffic along that than on the road.  All styles of bikes and riders.  It gave me a real sense of the holidays having started despite schools still theoretically being open.  We watched the world go by, on two wheels and four; enjoyed the butterflies and birdsong and the view of a village church spire.

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There were even some poppies!

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On y va

Well, the weather cheered up and so did I.  It is the fourteenth of July and a diminished parade has taken place in Paris although the patrouille de France did its colourful flypast comme d’hab. We have been out for a picnic every week for the past five weeks and it is fast becoming an institution. Mr McGregor has taken to asking ‘and where are you taking us next week?’ I have purchased four new maps and discovered in the process that ign have started condensing two previous issues into one so I seem to have duplicates of some areas nearby. Tant pis, the cycling son always wants a map to take on his rides when here. So a run down on the visits so far..

Monteils (not to be confused with another bigger place further on)

I scanned the map of part of the Cele river, a valley we haven’t explored despite it being relatively close to home, and studied the fields etc bordering the river. I found a symbol I didn’t know and the legend stated it was an  ‘aire de repos’.

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A squint at Google earth showed there was a track down to the river next to a bridge over it to monteils.  Fingers crossed there was enough room to park.  Picnic bag packed and telling myself if it proved a disaster we weren’t far from home, off we went.  I had picked a Tuesday as it seems a quiet day usually and the weather forecast was good. A pretty drive across the causse with poppies glowing on the verges.  The ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ groans every time I shout ‘poppies!’.  When we used to drive down to our holiday home here, the autoroute was being built, slowly, so we would drive past banks of newly turned earth where the poppies in May and June were stunning…and I would shout…!

As we left the main road to drop down to the Cele valley the grandeur of the scenery became apparent.  High cliffs of limestone on either side of the river with trees clutching any earth in the cracks and clefts.  This was looking promising.

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We drove around Marcilhac sur Cele, a village whose name I knew but one we hadn’t been through before.  It looked promising too.   At last the turning for the bridge. Down the track on the right, I insisted.  Cautiously, himself drove down.  And there it was.  The aire de repos complete with an information board and picnic tables.  We parked up and I set up the table to make coffee.  Lou explored and came back to say the odd tepee thing was a BBQ.  I had thought it was kids’ play apparatus.  Further exploring revealed an embarkation point for canoes with a slipway provided. (checking the map later I saw the symbol for that too!)

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There were trees along the riverbank which I hadn’t expected but I found a gap and moved the table and chairs to give our lunch a waterside view.  Lou asked for beer…oops!   Something to add to the list for future outings.   Someone wandered down the opposite bank and called ‘bonjour’.  ‘Checking us out’, I muttered.   After that it was just us, the birds, the butterflies, jumping fish and croaking frogs.

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There was very light traffic on the main road and almost nothing over the bridge.  We snoozed in the sunshine until himself got bored and wanted to move on.   So we did.  Driving back to Marcilhac I asked if we could stop so I could do a quick recce of the ruined 9th century abbey, a possible next visit?  We turned into the tiny centre and there was a lovely ‘place’ under huge plane trees and a grassy bank down to the plan d’eau.

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‘We could have picnicked here’, said Lou.  Next time? I replied

 

 

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what day is it? what month is it??

as a retired person i am used to asking my fellow retiree, aka mr mcgregor, what day it is as they all seem to blur together sometimes. especially in the school holidays when my various activities are on holiday too.  but since the arrival of doom virus and the following confinement all over europe i am having great difficulty not only with which day is it but which month it is.   yesterday i looked at the calendar and found myself disbelieving it was the eleventh day of june.  june? JUNE?   how can that be?

confinement hit us in mid march, the day before my birthday and on the day we should have left to go on a short break to a pretty town in provence.   since then we have had to come to terms with not making any trips, at first the permitted distance was a kilometre from home then one hundred kilometres and now as far as the french border….but no further.  we have had to carry pieces of paper to prove who we are, where we live and where we are going. Later more shops opened and we started going to them wearing our masks and now almost everywhere is open but we can’t assemble with more than nine other people.   while grappling with all that who had time to notice that er…time was passing.

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we have had a beautiful spring which saved a lot of us from extreme depression but now the early summer is pretty wet and gloomy which is having an effect on my morale and, no doubt, on other peoples’ too.   a normal june  (will there ever be a normal june again?) would find me making sausage rolls as the various group activities drew to a summer closure.

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the rock crowd would be having its annual ‘assemblee’ followed by a bbq and rock soiree.  later there would a pizza night up at hugo’s fabulous place in the hills with music and dancing into the early hours.

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the homework club would be organising a meeting to ‘faire le point’ and a picnic on the banks of a local plan d’eau to round off the school year.

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my monthly ‘ladies wot lunch’ would be meeting for the last time before september, sharing plans for the summer and family visits.   the weekly english/ french group would be trinque-ing a verre and wondering how to hang on to the vocabulary we had learned.   gym classes would draw to a close.   i don’t know how they celebrate the end of the year as it was my first year with this association and what a strange year.

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only secours populaire would be soldiering on but they would be discussing the closure of the antenne in august although the weekly distribution alimentaire would go on just as it has done all through this awful time.

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and we should have been doing a ‘collecte’ this month to replenish supplies!

the village fete committee would be selling tickets for the fete de la musique on midsummer’s day or the weekend closest when we would all convene for a meal in the ‘place’ for a catch up and ‘bopping’ to the accordian music provided. 

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and our crazy kiwi friend up on the hill would be celebrating christmas in summer as she has done ever since landing in our lives, borrowing our elderly christmas tree in a pot!

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that’s a normal june.  and normal june would have followed a normal may and a normal april.  we did do some of the usual things around easter which this year fell in april.  traditionally we always get out the garden furniture from the cave on the easter weekend and we did.

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but it didn’t follow a week of cleaning and readying the gite for the hoped for summer clients.  with travel restrictions in place for the forseeable future there seemed no point. even when things eased up in may i replied to a tourist office enquiry that we would not be opening.

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i really don’t feel like cleaning up after strangers and the cleaning has to be much deeper than usual and there are various procedures to be put in place.   i couldn’t face it.

in may we managed to get out and buy the veg and flower plants to keep us busy and to bring a little normality into our days.  but it was odd not to have any visitors.  may is often a month when family or friends choose to come and stay.

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the weather is good, the countryside looks stunning and the children are in school so everywhere is reasonably calm and getting around is enjoyable.  we did catch up on jobs that needed attending to that we couldn’t do under the confinement but that was soon achieved.

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and now here is june.   the bars and restaurants are open but as we are both in the susceptible over 70s group the advice for us is stay close to home as before with only occasional sorties!

we had talked back in the winter about maybe camping this month, the quiet but warm month, at a pretty spot below puy mary about ninety kilometres away from here.   we discovered it when playing broom waggon to gav on one of his long bike rides a few years ago.  we liked the village and went back to the campsite  later on the same summer.

 

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but the last thing we want to do now is share a sanitary block with other people, something that we happily did before however antiquated the facilities.   the sale and rental of camper vans is going through the roof according to the news as people realise the efficacy of being able to take a holiday but remain in their own, hopefully, healthy bubble.  our tent couldn’t provide that and as far as i know campsites are only opening for camper vans.

and so it was a shock to realise that half the year has slipped away. and all i can remember doing with any regularity is the daily search of the news for the death rates and infection rates as we all yearn to see them diminish and bring an end to this fear that we are all living under.  plus my daily posting on facebook of my garden wander to keep my spirits up.

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oh, and the weekly facetime homework club with a couple of eleven year olds plus instagram…plus…….  an interior and screen orientated life.

but…. this won’t do!  this way lies depression and a waste of days.  so i have decided that we need to get out.  safely,  of course, but out!  i announced this to mr mcgregor as we drove to a medical appointment the other day and enjoyed the scenery we hadn’t seen for three months.  how about a day out somewhere, taking a picnic to some tranquil spot in the countryside preferably near one of our many rivers where we can sit and stare and maybe find a quiet walk as well?  ‘not more than an hour’s drive’ demanded himself.   he knows how i can get carried away and we end up driving for ages.   so at last i can dig out the maps, play around on google earth to see if places match up to my imagination….like a ‘normal’ june….. now i just need the weather to cheer up….

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then…on y va!!

 

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once around the block

we went for a walk the other afternoon.  so? i hear you thinking.  well, due to the confinement, or lockdown as english speakers call it,  going for a walk is not the simple or, dare i say it, enjoyable experience it once was.  before setting out you, or in this case both of us, have to fill out the attestation that must accompany an individual on every step beyond the perimeter of home.  exercise is allowed but cannot be undertaken for more than an hour and can’t be more than a kilometre from home.  lou has been around the block a few times and when i googled the furthest point it transpired it was 100 metres over the kilometre.  we hoped the gendarmes wouldn’t have google maps to hand if we were challenged.

identification has to be carried as well.  early on it was a subject of hot debate on various facebook groups as to whether brits needed to carry passports or if driving licences would do.  we take both as lou say our address is on our driving licence which seems a sensible precaution.  eventually we were ready to set off.

as we approached  the end of our drive the neighbours called a greeting.  we often chat over the fence and discuss various garden plants and sometimes even swap some.  it seemed odd keeping well back and shouting the length of their garden.  just then friends from further up the hill, a mother and daughter,  walked out from under the railway bridge and also called out a cheery bonjour.  they made to step towards us and we instinctively moved back.  this was all so unreal and so unlike our usual greeting which would have been kisses all round.

reassuring each other ‘tous va bien’ and a final shout of ‘seulement un heure’ from the neighbours we headed off.  turning round the first left we passed a neighbour’s barn.  this barn had been the venue for a repas de quartier, the first ever held since we moved here.  these repas are jolly affairs where the neighbours in a particular corner of the commune meet up for an evening of food, drink and chat.  ours was organised by a chap who is a chef by trade and lives opposite said barn.  he cooked up paella and the rest of us brought along the aperos, salads, desserts  and alcohol, of course.  it was a lovely evening and we got to know people we had previously only nodded to.  i pondered ruefully that it may be a long time before we can enjoy such a gathering again.

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by now lou was pacing ahead, comme d’hab, while i stopped to take photos.  about now i began to feel very vulnerable.  all my previous lockdown excursions had been in the car and here i was maskless and not inside my metal bubble.   but around the next bend the beauty of a bank of iris made me forget those misgivings and begin to enjoy being outside and stretching my legs further than the limits of our garden.

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we had said to ourselves just a quick walk up to the ‘horse’ field, so named for our grandson because of the white horse that lives in it.  highly original!

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by the time we got there, several photos later (butterflies, barn doors, arum lilies…) we decided to carry on around the block as we still had forty minutes in hand.  the road looked as if there had been a snowstorm.  thick white blossom from the nearby poplar trees carpeted it from side to side.

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(i had read about a red alert for poplar allergy sufferers.)   just here we had a chat…at a safe social distance… with a gentlemen who was restoring the roof of the barn next to the house he had bought a couple of years ago.  once again, i thought about how we would have shaken hands, agreed we were anglais and spent some time in idle talk if the virus wasn’t hanging over us plus the time allocation of our jaunt.

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along the ridge, under a fabulous oak just bursting into leaf, down the hill and a swing left over the railway line.  no trains for weeks now which we miss but the local cats are enjoying as they strut along the tracks as if they own them.

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then we crossed the main road by the old farm house being restored.

about now i became aware of a bird singing away in the trees to our right.  i was convinced it was a nightingale but was waiting for its familiar ‘peeep, peeep, peeep’…and as we turned onto the track across the fields it came! so a nightingale to complete the feast of the senses.

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all along the walk i had been excited by all the briar roses out in bloom.  i started off thinking they were a type of wild mock orange blossom but my new app on my phone identified them as roses.(thanks, bro)   whatever they were they were beautiful.

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by now i had lost lou what with photos and identifying plants with the app.  checking my watch i began to hurry up.  an hour isn’t long enough to take in everything but it certainly concentrates the mind and senses.  this part of the walk takes you between fields that lead down to the river cere.  one was full  of buttercups while the one opposite give views across the river and up to the hills above the village

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this path is often the start of my bike rides but those aren’t allowed at the moment unless the bike is being used to go shopping.   the river comes in sight briefly where it is joined by the mill race.

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we have a mill at port de gagnac.  now it is a wood mill but our neighbour who lives to the east of paris remembers it being a flour mill in her childhood and the miller covered in flour looking like a ghost.   the millrace lives up to its name and rushes through its banks and after heavy rain will flood into the farmer’s field.

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this one!

and we got back within the hour…just

yesterday our prime minister gave a speech outlining the new conditions for deconfinement.  we won’t need the attestation anymore after 11th may if we are designated as living in a green zone but if our area is designated red….it will just be around the block for the duration!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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