Climbing Cliffs and Soaring Temperatures

We are on our way towards Beynac, in the Dordogne and it’s getting hotter…and hotter. We’ve left Souillac behind and have plunged into Dordogne proper, mostly following the lovely river. It’s a scenic drive and we’d love to stop and get lunch in any one of the outrageously beautiful villages on our route, but they are steadfastly anti-campervan, all car parks having low barriers or ‘no camping car’ signs.

On our way to Beynac there are plenty of great sights and we go first to Domme, a village perched on a hilltop [of course], where at least there is an allocated space for campervans next to a serviced aire. It’s a walk up, naturally, to the medieval village, which is very pretty, has wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and the usual array of tourist shops plus a Noddy train. There are also some splendid grottes, allegedly, although while we are enthused at the prospect of going underground to view the stallectites etc, not to mention getting into the cool caves away from the heat, the next ‘tour’ has just left…So we content ourselves with the views, the gardens, the architecture and a walk round the sightseeing trail- all very pleasant.

Then it’s on towards Beynac and, mid-afternoon we feel obliged to stop and park up to see Le Roche Gageac, a partly troglodyte village clinging on to a steep cliff. I’m a sucker for troglodyte communities, finding a fascination in homes that are burrowed into rock face with an outwardly conventional facade and an inner cave. There is an allocated field for campervans and motorhomes but the parking machine is unfathomable, refusing all efforts to pay, so I scribble a note: ‘nous sommes desolees’ and we head off across the car park proper- where we spot the parking warden, checking tickets. This is not good news. I tackle him and explain our problem, although he’s not amenable. Eventually he relents and gets our tickets for us.

We slog up to the lofty houses, stopping for a sorbet half way up, served by a sluggish teenager. The village is worth the effort of climbing in a heatwave, honey coloured cottages clinging to the cliff and swathed in riotous vines and roses and again, breathtaking views of the river below, miniature pleasure boats cruising and turning. A pale, fairytale chateau at the end of the village provides a backdrop.

Feeling we should get to our site as the afternoon progresses we call it a day and return to the van, which has become an oven; then it’s onwards to Beynac, where our chosen site lies almost opposite the Chateau de Beynac and its church, perched precariously, towering over the village, the road and the site. As we pull into the driveway a quick look reveals it’s busy- maybe ‘complet’? But no, the receptionist tells us there are spaces, which is a relief. The Dordogne is heaving with tourists, mainly Dutch and German with a smattering of we British.

Finding our pitch, however is like some devilish reality TV game, the site having been extended and the numbers along the shady alleyways seeming haphazard, but we get there. The rain we’d experienced in Souillac has churned much of the field into mud, which is drying slowly but is a little mucky. Nevertheless we are in- and the site is almost entirely shaded, which under the circumstances is a very good thing, because the heat is on, and is only going to rise…

Lake Annecy and the Mountain Rescue

The cycle path to Annecy runs past our camp site entrance and it’s an easy ride into the town centre, all off road and tarmac, which is commonplace for France. Since this is an add-on to our Italian lakes trip and part of our return journey I’m not prepared for the gorgeous sight of this lakeside city with it’s historic centre so it comes as a bonus.

And it’s clear from the numbers of tourists swarming all over the streets, embarking and disembarking from leisure boats, sitting at pavement cafe tables and browsing the gift shops that we are not the only fans of Annecy on this warm, late summer day.

The narrow streets and ancient buildings are centred on and around the waterways that snake through and there is also a handsome chateau perched up high in an imposing position above the commercial areas.

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All this is against a backdrop of craggy mountains and serves to assuage some of the mourning I felt on leaving Lake Maggiore.

Next day we are up for a more challenging cycle and take the path the opposite way from our site, around the lakeside until it leaves the water and begins to wind upwards, inevitably.

It is Sunday. The cycle path is full of Sunday cyclists of all descriptions, from family groups with tiny tots to fully fledged, serious sports enthusiasts. We are in neither of these categories but we do still use pedal power and have not succumbed to the relative ease of the electric ‘E-bikes’ that appear to have exploded in popularity in recent years. As a result, I labour up each hill getting overtaken by breezy, carefree cyclists [of all ages] for whom an incline is not an effort. It is impossible to resist a rude gesture at each receding back as they whizz past us. It also becomes clear that the path is congested, with families, E-bikes and sports cyclists all sharing the same route.

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There are points of interest along the way, including clouds of hang-gliders raining down from the mountainsides as the path becomes a little quieter when it leaves the waterside.

After a decent mileage we opt for turning back rather than ploughing on and we begin to make our descent, heading towards a cycle-themed cafe Husband spotted on the way. We pass a gentleman cycling with a large box attached to the front of his bike, which on closer inspection reveals a disabled young person being transported along, musical accompaniment and all, and I give him a wave before crossing the road on to the next bit of path. Straight away we need to pause at a busy bike junction and it is here that a violent impact from behind catapults me over the handlebars of my bike and on to the tarmac, where I lie feeling helpless and trying to decide what has happened!

The man on the bike+box has stopped, having shunted me from behind, his vision obliterated by the buggy he’s been pushing along. Husband comes around and hefts me to my feet and a kind cyclist picks the bike up as I limp to a nearby tree stump to inspect the wounds; nothing broken but a fair bit of skin flayed from arm and leg. There is much apologising and Husband saying ‘It’s ok, it’s ok’ while I continue to be struck dumb, although I’ve dug out my mini first-aid kit and am cleaning up.

After a while we resume, slower now, passing a spot where a sports cyclist has also suffered a crash-but far worse, as he’s lying on the tarmac waiting for an ambulance. When we reach the café we are lucky to find a table but having waited too long to be served we give up and head back to site to sit in the sun. I may be classified as in ‘older age’ but not yet completely decrepit-

It’s time to return-after all we’ve another trip to prepare for!

 

Tales from the Towpath [Part 2]-The Re-appearance…

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Last week’s episode described how, like an old Brian Rix farce, Husband beetled over the canal bridge and I, in my ever-present need to take the easier option, scooted around a narrow, lumpy path that wound underneath, resulting in each of us losing sight of the other.
I ploughed on towards Josselin, searching the verges and benches for Husband, or at least his bike. When the turrets of the chateau appeared above the trees I felt sure he’d have stopped at the fence where we’d locked the bikes on our previous visit [from the opposite direction, you understand]. But no-neither Husband nor the bike was there, neither was he installed in the nearby bar, cold beer in hand [an obvious place to look for him].
I gulped some more water-the temperature was continuing to climb at 8.00pm-and turned back. I stopped a few people and asked if they’d seen ‘un homme avec un T-shirt noir et un velo rose’ and was met with negative responses from all. I’d spot the glint of a lone helmet in the distance and think it was Husband but many lone cyclists passed by and still no sign. I cycled back-and back.

After what seemed an interminable peddle back towards Le Roc St Andre, and after seeing no-one as the sun began to dip I caught sight of a cyclist approaching-dark T, black helmet and sweat-soaked-and yes-it was Husband.

We downed what was left of the water, by way of celebration [we are still able to celebrate finding each other after all these years] and peddled slowly back, stopping at a hostelry not far from our site, on a bend in the canal, to throw back a medicinal cold beer or two.

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The following morning, following a sticky, uncomfortable night, rather than easing, the temperature at Le Roc soared higher, climbing through the 30s and tipping over into the 40s. Many resorted to the site’s tiny pool, many others [including ourselves] squidged into any bit of shade available, lounging, sprawling, sleeping. It was a disquieting insight into how things may become as summers heat up. Cycling seemed less appealing, but we gamely prepared in the late afternoon and set off in the opposite direction to Josselin, achieving, perhaps, 100 metres or so before Husband’s bike, the improbably named Charge Cooker came to a standstill, the back wheel having seized up.

Reception directed us to a repair shop up the road, which turned out to be splendid at repairing lawn mowers, ‘le patron’, a humourless, moustachioed gent, redirecting us to a cycle shop at St Congard-a small village that was easily included into our itinerary. We returned to the site, me gliding down and over the bridge, Husband half-carrying the recalcitrant Charge Cooker on its one functioning wheel. At this point an ice cream seemed a fair alternative to a cycle in 40 degrees. We spent another uncomfortable hot night and moved on next day to St Congard-first stop the bike shop.

Here, the proprietor, a jovial woman who clearly loved her job dealing with everything bike-related told us that the extreme temperatures had caused the brakes to swell and jam the wheel; that we should pour cold water on it. Simples!

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We stayed at St Congard’s small municipal site for 11E and I undertook a short, solitary cycle to Malestroit, all of which was unremarkable except for the pair of beautiful otters I spotted on the return. Tiny St Congard’s one and only bar was firmly closed.

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En route to St Martin sur Oust we paused to look at Rochefort en Terre, alleged ‘most beautiful village’, which was indeed beautiful, but also wanted 5E to stay in a car park without water, emptying or anything else. We’d have liked to have purchased items in the shops but came to the conclusion that the stores must be part of the decor, since nobody seemed inclined to serve us. The poor citizens of Rochefort en Terre must be starving, since baguette availability was nil [we were offered a half of a baguette in a restaurant and decided to scarper before we were told the price]. After a quick look we moved on to a less pretentious place, and back to the canal!