Sat 6 December 2003
I spent some time trying to get best trip return time and one that didn’t return me to Lyons late for the next course to no avail. Eventually agree to return to Lyons one hour late for course start – hoping for the best. So, from Lyons on the TGV (beautiful country side, cliffs, vines, hills, forests, castles, châteaux etc and strange light in Provence) to Nimes (of de nimes fame and recent floods) nice Colosseum and cathedral and WARM and SUNNY!! Change to local train to cross more lowland plains and then climb up into Cevennes. A startling contrast to the postcard look of the lowland towns the villages nestling in the hills were shabby and apparently unkempt. Maybe it is the natural bias of viewing a town from a train that, almost by definition must traverse the poorer parts, but when a town is so small it is easy to see beyond the industrial crust to the face of the town itself. The townships and villages formed a marked contrast to the landscape which became more rugged and beautiful and the trip continued. Unhappily it is almost impossible to take good photos from a moving train so I have few images of the engaging landscape of bridges, rivers, lakes and valleys the train trundled over. For the first time on a French train we were running behind schedule and we arrived at Langogne just before dark to find a bleak and unfriendly face on the town, just like so many others lower down the hills. A short walk around revealed a slightly less shabby but still noticeably poor small town. Discover babbling brook and cross it on delightful old stone bridge. Find room in Brasserie on main street. Noticing my faltering French the Landlady asks if I speak English. Unable to summon back my practice phrase I simply said, “I prefer French.” This did the trick! After that the landlady explains complicated entry system for after hours somehow involving a side alley, where the restaurant is, how breakfast will be served etc, etc all in French! I hardly understood a word but nodded and added a feeble “Oui” or “Merci” as seemed appropriate to me at the time. I am sure my host was not taken in and was partaking in that most favourite of French pastimes – language snobbery. Anyway, she lead me upstairs to the credit card machine (“Acceptez vous les carte de credite?” – “Oui.”) and goes through the necessaries and eventually points up the next flight to indicate my lodgings would be found there – I look at my key, “Chambre Nuef.” Room Nine is a pleasant little room with ensuite and I have no trouble settling in and then I take a walk around town with the purpose of gathering supplies. By now it was only about 1800 heurs but already completely dark. There were Christmas lights up in most shops. My first problem was the apparently grim prospect of finding a machine to dispense some cash. I entered a small supermarche and made some halting enquiries. The shopkeeper failed to understand but her customer – after trying unsuccessfully to tell me where the bank was – lead me across the road to an ATM hidden in an unmarked alcove of a building up a side street! Cash is like oxygen to the traveller – life is utterly impossible without it and I was very glad to be given an extension on my corporeal lease. In gratitude I returned to the same store to spend it but I believe my gesture went unnoticed which was disappointing to me. Even in Australia I am a keen advocate of shopping locally to ensure future supply. I found some produce to my liking and asked the shop assistant to pass me one pear (mmm pears) and one pomme royale. As always my request was greeted with a quizzical, “Une!?” To which I reply in my most serious tone, “Oui, Une. Merci.” Fully victualled now, I took my supplies across the road and up to my room and immediately returned downstairs to the bar to enjoy some beer, an open fire and the feeling of freedom only felt during truly independent travel. During the evening several people either singularly or in small groups came and went. I was served some high quality olives and was not required to pay for my drinks until I was ready to leave. Back in my room I try to plan route for next day and how to get to the train on time if I stay elsewhere on Sunday night.
Sun 7 December 2003
As I am packing my small pack with all I have I am dismayed to notice it is in quite a parlous state in relation to some of its stitching and doubt its ability to serve the whole trek. Just like RLS I was starting with a poor pack. The day seemed bright enough at dawn (as best as I could tell from the small patch of sky visible from the window of my room) and so I expected not to need my jacket. I took breakfast with the other guests in the bar. It consisted of (surprisingly) cereals, baguettes, jam, juice and coffee. As always I was put off by an unexpected question. In this case the question turned out to be, did I want my milk hot or cold, although it took some time for me to comprehend. Quite delightfully, to my way of thinking, asking for something as ordinary to me as cold milk and causing a flurry of activity in the kitchen as a new carton had to be found and opened underpins the whole reason for travel. It is the desire to be challenged even over simple matters. As RLS so elegantly put it,
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off the featherbed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”
Here, here!! Was RLS the first real tourist? Methinks so. With breakfast finished and my pack and jacket in hand I exited via the door onto the main street. It was immediately obvious that I would need my coat on. It was now not at all sunny, as I had previously imagined, and as if to write the point in italics there was a light snow falling. The jacket I had with me was carefully chosen from my seemingly vast selection – it was made of waxed cotton and purchased ten years previously in New Zealand. It had a zipper to close the front which I hardly ever used and a flap to cover the zipper which fastened with press-studs (over the years I had augmented the original three fasteners to five to ensure more complete closure but also to aid its versatility) Buttoning my jacket to the collar (i.e. using all five press-stids – which was almost unheard of at home except in the worst weather when riding my motorcycle!) but not zipping it under the buttons so as to allow it to breath I started my walk by heading along the now relatively familiar main street. As I write this it is one week after my return and of course high summer in Sydney. I have my laptop set-up on my balcony and no shirt on my back – it seems almost impossible for me to believe that two weeks ago I was seriously worried about freezing to death on a snowy French hillside!
Near the edge of town there is a side road leading down to the river and a sign above it showing bicycle riding trails all numbered (in an almost Germanic orderliness in this unmistakably French town…) for ease of reference. After studying the map for some time it is evident that two routes lend themselves to my preferred course VTT2 and VTT5 (VTT I think stands for veloped tours ____ - anyway something to do with cycle touring) and I decide to return to this spot to start my trek out of town. In the mean time I needed to find my way to the lake’s shore. A short distance further on is a sign pointing to Naussac but no mention of the lake. On foot judgement in these matters becomes important. Do I go on further in the hope of seeing a sign to the lake itself or take this turn? I chose to turn early rather than have to double back. The road is narrow and wet and I am discomfited by the speed of the local traffic and naturally enough also discomfited by the side of the road that they speed down. Against my nature I march up the left side of the tarmac to face oncoming traffic. When cars appear my fear of stepping into the icy gutter and slipping into their path is very real – in general I stop walking and step aside to let them pass. Fortunately traffic is light on a Sunday morning through the village of Naussac… There is hardly any physical separation between Naussac and Langogne but the signage indicates a gulf of attitude.
Evidently there is some tourist trade through Naussac during warmer months as there are many signs to places of interest – including the lake and a Roman temple – so that finding my way down to the lake shore is a snip.
Walk to Naussac (see lake – formed by dam – is half empty (in preparation for snow melt perhaps?)) and then join cycle trail off into the wilds.
Cows, snow, pines and river. I meet a woodsman (confusing language but clear enough directions by waving arms and repeating “pont”, “adroit” and so on…) and stumble across mountain bike race being set-up. Woodsman and other locals think I am mad walking to Le Cheylard giving me as a departing gift a snearing grin. Undaunted I fired back a haughty “au bientot!” in preference to an, “au revoir” to give an impression of confidence I didn’t really feel.
Pretty bridge across L…..
Abandoned monastery at Choisine
Finally meet RLS trail at turnoff to Luc
Imagine RLS goading Modestine up rise I am walking down into very pretty valley
Steep long climb into Le Cheylard – surprised by hilltop church and disappointed inn where RLS wrote-up his journal is closed (it is Sunday in France after all!)
Climb out of Le Cheylard and see no signs to Fuzillhic or Fuzilhac so decide to keep going to main road along route on map
Eat lunch on bluff overlooking Le Cheylard (wine, bread, cheese and chocolate – just like RLS, all that was missing was the smoke. In honour of the tradition he started I left some coins in appreciation of the view) I had much trouble opening the wine I nearly gave it up. In the end I was pleased I persisted, the wine and the cool mountain air combined to produce a feeling of contentedness I had longed for since those first moments I contemplated this trip. Happy is a man who has a nice view, fresh air, good wine, cheese and bread. Like Stevenson again all that was missing was the kind of companionship most naturally longed-for by a man away from those he loves. As I had no film remaining it is to my memory I commited the scene. Below me (quite a long way already) was the energetic little Langouyrou. This stream and its feeders were my constant companions throughout the whole day.
Long slow uninspiring walk down gently sloping main road 4 km back into Langogne and the warmth and safety of the inn. I was very tired when I checked back into the same accommodation. On this occasion the Landlady deferred to English. Perhaps she could see in my manner that I was spent and hardly in a mood to attempt translation. Whatever were her motives, I did not object.
Slept well for the first time in months! Very blistered pad under ball on right foot. (Two weeks later the pad is still blistered under the whole pad)
Mon 8 December 2003 Explored Langogne some more and was better pleased. Petit Dejuener in small café with Donkey pictures on the walls. Caught train for trip back to Nimes. As expected, the passenger numbers are low. I read RLS and reflect that he got it all wrong. Maybe the hills were less covered during his trek?
Once in Nimes I bought a chip biuttie (pan de pomme frites) and after a short wait boarded the TGV back to Lyons. As planned, I arrived late for course but it had been delayed by snow in Boston. Meet Richard McKeen (again) and we all walked down to the old city to see the Festival of Lights. I was tired and grumpy and keen to find a warm pub and some beer.