en route I

HEREWITH THE RETURN and an explanation of the seeming frugality of our journeying, insofar as we never take our breakfast in the hotel we have graced the night previous. Not for us the all-you-can-eat tussle with prepackaged jam and butter on factory built baguettes or battery farm brioche. . .

It has become a tradition, of many years standing now, to get going of a morning and dispense with the breakfast ritual (and expense), until we have gotten ourselves down or up the road somewhat. Then we begin to look out for likely bar/tabac and boulangerie adjacencies in the towns we pass or that we target to provide our p'tit dej. We don't plan these ahead, although I can report that occasionally we do fetch up again in this town or that and find ourselves in vaguely familiar surroundings . . .

Mrs Melling sniffs out the most likely (quite often the only apparent) source for our croissant needs, makes good the purchase, and then leads the way to the bar/tabac that looks like they may know how to put together a couple of grands crèmes for a suitable price. If we are lucky we get award-winning croissants with coffee of a similar standard. Sadly usually one or the other lets the show down a fraction: the coffee is not strong enough, the milk not scalding or even stone cold  (and is nearly always that skimmed abomination so readily accepted by the franc and file); or the croissants seemingly not altogether au beurre, under-baked, leathery or a bit squashed.

But when, dear reader, we are in
receipt of the most exquisite confections of lightness and delicateness accompanied by très chaud battalion strength black coffee to the brim with topping of, or generous steaming jug of milk to add to taste, then a gentle smile passes over our countenances; any concern at the rather masculine domination of the bars at this time of the morning flits away and we nod and acknowledge the comings and goings of les hommes, the cheery banter between bar man (or woman) and his/her clientèle.

Such was our experience in Luçon this time where the populace was still reflecting on the overnight conflagration of  a property in the town square, requiring motorists to seek passage the wrong way up the one way streets, and up and over the fat firehoses still damping down. [picture by kind permission MM enterprises]

So, of the four breakfasts taken on this return, I can announce that Luçon was the best.  Lunel-Veile  – coffee average (Mrs Melling says) croissants stodgy and slightly under-baked. Plouay – excellent coffee and moderately good croissants with a gratis extra. Then there was Villefranche . . . for the story there please turn to en route II 

footnote: the picture of the viaduc-de-millau that graces the top of this page was our view whilst we consumed our picnic lunch, above Peyre on the first day of our 'en route' . . .

en route II

VILLEFRANCHE-DU-PÉRIGORD  did not look altogether promising on the p'tit dej front as we descended from the fog on the hills out of Cahors. True, the place has a solid charm, built as it is to the bastide formula, of rich warm sandstones, on a tight pattern of grid like streets leading to a market square with open sided trading hall etc etc and so on  -- you can look it up, don't expect a guided tour from me I'm not the sort. Or you just might acquire the hand drawn map of the place, like we should have done . . .

Keith Godard's pencil sketch, left; final rendition for the map, right
Anyway, despite the unpromising air of abandonment appertaining as we parked by the ancient arcade in the square, we persevered and took ourselves down the stately main street. A small boulangerie was open and aglow inside with provender, local jams, sweetmeats and similar,  and there we did secure three fine croissants (two for me as I am beyond caring about restraint). Then out into the chill dank air until a bar we espied. At least the overhead lights were on and the door unlocked but no customers or patron in evidence whatsoever. Until the latter staggered through a back door carrying logs and kindling, apologies, had got in late. No sooner than he had arrived, like moths to a flame they came – the men who frequent the bar of a morning. Each one acknowledged us the obvious strangers and shook hands with all the other customers, each in turn.

Well the coffee was good, the croissants top grade and the bar was warming up as the potbelly stove got going, as we also – got going. By now the square where we had left the motor was busy with the comings and goings of the school run and traffic had begun to filter down the streets and lanes of the town. We strolled around a bit and took the odd snap . . . climbed into the vehicle, with comments that we must come again on a less grey day and take a proper look around . . . and drove on.

Not until we were safe returned to the home address did I finally remove the Die Zeit newspapers donated to me by friend Gérard Kaiser from the rear seat of the motor, amongst which I found a page ripped from an english language newspaper that I had had no time to look at until now. When I did I realised that what I was looking at was both a very interesting envisionment of information (which, my readers who are aware of my professional past will know – as a designer of information systems, atlases – and the encouragement of same through higher education teaching – well such things rock my boat) and of the tiny town of Villefranche-du-Périgord. Being somewhat short of natural affinity with french (I blame my school), I did not pick up on the name of the place illustrated but the overhead rendition of Villefranche-du-Périgord's market square was so clear that I recognised it immediately.

If I had read the article before leaving Sablet we might have tried to buy a copy of the map produced by artist/designer Keith Godard while in Villefranche-du-Périgord. A chance missed but nowhere seemed open so we would have probably drawn a blank . . . nevertheless  we were rather surprised at the coincidence, wondering if the presence of the article in the car had caused us to deviate into the town, subconsciously, as it were . . .

codicil – we come again
It's September 2017 and we are en route to Sablet via a stop over in Cahors. It is a sunny and warm afternoon as we approach Villefranche-du-Périgord so we think the tourist office might be on stream, and there may be a chance they still have the work of Keith Godard for sale. And sure enough they are and they do. So for the outlay of some ten euros we now have his rendition of V-du-P, clip-framed and on the wall at Sablet, my rather poor reproduction of which is displayed below. As a map it has its limitations but the drawing produces a very clear sense of the place. There isn't really much need for a street plan, we visited most of the streets in a half hour stroll. The town incidentally looked charming in the early autumn sunlight although the cafe in which we dispatched our croissants in November 2016 was closed, so we took refreshment instead under the bunting in the town square . . . most pleasant.


sun colour place

AFTER THE SHOCK of two consecutive very wet days, Vaucluse returns to sunshine, brightness and colour. So we are back out there, sucking it up so that the forthcoming winter finds us with batteries charged. Sometimes where to go is a bit of an issue and then we have a bit of a debate. I think we often go on spec and find detail that would usually not attract much attention from others. Of course the colours are magnificent, for all to see and enjoy. Last year was just as good so this sort of display must be the norm, not the exception, it is lovely.

We walk, we potter, we explore. Most of the time your correspondent follows in the wake of Mrs Melling, (we have a disparity of speed) but on a roughly confirmed route, familiar or not-so-familiar. This last week we found a gravel dredger amongst apple orchards down near the Rhône; visited the lower reaches, beaches and bridgehead of the Ardeche, (the river that is, and where the two chattering gulls, seen above, inspired this muse); traced the Canal de Carpentras to the point where it passes under the old town; returned to the valley and olives of the Toulourenc near Veaux; perambulated amongst the vines and groves between Visan and St Maurice-sur-Eygues, not far from the snail farm – as well as local bits and pieces. The vines are colouring up: we can still find little bunches of grapes, too small to bother with at the time of harvest, but delicious refreshment for us as we wander by.

The son-and-heir is sometimes given to projecting imaginary conversations he thinks his parents might have (and even do have) about this or that . . . and very amusing these projections are . . . I can of course assure my public that we never address each other as Mr Smith, Mrs Melling . . . well, we didn't, did we Mrs Melling – until the lad started his play-acting (he really is very funny, leastways to ourselves). On our excursions there is an implicit conversation about and appreciation of what we went to see and the surprises we might have uncovered in so doing . . . and our satisfaction at it.

But this week we were privileged to be included (top table no less) in the celebrations for our friend Gérard's eightieth. He and Jennifer laid on a wondering evening of eating and drinking at a domain just outside Sablet for thirty-six of us. We met new people too. Speeches, songs etc, across three languages, one of which fortunately English. Being the generous sort I framed up an image (slate with trawl float fragment) which I presented to the Kaisers (in private, not at the function).  It now it graces their terrace room wall in their house on the Grande Rue . . .

All these things are far better covered in Mrs Melling's blog of course, I can do no better than refer you to it, from the link provided herewith . . . [top right] Isn't that right Missus Melling? Certainly is Mister Smiff.


sablet also sometimes gets . . .

YES, IT IS TRUE, it can rain excessively, for several hours at a stretch, here in sunny Sablet. This episode started with a mostly rainy day, dried up a little towards nightfall and then got stuck in seriously, accompanied eventually by characteristic thunder and lightning episodes and kept at it until well after daybreak. In fact, I am not so sure that it is not going on right now.

Which is why I am sitting here (or sat here as I understand we now are able to say) telling you about it. Not that interesting I guess, but it is part of the scene. Laying in bed in the night hearing the rush and rattle of the rain on the pantilles above our heads, well it makes me feel snug.

I do love rain, y'see – especially the heavy stuff. Lightning and thunder, a bonus!  Our recently renovated roof edge over the terrace showed itself up to the job and the cleaned out terrace drain also coped with the flow.

OK, I like rain it is true, but maybe it could think about stopping soon.
Not sure I find the grey scudding clouds so much to my liking . . .

The rain abates the mists cling to the Plan de Dieu, Sablet looks distinctly damp.
But the newbuild goes on [up], as scheduled.


take a seat . . .

IN JULY, I THINK, we walked past the imposing former silk mill on a summer walk that started and finished at La Garde Adhemar, and we resolved to return in the autumn. So we did.

Eric Linard is a distinguished fine art printer and designer who some years ago upped sticks from Strasbourg to convert and refurbish the wonderful silk mill near Le Val des Nhmphs into a gallery space, workshops and printing works. At this time of the year we expected the place would be quiet and indeed it was. Not open in fact, though it proclaimed it was. However, Mme Linard rushed off when she came upon us in the grounds, got the keys and soon we were amongst some of the wonderful collection of classic chairs belonging to furniture maker Marc Hotermans that find a home here.

Be in no doubt, these are indeed very significant chairs (and with some furniture also) designed by some of the greatest names in 20th century design. Mies, Le Corbusier, Aalto, Riedveldt, Breuer and a host of others. In original condition.

And here you get to sit on the chairs, are encouraged to do so. The pictures of Guillame Moschini grace the walls: these too we liked very much, simple yet with a real presence.

Outside this quite majestic former mill, two recliners that did service on the former Atlantic super-liner 'France'. Quite a place, shades of the long closed former Crestet Arts Centre (which we passed a day or two ago, neglected and declining) but safer we hope, as it is in private hands, with a viable business attached.


advanced notice, stop press, attention attention

ONCE MORE, for this the final time this year, our attention, our focus – is upon travelling back to the Vaucluse in October, even unto Sablet, and attached herewith is our proposed route. Hotels booked and ferry paid for.

Again I must point out to all of those who would sneer at so much detail, preferring perhaps to rely on some GPS contrivance for their journies across the face of the earth, (dick-dick or some such) that the attached route is a suggestion rather than a straight jacket. Although, fair does . . . With the experience we have under our belts, the route we actually end up taking will most likely work out almost identical to what is itemised below. It is an aide memoire, a guide to good map reading, a plan of campaign. And it adds to the fun and variety of the venture. You should try it.

You will note that our 2016 favouring of Cherbourg–Poole and Poole–Cherbourg continues. You will not however, be able to detect that this time we plan to travel in our micro-motor.  The Berlingo shall snooze away October, snug in the garage, recovering from it's power steering surgery; ready, willing— but happy to let the family runaround do the honours this time. Luggage will be strictly limited therefore, and subject to the severest scrutiny; this time it will be just the bare essentials, but amongst which will be, of course, The Michelin Road Atlas of France, to ensure that our journey is one of confidence, knowledge, enquiry, discovery, peace and light.

Well . . .  mostly.


. . . and brighten our return

OUR RETURN was a splendid progression and I can do no better than to refer you to the route we took, with minor alterations and adjustments, to bring us back to the Contentin peninsula and our ferry back to Poole and the motherland.

We did not take the Utah beach variation, in case you were wondering (no, I know you weren't, wondering, at all, why would you?).

 As usual we were brought up a little short at the seemingly impossible temperature drop as we came north. Angers was a delight and the hotel pretty good too, right in the centre. We ate superb crepes there. Cahors was our first overnight stop after calling in on Jo, Peter and Nell in Mèze, for a protracted chinwag and town square breakfast.

And thus to another bunch of phares, eastern side of the Contentin, mostly known to us but now recorded a little more thoroughly with d'camera. Excellent fish lunch in St Vaast. No climb up the superb Gatteville light this time, (3rd highest stone lighthouse in the world!) far too many doing the 365 steps to the top – we prefer off season for such exploits. Of course we have climbed it — last time we passed this way . . . Noted that many ascenders seemed to have done so just to get a signal, mobile-wise!  Cap Lévy (another distinctive lighthouse of Contentin) bypassed too this time,  although spotted from several points. But next year's calendar was secured at the shop below Phare-de-Gatteville, lighthouse themed naturally. Incidently, the Bretville lights (anterieur and posterieur) shown below are more commonly called Becquet,  the harbour of the afore-mentioned Bretville, but who cares, I am sure you don't.

I intend in the fullness of time (and if I am spared) to complete this blog with a what-happened-in-between-the-out-and-the-in covering note, but who reads it anyway,  I ask myself?


admission: omission

LOOK, I HAVE TO COME CLEAN HERE, I just have not managed to make the posts that I had hoped to make during the summer this year. I have been trying to make amends but my heart is just not in it, as you'd expect.

Of course, I hold my school partially responsible for this as I continue to struggle with the language, but mostly I have to admit it's my equipment that is at fault. Not for me the smooth and effortless state-of-the-art MacBook Air [–other laptops of similar ability are readily available for those who are suitably flush].

I am stuck with my 2006 pre-Pentium Processor iBook G4, pride of the fleet in its day, but now obsolete as far as the digital world is concerned, almost a museum piece I gather; and as operating systems continue to develop they have left behind my ancient laptop . . . un-upgradable, dim, but still working in its own way perfectly well for those less ambitious tasks. True, I could attempt to do it on the iPad like Mary does but I find it less than intuitive to say the least, and as for the insertion of pictures, well it is a total bore to try.

So if you want to know anything at all about the sort of stuff we did in the summer I can do no better than refer you to Mary's le blog as indicated on the right hand side of this page for some coverage of all of that. While she was spitting tacks trying to get the latest message out to her public, I was probably up on the terrace reading m'book or drinking bitter lemon and tonic . . . when I wasn't fretting over the latest blisters in the paintwork and the salts lifting off the plasterwork of course . . .

footnote: One aspect of the summer visit that stands out though, as it always does, is the sense of fun and rapport with have with all our friends in Sablet. Most of these I have to say speak English. I hope that by my lamentable lack of the language, I have not compromised our getting-to-know the natives too much, but if I have, well, blame my school . . .


canals without barges

. . . or Canal-de-Carpentras part two.
YOU WILL RECALL, I am sure, our forays and explorations of the spring, to track down and explore this interesting piece of 19th century engineering.  (Make amends now for missing it by clicking here!). Now in the summer, we went off to find it's source, and visited the largest aqueduct constructed to carry it across .

The C-de-C is just another drain on the poor old Durance river, which we have discovered is left with very little water at all to discharge into the Rhône south of Avignon. I followed the river up into the hills (via google earth) from whence it cometh and almost all the way to the Alps the river is beset by EDF canals and barrages to tap the flow for the making of electricity. The original water course is often more or less empty in the summer, and a mere shadow of what it once was, even in winter. At the spot where the C-de-C takes its water there is a large hydro barrage (see pic) and a huge sluice leading to the Canal-de-Marseille (edf).

Not that the Canal-de-Carpentras is the only culprit; there are lots of other irrigation canals pinching the Durance waters . . . the IGN blue series of maps reveal many others; it's just that the Carpentras is one of the more extensive ones and as revealed in the earlier posting, ends up discharging into another river what remains after all the vineyards on the way have had their fill.

The aqueduct that takes the C-de-C across the Sorgue at Gallas is a major piece of bridge building and given the honeypot nature of nearby Fontaine-de-Vaucluse we were surprised to have the top of the aqueduct to ourselves. Lovely views, free access (no cycling) and fun watching the plastic kayaks carrying the young negotiating the weirs below. The railings along the "towpath" are a recent addition . . . it is pretty airy up there even with them in place. Not a towpath either as, of course, this an irrigation canal – no barges here. You couldn't even canoe it really as bridges across are often only just above water level . . . but there is usually some sort of path alongside so it can be walked although it does sometimes go culverting under road widening schemes and real estate . . .

On this sojourn we also visited and walked stretches of the canal near Beaumes-de-Venise which we found rather good for damsel and dragonflies . . .

Inbetween visiting these two locations on the 7th of the month, we slipped along to Cucuron and lunched by the étang there, under the trees, a very favourite place in a very favourite village . . . although it too is being over-gentrified. Why can't the french leave us some rural decay?

An album may be found on Flickr showing other experiences, places and colour. Not many people though, sorry I find they tend to clutter and spoil the the view . . . click this link:
summer 16 france


lighten our darkness (or the journey south)

AS YOU WILL NO DOUBT HAVE NOTICED, (see plans for our outgoing dated June 28) our route from Cherbourg to Sablet is punctuated with a number of lighthouse spottings and tottings. Ideal one might suppose to lighten our dark mood at the prospect of the impending doom that the UK referendum has set course for.

Conversations overheard on the ferry suggested that most travellers thereon shared our deep concern about this ill informed and reactionary result. Not to mention the value of sterling which is once more back amongst the doldrum currencies of the civilised world teetering on the diddly-squat values of the last bank bodge of 2008/9/10/11/12 era.

But as the fair roads of La France whizz comfortably beneath our Michelin Roadmasters (some such rubbery-name-for-tyres) we soon suspend these trying issues for as long as ten minutes at a time, as we enjoy the decorated progress of La Manche's hosting of the Tour de France, and make the neccessary diversions to mop up the odd lighthouses we seemed to miss the last time we were in the offing. Those above in fact, ticked off in variable weather . . . 

After a night at Granville, from where stage three starts en route to Angers (Tour-de-France), we head down to further coastal pleasures, of a muddier and more estuarine nature, in particular the antérieur and postérieur lights on both north and south river banks, to guide what shipping left that wants to get up the Charente river, even unto Rochefort, where coincidentally we make our second stopover. Please note: I have been misinformed about the placing of accents on those two words, antérieur and postérieur, in the captions below; cannot be fussed enough to go through the bother of putting them right, sorry, blame my school (I do!). Not all new to us, you understand, these minor lights: we did the Soumards quite a few years back and I must say they have been let go a bit. However, they are still shine out to guide any Rochefort-bound matelot left out there after dark.

Of course we look at things other than lighthouses. What do you take us for? But after the crossing of the Charente we enjoyed once more the lights of the Gironde estuary and fine croissants with acceptable coffee at St Georges, before leaving the coast for now to drive to Cahors. A good route but sadly we found it entirely defficient in phares, either antérieur or postérieur . . .

From Cahors we drove a charming D911 (stopping for breakfast in Limagne-en-Quercy which could not supply us with any form of sustenance on a former occasion, years back, when we had to camp there so we went hungry – and it might even have been Mary's birthday to put the icing on it – leading in part to a gathering disatisfaction with the camping lifestyle). Then the A75 toll-free south over the Millau (not toll-free) and then not off round Montpelier as originally planned—but hey ho for Marseillan to enjoy a seafood lunch at the Pacheline, a favourite waterside restaurant on the port. Therafter, a cheery wave to Mèze, then it's the A9 (toll) to bring us to Orange and thence to Sablet, well in time for tea . . .


. . . return to Sablet in June . . .

DESPITE THE SHOCK of the referendum result, and notwithstanding the resultant crash of the value of sterling, not to mention the uncertainty of diesel availability, and the national strike France is planning to host on the 28th inst., this is the way we plan to go, — or try to. Hotels are booked and mostly paid for so we are hoping to make it in one piece and arrive in Sablet on the first day of July. Watch this space!


aspects of springliness

THIS PAGE JUST PROVIDES a link to the flickr album I have stuck in (aspects of springliness), to give some idea of what took our fancy during this spring trip.  I am not into providing a day-by-day account, who would want it, anyway? Mary provides a far better snipping on that front if you want a bit of detail . . . the picture that should be nestling above this text is the sea pool at Pirou Plage, where we partook of our last lunch this time, over there. Almost warm enough to swim . . .

And sorry (I bet you are not) — I never got to make my observations about the typographical anarchy that appertains in France, or bash on about the Plat Du Jour, Le Menu, and the french obsession with roundabouts, traffic lights without sensors, aggressive overtaking and Interdites ( a word that sets my teeth on edge) of many kinds. Maybe next time. Not that I am that critical, you understand.

There will be more vineyard snaps to go onto the Flickr page in another album probably, but I am sure that one can have just a bit too much of a good thing, so forget it for now at least . . . I have! I know there is some repetition in the Flickr albums — sorry about that too but I can't fix it right now . . .

Sorry too there is no final imagefest on this page. Blame BT. And rustic broadband, slower that mollasses in January . . .

F  I  N
(for now)


the long way back

 . . . a variation which takes us back via the hills rather than round them: a sinuous route, slow – but very picturesque. I will give a brief summary of the journey and an epilogue in due course, when the vagaries of BT Broadband as supplied to Bullsmead is restored back to something like the slug speed which passes for acceptable for us poor country dwellers, so starkly contrasting with Le Orange super speed in Sablet . . .

At the moment we endure speeds below the scale used to test download speeds . . .

You can get all the images in this blog bigger by clicking on them, by the way; but there — I expect you know that, all you out there, my public, hanging on my every word . . .

Hah — as if . . !

 . . .  to welcome us, and to make us feel truly back in Devon, back on the island, this image greeted us outside our local newsagent . . .

. . .  one can only speculate as to what aspects of this fair land drove a fellow european to become an indecent image, namely a frenchman in court . . .

It is indeed the long way back . . .
and, for now at least we are back over here, and
France is over there . . .


along the right lines

IN KEEPING WITH A FASCINATION WITH LINES, as discussed in the other blog linked to this (adrian'spicturepostings), we have found interest, mystery and landscape by investigating what appear as lines of one sort or another on the maps we have by going out to see what they represent on the ground. Not surprisingly this started with the roads we frequent, smaller and rougher by degrees, then grandes randonnées (nationally designated) and the lesser footpaths (colour waymarked, local) until we look for something that goes further, a more historic trace, with detective work required . . .

A while back the line that caught our imagination was Le Petit Train, the long closed metre gauge railway that ran from Orange SNCF to Buis-les-Baronnies, passing through Sablet en route.

We spent several days visiting and walking the route of this lost railway (closed and lifted in the fifties), finding the clues that still exist as to where it was laid: roads that have adopted the route, crossing keepers' houses, the surviving stations now serving as houses, depots and, in one case, a school, two tunnels – one with a road through it, the other, a wine store – viaducts, bridges and culverts. In some places the route is clear, elsewhere the railway has completely disappeared, for example under Orange military airfield infrastructure, or under new housing. But the careful seeking of the clues and indicators was intriguing and rewarding, helping us to enjoy the landscape around here in a very focussed and singular manner. And poignantly we even found a short section of track still in place at the entrance to one of the two tunnels on the route.

A beautiful railway then, that lasted less than forty years, still mourned by fans of slow rail travel through wonderful countryside. The fact is, if it had survived it would be coining it in as a tourist attraction now,  although Vaison would have had to do something else for its ring road!

The Canal de Carpentras is much older (built in the 1850s) but is still active, maintained and an important contributor to the horticulture of the central Vaucluse area. This irrigation channel runs from the river Durance, south east of Avignon, from which it takes its water, then flows all the way to the Aygues river where it disgorges any water that has not been used in the market gardens and vineyards en route. There are no locks as it is not a canal for the conveyance of goods, but of irrigation, so it follows the contours, dropping about 25cm every kilometer,  there is a flow speed of a little less than a gentle walking pace) and is 69 kilometers in length. We found the Canal de Carpentras flows through some very attractive countryside, hilly flat and it certainly goes round the houses. Amongst its features are a number of tunnels, a substantial aqueduct, many off-shoots and side sluices:– and several river crossings by syphons, the largest of which we stumbled across last year (and completely failed to recognise) where it crosses under our local river the Ouvèze. The canal just ends in a stone wall here; across the other side is another stone basin where the water reappears and continues to flow.

As far as we can tell the canal is not pumped although there a number of standby pumps along its length probably to restart syphons and flow after drought: there may be times when the water hardly makes it to the end. We shall check this out in the summer no doubt.

We have not done so very much to trace this canal, not as much as we did on Le Petit Train. The mapping shows it clearly but sometimes confuses: according to IGN the canal goes over our local river on an aqueduct but now we have found and demonstrated that the canal goes under. But it is really amazing, going about, just how often we cross it or some of its branches. Good too to see that it is regularly cleaned out and even repaired and strengthened in places. We haven't been to where the canal starts out, as yet, but we've inspected the biggest syphon, found tunnels, walked sections and visited the last sluice. Good fun, satisfying and calling for careful map use. And we have finally visited the crossing of the canal by the route of the Petit Train . . .

Ok, ok – you can do the whole lot now on the interweb from the comfort of your own fat arse, but where's the fun in that? Would we have had a close encounter with a great big green lizard, back here, on line? We are discovering for ourselves – that we are! Once again the paper map is the prompt.


common market

NICOLE PONÇON epitomizes the excellence, friendliness and comfortable familiarity of the weekly market at St Cécile-les-Vignes, a small town a handful of kilometers across the Plan-de-Dieu from our place in Sablet. Nicole makes superb sheep's milk yogurts and cheeses, tends those sheep; and when she is not doing that Nicole is bee keeping. Which is what first brought Mary to Nicole's pitch on the edge of the market where she found a small but distinctive range of honeys from just up the road, and whenever possible, buys her honey from Nicole. Sadly I have never had a chat with Nicole (I blame my school) but right from the very first time we patronised her stall I noticed that she has the most amazing hands: really strong, brown capable working hands. The sort of hands that get on with things.

There are lots of other examples of your local entrepreneurs on this market (as on most rural markets, it's just the same in Malaucene, Buis-Les-Baronnies, Bedoin etc): families running their market garden stalls, the chatty bloke who cooks and brings two ready-to-eat main courses (paëlla, and chilli con-carne, or petit-sallé-aux-lentilles or chicken tagine with preserved lemons — so good that he is gaining fixture status for us)— selling out from his huge steaming pans long before the market closes up. Fish stalls, two of them usually, are spectacular, the butcher's mobile shops selling both ready-to-eat and all the cuts, as well as sausages, terrines and the rest . . . our favourite has long queues by mid morning. Vegetables and fruit are arranged with infinite care, there are mounds of fresh salads, banks of local strawberries, regiments of asparagus and this time the first appearance of new season garlic. Local wine, local olive oil, cheeses and walnuts,  lots of healthy plants for pricking out, flowers, clothes, hats, and even mattresses. St Cécile market runs on saturday until one o'clock, about, (we are long gone)  and its not a monster like Vaison is in season. It does grow quite a lot as the visitor numbers increase but the same regular traders make up the core: we notice when someone's missing now.

So we take our seats outside the Bar de Union at the fountain end of the market with our croissants and grande crème and watch it all tick over. They've just been doing up the street so there's still things to finish. Lots more stone blocks and bollards to impede the pavement parkers.  There may be better coffee to be had across the road but we think not: we did try them once but none got near this establishment. I could quite happily take my breakfast here every saturday as do many folk on the green and orange chairs outside the Bar de Union.

Well there you go. I had to do a piece on a Fr. market didn't I, sooner or later? Predictable or what? Was it lyrical? Well I did try. Hope Nicole doesn't mind featuring . . .


winter swops for spring & summer

WARM WALKS UP AND AROUND have been most pleasurable, largely because it is bursting out all over so rapidly and colourfully, and the temperatures are conducive. I am hardly able to explain why we have stopped off to enjoy yet another patch of vines. Unless you really look at it!

More than once I have wondered if one of the pleasures of these plantings is to move through them, past them, and experience the flicker of vines that the regimented rows provoke. Maybe I should be slotting in a video hereabouts but not sure I want to get into making films.

But I do have to admit, that although the first burstings of leaf and flower are very lovely, there is something really mesmerising about the regimes of naked vines after the winter and spring prunings.

I've posted a few of the images I have made to capture the essence of some of these vineyards, they are on my album in flickr called springtime vines 16 — sorry, can't create a link directly to it on this bit-of-kit.  And of course, hereabouts we also have the pleasure of the olive groves. Pruning of these most beautiful trees is just about over now . . .


vide grenier (rubbish by another name)

I AM ADVISED that a Vide Grenier is the equivalent of a car boot or garage sale,  or what went before e-Bay came into fashion. I have to admit to have never been to a car boot sale but if your Vide Grenier is anything to go by I have not missed much except the display for sale of what is just about 99% junk. I am sorry to be so blunt but there you are. The natives it seems to me have a passion for this form of grotesque retail. I've been coaxed into going to quite a few VGs; the only time I absolutely declined a tour of a nearby assembly, Mary achieved a cast iron cockerel which now graces our terrace room.

Today's visit to Roaix was better than some other 'sales' of this sort where we actually saw people trying to sell single shoes, partially inflated banana blowups and unsavoury dolls. Today one could have picked up Bonne Maman jam jars, used petticoats, a defunct inkjet printer, a selection of thankfully broken plastic Kalashnicovs, odd buttons and key rings, rusty tea trays, bad pictures in bad frames, just frames, used, broken light fittings, shades and switches, and the usual odd glasses and cups released from this or that bar or café. There were also those sinister heaps of clothes of all sorts for which one might be advised to wear rubber gloves to sort.

I did not see anyone make a purchase while we trawled through the pitches, although as we arrived we did note several persons retreating from the venue with what appeared to be full carrier bags. Maybe they found something to add to their own grenier so that when summoned to take part in a future VG they would indeed have something to lay on the road to sell. Maybe it is the domestic  equivalent of going to confession, the spreading of the household's detritus out in the road as a form of cleansing, without resort to the déchetèrie; and in order to possess this effluvia one is required to bring it all forth, expose it to public scrutiny at prescribed times and places, and in due season.

Why did we go? Search me. Just something one does on a grey sunday morning if a local village has decided to turn out its greniers. One could tell that some of the stuff must have been spread out on the street many times before without benefit of purchase, and would no doubt be appearing again the next time. I'll come clean though. Some years ago before I had been blooded by visiting an Ikea for the first time, I did buy a swedish picture frame at a VG in this very village, and moreover I use it to display three of my own photographs in this very house. And we did once see a man acquire a rather nice shop bell (to summon assistance) which we would have had if he hadn't got there first. In fact the only thing you are ever likely to want to buy at one of these events will be already under the arm of the successful purchaser as they leave triumphant.

So our search for a ball-and-hand door knocker goes on.
Incidently the top picture on this page is a panorama to show the waning interest of yer punters as 12 mid-day arrives. Mary (centre) is not quite that thin really . . .  As for the couple sitting behind their crème caramel Citrëon BX19RD, well I had to include them because I thought at first the woman was nursing a pig . . . We did a lot of our early voyages in France in similar, but thankfully white motors, (a 19RD then a TZD, as if you cared), this marque now very rarely seen in a road-fit condition (there is one down the road, complete with caravan disappearing into an encroaching broom grove). Maybe the BX was for sale, aussi . . .


it's the wrong map, stupid

the right atlas but the wrong map and where we want to get to is almost in the gutter, as usual
I HAVE LONG BEEN OF THE OPINION that proprietors of hotels would be far better advised to place a national road atlas in the bedside table of each room rather than a bible. Not that any hotel we have stayed in recently has had such a thing as a bedside table, let alone a bible, and I suspect in La France this habit would be against the strictly secular state principles that appertain.

Our bible on the road when driving on the right is The Michelin Atlas of a fairly recent year and we faint dead away when we discover friends and associates who venture forth with nothing more than TomTom (or whatever, other sat navs are available and are probably just as likely to lead you up the garden path) and a hopeless looking out for the misleading signposts that come as such a shock to those of us used to faultless UK road labelling. But good though The Michelin is for getting from A to B via C and D, as well as giving the inquisitive a notional perspective of what else there is to be seen in the vicinity, the nature and classification of the road, alternatives to, distances, whether it might be scenic (the famous green pencil, that often just means pleasantly wooded)… it has some limitations. It is after all a small scale affair even if the atlas itself does run to well over 300 pages.

the right maps
So when we set off to visit the banks and braes associated with the less frequented levées of the Rhône you'd have thought we'd have taken a bit more than Michelin. And we did: all the local mapping, we thought, but not amongst them,  IGN map Orange, the only 1:25000 IGN map missing from the in-car set we carry for those off-piste excursions we are fond of. The lesson is, if you are in this neck of the woods and want to explore the majestic route of the mighty Rhône and its appurtenances (barrages, levées, crossings, river junctions etc) don't leave home without the IGN bleu 25 maps Avignon and Orange.

the right location
I don't recommend trying what we did without maps. You've got to remember we are old hands and even we had to do some about-turns. Roads that approach the river are often inexplicably suddenly private, barred or definitely 'not regularly maintained' — and we have been there before. So we did eventually get under the impediment of the A7 autoroute to take on the next challenge of finding access under the TGV. Having achieved that, all that remains is to get across the river sized drainage channel that flanks the levée running parallel to the Rhône proper. This can only be done by following the unmade service tracks to one of the controlling sluices, where at last we can leave the wheels and somewhat dustier motor to walk over the big ditch crossing point and climb the bank to get our first view of the riverside proper, opposite St Etienne-des-Sorts. Très Bonne!

Here we have state-of-the-art trains passing by at speeds approaching 190mph, (hidden to some extent by trees but one can get quite close at certain points) the chance of river traffic (barges of rather majestic proportions although none seen on this occasion), distant hill top chateaux, trees leafing up with many birds competing for attention, including nightingales, blossom — and big big skies. No-one in their right mind comes here, at least not unless you have a sluice to open or fancy a quiet game of boules under a TGV bridge (as observed last time we made this weird excursion).

SatNav might just bring you to such a place, its true,  but it would have been a mistake. A map's the thing and as you can see, the right map is even more the thing.