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.


serving the community

MY PUBLIC (HO) WILL NO DOUBT BE AWARE that this year, 2016, was marked by your correspondent with the production of a centennial marmalade edition (see adrian's picturepostings) to mark the day my mother was born 100 years ago. Apart from two special limited editions which remain classified, all the rest of my production this year carries the Sablet banner.

As it says on the label,
'This exclusive marmalade has been specially handcrafted in darkest Devon (UK) to address the increasing demand from the cognoscenti of Sablet for Bullsmead award-winning conserves. Once tasted, no other marmalade will ever satisfy again. Lovingly made entirely by hand and containing only Seville oranges, lemons, pure sugar and water from Bullsmead's own deep-bore water source.'

So you see, I am doing my bit to uphold the United Kingdom as the source of the finest conserves, while out here, in my own small and humble way . . . As usual, as well as the marmalade itself, the associated graphics are originated in the Bullsmead design studios. Oh yes!

The slightly gloomy pictorial representations here indicate that the golden orb has not altogether been wall to wall.

Sablet in the winter 2012


campervan campervan

ON THE PLAN DE DIEU after a few days of changeable weather. Temperatures switchbacking from 24 or more to 14 or less, but nevertheless the martins returned unto us, the hoopoe grubbing about on the road edge, the toad and frog harmonising in what is left of the old bassin now that the gubbins for a swimming pool have been there located. Seemed to me this grey morning that a black and white image would be more atmospheric, out there on Le Plan de Dieu. Like those holm oaks one of which Mary is given to shinning into from time to time. Like the Dentelles, rising above the smoke and haze spreading gently from Sablet and Gigondas, caught under still warmer air. Careful digital capture . . .

Take a proper look, pleased with the mood and composition . . .  Then I spot it. A campervan. Once you've seen it you can hardly see anything else. Just going behind that oak, just right of centre, waddling along the D977 to Vaison. A split second later, it would have been out of sight behind said oak, but no, there it is plain as the n. on your f.

We've not done much yet: hopefully sorted out and made more imminent the gable repair, patched a few fallen clods of plaster. Seen a film of moderate quality, set to see another possibly of higher quality this evening. Off to the med tomorrow to commune with pals,  said adieu to the Irish, a two night stop by from Anne, discussed Waterloo and the art of the obituary with the Kaisers. 

The weather needs a few more calories perhaps. The campervans are always with us . . .

(without prejudice to owners, fans and users of mobile homes)