Barjac, Lozère (South Central France) – “The corner of S.W. France that the British haven’t discovered.”
1st September. In over 50 years, I have succeeded in doing it only a handful of times.
Since I was a little girl, I have tried to make “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit” the very first thing that I say on the first day of the month.
It was 2 minutes to midnight; “Not the 9 O’Clock News” had just finished. The final frame was a clock; which reminded me…
Mark was taunting me, trying to make me speak. I remained strong. Then I did it! “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit” I enunciated proudly.
I was just explaining to Mark that it brings good luck as I turned and knocked over a full glass of water, which soaked the seats and all four dogs. Mark, of course, was inconsolable with mirth. I am not sure that it bodes well.
Marsanne to Barjac – and the first challenge was simply to get Kismet off pitch no 30! It had been the most difficult pitch to get on, but therein lies a lesson. What goes on might not come off… At least, not the same way!
The exit strategy obliged us to involve the descent of a very steep, gravelly hill with two hairpins at the bottom. “Are you sure you can get down that way?” I asked Mark. He replied succinctly; “No…”
The Germans showed plenty of interest as they drove past; we were stuck on the second hairpin at the time. We managed to avoid any damage to Kismet’s tail only by pressing into action the emergency shovel and digging out part of a bank and rockery to allow the caravan enough swing. Caravan Confucius say “Man Moving Large Caravan Must be Able to Swing Freely Both Ways!”
The route took us through the pretty hills to Montelimar, which I had previously known only as one of my less favourite options in a tin of Quality Street. I am more of an Orange girl (cream or cracknel) but we’re not going as far as Provence… (There is a city called Orange in the Vaucluse, in case you’re wondering about my references!)
Needless to say, Montelimar boasts an enticing Museum of Nougat, but we didn’t have time to stop. Much concentration was required as we wound through the narrow streets, avoiding height hazards, lorries and hairpins! We crossed the Rhône and immediately entered the Ardèche.
The climb through the Ardèche Monts was stunning. The architecture changed; we left the rambling Italianate stone villas with terracotta roof tiles for more compact houses with lovely, fish-scale slate roofs containing chips of mica, which glistened in the sun. The villages nestled in pretty, floral clusters on hillsides that were otherwise clad in dark green forest. Crags stabbing accusingly at the blue sky were sometimes indistinguishable from the stark ruins of hilltop castles. Big Blue did brilliantly as she meandered her way up alongside the Ardèche river almost to the source. We topped out at 1266m over the Col de la Chavade and were faced with the completely different landscape of the Val d’Allier laid out before us.
We descended to our proposed stop near Langogne, on Lac de Naussac. Our campsite, Les Terasses du Lac, promised ‘lakeside pitches’. Our windsurfing kit was almost crackling with antici…….pation!
If lakeside means “half way up a hill with houses between you and the lake shore”, then the description of the campsite was entirely accurate! The route to carry our kit to the water was a steep path through a field. A Dutch couple advised me that my trusty flip flops would not be suitable footwear with which to navigate the path, even without a board and sail. It was an open, parched site with no character and no shade. The temperature was still in the 30’s.
It was 2.30pm and we were both weighing up whether we should just pitch and relax or drive on to another campsite locally, or further afield. A longer trip today means a shorter trip another day!
Even the huge mosaic of a windsurfer on the floor of the reception at Les Terrasses was not enough to persuade us that we had come home – we opted to go on! Mark found a campsite in Barjac, on the banks of the River Lot. It was 90 minutes hence, just past Mende, the capital of the Lozère. Every time we have made the decision to move on, it has proved to be a good call. This seemed to be no exception. Langogne was one of the ugliest places that we had encountered, whereas continuing past Mende, we entered a World Heritage Site!
Our tribulations were not over, however. Following the Sat Nav to the Camping Le Clos des Peupliers, it took us to the wrong place, which was, of course, down a really narrow dead end! (A wrong turn is NEVER a wide road with its own convenient turning circle!) The road had been closed for the school run, so the caravan was suddenly caught amid a maelstrom of manoeuvring mums.
We attracted quite a lot of attention. A mum-committee formed spontaneously to advise on our best plan of retreat. School mums advising on a procedure which involves the incomprehensible concept of reversing was never going to go well… I have so many happy memories of my morning commutes in London. It was great sport watching pairs of duelling Yummy Mummies in 4×4 stand-offs in the congested streets during rush hour. They were like fighting bulls. NOBODY was going to back down. Or back up. It was not really a matter of saving face. They simply couldn’t do it!
“Reverse round the corner and go back out!” was proffered as the preferred option from the mums. They simply could not conceive the possibility of reversing a 40ft vehicle for 100 yards to back the way we had come. It wasn’t a straight reverse either; there was a chicane to negotiate between a large hole in the road on one side and a protruding stone staircase on the other.
I am sure that I explained it in passable French. However, the mums seemed fundamentally incapable of accepting the concept that the car parked right on the corner rendered reversing around said corner impossible.
An argument broke out. We directly defied the mums’ advice. I think that they were so consumed with insisting to each other that the corner “is ze only way!” that they didn’t notice as we retreated in reverse. Thankfully, Mark was ON FIRE with his pinpoint backward accuracy and neatly avoided both the hole and the steps. At least if anyone had noticed our defiant retrogression, British Honour was intact.
We relaxed and felt a bit smug as we finally went the right way to the campsite, but were utterly horrified to see the entrance was through 2 narrow bridges on a U-shaped bend! The numbers on the width and height signs intimated that we would make it through with inches to spare. However, a quick scout of the route intimated that we may experience the exact opposite to how the numbers suggest that it is mathematically impossible for a bee to fly…
We left the wide towing mirrors on, just to make sure; with a lot of gesticulating, hope and gritted teeth, we made it through!
The site manageress was the first person on our entire trip who has shown any concern about our having 4 dogs. There was a bit of a commotion as we walked around to choose a pitch. A Brittany Spaniel pup and a Pomeranian initiated a bark-off with Les Quatre Cavapoos. You can guess who might have won THAT challenge…!
Luckily, Madam’s hubby intervened. “I love British!” he told us, beaming from ear to ear. He promptly rolled up his sleeve, proudly showing us his tattoo of the band Madness. “I LOVE Madness!” he added, rather unnecessarily!
He suggested that we pitched in a deserted part of the site that was technically closed. We had the whole section to ourselves.
Suffice to say that we were very happy with our Lot. We are right on the banks of the River Lot, in soothing shade and with access to the water for our lovely pups to cool off. Mark cooked us potatoes, eggs and speck outside, overlooking the river. I can’t claim that any wild-haired Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall presided over our River Cottage Café. Mark had actually brushed his hair this morning – the first time in 10 days. Never let it be said that we are letting our standards slip!
We were lulled to sleep by the gentle sound of the river. Unlike the strident stridulators in Marsanne, the cicadas here sound more like a muted trim phone. Even our butterflies have gone up in gorgeousness. They are tiny little ones, which look like a Chalk Hill Blue, but they are almost lilac in colour and iridescent. Beautiful!
There are four types of landscape in the Lozère; basalt in the North East, the Aubrac Plateau, which has its very own breed of cattle. Granite in the mountainous Margeride. Limestone with glorious gorges here in the Lot Valley, while Shale and Granite spell out the spectacular Cevennes National Park.
There is certainly A Lot to do here, but if you ask us what we did, our answer is a bit Paul Daniels; “Not a Lot!”
We just took it easy in the ever-so-welcome shade, although the dogs did tire themselves out! In our splendid isolation, we could leave them off their leads to spend their days running around, in and out of the river and playing with Gonzo, the site mountain dog, who has more or less become the 5th man!
Living this life, even jobs are more fun. Doing the laundry in a beautiful setting and relaxing by the river in between loads doesn’t really feel like a chore!
What else do you need when you’ve got The Lot?!
The Lot Valley – “The corner of South West France that the British haven’t discovered” – apart from us. And we’re telling you about it!