I know we had planned to come back through the Ardèche mountains, but plans change. One of the benefits of our current lifestyle is that we have few strictures on our time and activities. Of course, where we make commitments, they have to be kept; had we agreed to meet someone at an agreed time and date on the Ardèche mountains, we should have been obliged, either to turn up when expected, or to change the appointment.
When looking at the options available, we found that, if we were to make our way to Béziers, on the Mediterranean coast, we could take the A75 from there to Clermont-Ferrand. That road is, as the map below shows, pretty close to a straight line and, unlike the Autoroute du soleil, toll free. The only toll on the A75 is for crossing the fabulous Millau viaduct (7.30€ for the car and 10.90€ for the camper and well worth every centime). Decision made.
We set off for Avignon on Monday morning, arriving at the caravan centre just after 3pm. It was clear that our camper wasn’t ready to be driven away; she was still in the workshop, very much giving the appearance of being worked on. The owner came out and asked us if we could come back at 5 o’clock. We went for a drive into Avignon and, because of the traffic, had no time to do anything but turn straight back. I so wanted to dance on the famous bridge!
On our return, the owner of the caravan centre explained that once he had installed the new motor for the electric step, he found that the geared cam that raises and lowers the step, had a number of broken teeth and would need to be replaced. He would place an order for that, and let us know when it arrives, so we can take the camper down to him for it to be fitted. This is becoming expensive! It was obvious to me, that he had only started looking at it on Monday, having had it for a week. Had he looked sooner, he could have let me know that it wouldn’t be complete, whereupon we could and would have delayed our journey (and hopefully found better weather, too). Were I a less level-headed kind of person, I might have offered to put him in the same condition as the geared cam.
We now await the next call. I think our next visit will be in one vehicle only – we can hire a car locally for about 30€ per day, enabling us to explore locally whilst he is doing the repair.
As intimated, we headed south from Avignon. Our first stop was La Grande Motte, in the Petite Camargue. As we were passing through the wetlands, the sun was setting very attractively, and we spotted some flamingos in the water. We stopped to appreciate the scene and, as we did, we noticed that a number of flamingos were flying around in the way that geese do prior to settling for the night. I had not been aware of flamingos in France, and had not seen them in the wild outside Africa. There was not the concentration of the birds here that I had seen in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara, but it was very special nonetheless. We stayed there until the light started to fail, then headed into La Grande Motte to find somewhere to stop for the night.
France benefits from a lot of provision for campers. Wherever you find, at the roadside, a sign looking like a camper with a water container below it, it points to an aire de camping-car. These always allow discharge of waste water and chemical toilets, and usually allow overnight parking. Some also provide fresh water and electricity although, not unreasonably, these latter are not usually free.
We found one that cost 11€ for a night’s stop – aire camping-car les Cigales. In the middle of a number of camping and other tourist facilities, it was well frequented, but there was more than enough room for us. The car had to stay outside. Whether it will be as easy in high season, I can’t say. As well as providing fresh water and electricity, it has a good-sized amenities block that is well-equipped and well-presented. It is also well placed for exploring the area. After a good night’s sleep, we set off again, headed west along the coast, past Sète and towards Agde. We had planned to stop at Marseillan-Plage, but found that those campsites that open in April - and there aren’t that many that do – open between 7th and 12th. We were there on 1st April. On our way from Sète to Marseillan-Plage, we had noticed an aire de camping-car that was fairly full. We returned to that aire, and found a corner where we could stop for the night. It was free, and no facilities were available, save a chemical toilet discharge point. Fresh water is available in season. As well as being free, its main advantage is that it is practically on the beach. From our camper to the beach must have been almost twenty-five metres.
We took the dogs to the beach – something to which they are not really accustomed. There were no more than about half-a-dozen people on the sand, and one dog that was running free. We let our dogs off their leads and let them run. Run? Trevor was like a thing possessed, behaving the same as the winter-born calves do, when they are first let loose in the fields in spring. Ulysse was unusually animated, too. It was marvellous to watch. We started throwing sticks for Trevor. Such was the wind, that lighter sticks had to be thrown with the wind, otherwise they behaved like boomerangs! We had two such outings in the evening, one one the next morning, before moving on to our next stop.
Our plan was to travel, on Wednesday, from Marsaillan-Plage to Le Rozier, via Millau. Le Rozier is at the confluence of the rivers Tarn and Jonte, giving good access to the Gorges du Tarn and the Gorges de la Jonte. On Thursday, given the excellent forecast, we would walk or drive to a good height and do some vulture-watching, then leave for home on Friday morning. The Gorges de la Jonte is home to large numbers of Griffon Vultures, and a healthy population of Cinereous (European Black) Vultures. We called in at the excellent three-star Camping municipal de Brouillet at Le Rozier, and paid for two nights’ camping with electricity.
Thursday morning didn’t look too good – dull and overcast, but at least dry. We set off mid-morning intending to climb to the top of nearby Capluc Rock. The idea was to get to the fenced-off area by the cross at the very summit, and to grab some decent images of Griffon Vultures, Cinereous Vultures and Ravens. I was carrying two cameras, one fitted with my Sigma 150-500mm lens, and a monopod. The climb started quite reasonably, a steep gravel track cutting off a large loop in the road. It then continued on the road, before heading off through the ruined village of Capluc, from where it became quite difficult. In parts, it was almost sheer, a narrow rock climb with grab ropes on the rock side, which became too dangerous to try to negotiate whilst keeping a dog on the lead with one hand. We almost reached the top, but the drizzle was making the rock slippery in places and, coupled with the general lack of light, made use of my long lens impossible. We decided to turn back. I was disappointed not to have made the top, but wouldn’t have been able to do anything whilst there and, as I didn’t have anything to prove to myself or anyone else, there seemed no point in continuing. Coming down again, aided by Trevor, who was far more sure-footed than I, was interesting, bordering on exciting! Perhaps another time, in better weather, and sans chiens.
Although we did see a number of Griffon Vultures, and one Cinereous Vulture, they were too far away to photograph with a standard lens, and there was insufficient light to use the long lens, which is wide open at f/6.3. It was also evident that the weather wasn’t going to improve, and there seemed little point in sitting in the camper in the rain all afternoon, only to stop the night and leave the next morning. We packed up and left, arriving home in plenty of time to catch the new season of Big Bang Theory on E4.
Overall, I have to say that the A75 route was very good. There are some long, steep hills that had the camper sweating a bit. There must have been five or six occasions when the temperature gauge was well into the red, and I was, on as many occasions, tempted to stop and let her cool a little. That apart, the scenery along the route is beyond spectacular. It is just a pity that Clare and I were in separate vehicles, which meant there was no-one available in either to photograph any of the scenery; there was also nowhere one could stop to take a photograph. Next time.
In 1975, I actively campaigned for the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum to determine whether the UK should join the (then) European Economic Community. This was a trading group, and no-one in the UK electorate had any inkling that it would ever be any more than that. Today, it is a politico-fiscal bloc with, it seems, federalist ambitions. This is not what I campaigned for, voted for and supported.
The primary, and laudable, purpose for creating the Union was to prevent a repeat of the two world wars that blighted the first half of the twentieth century. That was the dream and, so far, it is holding good. However, it doesn’t help those member states in the Euro area, that are having financial troubles. They are having to battle their woes without the single weapon that is acknowledged as the most effective – interest rates. Ireland, Spain and Greece (as well as Cyprus, Portugal and Italy) could all possibly have addressed their woes with this tool, but weren’t permitted, as the EU-wide interest rate is set at a level that seems to best fit the stronger economies.
I am not convinced that currency/fiscal union can work without full political union; that full political union can be achieved easily across such diverse cultures; or that the current mix of national and central competences, both fiscal and political, is sustainable. That is not to suggest that I know any answers, more that I don’t fully comprehend the questions. The problem is that, as far as I can see, neither does anyone else, least of all the unelected bureaucrats who actually run the EU.
À la prochaine