“Allo, Allo” once more, mes amis!
We have returned from France to Dorset where it’s great to see the countryside so much greener than Provence and the hedgerows bursting with berries.
We’ve been greeted by very good news.
Our support team, Adrian, Elaine, Dom and Mrs. Mick, who remained in the village (to organise search and rescue should it have been necessary to air-lift us out of France as the grape-harvesting got more and more jolly), have handed me a great pile of envelopes with contributions to Adding everything up, I can tell you that the total so far contributed by everyone, both through the secure on-line page and into the equally secure village tin box, comes to £2,755. Cancer Research UK will be able to add nearly £500 of Gift Aid.
A huge thank you to everyone, as we sprint for the line and go for busting the £3,000 target!
The finish line for cycling too, is not far away. So far I’ve cycled 296 miles, leaving only 4 miles left to finish the 300 mile challenge. But, like the fund-raising target, we shall try to beat the 300 by a Dorset country mile or two, once this stormy week is past.
On our return, several of you have kindly asked after the other crucial member of my support team. Those of you who were listening very carefully in case I said it only once in Clog 6, will have realised that “not Edith, (who is not Edith, because she is my wife)” has been with us all the time in France, her duties being those of soigneur and chef. When I stiff-upper-lipped my aching Achilles tendon, declaring “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs”, this was the “Oh., yes you can!”, reply:
Such smart-Alice responses get me back on the bike in no time!
On the way back to England through France (no, I did not cycle all the way back, Nicola – it was 750 miles ….) we stopped at a B & B about 40 miles north of Clermont-Ferrand, which was built in the 17th century to house the Procureur du Roi. Now I’m not sure what he got involved with procuring, but anyone coming after him with a bit of a grievance shall we say, would have had a hard job to break in.
I can vouch for the plumbing dating from the C17th.,
and if the gurgling noises overnight were not coming from the pipework, then I can vouch for the ghost also.
But what was really exciting was that, during the C20th restoration, they had come across Monsieur le Procureur’s splendidly ornate clogs!
And there they were, artistically displayed in a glass cabinet, along with the fire extinguishers.
Well, you can imagine the thrill of clogaffinity that flashed across 4 centuries like the discharge from a Leyden Jar! Suddenly this chilly fortress of a house felt like home, and I could picture myself, clogs to the hearth and pipe in hand, gleefully reckoning up the day’s procurements.
Once you get clogs on the brain, your imagination runs riot. You begin to think of Procureuring a smarter line in footwear for yourself, like legendary world sprint cycling champion Peter Sagan …….
and maybe a pair of wildly fashionable ladies’ clogs from Dior for your favourite soigneur, with matching mini cycle-saddlebag …..,
which would set you back a cool £3,090 by the way (before ‘procurement’, that is).
Even the faithful old bike might need trading in for something chauffeur driven
Enough of this clogdreaming! I need to tell you about some cycling.
We last left the cycling scene (Clog 7) with me cowering indoors on the infamous second Sunday in September, when every Frenchman who calls himself a man, turns into Artemis, loads both barrels, and heads for the woods. Yet there were 100 miles still to be cycled, so it was a relief that the next day, Monday, was the start of the ‘vendange’, the grape harvest, in Drome Provençale – and that means everyone into the vineyards and no time for hunting.
I have to show you a couple of photographs. The vineyards in this area can be breathtakingly beautiful, especially when the sun is shining and a hint of Mistral is blowing. The first is from the wholly inaptly named village of ‘Vinsobres’ this September.
The second is of vines just a few hundred yards from the walled village of Taulignan, taken in June, when you can still see individual vines before they are covered in leaves.
This, then is the kind of country that I criss-crossed on the bike throughout our last week in France as the vendange got underway, dodging trailer loads of freshly harvested grapes on their way to pressing at the wineries; smelling the riper-than-a Normandy-Camembert scent of the sweating families working from dawn to dusk in the burning sun; skidding on spilt grapes; gulping air through an improvised bandana scarf because, suddenly, there were more fruit flies in the air than oxygen; joining in the laughter and catching the spirit of relief everywhere that the crop was coming in; dodging the mechanical harvesters as they emerged from the vines onto the tracks to turn around.
And of course blagging myself a go!
I have a slightly fuzzy idea that I might have invited rather a lot of dusty, sweaty, new agricultural friends to drive real, man-sized combine harvesters around the village, so sorry in advance to George, David, Heidi and the Parish Council if they should all turn up.
However difficult it was to tear myself away from the progressive Bacchanalia of the vineyards, this 300 mile mission deserved a worthy finale, and so it was that one day we rose before dawn, loaded Jekyll into the back of the car and headed for the hills on a day when Meteo France promised to cage the Mistral. The ‘hills’ in question are the Vercors, the mountainous plateau rising steeply some 60 miles north east of Taulignan.
The start of the cyclists’ renowned climb up to the Col de Rousset is from the small town of Die, pronounced Dee, unless, that is, you are just about to cycle up to the Col.
We were last in Die for the ‘transhumance’ a year or two ago. The transhumance is the seasonal drive of livestock, on foot, up to summer pastures and it is a great turning point in the pastoral year. It has always been celebrated and these days, with an eye to tourism, it is a massive occasion, with many of the elements of our Dorset agricultural fairs, including some vintage tractors worth a decent dowry in these parts.
Because the transhumance takes place in June, you will have to take my word for it that this clip from YouTube captures it well. (Health & Safety Inspectorate look away now).
If that link doesn’t work for you, try this www.youtube.com/watch?v=58lLyb-5XQo
Our own immediate problem, however, is not how to get sheep up the mountain, but how to get me up there, as it is a ride of 13 miles UP and a climb of 2,800 ft. That is why we have started early to avoid the worst of the heat; added isotonic + energy magic to the water-bottle; rubbed massive doses of Arnica into the grumbling Achilles tendon; re-calibrated the heart monitor and checked out the medi-vac arrangements.
Leaving aside the melodrama, it is actually a great climb because it has views at every stage – the uplands slowly reveal themselves as the drops into the valley become more vertiginous. A fairly straight, long, steady climb gives way to hairpins as you approach the Col and those hairpin bends alter the view for you at every turn. As you climb, the drops are close to you on your side of the road (it being in France), and the opposite is true as you descend. Which is great because you can ascend under control looking down at the view without prejudicing your safety; then hurtle back down the descent without regard to anything!
At the start it looks like this:
And from the top it looks like this:
As you climb up, this is what you see as the miles puff by:
Here’s how it feels at the Col when you’ve got your breath back!
The ride back down is 13 miles of Whizzzzzzzzz and providing you have held your nerve and missed the loose gravel on the worst of the hairpin bends, you can smirk at the skyful of Griffon Vultures circling hopefully overhead 3 miles from the finish. Honest!
Well, I’m dizzy just recalling that ride, so I hope you have caught a flavour of it too!
That’s it for this Clog. I reckon the next will be the last, when I hope to bring you whatever befalls between now and the end of September, plus the “final scores” of miles biked, metres climbed and monies raised.
In the meantime, I have a request – if you have enjoyed the ride, please urge your friends to join us and contribute to the cause. I hope it’s been fun, but it has all been for a vital need. The more funds we can raise for Cancer Research UK, the greater the chance that we will have made that vital difference to someone, somewhere.
And that is what we set out to do.
To donate to Cancer Research UK, please click on “My Cancer Research Page” at the top of this post. It will take you to a secure Cancer Research donation page and will allow you to say if Gift Aid can be claimed on your donation.