Continuation reports

For whatever reason the previous topic will no longer accept new entries so I’ve created this continuation
We are still in Villes Sur Auzun this evening moving W after petit dejeuner tomorrow
Today was the cycling trip up and through the Gorges de la Nesque. Finding the start was easy- just turn left out of the campsite and that’s the start of the road. The route follows the old road to Sault before the new one was built over the Col de ND Abeilles. Due to very low tunnels on the old road, modern vans and trucks are too high and most motorists favour the newer road due to very narrow width with limited passing space ( and some unprotected massive drop offs) this means it’s essentially a cyclists only road with a smattering of motorcycles. The route through the gorge is about 20km at a max gradient of only 5% and average nearer 2-3%- the road surface and scenery are sublime and can be enjoyed fully without any worries about motor traffic
At the top of the gorge the road continues to very busy Sault ( on one of the 3 main routes up to the summit of Ventoux) where we stopped for food and a sugary drink before the 10km climb up the main road to the col- this was much steeper and harder work in the midday sun ( no shade on this one) but rewarded the effort on the long sinuous wide descent back down the other side to home- this was about 8km of brilliant tarmac with very little traffic where your host almost got the bike up to 40mph ( but not quite) but averaged around 36
A great ride rewarded by the customary pool dip in the afternoon
Tomorrow to Cavaillon , about an hour away to have a go at a newly installed Via Ferrata with the unusual inclusion of subterranean sections through caves in the cliffs……


Spot the road

Onwards SW…. The OFrance event starts next Friday and we’re still in Provence, some distance from the Pyrenees so we will now be moving steadily towards it- but only a short distance today! We are camped in Cavaillon, a town about the same size in population as Taunton to have a go at the Via Ferrata later this evening when it goes into shade
We stopped off on the way at a very touristy site called La Fontaine de Vauclause. This is pretty famous as being the source of the river Sorgue(?) which resurges spectacularly from a deep underground spring ( La Fontaine) from the base of a huge cliff- the spring has been depth tested to a current limit of -308m ( by ROV- its way too deep for human divers) but it plunges even deeper- in full spate in the spring about 50000litres per sec resurges so instantly forms a full size river. Due to the natural filtration as the water permeates the rocks deep underground it emerges crystal clear. The site is spectacular below a 200m amphitheatre of cliffs- obviously with the natural attraction drawing the crowds a whole circus of tourist tat emporiums, cafes, shops and all other means of extracting euros from visitors has sprung (geddit?) up- and the place at times feels more than a little like the bottom of Cheddar- however as a place to stroll with some very spectacular ‘natural’ diversions for a couple of hours to break the (albeit) not very long drive I can certainly recommend it

This very large river……

….appears from under these stones- above the stones is bone dry!


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We moved to Cavaillon and set up camp in another municipal campsite again with excellent clean facilities and adjacent to the council owned pool complex where again we had free access during our stay. After a cooling swim and a quick snack we kitted up with the via Ferrata climbing kit and walked to the cliff ( yes this crag literally overlooks the old town and the Ferrata starts up a set of steps above the tourist office- to our dismay a large group of complete novices were at the start just as we arrived with their professional guide and we’re set off ahead of us- the route consists two loops, an easy beginners one followed by a much harder second loop with an escape possible at the connection point- we slowly followed the groups very slow and nervous progress( everyone has to start somewhere and I’m sure we were just the same on our early ones) Fortunately they only completed half the easy loop before using the escape route allowing us to pass and get onto the main route- time however was against us ( and we were both tired and hungry) so we only managed half the hard route before using the half way escape ourselves- after enjoying some relatively exciting acrobatic manoevers up into, through and out of a couple of large caves in the cliff. We retreated down into the old town seeking a cold beer from a bar and found one with instruments set up outside ready for a band to perform at some point- curious to find out who and what style they were, we decided to stay and have dinner and see what happened. And what a good decision- the band , a four piece ( lead and bass guitars, drums/percussion and keyboard/vocals came on about 8.30 for a first slot of about an hour and played/sang a great mix of classic British and French pop/rock and jazz numbers, the lead singer having a great voice. After a 30min break where they let some local toddlers have a go on the instruments ( drums mostly obv) they returned and played another long session, finally finishing about 11.30pm- we of course by pure chance we’re sat in the front row best table in the house ( street) so just had to stay and listen to the whole performance- this included the consumption of two bottles of house Rose - something we both regretted the next morning after insufficient sleep.
The pictures show my Moules Maranieres arriving and the band in full flight

Sorry all- guilty of forgetting to post for a few days

…. Quick resume:

I have since we lived in La Ciotat in La Cote de Provence a few years ago while I was working out there on a superyacht refit wanted to visit the Carmargue- this is the huge wetland estuary of the Loire where it joins the Med west of Marseilles. As we were heading generally past it to get to the Pyrenees I convinced the travelling companion to do a quick detour for half a day for a cycle ride to get a very brief limited experience of it- it is famous of course for the wildlife ( many species of migratory birds, most notably flamingos)
We drove to a village location with a view to jumping on the bikes and cycling along the shores of one of the large brackish lagoons to see what we could
…. Well, a great plan but in reality, we cycled in stifling heat on the most boring straight road in France for 10miles- nothing to see due to the very high reeds either side of the road, no wetlands, nothing… we finally got to a road junction ( wow- highlight of the ride!) turned off onto a minor road which promised access to the lagoon edge, but this road (unlike any other in the whole of France) had a surface akin to the best roads of West Somerset (ie diabolical) and after a bone shaking 2 or 3 km we called it a day, returned ( reversing all the grotty outward route) and vowed never to return to the Camargue ever again.

The road to ( and from) hell

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After the flawed decision to see nature in its splendour our best recourse was to grab a large dose of hedonism, so we headed( at last) to the Mediterranean to the very Southern end where the Pyrenees end at the sea. We stayed first in Le Boulou and then for a few days in Bunyals a very touristy resort town with beautiful beaches, clear warm waters and all the other fleshy diversions to keep my interest. There is a marine conservation zone just offshore where boats/fishing etc are prohibited therefore offering excellent scuba and snorkelling opportunities in the clear waters

The Med at last… beautiful clear and warm (28C)
We also enjoyed two days of coastpath walking in the area ( despite its huge coastlines, France isn’t big on coastpaths so this area attracts a lot of walkers doing the 32km route) the local bus ( and trains) services offer very cheap ( heavily subsidised- we paid one euro each on the bus) one way trips so you can walk back to your base each day. The coastal scenery is sublime- very much like parts of the N Devon coastpath

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As the O France event approached we bid au revoir and moved away from the coast after one quick morning ride up to the Col de Banyuls which is right on the international border with Spain- on the face of it a nice gentle climb of about 12km and 355m of climb- what the don’t say is that 95% of that climb is all in the last 2km. The ride starts rolling easily and gently through vineyards and follows a river valley most of the way…. Until it turns a corner and goes up- really steeply, and doesn’t relent then until the col is reached- lovely views from the top- back down the coast the way we came, and over into Spain the other side

Sign at the col- behind the sign is Spain

We stayed a couple of nights in the proper Pyrenees in a small village called Corneilla-de-Conflent as a base to get some mountain walking in as practice ( and to lose some of the excessive weight gained as a result of over consumption of French vennisoisse ( pastries)
One day walk took us over the mountain and down into and through the UNESCO listed medieval fortified town of Villefranche-De-Conflent- once very strategically important( hence the fortifications and the large fortress on the hillside above it), now very busy with tourists so full of delightful bars and restaurants.

Looking down onto Villefranche-De-Conflent in the valley

Our return route passed a prehistoric dolmen in the middle of the forest

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And finally… the main event, O France 2023
we moved up here and pitched up in a lovely campsite in Err ( many place names in this part of the Pyrenees have very short names- no idea why)
This years event is based in the Cerdanya region of France right on the Spanish border- in fact the borders of France, Spain and Andorra all coincide in this area- bizarrely there is even a smallish area (no more than 10*5 km) of Spanish land which are totally surrounded by France! This perimeter border of this area, even more bizarrely, is annually marched around by Spanish troops in a kind of ceremonial rather than territorial manner to ensure the border hasn’t been surreptitiously invaded by France and land grabbed at all
We came here back in 2017 for the same O France event so knew it reasonably well- the issued training map area shown below was used for a sprint format event last time- as you can see half of it is open terrain- on the day we went up there to do some practice it was very hot :hot_face: so we did two sessions with a lunch break in between the two- as is always the case, at a leisurely training jog pace, controls are easy to find and easily give a false sense of one’s abilities in this terrain- day#1 event ( for your correspondent at least) the next day was to prove considerably otherwise……

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Training map- another additional area was offered but this was enough for us

Day#1 Medium distance: La Pla de Barres

A gentle start…. Forested alpine terrain with numerous boulders, outcrops etc- far more on the ground than on the map for clarity. The event centre (sports centre) based from the ski station at Bolquere ( ie sufficient parking space for the about 1000 cars and a further 300 vans/RVs) was right in the forest so was to be used as the base for days #1 and #2. Our very late first day startimes ( absolutely no changes possible!) meant a lazy start but massively long walk to the centre. A long walk to the start ( there were 3 of them) and remote finish with a long walk back made the medium format quite a long day
However my travelling companion seemed to excel in the terrain and was pleasantly surprised to be in first position on D65 ( D=Dame=woman, D65=W65) on download, a position she maintained for the duration of subsequent finishers. She was therefore very pleased to win her first international event. ‘ but what about your correspondent?’ I hear you cry- well best I can report is that he also competed and finished in H60 class- a long way down the finishers list due to multiple stupid errors and inattention. There is no room for error at this multi day event- any mispunch or retiral effectively eliminates you from the competition (5 days, 5 events) so however bad you are doing it is essential to finish each day correctly
Processing: IMG_8302.jpeg…

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Rosie’s winning map and course- no doubt soon to be framed and hanging in our lounge


Space is full
New one to follow

Congratulations to Rosie- an amazing feat.

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I will see if there is a setting I can turn off or something!

Well done @RosieW - great job!