The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
Les Cévennes sans un Âne
So where do you go if you fancy a week of walking in scorching sunshine with a fresh croissant every morning? You might have suggested the south of France, but as it turned out you’d be wrong on both counts! There wasn’t a great deal we could do about the weather, but at least it meant we didn’t get too overheated on some of the stiffer climbs. And for the croissants, well we pretty much picked the shelves clear in every supermarket in the area so we could get our flaky treat every morning.
Our very swanky accommodation was in a rambling farmhouse high up in the valley of Saint-Étienne-Vallée-Française, surrounded by ancient terraces of chestnut trees. The remote location made it unlikely that we’d disturb the neighbours, but it did make for a slightly alarming and bumpy drive up in our fleet of hire cars. The trauma of the twenty minute drive down the hillside was the chief reason we plumped for bulk-buying supermarket croissants. However this was a small price to pay for the spectacular views we were treated to every morning and evening.
The local walks were lovely, shady trails around the chestnuts and pines. We could probably have filled the week with these, but who knows when we might visit here again. There was just so much to do. We walked drove trails through meadows and over stunning ridges. There were flowers, birds, sheep and gorgeous tumbledown villages. We wandered amongst towering pinnacles, kayaked along (freezing!) gorges, walked alongside crystal clear rivers, climbed towering peaks and even fitted in a ride on a steam train.
We’re not the first Brits to enjoy this part of the world. Back in 1878 Robert Louis Stevenson (he of Treasure Island fame) walked right past where we were staying in the company of a donkey. His trip involved several nights camping under the stars and generally griping about the locals, but he loved this last leg of the trail. Naturally we had to follow in his footsteps for a bit, although we did skip the donkey part. Sadly we missed out on eating at his final restaurant – the French eat late and none of us fancied driving up our bumpy track home in the dark.
Our last day proved to be the hottest of our stay. On our way back to Avignon, we stopped off at Pont du Gard. A 2000 year old aqueduct towering over the river below. A fantastic slice of history to round off our trip. So, where are we going next year?
Nasty but Nice
It was a select group that met up in Stansted Mountfitchet on Sunday morning. Faced with a rather ominous forecast and no obvious sign that it was summer, we steeled ourselves for the ride ahead. Sure enough, it started with a light drizzle, still warm enough for you really not want to cycle in a coat, but chilly as the damp crept through your clothes.
By the time we got to Standon, we were well ready for a break in the warmth of the pub. In truth, it was a little early for lunch, but this did mean we got our orders in before the crowd. It was still a bit damp outside when we left an hour later, but this proved to be the watershed of the ride. As Jim, Lily and Doug took a shortcut back to the cars, the sun gradually snuck out from behind the clouds – they were obviously jinxing us!
From Standon it wasn’t far to the village of Nasty, which was lovely. In Buntingford they had the bunting out – just one of several places hosting street parties in honour of the Queen’s birthday. They’d had a bit of a damp day of it up to now, but there were barbecues being fired up now the sun was out. I hope they were quick as by the time we got back to Stansted the clouds were once again gathering. The first bolt of lightning split the sky just as we finished mounting the bikes back on the cars. Lucky.
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