The morning started with heavy rain and thunderstorm surrounding the gite. With breakfast and the storm all done by 09:15, and with the sky brightening, we took to the car and set off. Todays target was Bort des Orgues but as usual we made detours or stopped off en route.
After filling up the fuel tank at Bugeat we pulled over to take in the beautiful vista that is le Lac de Viam. This is an artificial lake which now provides beaches from which many water based leisure activities are launched. And, as well as a feast for the eyes, the lake is an integral part of the French hydro-electricity network.
After enjoying the view we continued on our way, but not for long. Another small detour took us to Le Mont-Bessou just north of the town of Meymac.
Here we climbed the viewing tower
which I have since discovered
is built of Douglas fir, braced with steel cables, and is triangular in plan. 188 steps and six intervening landings, take the visitor to the main viewing platform, which is 26 metres (85 ft) above the ground.
Which probably explains why I came close to being seasick so far away from the sea. The tower resonates with every step as you ascend and never quite seems to settle, never quite stationary. Presumably that is why they have this mounted on the top deck in the middle of the floor.
I’m pleased to say that I did not see the pendulum swing out of the center circle.
All that aside, the views were, despite the clouds, spectacular.
All the fresh air, scenery and climbing the tower had made us hungry. So on we travelled to Bort des Orgues where we sat on the terrace of the Central Hotel overlooking the river and ate a superb lunch.
NB: I just discovered this post, in draft state. I don’t feel it is complete but have submitted it as is because my memories of that day are truly hazy.
500 miners from the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, including Māori and Pacific Islanders, recruited from the gold and coal mining districts of the country, were brought in to dig 20 kilometres (12 mi) of tunnels. They worked alongside Royal Engineer tunnelling companies, made up by now of British coal miners and expert tunnellers who had built the London Underground. Many of them were “Bantams“, soldiers of below average height who had been rejected from regular units because they did not meet the height requirements; others had been initially rejected as too old, but their specialist mining experience made them essential for the tunnelling operation.
Thousands of soldiers were billeted in the tunnels for eight days prior to the start of the Arras offensive on 9 April 1917. At 05:30 that morning, exits were dynamited to enable the troops to storm the German trenches. The Germans were taken by surprise and were pushed back 11 km (6.8 mi). This counted as an extraordinary success by the standards of the time. However, the offensive soon bogged down and it was eventually called off after casualties reached 4,000 a day.
Hopefully, the following pictures, will give a sense of the conditions under which the men of the New Zealand Tunelling Company worked and also the cramped space that thousands of men endured prior to beginning the attack.
The following image shows just one of the many stairways, to be used by the men as they exited the tunnels. They would have climbed in single file, popping out above ground to confront the German soldiers. I wonder if the first man up was a volunteer ?
With all the men inhabiting the tunnels a fair amount of drinking water would be required. They had their own water supply. The following image shows a water trough to the left. The trough is full of water, showing just how clean the water was. Center of the image is a mirror whose reflection shows the well from which the water comes.
Also from Wikipedia …..
The Carrière Wellington museum consists of a visitor centre displaying historic artifacts and presenting the historical context of the Battle of Arras, including the work of the tunnelers and the military strategy that underlay the tunnels’ construction. It was opened to the public on 1 March 2008. The tunnels are accessed via a lift shaft that takes visitors approximately 22 m (70 ft) under the ground inside the galleries of the underground quarry. The tour consists of both guided and audio-guided tours on a planned path accessible for wheelchairs. The visitors discover the development of the strategy of the Battle of Arras, and also the daily life of the tunnelers of New-Zealand and the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Forces sent in these tunnels to prepare this battle.
The site is also a memorial dedicated to the battle of Arras, with a memorial wall remembering all the regiments involved in the battle of Arras. Since the Hundred Years of the battle in 2017, a second memorial wall is dedicated to portraits of NZ Tunnelers, and a statue was installed in the park for the remembrance of these tunnelers. Each year, a ceremony is organised at 6.30 am on April 9th.
An interesting and enlightening day. I am ever amazed at the amount of effort, the soldiers of the First World War, expended for so little gain.
As this was to be our last day, before heading back to good ol’ Blighty, we all went out for a family meal. And so, after a good meal at Beers & Co., it was back to Achiete and bag packing.
Having travelled up from Troyes to Achiete le Grand, we settled in to spend time with Gerry’s brother and family who live in France.
Living as they do in the middle of the Somme department, they are surrounded by many memorials and graveyards dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives during the 1st World War.
Our first trip out took us to the crater formed by the Lochnagar Mine
The Lochnagar mine south of the village of La Boisselle in the Sommedépartement was an underground explosive charge, secretly planted by the British during the First World War, ready for 1 July 1916, the first day on the Somme. The mine was dug by the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers under a German field fortification known as Schwabenhöhe (Swabian Height). The British named the mine after Lochnagar Street, the British trench from which the gallery was driven. The charge at Lochnagar was one of 19 mines that were placed beneath the German lines on the British section of the Somme front, to assist the infantry advance at the start of the battle. The mine was sprung at 7:28 a.m. on 1 July 1916 and left a crater 98 ft (30 m) deep and 330 ft (100 m) wide, which was captured and held by British troops. The attack on either flank was defeated by German small-arms and artillery fire, except on the extreme right flank and just south of La Boisselle, north of the Lochnagar Crater. The crater has been preserved as a memorial and a religious service is held each 1 July.
Amongst the many memorialised, at the crater site, is Cecil Arthur Lewis (29 March 1898 – 27 January 1997). He was a British fighter pilot who flew in WW1, went on to be a founding executive of the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) and also enjoyed a long career as a writer.
From the crater we made our way over to the Australian National Memorial & Sir John Monash Centre, about 30 kilometers away, at Villers-Bretonneux.
The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux is the main memorial to Australian military personnel killed on theWestern Front during World War 1. It is located on the Route Villiers-Bretonneux (D 23), between the towns of Fouilloy and Villers-Bretonneux, in the Somme département, France. The memorial lists 10,773 names of soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force with no known grave who were killed between 1916, when Australian forces arrived in France and Belgium, and the end of the war. The location was chosen to commemorate the role played by Australian soldiers in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux (24–27 April 1918). Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial consists of a tower within the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, which also includes a Cross of Sacrifice. The tower is surrounded by walls and panels on which the names of the missing dead are listed. The main inscription is in both French and English, on either side of the entrance to the tower. The memorial and cemetery are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Touring this site was very emotional and the Sir John Monash Centre provides huge amounts of historical information as well as an intense audio/visual experience.
These are some of the signs along the entrance way ……
And then it was time for lunch which was at the Leon de Bruxelles restaurant, Glisy. Here we had Fish and Chips and moules. Yuuumy!!
The afternoon was spent in Amiens, walking the streets and touring The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, or simply Amiens Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church and the seat of the Bishop of Amiens.
Suitably filled with history and architecture we headed back to Achiete, for cheese, meats and alcohol.
We awoke to yet another glorious, sunny morning. Needless to say, we were sad to be leaving the gite which had been our home for the last three weeks. Settled up with our host, had to pay an additional 11 euros for electricity. We had a couple of cold days during the first week and during the second week, one of the electric heaters was inadvertantly left on over night. Oh well, it could have been worse.
With our car fully loaded and one last check around the gite, we set off, leaving Badailhac and travelling up through Vic sur Cere to Le Lioran. Here we entered the tunnel. On exit the sun had gone and the temperature , according to the car, was 8 deg C. Everywhere just looked chilly and grey.
We had a trouble free journey to Moulins. The temperature slowly rose and with the sunshine reappearing the day carried on as it had started. We had made good time and checked into our hotel, Le Clos de Bourgogne, early. We had a refreshing cuppa before going for a stroll through the old town.
With the sun setting we made our way back to the hotel where we made a couple of FaceTime calls back to the UK and family. This was the first time we had any WiFi in three weeks. It was so nice to hear and see our daughters and grand-daughters.
We had opted to eat at the hotel but what wasn’t made clear at check-in, was the fact that there was to be no menu choice. Apparently, on Mondays the hotels restaurant only caters for residents. I have pretty broad tastes when it comes to food. However, Gerry is a little more selective. As it happens, we needn’t have worried. The food was very nice. To start there was Pate En-Croute, followed by a Duo of Fish (Salmon and Monkfish?) in a white buttery sauce with vegetables. The dessert was a fruit crumble (Figs, Raspberries and Apple). An unusual ingredient, for us, in the crumble was Mint. It did seem to work but for me the one thing that was missing was the custard.
Our last day at the gite, before heading up through France to visit family in Achiete-le-Grande. Time to tie up a few loose ends.
On numerous occasions, when heading out to visit places of interest, we had passed a sign with the name “Calmejane”. We always referred to it as Call Me Jane. Never having been down that lane we decided to explore. Turns out that the sign post indicated the name of the family that lived at the end of the lane, a dead end or should I perhaps use the French cul-de-sac ?
Similarly, we had passed this field with donkeys. On this occasion we stopped to say hello. They were very friendly and curious. Sad to say they were expecting treats and we had none. They were quick to snort their disgust and soon lost interest in us. They were very cute.
Having disappointed the donkeys, by turning up without any treats, we decided to follow road past the donkey field. Just to see where it led. After a couple of kilometers, we found that it led to a small group of private houses. Another dead end, a cul-de-sac. There were some great views en-route though. Disappointed, we enjoyed the same views on the way back to the donkeys.
We then drove down to Vic-sur-Cere to get fuel and cash in preparation for our journey north, this being our last day at the gite.
We had cleaned and packed earlier, so we were basically killing time until we could go to a restaurant for an evening meal. Big mistake….
We should have found somewhere to eat at lunch time. Waiting until 19:00 before approaching our restaurant of choice was a huge fail. No only was the restaurant closed but the hotel, Hôtel Restaurant Beauséjour, seemed to be too !!! Our second choice, Casino de Vic Sur Cère, was open but there was a private function in full flow complete with live band. The restaurant itself was shut. Similarly, several other local restaurants were closed. The only viable choice seemed to be to travel into Aurillac, a thirty plus minute drive. Not far but neither of us really wanted to do that. So it was back to the gite.
In anticipation of our departure, we had run our food stocks down. We had bacon, eggs and cheese and bread. So our Sunday meal consisted of eggs and bacon on toasted french baguette. It was actually very good, but was the cheapest sunday meal and I didn’t even get a tip.
During our earlier foray to Entraygues-sur-Truyere, whilst stood on the dam watching an otter fishing, I had bumped into a pair of cyclists. British as it happens. We had a chat and about each others holiday destinations etc. During this conversation I had mentioned the light show we had witnessed at Chartres. In response they mentioned visiting Conques and the Abbey, that the town was doing something similar every night until the end of September.
I had filed this
piece of information away, as a possible target destination for when our
friends joined us. Unfortunately, time and a brief spell of tummy upset
conspired against us before it was time for them to head back to dear old
So Gerry and I decided we would head off to Conques on our own. The plan was to leave late, spend the afternoon doing that touristy thing, then have an evening meal in Conques before enjoying the light show.
It was, yet another, glorious day and we were soon wending our way through the French countryside. Every turn in the road seems to open up another grand view. At times we would appear to be on top of the world with huge panoramas. At others we would be looking down at small towns or villages, dwarfed by the high tree lined sides of gorges.
Soon we were crossing the border, leaving the Cantal, entering the Aveyron. No passport control, just drive on through. Approximately five kilometers from Conques, we stopped for a beer at Chez Marie in the pretty village of Grand Varbres.
After exploring Grand-Varbres we continued on to Conques.
Conques, listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France, is about 30 kilometres east of Figeac and 35 kilometres north of Rodez, in the Aveyron department in the Massif Central. Conques sits on the edge of the gorge of the River Dourdou, in a beautiful setting surrounded by mountains and forests. The approach from the south is along an especially attractive stretch of river.
Joe Public are not allowed to drive or park inside the town of Conques. There is public parking, for a small fee, just outside the entrance to the town. A gently inclined pathway then takes you up to the centre of town.
That gentle entry is a bit of a con, as deviating to either side results in encounters with steep steps and pathways, all designed to give one a bit of a cardiac workout.
We spent a couple of hours exploring, taking in the quaint streets and houses, as well as the Abbey itself.
It wasn’t long before it was time for another beer. We found a bar and were soon sat, basking in the sunshine, with a glorious view of the Abbey’s twin towers.
At 19:00 we took ourselves off to the restaurant, where previously I had booked a table. We were soon seated at a table on the terrace with a prime view looking down over Conques.
The food was superb, a starter which comprised a mixed platter of charcuterie and fromages. Followed by a delicious tender steak with vegetables served in baskets (Yorkshire puds) and aligoo. Then it was time to head out to the Abbey.
Part of the evenings entertainment was a monk explaining the history behind the tympanum. We sat and listened but, as it was only in French, we had no understanding. So the evident humour was lost on us, but not on the rest of the crowd. Similarly, we were not able to make the appropriate responses when prompted by the monk. Still it was an interesting experience.
As for the light show, well we opted not to stay. Gerry was already wilting and I still had over an hours drive back to the gite.
It was ten o’clock gone when we left Conques, and with tens of hairpin bends to contend with in the darkness, it made for a fairly intense journey home.
After the previous days travels around Murat, St Flour and Garabit we decided on a gentle start to the day, followed by a short afternoon trip over to Polminhac, where we planned to visit Chateau Pesteills
Perched on its steep rock, 750m above sea level , the old fortress Polminhac proudly dominates the valley of Cère. The imposing dungeon symbolizes all the majesty of the castle of Pesteils and evokes the Middle Ages in its harshest expression, glorious testimony of what was to be this stronghold of Cantal. Beautiful frescoes of the 15th adorn the interior.
The seventeenth century enriches the main body with remarkable painted ceilings. Tapestries, paintings, furniture, parent richly this set. Enlarged and restored in the nineteenth century, the castle has been owned since 1608 by the family of Cassagne de Beaufort Miramon Pesteils who still lives today.
The chateau is a very interesting place, although the English language printed guides provided were very confusing, mixing information from various rooms and floors with wild abandon.
The rooms are furnished and decorated in line with the history of the chateau.
Moving our of the main chateau we headed up to the “donjon” (keep). Climbing the spiral stairs up through the many floors, of the keep, we were greeted by a bat. On one occasion it flew out of the fireplace on one floor, into and back out of the medaeval loo, back in and up the spiral staircase to the higher floors. At one point it darted out the window on the top floor, out into the bright sunshine. I always thought bats were nocturnal. Obviously this one couldn’t make up its mind if it was a bat or a House Martin. Maybe it’s only the vampire variety that fly at night.
As we climbed, many of the upper rooms were infested with flies, all swarming the windows. Their buzzing was very reminiscent of crime movies when a long dead body is discovered. Thankfully, we did not encounter any bodies.
We ascended to the top of the spiral staircase, which terminated on a walkway under the eaves of the roof of the keep. The walkway consisted of metal grid plates spread across the roof buttressed. You could see all the way down to the ground. Something of a heart stopping, stomach churning sight.
Leaving our two partners, Dave and I stepped out onto the grids to circumnavigate the top of the tower. The views were stunning but we were constantly reminded of the drop below our feet. This uneasy feeling was not diminished by the crumbling state of the stone butresses on which the grids rested.
The following are a few images from around the grounds…..
On day four of our holiday in France, our stay at Maison Volière was completed by a very nice breakfast, supplemented with fresh fruit from Ian and Anthony’s own fruit trees. Packed and once again on the road, our journey south from La Souterraine was, trouble-free. Apparently, there were no other Brits on the road, leastways, none that we observed. And, after three hours or so, we arrived in Aurillac.
The former capital of Haute-Auvergne, Aurillac‘s origins date back to Gallo-Roman times and the town nestles at the foot of the Mounts of Cantal, on the banks of the Jordanne. This small Cantal river brings a very special charm to the town, especially in the Pont Rouge area, where you can enjoy a lovely view of the picturesque old houses by the water.
The thousand-year-old town of Aurillac boasts a rich architectural heritage. There is a historical circuit which you can follow to see the old town’s attractions: the Abbey Church of St. Gerald, the remains of an old Benedictine abbey, the Romanesque façade of the Abbey Hospital of St. Gerald with its arcades and small columns, the Renaissance-style Consuls’ Mansion, featuring mullioned windows and sculptures, Aurinques Chapel, built during the reign of Henry IV in the 16th century, or the famous Place du Square, an ideal place to take a stroll and unwind, can all be admired along the way.
Aurillac is the biggest town near to our gite and so it was here that we intended to have a spot of lunch, and also obtain some basic grocery supplies before heading on to the gite. After parking, in an underground car park, we strolled around the central area that is Place du Square. Eventually settling in at Le Milk, Bar / Brasserie, for a little liquid refreshment and a bite to eat.
It seems that it was the start of the college term and there seemed to be many students and their parents shuffling along the street, loaded down with books and bits of furniture. Presumably moving into their new lodgings for the duration. Hopefully a stylish apartment and not some grotty garret.
From Wikipedia …..
Historic French capital of umbrellas with half of French production – 250,000 units in 1999 – and provides 100 jobs. After declining for several decades at the end of the 20th century, Aurillac umbrella producers decided to join their forces and created the Economic Interest Group, or GIE in 1997. They then launched their products under a single label, L’aurillac Parapluie (The Aurillac Umbrella).
We had a pleasant lunch at Le Milk and, suitably refueled, we headed out to forage for food. Locating a small eight till late style convenience store, we stocked up on the basics for the start of our three-week stay.
Supplies purchased we set of in search of Badailhac and our gite. The satnag did it’s stuff and we were soon climbing the steep serpentine roads up to Badailhac. Gerry came to consider this road, and several others, to be similar to a white knuckle ride at a theme park. Anyway the satnag directed us up, and ever upwards to and thru Badailhac, on to La Calsade.
Parking up on the driveway of our home for the next three weeks, our real adventure began.
Firstly we had to locate our host. I rang her and determined that she was at the fromagerie, next door. I met her, introduced myself, and soon realised that communication was going to be a challenge. She had no English and my command of the French language is anything but conversational. I believe the correct term is “fractured and bastardised”.
Somehow we muddled along, as she showed us our new accommodations. Taking us to each room, showing us how the cooker worked, where the BBQ and sun loungers were kept and so forth. We went through the readings on the utility meter and then she was gone, and we were left to our own devices. The next hour or so was spent unpacking, finding homes for all of our gear and newly acquired groceries.
And then it was time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and relax in the sunshine and admire the near 180 degree view.
What really helped was the knowledge that we could truly relax, knowing that we didn’t have to get up in the morning and spend another day driving. Although our daily driving rate was quite light, we had covered around 900km (550 miles) over 4 days.
Gerry was a little down when we first arrived. She thought that the gite was a bit dark inside. This was in part due to the thickness of the walls and comparative small size of the windows. The interior lighting was also not brilliant. In addition we hadn’t spotted the washing machine. It did, however, put in an appearance. It was lurking in corner of the bathroom (upstairs), not visible to us on our original tour. We should have guessed as this is not the first time we have encountered a washing machine in a bathroom.
Still, sitting outside, relaxing, admiring the view we were treated to what was to become the daily ritual. The gite, being on a working dairy farm, was ideally placed to observe the grand parade of cattle. Walking pretty much single file, the herd of just under fifty, were followed by the farmer on his quad bike and escorted by his black dog.
Sitting with our cup of tea, we came to the conclusion that life doesn’t get much better than this.