On the road again…

The sun began to shine today. It’s appearance didn’t influence our destinations though. We’d decided to go to Severac le Chateau yesterday evening and that a real effort to look round Liaucous should be made, as we’d postponed going a couple of times.

Severac lies to the west of our hotel here, about a 40 minute drive. We’d looked round this picturesque medieval town three years ago and didn’t really expect any major changes, after all Medieval buildings can’t change substantially can they? Well, maybe they can as we found out. We walked in through one of the old city gates and strolled round to the Maison De Jeanne, which is 14th century and reputed to be the oldest house in France. Oh dear, whatever are they doing to it? It’s been replastered  externally and very inappropriate UVPC windows installed. It’s hideous and unsympathetically restored.

We carried on up towards the chateau but, as it was three years ago the final climb to the top defeated us. We descended, grabbed a quick coffee and made our way to Liaucous, which is practically on our hotel’s doorstep.

Taking a very narrow and thankfully short road just before the turn for our B&B,  we parked at the rear of the village. It is very pretty, perhaps enhanced by a brilliantly sunny afternoon, which has been somewhat of a rarity this trip. Getting up to the church was a challenging climb up very old, steep, stone embedded paths. The view at the top was stunning. The village wasn’t deserted as others have been this week, we saw at least two living people. Luckily they didn’t try to run us through with pitchforks either so we survived the walk back down to the car and made our way back to the hotel.

Tonight we invited our new American/Belgian friends, David and Marianne to have dinner with us at the Grange Templier. The restaurant is in a magnificent setting, with vaulted ceilings in a large hall. Sadly I wasn’t very impressed with the food. Although it was very good, I felt it lagged behind some of the other places we’ve visited this week.

We didn’t get back here until after 11pm so I’m writing a ‘midnight oil’ blog. Our plans for tomorrow aren’t definite, though we may end up riding a small white train round a circle of rocks……yes, really.

Castels in the air…

It rained again today, which was a little depressing. We had a leisurely breakfast and chatted to the charming American/Belgian couple who booked in yesterday. However, even though we delayed our departure it was still quite dull and miserable when we set off for the Gorges de la Dourbie. The road along the gorge isn’t as steep, winding or challenging to drive along as the road that follows the Tarn. It’s more verdant and gentle.

We were heading for Cantobre, a hilltop village, recommended as worthy of seeing by Adeline, our hostess here. The approach to the village is just off the main road, over a single track bridge and up several swooping hairpin bends. I’m more used to these oddities now but they still require some concentrated negotiation. In high tourist season, the village must be challenging to access. There were one or two overflow car parks lower down but we drove on, trusting that tourists as mad as us would be few and far between and that parking for overweight OAP’s would be close to habitation.

Luckily, I found a slot next to the village recycling centre, though we still had a steep incline to tackle to access the village. Cantobre is quaint and stunningly situated and as far as we could tell practically deserted. There were a smattering of seasonal gites to let but, like Castelbouc no human inhabitants to be seen.

After a short walk round, we left the village to it’s catatonic slumbers and drove on to Nant, a slightly larger town further down the gorge. By this time we were feeling in need of something to eat and stopped at a restaurant with a terrace in the old market halls. It began to rain more heavily and while we enjoyed our meals of shepherds salad and sausage and chips (guess who had that) we began to regret our choice to eat them outside. The arcaded market halls acted as a wind tunnel and we were quite chilled by the time we finished eating.

Nant has a few interesting, winding streets, though apart from a bar and two restaurants all other commerces seemed closed, possibly because it was out of season.

To be honest we were both cold and miserable and drove back to the hotel, via the vast military camp at Larzac, La Cavalerie, which seems to be almost totally given over to apartment accomodation for soldiers. We skirted round Millau, crossed the Tarn and missed out on visiting Liacous for the second day. We’ll try and go tomorrow….or Friday.

This evening we had another lovely meal at L’Alicanta, though we were both quite tired and ready for bed when we’d finished eating. The forecast is better tomorrow…it’s difficult to type this with crossed fingers…

Bridge over untroubled water…

Well, we didn’t argue or get lost today…….

Oh sorry, you want to know what else happened too? Well….

It was grey, overcast and spotting with drizzle when we left this morning. We had planned to visit three places today, St-Chely du Tarn, Castelbouc and Liaucous, we managed two out of three. Last time we visited St Chely it was warm and sunny, tourists had sprung from the earth like Jack’s beanstalk and we had trouble parking. Not so this time, the place was just about deserted. We went to the Moulin de Cenerat which is not only an artisans boutique but has the river running through one side of the shop. Apparently when it rains heavily the shop gets inundated and they come to work in wellies.

The weather was still miserable when we moved on to Castelbouc but the little village brightened us up considerably. Access is via the bridge above, which a sign helpfully tells you is liable to be submerged. Not so today and we parked up at end of a narrow road. Castelbouc is set right next to the River Tarn. It’s almost been chiseled out of the overhanging cliffs. It appeared empty apart from a couple of other tourists. There are no level roads or paths, houses can only be accessed by narrow, unpaved winding paths and then flights of stone stairs. It’s indescribably pretty but a delivery mans nightmare.

By the time we’d looked round, searched for residents, or checked to see if Amazon had left a parcel behind a rock, it was getting quite late. We headed back to the B&B and left the third village for another day.

Our dining spot tonight was the Hotel De La Muse. Three years ago we had our meal on the terrace, overlooking the Tarn, a little way below us. I hadn’t been comfortable, as the staff were a bit aloof and nearly all the other diners were residents. Tonight it bucketed down and as it was dark, eating al fresco wasn’t really on the cards. The staff were much better and the food superb but the dining room isn’t set out well and seems a bit staid and reserved. However, we really enjoyed our meal. (Susie loved her Madras curry carrot cake)

There are already three targets in view for tomorrow, though they may be only seen from the interior of the car, as the forecast is a bit dire. Well, we didn’t really come here to get a sun tan….

High on a hill drove a lonely goatherd..

I confess I have a problem with maps. Not ones that you buy to read properly but tourist maps, ones that either don’t bother to put North at the top or put so many symbols on that it’s impossible to read them. So, that’s my petty excuse out of the way. We drove out of the B&B this morning, I turned left, Susie insisted we should have gone straight ahead, we drove a couple of kilometres down the road, stopped, had an argument, then I apologised as Susie was obviously right….as usual.

When we last visited here, we were introduced to Przewalski’s horses, a breed with it’s origins in prehistoric times, who’d almost been eradicated and were now breeding in protected status, here on the Causse Mejean. They are being successfully introduced to Mongolia and of all places, the area round Chernobyl. We sponsor a mare, Volga, who has recently given birth to a male foal, Phenix. So it was our intention to visit the Causse to see if we could catch sight of them. Thanks to my map reading we arrived a little later than intended but still managed to find a small herd, relatively near to the road and the reconstructed village of Villaret.

Susie insists that we saw Volga and Phenix and considering my performance today, I’m not inclined to disagree.

We regrouped back here and as it was quite early decided to drive up to Point Sublime, high above the Gorges du Tarn where we thought we’d enjoy a nice relaxed coffee and a piece of cake. The view from there is unmissable. Sadly the snack bar will only take cash, strictly no credit or debit cards or cheques. The cheery chap behind the bar won’t let you use the loo if you don’t buy something either…..


We took the winding road along the edge of the Tarn back to our hotel, had a short rest and popped over the river to Pas du Loup where we were having dinner tonight. What a lovely, tasty meal, slightly different courses and well seasoned too.

So here we are, tired, full, calm and rested. I’m resolved not to bother with the map anymore. Or perhaps it would better to listen to Susie in future….


(K)nights in white satin…

We slept really well and our breakfast was superb, no self service buffet here, all served at your table, including orange juice, yoghurt, croissants, pain aux chocolate, baguette, home made jams and a large bowl of coffee. It makes you wonder why we bother to leave the house really. However, we did leave eventually and headed to Sainte Eulalie de Cernon. To do so, we crossed the Millau Viaduct, always an awe inspiring sight, even though it costs you €8.60 to do so and if you get in the wrong lane at the peage (as I did) you have to get out of the car and pay by credit card.

We’d visited this village three years ago and remembered it’s Templar Commanderie, which we thought was worth another visit. It was grey and overcast when we pulled into the car park and low cloud hung across the valley. The village had a deserted, eerie feel, as if the inhabitants had been struck down by a 21st century outbreak of the bubonic plague. Sadly, I’d left my antiseptic and medical mask at home, so we had to trust the abscence of people was due to it being Sunday not the impending apocalypse.

There was a a human in the tour office who helpfully informed us that we could look round the commanderie for free today (well we had to make some money back on the viaduct tolls) and we set off up several flights of stone and wooden steps on our self guided tour.

Though small it’s a fascinating building to tour round. I must confess to finding such things a tad ‘dry’ though this is well laid out and for the most part well lit. I can only imagine what it was like to inhabit during the chilly winter months.

There were still no villagers around when we completed our tour and we decided to return to the car rather than outstay our welcome and be burnt at the stake as outsiders. Retracing our route and again emptying our bank balance to cross the viaduct we returned to the B&B.

Our intended restaurant for tonight turned out to be closed. However, we were advised by Adeline (the owner here) to try the Auberge De Peyreleau, just within a foodies easy waddle from the closed restaurant. She kindly made us reservations and it was much better than our first impression. It’s not fancy but the service is warm and friendly, the food well cooked, flavoured and wholesome and very reasonable. We may well return, obviously if we don’t develop plague in the meantime.

2, 4, 6, 8, Autoroute…

After a reasonable breakfast this morning, we left out overnight B&B. We were very impressed by the medieval town, less so the hotel, though we would return.

It wasn’t long before we were heading south on the A71 towards Clermont Ferrand and the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne. We even stopped at an ‘aire’ to top up with some overpriced fuel and buy some insipid ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch.

Shortly after devouring the sandwiches we encountered something rare on French autoroutes, roadworks involving a diversion. We took in a slow tour of some intriguing semi industrial areas, including a second hand vehicle outlet selling a red ‘Arriva’ double decker bus. Anyone standing at a stop waiting for the number 72 will have a long wait…

Eventually we got back onto the autoroute and drove further south to our exit towards the Gorges Du Tarn. A very twisty, almost single track road led us to a small French village which is confusingly called Boyne. Seeing no obvious signs of a battle we drove through and a few short kilometres later, here to the Villa La Muse, where we stayed three years ago. The image above is the view from one of our bedroom windows.

This evening we strolled over the river to Le Rozier for our evening meal. We’d discovered L’Alicanta last time and it didn’t disappoint this time either. It made the 15 minute walk there and the 25 minute walk back worthwhile…

Apart from having breakfast tomorrow our plans are fluid and undefined. If the forecast rain appears they’ll definitely be fluid.

Shall we go or shall we stay?

On Wednesday we eagerly awaited our petsitters, who arrived in good time. They stayed about an hour and decided to leave. I should stress this was no fault of ours or theirs. A family illness had worsened considerably and despite their willingness to fulfil a commitment to us, they decided to go back to the UK. We understood though obviously it put us in a difficult position.

We managed to get in touch with Trusted Housesitters and our dates were turned ‘live’ again. I sent off multiple requests to sitters who appeared to have dates free without success. Wednesday became Thursday, we cancelled our first two hotels and we became convinced that our holiday wouldn’t take place at all. Then someone smiled on us and we found Jayne, a petsitter from Brittany who’d had a cancellation and could be with us on Friday morning. I don’t think we’ve ever been so glad to see a stranger turn up at the house. After a brief tour and a ‘greet the animals’ session we hit the road.

Obviously our travel plans had to change and I found a hotel in Mennetou – Sur – Cher, about half way between home and La Muse, our destination for Saturday. The hotel is good, the owners welcoming and the village rustic and charming….

We had a passable meal, (you’ll notice an absence of foodie photos which should tell you everything) and here I am slaving over the keyboard while France’s noisiest fly tries to land on my head. Let’s face it, I have a pretty wide runway to aim for.

So tomorrow we head off for La Muse. Hopefully breakfast will be filling and the roads empty…..though I suspect those two wishes may be interchangeable….


A holiday, a holiday, the last one of the year…

I’ve done two shameless things. Firstly, I’ve used an image of our soon to be new kitten Cleo, to gather in readers. Secondly, I apologise to any Fairport Convention fans (a folk rock group from the 1970’s)  for altering the first line of their track, ‘Matty Groves’ to suit the blog title.

Since returning from the UK at the end of July nothing really newsworthy has happened. In fact nothing newsworthy ever happens here, nothing that would grace the front page of a tabloid newspaper anyway. We’ve hosted Monika, a lovely German workawayer from Cologne for a fortnight and continued to sample the local restaurants once or twice….a week. Obliquely, there’s a new bean to cup coffee machine in the kitchen and we’re making travel plans for next year.

However, lets preview the last instalment of our 2019 excursions. Next Thursday, we drive to Tours for an overnight stop, then Vichy for another. We have decided not to drive long distances any more, preferring to break the journey into smaller bite size pieces, sort of a ‘menu degustation’ by car.

After Vichy we drive to the Gorges De Tarn, staying in the same B&B we used a few years ago. Then Pezenas, which we love and a short stay with friends Maggie and Martin in the Ariege, where Susie used to live. Much as I tried to dilute Susie’s enthusiasm for Toulouse I’ve been persuaded (torture was implied but not carried out) to stay there for a few nights and have been promised interesting and informative walks round the city. I trust these are relieved by numerous refreshment breaks. We return via the I’le D’Oleron, somewhere we haven’t visited.

It would be folly to think we haven’t planned where to have meals ahead of time. I think there’s only one night we haven’t got a restaurant booked and we’re on the waiting list for that.

So as ever, I look forward to boring everyone with our adventures, copious photos of our food and the sunlit scenery…well we hope it’s sunlit…

Stokesley, sock dryers and Sunday in Sedgefield…

On Friday, we’d arranged to meet our friends, Malcolm and Margaret in Stokesley, a small market town on the edge of the North Yorks Moors. We wandered around for a little while before meeting them and discovered a pack horse bridge over the river. It’s on an old route from Durham, through Helmsley and on to York. Records date the bridge to 1628. The tea room we’d intended to try was packed out so we repaired to Sadlers, where we had a lovely meal and a long catch up chat. The forecast rain didn’t begin till we’d said goodbye and we made it to the car without getting wet.

The next day, we’d booked an afternoon tea at Ushaw College a former Catholic Seminary, whose college and grounds are now open to the public. It lies on Ushaw Moor, a short 10 minute drive from my Mum’s home, the visit brought back quite a few memories for her. Confusingly, afternoon tea wasn’t served after 2pm so we’d opted for a 12:30 slot. The tea was slightly uninspiring and we partly regretted not using the refectory instead for hot food.

Some of the college is impressive, other parts less so. There was an animatronics installation of an eagle, the stunning refectory, chapel and a display of vestments. I was amused by the display of a sock dryer from the 1950’s, I seem to remember those winters being damp and dreary,  so a sock dryer would be a most useful item to have…

The gardens are small but beautifully managed and we whiled away half an hour round the curved paths.

Sunday lunchtime saw us back at the Pickled Parson in Sedgefield, where last year we celebrated Mum’s 90th birthday. We were recognised, which is always a nice thing and we enjoyed a relaxed lunch (I particularly recommend the deconstructed cheesecake)

Tomorrow we drive down to Stansted for our flight home on Tuesday morning…



Our visit to Beamish Open Air Museum had been postponed several times, going back a couple of years then a week or so back, because of bad weather. Today though, we took the plunge and actually visited.

Beamish is a huge site and requires some walking. There are period methods of public transport, a tram and bus but neither of these are adapted for wheelchairs. Luckily my cousin Dorothy had come along with us and took charge of my Mum in her wheelchair. From the entrance, we walked round to the 1900’s pit village. The exhibits are not facades or reproductions. Francis Street is a row of six cottages, transplanted brick by brick from Hetton-le-Hole and rebuilt on site. They are furnished in period, inhabited by ‘guides’ who will give you a totally realistic feel for what a harsh and hard life it was for miners in the Durham coalfield. There’s even a roaring coal fire in the hearth..

We could have spent longer chatting to the occupants but there was a school to visit, an engineering shed for the small shunting engine and a drift mine, down which Susie and Dorothy went, a sobering experience.

There’s fish and chip shop, which uses coal fired ranges and fries in beef dripping. We stood for about 30 minutes to get served but it was worth the wait. We enjoyed a tour round the 1892 school building and read about the corporal punishment given out for what seems minor offences now. Whipping for scribbling in books….

We wanted to move on to the 1900’s town but it was too much of a trek with the wheelchair. Beamish do provide transport adapted for wheelchair users, but it was off the road and they’d hired a slightly smaller modern mini bus to fill in. Because there were other wheelchairs, we had to wait quite a while before we could be dropped off at the town and unfortunately we had little time to look round and were a bit disappointed to have missed some exhibits.

It’s worth pointing out again, that this is an enormous site and because of it’s size it’s been possible to utilise real buildings. No reproductions or cinematic ‘sets’. You’d have to be there early and be quite fit if you wanted to see it all in one day. It’s wonderful and we’ll go again on our next trip…