Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A field in Norway.

Monday 16th May, 2016

I think I have explained elsewhere about Gill's idealised motorhome vision of the 'field in France'. Technically we have achieved both. The field looks great, with sward of the correct emerald hue, a brook that babbles, and even a dinky footbridge that links pitch to sanitaiire. So all pastoral boxes ticked on the field front. The difficulties arise in the geographic area. Though we are undoubtedly in a field in Department 48,, Lozere, the landscape looks distinctly Nordic. I think it is the serried ranks of dark green firs on the hill above our pitch that provokes images of Scandinavia. 

Not very good - Norwegian wood...
The landscape that we regard as characteristically southern, of olive trees and vines, with conifers either of Rorschach blot parasol variety, Van Gogh dark flamed, or with gestural branches that sweep the deep blue sky above forests of moss green cork oaks, these places are really images of the Mediterranean, not the all of the South is like this. 

Our stereotypical image of a southern landscape depends as much on altitude as latitude. Take our journey today - the fertile plain full of vines that stretches from the Etang de Thau to Clermont Herault is a classic Mediterranean scene. In mid-May, to a northerner's eye, with the trees in full leaf, the waysides still green and full of flowers, blue skies and bright sun, warm, but the air refreshed by a lively breeze it feels like an English summer day, idealised. Thinking back to last week in Cotignac, not only did the the landscape look like that, as we passed a 'melodious plot of beechen green' a nightingale had the good manners to provide the necessary soundscape by 'singing of summer with full-throated ease'. As visitors to the south it is easy to mistake spring for summer. I suspect natives don't, as Summer for them means uncomfortable heat, violent storms and scorched dry vegetation threatening to spontaneously combust. It is no accident that Vivaldi's 'Estate' is the most fortissimo of the Quattro Stagione.

Beyond Pezenas, where you join the A75 motorway that heads northwards towards the Central Massif, you leave the cornucopian south and climb towards the arid limestone garrigue of the Causse. It is an empty, merciless looking landscape of gleaming white rocks and a deep blue sky where big birds of prey wheel and swoop. This scenery, for northerners, is also part of their escapist southern dreamscapes, because of its intensity and immersive colour. Our romanticism is greatly helped by the fact we don't have to live in it. Though it may be an unforgiving landscape, a place where oregano, thyme and rosemary flourishes can never be regarded as a desert.

Onwards  and upwards
We stopped at the services by the Millau Viaduct to admire its beautiful structure. By this time only the more hardy travellers were in shorts and sandals, the breeze was stronger and the temperature 10 degrees lower than on the coast. 

As we travelled through the Cevennes and onwards into the Southern Auvergne, across a wide upland plateau, in places reaching 3000 feet, the colours became more subdued, the sky a more watery blue and the long green hills took on an almost moorland appearance. We exited the A75 'Meridien' at St. Chely d'Apcher. Half jokingly I suggested the landscape had something of the Yorkshire Dales about it. Next day, when we visited the town's Carrefour Market it transpired I was not the first to note a connection. As you enter the place a sign informs you that it is twinned with Tadcaster.

We stayed overnight at a campsite about 8km up a narrow valley that first follows the Truyère, then its small tributary, Le Limagnole. You soon sensed you were in the deep rural heartland of France, the site itself appealed to outdoor types, hikers and anglers, on the road tractors and 4X4s predominated, and roadside walls were daubed with anti-Hollande slogans, and phrases like 'Overt Non! Securité Oui!'. These I guess are basically anti-immigrant sentiments. I suspect the area is fairly red-neck.

The hikers had gone by first light.

Mid-May - bare trees and blossom - it could be the Pennines.

We attempted to walk to the nearby village of St. Alban sur-Limagnole, about 1km distant. It proved tricky, the locals seemed to regard pedestrians as quarry, perhaps that is why there were so many 'Attention la Chaise!' signs on the fences. Equally worrying were the large crazed dogs at each house on the outskirts who barked madly at our footfall. This was not enjoyable, so we decided to head back.

The only culture  on show - agriculture!

Interesting flora, however, wild saxifrege.
I began to think about rural life. Somewhere else in the blog I mention how I love the sea and coasts, but dislike the seaside - it's social mores and culture. I wondered if it was the same with the natural environment; that I like landscapes, flora and fauna - but the countryside itself, huntin' shootin' and fishin' rural culture generally, its innate conservatism and distrust of the wider world, is simply not for me. I was born in a market town; from my earliest recollections through my teenage years I sensed there was a fundamental mismatch between me and the place I grew up in. Maybe that lies behind my discomfort with the delights of country life. I was busily concluding that it was half a century ago, in another time and different country, and had nothing to do with here and now. Perhaps this sliver of rural France was wholly attuned to the modern world despite there being neither 3G nor wifi. A speeding Landrover Freelander shot by making us leap into the verge. Given the driver's apparent disinterest in our well-being it was somewhat of a surprise that he took swift evasive action to avoid a significant heap of non-human road-kill a couple of dozen yards ahead. He screeched to a halt in a nearby gate, got out, walked back up the road, and pealed the squashed pheasant carcass off the Tarmac, then wandered back to his vehicle with a spring in his step. Now this is where I simply don't get the countryside. Here is a chap driving a car worth at least 30,000 euros who screeched to a halt to peel a squashed pheasant from the road presumably to eat it later. Why?

We returned to the van. It was too cold to sit outside so we observed various other fantasies unfolding outside our window. The man from the adjacent telephone kiosk sized Eriba caravan retrieved from the back of his car - a pair of green wellies, a khaki bag with many pockets, a quilted gillet with many pockets, a battered waterproof hat and telescopic roach pole whose length seemed greater than the width of the river Limagnole gurgling happily nearby. About half an hour later Monsieur Walton returned, apparently empty handed. I imagined the ensuing conversation, Madame Walton saying, "Pot Noodle again then, Isaak..."

In the meantime a bunch of bikers roared up, installed themselves in the nearby mobile homes, emerging a little later with boxes of food and crates of beer and wine, heading off to the communal BBQ area. Another British motorhome turned up, co-incidentally an LMC double-wheeled Ford Transit, similar to ours, but a 2010 model rather than 2006. I wandered across, made a lame joke about all the members of the UK owners club managing to make the rally. The guy was friendly, but I sensed was not really appreciating the social contact, so we wished each other bon voyage.

It was almost dark by the time I headed over the footbridge towards the sanitaire, clutching the washing-up basin. A waxing three-quarter moon hung above the jet-black fir trees like a luminous bean. I know we are parked in a field in France, but I stll think it looks distinctly Norwegian.  


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