A game of two halves - A country hidden by a large dog - CycleBlaze

July 29, 2019

A game of two halves

Le Caylar to St-Hippolyte-du-Fort

We find an oxbow lake of road cut off by the straightened highway...
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FOOTBALL people, who think Erudite is a brand of glue, have  their own way of talking, a sort of speaking-by-numbers. One cliché is to talk of a game of two halves.

Well, today was a ride of two halves. It even ended with a wild camp that had its own loo.

We left Le Caylar around noon after a full dose of travel films. The decorations were still up, the painted bikes stood where they'd been left against lamp-posts, and the last of the films were being shown down at the bottom of the slope. But there were fewer people on loaded bikes because one by one they too had left town by their own routes, their aim romantic or just practical.

Ours, we thought, was romantic - to ride to Luxembourg and then to Brussels. And we freewheeled out of town, climbed a short but instructive rise, and rode on with the wind through rock-dotted grass fields.

This is one of several causse regions of southern France, areas where people lived scattered lives determined not by communities but where they kept animals. The rocks and hints of walls are all that are left of a simpler but bleaker  life. Today it was sunny but in winter it was far from romantic.

The tourist attraction in these parts is the Cirque de Navacelles, a dramatic enclosure of cliffs so steep that we once stopped and admired a cyclist who took on the challenge of riding out of it. Coach parties stop at the top and take buses down and then back up. So, to be honest, did we a few years ago when we rode and padlocked our bikes at the top. There is a limit to all endeavours and we recognised ours.

The Cirque is an obvious attraction to Dutchmen, who go months without seeing a hill higher than a roadside kerb, and most of the morning's traffic had their giveaway yellow number plates. We, however, turned off right to be rewarded without expecting it by a long, long descent of tight bends between towering cliffs and tight-bottomed valleys.

There is no other way to say it: it was good to be alive.

...and our improvised campsite comes with its own porcelain loo
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But then it all changed. The valley fell into the river at Ganges and there was no way to escape a road of steppes just a little too narrow for the traffic it carried.

Surely, we hoped, it would ease up by St-Hippolyte. But it didn't. The road rose, the road fell and the undiluted sun remained stubbornly over our heads. Be careful on rainy days for what you wish.

In time, the traffic eased. It had all along been respectful but there was never quite enough room for all of us. Sadly, the lighter the traffic became, the more the road was edged by impenetrable and sloping scrub. We were tired and frustrated, beaten about.

And then, after a couple of failures, we found the clearing we wanted. Straightening, the road had left an oxbow lake of abandoned tar closed at both ends. Nature was reclaiming it. Yet there was an opening just wide enough for a bike and a tired cyclist and we pushed our way through to the best we were going to find.

And that is where we are now, in a space just wide enough for a tent and to walk around it. We are camping with our own porcelain lavatory. Quite why anyone would go to such lengths to dump it here, I don't know, but it adds to our collection of war stories.

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