Valeilles with Celia, dressed in the sun - Five days in July - CycleBlaze

July 7, 2019

Valeilles with Celia, dressed in the sun

The blossom is out as I start the drop from Beauville to the valley
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CELIA is slim, dark-eyed with black hair. She is Spanish and she speaks perfect French. She has just qualified as a doctor. And she is naked all but for a light pair of sandals.

Valeilles is a village in south-west France which has a naturist campground on the hill above it. It's a spreading wood of tall, leafy trees and, at its edge, a pool that looks over a beautiful green valley. I am here because this is a hot summer. Celia is here because this is her last free summer before she volunteers to work with medical charities in South America. She has been here for the past five summers, throughout her studies.

"This year will be my last. Life is now more difficult, because now I'm qualified and what they want is specialists. I don't know yet what I want to specialise in. I've written to all the voluntary agencies, like Médecins sans Frontières, and now I'm waiting to hear."

She'll probably go to Peru. She's worked there before, in love with the country while not being sure she wants to live there. She says the Spanish in Peru has a different accent but is otherwise just Spanish. She demonstrates how they pronounce her name as though it started with an S and not a C. She laughs because I don't hear the difference.

Ah! That's my turning...
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I had 30km to ride to get here and I set off on a whim, after lunch. A friend had borrowed my tent and light sleeping bag and I added both to my luggage when he returned them earlier than expected.

There's not much to say of the ride - 10km to Beauville, named after the family who built a château that looks better from below than close to, and the village to which I ride some mornings to buy the bread that's baked there by the head of the voluntary fire brigade. Sometimes I call in at Philippe's café, where I drink his coffee and read his newspapers.

And then the winding plunge to the valley, a flat stretch and then the long, panting rise to Valeilles.

I was signing on with Celia when the owner arrived.

"You're soaked," he laughed, plucking at my shirt with a finger and thumb.

I agreed that I probably was. The day was already hot and stopping had made me soggier still.

"Have you got low enough gears?" he asked. It sounded like a question founded on experience. "I'm from Dunkirk. I used to ride with a 53-48 front and 11-17 at the back. It's not hilly round there. Then we came here and..."

He laughed in self-deprecation. We're not in the mountains but equally he is no longer a lean racing snake. He patted his belly and laughed.

I spend my time talking to people, including a history professor and his wife, from Arnhem. He assured me that Montgomery had insisted on the parachute landings of Operation Market Garden on the edge of the town even though he'd been told they would fail.

"I've read all the papers of conferences," he said. "It was arrogance. Everyone told him he was foolish but he wanted a moment of glory before the Americans arrived."

Headquarters of the disastrous attack at Arnhem. Picture from an earlier tour
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I had nothing to add and the conversation moved on.

He took another mouthful of ice cream, looked up and asked: "Why are the British so stupid? Brexit... we just don't understand it. Johnson just told lie after lie, and that Farage is a total idiot."

Dutch people aren't known for their subtlety of debating.

I said he'd hear no disagreement from me.

"I just look on from a distance," I replied. "I don't live there. Haven't for a long time. It's like watching trains approaching on the same track. You know there's going to be a disaster but you can't look away."

My friends go off to watch Holland play the USA in the final of a soccer tournament. They leave me their newspaper, Volkskrant. It shows their leftist leanings. The first column I read points out that America has tanks in Washington, a concentration camp on its border and a president who feels at home with dictators.

Celia drops by again. The site is quiet and she wants to chat. We talk of cabbages and kings and how she came to be there. Yes, she says, the first day she spent working naked was really strange.

"I was still in my teens and I think it's worse for teenage girls, with all the complexes you have and that feeling you're being compared and judged all the time." 

She laughs.

"And then I found the women were the worst when it came to being judgmental!"

She laughs again.

"I'd never have been a naturist in Spain. And it took two or three years before I felt totally at ease with not wearing anything all the time. But now I feel the liberty, the freedom. I feel totally at ease and I love it!"

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Comment on this entry Comment 3
Bill ShaneyfeltAs usual, this sounds like it will be quite an interesting tour to follow.

Good to see you are on the road again!
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3 years ago
Leo WoodlandTo Bill ShaneyfeltThanks. Have you ever tried it yourself?
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3 years ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Leo WoodlandChuckle... nope...
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3 years ago