Day 23 Sat 23 June
Les Rives, Height 750 metres Distance 108km Total 1,308km
The terrain is now mountainous and the weather windy but it’s a following wind. My tyre is slowly deflating despite yesterday’s attentions. The cycling quickly warms us up and, exhilarated by climbing through green humps until there were views to either side, we climb to 2,000 feet. In half the time a fast downhill ride to St. Sernin takes us to breakfast. While we are far away from the town by road, we are hundreds of feet directly above, looking down on its rooftops. I am shouting and laughing alone, and aloud, coming round hairpin bends. One of the greatest things we have done so far. A friendly interesting café with mock grass umbrellas, a toilet window looking out onto the great cliff we’ve just ridden down. A one-eyed very old man supping coffee from his spoon, talks to himself and blows his nose on newspaper. More steep climbing to get away from the gorge town, a very steady slow climb, not so many views until the top, then, cornfields, flowers, trees close by while behind there is a vista of hills and ridges. Each inch of up seems worth it for the view. St Afrique, unexpectedly busy with a fête/market day, buy lunch and continue on up, now on a D yellow road and following the Sorgues river. The wind behind is so strong that up seems flat and easy. Small Siesta town for lunch. We wheel up its narrow streets, explore an alleyway leading to a woodcarver, beautifully carved front door like runes. Back on the main road is the café, up a flight of steps and with a view over the valley, posters of midi-Pyrenean wildlife on the wall. Eat raisin bread with green and red glace fruits. An old woman shuffles through, reminding me of Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre.
After miles of gentle uphill, a stretch of really steep gradient, and into Cornus where we continue on my favourite road of the day. To the right, unfenced, sloping fields of meadow, barley, poppies cornflowers, under a bright sky. Sloping off to the left, also without barrier, first fields, leading then to ranks and ranks of mountains, in appearance reminiscent of Spanish serras, dotted treeless with small bushes and outcrops of grey rocks turning grey in the distance. On this road we reach a high point of 800 metres and descend to meet a velvet smooth black N road, very busy with tourist traffic. We stop to photograph, in a landscape of grey rocky weird shaped outcrops, wind whipping flowers I could have walked among for hours, looking at the strange mountain sorts. Yellow and white rock-roses, blue bright star flowers, purple single daisies, with yellow centres. We are soon at Le Caylar, where we buy supper, and breakfast, at the only alimentation. A map tells us of a camping near les Rives nearby, so against the big mountain wind, we turn off the N road, on a narrow between-barley lande. At the village we ask about the site. A friendly lady tells us there is none, but we can camp up on a piece of grass belonging to the village. Waving meadow grass, rustic brown rugby posts. We ask again at an open barn to check that it is OK. It is. A friendly farmer comes out and suggests a pitch, over beside handy trees, and rocky alcove which is only slightly sheltered from the increasing wind. I cook a beany supper and spill the hot tea water. A tremendous view of mountains ascending to the clouds. Sky becoming bluer as the wind pushes clouds to the edges of the dome. An exhilarating day.
Day 23 Sat 23 June