Day 31 Sunday 1 July
Embrun, High Alps. Altitude 870m.
Travelled 97km. Total 1872 Terrain Mountainous
Early morning we roll away down hill beside our overnight stream, which soon drops away below into a gorge which we ride along the top of. A man fishing whistles sharply at us. Many cars pass, carrying hang gliders or wind surfers. Unexpectedly we pass a sign telling us that this is the high alps. Breakfast at Laragne, busy with trippers and activity. We choose a café outside the centre, with old men alone, red or wrinkle eyed all.
Our direction is now North East on busy N roads making it less easy to appreciate the glimpses of snow-topped mountains or the layers of grey ranked hills paling with distance. Lunch quite soon at another busy mountain centre.
On a yellow park bench we prepare two cheese sandwiches to eat in a café. Not much of today stays in the memory. I kept looking up the dizzy ring of grey peaks streaked with white unable to grasp what we are doing. The sky has been cloudy grey; maybe things don’t etch themselves so deeply in the more subdued colours of a day like this. The amount of traffic on the N road we had to travel on was a disappointment. One hardly feels to be exploring the high mountains when you are in company with thousands of others doing it much more quickly and noisily. But every so often would come a lull, and I could look at a town built high on a hill with a background of mountain.
At Lac Serre Poncon (blue inexplicable water, a small chapel on its individual island) were thousands of campers and hotels or chalets built up the banks. A holiday town. We began to fear that where we were headed would be busy. We had decided to look for a place to eat tonight, to celebrate a month away, and the Alps. So we cycled up to the town, walked the narrow streets of patisseries and cafes, found the one we liked the look of best, and went to camp.
A Scottish woman negotiated with us, but it still seemed too expensive for our tiny tent and non motorised transport. And we began to walk away. She called us and said that we could camp for half price if we didn’t mind going up the back. ‘The back’ is a sloping empty field set back from the rest of the site, and higher, so we can see over the caravans to the snowy mountains all around us. Behind, sheep move with bells round their necks.
We shower and eat a stay bit. Walk leisurely to the Hotel de Marie Feeling nervous. It is so long since we’ve done anything like this. Inside it is casual and quite friendly and there are a few other travellers. We choose quail, tiny little birds in a lovely mushroom sauce.
Because we have a litre of wine, we begin to get a bit drunk. When we have finished, we feel like doing something else. The brasserie serves us two amazing ice creams, with chestnuts and cherries and liqueur. Later the stars provide a magnificent display visible even without my contact lenses.