Day 1: Saint-André-les-Alpes to Castellane

Walking in France: First steps of our first walking day in France
First steps of our first walking day in France

Friday, 7 June 2002
Distance 17 km
Map 61 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)

Our first day ever of walking in France.

Although we had packed as lightly as we could, and then offloaded a good deal of that on our friends in Paris, we still had the sort of packs that an Australian bushwalker would take for a hard weekend in the wilds, in other words, far too big for France, but at the time we knew no better.

Walking in France: Path through a wild herb garden
Path through a wild herb garden

The track, marked with yellow PR signs, rose sharply from the camping area into what looked to us like a garden  –   lavender, daisies, roses, aquilegias, lilies, sweet peas, rosemary, marjoram and thyme, interspersed with scrubby pines. The track was stony and chalk-white. A pair of bristly boar charged off at our approach.

At the top, the ground was flat and grassy and we had lunch beside the deserted ruins of Courchons, where a plaque commemorated the local partisans killed by the retreating Germans in 1944.

Walking in France: The Lac de Castillon
The Lac de Castillon

This was the first time we had seen such a thing and it affected us greatly, more than the thought of all the earlier atrocities that the area must have seen over thousands of years of settlement. There were people still alive who remembered it.

Further on, as the path clung to the hillside above a large artificial lake, we sat down for a rest on a green bank and fell asleep with our legs dangling onto the track. It was a hot day.

Statue of Notre Dame de Castellane

From there the way was all down, past a wonderful stone trough at la Baume, fed by a gushing stream, where we drank deeply. The track was stony in places, damp and shady in others.

Fields of flowers greeted us as we entered Castellane, a little town dominated by a great tower of rock. The camping ground was nearby, in an old farm  with a rose-covered stone gateway. We pitched our tent under an apple tree with a view of the statue of Notre Dame de Castellane on the top of the rock.

After a hot shower and a change into our other set of clothes, we set off to find dinner. The Hôtel du Roc provided an excellent coq au vin, a salad and a carafe of red and it was still daylight at 10 pm as we wandered back to our tent.

The local old men were still playing boules under the trees in the square.

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