Friday, 5 July 2013
Distance 15 km
Duration 3 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 118 m, descent 93 m
Map 170 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
When we woke there was an eerie silence outside our window, in contrast to the rattle of traffic the previous morning. The street was barricaded off for the departure of the Tour riders at midday.
After breakfast we packed up and then all four of us went down to the street to find a shady spot to stand.
It was roasting hot already and Keith and I were not looking forward to setting off on the next stage of our walk in the heat of the afternoon.
The caravan came past as before, as well as vast numbers of press, police and support vehicles piled high with bikes.
Then the riders swooped around the corner. They were not really racing yet (the real start, as opposed to the “fictional” one, was still to come) but they seemed to be going remarkably fast and were gone in an instant.
It was time for us to set off too, so our friends walked with us as far as the Arab market and we parted with many hugs and thanks.
They later told us that it was like watching the biblical Hebrews walking into the fiery furnace as we were swallowed up in the shimmering heat.
The first kilometre or so was on the Rue du Faubourg Figuerolles, which became the Route de Lavérune and continued through the suburbs. Already the barricades were being dismantled, although the Tour had only just gone past.
It was hot work on the bitumen, but eventually we passed a big intersection and got out into the country, where we walked a little way through the fields, still beside the road, until we came to Lavérune. By the look of it, it would not be long before this village would be swallowed by the urban sprawl of Montpellier.
The church was a grim, grey, unadorned block with slit windows. The original edifice dates from the thirteenth century, but it was damaged during the Wars of Religion in the sixteenth and largely rebuilt, which was presumably the period when it was fortified.
Further on we came to the château, buried in its forested park behind a high wall, and after skirting around that, we were out of the village.
For the whole of this walk across coastal Languedoc – from Montpellier to Port-la-Nouvelle – we used our own home-made maps.
In this part of France there are no GRs, let alone Topoguides, and the TOP 100 maps that we normally carry lack a lot of detail, so we had made our own strip maps based on Géoportail, the French equivalent of Google Maps.
These maps allowed us to take tracks that we would never have dared to follow otherwise, for fear they would go the wrong way or peter out. There was no choice but the highway as far as Lavérune, but then we took to the fields, glad to be away from the traffic.
Nevertheless we were starting to feel tired by the time we got to the bridge at the entrance to the village of Fabrègues. We had not walked far, but it was very hot.
Luckily for us, there was a bar just up the street from the bridge, opposite the church, with a big shady awning and plenty of customers. We were probably the only ones drinking coffee at that hour, but we preceded it with a couple of litres of cold water.
We did not have far to go after that. The camping ground (le Botanic) was two or three kilometres along the small Chemin d’Agnac, which ran beside a gigantic new housing estate.
With all the frantic building that we had seen lately, we were starting to wonder whether there was some sort of population explosion going on in the south of France.
Eventually we left this unedifying spectacle behind and found ourselves once more amongst vines and hayfields. One vineyard even had a faux-antique château with a crenellated tower – it looked all of thirty years old.
We swung into the camping ground at about 4:30 pm and naturally the office was closed, so we wandered around the pleasantly grassy plots until we found one with a mass of trees to the west, where the sun would soon be.
Unfortunately the owner turned up and told us that we could not stay there, as it was reserved. He suggested another spot which looked lovely except for a huge grader parked in it. He obligingly moved it away.
Our host was a real plant enthusiast, judging by the botanical information signs on many of the shrubs and trees, and also by the fine vegetable garden, enclosed by a bamboo fence, which adjoined the shower block.
This shower block was the last word in glamour, newly built with beautiful fittings and a central open area enclosed by gardens and an artificial stream.
Once we were clean and tidy, with our tent set up nicely, we walked over to the little bar that we had seen near the entrance. It had a tropical air with its bamboo-roofed terrace and its pool surrounded by lawns, flowers and palms. There were blackboards advertising the special dishes available for dinner on different nights.
While ordering our drinks, we mentioned to the barman that we would like to dine there later, and he was aghast. – tonight was the last night until September that the restaurant would be closed!
This was the sort of bad news that we had become quite used to lately, so it did not bother us much. We were grateful that at least we had a pleasant place to spend the night and a bar in which to drown our hunger.
Then the barman came over and said he had thought of a way out of the problem – he could provide us with salads from the menu, but there would be no bread (a shocking lack on a French table).
We actually had some bread with us, albeit old and stale, so we ended up with a good meal of large, delicious salads, one with ham and the other with smoked salmon, and followed them up with a lovely apricot tart.
Meanwhile another couple had arrived at the bar and were given the same courteous treatment. They were Flemish-speaking Belgians, who spoke English but not French, and after a while we moved over to their table and had an enjoyable conversation to round off the evening.
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