Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 10, pp8-9 (October 1979).
Muriel, Richard and I left Boulogne at mid-day on July 13th. We pulled off the N.1. near Montreuil and found ourselves in deep country at once. We learned the hard way what a cassis on the road is, and in great heat and some discomfort had our first lunch.
At Abbeville we left the main road and wandered pleasantly across long wooded slopes and valleys until, at 4.30, we came to Forges les Eaux. The boss of the Rôtisserie de la Paix was snoozing outside his shack and rather rudely guided us to our car stand in his back yard. The inn was poor but adequate. The dining room was a high priests palace, dimly lit with cruderies in old French painted round the walls which, I felt, were better not translated for the others. Madame, handsome and well dressed, presided at the coffee maker and the meal was quite superb. Forges les Eaux before dinner was drab and dusty, but a walk in the moonlight after dinner, along a very rural by-road, showed possibilities.
Next morning, having collected rolls from the bakery, we were off early in really rural France. By devious lanes we came to Les Andelys on the Seine. It was very beautiful on this section, with a suspension bridge and ruined Chateau Gaillard on the slope above. We followed the river up stream to Vernon where we crossed and climbed over the watershed, and then dropped into the Eure valley at Pacy. We followed up the Eure to Anet and then, by the forest road, came to Dreux. Now, by a main road, the N.l54, we crossed a rolling plain and could see miles away the vast bulk of Chartres Cathedral. Once in the town we parked the car. We climbed up through gardens in great heat to the Cathedral, which is far too vast to photograph close up.
The inside was impressive but dark and dirty. A squad of boys were scraping pounds of candle fat off the spiked grids on which the offertory candles are burnt.
Leaving Chartres we plunged again into the rural scene and had lunch on a track in a cornfield. After Patay, we dodged Orleans, leaving it on our left, and by St. Peravay and St. Sigismond and Huisscan sur Mauves we came to Meury on the Loire, and for a few miles followed the busy Orleans - Blois road as far as Mer.
We needed petrol and were amused to find three garages in a row. The middle one selling Shell was much sought after, but being a holiday, the sole proprietor sat outside in a deck chair and obstinately refused to sell petrol - much to the amusement of his rivals on either side! Rather a typical French attitude... We left the busy road with no regrets and, crossing the Loire, came by a lovely park to the Chateau de Chambord itself.
The French now run loose in these palaces and their grounds, but as the population is scanty you do not get the devastation you would get in England under similar circumstances. Chambord is lovely, and the way by Bracieux, the Forêt de Gatines and Selles to Valencay, is lovely too.
Valencay is on a hill, having a chateau, an aviary, and gardens full of peacocks. Of the two inns, we chose the Lion d'Or in the main square, and regretted it. We dined well in the open, under the shade of a huge and lovely trellised vine. The courtyard all around us was full of flowers, pigeons and caged birds.
At dusk we wandered across the valley by footpaths, and heard the cicadas telling us we were getting south. We got to bed, but, at 11p.m. being the 14th July, all hell was let loose. There was dancing and noise in the square till 4a.m. The dances were folk tunes, many were quite attractive, but we could have done without them.
The morning was less promising and we took the main road to Levroux and the big town of Chateauroux. We had a route which avoided the centre and still on the main road (N.143), we came to La Chatre where we changed to the N.140 and, by Genouillac, we came to Guéret, following the lovely Creuse valley and the lake of Glenie with its famous Logis ""La Moulin Voge". We were now in Auvergne and well up in the hills. The going was slow with much forest, high ridges and valleys to cross. Bourganeuf and Eymoutiers were both pleasant and it was hot and sunny again. We lunched on the hillside between St. Hilaire and Treignac overlooking a great lake, the Lac Aux Barriouses.
At Nares, just before Tulle, a bullock wagon full of hay held us up until it could be slowly negotiated into a barn. After Thulle, in a tiny hamlet in the forest, an aged crone from whom we sought directions begged us to come to her cottage and rest, but I said we were pressed for time and drove on.
St. Céré smouldering in the sun, had a ruin of Montal Castle. At Aynac we were on top of the world with a tremendous vista across the Dordogne valley. At tea the scent of sage and lavender frizzling in the sun was quite overpowering. Figeac, on its steep hillside, brought us down to the Lot valley, and just across the river we found an attractive inn-café-petrol station, new painted and pleasant.
We started dinner on the balcony over the river, but a great thunderstorm broke and drove us inside and prevented the photographs I hoped to get. This inn at the Pont de la Madeleine had been a centre of the Résistance in 1942. The bridge had been blown and men had died there; but all was peace now and we enjoyed the quiet.
Rain in the morning was a nuisance. Loupeac, an old village of interest, had to be missed, but we stayed in Villeneuve d'Aveyron to buy food and cards. Beyond, the road was closed and a shocking detour took us miles uphill in dripping forest. We had intended to dodge Toulouse and go across country to Pamiers, but we were so fed up with hills, rain and slow going that in Villefranche de Rouergne, we took advice from the garage and hit the main road to Toulouse. Toulouse nearly scared us stiff. At one time there were five lanes of traffic converging on us, but we forged on steadily and got to the outskirts, only to find ourselves behind a long convoy of fair people going to Spain. Each lorry had three trailers but we spotted in time that each rear trailer carried miniature traffic lights and, in due time, we got past and made good time on the flat valley road.
Near Saverdun we had lunch in a vineyard. The sun came out, and far, far away, like a vast green wall, we saw the Pyrenees. Much cheered we sped on by Pamiers to Foix in the Ariege valley where, for old times sake, I stopped, and Richard and I ran up to the Chateau. Montgailhard was a rash of new villas. The old mansion of the Barreau's where I stayed with Dad in 1931, seemed to have vanished. We found our fairground friends had got ahead of us again but we soon passed them. We followed the lovely Ariege up the foothills of the Pyrenees to Bampas, Tarascon and Les Cabannes, where the smugglers track for Andorra by the sources of the Astor starts.
By the time we got to Ax-les-Thermes it was drizzling. The heights beyond looked full of mist and really sinister. Ax was busy and I could not stop as I would have liked. The road to Spain climbed steeply up and we were soon on the curves. Age has broken the retaining walls, the traffic was heavy, and I was glad when we got to the upper world above the valley curves and came to L'Hospitalet, near the top of the Col de Puymorens at 6,000 feet. Soon after, we left the main road on what used to be the mule track over to Andorra, now a well metalled road. Climbing steadily through a desolate landscape, with patches of snow, and herds of bell mares grazing with mule foals, we got to the frontier at Pas de la Casa where wooden souvenir huts and cafes seem very out of place in the wilderness.
From here the road is, in summer, always under repair. In rain it is very tricky, so today stacks of lorries were waiting till it was safe to go over. I crawled over in first gear, very nasty it was, 8,000 feet up, but the far side was better metalled and we were relieved to get down to the Refuge de Valira. Further down we stopped and tried to brew up, but sleet was falling. It was terribly cold, the water would not boil properly at that height, so we pushed on for the few miles to Soldeu.
Part 2 |
"My First Visit to Andorra (1929)"
Articles index | Home Page