Colchicums in the countryside in the Averyon and Tarn region in France, photographed by Charles Hawes

A 5 day circular walk in the Tarn and Aveyron region of France: day 1 Cordes sur Ciel to Vaour

October 1, 2017 · 13 comments

The first day of a 5 day circular walk in the Tarn and Aveyron region of France, starting at Cordes sur ciel

Date walked: 22nd September 2017

Distance: around 14 miles

Booking company: Sherpa Expeditions. Sherpa made all the hotel and bed and breakfast bookings, arranged transfer of our bags each day between destinations and provided detailed descriptions of each days walk and large scale map sheets with the routes marked. It all worked perfectly; I highly recommend them.

Maps used: I have also subscribed to the “Outdoors France” app. A years subscription of £19.99 allows you to download 1:25,000 scale  IGN maps (- equivalent to 2.5 inches to a mile). The app then allows chosen routes to be marked up and the phone GPS locates where you are at any time. So getting lost should be a thing of the past. Stop laughing.

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Once again I was walking with Bob, so you will see a lot of his back over the next 5 days. We flew separately to Toulouse the day before, meeting up at the train station around midday and getting the train to Cordes. Which was a bit of luck as we had arrived in the middle of a strike and there were lots of cancellations and some very angry people at the somewhat besieged station.

The train stopped several stations short of Cordes and we were put on a coach. This was fine except that I left my brand new fleece on the train. Sad face: a new fleece is a lovely thing and I had been looking forward to wearing it.  We were staying at the Hotel Raymond VII.

Cordes is one of those medieval towns whose top is about 500 feet higher than its bottom.  And since the coach dropped us off about two miles from its bottom, Bob had booked Gilles Le Taxi to come and pick us up. He was 20 minutes late and I feared (quite wrongly as it turned out) that Bob, whose French is marginally worse than mine, may have told him that we were at Albi.

Though somewhat lacking in the personal hygiene department, Gilles was very friendly and we were glad that we had not had to drag our bags up the hill as the hotel is just about at the top of town. It was a small  place and we were greeted by Christophe, Le Patron. The rooms were spacious and comfy; here’s a view from mine.

View from Hotel Raymond VII, Cordes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Fab eh :this was the next morning

Though clearly a popular town for tourism, we were late in the season so the only place we found open to eat that night was the Restaurant Panoramique; we had sausage and chips and a salad with goats cheese, which was ok if not great cooking. The waitress praised my French so I forgave the rather “distant” service we received. I must press on – we’ve a lot to get through in this post.

Cordes sur Ciel at night, photographed by Charles Hawes

However, I must offer you a pic of the place

Breakfast the next morning comprised a nice fresh croissant, some bread, butter and jams and a rather tired bowl of fruit. And probably a yoghurt. In other words a fairly typical affair that didn’t push out any boats.

We were packed and off around 9; Bob carrying the paper maps for the day and me the notes; this was to be our division of labour for the week with me supplementing our orientation with regular checks on the phone as to where we were.

From the hotel, we passed the square where we had eaten last night….

Place de la Bride, Cordes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

This shot taken on the day of our return: restaurant far left corner

…..  turned right just before La Porte des Ormeaux…

Cordes sur Ciel, photographed by Charles Hawes

… and made our way down some stone steps….

Cordes sur Ciel, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The observant will notice that Bob has lost some weight since you saw him last

… which became a very steep zig-zagged cobbled lane.

Cordes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It was a bit slippery so we went very cautiously, not wanting to injure ourselves on day 1

At the bottom of town we crossed the D600; there was a little supermarket but didn’t call in – we have evolved a routine of not really having lunches on our walks but tend to carry some fruit and nuts or snack bars (and in Bobs case a daily tin of anchovies).  On the Rue Les Tanneries were several splendid houses in varying states of repair; one guarded by goats.

House outside Cordes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

We, like goats, (think of them as sheep substitutes). Note the box hedges by the house. More on them anon.

Les Cabannes is a small settlement just outside Cordes. In Place Felix our notes drew our attention to a pretty house with wisteria (a shrub loved by Bob and dismissed by my Anne as a waste of space)…..

Place Felix, Cabannes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The notes describe it as “covered” with wisteria which is not strictly accurate

… and also to the bust of Felix himself – a vice admiral of the C18th.

Bust of Felix in Cabannes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Felix is in danger of being hidden

Here we turned right and crossed the River Cerou, pausing to wonder at the size of the house on its banks and speculating as to whether it was a mill.

House on the Cerou at Les Cabannes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

On the other side of the Cerou we took the first left following a small lane which quickly became a track. On our left a large field of sunflowers which had been left to stand as they faded to black and grey; we were to see this all week.

Sunflowers in field near Cabannes, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

We wondered when they would be cut

Our track climbed several hundred feet through the woods of La Combe……

GR 36 path through La Combe, Near La Vedillerie, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Note the red and yellow waymark sign painted on the tree

… to reach the hamlet of La Vedillerie.  Through warm the sun had not yet burnt off the low cloud so we did not have the nice views that the notes drew our attention to.  At the edge of the hamlet we passed our first roadside cross  – this one of metal and rather dwarfed by an adjacent sign.

Road side cross at La Vedilliere, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Road side crosses of France would make a nice photo project.

For the next couple of miles we walked on a tiny road through the woods, the only vehicle we encountered being a tractor trimming the hedgerow.

Tractor trimming hedgerow in Genibrousse wood, France, photographed by Charles Hawesin

We shielded our eyes just in case

Passing through the hamlet of Latreyne (not a soul about), we descended to meet the Cerou river just before the village of Marnaves.

Cerou river near Marneves, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Plenty of young trout to be seen

…. then crossed the railway line and the D600.

Railway line and D600 at Marnaves, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Our notes pointed up a sign on the wall for Roussayrolles, and suggested that the next 6km were going to seem longer!

Sign for Roussayrolles at Marnaves, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

We were not at all intimidated

We saw “personne” as we walked through Marnaves, but was intrigued by a building with solar panels and a large stack of wood.

Building in Marnaves, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

A kiln perhaps?

Firewood is A Big Deal in rural France and as a wood-stacker myself, its stacking a source of endless fascination for me.

Stack of wood in barn at Marnaves, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

A surprisingly small stack but very neatly done

From Marnaves to La Beuze our path climbed around 750 feet in about a mile, some of it on the limestone bedrock.

GR 36 near la Beuze, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

OK to walk on in the dry but slippery when wet!

Someone was doing a castellated thing with their slightly ragged box hedges at La Beuze.

Box hedges at La Beuze, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The setting of an old stone cross at a junction refered to in our notes was rather spoiled by a huge adjacent electricity pole.

Stone cross at La Beuze, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Lacking an aesthetic sensibility

For the next mile or so our path undulated through mixed woodland of sweet chestnut, oaks and poplar. I began to notice large and very distressed bushes of box, their leaves bleached near white. I am familiar with box blight from our sad experiences at home but this was new to me.

Box affected by moth near Roussayrolles, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

I was to discover later what was causing this

This was pleasant countryside and our path  even and lined by low stone walls.

GR 36 near Roussayrolles, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

As we approached Roussayrolles we paused to admire an imposing cross mounted on a stone plinth – according to our notes erected by the Maffre family around 1848; confirmed by these details carved into the rather ill-proportioned stone.

Maffre cross near Roussayrolles, France, photographed by Robert Pinder

Thanks to Bob for this pic of moi

The vast majority of woodland is closely managed in France. Though we witnessed no such activity, it was evidenced by wood-stacks….

Woodpile in woods near Roussayrolles, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

A particularly fine one

… and by many many signs prohibiting all sorts of things.

Defense de cueillette" sign in woods, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

In this case “picking” (but what, mushrooms?)

The woods are also home to various domesticated animals.

Horse in woods near Roussayrolles, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

We began to descend gently to a murky pond at a spring called Font Mere de Dieu. To one side of the pond were some hives and a woman was collecting honey. I noticed a small colony of Colchicums (Autumn crocus), but their name escaped me.

Colchicums near Font Mere de Dieu, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Such an uplifting find

I found enough French to ask her what they were and on telling me their name, she sang me a sweet song with the word in it; I couldn’t have been more touched and thanked her for her gift.

Just after the spring we reached a tarmac road. We turned right to approach Roussayrolles, but found ourselves in a thick swarm of flies and decided to not to make the detour to  see what our notes describes as its beautiful church. Our path took us left, passing a garden with a pretty goat in occupation.

Goat in garden near Roussayrolles, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

At at cross roads we found a stone table and seats with a tap next to it and agreed that this was the ideal place to stop for a break and a bite to eat. I de-booted and de-socked for the duration.

Cross roads near Roussayrolles, photographed by Charles Hawes

As we sat enjoying the now warm sunshine a man passed us leading two fine horses.

Two more raced passed, not on leads, and behind them a woman leading another horse bringing up the rear.

Horses near Roussayrolles France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Such fine derrieres

We had a choice here of adding a further 3 miles to the days walk by heading up a valley which our notes described as having some romantic ruins but we had already decided that on day 1 14 miles was enough so we turned left and kept on a quiet road for the next couple of miles to Peyralade. Our compensation was to pass some lovely cattle which I thought were my beloved Aubracs.

Limousin cattle near Roussayrolles France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Limousin disguised as Aubrac?

In fact a guy on a tractor pitched up and he told me that they were Limousin. You know I am still not convinced.

Peyralade was as quiet as everywhere else; a woman crouched by a hutch, presumably watching her chicks (or possibly ducklings)…

Peyralade, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

… and I envied a pile of timber off-cut logs…..

Woodpile at Peyralade, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

You can’t have too many pics of piles of firewood

…..and some fine black pigs.

Pigs at Payralade, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

From Payralade it was about a mile and a half to Vaour, a pretty metal cross marking the approach to the village.

Metal roadside cross near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Vaour looked like a “proper” village with a substantial church but we had been warned in our notes not to expect any refreshments.  In fact there was a temporary bar opposite the church but it was shut….

Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It had painted on its side that it was a summer bar

…..and the “Hotel du Nord” felt more of a joke (do click the link)

Hotel du Nord Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

There is a boulangerie but it was shut, of course. We wandered about a little, struck by some fine houses in a ruinous state on its main street. In our wandering we came across a makeshift sign for some kind of shop. We went in. It had a fabulous cornucopia of produce, and was minded by a slightly deranged dark haired woman who didn’t want her picture taken.

SOrganic shop in Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Extraordinary!

Best of all, it had beer in the fridge and crisps. Quelle belle chance!

We took our beers back to some steps round the corner and replenished our salt levels from the very crushed up crisps.

Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

From Vaour to our chambre d’hote was about another mile and a half- thankfully, mostly downhill – we were both flagging by now. I wasn’t so tired, though that I could appreciate a beautiful creeper on one of the houses on the outskirts of the village.

House in Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

A parthenocissus variety?

 

Parthenocissus tricuspidata on house in Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Parthenocissus tricuspidata I think – Boston Ivy

We passed a couple of Donks…..

Donkies outside Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

I like Donks as well as sheep and Aubracs

…. and another roadside cross…..

Roadside cross at Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Very special to have a Christ

….before beginning quite a steep descent on a tarmac road, accompanied by an incontinent dog.

Road near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The dog is on the right of the picture

We were in lovely open countryside and it was a glorious afternoon.

Countryside near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

In a field over to the left was the sweetest of mini-houses.

Ruin in field near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Would make a great retreat for a writer or poet

I spotted some more colchicums and, most unusually a medlar in the hedge.

Medlar in hedge near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Mespilus germanica: wild or cultivated?

Just after we reached the bottom of the valley we could see our destination above us on the hillside.

Serene chambre d'hote near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Serene is a working farm.  Natalie, our host has been running a chambre d’hote from her home within it it for just a couple of years. She gave us a very cheerful “hello” in excellent English and immediately offered us to sit and have a drink (beer for Bob, home made apple juice for me). After a decent chat (her husband is a chef who trained under Michael Roux and has recently opened his first restaurant nearby), she told us that she would be serving aperitifs at 7.30 in her huge living cum dining room.

Dining/sitting room at Serene, near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

This has been a very long post, so I must cut account of the  evening short. I loved my room which was simply and tastefully decorated with a comfy bed and a bathroom with a bath! A French couple were also staying so we stumbled through a pre-dinner conversation with a chilled sweet white wine and mini cheesey yorkshire puddings (delicious).

Natalie was expertly flitting between French and English (she has lived and worked in the UK for many years) to keep us all engaged. And our supper was an absolute feast. A puff pastry flan of tomatoes and courgettes was followed by several different cuts of their own Aubrac cattle (she apologised that they were not hung as long as the British like their meat matured for), a pot of pureed apple and pears topped with raspberries and an excellent cheeseboard – accompanied by a local wine which she buys in bulk. Bob took this pic of the cheeseboard the following morning I think.

Over dinner I was telling Natalie about the woman who sang to me and it turns out it is a well known song in France and she sang a few lines too. I didn’t note what the song was called so I just rang her up to ask: its called “Colchiques dans les pres” (Colchicums in the wood). There are dozens of versions on Youtube. Here’s one, just click this link.

What a great start to our holiday!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob October 1, 2017 at 6:11 pm

V impressed with how quickly your have produced this post.fab trip.
Charles’ French is much better than my “tenseless” version.
Natalie’s husband was trained by Roux senior,Albert not his son , michel.she had worked at La Gavroche.all top pedigree.

Looking forward to the next post.

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Charles October 2, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Yes, I want to write the posts when they are fresh in my mind. Its disturbing what one forgets. You are kind about my French. Though you must get that Duolingo app and get stuck in. Its fun. Yes, quite right about Natalie’s husband. I have her sent a link to the post. xx

Reply

Paul Steer October 1, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Simply fabulous ! You’ll have to sing us the song on the next stage of the Cambrian Way ?

Reply

Charles October 2, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Thank you, kind Sir. I think we should make up our own Cambrian Way song. After all we have a songwriter with us!

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Anne Wareham October 1, 2017 at 6:29 pm

Yep – Bob has lost weight! More obvious from the side than the back…… A huh to the wonderful meal with puff pastry – which you have banned from our house. (and which so neatly comes in ready made packs, so that’s quite a shame)
Nice to see what you were up to.
XXXX

Reply

Charles October 2, 2017 at 5:48 pm

Yes he has. He’s been listening to his daughter . You know things always taste better when you are on holiday. I would probably have preferred short crust. Hers was bought in, too.

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Neil October 1, 2017 at 6:58 pm

Looks a fabulous day. And accompanied by a chanteuse…. great ?

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Charles October 2, 2017 at 5:50 pm

It was a great start. Thanks for clarifying the question mark!

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Neil October 1, 2017 at 6:59 pm

That ‘?’ Left my phone as a smiley…. Clearly doesn’t translate well !!!

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julia fogg October 1, 2017 at 7:54 pm

Very jolly and well finished off with up lifting place to stay.

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Charles October 2, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Thanks Julia. Serene really is a great place. I’d love to stay there again.

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John October 9, 2017 at 11:01 am

Wordpress only just told me you’d posted this. It’s been playing up for a few weeks like that. The new slimline Bob’s a shadow of the old. I was initially worried he might have been unwell but I see from your comment that it was deliberate. And in your case, the knee worked ok. So nice of the French to make you feel at home from the outset by laying on a welcoming train strike. And a good read for me (I like you being abroad when I don’t have to worry about some obscure fact about Wales half entering my brain and bugging me until I remember the other half). Looking forward to the next installment whenever Wordpress decides to let me know.

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Charles October 13, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Hi John. Apologies for thew delay in my reply. Well, as shadows go I think Bob’s is still substantial but he is working on it. I am delighted that you won’t be picking me up on my occasional lame attempts to introduce some French into these posts. Mind you, according to Duolongo I am 48% fluent so maybe next year the whole post will be in French. A bientot!

Reply

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