UPDATE: We were intending to be in the UK this week and so had drafted this blog in advance. However, early on the morning of Monday 11th Alison was sized by severe stomach pain so we headed off to ‘Urgences’ (A and E) at our local hospital and within hours she was being operated on for a twisted intestine. Anyway it has all worked out well and after five days in hospital Alison is now back at home and walking around slowly. We will cover her first hand consumer report on the French Health Service next week. In summary, it gets full marks. (Unlike Easyjet, who have been very unsympathetic and refused to give any refund on the cancelled flights: although we could apparently reschedule the return ones for £90. No thanks).
New Year’s Day was a little bit grey but we revived a long-standing tradition of going out for a decent walk. We decided to explore something that we’d discovered a year ago: the D955 from Draguignan to Châteaudouble. Barely twenty minutes away from us, [and just north of the hospital] it’s a road that is still marked as a main one on most maps and as far as we can gather on quite a few satellite navigation systems, a fact which – as we will point out – must give rise to a certain amount of alarm.
The road goes north following the Nartuby river up a steep-sided and spectacular valley which were it not for the fact it’s only an hour away from the stunning Gorges de Verdon (Europe’s deepest gorge) would be highly rated in any tourist guide: it has a charming little village, sprawling woodlands and a delightful river tumbling down the bottom. The road itself, with precipitous limestone cliffs on one side and an often sheer plunge down to the river on the other must always been a challenging one to drive on. Unfortunately, we now have to use the past tense because the D955 is now an dead road. A very dead road. A road that is frankly not going to be resuscitated. Ever.
The fact is in the last five years two major floods have caused major sections of the road to fall into the river in a number of ways. You can with caution, walk or (we suppose) even cycle along the road, but even then you need to be careful. Indeed for all we know the little bit of rain we’ve finally had this week may have completely removed what’s left of the narrowest parts. And even the remaining road is in bad shape, with boulders and rubble all along its edges.
If you know something about geology or civil engineering it’s obvious that the D955 was a road that was a problem for a long time. Cliff faces are covered with vast sheets of steel mesh, huge lumps of rock are wired in to the ground and nets full of boulders loom over the road.
Now the road is simply crumbling away, adding a considerable extra journey time to the inhabitants of Châteaudouble, but it’s difficult to imagine how you could ever fix it without spending more than a hundred million euros and even then you would need to constantly patch it up every year.
In the meantime it’s a quiet place to walk, with some splendid views and a sobering and humbling reminder that for all our technology the natural world is perfectly capable of overturning human structures. But it might be useful if someone, somewhere would erase it off the maps. No one is driving down this road again.