Autumn cycles 2

Since we wrote last week’s blog we have had a bit of rain and the temperatures have dropped. It will soon be time to light the fire! But before we switch into winter mode we ought to mention another of our autumn cycle rides.

A second cycle route from the town of Salernes along the old railway goes westwards. It’s a steep climb out of the town and they are still working on the route so that, at the moment, its easy to lose exactly where you are supposed to be cycling.

Unmistakably an old railway line…

But with a map and some hard peddling up hills you eventually strike the old railway line again which takes you after about thirty minutes to Sillans-la-Cascade. As you would expect from its name it has a waterfall, but after six months without rain we thought we’d save going to the viewpoint over the fall on another day.

Old railway bridge high above the river that leads to the cascade at Sillans

We considered cycling all the way on to the next large town of Barjols, but it’s deep in a valley and we didn’t want to have to lose height and then regain it. Instead we swung north to the wonderfully named Fox-Amphoux, enjoyed the view and then tried to take a minor route clearly marked on the map back to Salernes. Cycling through the lonely woods near here  we were reminded that there was a wolf attack on a flock here last winter. It’s remote enough for that to feel possible.

A tomb at Fox-Amphoux. French graves are rich in sorrow and nostalgia but poor in hope.

Dry fields near Fox-Amphoux

Here we came across a problem of French maps which we have met elsewhere and which is largely absent on their British equivalents. French maps do not mark rights of way when they exist, and more frustratingly, when they don’t. So you can pick what appears to be a perfectly usable track or road only to find that at some point it is sternly marked ‘Route Privée’. This proved to be the case here, but as taking the road back the way we had come involved a considerable distance and the afternoon was wearing on, we decided to ignore the sign. Instead we peddled as swiftly and quietly as we could along the track which took us around the margins of a ancient chateau, through its grounds and back to the road.

This problem with maps seems to reflect an age when in rural France you could pretty much walk anywhere you wanted: one of the legacies of the Revolution was the idea that the land did not simply belong to the rich but also, to some extent, to everybody. But the problem now seems to be that the old traditions are fading away. At least down here the chateaux are increasingly falling into the hands of multi-millionaires, many of whom are not French, and for whom the idea of open access is unwelcome. Slowly, track by track, without any great fuss, one of the best and most lasting fruits of the Revolution is being lost. Let’s hope that other people notice and start to do something about it.

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