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Where the Bilberries grow

We arrived late at the camper stop Aire in Planfoy in the Mont du Pilat area of the Rhone Alps. We could not get the van in as all the spots were taken. It was about 9 at night, and we were reversing the van back out when some friendly looking French beckoned to us that we could park on the casual car parking area alongside the main area for Campers. This was our first stop at a free French Aire, so pleased we were, that someone had indicated it is fine to squeeze on almost anywhere.

It was a pretty place on a hillside above the tiny village of Planfoy. The next morning we were doing the usual van duties, tidying, emptying and filling tanks and eating breakfast. Later on we managed to move the van to a proper spot on the site and we ended up next to an English couple. This turned out to be Martin and Vicky from Clitheroe who had a similar self styled camper van to us. We spent the next couple of days with them. Their company made the visit to this area some of the best days we have had so far on the trip.

In the afternoon we did the local Via Ferrata - this is a series of cables and metal placements in the rock walls that make it possible to scale the high cliffs and experience the terrifying feeling of being on an exposed rock face many hundreds of feet up.

We cycled down to the valley below and to the base of the rock faces on our mountain bikes. It was a hot and dusty fast descent on stony tracks. On the way we found bushes of delicious, ripe myrtles or bilberries, as we know them.

It turned out the Via Ferrata involved a zip wire or Tyrolean, as they call it here and so we could not complete the course as we did not have the right equipment. At this point I devised the anti bucket list and decided I would never do a Tyrolean before I die.

We pushed the bikes back up the several miles of hills to the village, our throats dry and our skin covered in dusty sweat, only to discover the local bar was closed. In my annoyance I bashed my shin with the pedal incurring cuts and bruises. Damn and double damn, I thought, politely.

Day 2 and we spent much of the day climbing with Vicky and Martin. We did the children’s climbing route (quite hard and very high, I thought) and topped out on top of Roche Corbiere at 100 m. Now warmed up we each did a few routes (4 and 5’s) on the face.

We started the long push of the bikes back up the steep hill out of the gorge, and joy of joys this time the bar was open. Vicky’s prayers had worked.

The next day we said goodbye and left for Mont-Dore, going deeper into the Massif Central.

I think this is the only location where I did not get time to do any drawing - too much talking, that’s why. This first photo is of Vicky topping out and actually standing on the top. She is hard as nails.

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