I've had a busy ten days, seeing old friends and newer friends, and trying to keep to my goal of 5,000 words a week while juggling other commitments. Under it all, like everyone who loves France, I've also been struggling to come to terms with the Paris atrocities, though I won't be putting the tricolour over my facebook avatar. I would rather simply carry on, celebrating the strength of the country and its people.
The stately Loire river...most people, when they think it, will visualise the châteaux at Chinon and Saumur, Blois, Angers, Amboise, Nantes and Orléans, those grand stone fairytales rising from the gentle banks. But then, last month, I found myself in the Auvergne region south of the Massif Central, and was amazed to discover that the Haute Loire was on the doorstep. I had no idea the river rose so far south. So, in the grand tradition of exploration, we set off to find the source.
Autumn colours were beginning to take a grip on the hillsides south of Le Puy-en-Vélay. It was cold and a bit grey, but the road wound through some pretty countryside. We hardly passed another vehicle as we headed for Mont Gerbier de Jonc in the southern Cevennes hills within the department of the Ardèche. The temperature dropped fast as we climbed.
There came a point when the road was a white-out in freezing fog, and we wondered whether this was such a good idea after all. Then we emerged, and followed a logging truck for a while along otherwise lonely roads. The sign for Gerbier de Jonc was barely visible, but a café provided a parking place, and the promise of hot chocolate. To the side, steps were cut in the slope:
Leading to this snowy vantage point...
And the first glimpse of the conical summit from which the springs emerge to start a mighty river:
As I say, a very long way from the Loire that we think we know, seen below at the Château de Chenonceau. And a tough landscape in winter. But the French are like that: tough underneath, where it counts.