I feel fired up, if tired, after another intense and precious course, now become annual, with a group of 12 disparate and lovely people from 5 different countries. Quite apart from the imaginative and tempting food and the idyllic venue, there’s been an outpouring of inspired writing and an immediate and warming intimacy within the group. Although I don’t label the course ecowriting I find it impossible, and undesirable, to separate our awareness of and imagination in relation to the natural world in which we’re immersed from the creative aspects of the course, and mindfulness plays a central role too (I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition, which I paraphrase here: paying attention purposely in the present moment with all of yourself without judgement).
The market at St Jean du Gard, down the switchback mountain road alongside the river, is not to be missed. Now, with a few days’ relaxation behind us, we travel down, and from a pottery stall I buy a kilo of the delicious green figs that Chloë bought last week. The stall owner relays to me the recipe he gave Chloë: the result is wonderful, to be eaten, in our case, with grated carrot and beetroot salad, a platter of tomatoes, red onions and goat’s cheese (as I have, at least temporarily, reverted from vegan to vegetarian, for health reasons), olives, green salad and the local bread.
The recipe: halve some figs, lay them on an ovenproof dish, bake for maybe 20 minutes on a lowish heat, remove and give each a trickle of olive oil and honey, add salt, pepper and herbs, and top with a slender round of goat’s cheese. Put back in the oven for another 20 or 25 minutes, still at a low heat (about 160 degrees celsius) to melt the cheese.
Late that afternoon we pack up and head west. We’re still in the Languedoc, an area of incredible drama and beauty, and of both historical and, to me, personal significance for more reasons than I can begin to state here; suffice it to say that it’s Cathar country, and inspired my first novel, Imago (I’ve blogged about both before).
We head along the Corniche des Cévennes: the old van handles it very well. The high ridge offers more dramatic views south and north of mountain ranges in the late afternoon light.
I’m unprepared for the incredible beauty of the Gorges du Tarn; the towering limestone outcrops reminiscent, I imagine, of Utah or Arizona, but set in lush forested countryside. Here, superlatives fail me. We drive past unspoilt mediaeval hamlet after hamlet; the Tarn below is near-clear viridian.
Suddenly the sighting of a single eagle, or two or three, seems a little less significant – above the high peaks here, right above the 'aiguille', below, are about 50 eagles or maybe vultures – my binoculars are not strong enough to be sure – circling lazily in the thermals (it's still intensely hot). (Photo taken too early to show them.)
We could wild-camp here, but I haven’t yet used my electric hook-up and I could do with recharging the phone and laptop, and in this intense heat running the fridge. We find a municipal campsite – there are plenty, and the French ones are cheap, clean and pretty, with trees to park under.
Then we head west again from Aveyron into the Lot: country I know a bit.
We camp up again in a municipal by the river, and walk into the village. By the roadside is this building:
perhaps from the hundred years war (there are a number of such buildings from that period built into the rockfaces above the Lot and the Célé here). There’s also good potable spring water from La Source de Chevre Blanc; and high above us, parallel to the road is part of the French Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela, the Camino.
Tonight, we're eating at Le Jardin de Cabrerets, a good vegetarian and organic restaurant with a salon de thé (that serves a selection of teas, not just the nasty Lipton's own brand habitual in France) run by a young English couple, with a tranquil garden. Excellent menu – and the home-made puddings are to die for, as they say.
Tomorrow, we’ll hire kayaks; and then after that head down off the causses West, towards the Atlantic.