Explorer Belt Day 8 – Donzère to La Coucourde

Andy tending to feet in La Concourde
In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
My diary entry

Monday 20th August 1984

Left Donzère after a wash in warm water and no food. By sheer fluke we met up with Shaun Ince and James Outram who were also doing their Explorer Belt. They were also going to Montelimar. We walked the 13km to Montelimar and got information on police and town plan from Tourist Info centre. Bought crisps and wrote more on projects.

Left and walked north. Stopped by cops who wanted to see passports to check we weren’t crooks! Completed the 10.5km to La Concourde and found house to stay at. Pitched tent and only ate 3 peaches and 1½ melons provided by family. Mischievous cat kept going under the tent. Wrote log, drew maps and I revised route. Got to bed at 10:19.

PS: Visited nougat factory

On this day:

  • The miners strike: A single miner is escorted to work by 1000 police at Gascoigne Wood
  • Donkey Kong 3 released on Nintendo
  • The class 47 diesel/electric locomotive number 47264 was renumbered to 47619

Everyone remembers where they were when that class 47 loco was re-numbered! Heady days…

Looking back…

Our northerly route closely followed the river Rhône for much of the way. This meant easy level walking at the cost of much of the dramatic scenery we had encountered so far. If I remember correctly we came across Shaun and James walking ahead of us. Did we then walk together to Montelimar?

Why I took this street photo in Montelimar is unclear as it’s rather featureless. I have unsurprisingly been unable to find a Google street view match.

Street in Montelimar
Street in Montelimar

I had heard of Montelimar due to its nougat associations. The long road into the town was lined with hoardings advertising the sugary treat and there were many kiosks selling nougat nearer the town centre.

The nougat factory visit mentioned in my diary is beyond my recall. Was this in association with our project work? It could well have been opportunistic.

Modern re-creation in street view

In my diaries I keep referring to the completion of project work. This was investigative activity that was to be completed as the cultural aspect of the Explorer Belt challenge. I don’t recall the precise subject matter but believe it involved finding out about towns, schools and churches. It’s a surprise to learn that we were doing this en-route as I had assumed we did pretty much nothing on this until the last day or so. Either way it’s likely that Andy took on the bulk of the work (sorry Andy!)

A kind lady let us camp in her field and we were delighted when she offered us her freshly harvested fruit. The melon tasted like nectar after our long hot trek and was mightily appreciated. In the photo Andy is attending to serious blisters while the pesty cat looks on.

Andy tending to feet in La Coucourde
Andy tending to feet in La Coucourde

After we had pitched the tent the damn thing kept burrowing its way under the ground sheet while we were inside. The moving bump was amusing for a while but it wouldn’t stop and in the end I had to peg down every part of the inner tent to prevent access.

The comment about the revised route is interesting. Maybe I was plotting a new shorter route in light of time lost to blisters.

Map
In the absence of our original maps I have deduced the following route…

Distance walked: 16.3 miles (26.0 km)

 Key:
Start Donzère
Via Montélimar
End La Coucourde
Location Street view of typical Nougat shop

 

Explorer Belt Day 7 – Valréas to Donzère

Photo 1 - Chateau de Grignan
In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
My diary entry

Sunday 19th August 1984

Up at 7:30. Tent full of ants more than ever before. Killed them all. Rushed, had ryvita and paste, then left by 8:30. Passed through Grillon and stopped in Grignan, Took photo of castle, bought almond slices, coke and postcard. Continued for a long way stopping only at Valaurie for drink. Odd place. A great load of houses massed on a small hill but none on the surrounding plains. Looks weird from the distance.

Somehow made it to Donzere with feet worse for the mileage. Found rotten campsite (stony ground). Saw the Rhone. Had savoury risotto, mousse and orange. Wrote project work and sellotaped tent like Fort Knox for ant security. Got to bed at 10:01.

PS: Got photo of a hen pecking round site. Beautiful sunset over river Rhone.

On this day:

  • Serving president Ronald Reagan was re-nominated by the Republicans
  • Actor Simon Bird (Will from the Inbetweeners) born on this day

You can’t talk about Reagan without thinking of Spitting Image…

The president’s brain is missing

Looking back…

I seem to remember that we hitched the 5 miles from Valreas to Grignan because I recall hauling my rucksack out of the back seat of a Peugeot 305 in the shadow of the castle only to discover a wet patch on the car rear seat where my aluminium water bottle had leaked. I was mortified by this given the kindness of our driver.

Here is my 1984 photo of the castle…

Photo 1 - Chateau de Grignan
Photo 1 – Chateau de Grignan
Grignan was spectacular and worthy of much more focus. One day…
Modern re-creation in Google street view

It would be nice to think that our route passed through the fairy-tale castle town of Grignan by design but it is more likely that we struck lucky. Regardless I seemed to be too busy stuffing almond slices into my face to appreciate the architecture. However, I wasn’t the only glutton…

All members of our expedition unit left home with emergency rations, to be opened in the event of some unthinkable misfortune on a mountain path, stuck down a pothole or beached on some remote river bank. Such forward thinking was rewarded when, struck down by terrible munchies on the cross-channel ferry, most scouts devoured their emergency rations in order to stave off inevitable starvation. This before we had even made it to the French coast.

We were both suffering from blisters but Andy was most affected and we were gaining confidence in hitching rides. That said I think we did complete the 11 mile walk from Grignan to Donzere, which would have at least burnt off the calories from our diet of junk.

Here’s a photo I took on the approaches to Valaurie “Odd” and “weird” were clumsy descriptions to say the least.

Photo 2 - approach to Valaurie
Photo 2 – approach to Valaurie
I can’t be 100% certain about this modern view but if you imagine that the road has been widened resulting in the loss of the telegraph poles then it looks like a good match.
Modern re-creation in Google street view

How differently I saw the world as a 15 year old. It was all about food and mundane events involving hens (I’ll spare you that picture) and ants. I was genuinely taken with the landscape and people but at the end of the day these rarely made my diary, while my camera was usually pointing at the wrong things.

One day I would like to retrace the trek (by car?) to fully appreciate stop-offs like Valaurie that were poorly served my diary or camera the first time around.

Map
In the absence of our original maps I have deduced the following route…

Distance walked: 17.3 miles (27.7 km)

 Key:
Start Valréas
Via Grillon
Via Grignan
Via Valaurie
End Donzère
Photo 1 Street view of Photo 1 – Chateau de Grignan
Photo 2 Street view of Photo 2 – Approach to Valaurie

Explorer Belt Day 6 – Dieulefit to Valréas

Photo 1 - Chateau de Simiane
In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
My diary entry

Saturday 18th August 1984

Got up at 7:15 and had wash. Nobody else up on site until we left (except for on tennis courts). Had ryvita. Walked several km to Roche-Saint-Secret-Beconne and had drink there. Continued over a hot tiring route along dead straight roads. Went near Taulignan and Mont Brison but ended up in Valréas in late afternoon. Very worn out.

Campsite is OK but ground is too unstable for tent pegs (like concrete). Still, it seems to be free so who cares. Lemonade, half a roll of bread, veg stew and rice pud for dinner. Wrote log and did some of Project 8. Walked around site and saw lizards clinging to garden walls in high street. Got to bed at 9:56.

On this day:

  • Blackadder released in Norway where it is known as “Den sorte orm”. Apparently that translates as “The black worm”
  • Van Halen play at Monsters of Rock in Castle Donnington along with Ozzy Osborne, Van Halen, and AC/DC

I was all over Van Halen’s aptly named 1984 album at the time. Less into the hair and spandex though.

Looking back…

If you have ever been camping you will understand those early starts. In the south of France that August the sun rose woke us early and there was a window of time to get walking before things hotted up. Might we also have been attempting to leave before anyone asked for the camping fee?!

Having lost a day in Beaufort due to blister recovery we were always behind schedule. It is 16 miles from Dieulfit to Valréas and I’m pretty sure we walked the 7 miles to Roche-St-Secret-Beconne (what a great name!) before hitching a lift to Valréas to spare our feet. I had never hitched before but it was a necessity if we wanted to get back on track.

Scenery witnessed on the D538 from Dieulefit to Roche-St-Secret-Beconne

Andy had the confidence to stick a thumb out and we must have cast an innocent sight – 2 young pack packers on hot deserted roads. Nowhere in my diary does it mention hitching. Was this a teenage oversight (like the failure to mention any scenery) or was it due to a misplaced sense of guilt for what would at the time have felt like cheating?

I captured this photo in Valreas and my notes at the time describe it as a “weird building”

Photo 1 - Chateau de Simiane
Photo 1 – Chateau de Simiane
In fact this grand building dates from 1446 and is now home to the town hall and an art exhibition that would undoubtedly failed to inspire or impress this 15 year old.
Modern re-creation in street view

What of Valréas? This medieval town was purchased by the pope in 1317, possibly because he want to get his hands on some Côtes-du-rhône wine? Our approach to Valréas marked a transition to the flat plains of the Rhone valley and an end to most of the climbs and descents of the previous days. A great location for vineyards then.

Wikipedia has this to say about the geology of the region:

The Massif Central being a centerpiece of the Variscan orogen has undergone a rather complex geological evolution. Since its (diachronous) exhumation it has experienced very strong erosive peneplanation uncovering the polymetamorphic crystalline basement. Supracrustal sequences of sedimentary origin are strongly underrepresented and mainly occur along the periphery

I have no idea what any of that means except to say that it most likely explains why camping on stony ground was a recurring feature of our expedition. This was a nuisance because our tent did require a minimum number of pegs. In the years to come I would travel Europe with a flexible poled dome tent that could be pitched without pegs – particularly useful when you want to erect it on the deck of a passenger ferry in the Adriatic.

Map
In the absence of our original maps I have deduced the following route…

Distance walked: 13.8 miles (22.0 km)

 Key:
Start Dieulefit
Via Roche-Saint-Secret-Béconne
End Valréas
Photo 1 Street view of Photo 1 – Chateau de Simiane
Overnight Suspected camping location

Explorer Belt Day 5 – Saou to Dieulefit

Photo 1 - Eglise St Roch
In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
My diary entry

Friday 17th August 1984

Awoke in a dry antless tent for once. Ryvita for breakfast after the usual washing ritual. Walked into Saou and took photo of church. Bought coke and cake. Walked 10km to Bourdeaux. Waited there for a bit and then walked a wicked 13km to Dieulfit in hot weather. Above 80 degrees as always. Exhausted so camped at a good site and watched nearby tennis at a tennis club. Very hot. Had ravioli, mash and French bread to eat. Was best meal yet.

Blisters accumulating on right heel. Walked around Dieulfit. Probably best day yet. Locals even play boules at night (saw some at 2am) for god knows what reason. Nice town, larger for the area in terms of population and size. Got to bed at 10:30

On this day:

  • Film Tightrope released, produced and starring Clint Eastwood

Looking back…

Did I really subsist on coke and cake?! I recall those iconic vintage tinted green curvy coke bottles that were sold all over the region out of red plastic crates. Back home it was all (now also classic) red and white cans.

Our food for the most part was dry in order to save weight. I have barely eaten ryvita since 1984 but it served the purpose at the time. Evening meals were mostly dry trekking packs which we poured into an aluminium pan and rehydrated with water before boiling over the meths fuelled trangia stove.

Some of the recipes sounded quite exotic and I remember thinking they tasted good although back then I also thought biscuits and coke tasted good. What an evening meal – carbs, carbs and more carbs! We were burning them off for sure.

It’s likely I was taking photos of churches in aid of one of our EB projects. In a sense that’s a shame because with a maximum of 36 photos to play with over my 3 weeks in France (!) it would have been better to capture more images of Andy, myself and the dramatic landscape. Anyway, here it is…

Photo 1 - Eglise St Roch
Photo 1 – Eglise St Roch
Rediscovering this photo on street-view was simple enough…
Modern re-creation in street view

It really was extremely hot and we were paying insufficient respect to the advice not to walk during the hottest part of the day. Was it any wonder we were both suffering with blisters? A 23km walk in relatively new walking boots, mostly along firm roads, carrying over-packed rucksacks was always likely to spell trouble in such circumstances.

Dieulefit was a dreamily pretty little town – the kind of place you might consider if looking to move and live in France. It is easy to bemoan a lack of photos or description in my accounts but we didn’t have that much time to explore each day, what with the walking, finding somewhere to camp, pitching up, cooking and washing up.

Ramshackle charm of Dieulefit

The tennis courts adjoined our campsite and it was fun watching club players compete to an entertaining standard. We saw lots of tennis courts during our hike. At least anything seems like lots when you almost never see one in Britain. Also there were numerous table tennis tables in people’s front yards.

Since I went to bed at 10:30 how did I know they were playing boules at 2am? Perhaps they were playing in the campsite and I visited the bathroom in the night? There are some mysteries that can’t be unravelled.

Map
In the absence of our original maps I have deduced the following route…

Distance walked: 14.1 miles (22.5 km)

 Key:
Start Saou
Via Bourdeaux
End Dieulefit
Photo 1 Street view of Photo 1 – Eglise St Roch
Tennis club Tennis Club du Jabron
Overnight Camping at Le Domaine des Grand Pres

Explorer Belt Day 4 – Beaufort to Saou

Photo 2 - Eglise Square

 

In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
My diary entry

Thursday 16th August 1984

Got up at 7am. Washed feet in river. Ate ryvita with paste and drank orange juice. Hung out tent to dry on some football posts. Said goodbye to our hosts and when all was packed we left and walked to Aoust at a steady pace. Get there at approximately 11:10. Sat in café writing log. Played on a pool table.

Continued our walk through scorching heat and a large valley to a campsite near Saou. Camped in windy area. Good facilities (toilets and showers). Had very good food. Savoury risotto, liquid mousse and tea. Wrote log. Took things easy. Got to bed at 10:11.

On this day:

  • Car designer John De Lorean is acquitted of drug related charges
  • NASA launches Ampte space probe
  • Top Of The Pops is presented by Steve Wright and features Tears For Fears & Howard Jones

Looking back…

My diary says that we washed in the river – it would have been mountain fresh not to mention mountain cold. Brrr! As for drying the tent that was the dew that greeted us each morning. The rising sun soon dried things out.

After yesterday’s blister enforced break it was good to be back on the road again. Our early start meant that we could cover a fair distance before the searing heat made the business of hiking uncomfortable from late morning to mid afternoon. This stretch was a pleasure as we followed the scenic valley south through farming and orchard land. If I ever go back I want to try the wine!

The attractive valley road from Beaufort to Aoust

All of these years later I would like to belatedly apologise to the residents of Aoust for the despicable crime that I committed while caught short. With nowhere to go I utilised a dilapidated hut by the side of the road. Only upon exiting this disused shack did I notice the bus timetable on the wall… Merde!

Looking at google maps the route from Aouste to Saou followed a rocky mountain ridge that must have been spectacular, especially during the descent into the valley east of Aoust. It is typical that I would fail to mention this while proclaiming the food. Perhaps that is the French way.

Approaches to Saou…

Photo 1 - Saou mountain outcrop
Photo 1 – Saou mountain outcrop
The same view today on google street view
Modern re-creation in street view

It seems that much of our walking was along roads. This would have put more stress upon us than path walking but is unsurprising given that the mountainous terrain would be unlikely to offer many choices of passage.

My photo of the church square in Saou clearly illustrates the mountainous setting. This is one of many stop-offs that I would love to visit again.

Photo 2 - Eglise Square
Photo 2 – Eglise Square
They have cleared the ivy but nothing else has changed
Modern re-creation in street view

Where did we camp in Saou? It’s not clear but there are a couple of nearby camp sites and one thing’s for sure – the views would have been incredible. Here’s the vista from Camping La Graville near to Saou…

The great outdoors!

I’m glad I have photos to refer to because my nonchalant diary entry might as well have me tramping through Milton Keynes.

Map
In the absence of our original maps I have deduced the following route…

Distance walked: 15.0 miles (24.0 km)

 Key:
Start Beaufort sur-Gervanne
Via Aoust-sur-Sye
End Saou
Photo 1 Street view of Photo 1 – Saou mountain outcrop
Photo 2 Street view of Photo 2 – Eglise Square

Explorer Belt Day 3 – Beaufort

Photo 1 - Our guests yard

 

In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
My diary entry

Wednesday 15th August 1984

Got up late at 9:30. Washed feet in brook. Wore sandals for first time in France. We left rucksacks at house and took ant filled tent down (we found loads of ants crawling around tent). Killed scores of ants. Family went out for the day so we sat down and wrote log, drew maps, drank and shoed flies away.

This continued until 2:30 when pangs of hunger drove us to Beaufort where we found only the restaurant (too expensive) and newsagent open. We saw many people playing boules and took photo before very hot sun (approx 80 degrees fahrenheit) drove us back to the shade of the newsagents. We bought 1 pack of biscuits, 3 postcards and 2 stamps.

Went back to house where we wrote 2 postcards. Walked back and posted them in Beaufort and we also filled up water bottles and larger water container. Returned and attempted to make goulash. Andy spilled half a pint of it on the stone floor, but no loss because it was horrible anyway and the dog ate it. Frantically cleared up mess and then attempted mash which was OK except that there was too much.

Washed the mash container out in the river and surplus mash flew all over the place. Trees were white with mash. The stream bed had mash on it. I discarded the rest under a large stone whose inhabitant (a spider) was most surprised, distressed and soon drowned in mash. After washing up we made rice pudding which was actually edible and NICE! The meal ended well with delicious orange juice.

We left the rucksacks and wreckage from dinner but took just the tent to the most antless part of the field we could find. It pitched easily and for once correctly. I sellotaped every visible entrance which might allow an ant to enter and this done we settled down for the night. Will now sleep as soon as I’ve sellotaped up the door for the tent. Got to bed at 9:22

On this day:

  • Ray Parker Jr in US charts with Ghostbusters
  • IBM releases the PC-AT – (286 processor, 20MB hard drive & 256k of RAM – feel the power!)
  • Soviet Union opens its alternative games having boycotted the Olympics

Looking back…

With blistered feet in need of rest today became an unanticipated recovery day, which at least meant a lie-in. The ants really were a pest. I was rather freaked out when we first encountered them in the tent but with the modern Force 10 Mk IV having a sealed groundsheet there were only a limited number of entrances and these could be taped up.

All along our walk I was struck by the prevalence of boules (petanque as the people of the Rhone valley called it). Every village had a sandy boules area and older gents would spend hours playing or watching beneath the shade of trees. One sensed lifelong friendships were played out in these arenas at a suitably sedate pace. Here is that photo I took…

Photo 2 - Boules in the square
Photo 2 – Boules in the square
I’m pleased to see that little has changed in 30 years.
Modern re-creation in street view

The house and yard at Beaufort are burnt into my memory. I don’t recall the mash episode but I do remember feeling extremely awkward about spilling goulash in the yard and hoping our kindly hosts would not be offended. In retrospect they would probably have been more offended by the fact we were eating shoddily cooked goulash, mash and rice pudding.

My diary reveals that I was instead preoccupied with food – something true to this day. We spilled the goulash in this yard…

Photo 1 - Our hosts yard
Photo 1 – Our hosts yard
I have been trying to work out exactly where we stayed using google maps based on the photo of the house. We were obviously staying at a property with land adjoining the river Gervanne so I think I can narrow it down to one of 2 properties. I have a hunch that it is this one – it assumes a degree of modernisation…
Modern re-creation in street view

We grabbed an early night and hoped the walk could continue in the morning without the hinderance of blisters.

Map
No walk today but a few locations are referenced

 Key:
Photo 1 Street View of Photo 1 – Hosts yard
Photo 2 Street View of Photo 2 – Boules in the square
Overnight Suspected camping location

Explorer Belt Day 2 – Marignac to Beaufort

Photo 1 - View from Col de Marignac
In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
My diary entry

Tuesday 14th August 1984

What a day! Got up at 7:45am, had ryvita, coffee and packed everything by 9:40. Filled water bottles and left. Kept up a good pace and reached St Julien after walking through much picturesque countryside. Stopped there 11:55 to 12:20 and had expensive cake. Walked in hot sun to a footpath that was hard to find. Eventually joined up with road again and walked for many many miles through very hot open landscape on long twisting roads until we got to l’Escoulin. After a short rest we pushed on at record pace to Beaufort. Had lemonade there. Took photo of restaurant and we bought orange juice and water.

Very nice family let us camp in their field. The aided Andy’s sore feet and let us cook on their land. Were very friendly and kind. Four adults and 2 girls (12 and 16) a boy and a girl (about 4 and 5 respectively). Andy’s foot is bad so we are spending tomorrow here as well. Got to bed at 10:42 after girls helped us to put tent up.

On this day:

  • IBM releases PC DOS v3.0
  • Indian cricket team complete 5-0 test whitewash against England

…well, some things don’t change.

Looking back…

A regular feature of our walk was to be filling our water bottles from fountains in villages and towns on the way. The mountain spring water was refreshingly cool and arguably superior to anything you could buy.

The views were getting better and better. Back then I was an idiot in charge of a camera but for once I pointed it at worthy subject matter, even if the composure was poor.

Photo 1 - View from Col de Marignac
Photo 1 – View from Col de Marignac
And that same view today…
Modern re-creation in street view

On reflection this was our first “proper” day of walking, fully laden in the heat over 16 miles. Andy’s feet were in a bad way with some serious blisters. Mine were faring a little better and I had to use one or two plasters to reduce friction.

We were taken in by such a friendly family. They provided medication for Andy’s feet and may even have persuaded us to take a day off for recovery. Neither of us wanted to fail any aspect of our walk but blisters can stop the most accomplished walker dead in their tracks.

Our boots were traditional leather beasts – hot and heavy compared to modern lightweight breathable ones. Were they properly worn in? Also consider that we were walking mostly on surfaced roads and that’s always harder on the body than walking off-road.

Here is the photo of that restaurant as mentioned in my diary…

Photo 2 - Beaufort Cafe
Photo 2 – Beaufort Cafe
The scene hasn’t changed much and what I described as a restaurant is now a bar.
Modern re-creation in street view

It says a lot about the mindset of a 15 year old that I hardly ever commented on the dramatic scenery and when I did the adjective “picturesque” was hardly a worthy metaphor for this stretch of the Massif Central.

The sort of scenery I was describing as picturesque (© Ton Peters)

Also my obsession with timings is increasingly evident. I knew I always used to note the time I went to bed each night but my diaries reveal an even more obsessive streak with time keeping throughout the day. Around this age I was a night owl, often awake until 1 or 2 in the morning so in this context getting to bed before 11pm suggests we were feeling the strain.

Map
In the absence of our original maps I have deduced the following route…

Distance walked: 16.6 miles (26.5 km)

 Key:
Start Marignac en-Diois
Via Saint-Julien-en-Quint
Via L’Escoulin
End Beaufort sur-Gervanne
Photo 1 Street view of Photo 1 at Col de Marignac
Photo 2 Street view of Photo 2 of Beaufort Cafe
Overnight Suspected camping location