Gateway To The Alps

Photo 2 - Grenoble across the river

 

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 23rd August 1984

Rained all day! Tent soaked. Had crisps and bread for breakfast. Packed all the stuff so that we could move to a bar and write up the project. Waved goodbye to the English family and Parisian girl with them. Walked to café in rain, found Shaun and James already there. We worked and I played pool with James. We both lost to a crap table.

Shaun found Pete Berwick and Rich Bussell and they came to the bar too. Still pouring down. I went to get bread, cheese and wine and the pigs finished it all off. Returned into the rain to get more bread. Walked around Crest and chatted while we waited for Pete to pick us up. When Pete arrived we chatted about our expeditions on the minibus. Returned and found wet empty tent to sleep in. Cleaned it out. Andy and I slept there and tried to keep dry. Got to bed at 12:00

On this day:

  • Birth of Glen Johnson – England footballer
  • TOTP presented by Mike Read & Tommy Vance featuring Spandau Ballet & Tracey Ullman

Looking back on our diet it’s a miracle we made it at all. When you are young you can fuel up on anything. When I see kids today loading on carbs and energy drinks I might not like it but I have to remember what I was like at that age.

We had been very lucky with the weather. Yes it had been too hot much of the time but by dodging rain during our walk we avoided having to carry heavy wet tent fabric around.

One of the spectacular roads to Grenoble

Crest was the pick-up point for several walking parties and we all had stories to tell. In the space of 10 days I had opened my mind to many new experiences, gained confidence and an increase sense of independence. Notably I had developed the ability to not be travel sick again on the hairpin roads back to base camp in Grenoble.

Grenoble

The return to base camp represented a change in pace. It was damp and largely deserted as most of the other chaps were away mountaineering or white water canoeing. I had reluctantly signed up for canoeing because another activity was expected of me. I wasn’t really confident on fast moving water as my experience was limited to gentle rivers and swimming pools.

We had some high calibre canoeists in the unit. They returned by minibus from an outing and three of the craft had suffered catastrophic damage to their fibreglass hulls. I listened to tales of battle amidst the powerful mountain falls and of the lethal rocks that had slain the vessels and some protective headgear. Afterwards I made my excuses and didn’t get into a canoe for the rest of the expedition! Did I even get in a canoe again?

The next 6 days were occupied playing football with French kids, throwing Frisbee (somebody’s plastic camping plate) with other guys from the unit, exploring Grenoble and generally pitching in around the camp. In short, having fun in the alpine sun.

Photo 1 - View over Grenoble from the Bastille
Photo 1 – View over Grenoble from the Bastille

There isn’t that much to recall of the campsite itself but Grenoble – gateway to the Alps – sticks in my mind for the mountains, river and most of all the first cable car I had seen in real life. As it happens the first alpine style cable car to operate in Britain opened at the Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath in 1984. After I left university I drove under it every day on the way to work for 2 years. I still haven’t been on it.

Photo 2 - Grenoble across the river
Photo 2 – Grenoble across the river
Cable car today in Grenoble…
Modern re-creation in street view

I only took one other photo in the city.

Photo 3 - Place St Andre
Photo 3 – Place St Andre
Pretty Place St Andre looking the same today
Modern re-creation in street view

On Thursday 30th August I left Grenoble with a sizeable contingent to spend a couple of nights in Paris after which we returned to derby via the overnight ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven ending three magical weeks of adventure.

 Key:
Photo 1 Photo 1 – View over Grenoble from the Bastille
Photo 2 Street view of Photo 2 – Grenoble across the river
Photo 3 Street view of Photo 2 – Place St Andre

Explorer Belt Day 10 – Livron to Crest

Photo 1 - Livron Park
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 22nd August 1984

Got up at 7am. Quickly packed stuff because bloke was mowing park. Got refund on bottles, bought and scoffed crisps and walked 6km to Allex. Rested there writing notes and drawing maps. Walked 10km to Crest.

Got information from police station and syndicat d’initiative. Camped, ate and met British family on holiday. Went for a 5km walk around Crest, met up with one of the Brits and his French friends and chatted at a bar. He is an ex-scout. I met the boules champion of France and then we moved onto another bar. Back at midnight.

On this day:
Another quiet news day. Here are some of the notable events of 1984…

  • Torvill & Dean win ice skating gold at the Winter Olympics
  • The Dr Who baton passes from Peter Davison to Colin Baker
  • TV debuts for Thomas the Tank Engine, The Bill and Crimewatch

Looking Back

In the morning I opened the tent door to find that a man on a large sit-on mower had covered the entire park in an ever decreasing circle almost up to our tent! I’m sure he would have stopped before mowing us down but to be sure we unpitched and moved aside so that he could complete his work. Lessons learned from camping in a public park…

Photo 1 - Livron Park
Photo 1 – Livron Park
I’m particularly pleased to have tracked down a relevant street view image, Clearly there wasn’t going to be a like for like image from the park but using satellite view I was able to look for a large building next to a grassy expanse and that’s how I located the building in the background of my selfie.
Modern re-creation in street view

This was our final day of walking. Lord knows how many packets of crisps I got through – they were superior to those at home.

It seems odd to walk into the police station at Crest and ask for information for our project but that’s what we did. People were just so accepting and helpful. We would have been urgently attempting to get the project work completed.

Crest is a reasonable sized town and the hilltop castle can be seen from miles around. The tower you can actually see is just the castle keep as the surrounding castle walls and buildings were destroyed on the orders of Louis XIII. Ownership passed into the hands of the town 4 years after our visit and the tower is now open to tourists.

Photo 2 - Tour de Crest
Photo 2 – Tour de Crest
This is what the same view looks like today
Modern re-creation in street view

As far as I can remember we didn’t touch a beer until this final night in Crest. I probably set out to explore on my own and just got chatting. When I was introduced to the French boules champion I was naturally sceptical but days later I saw a poster in Grenoble of a man holding boules that looked the guy so I guess it was true.

In retrospect this was the pinnacle of independence for me – a 15 year old in a bar in south France chatting to French people late into the evening. All because I went to explore the town. There’s much that has changed about me in the last 30 years but the seeds of exploration, the need to be curious, turn one more corner and ask one more question were evident way back then. The proper word is “nosy”.

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

Distance walked: 10.6 miles (17.0 km)

 Key:
Start Livron-sur-Drôme
Via Allex
End Crest
Photo 1 Street view of Photo 1 – Livron Park
Photo 2 Street view of Photo 2 – Tour de Crest