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