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