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cinq: Where Eagles Dare

FOR some reason none of us felt terribly well on Tuesday morning. I ascribed this fully to the unexpectedly rich food, and sagely took a Beecham's Resolve. Not long after that I felt fine again, thus vindicating my diagnosis. The fact that Beecham's Resolve is also a chaplain-strength hangover cure was of course irrelevant.
We tossed around the idea of finding somewhere warmer nearby and prolonging our sojourn in the Massif Central -- but I think we only really did so for form's sake, and no-one was really in any doubt that we were going to flee that cold, damp, inhospitable place and head straight for Madame Moulinier's.
Even more eagles than the previous day seemed to be about, some even swooping low over the cars -- no doubt to show off that, with wings outstretched, they were wider.
We stopped at Brive-la-Gaillarde to pick up some food at the Continent supermarket there. Huge, bright, and full of both French food and beautiful shop-assistants. These, intoxicatingly, got around the vast space on inline skates, giving it the aura of a futuristic as well as a culinary utopia.
At the cheese counter (which, in my memory at least, was about forty yards long) Ian and I noticed some Mimolette Extra Vieille, the dark orange cheese I'd noticed in Montoire market. We ordered some, and to our delight the beautiful shop-assistant had to cut into a fresh cheese: a decidedly difficult operation on cheese matured for eighteen months, and we wondered how she would do it. The answer turned out to be a small guillotine object with a very long metal lever, which she had to hang herself right over off the ground before the blade would enter the dense, head-sized ball.
We drove on and saw, eventually, a sign declaring
Vézère Valley
Porte au Périgord
all of which was so welcome that we felt compelled to stop and have lunch by the river before moving on.
We were almost there when I suddenly gasped. "What's wrong?" said Ian, thinking I'd remembered or noticed something terrible.
I'd noticed something -- and remembered it -- but it wasn't terrible. It was The Bridge At Tursac.
The Bridge At Tursac. Click on it for a bigger JPEG (47K), and, modem boys, think yourself very lucky I didn't inline the big one, as I'm sorely tempted so to do.

The Bridge was a sight very familiar to me, though I'd never, before that day, been within hundreds of miles of it. Stu's favourite watercolour he's ever done is of The Bridge (badger him to put it on his web site, you won't be disappointed), and I think several of his favourite photos are too. There's a Bridge At Tursac in his front room, and another as desktop wallpaper on his computer at work.
It is, let's face it, quite a good bridge. It had, before I'd even been there, become iconic to me of France -- and once I had been there, had seen where it stands almost right outside Madame Moulinier's farm, it took on the whole intertextual archetype of the bridge, the causeway one Must Cross in order to Get Somewhere.
Looking along The Bridge towards Madame Moulinier's (which you can't actually see over on the right, because of the trees)

We crossed it. We Got Somewhere.
We got, to attempt for a moment to remain prosaic, to Lespinasse, a hamlet of about four or five farms. We got to a little farm, with a tiny farmyard and old, old, farmhouse. We got to a stone-walled, rafter-ceilinged room, with a Stu watercolour on the wall and the sort of furniture which reminded me that some do not have to strive to achieve the antique farm kitchen look. Not ten thousand pounds spent in Habitat could have made that room, though every penny spent there is an attempt to.
We got to meet Madame Moulinier, an absolutely typical French grandmother. (Not that I've met any large proportion of the French grandmother population, but something about her told me so anyway.)
We chatted for a bit, she to my surprise speaking French that even I could understand, and then she showed us where we would be camping.
Clearly rather special guests, we were shown right past the clipped, square, cupressocyparis-hedged emplacements where the large Dutch families with camper-vans sprawled, into a place which was, put simply, not a campsite, it was a field.
And it was spectacular.
A big (81K) JPEG of the leftmost image is also available. [Three-shot panorama hand-stitched in Paint and The Complete Animator.]
Shaded, though not very thoroughly, by walnut trees, the field looked down across the next farm's fields to the tree-delineated path of the river Vézère itself, and its craggy river-cliffs. The panorama above is the view I had out of my tent each morning.
In no time at all we'd spread ourselves over quite a lot of the field, but Madame Moulinier had said we had it all to ourselves -- until Saturday, when Alphonse, who had booked the prime space under the grand arbre, would arrive.
Exhausted by delight, we ate omelettes that evening, and sat back with our ten-litre box of quaffing Coteaux Vendomois and watched the stars come out.
Q. How much further south is Lespinasse than Cambridge?
A. About 10°, enough to make Polaris look too low, and for there to be new constellations in the southern sky.
As Lespinasse was hidden from view by the trees and the lie of the land, and the only other town nearby was the sprawling metropolis of Tursac (pop. 300) on the other side of a big hill, the darkness was soon more total than any ever seen in Cambridge (including from the grounds of the Institute of Astronomy, but not perhaps from a punt halfway to Grantchester).
A thousand stars were soon our companions. We spent a long time identifying Jupiter, Arcturus and some others, and none doubted that we'd got them all wrong.
"July," said someone. "Meteors." But although the others saw a few little ones, I, as ever, missed them all.
 Camping à la ferme Moulinier
quatre:The Rock
cinq:Where Eagles Dare
(K) All Rites Reversed -- Copy What You Like