Dovedale? Yes, it’s in the Peak District, a glorious area of England, part of its Pennine spine. There are old stone-built towns and villages with long histories of hard work in mining, textiles and farming. There are limestone and millstone grit uplands and escarpments, with distant forest and moorland views, and valleys and gorges cut deep into the limestone. There are ancient stone circles and enchanting landscapes. Forget modern life, put on your walking boots and explore.
We had four wonderful days, which for once, we didn’t have to organise. Here’s why.
Autumn was begining to show its colours, but summer temperatures remained. We walked. I didn’t have a camera (Barcelona…..). I had a new mobile phone though. It isn’t the same, but I played with some of its gizmos. Here are my postcards from Dovedale.
Thorpe Cloud. It’s a tough triangular hill, formed of marine skeletons which haven’t easily eroded.
The Nine Ladies, a Bronze Age standing circle.
This fly agaric was an early victim of special effects on my phone.
Views from the heather moorland near the Nine Ladies. We’re by a Bronze Age cairn
Special FX again….
These drystone wall edged fields are reminiscent of the Yorkshire Dales.
The stepping stones across the river in Dovedale…..
… the needle-like crags…..
… the caves…
..the autumn colours near the riverside.
Autumn colour again
And a deliberately impressionistic take on the trees reflected in the water.
We both had an affair on holiday. It was a delight while it lasted, and when it ended, as it had to, there were no hard feelings. We’d like to do it again.
We both fell in love with the Corrèze in the Limousin. As far as the eye could see there were majestic rolling hills: forested, green, largely uninhabited other than by the occasional herd of Limousin cattle. Settlements were well-ordered and charming towns and villages, often demonstrating a history dating back to the Middle Ages and beyond. Of course we were smitten.
Then we continued on to our old stamping ground in the Ariège. Not all of this département is actually in the Pyrenees, but the mountains are always visible. And as soon as we saw them again, we knew our affair was over.
The Pyrenees tug at our hearts like no other landscape. The gentle foothills are given added character by the backdrop of the mountains. We used to watch for the first flurries of snow on the peaks, maybe in September, while we were still in t-shirts.
Anyone living in the Ariège could name the peaks, count them as their friends – Le pic de Saint-Barthélemy, le Pic des Trois Seigneurs, Montségur. Locals would tell you, every spring, exactly how little snow should remain on the high slopes before you could plant your spuds and beans. They would be the ones to relish the mountains in every way. They’d grab their snowshoes as the snow deepened to enjoy a silent walk in the crisp, cold empty landscape.
They’d know where to look for alpine strawberries in summer, and have secret places that they wouldn’t tell their closest friends about where they’d gather mushrooms in autumn.
They loved the rugged beauty of the mountains as we did, from the majesty of the snow-covered peaks, to the riot of wild daffodils, then gentians in spring, to the muted soft green palette of the hillsides at dusk on a summer’s evening, to the rich russets and golds of the autumn woodland.
Springtime wild daffodils in the Dolomies.
Gentians at Roquefixade.
I can’t visit the mountains though without being aware they demand our respect. They’re mighty, rugged and visually stunning. As we gaze at lines of rock, crumpled in geological eras long past, as we look at tumbled boulders lining the valley floor, or delicate but dangerous sheets of scree, they remind us that, compared with them, we are here on earth for a very short space of time. They have witnessed civilisations and religions rise and fall, harboured refugees from war and conflict, provided impenetrable barriers to would-be conquerors and generally put us in our place. It’s this combination of love and respect for them that draws me and moors me to them. Mere hills and plains simply can’t compete.
We stopped off in Berga on our way to Barcelona. It’s a mediaeval city with a strong history of republicanism. In May 2012 for instance, the town council declared King Juan Carlos to be ‘persona non grata‘. Nobody’s likely though, to be keen on a king who goes elephant hunting in Africa as his country plunges ever deeper into recession.
Now its cause of choice is Catalan independence. I’m not going into the arguments here. Though sauntering along various Ramblas on a September evening as friends and families pop into a bar for a drink, or to a restaurant for dinner, it’s hard to accept their definition of themselves as an oppressed people; or to take entirely seriously their view that they and, for instance, the Kurds, are all in it together.
Mooch up and down the narrow alleys of Berga with us and look at the posters, the slogans, the street art which are such a feature of this town. A young man stopped me as I was snapping away. ‘We don’t all think that way here’ he said. But he admitted that he was in a minority .
A Catalan MP suspended and imprisoned for his part in the illegal independence referendum of October 2017.
Feminism and socialism are frequent bedfellows with the Independence movement.
I haven’t written an update for a while, and to be honest, I’ve been enjoying getting back to normality (and trying to learn how to parent teenagers), with limited success. I think that writing Fanny through my grief and treatment was my way of releasing stress when I had nobody else to tell. Now, I do have someone to tell, who loves me deeply, but with that happiness and contentment has come a bit of Writers’ Block. Our stories don’t end as long as we’re alive, but perhaps I wanted Fanny to have her happy ending, and I wasn’t sure if there really was any such thing.
In fact, I suppose I thought a new beginning had come instead – in July last year, when my husband’s ashes were interred in the graveyard of the church where he and I had married 15 years before, almost to the day. I’d…
We’ve just landed home from our epic car journey through France and Spain. 2,715 miles on the clock. The worst of those miles were those completed here in the UK.
I’m not being entirely fair. We had more than a few traffic-jam moments in Barcelona and Toulouse, but we’ve also enjoyed miles and miles of empty motorways and other roads, particularly in France, where driving was nothing but relaxing.
What really makes a difference though, are the motorway service areas. I’ve written before about France’s quiet uncommercial aires, which complement the ones with restaurants, shops and all the trimmings. Even these can be havens of peace though. Look at the Aire de la Porte de Corrèze. Yes, it’s got all the usual facilities. But it’s got space and peace too: a country path, a woodland walk, and a quiet pond.
Now look at the ‘Extra’ service area on the A1 M near Peterborough. Outside space is strictly for parking in. Land is scarce and ruinously expensive in the UK of course. But if only we could have stretched our legs and breathed a little fresh air as we took a break in our journey north. It would have made so much difference.
Our third address in France was within a couple of miles of a splendidly ruined castle, Lagarde, commanding wonderful view of the Pyrenees. And on Saturday, there was an event which commanded our attention from 10 o’clock in the morning, till 10 o’clock at night when it closed (we did pop home several times, but always came back for more). I took masses of photos so I could share the day, but readers of my last post know why I no longer have the camera. These shots are courtesy of my phone.
It was an inspirational day. Dozens of enthusiasts from all over southern France came to share their knowledge. All were dressed authentically: linen was the material of choice – no cotton or polyester need apply. They brought history to life, demonstrating the labour-intensive nature of making chain mail armour, for instance. A chain mail tunic represented 400 hours of work, and cost as much as a farm. Attack someone dressed in one and you wouldn’t kill him. Far better to demand a ransom from the family of such a rich man.
We met a pilgrim on his way to Compostela, a shell at his belt.
We watched fighting spinning and weaving, musicians and dancing. There were thrilling demonstrations of horsemanship.
As night fell, the medieval world fell away. Jugglers and acrobats quite literally played with fire, and the event concluded with the most exciting and memorable firework display we have ever seen. I got some rather good pictures. Nobody will ever see them. Grrr.
It brought the Château de Lagarde to life. We had an inspirational glance of the life of a bygone age.