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What a difference a day makes...

Not a bad day for the first day of summer...

Roche d'Oestre: image by Steve Mansfield-Devine

Well, what a glorious day the first day of summer-time turned out to be. We overslept, of course, as even with all the clocks changed, it just wasn't light enough for our body clocks to wake us up, so instead of getting up for my usual Sunday morning swim, we had a very nice lie-in and a leisurely breakfast. 

We'd also decided it would be our first hike of the season, so we decided to go to the Roche d'Oetre, a craggy outcrop in the Suisse Normande, have lunch and then do a short trail. 

The dog duly fastened into his harness, the backpacks stuffed with Lion bars and orange juice, we set off around 11.00 for the one-hour trip, knowing that we'd arrive just in time for lunch. 

Only problem was, nothing was open. The thermometer might say 27 degrees in the sun, and there might be daffodils and primroses everywhere, but it was still March and the visitors centre was on its winter schedule, so no loos, no drinks and no snacks. At the restaurant, meanwhile, we got the Gallic shrug: no, they weren't serving outside, no they couldn't say when in the year they would start, no we couldn't come in as they were fully booked, yes we should have called in advance. In other words, fichez le camp as the French say when they mean bugger off. 

Much disgruntled, as we were quite ravenous, we set off for a local auberge we'd seen advertised, but although we drove through the town where it was meant to be, we couldn't find it. 

The DH being pretty crochety by this time, and myself fearing one of his food-deprived migraines coming on, I was very glad when we saw an 'Open' sign outside a local restaurant. It was right on the roadside but there was no traffic about, so we quickly parked up and I went inside. 

"Can we get something to eat?" I said. 

"No, we don't open on Sundays," said the thin young barkeep. 

"Can we get anything to drink, then?"

Yes, they were open for drinks so I got us a couple of beers, then returned inside. "I was really hoping for something to eat," I said, "We're ravenous. Is there anywhere else open?"

"Well there's the epicerie next door," he said. "You could buy something there and eat outside here - that would be OK."

"Oh, is it open?"


I popped out and gave the DH the news, grabbed 10 euros and went into the epicerie. The thin young man walked through from the auberge. "Yes?" he said. 

Perfect. Another classic French experience. 

I bought Boursin, a baguette (from a paper sack resting on the floor), garlic sausage, crisps and Milka chocolate, which did us a pretty good feast. In the car we had paper plates and napkins, and the barkeep gave us a couple of knives so we made a pretty good fist of it, seated by his planters with their single brave camellias. 

Once we'd had our fill we headed back to the Roche and set off on the shortest trail, the 2.5km Sentier des Gorges. This has a very steep descent of about 125m, so you need a hiking stick, and your knees really feel it, but it was bliss itself with the sun pouring unfiltered through the leafless trees, echoing with birdsong. The dog went completely bozo, although we didn't dare let him off lead just in case there were other ramblers about. But we turned out to be pretty much on our own. 

Down in the valley bottom, the meander chuckled away to itself and the ground was strewn with wood anenomes and wild narcissus dancing in the breeze. Zola went for a paddle, searching for ragondins (this, a dog who is terrified of the hosepipe), and we wandered along for half a mile or so before having a quick drink and readying for the ascent. 

This was something we'd managed to miss the last time we were here, and had ended up taking the 7km long way round by accident, so we were keen to find it this time. But it was a good job we saw people huffing and puffing as they came down it, because I would not have realised that this steep, rocky path was intended for human traffic at all. 

The first bit of the climb was purgatory and it was at this point that i realised quite how wrongly dressed I was. Anticipating a bit of light and level trailing, I'd made the mistake of wearing thick cotton jersey layers, which were now soaking wet and clinging to me unpleasantly. Even stripping down to my singlet didn't help much as we pounded on upwards with the sun beating down. 

Fortunately, the steepest bit of the climb gave way to a section that was more moderate, which enabled us to get our breath, but it's not a trail you want to stop on when you can see the top of the ridge still a long way above you, in case you can't get started again. Hiking sticks were needed once again on the top bit and I felt at every step that wintery, out-of-puff feeling of having not done enough physical exercise for a long time. Nevertheless, we had done the trail in 40 minutes instead of the hour recommended. 

We stumbled out into the sunlight and I collapsed onto the grass, cursing my teeny female body which despite all my dog-walking, yoga and swimming, still can't keep pace with my lazy-arsed couch potato husband when he does actually decide to move.

Nor, on the way home, could I get my temperature right at all - freezing in the air-conditioning as my sweat dried on me, I don't know why I didn't think to change into the microfleece I'd brought with me and carried in my pack along the whole hike. 

So, that is me taught. Never again will I go hiking without wearing wicking base layers. Sitting here in the garden, I'm trialling my 5 Seasons undies as wicking tees, and my mulberry silk thermal tops also seem to work pretty well. But I still see something like a Nike Dri-fit teeshirt in my future, with its mesh panels and wicking technology.

Once home, though, it was back to a more traditional form of air-conditioning. I peeled off my cold, damp layers and got into a kimono made of cotton ro - a thin Japanese leno weave with rows of tiny holes to allow the air to penetrate. And then we snored away in the garden for the rest of the afternoon. On the 25th of March? Unbelievable. 



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