A peaceful night in Brioude but we decided against staying longer. We sat up late last night reviewing our progress so far and thinking about how the next few weeks will go. We are going to press on with the plan but perhaps have a few days break on the campsite in Avignon. We have been travelling for eight days now and it will be at least two more nights before we get to Avignon.

We enjoy reading a motorhome blog from two Scottish ladies (http://lovemotorhoming.com/) and were very interested to hear that we are following in their path but a couple of days behind them. In their blog post from 3rd November they mentioned an aire at Pradelles that is run by a charcuterie shop. You can stay for free and hook up to power for just 2 euros which is a bargain. Bertie’s batteries have done well but since the weather has been so poor the solar panel has not contributed very much and we have only driven for a few hours per day and there has been concern that we are using more power from the batteries than is being replaced. Bertie has two 110 amp hour leisure batteries and they do take quite a lot of charging. The early nights (sunset about 5:30pm) means we are relying on our lights for 4 or 5 hours every night. Anyway cheap hookup will give the batteries a good boost and this place is less than a mile off our planned route and it might be nice to see what the shop has to offer as well!

The slight downside is that we are parked at 4,000ft (1200m) just over the top of the main pass between Le Puy-en-Velay and Montelimar. It may be quite chilly tonight although with this cloud cover probably not a frost. This pass marks the change from the Loire basin and the Rhone basin. From here on any rivers we see will be draining into the Mediterranean and so we are truly in the south!

Mountain scenery between Brioude and Le Puy. Note the sculpted sky line in the distance.

Soon after we left Brioude the road started to climb. Not steeply but steadily and it did not stop climbing. We drove quite a few miles on a reasonably straight road with occasional light bends but the gradient was unrelenting. Too much for fifth gear – it was moderate revs in fourth gear at 70kph all the way. At the top a sign gave the height as 1116m (approx 3,500ft) which is far higher than any road in the UK. Then we swooped down the other side but still in fourth gear and 70kph since I do not like to have to rely on brakes to keep Bertie to a reasonable speed descending long hills. Our main place of interest to day is Le Puy-en-Velay (aka Le Puy) which is an old city in the heart of the Massif Central in a deep valley but with several steep pinancles of rock jutting from the valley floor. These are old volcanic plugs – the central pipes of ancient volcanos when all the surrounding softer rock that has eroded to leave just the hard core of solidified magma. Naturally all these high points have been crowned with items of religious significance.

Le Puy-en-Velay

Sadly the weather was not wonderful – no sunshine and occasional light rain. It does not make for good photography but I have done my meagre best. We parked in the main square in Le Puy and I braved the drizzle to feed the meter – 50cents for 2 hours  which I charged to my card. I was very keen to at least have a wander round as I have never stopped here before and have only driven through once. That last was in the early hours of the morning in a coach going to Cape d’Agde  when the French farmers were blockading the motoroways and I had to get 40 children to their holiday resort on the mediterranean coast without using motorways –  but that is another story!

View up to the cathedral – yes we walked all the way up there and it was very much UP

We could just glimpse the cathedral on the lowest of the three main hills and I decided to give it a try. The streets got smaller and steeper the closer we got. The last stretch of road before the steps was very steep indeed and and had been cobbled with volcanic rock like pumice with a really rough surface presumably for extra grip. It was quite a climb and then the steps began and there were quite a few of them. Over the years the cathedral was extended and extended beyond the limits of the rock platform itself and they had to built up the foundations of the extension that the steps up to the cathedral were directly underneath the nave. The cathedral was interesting but dark and very heavy in design. Laon was much nicer!

The view back from the steps under the cathedral

On our return we stopped halfway down the hill at a little boulangerie we had noted on the way up. We needed bread and we fancied cake so we bought both. The bread was a special seedy loaf and the cakes looked terrific. I chose a raspberry cream slice and Eileen chose a mille fueille.

We got back to Bertie just as the rain started again. At least we had had a little look at Le Puy and enjoyed the tiny streets and back alleys on our way to the cathedral. Perhaps another time we can give it longer and do the place justice.

It was quite a climb out of Le Puy and once we got up out of the valley the road went on climbing. We really felt we were among mountains now. Whilst the trees were barely turning colour back in the Allier valley yesterday up here autumn is fully underway and in fact most trees are now pine trees rather than deciduous.

Our hosts tonight

Just after the sign for the top of the pass we saw the sign for the Salaison Charcuterie – our hosts for tonight- and we turned off to Pradelles. Some confusion on arrival as this place is so successful that the old aire on the other side of the road has been augmented by the new aire behind the processing plant and shop. We tried the old aire first and then decided that we should check out the new one in case it was nicer – it wasn’t but I could not be bothered to move again!

At the shop we were issued with a key for one of the many power point boxes on payment of the 2 euro fee. In a commercial aire with hook up they usually charge 2 0r even 3 euros for as little as 30 minutes power! We had a good browse around in the shop and bought a kilo of puy lentils, a box of honey bread (really a kind of spicecake made with honey) and a whole local white cheese made with raw cows milk.

I had meant to cook lunch but we could not wait to try our new seedy bread (from Le Puy), the cheese and the of course the cakes too. The bread was so good we ate the whole loaf between us with quite a bit of the cheese.

Tomorrow we will service Bertie for free and then drop down in to what we hope will be much warmer regions. Maybe the rain will stop….

A High Point