This ‘hottest February ever’ weather continues, fortunately coinciding with the school winter holidays. Normally this two-week break in mid-to-late Feb, depending on which zone gets allocated which weeks, is cold, damp and dismal, with kids stuck indoors most of the time. Apart, of course, from that minority of children who are whisked off, whether they like it or not, to the mountains for a spot of skiing.

To explain about the zones: the country is divided into three, A, B and C, for school holiday purposes, but it’s only the winter holidays and the Easter holidays that vary in when they take place. The rest of the year all schools have holidays at the same time. The staggering of the winter holidays is so that the ski slopes don’t get too clogged – perish the thought! – and the Easter holidays are just a knock-on effect from that. The corollary of the latter is that quite often those holidays have either finished before Easter Day itself, or don’t start until after it’s over! Ruadhri’s zone, A (we used to be B until the Great and Largely Pointless Super-région Creation of 2016), will actually have Easter slap-bang in the middle of them for a change.

But back to these winter holidays. They’ve been glorious this year, far too hot to be sensible. The spring bulbs are poking their heads up much earlier than usual, and the birds are all singing fit to bust. I keep forgetting it’s still winter, as I think they do too. We’ve taken advantage of the sunshine and got outdoors as much as possible. We’ve already had an enjoyable walk at Lys St Georges and a bike ride to Aigurande, specifically for a bacon buttie at the English-run Annie’s Café there. Yesterday we headed down to the volcanoes of the Auvergne, a spot we love.

Photo: puydome view2

Rors had never been up the Puy de Dôme, so it was time to address that oversight. We last climbed it just over two years ago with Caiti, on another unseasonably hot day, Boxing Day 2016. Rors had stayed home with his big brother. He had no such option yesterday, and came along more or less willingly. We left as early was we could, farm chores allowing, and got to the car park at Col de Ceyssat at about quarter to eleven. It was fairly busy already, but not as bad as our previous visit when it had been bursting at the seams.

Talking of bursting, the downer of our visit was that there were no open toilets – not at the bottom of the Sentier de Muletiers, and not, to our great dismay, at the top at the summit of the Puy either. That seemed a bit much, considering it was the holidays, and the weather so conducive to a family day out. Given the steepness of the volcano sides, and the heavy pedestrian traffic, there were next to no places where one could sidle off out of view for an al fresco pee. There was a lot of hanging-on going on, and that does take the shine off the occasion.

Photo: puydome chrisrorstop

The cafés were all firmly shut too. We were gutted. The lure of a mountain-top coffee and ice-cream had given us energy when tackling particularly steep portions of the track, or we’d slipped on the ice underfoot. We had sandwiches and water with us, which we tucked into at one of the picnic tables on the summit, but the need for caffeine was strong. So we grumbled cheerfully about how incompetent ‘they’ were for not opening the facilities and missing out on a small fortune. The rack and pinion railway was delivering trainfuls of visitors regularly, and as I’ve mentioned, there was a steady stream of people arriving on foot up one of the various trails that climb the Puy. It was easy to recognise who had come up which way. The train passengers were wrapped up in thick coats, gloves, scarves, hats, warm trousers and fur boots. The walkers were stripped down to tee-shirts. It had been hot work ascending in the over-enthusiastic sunshine, even though there was that ice on the track in places and plenty of piles of snow in the shaded areas.

Photo: puydome chris & steph

The Puy de Dôme is the highest in the Chaîne des Puys of the Massif Central, on whose foothills we live. The Puy is a lava dome, and is a positive baby at only 10,700 years old. There are also cinder domes and maars (craters) in the volcanic chain. Half a million people visit the Puy every year, to enjoy the views of the surrounding area and admire the ruins of the Gallo-Roman temple to the god Mercury perched at the top next to the more modern TV aerial, and overlooking the locked-up visitor centres.

Photo: puydome rors top

We pottered around the top of the Puy for a while, before tackling the steep descent. It was a bit hairy in a couple of places but we all stayed upright. We wished we had our dog Tobi’s four legs and sharp claws. She accompanied us yesterday and had a grand day out, oblivious to the steepness and slipperiness of the terrain.

Photo: puydome view

We finally got coffee and access to toilet paper at some services on the way home. Just as we got out of a car, a woman in a vehicle near by set off her car alarm. It was one of those where the horn blares every couple of seconds. Tobi, severely rattled by the racket, began to howl! Great excitement all round.

Rors has come home with an assortment of small lumps of basalt, which we’ll pop in the stone tumbler and shine up. So once the aching muscles have eased, we’ll still have some souvenirs of an enjoyable day out.

Photo: puydome boyz