Our most recent mini-break in Precious, the camper van, had the theme of cliffs: cliffs at the seaside, cliffs that used to be at the seaside, riverside cliffs and cliffs along the edge of geological fault lines.

Our first stop was at Mérigny to visit the spot where the river Anglin resurges after disappearing underground some 2 kms away. The spot is known as Cul Froid = Cold Bottom! I forgot to fetch my camera so I only have mobile phone photo to share. I’m not sure if you can see it, but there’s a small, metal water-wheel in the foreground.

Very close by was our first cliff, the imposing Rocher de la Dube. It was formed by a normal fault.

We left Mérigny and drove to the seaside at Ensandes, just north of La Rochelle. At the very last moment we hit a detour which put twenty minutes on the journey, the last thing you want at the end of a tiring day. However, there was a pleasant parking area waiting for us, close to the sea but well about its level so we didn’t need to worry about high tides!

The cliffs extend a long way inland, as far as Villedoux from which the sea long since retreated. But, as Chris remarked, given climate change it could soon be returning.

Off we drove a little way south, round La Rochelle, to Aytré with its passive aggressive approach to tourism. It allowed you to come, under duress, but it didn’t want you to enjoy yourself whilst there. You couldn’t walk here, or take your dog there (even on a lead), you must absolutely never park a camper van here or look for fossils there, you mustn’t stand on a cliff, or under it, or next to it, or even look at it for too long. Whatever you wanted to do, it was forbidden. For whatever reason, though, it had no objections to kite-surfing, and devoted a huge chunk of beach to that, at pain of death for anyone else daring to venture there. All rather odd.

We nevertheless had a defiant walk on and under the cliffs at Pointe de Chay, formed out of broken up coral reefs. Here’s some fossil coral we spotted.

Pointe du chay coral

We weren’t sorry to leave the unfriendly vibe of the place and drive to the much more welcoming Puits d’enfer outside the village of Exireuil. Here there was parking galore for camper vans, with no bans on overnight stays.

The Puits d’enfer (the Devil’s wells) is a stunning spot. A 25km chunk of land between two parallel fault lines has slumped (a Graben), leaving ancient Cambrian rock strata exposed (up to 500 million years old). The Puits d’enfer stream now tumbles through. The valley sides are rugged cliffs, the trees are thick with moss and the many paths to follow are steep and winding. A bit too steep in places for Tobi. Her back legs weren’t up to the task. She was enjoying herself, but her wavering back end made her balance worryingly precarious in such precipitous surroundings. (We’ve since been to the vet and Tobi has had injections for the arthritis which is spreading down her back and weakening her back legs.)

We couldn’t resist following signs to ‘l’arbre remarquble’= the remarkable tree. This path was relatively smooth and much easier going. The remarkable tree is a 250-year-old oak, nicknamed ‘the tadpole’ because someone seemed to think it looked a bit like one. It is sort of knobbly I suppose!

Our last port of call for this outing was Noauillé-Maupertuis with its many vowels. We had more cliffs to see, riverside ones this time, and some serious geocaching to do. We hadn’t picked up many caches in the previous two days but we made up for lost time during a pleasant enough 10km walk through woods, in and out of a couple of dormitory villages (Poitiers is close by) and over lots of railway lines.

All in all, a very interesting and enjoyable trip despite the chilly, grey January weather.