Chris and I have just been on our second mini camping trip in Precious, the campervan. This time Tobi the dog came along too.
We headed into neighbouring département Allier for two days, our first port of call being Bellerive-sur-Allier which is across the river from Vichy. The attraction here was the intermittent geyser, also known as the Source Pré-Salé (ready salted spring!). It was bored in 1844 by the Brosson brothers, Michel and François, who were in charge of the Compagnie Fermière de l’Etablissement Thermal à Vichy (CFV). They bored 110 metres down to an expanse of hot, sulphurous mineral water. Despite a permit being obtained to exploit the spring in 1876, it was largely ignored, other than attracting some tourist attention as a curiosity. At one time (late nineteenth century) there was a building around it and you had to pay 50 centimes to enter and, hopefully, see the geyser do its thing. At that period it shot up to 6 metres in height, but these days it’s around 50 cm. Not that we saw even that, unfortunately. We hung around for half an hour, but it’s next to a busy road, it was hot and sunny and Tobi is an impatient dog! The geyser’s displays are up to anything from 7 minutes to 3 hours apart. We’ll go back on a nice cold winter’s day without Tobi but with blankets, a flask and sandwiches and wait it out!
The plan had been to do some geocaching along the banks of the river in Bellerive but there were joggers, cyclists and walkers galore which would have made it very difficult to firkle around for caches without being reported to the flics for suspicious behaviour! So we went for Chris’s Plan B, which was geocaching in the glorious wilderness around the village of Ferrières-sur-Sichon. It was very wild wilderness in places. We had to fight our way up a steep and long-neglected, occasionally non-existent, track to reach this impressive but seemingly forgotten Calvary.
Tobi’s appearance is testimony to the state of the track, as are the various thorns and spikes I’m still digging out of my legs. Our geocaching then took us into the hills for a few strenuous but enjoyable hours.
Before we moved on from Ferrières-sur-Sichon, I inspected the village’s war memorial. We must never forget. There were twelve men with the surname Fridon memorialised on it, one of these a victim of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. I don’t think I’ve seen that war feature on a village memorial before. The village garage still bears the name Fridon, and another M. Fridon discovered some ancient clay artefacts on his farmland in 1924, which are now housed in the Musée de Glozel.
Our last port of call for the day was at Pion in the Bois Noir (black wood) and we parked up there for the night. We were enjoying a post-tea stroll through the forest when a mighty clap of thunder made us all jump out of our skins and sent us scurrying for home. We’d seen it turning grey, but the forecast had been adamant that it would be fine and dry. We more or less made it back to Precious before the heavens opened.
Bright and early next day, all sun and blue skies again, we set off up the Puy de Montoncel, which is the highest point in Allier at 1,287 meters. We encountered a camper up there in the process of packing up before striding off with his mattress under one arm, then a walker who wanted his photo taken, and he returned the favour.
We geocached in the area until lunchtime, discovering interesting rock formations and a peat bog in amongst the huge pine and deciduous forest.
A short drive along very windy roads followed by another steep uphill trek delivered us to our final destination: the Rez de Sol. This is the largest seam of quartz in the Massif Central. The ridge of it that dramatically soars up to a height of 943 metres (the surrounding land is at around 600 metres) is one kilometre long and about ten metres wide.
And then it was time to drive home. We’d taken the scenic route on the outward journey but we never want to see Gannat and its nightmare road system again, so opted for the speed and convenience of the motorway this time. There was the added bonus of stunning views of the Chaîne des Puys along the first part of the route too.
We’re having a recovery day today, having clocked up about 35km over the two days of our adventure, but are already planning the next overnighter in Precious.