Our first 2023 outing in Precious the campervan took us to Haute-Loire, once we’d dropped Rors off for his afternoon train back to university.

It didn’t get off to the greatest start. We’d planned to park overnight in the area set aside for campervans at the Aire des Vulcans services. However, this parking area was closed off! Evidently the manager of the services considers that campervans migrate south for the winter with the swallows and thus don’t need to park overnight near Clermont Ferrand in the winter months. Very frustrating, as it was a very picturesque spot. Fortunately, Chris had a back-up parking place lined up for us. This was next to the church in Saint-Bonnet-près-Riom. There were meant to be spaces for four campervans but those were all taken up by locals’ cars. We had to park over the grey water disposal drain, which at least was defined by white lines and so had put car drivers off from squatting in it. The church bell rang every half hour, very loudly, all through the night, so it wasn’t a particularly peaceful night but we got some rest in between the chimes.

The next day brought us to Rosières and the magnificent ravin du Corboeuf, which is a fragile canyon of multi-coloured clay. Its nickname is ‘French Colorado’. We enjoyed a super walk along the Sentier de la Galoche, an old railway line, and finished with lovely views of the ravin.

After dinner we drove to La Chapelle. Another planned parking place was filled with cars but we found a gap big enough for Precious next to the municipal dustbins! We followed a trail of caches to a disused lead mine, where we prospected for galena. We found some lovely examples, and some other minerals which glowed very red under UV light. (Santa brought Chris a UV torch for Christmas.) There was some old machinery lying around the place too.

In the evening we headed up to very nearby Grazac, where we spent that night, the whole of the next day and a second night. It was a picturesque spot with three horses across the road from us. We spent Thursday geocaching. The highlight was crossing the Passerelle Himalayenne which spans the Gorges du Lignon. This is the longest footbridge in France, and only opened in April of 2022. It stretches 268 metres, and has up to 78 metres of nothingness beneath it!

Now we know from experience that Tobi isn’t one for bridges whose sides or bottom she can see through. Benj once had to carry her quite a long way across a walkway over a barrage constructed from metal grilles, and Chris and I have had to drag her upside-down out of a car’s way when she got the heeby-jeebies on another wire-sided bridge. We were thus quite prepared to have to end our morning’s walk at this point, with a quick sortie in turns across the bridge at least a little way, leaving Tobi safely on solid ground with company. However, she was a complete trooper and, although not entirely happy, crossed the bridge with us. We were thus able to walk on for a kilometre or so the other side before returning across the passerelle back to the van.

We went for a second geocaching session in the afternoon, back down near La Chapelle to which we walked, and we clocked around 25,000 steps for the day.

Our last port of call was Bellegarde en Forez on the way home, where we followed a nice geocache trail with some fun caches. The terrain was rather demanding, ie upwards and steep, and progress was slow, so disappointingly we had to cut the trail short to get back to the van for the afternoon’s drive home. But it was a very pleasant little escape, and we’re looking forward to the next one already!