The villages of the Ecrins National Park in France

06.06.2016 La Grave walk to L'Aiguillon (7)
Hameau de Valfroide near La Grave

In the mountainous Ecrins the houses in the villages huddle together for warmth and companionship around a winding road, joined by steep narrow cobbled lanes and steps.  The houses are built from rough stone with steep roofs and small windows.  Typically, the windows have shutters and the traditional stone houses have a sort of wooden balcony for storing logs.

Above the village of La Grave the villages cling to the hillside, looking as if they could slide down at any time.  Around the villages the pattern of the old farmed terraces can still be seen in the meadows.  Each village has a church in a similar style and there are also stone wayside shrines on the roads between the villages, you might also find the communal oven and you will always find a water tap of fresh mountain water.  As you climb higher the houses in these villages are less likely to be occupied all year round.  In Le Grave we stayed at the wonderful Camping de la Meije just a few minutes from the village.

In Vallouise and Venosc we admired the sundials, including the beautiful 19th century Zarbula sundial on a magnificent villa in Vallouise.  You can follow the Sundial trail through the region to find more.

We toured around the Ecrins National Park in an anti-clockwise direction over a couple of weeks and camped in five different valleys, each one having its own personality and each offering spectacular mountain walking.  We used the Cicerone guide to the area for walks which has ideas for each valley.

We enjoyed all the walking but there are a couple of favourites worth mentioning.  From Venosc we drove to the mountain village of La Berarde, walking 11 km to the Refuge du Chatelleret at 2,232 m and back with 520m of climbing.  The route starts steeply and becomes more gentle along the valley on a pleasant sandy path with juniper and birch trees and plenty of flowers.  Higher up the landscape become more rugged and with waterfalls and fewer shrubs adn the occasional snow field.

From Vallouise we drove to the large car park at Pre de Madame Carle and walked up the stunning and dramatic Glacier Noir path.  More details about our trip are in my MMM article here.

You might enjoy my second post about where to see marmots in the Ecrins.

Where we stayed:

Les Melezes Municipal Camping, La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar There was no one at reception & only one other camper  so we left money in an envelope.  This grassy site has some trees, the ground fairly hard, facilities clean & water hot.  Small village with some shops but no bakery.  Walks from the site.
Camping Vieille Ferme, Embrun Dutch-run site near to lovely town, trees marked grassy pitches and mostly open and sunny.  Clean facilities, water warm.
Camping La Meije, La Grave Near the beautiful village & by the river, grassy site with trees, clean facilities, flowers & well maintained & good views.  Roomy showers & very hot water, wash up undercover.  An excellent site.
Camping Indigo Vallois, Vallouise This large rambling site has great views.  It is dotted with permanent erected tents & chalets.  The new toilet blocks are good and pleasant reception area.
Le Champ du Moulin Camping, Le Bourg d-Arud near Venosc Marked pitches, good views, friendly welcome, small shop & bread.  Facilities are in basement & clean, warm & showers are hot & roomy.  There is also a drying room.
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Looking towards La Meije above La Grave

The Ecrins National Park in France

02.06.2016 Mont Dauphin marmots and fort (3)

We are back from our annual fix of European culture, weather and food.  As well as enjoying excellent and unbeatable mountain walking in the Ecrins National Park in south-east France [don’t worry no one seems to know where this is – find Grenoble and go slightly to the south and east], we found some adorable wildlife.

The Alpine marmots were abundant in the Ecrins and we saw at least one or two every time we were out walking.  Sometimes we firstly heard a marmot, calling out a warning high-pitched whistle and searching the rocky landscape we would spot the look-out marmot on a rock, sitting up on its hind legs apparently warning the other marmots of our presence but really drawing attention to the presence of marmots.  At other times we would spot them scampering low across a meadow or moving easily down steep craggy hillsides, twitching their stubby tails as they move and then disappearing down a handy burrow.  At Pré de Madame Carle the marmots were pottering around the car park and finding shade under the cars.

If you don’t want to climb the steep paths of the Ecrins to see marmots, there are a group that are easy to find at Mont-Dauphin, south of Briançon.  Since we last visited here in 2009 [Mr BOTRA had lots of fun making the video embedded in the blog post at the time] the humans have been managed so that the marmots can now run in and out of their burrows freely and avoid the humans if they wish to.  Marmots hibernate for more months than they are out and about so you need to be around in summer to see them.

 

Some thoughts on the sense of place

2014 Oct Panopticons (40)
The Halo sculpture above Haslingden in Lancashire

There are places that mean a lot to me and this meaning comes from a combination of things; the experiences  and memories I have of the place, the stories and folklore of that area, the scenery and the vistas and the history of the area.

I got to thinking about how I feel about places

Continue reading “Some thoughts on the sense of place”

Frugal hair cuts

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The Babyliss [for men] clipper
I will admit I was nervous trimming Mr BOTRA’s hair for the first time as I didn’t want to make him the laughing stock of his office.  Fortunately, we seem to have got away with it and no one asked him the name of his amateur hairdresser.

A few months ago we splashed out some of our hard-earned on hair clippers [of course after thinking about it for some months and researching the best options].  Although the cost of buying the hair clippers was about £50 this outlay does now mean that we can both have our hair cut for free.  Even though neither of us have ever visited any of the fancy salons in Manchester city centre, DIY hair cutting still saves us around £250 a year.  That means in just a few months the hair clippers have already paid for themselves.

As well as saving money, we no longer have to be a part of that painful experience of chatting to the hairdresser [maybe this awkwardness is just my socially inadequacy].  For Mr BOTRA and I, finding things to chat about to each other has never been a problem [we already know where we are going to go on holiday] so hair cuts at home are more relaxed and save time too.

Home hair cuts are not for everyone.  We are not able to create that perfect coiffured look at home but fortunately, that isn’t what we need.  Neither of us have any job interviews coming up, need to be mother-of-the-bride or need to impress anyone.  We understand that there are times when you might not want to have a home haircut.  What we are both interested in at the moment is looking reasonably tidy, having a short cut that is easy to wash and doesn’t take any styling and [of course] in saving money.

 

 

 

Campervan security

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A secure ‘van is also a happy ‘van

I read motorhome magazines [MMM and Practical Motorhome] cover to cover, as well as other owners blogs and forums.  Through these I read lots tales about campervans being broken in to and valued items being stolen.  I know it must be dreadful when this happens; a campervan is after all a home as well as a vehicle.  Touch wood, in our ten-years of motorhoming over 90,000 miles we haven’t had many problems but we do take a few precautions.

  • We try not to own anything too expensive [no really flash camera, no top of the range tablet] although with a small ‘van where space is limited everything we carry is valuable [to us.]
  • We think about where we are leaving the ‘van and consider whether it feels safe; if one of us is unhappy with a car park they are allowed a veto.
  • We never leave money or credit cards in the ‘van but always choose to carry them on our person [walking trousers/shorts and shirts have the benefit of lots of pockets]
  • We put any valuables [to us] that might be left in the ‘van out of sight
  • We prefer to park with the back doors reversed to a wall as they feel like a weak point and this makes it impossible to access the ‘van this way.  Parking in this way also makes it difficult to get at the bikes when they are loaded.
  • We have added Lock M Out window locks to the two large side windows and we always lock the ‘van doors at night.
  • If the worst happens and someone steals the whole ‘van, we have a tracker which we hope will mean it can be found.

During our year travelling we did have a couple of problems which were both [coincidently] in Spain.  The first time, someone attempted to take the bikes off the bike rack when it was parked in a small town that had felt safe enough.  They had buckled one of the wheels in the process and we had to replace this.  A few week’s later someone tried to force open one of the van side windows and scratched the plastic and then scored the drivers side window [perhaps in frustration] and we had to have that replaced.

 

I have never met a strong person with an easy past

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Donkeys are said to bear a heavy burden

‘I have never met a strong person with an easy past’

I came across this quote recently, although I can’t find anyone to attribute it to and started thinking about it in terms of my own life.

I am not claiming that the past I have experienced has been particularly tough but I can see how the usual tough times have helped me to grow and become someone with the resilience to manage difficulties in a positive way, learn from my mistakes and maintain an inner strength.

To give readers a short history of some of those challenging times.  At the tender age of 21-years I had a few months when three events happened; my first husband left me for a new life with a mutual friend, the grandmother I loved very much and who lived next door died suddenly and my parents divorced.  For a while I coped with this badly and mooched around feeling sorry for myself and seeking sympathy from my friends.  However, I was young and I bounced back and as my attitude changed I felt stronger for the experiences I had been through and could see these had been life changing events.

I have now reached the age of 56-years and can’t help but be aware that this is the age my mother was when she died.  But although this rumbles in the background of my brain it feeds my optimism, rather than pessimism; I only carry some of her genes and there is no indication that I am going to drop off this planet in the near future [touch wood.]

We are shaped by our past and it makes us stronger and I think the death of my mother at a young age (and also the death of Mr BOTRA’s mother also coincidentally at 56-years) have made me the person I am; that is one who is determined to retire before I get too old to make the most of it.  These experiences have helped me set a course for financial independence.

I am not trying to give you a sob story but in the past I have also been made redundant from jobs I have given all my energy and enthusiasm to; been bullied by work colleagues that are just inadequate individuals and fluffed more job interviews than I care to really remember.  I have regrets; I have sometimes not been the friend I would like to be and I have tolerated people in my life who have sucked out my joyfulness and spat it in to the gutter for longer than I should have.

I don’t regret these experiences, they have all contributed to the person I am today and help me to enjoy today, taking control where I can, trying to accept what comes along and planning for the future that I want.

Why we won’t get bored in our retirement

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These are our plans for retirement

Pinned up in the van is the above list of things.  Mr BOTRA and I think of the lines of this verse as our ‘to do’ list when we are on trips in the van.

Our plans for our [hoped for] long and happy retirement are to spend lots of time on campervan trips and doing all the things on this list.

This list is not ours it is one of those oft quoted things you find on a fridge magnet or a postcard but it does nicely summarise the things we like to do on our campervan trips.

Walk in the rain – or [hopefully] in the sun, or the wind; whatever the weather we will just walk [or cycle] every day.  We will walk up mountains, along valleys, traverse ridges, follow coastlines and explore towns and cities, at walking pace we can really appreciate the great outdoors.  When we were away in the van for a year in 2009/10 (blog here) we walked most days, slept well and were fitter and healthier than we had ever been.

Smell flowers – There is no better display than the one nature provides and I always take time to smell the flowers [and watch the birds and animals], as well as try and identify what they are with the books we have in the ‘van … sometimes this is very hard.

Stop along the way – In a campervan there is really no rush and no excuse not to stop and explore whatever we find because being in the ‘van is part of the fun and the journey.  Sometimes these unscheduled stops take you to unexpected and interesting places.

Build sandcastles – Or beach comb, or bird watch or just more walking but on beaches.

Go on field trips – For me every day in the ‘van is a field trip and the blog is my field note book.  When I was a geography student the field trips were my favourite part of the course and I picked modules to maximise the number of trips I took part in.  Field trips are about taking everything in, observing, experiencing and soaking in the sounds, tastes, history, smells and stories of a place.

Find out how things work – I will admit to a liking for interpretation boards and Mr BOTRA reads these avidly.  I am also addicted to looking things up on Google.  As far as I am concerned, every day is an opportunity to learn something new.

Tell stories – To each other and to others [when they will listen].

Say the magic words -These must be ‘Let’s go camping!’  I say these all the time.

Trust the universe – Okay, this is a bit dippy, I trust it to just keep expanding and be there.