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10 August 2011

Florac to Mende and the Tarn gorges

Today we crossed, recrossed and crossed the River Allier again as we followed its gorge through the mountains.

We left the hotel and parked at the station. There was another person waiting, a Dutch guy. Shortly afterwards a bus drew up, the driver came out to us and explained there would be no trains today, but that we would be picked up by the bus on its return journey from La Bastide about an hour later. Changing our plans, we decided to skip the train and continue to follow the track of RLS across some high mountains, where today there are ski resorts in the winter.

The trip was so worth while, and the views were stunning. We sat at the summit of Mount Lozere, 1600 metres high – at the top of a ski slope – and got out our hot box to connect with the rest of the world as we had had no internet access the previous evening. We felt as though we were on top of the world almost! The wild flowers were beautiful -

enormous thistles with bees having a great time busy in their huge purple flowers. As we set off down the road we were surrounded by a large flock of very healthy looking sheep of various colours who didn’t seem to be at all concerned about our car driving slowly amongst them while trying to manoeuvre our way through. A bit further on we came across a couple who were using a donkey to carry their packs.

Earlier we had seen several families with children using donkeys for the walks. Most of the time, the donkeys seemed to be doing a lot of grazing, and not too much walking! However, they all seemed to be having fun with these patient animals.

I guess it turned out for the best, as we would never have seen that spectacular scenery at such a height if we had taken the train.

We then came into the Tarn gorges – I have to use the word spectacular again – rocky, severe mountains, pine forests, steep plunges and winding roads into gorges and out again. A lot of people around with baskets collecting mushrooms and myrtle berries in the forest. Apparently with such a rainy season, the locals said “its raining ceps”; a great season for this very sought after mushroom. Also a great season for berries - for wild strawberries and raspberries as well as myrtles.

We revised our plans and decided to try Florac. No accommodation in Florac so we revised our plans again and decided to miss the rest of the trail, and head for Mendes.
On the way we continued along the Tarn gorges, passing the area covered in menhirs and dolmens(prehistoric burial sites). An area very busy in this the high tourist season. The dolmens and menhirs can be dated back to around 2,600 years BC according to the information we found. There is a great deal of speculation as to how the huge blocks of stone were moved to erect the huge menhirs and to build dolmens, it is thought they were moved on logs. One of the largest dolmens near Florac, contained the bones of 13 people (6 of them children) dating to about 2,500BC. Hard to imagine. Various decorations, jewellery, and pieces of ceramic have been found in some of the graves. All dating long before JC.

Well here are in Mende, a very ancient town, going back to Roman times and before.
We are in very comfortable accommodation, internet again and about to go downstairs for an apero and dinner. We have had a great wonder around this historic town, and sat in awe at the wonderful Aubusson tapestries hanging in the cathedral. It seems to be a cross roads for several regions around, and according to its history, this was a great market place in ages gone by.

Perhaps we will head home over the Millau bridge tomorrow or towards the Auvergne, see what happens.

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