Lazy Sunday, Lost in Books
I will admit that since finishing at the library, I’ve been a bit lost without the routine we’d slipped easily into over the summer and I’ve found myself hiding away from reality, in the pages of books. My mood hasn’t been helped by the weather taking a seasonal change for the worse, where the wind has enhanced the colder temperatures and hampered our efforts on the bikes.
The heating has been fired up, the first batch of mince pies have been made (and eaten) and the mulled wine has been blended; red wine, Cognac, sloe port, cinnamon sticks, clove-studded clementines, a lemon and ginger teabag and brown sugar (to taste). We also indulged in our first tartiflette on Friday evening; an oven baked potato, onion and melted Reblochon cheese dish that is our ultimate winter comfort food treat. You can find my recipe here.
It’s not been any easier for Adrian to adjust to the changes in our routine, as having gone from a hectic work schedule all summer, his diary is looking almost as empty as mine. As is often the case when you are self-employed, it’s either feast or famine.
We have both been drawn to books promising adventures and challenges, using them as our escape, or maybe to find our way? I’ve been reading up on the Chemin de Saint Jacques Camino routes in France, from books I took out from the library. As I practice my French reading, I’ve been learning the history of this ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. By following any of the marked routes that wind their way to St Jean-Pied-du-Port in the Pyrenees, the possibilities for cycle adventures to explore the historic towns and churches of France, are almost endless.
|Two Wheels and a Will by Colin Hunter|
Adrian made a rather shocking discovery while reading Two Wheels and a Will by Colin Hunter, a travel memoir set around an extreme Pyrenean cycling challenge. According to the author, it turns out that the toughest climb in France isn’t in the Alps, the Hautes Pyrenees or even Le Mont Ventoux (1910m), but the pretty much unknown Col d’Arnostéguy (1239m), in the Pays Basque. This is an area we keep returning to with our bikes and home to the first mountain pass I ever attempted, the Col d’Ispeguy, that crosses from France to Spain. This is a gradual climb of 6%, over its eight kilometres, with no nasty surprises, just stunning scenery and a bar at the top. I’ve climbed it four times and it remains my favourite.
|The face of pain climbing the Col d'Arnostéguy|
I now know that not all cols in the Pays Basque are equal. Last year, high on the adrenaline rush that came with conquering several Haute Pyrenean cols on our Bromptons, including the Col du Soulor (1471m), Col d’Aubisque (1709m) and the Col du Tourmalet (2115m), we spent a couple of nights in the Pays Basque on our way home. With one full day to enjoy ourselves, we set off on a circuit from St Jean-Pied-du-Port, following the Camino route towards Spain. The smile on my face as I got to dip my toes once more on this pilgrimage route was almost as big as the lunch packed in Adrian’s saddle bag, but as the narrow road began to climb, my smile vanished. We climbed and climbed. My breath ragged, my body ready to give up, my mind losing all my mantras and coherent thoughts. With a maximum of gradient of 35% and a fifteen kilometre stretch that regularly hit between 25% and 30%, with little or no flat or downhill sections to rest and recover, it was brutal - it was the infamous Col d’Arnostéguy. I am in total agreement with it being the toughest climb in France and although I might need persuading to tackle it again, I’d head back to the Basque with my bike anytime. I can’t wait to read this book for myself.
|Voyage le Long de la Charente by Serge Sanchez|
Closer to home, but no less exciting is another travel memoir I’m reading, in French, borrowed from the library. Voyage Le Long de la Charente, avec un chat, un poney, et un dauphin (ou pas), by Serge Sanchez, is his journey following the Charente River from its source to the Atlantic coast. This is a local river to us and the familiarity of the places he visits makes up for the unfamiliarity of some of the new (to me) vocabulary. Serge is a journalist, and from the beginning of the book, his humour and honesty had me hooked, especially when he explained the rather unusual title: A journey along the Charente, with a cat, a pony and a dolphin (or not). Desperate to improve his fortunes by writing a best-seller (unlike his previous book that sold only twenty-eight copies), he discovered books featuring cats tended to sell well, and ponies and dolphins ranked second and third. My only disappointment with this book (so far) is that despite the river Charente having a marked cycle way (La Flow Vélo) for most of its length, Serge chose to travel by car. It has certainly given me food for thought about cycling adventures we could do following our local rivers from their sources.
|Under the Mistletoe by Sue Moorcroft|
Not all my recent reads have been cycling or French travel related. Sue Moorcroft’s Christmas novels are one of my secret guilty pleasures at this time of year. In real life I don’t do snow or cold, and I’m not much of a Christmas fan either, but if there is one thing that will warm my winter mood and give me back a bit of my sparkle, it’s a winter escape to Sue’s fictional village, Middledip. In Under the Mistletoe, I was able to get completely wrapped up in the emotional battles Laurel and her family are trying to cope with, as the Christmas preparations in the village hit full speed. There are difficult decisions and lots of soul-searching for many of the characters, especially Laurel, as the past she has tried so hard to forget, catches up with her. Set against a snowy backdrop, this book has passion, emotion, family loyalties and community spirit that certainly warmed me up as I read it. I didn’t want this book to end.
If you haven’t yet discovered Middledip, you are missing a real treat, but if you are quick, Under the Mistletoe is priced at only 99p on kindle UK, until the end of November.
What all these books, and the others I’ve read recently, have done, is to help clear the doldrums from my head and for that I thank the authors, who maybe don’t realise the difference they can make.