Hike on the karst of Mont Sainte Baume on the first clear day after a couple of summer storms; after a fine dawn with the birds singing, it was a joy to be hiking up the mountain path, butterflies fluttering purposefully amongst the fresh flowers,
Thrilling views both ways from the ridge of Mont Sainte Baume: the Mediterranean coastline far away south in the heat haze and inland to the north, the twisted folds of the various limestone ridges.
Hiking up from Plan d'Aups (686 m.) to the Col de Bertagne (967 m.) and onwards to the Pic de Bertagne (1041 m.), that gets called the “Everest of the Bouches du Rhône” both because of its resemblance to Everest when viewed from the south side and because it is the highest point in the Bouches du Rhône département. Then on to join the GR98 at the Col du Fauge (967 m.), I followed the GR98 for the eight or so km along the ridge to the Col du St. Pilon (955 m.); this was indeed the long hot hike that I had expected but there was just enough breeze to keep from getting baked. Partly a stomp on bare rock, this ridge exposes the contortions of the area’s geological past: some of the layers of limestone are vertical, some of the series of types of limestone are the wrong way up. And the ridge has a number of radio towers, domes and masts along the crest as well as the remains of farming endeavours.
Route back through the forest (L'Ubac) along the Route des Roys, which is waymarked with statues of medieval monarchs who had come on pilgrimage to this forest and the cave where Mary Magdalene is said to have sheltered. With its Christian name and various religious establishments on either side, le Mont Sainte Baume is still to some extent a holy mountain, which has perhaps contributed to the relatively good survival so far of its rich flora and fauna.
A previous hike in 2012: Mont Sainte Baume
Taking a break in the relative cool of the oak forest at about 600m. altitude on Mont Ste. Baume; circadas chattering at an almost deafening racket This afternoon's heat is too hot to ride a motorbike - I've seen thermometers showing 35°C and more today since riding out from Marseille after a coffee and croissant petit déjeuner. Back on the road, refreshed by a diet cola and an orange, I enjoyed riding down that favourite road, the route down from the Col de l'Espigoulier (723 m.)
Marching jazz band Cie La Rumeur et l'Incroyable Freaks Band performing their Déambulation ludique in Marseille St. Charles railway station to promote the 17th Marseille | Jazz des Cinq Continents festival (jazz from five continents). Totally mad but rather a nice way to be greeted at a major rail terminus. I rather liked the jazz piano on the high wheel trolley! A couple of numbers with obvious rail associations, although I didn't hear "Chattanooga Choo Choo". In the best traditions of French musicians, the wacky name of the band currently defies translation...
Reflections of the lights of Hammersmith Bridge reflecting in the water of the River Thames, calm and almost glassy, nearly at High Water.
Reminiscent of mythical sprites dancing at sunset!
That Friday morning on the balcony of the hotel in Valloire will be remembered forever as where I heard that the UK started Brexit. We’ll have plenty more of that in days to come, meanwhile “Keep Calm and Carry On” comes to mind.
A memorable morning for riding too, putting on my leathers and crash-hat for the last time on this trip and concentrating on the mountain road up to the Col du Galibier (2645 m.), firstly through alpages (Alpine pastures). I came round a bend to disturb two marmottes on the road. They froze, I slowed down and they ran off in to the lush grass and fields. I think they were basking on the hot tarmac, understandable behaviour but not a good survival strategy. Onwards up as the road climbed through the familiar phases of the middle mountain, alpages giving way to bare rock or gravel, finally walls of packed snow either side of the tarmac. The weather changed, misty clouds attaching to the peaks of the Écrins to the south, the peaks I’ve now left behind to the north hidden in hazy mist. Mont Blanc massif not showing.
Dawn in the high mountains, then an Italian breakfast and super coffee. Riding down from the col, gathering speed as the road improves but still with scary drops and hard landings at every turn. The Italians have this road in good shape, as did the Swiss on their side.
Finally down in Aoste and feeling the full heat of the midsummer sun. My route takes me back up the Vallée d’Aoste to Courmayeur, the valley headed by the magnificent south side of Mont Blanc.
Brilliant ride round the three Swiss passes around the watershed between the Rhône, the Rhine and the Po. Each pass is different, they’re all well higher than 2000m and to ride again the trio one after the other has been difficult to arrange. Yesterday’s precipitation fell as snow on the peaks so the views are as distracting as they come. Glaciers, deep valleys and many, many tetrahedral granite peaks with relief outlined by the new snow.
The Susten pass (2224 m.) is the most obvious choice for “best ride”, both the brilliant road engineering of the climb up the valley of the river Aare from Meiringen and the deceptively fast curves on the long run down the mountainside to Andermatt. Deceptive: even more than usual it’s one missed apex and it’s light out or back to the wheelchair, game over.
Up to the Furka Pass (2436 m.) from Andermatt, the route hasn’t been “improved” like the Susten. So a more rustic surface and old-style granite or concrete markers on the edge of the precipice. The vertiginous drops affect the car drivers too, meaning they don’t stay on their side of the road.
Starting from the Alpine spa town of Saint-Gervais, my ride was under the flanks of Mont Blanc (4809 m.), showing brilliant white with lots of fresh new snow from the previous night's storm..
You'll have to imagine the girders of the railway bridge over the Rhône here at Arles as it hasn't been reinstated after being blown in World War Two. You could equally imagine the Roman river crossing here, a large number of boats were lashed together with a pathway precariously proceeding across. The lions atop the piers recall other (permanent) Roman bridges in the area such as the Pont Flavain at St Chamas.
The barge cruising empty downstream the heavy river flow looks capable of carrying at least 32 containers, which saves at least 32 articulated lorries from the roads along this route.
Maybe this isn't entirely the meaning of “Conceptual Photography” although Arles is home to the renowned Rencontres d'Arles formerly known as the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d'Arles) as well as the highly-regarded L'Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie - ENSP.
Lunch time in the pretty port of Cassis: a classic retreat to the Mediterranean sunshine from storms further north. This should be about a sit-down meal at a harbour-side restaurant featuring seafood or Provençal cuisine. Increasingly the French tourists appear to be abandoning to the foreign tourists the over-priced restaurants serving “prettied up peasant food” (like Soupe de Poissons or Bouillabaisse) and themselves settling down to a rather cheaper picnic direct from the boulangerie artisanale.