Cold snap here in the Écrins rather than the Indian summer which we had hoped for. We’re staying again ay Boustigue, just off the Route Napoléon at Corps. Fine dawns on the Grande Tête de l’Obiou (2790 m.) over the mist in the valley of the river Drac. We followed the Drac upstream to its sources, the glaciers of the Écrins. The name Drac means “dragon”, so-called because of its devastating flash floods. The valleys of the two principal tributaries are quite different in character, the White Drac runs down a valley of crystalline rock whereas the Black Drac has a deep valley eroded in to sedimentary rock.
A seagull looks curiously at the photographer... do I have a croissant? Meanwhile, the sun rises over the French Mediterranean port of Sète.
Historic Marseillan, a fishing port on the Bassin de Thau since the 12th century. More peaceful than Marseille and the air is clearer. The Bassin de Thau is famous for its oyster beds; it’s a lagoon, a geomorphologic synclinal; the corresponding anticlinal is the mountain of the Gardiole to the north-east. Nowadays, the Marseillanais grow vines, brew the vermouth Noilly-Pratt created in Marseillan in 1813 and still enjoy their comedy in their Italian theatre; there’s a chateau and of course a church, this one with richly-coloured stained glass windows and a tower dating from the 11th century. But mostly the visitors enjoy the port with a selection of historic and modern vessels moored at its old quays.
One of the more impressive Roman ruins in Provence that you can still happen across walking along a path, without the mediation of a guide or Visitor Centre. In an idyllic location behind Chateau Bas, whose vineyards produce very pleasing wines in the Coteaux d’Aix appellation contrôlé, the Roman ruins are thought to be a temple to Jupiter and Minerva because of inscriptions found nearby on the same site. However the peaceful rural site reeks of Silvanus, the Romans’ woodland god. The Corinthian style of the remainign column suggests the Augustan era.
Hólmavík, gateway to the Westfjords, the first place on this trip that I might actually want to come back to. It’s calm and overlooking its own fjord, Steingrímsfjarður. Snow on the mountains far away on another peninsular. Still enough of the comforts and utilities of modern life but with mostly gravel roads in town and muddy 4x4 vehicles driving on them. No traffic lights: you can watch a car approach around the bay then follow it visually and aurally all the way to its destination in the town.
It’s a serious drive to get here, several 350 m. passes - think car commercials country - and the scenery is magnificent but the bleak beauty of the Westfjords proper only starts from Hólmavík onwards. There’s the long valley of Steingrímsfjarðarheiði leading to a 400 m. pass, just a turf-roofed bothy and a couple of aerial masts at the summit. The river down the far side falls over a sequence of rock steps, gaining flow each time, each waterfall more impressive than the last.