Swiss Roll

Tuesday 30th August 2005, Champagne-sur-Loue
The sun today has been fierce and bright. It would have been foolish to venture far in such heat, so we contented ourselves with a relaxing morning chasing the shade around the garden. Around 2pm we decided to cycle the 5km shady route beside the Loue to Port Lesney for a swim in the river, which at Champagne is only really deep enough for paddling. The narrow road through fields and woodland with the river shining through the leaves was completely deserted until we arrived in the centre of Port Lesney. Although several times larger than Champagne, with a couple of bars, a restaurant, a baker and small general store, it is still no bigger than a village and sits astride the river.

We found a deserted place beneath the trees near the rue du Moulin and while Ian read, Jill swam in the clean smoothly flowing river accompanied by several curious ducks. Swallows skimmed the surface and further down river a cow wandered down from the opposite bank to drink. The current here was not strong and the water was sufficiently cold to make coming out almost pleasurable.

View of the Loue at Port Lesney with Jill’s head

Tower beside the river at the end of the rue du Moulin

As we returned to the village centre for a beer at the Café Edgar with its vine covered terrace, a creamy Labrador at a garden gate woofed to attract our attention. He then deliberately pushed his ball through the railings and waited expectantly for us to throw it back into his garden for him to chase. Ten minutes later we finally had to throw it back for one last time and run while he went to catch it!

One cold drink and a chat with the barman later - who told us Louis Pasteur used to eat omelettes there, we crossed the bridge to explore a little road of huge old stone houses and farmsteads their fronts covered in roses, hollyhocks, nasturtiums and vines of ripe grapes. Doors and windows were filled with hanging baskets of geraniums and petunias. Odd corners provided space for vegetable plots with ripening tomatoes and huge orange pumpkins. An elderly lady sat in the shade of her doorway, directly on the street and we stopped to pass the time of day. She invited us into her home to see the massive beams that support the whole structure and explained that the houses were built to provide accommodation not just for the farmer and his family, but also for the farm animals, farm machinery, winter fodder and logs for winter fires. The supporting timbers were entire trunks of local sapins and, she assured us, well over three hundred years old! Nearby we noticed a woodstore already set up for the winter. On the wall nearby was a blacksmith’s sign dated 1638.

Winter fuel store

Blacksmith’s sign

We cycled back to Champagne around 6pm with the sun still far too hot for comfort. On the way we helped ourselves to a couple of heads of maize, hoping neither the farmer nor his cattle would notice. Back home we discovered they were not really very nice anyway being rather hard, so the cattle are welcome to them.

Sorry to keep eulogising about this area but words and photos simply cannot express just how wonderful it is here. Next week we will be moving on to Germany for a while so you will be spared details of Roland’s grape harvest which we will have to miss.

Wednesday 31st August 2005. Champagne-sur-Loue
Today was a long day of driving which took us into Switzerland. We left via Salins-les-Bains and Pontarlier to reach the Mont d’Or, the highest point in the French Jurassic chain. The route climbed through pine forests to mountain pastures, gradually getting steeper with the highest gradient 19% just before the nearest access point to le Mont d’Or. It was then a short walk across open grassland until the ground dropped abruptly away beneath our feet. Approaching from the west the Jurassic chain rises in a series of steps, each with sheer cliffs in many places, each leading onto a plateau above. When it reaches its highest point at 1463 meters it drops sheer for 450 meters with views across the Vallée de Joux to the Swiss plains. On a clear day (which unfortunately was not the case when we visited) it is possible to see Lake Geneva with Mont Blanc and the Swiss Alps beyond. As it was, the views were impressive enough with the town of Vallorbe laid out like a map below us and pine-clad mountains rising behind. Looking back the way we had come the landscape was more undulating but the views equally extensive. We walked along the level top of the escarpment for a while before returning to Modestine and continuing south-west along flat bottomed glacial valleys with rich pasture-land on the valley floor and forested hills on either side, timbered farmhouses with their huge sloping roofs and projecting eaves scattered along the road. One of these proved to be a gentian distillery, where the deep bitter tasting roots of the tall yellow gentian, which are often a meter or more long, have been painstakingly grubbed out and distilled into a brandy or used in a liqueur. The strange thing is that, with gentians growing all around, they use plants from the Auvergne to make the local tipple!

View from Mont d’Or towards Vallorbe

Limestone cliffs of Mont d’Or

We made a brief detour to find the source of the river Doubs, which, although a major river which gives its name to the department, has a less grand entry into the world than most rivers in this area.

Limestone strata at the source of the Doubs

With frequent stops to admire some of the elaborately tiled belfries which enliven even the most ordinary of churches in this region we reached the pleasant winter sports resort of Les Rousses, today basking in a temperature of 32 degrees. Notre Dame des Neiges, the sister convent to the one in Champagne, was here and Jill vividly recalls winter visits through the mountains in thick snow with Champagne’s director, Soeur Martine. Hard to imagine with the heat of today! We visited the church where we registered the curious fact that the rainwater that falls on the northern slope of the roof runs off into the River Orbe. From there it reaches the Rhein and the North Sea. The rain that falls on the southern half of the roof however, runs into the River Bienne and thence to the Ain and the Rhone into the Mediterranean.

The bell tower of Rochejean

The bell tower of Mouthe

The watershed church at Les Rousses

At Les Rousses we crossed the frontier into Switzerland and continued along a wide bottomed valley, this one with a series of glacial lakes, most notably the Lac de Joux. With commendable exactitude – after all the Swiss are renowned for their precision engineering, a notice at Le Pont on the north end of the lake told us that it was 1008 metres and 50 centimetres above sea level. Our route took us past scattered wooden chalets, each worthy of a picture postcard with their steep roofs, wood stores, open shutters and gardens of bright flowers set against the steep, dark green sapins covering the hillsides. Beside the road were the occasional linear villages of old farmsteads and huge houses with their overhanging roofs and tiled facades of wood and galvanised metal. (This latter struck us as curious and rather unsightly.) However the roadsides verges were well-kept and, unlike in Franche-Comté, the tangle of overhead cables and wires had been neatly tucked underground.

The village of Le Pont at the north end of the Lac de Joux

Time was moving on, so we crossed the frontier again at Vallorbe and made our way home via Pontarlier, driving head-on into the setting sun in an almost cloudless sky at the end of a baking day, back to dinner in the twilight in our garden with the occasional bat darting between the trees in the grounds of the former convent immediately behind our home.

Thursday 1st September 2005 Champagne-sur-Loue
Thunderstorms were promised for later today which we hoped would give some respite from the oppressive heat, but temperatures soon reached the thirties. As we had been invited to spend the afternoon with Hugues family in Dole we made a leisurely start through the pretty villages that edge the Forêt de Chaux to the west of Arc-et -Senans. Among them was Chissey, a lovely little place of well maintained old houses and barns and what is reputed to be the finest gothic village church in the region, dedicated to St. Christophe. It is certainly very beautiful and renowned for its so-called baboons, grotesque figures which line the tops of the arcades on either side of the nave. They probably date from the 12th century, a time when the little village was a centre of pilgrimage to cure the mentally afflicted. Fortunately for the village a fragment of the jaw-bone of St. Christophe was discovered, perhaps on the crusades, and the relic of the saint, who was supposed to help the insane, soon proved a great attraction. The tormented souls were safely shut away in a room in the tower while services were said in an attempt to obtain some kind of exorcism. It is considered that these grotesques depict the various types of insanity, some seen vomiting out the devil within them, others looking more serene but all showing great vitality. There is also a magnificent sculpture of St. Christophe dating from the late 15th century and a gilt reliquary where the jawbone is prominently displayed. In the 16th century the authorities in Dole attempted to put an end to the excesses associated with these gatherings, but cures were still being recorded in parish registers into the 17th century. In the 1930s an attempt was made to update the pilgrimage centre using the figure of Saint Christophe as the patron saint of travellers. Motorists would drive to Chissey from far and wide to have their motor cars blessed. It was suggested in the church that motorists could be considered the 20th century lunatics par excellence.

St. Christophe. 15th century. Chissey

Altarpiece with the reliquary containing (supposedly) the
jawbone of St. Christophe

Interior of the church of St. Christophe, Chissey

One of the strange carvings in the church

Another carving possibly depicting a tormented being

We continued towards Dole through the Forêt de Chaux which is the second largest deciduous forest in France, a country which takes great care of its woodlands. It stretches between Arc et Senanas and Dole along near deserted, identical straight roads laid out as a grid. The thought of us getting lost on bikes there is rather frightening so we will probably abandon our plan to cycle there in cooler weather. We found blessed shade for lunch in a woodland glade by a small pond and through our binoculars (thank you Devon Libraries staff!), watched the birds scrabbling up and down the trunks pecking at insects.

Until the French conquest in 1674 Dole had been the capital of Franche-Comté. Louis XIV transferred that status to Besançon in retribution for the resistance that the city had shown to Richelieu in the 1630s when it withstood continuous bombardment. Despite various depredations it remains a very grand town with a jumble of ancient houses rising up from the river to the impressive church of Notre-Dame with its famous series of sculptures of apostles dating from the late 15th century. One of the houses by the river is the former tannery where Louis Pasteur was born in 1822. It was too hot to undertake anything too strenuous, so we made our way to the pleasant residential outskirts of the town to spend a happy couple of hours with Hugues, Christine and their three children who eagerly tried out their English on us. Hugues, Thibaut and Valentin then accompanied us back to Modestine, left in the shade on the banks of the Doubs. Our walk took us along the riverside, past a leper’s well hidden deep below the street, Thibault’s very impressive lycée and the newly refurbished mediathèque, a library in the magnificent former Hôtel-Dieu – splendid for a city the size of Exeter, let alone the 30,000 people of Dole! With internet access, it is a place to be explored later, together with many other sights of Dole.

Dole, showing the church of Notre Dame

We returned home through the Forêt de Chaux, this time following the Route Forestière du Grand Contour, a forest road which runs straight as an arrow for 20 Km, past grand columns set up as monuments at cross roads. Along the side of the road, huge piles of cut wood were neatly stacked, carefully marked for the recipients. In the gathering gloom the endless banks of trees began to take on a menacing aspect, rather like the forests in The Lord of the Rings, which Hugues’ children have devoured in translation and now on multilingual DVD – a novel way of learning English! Perhaps after all it was really orcs we had seen depicted in the church at Chissey this morning!

Friday 2nd September 2005 Champagne-sur-Loue
The hot weather continues and we are flagging! This afternoon we sheltered from the suffocating heat in the internet café in Salins. While Jill loaded up pages onto our blog site, Ian went to the supermarket in search of tea bags. It was still shut at 3pm! That’s what frequently happens with the government imposed 35 hour week! It’s almost impossible to plan several activities in a day because places only seem to open for a few hours and each one is different. Even when the supermarket opened they did not sell teabags! Honest! They had all sorts of exotic tisanes, but no tea! However, Ian took a gamble and went to the Casino where we eventually found a rather dusty and faded box of Lipton’s tea bags. (A chain of small supermarkets here is called Casino.)

Today everything changes in France. It is the rentrée when all the children return to school, summer is officially declared over and all the tourist attractions and campsites start to close down for the season. Here in Champagne we have seen more of the local people today than we have since our arrival as the pickup point for the school bus is just nearby. Mums were taking tots to catch the bus for their first ever day at school in nearby Cramens – Champagne is too small to have its own school for the half dozen or so children who live here. Toddlers were running after the bus waving their “big” brothers and sisters off as the bus moved on the collect the children at Buffard.

Late in the afternoon we drove up onto Mont Poupet, 850 metres high with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. We could even see Port Lesney and the Loue flowing towards Champagne some ten km away. It was on this mountain that Louis Pasteur conducted experiments in the 1860s to disprove the theory of spontaneous generation of microbes, showing that the rate of their development is affected by the altitude and purity if the air. We left Modestine part way up the mountain and walked the remaining 2km to the highest point. There was nobody around and the track took us through mixed woodland, open meadowland full of wild flowers and cool forests of dark pines. At the summit we discovered a launch pad for hang gliders. The ground simply dropped away into nothing! Wonderful if one only had the courage! Instead, we sat as near as we dared to the edge and listened to the total silence except for the hum of bees, the distant gentle clanking of cowbells in the valley below and the ominous rumble of thunder reverberating around the mountains of the high Jura. From here it is claimed, Mont Blanc can be seen. The distance was far too hazy today however. We expect the rain here at any time. The heat is very oppressive. On the way down, in one of the meadows we discovered a patch of huge horse mushrooms – much like the common field mushrooms but with a yellowish tinge – and filled our rucksack.

Ian gleefully discovers an orientation table on Mount Poupet

Salins, 500 metres below us

View from Mount Poupet in the direction of Champagne

We expected to find Suzanne and Roland back from Brittany when we reached home, but as yet there has been no sign of them. We cooked our free supper of mushrooms which we ate with chicken salad and an accompanying bottle of wine in the garden with bats skimming around just above our heads.

Saturday 3rd September 2005 Champagne-sur-Loue
The expected rain never arrived and this afternoon has been as hot as ever with temperatures into the 30s. We decided the pictures taken in the church at Chissey on Thursday could be improved upon, so this morning we cycled there via Cramans and Villers Farley returning via Arc-et-Senans where we stopped at the restaurant opposite the entrance to the Saline Royale for a very welcome cold drink on the terrace. Ian’s just measured on his map and declared we did 20 kilometres. (Thanks for the measuring device Jean it’s given Ian endless delight.) The roads around here are all very peaceful and cycling is a real pleasure if there is shade. This is fine when passing through woodland but generally the roads linking the villages on the valley floor are long, straight and devoid of shelter, passing through endless fields of maize stubble and sunflowers, both crops that would never have existed in the days when Jill worked here and the fields were still being ploughed by yoked oxen!

Entrance to the Salines at Arc-et-Senans

Sunflowers ripening in the fields

As we cycled along the banks of the Loue below Champagne this morning we passed the poor cow that looked so plaintive in the picture we recently posted up for you. Today she was standing, covered in buzzing flies in the hot sunshine, her udder still dragging the ground. At her feet lay a wet, exhausted calf just a few moments old and already suffering the torment of thousands of buzzing flies attracted by the blood and afterbirth still hanging from the mother. It was not a happy sight. The calf was too weak to move and mum just kept eating grass, pausing occasionally to lick away the flies from her calf. Her flanks were hollow now with the bones protruding and her udder larger and more grotesque than ever. What a life for both of them! We continued on our ride wondering whether the calf was going to make it, it looked so weak and helpless. (You will be pleased to hear matters had improved considerably when we went in search of them this evening, as this picture shows.)

Mother and child

We returned home for lunch in a cool corner of the garden and then set out in Modestine on a mission to Villers Robert, a village some 25 km from here and the birthplace of the French writer Marcel Aymé. It is also the place where Jill’s friend Danielle spent her youth. As she now lives in Brittany and no longer has family in the Jura, she has been delighted to see so many pictures of familiar places on our blogsite. She asked us if we could put up a few pictures of her village and as she does not read English, could we add a few words in French for her. (English readers can skip this bit unless they want to pick up on all our errors….)

Alors Danielle, comme tu nous as commandés, quelques photos exprès pour toi. Nous espérons qu’elles te feront plaisir et te rappeleront les années que tu habitais Villers Robert. Nous avons trouvé la maison de Marcel Aymé sur la route de Séligny et nous croyons que c’est tout près de la maison de tes parents. Nous l’avons cherchée mais nous ne souvenons pas exactement où elle se trouve. Nous avons visité aussi l’église, très fraiche et agréable dedans car c’était un veritable four dehors (34 degrés.) En face de l’église il y a l’école Marcel Aymé et on nous a dit qu’il y était etudiant. Est-ce-que tu aussi étais élève dans cette école? Dans la cimetière nous avons trouvé son tombeau, ainsi celui de ta famille.

Dans l’église à Villers Robert. On traite les livres comme ça en France? (So thats what is meant by an absorbing book!)

Ecole Marcel Aymé, (where the French writer was educated)

Maison natale de l’auteur (the writer’s birthplace in the village)

Statue de la Sainte Vierge (typical of most villages around here)

In the village we were greeted by a group of children giggling and saying “Hello mister” So we replied in English which quite terrified them! We chatted with them – mainly in French as they were too shy to try out their English, about their lessons and the amount of homework they had to do.

Leaving Villers Robert we sought out Chateau Clairvans, an impressive 18th century style building of indeterminate date. We have often seen it on the hillside from the main road but never had time to investigate. We arrived in the middle of a wedding reception when the building was closed to the public. However, there was so much hooting of car horns (customary at weddings in France) and general goodwill that nobody seemed to mind us wandering around amongst the smartly dressed guests for a few minutes taking photos.

Chateau Clairvans

Returning through Villers Farlay Ian noticed a sign to a Gallo-Roman tile works which proved to be deep in the woodland along a 4 km unmade track. It was part of a much larger site located on the main roman road between the towns of Vesontio and Lugdunum (Besançon and Lyon) and the furnaces and heaps of tile waste could be clearly seen.

Gallo-Roman tile kiln

Back in Champagne we discovered Suzanne and Roland had returned from Brittany during our absence. We joined them for an aperitif made from Roland’s white grapes and eau de vie, chilled from his cave below the house. We spent a very happy evening swapping holiday experiences in Brittany and Franche Comté as we nibbled walnuts from the trees around the village.

Suzanne’s and Roland’s camping car on its return from Brittany