Saturday, October 31, 2020

In the Dordogne and Lot before lockdown

French Village Diaries lockdown walnuts
Shelling walnuts in the sun

Day two, Saturday 31st October 2020 

Today has been a day of domestic bliss and settling back into the routine of being together at home. The weather was kind enough to get two post-holiday wash loads dry outside and just perfect for taking the bikes to the weekly market in Chef Boutonne. We needed fresh vegetables, fruit, animal food and a few other bits, but luckily the bikes have good luggage capacity, so our ten kilos of shopping were well within their (and our) capabilities. It was also reassuring to find neither the market, the supermarket nor the post office were particularly busy. This afternoon, while Adrian did a bit more painting, I shelled about a kilo of last year’s walnuts and made the dough for tonight’s homemade pizzas; a family favourite for a Saturday night meal together.


The one thing 2020 has certainly delivered on is family and us time. In the twenty-two years we have been married, Adrian has always worked away from home, but so far, this year has given us almost eight months where he has been by my side every night. This is the longest time we’ve spent together, and we are loving it, honestly! We have also been incredibly lucky to get away together three times since we came out of lockdown number one in May.


In the Lot before lockdown, part one

French Village Diaries cycling in the Dordogne before lockdown
Perigueux, Dordogne


At the beginning of this week, we broke our journey from the Deux-Sèvres to the Lot with a twenty-kilometre bike ride along the river Isle into Perigueux, Dordogne, followed by an overnight stop near Bergerac. This allowed me to tick off another department (county) on my 2020 cycling challenge list and having only managed six kilometres on the bike the week before, was also a great warm-up for my legs for the rest of our week away. It was an easy, flat ride where the autumn colours and the pretty domes of the cathedral St-Front reflected on the calm waters of the river. Even the rain held off until we’d got back to the car, where we could hear thunder rumbling in the distance.


The following day our drive took us south of Bergerac through the Monbazillac vineyards, where the gently rolling hills were resplendent in autumn colours of every shade of bronze, orange and ruby red. The photos would have been stunning if it hadn’t been for the heavy, low cloud and persistent misty rain. We stuck to the dry of the car, hoping for an improvement later on so we could enjoy cycling through these fields of rose gold.


Our entertainment for the damp morning was a drive around the out of town shopping centres, a mooch around a supermarket or two and a second breakfast stop in a Leclerc café where two coffees and two croissants came in at 4.20€ and gave us access to a flushing loo.


We’d slept well in a cosy bed, disturbed only by a squawky cockerel and then at 7 o’clock by an unidentified beeping. It stopped, we slept a bit more, then while Adrian got up to make tea, I got up to use the loo. The electric operated macerating toilet showed no signs of life when I tried to flush it and neither did the kettle, lights or electric shutter. A quick text to the host family next door confirmed a commune-wide power cut. While Adrian was disappointed the Nespresso coffee machine was out of action, I was relieved I’d only had a wee.


French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
Villeréal, Lot et Garonne

As the rain eased, the bastide town of Villeréal gave us a quick leg stretch, but for a Plus Beaux Village de France it was a little underwhelming. The central market halle and arcaded shops were pretty enough, but to appreciate their beauty you had to see past the cars squeezed into every available space around the square. We’d parked up outside the bastide and walked the short distance in, most people had not.


French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
Monflanquin, Lot et Garonne

We ate our homemade picnic lunch in Monflanquin, another bastide town and Plus Beaux Village, that we first visited six and half years ago on one of our Mini Cooper road trips. For us, it definitely has the edge over Villeréal and the sun even came out, bringing with it a hint of warmth on our backs, as we enjoyed a post lunch wander.

French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
The River Lot


In the afternoon we’d reached the Lot and Garonne and parked in Fumel, unfolded the bikes and set off along the River Lot cycle way, carefully carrying our box of patisseries. For fifteen kilometres we followed the flat route that for most of time was along an old railway line. The autumn colours on the sides of the old embankments then gave way to seemingly never-ending rows of russet vines, glowing in the late afternoon sun. When we reached the old railway viaduct over the Lot, it was time to turn back and retrace our steps before the drive to St Vincent Rive d’Olt in the Lot. 

French Village Diaries cycling in the Lot before lockdown
Vineyards in the Lot

I couldn’t help but smile to be back on the bike and surrounded by so much autumnal beauty. At this time of year, the golden sandstone buildings, with their terracotta roofs, were perfectly camouflaged in the natural colours of the landscape.

I’ll bring you part two of our adventure tomorrow.

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