News, views and guidebooks for walking, trekking and cycling
Guest blogger Mick Borroff recounts a trip walking in the Auvergne – fantastic views, butterflies and cheese made Mick really enjoy his time in this part of France.
Last year we went to a May wedding in the Dordogne and stayed on for a couple of weeks to walk in the central France armed with Cicerone’s ‘Walking in the Auvergne’ guidebook, strongly drawn by the volcanic landscape described. We headed for the Monts du Cantal, where the highlights included the ascents of Puy Griou, Peyre Arse, Puy Violent and the Plomb du Cantal each taken as part of high-level ridge walks with superb views and wild flowers. The sampling of the region’s distinctive five AOC cheeses (the Cantal and Salers pressed cheeses, the blue cheeses Fourme d’Ambert and Bleu d’Auvergne, and the Saint Nectaire soft cheese) was another temptation.
This June saw our return to this area just as a heatwave hit much of France. Fortunately, we had decided to visit the Montagne Bourbonnaise (also known as the Monts de la Madeleine) to the SW of Vichy first. This less visited region in the Northern Auvergne has more rolling countryside with shorter, less demanding walks with plenty of woodland – ideal with the temperature reaching 40°C! The guidebook authors were certainly not wrong when they said it was an area “… where the air tends to fill with butterflies …”.
On our first walk up to the ruins of Montgilbert castle, we were often accompanied by an astonishing cloud of some 30-40 butterflies on the wing, disturbed by our passing along ancient sunken lanes or through flower-filled meadows. A magnificent Purple Emperor descended from its usual habitat at the top of the woodland canopy to land on my boot – a most unusual way to get a close-up photo! It’s well worth taking a butterfly guide with you to go with your wild flower book.
A pair of walks which we combined from St Nicholas des Biefs visited the crags of the Roc du Vacher and Pierre Châtel for some great views and then the ancient track of the Sorcerer’s Way, lined with tortuous beeches. These are the result of historical hedge-laying (le plessage) to form a barrier on both side of the track, probably to keep passing animals out of the surrounding coppice woods and to be used as a source of firewood. The trees are thought to be around 400 years old and a lack of tree management has led to today’s twisted forms. Regular coppicing of the beech and oak woodlands to produce firewood is still widespread practice hereabouts with some coppice stools reaching 3m across.
With welcome cooler weather forecasted, we moved SW to the Mont Dore range and its green volcanic hills culminating in the rocky summit of Puy de Sancy (1885m), the highest mountain in central France. Our first goal was the excellent high-level circuit along the ridges enclosing the source of the Dordogne River, taking in half a dozen tops including the Sancy summit and a descent past the Auvergne’s highest waterfall – the 32m Grande Cascade. A great day out with wonderful views including northwards to the distinctive rounded volcanic summits of the Châine des Puys including the famous Puy du Dôme, with its Roman temple of Mercury (and comms mast).
One other walk in this area we did last year was a very pleasant round of the two volcanic plugs near Lake Guery: Roche Tuiliére and Roche Sanadoire, facing each other either side of the wooded glacial trough below.
This year we parked at the Col de Guery in misty weather and headed up past the Mortes de Guéry waterfall to the ridge crest linking the summits of Puy Loup, La Banne d’Ordanche and Puy Gros. The misty conditions just got worse, so no views, but the return by the shore path around Lake Guery was a pleasant contrast.
With slightly less stormy weather forecasted to the south, we moved onto the Ardèche for our last few walks in France with the help of a couple of French guidebooks. One of these was a short circuit from the village of Thueyts over the superbly situated Pont du Diable (with a via ferrata up each side of the gorge) and up through the sweet chestnut woods to the abandoned hamlet of Fargebelle.
So, that was the end of another great walking trip to some new areas of France. Next up will probably be a visit to the Cévennes and we’ll definitely be taking Cicerone’s ‘Walking in the Cévennes’ guidebook with us.