For a “rest day” today has been fairly active.
Sandra – our “moniteur” met us at 9:00am at the hotel and we went pot-holing. This was good fun and involved some passages that she described as “un peu etroit” (a little narrow). Now: she is a petite, slim 35? year old: whilst neither Laurie nor I could fairly be described as “un gros type”, there is a world of difference between us and her. Nevertheless, we didn’t get stuck in the various “squeezes” she led us through and we saw some lovely stalactites, stalagmites and columns where the forementioned had joined forces. We lay in total darkness with our head-torches off and listened to the sounds of dripping water. Laurie suggested John Cage could have made something of the sounds: I’m less intellectual and thought of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. We were told to make our own way back to the surface and Mr Captain Chancellor did a very good job of finding our way.
The entrance to our cave system was near a beautiful wee village in the Gorges Du Tarn. Many of the houses were half stone, half rockface. We were left to our own devices for half an hour or so and had a sandwich at a bar in the lovely little village of St Enimie. Knowing we were going on the via ferrata in the afternoon, we decided to avoid alcohol!
Yesterday, as we dropped down into Florac, we spotted a couple of rocky pillars dominating the town, like skyscrapers over a hamlet. Laurie suggested we’d be up there for the via ferrata. How we laughed! But little did we know…
A half hour’s drive took us to the starting-point of the via ferrata, followed by a half hour’s walk to the very selfsame rocky skscrapers. I was worried that I’d be hampered by fear on the rocks, but as they say “The only thing to fear is fear itself”. We fitted our harnesses, complete with caarabiners, pulley for the “tyrolienne” etc. and helmets. We got some instruction from Sandra about how to use the carabiners (never unhook them both at the same time etc). Then we started.
Sandra had warned us the start was one of most difficult parts and if she hadn’t done so, I think I might have given up there and then. Hundreds of feet up, arms screaming, legs protesting, equipment unfamiliar, we hung on to metal hand-holds, trying not to a) look down, b) let go, c) panic or d) even think about looking down. After a few yards there was a sharp corner where for a moment there was almost nothing to grab, but suddenly things improved. It was still physically demanding, with very steep ascents on metal footholds, the same down, impossibly high wire bridges over yawning gaps and a tyrolienne – a flying fox / zipwire of implausible length over drops of epic proportions. For this latter, we got instructions in French from Sandra and Captain Chancellor (aka Spiderman) went first, screaming (I refer to his speed, not his vocal outpourings) through the air. He arrived at the other end, did varoius uncoupling / recoupling manouevres with his carabiners and I followed, hurtling along the wire towards the other side, Florac, tree-tops and my life all flashing past. Unfortunately, I had not picked up the instruction as to how to stop, so when I reached the far end, where I should have grabbed a couple of wires to steady myself, I simply rolled back towards the middle and came to an ignominious halt, many feet from the end and many more from terra firma. I had to pull myself, hand over hand back towards the end. How we laughed: or at least Spiderman did! Sandra was kind enough to say lots of folk did that.
The rest of the route, though described as “assez difficile”, was relatively straightforward, though challenging enough in its own way.
We felt relatively justified in going straight to the nearest bar when we got back to Florac.
Tomorrow we have a relatively short day and should meet up with O&G, plus two friends for a picnic. Anyway, it’s now time for our evening meal…