Discovering the Voie Verte

The weather started off a little cooler than it had been for a while so I suggested we all make the most of it and head out for a walk. I love the warm, sunny weather but also like to be able to get out and about without having to worry about anyone getting too hot or sunburnt, which at 30 degrees or more is easily done. Walk-wise, we decided to head down the road to Rivel to join one of France’s long-distance shared-use paths, Le chemin des Filatiers, a 38km traffic-free route from Lavelanet to Mirepoix, which passes through there, not far at all from where we’re living. It’s on my to-do list of routes to ride in future, hopefully as a multi-day family trip, so I thought it would be nice to take a look at a section of it and that it would also make a nice easy walk for DS (he’s been on his feet for 6 weeks now and is loving his new-found freedom). We also need to try and make sure DD gets a good runaround every day as she’s much happier for spending time outdoors (as well as more likely to go to bed at a decent time!)

Of course, by the time we got ourselves organised the sun was out at full strength again, but we slathered on the Factor 50 and went anyway. We didn’t want to go far – it was really a chance for me to have a nosey at the nearest access point to our house, thinking of short rides with the kiddies, and to just get out of the house for some fresh air. We drove down to Rivel and on to the old station, which is just off the Rivel-Chalabre road. Immediately after turning off you’re on the voie verte and see the signs off to the left, where the route heads towards Lavelanet. We drove along the tarmaced road until we got to the bollards signalling the start of the next traffic-free section. We parked, lifted DD into the sling (she was fast asleep), filled up our water bottles, then set off. DS was on foot and making light work of it! He loves to walk, just like his big sister.

James and DD in a wooded section at the start of the route to Chalabre from Rivel

The first section was shaded by high hedgerows, reminiscent of the Trans-Pennine Trail that was local to our old house, then it opened up into a long straight stretch, with Chalabre in the distance.

Because by now the sun had come out and was in full force again, we turned off the route at this point and went down a track towards the river, hoping to find a shady spot for a snack stop and maybe also a quick paddle, but it was not to be. There was a spot where we could have scrambled down to the bank with slightly older children in tow, but not practical with two small ones in slings, so we turned back and headed to the beginning again. I think we walked about 5km in total, there any back. It’s only a short stretch – 5km – from Rivel to Chalabre so we made it half way. With better planning it would be easily do-able as a family walk – good for buggies – and also a very easy cycle ride, so definitely one to do again, perhaps with a picnic stop by the river and playground before making the return journey? If I get my act together, it might be possible to cycle to the creche once DS starts doing longer hours. I love living here.

Walking the Sentier des Plâtriers

We did this walk ages ago but the pics I took were with my camera so it took me a while to get round to downloading them. Now that’s done, here’s the write up I said I would do in my Exploring on Foot post.

The Walk

The walk starts in the small village of Rouvenac, which is nestled in the Faby valley between Puivert and Esperaza. Leaving the place in Rouvenac, we crossed over the bridge, take a left, then headed straight ahead, following the road towards Galie. This climbs steadily until you reach the ruined moulin, which is a nice place for a quick explore – there’s an information board, in French – and a snack stop, if needed.

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The moulin – worth a look

Just past here the road forks, going left towards Galie and the short way to Fa, or right – which is the direction this walk takes.

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A well-signed route! Lots of options from here too.

The road then follows round the hill, climbing all the time (but once you’re at the top, you’re done) into a really quiet out-of-the-way valley. It’s quite an unusual landscape. Look out for the donkeys!

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James (with DS fast asleep) admiring the view

The track wiggles a little bit back and forth then turns off sharply to the right. We weren’t sure about this and um’d and ah’d before heading that way. Perhaps one of the signs is missing? Either way, after passing a couple of houses in very idyllic spots, the route takes the track to the right and heads a little higher before starting to descend, back in the direction of Rouvenac.

The next turning was little difficult to spot. It is signed but not that noticeably. First you pass the sign, by the V shaped tree, then you see, on the right side of the track a wooden “gate” – just wide enough to fit one relatively slender human through.

After squeezing through the stile, the walk follows a lovely winding path through the trees, through some fields with cattle (I know not what breed).

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A quiet path winding through the trees

It was at this point that DD decided she wanted to walk and she really enjoyed hopping over the rocks and picking her way along the path – until we came to the field of cattle! I had a few run-ins with cows while mountain biking in the Peaks back in the UK so am always wary of them now, so we bundled her up onto my shoulders for that stretch! I’m sure they were friendly but they are big animals so I prefer just to get past them asap so I can get on with enjoying my walk. By this time we were ready for a quick refreshment stop – snack time, and DD took some pictures with my camera.

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A quick refreshment stop for DS. It’s thirsty work being carried.

Shortly after here an electric fence blocked the path. As this was one of our very first walks we weren’t really sure what that meant but now know that it’s fairly common for tracks to be “blocked” by fencing, put there purely to keep the livestock where they want them. That’s what the plastic handles are for, so you can open the fence and pass through – no need to take your chances hopping over the top.

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An electric fence and some cabanes hidden in the woods

According to the sign there are some cabanes up there somewhere, but they weren’t visible from the track and we didn’t go looking for them. There’s no mention of them on the Internet either (I Googled on my return) so have no idea what’s there and will just have to take a closer look the next time we do this walk.

From this point the walk meanders down a very obvious path all the way back to the village. You come out at the back of the village and, on arriving at the first houses, can follow the road to the right (which takes you past the park and also the water fountain) or wander through the narrow streets and eventually back to the bridge.

The Verdict

On the Rando Pyrenees Audioses website it’s listed as an easy walk and estimates it to take about 2 hours. That was about right for us – and that was with DD pottering along and a snack stop. Anyone with a good march on could get round in much less time. It’s a nice length for a family, only 3 miles, and although it is hilly, once you’re at the top you’re done and it’s downhill all the way from there. Our three-year-old was carried all the way top but enjoyed walking all the way down.

We always like a walk with “features” – meaning a bit of variety – and enjoyed that aspect of this walk: the open valley, the woods, the cows, the meandering nature of the descent. It’s a nice walk for a family outing, never to far from civilization, fairly well signed, with lots of opportunities for snack stops and wildlife spotting. And also a nice route for any trail runners wanting to sneak a quick 5k in!

Getting There

Although we were living only a short distance away, we drove down and parked in the square by the bridge. The only way to get there, unless you’re already in the village, is by car. There may be buses but they are few and far between. The nearest railway station is Esperaza.

If, like us, you are doing the walk with small children, I recommend crossing over the bridge then taking left and then a right to park closer to or directly alongside the park, as we ended up there on our return then struggled to get a very tired DD back to the car. A three-year-old who won’t walk or be carried is a force to be reckoned with!

Refreshment Stops

As far as refreshments go, there isn’t anywhere nearby to recommend. At the time of writing the restaurant in Rouvenac is closed and for sale, so unlikely to reopen anytime soon. There’s the Cafe de Fa, a few miles down the road serving both food and drinks or, if you fancy a speciality beer, there’s the Brasserie de Quercorb, a microbrewery in Puivert, which is well worth a visit. Opening times may change so check their Facebook pages before setting off. In summer months there are other places in Puivert and also in Esperaza. Whether they’ll be open or not is another matter!

DOWNLOAD THE GPX FILE FROM GPSIES

Have you visited Rouvenac and done this walk? If so, what did you think?

 

A Tale of Two Trailer Rides

Since riding Circuit 20 on my own the other day and deciding it would be too much with the trailer – too much uphill for my current fitness levels and also a bit too bumpy for the little ones – I’ve been trying, with mixed success, to get round Circuit 11, which is graded green (easy). It’s a nice route as it passes close by the aerodrome where the small plane and gliders take off and land, so lots of opportunities for plane spotting.

I’ve made two attempts so far. The first time I went the wrong way round, according to the official route map, and also underestimated the sun. I cut the ride short after a slow, steady climb on a grassy track that required me to get off and push, leading from complaints from the trailer about how slow I was going, and because I was worried about not having their sun hats or any suncream; it’s taking a while to get used to living somewhere with good weather whereas dressing them up to keep warm or dry is second nature! DD was keen to get the playground anyway so I missed off that last loop and came back via the most direct route.

On my second attempt, there were complaints from my passengers about it being too bumpy last time, so I headed up the track anyway but took care to ride slowly and avoid any big bumps. I was at least going the right way round and my main aim for this attempt was to at least complete the leap I missed the first time around. I had to bail on that again though, as it when it came to the bottom of the track, DD took one look at it and decided it would be too bumpy. Abort, abort! I turned tail and headed back to the playground figuring I’d rather have a short ride with two happy passengers than a long ride accompanied by screaming and whinging – and I really don’t want to put them off.

 

The upshot is I need to out again and the only way I stand a chance of checking out the full loop is to do it on my own. Oh, the hardship 🙂 The weekend is coming, so guess what I have lined up…

 

Yes, out on my own on my lovely bike. Whoopee!!

Trailer ride!

The sun was shining, we were all stuck indoors, bouncing of the walls a little, so there was only one thing for it. Yes, TRAILER RIDE!!!

My bike was up for it, still functional after spending winter under a tarp on the balcony, and the trailer was all set up ready. DD was excited and had agreed that it would be okay to share her trailer with DS. Phew. I dragged bike and trailer up to the square, prepared some supplies, and set about buckling up the smalls. DS didn’t have the faintest idea what was happening and didn’t seem keen at first, not helped by a small amount of faffing while I changed the straps so they were set up for two passengers side-by-side instead of one in the middle. Luckily he settled and stopped trying to break free once DD was seated beside him. We were off!

The route to the park (our destination) is all downhill – whoopee! We sped down, squeals and giggles coming from the trailer, and DD announced, “I’m happy, Mummy.” Yup, I was pretty happy too!

We got to the park, made a little camp in the play house, and had our snacks. Then, after a good run around and some trading of sticks for daisies from our little “shop”, it was time to head back. Uphill. All the way.

Eventually I made it. Approaching the steepest part of the return journey, which also happens to be the very last part of the journey, I’d saved myself one gear. Phew. I couldn’t go faster or talk much – my legs were burning! – and the littles weren’t asleep when I got back, which was a key part of the master plan. Who cares though. I rode my bike, DS had his first ride in the trailer, and DD had fun riding with him. We’re moving in 10 days and DD’s new maternelle is a short, rideable distance away. It’s sunny and it’s only March. Awesome!

Exploring on Foot

Wow, it’s been a while since I posted here! All my focus lately is on looking after the two littlies and searching for a house so even the idea of getting out on my bike has fallen by the wayside. Cycling is firmly off the table until the weather improves – icy roads are not for me and I need my MTB buddy back before I can go and explore the trails – and rarely have 10 minutes free even for a quick twirl of the hoop, let alone a short yoga or kettlebell session.

What I am managing to do more of though is walk. With DD wanting – no, needing – to get out and burn off some of her never-ending supply of energy and us otherwise cooped up in the teeny-tiny little gite we’re renting (see my other blog for the low down on all that) I am often on my feet, even if its just chaperoning her down the road in the hameau for a short ride on her bike or to watch while she whizzes round and round in the square. This is good because it means I’m regularly hitting or nearly hitting my 7,500 daily step target, to the extent that I’ve considered upping it to 10,000. Maybe I’ll do that once the weather improves.

We’ve also been making more of an effort to get out and go on something resembling a proper walk. Nothing too strenuous as having two small children in tow makes the chances of getting around a longer walk less likely – just exploring some small circuits on local trails.

Part of the appeal of this area is that every village seems to have it’s own network of waymarked walks. On arrival in the village there’s usually a board with map showing the available routes and giving information on their gradings (following the green, blue, red, black gradings common to ski runs and bike trails) and navigation information. The navigation system is new to us as we have no such system in place in the UK, but it’s very intuitive and makes following a route fairly simple and relatively safe (with map and compass packed alongside, of course.)

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There are also extensive trails, usually marked on maps, which I’m told are effective rights of way unless a landowner states otherwise. French neighbours have informed me that you can pretty much follow any track or trail unless it has been fenced off and marked as private. Cool! I’m still not totally relaxed about this approach as I’m so used to the very prescriptive attitude to rights of way in the UK but we have started to venture onto some local paths, making up our own walks, and I’m sure we’ll do more of that as time goes on.

So where have we been? Well, we’ve done a number of short walks worthy of mention, all between two or three miles, over easy terrain, so nice to do as a family.

First we walked from Rouvenac where we followed the Sentier de Plâtriers route, which sounds very romantic but actually translates as the Path of Plasterers! This took us up from the village towards the ruined moulin (mill) and into a quiet, open valley before bringing us back round the hill and down through fields and woodland towards the village. Beautiful. It had plenty of “features” to keep us interested.One of family “catchphrases” is that We Like a Feature Walk, and this one ticked our boxes.

More recently we went off to Nebias to walk the Sentier du Labyrinthe Vert. Strava conked out on me just two minutes into it so I don’t have a track for that one, unfortunately. It was a great walk though, really laden with features and in a quite extraordinary landscape, so we’ll definitely go back to do it again.

Next, I’ll write up each of the walks and share my GPS tracks. Until then, a bien tôt!

The distractions continue

My kettle bells are in a box. The bikes I have with me are locked up on the balcony. Lately, the fitness journey has taken a detour as we’ve been busy not just moving house but relocating from England to France (more about that on my other blog.) Although I’ve not been doing anything organised or sticking to my programme, it has been an exceptionally busy and physical time, packing and moving boxes, hoovering and cleaning while carrying a whiny and clingy baby and occasionally a toddler too. Now we’ve moved I’m enjoying a bit of a rest, trying to unwind a little, getting some naps in the afternoons alongside my babies, and getting acclimatised to this wonderful weather. As always, I’m planning rides; long, lovely rides on quiet roads in good weather. As luck would have it there are other bike mad people in the place we’re staying, which is great as it means I may have some company when I’m ready to venture out onto the local trails, of which there are many.

It’s an exciting time but, with my baby only 6 months old and his big sister going through some crazy developmental stuff while also adjusting to a complete change in her reality thanks to the move, it’s still early days when it comes to planning days out in the saddle. That time will come. I know it will and I am doing my best to be patient. Still, An (one of my new bike mad friends) and I are going to try and escape, to leave our little ones with their daddies, for a short ride later in the week. There are some fantastic trails around here and the marked routes are generally good for both walking and cycling, not restricted or designated for a specific purpose, in the same way that UK rights of way are. In addition, there are some other routes that are not public but accessible on permission of the landowner. Since our current home is a tiny hameau where everyone knows everyone that means that it’s okay to walk on the many tracks and trails in the vicinity, so we all went out for a short walk the other day – just one mile but with 150m of elevation! – in search of a nearby waterfall with a pool for swimming. It’s a magical place and I’m so excited about being able to raise my children here, where enjoying the outdoors is the norm and there is so much to do, with so many new places to explore.