After Blois we drive down through the centre of France, sometimes for just a couple of hours at a time and occasionally managing a slightly longer stint. We generally wake up slowly and only manage – frustratingly – to get going around noon. Once or twice with a lot of effort we’ve managed a slightly earlier start. There are always jobs to be done; water to be filled up, loos to be emptied, beds to be taken down and put away, children to entertain and food to be cooked. Due to extreme cold and wet, we have really only ventured out for the odd mooch. We don’t stray far from our little home; we’re not in the lingering phase of our journey yet, we’re compelled at the moment to keep moving.
The changing landscape is a constant source of interest to us adults. From flat, vast expanses of land dotted with sparse trees hung with spherical blobs of what looks to be mistletoe, to gradually more undulating fields, then to thickly wooded hills. The character of the buildings changes with the land but they are always beautiful; constructed of stone, hung with painted wooden shutters and always with an eye for the aesthetic. Each little town is immaculate and arranged around a central square, invariably containing a place of worship and a collection of trimmed trees. These trees have fascinated me since we first saw them, they’re obviously mature but kept to a few stubby boughs. Their branches are clipped close to these central stumps; oddly stunted, like hands with their fingertips missing. I assume that in the spring they will put forth a flush of whippy new growth and I hope that I get a chance to see them looking more unfettered.
Along our route we also see plenty of chateaus, each one with turrets to rival anything Disney could dream up. They are impossibly romantic; chalky walled palaces, relics of another age nestling like half forgotten fairytales amongst the trees.
Particularly lovely are the custard yellow towns of the Dordogne or ‘Doydoyn’ as Monty calls it. In the midst of our bleak flit south they have provided some warmth and charm when it was most needed. Often these little ochre communes cling to the hillsides snugly and though they are mostly closed for the winter (obviously) they offer a glimpse of cheerier times ahead. We stop at one of them, Lez Eyzies, to explore some of the cave art of the area and are grateful for the helpful tourist information woman (I’m fairly sure we are the only people she’s spoken to all month) who calls the staff at Grotte Font de Gaume to ask them to wait for us and points us to our first proper campsite. This little farm, although difficult to find, provides me with my first hot shower since leaving England.
As we continue South we come to classic French tree-lined roads and the houses seem to space themselves further from one another. We see the odd palm tree and plenty of prune shops. The light changes subtlely and the evening skies become altogether more promising. Naively, we start to feel like we have passed to the other side of winter.