Finding myself in the town of Beaujeu on Saturday lunchtime I headed for the Tourist Information Office to ask about the local walks.
FERMÉ JUSQU’À AVRIL
I was in a wine region in midwinter. Of course it was closed. But there were boards.
Circuit des Grandes Terres 20 km
Circuit de la Croix de Rochefort 14 km
Circuit des Coteaux du Beaujolais 11 km
Circuit de la Vallée des Andilleys 10 km
Circuit du Site du Château St Jean 7 km
A place you could bring your entire family. If they liked walks. Or wine. Personally, I fancied Le Circuit des Grandes Terres because I liked the name. But as time was tight I went for Le Circuit de la Croix de Rochefort and after two hours of steep climbing found myself 900 metres up looking at a great iron cross on a ledge: The Cross of Rochefort, surrounded by tall snow-blown firs. Slivers of super chilled ice on the woodland floor reminded me of shavings of white chocolate you find on expensive cakes. The sun catching the frozen cones high up in the canopy illuminating the forest below with an eerie glow as though wired to a mysterious energy.
It was a truly magical setting, yet the menace of civilisation wasn’t far away. I could hear it. Dogs and guns. Somewhere in the forest wild boar were being tracked and shot. Not that I disapproved of the killing. Just the loud rasping yells of the hunters in the unfathomable tongue of La Chasse disturbing my peace. The maddening yelp of the hounds. The crack of the gun. The blood gurgling squeal of the dying boar. Too much for the city dweller.
I quickened my step, willing myself away from the slaughter and into the valley that gently led back down to the town. I was below the snowline now and on a narrow brittle road. It was almost dark and even though there was a full moon, the clouds were keeping it locked away. Within thirty minutes I was in almost total darkness. But it’s hard to get lost on a single tracked road that has no turnings. Even in pitch blackness, you keep walking and eventually end up somewhere. I made it back to Beaujeu at around seven. There was a light on in the bar across from the car park, but there was no one in it, not even a barman. I headed home.
The ski bus left at 6.30 from Bellecour. Three hundred people clad in hi-tech clothing, skis and snowboards slung over their shoulders like rifles, waiting for the day’s adrenalin rush to begin. This would be a different type of day. Noise and laughter. High-jinks in the snow. No eerie silences of the forest. No ethereal illuminations. No guns or dogs. Silliness all round as we made our way to Les Sept Laux between Chambery and Grenoble. I was on the slopes by 9.30 and once I got into my stride, I skied furiously until lunch: a whole ham baguette under a pine tree at 2000 metres. Then another madcap session until four. And then I got back on the bus and went home. I said it was different.
On the Saturday I can recall everything I did in detail. That ridge, that gulley, those deer, the lichen strewn boulders, the moss seat by the stream, the bright red fungus that looked tempting enough to eat. Dreams of building a house by the lake. Thinking of the angle of the sun on my perfectly constructed roof.
On the Sunday I remember almost nothing. A blur of speed and excess. Like a big party. It started quickly and then it was finished. And yet, they both excited me and fascinated me in equal measures. Complementary with no loose ends. Neat bundles. One magical and fairylike – a meditation. The other manic and dangerous – a bloodbath. The hunt?
I arrived back in Lyon at 6.30. My red blood cells ripe and oxygen rich. Fizzing around my body looking for more adventure. Gasping for clean air rather than the air of a million Peugeots. It’s just a matter of time I told myself on Sunday night just as my eyes fell out of my head and onto my pillow looking for sleep. I didn’t dream as I recall. No icing sugar filled ravines or chocolate coated trees. Just the thought in the morning of snow blown trees, thundering ski slopes and, rather strangely, the angle of the sun on a perfectly constructed roof.