After our meet & greet with our first home exchange family we headed north, as we had not yet visited the two nearby towns of Bellac and Le Dorat. We stopped in each in turn and walked the historic centres. Both had their beauty and charms but the day was already mid 30s and our appetite for historic sights was sadly lacking. We needed water to hide under, so we quickly scooted east to Saint Pardoux lake, a place we know well. A lazy day of swimming and relaxing on the beach followed, and we overnighted in the extensive car-park, empty once the day-trippers had fled. Next morning, to avoid the worst of the days’ heat, we rose at 7.30am for a run around the lake shore paths along beautiful woodland trails. We had run parts of this before on previous trips, so should have known the way, but still took a wrong turn and missed off part of our route, cutting the morning run to only 9km.
We moved on east to Lake Vassiviere, one year on since our first SwimRun there last July. Rather than search for a hidden place to wild camp, we entered the paid aire (€5 per night) in Auphelle so we could have some shade. Our day was mostly swimming, reading and lying supine in the shade, like most others. It was a little cooler the next morning, so we undertook the 30km cycle around the perimeter of the lake. It was on bumpy, root-tangled tracks, great fun downhill but more work than expected uphill. To keep cool we stopped often and punctuated the ride with three long swims in the refreshing lake. It was a great reminder of both the scale and easy accessibility of the lake, a wonderful facility for all to enjoy. Outside of the beach in Auphelle, and one at Pierrefitte, there were only tiny pockets of people scattered around the perimeter, it never feeling busy even in the busiest period of high summer.
From here we drove south, stopping on a partial whim to climb to a tower on Mont Bessou, offering panoramic views of the Corrèze countryside. We climbed the steps of the metal tower to enjoy the view, before following the informative route des champignons back through the forest to Benny. Soon after we arrived in Meymac, stopping at Lake Séchemailie to visit the beach and enjoy many swims to escape the heat of the day. We watched an English school group competing in water based games and races involving kayaks, SUPs and canoes. We were in this area as we had eyed up a 12km trail race near here, in Liginiac, but we were feeling lethargic and fatigued, so decided to forgo it. Preparing our house for Home Exchange guests had taken more time and effort than expected. Back at Benny, we rigged up blankets and tarpaulins to our awning in an attempt to create shade, still overheating in the canicule.
We kept heading south, the roads becoming smaller and smaller, but only very rarely did we see another vehicle. We had one quick stop to take in a classic view, seen often on the tourist literature for the Corrèze region. High above the Dordogne river stood steep-sided rounded mounds blanketed thick with lush trees, the dark Dordogne river snaking serenely between multiple interlocking fat fingers of jutting hillside. Soon after we stopped at a scruffy farm French Passion producer, called Buron de Fages. They were a producer of fine cheeses, and we bought a few tasty morsels after a quick sampling. As soon as we arrived back into Benny we had the first rain of this trip, a noisy downpour. The air was definitely cooler and less close afterwards, a welcome change from the oppressive heat.
We walked a loop of local country lanes later with two of the farm boys, a 13 yo and 6 yo, and three of their many dogs. Their dogs were all massive Great Pyrenees mastiffs, with long white coats covering thickly muscular bodies, but incredibly docile and passive. The 6 yo was mercilessly bullied by his older brother (who likely had the same from his older siblings) but he took it well with a resigned smile, even when de-trousered, thrown deep into the hedge and bombarded with leaves. Neither spoke any English and had no desire to learn, as they only know this life and want to continue to work on the farm their whole lives, as they do now. Later in the evening we watched the older brother carry a very young donkey foal around on his shoulders, we could only imagine that he was showing off to his younger brother that he could. It’s a very different world in the deeply rural places of France.
Woken early by the normal machinations of a busy farm, we were soon away. The rains had returned overnight and brought grey, smudgy clouds with them. Under this dull grey, but dry, blanket we passed through Argentat to reach Farm Lanteuil, A France Passion producer, where the rains began again with vigour. We parked in a grassy field with a friendly white horse as constant company outside our window. After a quick chat to the proprietor, we arranged a time to enjoy tastings of their various jams, tarts and fruit juices. Another camping-car had appeared and that gentleman, travelling alone, joined in with our tasting session. With his chat and questions the conversations soon became fast and complicated, making it a struggle to keep up with everything. French listening is still beyond me when it involves several people talking, especially if they are animated and excited – Improvement is slow in coming.
We left in search of services, and as it was near our chosen route, we decided it would be simple to stop off in the quiet village of Gignac, a place we had stayed recently on our way to Provence. But to our great surprise this sleepy village had been transformed, and we were almost consumed by it. There were hundreds of cars and thousands of tents in fields just outside the centre, as we arrived into the mass of humanity that was a music concert. We crawled through the crowds of pedestrians towards the aire, hoping we could still, possibly, quickly service and go. A friendly volunteer said that would be fine, a barrier was tweaked across and we rushed in before his mind changed. But the aire had been taken over for the private use of the performers, and we should never have been allowed in. Nicky stopped and I jumped out immediately to empty our loo. I was oblivious as she was surrounded by screaming staff telling us we can’t be in here and need to get out, now! Whilst Nicky deflected them I managed to empty our WC canister successfully, but as we tried to make a rushed exit, our way was blocked by the arrival of a huge touring bus. It was UB40, and we were in their place. A quick manoeuvre sideways, their giant multi-storey bus cruised past and we made our daring escape, back through the crowds and away. A rather unexpected and stressful palaver for all.
Relieved, as at least we had a usable toilet, we made it to the Jardins D’Eyrignac, where we overnighted in their beautiful, peaceful car-park and enjoyed the open part of their gardens. We could pick up their free wifi and this, coupled with a VPN, allowed us to catch up on the Tour de France highlights on ITV 4. We felt a little guilty for this as we never entered the gardens proper (it was €11 each). The morning took us to Lac du Causse, where we stopped briefly to do a reccy for future stops, then on to Ayen. We had looked at the aire in Ayen once before in passing, but never stayed there. We knew it was nice and suspected it may be busy, but there were no other vans and no signs of any during our quiet evening. We sun-bathed and read for a few blissful hours and later, after dinner, enjoyed a slow walk around the village and nearby country lanes, passing a few beautiful homes and chateaux on our way.
The morning sun lead us to Saint Jean-de-Côle, a short way west of Thiviers. We viewed their beautiful chateau and market square, flanked by an 11th century bridge. That afternoon we enjoyed copious free tastings in a beautiful distillery shop and came away with a bottle. We hadn’t planned to stay here, but found we had no will to move on, so settled in for a long, lazy evening. Next morning we had a visit to Nontron, where a Knife Festival was in full flow. The town has a long history of knife production, and one square had demonstrations of traditional blacksmithing techniques, and a central museum had rooms filled with hundreds of knives of various types, lengths and uses.
From here we parked up at the Lac de St. Mathieu, in time for lunch. We spent a few hours on the beach, dipping in the water and reading, then walked the easy 2.5km loop of the lake to stretch our legs. Later we had the urge to run the same perimeter lap, to see what time we could do for a short sprint run, just managing to dip under 10 minutes. Even over such a short distance I was still averaging a much slower pace than top marathon runners do for the whole race. We were only 20 minutes from home now, and we had arranged to see off our first Home Exchange guests at 10am the following morning, so we were perfectly suited to return in time. Only the arrival of another camping car at midnight, followed by chatting until 1am, broke the tranquillity of our peaceful last night.