'Imagination will take you everywhere'
It’s raining. Again. Typical British summer.
The constant thud of rain has brought me back to reality after three sun-drenched weeks. The hot French landscape seems a world away from this grey country. Although it’s just a hop over le Manche. Driving off the ferry and past the freshly erected fences shielding the motorway from the migrants made me feel a mixture of guilt and relief. Only a few days earlier there were scenes of chaos with never-ending lines of traffic. I felt guilty that I was about to embark on a summer holiday when others had no home to live in and were desperately trying to enter the country I was escaping.
Northern France was experiencing a heatwave when we began our journey. The stubbly wheat fields blazed golden, while the sky was an azure blue – not something we normally associate with the north! We headed down south as fast as we could, praying that the good weather would continue.
Nothing can beat the feeling of being on the open road; driving further and further away from everything familiar, and into the unknown, the horizon hazy but full of possibilities.
We stopped off in the champagne region, the vines stood in strict rows – like soldiers standing to attention. The land around this area is flat, so you can see for miles. It’s so vast that often you won’t see any buildings or manmade objects, just fields and trees. I felt as if I was in the middle of nowhere; a welcome change from the confines of city life, where the view from my window consists of a block of flats.
We drove on through the Massif Central region, with its wild and rugged landscape and twisting mountain roads (car sickness inducing). There is a national park with huge forests punctuated with fields of white cows and then hidden lakes looming into view behind all the twists and turns. It was at this point that we decided to stick to straight roads, or risk the whole family turning green.
Passing through the Tarn et Garonne was beautiful. All French villages have a certain je ne sais quoi but particularly in the south, the villages are so quaint and pretty. Old stone houses with shutters, cobbled streets, central squares and grand churches, boulangeries (I’ve sampled way too many baguettes and croissants), flowers everywhere and tree-lined roads. On a Sunday, villages have a ghostly quality as everywhere is quiet and empty. It is this peace and quiet that I love. One particularly très joli village is Belcastel. Hidden in a small valley, it has a chateaux perched at the top of a cliff overlooking a tiny cluster of houses and a bridge with a river flowing around the contours of the mountains.
Our favourite area is the Gers; a land of undulating hills, like smooth waves rolling under the fields. Sunflowers pop up everywhere – even in places they’re not meant to be – albeit most of them are dead (sad and forlorn-looking) – but there is such a magical beauty to those yellow heads beaming up at the sun. They look as if they are filled with joy. Slender cypress trees are dotted everywhere, while churches sit atop hills surveying the panoramic vistas that are frequent in this region. The landscape around the village of Saint Clar is particularly stunning – like something out of an Impressionist painting. It was hard to pull ourselves away.
Holidays are meant for appreciating the things you don’t have time for. Appreciating the beauty of the natural world is one of those things – especially when you’re camping and you’re so close to nature, you start to value the things you don’t normally notice. The sparkling pinpricks in the night sky (glanced when dashing to the toilet), the early morning sun burning through mist in the valley, dew glimmering from leaves, donkeys braying in the distance, or birds dancing in the air.
I’ve attempted to capture these moments along the way. So when the rain pours down, I just have to look at one of these photographs to feel the sun on my skin and smell the fresh warm air…