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Gorge du Tarn is said to be one of France’s best sport climbing destinations. My dear Climber raced up a few 7a-7c’s and raved about the beautiful lines and amazing rock quality. I shivered in two sets of thermals and two down jackets and couldn’t wait to get away from the bone aching cold and damp of a French November.

The only climbing related highlight for me was a crag kitten who, despite being quite boney, wasn’t terribly interested in eating Carrefour brand tuna. That stuff is truly vile.

The Gorge itself is very pretty and features a wide and fast running river that, in summer, is home to a significant tourist boat trade – the punters (pun intended) whizz down the river and then get out and get a bus back to where they started. I think it would be fun to do in a rubber ring with some kind of fruity cocktail in hand. Apparently the boat people are not fond of climbers, as climbers take up tourist space but don’t spend any money.

Camping is prohibited pretty much anywhere that you could possibly squeeze a van or tent into. This is a rather frustrating in winter when absolutely everything is closed. We met a few people who were camping in a closed campsite, although of course the water was turned off and everything locked up. We just parked by the side of the road near the river. With a little scramble it was easy enough to get down to the water to wash yourself in the icy water. There is some kind of bug or algae in the water (we couldn’t quite work out what the safety sign with all the explanation marks was trying to say) and so we used the convenient free tap in La Malène for drinking water. That village also has a handy and free public toilet (although you have to bring your own toilet paper).

Somewhat amazingly, I talked The Climber into coming on a walk and we took a very enjoyable stroll from Les Vignes to La Malène, along the footpath on the eastern side on the river. The path first took us past a few little farm houses (I naughtily took a fig from a closed up house) before entering the forest. Somewhere around here we acquired a very bouncy young Alsatian who decided to accompany us for much of our walk. He had a penchant for running up behind you with improbably large throwing sticks and inadvertently whacking you in the legs. So, despite his enthusiasm and undeniable cuteness, we weren’t too distraught when he bounded off with some other walkers.

The path kept near the cliff edge for some time, traversing forests of tall slim trees, with occasional headland vistas of the river and opposite side of the gorge. After a while the path turned to follow a dip in the land down towards the river and I delighted in the sweet little glades of moss and sand. After this pleasant descent we met the river and followed it for another little while before crossing the high stone bridge to enter La Malène. We had a slightly rainy lunch under the bridge and developed a number of interesting hypotheses as to why the family a little way down the beach was loading river rocks into their shiny new four wheel drive.

We returned on the road side of the river, which was quick but a little boring. In summer you could take a boat, which would be quite a lovely way to end the afternoon.

After a few more freezing days of belaying in the icy shadows, we decided that enough was enough and that it was time to drive south until we found slightly more sensible weather. On the way we paused for a short walk up on the plateau above the gorge, the Causse Méjean. The rounded grey gold terrain was harshly beautiful and the whipping November wind and tumbling grey clouds were strangely enjoyable in a Gothic kind of way. I would quite recommend a longer walk in the area – in spring and autumn the weather would be far more agreeable and the refugis open for business. I’d also like to visit Le Villaret and see the Przewalski’s Horses, which are part of a breeding program there.

The best walks, I am sure, are those I didn’t do. As we drove into Verdon Gorge the GPS (AKA, ‘Betsy’) took us on a bizarre route over hill and under dale. A good hour of this driving took us winding through classic Scottish highlands: rugged peaks outlined against turbulent grey skies, melting heather clinging to craggy hillsides and icy streams sinuous in the valley floor. Unfortunately, the vagaries of the GPS being what they are, I’m not exactly sure where this piece of deliciousness is and the Climber wasn’t telling, because he didn’t want to have to drive all the way back there. All I can say is that it was definitely not in Scotland (despite the feel of raspberry cranachan in my mouth) and it was probably within a 70km radius of Gorge du Tarn. Anyone got any ideas?