Rites of Spring

Please excuse the musical pun, but today’s forecast had been very Spring-like at yesterday’s viewing, so I planned another longish ride to celebrate. (In fact, by this morning the forecast had altered to suggest rain by the evening, but my mind was set, so I stuck with my plan: a route to La Charce, then across to Saoû, and then back via the D93.) 90 miles, as it turned out, many of them warm and sunny. Spring. Definitely. Well, mostly.
Weather-wise, this week has also been notable for the strong north-westerlies, and today’s route was chosen to avoid any long slogs into an unremitting wind.
It was certainly a good route, with plenty to enjoy, both on the cycling front, and from the geological viewpoint. Apart from the famous formation at La Charce, I tried to snap a few of the eye-catching and varied roadside examples of exposed geology, much of it trying to fall down or getting washed away, while the French road engineers try to stop the geology falling on the roads, or the roads themselves following the geology down the mountain-sides.
And what of these rites of spring? From a cyclist’s perspective: riding without leg- and arm-warmers; finding a café where you can sit outside and glow in the sun; finding routes with several cols; and getting home to find that you’ve got tan-lines that identify you as a cyclist. On those criteria, it was Spring today. But I need a little more convincing yet.

In the photos you’ll see the four cols (plus bike),  geological features from before the Col de Prémol then La Charce onwards, the change of the weather back in the Drôme valley, and a Springy primrose on the road back home, as they didn’t feature in my autumnal collection of roadside flowers.

The route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/7375252

On the ascent to Col de Prémol
Detail of the rock face – notice the vertical strata squashed in between the horizontal ones
La Charce’s famous rock structure
La Charce
The ascent to Berlières
The bike takes a jaunty angle

Spring must be coming…

Let’s say that this week hasn’t been very Mediterranean yet. The verges are covered in primroses, the farmers have been planting green crops, the snow is melting on all but the highest tops, and yet it’s feeling distinctly cool. There have been strong Mistral-type winds from the north, and the sun has been somewhat reluctant to show its face. Still (of course) I’ve managed a couple of 50ish-mile rides,  but today’s forecast of unbroken sunshine meant I had to do something bigger… even if the forecast turned out to be very optimistic.

Still, if you’re used to the vagaries of English weather, clouds and strong winds aren’t enough to deter, so today’s route of 85 miles (after some furniture moving for my English friends down here) went ahead as planned. It’s still too early to do big cols (some of the higher ones on the Vercors plateau are turned into ski runs in the winter), so I headed west and north up to Barcelonne and back via the Col Jérôme Cavalli and Gigors. The main reason for the route was to try a different way up to the col, via Combovin. (I’m guessing this would be ‘Sheepscombe’ in English.) These ways up to the plateau take on extra resonance when you’ve read how crucial they were in the Second World War (there are just seven roads up: two in the north, four in the west, one in the south, and none in the east.)

Anyway, the route was a corker: the photos begin just after Crest,  from where I avoided the unpleasant D538 by taking lovely side roads via les Picoux, Vaunaveys, Ourches and La-Baumes-Cornillanes. This is a pretty, lumpy undulating route (poorly signposted),  but it gives magnificent views down to Valence and the Rhône Valley. Quite a different feeling from Drôme valley routes.
The climb to the col is spectacular too, first up the side of the combe,  then hopping over to the next combe, at the base of which you once again see the fort at Barcelonne. I was going to end the series of photos at the col, but Les Trois Becs, which so often overlook routes all over the area, caught my eye on the D93 on the way back from Mirabel, and just had to have the snow-capped peak of la Pelle snapped.

The route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/7375434

The tower at Crest, in front of the Trois Becs
The tower at Barcelonne
A hairpin on the ascent to the Col Jérôme Cavalli
Barcelonne tower from the climb up from Combovin
The northern bec of the Trois Becs

Cirque d’Archiane

Easter is looming,  so it’s time for my next escape. The journey was by plane (to Paris) and train,  and apart from a delay to the TGV part of the journey (because of a bit of a punch-up at Marne-la-Vallée,  and police being called), I arrived at a civilised hour,  in time to light a fire and heat up some smuggled turkey and tomato pasta for supper.

The forecast for today was worsening later, so with shopping and stuff to do at some stage, the first ride was this morning. I decided to revisit Cirque d’Archiane: I’ve been there before, but this was the first time with my Sony HX50 and good light.

You’ll see from the photos what a stunning place it is: a long deep valley surrounded by towering rocks, in the summer it is very popular with walkers, but on a weekday in March not a soul to be seen. Approaching from Châtillon-en-Diois you get your first glimpse of the rocks above the valley as you approach Menée, where you turn left. Then just follow your nose and prepare to gawp at the scenery.

It’s a there-and-back road, so you’ll have take the detour to see it, but it’s well worth the effort. And though it’s worth it for the scenery alone, if you’re interested in the geography or geology, I expect you’ll be harnessing the power of the internet to find out more about this extraordinary place.