After checking unwieldy and creased paper maps (no GPS, thank you!) we booked an Air B and B and set out on a voyage to Cordes-sur Ciel as the name was so strangely beautiful - Cordes on the sky. First stop was Lautrec, a small stone village, (Hello Sophie, if you read this, and thanks for the recommendation) not far from Albi.
As the sun was already crashing down at eleven o'clock we had a small wander, drank thermos tea and bought a skein of garlic from a woman platting the bulbs together in a garage/atelier. Garlic is THE thing here and was promoted outside every shop along with clothes, table-cloths and many other fabric-y things dyed in the soft and beguiling Pastel - a blue dye made from a plant cultivated in the region. I resisted a marvellous blue, embroidered bolero, walked the rest of the vertiginous streets and we moved on to Gaillac.
After parking on the outskirts we walked down to the river and admired the arching main bridge but not the magnitude of dog poo everywhere. (Think it might be a good investment by the Marie or the town to invest in some dog-poo bins). First impressions were of a rather sad cousin of Albi, further along the Tarn, but after a further look - and not a very comprehensive one as it was now about forty degrees - we liked it and its air of faded grandeur, which may be changing - up or down, wealth-wise; it was difficult to tell.
After returning to the mobile-oven/car we drove on to Cordes desperate for a shower and a lie down in a dim room - curtains wafting gently, tea brewing, etc - to then read the Air B and B blurb and discover check-in was after 5.00 pm. Arg.
Approaching Cordes, especially in our hallucinatory, overheated states, it was possible to see where the name heralded from - the town almost suspended on a hilltop like something from a Miyazaki film. The climb up there was not going to happen so we sat in a café for a while, slapped at wasps and decided on a further drive to somewhere called Carmaux where there is a particularly fine abandoned coal mine. Yes. Travelling with The Boy does mean detours to look at crumbling factories and disused quarries but happily, I love all that melancholic wandering about in such places even though they are better viewed under scudding cloud and fine drizzle, not ragingly blue skies.
So, we left Cordes and drove about sixty K in the wrong direction but ended up near Najac where I was able to get in, and convince Him, to swim in the river Aveyron which was the best thing ever - deep, cool water, overhanging trees and little blue dragon-flies zipping over the water's surface.
Wild swimming opportunity
After, we visited Najac on seeing the 'Un de les Plus beaux village de France' sign. And it was. Unbelievably Beau. So much so, I wasn't sure it was actually real and kept imagining Gerard Depardieu might appear in medieval costume and swagger off to le catering van at any moment.
Back to the B and B which was now get-in-able, had showers and lay about for a while before climbing the cobbled streets of ancient Cordes. It was rather wonderful, a bit like a tiny version of Carcassonne without all the plastic swords and other rubbish. After the usual farting about when trying to choose where to eat the one special meal of the trip we opted for the oldest and most established restaurant and sat in a stone courtyard under the interlaced branches of a three-hundred year-old Wisteria.
The next day dawned slightly cloudy (Wheee!) We set off to find Carmaux without getting lost, and early enough to be able to explore and not just collapse in cafés.
And it was SO worth it. Carmaux council, or whoever owns this deserted coal-washing plant are keen, understandably, to keep people out so it took a bit of locating. In the end it was surprisingly easy to park and walk half a kilometre to the site - now mostly overgrown with Poplar and Brambles. I don't think I've ever been to such a marvel in our catalogue of disused industrial places. Vast, towering walls of concrete and broken glass, crumbling staircases and a the weird coal-washing 'vats' themselves. I suppose to demolish something like that would be SO expensive and probably dangerous - having seen quite a lot of what looked like asbestos lying about - that the place just sits there rotting a bit more every day. And it's not exactly a Battersea Power station location either - penthouse flat anyone? Nope. Not in a rural, ex-coal-mining area of the Tarn.
we know how to have a good time . . .
Happiness is a disused coal-washing plant.
Then, onto the open cast mine itself . . . and found it was no longer an interesting, abandoned place full of rusting machinery. Instead some sort of 'loisir' camping/horse-riding area that the council had very sensibly devised and constructed on the ruins of the old site. We did see a 'bucket wheel excavator' something that Ezra has shown me pictures of from a German coal-field and looks like something from a star-wars film. This was a small one, but nevertheless impressive.
Weariness had descended from the heat so we drove homewards in a very convoluted way as I was obsessed with wild swimming in something - river or lake. Unfortunately all the magnificent 'barrages' we did find were No Swimming ones, and the waterfalls we started to trek towards were signposted as miles away/proper footwear required. So, air-conditioning on, I stopped meandering about and headed back through the shimmering heat haze of the Tarn to the equally boiling Aude.
A nice field in the Tarn