One of my favourite poems – nonsense song might be more appropriate, on reflection – is Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter (from Through the Looking Glass) particularly the well known verse that reads as follows:
‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax …
Of cabbages, and kings …
And why the sea is boiling hot,
And whether pigs have wings.’
We have been on our new campsite at Tarascon-sur-Ariège, in the Pyrénées, for a few days now. It is very different from our previous campsite at Cordes-sur-Ciel, and I am reminded in many ways of Lewis Carroll’s verse as a result of being here?! it is not just because we appear to have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in terms of campsites … but also because I suspect that this campsite was once put to more agricultural use in previous days than it is now. Our new campsite is part of the Yelloh Camping Village chain and there are lots of activities for children and young people here, and more facilities such as a shop, restaurant, wine bar and fast food facilities, and so on. We normally would not camp at such a site, but it is near to Montségur – the last stronghold of the Cathar Church – and other places that are on our ‘must see’ list.
Our campsite is called Le Pré Lombard or the Lombardy Meadow, and is situated on meadow land by the River Ariège just a short walk from Tarascon itself. We are not the only famous people to have camped here. In 788 Charlemagne and his army (who consisted mainly of Lombards from Italy) camped on this very site before their decisive battle against the Saracens. Tarascon lies in an accessible, sheltered site in the centre of the AriègeValley floor. The surrounding chalk cliffs carved out by the river’s passage (and it’s tributary, the Vicdessos) make for spectacular scenery. Our campsite itself is dominated by two towering mountains that are both equally breathtaking. As we sit on our pitch drinking in the amazing views we are reminded of the question the Samaritan woman put to Jesus during their meeting at Jacob’s Well (John 4) – ‘Which mountain should we worship at?’ Each morning, as we sit drinking our first cup of tea of the day, we watch the sun rise over the edge of the mountain in the east. And each evening, as we enjoy our evening meal and a glass or two of wine, we watch the sun set over the mountain in the west!
The pitches on this campsite are much closer together, and there are far more people here including families with young children. We were really unsure, on the journey here, that we had made the right decision to come to this site … but actually we really love it! It is really entertaining and exciting and amusing things seem to happen on a daily basis. Julia has banned me from writing a ‘daily blog’ – it disrupts our holiday too much she says – and to be honest (until we came to Le Pré Lombard) there hasn’t been too many funny things to write about!? Now, however, there are characters and incidents galore for the dedicated ‘people watcher’. Just one example occurred on the day we arrived. We had been warned that there could be sudden storms – thunder, lightening, torrential rain, the lot – that would come out of nowhere. We made sure that we got here early enough, therefore, in order to set up and make everything secure should there be a storm! Fortunately we were o.k. but about 9.00 p.m. another family – a German family – turned up and started to erect their tent etc. We felt really sorry for the husband! Obviously they had arrived much later than planned … and it was obviously all his fault … and he really got it in the neck from his wife! I think he was in the ‘dog house’ for at least two days as a result! We met them doing the washing up the other day. She asked us what we had planned for the day. I responded by saying that Julia had planned the day and I would go along with whatever it was she had planned … just like all good husbands should do? ‘Quite right!’ she said … and obviously meant what she had said!
The amazing storms arrived the following day – and have been a daily experience on several nights since. They only last an hour or so, but are quite spectacular! We soon adapted to the camp pattern for coping with the weather. We get up reasonably early – tea, shower, breakfast, pray, swimming pool (if we are not going out somewhere for the day) – because it is so hot here during the day. We stay by the pool – with a short break for lunch – taking in the rays, reading, chatting, and so on until we all see the clouds beginning to gather in the distance in one or other of the valleys. We wait until the thunder starts to echo around in the mountains … and then at the very last moment we all run back as fast as we can to out pitches, gather all the stuff lying around outside or tents or caravans and put them under cover, batten down the hatches against the torrential rain, and enjoy listening to the storm. And because we are a kindly lot we make sure that the washing on the lines of those other ‘happy campers’ who have gone out for the day is also taken in. When the storm has rattled around the valley for a hour or so, and the rain stops, we all emerge again, set up our cookers etc. and have our evening meals. We have enjoyed some great meals thanks to Julia’s culinary skills … no stewed cabbage for us?! It is all great fun … as long as you don’t get flooded out … which we never do because of our great sealed unit Fistral 4 tent! How on earth did Charlemagne cope without one … and did he have to eat cabbage when he camped here?