There’s a perfectly good road to the top of Mont Ventoux, but I didn’t want to waste my precious holiday looking at views of Mont Blanc, when I could be retracing the steps of the epic walk I did with my father in 1994.
After four hours of walking, the clouds swept in on the back of The Mistral and obliterated all signs of life around me. Luckily, after scrambling up through a boulder strewn valley I hit the summit road and was surprised to find that I wasn’t alone.
Despite the road still blocked with snow from the previous week, armies of walkers had chanced the weather, but were now streaming down to avoid the impending blizzard. Despite irritated that I hadn’t been able to reach the summit once again, I descended with them until I rejoined the path that led back down to the car at Les Baux.
The small cottage I’d rented outside the village of Mazan was only twenty kilometres from where I’d worked over eighteen years ago. The lanes, farms, and villages were exactly as I’d remembered them from my time here. Moreover, and what was perhaps more startling, was that I felt exactly the same as I did then. Yes, I was physically older, maybe a few pounds heavier, but the hopes and dreams streaming through my thirty-eight year old mind were no different to the ones that had once flowed through the nineteen year old one.
This realisation pleased me immensely. Proof that the last two decades hadn’t stripped me of my spirit. That I hadn’t become the person I thought I might become. I had scored a tiny victory.
The day after the Mont Ventoux failure, I headed out to find the Hermitage at St. Gens. And like the search for the summit of Mont Ventoux the day before, I never found it.
Relaxing in the cottage the previous evening I’d found a description of a walk in a holiday brochure that began: ‘Take a stroll through the strange valley of St. Gens and discover mysterious tales of hermits and pilgrims.’
The whole thing was a disaster. My once legendary internal compass sadly let me down and I neither saw hermits, or pilgrims, nor the fine bistrot that the literature had promised at the end of the walk. Instead I hiked eight miles into the wilderness before running into some crazy looking men hunting for wild boar. They actually looked slightly startled when they saw me picking juniper berries off a bush. But their expressions soon turned to ones of killing when they realised I was English and unarmed.
‘We never forget,’ I was expecting them to say raising their rifles.
Whether I’d interrupted an illegal hunt or some weird clan rally, I didn’t hang around to find out. Quickly scurrying back down the path to St. Gens as fast as my puny English legs would take me. I didn’t fancy ending up in a pot along with some godforsaken boar. Or worse, if I remember that scene from Deliverance correctly.
But despite getting lost and shot at by psychotic French hunters, my spirits were still high. Not only had I picked wild juniper berries to add to my dinner, but also the emblem of Vaucluse: a sprig of wild thyme. And in any case, I didn’t have much use for hermits or pilgrims. They could rest in peace.
It turned out that my blunder had not been caused by my map reading skills but by my inability to read words correctly. For the pamphlet read: ‘Starting in Le Beaucet…’
I tossed it into the fire and started cutting up my wild thyme and juniper for my goulash, cursing. I’d been walking in the wrong valley all along.
The following morning I packed up the car and drove back to the fog and rain of Lyon. And in no time, I was back in my flat in the heart of the city. A little sad on the outside, but joyous that I’d at least come through the first twenty years of adulthood with my ideals intact.