Medemblik

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The last day of our European odyssey. We’d spent the day before at one of those swimming pools where nobody actually swims because they’re too busy swooping down slides, messing about with inflatables, or waiting for the wave or current machines to perform their magic again. Not usually my cup of tea, but the kids enthusiasm was infectious and we all had a great time.

Now we’d had to leave our accommodation quite early, but didn’t need to board the ferry until late afternoon. Time to squeeze in a little more sight-seeing.

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We’d already visited Medemblik a few times, mainly for groceries. We’d also been for a meal – Trip Advisor had recommended a bar as the best place for vegan food locally. When we arrived it was to discover that the only vegan option was a Caesar salad. Without the chicken. Or the parmesan. Or the dressing, which contains anchovies. So – a bowl of lettuce. For sixteen Euros. Fortunately, the Italian restaurant next door was much more accommodating.

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As you can see, Medemblik has a castle.

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It also has a marina and a complex of harbours and lots and lots of boats, which made me very happy.

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Many of the boats were leaving the harbours for the IJsselmeer, which seemed like quite a complex process, requiring some careful manoeuvring and a plenty of consideration for other sailors.

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Frankly, I could have watched the boats going in and out all day.

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Holland really does seem to be absolutely criss-crossed by canals. Both of the properties we rented in the Netherlands neighboured small canals. It also felt as though almost everybody had a boat of some kind.

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This prevalence of waterways and passion for boats means that driving anywhere requires a fair deal of patience, as lifting bridges seem to be the norm, even on very major roads.

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I have a feeling that this rather odd building might have housed some sort of gallery or museum.

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A sculpture to honour the sailors and fishermen of Medemblik’s past.

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One last trip-advisor outbreak of muppetry to report: too tight-fisted to book breakfast on the ferry, we took a convoluted route through South Shields to a recommended vegan cafe to find that not only was it not vegan, but that it didn’t even exist. After another interminable drive, the second recommendation provided an excellent vegan breakfast, I’m told. At lunchtime. Better yet, the boys and I found a storming greasy spoon just around the corner without any online assistance.

That being said, not all online advice is bogus, and I can heartily recommend the area around Medemblik and Enkhuizen.

Medemblik

Schweriner Schloss

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This was the day after our wander around Lübeck. In retrospect, I wonder how we got away with another sight-seeing tour in consecutive days. Not usually the DBs kind of thing.

Somehow in my many visits to northern Germany, I’d never been to Schwerin. Of course, when I was young it was over the border in the DDR and so off-limits, but with hindsight it seems slightly odd that I haven’t visited since given that it’s relatively close to Ratzeburg.

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This time we were a smaller party, with just my Aunt J joining us for the day.

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The castle sits on an island in the lake, but is easily accessed by bridges. The current building is nineteenth century, but this spot has featured a castle for many centuries. Nowadays, it houses both the local parliament building and a museum. We opted to wander around the gardens, which had the massive advantage of being free.

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Hercules and the Cretan Bull?

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A theatre and an art gallery, I think.

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The facade at the front of the castle was wreathed in scaffolding, but that had been rather cleverly covered with a photograph of the building.

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It had been very overcast when we arrived, and while we picnicked by the lake shore, but it really brightened up as we toured the gardens.

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We also had a brief wander into the town, but not too far – J was taking us for Kaffee und Kuchen, which I’ve always regarded as a national obsession in Germany, although my view may be coloured by the preferences of my aunt and uncle and their friends.

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I thought my aunt told us that this was her favourite cafe, but the kids assure me that she actually said that it is one of her favourites. They suspect that she has many favourites. It was certainly very nice.

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Replete, we emerged to discover that the weather had completely changed.

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Dark skies prevailed and pretty soon rain was hammering down.

We were completely unprepared for this eventuality, and sheltered in various shop doorways, occasionally running for another canopy when we thought we’d overstayed our welcome.

The DB’s seemed to find the whole affair highly amusing – particularly when they took cover underneath this sculpture…

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More street sculpture.

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A final view of the Schloss.

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Remember, remember…

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Grey Heron.

B had a match in Kirkby, but for once not at Underley Park and not playing for KLRUFC: he was playing for his school against Kirkby School, a team stuffed full of team-mates and friends from club rugby. I’d had to drop him in Lancaster to get the team mini-bus, but followed along behind so that I could watch the game. On route, I stopped briefly in Hornby for a short walk beside the River Wenning.

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Wenning weir.

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Hornby Castle.

I’ve always assumed that Hornby Castle was a Victorian fake, but apparently the castle has been here for a very long time, although it was extensively remodelled by Lancaster architects Sharpe and Paley in the nineteenth century. The castle has an interesting history, having been captured and occupied during the Civil War. William Parker, fourth Baron Monteagle, was born here according to some sources; the castle was certainly owned by his father. Parker was the peer who was warned about the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, which led to the discovery and thwarting of the scheme.

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Hornby Bridge.

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Grey Heron.

I wandered a little way along the river, photographing two herons who were both unusually placid about being closely watched.

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Two more views of the Wenning.

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Drinking fountain, Hornby.

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This decoration was apparently removed from a railway bridge, the Rat and Cat Bridge. The strange symbol above the date is a design combining P and D, denoting Pudsey Dawson (great name!) High Sheriff of Lancashire and another former owner of the castle, in fact, the same one that commissioned the late nineteenth century alterations.

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Later, I was out again, catching the sunset from Castlebarrow.

Remember, remember…

Chateau de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

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With the chateau dominating the view from the campsite, it was almost inevitable that we would want to look around it during our stay, especially since many of the party are big fans of castles. Also, we had to settle an argument between TJS and his Dad about whether or not they had ever toured the chateau before. (They had. TJS had already been backtracking on his original vehement denials of that fact.)

We walked from the campsite and then up the hill, avoiding the route signposted as steep and unsuitable for pushchairs – not that we had any pushchairs, but it was extremely hot and so we wanted to take the easiest possible route.

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The castle was superb, with the added bonus of fantastic views of the Dordogne valley.

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And also of the Céou valley where we were camped…

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Much as we enjoyed our outing, we sought every opportunity to find some shade and take a rest. C, as you can tell, was very absorbed in her book….

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Inside. I told TJS I would take a photograph of him and the armoured rider. He obliged by looking away from the camera…

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…several times!

The castle had winding staircases, battlements, and quite a display of armour and armaments…

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I loved this sort of thing when I was a kid, and, well, in honesty, I still do.

TBH, J and I watched a sort of animated tableau telling the story of the siege of Castelnaud. We watched three times in fact, the first two with a commentary in french. It was clear that ‘les Anglaise’ were the villains of the piece and I assumed that they were the besiegers, but in fact, the third repeat and it’s english translation of the tale revealed that the castle at that time, 1442, was held by forces loyal to England. The castle was substantially rebuilt in 1214 by Simon de Montfort, who I associate with Leicester where I grew up, but, whilst he was Earl of Leicester, he also held lands in France and seems to have lived in France (it was his son, the VIth Simon de Montfort who had a greater role in English history).

We also watched a film about siege engines and there were a number of trebuchet on display on the ramparts.

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The chateau along the Dordogne here…

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…is Beynac, which will have to wait for or next visit before we look around it…

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It certainly looks promising.

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Dordogne panorama.

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I always like to find images of St. George. This carved example would have originally held a lance in those upraised arms, but now that his spear has gone missing it looks like George has thrown his hands up in surrender, or that he’s trying to lead the dragon in some sort of dance – YMCA perhaps?

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B was happy. C still wrapped up in her reading!

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J and TBH, in the stocks?

When we’ finished our tour of the castle we still had a wander back down through the village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle to enjoy.

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We popped into the church…

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Well, most of us did…

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C was more intent on finishing her obviously very gripping book.

And, as ever, I was interested in the stained-glass windows. This…

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…is St. Denis, patron saint of France, apparently. How did I not know that until now? A third century martyr and Bishop of Paris. So he was actually French, unlike George, our own patron saint, the Village People fan, who was Greek.

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There seem to have been two St. Henry’s: one Holy Roman Emperor and latterly King of Germany and the other an english clergyman who became a bishop in Sweden. Perhaps the crown here is a clue and this is the first of them?

One final view…

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…this is the ridge of Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, where TBH and I had spent the previous day.

Another fabulous day in the Dordogne region, but it was almost time to move on…

Chateau de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac

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Whilst the rest of the party, including our own kids, were off swinging from trees and performing similar acts of derring-do, TBH and I were left with time on our hands. How delightful! As parents of three very active children, to have an entire day to ourselves was beyond a novelty, almost unprecedented in fact. We had threatened to have a lazy day at the camp-site, reading our books. I had made a good start on Hilary Mantel’s ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, her account of some of the key figures of the French Revolution. It’s a huge and magnificent book, so a day luxuriating in its company was very tempting, but in the end we decided that a day out together was too good an opportunity to miss. We flicked through some brochures and leaflets which J had picked up about various local attractions, but in the end settled on Les Jardins de Marqueyssac both because they looked attractive and because they were within walking distance.

Our walk took us across a bridge over the Dordogne…

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Where many parties of canoeists were enjoying the same sort of trip which we had undertaken just a couple of days before.

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Chateau de Castelnaud.

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Clouded Yellow butterfly.

That’s Marqueyssac…

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…at the top of the hill. It was a short but very hot and sticky climb up a road so minor that no traffic passed us at all. As we walked, we had both the views and some sun-warmed and very sweet blackberries in the hedgerows to reward us.

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Arriving at Marqueyssac, we discovered that picnics are forbidden in the grounds, but that picnic tables were provided on a terrace by the entrance which had a lovely view over the valley below.

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Once inside the gardens, we popped into a small building which housed a curious display of stuffed animals in which the creatures had been arranged into dioramas so that predator and prey were locked eternally in pursuit. Nearby, another building had a full skeleton and also another skull of an Allosaurus. The fossils were found in Arizona and bought at auction, at great expense, by the owner of the gardens. Allosaurus are from the Jurassic period and have mostly been found in the US, although the information boards seemed to be saying that there had also been recent findings in France.

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We hadn’t explore far, but felt the need for something cooling, so sat on another terrace with a great view, where customers were sprayed with a fine mist to cool them! TBH had a glace whilst I drank a glass of beer.

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The gardens were quite unlike any I’d visited before. Long and narrow, they sit atop a limestone ridge and are mostly woodland with paths bordered with neat boxwood hedges.

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Three different paths run the length of the garden and we did our best to contrive a route which took in all three as much as possible, without doing the entire length twice. At the far end of the garden from the entrance you are close to Roque Gageac…

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This photo…

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…gives a good view of the ridge which the garden occupies.

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During the entire walk we saw butterflies galore, but very few would pose for a photo. This Wall Brown being an exception…

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Roque Gageac again…

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….on the left you can see people on the belvedere from which I took the previous views.

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This little chapel…

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…was, annoyingly, locked-up and my attempts to take a photo through the slits in the door weren’t entirely successful…

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It was possible to take a short tour of part of the Chateau…

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But I found that oddly uninspiring without some context or understanding of what I was seeing.

One final view…

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…I think that’s the Chateau de Beynac on the right in the distance. This area seems particularly rich in castles and gardens and caves and other interesting places to visit. We’ll have to go back!

On the way back to the campsite, suffering from the heat, TBH decided to dive into one of the shops set-back from the road. It was in a large building divided into two – one half selling soap and the other half, full of mannequins, was supposedly a soap museum. One mannequin was shaving another. A female mannequin was washing clothes. There was a donkey, for reasons which weren’t clear to me. Photos weren’t allowed in this amazing place – it must be seen to be believed! You’ll have to go!

But prepare to be underwhelmed.

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac

To the Bakery and Back

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Each morning I walked into the village to buy the day’s bread, sometimes with Andy, but usually on my own. The bread was delicious, but I enjoyed the walk too. These photos are from those walks and also from other times when we had occasion to walk into Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. That first photo is looking back towards the campsite from a very misty morning, although the mist was rapidly clearing.

This is the same view…

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…on a relatively cloudy day and this…

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…is a panoramic view from a little further along the road, in more typical weather conditions.

The view in the other direction was very much dominated by the village and the Chateau towering above it, and often, in the mornings, montgolfières rising above that.

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Here’s part of the village…

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…when the mist had just about dissipated.

Not only were the views excellent, but the meadows along the route held lots of interest too.  These blue flowers dominated…

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I think that the flowers are Meadow Clary, a relative of Sage, which has a very limited distribution in Britain, but seems to be abundant in France. The insect is a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which is only seen as a migrant in Britain, although by coincidence I saw one today whilst out for a local wander. I also often saw Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying along a wall which bounded part of the road, seemingly investigating nooks and crevices, although I’m not sure why they would do that.

This…

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…is a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, which can, apparently, also be found in Britain, but not in our area and I’ve certainly never seen one before.

One of the things I loved about our visit to France was the profusion of butterflies, although they weren’t always cooperative in posing for photos.

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This Scarce Swallowtail was kind however, and moved a little closer after I took that first photo…

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Wild Carrot flowers were also very common in the meadows and where the flowerheads had curled in on themselves and gone to seed there was a very good chance that you could see Striped Shield Bugs…

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…they were hard to miss!

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Spider’s webs, on the other hand, only became obvious when the mist washed them with silver droplets.

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The wall alongside the road was home, appropriately enough, to Wall Lizards.

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These two are my favourites from the many photos I took.

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The area around the wall also seemed to be the territory of some small orange butterflies which eluded my camera at first, but then turned out to be Gatekeepers which we see at home.

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I think that this first one is on a Hemp Agrimony flower and that this one…

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…is on Horse Mint.

The road crossed a bridge over the Céou which was a good place for spotting fish and also more Beautiful Demoiselles…

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Male.

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Female.

Right at the end of our stay, we came down to the bridge because some of the party wanted to emulate some swimmers we had seen by leaping from a high branch into the water.

In the event, only E managed it, not because of the height of the jump, but because of the difficulty of climbing the tree – there was a crude ladder of planks nailed to the tree-trunk, but one of the rungs was missing. Here’s E just before she jumped…

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The rest of us had to content ourselves with jumping from the bridge itself or from a small wall beside it…

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Which, frankly, was quite high enough for me.

To the Bakery and Back

Cliffs and Caves above the Céou

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The Dordogne region, at least the area we visited, is characterised by low, wooded hills (only just creeping above 200m above sea level) cut by steep-sided valleys, often with limestone cliffs and edges. The slopes above Maisonneuve were topped with cliffs and Andy had been told by his Dutch neighbours (based on our limited survey, all European campsites seem to be mostly populated by the Dutch) that a path led from the campsite up to the base of those cliffs and that there were caves to explore in the cliffs. Indeed, we could see one large cave opening high in the cliffs above.

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Looking down the valley to Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and its Chateau.

It was a steep, sweaty (for me anyway) climb up through the trees, but well worth it when it brought us to the honeycombed, honey-coloured rocks.

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There were small caves immediately…

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Irresistible to the DBs…

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Of course, when you climb up to a cave you then have to get back down again; B found getting down from this one much more difficult than getting up had been and I found myself guiding his feet down into suitable footholds.

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There were long lines of ants spreading across the cliffs.

Turning along the base of the cliffs we soon came across a larger cave…

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…with several entrances…

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…and evidence of former occupation…

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I think it’s fair to say that there’s a long history of cave occupation in the area – the famous Lascaux caves with their paintings are in the Dordogne after all.

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Of course the DBs found a tight little passage to crawl through…

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I preferred to be outside watching a lizard expertly negotiating the rock walls…

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I think that this is a Common Wall Lizard, rather than the Common Lizards we see at home, but I’m not confident about that at all.

We continued along the base of the cliffs, coming across more cave openings, this one…

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…being the largest.

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The path continued…

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…but we were feeling ready for a swim, so turned back.

Our young friend E though had other ideas, she wanted to follow the path in the other direction up to the top of the crags to see the view. Her mum J…

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…and TBH and I decided to join us. Others may have too, but the message didn’t get to all of the party. The climb was mercifully short…

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And the views, when we got to them, were well worth the modest effort…

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The Céou Valley

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Camping Maisonneuve.

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There were a couple of Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying around near the top of the cliffs, which excited me greatly since they are rare visitors to Britain. I didn’t manage to photograph them this time, but would have many more opportunities.

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Céou Valley Panorama.

Castelnaud and its Chateau didn’t exactly dominate the view…

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…but they certainly stood out…

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…especially the Chateau…

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Finally, back down through the woods for a well-earned swim.

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Cliffs and Caves above the Céou