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Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France


Postby Paul Webster » Fri Aug 16, 2013 5:09 pm

Date walked: 03/08/2013

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A great passion of ours is long distance walking - there is something magical about walking from place to place only on foot, staying somewhere different each night. We hadn't done such a walk for quite a few years, so it was great to get away to France for a couple of weeks at the start of August. We'd planned out an 8 day circular hike exploring the (former) Volcanoes of the Cantal, in the Auvergne at the heart of France.

The walk - which is one of France's Grand Randonees (GRs) - marked by red and white paint balises, began in Murat, which we reached by train from Paris. It was 37C on the day, and the aircon on the train couldn't cope - sweltering!!

Still, having escaped the flat plains of northern France and the busy city, the old town of Murat is a delight of steep twisting alleyways and ancient buildings.

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Day 1 - Murat to Super Lioran

The first day - overcast and thankfully with a 10C fall in temperature on the day before - crossed relatively sedate countryside as it lead out of Murat at first, slowly gaining height until the mountains (or hills - they are kind of inbetween in appearance) were finally reached towards the end. The high point was the summit of the Rocher du Bec de l'Aigle at 1700m, revealing the first views of the conical Puy Mary which dominated much of the weeks' walk. After the summit the route contoured the Teton de Venus before a long descent to Super Lioran. This was an ugly ski-resort - busy in summer with a cable-car ride up the Plomb du Cantal opposite, as well as lifts for use by mountain bikers (with some very scary-looking MTB descent routes).

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Approaching Rocher du Bec de l'Aigle:
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View to Puy Mary:
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Super Lioran:
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Day 2 - Super Lioran to Le Claux
The first part of today's walk was to be a climb back up to the ridge - but we opted to take a telepherique to regain the height reached yesterday. From here, the rest of the day was perhaps the most dramatic part of the walk, contouring several mountains en-route to the high cone of Puy Mary. A highlight was the Breche de Rolande - a gap in the ridge. It's no match for its namesake in the Pyrenees, but it still requires a bit of a scramble. The whole day was busy with walkers - but the summit of Puy Mary (1783m) was hoaching, though the views were superb. The descent led down a concrete path - no kidding - to a cafe on a high pass. A long late lunch break in a cafe isn't something we get used to in the Scottish mountains!! Finally the route followed a lower ridge before descending to the village of Le Claux.

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The yellow flowers are yellow gentians - which are collected to make a local aperitif.
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Puy Mary - and the Salers cattle which featured on much of the route (especially the noise from their bells!):Image

Climb out of the Breche de Roland:
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View back along the ridge from Puy Mary:
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Cafe/restaurant at the Pas de Payrol:
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Descent to Le Claux:
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Day 3 - Le Claux to Le Falgoux

This was a fairly short day, crossing a high ridge before descending to the next valley. It had what you want from a walk in France - hot sunshine and superb views. The one hotel in the tiny village of Le Falgoux served probably the largest meal I've ever eaten.

Puy Mary seen from Le Claux:
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Up on the ridge:
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Descent to Le Falgoux:
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Day 4 - Le Falgoux to Le Fau

There was a huge electrical storm at about 6am. The rains abated during breakfast, and the clag mostly cleared up during the morning. This day made a long ascent through rich woodland, crossing a low ridge before descending into a boggy valley (a rarity in France). It then climbed again up to the summit of Puy Violent - 1592m though grazed by cows nearly to the top. Another descent led to the tiny hamlet of le Fau. There is a camp site here, but we stayed in the gite d'etape - a French walkers hostel, of which there are hundreds along the route. We were the only guests, but were fed in the tiny local auberge.

Nearing the summit of Puy Violent:
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On the descent:
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Le Fau:
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Day 5 - Le Fau to Mandailles

This was to be the longest and most exposed day, so a little alarming that the noticeboard in Le Fau had a warning about a massive electrical storm. This hit during the night and was the most spectacular I've known - the sky almost constantly lit. It also took out the power - which meant that the fire alarm in the gite let off a constant warning tone from the battery to warn about the lack of power. So not much sleep.... The rain was still pouring down when we began the walk, though it cleared up, only for the clouds to roll back in. We followed the ridge to the summit of Py Chavaroche, 1739m, though there was nothing to see except the massive cairn. A real shame as I've seen photos of the view here and it looks magical. Given the weather, we continued along the ridge as far as le Piquet before taking a short-cut descent to Mandailles. The day was brightened by the massive picnic lunch provided by the gite!!

Once at Mandailles the weather brightened up at last. This is a beautiful small village in the stunning Jordanne valley - perhaps the prettiest on the walk.

Before the clouds enveloped us:
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Mandailles:
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Day 6 - Mandailles to Thiezac

It rained. OK... but it really poured, never pausing for an instant. Luckily the day was fairly short, a long climb up to another ridge before a descent to Thiezac. This was a larger village but less attractive and touristy than Mandailles. Still, it had plenty of attractive corners.

Day 7 - Thiezac to Col de Prat de Bouc

A welcome return to fine weather for this excellent days walk. After an initial steep climb, the route runs for miles along an increasingly high though broad ridge, eventually leading to the high point of the walk, the Plomb de Cantal at 1855m. Plenty of great views all along the way. The Plomb de Cantal is near the top of the cable car already mentioned from Super Lioran - we fancied a ride so went down to the ski village for a delicious ice-cream before returning to the top, making the return journey the wrong way round and thus confusing the operators.

From the summit there is a short descent to the gite d'etape at the offshoot ski-centre of Col de Prat de Bouc. This was a very friendly place to stay with a communal meal - with a lesson learnt that we really must improve our French!!

Thiezac:
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Hope you like cows:
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Approaching the summit:
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From the cable car:
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Day 8 - Col de Prat de Bouc to Murat

The final day was very short - a real morning bimble. We diverted from the GR400 to pass through another village - Albepierre - before returning to Murat. Plenty of time left to explore the lovely town and climb the rock that rises above it - crowned with a statue of the virgin.

Albepierre:
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Murat:
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Nothing left now except the train back to Paris :D The Cantal is a very attractive area, with beautiful, scenic valleys and tiny villages. The walk is pretty straightforward - most of the stages are pretty short - as long as you don't get stuck in a thunderstorm on the ridges, which wouldn't be fun. The route is a little contrived in order to get 8 days walking out of a small area, but on the other hand it means you really do get a feel for the place; you also need to be able to at least get by in French as there is almost no English spoken. Best bit for a cheese-fiend like me is that you are almost force-fed vast quantities of the local cheeses 8)
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby NickScots » Fri Aug 16, 2013 10:37 pm

Even in August looks like away from hotspots eg Provence or the Alps it can be quiet.

Need to do long GR sometime.
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby ChrisW » Sat Aug 17, 2013 4:41 am

wow that is some spectacular scenery Paul and what a wonderful week (except that 1 day) fantastic pics that really show the best of one of the lesser known regions of France, I'd like to know specifically why you need to improve your French :lol:
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby morag1 » Sat Aug 17, 2013 7:30 am

Great report Paul and your lovely photos give a real feel of rural France. :clap:

Paul Webster wrote:The descent led down a concrete path - no kidding - to a cafe on a high pass

:lol: Someone knows how to make a bob or two :lol:

Glad you had such a good holiday, really enjoyed this :D
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby gaffr » Sat Aug 17, 2013 8:24 am

There is nothing quite like it.....travelling in a unknown area with a rucksack and not knowing exactly knowing where you are going to sleep. I always have my tent in the pack though. :) Especially for me with my dodgy French although if HM comes along her good French keeps me out of a load of scrapes.
This area must be, like, West of the area where our first? travelling for pleasure man RLS went with his donkey and his home-made camping kit?
We have used the FF Randonnee guides for rural journeys to good use on the French off-shore Mediterranean island.... are they of use in this area?
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby Paul Webster » Sat Aug 17, 2013 9:26 am

Thanks for the comments! Re: the communal meal, it would just be nice to be able to chat more when others are so friendly... I can only say about 5 things not connected to cheese.

Gaffr - yes, this is west of the start of the Stevenson trail, and loops round in a very compact area. I think Helen is keen on the idea of walking with a donkey - we saw a family in Mandailles (though the GR400 wouldn't be passable to a donkey!)
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby gammy leg walker » Sat Aug 17, 2013 9:31 am

Nice to see you posting a TR Paul,one thing bothers me mind you if you win TR of the month wont that be a conflict of interest. :wink: :lol:
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby Paul Webster » Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:55 am

Thanks Gammy

Just to clarify in case anyone is actually in doubt, I am obviously not eligible to win any competitions on Walkhighlands.
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby gammy leg walker » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:02 am

Paul Webster wrote:Thanks Gammy

Just to clarify in case anyone is actually in doubt, I am obviously not eligible to win any competitions on Walkhighlands.



:lol: :lol: :lol: :wink:
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Re: Cantal Volcanoes - GR400 - France

Postby margaretmourne » Mon Feb 03, 2014 6:11 pm

Lovely report it has inspired me to plan a similar trip early June 2014. I am thinking of using the Topo guide as I do have some French...but there are SO many route options. I have the IGN map 155 though it is not that detailed. Did you use any other maps and where did you stay? (you mentioned only 1gite d'etape )
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