Thursday, 25 November 2010

Through a local lens No. 5



We're very lucky. Practically at the foot of our garden there used to be a railway line. It was built in the 1860s, primarily to transport coal from open-cast mines at a place called Graissessac, a place with more esses than is good for it. The coal went to power the woollen mills around Mazamet, a small town 40 miles or so to the west. The line was engineered though difficult country, across ravines and valleys, with deep cuttings and tunnels through mountain outcrops. The many iron bridges, railings and parapets came from the studio of Gustave Eiffel, he of Tower fame.

The local woollen industry died in the 1960s, and with it the need for coal. The railway line sputtered on fitfully until it was closed in the French equivalent of the Beeching Axe, which closed down so many UK railway lines. The last train ran in the late 1980s. The line became overgrown and derelict until someone had the bright idea of taking up the rails and sleepers, laying down an all-weather gravel surface and turning it into a recreational facility for cyclists, walkers and riders on horseback. Cars and motorbikes aren't allowed. It now extends from a village called Mons la Trivalle to Mazamet.

We walk along part of it nearly every day. Over the years I've cycled along most of it, on one occasion with the shorter of the two people in the photo. The most exciting parts are the big Prémian tunnel, where your passage triggers lights in succession, and the small Riols tunnel, where there's nothing but a disc of light at the end. It's surprisingly difficult to keep your balance when the light at the end of the tunnel is your only point of reference. There's a metaphor somewhere there. I expect that great cyclist Rog can explain it.

41 comments:

Dave said...

I believe I can guess who those two people are.

I miss mountains. Or even hills.

Charlene said...

Now that is beautiful story of renewed use. I love quiet lanes and seldom used paths.

Christopher said...

You might be quite right, Dave. But when are you anything else?

Christopher said...

Charlene: Hi. Absolutely. Couldn't agree more. At one time it was quiet enough for us to walk our dog and two cats along it. Our remaining cat sometimes comes with us, but very seldom now. What point is there in cats going for walks if there isn't another cat to annoy, obstruct, ambush and generally maximumly cheese off?

Rog said...

I'm afraid I've never cycled through very long tunnels Christopher. Except metaphorically of course, which did make me unbalanced. Normally the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel was an express train coming the other way.

These local lenses are very good quality - I assumed most were made in the East nowadays. Lowestoft.

Sarah said...

Ah yes a metaphore indeed....follow the white light. Soz caught up with the book I'm reading at the mo, which apperas to be having a profound effect on how I view life. LOL

letouttoplay said...

Just the thought of cycling through a tunnel with no light made me fall off my chair. (Well I took the arms off it last night for a band practice and I forgot not to lean on them just now)
I wonder what horses think of dark tunnels.

Christopher said...

Rog: Never been there, I'm afraid, which must diminish me as a member of the human race, but I've felt there must be something so perverse about inhabitants of the eastern extremity of England in not calling their town Loeastoft that I've rather shut the place out of my mind.

Sah: But which book? May we know? Happy reading!

Mig: Goodness, how dramatic. Please, please take suitable precautions before reading Lydian Airs, like ensuring your clothing and all your furniture inside and out is proof against blog damage. I hope you're not thinking of bringing an action against it?

Z said...

Lowestoft people are perverse, it's quite true. Although we believe that everyone else is and that we're quite normal.

Sarah said...

The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. Which isn't as gloomy as it sounds and in fact is jolly inspiring. The translation is quite hard to read tho and have to really concentrate, but then I guess that's the point!

I take my cat for a walk too !

english inukshuk said...

lovely photo!

(-:

letouttoplay said...

Taking action? Oh no I don't think I'd thought of that. I did put the arms back on my chair though just in case you should start cycling up mountains or across ravines or along the edges of precipices.

Spadoman said...

Very nice Christopher. We have a Nationwide program here called "Rails to Trails" (http://www.railstotrails.org/index.html)
Mant old railroad grades have been made into the same type of pathways you show here. Bikes, hikes and equestrian. In Winter, when snow covered, they are groomed for use by snowmobiles and ATV's. This is done in the rural areas. In the cities, they are plowed of snow and continued to be used by hearty bikers and hikers/walkers.
I have a trail behind my home. It is not a Railroad grade, but rather a walking/biking path that connects two parts of town and runs between the high school and the University. (my property is directly connected to the experimental farm for the agriculture program at the University, the path runs along the edge, between the "U" and Spadoville.

Peace dear friend.

Christopher said...

Mmm. I suppose someone has to come from Lowestoft, Z. Now I come to think of it, I read an engaging chapter about the place in a book mostly about the Suffolk coast called Rings of Saturn by W.G.Sebald. I think you would enjoy it, if you haven't read it already.

Sah: Goodness, how...how...can't think of the word: maybe there isn't a word describing 'a determined seeker after esoteric truths which only need the dust blowing off them to shine brilliantly in the darkness of our uncertainty'.

I: Thank you. Either I or J. took it, whichever wasn't pushing the push-chair at the time.

Mig: A wise move. Maybe a lap-belt too?

Spadoman: So glad to see you. Thanks for calling in. I looked at Rails to Trails - thanks for the link. The same sort of thing as we have here, and very good they are too. Peace, as always.

Sarah said...

Struth!

Ask Dave about Lowestoft !

Christopher said...

Tell me about Lowestoft, Dave, please.

Dave said...

A town which determinedly doesn't want to be in Norfolk, drawing the Suffolk boundary up and around itself protectively.

Christopher said...

Ah. So it's like Berwick on Tweed in reverse. Is Lowestoft likewise still technically at war with Russia?

Z said...

Ah, that's not quite it. We think of Norwich as far more our city than Ipswich as our county town. It's that we don't want to be in the same county as Great Yarmouth.

Sarah said...

Aaaw Dave...are you not going to tell C the adventure you had on the way to Lowestoft? LOL

Dave said...

Oh, OK. Imagine your hero setting out (on a hot summer's day) on a walk along the river bank, from Becces to Oulton Broad, advertised on the internet as about 7 miles, with a bus service from the Broad back to Beccles.

a. 7 miles as the crow flies, not as the river bends. More like 10.
b. First blister started after 5 miles - but nearly there surely, so better to press on.
c. The bus service had ceased.
d. Hot and thirsty, so walked around trying to find somewhere selling cold drinks, then had to walk in to Lowestoft bus station - at least another 2 miles.
e. Bus stop in Beccles over a mile from car park.

Gentle 7 mile walk turns into 13 mile blister hobble.

Christopher said...

Well, I see Norwich thrashed Ipswich this afternoon. You have such strength of will, Z.

Thanks, Dave. But didn't you have an elegant left shoulder, one that is a miracle of loveliness, one that people come miles to see, to lean on as you hobbled along in your agony?

Dave said...

No.

Sarah said...

LOL

Christopher said...

How does Herself come to know about it, then? Or was she trailing behind grumbling/skipping ahead making unhelpful remarks/not there at all?

Anonymous said...

Not to worry yourselves over-much about boundaries as global warming is bound soon to thrash and realign that east side sending both Norwich and Ipswich without the shedding of undue tears into that dreadful North Sea. By all accounts you'd better get out of that area if you live there pretty soon while the going is good to the other-side, say, Muck which one understands is safe in black sheep, laverbread, limpets, gull droppings and donkey-carts. Oh! and, The X-Factor?

Christopher said...

Well, I don't live there, O Vespadigitus (are you wasp-waisted as well?) but I will see that those who are directly concerned are duly warned. Verb. sap., as you might say.
I live some 700' feet above sea level, so I think we're safe for the duration, and indeed the only relevant disadvantage is that even from this eminence we can't see the Isle of Muck. (Scots Gaelic muc = Eng. sheep)

Rog said...

I'm sorry I mentioned Lowestoft....

Christopher said...

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Someone had to do it, Rog.

Anonymous said...

If Lowestoft's sea level is safer than Norwich's or Ipswich's, then, no need to disparage its (Lowestoft's) relative lowly mention. Except, I, for one which enjoy tongue-in-cheek disparaging has to convey a fear, without, in the meantime, necessarily, shouting from my hilltop a present quiet concern for Lowestoft's and environs gw inundation...

Best to warn NOW! to habitants to GET OUT to higher ground before house prices plummet!

CAN'T YOU SEE? A DARK TUMBLING TSUNAMI IS LINED UP ALONG THE FAR BACKDROP OF YOUR DOUR NORTH SEA HORIZON!!!

Besides, you're already horribly radioactive in that area aren't you?

Christopher said...

Thank you, Cassandra.

Z said...

When my older children were at prep school in Southwold and two boys developed leukaemia within two years of each other, we did look nervously down the coast towards Southwold. And our house in Lowestoft was built to replace one that was lost to the sea in the 1880s or so. Evidently, the good points about Lowestoft outweighed the bad. For instance, kippers.

Christopher said...

Mmm, kippers! Haven't had a good kipper (Fr. bouffie, but they're not the same) for years and years. Much better than leukemia, or crumbling into the sea.

Dawn or sunset? Dawn, I hope.

Anonymous said...

You See! Cassandra railed Her prophetic truth truthfully?

Thank you ‘Z’arathushtra.

X’cept, (don’t know about you, but,) mi regular kippers can't be bought in mi local southern Sainsbury's no more. Although, oddly, still in nearby Scottish Morrisons. We’re talking whole herring here! Apparently, said herring is desperately short on many a mongers’ slab of recent years. And, in any case (as recently petitioned) is far too bony (apparently) for most pathetic palettes which can’t be bothered to chew or select salty prehensile needles among mouthful of morsels that may be determinedly detected with lots of salivary tongue twisting and delicate presentation of tongue to lip for a prepared finger and thumb withdrawal of unpalatable fishy filaments…

Alack!...'They're' considerin’ a different fish to smoke which kipper breakfasters are promised to swallow without any chewing consideration of choking on gobs of pins like the late HM The Queen Mother was want to do on proper smoked herring; because; Her flunky hadn’t de-boned Her breakfast platter of all the briny irritants.

Christopher said...

Thank you, Cass. Do you have a similar discourse about bloaters?

(What is that appliance in your thumbnail image? Is it for de-boning kippers?)

Z said...

When I said we looked towards Southwold, I meant Sizewell. What can you expect? I'm still a bit of a Lowestoft girl at heart (that is, inaccurate in finer details), even after nearly 25 years of living half an hour's drive away.

There is still a proper smokehouse in Lowestoft, possibly two. Ours are brought to the door by a travelling fishmonger. Sometimes, he has bloaters. And whole smoked mackerel (gutted however, unlike the bloaters, of course).

The Queen Mother did, indeed, have problems with sticking fish bones. And I knew two people who died as a result of choking on their food. Still, I love kippers and all forms of herring and happily swallow the slenderer bones.

There was a railway freight line from Oulton Broad to Lowestoft for some years after Beeching (although there are still two separate railway stations in Oulton Broad). After it was shut, very slender houses for retired people were erected along its length. I suspect you were in the front door and out the back within three paces.

Z said...

I'm happy to discuss bloaters, by the way. I don't cook them as my mother did, so would enjoy finding the definitive method.

Anonymous said...

Apologies, in discoursing over you Miss Z[arathushtra]...

I was about to retort to our shared expat, stiff-backed, musical blagging (also 'blogging') host. What a veritable fishy bon vivant expert he is to have adduced the wherewithal as to the purpose of my thumb?

Actually, it doubles up as a marvellous cocker of snooks.

Christopher said...

Cocker of snooks, Cass? How very Dickensian. (Even though I remember as a child putting thumb to nose and waggling fingers at those whom one wished to insult, before robuster gestures took over.) Thank you for this evocation of Hablôt Brown or George Cruickshank. Or even Thackeray, if I remember urchins in The Rose and the Ring cocking snooks?

Christopher said...

I wondered about Sizewell, Z, but was sure you knew best.

No one has yet built houses (even bede-houses, as I mentioned to Dave the other day) along our old railway line, which you could be forgiven for forgetting that this is what this post was originally about, but many of the village house are built into such a steep slope that the front door opens off the street into the cellar at ground level and the back door opens on to the street above from the top floor three storeys up.

Anonymous said...

I would love, also, that in not really being an "insult" (pardon if received) was rather a "Yardi-yardi-yar" thumbed snipe found in Richard Jeffries whether in his Bevis or Bevis and Mark.