Time to say goodbye to Sheila and Chris.... we never did get into the swimming pool because although it felt warm on the top few inches, the water deep below was really still cold. There had not been enough sun to warm it through during this week, hélas! They have such a pretty house, in such a pretty place, and they are very happy there. They will have fun managing the gardening of the steep slopes on their terraces, but those could be planted with shrubbery or bamboo in due course, and meanwhile they have their roses, fruit trees, lawns and woods, all very charming and enticing.
We left Caumont in fine clear sunlight, following the old road towards Toulouse, through ecstatically beautiful gentle country, and abandoning our first plan to go via Castres, diverted up to Albi. Parking just outside the old city, we wandered around and a man asked what we were looking for. After a confusion caused by my reply - 'un petit déjeuner' (meaning a light lunch) - which he took to mean 'breakfast' - he suggested he take us to a place he knew, where, unlike the other restos all around, there is a real kitchen. He said he had a bar of his own but did not serve lunch, and we said we'd take a look. So he led us on a roundabout route down little alleys and twists into a hidden courtyard which looked very promising. That is where we ate - whether hustled or not - and it was wonderful... Andrew had a confit de lapin, and I had joues de porc.... copious amounts of perfectly cooked regional peasant food, with chips cooked in duck fat and lovely salad. All up, 33€, and worth seeking out if you are ever in Albi. It's called Lou Sicret, which (you've guessed it) means The Secret in the local patois.
Albi Cathedral was emptying of Whitsun Confirmation crowds - with dozens of local children in their best dress and photos being taken, and all the loving families clustered round. We slipped in to see the inside - this is the largest brick cathedral in the world - and huge too. Inside it's all painted, something we are not used to seeing in England - but with vivid highly detailed geometric designs right up through all the vaults, and every surface covered with something or other..... I have never been into Indian temple but I imagine it might be like this.
Then we headed east again, and through part of the Cevennes National Park - up and up, to thousands of feet, all forest, zigzags, stacks of felled trees by the side of the road waiting for collection, stunning distant views back down onto the plains we had just travelled. Our satnav eventually threw a hissy fit, could not understand where we were, told us to go back, turn around... like some demented seer or prophet, foretelling doom and indeed our position on its little map seemed irretrievable, but in fact of course, this is an ancient road which knows exactly where it's going and that is to our friends' house just below Valleraughe. We have not been here 14 years, and it was a bit of a game trying to find which turning we should take ... but there it was... up across the Herault, past the old houses, into a cool green lane, down and up... and there's Tom! Looking thinner and older but still the same, how lovely.
We bring various bags and boxes in, too much stuff even on the road... some foie gras for their fridge and Pineau des Charentes. The drinking water for our meal comes from a tiny cistern outside on the terrace, fed by a little spout with water straight from the heart of the mountain. We settle down to tea, supper, memories, conversation, laughs and eventually - sleep. Our bedroom has a high dark wooden ceiling. Sally has created a shower room next door with pebbles laid as mosaics in a pretty design. No need for curtains - there is a tree outside the window and the only view is of the steep mountainside on the other side of the river, covered in forest, only about four hundred yards away. It's all silent, deep, hidden.