CHILDREN. We encourage them to be like us and share our interests. We expect them to grow into the shoes of their parents and reach for the heights we failed to attain. Sometimes they become images of ourselves. Sometimes they don’t. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing . . .
This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .
We’re motoring through France, bouncing round in a 1300cc Vauxhall Astra that smells faintly of petrol. We find a suitable campsite on the outskirts of Issoire, south of Clermont-Ferrand, and spend a few hours exploring its mediaeval streets, searching for a shop that sells walkers’ maps.
To the west of the town, strange mountains rise tall and abrupt above a wooded plateau. Next morning we park at their foot in warming sunshine and a wind that smells of hay.
With a glossy new map and a bagful of sandwiches, I set off up open hillside with my son, Fergus, to climb the Puy de Sancy, which with a summit at 1,886 metres (6,188ft) is the highest peak in the Massif Central. According to my research, we’re in an area called the Volcans, it being formed quite recently – in geological terms – by volcanic activity. To the immediate south can be viewed a series of craters, now filled with lakes and clad in lush green grass and forests. Puy de Sancy itself was last active about 220,000 years ago. We’re not terribly worried about eruptions.
On the crest of its western ridge we intercept a path that skirts beneath rocky pinnacles in the direction of the summit. It’s one of those paths that demands to be walked, striking leisurely across steep slopes and with open vistas to the south. Blue sky and distant blue hills. Buzzards and kites soaring on thermals. France at its most alluring. All mountain paths should be as satisfying as this, I muse.
On the slabby summit of Puy de Sancy we sit in the sunshine and eat our sandwiches, while far below the headwaters of the Dordogne – one of the great rivers of Europe – trickle from springs in the volcanic rock to gather and grow. The wind is warm and fierce. Butterflies glide and scatter. Flowers bend their stems and toss their heads wildly.
Children. We encourage them to be like ourselves and in doing so they follow us into all sorts of strange and dangerous places in the certain knowledge their parents are infallible. I can’t read the immediate future on Puy de Sancy, but Fergus goes on to accompany me along Great Gable’s South Traverse and thread the Needle (scale the arête between Napes Needle and the crag), help me up the notorious Broad Stand on Scafell (by hauling on my shirt collar from above), and walk the 212-mile Southern Uplands Way and the 90-mile Cumbria Way – all before his fourteenth birthday. Nowadays he’s a roofer, involved in heritage work on churches and listed buildings. So perhaps that early introduction to lofty places played its part.
We follow the same route back with the sun in our faces and dust on our boots. That’s our first French mountain climbed. Another tomorrow, perhaps.
Memories of Puy de Sancy and the Massif Central, August 1993