With the cobwebs blown out of the cylinders, the trusty Iveco purred along motorway and autoroute. Day One saw us cross the Thames and later that night La Manche. Slipping into the town of Calais under cover of dark we were followed and accosted by two carloads of drunken women at the lights, climbing out of their cars to get a closer look; gesticulating suggestively.
Day 2 is the sombre north – Picardy, The Somme and Ile de France. Attempts to avoid Paris are hopeless – The Maze and me end up sightseeing by default; we revisit Cergy-Pontoise (scene of former Stan glories), we get to know Versailles, then wind up within view of the Eiffel Tower before heading out of the Seine Valley in 2nd / 3rd gear toward the wide open flatlands that lead us to Orleans.
On Day 3 I leave the Maze parked up because we’re in ‘no-commercial-driving-on-a-Sunday’ France. I wander the quiet streets once trod by Joan of Arc’s horse. I’m kind-of missing The Maze but I know a day apart is good for us. We’re strong enough to cope.
By Day 4 we’re bracing ourselves for the big one; further south through the rain past Bourges, the volcanoes of Clermont-Ferrand, and over the Central Massif. The Maze is working hard. The landscape is spectacular and I’m reunited with memories of visiting those fabulous places – Le Puy, Severac, Conques with their chateaux and their monasteries. Up high the clouds disperse and as if by magic, we’re in the South of France. Unmistakable. Stunning viaducts and bridges offer gob-smacking views of the Romanesque villages. The colour of the rock changes from white to red (the Roussillon) to golden. I’ve started the day’s drive wearing four layers and now I’m trying to shed them. A winding precipice route takes us forever downwards and finally we’re on the route into Montpellier. The sun is shining and everyone looks gorgeous…until I catch a glimpse of myself in the rear-view and realize that 4 days in the saddle requires a scrub up.
This morning, I emptied out all the kit for It’s Your Film, Apollo Steps and The Maze. Little did I know my cargo, which was tightly packed throughout all of the labyrinthine corridors of the truck like some crazy puzzle. I flew back to Gatwick this afternoon and am almost home now, but looking forward to returning to France next week when the goodly folks of Montpellier will be presented with a Stan triple-bill.
Graeme Rose (for more detail and photos visit Greame’s blog)