July 6th 2011
Another 3 days of cycling have passed. And still it doesn't come easily. The landscape is marvellous, nothing wrong with that. So is the weather. And so are the slopes, ascents over 10%, even 15% are no exception. On day 3 we had ourselves seduced to stop at only 50 kms. There was a road sign pointing to a small campsite, the scenery was nice and the acids in the legs were convincing. In times long passed the site had been a “pêcherie”, a fish farm. There are 3 ponds at different levels where once the famous Ardennes-trout was raised, I presume. Now they serve as swim- and fish pond for the guests. The ponds are fed from their own sources, which are the sources of the small river of Lescheret in mean time. Thus the name of the campsite: à la source de l'Escheret.
It is a small campsite and the guests were few in number. A quiet place and the big event in the evening was the arrival of a company of donkeys, accompanied by a a holidaymaking family, whose luggage they were carrying. Very rural.
The site is owned and exploited by a family of Dutch origin, Jeannette Begeman and Arthur van Duin. They have run it now for 7 years. Before they had their international careers. Now they and their children have a round the clock job running this Ardennes-gem.
Day 4 and 5 were not much different. We have now left the Ardennes behind us and, though we stayed on an altitude of app. 500 mtrs for the whole of day 4, the slopes are less demanding. Now we are a couple of 100 mtrs lower and the landscape is much more gentle, though nowhere flat. Today it wasn't the slopes, but a tough head wind we had to cope with and which again made us stop earlier than planned. In the end we found ourselves back on a small municipal campsite in Varennes en Argonne with a Belgian guest acting as the (voluntary) guardian.
Like most other hamlets, villages and small towns that we have passed through in the Ardennes and this part of France, this little town is dead quiet and seems more or less deserted. Nothing is going on, hardly any people in the streets. The barman that served us our drinks in the early evening had nothing better to do than clean his nose, stand in the doorway and look into the empty street, turn over a newspaper for some time, clean his sixties-model glasses and then start the same cycle again. I suppose this is his standard procedure during his whole working life. The land is farmed and mostly wheat is grown, and there is a lot of cattle (meat). With their enormous machines even the farmers are few in number. The largest amount of individuals that we encountered was an extended family of wild boar that noisily disagreed with us passing through their territory. We can fully imagine that many of the original inhabitants of these regions have left to other places.
Those who have left are kind enough. There was this fruit vendor at the stall where we stopped to buy just 2 apples to take with us. He was highly interested in the little rear view mirror I'm carrying on my bike helmet. Together we came to the conclusion that this was a thing “très intelligent”. He asked many questions and we had a lot of fun. When he heard of our round the world plan he was totally exited. In the end he grabbed 2 handfulls of cherries from his stall and dropped them in my handlebar bag, broadly smiling: “J'aime des gens fous”. (I love crazy people). We felt honoured.