Rambles with a camera: Walking at Marche des Perce Neige

Rambles with a camera: Walking at Marche des Perce Neige

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Walking enthusiast Janice Barnett manages to complete the Marche des Perce Neige despite the chilly wind and freezing temperature.

Dave (my soon to be father-in-law) came over last month to help with my ‘barn renovation project’. We took a day off to join our fellow villagers from Montmelard to attend the annual Marche des Perce Neige (snowdrop walk).

This event is well known in these parts and as many as 600 people from far and wide have taken part in the past.

We picked my neighbour Mireille up en route to the community centre and, despite the temperature showing as minus four degree Celsius (and probably minus 10 degree Celsius by the time you built in the wind chill factor), we eagerly registered for the 12k option, studied our route maps, pulled on our gloves and slid our hats down to our eyes before stepping outside.

Boy, was it cold and the wind hit us full on. Barely 100 metres into the event, my ears were throbbing and the muscles in my shoulders had started to tense.

I found myself surrounded by people swathed in scarves who, had I not known better, could have been auditioning as extras in a Return of the Mummy type film. We had to pass Mireille’s farm and the temptation to concede that we’d probably given it our best shot and duck into her warm kitchen to drink coffee was strong.

However, the wind dropped and the moment passed and we were soon climbing the lane to the junction known as Le Chien Pendu (the hanging dog). No one has ever given me a satisfactory explanation for this name, nor for the fact that the two houses that sit at this crossroads are called La Maison Brûlée (the burning house).

We crossed the road and took the well signed path to the summit of Mont St Cyr (771 metres). I’d never approached it from this direction before and the path meanders upwards through dense pine trees that make it impossible to see more than 50 metres to either side. Small rivulets criss-cross from time to time and where the path was steepest, small cascades had frozen producing miniature ice sculptures.

We’d begun to get into our pace and were beginning to overtake people now. One man told his wife to move to one side to let ‘the young ones through’ which made my day, whilst an elderly lady commented: “Ca mont toujours Le St Cyr” (St Cyr just keeps going up). I wanted to tell her: “What goes up must surely come down”,  but thought it was best to conserve my breath.

The inside of my jacket was beginning to feel like a sauna and Mireille had long since removed her hat and gloves as we emerged into the grassy clearing just below the summit. Huts had been erected and we were offered the choice of drinks (we opted for the mulled wine) and food - a platter of cheeses, meats, bread, cake and chocolate as well as apples, fruit jellies, dried apricots and prunes.

As we sat eating, the snow began to fall, a gentle covering but enough to urge us on.

The route down followed the edge of the mountain. To one side we looked out across the valleys and hills beyond, across woodland and pools, fields of grazing cattle and stone buildings in varying states of disrepair. The light snow had muted the usually vibrant greens to a single tone. To the other side was dense forest that, Mireille assured us, was home to wolves (this is not the case).

In the distance we heard the drone of first one car engine and then another- we were approaching the road back to Montmelard. At Vicelaire, on a bend in the road, a local wood craftsman has carved a menagerie of beings out of local oak including what we affectionately term ‘the pissing man’. The below zero temperatures hadn’t affected his ability to flow but he did have a pained expression on his face.

The path darted up behind the statues quite steeply but we now had a carpet of pine needles underfoot to cushion our progress. Mireille informed us that the French for pine cone is pomme de pin, literally pine apple. We told her that if we translated this back into French it would be ananas, most confusing.

An arrow pointing to the left informed us that we were almost back and a few moments later we were crossing my favourite zebra crossing. It starts in the middle of one road and crosses to the middle of another, ensuring all safety precautions are thrown to the wind.

A few minutes later the church bell struck 1pm as we pushed open the door and slipped into the warmth of the village hall once more. Hot onion soup and pancakes awaited us. Once sated, I suggested that the other two might like to go round one more time but they didn’t take me up on this. Our pockets stuffed with leaflets advertising dozens more local walks (‘tis the season), cheeks glowing with the exertion of it all, we returned home to a well-deserved nap in front of the fire.

Janice Barnett / Expatica

Janice Barnett is a coach, team builder, entrepreneur, writer (http://thereallybigburgundydream.blogspot.com and www.theythoughtitwasallover.com) and trainer with a lifelong passion for personal development and an unrelenting desire to turn her dreams into realities. Previously a diplomat working in international law enforcement she left this to set up her own coaching practice. In 2008 Janice turned her energies to developing a creative arts and activity centre in Burgundy where she now lives.

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