Our Sunny Afternoon Return To Ceillac By Bike - Reflections On Where Our Journey Changed

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Friday 2 October 2015

Our Sunny Afternoon Return To Ceillac By Bike - Reflections On Where Our Journey Changed

Although we didn't realise it at the time, looking back now after almost 3 months in the Queyras Regional Park, it was our time in Ceillac that really changed and began to shaped the experiences of our adventure this year. As the temperature begins to fall in the French Alps and we're aware that our time in the Queyras Regional Park may soon come to an end, it's hard to believe that it's more than 2 and a half months since we first cycled from Guillestre to the mountain village of Ceillac to check out the route with an attempt on the Tour du Queyras in mind. Although that didn't go to plan we went on to spend more than 3 weeks there and find some life changing realisations leaving us with, overall, very fond memories. So, after a busy morning on the organic farm we decided to try that same cycle once more, reflect on how much had changed and also see a friend we had made during our time there as well.

With the nights getting longer each day and the sun rising ever lower in the sky on our organic farm base, the night time temperatures are starting to remind us very much of the bitter cold nights we experienced last year in the Swiss Alps, reaching down to 3 or 4 degrees at times. There has even been a frost on the ground the past few mornings as well, motivating us along with the other farm residents to collect up some of the remaining vegetables on the plants and preserve them for winter before the weather claims them completely.

However, despite the cold nights the sun has been feeling quite warm by mid-afternoon and so, after a busy morning and early afternoon making first an apple sauce and then a ratatouille base all sterilised and packaged into jars for the upcoming winter, we decided that it was a good time to spend a few hours on our bikes. We'd wanted to return to Ceillac for a few weeks. Although we had left almost 2 months ago now our time in Ceillac had been the catalyst for a lot of talking and realisations for us both, individually and on our relationship, alongside some wonderful hiking and we both had very fond memories of the experiences we'd had there during late July. It wouldn't be until later, looking back, but staying put and our time in Ceillac has really shaped our entire adventure so far this year, personally and the experiences we've had since as well. Even the people we are now staying with on the farm we had first met on the market in Ceillac.

Plus, as we'd stayed so long we had even gotten to know a few people including one of the ladies who worked in the local shop who we had kept in touch with by email. She had been incredibly helpful and friendly during our stay as we visited regularly to collect frozen berries and chestnuts (which we ate lots of in the warmer weather at the time!) and as we knew this was her last working day before a long vacation, we were doubly keen to make it up there once more.

Setting off into the afternoon sun casting a soft and relaxing light over the now familiar, but always spectacular, view towards the Ecrins we both felt a strong sense of happiness and calm at the idea of returning to Ceillac. It just felt right for us both. Cruising out of Guillestre we soon reached Maison du Roy where the road kicked up steeply and the climbing began.

I won't say we'd forgotten how steep the first 6km of this climb are, but even having tackled some of the Tour de France legends since then such as the Col Agnel, Col du Galibier and Col d'Izoard didn't make the ascent to Ceillac feel any easier. The only thing that did make it feel better was that this time we were aware of how far we had to go, compared to the first time when Esther had misread the altitude and assured me we 'only had a little way to climb'. Winding up the first couple of kilometres of hairpins and pushing hard, sweating beneath the afternoon sun was tough going, but still that same sense of happiness and peacefulness remained. It was also nice, after the chilly nights, to feel warm and summery once more.

Passing familiar landmarks on the road it took just a little over an hour from Guillestre before we crested the climb and pedalled easily over the last kilometre or so into the village with the familiar view across pastures and chalets to greet us. The mountains, of course, hadn't changed except that now a dusting of snow had been added to the highest peaks to remind us of the changing seasons.

We rolled into the village past the shops, bakeries and cafes we'd seen so busy and bustling with visitors a couple of months before but now closed until the winter season before heading out to the place where we had spent our time just outside of the village. Sitting on the bench that we had parked nearby and looking out at the view there was still a definite peaceful, easy feeling.  There was even the sound of bleating lambs in the air.

After enjoying the view as the shadows lengthened we then return back to the village centre where we were greeted by the local dog we'd gotten to know and who reminded us of a dog that used to wander around near our house in Durham, so we stopped to give 'Durham dog' a little fuss (which he was very happy about!).

We then paid a visit to the local shop to chat with our friend in our now (hopefully) a little more improved French. Seeing a smiling face reminded us how welcome we had felt during our stay, one of the reasons why we'd stayed so long, plus we even came away with a few kilos of frozen chestnuts and berries for old times sake (and because we love them of course) which she had especially found in the store room for us.

Once outside by now the village was almost in the shade and the chilly air was getting a little too chilly so we layered up and began our descent, braced against the chill. Sweeping around the bends and hairpins we felt very calm and easy and grateful for the time we've had so far in the Queyras. Although we don't know how long we will be able to stay until the oncoming winter motivates us to move on and we're taking it day by day the benefits and new experiences we've had staying in one place have been fantastic. To return to where we had first begun to realise the possibilities and opportunities that come with staying put and getting to know an area much better than when touring through, in terms of not only what the place has to offer but also the people you meet, had just felt right.

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