Stranded in the Cevennes


In August 2014, the Bolter family (mum Samantha, dad Antony and kids Sam, Sophie and Nathan) left the UK on the Eurotunnel for our annual holiday in France, travelling for a couple of hours before spending the night in a basic but functional motel (a very well known chain). By the following day, our youngest son Nathan had developed a strong case of the trots and by the time we reached our first destination in Flaine (in the northern Alps), he had kindly shared this with his mum and dad.

Naturally, we decided to take it easy for the next few days, enjoying the incredible scenery and pleasant summer weather. The adjacent mountain stands at about 10,000 feet and the views from the top are absolutely amazing and are easily accessible via a cable car if you don't fancy the walk. Looking down over the resort was impressive enough, but the view in the opposite direction was jaw-droppingly stunning - Mont Blanc in all its snow capped glory.

After five days, we all felt well enough to travel a bit further afield and drove for an hour or so to Evian (where the water comes from). The sights there are almost as beautiful as in Flaine. We ate a picnic lunch on the shores of Lake Lausanne, watching the birds, boats and folk go by. Mum Samantha was sitting right at the water's edge sending a text to her sister. Nathan chose that moment to take centre stage again and started to throw bread to the numerous birds gathered in the lake in front of us. Unfortunately, he got a bit too close to Mum and somehow her phone ended up in the water. It was the only phone we had with us!

No matter. We were still determined to enjoy ourselves and a couple of days later, we left the Alps for the next part of the holiday - a gite in the Cevennes. We had not visited that part of France before and our first impressions were a little dubious. Yes, the scenery is wonderful with tree covered hills and mountains as far as the eye can see, but we soon realised how remote the location was - the village of St Germain was about 20 miles from the nearest town (Ales) and the roads were narrow with some very sharp bends.

We loved it! The Cevennes national park is well worth the visit and is remarkably undiscovered by us Brits. We spent the week enjoying more good weather and exploring this unspoilt jurassic countryside.

Our last day there was daughter Sophie's birthday and we agreed to spend it at Bouscarasse Aqua Park, south of Ales. Another perfect day, spent swimming and lazing around and we also managed to teach a few words of Welsh to a friendly French lifeguard. Great fun!

At the end of the day, we had over an hour to drive, so we decided to stop at a supermarket for some provisions. When we came out of the shop, I noticed that the front tyre was almost flat. Now these modern cars are not fitted with sensible things like spare wheels, but they do have an electric pump, which was excellent and made short work of re-inflating the tyre. By then, it was 7pm in the evening and starting to get dark. I kept my fingers crossed that the tyre would get us back to the gite.

About 20 minutes later, my crossed fingers proved to be quite useless. With a loud bang, the tyre blew. The pump and accompanying temporary repair spray would be of no use to us now. We needed to call the breakdown service. But where was our mobile phone? Oh yes, at the bottom of the Lake in Evian. So I had to wait for a car to come by and flag it down. But we were in a particularly remote part of the country - you might only see a few cars all day!

Luckily for us, after just a few minutes, a rattly old hatchback came down the road and stopped when I waved. The driver, Robert, expressed his concern for our plight and at this point, two things happened. I discovered that Robert spoke no English and also learned that my French was better than I thought it was (borne out of necessity I guess). For example, I have no idea how I remembered that the French word for tyre is pneu - it came out of my mouth without thinking and was definitely en panne!

From that moment on, Robert proved to be an absolute hero. As a goat farmer, he had no room in his little car to carry all five of us - I think he had taken out the back seat to transport his goats. He also had no mobile phone. But he insisted on driving me to his home in the tiny hamlet of Soustelle, about 5 miles away. I had to leave my family at the roadside, but at least they had some leftover picnic to keep them going.

When we arrived at his home, Robert introduced me to his wife and daughter and they welcomed me into their house, offering me freshly brewed coffee and a huge bowl of fruit. We started phoning the breakdown service. This took an hour or so, by which time Robert had asked his good friend François to call round. He spoke very good English, having spent some time in London, and helped to ensure that the breakdown lorry arrived at the correct location. Robert and François then drove me back to the family and we waited together for the breakdown lorry to arrive.

Our saga was not quite over. Despite explaining that there were five of us in the car, the recovery garage only had a vehicle with two spare seats, so we had to sit in our car on the back of the lorry as it swayed from side to side down the narrow country lanes.

Our adventure was nearly over now. The lorry got us back to the garage and a taxi took us back to our gite, where we collapsed into our beds. Not before the Cevennes had yielded a few more pleasures though - the wildlife at night there is pretty spectacular. We saw a huge boar, a fox, a deer a couple of weasels and an enormous bat, all lit up by the taxi's headlights.

The journey back to Wales after that was completely uneventful. Two nights at our favourite campsite in the Loire and back to Calais for our ferry. We will always remember this holiday though, for the kindness and humanity shown to us by Robert, Corinne, Fanny and François. Wonderful people in a beautiful part of the world. I have written to the local council leader there, recommending that he consider giving the family a civic award. They will also receive some gifts from us. We are all extremely grateful for their help!

A.Bolter

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