Day Eighteen – Severe Flashflooding

The mornings weather reports suggested heavy lighting storms and rain throughout the South of France. We decided that it would be prudent to use this time to travel further north, to start cutting down our journey time. Willow had identified a nice walk that we would be able to complete the following day, so we agreed to drive as close as possible and find a site with an electrical hook up to recharge our leisure batteries as we wouldn’t be getting much power from the solar panels today.

By about midday, we were near the town of Alés, and had decided to pull over in an Intermache to buy some supplies. Whilst inside, we were suddenly surrounded by an insistent banging. Every couple of seconds, the supermarket shook from what sounded like large bombs strategically placed around the valley.

As we went to leave the supermarket, we were greeted by the largest lightning storm I had ever witnessed. Not wanting to more time than we had to in a supermarket, we made a break for Ruby. We decided to continue our route north, towards the walk Willow had identified. In hindsight, this was probably a very big mistake. As we made our charge towards the safety of our van, not only did we become completely soaked from head to toe, but the lightning striking above our heads and instant crash of thunder alerted us to the fact that we were right in the middle of the storm.

We had commited though, and not one to back down to a challenge we set off from the supermarket. Again… a big mistake. The downpour was torrential, and Ruby’s wipers were not the best at removing the galleons of water currently pouring down on us. It is even more unhelpful, when you are currently in a town on top of a very steep hill, and you have no breaks.

The best however was still to come. Because the fans had stopped working, Willow had to reroute power from another component in the van. This component was drawing power from a front fuse board. At this time, we had lights, fog lights, window wipers and now the powerful engine fans all running at the same time through a fuse board not set up to handle all of that load at the same time. Obviously, Ruby likes to break down on us at the most inconvenient times. Imagine the scene then. Us, in a small french village, in our 1976 VW campervan. In the middle of one of the biggest lightning storms I have ever seen, we get to a roundabout on top of a very steep hill, visibility is poor due to the downfall, I indicated to turn left and then suddenly everything in the van dies. We’re talking engine, lights, hazards. Nothing in the van works, and so we slowly come to a stop, in the middle of a roundabout, right in the eye of the most extreme lightnighting storm every, and I can’t even put the hazards on. It turns out, the indicator was the final straw to our already overloaded main fuse. The temporary fan fix had suddenly left us helpless in the worst possible place

Willow, very calmly, swapped a fuse from another component, so we could move out of the way of potential danger and find a car park where we could assess our options.

Sadly, the video I took whilst we were cowering from the storm, didn’t quite show how extreme the torrential downpour actually was.

Looking at Google maps, we decided that the best course of action would be to carry on towards our unknown destination. We had a site in mind, which offered electric, and so we carried on. The storm was beginning to wind down anyway, so we were less concerned about being struck by multiple bolts of lightning.

About ten minutes into our journey, we met a man standing in the rain, waving his arms at us in desperation. We could see behind him, that a ravage river had burst its banks and was violently streaming over the bridge we needed to pass. Even with Ruby’s excessive ground clearance, we decided to find another route around.

As we drove round the top of the mountain, we witnessed the large amounts of rain water changing the normal docile streams, into violent rivers, tearing towards the foot of the mountain. It would only be later that we would realise how lucky we were to have been at the right part of the mountain at that time.

We arrived at the site we had identified using a parking app, and was immediately disappointed by the facility. The spot was located in a town car park, next to a machine that supplied water and electricity for only twenty minutes if you bought a token. As we had a more permanent stay in mind, we pressed further north with some camp site identified as potential spots for the night.

By the time we had checked five camp sites (everyone greeted with a fairly high cost to be settled amongst a large amount of other campers), we had decided to attempt Willow’s walk. The weather had dramatically improved. The dark, menacing clouds and heavy rain had been replaced with offerings of blue sky. And so we parked up in a church car park and made a start on our next walk.

The instructions we had for the walk had clearly been translated from french, and so that were exactly clear as to which route we should be taking. Eventually, we had found the track that would lead us up to a woodland walk. Not long after walking up a small stream, the blue sky that had not long ago been breaking it’s way through the dark clouds, had once again been beaten into submission and once again the clouds open and rain poured down upon us.

It was at this point that out normally strong resolve and stubbornness perished, and we made the decision to turn back around, drive Ruby to the closet campsite, pay the over the top camping fee to enjoy electric, showers and a bar.

Luckily for us there was a camp site only three minutes ways from the start of our walk. It also meant that if conditions changed, we could attempt the walk again in the morning.

Checked in, we made our way to the showers and enjoyed one of the finest washes we had had so far on the holiday. Clean and warm, we headed to the bar, we had hooked the van up to an electrical hook up, so we could enjoy a beer, safe in the knowledge that Ruby’s leisure batteries where recieving a good massage.

At the bar we decide to play a couple of games of pool, as it had been some time since we had last had a go at playing, and by now possessed the same skills as blind gorillas.

Whilst playing, two intrigued french children watched us desperately plead with balls to go into our intended pockets. As I had a slight lead on Willow, I offered for the boy to take my shot for me. Judging by his first attempt, he had clearly never played pool before. We reset the shot and upon his second attempt, he potted the ball gloriously. This was obviously a very proud moment for the teacher in me.

As the game progressed, we learned the children’s names. The boy was named Rafael, and the girl Celia. Celia was less enthusiastic to join in the game but eventually her resolve broke and she too joined in which the match.

When the first game ended, we set up a second game, this time boys Vs girls. As they game went on, Rafael went on to show that he had a flair for pool. His sister Cilia, although clearly not as confident playing pool, soon was overcome by an uncomprimising resolve to beat her younger brother. It was fitting that it was her who secured the winning shot for the girls.

The children quickly ran off, we imagine to share their new experience with their family. We decided to pick up a pizza and head back to the van to watch a scary movie.

I have badgered Willow for six years to watch a scary movie, and finally her uncomprimising will broke, and I finally got my way.

We watched a film called Sinister, and by the end of it Willow was neither scared or impressed. I clearly need to pick a more horrifying movie next time.

We went to bed hoping for better weather in the morning, happy knowing that we were only a few minutes away from a lovely woodland walk if the heavens were on our side.

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