People occasionally ask us about the road that passes La Roque, the D177. This narrow road crosses our bridge and connects Vieussan with the neighbouring hamlet of Boissezon (population 50, at a guess). After several kilometres it reaches the even tinier hamlet of Mezeilles, before winding eventually to the market town of Saint-Chinian. It’s a sleepy road, and at this time of year (the season of the vendange or grape harvest) the traffic consists mainly of occasional tractors trucking the grapes that have just been picked back to the caves. Because it’s quiet and also very beautiful – after you’ve climbed to the Col de Mezeilles, you have spectacular views back to Vieussan on its little hill underneath the Caroux mountain – it’s much favoured by cyclists. On Sundays we get whole clubs of them in their regulation lycra.
Normally a lorry is such a rarity on the D177 – they can only just squeeze across our single-lane bridge and then there are far too many narrow bends – that we all come out to see what’s up. In July, however, a sign appeared at the end of the bridge saying ‘Travaux. Relentissez. Circulation difficile’ (Works. Slow Down. Difficult driving conditions), and shortly afterwards the lorries were fairly streaming across the bridge for a short time each morning, each filled with gravel. This continued until the 15 August public holiday, which signals the beginning of the end of the main holiday period, when suddenly it went quiet again.
We went up to explore. A large section of the road between Boissezon and Mezeilles had been dramatically widened, although it hadn’t been finished, so that with lots of loose gravel you had to negotiate it with care. This didn’t matter so much, as there was as usual no traffic in the opposite direction. But why go to such huge trouble to widen a road which has barely 50 cars a day in winter, and not so many more even in the peak summer period? One explanation we discussed with our neighbours was that it was precisely because there was virtually no traffic that this was an ideal road to work on even at the busiest time of the year, in July and August. You couldn’t work on a seriously used road at that time – indeed all the roadworks on the autoroutes (motorways) sensibly pack up for the holidays.
Yet we remained puzzled until one day, early in the morning, a convoy of small white vans (the vehicle of choice of the French countryman) suddenly whizzed passed our house. Of course! The chasse! The ultra-quiet section between Boissezon and Mezeilles is much favoured by the chasseurs (hunters). Most Sundays between September and March they position themselves, guns at the ready, at the side of the road, ready to drive the sanglier (wild boar) into a trap. (Sanglier hunting here is rather different from foxhunting in England: boar, whose growing population is a problem for agriculture, are killed quickly and straightforwardly, and their meat is much prized.) Could it be the impatient hunters, all too probably members of local councils, who had prioritised this sleepy section for what seems to us quite unnecessary upgrading? We’ve no proof, of course, but it’s the best explanation yet.